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New England Classical JournalThis book has many strengths. The close readings it extracts from the Aeneid's intertextuality with early Roman poetry, especially Naevius and tragedy, are often exciting.
— Brian W. Breed
Virgil's Aeneid invites its reader to identify with the Roman nation whose origins and destiny it celebrates. But, as J. D. Reed argues in Virgil's Gaze, the great Roman epic satisfies this identification only indirectly--if at all. In retelling the story of Aeneas' foundational journey from Troy to Italy, Virgil defines Roman national identity only provisionally, through oppositions to other ethnic identities--especially Trojan, Carthaginian, Italian, and Greek--oppositions that shift with the shifting ...
Virgil's Aeneid invites its reader to identify with the Roman nation whose origins and destiny it celebrates. But, as J. D. Reed argues in Virgil's Gaze, the great Roman epic satisfies this identification only indirectly--if at all. In retelling the story of Aeneas' foundational journey from Troy to Italy, Virgil defines Roman national identity only provisionally, through oppositions to other ethnic identities--especially Trojan, Carthaginian, Italian, and Greek--oppositions that shift with the shifting perspective of the narrative. Roman identity emerges as multivalent and constantly changing rather than unitary and stable. The Roman self that the poem gives us is capacious--adaptable to a universal nationality, potentially an imperial force--but empty at its heart. However, the incongruities that produce this emptiness are also what make the Aeneid endlessly readable, since they forestall a single perspective and a single notion of the Roman.
Focusing on questions of narratology, intertextuality, and ideology, Virgil's Gaze offers new readings of such major episodes as the fall of Troy, the pageant of heroes in the underworld, the death of Turnus, and the disconcertingly sensual descriptions of the slain Euryalus, Pallas, and Camilla. While advancing a highly original argument, Reed's wide-ranging study also serves as an ideal introduction to the poetics and principal themes of the Aeneid.
"Reed is an excellent interweaver of citations. He seems to have photographic recall of every metaphor ever penned in Hellenistic literature. His elucidation of the tangled ethnographies of peoples and cities of the ancient world is admirably precise. And he is correct to note the ironies that Virgil has built into his foundational epic."—Anthony Esolen, Claremont Review of Books
"This book has many strengths. The close readings it extracts from the Aeneid's intertextuality with early Roman poetry, especially Naevius and tragedy, are often exciting."—Brian W. Breed, New England Classical Journal
In composing the Aeneid, Virgil had inherited the peculiar task of tracing the Roman nation from a group of Trojan refugees. The possibilities for an epic of national foundations are rich. Not only does the westward shift from the eastern Mediterranean world suggest self-defining contrasts with other nations (nations over which the Romans had gained dominion); an origin in the world of Greek mythology, but in a city opposed to the Greeks, makes the mediation of Hellenism in any such account-and in the very form it takes-necessary but complicated. Virgil's poem, in fact, represents (among other things) a Roman version of a specific type of Greek poetry: the ktisis or foundation myth (the word literally means the foundation of a city or colony), celebrating a ktistês or founder; and its narrative engages in detail with Greek ktistic or foundational mythology. The present study, through close readings of the text, looks at the way the Aeneid offers the readerly subject a national identity-which the teleology of the poem invites us to read as Roman-through comparisons and contrasts between other nationalities (especially Trojan, Carthaginian, Italian, and Greek). In speaking of nationalities, I mean the unities that the poem may designate by the terms gens, genus, or populus,and by the myriad of ethnic groupings that it names, opposing some to others (for example, Trojans versus Greeks) and including some within others (as the Rutulians are part of the Italians). The Aeneid uses ethnic boundaries to organize and mold into new ideological shapes the disorderly wealth of facts (mythological, historical, and so on) that Virgil inherited; the schema that results complicates a simpler one (based on the Catalogue of Women attributed to Hesiod) that it also offers, whereby the Italian-derived descendants of Dardanus are opposed to the Greco-Oriental lineage of Inachus. The whole process necessarily involves Virgil's poetics of nationality in a dialogue between other Greek and Latin poets.
