BMCR 2022.04.27

I luoghi delle Muse. La funzione dello spazio nella fondazione e nel rinnovamento dei generi letterari greci

, , , I luoghi delle Muse. La funzione dello spazio nella fondazione e nel rinnovamento dei generi letterari greci. Diotima volume 5. Baden-Baden: Academia Verlag, 2021. Pp. 224. ISBN 9783896659163 €49,00 .

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

I luoghi delle Muse consists of a selection of papers originally delivered on the occasion of the Giornata Internazionale di Studi organised in 2019 in Naples by the volume editors Serena Cannavale, Lorenzo Miletti and Mario Regali.

The aim of this volume is to draw attention to the literary and generic significance attributed to space in Greek literature by demonstrating that authorial reflections on literary genre were often implanted in descriptions of space. The introduction does not offer a definition of space, perhaps due to ample scholarship on space in Greek literature, especially with regards to attempted reconstructions of ideological and cultural frameworks through studies of space, as the editors emphasise (p.11).

The first contribution is by Andrea Capra, who explores, through the analysis of scenes of poetic initiation, the role of the Muses in describing and determining distinctive features of literary genres. Capra offers a survey of scenes of poetic initiation ranging from Hesiod to Longus demonstrating how from the universalism of archaic epic the Muses are progressively anchored to local topographies and even written text (particularly in the case of Posidippus), reflecting at the same time generic differences. Capra then returns to archaic epic to propose via an examination of Platonic passages that Greek epic, although aware of writing, opted for the orality of the Muses, which are emphasised as purely Greek creations both by Capra himself earlier in his paper and by previous scholarship,[1] as a means of positioning itself against Near-Eastern traditions and their association with texts. The breadth of Capra’s paper in terms of passages examined and observations regarding Greek literature in general constitutes a good starting point for the rest of the volume’s contributions, which delve deeper into some of the same passages.

Dino De Sanctis offers a helpful definition of the locus amoenus (especially handy for the readers unfamiliar with the term as it will be deployed by several other contributors in this volume) with a particular emphasis on the term’s inevitable ideological dimension. He then examines the loci amoeni found in Hesiod—the interaction of Hesiod with the Muses on Mount Helicon at the beginning of the Theogony in combination with the Nautilia section of the Works and Days (648-62)—and Archilochus, in the episode of his poetic initiation as recounted in the inscription of Mnesiepes. De Sanctis locates the birth of poetry in rural spaces and notes the gradual appearance of a new model of heroism with which each of the two poets is imbued because of their interaction with the Muses. Τhe arrival or return of the initiated poets to urban space signals the development of poetry inside communities and the recognition of the poet as a new type of hero. Although consideration of literary genres is tangential in this paper, De Sanctis makes insightful observations on these famous scenes of poetic initiation and their relationship to space. It is also worth noting that his and Capra’s contributions are the only contributions in the volume to deal with the placement of the Muses in space, thus nicely bringing to fruition the—metaphorical—promise of the book’s title (I luoghi delle Muse).

Emilia Cucinotta’s contribution, by far the lengthiest in the volume, focuses on the poetics of comedy in Aristophanes’ Frogs. The main culprit for the length is the first section of the paper in which Cucinotta analyses the duel of Aeschylus and Euripides as a comic representation of the tragic genre leading to the desecration of tragedy and the sanctification of comedy. The argument unfolds in the much more rewarding second section, where Cucinotta expands this metaliterary approach to the parodos. Cucinotta argues that the nature of the first appearance of the Chorus of Initiates is closely linked to the metaliterary fabric of the drama, with every aspect of their performance contributing to the definition of the ideal representation of Aristophanes’ comedy. The space in which this performance occurs, indicated with the poetologically loaded term λειμών, is in Cucinotta’s argument a symbolic space, a locus amoenus where the tradition imagines the contact of a poet with the Muses and where, consequently, Aristophanes claims divine inspiration. Although the discussion of space itself is less extensive than one would have expected and further discussion on the ways Aristophanes projects himself and his relationship with the Muses into this locus amoenus would have been welcome, Cucinotta demonstrates very effectively the metaliterary qualities of the parodos.

Serena Cannavale examines otherworldly landscapes in sepulchral epigrams, detecting two main categories from the fourth century BCE onwards: epigrams with a chthonic content, often referring to Persephone, Acheron, Charon and darkness, and epigrams with an eschatological, celestial perspective, referring to a land of eternal happiness. Cannavale uses Callimachean epigrams to demonstrate the disappearance of otherworldly spaces from epigrams in the third century BCE, which she sees as connected with the redefinition of the epigrammatic genre as a result of the eventual separation of the message from the monument or space to which it was previously tied.

