Thursday, February 7, 2013


Philip Hardie, Rumour and Renown: Representations of 'Fama' in Western Literature. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 693. ISBN 9780521620888. $180.00.

Reviewed by Antony Augoustakis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (

Version at BMCR home site


Philip Hardie needs no introduction to students and scholars of Latin literature and indeed Latin epic poetry, well- known for his 1986 study of Virgil's Aeneid, his 1994 exemplary commentary on the ninth book of the poem (BMCR 95.07.11), and the 1993 pioneering book on the epic successors of Virgil (BMCR 04.01.08). The book under review is another magnum opus, a magisterial work of learning that aims to offer a comprehensive picture of the ever-changing Fama, the personified Rumor, from its Greek origins through Virgil, Ovid, and beyond, in authors like Petrarch, Chaucer, Milton, and Pope. Without exaggeration, this is a must-read book, and what I hope to offer here is but a glimpse of its rich, stimulating, and highly rewarding contents.

There are fifteen chapters included in this book, an introduction, as well as a generous bibliography, two indices and a plethora of (thirty-seven) illustrations (some of which become the topic of the last chapter of the book). In the extensive introductory chapter, Hardie begins by exploring the semantics of fama: "what is said" (from the verb fari, like her Greek counterpart φήμη from the verb φημί). But what is the difference between "rumor" and "legend", for instance? The word fama can also mean "public opinion," a synonym of opinio or existimatio, let alone "glory" or the media vox, "reputation," which can be good or bad. In six pages (6-11), Hardie lays out "the major duplicities and dichotomies that characterize the structures and dynamics" of fama, with categories ranging from presence vs absence, facta vs fama, active vs passive, authority vs reliability. Then the introductory chapter is divided into five sections on: fama and the self, order and disorder, critiques of fama, plots of fama, and plotting fama. In these sections, Hardie outlines the themes of the book and identifies common threads that permeate the diverse and rich representations of the equally concrete and abstract fama, while at the same time the author indicates his debt to other fields and disciplines.

In the second chapter ("Hesiod and Homer: Virgilian beginnings"), Hardie begins from the very beginning, the κλέος- driven Greek epics, and more specifically Hesiod's didactic Works and Days. Hesiod constructs Φήμη as a parallel to the two Ἔριδες, the good and bad strife: reputation can be good or bad, an agonistic feature already present in the goddesses that represent strife. The poem ends with the (paradoxical) immortality of human gossip, of the ephemeral in other words, an absolute contrast to κλέος, thus perhaps pointing to the changing realities of Hesiod's world, a world very different from Homeric epic. But even a quick look at several instances of Rumor in Homer confirm that κλέος is not immune to a more temporal and transient understanding of "fame" by an anonymous crowd. As a prequel to the next chapter on Virgil, Hardies concludes with a thorough examination of the structure of the Latin poem in terms of the function of the storm as a struggle between fama as κλέος and fama as rumor, as best exemplified in Sinon, the weaver of lies in Aeneid 2.

In Chapters 3 ("Virgil's Fama") and 4 ("Fame and defamation in the Aeneid: the Council of Latins"), Hardie investigates the monster Fama and the wider implications of her presence in Virgil's poem. In the fourth book, the personified odd creature spreads the rumor of the liaison between Aeneas and Dido, and as consequence the queen loses her good fama. Hardie's brilliant discussion follows a familiar pattern: close readings of the text followed by masterful analysis. Fama constructs a plot, and the protagonists strive to counter it. Capitalized or not, the giantess "Rumor" permeates and transgresses the boundaries of the fourth book. The result of such confusion is ultimately a mixed picture regarding the definition of fama, praise and blame, good fame and dark rumor, objectivity and subjectivity. In the second of these two chapters on Virgil, Hardie explores the episode of the council of the Latins in book 11 and more specifically the power of rhetoric in the poem. Drances, as Hardie argues, is not simply a double for Cicero or Catiline but represents orators of the late Republic in general, the personification of distorted rhetoric and a double of Fama. (The third chapter ends with an excursus on the adaptation of Fama in Achilles Tatius and Apuleius, as well as an appendix on the role of Mercury, the accomplice of Fama herself.)

Chapters 5 ("Fama in Ovid's Metamorphoses") and 6 ("Later imperial epic") turn to Virgil's "epic" successors, starting from the creation of a house that hosts the monstrous creature in Ovid. Fama's presence is very anticlimactic though: she just ensures the arrival of the Greeks at Troy is not unexpected. In the second of the two chapters, Hardie looks at Lucan, Valerius Flaccus, Statius, and Nonnus' Typhoeus, admittedly a very close parallel to the Virgilian monster. (Silius Italicus is reserved for a postscript in the seventh chapter.) I found the discussion of Nonnus' giant more interesting than the observations on each of the Latin epicists because of the insights that Hardie offers on an often neglected text, the Dionysiaca. Of course as Hardie admits, no certain conclusion can be drawn on whether or not Nonnus was a reader of Virgil, Ovid, and Latin poetry in general. The parallelisms are there and are certainly hard to miss.

