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For ancient authors, hope tends to be a dangerous thing. It can set us up for practical as well as moral failure. Elpis, the Greek word we translate as hope, is typically an attitude or emotion that is desiderative and goal-oriented, but it can also denote neutral expectation of evils as well as goods. The first author to treat elpis as an unqualified good, given a very specific object of desire (eternal life in Christ), is St. Paul, the earliest writer in the New Testament. Before him, good hopes – including eschatological hopes expressed in other ancient mystery religions – had to be designated as such to be distinguished from bad hopes, which preponderate in Greek literature. But the ancients recognize good hope, foremost in the competitive strife that defines public life. Hope could be seen as a necessary motive, linked to confidence and courage. The ancient world, especially in Jerusalem and Rome, knew also hope in a future ruler, a hope more soteriological than political. Whatever hopes might be expressed for the city-state or empire, the philosophical schools of antiquity developed the case against personal hope and passionate agitation.
Lisa Robertson’s feminist poetics engage with the histories of sexualised domination, and indulge erotic pleasures while committing to ‘return to the sex of my thinking’. Robertson’s poetry seeks to free feminised subjects from the constraints of poetic patriarchy, embodied by Virgil, Lucretius, Petrarch and Rousseau. Conflating Lucretius with the Story of O, she proposes a theory of reading as sensual pleasure and domination. But she explicitly rejects the imperial militancy of the Ovidian tradition, and inverts the gendered relations of domination and subjection associated with Petrarchanism in her book The Men. Her poems show how a feminised subject might resist the logic of domination and bondage that inheres in much classical erotic poetry through a ‘soft architecture’ – a term she borrows from Gottfried Semper. Robertson’s aesthetics of precarity (the shack, the blackberry) incorporates feminised embodiment into the patriarchal city (Rome) or the settler one (Vancouver). Through her art-historical and architectural interests in the fold, fashion and textiles, Robertson seeks to translate bondage into ornament, and release the lyric from the constraint of a singular ‘I’ into a more collective and transient impersonality.
The classics not only gave Shakespeare the images of war that he drew on in plays based on classical subjects, they also shaped his representation of war more generally. His knowledge of the place of war in the ancient world influenced his view of the ways in which that past informed his own present. Topics in this chapter include the relation of the classical past to the English present, the relation between foreign and domestic war, and the relation between war and peace. What happens when the hero comes home (the subject of Greek and Senecan tragedy): when Titus finishes killing, Antony lets his hair down, Hector relaxes with his family, Achilles withdraws into his tent, Tarquin takes a night off, or Coriolanus tries to turn politician. How also does war inform peace and, further, what is the relation between the “arts” of war and the arts of peace, especially literature?
This paper deals with the 24-line mythological epyllion Progne et Philomela (Anth. Lat. 13 R), an anonymous Virgilian cento of presumed North African origin, which is usually dated to the fourth or fifth century and is marked by considerable obscurity. The aim is to shed some light on the most intriguing parts of this elliptical retelling of the given myth, in particular the puzzling network of family relationships and the extended talking-blood metaphor. Offering a new perspective on the text, the author claims that its general ambiguity is, to some extent, a purposefully adopted authorial strategy rather than a by-product of the cento technique. For this reason, it is proposed that the poem might have been written as a sort of mythological riddle to be solved by its readers.
This chapter explores Elena Ferrante’s use of Virgil’s Dido as a model for Elena and Lila, the two protagonists of the Neapolitan Novels, through the lens of absence. Not only is Ferrante able to conjure and comment on the Aeneid’s treatment of one of its most divisive characters following the classical rules of intertextual engagement with the ghosts of masterpieces past; she ends up changing the whole game. By teasing narrative material out of Virgil’s silences in Dido’s story-arch, Ferrante centres and requalifies the very reason of Dido’s undoing – the trauma which stems from the loss of love – as the generative force behind both Elena’s and her own literary output. However, by making Lila’s invisible writing and her subsequent disappearance into the beating heart of Elena’s writing, Ferrante uses Virgil as her Muse to stage a woman-centred takeover of literary greatness. Elena’s anxieties over how much of Lila’s life she has truly cannibalized, and her responsibility in Lila’s disappearance, not only take Virgil to task for hiding his Muse, but suggest an alternative model of criticism; moving beyond the postmodern view of the absent author and his unaccountability by giving agency back to the Muse.
