Wednesday, May 1, 2019


David Quint, Virgil's Double Cross: Design and Meaning in the 'Aeneid'. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. Pp. xxii, 218. ISBN 9780691179384. $35.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Vassiliki Panoussi, William & Mary (

Version at BMCR home site


The last couple of years have seen a flurry of commentaries and monographs on Vergil's Aeneid probing the ideological underpinnings of the poem from various angles, such as the problem of dynastic succession,1 foreign enemies,2 or reciprocity.3 Commentaries have appeared on Books 2, 3, and 8.4 Quint's book follows his previous work's approach: he investigates how form is used to reflect the poem's ideological work. This time he proposes that the rhetorical figure of chiasmus and the conceptual effects of chiastic reversal, which he terms 'double-cross' or 'doubling,' have a profound impact on the work's large- and small-scale design. The book's main argument is that the two figures both bolster and undermine the poem's pro-Augustan, pro-empire ideological message.

In the preface, Quint offers an overview of 20th c. scholarship on Vergil and situates it within the context of world politics. As others before him, he notes that new readings of the Aeneid emerged in the wake of WWII and the politics of the Cold War in the US and UK. He also discusses the socio-political context of his own earlier work (first Gulf War) and notes the relevance of the Aeneid to the current refugee crises. This overview of Vergilian scholarship ends in the early 90s without discussing the scholarly trends of the 2000s, when new methodologies and critical frameworks emerged, such as a re-evaluation of the religious context under the lens of cultural anthropology,5 intertextuality beyond Homer,6 or advances in feminist criticism7 and psychoanalysis.8 It is disappointing that Quint does not attempt to situate his new work, written, as he comments, in the post 9/11 world, in the context of recent scholarship informed by this array of critical frameworks.

Chapter one sets the stage for the book's methodology and argument, noting that Vergil repeatedly turns the figure of chiasmus into a figure of thought. Extensive use of this device often results in double chiasmus, characterized by radical reversals that collapse distinctions between opposites. Quint presents various examples, but the best discussion of this phenomenon is his analysis of Neptune's calming of the winds in connection with the simile of the statesman in Book 1. Quint demonstrates that Neptune is depicted as resembling more the unruly crowd of the simile than its sober statesman, arguing that Vergil suggests that both force and calm order are necessary for effective rule.

Chapter two is the most compelling of the book. It convincingly demonstrates the intricate doubling occurring in books 2, 3, and 6 in the portrait of Greeks, Trojans, Carthaginians, and Romans. Noting that Aeneas' status as a narrator of the fall of Troy offers the reader a new perspective, that of the defeated, Quint proposes that Vergil's epic genuinely reflects on what Roman conquests might mean for the conquered. At the same time, he presents a good case that Aeneas serves as a double of Neoptolemus/Pyrrhus, followed by a doubling of Rome's enemies, Carthage and Greece. Vergil masterfully uses the figure of Pyrrhus and his terrible fate (described in Book 3) to evoke Rome's great enemy, King Pyrrhus of Epirus (who had fashioned himself as a descendant of Achilles), and the eventual conquest of the Greeks by the Romans. Similarly, while Dido recalls Cleopatra and the Punic wars, the ordering of books 1-4 (1 and 4 dealing with Carthage and 2 and 3 dealing with Greece) reverses the chronology of Rome's foreign wars. This conflation is nowhere clearer than in the battle of Actium, cast as the culmination of all foreign wars in the conquest of Cleopatra, at once an African queen and a Ptolemy, a Greek. The defeat of Cleopatra replays the defeats of both Hannibal and Pyrrhus by the new leader of Rome, Augustus. Quint points to a further ideological disguise of civil conflict as foreign in the parade of heroes in Book 6 and argues that the blurring of civil and foreign conflict and the casting of civil conflict as foreign render the former central and visible, undermining the ideological tenor of the narrative. While I would argue that Quint's neat schematization is more complicated—e.g. Book 1 is not purely "Carthaginian" but more of a hybrid of both Troy and Carthage—I was fascinated by his analysis of Pyrrhus and his importance for the poem's historical underpinnings. I am similarly convinced by his argument that a sustained ideological effort recasts civil war as foreign throughout the Aeneid. Quint offers a balanced and nuanced assessment of the pro-Augustan ideological statements of the poem while also eloquently arguing for the problematization of these statements.

