CJ Online Review | West on Tarrant, Aeneid XII and Putnam, Humanness of Heroes

p​osted with permission:​

Virgil: Aeneid Book XII. Edited by Richard Tarrant. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. ix + 362. Hardcover, £50.00/$90.00. ISBN 978-0-521-30881-6. Paper, £19.99/$36.99. ISBN 978-0-521-31363-6.

The Humanness of Heroes: Studies in the Conclusion of Virgil’s Aeneid. By Michael Putnam. The Amsterdam Vergil Lectures, Volume 1. Amsterdam University Press, 2011. Distributed by the University of Chicago Press. Pp. 183. Paper, $25.00. ISBN 978-90-8964-3476.

Reviewed by †David West, Corbridge.

At last a modern commentary on Book 12 and it is excellent. The Introduction includes a timely study of Virgil’s meter which shows that lines with four spondees often describe what is slow, heavy, or solemn (add “sacral”), while lines which begin with five dactyls tend to depict rapid action. I count eleven of these, two of which are lists of the Greek names of casualties, and speed is mentioned in six of the remaining nine. The case is made when the mighty 4S line 649 ends a paragraph and Saces rushes into 5D action in 650, descendam, maiorum haud umquam indignus avorum. Vix ea fatus erat: medios volat ecce per hostes. Another such leap from 4S to 5D occurs in 80–1. The average in the book is one 4S every 14 lines. In 896–9 there are three in four lines, as Turnus eyes a great rock. In 906 he drops it with a 5D, tum lapis ipse viri vacuum per inane volutus. Virgil’s sweet and marvellously effective voice will not sound again but Tarrant enables us to hear it a little better.

The commentary excels for its thoroughness and sound judgment. It seems to deal with every detail of the language and offer judicious solutions amply supported by modern scholars, particularly Anglophones. There are also masses of parallel passages, making it a much larger book than previous commentaries in this series.

The Introduction includes sections on Turnus and Aeneas, the Final Scene, and Augustan Ramifications. Here Tarrant is too kind to Turnus. When the Book opens the Latins have been smashed, infractos, and their commander has been absent. Turnus realizes that the time has come for him to keep his promises, and that he is being looked at meaningfully, se signari oculis. In 11–17 he consents to a treaty (he will later violate it). He insults his Latin comrades (who have been doing the fighting), and consents to meet Aeneas in single combat, “refuting the charge of cowardice to which the Latins had rendered themselves liable,” he says. It is Turnus who is the coward.

The aged king Latinus has to deal with this. He begins by praising Turnus’ fierce courage so unlike his own fear, metuentem. Tarrant takes this to hint at his lack of resolve. But Latinus is not afraid, he is deploying conciliatio benevolentiae to flatter Turnus for his courage by declaring his own lack of it. His speech is a masterpiece of rhetoric, and it ends with an appeal to Turnus’ aged father, the card played by Sinon in 2.87 and 138, and the fifth locus in the twelve under misericordia in Ad Herennium 2.47.

Turnus’ reply is rude and arrogant, and he is soon rushing into the house, asking for his horses and glorying in them, quicker than winds and white as snow. He then dons his armor, breastplate with scales of gold and aurichalc, sword, shield, and helmet with red crests in horned sockets. (There were two fire-breathing chimeras on top of it in 7.785–6.) Next he takes the sword Vulcan had made for his father Daunus, tempering the steel in water of the Styx. He then snatches a spear leaning against a column, addresses it passionately, and utters dire prophecies of what is in store for the effeminate Phrygian. Sparks fly from his face and his eyes flash fire. He is pawing the ground and goring the winds before his first (note) battle. This is a boy, not a warrior. And he has armed on the wrong day and taken the wrong sword.

Aeneas also put on his armor, given to him by his divine mother (Venus trumps Daunus), and was just as fierce, delighted to know that the truce he offered Latinus would end the war. He comforted his men and then his son (after all the boy might be about to lose his father), and told him about the great future the Fates had in store for him (“It’s not the end for you if I die”). He then ordered a deputation to take a reply to Latinus and agree the terms of the truce. This is a soldier speaking, dealing with half a dozen things in three lines. He speaks in the same military manner in 190–4 (this briskness in line 192 might raise the speedy 5D score to 7 out of 9) as Virgil sounds the contrast between bluster and efficiency. Tarrant gives a full and fair account of these points, but his summary on p. 112 does not do justice to Aeneas—“Turnus is full of bustling activity and fierce emotion, while Aeneas exhibits an almost eerie calm and seeks to comfort his companions rather than to stir them up … This is A. at his noblest, and arguably his least interesting.” Aeneas was about to negotiate a truce and fight a duel. This was no time to stir up troops.

Tarrant is also a little unfair to Aeneas when he calls his siege of the Latin city “barbaric,” “a vindictive attack on non-combatants.” Virgil tried to protect Aeneas from such a judgment. He made it clear that Venus put the idea into her son’s mind to go to the city walls (554–5), and he immediately caught sight of the city secure and calm in the 5D, immunem tanti belli atque impune quietem. Then the instant he heard the name of Turnus he left the city walls. Aeneas was not vindictive but desperate to end the war.