Allegory ‘speaks the other’, that which was previously unspoken, and sometimes that which is unspeakable. Allegory also makes present what was absent; allegories are often absent presences. Allegory offers a fullness of meaning, but often succeeds only in delivering linguistic emptiness. Allegory may be a stepping-stone from the unreal or less real to the more real, in the anagogical exegeses of Neoplatonism. Biblical typology connects two historical events, one Old- and one New-Testament, the latter being understood as the ‘fulfilment’ of the former. Just how empty that leaves the former is disputed: should we talk of supersession, or of transformation? The presence of allegory requires the collusion of the reader. Allegories may become absent when their presence is denied, as for example in a persistent critical denial of the ‘typologies’ of Aeneid 8. The plausible deniability of allegory can also serve political purposes. The absences and presences of personification allegory are explored in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Prudentius’ Psychomachia. Ovid energises the long history of personifications conscious of their ‘selves’, while Prudentius brings words given bodies up against the Word made flesh. Finally I examine Claudian’s dissolution of the subjects of his panegyrical epics into a cloud of images and myths.
This chapter addresses the work of Jean Mabillon and Jean Hardouin. Mabillon, a Benedictine scholar, created a new field, paleography (the field that teaches how to date and authenticate handwritten texts) with the publication in 1681 of his On Diplomatics. Defending the authenticity of the documents he and his order were charged with curating, Mabillon set out criteria for determining authenticity. The handwriting in question, the location where the manuscript was produced, and dating formulas: these aspects and more came into play. The book succeeded, not least because Mabillon published exact replicas of the documents in question. Printing had evolved into a tool that could build trust in books as truth-bearing instruments. By contrast, Jean Hardouin came to create a wild conspiracy theory: that all of ancient literature save for a few authors was forged, as were the records of the Church Councils and even the work of Church Fathers like Saint Augustine. All of it was invented – in Hardouin’s view – by medieval theologians seeking to give themselves a backstory for their logic-chopping, sometimes heretical work. How could one know? Hardouin claimed that printing was the cause: now that so many books were printed and easily available, it was easier to compare them and thus easier to “prove” forgery.
This article argues for an allusion in Virgil's Eclogue 4 to one of Pindar's victory odes (Olympian 6). It will be suggested that this Pindaric pretext is viewed by the Latin poet through a Callimachean perspective which adds to it further layers of significance. Consequently, the evidence will be discussed for reading the allusion in terms of royal ideology which places Virgil's poem in the tradition of Hellenistic ruler-encomia.
This article argues that Virgil's First Eclogue naturalises the power discourse of the future Augustan Principate. Throughout the poem, Virgil not only presents the iuvenis as a libertas-restoring benefactor who is treated as a god by his beneficiaries, but even imagines his elevated status as crucial to maintaining social cohesion and civic stability, and idealises the beneficiaries’ dependence on his efficacious authority. The poem thus produces the grammar of the discourse of authoritarianism, subtly articulating what will eventually become the central tenets of Augustan ideology. I suggest that it is precisely this process of naturalisation which has led readers since antiquity to identify the iuvenis of Virgil's First Eclogue as the future Augustus. However, in this paper I am interested in transcending this question of individual identification to focus instead on how Virgil's poetic anonymisation is no simple pastoral obfuscation, but rather does the hard graft of ‘soft launching’ a new political system.
The word ‘hero’ in ancient terminology does not refer to the ’hero’ of a poem or play, and ancient epics do not require a central hero to unify the action. This understanding of the role of the leading figures in epic is still current for John Milton in Paradise Lost.