In the subsequent two chapters 7 ("Fama and the historians I. Livy") and 8 ("Fama and the historians II. Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and Martial"), Hardie examines several prose texts, with a focus on historiography. Hardie discusses extensively instances of the correlation between fama and facta in Livy and also in Tacitus' Agricola. In Tacitus' Histories and Annals the full-blown fama episodes revolve around the atmosphere of suspicion, gossip, and fear that permeates life in imperial Rome under the principate, when rumor and reputation are mostly manipulated to serve the needs of the one man in power. Pliny and Martial are brought in the discussion to provide a fuller picture of the "normality" (or lack thereof) of everyday life in Rome before and after Domitian.

In the ninth chapter ("The love of fame and the fame of love"), Hardie switches genres to consider more closely the triangulation of Fame, Strife (Eris), and Love (Eros), all inherent aspects in the hybrid Fama. He points out that "as there is an eristics of Fama, so there is an erotics of Fama" (331). A wealth of texts from antiquity to the Renaissance and beyond are used in Hardie's discussion of heroic and erotic fame. The close readings of certain texts are truly rewarding: I single out here the analysis of the elegiac poems in particular.

With chapter 10 ("Fame and blame, fame and envy: Spenserian personifications of the word") we return to the distinction between bona fama and mala fama, this time to connect it with English words that rhyme with it, such as "name," "shame," or "blame"; such associations with φθόνος or μῶμος take Hardie to a detour through Semonides of Amorgos and Horace's portrayal of Canidia in the Epodes and Satires 1 to end with Spenser's The Faeirie Queene. Spenser's emphasis on reputation and the depiction of monstrous personifications of bad fama point to the obsession with honor and reputation in England of his own day.

As the title of the following chapter ("Christian conversions of Fama") suggests, Hardie examines Neolatin epics of the High Renaissance, such as Sannazaro's De partu Virginis and Vida's Christiad. In the former, Sannazaro presents Fama in a Virgilian manner by recasting her as a messenger of true (and joyous) tidings, i.e., the birth of the Savior. In the latter, Vida exploits the false aspects of "rumor," when, for instance, he relates the resurrection of Christ and the spread of false fama. The chapter concludes with the fascinating In quintum Novembris by John Milton, a 226-line mini-epic on the Gunpowder Plot. The personified Fama here intervenes to stop the (Papist) plot and deliver England from evil. She is used as the irresistible agent of the truth in Milton's clearly providentialist narrative.

Chapter 12 ("Fama in Petrarch: Trionfi and Africa") is dedicated to Petrarch, who is characterized by confident ambition but also a deep anxiety regarding the everlasting effects of (good) reputation, which also becomes the telos of Petrarch's own narrative. It comes as no surprise that the Trionfi feature prominently, since they include a poem on the triumph of fame. Fame informs Petrarch's project of reviving antiquity and the great Roman past; in his epic enterprise, the Africa, Petrarch is looking forward to the eternity of his own poetic corpus through fama.

The final three chapters 13 ("Fama in early modern England: Shakespeare and Jonson"), 14 ("("Fama in Milton: Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes"), and 15 ("Chaucer's House of Fame and Pope's Temple of Fame") delve into the rich British literary tradition. What is the role of fame in the political and social spheres in early modern England? Hardie offers an intriguing discussion of Shakespeare's Henriad tetralogy, with special attention paid to personified Rumour in the opening of Henry IV Part 2, and of Jonson's Poetaster. Milton's distinction between false earthly glory and true heavenly glory is well known. Hardies examines both Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, especially the many versions of an unruly house of fame, from the court of Anarch Chaos to the Tower of Babel. These houses are of course instances of a place of seeming architectural order that results in utter disorder and failure. Finally in Chaucer and Pope, Hardie shows how a "House" or "Temple" for Fame constitutes an exercise in trying to locate the polymorphousness of this Protean creature as well as in establishing a firm relationship between fame and the self.

The final chapter of the book is dedicated to "Visual representations of Fama," that is, images of Fame since the fourteenth century which offer an iconographical commentary on the complex nature of the subject matter of this study. Readers will be rewarded with a fine selection of illustrations with insightful comments on the fascinating visual aspects of many-tongued Fama.

Beyond doubt, this volume is the result of many years of research; the production is handsome and flawless. It has already taken a special place on my bookshelf, and as I am sure, on the shelves of many readers and students of Latin literature and its reception.

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