Sunday, March 27, 2011


Fabio Gasti (ed.), Il Romanzo latino: modelli e tradizione letteraria. Atti della VII Giornata Ghisleriana di Filologia classica (Pavia, 11-12 ottobre 2007). Pavia: Collegio Ghislieri, 2009. Pp. 138. ISBN 9788871643236. €15.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Luca Grillo, Amherst College (

Version at BMCR home site


[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The volume under review collects the proceedings of the seventh conference in classical philology held at the Collegio Ghislieri in Pavia (11-12 October 2007). A very short "premessa" by Fabio Gasti opens the collection, stating its goal: "to enter into the economy of a genre and to study its characteristics, evolution and, in particular, its relation to its models, within the problematic and late shaping of a tradition embedded in the Latin world." The seven contributions making up the collection display a considerable variety of themes, length and quality.

The essay by Paolo Fedeli sets out "to sketch the main lines of the development of Petronian studies" while illustrating the directions of the most recent contributions (13-14). Fedeli starts from three loci classici: the Satyricon's readership, authorship and genre. Each of these subjects receives a very traditional treatment: Petronius was the arbiter elegantiae mentioned by Tacitus (Ann. 16.17-20), but the Satyricon must not be identified with the codicilli he sent to Nero; and the work, which presupposes two levels of audience (one highly educated and able to enjoy the many literary references of the text, and one basically illiterate), owes more to the Greek novel than to the Menippean satire. The contributions of those scholars who most recently have reconsidered the ancient novel in relation with the Milesian tales (e.g. Harrison 1998 and Jensson 2004) are not registered, and the focus on the origin of the Satyricon does not engage with the debate about the notion of "genre" as such. In fact, Nimis (1994) and Fusillo (1989) have argued that the Greek novel is not a genre, while Whitmarsh (2005) stresses the generic unity of Greek and Roman novels. Narrative techniques receive a better treatment, which acknowledges the observations of Conte and Laird, among others, on the distinct voices and narrators within the Satyricon. Having touched on the theme of death and of the labyrinth, the essay closes pleading for a new critical edition of and commentary on the whole text, which too often, as Fedeli rightly points out, is considered only in sections.

The Satyricon (as we have it) begins with Encolpius' tirade on the decadence of eloquence, followed by the response of Agamemnon, who caps his speech with 22 improvised verses (Sat. 5). Giulio Vannini discusses the text and the meaning of these lines, arguing that Agamemnon envisions the education of the apprentice orator as follows: one must study the Greek and the Roman models and, at times, leave the busy forum to read epic poetry (especially Lucan). In the Teubner edition (1st 1961; 4th 1995) Müller, following Burman, prints line 20 between 16 and 17, while according to Vannini (and current standard practice) line 20 should not be moved. Moreover, Vannini cautiously suggests that lines 17-20 refer exclusively to epic poetry, basing his interpretation on three (to me unconvincing) arguments: det pagina cursum (17) means "let the read page run quickly;" et fortuna sonet celeri distincta meatu (18) refers not to historiography, but to (Lucan's) epic, because of the prominence that fortune has in Lucan; and grandiaque indomiti Ciceronis verba minentur (20) alludes to Lucan 7.62-4, where Cicero exhorts Pompey to fight at Pharsalus, looking indomitus (but Lucan does not use indomitus!). The essay contains more than one sensible remark on the difficult textual tradition of these 22 lines, and it would have been helpful to have the entire passage printed with Vannini's readings rather than bits of text embedded into the discussion.

The contribution by Valeria Maria Patimo is concerned with an episode from the Satyricon 101.6-103.2, where Eumolpus, Giton and Encolpius, being trapped on a ship, consider the best way to escape, imagining being Odysseus in the cave of the Cyclopes. Patimo reads the passage as a parody of deliberative oratory: in a mini-council the protagonists take turns in proposing (propositio) and rejecting (confutatio) each other's plans, according to their utilitas and casting themselves in imagined characters (as in prosopopeia); they also recur to other typical strategies of oratory, like rhetorical questions and various devices meant to move the audience emotionally. The surreal discussion also resembles a scholastic exercise in persuasion (suasoria), which looks back at Encolpius and Agamemnon's dispute on the decadence of oratory (Sat. 1-5). Patimo successfully demonstrates the rhetorical nature of this debate, but her point is a bit labored by the use of long sections summarizing the text and by the repetition of the same passages supporting her arguments (e.g. Her. 3.3 cited at p. 50 and 53 and de Orat. 2.336 cited at p. 52 and 54).

