Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Laura Aresi, Nel giardino di Pomona: le Metamorfosi di Ovidio e l'invenzione di una mitologia in terra d'Italia. Bibliothek der klassischen Altertumswissenschaften, 155. Heidelberg: Universit√§tsverlag Winter, 2017. Pp. 354. ISBN 9783825367794. €48,00. ISBN 9783825377311. ebook.

Reviewed by John Henderson (

Version at BMCR home site


This handsome volume polishes a 2015 doctoral thesis produced between Florence (Mario Labate) and its destination Heidelberg (J. P. Schwindt). Aresi used the interval well, taking account of new scholarship (and yes, to be specific, taking in and taking on Philip Hardie's final volume of the Milan commentary). Her title morphs from 'From Circe to Egeria' into 'In the Garden of Pomona', but both versions serialize the same final amatory triad of the epic, to try turning it round, Picus-Vertumnus-Numa in Met.14-15. Once headed for 'the prodigious hall of Circe' (she's the last word of Met. 13), we cross over to the trebly italianizing world trail of Aeneid 7-12, of the transition from Homeric Virgil on back to Ennius-et-al.-s' Rome, and the advent of Ovid's narrativisation of 'his' and/or 'Augustus' times', as promised in Met.1.4 and as compromised in Tr.2.560).

A pellucid structure has the three sections move from mythographic contextualization, through lovingly intricate commentary (topped off with Boccaccio, Goethe and all), and on to the upshot for the literary, cultural, and ideological arc in Ovid's oeuvre and its stake in the Augustan imagination; and Aresi integrates the whole into a tightly-knit vision of the completion of Ovid's working through elegiac love to find a happy ending in conjugality once he reaches the artistic freedom of storying beyond the essentially immutable hold of Greek Myth as enshrined in Homeric-Virgilian epic; in the out-turn, this Ovid gets to the end of his poetic rainbow (and leaves it there once the bomb drops; for there will be only conjugal devotions and no more mention of Italian myth in the exile-poetry—which does not, repeat not, include any revision, re-writing or tampering with Met. from Pontus). This moving patriotic tale exchanges chronotopes Italy for Latium for Rome, to deliver wholesome happy endings to profile and seal one: to clinch a master production that swells s-o-m-e-h-o-w (no surprise here) to elude pro-/anti-Augustan crudities, and instead (?) vindicate the creative plenitude of Augustan...ism (partly by enchanting us with 'marital love' disconnected from its embedding in political philosophizing and ktistic implicature - Picus, foregrounded, say, not Cipus). I shall try to brute capture key lines of interpretation, sneaking in noises off, but be sure this is an extremely rich account from a scrupulous Latinista who sees clear across Ovid's range.

A succession of resolute decisivenesses are required in order to caulk the argument and (need I say) relegate nuisances of critical 'excess'. Priapus' garden this is not; nor yet Po'mo'na's. But first things first. (1) Circe will never leave her Homeric island even if it takes the form of an Italian peninsula and she slips away off-limits a while to partake in originary Latin myth after first coming up with the theme tune for Italian Met. of companionate goosey-gander reciprocation of desire as the 'better' course (Met.14.28-30). We, likewise, are never to leave the gardens of Aeneid 7 behind. There, the opening praeteritio infiltrates her presence through the text all the way to the 'Circaean ridge/yoke' (799), taking in her role as (must be?) Latinus' grandmother because she was Mrs Picus, and he was Latinus' grandad, who came up with horses for Picus to tame, did she?, and for Aeneas to collect as gifts, and in the end turned him into a right peacock of a woodpecker, she did (7.45-8 + 189-91 + 280-5; auus to auis?); and Virgilian Circe still suffuses the Latin catalogue when Hippolytus' son Virbius Jr., 'brought up in Egeria's copse, and sent to fight by mother Aricia' prompts the catch-up on his father's arrival 'in Egeria's grove' post-resurrection and re-naming (Aen.7.761-82, readying us for Turnus' turn to head the list). Aresi's Ovid accordingly backs up certain aspects of Virgil's insertion of Circe into the Latin(us) genealogy, but instead of wizardry tucking irreconcilable Circes and Picuses in alongside, Ovid makes sure his Homeric and Latin strands crash and then re-compose (metamorph). His imaginary shipmate of Ulysses, cloned from Virgil's, reports the maid of Circe conjured up from nowhere explaining in the course of that interstitial year's detention on Aeaea how come Circe has a marble statue of Picus that distinctly takes off the wooden Picus totem in Virgilian Latinus' palace: having seized on Circe's imploded thing for Glaucus and punishment of rival Scylla, we're now led to believe that Circe wandered into a revamped thing for Picus and punishment-cum-preservation of him, not his loving-beloved wife, Canens, though this (recurringly Circean?) double- stand-in-narrator ducks the question why said statue (and its answer that mythography is in crisis, all to pot), while she softens brand Circe into 'simply a woman' hapless in love (?: p. 76). Maid magics up a phantom boar for Picus to chase into thick air befogging bewitched woods before he takes flight and wing, so for his faithful widow is disappeared, never to be recovered or ever got wind of, till her grief wastes her quite away into thin air, and vanishes her story into a thin swansong air. Her role as narration of replacement shadow Latin Circe as Picus' other half closes with her fame as nonentity marking her geoliterary locus beside the Tiber (= Met.14.433) as achronic Singing—the surreal fakeography of this first Italian non-tale of maritality transmogrified. The real Circe can revert to Homeric type as she theriomorphs another crew, Picus' people out hunting (for him), as Ovid's free gift to Latin myth smuggles in both its wholecloth mutual marital fidelity (Aresi) and its paraded dematerialization of art narrative riffed into chinese whispers of affecting obliviation (me).

