Saturday, January 31, 2015


G. O. Hutchinson, Greek to Latin: Frameworks and Contexts for Intertextuality. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 438. ISBN 9780199670703. $185.00.

Reviewed by Adam Gitner, Indiana University (

Version at BMCR home site

The cover presents a statuette of Euripides found on Rome's Esquiline Hill, near the Villa Gaetani (Louvre Inv. MA 343 = IGUR IV 1508). Flanking the playwright's chair, an inscribed Greek list of his plays in alphabetic order breaks off mysteriously with the Orestes. Two additional titles are missing, the Chrysippos and the Electra, which belong here if the list were merely an alphabetized record of the poet's oeuvre. Instead it has plausibly been identified as a catalogue, documenting some of the contents of a Greek library that would have once stood in the Horti Maecenatis in the first century AD.1 The sculpture illustrates some of the questions at the heart of Hutchinson's study: Which Greek works were Romans reading, and how were these ranked and classified? Where did Romans encounter Greek literature—both in what kinds of building and in which cities—and under the guidance of what sorts of professionals? Above all, how have these encounters shaped the development of Latin literature?

Whereas many studies of Greco-Roman literary interaction concentrate on a single genre or pairing of authors, Hutchinson aims to describe these interactions both up close and at higher levels of generality by sampling across a wide generic and temporal spectrum. While the range varies by chapter, his remit appears to take in all Latin literature written in prose and verse between roughly Varro and Tacitus. As the cover suggests, Hutchinson also takes a wide view of the social and historical contexts necessary to evaluate such literary interaction. The statuette of Euripides figures alongside the Tabulae Iliacae, literary herms recovered from Italian villas, southern Italian amphitheatres, and numerous inscriptions documenting poetic contests and associations of performers, all of which richly illustrate the social and cultural milieu in which Latin literature developed. Indeed, there are few better places to turn for sociological data about literary production during the period in question—that is, to answer questions such as: at which contests was poetry being performed and by whom? Tellingly, the longest entry of the index locorum contains inscriptions, split about equally between Latin and Greek. Through many individual observations, Hutchinson mounts a sustained argument for the continued relevance of imperial Greek poetry and practice to contemporary Latin writers.

Such a wide angle of vision could easily yield a miscellany rather than a monograph. To keep centrifugal forces in check, Hutchinson has organized the material around four central parameters of literary experience: time, space, words, and genre. While the treatment of these parameters is not meant to be exhaustive, each section synthesizes a vast array of evidence in varying scales and perspectives. The result is not so much a bird's eye view of Greco-Latin literary relations as a set of tracer studies, in which different features of the phenomenon are illuminated. Perhaps as a result, many of the sections or chapters also stand successfully on their own: notably, Part II can be consulted as a prosopography of elite Roman travelers to the Greek-speaking world; chapter 10 ("The Landscape of Prose") discusses the origin and development of Latin prose rhythm (233–38); Part IV offers a new way of mapping and describing ancient genres. To move even briefly in Hutchinson's plenum of knowledge is a humbling experience. It also calls for patience, since the density of information sometimes overwhelms. Yet the density and abundance of citations make it a valuable source of evidence that readers may develop and apply.2

Part I ("Time") examines immanent literary history: the techniques and metaphors Roman writers used to locate themselves in relation to their predecessors, both Greek and Roman. Hutchinson shows how Roman writers represented Greek and Latin literature as paired temporal sequences, which differed in shape and teleological structure, and used these sequences to define their own authorial identity. Whereas Greek literature reached its peak already with Homer, the sequence of Latin literature could be represented as evolving and open-ended. The separation of the literary domains "Greek" and "Latin," already assumed by Terence's prefaces, was not inevitable, as Hutchinson reminds us, and sometimes required considerable artifice to maintain. Among other contributions, there are useful discussions of "old" and "new" as literary keywords (25–26), the meaning of imitari (28–30), which often has a completive aspect ("imitate successfully," "outdo"), and the notion of a literary corpus or σῶμα (20).

In Part II ("Space"), three chapters explore the physical places where educated Romans encountered Greeks and Greek literature. The tour begins domestically in Rome and the Italian countryside and moves progressively farther afield, first to Sicily, mainland Greece, and Rhodes, and eventually to Asia. Here Hutchinson brings literary evidence into productive dialogue with the local archaeological and epigraphic evidence of Roman contact. Thus it is a useful supplement to the dossier assembled in J. Kaimio's, The Romans and the Greek Language (Helsinki, 1979). Much more than just a catalog of Roman tourism, though, it provides a panoramic view of literature as a social activity—performed and consumed in banquets, porticoes, public contests, and theaters across the Mediterranean. While there is little extensive literary interpretation in these chapters, the evidence documents a reciprocal relationship between geographic and literary experience. On the one hand, Greek places seem to validate or authenticate Romans' experience of literature: Cato's trip to Athens in 191 enlightens him about the nature of Greek litterae (ad fil. frg. 1); Virgil wants us to know that the Georgics were written in dulcis Parthenope (4.562–3) and was working on the Aeneid in Greece. On the other hand, Romans experienced Greek places through their literature: Horace's Iccius reads Empedocles in Sicily (epist. 1.12.20) and the speakers in Cicero's De finibus 5 experience Athens through the works of Plato, Sophocles, and Demosthenes among others.

In Parts III ("Words") and IV ("Genre"), we turn from the cultural environment to the content and texture of Latin literature. Under the heading of intertextuality, Hutchinson treats four phenomena, which I find useful to distinguish as follows: the interaction of a Roman text with (1) a specific Greek passage through translation or allusion; (2) the Greek language, for instance by lexical borrowing; (3) a Greek literary style, for example by reproducing Homeric repetitions or the sententiousness of Hellenistic declamation; (4) a Greek genre, for instance by appropriating distinctive features of meter or narrative voice.

