Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Antony Augoustakis, R. Joy Littlewood (ed.), Campania in the Flavian Poetic Imagination. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xviii, 330. ISBN 9780198807742. $105.00.

Reviewed by Markus Kersten, Universität Basel (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

Interest in the representation of landscape in ancient literature has been growing continually, and the present volume once more demonstrates that there is much to gain from a reading aware of the hermeneutic potential of Latin poetic places. What is, for example, the interpretive implication of the setting where a poem claims to have been written, or to what extent may readers actually enter the world of myth by accessing places around which legends (and poems) were spun?

All this is best investigated by means of suggestive examples. The editors' thematic restriction is therefore as justified as it is useful: Campania, as underlined in the introduction, is one of the most significant mythical and mythological places in Latin literature. Moreover, it is one that was frequented at least occasionally by most Roman authors (and, presumably, by a considerable part of their audience). Flavian poetry, on the other hand, with its crucial intertextual relations to both Augustan and Neronian works, is especially apt to offer a representative panorama of the history of Roman literature. Apart from that, the book is a valuable addition to other companions on this period.1

The volume is divided into three major sections: on Campania and certain Campanian landmarks, on Statius' Silvae, and on Silius' Punica. It concludes with a chapter on the Renaissance reception of the Silvae. In this epilogue (which, in fact, could very well be read as an introduction), Fielding lays out how important it was for humanist readers to know that a poet originated from or worked in a certain region or – as in the case of Vergil – was buried at a certain place to be remembered there. It is very helpful to learn about the relief, the pride, and the literary engagement with which, having recovered the Silvae, Neapolitan scholars such as Panormita took up the fact that Statius was born in Campania and not, as formerly thought, in Gallia (p. 272).

Indeed, this note on what may perhaps be called the 'phantasm of autopsy' accentuates a fundamental question: What does it mean (both for the readers themselves and for their image of the poets) to have been there? Can reality still shape an image that is based, as the editors state in their introduction, on "continuities and discontinuities in representing, refashioning and reimagining the region" (p. 6)? Or is it just the other way around? Interestingly, this is also underlined by the book's dust jacket showing the remains of the amphitheatre of Capua instead of, say, the depiction of a fantastic Mediterranean locus amoenus. Of course, there is no comprehensive answer to this question, but the compendium makes clear that – despite all "poetic imagination" – it makes a profound difference whether poets talk about Cumae, which will always somehow be this Cumae, or the island of Circe, which could be anywhere.

Though several chapters deal with rather specific issues or even details, the collection in its entirety draws attention to Campania as the land of otium and/or danger (p. 4). What interests most authors, as one might expect, is the interrelation between the two. Whilst it is surely not surprising that, in Roman discourse, leisure and luxury lead to catastrophe, it is important to notice that this is not necessarily the case in some of the Flavian texts. As a sort of poetic all-round example, Campania can be used as a multivalent symbol.

In the first section, this becomes especially clear in Wolff's and Neger's papers on Martial. The epigrammatist, far from being consistent, can praise the amenities of the Campanian resorts as opposed to the capital and yet damn their moral corruption in just the same manner as he does with Rome. With due uncertainty, Wolff mentions that biographism may offer an explanation for this (did Martial get tired of Baiae? see. p. 81). Though Neger seems to be sceptical on this point as well, she underlines that the poet has indeed created a "vivid portrait" of the land (p. 98).

The section on the Silvae appears to be the most thought-provoking, for, given the peculiarities of these poems, it has to deal with the socio-cultural dimensions of poetry about mythical places and their contemporary inhabitants. Particularly instructive in that direction is Rosati's piece on Statius' laudes Campaniae. After a concise introduction to both Campania in the Flavian era and Campania as a lieu de mémoire, the author deals especially with Silv. 2.2, the description of Pollio's villa, which, in Statius' presentation, virtually becomes a part of the mythical world. Referring to the mythicization of everyday life as a typically Flavian phenomenon, Rosati states (p. 119, original italics):

It is not simile that the poet seeks to establish between his friend/protector and the mythical paradigm with which he is associated, by homology, in a certain role. Rather, Statius constructs a metaphor, in the sense that the laudandus himself 'becomes' a mythical figure; or better yet, the laudandus personally produces his myth – that is, he creates around himself, within the universe of his own villa, his own eponymous myth.

The omnipresence of myth at the Campanian setting of Pollio's villa can thus serve as a "theatrical backdrop" for the exceptional life of the protagonist. Living in myth in such a way has profound panegyric implications – and above all, it cannot be subject of conventional (that is to say profane) criticism of luxuria.

