Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Steven J. Green (ed.), Grattius: Hunting an Augustan Poet. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. 304. ISBN 9780198789017. £63,00.

Reviewed by Abigail Buglass, Christ Church, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

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

In 1654 Christopher Wase expressed in the notes to his English verse translation of Grattius' Cynegetica—the first in English—the hope that Grattius might be 'drawn forth' from obscurity and 'like some refulgent starre, after long disappearance, raise up into our Hemisphere his head encircled with its native lusture' (Wase, pp. 2, 4). After Grattius' apparent near-eclipse among his contemporaries (pp. 3-4)—the only (brief) reference to our poet appears in Ovid's Pont. 4.16.34—Wase's wish for Grattius' resurgence might have been granted for a time in the aftermath of his 'discovery' (see Moul, pp. 215-34). But the same hope is repeated in 2017 in the book under review, suggesting that the translation did not have the effect that Wase looked for. The aims of the volume include paving the way for further studies of Grattius and raising his profile with a wider audience (p.1), as well as showing that '[Grattius'] poetry is as allusive as other Latin poems' (Whitlach, 180). Grattius' 541-verse didactic poem on hunting with dogs has been relegated to the sidelines of Latin Didactic studies for too long, Steven Green tells us; Giulia Fanti repeats (p. 61) Green's contention, assuring us that the Cynegetica is arguably 'the most overlooked and underappreciated work of the Augustan age'. 1

The volume arises from a 2015 conference at University College (at which I was present). In the course of reading, it becomes clear that Grattius' poem is about much more than hunting with dogs and nets: it is a richly allusive text which engages with other (didactic-)epic poets on levels far beyond the superficial (as has been supposed previously), potentially suggestive of the political climate in which Grattius was writing, and even sensitive to ethical and moral concerns.

The volume includes a text and translation, for reasons of accessibility (p. 13): 'It is hoped that [the text and translation] will acquaint new audiences with the poem, set the contributions of this volume in context, and allow the reader to engage more critically with Grattius' poem and its issues'. Green takes care (p. 13) to clarify that this is not a new critical edition (no independent review of the manuscripts has been carried out, and there is no critical apparatus). An instructive introduction covers topics from the poet's reputation, the scope of the poem and its date, to its subject matter and generic affiliation (oddly separate from the discussion of scope). Green also supplies a summary of the papers; knowledge of Grattius is not presumed and a survey of the major scholarly contributions is included (pp. 1-11).

The ten contributions are grouped in four areas: (1) Roman Didactic and Epic Interactions; (2) Hunting and the World; (3) Mythical Hunters; (4) Grattius in the Early Modern Period. Pointing out (p. 62) the need to consider a broader range of generic influences on the Cynegetica, Giulia Fanti situates the poem within the didactic tradition. She analyses the poetic persona and frequent addresses to the audience to demonstrate a breadth of appeal (notwithstanding the obvious education of the presumed audience) not dissimilar to that of Lucretius.2 Monica Gale's 'Hunting as Paradigm' treats hunting as a metaphor for the development of culture and the seeking of knowledge to shed light on Grattius' mission and attitude to progress. She connects Grattius' hunting to cultural history, especially the remarkable finale of De Rerum Natura, Book 5 (cf. Cyn. 1-15 and Lucr. 5.1452-7). In Chapter 3 Boris Kayachev explores interactions between Virgil's Aeneid and Grattius' Cynegetica with a series of close readings; his contribution has implications for the dating of the poem. Closing section 1, Christina Tsaknaki ambitiously argues for connection between 'weapons of hunting' and poetic art, claiming the arma/ars connection as a 'statement of literary affiliations with aesthetics of Callimachean art'.

Part 2 explores Grattius' perspectives on the world. Gregory Hutchinson investigates Grattius' use of the language of motion, considering the intriguing idea that motion 'reflects and expresses mental make-up'. According to Hutchinson, 'motion gives us a lead into the ethical and practical conceptions in the poem' (p. 138). Like Hutchinson, Steven Green studies the presence of something 'real-world' in the Cynegetica, reflecting on the potential for political comment within the poem, and arguing not for a sustained political reading but for more subtle gesturing towards the contemporary political world of Augustan Rome.

The two contributions in Part 3 explore the potential of the inset myths of Dercylos and Hagnon for greater appreciation of the poem's broader mission. Lisa Whitlach's piece examines Grattius' treatment of Hagnon and connections to Theocritus to draw conclusions about the promotion of hunting as part of a pious lifestyle. Donncha O'Rourke's sensitive discussion of the praeceptor of the Georgics and the Cynegetica as identifiable with mythological characters within their texts continues exploration from Part 1 of the role of the instructor and his task. O'Rourke sets Grattius up to join Lucretius, Virgil, and Ovid as a Latin didactic poet worthy of study. Victoria Moul's chapter is the first of two closing pieces on the reception of Grattius in the early modern period; she offers a survey of readings of the Cynegetica after its rediscovery in the early sixteenth century by Sannazaro, and considers the value of anthologies of hunting poems as political commentary in early modern period. Finally, Mike Waters reflects on the history of an early English translator of the poem, looking to Wase's potential motivations for the undertaking as well as the contemporary socio-political context.

Of the four sections, the first is the most cohesive. Green admits to potential overlap between sections and acknowledges that several papers might equally have been placed under a different heading. There is pleasing continuity between discussions of civilization in Gale and O'Rourke (among others). Indeed, although the volume is plainly not designed to investigate specific aspects of Grattius' poem, meditations on Grattius' choice of hunting and implications for what he is trying to say about (contemporary) culture and progress emerge as dominant themes. The organisation of the contributions is carefully conceived and helpful to readers; I would probably recommend Part 1 to (undergraduate) students of didactic poetry above others.

At the start of the volume (Fanti, Gale) the treatment of Grattius alongside 'major players' of didactic poetry is in line with the aims of the project, helping the reader to feel comfortable with this strange hunting poet. Gale distinguishes between Lucretius' positive persona and his 'ambivalent' attitude to cultural progress to shed light on Grattius' own position (pp. 83-4).3 Both Gale (passim) and Fanti (p.66) juxtapose Grattius' positive stance on cultural progress with Lucretius' and Virgil's (in the Georgics) more uncertain, even pessimistic outlooks; Gale emphasises that Grattius views 'prayer and sacrifice as an infallible route to success in both hunting and healing', and the same can certainly not be said for Lucretius or Virgil. More subtle is the suggestion (p. 84) that, 'Whereas for Lucretius the step-by-step ascent to the summum cacumen of technological progress is accordingly eclipsed by the philosophical discoveries of Epicurus ... Grattius displays complete faith in the arts of hunting and veterinary science…'. This notion is complicated by the idea that for Lucretius it is precisely cultural progress that has led us to this point: a time after Epicurus' discoveries of the nature of things. Perhaps Lucretius even refers to the intellectual progress inherent in the writing (and reading) of the De Rerum Natura. It leads me to wonder how marked the differences between the poets' cultural perspectives really are. But that is a matter for readers to decide for themselves, and Lucretius' own understanding of cultural progress is a can of worms not to be opened here.4

Kayachev professes openness on the dating of the poem; his study of interactions between the Aeneid and the Cynegetica presents some arguments in favour of Virgil's alluding to Grattius rather than the (more commonly believed) reverse. The depiction of Camilla's life in the Aeneid is one example used to suggest that Virgil echoes Grattius (pp. 99-103; cf. Introduction, pp. 6-7). Grattius presents Camilla's career in miniature at Cyn. 124-6, with clear intertexts indicated by Kayachev. But we have seen (Gale, pp. 79-80) that Grattius contracts another episode of a major epic poem: the potted version of the Kulturgeschichte of Lucr. 5 at Cyn. 1-15; it seems to me more likely that Grattius is summarising the career of Camilla found in Virgil and not the other way around. Still, the contribution demonstrates with care, irrespective of chronology, an intertextual relationship between the Aeneid and the Cynegetica which is far from superficial.

An important contribution of the book is the conception of Grattius as one who embraces metapoetic technique. Various metapoetic signals indicated by Tsaknaki (pp. 123-7), e.g. fine nets, are persuasive on the poem's programmatic opening lines; we are also alerted to the multiple meanings of armorum … exordia, which include the prologue itself but also the loom's warp (summoning metaphors of word-weaving long associated with poetry). Crucially, exordia (particularly in the plural) is also a Lucretian keyword, signifying the text of the De Rerum Natura, the beginnings of his lessons in Epicurean physics, but also the material subject of the lessons: the atoms. This Lucretian element might profitably complement the metapoetic traces that Tsaknaki finds: Grattius refers to tools needed for hunting, drawing attention to his own text through word choice, but also alludes (metapoetically?) to another didactic poet in the process. On related lines O'Rourke considers an effect of mise en abyme, as the teacher whose first lesson involves hunting with nets and spears makes use of a paradigmatic hunter who was himself the first to hunt with nets and spears; Gale (pp. 90-1) suggests metapoetic readings of Cyn. 223-45. Green's Appendix (p. 258) also briefly discusses metapoetic aspects of discussion of nets, with a view to rejecting the transposition, accepted by many, of vv. 63-71 post v. 23.

I have mentioned the inclusion of a translation, with elucidatory notes, by Green. So it is gratifying to find in the final contribution by Waters meditations on the merits of translation methods from Denham, Wase (pp. 238-9), Wase again, Chapman, Pope, Dryden, and Wentworth (pp. 246-7). The rather fun appendix to this piece includes the first 12 lines of the Cynegetica with Wase's translation compared with J.W. and A.M. Duff's of 1934. In hard copy the appendix on pp. 257-8 is unattributed; but the online version attributes it to Green. I found the book to be very low on typographical errors, with a few formatting quirks in the spacing of footnotes.

Grattius: Hunting an Augustan Poet opens a path for further discovery, including investigation of didactic strategies such as intrusion by the teacher-persona, digression, myth; the (extent of) (in)completion of the poem and its scope more broadly; reception (after rediscovery); intertextual engagement; and chronology, which has yet to be satisfactorily pinned down. A volume cannot be all things for all, and we ought to remember the programmatic statements of the authors: the intention of Hunting an Augustan Poet—to repeat myself and the book—is not to cover all bases, but to invite and facilitate further Grattian research. In this the book undoubtedly achieves its aims, and I would encourage students and scholars of didactic poetry alike to follow the tracks of the elusive poet.

Authors and titles

Introduction (Steven Green)
Text and Translation (Steven Green)
Part I: Roman Didactic and Epic Interactions
1. Grattius' Cynegetica: A Protean Poem at the Heart of the Roman Didactic Tradition (Giulia Fanti)
2. 'te sociam, Ratio…': Hunting as Paradigm in the Cynegetica (Monica R. Gale)
3. Hunt as War and War as Hunt: Grattius' Cynegetica and Virgil's Aeneid (Boris Kayachev)
4. Ars Venandi: The Art of Hunting in Grattius' Cynegetica and Ovid's Ars Amatoria (Christina Tsaknaki)

Part II: Hunting and the World
5. Motion in Grattius (G.O. Hutchinson)
6. Grattius and Augustus: Hunting for an Emperor (Steven J. Green)

Part III: Mythical Hunters
7. The Conditions of Poetic Immortality: Epicurus, Daphnis, and Hagnon (Lisa Whitlach)
8. Authorial Surrogates in Grattius' Cynegetica (Donncha O'Rourke)

Part IV: Grattius in the Early Modern Period
9. Hunting with Hounds in Neo-Latin: The Reception of Grattius from Fracastoro to Vanière (Victoria Moul)
10. Hunting and the Seventeenth-Century English Gentleman: Christopher Wase's Translation of Grattius' Cynegeticon (1654) (Mike Waters)

Appendix: Slaves, Poetry, and the Case against Transposition of Verses 61-74


1.   But see Henderson, J. (2001), 'Going to the Dogs: Grattius (and) the Augustan Subject', Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 47: 1-22, who has tackled Grattius' poetic mission 'in [its] own right' (Green, p. 1-2); and Whitlach, L. (2013), 'The Attainment of Every Virtue: a Pindaric allusion in Grattius' Cynegetica', Classical Quarterly 66 (2): 807-12.
2.   Cf. Fanti, G. (2017), 'The Failure of Memmius in Lucretius' DRN', Latomus 76: 58-79.
3.   Cf. Gale, p. 94: 'Lucretius' confident didactic manner is appropriated to the service of very un-Lucretian ends'.
4.   See Campbell, G. (2003), Lucretius on Creation and Evolution: a Commentary on De Rerum Natura Book Five Lines 772-1104, Oxford, Introduction; and Gale, M.R. (2009), Lucretius: De Rerum Natura V, Oxford, 176-7, with further bibliography.

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