Scholia Reviews ns 20 (2011) 11.
Joseph Farrell and Michael C. J. Putnam (edd.), A Companion to Vergil‘s Aeneid and its Tradition. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden, Massachusetts and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Pp. xvii and 559, including 31 figures and 8 plates. ISBN 9781405175777. UK£125.00, US$150.00. Further Details.
Department of English, Western Kentucky University, U.S.A
There seems to be an imperium sine fine for the Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. In the present volume, Joseph Farrell and Michael Putnam gather over thirty chapters on the reception of Vergil’s Aeneid. In their introduction, they proffer a rather bold claim: 'Our view is that a new Aeneid companion could be warranted only if it did not tread well-worn paths, and that, if it succeeded in illuminating unexpected avenues of approach, then it would more than validate its existence' (p. 1). Let us take them up. (Since a detailed review of all the chapters would be longer than the Aeneid itself, I will pick out favorites.)
Part I, The Aeneid in Antiquity (pp. 11-120), covers eight chapters. Damien P. Nelis’ 'Vergil’s Library' (pp. 13-25) asks some practical questions (without always being able to answer them), 'Did he compose with scrolls open on his desk? Did he have a desk? Did he rely on his memory? Or did slaves check up passages for him? Did he dictate to a scribe?' (p. 14), and lists an appendix with all of Vergil’s sources. Ralph Hexter’s 'On First Looking into Vergil’s Homer' (pp. 26-36) turns to the influence of the Iliad and the Odyssey and the state of Homeric scholarship in Vergil’s time, when an 'aporetic' Homer had emerged, but Hexter is revealing no realms of gold here. Sergio Casali’s 'The Development of the Aeneas Legend' (pp. 37-51) looks at the remarkable ordering Vergil imposed on the mythological cacophony of the Aeneas version. Vassiliki Panoussi’s 'Aeneas’ Sacral Authority' (pp. 52-65) links the epic to the religious revival instigated by Augustus.
J. D. Reed’s 'Vergil’s Roman' (pp. 66-79) considers the question of ethnic purity: 'Often the Roman self is cleanly opposed to an Oriental "other" -- suggesting a Carthaginian identity narrowly avoided, an Egyptian identity rejected along with Antony’s alliance with Cleopatra, or a Trojan identity left behind' (p. 67), yet ultimately 'The ‘ideal Roman’ is perpetually deferred' (p. 72). Michael C. J. Putnam’s 'Vergil, Ovid, and the Poetry of Exile' (pp. 80-95) studies Vergilian and Ovidian intertextuality, such as Ovid’s affiliation with Aeneas’ antagonist Turnus and the transfer of epic into elegy and of pastoral into lament. James J. O’Hara’s 'The Unfinished Aeneid?' (pp. 96-106) nicely (and wittily) sums up some of the poem’s inconsistencies: 'In the Aeneid we read that Aeneas will have a son in old age, and that he has only three more years on earth; that Helen both openly helped the Greeks enter Troy, and (if Vergil wrote that passage) that she cowered in hiding in fear of punishment; that Aeneas’ Trojan son Ascanius will be the ancestor of the Alban Kings, and that his half- Italian son Silvius will be; that Theseus escaped from the underworld, and that he is still there; that the Italians were peaceful before the arrival of the Trojans and that they were warlike; that Aeneas is fighting on the side of Jupiter, and that he is like a monster fighting against Jupiter; that Palinurus fell from Aeneas’ ship the day before Aeneas met him in the underworld, and that he fell three or four days before; that Aeneas will impose customs on the Italians he conquers in Italy, and that the Italians will keep their own customs; that Jupiter both predicted and forbade the war in Italy, and that he both was impartial and gave help to one side; that the golden bough will yield willingly and easily or not at all, but then that it yields only hesitantly to Aeneas' (p. 101). Still, the epic’s incompleteness has been exaggerated (due to modern readers’ romantic predilection for the fragmentary and imperfect?); this essay is jargon-free and helpful to a wide audience. Fabio Stok’s 'The Life of Vergil before Donatus' (pp. 107-20) explores Vergil’s shaky biography, focusing on Suetonius’ sources and successors; again, Stok’s survey fleshes out the main issues in a reader-friendly way.