Tarrant devotes a dozen pages to the final scene, but neither there nor in his commentary does he do justice to lines 932–4, where Turnus begs Aeneas to take pity on his old father (fuit et tibi talis Anchises genitor). In 10.441–3 Turnus had hunted down a young man and sent the corpse back to his father with sarcastic taunts in 10.491–4. His conduct, as detailed in Harrison’s commentary, “presents a clear contrast with that of Aeneas over Lausus … the greatest point of contrast between the two commanders and essential for their characterization” but Tarrant does not use it. Throughout this Book Virgil sets up many contrasts between Turnus and Aeneas. Surely we need to remember that after Aeneas killed Lausus in 10.808–28, he looked at the young man’s face and thought of his own father, pitied Lausus, praised his valor, and respected his armor and his corpse.

The Aeneid, inter multa alia, praises Augustus by praising his ancestor. If Virgil had favored Turnus above Aeneas, Augustus would have seen it, and we would not be reading the Aeneid today. Tarrant lays stress on Aeneas’ failure to observe his father’s precept, parcere subiectis, in 6.853, but Anchises has just spoken 97 lines praising Roman victories (more than half of them won by his own descendants).

Julius Caesar and Augustus were both ruthless in war, but Virgil shows Aeneas being tempted to be merciful in 12.940. He is the only hero in Homer or the Aeneid who thinks of such a thing, but Tarrant undermines even that by suggesting that his intense anger at the sight of Pallas’ belt “is to some degree directed at himself for having let Pallas fade from his mind … his over-identification with Pallas is a form of compensation.”

Many men beg for mercy in the Iliad and the Aeneid. None receives it. Why should Aeneas break the rule? War is part of epic, and in war men blaze with anger and kill.


In Catullus 64.354 when Achilles hears that Patroclus has been killed, he mows down Trojans, demetit. In Aeneid 10.513 when Aeneas hears that Pallas has been killed, he mows down everything before him, metit, and Michael Putnam deduces that the savagery of Achilles is absorbed by the brutality of Aeneas. By similar lexical arguments Aeneas then becomes Achilles, and later will be Pyrrhus and Juno. The cloud of connections is at its thickest on p. 109 when “Aeneas both becomes Dido and kills her as he slays Turnus.” He has already been Turnus several times. This is no way to read.

The thrust of this book is that Aeneid 12 plots the descent of a man who was famous for his pietas, and becomes a sacker of cities, a killer of women and of a wounded man begging for mercy at his feet. (This is Aeneas’ humanness.) The premise for this is Aeneas’ failure to observe the instruction of his father Anchises in 6.853 to spare the defeated, parcere subiectis. Tarrant calls it a precept, and Putnam invokes it a score of times in his 133 pages. But it is not a precept without the end of the line, et debellare superbos. In 6.756–853 Anchises has delivered a panegyric on the victories which have made Rome ruler of the world. He was more jingoist than pacifist. In 12.324–5, when the Latins violate the truce conference and Aeneas is wounded, Turnus roars into action the moment he sees him leaving the field, ut Aeneam cedentem ex agmine vidit … subita spe fervidus ardet. Anchises would have questioned his son’s sanity if he had spared such a man. Why then recommend clemency here?

At the beginning of his Res Gestae Augustus records that a crown was put over his door recording his Virtus, Clementia, Iustitia, Pietas. But Julius Caesar had massacred Germans as a pacification policy, and there is no conspicuous mercy from Augustus till 28 bc, after his opponents are defeated. For him too, clemency was an instrument of policy, an amnesty offered to those who had fought against him. Parcere subiectis was not an injunction to Roman soldiers to spare enemies wounded in battle, but part of the Augustan settlement, and Augustus’ poet is unobtrusively supporting it.

Canadian Institute in Greece Lectures | Catherine Parnell, Barbarian Cleavers or Greek Swords?

I just came across the Canadian Institute in Greece’s Youtube Channel and they have a number of interesting slide lectures (broken up into segments) which should be of interest. Here’s the blurb from the first one, which was presented back in March:

Catherine Parnell, B.A., M.A.
(Ph.D. candidate, School of Archaeology, University College Dublin)
“Barbarian Cleavers or Greek Swords? Portrayals and Perceptions of Curved Swords in Ancient Greece”
This lecture is concerned with ancient Greek curved blades commonly known as ‘kopis’ or ‘machaira’. It presents the results of surveys of the iconographic and literary evidence, and examines the portrayal of the various types of curved blades, as well as the differing perceptions of this morphological shape

And here’s the talk:

… I’ll post the next few over the next couple of days.

The Riace Bronzes Saga Continues

This is getting incredibly silly … about a year ago, we were told that the Riace Bronzes would be back on display by Christmas 2012 (Riace Bronzes Back from Vacation Soon) … then, in October, we heard that problems at the Reggio Calabria Museo Archeologico Nazionale was having renovation disputes of some sort (Whither the Riace Bronzes?) … most recently, in April, we learned the pair were in temporary quarters, lying on display in a horizontal position (Riace Bronzes Update). Now this, from ANSA:

Italy’s culture minister must take fast action on moving world-famous ancient Greek warrior statues, the Riace Bronzes, into a safe home, two Democratic Party politicians said Friday.

