CJ-Online Review ~ Echoing Hylas: A Study in Hellenistic and Roman Metapoetics

Echoing Hylas: A Study in Hellenistic and Roman Metapoetics. By Mark Heerink. Wisconsin Studies in Classics. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2015. Pp. xii + 243. Cloth, $65.00. ISBN 978-0-299-30540-6.

Reviewed by Goran Vidović, University of Belgrade

The story of Heracles’ young companion Hylas is generally as follows: during a break on the Argonaut expedition, he goes into the woods to fetch water and is abducted by nymphs; Heracles calls his name repeatedly, sometimes hearing an echo. In this slightly revised 2010 Leiden PhD (dissertation is now available online), Mark Heerink explores variations of the episode, arguing that “Hellenistic and Roman poets used the story of Hylas as a vehicle to express their ideas about poetry and to react to those of others” (4). The metapoetic approach is justified by verbal repetitions, taken as tropes of poets responding to each other; by activating the etymology of Hylas’ name-ὕλη, “wood,” and “poetic subject matter;” and by “the relationship and opposition between the archetypal hero Hercules and the tender boy Hylas, which is appropriated to symbolize the poet’s positioning toward his predecessor(s)” (9).

While the focus is on Apollonius’ Argonautica, Theocritus’ Idyll 13, Propertius 1.20, Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica and Statius’ Thebaid, the structure of Heerink’s argument requires including other works, both of these authors and Homer, Hesiod, Aristotle, Virgil, Ovid, and especially Callimachus: “the Hylas poems all adhere to a Callimachean poetics, however differently interpreted by each individual poet” (9). In the Introduction, once Callimacheanism is outlined and situated in relation to Homer and Hesiod, intergeneric relations emerge as one of the central concerns of the book. Chapters explore how the poets, competing with their contemporaries and predecessors, experiment with generic prerogatives of epic, bucolic poetry, and elegy, via the Hylas episode.

A few snapshots illustrate this rich investigation. Chapter one: Apollonius’ Heracles, too traditionally heroic, literally too heavy for the Argo, is left behind and replaced by “Callimachean” diplomat Jason, prefigured by Hylas. Insightful intra- and intertextual examination demonstrates that “in the Hylas episode, the epic has taken an important step in the “right” direction, by causing an important threat to the epic to leave. Hylas’s entry into the spring, which symbolizes Apollonius’s Callimachean epic, and the concomitant leaving behind of Heracles, reflect Apollonius’s attitude toward heroic-epic poetry and Homer in particular,” which he can follow only to a certain extent (48).

Chapter two: Theocritus aetiologizes bucolic poetry by “bucolizing” Homeric legacy: Hylas is transformed into an echo, a natural sound, symbolizing the bucolic poet, Theocritus (67), who “shows his colleague and poetic rival Apollonius another way of writing Callimachean poetry by rewriting his Hylas episode” (72), and finds “his own poetic, Callimachean niche in relation to Homer’s heroic-epic poetry” (82).
Chapter 3 is a particularly stimulating analysis of Propertius’ 1.20, where he alerts the poet Gallus to protect his lover Hylas from Italic nymphs. By introducing Virgil’s “elegiac excursion in Eclogue 2” (93) and Gallus’ attempt to write bucolic poetry in Eclogue 10 (97), Heerink unpacks the tension between bucolic and elegiac mode (97-98). While drowning Hylas symbolizes Gallus’ poetry absorbed by Virgil’s pastoral landscape, Propertius “has capped Virgil”: the echo is “not reproduced by Hylas but is demythologized into a natural phenomenon that only symbolizes elegiac absence of the beloved.” Moreover, “[b]y inverting what happened to Gallus and his elegy in the Eclogues, and by putting Hylas in service of that typically elegiac activity of the praeceptor amoris to warn Gallus, Propertius has also outdone his elegiac rival” (111-112).

