BMCR 2007.11.22, Response to C. Smith on D. Feeney,"Caesar's
Response to BMCR 2007.09.17:
John Van Sickle: Notes on Christopher Smith on Denis Feeney, Caesar's Calendar:
Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History. Sather Classical Lectures, 65.
Response by John Van Sickle, Brooklyn College (email@example.com)
To read a print-formatted version of this response, see
Complex simul: Add to Christopher Smith on Denis Feeney (BMCR 2007.09.17)
When F(eeney) shows that — absent our settled temporal grid — synchromism flourished around the ancient Mediterraean, the process invites study as analogical & metaphoric — archetypal species of the cultural genus classified by Fauconnier & Turner as cognitive blending. For Greek minds seeking intelligible relatedness — congruence — between new extremes, Sicily emerges as the vantage point — a cognitive pou stō: “Before the Romans, it was the Syracusans who were the people in the middle” (p. 52).
F’s apercu prompts queries about the displaced Syracusan Th(eocritus) & how his blended geography & times — reduced epic — will engage a displaced north Italian V(irgil) relaunching epic amidst turmoil at Rome. Yet F ignores V’s new god & oracle to herdsmen (ecl. 1.6, 42-45), blended with a Roman household calendar of monthly sacrifice (bis senos: ecl. 1.42-43) & traditionalized as annual (quotannis, cf. pp. 83, 148) — regularizing effects reinforced by evoking manifestations of divine power in Roman memory — praesentis divos (ecl. 1.41: worth F’s notice).
F emphasizes how the recent conquests by Pompey & Caesar extended Rome’s power to encompass the whole world (pp. 61-63): new cognitive horizons reflected by V, with exile measured in terms of Parthian & German (ecl. 1.61-82) & extremes of Scythia, Africa, Oaxes, Britain (north, south, Pompey’s east & Caesar’s west).
Yet F looks at only the fourth eclogue & neglects its audacious further blending (ecl. 4.4-18): culminating age (ultima iam ... aetas); fresh start for generations’ row (ab integro, saeclorum, ordo); returns (redit, redeunt regna); new heroic input (iam nova progenies); iron (ferrea) race yielding to golden (gens aurea) by agency of boy — future protagonist of renewed human-divine intercourse (ecl. 4.15-16, 63; cf. p. 83 & ecl. 1); projected changes blended with Roman chronology & affairs via Pollio’s consulship & leadership (ecl. 4.11-14).
Noting that V uses C(atullus) 64, F features C’s “collapsing of certainties of time at a pivotal moment of transition” (p. 132). C did radically rewrite tradition (impose an original blend) when he made Peleus fall in love with Thetis just as Argo sailed. This novelty F rightly underscores as have others. Yet stressing the contradictory chronologies in C’s new blend — “smashing at once as many boundaries as he can” (p. 124) — F neglects C’s positive contribution, viz. blending Argo, Troy, & descent to the Iron Age into one causal chain (reprising Apollonius, Homer, & Hesiod in an epic-tragic synthesis).
V makes this new synthesis — Argo to Achilles — bracket his Heroic Age while inverting its role — from prelude for iron in C to prelude for final full return of gold. When F then writes that V “depends intimately” on C (p. 132, italics added), he makes generic similarity occlude specific difference, ignoring V’ most pointed reprise from C & its polemical thrust: Talia saecla suis dixerunt currite fusis (ecl. 4.46). V turns the refrain from C’s Parcae that fortold Achilles’ violent heroism into a corrective: ‘Run centuries such as these (sc. that will grow beyond violent heroics not as those in C that ran from violent heroics down to the Iron Age)’.
F does bring the horizons stretched by Pompey & Caesar to bear on Catullus 11, noting the irony that Pompey’s epithet, emulating Alexander, here becomes Caesar’s — “great.” Less palmary, he writes of the poet’s “going to the end of his world with the end of his love, where the vulnerable flower of his love will go under to the civilizing plow of Lesbia.” The broken flower may evoke heroic death as well as common georgic metaphors of sexual penetration: yet Catullus transfers the usually male violence of the plow to Lesbia, making himself the violated female: so metaphoric plow “civilizing” from viewpoint of whom?
Epic traces closing prompt a new look at the earlier attack on Lesbia: ‘Let her live & let her thrive with her lechers, |whom she keeps arming all at once three hundred — | none truly loving, but of all often | iliacs breaking’: ilia rumpens, a blend that assimilates the Sapphic girl to heroic — Iliadic — violence: preface to the closing metaphor of her plowlike (sc., georgic) force breaking his (sc., bucolic) bloom.
Some scholarly shade may find F’s treatment of the notorious links between the fourth eclogue & the sixteenth epode arbitrary — cavalier. He declares H(orace) the corrector, yet all such arguments look reversible, so that one wants some vantage point from which to judge, e.g., ideological inconsistency in the course of H’s career vs V’s more focused & internally coherent thought, topping H’s hopeless repetition with ideas of linear progression & growth. The brilliance & utility of the book as a whole do not suffice to make this point, forever waiting its pou stō.
Gilles Fauconnier, Mark Turner, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities (New York: Basic Books, 2002).
With respect to the Aeneid F writes of “radical contamination of the categories of history and myth ... a new age of demigods and miracles” (p. 83).
“Roman years did not have numbers, they had names,” p. 16.
For supporting evidence & review of scholarship, see John B. Van Sickle, A Reading of Virgil’s Messianic Eclogue (New York: Garland, 1992), ed. Gregory Nagy..
Regularly in Core Curriculum 1.1 Classical Cultures (first course in the Core Curriculum of Brooklyn College) I open by assigning this Catullus & Sappho’s hoi men hippeon to provoke awareness of similarity & difference, including geography & values with a first hint of the imaginative & cultural benchmark role of Troy.
Reading the usual quos simul complexa tenet trecentos where F prints quos complex simul tenet trecentos. For complexa, ‘having folded in, put arms around’, a college try translation — ‘arming’: cf. explicatis ordinibus ‘ranks folded out’ as military metaphor (F, p. 28). Legendary 300 Spartan dead at Thermopylae inspired Roman analogy & synchromism with 300 Fabii lost at Cremera (F, p. 20): does Catullus blend Lesbia’s lechers with fabled bean-men & laconic demise at hot gates?
The Latin ilia (‘loins’) inspired Propertius to a witty blend of erotic elegy with epic: longas condimus iliadas (‘we set down lengthy iliads, sc. loiniads’: Eleg. 2.1.14), where length is an epithet proper to Homer’s Iliad & to puffed elegies — durative erotics — & condere serves for setting down a city, text, or sword.