Scholia Reviews ns 9 (2000) 48.

Stephanie Quinn (ed.), Why Vergil? A Collection of Interpretations. Wauconda: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2000. Pp. xxv + 451, incl. 1 halftone illustration. ISBN 0-86516- 418-5. US$40.00.

Diana Spencer
University of Keele

Reviewing a collection of essays is often difficult, and the scope and ambitious aims of this volume make the choice of approach for this review particularly complicated. Quinn's stated aim for the essays is that severally and as a collection they will prove useful to teachers and students of the Aeneid, in Latin and in translation, and also to a general audience (pp. xiiif.). One of the ways in which this agenda has been tackled is by a process of editing the articles 'to help them speak directly, concisely, and intelligibly to [the] audience, which is, more often than not, a readership different from the author's intended one' (p. xvi). This aim is a noble one, but the textual lacunae that it carves out make the use of the anthology problematic (at least in a university context, but also potentially causing difficulties for a 'general' reader, without access to a university library, who wanted to read the material uncut). For pedagogical purposes, having one collection that students can be directed to has its benefits, particularly given the budgetary restrictions often placed upon university libraries, and their common disinclination to invest in periodicals.[[1]] On the other hand, the argument presented by the original author in unedited form may be an important function of reading Virgilian epic in a broader literary/historical context, as is the case in Denis Feeney's 'History and Revelation in Vergil's Underworld' (pp. 109-22), from which the comparison with Lucan is excised, and also the extract from Robert Gurval's Actium and Augustus (pp. 168-84). Here Quinn's own ideological conception of what it means to 'read' Virgil (her answer, in fact to the 'Why Vergil?' of the title) remains a constant and problematic sub-text.

The collection is divided into two sections: 'The Power of Words and Meaning of Form' (pp. 3-240) and 'The Uses of Tradition and the Making of Meaning' (pp. 243-400), followed by a conclusion ('Why Vergil', pp. 401-44) and bibliography (pp. 447-51). The organisation of the bibliography is not entirely helpful -- for the 'general' reader, the lack of annotations to the main list may problematise its usefulness; for the 'undergraduate' reader, its selectivity means that the majority of the works cited in the separate articles are not included, and have to be tracked down individually through the notes. Not a major difficulty, but given the promise of an 'annotated guide to materials' (outside back cover), the level of annotation that appears is disappointing.

Part I sets out to focus sequentially on books 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12 of the Aeneid, and opens with an introduction by Quinn (pp. 3-32) setting out and exploring the main argument for the collection of critical material, followed by five verse translations of Aeneid 1.1-11 (pp. 33-35) and a book-by- book synopsis of the narrative (pp. 36-41). The primary aim, developed through the section as a whole, is to get the reader thinking about Virgil's use of words, and to discover how the words chosen by Virgil, the narrative that he constructs, and the ideas evoked by the text, are part of a wider cultural and ideological framework. The selection of articles and extracts covers a broad chronological range from the 1950s to the early 1990s, and on its own terms works well, although the reader could usefully be directed to read this section in conjunction with S. J. Harrison's Oxford Readings in Virgil's Aeneid, which anthologises a different but often complimentary selection of recent and 'classic' essays.[[2]] One could argue for or against the omission/inclusion of other readings, but the most surprisingly excluded critical engagement with the Aeneid is Philip Hardie's influential Cosmos and Imperium.[[3]]

