Alessandra Manieri, L'immagine poetica nella teoria degli antichi. Phantasia ed enargeia. Pisa and Rome: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 1998. Pp. 233, incl. indices. ISBN 88-8147-101-9. No price supplied.
Andrť F. Basson
Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg
At a time when, in increasing numbers, classical scholars are flocking to modern literary theory-- which often turns out to be not so modern at all--in an attempt to find new and original things to say about texts which have already for centuries been the subject of quite formidable scientific scrutiny, the extent to which many authors of these texts often consciously reflected on and theorized about the whole process involved in writing literature is sometimes forgotten. For this reason alone, Manieri's monograph, emanating as it does from Bruno Gentili's vibrant 'think-tank' on Greek literature at the University of Urbino, should be welcomed.
The author's point of departure is the view which lies at the very heart of ancient Greek theory on literary creation, namely that the writing and reading of a literary work is above all a visual experience (p. 9), a view--the author somehow neglects to mention--that persisted even to the time of Cicero who described Homer's epics as pictura rather than poŽsis (Tusc. 5.39.114) and is perhaps nowhere in classical antiquity more succinctly expressed than in Horace's now famous qualification of poetry as: ut pictura, poŽsis erit (Ars Poetica 361). The author focuses on two key concepts that have underpinned much of ancient Greek thought on the nature of a literary work of art and the way it is appreciated by an audience, namely FANTASI/A and E)NA/RGEIA. The first part of the book (pp. 15-94) is devoted to the former and the second part (pp. 95- 192) to the latter.
In a chapter on the etymology and the meaning of the term FANTASI/A (pp. 17-26), the author starts off by acknowledging the absence of a clear definition in antiquity. The author's review of the meaning attached to the term from the early Greek philosophers up to the Middle Ages, first by Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, and then in Latin literature, reveals three important phases in the word's semantic evolution. In the first place, it was taken to indicate the manner in which reality appeared to the observer. In a subsequent phase, however, the term eventually also came to mean the mental faculty, or imagination, by means of which that which appears to the senses is registered by a human subject, and therefore the mental activity which preserves, recalls, and reproduces images. In both cases, it should be noted, the connection with reality remains intact. Only much later, in the third century B.C.E. to be more exact, did the Greeks conceive of FANTASI/A as capable of creating images completely independent of reality. A third meaning attached to the term is that of 'image', and refers to both the object imagined and the literary imagination. In all three meanings brought to the fore by Manieri's very fine and nuanced distinction, the term's strong connection with another key concept in classical literary theory, namely 'imitation' (MI/MHSIS).
In a following chapter (pp. 27-75), the author traces the development of these three meanings in early Greek thought, from the pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle to Epicurus and the Stoics. Crucial to the evolution of the term FANTASI/A, as the author points out (p. 49), is the view, proposed by the Stoics, that the mind can in fact create images that do not derive from reality. For the anonymous author of On the Sublime (first century B.C.E.) this means that the writer or poet is no longer restricted to imitating a model that is found only in reality, but also has at his or her disposal any model generated by his or her own fantasy. How this conception of FANTASI/A influenced Greek views on the whole process of literary creation occupies the author's attention on pp. 51-75. Evident from this discussion is the importance attached to the reception--via language--of the literary text. In whatever way the text is received, the aim should be above all to evoke a clear visual image (PRO\ O)MMA\TW=N POIEI=N). If reality is no longer the only source of the literary artist's model, how does it affect the importance of MI/MHSIS? Whereas Plato objected to some literary genres because they did not perfectly imitate reality, the anonymous author of On the Sublime actually recommends the elimination of this connection as a necessary precondition for achieving that magical and lofty character which, in his view, is such an essential quality of the literary masterpiece (p. 55). Imitation (MI/MHSIS) now becomes the imitation of the great authors of the past. In neo-Platonist reflections on the subject, even greater stress is laid on the creative side of MIMH/SIS, both on the part of the artist who departs from and surpasses reality, and on the part of the observer (or reader/listener for that matter) who employs his or her imagination to interpret and complete that which the artist has imitated. Important here is the recognition of the active participation of the reader/listener in the creation process. Of particular interest to our understanding of early Greek views on the process of literary creation, especially in regards to poetry, is the notion of a kind of FANTASI/AI (in the sense of images) which are created when the poet is in a frenzied or hallucinatory state. However, as the view of the poet as a privileged interpreter of arcane divine knowledge came to be replaced by the view that he or she was the spokesperson of a more modern and secular culture, these poetic FANTASI/AI were increasingly examined as purely natural phenomena. Such an approach, the author notes, is already apparent in Aristotle (p. 71). As a consequence, the word E)NQOUSIASMO/J is no longer taken to refer to the particular state of divine possession and inspiration experienced by the poet, but merely to a particular emotional state.
