BMCR 2020.07.46

La réception d’Ausone dans les littératures européennes

Étienne Wolff, La réception d'Ausone dans les littératures européennes. Scripta receptoria, 15. Bordeaux: Ausonius Éditions, 2019. 374 p.. ISBN 9782356132451 €25,00 (pb).

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

This collection continues what was begun two years before; see the introduction (Avertissement), p.9:

“Le colloque dont on a ici les actes qui s’est tenu à l’Université de Paris Nanterre les 26 et 27 octobre 2017… s’inscrivait dans le prolongement de 2015 “Ausone en 2015: bilan et perspectives,” paru en 2018 a l’Institut d’Études Augustiniennes.”

Although the present reviewer has been to Bordeaux, she has never seen, or perhaps never noted, a street with the enticing name of Rue Ausone, nor the atmospheric antique stone shield that displays the chiseled number of a building, 21 Rue Ausone, on the corner, with an old advertisement for suppliers of groceries (Fournitures Générales pour Épicerie), a photograph of which appears on the front cover of this volume. Hordes of tourists who pass through the venerable city probably also fail to see this street corner, regrettably so since Burdigala (the name of Bordeaux under the Roman empire) was where Ausonius lived and carried on his various activities. It would be curious to know how many of the people living there now are at all familiar with this charming poet or his importance. As an analogy it may be appropriate to mention that a traveler along the Moselle River is also highly unlikely to encounter any mention of Ausonius or what is probably his most enticing poem, the Mosella. Most of us would disagree with Gibbon’s unfortunate judgment (quoted by Wolff in his introduction, p. 9; he calls it “une note assassine”), that “the poetical fame of Ausonius condemns the taste of his age.” After all, that age still avidly read, memorized, and echoed Vergil!

The volume under review no doubt fills a gap, although the articles contained in it, with a possible exception of two toward the end of the collection, are aimed exclusively at a specialist; yet will even they be read by anyone not in an academic profession? Of the studies here, two-thirds (12 including the introduction) are in French, the other 7 in Italian, thus connecting Ausonius to those parts of the world that nurtured and supported him: Gaul, in present-day France, and the eternal Rome, home and disseminator of the culture to which he and his intended audience belonged. Considering that the Roman Empire, whether one is willing to admit it or not, still lives on in most of us who inhabit the Western world as well as lands ancient Rome never knew of but that inherited her culture, it may strike us as somewhat parochial that with only one exception (Cazes, from Victoria University in Canada) none of the participants and contributors to this conference came from countries other than France and Italy. It would have been rewarding if one considers that Erasmus liked and used Ausonius, to hear from a Dutch expert, or someone from Germany, England, or the US; all these and many other countries have for years, indeed centuries, produced and furthered scholars active and eminent in the study of writers who belong to late antiquity and its influence. Yet one sees how on its back cover this collection refers to the conference that produced it as international. A recognition of Ausonius’ Nachleben in France and Italy is just; however, one wonders if, when, and how he fared elsewhere: in Spain, for instance, or any other place that uses a Romance language; or indeed throughout the Western world while Latin was widely read. The bibliographies at the end of individual articles do list numerous contributions to this field on the part of scholars from elsewhere; for instance, to use only two examples, outstanding work by Alan Cameron and by James Hutton is mentioned in Di Brazzano’s admirable paper.

The book is divided into four sections, devoted in turn to Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Contemporary Epoch. The first and the second sections contain only two papers each, perhaps understandably so in the former instance because the late ancient period had been the focus of the conference of 2015 (see above), but regrettably in the case of the Middle Ages, a period that harbored what one of the two scholars in this section, Furbetta, enticingly terms “la présence cachée d’Ausone.” Her contribution ought to set an example to follow. (To use an instance of such endeavor one may mention work on the Christus Patiens, currently closely studied and discussed in and by an upcoming conference and publication at the University of Bochum, which also may serve as a reminder of the importance of “hidden” material such as Furbetta adroitly brings out. To single out but one example, every classicist knows how the otherwise defective ending of Euripides’ Bacchae has to an appreciable extent been restored thanks to eliciting what is lost from borrowings “hidden” in the Byzantine text.)

Once we transition into the Renaissance, the contributors of the volume reviewed here discuss more numerous topics. All these articles are interesting, but perhaps most so the one by Bisanti, which reveals the importance of the provincial poet, despised by Gibbon, to one of the greatest figures in world literature, Petrarch, who even owned a codex of Ausonius’ works (p. 119), surely remarkable for someone, no matter how learned, at a time when obtaining and owning a book was an exception rather than the rule; the contribution by Di Brazzano, a piece of work remarkable for its learning and thoroughness, not to mention its scope, which ought to move it from the category of conference papers to that of academic monographs; Garambois-Vasquez’ article that forms a complete contrast with Di Brazzano’s in length and is circumscribed by dwelling upon a much narrower subject, nevertheless handled with comparable erudition. Cazes’ article, devoted to a kind of poem (the cento) on which most scholars look askance but which nonetheless opens a fascinating window upon a peculiar sense of accomplishment on the part of an adapter of previous literary material, as well as the sense of humor entertained by its learned readership; as does also the article by Laigneau-Fontaine, which deals with a literary circle that numbered Maurice Scève among its members. The work of these five scholars truly stands out, but comments on their merits are not meant to indicate that the others are not worth reading or learning from.

