Scholia Reviews ns 7 (1998) 3.

Martin Helzle, Der Stil ist der Mensch. Redner und Reden im roemischen Epos (Beitraege zur Altertumskunde 73). Stuttgart/Leipzig: Teubner, 1996. Pp. 349. ISBN3-519-07622- 5. DM 118.00

Christiane Reitz,
Classical Philology Seminar, University of Mannheim, Germany[[1]]

Martin Helzle has undertaken to show how the characters (Handlungstraeger) of Roman epic are described through their rhetorical style.[[2]] He relates this type of ethopoeia to direct characterisation as well as to characterisation through conduct. Helzle explains his procedure comprehensively in an introductory chapter on methodology, 'Einleitung: Zur Methodik' (pp. 11-48). First of all he deals with the ancient practice of recitatio, to show that differences in style could be perceived and appreciated by the public in readings by the author, for example. He also attempts to answer the question of the extent to which ancient poetry was dramatised. It is important, however, to take into account the fact that adequate appreciation of rhetorical refinement is not necessarily dependent on oral delivery. Furthermore, the problem of the lyric 'I' appears to me too complex to be dealt with only briefly here.

In a journey through the history of literature, Helzle explains his idea of ethopoeia further (pp. 22-36). From the vast literature relevant to this subject he selects Plato's Ion, Aristotle's Rhetoric, Polybios, the Rhetorica ad Herennium and Quintilian. The selection is problematic, and still more so is the interpretation of such demanding and divergent texts. Helzle is therefore well advised to explain his procedure by means of concrete examples.[[3]] In an interpretation of the Nautes speech (Verg. Aen. 5.709- 18) he gives evidence to show that the speech, in accordance with the principles of the suasoria, is given Stoic colouring throughout, and that Nautes appears as an independent personality, particularly in contrast with Anchises.

Helzle next refers to modern linguistic theories that, despite their different focus, allow a connection to be established between character and style (pp. 35f.). Unfortunately, it does not become completely clear which proponents of 'modern linguistics' the author has in mind. Helzle then explains his method of stylistic analysis (pp. 37-48); following B. Axelson,[[4]] he develops a statistical method to arrive at conclusions about different 'horizontal' literary speech registers. It seems to me, however, that the terminology is incoherent; Helzle switches from 'Fachsprache' to 'Sprachbereich' and 'Register'.

Textual interpretations follow: of Vergil in chapter 2, 'Vergils Aeneis' (pp. 49-82), of Lucan in chapter 3, 'Lucans Bellum Civile' (pp. 83-144), of Statius in chapter 4, 'Die Thebais des Statius' (pp. 145-230) and of Silius Italicus in chapter 5, 'Die Punica des Silius Italicus' (pp. 231- 300). All in all, Helzle can be said to have succeeded in making many good individual observations in his interpretations of the speeches. He also shows how the passages he explores fit into their contexts. However, some fundamental questions must be raised with reference to his procedure: why does he not define the difference between oratio ('discourse') and locutio ('direct speech')? Does it make sense, for example, to subject remarks of completely different lengths, uttered by speakers in different situations and with different intentions, to a statistical evaluation of their word usage ('Wortgebrauch', which Helzle rather unfortunately calls 'Lexis')? To some extent, the statistical results give the false impression of precision, especially in the light of the fact that the material is rather limited. Furthermore, Helzle brushes aside all too easily the question of the situations in which the speeches take place. These epic situations, unlike the texts analysed in modern linguistics, are subject to the intention of the author, and the words put in the mouths of the characters depend almost exclusively on the situations in which the poet places them. Therefore if, for example, a female figure speaks much of amor, amicitia, coniunx etc., the style does not primarily have to do with the presentation of her character, nor with a conscious reference to the language of elegy. It is rather a consequence of the plot. Stylistic and metrical features are to be seen in a different light though.

Now to the individual authors. For Virgil's Aeneid Helzle shows that Dido's vocabulary is marked by terms of love and marriage, especially in book 4. Nevertheless, she generally appears as a queen, and uses expressions corresponding to this role. Aeneas is characterised as pius through his choice of words: for example, by an accumulation of religious terms. Helzle also investigates the style of the long reports in book II and III and is able to demonstrate that Aeneas here to some extent acts as a second epic narrator.[[5]] His summary of the concluding scene of the Aeneid is very convincing, too. The passages of direct speech, as Helzle is able to show, give evidence that even there Aeneas is mainly characterised as pius.

The chapter on Lucan begins with a comparison of the Amyclas episode in book 5 and the Hekale of Kallimachos. Although this is a risky undertaking considering the problem of transmission, Helzle analyses the depiction of the characters through their language very convincingly here (pp. 88-104). In his speeches, Amyclas is clearly presented as a Greek and as somebody who is very familiar with nature. Caesar, on the other hand, in spite of his disguise, cannot escape from the character of a commander and proves to be indocilis privata loqui (5.539). Helzle then sums up the essential traits of the opponents Caesar and Pompey and also Cato, as Lucan presents them outside of their speeches (pp. 105-109). Here the term 'satanic' for Caesar appears to me to be an unnecessary anachronism. The speeches are then analysed individually. It turns out that Caesar speaks as dux almost throughout, although he is not legitimately acclaimed imperator, while Pompey's language can be assigned to the sphere of love and amicitia. Cato's language is marked by his patriotism, but also by numerous philosophical terms, especially from the Stoa. Only after he has assumed imperium does he use the appropriate vocabulary.

