A. J. Boyle (ed.), Roman Literature and Ideology: Ramus Essays for J. P. Sullivan. Bendigo, Aureal Publications, 1995. Pp. 269. ISBN 0-949916-12-9. A$49.50.
University of Cape Town
The career of J. P. Sullivan was a model of breadth, imagination, and above all usefulness. He gave us readable, stimulating works on a number of topics in classics proper, and composed important translations; moreover, his energetic interest in Nachleben and lively engagement with topics of universal interest are a ready answer to any student who still doubts that classicists can have anything to say about the modern world. He was, moreover, always open to fresh critical perspectives (sometimes too open, as witnessed by his psycho-analytical speculation on Petronius). Teachers and students alike will miss him. Just how much they will miss him is evident in the excellent biography, including a year-by-year list of publications, which Boyle provides (pp. 6-23).
It would not be fair to expect a collection published as a memorial to a great scholar to be as illuminating as his own work, and the contributors are to be thanked for putting themselves out for inevitably faint praise--as when I say that parts of some chapters in Roman Literature contain as much illumination as some of Sullivan's own works, but add that this is like saying that parts of Japan are bigger than parts of Canada. But let me consider each piece individually, starting with those which I think will prove either most useful to researchers, or most controversial.
Maria Wyke's chapter, 'Taking the Woman's Part: Engendering Roman Love Elegy' (pp. 110-128), is a summary of a two-decade-old controversy. Some critics said that Roman elegy is masculine in character because the individual women it claims to portray are obscure figures, while the male narrators are vivid and forceful. Other critics countered that the narrators themselves 'take the woman's part', adopting traditionally female attitudes. One complication is that in the elegies of Sulpicia the female narrator's voice sounds much like the males'. The debate is interesting, but only in connection with Roman elegy; there are times when boredom sets in, as on this page (p. 118): 'As Duncan Kennedy has pointed out in relation to this debate between Hallet and myself . . .'; 'For both our interpretations of the gender play in love elegy were "organized in accordance with what is and is not deemed 'political'" within our critical perspectives.(1) Judith Hallett has herself recently noted that she had understood the "political" in a familiarly feminist and much less restricted sense than my own . . .';(2) 'Picking up on Judith Hallet's broader definition of the "political" . . .' As shown by Wyke's play-by-play account here, a controversy about Roman elegy can go on for quite a while with almost no reference to Roman elegy.
Years ago, most of the infrequent books on Ovid included some sort of apology for attention paid to an author who was bawdy and comic, as if Ovide moralisť had been assigned reading in graduate schools. It is sad that in an explosion of Ovid studies almost the same attitude prevails, with scholars looking for profound and meaningful ironies in the texts. Newlands' contribution, 'The Ending of Ovid's Fasti' (pp. 129-143), for example, in examining the last 15 (dully Callimachean) lines of the Fasti about the family of Philippus, a close associate of Augustus who restored the temple of Hercules Musarum, sees literary and ideological discomfort even (or especially) in the last line adnuit Alcides increpuitque lyram (6.812); her chief evidence in the line itself is that increpere can have a negative connotation. Far more important, in my opinion, is the likelihood that increpuit lyram will remind the reader of Apollo (Newlands herself cites Horace Odes 4.15.1 along these lines). The phrase creates a touch of opportunistic burlesque, based on the temple's rather odd identity: the burly, philistine Hercules is standing in for Apollo, whom one would normally associate with the Muses. What would be strange about Ovid abandoning the Fasti in sheer boredom but concluding with a small joke?
Gareth Schmeling, a close collaborator of Sullivan, has produced one of the most interesting pieces in the collection, '"Quid Attinet Veritatem per Interpretem Quaerere?" Interpretes and the Satyricon' (pp. 144-168), a history of the search for meaning in a text endlessly difficult to interpret. The outline of the history of literary criticism in the West and of the Nachleben of this important work is a good read. But by the end of this section Schmeling seems to have written himself into a corner: if so much has been said about Petronius in such clear and dated patterns and if the anti- interpreters (including Schmeling himself, to a degree) have already been heard, then where to now? That is the latent question. Schmeling proceeds to catalogue instances of interpretation by characters in the Satyricon which appears to be a potentially fruitful undertaking, but Schmeling concludes that 'examples of interpretation within the Satyricon do not seem to shed much light on the Satyricon' (p. 164) and thus argue against interpretation, at least along traditional lines. But the examples of characters interpreting events and objects are largely unprocessed, some of them consisting of little more than the information that certain characters can read. The material deserves another look.
