Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Marco Fernandelli, Via Latina: studi su Virgilio e sulla sua fortuna. Polymnia: studi di filologia classica, 15. Trieste: Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2012. Pp. ix, 310. ISBN 9788883033841. €35.00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Van Sickle, Brooklyn College; City University of New York (jvsickle@brooklyn.cuny.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The collection of twelve essays (all but two previously published though updated) considers Virgil's legacy qua poet, reader, philologist, and psychologist, promising textual evidence for imitatio with concern for artistic personality, conceiving literary genre as interiority intoned in symbolic form reflecting spiritual content. Styling genre both practical and transcendent, Fernandelli infers that Virgil traces generic origin to Apollo of Eurotas — a non-Callimachean lyric nucleus expanded to diverse generic forms — and transforms Alexandrian genre crossing into fusion and modulation by deep cultural and psychological means, favoring epic's flow into tragedy — uniquely able to project action for modern consciousness. An emphatic dunque presses genre as a category of the spirit, above all in the Aeneid — the tesserae of genres transformed into the syntax of modes.

Recusative, then, Fernandelli disclaims true epistemology for just a few ideas, intuitions: Virgil's study of models is introspective, entailing analysis of inspiration, his composition fragmentary — in modern terms lyrical, metaphor being sometimes the seed from which emerge psychological connotations tapping the preconscious.

I. Virgilian Studies

Reiterating common views of Callimacheanism in the sixth eclogue's prologue, Fernandelli remarks ensuing turns towards the catalogue in narrative and how recounting prior narrative is selective: a trope he traces to Odysseus' selectively telling Penelope tales told more fully on Phaeacia. He shares readers' surprise at the retrospective claim: (e6.82-84)

All he sings that once, while Phoebus worked them up,
Eurotas heard entranced and bade that laurels learn
outright . . .

which he likens to Hesiod (Theog. 75 'These the Muses sang'), but especially to Callimachus on Acontius and Cydippe (fr. 67-75 Pfeiffer, Harder=166-174 Massimilla), beginning from Love's impact on the characters, ending with the impact on Callimachus' muse of prose history by Xenomedes of Ceos. Fernandelli notes that into the Acontius tale Callimachus wove motifs from Cean legend, arguing that the repeated greetings to Acontius cancel distance between the mythic lover and the present audience. Fernandelli contrasts Callimachus, tracing his story to a learned source, with Virgil, tracing his to Apollo's song — the expression of interior feeling, able to communicate with hearers and harmonize the world. Fernandelli asserts that this Apollo singing from pain in love by Eurotas differs from the prologue's Callimachean Apollo. For Fernandelli, Callimachus does not seek a unity of lyric inner truth, divine and orphic, like Virgil's. There is no mention that Callimachus traced Eurotas to Arcadia, despite links to Arcadian myth in both e6 and e10.1

A second essay treats Virgil's blending of tragedy with epic in Dido — love figured as a liquid sipped over time. His emphasis on the closing theatricality of Aen. 1 brings to mind relations between epos and tragedy explored by Nagy in Homer the Classic (BMCR 2012.03.46, my review). Fernandelli remarks how Virgil shifts the love plot from Medean tragedy to aetiology for the Punic wars.

The third essay builds on Bernard Knox's treatment of serpent imagery in Virgil's account of Troy's destruction, arguing that Virgil incorporates imaginative intensity from Aeschylus's Agamemnon into his episode: such intensity fits the tragic genre though atypical for epos, opines Fernandelli, pace Nagy (just cited).

A brief note then relates the farewell that closes the destruction narrative and adumbrates the coming trials of Aeneas to Thetis consoling Peleus (Euripides, Andromache 1231-1272), notably Greek komisten and ekkomisdein echoed in hinc comitem asportare Creusam (Aen. 2.777-784).

Close and detailed engagment with language mark also the brief study focused on renovare dolorem (Aen. 2.3), compared to this verb's only other use by Virgil, Stat casus renovare omnis omnemque reuerti (Aen. 2.750).

A longer piece describes the Polydorus episode as novel for epic tradition — the fiction of the talking grove — and incredible for Virgil's public: challenges met by Virgil enclosing Aeneas' and Polydorus' conversation within the larger narrative frame.

In a seventh study, Fernandelli shows how Virgil adapts from Ennius the figure of Discordia to fashion Allecto (Aen. 7)—from causing the second Punic War to causing the bitter divide between Italy and (Trojan) Rome.