Chapter 6 ("Two Languages") catalogues Roman authors who write in Greek either exclusively or within the domain of a Latin text; hence it concerns the second type of interaction enumerated above. By concentrating on elite language use, it complements recent work on multilingualism, where the emphasis has tended to fall on sub-literary texts. Among other matters, Hutchinson discusses the phonological and perceptual distance between the two languages, the foreign quality of Greek proper names (150), the differing tolerance for Greek in text and title or para-text (153), and the aesthetic qualities ascribed to Greek (speed, richness, precision). Chapters 7 ("Transpositions and Triads"), 8 ("Styles and Settings"), and 9 ("Trunks and Branches") treat intertextuality of the more canonical variety: relationships between Latin texts and Greek model(s). Hutchinson gives close attention here to "triads," cases where a Latin text has adopted a Greek model and a later Latin text makes reference to both the original source and the earlier Latin rendition: for instance, Silius (3.518–20), adapting Livy (21.36), adapting Polybius (3.55.5) on Hannibal's crossing of the Alps. Among his findings, Hutchinson shows that the "deictic center" of these texts shifts to Rome and that intra-linguistic intertextuality exhibits closer verbal similarity than transposition from Greek to Latin.

The remaining five chapters are devoted to genre as a descriptive framework and to specific forms of generic interaction. Hutchinson relies throughout on a distinction, which he extrapolates from ancient criticism and practice, between individuals genres, such as pastoral and symboleutic oratory, and higher-order classes he calls "super-genres." In prose these are history, oratory, and philosophy; in poetry these are metrical categories, such as hexameter, elegy, and iambic. Whereas much modern criticism of Latin poetry concerns individual genres, it is the super-genres, or at least the metrical categories, that bulk large in ancient discussions. Hutchinson's attempt to direct attention towards these higher-order categories deserves serious consideration, but I suspect the approach will meet resistance. Is the relationship between genre and "super-genre" as fixed and hierarchical as Hutchinson seems to suggest? A polymetric genre, such as satura or iambi, poses problems for this scheme, which Hutchinson does not fully address (277). Moreover, super-genres, if they are just metrical categories, specify so little about the form and content of individual poems it is hard to imagine them being much use to the working poet. To overcome this difficulty, Hutchinson supplements super-genre with the notion of a poem's "ground," a term he borrows from cognitive grammar to describe the situation or setting of an utterance. Even dissenters from Hutchinson's views on genre will have to reckon with the evidence he assembles: for instance, the tendency he documents for interaction within the super-genre to be "typically more subtle and intimate than interaction outside it" (337).

These notions—genre, super-genre, and ground—provide Hutchinson with the framework he uses to compare what remains of Latin literature with its Greek counterpart. After two chapters, on the prose super-genres and their respective grounds, Hutchinson devotes three chapters to hexametric poetry alone: first surveying the grounds of the six hexametric genres he identifies (narrative, didactic, pastoral, satire, occasional poetry, inscriptions); then describing the proximity of the Latin genres to their Greek counterparts; finally examining the development of these hexametric genres over time and in relation to one another. These chapters range widely and show the value of Hutchinson's framework in drawing attention to unremarked features or patterns within Latin literature. For instance, he notes an increasing "professionalization or confinement to the super-genre" (325) of Latin hexameter poets after Tiberius and draws attention to the fruitful relationship between the hexametric genres of narrative, epigram, and oracle. Also valuable is the attempt to quantify the amount of extant Latin literature produced within given categories (prose at 224–25, hexameter at 275). These few examples provide an inadequate impression of the large territory covered by these chapters and their wealth of observation.


1.   See further Jörn Lang, Mit Wissen geschmuckt? (Wiesbaden 2012), p. 131 n. 1410 (cf. the online catalogue entry), who cites a fragmentary Euripidean catalogue found in the Piraeus (IG II2 2363); if the argument holds, both documents are relevant to Hutchinson's discussion of libraries (12 n. 14, 50, 97).
2.   Another danger in this case is that some of the author's findings in fields such as papyrology and art history may not reach the relevant audience. To publicize these findings and illustrate the book's range, I merely note the following: Hutchinson proposes to identify Euripides as one of the poets portrayed in the Monnus mosaic in Trier (CIL XIII 3710; p. 11); mentions P. Oxy. LXXI 4808 col. i. 9-12 as a source of Quint. inst. 10.1.27–36); provides conjectures for Petr. 48.4 Latinam <, tertiam …>< and Galen Περὶ ἀλυπησίας 13 ἐν τοῖς <μετώποις> (13 n. 14); argues that P. Oxy. LXXI 4808 col. 15-17, used to date the philosopher Clitarchus, has conflated two Clitarchi (14 n. 17); argues on rhythmical grounds that Cicero's De inventione preceded the Rhetorica ad Herennium (235); adds Sen. fr. rhet. 2 Jal to the apparatus testium in Dilts's edition of [Dem.] 11.13 (30 n. 8); notes that P. Oxy. X 1249, an early text of Babrius, "is not necessarily as early as once thought (ii-iii rather than i-ii?)" (145); supports Hartel's conjecture elephantomachi at Liv. 44.41.4; argues pace Strocka that a Pompeiian wall painting of Dido and Aeneas (Casa del Citarista, Pompeii I 4.5, 25, 28 oecus 20, north wall) slightly postdates the Aeneid (171 n. 12).

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