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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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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#classicaltwitter ~ March 27, 2017 (ii)

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CJ-Online Review ~ War and Society in Early Rome: From Warlords to Generals

War and Society in Early Rome: From Warlords to Generals. By Jeremy Armstrong. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv + 317. Hardcover, £64.99. ISBN 978-1-107-09357-7.

Reviewed by Carsten Hjort Lange, Aalborg University, Denmark

 
Armstrong’s new book on warfare in early Rome (c. 570-338 bce) presents us with a much appreciated opportunity to revisit discussions on the significant impact of warfare on (early) Roman society. In six chronological chapters, Armstrong presents his thesis: Roman society from the 6th to the 4th centuries bce transformed from a coalition of warlords into a civic society with an army fighting for common goals. He rejects old hellenocentric models (esp. 10-11), instead relying heavily on van Wees highly revisionist 2004 book (Greek Warfare: Myth and Realities). A metanarrative approach is suggested (16), focusing on the big themes (17: a new paradigm).

Chapter 1 focuses on the evidence. A section on the methodology for the literary evidence (36-39) sets out the principles for his approach: the amount of reliable information cannot exceed what can have been reliably transmitted from the past. The documentary evidence, viz. lists of magistrates, wars, treaties etc. of each year seems to have been transmitted relatively intact. The more narrative aspects of Rome down to the 4th century probably originated in oral traditions and certain core aspects may have been maintained (cf. Cornell 1995, The Beginnings of Rome). This seems a sensible approach. The chapter ends with a brief overview of the archaeological evidence.

Chapter 2 gives an overview of the 8th to the 6th centuries. Armstrong argues for the emergence of a regional aristocracy of “proto-patricians”, mobile with an extra-urban identity, and dominating the region’s warfare and of a “settled, community-based population of the lower socio-economic classes” of “proto-plebeians” (54). The rex was typically a powerful member of the gentilicial elite, supported by his clan etc. (59). Armstrong unsurprisingly concludes that the role of the rex was largely confined to warfare, religion and justice (62). Warfare during the period was dominated by the regions clans (69-72), even if there were community-based regulations.

Chapter 3 on Rome’s regal army focuses on the Servian reforms, emphasizing a shift- or rather operating side by side-from the curial organization associated with the proto-urban/plebeian population, to the centuriate assembly, a new administrative structure designed to include and give power to the gentes who were increasingly settling in and around the city (82-86). Armstrong suggests that the ‘Servian’ centuriate system was only instituted after the establishment of the Republic (84-85), in what seems an arbitrary piece of rewriting. The period also sees a continued presence of independent, warlike clans, led by so called condottieri (86-93). Armstrong rejects the traditional model of the Roman hoplite phalanx (111-126). He concludes that warfare in this period-continuing low-level raiding-remained largely the preserve of the region’s clans led by mobile aristocrats, not the communities.

Chapter 4 focuses on the fall of the Roman rex and the rise of Rome’s aristocratic Republic. The war duties of the rex are shared out among praetores et al. At the same time there is a continuing power of the archaic warband (136-146: mobile clan warlords: Porsenna, Tarquin in exile, Coriolanus, Attus Clausus, Herdonius etc.). Raiding for plunder is still the principal motive for war, but there is a shift to land rather than portable wealth. We also see the emergence of a landed aristocracy (157-163), with evidence for individual clan leaders defending parcels of land (Tarquins, Attus Clausus, Cincinnatus, Fabii), as well as the emergence of community-based military forces (163­-171), with the plebs gradually coming to have some involvement in warfare (166-167 on imperium; 170-171 on ager publicus). In the early 5th century bce the existing urban political structure began to realign itself in opposition to Rome’s new gentilicial regime.

Chapter 5 concentrates on state formation and the incorporation of the plebs (185-211). The period sees the first steps in integrating the gentilicial and urban communities: the Twelve Tables, standardizing social/economic relations between the two groups, the Valerio-Horatian laws, and the institutions of the military tribunes, consular tribunes, and the censorship. The period also sees a continuation of the warband ethos (210-211). Armstrong accepts that a primitive system of state payment for military service introduced in late 5th century. This is the beginning of the state taking over patronage of military service. There is a shift in this period away from raiding to conquest of territory and strategic dominance over the region.

Chapter 6 focuses on the Gallic sack-with only slight destruction- and its aftermath. There was now consular tribunate in every year, bringing to an end the archaic state. There is further integration of patricians and plebs, with a gradual rise of patrician/plebeian aristocracy. There was willingness after the Tumultus Gallicus to commit resources to common defence (257-260: the Servian Walls). The expansion of the citizen body, all increasing Rome’s military might, resulted in an end of the archaic warband and the small independent central Italian community.The result is the new Roman citizenship, dependent on indicated political affiliation (255-256). The period sees an increasing state control of warfare.

Armstrong is to be recommended for this stimulating and provocative book, even if, at least to this reviewer, it was felt at times that he was pushing some of his interpretative lines too far beyond the ancient evidence. He presents what, at times, are highly conjectural reconstructions of the development of the Roman state and society. Gentilicial theories are fashionable, and the notion that warlords were an important feature of archaic Roman society has now become accepted consensus, but Armstrong pushes it all to the point where a unified Roman state and society does not emerge till the 5th/4th century bce. Despite these objections, this book is undoubtedly bound to stimulate much further debate and reflection.


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