Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 31.
Michael Paschalis (ed.), Roman and Greek Imperial Epic. Herakleion: Crete University Press, 2005. Pp. xi + 195. ISBN 960-524-203-6. EUR25.00.
St John's College, Cambridge
This collection of papers was presented at a conference of the same name at Rethymnon in 2002, dedicated to Charles P. Segal. The papers address epic after Lucan and into the late antique period in (a probable) chronological order, focusing both on epic texts themselves -- the works of Valerius Flaccus, Statius, Triphiodorus, Nonnus, and the Orphic Argonautica -- and on the works of authors who respond to these works and their conventions: Quintilian, Juvenal and Martial, and late antique Christian poets. There are some minor typing and grammatical errors.[] Each essay has its own bibliography, and while there is no index locorum, there is a good general index.
This diversity of content is the result of participants pursuing their individual specialisms. It is perhaps due more to the prominence of these figures in contemporary classical studies than to the strictures of the conference itself that several trends emerge. Paschalis' introduction is an eloquently straightforward chain of abstracts, and I will attempt to flesh this out by briefly summarising the content and individual merits of the ten papers included, and then commenting on what they might have in common.
Meredith Monaghan, 'Juno and the Poet in Valerius' Argonautica' (pp. 9-27), argues that Valerius ends his poem before Jason and Medea murder Absyrtus and reach home because both he and Juno can thereby (despite flash-forwards) escape the historical and narrative closure of the Aeneid. She sees Juno as keeping both plot and narrative on track, but creates a distinction between her motivations as 'mythological' (hatred of Romans) and 'historical' (attachment to Carthage). In her identification of Juno with Valerius, Monaghan shares the widely-held (but certainly contestable) view that Valerius didn't at first realise that his epic was headed for grim territories, for example 'the awful details of familial love gone wrong' (p. 25), and aborted it abruptly to avoid them. If he was aiming for a happy ending, he was a less assiduous student of the Aeneid than his closing lines suggest.
Ellen O'Gorman, 'Beyond Recognition: Twin Narratives in Statius' Thebaid' (pp. 29-45), sees 'excess of knowledge' as a major theme of Statius' Thebaid; various forms of disastrous understanding, especially parallelism between Eteocles and Polynices, resulting in a relationship of envy, identification, and transference. She moves onto the Lemnian digression, introducing Harold Bloom's patrilinear theory of allusion, the 'anxiety of influence', and compares it with that of Valerius. She sees these two texts as written 'in conversation' (p. 39, n. 19), associating them with the 'atemporal loop' of Oedipus being both father and brother to the twins. This metaphorical association is pressed to become metapoetic in her claim that, in the Lemnian episode, Statius ventriloquises the female voice, and is therefore destroying Valerius' 'male' version like a detested husband. Their relationship is therefore, she suggests, not 'Oedipal' but 'Lemnian' (p. 42). The plausibility of this perspective depends on how far, and in what way, Statius and Valerius are seen as experiencing mutual 'anxiety of influence'. It is odd that O'Gorman doesn't take more trouble to defend the 'twin gestation' of the two poems, since it is the foundation upon which this whole reading depends.
Alessandro Barchiesi's contribution, 'Masculinity in the 90's: The Education of Achilles in Statius and Quintilian' (pp. 47-75), is an essay of several years' evolution, dedicated to Elaine Fantham. It claims that the popularity of the episode of Achilles on Skyros in Roman Imperial culture reflects its relevance to various contemporary anxieties over definitions and signs of masculinity. These issues include, generally, whether masculinity is inherent or learned and whether it can be faked. Statius uses the episode to activate, for example, dilemmas over whether mythic Greece is a masculine context and how an elite subject is supposed to navigate between acting tough enough for traditional dignity and not too tough for the emperor's comfort. Quintilian and other rhetoricians explicitly address the widespread ancient association between gender, genre, and style. Barchiesi covers much gender-related ground, and in an engaging manner: for example, Aeschylus is 'the poster-boy of hyper-masculine style' (p. 64).