Part II, Medieval and Renaissance Receptions (pp. 121-50), comprises nine chapters. Garry Wills’ 'Vergil and St. Augustine' (pp. 123-32) revisits Augustine’s famous fascination with and skepticism about the Aeneid and pagan literature in general. Sarah Spence’s 'Felix Casus: The Dares and Dictys Legends of Aeneas' (pp. 133-46) introduces Dares of Phrygia and Dictys of Crete and their 'Rosencrantz-and- Guildenstern adaptation of the main myth' (p. 133), which casts Aeneas as a satanic scoundrel and tyrannical traitor; remarkably, their version was as popular -- and even more authoritative -- in the Middle Ages as the 'official' account and clearly informed the Chanson de Roland; once again, we see the inexhaustible variety of Aeneas’ Nachleben; I learned something here. Rachel Jacoff’s 'Vergil in Dante' (pp. 147-157) traces Dante’s engagement with his pagan forefathers, including also Homer, Ovid, Lucan, Horace, Cato, Statius, and others. Dennis Looney’s 'Marvelous Vergil in the Ferrarese Renaissance' (pp. 158-72) turns to Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Orlando inammorato, Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, and Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and how those vernacular epics/romances transform Vergilian passages of wonder and awe -- la meraviglia -- thus paving the way for the aesthetic category of the sublime in later centuries. Philip Hardie’s 'Spenser’s Vergil: The Faerie Queene and the Aeneid' (pp. 173-185 ) and Henry Power’s 'The Aeneid in the Age of Milton' (pp. 186-202) discuss Vergil’s role in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yasmin Haskell’s 'Practicing What They Preach? Vergil and the Jesuits' (pp. 203-16) sets out to establish 'the ideological DNA driving the spectacular profusion of Jesuit Latin verse in the early modern period and manifesting itself in a sometimes bizarre hybridization of classical forms' (p. 204) and maintains that Vergil embodied their primary didactic model.
Andrew Laird’s 'The Aeneid from the Aztecs to the Dark Virgin: Vergil, Native Tradition, and Latin Poetry in Colonial Mexico from Sahagún’s Memoriales (1563) to Villerías’ Guadalupe (1724)' (pp. 217-33) breaks new ground in covering Mexico, where the earliest colonizers arrived fully equipped with classical education; the miraculous apparition of the Lady of Guadalupe in 1531 endowed the creole population with a 'manifest destiny,' to be celebrated in the epic Guadalupe, which fuses Greco-Roman myth, an Aztec indigenous legacy, and Christian symbolism. Craig Kallendorf’s 'Vergil and Printed Books, 1500- 1800' (pp. 234-50) posits that 'how we read Vergil’s poetry now cannot be extricated from how it was read in the past' (p. 234); he then attempts to clarify a central issue in modern criticism, namely optimistic vs. pessimistic interpretations; while early readers favored an optimistic approach, which often facilitated imperial expansion, there is also a history of the Aeneid serving revolutionary or republican causes, such as in Victor Alexandre Chrétien Le Plat du Temple Virgile en France (1807-8), which was deemed so subversive that Napoleon had (almost) all copies seized; several illustrations are included here.
Part III, The Aeneid in Music and the Visual Arts (pp. 251-352), consists of six chapters. Ingrid Rowland’s 'Vergil and the Pamphili Family in Piazza Navona, Rome' (pp. 253-69y) considers the propaganda inherent in the Palazzo Pamphili’s frescos created by Pietro da Cortona that depict scenes from the Aeneid (eleven books adorned the gallery, while Book 4 embellished the bedroom) and in the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (who had outwitted his rival Francesco Borromini); lavishly illustrated, this is a delightful essay, ranging from Junoesque mothers and ambassadorial bedrooms to flamboyant monks and Pope Benedict XVI’s red (Prada) shoes.
Reuben A. Brower’s 'Visual and Verbal Translation of Myth: Neptune in Vergil, Rubens, and Dryden' (pp. 270-89) compares literary and artistic versions of the storm scene in Book 1. Kristi Eastin’s 'The Aeneas of Vergil: A Dramatic Performance Presented in the Original Latin by John Ogilby' (pp. 290-310) analyzes the first complete English translation with illustrations by Dutch artist Francis Cleyn (later to be incorporated into the Dryden edition); John Ogilby combined text and image into a kind of multi-media play.
David Blayney Brown’s 'Empire and Exile: Vergil in Romantic Art' (pp. 311-24) accompanied by beautiful color plates, considers painters J. M. W. Turner, Anne- Louis Girodet, William Blake, and Samuel Palmer and establishes Vergil’s protean appeal: 'At the time of the collapse of the ancien régime, Britain’s loss of the American colonies and the coming of independence, the wars with revolutionary France and the rise and later the fall of Napoleon and ensuing century of British hegemony, Vergil’s epic was rich in parallels…. But of course the Aeneid is not only about public affairs; it is also a very human story of penetrating psychological insight, reaching into the heart and the unconscious mind' (p. 312).
Glenn W. Most’s 'Laocoons' (pp. 325-40) is interested in the famous (Rhodian) Laocoon statue found on the Esquiline; Most guesses that it may represent the first artistic response to the Aeneid; subsequently, in the sculpture, 'spectacle and pain, prodigy and humanity, intersect at the very limit of what readers are willing to imagine and what viewers are desperate to see; the inevitable result is an aesthetic phenomenon that, by reason of its very intolerability, teeters on the edge of parody and humor, and at least sometimes falls in' (p. 339). William Fitzgerald’s 'Vergil in Music' (pp. 341-52) summarizes Vergilian moments in the history of Western music, ranging from a jocund Martin Luther to Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (ca. 1689) and Hector Berlioz’ Les Troyens (composed 1856-9, first performed complete 1968).
