BMCR 2019.02.51

Roman Literature under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian: Literary Interactions, AD 96-138

, , Roman Literature under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian: Literary Interactions, AD 96-138. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. xv, 473. ISBN 9781108420594. £105.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

As the subtitle tells us, this book is about ‘interactions’ rather than intertextuality (but there is a lot of intertextuality in it); those interactions are mainly Latin-Latin. Intertextuality, with its allusions and references, is familiar to us already but interactivity is new: ‘Interactivity might be thought of as a superset of which intertextuality is a part’ (p. 21), which allows us to bring in the ‘fuzzier’ echoes and allusions between the lines of our texts, as well as the strictly intertextual ‘allusions’ and ‘references.’ To my knowledge this is a new turn in scholarship apart from a few pieces, mainly by people who contribute to this book. The introduction justifies the periodisation (Nerjanic (p. 37) and nerjadrianic (4, with apologies!)) and indicates that the whole long timeframe is meant (but erring away from ‘flattening out’ the time period). This is an age that is crying out for attention to its literature and literary environment. Readers will not find here a handbook to the age; the coverage is not (and not intended to be) comprehensive. We have a first blow at establishing a methodology for literary interactions (‘thought experiments’) rather than a final word. The eighteen contributors are especially interested in Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Martial, Juvenal, with smatterings of Plutarch and Suetonius. There is in fact such a strong flavour of Pliny the Younger throughout the book that (as we learn in the introduction, p. 18) a title such as ‘The Age of Pliny’ was suggested (and, it seems, preferred by John Henderson who refers to the book in that way in his Envoi (p. 423, 425).) The paradigm for ‘interaction’ is set by a reading of Pliny’s Epistle 9.19, in which Pliny puts together in the same room, as it were, some of the ‘characters’ of this 2018 volume, making them speak to each other about reading, writing, and gloria.

According to the introduction, the book is arranged not quite chronologically (although each section is chronological). Common themes throughout the book include overlap rather than chronological sequence of our main players (and ever-present, the uncertainty around who is responding to whom) and the double ‘caesura’ of 96/98: remembering and forgetting (esp. Rimell; Langlands; Geue), exemplarity (esp. Langlands, Lavan). To my mind the most interesting parts of the book are the chapters that go ‘beyond intertextuality’ and put our literary personalities in the same room together (e.g. Roller, Gibson) or put those literary personalities in the same cultural environment if not necessarily together (e.g. Uden, Buckley). Gibson’s chapter is particularly remarkable for offering a creative way to demonstrate the crossovers between Pliny and Plutarch. His original ‘dialogue’ between the two gets them in the same room as each other, as classicists would like to imagine really happened, by combining texts from Pliny, Plutarch, and Tacitus. It is fun, but it is not just for fun: it is proposed as a new methodology for ‘engaging the imagination and the intellect in otherwise conceptually difficult or aesthetically challenging subject areas.’ (p. 418) I would certainly like to see where this methodology can go. Uden’s contribution takes three different works on education of children ([Plut.] De liberis educandis, Quint. Institutio Oratoria and Juvenal’s fourteenth satire) and proposes that they have in common ‘concerns about regulating Greco-Roman cultural interaction’ (p. 386). It is one of the only contributions that considers a work in Greek. The interaction is intertextual between the two Latin works, but between the three works interactive in commenting on similar things, being in a similar cultural environment and mindset, rather than responding directly to each other. Langlands’ very interesting and useful chapter proposes that we consider certain ‘floating anecdotes’ (reported by Suetonius and Tacitus) as exempla for a new era. The story she uses appears in both Suetonius ( Otho 10) and Tacitus ( Hist. 3.54) but is applied to different emperors, and she argues that it is useful to look at this anecdote ‘intertextually’ but also ‘extratextually’ with regard to versions that exist out there in the world rather than on the page. Both authors make it clear that this story comes from oral tradition, and it might be that the two authors are interacting with each other and (at least Tacitus) is interacting with the version that he knows is being told in the oral tradition, a version that applies to Otho, not Vitellius.

In particular I applaud the cohesiveness of the book: most of the chapters refer in some way to other chapters or at least the work of the other contributors. It is clear that this book has been put together as a team effort rather than a compilation of individual chapters on a theme, a virtue worth noticing. The editors have been careful and successful in curating a group of chapters that, appropriately, ‘interact’ with each other nicely. While the editors’ introduction specifically states that the chapters could be read in any order, and I agree, the overall sense is of a cohesive (and coherent!) whole that reads well cover to cover. I enjoyed the glimpses of individual authors’ discernible character, which shine through in many of the papers. We have here a number of interesting and productive ways to approach the authors, especially the prose authors, of this period, and I for one will find new ways to make them speak to each other. I think it is a book that will be well used and cited.

The book has been nicely produced with only a few typographical errors. An unfortunate printing error has caused a problem in my copy with vertical strokes. At least one item (unhappily, the first I looked up!) is missing from the bibliography.

Table of Contents

Alice König and Christopher Whitton, Introduction
Part 1: Bridging divides: literary interactions from Quintilian to Juvenal
1. Christopher Whitton, Quintilian, Pliny, Tacitus
2. Victoria Rimell, I will survive (you): Martial and Tacitus on regime change
3. Emma Buckley, Flavian epic and Trajanic historiography: speaking into the silence
4. William Fitzgerald, Pliny and Martial: Dupes and non-dupes in the early empire
5. Rhiannon Ash, Paradoxography and Marvels in post-Domitianic literature: ‘An extraordinary affair, even in the hearing!’
6. Paul Roche, Pliny and Suetonius on giving and returning imperial power
7. Gavin Kelly, From Martial to Juvenal ( Epigrams 12.18)

Part 2: Interactions on and off the page
8. Matthew Roller, Amicable and hostile exchange in the culture of recitation
9. Sigrid Mratschek, Images of Domitius Apollinaris in Pliny and Martial: Intertextual discourses as aspects of self-definition and differentiation
10. Alice König, Reading Frontinus in Martial’s Epigrams
11. Jill Harries, Saturninus the Helmsman, Pliny and Friends: Legal and literary letter collections
12. Myles Lavan, Pliny Epistles 10 and imperial correspondence: the empire of letters
13. Ruth Morello, Traditional exempla and Nerva’s new modernity: Making Fabricius take the cash
14. Rebecca Langlands, Extratextuality: Literary interactions with oral culture and exemplary ethics

Part 3: Into the Silence
15. Ilaria Marchesi, The Regulus connection: Displacing Lucan between Martial and Pliny
16. Tom Geue, Forgetting the Juvenalien in our midst: Literary amnesia in the Satires
17. James Uden, Childhood education and the boundaries of interaction: [Plutarch], Quintilian, Juvenal
18. Roy Gibson, Pliny and Plutarch’s practical ethics: A newly rediscovered dialogue
John Henderson, ENVOI/VENIO