Part II, on influence, is less successfully integrated. It shifts from the Aeneid back to Catullus, the Eclogues and Georgics, before zooming forwards to the influence of Virgil from late antiquity through to the twentieth century. The critical essays are followed by what for many readers of this volume may be its most collectively interesting group of responses to the Aeneid: a selection of twentieth-century literary texts responding to and reflecting Virgilian influence.[[4]] Focusing solely upon the Aeneid (and particularly in a work entitled Why Vergil?) in Part I problematises the brief encounters with Virgil's earlier works that the reader encounters in this section.[[5]] Indeed it is difficult to see how the general reader is to deal with much of the reception material without a more adequate interpretative framework for the Eclogues and Georgics, particularly given the importance of both works in the twentieth-century texts which conclude the volume. In fact this tension admirably illustrates another difficulty for the potential reader. The critical essays that take up about two thirds of Part II deal with reception of Virgil from early times (Charles Fantazzi, 'Homage to Virgil' pp. 285-93), through to W. R. Johnston's treatment of nineteenth and twentieth century reception in 'Eliot's Myth and Vergil's Fictions' (pp. 327-42). Yet in order to interpret what is going on in the twentieth-century material, some wider sense of the kinds of literature and authors who were drawn to use and reinterpret Virgil is surely necessary? Naturally, no anthology can be entirely comprehensive, but once 'reception' and particularly twentieth-century reception, is introduced as an important function of reading Virgil now, then the reader ought to be helped out rather more carefully, particularly on the classical background. In these terms, although extracts from Gian Biagio Conte's The Rhetoric of Imitation might have been outside Quinn's 'general reader' remit, the omission of reference to Philip Hardie's Virgil and his Epic Successors (Cambridge 1992) is surprising.[[6]] The other big 'silence' is the lack of engagement with The Cambridge Companion to Virgil.[[7]] Since this is the most comprehensive and up-to-date introduction to Virgil currently available, and since it deals (albeit in different ways) with many of the issues of reception/translation raised by Quinn, we might have expected to find some sense of dialogue between the two collections.

Quinn's 'Conclusion' (pp. 401-44) does succeed in tying together many of the disparate issues raised in both parts of the anthology, and collects up some of the key critical questions that any reader of Virgil needs to grapple with: for example, why has the Aeneid regained an authoritative voice in recent times? And how can we, as modern readers, get to grips with a world in which art and politics and literature were so closely intertwined? Yet we may also find ourselves uncomfortable with some of Quinn's conclusions. Are 'the emotive and moral catastrophes of our century' really so similar to those constructed by and refracted through the Aeneid (p. 430)? The certainty with which Quinn appears to end her concluding essay has already been destabilised by her comment that 'Vergil rewrites all of his world's history, and in the last moment, tears a hole in it.' (p. 429), but perhaps even this places too great a demand on authorial auctoritas. Ultimately, we return to this issue of authorial auctoritas when Quinn's closing words state that 'Vergil will be our guide as we work to make the world we want in the world the way it is' (p. 430). We may find that at least one answer to the question 'Why Vergil?' is predicated upon an assumption of authorial omnipotence or even omniscience that provides a circular justification not only for Virgil, but for the programmatic construction of this collection as a whole.


[[1]] Articles that might otherwise prove difficult to find could include e.g. Marilyn B. Skinner, 'The Last Encounter of Dido and Aeneas: Aen. 6.450-76' Virgilius 29 (1983) 12-18; Adam Parry, 'The Two Voices of Virgil's Aeneid', Arion 2.4 (1963) 66-80; William W. Batstone, 'On the Surface of the Georgics', Arethusa 21 (1988) 227-54

[[2]] S.J. Harrison (ed.), Oxford Readings in Virgil's Aeneid (Oxford 1990).

[[3]] Philip Hardie, Virgil's Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium (Oxford 1986).

[[4]] Notable inclusions are Robert Frost's 'Build Soil -- A Political Pastoral' (pp. 345-51); Allen Tate's 'Aeneas at Washington' (pp. 364f.); and extracts from Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil (pp. 382-86), which last could be used to raise issues of censorship and contemporaneity.

[[5]] Annabel Patterson, 'Introduction. Pastoral and Ideology: Virgil to Valéry', pp. 267-74; William W. Batstone, 'On the Surface of the Georgics' pp. 275-84.

[[6]] Gian Biagio Conte, The Rhetoric of Imitation: Genre and Poetic Memory in Virgil and Other Latin Poets (Ithaca 1986). Conte is quoted in Quinn's 'Conclusion' (e.g. pp. 409, 421, and frequent citations in notes); Philip Hardie, Virgil and his Epic Successors (Cambridge 1992) remains absent.

[[7]] Charles Martindale (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Virgil (Cambridge 1997). Referred to at n. 59, p. 436, and in 'Bibliographical Resources', p. 447.