Part IV, The American Aeneid (pp. 353-418), collects five chapters. Carl J. Richard’s 'Vergil and the Early American Republic' (pp. 355-65) establishes the Founding Father’s thorough classical education; Vergil, though, posed a problem, for how 'democratic' is a writer in the service of an emperor? Caroline Winterer’s 'Why Did American Women Read the Aeneid?' (pp. 366-75) asks an intriguing question; Vergil’s core values of warfare, destiny, empire… hardly applied to American women in the 19th century or were denied to them: 'a bit of classical learning was fetching and a lot a recipe for spinsterhood' (p. 370); Winterer then examines the reactions Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, Margaret Fuller, and the daughters of Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson registered to the Aeneid, and ends with Sarah Ruden’s translation of 2008, the first version published by a woman.
Michele Valerie Ronnick’s 'Vergil in the Black American Experience' (pp. 376-90) gathers a lot of specific examples, such as classical first names for African-American athletes, the blatant racism of South Carolina Senator John Calhoun: 'If [I] could find a Negro who knew the Greek syntax, [I] would then believe that the Negro was a human being and should be treated as a man' (p. 380), a Vergilian narrative of homecoming during Reconstruction, black students and teachers in the classics discipline, and Gwendolyn Brooks’ Anniad; this is an original account, paving the way for future scholarship.
Michèle Lowrie’s 'Vergil and Founding Violence' (pp. 391-403) wonders: 'The Roman Republic has been exemplary for the American Constitution, the Roman Empire for fascism, for the American Empire, and possibly for the European Union. Not one of these exemplary acts misinterprets Rome, and yet they cannot be valid in all respects at the same time' (p. 391); critiquing the work of Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt, Lowrie painstakingly sifts through the Aeneid’s tangled web of violence and human and divine agency, but I miss a connection to the United States here.
Joy Connolly’s 'Figuring the Founder: Vergil and the Challenge of Autocracy' (pp. 404-18) revisits the debate of whether Aeneas’ slaying of Turnus is a violation of pietas, especially as imposed by Anchises: parcere subiectis et debellare superbos; she proffers the compromise of a new heroic model: 'a figure suspended between assertion and abjection, a figure commanded to obey who enacts obedience through delay, distraction, and the simple act of turning aside' (p. 406).
Part V, Modern Reactions to the Aeneid (pp. 419-81), ends the volume with four chapters. Kenneth Haynes’ 'Classic Vergil' (pp. 421-34) draws on Christian Gottlob Heyne’s editions that provided 'background' information on ancient Rome, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve’s lectures on Vergil as the forefather of the French, and T. S. Eliot’s classic essay 'What is a Classic?' on the Aeneid as the core of European civilization; needless to say, later generations will be more skeptical about conferring 'classic' status on any author. And this is where Joseph Farrell’s 'Vergil’s Detractors' (pp. 435-48 ) picks up, listing a barrage of Vergil bashing through the ages: ad hominem attacks, the Aeneid as draft-like and derivative, or Augustan propaganda; this piece could have been more helpful as a classroom-exercise, I think, for while all these instances have been addressed in the secondary literature, how should a teacher deal with them? Susanna Morton Braund’s 'Mind the Gap: On Foreignizing Translations of the Aeneid' (pp. 449-64) studies a Russian, a French, and an English (by Fredrick Ahl, 2007) translation, each of which aims to convey the Latin text’s alienness, that is, it subscribes to formal fidelity rather than readability; Ahl, for example, prefers Anglo-Saxon roots, retains the same number of lines as the Latin original, and writes in meter, which gives us the following first stanza:
Arms and the man I sing of Troy, who first from its seashores, Italy-bound, fate’s refugee, arrived at Lavinia’s Coastlands. How he was battered about over land, over high deep Seas by the powers above! Savage Juno’s anger remembered Him, and he suffered profoundly in war to establish a city, Settle his gods into Latium, making this land of the Latins Future home to the Elders of Alba and Rome’s mighty ramparts. (p. 462)
Karl Kirchwey’s 'Vergil’s Aeneid and Contemporary Poetry' (pp. 465-81) quotes Robert Lowell, Allen Tate, Eavan Boland, W. H. Auden, Rosanna Warren, Louise Glück, and Mark Strand, but all these poets can also be found in Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths, edited by Nina Kossman (Oxford 2001).
A massive fifty-page bibliography concludes the tome. All the articles are helpful, accessible, and well- written, but only a few offer 'unexpected avenues of approach.' Should there be a second edition, some useful ideas that come to mind are pedagogy, Nachleben in non-Western countries, or Vergil in popular culture: there is Virgil’s Cream Soda, the Battlestar Galactica TV series with supposedly Vergilian undertones, Doctor Who as as a modern Aeneas, or the comic strip 'Aeneas in da ‘Hood.' And this just in: the New York Times reports on April 3, 2011 that the future National September 11 Memorial Museum underneath the former site of the twin towers will feature a haunting line from the Aeneid (9.447), nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo, studded in steel from the World Trade Center: 'No Day Shall Erase You from the Memory of Time.' Controversy has arisen whether the museum should include the remains of the victims and, if so, whether those remains should be visible to the public or to families only. People opposed to openly displaying the remains have seized on the significance of Vergil’s line, arguing that museum officials plan to exhibit the remains rather than keep them hidden: 'they are essentially incorporating the human remains into the visitor experience,' Dr. Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, an expert on the repatriation of Native American remains, said.