The fourth section, on instances of Ausonian influence upon the “contemporary” period is particularly interesting because the papers contained in it seem to move closer to the personality of this likable poet. Three of the articles, those by Caumont, by Scafoglio, and by Wolff, deal with works of fiction derived from what we know about Ausonius’ experiences as mirrored in his works. The fourth one, by Balbo, reviews an illustrated Italian translation of the Mosella. All four are of absorbing interest. Felix Dahn’s novel Bissula is hardly contemporary, having come out in 1884, but Magris’ novel Danubio did in 1986, Petit’s Le testament d’Ausone in 2018, and Balbo’s translation in 1984. These are indeed of our time. The present reviewer must confess not having previously come upon what seem to be stimulating works discussed in this final part of the volume, but the articles devoted to them inspire one to make their acquaintance at the earliest opportunity. It should be mentioned that in addition to what appears to be an excellent interpretive translation of the Mosella by the poet Pontiggia, whom Balbo identifies as “romanziere e saggista tra i più acuti e profondi della seconda metà del xx secolo italiano,” embedded in the article are several examples of Lionni’s illustrations, captivating in their impressive simplicity and suggestivity.

Here are some observations upon the rest of the articles, in the order in which they appear in the book. In his very short piece Charlet summarizes his own previous research; aside from two indispensable critical editions of Claudian and two works by other scholars, his bibliography lists eight of his own published studies. There is some usefulness in having on hand a precis of Charlet’s work on the subject, but it would seem to offer nothing new. Onorato is thorough and interesting as he puts side by side Ausonius and Sidonius Apollinaris. His bibliography consists of four pages of small print and includes, so far as one can judge, anything and everything pertaining to the subject. Duplessis’ paper is a model of a discussion that deals with a narrowly but admirably focused study of a particular topic, and not an easy one, considering that the material with which he is working is not widely known nor readily accessible. This is a model of research at its best. Cazzuffi deals with a somewhat less recondite subject, though one with broad repercussions for students of Italian humanism. (It should be noted that the title of her paper as listed in the table of contents is not identical to the one it bears in the collection itself.) She too has done her work in painstaking detail, her footnotes and bibliography longer than the article itself. Bonnan-Garcon and Lecoindre offer another example of a finely focused, conscientious examination of a well-defined topic, the material under scrutiny often entertaining. Fascione’s research is of great value not only for those who are generally drawn to “wisdom” literature; reading this article, they will discover that they share interests of no less a judge of literary quality than the great Erasmus himself. Leroux enriches our understanding of those humanists who were attracted to the study of rulers in late antiquity. Squillante is another of those who carefully scrutinize what many might overlook; the process and the results of her investigation are highly rewarding and again, the bibliography opens vistas that one might not offhand expect.

Here is a list of the authors and titles. For the most part, the titles of individual papers well express their content.

Authors and titles

I Antiquite tardive
Jean-Louis Charlet, La réception d’Ausone par Claudien
Marco Onorato, L’arte della concinnatio da Ausonio a Sidonio Apollinare

II Moyen Age
Frederic Duplessis, Diffusion et réception médiévales des épigrammes d’Ausone consacrées à Diogène
Luciana Furbetta, De Paul Diacre a Alain de Lille: aperçus de recherche sur la présence cachée d’Ausone dans le Moyen Âge (textes, intertextes, contextes)

III Renaissance
Armando Bisanti, Petrarca e Ausonio
Elena Cazzuffi, La circolazione umanistica del Ludus septem sapientum tra Beroaldo e Ugoleto
Camille Bonnan-Garcon et Gaetan Lecoindre, En aspice lusus. Sannazar, lecteur d’Ausone? Le jeu de la citation dans les Eclogae Piscatoriae
Sara Fascione, Si bene quid facias, facias cito. Gli “adagi” di Ausonio
Virginie Leroux, Des Césars romains aux Césars germaniques: fortune des Caesares d’Ausone chez Caspar Ursinus Velius, Georgius Sabinus et Jacobus Micyllus
Helene Cazes, Les renaissances du Centon Nuptial d’Ausone
Stefano Di Brazzano, L’influsso degli epigrammi ex Graeco di Ausonio sulle traduzioni latine di epigrammi planudei nei secoli xv e xvi
Marisa Squillante, Elapsam disces me tibi de manibus. Un’ “occasione” inafferrabile
Florence Garambois-Vasquez, La postérité des épigrammes ausoniennes sur Echo et sur Occasion
Sylvie Laigneau-Fontaine, L’Ausone du sodalitium Lugdunense

IV Epoque contemporaine
Marie-Francoise Caumont, Une étape dans la fortune de la Bissula d’Ausone dans la littérature contemporaine: le roman de Felix Dahn
Andrea Balbo, Scrittori tradotti da scrittori (e designatori): Giuseppe Pontiggia e Leo Lionni alle prese con la Mosella di Ausonio
Giampiero Scafoglio, Ausone et Bissula dans le roman Danube de Claudio Magris
Etienne Wolff, le testament d’Ausone de Marc Petit