Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Stefano Rocchi, Cecilia Mussini (ed.), Imagines antiquitatis: Representations, Concepts, Receptions of the Past in Roman Antiquity and the Early Italian Renaissance. Philologus. Supplementary volumes, 7. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. viii, 327. ISBN 9783110517804. €109,95.

Reviewed by Martin Devecka, University of California, Santa Cruz (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Imagines Antiquitatis is a collection of papers given at a conference hosted in 2014 by the Almo Collegio Borromeo and the Collegio Universitario Santa Caterina in Pavia. The volume is the latest in a recent spate of publications that aim to fix the sense, as slippery in ancient as in modern discourse, of words (vetus, antiquus, palaios, etc.) referring to the past. The bibliography, surveyed by Stefano Rocchi and Celia Mussini in their introduction, suggests that this is a topic recently broached to which field-changing contributions can still be made. Some of the essays contained in this volume constitute such contributions; the remainder are valuable analyses of the way these terms function in individual authors and genres. Imagines Antiquitatis will be a touchstone for future scholarship about the past of the past.

Rocchi and Mussini's introduction sets an agenda for Imagines that embraces a range of basically philological approaches to the problem of pastness in antiquity. They have divided the assembled contributions into three sections treating structures, functionalizations, and authority claims in Roman discourse about the past.

Outstanding in the first of these sections is Giancarlo Mazzoli's contribution, "Semantica senecana del primitivo." Like many of the best essays in the volume, this one takes a flexible approach to the semantics of "pastness" in a well-defined corpus. Mazzoli's investigation reveals that vetus, antiquus and related terms in Seneca highlight values, not chronology. The axiological sense of these terms has a double character, since Seneca conjures up good or bad primitivisms depending on the rhetorical needs of the moment (pp. 31-32). Antiquitas is a keyword, charged with significance: we should not expect such terms to possess only one meaning in Latin any more than they do in English.

Mazzoli's piece sets the tone for most of the essays that follow, which pose the questions raised in Rocchi and Mussini's introduction with respect to single authors or genres. In "The Past in Pausanias" (ch. 4), for instance, Julian Schreyer shows that concepts of antiquity are even more salient for the Periegesis than we might have assumed: by positing the past as something in danger of being lost, Pausanias' archeological vocabulary justifies his writing and our reading this conservationist text. Virginia Fabrizi's contribution, "Livy's Antiquities" (ch. 6), suggests that the dialectic of memory and forgetting topicalized in the preface of the Ab urbe condita orients Livy's (and his characters') use of vetus and vetustas throughout the first pentad and beyond.

For the most part, these essays are not theoretically ambitious; rather, they use philological evidence to answer questions posed by the volume's theoretical framework. Marco Formisano's contribution, by contrast, aims to transform the way classicists talk about pastness. "Tarda antichita anacronica" (ch. 5) brings recent developments in Renaissance and Medieval art history to bear on literary genres in late antiquity, with results that demonstrate the utility of an "anachronic" approach to this period and others.1 By paying attention to the ways in which a fourth-century history like that of Ammianus Marcellinus not only cites but presents itself as a substitute for older historiography, we can see how the "lateness" of such texts is not just an artifact of modern periodization; as Formisano argues, it also turns out to be a stylistic effect employed by some late-antique writers.

In "Princeps et res publica" (ch. 7), Claudia Moatti pursues a similar line of inquiry with respect to the much-debated question of what res publica should be taken to mean in imperial discourse. Moatti is particularly interested in untangling the relationship between ruler and republic: does one govern the other, or are they taken to be identical? She pursues this topic into the legal literature of the third century CE, where a full-throated "anachronic" use of republican vocabulary seems to have the function, ideologically, of reproducing the past in the present. At the same time, and with more enduring effects, historians begin to memorialize the vetus res publica as a social or cultural structure rather than a certain kind of state. This, Moatti argues, is the image of antiquity that Augustine and his Christian contemporaries end up attacking (p. 126).

The "late" focus of Moatti's and Formisano's essays highlights a major virtue of this collection, which is the way it shifts the focus of discussion toward historical periods that are already self-consciously postclassical. Cecilia Mussini's treatment of Poliziano's citational habits (ch. 8) and Gerhard Regn's account of the early assimilation of Dante and Petrarch to the classical canon (ch. 9) are both fruitful developments of this tendency. In different ways, both essays show how the assimilation of the new to the old for polemical purposes may erase or ignore chronology. This is a feature of vetustas-language in ancient texts, too, but we aren't always as alert to it as we might be. That Boccaccio (p. 157) or a 14th-century manuscript of the Scriptores rei rusticae (p. 137) could under some circumstances count as vetus for Renaissance writers is arresting evidence that antiquity should be treated more as a rhetorical effect than as a periodization.