Focusing on Book 10 of Virgil’s Aeneid, the chapter investigates what new work the old epic conventions of the catalogue and of violent warfare are made to do. The catalogue of Etruscans highlights the eventual disappearance of Etruscan culture, while the aestheticised depictions of violence remind the reader of the way that epics make beauty out of horror.
When Mercury in Book 4 of Virgil’s Aeneid appears to Aeneas and tells him to leave Dido he is not simply a representation of Aeneas’ inner thought processes. He stands for a world-historical vision that is communicated via Mercury from Jupiter. The chapter analyses the divine intermediaries in Homer and Apollonius as well as Virgil.
The prophecy of future Roman greatness that Aeneas hears from his father Anchises in Book 6 of Virgil’s Aeneid is not mere triumphalism, but shows the strong influence both of Plato’s apocalyptic myths in the Republic and of Cicero’s adaptations of Plato in his Somnium Scipionis. The vision of future Roman history is severely qualified when viewed through the perspective of philosophical scepticism about human glory and worldly achievement.
From Homer on, the first similes in epic are strongly paradigmatic and symbolic; they emblematise an order on the human or cosmic scale, showing a contest between order and chaos. This pattern is analysed from Homer, Lucretius, Virgil and Lucan up to Milton’s Paradise Lost, whose first similes show a deep understanding of this ancient template.
The depiction of Troy and Carthage in Virgil’s Aeneid is influenced by the very recent events of the civil war between the future Augustus and Mark Antony and Cleopatra. The orientalising propaganda directed against Cleopatra and her city of Alexandria has left its mark on the depiction of Carthage and Dido, whose temptations for Aeneas recall the temptations of Alexandria and Cleopatra for Mark Antony. The victory at Actium over Antony and Cleopatra represents the defeat of a threat of a Roman reversion to their Eastern origins in Troy.
The chapter shows how an acrostic in Virgil’s Georgics develops a technique already visible in the Hellenistic poet Aratus: word play draws attention to the presence of an acrostic by directing the reader to look at the edges of the lines.
The portrayal of Hercules in Virgil’s Aeneid is heavily indebted to his portrayal in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes. As a demi-god, he is a complex and ambivalent figure in both poems, not exactly a man and not exactly a god. The depiction of Aeneas is indebted to the Apollonian Heracles in his immense force and his loneliness.
Horace’s Greek lyric predecessors all had a distinctive relationship to Homer, and Horace had a problem in following them, since there was not really a figure in Roman culture comparable to Homer, even if Ennius looked like it in some ways. In the first three books of his Odes, published in 23 BCE, Horace made very few references to epic. But in his fourth book, published in 13 BCE after the death of Virgil and the publication of the Aeneid in 19 BCE, Horace engages systematically with epic, explicitly with Homer and Ennius. The chapter argues that it is in fact the new classic of the Aeneid that is the real focus of interest. The chapter closes by asking why Horace deliberately ignored the work of Livy in a book of poetry that was so interested in how best to represent and commemorate the Roman past.
Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra displays a remarkable understanding of the period of history it describes, especially in its understanding of the corporate ideology of the Roman Republic. In describing the collapse of the Republic into one-man rule, Shakespeare highlights the roles of other candidates for power (Lepidus, Sextus Pompey) in order to remind the audience of the corporate state that is being left behind. Shakespeare’s depiction of the Roman civil wars as being wars of brother against brother is very unlike his depiction of the English civil wars, where such imagery is very rare compared to cases of father against son.
The chapter describes the minimalist nature of ancient punctuation, arguing that the absence of quotation marks in ancient texts is a more interesting phenomenon than usually thought. The chapter examines numerous cases where the absence of quotation marks makes it difficult for a reader to be initially sure where a speech begins or ends; it is argued that there is regularly a lot at stake for our interpretations in this uncertainty, since the reader must decide for themselves what the passage really means before deciding where the speeches begin and end.