De Gruyter (2020) h/b 476pp £100 (ISBN 9783110597684)

This book has its origin in a work-in-progress seminar at the Fondation Hardt in 2015; there are 22 contributors (only two from the UK) for the 20 papers. So complex is the subject that the four authors of the Introduction (which quotes Julia Kristova, in French, as originatrix of the term ‘intertextuality’) take ten pages even to give the briefest account of the 19 papers which follow. The poets who are considered here are, of course, Statius, Silius Italicus, and Valerius Flaccus. 

The reviewer will not attempt to repeat that exercise: rather, it may be helpful to sum up, and give partial glimpses of the various sections of the book. The first group of four papers deal mainly with defined sections of text, including imitative narrative structures—but, as H. Lovatt observes, ‘verbal correspondences are only meaningful when their narratological context is taken into account’. Next, three papers have a focus on tracing wider influences, and looking at matters of generic shifts and tone. Thus, M. Dewar looks at Flavian epics and that interesting group, the ‘neoterics’ (gently mocked by Cicero), though he has to admit that showing that the neoterics left some mark on Flavian epic is difficult, given the fragmentary nature of the remains of Calvus, Gallus, or Varro of Atax. Then three papers treat specific characters (Dido, Medea, Ulysses), with F. Ripoli delineating Ulysses through a network of intertextual allusions which make him a comprehensive character, ‘uniting and overriding’ all the Ulysses of the tradition—and even, he boldly suggests, pointing to Statius himself as a model.

Next, three papers deal with epic characters (Hannibal, Cyclops, Thersites). There is already a relevant book by Claire Stocks, The Roman Hannibal: Remembering the Enemy (2014, reviewed HERE), and here M. Fucecchi describes Hannibal as an ‘exquisitely intertextual character, thanks to his composite nature, who features as an “a posteriori” archetype of (Caesar and Pompey)’. Two papers handle matters of space and topography (note here the contribution of Carol Newlands, an accepted expert on Statius: ‘Statius’, she says, ‘boldly bypasses Silius Italicus, his literary contemporary, to assert his position as … Virgil’s rightful successor’). In the next section, Alison Keith reminds us of how—according to Pliny the younger—Silius Italicus revered Virgil’s tomb, approaching the site almost as if it were a temple; Silius’s ‘intertextual program’ via allusions to the Aeneid and Metamorphoses in the representation of the temple of Apollo at Cumae confirms his admiration for the epic poets of the Augustan age.

 Finally four papers deal with digital matters, describing recent developments. Your reviewer noticed that the relative paucity of vocabulary of Latin hexameter verse—already pointed out by Lucretius, admittedly in a different context, at DRN 1.136-8—tends to hinder computer analysis: if a poet sings, say, Phoebi iubar, how likely is it that an ‘intertext’ is intended with another use of that ‘digram’? Much use has been made of the increasingly available search engines, and statistical analysis is deployed extensively, without, it seems, any spectacular results being achieved. As N. Bernstein observes, ‘the bulk of the scholar’s intertextual work now shifts from discovery (sc. made easy by the search engines) to interpretation’.

The foregoing can only hint at the depth of the work undertaken to compose and assemble this formidable and weighty (in both senses) book. Its aim is summed up by the editors: ‘If this volume succeeds in promoting an interest in Flavian intertextuality among a new generation of scholars, then its editors will be happy enough’. And the reviewer adds a cautionary note: the satirist Lucilius declared that he wanted his work to be read not by highbrows or literati, but by the common reader: this, however, is a work whose readership will surely, and mainly if not entirely, be found among specialists. Bibliographies follow each paper, Latin is translated, there is less Greek than might have been expected, and the volume has been produced to de Gruyter’s invariably high standards. 

Colin Leach