The bronzes, some of Italy’s most-loved cultural icons, have been lying on their backs for more than two years in the home of the Calabrian regional government after being moved from a museum undergoing restoration work.

However, the work at Reggio Calabria’s National Archaeological Museum has become a victim of budget cuts and red tape, which means the statues remain homeless.

”We call on the government to outline what steps it intends to take to safeguard the Riace Bronzes and complete the museum restoration,” said Rosy Bindi and Demetrio Battaglia, politicians with the Democratic Party (PD).

Culture Minister Massimo Bray is also a PD member in Italy’s coalition government cobbled together with members of the PD and the centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party.

Museum renovations began in November 2009 and since then the valuable bronzes have been in storage, away from paying visitors and students.

The bronzes’ trip across town to the council offices was supposed to be a brief one.

When they left storage at the Archaeological Museum on December 22, 2012, officials said it was ”just for a six-month restoration”.

The move was the first time in 28 years that the priceless 2,500-year-old bronzes had left the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria.

The only previous occasion they were let out was in 1981, for a triumphant round-Italy tour.

Calabria has repeatedly refused permission for copies of the statues to be made and rejected pleas for Italian promotional events worldwide and for the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa.

In a citywide vote in 2003, the people of Reggio Calabria came out overwhelmingly against the ”cloning” of the statues, which have been the Calabrian capital’s biggest tourist draw since they were discovered.

The Bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holidaymaker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy’s most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years.

The statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metres, they are larger than life.

The ‘older’ man, known as Riace B, wears a helmet, while the ‘younger’ Riace A has nothing covering his rippling hair.

Both are naked.

Although the statues are cast in bronze, they feature silver lashes and teeth, copper red lips and nipples, and eyes made of ivory, limestone and a glass and amber paste.

Seriously??? Ye gods, just send the pair on tour for a while and they’ll pay their own way. Someone’s (or Manyone’s) isn’t thinking over there …

Podcast | Adrian Goldsworthy on Roman Warfare

Tip o’ the pileus to Dorothy King for alerting us via twitter that Adrian Goldsworthy had given a lengthy talk in May at the New York Military Affairs Symposium on the topic of Roman warfare. Here’s a link to the audio:

Goldsworthy appears to be the first to talk on something ancient there (or at least in regards to the podcasts that are online), but if you have a hankering for military history, there are a pile of interesting things at Audio Podcasts of Friday Evening Talks.

“Murder” in the Tauric Chersonese?

This is presumably a followup to the reports from last week adding the Tauric Chersonese to the list of UNESCO Heritage sites. I’m hoping some newspaper will pick this up and have a reporter ask more questions, but nothing doing … from EurekAlert:

Chersonesos is an ancient city on the Crimean peninsula, which was founded by Greek colonists at the end of the 6th century BC in order to supply their homeland with grain and other strategic resources. The farmland in the Greek colonies was vital to the survival of the Greek city-states. The excavations by the Aarhus archaeologists are exploring the development of the rural area from its peak until its decline. One of the conclusions so far is that during a period of crisis in the early 3rd century BC a large proportion of the rural population was killed following a military invasion. The skeletons of these people can be found just 40 cm beneath the surface of the soil in a number of housing structures which the Aarhus archaeologists have excavated.

“We’ve learned things that have changed our view of what life was like in the Chersonesean countryside, which the Greeks called chora. The city’s rural territory, particularly on the Herakleian and Tarkhankut peninsulas, is incredibly well preserved. The houses of the rural population dating back to about 300 BC lie dotted around the untouched landscape in the form of ruins that are still visible. For instance, in one of the excavated ruins we have found the remains of a whole family. So we’re working on a murder scene dating back 2,300 years,” reports project director Vladimir Stolba, an archaeologist from Aarhus University.

Chersonesos and its rural area have just been added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites – the area is a unique example of the way the ancient Greek cities and surrounding landscape were organised.

“We’ve had several teams of students from Denmark and the host country Ukraine on our expeditions. It’s been a great experience and very fruitful collaboration. We are in a lucky and, in a sense, unique situation to work on short-lived rural sites which have never been re-inhabited since their destruction in the early 3rd century BC. The picture that emerges from the excavations is a snapshot of daily activities of the ancient peasantry, of its life and dramatic death. We’ve found answers to many of our research questions: for instance, who cultivated the Greek grain fields, how densely the area was settled and how it was organised, and how the ancient population adapted to changes in cultural and natural environment. The answers have given rise to new questions that we want to explore next. The world heritage status will hopefully help to preserve this unique area despite the increase in tourism and tourism infrastructure development, enabling us to continue our work,” concludes Vladimir Stolba.

All very interesting, but we really need to know more about these burials. The project website (Economic Models and Adaptation Strategies: The Northern Black Sea in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age) has quite a bit of information, but nothing, really, on these in-house burials. What is the evidence for “murder” as opposed to epidemic? Are these people buried actually inside the structures? etc. … more details please!!!!