As intertexts accumulate, reading of imperial epicists in chapter four grows more complex. Valerius Flaccus anomalously assigns “anti-epic” Hylas an unfitting epic role: he is carrying Heracles’ weapons but, unlike in the corresponding passage in Apollonius (1.131-132), he is not yet strong enough to carry his heavy club (Arg. 1.110-111). Similarity with Ascanius following Aeneas dressed like Heracles (Aen. 2.721-724) presents Hylas as “a potential epic hero” (114). This “Virgilization” of Apollonius, impeded by Hylas’ un-heroic pedigree, “functions as a metapoetical manifesto, revealing Valerius’s Argonautica as an epic that can only imitate its Augustan epic predecessor to a certain extent,” recalling “Apollonius’s Callimachean position vis-à-vis Homer” (116-117). Ovid’s “elegiac epic” Metamorphoses is thrown into the mix: Valerius’ Heracles’ passion for Hylas, who resembles Narcissus and Hermaphrodite, “elegizes” the Aeneid (cf. “Ovidian” unequal-foot-pun, Arg. 3.485-486; page 141). Further, Valerius combines Theocritus’ and Propertius’ Hylas (124), and is “window alluding” to Propertius through Ovid (133). Heerink then discusses Hylas in the Thebaid (5.441-4) and Statius’ reference to following the Aeneid admiringly (12.816-817), arguing that these passages combine two Valerian Hylas passages (1.107-111, 3.495-496) in an allusion to Ascanius following Aeneas. The book ends with some remarks on political and poetic succession in imperial epic.

It is beside the point to blame such a streamlined inquiry for omissions, except the curiously understudied Echo ending Callimachus’ epigram 28-especially since the poem is Heerink’s interpretive touchstone throughout. Still, given the importance of succession, wood symbolism, bilingual name etymologies, and Heracles-Hylas paralleling Aeneas-Ascanius, one wonders how Heerink would have incorporated Heracles’ son and heir Hyllus, etymologized when gathering wood for Heracles’ funeral pyre in Sophocles’ Trachiniae (πολλὴν μὲν ὕλην, 1195), or indeed Aeneas’ other son, Silvius, a Latin “Woody” (Aen. 6.763-772, with suggestive quercu).

The study is dense, even mildly but attractively dizzying. Meticulously close readings alternate with zooming out-trees and forest, as it were-assembling one giant puzzle. Thankfully, it is very accessible due to generous cross-references, recaps and summaries, clear, level-headed exposition, and absence of critical jargon. No specific theoretical framework is applied, though Bloomian “anxiety of influence” is implicit. In brief, this book is learned, exhaustively documented,imaginative and ultimately exciting.


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©2017 by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. All rights reserved.

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#classicaltwitter ~ March 28, 2017 (ii)

#classicaltwitter ~ March 28, 2017 (i)

CJ-Online Review ~ The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature: Volume 1: 800-1558

The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature: Volume 1: 800-1558. Edited by Rita Copeland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp.xii +758. Hardcover, $235. ISBN 978-0-19-958723-0.

Reviewed by Kathleen Burt, Middle Georgia State University

This volume is chronologically first, but fourth to appear, in a series of five volumes intended “to offer a comprehensive investigation of the numerous and diverse ways in which literary texts of the classical world have been responded to and refashioned by English writers.” (ii) Volume 1 covers the years 800 through 1558 ce, and consists of 28 chapters by a variety of established scholars and 7 detailed bibliographies concerning a variety of primary and secondary sources, ancient through humanist. The introduction which makes up the first chapter sets parameters for the collection, and defines key terms and concepts including ‘classical reception’, and ‘reception history’ which are the guiding forces throughout the book. Other assumptions and corollaries consider historical categorizations such as ‘classical’ and ‘antiquity’. Education, medieval Christianity and philosophy, and the emergence of humanism in the late 14th century are introduced as lenses that will appear in later chapters.

