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The subject of literary careers has attracted considerable interest recently among both classicists and students of English and other vernacular literatures. ‘Career criticism’ has emerged as a distinct branch of literary scholarship and criticism. It is to be distinguished from the older fashion for a life-and-works approach to the biographical criticism of an author, and also from the more recent interest in the ancient tradition of authors' lives. Instead of starting from what might be known, or claimed, about the historical life and times of an author, career criticism takes as its starting point the totality of an author's textual output and asks how that oeuvre as a whole shapes itself, both in its intratextual relationships (what kinds of beginnings, middles, and ends are traced in the pattern of an oeuvre), and in the claims it makes to reflect or mould extratextual conditions of production (whether located in the personal history of the author, or in the relationship of the author to political and cultural structures of power and authority). The previous sentence ascribes an agency to the oeuvre in ‘shaping’, ‘reflecting’ or ‘moulding’, an agency that can only be realized through a reader's perception of these processes. ‘Careers’, however, are things that authors, not texts or readers, pursue, and career criticism is unabashed in making the author its focus, always with the recognition that the author is mediated through texts, which in turn are always received by readers.
This is a wide-ranging collection of essays on ancient Roman literary careers and their reception in later European literature, with contributions by leading experts. Starting from the three major Roman models for constructing a literary career - Virgil (the rota Vergiliana), Horace and Ovid - the volume then looks at alternative and counter-models in antiquity: Propertius, Juvenal, Cicero and Pliny. A range of post-antique responses to the ancient patterns is examined, from Dante to Wordsworth, and including Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton, Marvell, Dryden and Goethe. These chapters pose the question of the continuing relevance of ancient career models as ideas of authorship change over the centuries, leading to varying engagements and disengagements with classical literary careers. The volume also considers other ways of concluding or extending a literary career, such as bookburning and figurative metempsychosis.
Ovid has the historical privilege of being next in line and the first to react to what had been the boom in poetic self-reference and auto(bio)graphy in the times of Catullus, Virgil, Propertius and Horace. He is also the one who does the most to continue Horace's invention of a ‘literary system’ and a ‘school’ and an ‘Augustan age’ model of Roman poetry (compare e.g. Horace, Serm. 1.10.31–50 with Ovid, Tristia 4.10.41–56; Ex Ponto 4.16.5–40).
Furthermore, Ovid is unique in ancient literature for the sheer number and quasi-systematic regularity of autographic situations: in his extant production, every single work (with the exception of genres that cannot accommodate authorial self-expression: his heroic epic, and presumably his lost tragedy Medea) has a space of self-expression and, often, of recapitulation. Equally important, there is no single poetic text by Naso that remains ‘unsigned’, either through the inclusion of the author's name, or by explicit reference in another Ovidian text, or, often, both. In other words, there is almost no Ovidian poem that remains unacknowledged. Even more important, in a number of cases his texts ‘talk to each other’ (Hinds 1985; Barchiesi 2001; compare Frings 2005), with the result that each work is positioned within a career: for example, the Fasti engage the earlier elegiac/erotic work with the question ‘Who would believe that a path could lead from there to here?’ (2.8).
This volume is based on a selection of the papers delivered at the Second Passmore Edwards Symposium on Literary Careers, held in Corpus Christi College, Oxford, on 2–4 September 2004, together with two additional chapters commissioned to cover important aspects of the subject. The conference was generously funded by the Passmore Edwards Committee of the University of Oxford; we are also grateful to Corpus Christi College for its support.
quo bruta tellus et uaga flumina, quo Styx et inuisi horrida Taenari sedes Atlanteusque finis concutitur …
I used to worship the gods grudgingly and not often, a wanderer, expert in a crazy wisdom, but now I am forced to sail back and once again go over, the course I had left behind. For Jupiter who usually parts the clouds with the fire of his lightning has driven his thundering horses and flying chariot through a cloudless sky, shaking the dull earth and restless rivers, the Styx and the fearsome halls of hateful Taenarus, and the Atlantean limits of the world.
(Horace, Odes 1.34.1-12, transl. West 1995)
Horace recants the ‘madness’ of Epicurean philosophy, which teaches that the gods take no part in the affairs of the world. The poet is forced to reverse his position after witnessing a thunderbolt from the blue, a display of the power that Jupiter wields throughout a universe whose limits are sketched in the panorama of the third stanza. That vision, based on a description by the early Greek poet Hesiod of the cosmic effects of the battle between Zeus and the monstrous Typhoeus (Theogony 839-41), implicitly corrects the vision at the beginning of DRN 3 of the peaceful and remote abode of the gods (itself modelled on another early Greek description of the divine, the calm of Olympus at Odyssey 6.42-6) and of a universe marvellously empty of all but the atoms eternally tumbling through the void.