II. Virgil in Antiquity

Fernandelli compares the function of ecphrasis in four epyllia (Moschus, Eur. 58-62; Catullus 64.89ff; Virgil, Ge. 4.507-515; Ovid, Met. 11.751-95), giving particular attention to the interplay between framed and framing myths, considering mythic allusion a generic mark and e6 canonical for the genre of slight (piccolo) epos: the Europa story frames Io myth in ecphrasis; Peleus and Thetis framethe ecphrasis of Ariadne and Theseus (implicit also Medea with Jason and Callimachus' Thesiad). Where Virgil compared Orpheus' mourning to the nightingale's lament, Fernandelli sees return to poetry's lyric essence, to an originary song like that figured by Lucretius (5.1379-1381): yet full attention to Lucretius' account of poetry's origin from nature (5.1382-1398) would have helped Fernandelli with Virgil's agrestis musa (e6.8). Also overlooking another rich vein, Fernadelli, though remarking etymological play in the myths of Philomela and Tereus (Greek terein glossed by observans), neglects the etymology of Eurydice herself, despite its resonance with the Arcadian Eurotas.2

Fernandelli also devotes a long piece to Silius Italicus, Punica.7, citing opinion that it mingles Virgil, Ennius, and Lucan, where Virgilian echoes emphasize the deeds of Fabius Cunctator, themselves meant to exemplify Roman virtues, although Silius uses ring-composition to exalt his hero where Virgil in Aen. 9 used it to underline heroic action's uselessness.

Comparing imagery of seething water in Virgil, Homer, and Quintus of Smyrna, Fernandelli argues that Virgil, mythicizing certain elements from Lucretius, gives it psychological intensity absent from Homer but elaborated in Quintus, leading Fernandelli to posit Virgil as the latter's source.

For Italian letters, Fernandelli chooses to trace Circe, considered a thematic array as formula of lyrical creation, where the Odyssean Circe represents, in terms of depth or Jungian psychology, Anima mediating between conscious and unconscious. He touches briefly on Circe's fate in Virgil and Dante, before lingering with Leopardi's frequent Virgilian engagements, including a poetics of the indefinite, en route to Pascoli, where the Circe theme is almost a form of mind. A final essay then traces Virgilian echoes in Pascoli's Ultimo Viaggio — Odysseus imagined seeking peoples ignorant of the sea, then residing nine years in Ithaca before retracing his famed adventures only to be shipwrecked on the Sirens' rocks, his corpse conveyed to Calypso — meant to complete Homer in an ethical, psychological, and existential way.

The range and scope of Fernandelli's interests, his nose for allusion and implication, his blend of copious bibliography and literary minutiae into broad cognitive, psychological, and cultural claims, his pervasive concern for metapoetics, all suppose the sort of careful, informed, and engaged readers that he poses for Virgilian texts. Yet such readers may want to scrutinize some of his inferences, intuitions, and apercus.

The present format permits one brief example, for which e6 may serve—styled canonical by Fernandelli. To its prologue he attributes the familiar commonplace of "ascendenza callimachea," paraphrasing, "è un pastore che se esprime in esametri e adatta ai modi siracusani il credo degli Aitia." [3] The familiar does not satisfy close reading, to which the prologue yields a literary biography in three markedly differentiated stages: [1st: 6.1-2] first (prima) play (ludere) by Thalia in woods in Syracusan verse (not merely modi siracusani); [2nd: 6.3-5] the narrator's attempt at a song of heroic themes that Apollo prevented; [3rd: 6.5-8] now the third stage will not return to play with Thalia but move to work (meditabor) for a muse of fields (agrestis musa, cf. Lucretius cited above), no longer of woods (silvestris musa, cf. e1.2 and Lucretius 4.580-589) but Pierian muses (6.13).3 In the Aitia however Apollo set the first and only "credo," which Virgil here defers to third stage poetics, hence better to infer not ascent but transcendance if "credo" is the right metaphor for Virgil's takes on Callimachus.

Fernandelli overlooks at least five contexts that further condition metapoetic inference regarding e6. He writes of the song from Apollo repeated by Silenus and now repeated by Tityrus; but he forgets that Virgil makes Tityrus hand off the singing to the Pierian Muses (6.13, pergite, a bucolic charge with heroic resonance). They serve for telling of Silenus and framing the rest, including their own gift of Hesiodic pipes to Gallus on Helicon. Occluding this basic generic frame, Fernandelli relates the eclogue's thematic range to the "scenario naturale più ampio." Yet Virgil closes by looking beyond nature with invito Olympo, implying that this song echoed among the gods, like the Muses' singing for Hesiod in the Theogony .