Chapters 2-5, by Rita Copeland, Marjorie Curry Woods, and Winston Black, relate to education, concentrating on the presence of classical authors in the medieval classroom and connections to the seven liberal arts. Chapters 6 and 7, by James Willoughby and Nicolette Zeeman, consider transmission and collections, while Chapters 8 by Rita Copeland discusses how classical authors are presented in medieval prologues (accesus). Chapters 9-12, by Jan M. Ziolkowski, Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Alfred Hiatt, and Winthrop Wetherbee, consider how individual authors (Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Statius) were preserved and how their works influenced medieval thinkers and writers. Chapters 13-17, by Marilynn Desmond, Ian Cornelius, Charles F. Briggs, Cam Grey, and Ad Putter, examine genres of literature and philosophy in mostly historical terms (Troy, Boethius’ De Consolatione, wisdom literature, historiography-biography, late classical Biblical epics) and Chapters 18 (by Dallas G. Gentry II) and 20-22 (by Alastair Minnis, Andrew Galloway, and Robert R. Edwards) discuss specific medieval authors’ use of classical literature (John of Salisbury and Cicero, Geoffrey Chaucer and classicism, John Gower and Ovid, John Lydgate and classical epic). Chapter 19, by Emily Steiner, presents the presence of classical topics and authors in the distinctly medieval English tradition of alliterative poetry. Chapters 23-24 by Daniel Wakelin and, and James P. Carley and Ágnes Juhász-Ormsby, review general early humanism, while 25-28, by David R. Carlson, Nicola Royan, Cathy Shrank, and James Simpson, discuss a variety of early humanist authors and their classical connections (John Skelton, Gavin Douglas, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard).

The opening chapter (“Introduction: England and the Classics from the Early Middle Ages to Early Humanism” by Rita Copeland) reflects both the attention to detail and the challenges of the collection overall. The overall goal of the volume is to cast “its nets both wide and deep to assess the pervasiveness of classical knowledge in the medieval period and to understand the abiding force of medieval classicisms among early humanists” (2). In this, the collection succeeds. The range of subjects and connections is indeed broad, and each individual essay is a focused, in-depth examination of its particular topic.

The biggest frustration is the lack of a clear organizing principle for the essays. The introduction uses the guiding question “How did the medieval publics engage seriously and often profoundly with antiquity in ways that exceed the record of translation and other visible forms of literary reception such as imitation?” (5) to set up the initial exploration of the complexities of the concepts to be addressed. Exploring the transmission of knowledge in a variety of forms is a worthwhile and admirable goal, but even as the collection overall accurately reflects and explores the complexities of the question, they also reflect its messy nature. For example, Chapters 16-20 cover historiography and biography from the sixth through twelfth centuries (Ch.16), late classical Biblical epic and Prudentius (Ch.17), John of Salisbury and rhetoric and dialectic in the twelfth century (Ch.18), alliterative English poetry in the late fourteenth century with inspiration and foundations in classical sources (Ch.19), and Chaucer (Ch.20). Chapters 17 and Chapter 20 are out of order in a chronological arrangement, 16 and 19 do not fit into an author-focused pattern, and 18 and 20 don’t fit a scheme organized around genre. The guiding question posed in the introduction and the opening conceptual review fit all of these essays, but the essays are each so focused on their individual area that the shared generality gets muddled.

This collection is more for advanced students and scholars of medieval English literature than for general reference. Latin is always translated, while older English is translated in some cases, but not in others. For example, David Carlson’s chapter on John Skelton (25) only provides occasional vocabulary glossing, while Emily Steiner’s chapter on alliterative poetry (19) fully translates the Middle English. This difference may be due to Skelton being a later writer and thus using English more likely to be recognized, but without prior understanding of the conventions of early sixteenth century English, his poetry may still pose difficulties.

