20 October 2013

from 'Subject Reviews: Roman Literature', Greece & Rome 39 (1992) (Don Fowler)

The lack of detailed modern commentaries on the second half of the Aeneid has also long been felt, and is at last being addressed.  Oxford now offer us Book 10, and Cambridge Book 11.  Steven Harrison’s **BVergil, Aeneid 102 is a revision of his doctoral dissertation supervised by Nisbet and Horsfall, and it is a fine piece of work.  Like other recent volumes in the Oxford Classical Monographs series, it offers a translation as well as a text, plus an introduction, detailed commentary, and an appendix ‘Some Aspects of Vergilian Style’.  The overall interpretation is broadly Augustan, though Harrison’s earlier days in Balliol have not been entirely expunged: the ‘glorification of Augustus’, we are told, is ‘full-hearted and unambiguous’ (p. xxiv) but much more ambiguity is admitted in the presentation of Aeneas and Jupiter (see, e.g., the excellent note on the Aegaeon simile for Aeneas at 565-70, where he rightly resists Gordon Williams’s attempt to defuse the simile with an assumption of embedded focalization, or the discussion of Jupiter’s ‘insincere temporizing’ on 111-12).  Even if one admits that there ‘need not be a full typological analogy between literary and historical characters’ (p. xxvi) this is a difficult line to hold, and I think the Aeneid is more disturbing of Augustan order than Harrison admits.  In Vergilian studies, I am a great believer in Solon on civil war (frr. 350-7 Martina): this is all a bit sane for me.  The commentary especially is stuffed with really excellent points, but they are not always developed enough and can be expressed with a blandness which belies their interest.  In the appendix, for instance, we are told that Vergil ‘colours his narrative’ with colloquialisms, the sort of metaphor which usually signals moronic Edwardianism: but Harrison’s discussion of register in the commentary is first-rate, with, for instance, the exact observation on the use of capillos at 832 that it is a touch of ‘pathetic realism’.  Similarly in the appendix, we are told that the pastoral language used of Cycnus and Mezentius ‘provides variation and contrast with the world of epic’, but on the latter passage (835-6) he observes, more exactly, that the locus amoenus description ‘provides a pointed contrast with the surrounding sufferings of battle’.  If only he hadn’t brought in variety, another concept whose use inevitably signals an uninteresting critic, as if the Aeneid was the London Palladium.  If there is one pressing need at my alma mater it is to kill off Oxford ‘elegance’, which is like the miasma that seeps up from the Thames on wet November evenings and rots the brains.  ‘\flameoff\’ as they say on the computer nets: this is too good a commentary to be used for sermonizing.  It is a major contribution to Vergilian studies which we shall all find ourselves using constantly.  I hope a paperback will be produced at some stage to make it available to poorer scholars; if so, someone in OUP might like to check what happened to the final proof of p. 179.

No comments: