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In his Parekbolai on the Odyssey, the twelfth-century polymath Eustathios of Thessalonike often uses the figure of Odysseus as a starting point to meditate upon crucial themes such as the role of poetry, the duties of the exegete and the qualities of the ideal rhetor. The first part of this chapter focuses on one such passage, where Eustathios analyses the famous ‘linguistic stratagem’ concocted by Odysseus to fool Polyphemus. The sophistic subtlety of Odysseus’ plan leads Eustathios to insert a long excursus on schedography, a rhetorical exercise that was increasingly popular in Komnenian Byzantium. As I argue, in Eustathios’ eyes, the Homeric text is nothing more than a sort of schedographic display ante litteram. More interestingly still, this interpretation provides Eustathios with an ideal pretext for a lesson on rhetorical ‘good taste’. The second part of the chapter examines an extract from John Tzetzes’ Histories in which Odysseus and his adventures again feature as a starting point for reflecting upon contemporary schedography. In this section, I show that, despite some similarities with Eustathios’ ideas, Tzetzes takes a more dogmatic position. As a matter of fact, Tzetzes’ careful depiction of Odysseus might even be interpreted as a subtle criticism of Eustathios’ standpoint.
This chapter addresses the more common subject of mythological representations, focusing on one of the most frequently depicted mythological lovers in Roman wall painting, the cyclops Polyphemus. Beginning with the earliest extant Roman depiction of Polyphemus as a lover, a now much damaged fresco in the so-called House of Livia on the Palatine (30s BCE), the analysis proceeds by exploring the creation of a tender iconography for this well-known monster over the course of the first century CE. At the same time, it considers different literary treatments of this myth by Theocritus, Virgil, and Ovid. These poetic and pictorial portrayals of Polyphemus as a long-suffering, sympathetic romantic protagonist likewise point to the emergence of a Roman aesthetic of tenderness, capable of transforming even the most savage of Homeric characters into a pitiable, domesticated creature. This study of Polyphemus as a lover in Roman poetry and painting also traces the reception of the Roman aesthetic of tenderness among non-elite contexts on the Bay of Naples. A well-known Campanian image of Polyphemus receiving a love letter points to the influence of Latin elegy in the representation of this well-known mythical character in Roman art.
The second chapter addresses Dante’s representation of himself as a poet in relation to the civic sphere. In a detailed analysis of the Egloghe, four Latin poems that make up Dante’s correspondence from Ravenna with Bolognese professor and poet Giovanni del Virgilio, the chapter shows how Dante measures himself against a humanist paradigm for the role of the poet in the city. In his rejection of this role, he asserts himself as the poet of exile, who stands without a city. Yet, through the pastoral imaginary, he also figures a space for poetry in the historical world, marginal though it may be. The chapter concludes by applying this reading of Dante’s humanism to the Paradiso. First, in a reading of Paradiso 15–17, it establishes that the human community of which Dante is poet is figured as a utopia somewhere between Cacciaguida’s Florence of the past and an imaginary Florence of the future. Then, in a reading of Paradiso 22–27, it shows how Dante asserts himself as a poet-theologian and poet laureate.
Tenderness is not a notion commonly associated with the Romans, whose mythical origin was attributed to brutal rape. Yet, as Hérica Valladares argues in this ground-breaking study, in the second half of the first century BCE Roman poets, artists, and their audience became increasingly interested in describing, depicting, and visualizing the more sentimental aspects of amatory experience. During this period, we see two important and simultaneous developments: Latin love elegy crystallizes as a poetic genre, while a new style in Roman wall painting emerges. Valladares' book is the first to correlate these two phenomena properly, showing that they are deeply intertwined. Rather than postulating a direct correspondence between images and texts, she offers a series of mutually reinforcing readings of painting and poetry that ultimately locate the invention of a new romantic ideal within early imperial debates about domesticity and the role of citizens in Roman society.
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