Assumptions of conceptual knowledge are similarly geared towards those with backgrounds in medieval English language and literature. For example, the term auctor, which has specific implications in medieval literature, would likely be familiar to a more advanced student or scholar, but the nuances would not be apparent to a general audience as the term goes undefined. On the other hand, accessus is defined in the introduction, and also more specifically explained in Chapter 8. These assumptions would not be a problem for someone with experience with medieval literature, but would be problematic for someone needing a general reference.

Overall this collection offers a valuable although at times disconnected investigation into the many ways that the mostly Latin classics passed through Anglo Saxon England into the reign of Henry the VIII. Although targeting medievalists and students of English literature, the discussions concerning transmission and reception are valuable to anyone interested in how English literature adapted and engaged with classical literature.


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©2017 by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. All rights reserved.

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CJ-Online Review ~ Ovid: A Poet on the Margins

Ovid: A Poet on the Margins. By Laurel Fulkerson. Classical World Series. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. Pp. xiv + 104. Paperback ISBN 978-1-47253-134-6, 978-1-4752-734-9 and 978-1-4752-317-4.

 
Reviewed by Jo-Marie Claassen, University of Stellenbosch

 
The concise format required for Bloomsbury’s Classical World Series offers a unique challenge to any author brave enough to venture a representative introduction to one of the most prolific and versatile, if not slippery, members of the Latin poetic canon. Fulkerson more than meets the challenge, managing to include clear applications of most of the more recent literary theories to the very slipperiness of Ovid’s style and multifaceted versatility. Fulkerson’s Preface explains that she sees Ovid “as animated by a unified set of concerns… rather than as a man destroyed by circumstances” and that the book is more “a study of poetics … than a biography”. All this is pitched, so her Acknowledgements, at a level that will ensure that “normal people might enjoy reading [it]” (xii). Throughout Fulkerson signposts her own arguments with reference to both what went before and what she is to discuss next.

To the extent that undergraduates and other less initiated students of Latin poetry are also “normal people,” this slight book offers them an ideal introduction to Ovid’s life and works, with emphasis, as the title implies, on all those aspects that set Ovid aside from the “normal” in Roman literature. Three chapters, with subdivisions, cover Ovid’s life story and contemporary historical background, his style (with emphasis on his use of repetition), and his allure as an exemplum of victimization and marginality.

Chapter 1, “Life on the Margins” (1-27) starts with Ovid’s banishment, working back to a schematic chronology that offers at a glance (4) a complete list of his works set against the major literary and historical events of his time. This is followed by a brief discussion of his literary output that combines brief overviews of content with concise stylistic discussion. Next, the historical context of his poetry is offered through the filter of Ovid’s final status as “an outsider, looking yearningly at Rome” (18). Augustan Rome and the Augustan settlement, including his marriage laws, get due emphasis, ending with a provocative, short comparison between the poet and the prince that points out similarities (both were “shap[ing] the world to [their] own image”) and differences (Ovid served as Augustus’ “negative mirror reflection”) (26).

Fulkerson’s style is evocative of that of her subject: the chapter ends with a striking apothegm: “Ovid for his part needed both to be understood and to be misunderstood” (27). Such a very Ovidian paradox may puzzle a tyro; a teacher who is also an expert in Ovidian studies will need to guide undergraduates toward fully understanding Fulkerson’s arguments.

Chapter 2, “Repetition-compulsion and Ovidian excess” (29-58) covers the most salient aspects of Ovid’s style, starting with another paradox as sub-heading: “Now you see him, now you still see him: Ovidian style and metre”. The content is, however, clearly aimed at the non-initiated (the “normal people” of Fulkerson’s Acknowledgements), starting with a concise explanation of ancient poetic conventions (including metrics and generic range) and Ovid’s adaptation of these conventions. Next, Ovid’s style proper is addressed, with due emphasis on his apparent simplicity that hides subtle complexities. Throughout Fulkerson illustrates her various points by reference to, rather than quotations from, the whole range of Ovid’s poetry, both individual elegies and episodes from the Metamorphoses. Ovid’s debt to his own rhetorical training (such as his explorations of alternatives that suggest inconsistency) is duly noted, also salient aspects of modern criticism of his style (for instance, his ubiquitous “absent presences”, a term first coined by Philip Hardie). Discussion includes Ovid’s narrators, narrative transition, his manipulation of readerly perceptions and the intrusion of comment that undercuts what went before.