Be it noted that Serv. Aen.7.190 has Pomona for Picus' wife, with Circe as (his) spurned lover (p. 29). (2) Ovid's Pomona's dendrophiliac courting by Vertumnus we should welcome as essentially a creation ex nihilo, but insinuating the Greek Cypriot tale of Venus Prospiciens (= Iphis and Anaxarete) told in close-up to her attentive face by Vertumnus' go-between morph Vert-anus. Aresi embraces the Italian fruitfulness of this novel Georgicshamadryad who's forewarned of and unimpressed by this latest version of the usual elegiac seduction narrrative, deciding that when the rhetoric fails and the deity of happy endings 'appears' to her as the very image of dazzling sunshine, she's 'captured-captivated', et mutua uulnera sensit ||. (Met.14.771). This the pay-off is (set-tled as) the ultimate elegiac nirvana of settled achievement of every frustrated lover's ruination, here in a consensual Rome, where Ovid seals his erotic journey. No, there is no irony, there is permanent splice of two-as-one bliss forever, feeling feelings forboth, she and we can't go wrong t/here (and on to Rome, the kings, to Romulus ...). Yes Vert-anusdid threaten violent assault, after sweet-talking himself up, but no he did notmock Pomona by having his suicidal Iphis equivocate in pledging adero praesensque uideborbetween 'here I am, with you, now'—this is my story, myIphis' story of me—'and being here now means at once I'm here for you to seeand I'm here so it seems' (Met.14.727). Nor does he revert to type and only 'appear' to her, nor can his assimilation to the flash(er) imago of the sun continue the rapist violence by other (ero(ptic) means, nor does its recap as figura dei betray Pomona as victim of a clich√© elegiac simile doubling as one more personation by the deity of endings, happy or otherwise (in)describable. No, for Aresi believing the old woman's fiction means believing in fiction: only there, in the convincing-conning, is it claimed that Vertumnus is now a changed god, who'll never ever short-change Pomona. Dyed in the wool, unchangeable Ovidians will doubt whether she did (can anyone?) feel feelings for them both, as opposed to feeling that that's what she felt she was feeling, whether these immortals bonded as one, for good, amen, let alone whether Ovid tells us so, or, finally, he finally sponsors conjured-conjectured conjugals. Meantime, again, feeling this tale of ardour in the arbour (the Lucretian atomology of Met.14.683, ardor eris, 691, miserere ardentis ~ 667, arboris huius, 625, 689) as the elegiac paraclausithyron that turned out right must veer toward mimetics and away from su(pe)realist overdetermination: thus Aresi resists Pomona as tree(-nymph), exorcising critical fantasies of metaphoric conjugality as grafting, 1 which must not provoke more questions after Salmacis' how does a lake copulate?, i.e. how do a stock and its scion do it?—and, whether it's happily, or decisively, figured as a wound, a graft, or an elegiac metaphor, is that like ... and how like ... wedded bliss? For me, this scopic garden of dreams has been well, and truly, pruned.

A new book, a last look. (3) In fact a glance. The triad closes with Numa's wife, eventually named upon mercy conversion after inconsolably wasting into tears as the lake Egeria (Met.15.487, 547; so too in Ennius, Ann.2, 113, p. 237, so that Ovid, he's not so free to invent Latium). She will go on to prompt amazement in the novel form of three in a row political-culture metamorphosis similitudes unpacked, but we shall stop on the spot to celebrate her definitely averred delivery on conjugal fidelity beyond widowhood, end of story. A carte blanche 'trampoline for fantasy' (p. 240), as untroubled as it is (therefore) uneventful—and inevitable given her nymphic divinity and his mortality (no woodpecker he). To beef up, grand narrative reverts to more negation antithesis rhetoric, this time through insertion from adjusted Virgil plus importation straight from converted Euripides, when the resurrected Italianized Hippolytus fails to stem the lamentation by telling his own tale of his own redemption: the Greek tale of (re-)marriage gone bad as any Circean revenge plot, no: worse. Arrant myth keeps up the good work, surely its worst atrocity Silius', with Egeria as ... Virbius' mother (4.380-1, p. 244). But our eyes are trained on the paragon of achieved wifeyness (good husbandry we left in the orchard).


1.   I should declare a stake in Ailsa Hunt's meticulous (2010) 'Elegiac Grafting in Pomona's Orchard: Ovid Metamorphoses14.623-771', MD65:43-58.

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