The third section is necessarily homogeneous, since all chapters somehow consider Hannibal's stay in Campania. Whilst Fucecchi and Biggs show how Silius lets his landscape play an active role in fighting and retarding the Carthaginians, Stocks and Pyy/van der Keur explore the interpretive potential of Silius' Capua for Rome. The two pieces work perfectly together: the first explores Campanian Volcanic monstrosities as corresponding to Hannibal's monstrous aspirations (and Silius' epic project), the second analyses Capua's importance as an epic city. Being similar to Carthage and Rome, Capua can, as Stocks puts it, provide "an alternative narrative for Rome's cosmic story: a vision of what authority might have looked like had Hannibal and his gigantomachic warfare proved successful, and a warning perhaps of the threat that such monstrosity continues to pose" (p. 245). In the words of Pyy/van der Keur: "[Capua] allows its moral downfall to serve as an analogy for the later Roman internal struggles."

It is very convenient that often a pair of chapters discusses the same topic, even more so as the authors regularly refer to each other in their footnotes. The book thereby attains a coherence which is seldom achieved by edited volumes. Moreover, it therefore works as a good reader and can – notwithstanding the rich material provided by many chapters – surely serve as an innovative introduction to Flavian poetry. What Pyy and van der Keur have to say about Silius' Capua is probably true for the companion as a whole: "it evokes Roman history [of literature] in a nutshell."

However, since no major controversies about Campania felix emerge from those pairs of chapters, some readers might find the structure somewhat repetitive and perhaps too limited. Of course, one could easily think of further questions that would have fit well within the overall theme, for instance on Campania's relation to other great Roman poetic landscapes such as Thessaly (Lucan's infelix tellus). On the other hand, I would say this rather proves the worth and the relevance of the investigation Littlewood and Augoustakis have initiated.

The structure of the volume is very practical: the editors' introduction summarises all papers and thus outlines the arguments, two indexes and a general bibliography are found at the end. Apart from very few typos (e.g. in the Latin text at pages 18, 177 and 210), the book is excellently produced.

Authors and titles

1: Campania in the Flavian Poets' Imagination (Antony Augoustakis and R. Joy Littlewood)

Campania and its Sites
2: Literary Representations of Naples in Flavian Poetry (Claudio Buongiovanni)
3: A Tale of Two Waters: Agrippina's Death in Flavian Poetry (Lauren Donovan Ginsberg)
4: The Fires of Campania: Typhoeus and the Bay of Naples in Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica (Darcy Krasne)
5: The Other Campanian Volcano: Inarime in Flavian Epic (Nikoletta Manioti)
6: Martial and Campania (Étienne Wolff)
7: Laudabo digne non satis tamen Baias: Martial's Epigrammatic Campania (Margot Neger)

Statius' Silvae
8: Campanian Geography in Statius' Silvae (Paolo Esposito)
9: Laudes Campaniae: Myth and Fantasies of Power in Statius' Silvae (Gianpiero Rosati)
10: Quam Romanus honos et Graia licentia miscent: Cultural Fusion, Ethical Temper, and Poetic Blend in Statius' Ideal Campania (Federica Bessone)
11: Through the Past to the Future of Naples: Text and History in Silvae 4.8 (Ana Lóio)
12: Semirutos . . . de pulvere vultus: Vesuvius, Statius, and Trauma (Arianna Sacerdoti)

Silius Italicus' Punica
13: Campania and the Punica (Marco Fucecchi)
14: Campania at War (Thomas Biggs)
15: Silius' Cumae and its Augustan Predecessors (Alison Keith)
16: In a Land of Gods and Monsters: Silius Italicus' Capua (Claire Stocks)
17: The Many Faces of Capua: Its Narrative and Programmatic Roles in Punica 11-13 (Elina Pyy and Michiel van der Keur)

18: Statius and his Renaissance Readers: The Rediscovery of a poeta Neapolitanus (Ian Fielding)


1.   A. Augoustakis (ed.). Flavian poetry and its Greek past, Leiden: Brill 2009; N. Kramer and C. Reitz (eds.). Tradition und Erneuerung: mediale Strategien in der Zeit der Flavier, Berlin: De Gruyter 2010; A. Augoustakis (ed.). Ritual and religion in Flavian epic, Oxford: OUP 2013; A. Augoustakis, E. Buckley, and C. Stocks (eds.). Fides in Flavian literature, Toronto: TUP 2019.

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