BMCR 2024.02.15

Zeitmontagen in Vergils Aeneis: Anachronismen als literarische Technik

, Zeitmontagen in Vergils Aeneis: Anachronismen als literarische Technik. Hypomnemata, 215. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2023. Pp. 162. ISBN 9783525311523.



Queer things happen to time in the Aeneid. The biremes in Aeneas’ fleet, their hooked metal anchors, and the bronze roofbeams of Juno’s temple in Carthage are all unknown in the Homeric world in which the poem is set, and tortoise formations, legions, and torsion artillery from the civil wars that haunted Vergil’s day crop up in the sack of Troy and the warfare in Italy.[1] A nexus of proleptic foreshadowings and ex post facto predictions joins Aeneas to his remote descendant Augustus and to the history of Rome as seen from the early Augustan age. Disruptions in the temporal order, like the notorious “missing year” in Carthage that was for Servius one of the insoluble problems of the poem (cf. septima … aestas before and after the interlude in Carthage, Aen. 1.755-756 and 5.626), are fundamental to Vergil’s epic. “Intertemporality” may be as integral to Vergil’s literary project as the intertextuality that has attracted scholarly attention for decades, and scholars have begun to pay attention.[2]

Thus Dennis Pausch has his eye on an important topic when he sets out to study what he calls “time montages,” moments in which the narrator’s present intrudes into the time of the narrative. His cinematic metaphor, the montage or, as he sometimes characterizes it, transparency (Folie), suggests the experience of seeing one time through or beneath the description of another. Calling the shields of Bronze Age warriors scuta, as Aeneas does in the last words of his first speech in the poem (Aen. 1.101), brings the legionaries of the civil wars into the world of the Trojan War and suggests that “at least in Aeneas’s retrospective memory, the Trojans fallen in the defense of their homeland are presented to readers as future Romans” (86). Moments like this, Pausch suggests, are not lapses or mistakes but integral aspects of Vergil’s literary technique.

Before he considers individual examples like this, however, Pausch takes up in his second chapter two other, better-studied ways in which the Augustan future shapes Vergil’s handling of a Bronze age narrative present: aetiological passages like the naming of Misenum and Cape Palinurus in book 6 or the lusus Troiae in book 5, and the three extended views of the future in the poem: Jupiter’s speech in book 1, the parade of heroes in book 6, and the description of the shield of Aeneas in book 8. These, he argues, make explicit the consequences of Vergil’s fundamental decision: to write an epic about Aeneas that would at the same time be a poem about Augustus. These two “time-levels,” Zeitebenen, allowed Vergil to avoid overt mention of the civil wars that created Augustus and so to write, as Servius put it, a poem intent on “imitating Homer and praising Augustus through his ancestors” (Homerum imitari et Augustum laudare a parentibus). They are the essential signposts to an enriched reading of particular anachronisms like those anchors and tortoise formations.

By way of further clearing the ground for his investigation of individual examples of “time montage,” Pausch devotes part of his introductory chapter and all of chapter 3 to the idea that anachronisms represent either mistakes on Vergil’s part or lack of concern for historical accuracy. Here I wondered whether he had exaggerated the extent to which people in antiquity accused Vergil of these failings (pp. 33–39). Servius, for example, seems to me to treat Vergil’s anachronisms as problems, not mistakes, and to use the accusation of anachronistic error as a rhetorical hook to provoke discussion; Pausch seems to acknowledge this on p.38.[3] Gellius, in his discussion of Hyginus’ castigations of Vergil (NA 10.16), takes a similar tack and reports Hyginus’ view without taking a position on it. With modern scholarship Pausch has a stronger case; certainly, more than a few scholars have been content to follow Wilhelm Kroll and suppose that Vergil didn’t give much thought to historical accuracy, and that modern readers accordingly need not give any more attention to his anachronisms than to Shakespeare’s clocks in Julius Caesar.[4]

About a third of Pausch’s book, in fact, is taken up with contextualizing the issue of anachronism in this way and with illuminating excursuses like the discussion of Hans Baldung Grien’s 1531 painting, “Mucius Scaevola vor Porsenna” (pp.16–19). Some readers may feel that this is too much preliminary throat-clearing, but I welcomed the larger frame and the generous use of illustrations from the Vatican Vergil codex and elsewhere. The core of the book, however, chapters 4 through 6, justifies its existence. Here Pausch treats specific instances of anachronism in descriptions of scenery, clothing and equipment, and similes. For me, his discussion of the presentation of Carthage in book 1 and his treatment of the comparison of Aeneas’ spear to a bolt from Roman artillery stood out, but every section of the book provoked thought and helped me see new features of the Aeneid. Considering Vergil’s anachronisms one at a time is essential work and leaves the field open for a more ambitious approach that will build on and focus recent attention to the phenomenon of time in ancient thought and literature.[5] A well-articulated table of contents, an index locorum, and a full subject index make it easy to use Zeitmontagen as a supplement to discussions of individual passages, and anyone interested in Vergil’s intertemporalities will find ideas worth considering here.



[1] Biremes: Aen. 1.182; anchors: 1.169; roofbeams: 1.448. acta testudine: 2.440; legio Aeneadum: 10.120; Aeneas’ spear compared to a bolt from artillery: 12.921–922.

[2] Pausch himself has edited a collection of papers on the subject (Antje Junghanß, Bernhard Kaiser, and Dennis Pausch, edd., Zeitmontagen: Formen und Funktionen gezielter Anachronismen. Palingenesia Band 116, Stuttgart 2019), and the “Anachronism in Antiquity” project at Oxford produced its own volume (Tim Rood, Carol Atack, and Tom Philips, Anachronism and Antiquity, London 2020).

[3] “Auch wenn Servius also prinzipiell bereit ist, die Vermischung zweier Zeitebenen als Teil von Vergils poetischer Technik zu akzeptieren, zeigt sich auch bei ihm die Tendenz, Abweichungen von der Chronologie zunächst einmal als fehlerhafte Verstöße wahrzunehmen.”

[4] W. Kroll, Studien zum Verständnis der römischen Literatur (Stuttgart 1924), 178–184, and Pausch pp. 20–22.

[5] Beginning perhaps with R. Sorabji, Time, Creation, and the Continuum (Ithaca 1983) and manifested recently in works like the chapter on “Untimeliness” in The Postclassicisms Collective, Postclassicisms (Chicago 2020) and S. Goldhill, The Christian Invention of Time (Cambridge 2022). See also Rood and Atack (n. 2 above) and the essays collected in T. Allen ed., Time and Literature (Cambridge 2018).