In chapter 3 Quint's analysis falls in two parts: first he argues that Vergil's rendition of the story of Dido revises elements of the traditional story which had served as a national myth for Carthage. Quint demonstrates that Vergil's exposition repeatedly hints at this earlier version of Dido's fidelity to Sychaeus (by insightfully analyzing her famous epitaph, for example, and her encounter with Aeneas in Book 6), thus calling into question the certainty that Aeneas was the cause of her death, as well as revealing the Aeneid's own myth-making. In the second part of the argument, Dido's identity as "Phoenissa" plays on Dido's symbolic identity as a phoenix, rising from the ashes of its own destruction, self- generating, asexually. For Quint, this analogy not only points to Carthage's former victories after defeat but also to the political decision not to grant citizenship to the peoples it conquered but to rely on their manpower as mercenaries, a policy that led to its ultimate defeat and destruction. In this light, Juno's terms to Jupiter at the end of the Aeneid reflect the Roman political strategy of intermarriage and absorption of neighboring peoples (80) and render her stance highly ironic because it ensures Rome's survival instead of Troy's destruction. Although I find the association of Dido to a phoenix not as convincing, both the analysis of the ideological imprint of the Carthaginian mythology and the point about Carthage's exclusionary policies are significant and valid.

Chapter 4 grapples with the modes of commemoration, deification and damnatio memoriae, expounded in Vergil's underworld. The author argues that Vergil connects deification with justice, and poetic justice in particular, and "acknowledges the complicity of poetry with power in shaping historical myth and memory" (84). By rewriting Homer's underworld with the Trojans now in the center and the Greeks in the margins, and by showing that the choice of who dies and who lives rests on justice or luck, Vergil seems to admit that Rome's power might fall. Poetry, on the other hand, preserves fame, since the Aeneid (like Homer's poems) will outlive the politics of its moment. Quint here asks important questions (what is the role of deification and damnatio memoriae? how are they achieved and manipulated?) and makes good points on the connection between Anchises and Julius Caesar and the problem of dynastic succession as personified by Marcellus' death; yet the overall argument does not seem as fresh and novel as the ones made in the previous two chapters.

The opposition between nature and culture in Book 8 is the focus of the next chapter. The theme of fire is explored through a study of the episodes of Hercules and Cacus and Aeneas' shield. The author demonstrates how Vergil complicates the correlation of Hercules/Aeneas/Augustus on the one hand, and Cacus/Turnus/Antony and Cleopatra on the other, by presenting fire as moving from one side to the other. It is difficult to summarize here all the interesting readings Quint offers on the many facets of the portrayal of Hercules in this book and the intricate ways in which Vergil connects him with Augustus. Quint further notes that in the image of the shield "the book substitutes for Cacus' den the military-industrial complex of Vulcan's underground armory, each described as a vast cave. The now tamed Cyclopes 'construct' Rome, a weapon of mass destruction" (139). The traditional reading of the episodes as an allegory of human progress is thus brought into question. The chapter continues with an analysis of the theme of water and rivers. Observing that Tiber welcomes both Turnus and Aeneas, Quint convincingly argues that the Tiber stands in contrast to the foreign rivers depicted on the shield, culminating in the image of imperial conquest in the scene of Araxes resenting his bridge. Moreover, the permanence and timelessness of rivers is linked to Rome's control over time itself, "the time that power shapes into history" (145). Quint remarks that Vergil juxtaposes the permanence of rivers to the ephemerality of human presence, making it possible to imagine a Roman-less future.

