Sunday, October 13, 2013


Alessandra Romeo, Orfeo in Ovidio: la creazione di un nuovo epos. Studi di filologia antica e moderna, 25. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino, 2012. Pp. 195. ISBN 9788849834260. €19.80 (pb).

Reviewed by R. A. Smith, Baylor University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Alessandra Romeo's Orfeo in Ovidio adds a useful piece to the complicated puzzle concerning Ovid's Orpheus, suggesting how, through the development of that character and the tales that he recounts, Ovid finds a place for his Orpheus within the poetic tradition. That tradition, woven from strands of Homer, Callimachus, Apollonius (who might have garnered more attention), Catullus, and Virgil is admittedly difficult to sort out. Romeo points the reader in a positive direction toward the goal of better understanding Ovid's characterization of Orpheus within the dense poetic landscape of Met. 10 and 11.

For Romeo, Orpheus in the Metamorphoses is a touchstone for the creation not only of a new epic but also of a new fashion of epic after Virgil. Romeo wishes to distinguish the Orpheus of the Met. from that of Virgil and his predecessors (52-56). She does not, however, regard the general effect of the narrative as radically corrective of Virgil, whose presentation is characterized by an aura of pathos. The Orpheus of the Met., Romeo notes, is rather more a poet than a priest, much more musical than his reticent Virgilian counterpart. In the Aeneid, Orpheus is specifically dubbed by Virgil as Threicius sacerdos (6.645). This notion of Orpheus as emblematic poet/uates dovetails with Romeo's view that much of the carmen Orphicum is a reflection, in miniature, of the Met itself, and thus Orpheus stands parallel to the poet (52). Though Romeo does not unequivocally embrace the notion of Ovid's adaptation being a radical departure from the Virgilian model, she believes that there is more to any similarity between the two than appears at first blush, advancing the idea that Ovid appropriates Virgilian material according to the delicate principles of allusion that had been developed by Alexandrian poets such as Callimachus. She sees this manner of presentation as Ovid's penchant for indulging in "callimachismo" and, not surprisingly, Romeo enlarges on Ovidian imitation wrought in the Callimachean manner throughout her monograph. Yet as the book unfolds, it becomes clear that Romeo ultimately sees Ovid's adaptation of Virgil a departure from his predecessor than she first intimates.

Romeo does not view the Ovidian account as representing any serious attempt to interact with the poetry of Cornelius Gallus (14-15), as Virgil's would seem to have done. There is indeed a good deal of resistance, Romeo suggests, to the Orpheus of Virgil, insofar as he is tainted by Gallus' elegiac brush. The depiction of Eurydice that points back to Euripides' Alcestis also represents a gentle Ovidian correction of the Virgilian presentation (23). Ovid's chronology within the tale departs from Virgil's (27), as does the inclusion of the story about the snake threatening the head of Orpheus on Lesbos (34). By introducing the lyre along with Orpheus' head into the story, Ovid is doing something quite different from Virgil, crossing generic boundaries in a way that Virgil did not (35).

Romeo's examination of Orpheus' songs by and large comes off well. However, her analysis of the surrounding tales is a feature of her study that sometimes works better than others. On the positive side, Romeo takes the story of Peleus and Thetis (37-43) as an example of how Ovid uses Callimachean principles to rework shared content, with a dash of aemulatio toward both Virgilian and Homeric material. Ovid departs from the central story of the wedding on which Catullus had focused (though Catullus mostly is concerned about the story of Theseus and Ariadne, with Alexandrian flair, via the famous ekphrasis of the wedding couch's coverlet). Instead, Ovid puts the emphasis on the shapeshifting of the central character, harking back to Menelaus' encounter with Proteus in the Odyssey (4.398-592); here Romeo nicely compares and contrasts the relevant Virgilian and Homeric passages. She also attentively considers the way that the episode not only rivals but also references earlier source material, including that of the Orphic tradition. Though she might have further unpacked Orpheus' familial connections in Calliope's and Orpheus' songs (53-56), she shows very well how complex the web of allusions in and around the song of Orpheus can be (cf. 57-62).

Amidst her various discussions of how Alexandrian stylistic features inform Ovid's work, Romeo frequently notes that the poet engages in breuitas, which she views as a rhetorical strategy that can encompass condensed allusions, e.g. Met. 10.103-105. There Ovid reveals his debt to Callimachean principles, for example, in the way that he takes up a thread that goes back to the figure of Attis from Catullus 63. For her analysis of the songs of Orpheus, Romeo touches upon the notion of how the plots of the episodes are introduced and presented. In her consideration of other tales, Romeo enlarges on Ovid's Alexandrian poetic craftsmanship (i.e. his penchant for leuis or "delicate" poetry), as can be seen in her treatment of the story of Ganymede (67-69). She also expounds upon possible metaphorical interpretations such as the arboreal account that comes between the katabasis and the carmen Orphicum (45-49).