Kirk Freudenburg, whose informal style with its prosopopoeia and curt, conversational sentences seems to owe something to the Roman satirists upon whom he writes, begins his chapter, 'Making Epic Silver: The Alchemy of Imperial Satire' (pp. 77-89), by emphasizing a Hellenophobic element to Juvenal's opening critique of epic as churned out in the recitation-halls of his day. He subsequently argues that, whereas Martial 10.4 contrasts epic fantasy with his own 'realness', Juvenal's different spin is that the real Rome is full of moral 'monsters'. But, as Freudenburg argues in his 2001 book Satires of Rome, Juvenal the madman is himself the only real show.[] The article concludes with parallels between 'silver' epic and satire: the efforts authors take to site themselves in relation to their predecessors, and the fact that the genres seem to flourish and recede simultaneously.
Michael Paschalis' substantial article, 'Pandora and the Wooden Horse: A Reading of Triphiodorus' Capture of Troy (pp. 91-115), is one of those welcome works which take a neglected text and attempt to stimulate fresh critical interest. Triphiodorus' third or fourth-century Capture of Troy has hitherto been seen merely as an uninspired late recension of a well-worn theme, but Paschalis presents it as thematically and allusively complex, with a semantic emphasis. The first part proposes comparison of Triphiodorus' Trojan horse with Hesiod's Pandora as concealing and dangerous, while the second explores the idea of the pregnant horse within a dominant perspective of weariness / exhaustion versus renewal / regeneration. He applies the same method as in his book on the Aeneid,[] citing non-verbal inter- and intratextual allusions using a system of proper nouns (for example, 'Height', 'Cavity', 'Fire'), making connections which range widely from the obvious to the surprising.
Philip Hardie begins his study of the Zeus-Typhon interaction in the first two books of Nonnus' Dionysiaca , 'Nonnus' Typhon: The Musical Giant' (pp. 117-30), by stating that Rob Shorrock's view of Nonnus' Typhon as a misguidedly old-school epicist can't be the whole truth. As part of an ongoing project on Fama, Hardie reads the Typhon-Zeus match as being more about the loss of control owing to the desire for music. Choosing not to claim that Nonnus actually knew Ovid or Vergil, he explores a number of Ovidian elements in Nonnus' first two books, and finally suggests that the Nonnan Typhoeus and the Vergilian Fama share a lost Hellenistic ancestor. Nonnan scholarship seems to be evolving very rapidly towards the style employed for earlier and traditionally more prestigious authors.
Francesco Stella's authority in the field of his paper, 'Epic of the Biblical God: Intercultural Imitation and the Poetics of Alterity' (pp. 131-47) -- late antique and mediaeval biblical poetry (particularly Dracontius) -- is signalled by the presence in his bibliography of nine of his own publications. The subject of this essay is late antique Christian or 'biblical' epic as a theatre of interaction between 'biblical-semitic' and 'Greco-Roman' cultural discourses. This forms a stimulating complement to the studies in pagan poetry in the rest of the book, though one methodological aspect seems to set it apart in a different way: acknowledging a Bakhtinian influence, Stella's approach to the 'polyphony' of biblical Latin epic occasionally seems to be to seek a single 'original' subtext behind phrases (for example, p. 137), and establish what is 'principally' being alluded to. A Vergilian allusion is even called 'the alien element' (p. 141), which indicates that Stella views the treatment of biblical themes within 'pagan' poetic conventions as a difficult process, though seeing it as more 'organic' is also possible. Students of Latin epic may be interested in a new, late antique contribution to scholarship on the 'hundred mouths' topos in this article.[]
Richard Hunter, 'Generic Consciousness in the Orphic Argonautica?' (pp. 149-68), offers four theses on the Orphic Argonautica which read various features of the poem as revealing the author's views on the available generic options and their relative merits. Firstly, the recusatio at the start of the Orphic Argonautica has a hitherto undervalued model, the opening of Ovid's Metamorphoses (and of Ovid's own Orpheus' song in Book 10), and is in any case an acknowledgement, unique in Greek poetry, of a poet's options within epos. Secondly, the competition between Orpheus and Cheiron pits narrative epic against (Orpheus') theogonic didactic and also calls into question the reliability of the narrator. Thirdly, Orpheus calls attention to the nature of the poetry he has chosen on three occasions when he addresses Mousaios. Fourthly, Orpheus presents himself as a veteran Odysseus figure, playing on the concept of a biographical progression through genres. This is a persuasive reading of a mysterious text, and perhaps as great a service to 'Orpheus' as Paschalis does to Triphiodorus.