Olympus' pleasure in Apollo's song touches another chord ignored by Fernandelli: behind the figure of Apollo meditante lies Varro of Atax, Chorographia: Apollo working to echo (meditatur) the music of the spheres, which is the gods' greatest joy (maxima divis | laetitia) — a cosmic order that Virgil blends with the implicit myths of erotic pain, not merely Hyacinth dead but Daphne turned into the laurels that mediate the song along a river traced by Callimachus to Arcadia.4

Nor does Fernandelli relate Tityrus' three stage autobiography to the three stage autobiography of lecherous old Silenus in Euripides' Cyclops.5 Yet the variation on satyr drama (satyr a meaning of Tityrus) complements Virgil's systematic absorption of drama into bucolic epos, both comedy — e.g., Thalia's play in woods — and tragedy — e.g. Pollio (e3); Sophoclean style and Medean passion (e8); paratragic Corydon (e2) and Pasiphae (e6); tragic Damon (e8) and Gallus (e10), the latter absorbing Theocritus' tragic Daphnis (id1, which absorbed tragic Phaedra).

A fourth reduction stems from failing to relate the retrospective biographia letteraria to the structure of the eclogue book. Yet Virgil sends a strong structural signal by bringing Tityrus back and subjecting his figure to a reductive oracle (e6.2-5).6 It counters the 'first' expansive oracle (e1.44-45), where the young god at Rome (Octavian with a hint of Julian clan myth reconstituted) authorized the buildup in the first five eclogues of new Caesarist ideology for Rome, capped by a look to heroic epos (e4) and new heroic hymns (e5).7 Now Virgil turns his Tityrus and his book away from that Roman range to focus on Amor, to which end he will recall and vary Meliboeus.8

In a related reduction, Fernandelli calls e6, "una canonizzazione romana dell'epillio cioè dell piccolo epos," citing Clausen on its generic character. Yet he does not remark the redundant signs that Virgil defines this mode of epos as Hesiodean (pergite Pierides, ascraeo seni) and thus a middle mode (agrestis musa), between bucolic epos (play in woods) and heroic epos (dicere facta, e4.50; reges et proelia, e6.3). E6 acquires theoretical coherence in the book and in the tradition of epos when interpreted as middle epos, between the higher reach of ee3, 4, 5) and the bucolic-tragic mode of ee7-10).

From his Callimachean credo, Fernandelli supposes that Gallus gets endowed with Hesiod's reeds to sing "un inno": no word of Servius' report that Gallus translated Euphorion's little epos on the grove.9 Fernandelli locates the initiation scene at the eclogue's "proprio centro," which betrays intuition but belies actual structure: at the center of the eclogue's 86 verses, 43-44 recount the first heroic/erotic/echoic myth embedded in layered voices: his adjungit Hylan . . . Hyla omne sonaret.


1.   For multiple Callimachean and Arcadian themes in e6. John Van Sickle, Poesia e Potere. Il Mito Virgilio (Roma: Laterza, 1986) 133–35; John Van Sickle, Virgil's Book of Bucolics, the Ten Eclogues Translated Into English Verse. Framed by Cues for Reading Out-Loud and Clues for Threading Texts and Themes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2011) 187–96.
2.   Wide-ranging order, general writ' an "idea in poetics": John Van Sickle, The Design of Virgil's Bucolics. (London: Duckworth, 2004a [Second Edition]) 229.
3.   John Van Sickle, "Virgil Vs Cicero, Lucretius, Theocritus, Callimachus, Plato, and Homer: Two Programmatic Plots in the First Bucolic," Vergilius 46 (2000): 21–58.
4.   Van Sickle. 2004: 235-36.
5.   Van Sickle. 2011: 120–23, 187nn426, 430.
6.   Richard F. Thomas, "Voice, Poetics and Virgil's Sixth Eclogue," Innsbrucker Beiträge Zur Sprachwissenschaft 92 (1998): 669–76 — Mir Cuirad. Studies in Honor of Calvert Watkins.
7.   John Van Sickle, "Tityrus," The Virgil Encyclopedia, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).
8.   Ibid., "Meliboeus."
9.   Ibid., "Epos."

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