Mario Regali explores the function of space in the poetics of Plato’s Phaedrus and Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe. Regali sees in Plato’s episode of the cicadas (258e5–259e1) Socrates’ announcement of an effective rupture with literary tradition. He argues that prior to this episode Socrates’ speech is monologic, as he is possessed by the divinities of the idyllic space by the river Ilissus (a locus amoenus in which Socrates and Phaedrus find themselves), in a manner similar to the passive utterance of speech through the inspiration of the Muses. The cicadas, described by Socrates as being in dialogue (διαλεγόμενοι, 258e5), offer Socrates a test which he passes by resisting their song and the urge to sleep; afterwards, like the cicadas, Socrates engages in dialogic speech. Regali argues convincingly that space provides Plato with the opportunity to offer a critique of non-dialogic tradition and announce the creation of a new genre. Regali then argues that the ekphrasis in the proem of Daphnis and Chloe, in which Longus moves romantic events into a bucolic world, is governed by the same principles. In combination with the wealth of other allusions to the same Platonic dialogue in the Daphnis and Chloe, which Regali well emphasises, the argument that Longus appropriates the Platonic principles in announcing a new genre proves highly effective.

The final two contributions deal with rhetoric. Casper De Jonge showcases the significance in ancient rhetorical treatises of river imagery, very commonly found in the exercise of metathesis, which consisted in the rewriting of classical passages with the rearrangement or replacement of words. The purpose of this exercise was to emphasise the unsurpassable quality of classical texts by demonstrating the significant stylistic alteration (and often deterioration) that a passage would undergo with changes as simple as the rearrangement or replacement of a few words. De Jonge shows well that the analogy between river and text was often used to demonstrate aspects of style and occasionally generic distinctions between styles as well. De Jonge’s paper is similar to Cannavale’s in that the conclusions they draw do not concern individual authors but literary genres more broadly. Due to their methodological similarity (and, thus, their distance from the other papers), the separation of the volume into sections and the joint placement of de Jonge and Cannavale in one could perhaps have been helpful to readers.

Finally, Lorenzo Miletti focuses on the second-century CE orator Aelius Aristides. Miletti argues that space is a very palpable aspect in Aristides’ work, not only because of the manifold eulogies of cities, infrastructure and urban renovation in his work, but also because of the role of space in the representation of his relationship with the god Asclepius. Aristides considered Asclepius the inspirer of his rhetorical competence and, aware of the literary tradition in which metaliterary conceptualisations of genres were reflected in the description of space(s), he visualised in spatial terms the establishment of his eloquence and of himself as a new kind of orator. Miletti focuses on three passages—Aristides’ rebirth as orator, his post-mortem life and Asclepius’ shrine in Pergamon—all of which place the action in loci amoeni and allude to Plato’s Phaedrus. Miletti acutely argues that Aristides presents Asclepius’ shrine as a new Helicon/Ilissus and rhetoric—Aristides’, in particular—as the successor to poetics.

Although not all contributions are equally persuasive and, inevitably, not all contributions align themselves perfectly with the volume’s clear objective, this book certainly achieves its purpose and succeeds in leaving the reader with much to think about regarding the potential of spatial conceptualisations of literary genre in Greek literature. As such, this volume is a valuable addition both to the study of space in Greek literature and to that of literary genres.

There are only a few, mostly negligible, mistakes.[2] There is also an inconsistency among the contributions in that some offer translations of the Greek passages (Capra, Cannavale, de Jonge, Miletti) whereas others do not. These infelicities are, however, most certainly overshadowed by the many merits of this edition (aside from the quality of the contributions themselves), such as the consistent cross-referencing of overlapping contributions, the robust quality of the edition, and the reasonable price tag.

Authors and titles

Introduction, Serena Cannavale, Lorenzo Miletti, Mario Regali
1. La campagna greca e il codice delle Muse. Iniziazioni poetiche e generi letterari, Andrea Capra
2. Locus amoenus e verità poetica in Esiodo e Archiloco, Dino De Sanctis
3. Il prato degli Iniziati: la poetica della commedia nelle Rane di Aristofane, Emilia Cucinotta
4. Paesaggi oltremondani nell’epigramma sepolcrale ellenistico, Serena Cannavale
5. Dalle cicale sull’Ilisso alla γραφή nel bosco delle Ninfe: la funzione del luogo per la poetica tra il Fedro di Platone e il Dafni e Cloe di Longo Sofista, Mario Regali
6. Rewriting Rivers in Ancient Literary Criticism, Casper C. de Jonge
7. Oltre le Muse. Lo spazio nella retorica rinnovata di Elio Aristide, Lorenzo Miletti


[1] M. L. West, The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997, 170.

[2] Kate Gilhuly, Nancy Worman, Space, Place, and Landscape in Ancient Greek Literature and Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, as well as Nancy Worman, Landscape and the Spaces of Metaphor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, are explicitly mentioned by the editors in their Introduction (p.9-10), yet neither is included in their Bibliography. De Sanctis’ reference to the Iliad (p.54) should be to VI 358–359 instead of VI 349–351. The word anche is written twice on p.59 n.1, and Miletti’s reference to Capra’s contribution on p.186 n.29 should be to note 26 instead of 25.