Friday, April 26, 2019


Stavros A. Frangoulidis, S. J. Harrison (ed.), Life, Love and Death in Latin Poetry: Studies in Honor of Theodore D. Papanghelis. Trends in classics. Supplementary volumes, 61. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. xvi, 329. ISBN 9783110587760. €119,95.

Reviewed by Christopher V. Trinacty, Oberlin College (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

A strong lineup of heavy-hitting Latinists makes this impressive Festschrift in honor of Theodore D. Papanghelis a must-read for those broadly interested in the themes of love, life, and death in Latin literature (from Plautus to Petronius and beyond). Papanghelis' own career features books and articles on a variety of subjects (Vergil, ancient pastoral, Propertius, modern Greek poetry by Cavafy, Elytis, and more), and this collection reflects his broad interests and philological rigor. As in any collection, some essays shine more brightly than others, but I certainly found something to ponder in each of the contributions. In the interest of space, I will not discuss all the essays, but focus on those that I found most persuasive or provocative.

Befitting a volume dedicated to Papanghelis, the first section focuses on elegy. Gibson's essay begins by investigating Propertius' elegiac persona through the lens of Christopher Gill's work on the "structured self" in Greek thought. In doing so, he has recourse to a creative rewriting of Propertian elegy to make it fit a chronological biography à la Plutarch's Life of Antony. This restructuring of the Propertian corpus reveals how Propertius fits the Stoic-Epicurean framework of the self better than the Platonic-Aristotelian mode that Plutarch follows. The very creative method through which Gibson analyzes the material (by reordering Propertius' works into a five book "counterfactual" biography) may not convince everyone,1 but few would argue that the emotional chaos and passionate highs-and-lows of the Propertian lover do not smack strongly of "Stoic-Epicurean depictions of error and passion" (34).

Fabre-Serris utilizes an observation Papanghelis made about possible links between Propertius and Lucretius to launch into her paper on the intertextual connections between Propertius, Gallus, Lucretius, and Vergil. Lucretius' descriptions of love (especially in book 4) provide background for the (lost) Gallan material, and Fabre-Serris writes convincingly of how Propertius 1.10, 1.13, and 1.15 respond to the philosophical and elegiac predilections of Lucretius and Gallus as well as later authors, especially Vergil.

Williams' strong piece evaluates Propertius 4.7 and 4.8 "as a form of commentary not so much on the affair per se as portrayed in Books 1 to 3, but on the problem of discerning, decoding, and deciding between the levels of 'reality', fiction, and twilight possibility that so complicate the Cynthia-centered narrative of those books" (52). His reading of Cynthia's ghost in 4.7 is especially convincing, with the interpretations of Janan, Wyke, Butrica, and Papanghelis offering various claims for what is "true" or "false" in this narrative. Cynthia herself becomes a "narratological mystery" (65) that the reader must decipher not only by following the most important clues but also by deciding if Cynthia can ever truly be found out or fully defined.

Batstone's piece on Sulpicia should be read by anyone who is interested in feminist readings of Sulpicia, in questions of gender and language, and in how fama is problematized in Sulpicia's poetry. His reading of 3.13 shows how slippages in Sulpicia's dense language mark her fierce "struggle for subjectivity…it is the way this subaltern speaks" (94). The remainder of the Sulpicia sequence (3.14-3.18) reveals first Sulpicia's ability to manipulate and explore the discourse that defines her, and then how the Garland (3.8-3.12) responds to that self-representation, i.e. "the values, language, and desires of the Sulpician epigrams" (102). This essay will certainly make my syllabus the next time I teach Sulpicia's poetry.

Harrison explores the way that Ovid's early poetry may have influenced Propertius' final book and Horace's fourth book of Carmina. Ovid marks his early Heroides as revolutionary (Ars 3.341-46), probably for both their form and content, and Harrison traces the way women are given more of a voice in Propertius 4, as well as the epistolary form of 4.3. Ovid's Amores was also available, and Ovid had probably recited a number of these poems in Rome, and Harrison traces Horace's response to Am. 1.1 in C. 4.1. The cogent connections that Harrison finds indicate how these older poets reacted to the splash that Ovid's poetry made.

Ovid's Metamorphoses often blurs the line between death and life through metamorphosis, and Sharrock looks at two familiar love stories, Orpheus and Eurydice and Narcissus and himself (and Echo), to question the bifurcation of possible post-mortem scenarios. Is Orpheus the head that washes up on Lesbos or the silent shade in the Underworld? Is Narcissus the fragile flower or the ghost looking eternally at his ghost-image in a Stygian pool? Sharrock usefully explores the duality of these stories that draws upon intertextual play as well as the thematic irony of these stories.

Additional intertextual play can be seen in Feldherr's examination of the phrase docta psallere in Sallust (Cat. 25) and Horace (Odes 4.13). My initial skepticism was allayed by Feldherr's deft argumentation and ruminations on Sempronia as a stand-in for Sallust as well as on the temporal element in Horace's ode. Just as Feldherr successfully connects historiography and lyric, so Keith utilizes intertextual connections between Catalepton 5 and Epicurean source material to probe the philosophical foundations of this neoteric poem. It is shown how the poem riffs on well-known Epicurean tropes particular to the time, and that even the sweetness of the Muses can be indulged in from time to time, provided that it is done with the proper Epicurean mindset. Peponi likewise looks to Epicureanism to help define the aesthetics of the Epistula Sapphus, an interesting essay that delves into the juxtaposition "of poetry reading and love-making … to playfully elaborate on a broadly conceived Epicureanism, or perhaps on the allure surrounding its approaches" (182).