The essay by Luca Graverini, which opens the second section of the volume, is the best in the collection. By comparing two similar scenes of hunting in Apuleius and in Achilles Tatius, Graverini shows how Apuleius and Achilles make similar use of Greek and Roman literary tradition and concludes that Sandy's rigid distinction between the Greek and Latin novel "hides important unitary aspects of the narrative genre." The death of Tlepolemus, Charite's husband, during a boar hunt (Apul. Met. 8.4-5), is set against the literary models of Herodotus (1.34-45), Propertius (2.19), Virgil (Aen. 4.141ff.) and especially against the episode of Venus and Adonis in Ovid (Met. 10.519ff.); the comparison demonstrates how Apuleius, mastering the literary tradition, mixes codes of behavior typical of different genres (safe or "elegiac" versus dangerous or "epic" hunting), thus engaging in meta-literary allusions. The story of Menelaus' hunt with "a pretty boy" from Achilles' Adventures of Leucippe and Clitophon (2.31.1-3) displays the same distinction between safe and dangerous hunting and the same level of sophistication in using models like Theocritus (Id. 3) and Bion (Epitaph for Adon 60ff.). Graverini suggests other parallels between Apuleius and Tatius, but he carefully resists the temptation to postulate a direct dependence, concluding that "there is a thick web of possible interactions" within a consolidated system of free references and that these references blur the line between love and comic (and between Greek and Roman) ancient novels.

A structural and thematic parallel between the conversion of Lucius in Apuleius (Met. 11.1-15) and that of Augustine in the Confessions (8.12) informs Mara Aschei's reading of these episodes. The essay does not attempt to identify intertextual links or argue Augustine's direct dependence on Apuleius; rather it shows how these two narratives can be productively read together in the context of teaching Latin in high school. Aschei achieves this goal, per se not ambitious, by summarizing and translating conspicuous portions of these texts and by making some observations on their structural, linguistic and ritualistic features. The literary elaboration of Augustine's conversion is thus considered within its "anthropological imaginative space" and seen in the light of ancient mystery cults.

The reception of Apuleius in Scarron's Roman comique provides a case study for the Nachleben of the Metamorphoses in Seventeenth Century France. The short essay by Vittorio Fortunati sketches some structural, thematic and narrative echoes of Apuleius in Scarron, arguing that "we can see in the Metamorphoses the model of a genre (or of a subgenre) more than the model of a single work." As Fotunati points out, before the Roman comique, Scarron had engaged in direct imitation of other Latin models: his Virgile travesti, a rewriting of the first seven books of the Aeneid, is considered the masterpiece of French seventeenth-century burlesque literature; but while Scarron satirizes Virgil, he does not hesitate to treat Apuleius as a "master to be followed."

In the last essay (written in English), Stelios Panayotakis examines an episode from the Historia Apollonii Regis Augusti, a novel which enjoyed great popularity in the Middle Ages and which survives only in a late translation (fifth or sixth century). Apollonius, the prince of Tyre, having been shipwrecked receives hospitality from a poor fisherman, who even divides his cloak in two to dress his guest. This story finds many parallels both in classical and Christian literature: the episode of Habrocomes and Aegialeus in Xenophon of Ephesus, of Aristomenes in Apuleius (Met. 1.7), of the beggar and Martin of Tours in Sulpicius Severus (Vita Martini 3.1-3) and of Demetrius and Antiphilus in Lucian (Toxaris 30-1) are the most common candidates for models. Panayotakis finds interesting verbal echoes between the Historia Apollonii and the Vita Martini and concludes that the former "postdates the Christian biography and stands in a competitive dialogue with it."

The collection provides some interesting examples of productive ways to look at the Roman novel in its literary tradition, but it has some pitfalls. An index locorum would have been desirable, even if, as a rule, the essays address specific passages or problems and the volume is not hard to navigate. A more serious issue is the lack of an introduction, which implies lack of dialogue between the essays and which often results in a deficient engagement with the larger scholarly debate. For instance, key terms (such as genre, model, allusion, parallel and intertextuality) recur throughout the collection but seem to take on different meanings for different authors (e.g. p. 41, 64, 81 and 115). The high number of typos (e.g. p. 53, 64, 90 and 110) and the inconsistencies in the lists of bibliographical references following each essay display carelessness (e.g. Conte's L'autore nascosto is listed three times and in three different ways).

Table of contents

Premessa (Fabio Gasti)
Il romanzo petroniano: bilanci e prospettive (Paolo Fedeli)
Il capitolo 5 del Satyricon: una proposata di lettura (Giulio Vannini)
Una seduta deliberante nel Satyricon (101,6-103.2) (Valeria Maria Patimo)
Apuleio e Achille Tazio. Una scena di caccia e una 'regola aurea' (Luca Graverini)
Questioni didattiche a margine delle Metamorfosi di Apuleio: una proposta di lettura (Mara Aschei)
Apuleio e Scarron: legami intertestuali tra le Metamorfosi e il Roman comique (Vittorio Fortunati)
A fisherman's Cloak and the Literary Texture of the Story of Apollonius, King of Tyre (Stelios Panayotakis)

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