Damien P. Nelis, 'The Reading of Orpheus: The Orphic Argonautica and the Epic Tradition' (pp. 170-92), puts the same text to very different purposes. Like Hardie, he does not wish to make the argument that later Greek authors are influenced by Latin ones, instead preferring to hypothesize a shared Greek forerunner. He achieves this though a display of immense learning, a comparative analysis of the Orphic Argonautica, Apollonius Rhodius, Valerius Flaccus, and Silius Italicus. He surmises that a pre-Apollonian theogony and cosmogony lies behind all of these, probably the theogony placed at the start of the epic cycle. Nelis acknowledges that this is 'piling speculation on speculation' (p. 184), but it is impossible to see how this line of argument could have been pursued any more persuasively or authoritatively on the given evidence.
It is tempting to see shared elements in the work collected here as reflecting the currents of contemporary classical literary studies. One is that most of these papers propose new metapoetic readings of their texts. Another is, of course, the attention given to later texts (for example, there are no papers on Lucan or Silius Italicus), late antiquity being increasingly popular, as Stella and Nelis acknowledge. It is now decades since ancient epic studies saw everything after the Aeneid as cowering in its shadow, but the question of how subsequent epicists situated and justified their works, famously explored by Hardie's earlier book,[] itself 'shadows' every essay in this volume that approaches them. Barchiesi confronts the ancient analogy between epic words and masculine deeds (or status) most squarely, but this too is an important principle in other metapoetic readings. Finally, Hardie, Hunter, and Nelis refrain from suggesting that Greek authors knew and used Latin texts, but that issue seems to be resurfacing in their drawing of parallels and speculation on lost common models. Indeed, treating 'Greek and Latin Imperial epic' as a single body of texts is something of an innovation, but the fact that most of these papers treat two or more texts amply justifies this, by showing the value of comparative approaches.
[] There are around 35 typing or grammatical errors in this book, which, judging by their distribution, by the partial provision of translations, and by the fact that both American and British spelling is employed, is due to a relatively hands-off editing policy. A few potentially misleading slips are: p. vii (the contents page) 'Fancesco Stella' for 'Francesco Stella'; p. 27 'Flavian Varian' for 'Flavian Variant'; p. 50 'secundus Jupiter' for 'secundus Juppiter'; p. 67 'Achean' for 'Achaean'; p. 77 'Codrus' for 'Codri'; pp. 126, 127 'Europe' for 'Europa'; reversed syntax in the last sentence of p. 134 n. 8; p. 135 'finguntut' for 'finguntur'; p. 149 'what was going in' for 'what was going on in'; p. 171 'recall recall the sprit' for 'recall the spirit'; and problems with the page numbers under 'Absyrtus' and 'maternal and paternal influence' in the index. (There is also the common formatting bug that footnotes sometimes not only run but leap onto the next page, for example, p. 51 n. 10, p. 91 n. 2, p. 117 n. 2 & p. 135 n. 10).
[] This article could in fact be seen as part of the same project as the Juvenal chapter in the earlier book, which opens with the same text and translation, Juvenal Satire 1.1-21.
[] Michael Paschalis, Virgil's Aeneid: Semantic Relations and Proper Names (Oxford 1997).
[] I have a humble suggestion for Dracontius' striking but opaque phrase ora tot exsurgant quot dentes ossibus albent (p. 142): if it is translated '[if] as many mouths arose in me as there are white teeth in my bones' (that is, imagining that his bones might be divided into tiny white pieces to serve as teeth), then the number becomes suitably hyperbolic, and much larger than the inappropriately paltry thirty-two (maximum) of his actual teeth.
[] Philip Hardie, The Epic Successors of Virgil (Cambridge 1993).