The final section of the volume, "Veteres: the Relation to Past Authorities," is by far the most coherent of the three. Each essay in it confronts the difficulties involved in selecting authorities from the past, especially if those authorities are supposed to cohere into a singular "authority" that continues to govern the present. If the field of reception studies has explored the problem in depth with respect to modern deployments of the classical heritage, it remains understudied within antiquity itself.

Opening this section is Stefano Rocchi's "The Burden of Antiquity in Horace and the Dialogus de oratoribus" (ch. 10), an essay that usefully reminds us how often Latin writers of the Principate and early Empire opted to reject entirely the notion of an authoritative past. Horace in Epistles 2.1 and the Aper of Tacitus' Dialogus present attacks on antiquity that overlap in important respects, in particular through their construction of "progress" narratives that stigmatize literary vetustas as underdeveloped by comparison with the culture of their respective presents. This argument too, as Rocchi points out, involves a process of selection: Horace and Aper hold particular texts from the past up for mockery, including Appius Claudius and the much-abused Ennius.

The next two chapters highlight more positive valuations of ancient authority among Roman rhetoricians and antiquarians. Here too, though, the scope of what antiquity can vouch for turns out to be limited. In "Fronto's and Gellius' veteres" (ch. 11), Leofranc Holford-Strevens finds variety within the antiquarian turn in second-century CE Latin literature: Fronto turns to the ancients for lexicographical oddities, while Gellius is more broadly concerned with the limits of "correct" linguistic usage. Both authors caution against servile imitation of the antiquiores. Mario del Nonno's contribution, "Vetustas e antiquitas, veteres e antiqui nei grammatici Latini" (ch. 12), shows that grammarians exploit ancient authority in a similarly wide range of ways. For these writers too, vetustas may license certain expressive choices, but should not become an object of slavish imitation.

Dario Mantovani's "Quando i giuristi diventarono veteres" (ch. 13), an outstanding contribution, shifts the generic focus to legal writing, a genre in which antiquating vocabulary has a history and a function all its own. Here, writers marked the divide between "former laws" (no longer in force) and "old laws" (which could still be invoked as precedent) by calling the former antiquus and the latter vetus. Mantovani answers the question posed in his title by locating the coalescence of the second of these categories in the last quarter of the first century CE (p. 288), at a moment when writers began to use veteres without qualification to refer to those ancient jurists whose authority was more or less universally acknowledged. We may see this development, as Mantovani suggests, as indicating an early (and consequential) awareness of the significance of the Augustan transformation within the legal profession.

The text of Imagines has been well-edited and contains few typographical errors. The end matter is unfortunately sparse: an index mostly restricted to nomina propria, no index locorum, no general bibliography. Despite these absences, Imagines antiquitatis remains an eminently usable volume: although most of the contributions are in Italian, English abstracts of each contribution have been helpfully provided to make these partially accessible to an anglophone audience. Specialists in the fields addressed by these essays will find many of them useful, while the volume as a whole makes an important contribution to our understanding of the ways that classical writers positioned themselves within or against their own pasts.

Table of Contents

Stefano Rocchi / Cecilia Mussini, Introduction 1
I Thinking the past: categories and structures of the antique
David Konstan, Mankind's Past: Evolution or Progress? 17
Giancarlo Mazzoli, Semantica senecana del primitivo 27
Giusto Traina, Quando i romani 'scoprirono' gli armeni: il re Tigran e la tigre (Varrone, ling. 5.100) 39
Julian Schreyer, The past in Pausanias: its narration, structure and relationship with the, present 49
Marco Formisano, Tarda antichità anacronica. Tra storiografia e panegirico 65
II Functionalizations of the past
Virginia Fabrizi, Livy's antiquities: rethinking the distant past in the Ab urbe condita 87
Claudia Moatti, Princeps et res publica: Des multiples façons de se référer au passé 111
Cecilia Mussini, Apud antiquos. La ricostruzione dell'antichità nell'insegnamento di Poliziano 131
Gerhard Regn, I nuovi antichi. Classicismo e petrarchismo fra Bembo e Tasso 155
III Veteres: the relation to past authorities
Stefano Rocchi, The Burden of Antiquity in Horace and in the Dialogus de oratoribus 175
Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Fronto's and Gellius' veteres 199
Mario De Nonno, Vetustas e antiquitas, veteres e antiqui nei grammatici latini 213
Dario Mantovani, Quando i giuristi diventarono 'veteres'. Augusto e Sabino, i tempi del potereei tempi della giurisprudenza 249
Fabio Gasti, Convertire l'enciclopedia: Agostino e Varrone 303
Index Nominum et Rerum Potiorum 319


1.   Formisano's technical vocabulary here is borrowed from A. Nagel and C. Wood (2010), Anachronic Renaissance. New York: Zone Books.

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