John Penwill, Two Essays on Virgil: Intertextual Issues in Aeneid 6 and Georgics 4. Studies in Western Traditions, Occasional Papers No. 2. Bendigo: La Trobe University, 1995. Pp. 60. ISBN 0-909977-20-8. A$8.50.
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
This booklet consists of a five page introduction, twenty- two pages on Aen. 6, twenty-nine pages on G. 4 and a four page bibliography. Its title and introduction describe its subject as an exploration of Vergilian intertextuality per se, but Penwill's purpose is to use intertextuality to demonstrate that Aen. 6 and G. 4 are anti-Augustan.
Penwill does not share with many proponents of intertextuality the view that authors' intentions and the nature of their audiences are illegitimate subjects. In his introduction (pp. 2, 4) he states, 'Virgil generates . . . a deliberate intertextual framework' (italics added); 'Virgil was writing for an educated readership'; 'Virgil expects . . . an intelligent . . . perceptive readership' (italics added).
Penwill asserts in his introduction (p. 2) that allusions are 'functional' (his italics), and that they 'generate meaning'. That was not seen by ancient critics, who `recognized only . . . imitatio and aemulatio' (p. 3 and n. 8). He several times criticizes contemporary scholars for ignoring the functional nature of allusions and discussing only 'imitation', 'influence' and 'reminiscence' (e.g. pp. 3, 16 n. l4).
Penwill does point out, sometimes perceptively, how the differences between Vergil and his sources help us appreciate the unique qualities of his poems. However, he does not cite passages, like Aeneas' first speech (Aen. 1.94-101) or his last action (Aen. 12.930-52), whose gratuitous references to their sources invite readers to consider how Vergil changed them. Nor does he present convincing arguments that the sources he mentions should be regarded as intertexts (as does, e.g., Lyne, whom Penwill cites on p. 24 n. 26).[] The types of adaptations he discusses are those which many critics, from antiquity to the present, have discussed without using the concept of intertextuality, not because they missed it, but because there is no reason to hypothesize that it is there. The most plausible explanation for these changes is that they were necessary for Vergil's purposes.
Penwill begins his discussion of book 6 and the end of 5 (pp. 6-13) as many previous critics have, by showing how the differences between them and their obvious source, Odyssey 10 and 11, illustrate the differences between Aeneas and Odysseus and the way in which Vergil made the episode tighter and more dramatic. But Penwill provides no evidence for his assertions that these changes are meant to comment on Aen. 6.
The sources to which Penwill devotes the most attention are Cicero's dialogues, especially the Somnium Scipionis. The many parallels between this work and Aeneas' meeting with Anchises in Aen. 6 have long been noted. The similarities and differences Penwill points out (pp. 16-22) are sometimes interesting, even illuminating; but I am not convinced that they subvert Anchises' explicit message. Penwill certainly provides no evidence that intertextual comments are intended.
He uses Cicero even more extensively in his analysis of G. 4, sometimes simply to illustrate Roman ideals. Several of these illustrations are legitimate, but vague resemblances between the bees' communism and a few Ciceronian passages (pp. 30-33) do not indicate that the bees' communal life was a Roman ideal. Again his assertions of deliberate allusions to Cicero's works are unconvincing. He even argues (p. 43) that quidam in G. 4.219 is Cicero. But the ideas there were expressed by many ancient philosophers (Mynors on 219-27), although not by Cicero (ibid.), so the plural is apt; and Vergil and other ancient poets often used such vague citations for traditional beliefs and stories (Austin and Norden on Aen. 6.14, ut fama est).
Penwill claims that 'the point of Virgil's apian urbs poetica' (p. 46) was to attack Octavian through a Ciceronian intertext because 'Ciceronian princeps undoubtedly was the image Octavian wished to project' (p. 47). He rejects (p. 47 n. l9) Syme's argument that Octavian exploited traditional Roman concepts and vocabulary, which were not peculiar to Cicero.[] He and other seekers for Ciceronian intertexts should heed Syme's warning that 'the speeches of his peers and rivals have all perished' (loc. cit., p. 319).
I also find unconvincing the verbal parallels Penwill claims are intertextual. For example, he asserts (pp. 24-25) that three verbal similarities between Anchises' description of Rome's future and Lucretius 'undercut and negate' Anchises' 'position': fasces ... saevasque securis in Aen. 6.818f and Lucr. 3.995f; laudumque immensa cupido (Aen. 6.823) and honorum caeca cupido (Lucr. 3.59); and regere imperio in Aen. 6.851 and Lucr. 5.1129f. Despite the implications of Penwill's footnotes 23 and 26, no critic has ever noticed the second parallel, and with good reason. The two phrases share only one, common, word. Honorum means 'offices', which laudum does not. Cupido in Vergil is always preceded by an adjective, most of which are unambiguously negative, which immensa is not. Laudum . . . cupido occurs also at Aen. 5.138, where it is definitely admirable. For the first parallel, Penwill could have strengthened his argument by citing Lucr. 5.1234. Nevertheless, fasces and saevasque securis in the Aen. are in different sentences and separated by six words. The nouns go together and the adjective is common. In the third parallel only two common words are involved. These similarities could have been an accident, or Vergil simply could have liked these Lucretian phrases or his model could have been a lost author. We must always remember that the only Latin poets from the 120 years before the Bucolics whose poems are extant are Lucretius and Catullus.
Even more untenable is the significance Penwill extracts from 'allusions' to Il. 2 (pp. 54-55). He says that Vergil alludes, to the bee simile in Il. 2. 87-90 because uvam (G. 4.558) echoes botrudo/n, (Il. 2.89) and that magnanimos duces in G. 4.4 'evokes' megathu/mwn gero/ntwn in Il. 2.53. The latter four words are all common and only roughly synonymous and there are no specific similarities between the bees in Il. 2.87-90 and G. 4. Penwill adduces Il. 21.257-62 and G. 1.104-110 to show that the G. allude to Homeric similes. But those passages have several obvious similarities. Indeed, all of Penwill's arguments to the effect that the Aristaeus-Orpheus story is an attack on Octavian (pp. 48-56) are extremely tenuous.
This review has concentrated on Penwill's failure to demonstrate the functional intertextuality which he constantly claims exists. However, the resemblances and differences he observes between Aen. 6 and G. 4 and earlier similar works (some of which are definitely sources, some of which may be sources) are often interesting and worth considering.
[] R.O.A.M. Lyne, 'Vergil's Aeneid: Subversion by Intertextuality--Catullus 66.39-40 and other Examples', G&R 41.2 (1994) 187-204.
[] R. Syme, The Roman Revolution (Oxford 1939) 318-22.