Friday, May 27, 2016


Paolo Dainotti, Word Order and Expressiveness in the Aeneid. Translated from Italian by Ailsa Campbell. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2015. Pp. xi, 294. ISBN 9783110384222. $182.00.

Reviewed by Lee Fratantuono, Ohio Wesleyan University (

Version at BMCR home site

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In some ways, Dainotti's exemplary study of Virgil's epic Aeneid (a revised and expanded version of his doctoral thesis under Conte) is the most important treatment of the poet's work since the priceless treasure that is E. Adelaide Hahn's Columbia dissertation of 1930 on Virgilian usage and syntax.1 Hahn's study is not cited nearly as often as it should be (the commentaries of Nicholas Horsfall are a happy exception); it is to be hoped that Dainotti's work will not suffer the same unjust fate. This is one of the year's titles that scholars and lovers of the poet of arms and the man will want to acquire, or at least ensure that institutional libraries will purchase.

Readers of this book will not find grand arguments on the relationship of Aeneas and Dido, or on the undying spring of controversy that is the death of Turnus—Danaids, Pallatian ghosts and all. There is relatively little here on how Virgil has refashioned Homeric and Callimachean aesthetics for his own purposes, or on the place of Virgil's epic in the surviving literary and artistic monuments of Augustan Rome.

What one will find here is the best available study on Virgilian grammar and syntax, stylistic and rhetorical techniques, and visual and auditory effects.2 In short, those interested in the important work of pursuing inter- and intratextual echoes and patterns in Virgil's epic will find here the necessary drudge work that validates and confirms the suspicions and speculations of the literary critic and the close reader of Virgil and both his predecessors and imitators. Enjambement; synaloepha ("gasping and pathetic" and otherwise); spondaic lines; hyperbaton; placement of adjectives; the use of patronymics and apostrophe, all receive comprehensive consideration (alliteration is one of the most lavishly treated of these topics). The indexes of this volume—both of passages cited and of stylistic phenomena—make this is an especially useful and precious resource for those working on a particular passage of the epic or one or another of the many rhetorical devices the poet employs on every page. The Virgilian reception of Catullan and Lucretian metrical and stylistic traits is studied passim. So also the poet's influence on Ovid in particular. The Virgilian community owes a real debt to Dainotti (and his translator) for making this research available; in a field where so much scholarship runs the risk of being tralatician, there is much here either that cannot be found elsewhere simply because no one did the hard work, or that is difficult to access in sadly forgotten journal articles and the notoriously dense footnotes of Hahn.

One can read this book straight through, an experience that in itself is an education in the art of verse composition, and a chance to rediscover the wonder of a first reading of some of Virgil's most memorable lines.3 Most will use it as a reference book, a companion for stray questions on irrational lengthening and lengthening in arsi. But in reading through this book—either in toto or en passant—one may experience a palpable urge to reread Virgil's verse, applying the lessons of Dainotti's study to favorite passages and cherished scenes. Dainotti's book advances our knowledge and understanding of the Virgilian lexicon in an appreciable way; his volume offers a series of lessons on how the master poet can reuse key words and phrases to great effect in scenes of different emotional registers, so as to offer authorial commentary on important moments in the narrative. It is no exaggeration to say that in working through Dainotti's book, one returns to Virgil with a freshness and renewed sense of admiration for his achievement —and, not least, with the wish that Dainotti's work would be inspirational to other scholars to treat other Latin poets with the same degree of care and precise analysis.4

In short, Paolo Dainotti is to be commended for a marvelous addition to the Virgilian bibliography. All too many monographs and studies on the Aeneid are soon enough more or less forgotten, oftentimes not because of any inherent flaw in argumentation or intrinsic lack of merit, but simply in consequence of the flood of publications on the most popular of Latin poets. It is to be hoped that Dainotti's volume will not suffer this fate, and that users of this valuable resource will give a look or more to the splendid work of predecessors that made it possible.5


1.   E. Adelaide Hahn, Coordination of Non-Coordinate Elements in Vergil, Geneva, New York: W. F. Humphrey, Publisher, 1930. "Her enormous feathered hats [I think!], her stentorian voice, her undisguised Brooklyn accent drew crowds to her APA papers on subjects like "The Accusative of the Part and the Whole … She eschewed literary criticism for the precise and the difficult" (William M. Calder III in W. W. Briggs, Jr., Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists, Wesport, Connecticut-London: Greenwood Press, 1994, p. 248).
2.   On Virgilian sounds, it is profitable to study Dainotti in tandem with F. X. Roiron's √Čtude sur l'imagination auditive de Virgile, Paris: Leroux, 1908.
3.   Students of hexameter verse composition will find this book an immensely rewarding help in their work. Advanced Placement Virgil students could profit from a careful exposure to particular lessons from this book; there is much here that is accessible with a little patience and good teaching.
4.   One suspects that Statius in particular would offer a profitable project for similar consideration.
5.   Not only Hahn and her epigones, but also the work of Dainotti's director Conte, especially the material gathered in L'epica del sentimento, Torino: Giulio Einaudi Editore, 2002 (translated with other and new material in the important volume edited by S. J. Harrison, The Poetry of Pathos: Studies in Virgilian Epic, Oxford, 2007). The bibliography of Dainotti's book is exhaustive and another of its valuable contributions.

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