The second half of the chapter considers Ovid’s frequent reworking of his own topics and themes as well as the “recycling” (sic, page 49) of the poetry, both words and themes, of others. Discussion of Ovidian revision (explicitly claimed as such, merely mooted, or either noted or just suspected by modern critics) includes his generic adaptation of the same material in, for instance, both the Amores and the Ars, or the Fasti and the Metamorphoses. Fulkerson gives due acknowledgement to feminists’ concern about Ovid’s repetition, with slight differences, of disturbing tales of rape in the earlier books of his epic. Finally, Fulkerson summarises various critical approaches to what she terms “repetition and repetitiveness”, ending with an own considered judgement of the appeal that his poetry has had through two millennia.

The third and final chapter (59-87) gives due emphasis to what (fortuitously) has been this reviewer’s abiding interest: the universality with which Ovid’s exilic yearning represents the feelings of all those on the margins, with more than a nod also to the concerns of post-colonial literary theory, as implied in its title, “Romans at home and abroad: Identity and the colonial subject”. The first subsection deals with Ovid’s penchant for “narratives of individuals out of place, taken away from the familiar”, either temporarily displaced, or permanently outcast (as he was himself). Refugees of all kinds are considered, such as the innocent Evander in Fasti 1, or the (in some way) “guilty” Dido, Medea and Ariadne of the Heroides. The next subsection treats of “victims and victimizers” and Ovid’s portrayal of loss of speech as a frequent punishment of “female and other victims”. Again the concerns of feminist readers are briefly treated: why would Ovid so often portray women as victims, and why would there be a “disjunction between Ovid’s compassion and his exploitation” of the victims’ pain, as in the gory details in the story of Philomela, Procne and Tereus?

This section ends with reference to literary theorists’ ideas regarding Ovid’s equation of women with poetic material, his verbal voyeurism and his metaphorical portrayal of women as “unexplored territory”. Criticism of the differences in approach to pleasing the opposite sex between Ars 1-2 and 3 (where women are advised to become complaisant in their own victimisation) leads to a further consideration of Ovid’s apparent concern with status-based relationships at Rome. Fulkerson notes the suggestion that elite males’ anxiety about erosion of their own power under Augustus may have served as “one of the wellsprings of elegy” (75). Next Fulkerson returns to Ovid’s portrayal of “victims that become villains”, such as Procne and Philomela, or Daedalus in his treatment of his own nephew, from which she turns to speculation about the degree to whichOvid saw himself less as victim of injustice than as some form of perpetrator.

Her final subsection illustrates the joint topics of empire and colonialism with reference to Ovid’s own view of himself as loyal Roman, his apparently guileless celebration of Roman civic life and politics, but also the way in which his own undercutting (or not?) of his professed loyalty has led critics to wonder about his attitude to Augustus. Fulkerson ends with two observations: that Ovid and Augustus “each intruded into the sphere of the other” (86), and that “each generation creates its own Ovid to suit its particular concerns” (87). For her, the twenty-first century is very “Ovidian” in its suspicion of authoritarian power-relations.

Fulkerson’s list for “Further reading[s]” (89-92) is necessarily short in such a slight volume, as are her “Glossary of proper names and Latin terms” (93-9) and brief Index of topics (with page references, 101-4). The latter two rubrics could perhaps have been combined, but not much space would have been saved. In all, this is an admirable first guide to Ovid that also rewards reading by more advanced Ovidian scholars for the breadth of topics Fulkerson covers.


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