'Hanno's Punic Heirs: Der Poenulusneid des Plautus' by John Henderson (pp. 24-54) is a deconstruction of Plautus' Poenulus--but a quotation can show the method far better than I can:
|'But even while this Diminutive, or Hypocoristic, Punic Optimus Maximus calls the tune for Comedy, at the same time Anno dynamites Comedy: he directs Farce, travestied in his gaudy tea towel for a panto kheffiyeh, bed linen to kit out a Bedouin' (p. 52).|
In his drive to baffle and to intrigue us, as he claims that Plautus does, Henderson at least expresses the attitude, healthy in most circumstances, that secondary literature is literature; but if Plautus was ever literature that ordinary people could enjoy, this is not an accurate imitation of Plautus.
It was a great relief to come to Thomas N. Habinek's 'Ideology for an Empire in the Prefaces to Cicero's Dialogues' (pp. 55-67). Except for Penwill and Sinclair (see below), Habinek is the only contributor to this collection to write consistently and persuasively about ideology, the collection's purported theme. The language is heavy at times, polysyllabic if not jargonish, but applying some of the techniques of New Historicism seems to work in explaining Cicero's intellectual take-over of--well, everything. Next comes 'Image, Ideology and Action in Cicero and Lucretius' by J. L. Penwill (pp. 68-91). This piece is refreshing for the interest in the original texts that the author shows. There are many extracts, and the arguments are drawn mainly from these rather than from secondary literature. Penwill also has an unusual involvement with his theme, openly siding with Lucretius against Cicero in world- view (both literally and figuratively). I am not sure that the contrast is useful in the first place, however, since the two authors' ideologies took their shape and found their expression in spheres so far apart that the differences between these expressions are largely self-explanatory. Wouldn't Cicero agree? In reporting on the DRN: he says only that he enjoyed the talent and polish evident in the poem (Q. fr. 2.10.3). 'Political Declensions in Latin Grammar and Oratory, 55 BCE - CE 39' by Patrick Sinclair (pp. 92-109) suggests to me that the handiness of some Marxist elements in classical scholarship and the impracticality of Marxism in political institutions have the same cause--the reality of material power. Sinclair makes a persuasive case that imperial history is embedded even in the theoretical writings of late Republican orators and early Imperial declaimers.
Rhetoric dominates the first half of the collection but poetry prevails in the second. 'Happy Birthday, Dead Lucan: (P)raising the Dead in Silvae 2.7' by Martha A. Malamud (pp. 169-198) leaves me with feelings--whether justified or not, I'm not sure--of let-down. I had not read Silvae 2.7 before, and Malamud's account was effective in placing the poem in context for me. But, as a member of what is probably the most stressed and least literate generation of classicists since the Dark Ages, I would have chosen some other poem to be placed in context for me, especially if this were going to take 29 pages. 'Martial and the Book' by D. P. Fowler (pp. 199-226) is something which I can picture myself assigning to every serious student of Martial I ever have. The author explains why better than I can. 'I have tried to free Martial's epigrams from a paradigm of "occasional" poetry, and to suggest that far from being transparent windows on a day-to- day world of social interaction, they are complex and sophisticated texts whose existence in the published books is central' (p. 224). Fowler does what he set out to do, demolishing much critical fatuousness. 'Alogia and Emphasis in Juvenal's Fourth Satire' by Martin M. Winkler (pp. 227-249) was somewhat overblown, though this was no surprise given the title. The exploration of exaggerations, ironies and double meanings in Juvenal's satire on Domitian's court is detailed and persuasive. But I don't think that the rhetorical terms, the time-consuming definition and classification, or the authority of Aristotle are necessary for the points made. Finally, there is 'Martialis Redivivus: Evaluating the Unexpected Classic' by A. J. Boyle (pp. 250-269). The editor of Roman Ideology also gave the first J. P. Sullivan Annual Lecture and this is the write-up. Boyle in his survey of Sullivan's landmark work shows possibilities for 'collaborative disagreement' (p. 253) and executes a reverent yet joyful romp through some of Sullivan's own social satire, Elizabethan translations of Martial, intertextuality, Martial's personae and a lot more.
(1) D.F. Kennedy, The Arts of Love: Five Studies in the Discourse of Roman Love Elegy (Cambridge 1993) 37.
(2) J. Hallett, 'Martial's Sulpicia and Propertius' Cynthia' in M. DeForest (ed.), Woman's Power, Man's Games: Essays on Classical Antiquity in Honor of Joy K. King (Wauconda 1993) 344.