Chapter 6 is much less successful. The author argues that Vergil allusively combines different Homeric episodes in Book 10 to demonstrate that the major warriors of the epic—Pallas, Lausus, Aeneas, Turnus, and Mezentius—are doubles of the doomed Trojan warrior Sarpedon. By implication, Patroclus, Sarpedon's killer, also serves as a model for these warriors. Sarpedon's extensive allusive presence blurs their identities, demonstrating the equalizing effect of war, and civil war in particular. Through a long and laborious exposition Quint makes a point that seems rather unoriginal: that the battles are designed to evoke civil war; that the various reversals and blurrings are deeply ironic in showcasing Aeneas' restraint after his earlier bloody aristeia; that the interchangeability of warriors shows the futility of war and the inevitability of death. Perhaps the most valuable point is the contrast he draws between the dead warriors and Aeneas' status as a survivor. The warriors' deaths are for the sake of the survival of Aeneas and his line, culminating in the Julian clan and the Augustan future. Quint here would have been able to produce a more nuanced and compelling argument if he had incorporated Rossi's important work on the battle scenes of book 10 6.

The last chapter argues that in the final scene of the poem Turnus serves as Aeneas' double. Quint deploys a complex intertextual scheme involving allusion to the figure of Memnon in the Aithiopis. Memnon killed Achilles' companion, Antilochus, son of Nestor, who took Patroclus' place after his death. Achilles killed Memnon in return. Quint argues that Antilochus is behind the characterization of both Pallas and Lausus in Book 10, and thus makes a double of his slayer, Memnon, out of both Aeneas and Turnus. This doubling creates a morally unsettling ending for the Aeneid, because it imputes sexual motives in Aeneas' killing of Turnus. Furthermore, these sexual motives overcome filial piety which the hero exemplifies, and which has obvious implications for Augustus. For Quint, Aeneas killing his double not only emphasizes the reciprocity of war, and civil war in particular, but also points to Augustus as being part of the problem that he promised to solve. In view of the multitude of compelling readings supporting the ambiguity of the poem's ending, this particular argument appears rather strained and not as convincing.

In conclusion, the book's strength is Quint's several close readings, some of which are original and insightful. Other chapters, however, constitute a good recasting of what we already know. Unlike Quint's previous book, which deployed most productively the theoretical framework of repetition, this study focuses on doubling and chiasmus without reflecting on how they might operate within a relevant theoretical apparatus. For example, Quint extensively discusses Vergilian allusion to Homer, but does not offer any rigorous critical discussion on the Homeric allusive framework. This is surprising given the large body of literature, and Vergilian literature in particular, that engages with intertextuality. Although Quint rightly notes that his study is a product of its time, he misses an opportunity to situate his readings within the larger critical questions current in the field, thus hindering their impact.


1.   Anne Rogerson, Virgil's Ascanius: Imagining the Future in the Aeneid. Cambridge, 2017.
2.   Elena Giusti, Carthage in Virgil's Aeneid: Staging the Enemy Under Augustus. Cambridge, 2018.
3.   Martin C. Stöckinger, Vergils Gaben: Materialität, Reziprozität und Poetik in den "Eklogen" und der "Aeneis". Heidelberg, 2015.
4.   Sergio Casali, ed., Virgilio, Eneide 2. Introduzione, traduzione e commento. Pisa, 2017; Lee Fratantuono and R. Alden Smith, eds., Virgil, Aeneid 8: Text, Translation, and Commentary. Leiden, 2018; S. J. Heyworth and James Morwood, eds., A Commentary on Vergil, Aeneid 3. Oxford. 2017; James J. O'Hara, ed., Vergil Aeneid Book 8. Indianapolis, 2018.
5.   Julia Dyson [Hejduk], King of the Wood: The Sacrificial Victor in Virgil's Aeneid. Norman, 2001.
6.   Andreola Rossi, Contexts of War: Manipulation of Genre in Virgilian Battle Narrative. Ann Arbor, 2003.
7.   Alison Keith, Engendering Rome: Women in Latin Epic. Cambridge, 2000.
8.   Ellen Oliensis, Freud's Rome: Psychoanalysis and Latin Poetry. Cambridge, 2009.

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