Konstan's entertaining reading of Lucan is focused on the vertical axis, what is up and what is down, in this radical and topsy-turvy poem. He begins with a broad review of scholarship (including, refreshingly, many recent dissertations on Lucan) to show the problems of reading Lucan politically and poetically because "the excesses of his language are conceived of as a response to the chaos and loss of meaning he is presumed to have experienced under the new order of the Roman empire" (141). The paper reads the death of Pompey, his soul's momentary ascent and subsequent descent into the hearts of Cato and Brutus against Nero's catasterism at the poem's beginning to indicate "the tragic quality of [Pompey] and … of Lucan's epic as a whole" (147).

Turning to Roman drama, essays by Frangoulidis (on Plautus' Poenulus) and Wray (on Senecan tragedy) explore generic concerns and how readers create meaning in these works. Frangoulidis offers a close reading of Poenulus with an eye to correspondences between the Aphrodisias festival and the two meta-plots of the play. Wray looks at Senecan tragedy from the perspective of a reader who knows that Seneca is a Stoic philosopher as well as a dramatist. This is a challenging and refreshing piece that suggests "that the queer notion of failure as a way of doing life as art can light up aspects of Stoic ethics that, while seldom discussed in connection with the tragedies, might serve as reference points for a new way of understanding the potential of a specifically Stoic version of tragedy and the tragic" (223). I enjoyed Wray's depiction of Oedipus as a diva of failure and of how Stoicism's all-or-nothing moral perfectionism encourages tragic protagonists to milk their failures for all they are worth. The aesthetic reward for such an understanding of Senecan tragedy hinges on the artistic virtuosity by which such failures are celebrated: "This means that Seneca's tragic depictions of the sufferings of humans whose lives suck because they themselves suck are at the same time beckoning us to read them as objects of aesthetic contemplation and sources of aesthetic pleasure: what poems do" (233). Another must-read of the volume.

Laird and Manuwald treat the reader to neo-Latin texts (and translations) with substantial background and contextualization. Laird surveys the Chronis, a humanist Latin eclogue that draws extensively on classical texts such as Vergil and Ovid. Sections of this lament for a young man named Chronis reveal an admirable talent for allusion and wordplay, especially when the character of Echo repeats the final parts of words so supellex becomes lex and amore transforms into more. Manuwald shares a poem about the Fire of London (1666) by a merchant, Peter Causton, addressed to a learned, yet persecuted, clergyman that stresses connections between the fire (its causation and resolution) and religious conflicts of the time. A final piece by Spentzou assesses the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through recent poetic versions by Margaret Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy, and Louise Glück. This essay sums up many of the major themes of Papanghelis' own works (listed at the end of the volume), and Spentzou's sensitive treatment of the myth and its reception underscores many of the strengths of the volume as a whole. As a whole, it is a winning collection, and many of the authors have written real gems in honor of Papanghelis' career.

Authors and titles

"Propertius and the Unstructured Self" (Roy Gibson)
"Love and Death in Propertius 1.10, 1.13 and 2.15: Poetic and Polemical Games with Lucretius, Gallus and Virgil" (Jacqueline Fabre-Serris)
"From Grave to Rave: Reading 'Reality' in Propertius 4.7 and 4.8" (Gareth Williams)
"Place and Meaning in Tibullus, Lygdamus, Sulpicia" (S.J. Heyworth)
"Sulpicia and the Speech of Men" (William W. Batstone)
"Ovid's Literary Entrance: Propertian and Horatian Traces?" (Stephen Harrison)
"Till Death do us Part … or Join: Love beyond Death in Ovid's Metamorphoses" (Alison Sharrock)
"Death and Life in Lucan" (David Konstan)
"The Music of Time: Sallust's Sempronia (Cat. 25) and Horace's Lyce (Odes 4.13)" (Andrew W. Feldherr)
"Against Aesthetic Distance: Ovid, Proust, and the Hedonic Impulse" (Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi)
"Epicurean Philosophical Perspectives in (and on) [Vergil] Catalepton 5" (Alison Keith)
"Aphrodisia and the Poenulus of Plautus: The Case of Agorastocles" (Stavros Frangoulidis)
"Stoic Moral Perfectionism and the Queer Art of Failure: Toward a Theory of Senecan Tragedy" (David Wray)
"Resurrection Woman: Love, Death and (After)Life in Petronius's Widow of Ephesus" (Niall W. Slater)
"Love and Death in Renaissance Latin Bucolic: The Chronis and its Origins (Biblioteca Nacional de México Ms. 1631)" (Andrew Laird)
"The Pope as Arsonist and Christian Salvation: Peter Causton's Londini Conflagratio: Carmen" (Gesine Manuwald)
"Many Un/happy Returns from Eurydice" (Efrossini Spentzou)
Publications by Theodore D. Papanghelis


1.   See the similar "creative writing" method in his recent chapter "Pliny and Plutarch's Practical Ethics: a newly rediscovered dialogue" in Roman Literature under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian,eds. Koenig, A. & Whitton, C.L. Cambridge University Press. 402-21.

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