Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Hélène Vial (ed.), Poètes et orateurs dans l'Antiquité: mises en scène réciproques. Collection Erga, 13. Clermont-Ferrand: Presses universitaires Blaise Pascal, 2013. Pp. 486. ISBN 9782845165007. €25.00.

Reviewed by Ben Jerue, Yale University (ben.jerue@yale.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Poètes et orateurs dans l'Antiquité: mises en scène réciproques is a wide-ranging, if somewhat uneven, collection of essays. Covering topics from Homer to Philostratus, the book interrogates the different ways that the figures of the orator and poet buttress, challenge, or even confuse and blur with each other. Vial points out in her general introduction that the volume provides no rigid mapping of the relationship between the poet and the orator. Not only does the book sketch larger diachronic shifts (see especially the brief discussions of Perceau and Guérin below), but also synchronic and intratextual ones (on this see especially de Giorgio on Cicero and part 4 section c generally); moreover, there are productive tensions found throughout the scholarly approaches deployed in the book itself. Instead of offering us firm answers, then, this collection demands further work on the complex and volatile relationship between poetry and oratory. As Barbaud implies (157-8) and Heuzé mentions outright,1 when thinking of the orator and his political/social functions it is hard, if not impossible, to see his role as wholly distinct from that of the poet. While several essays do revel in the messiness of the topic, others implicitly promote a somewhat facile demarcation—though not without ancient pedigree—between the two: orators aim to persuade, poets to please.2 Accordingly, in addition to Vial's introduction, the volume would have profited from a conclusion that brings these various approaches and mappings into direct contact with one another.

Although the book is large, containing twenty-two essays, there are some notable gaps; furthermore, several essays treat similar material or provide nearly identical arguments.3 On the whole, the volume is accessible to all readers and does not require any specialized knowledge. This accessibility, however, does have its pitfalls, since several articles seem to lay the necessary groundwork only to provide a rushed or not fully developed argument, promising as it may seem. The volume is replete with paratextual materials: in addition to indices,4 there is a general bibliography (which will be especially helpful for those unfamiliar with Francophone scholarship) as well as abstracts for each contribution. A word about citations and bibliography: readers may find arguments already familiar from Anglophone scholarship which are arrived at independently here.5

This collection contains several notable errors and/or misleading arguments that ought to be singled out.6 Ennius—not Naevius—is repeatedly said to be Rome's first writer of historical epic (127 and 142). There is also some questionable philological work, which is exemplified by Barbaud's otherwise engaging essay on Catullus.7 Delbey's article on the Laus Pisonis takes Calpurnius Siculus as the author of the encomium and even claims that this is not controversial!8 Besides these factual and philological errors, there are plenty of attractive, though not quite compelling, arguments sprinkled throughout the volume's pages.9 While the volume as a whole covers a vast array of periods, texts, and authors, several—but certainly not all—suffer from a sort of shortsightedness: Vix's arguments concerning Aelius Aristides 30-34, for instance, are certainly well reasoned, but the conclusions reached are hardly surprising in light of earlier rhetorical writings. In a similar, but more understandable vein, Notter's methodologically rigorous and clearly argued paper on Martial's satiric epigrams takes Greek epigram into account, but could be greatly enriched if Horace's Satires were brought into the discussion, poems in which one finds productive precedents for the complex and intriguing patterns of representation that Notter traces in Martial.

So much for the difficulties. Poètes et orateurs dans l'Antiquité is undoubtedly an excellent and welcome collection that has much to offer students and scholars who are interested in the relationships between these two prominent figures. In the space that remains, I would like to briefly outline a single contribution from each of the book's sections that is representative, outstanding for its rigor, or noteworthy for the questions it raises and discussion it is bound to provoke.

In "Des mots ailés aux mots en flocons: quelques portraits de héros en orateurs dans l'Iliade," Perceau delivers a sustained attack on conceptions of Odysseus' sublime style. Primarily analyzing Antenor's description of Menelaus and Odysseus' embassy to Troy at Iliad 3.204ff, she paints an Odysseus who departs from normal heroic practices of actio. One manner in which Perceau particularly distinguishes herself is in her careful attention to lexemes and the ways that later critical discourses have conditioned us (as well as the Greeks and Romans themselves) to read stylistic metaphors into the Homeric epics anachronistically (see especially her discussion of νιφάδεσσιν... χειμερίῃσιν at 29-32). While the author certainly presents us with a noncanonical portrait of the crafty hero, the essay could go further to argue for the place of this portrait in the Iliad and Odyssey more broadly.

Smart, ambitious, and bound to be controversial, Guérin's contribution ("Non per omnia poetae sunt sequendi. La figure du poète comme modèle et contre-modèle de l'exercise oratoire dans la rhétorique latine classique") attempts to map out the changing relationship between oratory and poetry through an analysis of shifting attitudes from the Rhetorica ad Herennium to Quintilian's Institutio oratoria. In brief, Guérin argues that at the outset of the first century BCE rhetorical manuals stressed similarities between poets and orators, while by Quintilian's day rhetorical manuals had to emphasize the differences between the two figures because "l'orateur, devenu en réalité déclamateur, apparaît comme un simple rival du poète sur la scène littéraire" (105). Such a thesis does indeed find support in some sources, but it is simplistically selective. The article, however, would be ideal for provoking debate in a seminar. Instead of arguing for some objective narrative of decline, the article could be tempered and improved if the author paid more attention to Cicero's and Quintilian's stakes in recasting the apparently "traditional" relationship between the figures of the orator and poet and were more upfront about his implicitly Tacitean narrative.10

In his short contribution ("Vergilius orator an poeta?") Heuzé reads two Vergilian orators against each other within the framework of Cato's famous vir bonus dicendi peritus. Heuzé argues that the orator from the Aeneid's first simile represents "un idéal enraciné dans la mentalité des Romains." This ideal orator is contrasted with the infamous Drances from Book 11, who manages to give sound advice despite his status as a "vir malus peritus dicendi" (179). Heuzé suggests that this second orator is meant to conform to reality and expose the Ciceronian orator perfectus as a fanciful construction.

In "Un souteneur à la barre: peinture de caractère et mise en scène déclamatoire dans le Mime II d'Hérodas," Goeken presents a rich and detailed reading of Herodas Mimiambos 2 which brings the intertextual relationship with Demosthenes and then the Progymnasmata to bear on the poem.11 The resulting portrait shows the poem to be a masterpiece of ethopoeia in which the author proves himself to be well versed in rhetorical theory and capable of depicting the botched speech of an inept and uncharismatic speaker. Perhaps more than the other essays in this section, Goeken's piece seriously grapples with the relationship between poetry and rhetoric in the larger cultural ambit.

Cytermann's analysis of the Dialogus ("Poésie et éloquence dans le Dialogue des orateurs: lecture de l'Histoire et genres de vie") centers around Maternus' choice to write tragedy after a successful career as an orator. The analysis begins by showing that Aper's critique of poetry and Maternus' of oratory are equivalent and then goes on to explore how Maternus justifies his turn (or retreat) to poetry and how this fits in with diachronic representations of the respective fields. In this analysis, poetry and oratory in their Republican manifestations switch places: the poet becomes the more involved in pressing political and cultural issues, while the orator is reduced to a panegyricist. Cytermann stresses that the Dialogus does not offer any sort of general manifesto, but offers this discussion as an insight into an individual's personal history.

Notter's essay ("La figure de l'orateur dans les épigrammes satiriques de Martial") is particularly laudable for its self-critical approach toward epigram and its sophisticated way of reading Martial as simultaneously part of a tradition, but also a poet with his own voice and comtemporary concerns. The analysis largely focuses on Martial's depiction of the economic and social statuses of poets and orators. The research is thorough and presents a complex picture that cannot be boiled down to any sort of simplistic relationship.

In "Citations poétiques et stratégies rhétoriques: la parole poétique comme instrument de mise en scène du sophiste," Favreau-Linder stands out for her rigorous and nuanced approach to practices of poetic citation as represented by Philostratus. Not only does the author present a useful typology that problematizes assumptions and practices found elsewhere in the volume, but she provides several detailed readings of Philostratus that demonstrate how sophisticated and tailored the use of citation often is.


1.   "Mais ces distinctions fondées [entre la poésie et l'oratoire] ne sont jamais opératoires à cent pour cent. Les domaines ne cessent d'interférer" (175).
2.   Kossaifi suggests, for instance, that Theocritus' shepherds become orators largely on the grounds that they engage in ἀγῶνες (189).
3.   Roman satire, a genre which probes many of the issues central to the volume, is completely absent. Although the final three essays do cover different authors, their arguments blend together; the final essay by Favreau-Linder is by far the most sophisticated of the three and renders those of Vix and Puccini somewhat gratuitous.
4.   There is not a general index or index locorum, but rather an index of authors, one ancient and the other contemporary.
5.   Perhaps the most notable example of this is the lengthy article by Vial which does not cite a single Anglophone work. The short articles by Heuzé and Delbey are exceptional for their lack of citation (the former cites one secondary source, the latter none).
6.   Typographical errors seem to have been kept to a minimum; there are several minor inconsistencies in formatting (i.e. what to do with translations), but these are far from distracting.
7.   Arguing that Carmina 49 is written in "le grand style," for instance, Barbaud points to the use of the plural gratias in the phrase gratias... maximas... agit. The use of the plural, however, is an exceedingly common idiom (it occurs, for example, nine times in Plautus); furthermore, gratiam agere is not idiomatic at all: in Latin, the singular patterns the verb habere, referre, or less frequently facere: there is nothing unusual or elevated about the Catullan phrase.
8.   "[U]ne œuvre de jeunesse qui lui est maintenant à peu près unanimement attribuée" (297) is a problematic claim at best (see Peirano, Irene. The Rhetoric of the Roman Fake: Latin Pseudepigrapha in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012: 148-9 with n.86). Given that no secondary sources are cited on this point, it is hard to appreciate the essay. Less severe critiques could be leveled against aspects of de Giorgio's discussion of Cicero's De consulatu suo, a text whose scrappy remains lead to more problems than the author admits (for a recent discussion, see Volk, "The Genre of Cicero's De consulatu suo." in Papanghelis, Theodore D., et al. Generic Interfaces in Latin Literature: Encounters, Interactions and Transformations. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013: 93-112.).
9.   An example is found in Perceau's article on Antenor's speech in Iliad Book 3. Discussing Antenor's speech, Perceau notes that Odysseus' name is found in various cases and argues that this polyptoton is a textual portrait of πολυμήτης (27). This is clever and nearly compelling as presented on the page; despite line numbers, the article's formatting masks the fact that the various appearances of Odysseus' name are spread over twenty some lines and hence cannot so easily be understood as marked.
10.   The views of Guérin smack of a popular reading of Tacitus' Dialogus, though the views of another prominent late first-century intellectual, Pliny the Younger, are not mentioned. It is instructive to read Guérin's narrative against Cytermann's on Tacitus and Poignault's on Fronto.
11.   The author admits that there are problems of chronology and sources, though the issue is not fully treated.

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