THE PRODUCTION OF SPACE IN LATIN LITERATURE

Edited by William Fitzgerald and Efrossini Spentzou

OUP (2018) h/b 298pp £65.00 (ISBN 9780198768098)

The volume under review is an outcome of the so-called ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities. The eleven essays, preceded by an introduction by the editors (there is no ‘Conclusion’), take as their starting point Henri Lefebvre’s La Production de l’espace of 1974 (alluded to in the title of the collection), which explores space as produced by, and productive of, power and ideological conflict. Almost as big an influence, however, is The Closure of Space in Roman Poetics (CUP, 2015) by Victoria Rimell, who also contributes one of the most wide-ranging papers at the intersection of space, ideology, and poetics in the volume. The result is a pleasant investigation of the politics of space in Latin literature, evenly balanced between poetry and prose from (mostly the first centuries BC and AD, with Augustine being an outlier). As always, discussion of individual essays falls outside the scope of this review, but it will be worthwhile to draw together some overarching themes and concerns. 

The ‘literary tour’ is of course a well-established and ideologically charged topos of classical literature and for that reason a prime candidate for inclusion. Somewhat contrary to expectations, perhaps, the wanderings of Catullus’ friend Camerius (c. 55), the ‘guidebook’ to prehistoric Rome in Aeneid 8, or the more fragmented glimpses of the Vrbs in Propertius 4 or Ovid’s Ars amatoria are (virtually) absent—too obvious maybe. What we do get, however, is quite worthwhile. I enjoyed the introduction of Baudelaire’s concept of the flâneur to classical texts. The flâneur (or flâneuse), an individual of leisure who enjoys observing others, simultaneously identifying and differentiating him- or her-self from the crowd, taking in their habits and relating them to or divorcing them from the cityscape around them, measuring, as it were, the pulse of the city, turns up à propos of (in the following order) Propertius 2 (Spentzou), Varro (Spencer), and the Satires of Horace (Hudson, inter alia) and Juvenal (Larmour). As a hermeneutic tool, the flâneur complements existing theorizations on the ‘gaze’, which has gradually become evermore important in classical scholarships (compare, for instance, Helen Lovatt’s The Epic Gaze: Vision, Gender and Narrative in Ancient Epic [CUP, 2013]).

Since the presence of space ipso facto implies that of time, a second strand looks at ‘temporalizations’ of space. This is where Lefebvre’s concept of ‘rhythmanalysis’ (based on his three-volume Critique de la vie cotidienne [1947-81] and Éléments de rhythmanalyse [1992]) comes in. Everyone will know the feeling that some places seem to be heaving with frenetic activity and non-stop movement (one thinks of ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ ), while others are quiet backwaters where time seems to crawl to a near-complete standstill (no comment). Our perceptions of (spaces within) such places naturally can change over time (or be pro- or retro-jected). As in idealizations of Rome’s development, one can move on from the regimented but calm life of the herdsman to the bustling metropolis that incorporates the best and the worst of the empire it heads. 

One might also relate the passage of time within the space one occupies to that within Rome, thus adopting the perspective of the outsider looking in, itself a convenient starting-point for interrogations of various ideologies (what is ‘Romanness’ ? What does it mean to be in the province rather than in the capital?). Catullus again is a convenient peg, since he consistently styles himself as a Transalpinus (see the essays by Lewis and Fitzgerald), thus providing the perspective of a provincial who has embraced Roman mores and imperialism fully—a relationship very much problematized by Tacitus (cf. the contributions by Bhatt and Alston).

In sum, at just under 300 pages, this book offers a neat cross-section of Latin literature. It seems logical that some of the ideas presented in it will be tested on other authors or genres as well. As always with OUP, the book is handsomely produced. There is the occasional typo (p. 22 ‘Irene de Jong’ [not: ‘Jonge’], 26 ‘life-as spectacle’ [missing hyphen], 59 [in the phrase ‘readers only need to recall that’, ‘that’ must be deleted], 189n.82 [stray comma]) and infelicitous phrase (p. 141 has a minor pleonasm [‘share much in common’], 151n.10 is superfluous after n.4), but nothing that impedes comprehension. A delightful offering, then, that hopefully will kickstart a new appreciation of space.

Gary Vos

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