The final section of the first part of the book (pp. 77-94) is devoted to the use of the word FANTASI/A in the scholia on Homer and in the tragic poets. Noteworthy in the commentaries of the scholiasts on the work of Homer is their establishment of three categories of poetry, one of which reproduces reality only KATA\ A)LH/QEIAN. The second type of poetry is KATA\ FANTASI/AN TH=J A)LH/QEIAJ. Precisely because it does not aim to reproduce reality KATA\ A)LH/QEIAN, but KATA\ FANTASI/AN, it should not be interpreted in a literal manner nor with excessive attention to detail. In poetry belonging to the third category (as opposed to that of the second category where there is still question of an, albeit imperfect, MI/MHSIS of reality), the poet's freedom actually exceeds reality. In their commentaries on the tragic poets, they emphasise the role of FANTASI/AI in producing certain emotional effects in the audience. FANTASI/AI, in their view, are all the visual elements that constitute a dramatic scene and that are set out before the eyes of the audience by the text during the performance of the drama. In this sense, FANTASI/A comes closest to O)/YIJ or view, one of the seven constitutive elements of tragedy identified by Aristotle (Poet. 1450a 38ff.).
The second major part of the book examines the meaning and the use of the term E)NA/RGEIA in Greek literary theory. Citing the anonymous treatise On the Sublime, Manieri notes (p. 97) that E)NA/RGEIA was considered the principal aim of FANTASI/AI in prose texts in antiquity. She then proceeds to clear up some of the confusion arising out of the use of the two terms E)NA/RGEIA and E)NE/RGEIA in two passages from Aristotle's Rhetorica. Whereas the latter term, Manieri argues, seems to indicate the power of single words to evoke a visual image, the former only applies to an entire literary work. After Artistotle, E)NA/RGEIA even came to be regarded as a fundamental characteristic of E)/KFRASIJ. Like the term FANTASI/A, E)NA/RGEIA, too, experienced a semantic evolution and eventually denoted the visual clarity of an image of an object in reality. Thus E)NA/RGEIA could even justifiably be said to act as guarantee of the correspondence of the image and reality. But in literature this mental image is 'exteriorized' so to speak through language in the act of writing. Consequently, E)NA/RGEIA serves not only to preserve the reality of the original object in the image, but also to ensure that when the image is presented to an audience, their sensation of reality will in no way be less than that of the person who first conceived the image, and herein lies the success of MI/MHSIS. It is important to note that to the Greek literary theorists, this visual experience of the image applies not only to painting and sculpting, but also to poetry, oratory and historiography.
The author subsequently discusses how the early Greek philosphers (the Sophists, Plato, Aristotle, the Sceptics, the Epicureans, the Stoa) with their divergent views on truth, regarded E)NA/RGEIA, before going on to the meaning of the term in rhetoric (pp. 123-54), in historiography and painting (pp. 155-72) and, finally, in poetry (pp. 173-92). In all these applications of the term, however, it is consistently associated with the sense of sight. In rhetoric, it is the means by which the orator enables his audience 'to see' what he is narrating. It therefore contributes to the purpose of his speech which is to persuade his audience. According to some of the Greek rhetorical theorists, E)NA/RGEIA involves a very detailed account of events so as to transform the audience into eyewitnesses, even in the case of events that had happened long ago. Similar views on E)NA/RGEIA are also to be found in Roman treatises on rhetoric (notably Cicero, the Rhetorica ad Herennium, Quintilian, Diogenes Laertius). Despite its more obvious applications in rhetoric, there is nevertheless one particular area in poetry and in historiography in which E)NA/RGEIA can claim undisputed usefulness, namely that of E)/KFRASIJ, a well known literary device in which even the most minute little detail is accounted in order to enhance the audience's visual experience. In her review of E)NA/RGEIA in historiography and painting, Manieri shows how authors as diverse in many respects as Polybius, Lucian, Plutarch agreed on the value of E)NA/RGEIA in enabling the reader/listener to visualize--ut pictura--what is being narrated and thus in believing that it is true, even though it may not be. How important this quality of the literary text to recreate by verbal means images that are visually concrete, were to the ancient literary theorists, becomes even clearer in Manieri's discussion of the application of the term E)NA/RGEIA in their views on painting (pp. 165-72). In every field of artistic endeavour, E)NA/RGEIA not only renders concrete the images the artist has derived from reality through his or her FANTASI/A, but also stimulates the FANTASI/A of the reader/listener turned spectator to supplement those details which the artist cannot supply. The earliest treatise to deal extensively with the use of E)NA/RGEIA in poetry (the fifth book of the De Poematibus of Philodemus of Gadara [first cent. B.C.E.]), regards it as the means by which every fact, whether real or imaginary, credible or absurd, can be made an object of artistic representation in such a visible manner as to acquire its own reality both in the mind of the artist and in the mind of his or her public. Manieri concludes with some observations on the comments by the scholia on E)NA/RGEIA in Homer. Not surprisingly, there appears to be general agreement that his work provides some of the best examples of the use of E)NA/RGEIA in Greek literature. Noteworthy is the fact that numerous scholiasts relate this feature of Homer's work to painting.
Alessandra Manieri's book provides a very lucid and comprehensive examination of perhaps one of the most complex areas of ancient Greek literary theory. The range and depth of her knowledge of the most important and even less important primary sources is indeed commendable. Her book is a valuable contribution to an area which, because of its difficulty, has not yet received the attention it merits, and can be considered required reading for anyone seeking a better understanding of the dynamics of ancient Greek and Roman literary creation.