In her consideration of Cinyras and Myrrha, Romeo notes the Virgilian parallels with a thoughtful discussion of how they appear to function, calling attention properly to the observations of Michael C. J. Putnam in "Ovid, Virgil and Myrrha's Metamorphic Exile," Vergilius 47 (2001) 171-193. Her treatment of Ovid's book and verse citation of Virgil (Met. 10.475 of Aen. 10.475), however, might have been developed with greater acumen; as it is, it comes across as rather subdued (113). To enrich her discussion, Romeo might also have availed herself of earlier work on the same parallel (if one should call it a parallel; cf. Gymnasium 97 [1990] 458-460).

Ultimately, Romeo shows that Orpheus is a poet worthy of the Hellenistic age that has "produced" him. She sees stylistic features of this Orphic episode, such as the poet's breuitas, already mentioned, as possibly reflecting debates about the kind of ethical dilemmas one sees in Seneca's Controuersiae 1.3.11 (114-15 n. 30), which Romeo seems to view as reflecting marginalization of the heroine (115f.). However that may be, Romeo is surely right to point out that much more than simply a Virgilian impulse is informing Ovid's adaptation of traditional material. For Romeo, Ovid's Orpheus is ultimately not as elegiac as Virgil's querens lover (G. 4.520); Ovid's is a singer who responds to Virgil's Orpheus by driving epos, "dopo catabasi," in a fresh direction (45).

Romeo's analyses of the tales of Adonis, Hippomenes and Atalanta also reveal how Orpheus' narrative voice reflects a new epic diction. For the purposes of his narrative, Orpheus assumes a manner of speaking that reflects a fresh way of presenting epic material, albeit sometimes that fresh manner is actually drawn from Virgil. Elements of Camilla's story from the Aeneid can be found in that of Atalanta; there, Romeo argues, the aristeia of Camilla is reflected in two particular themes of Orpheus' song: the character's will to engage in a challenge, alongside the attraction of gold as a motive for the defeat of the female challenger (128f.). Romeo's book contains many other thoughtful interpretations, all of which cannot be parsed out in a mere review. The appendices, for example, offer several interesting investigations. There Romeo treats the hiatus between Orpheus' katabasis in the Met. and his musical performance (143-146), while in another she considers the monologues of heroines (149-155). These analyses are meant to point up how individual episodes in and around the tale of Orpheus exemplify the new kind of epos of which Ovid's Orpheus is the central symbol.

Though the book enjoys many perspicuous analyses, there are a few things that might have been done better. While this reviewer acknowledges that given the proliferation of modern scholarship it is impossible to know or consider thoroughly every piece written about Ovid, Romeo might have better presented her work as offering the next step in an ongoing discussion. Though she acknowledges her debt to scholars such as C. M. Bowra, (CQ n.s. 2 [1952] 113-126) and, particularly, Eduard Norden's 1934 classic "Orpheus und Eurydice: ein nachtr├Ągliches Gedenkblatt f├╝r Vergil" (Kleine Schriften) [Berlin, rpt. 1966] 468-532), she might have better integrated recent contributions. In particular, Hinds (cited only twice) and Papaiannou (whose Redesigning Achilles is cited only once [p. 134n.], while Epic Succession and Dissention is never mentioned) do not figure as prominently as they should into Romeo's discussion. Additionally, inasmuch as we have all made such mistakes, it would be punctilious to mention typos in the bibliography, though there are some, all minor, e.g. s.v. Putnam, "Metamorfic Exile" for "Metamorphic Exile" (also p. 103 n. 6) or s.v. Scivoletto, Musa iocosa for either Musa iocosa or Musa iocosa), in the case of which a fuller bibliographic entry would have, at any rate, been welcome.

Nitpicking aside, there is much good in Romeo's book. In terms of literary analysis, she is at her best when comparing and contrasting directly the Ovidian and Virgilian characterizations of Orpheus. Ultimately, the book does what it sets out to do, presenting a useful and thoughtful reading of a slender piece of text and as such is a welcome contribution. For those of us interested in the Metamorphoses, questions of genre, poetic diction and "callimachismo," this book is certainly worth reading.

Table of Contents

1. Il Orfeo delle Metamorfosi: il mito oltre Virgilio
2. Prove di aemulatio Peleo e Tetide nel libro XI
3. Storie di alberi
4. I canti di Orfeo: proemio, trama tematica, modalita espositive
5. Ganimede e l'aquila
6. Giacinto 'figura' dei fanciulli guerrieri eneadici
7. La dea dei canti orfici: una Venere eloquente
8. Miti 'di raccordo'
9. Pigmalione e Mirra: preghiere esaudite e retorica del desiderio
10. Adone, Ippomene, Atalanta: la forma raccontata
11. Esaco tra echi orfici e memorie 'georgiche'
Appendice 1: Il triennio fra la catabasi e i canti di Orfeo
Appendice 2: Coelum / caenum
Appendice 3: Monologhi di eroine
Appendice 4: Omonimie mitologiche e osmosi tematiche
Indice dei personaggi mitologici e letterari
Indice dei passi ovidiani citati
Indice delgi autori e dei testi antichi
Indice degli autori moderni

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