The chapter devoted to the Thebaid of Statius begins with a consideration of the 12th book, which clearly displays features of tragedy. Helzle goes on quite rightly to compare four characters, two at a time, which are arranged as pairs by Statius: Argeia and Antigone (pp. 160-174) as well as Eteokles and Polyneikes (pp. 175-188). He also convincingly shows that Antigone uses many terms representing the Roman system of values and military terminology, and that Argeia's language can be assigned to the sphere of love and marriage. However, the literary model of Argeia, beside Vergil's Dido, appears above all to be Lucan's Cornelia. Helzle tells us that the poet chiefly describes the hostile brothers by their emotions. Both are disposed to tyranny, and this shows itself also in their language. Helzle plausibly includes here both the similes of the helmsman (Th. 3.22-32) and of the sailor (1.370-82) in his explanation. He sets great store by the tragic irony that distinguishes the speeches of Polyneikes, and their proximity to the topic of exile poetry. He also arrives at a successful reading of Eteokles' speech Th. 9.12-24 as reverse E)PIKH/DEION. However, the interpretation of the scene after the fall of Kapaneus (11.205-391) unfortunately gets lost in details. A clear structuring of this pathos-laden passage would have been more helpful for the reader here.

Of the characters of Silius' Punica, Helzle first of all takes the minor figures Corvinus, Flaminius and Varro (pp. 232-254). The argument that Silius refers to the ancestor of Corvinus, the famous orator M. Valerius Messalla Corvinus, in the speech (5.82-100) is convincing,[[6]] as is the demonstration of Varro's 'Asian' style of rhetoric. As concerns Flaminius it would have been perhaps more fruitful to start with the tradition of self-presentation and the invectives in the epic battle scenes, rather than to explore them as isolated pieces of rhetoric. It is actually no surprise that characters who are intended to be negative, like Flaminius, not only reveal their negative qualities in their behaviour but also verbally. An analysis of the language of the central characters, Scipio, Hannibal and Fabius (pp. 254-300) follows. Helzle shows that Silius supplies each of the three commanders with a different world view. Fabius adheres to what Helzle considers the Hellenistic belief in Tyche, while Scipio embodies ancient Roman religiosity. However, it makes no sense to regard Hannibal's view of fatum as Stoic. Even if the word usage in his speeches points in this direction, it is necessary to ask how this finding can be reconciled with the image of Hannibal and with the philosophy of the Punica. On the other hand, Helzle's observation (e.g., p. 296) that Silius generally (and especially in the case of the older and younger Scipio) embeds the historic exempla in the narrative and thus transforms the narrated present into contemporary history, convinced me.

The book closes with a short summary (pp. 301-303), an index to the contents of the speeches of Aeneas -- the usefulness of which is not completely clear --, a bibliography and a short index of key words. This would have been more helpful, if it had been subdivided into names, subjects and Greek and Latin terms. In his introduction Helzle says that: 'Die Studie als Ganzes . . . zeigt, dass sie von einem in den USA arbeitenden Deutschen verfasst ist.' ('The study as whole shows . . . that it is composed by a German working in the USA.') This manifests itself not only in the methodological approach, which surely is an enrichment, but unfortunately occasionally in the way Helzle expresses himself.[[7]] There are misprints and errors even in the introduction, as well as in the list of abbreviations and in the bibliography; one gets the impression that the book did not receive a final revision. This is regrettable, considering the numerous good observations, the wide range of literature covered (both primary texts as well as secondary literature) and the author's obvious enthusiasm for his subject. A thoroughly re-examined, tightened-up version would have yielded a book worth reading; as it is, however, it is rather laborious to separate the wheat from the chaff.


[[1]] I would like to thank John Hilton for translating this review.

[[2]] The term Hauptdarsteller ('leading actors'), which Helzle uses (e.g. p. 38), appears to me to be unsuitable.

[[3]] Helzle could have been briefer here, as there is no need to prove that in tragedy and in comedy the characters are distinguished through their style of speaking.

[[4]] B. Axelson, Unpoetische Woerter (Lund 1945).

[[5]] The same, without statistical evidence, is already depicted in F. Klingner, Virgil (Zurich 1967), and R.O.A.M. Lyne, Words and the poet. Characteristic Techniques of Style in Vergil's Aeneid (Oxford 1989), which Helzle only mentions in a footnote. See also now W.J. Dominik, 'The Style is the Man: Seneca, Tacitus and Quintilian's canon' in W.J. Dominik (ed.), Roman Eloquence: Rhetoric in Society and Literature (London 1997) 50-68.

[[6]] This technique of blending two historic characters has already been pointed out by E.L. Bassett, 'Scipio and the ghost of Appius', CP 58 (1963) 73-92 for Appius Claudius. Helzle later shows (pp. 275f) how Silius fuses both Scipios into one person. Compare also M. Martin's review of Ch. Reitz, Latomus 45 (1986) 672-675.

[[7]] Words like 'unerbaermlich' (p. 189, n. 3) or expressions such as 'Adrast hat ihm und Theseus soeben die Haende seiner zwei Toechter angeboten' (p. 191) have a humorous effect, so do slips like 'interpunktieren' (p. 195) or 'topologisch' (instead of 'topisch', p. 167, 181) and so on. What is also disturbing are the numerous misprints, hyphens which remain in the middle of lines (numerous examples, such as p. 91, p. 122f.), idiosyncratic punctuation, mistakes in Latin and Greek words (p. 277 not Cnaeus , but Gnaeus; p. 216 reddere, not rederre [compare also p. 192, n. 2]; p. 12 and so on, the accent of E)NA/RGEIA; p. 89 the accent of IDIWTIKO/J, and finally (p. 156, passim from p. 223 on) the spelling of Kapaneus as Kapaneos. This last mistake is especially annoying, because Helzle explicitly comments on his transliteration and cites no less a person than E. Burck as his model there (p. 145, n. 1).