Other paradigms of identity and alterity-those offered by gender and age, for example-are also relevant to the poem's representations of nationality, and we shall take account of these as well. Sometimes characters (particularly those who oppose Aeneas' Trojans) equate Eastern ethnicity with effeminacy, in formulations that the poem may confirm or explode by turns. Gender abets the poem's constructions of nationality, perhaps most conspicuously in the case of the female and Phoenician Dido and the female and Italian Camilla, but also in unexpected ways. The poem's evaluation of the national claims of Turnus must be viewed alongside his assimilation, at crucial moments in his story, to the literary model of the distressed mythological heroine; at the end of the book we return to this model as it touches the central case of Aeneas himself. The book introduces its nexus of themes by discussing a group of peculiar descriptions of battle deaths that erotically objectify warriors of both sexes and different ethnicities (all of which will ultimately be subsumed into the Roman); the erotic gaze not only suggests certain oppositional constructions of gender, but in the desirous viewer (whether conceived as narrator, character, or reader), we can explore the way that alterity can posit a lack, a need, even an urge to assimilate one's object to oneself (or vice versa).
Indeed, the gaze is a central trope of the study, one of whose principal concerns is the narratology of the poem, understood broadly as its chains of viewing or perceiving personae that assimilate poet, narrator, reader, and character. Hence the book's title; and hence also (as reflected in chapter titles) characters are often the focus of individual chapters. Identity implies a shared viewpoint that discloses certain contrasts and boundaries-or to put it conversely, any contrast that the poem draws between nations demands that we attend to the coordinates under which that contrast appears. What emerges is a schema that shifts with the narratology of the poem: the ethnic affinities of a character, national group, or motif-and the ethnic identity produced by opposition to an Other-can change depending on the changing perspectives that the poem, reconfiguring its great mass of inherited comparanda into meaningful patterns, offers its readers.
For this book will not attempt to characterize in definitive terms the Roman identity that the Aeneid offers; rather, its working hypothesis is that that identity is always provisional and perspectival-that the pairs of opposites that mark it out are never fixed. The moving boundaries between Greek, Oriental, and Italian carve out a standpoint-a persona assimilable to the Roman-so that the poem constructs the self as empty of nationality except as defined against a foil, or a series of foils. Roman identity-always reducible to some other nationality, depending on where the poem draws the boundary between nations-emerges as a synthesis (in a dialectical sense) of other national identities (analogous to the dialogue conducted by the Aeneid with its literary forerunners); there is no essence, no absolute center, no origin that exclusively authorizes Romanness. One recalls the Eclogues, where the literal, geographic boundaries of the Italian landscape, scumbled and shadowy, already prompt Connolly to discern a "revelation of fictionality at work," a fragmented quality that "draws readerly attention to extratextual-which is to say political and social-efforts to make landscape whole." In the later poem, too, with its grander scale and vaster sense of a national self, a unity that one perspective asserts will only beg, from another perspective, the question of what figure, what stance, enforces that unity.
Like much other recent work on the Aeneid, the present readings accept the anomalies and discrepancies that appear when one passage or level of discourse is tested against another, and they suggest an approach (at least where national identity is concerned) to the ambiguity that critics of the past half-century have found to be of especial interpretive interest in the poem: Roman identity is an ambiguous figure, a problêma without a single solution. The polycentrism that many have detected in the Aeneid will thus deny the reading subject a positive or definitive ethnic identity, but rather involve him or her in a play of ethnic identities. The Roman has an ambivalent place wherever in the world he stands, even in Latium: belonging everywhere, he belongs nowhere. Yet the ideology that is produced by this narrative incoherence as we try to make the parts fit is not necessarily negative. We are free to recuperate the poem's provisionality as less ambivalent than multivalent, and as serving a capacious imperialism consistent with the claims of the Roman Empire generally and of Augustan imperial culture specifically (though it can also serve other, conflicting ends). "The Aeneid," warns Toll in a paper titled "The Aeneid as an Epic of National Identity," "was not made to express any simple partisanship, but precisely to deter partisan splintering from hindering its dream of ideological unity and ethical endeavor for the whole of Roman Italy." This is as true on the level of multinational empire as it is on that of Roman politics and Italian relations with Rome. Mere difference is uninteresting; what is interesting is difference disguised as sameness. The uniformity imposed by an empire can be analyzed. There is no essential Roman in the Aeneid; the ethnicity that unavoidably, historically, is to be attached to the "self" in the poem is endlessly reducible, both conceptually and as represented by the poem as a historical reality. It is constantly deferred to other, mediating representations of ethnicity. Rome is simply not defined by what is present.
This is most crudely true on the topographical plane, where the site of Rome in Book 8 is said to empty repeatedly between arrivals by different outsiders (Saturn, Evander, Romulus). At 8.310-12 the site already has a past, intriguing to Aeneas:
miratur facilisque oculos fert omnia circum Aeneas capiturque locis et singula laetus exquiritque auditque virum monimenta priorum.
Aeneas stares in wonder, sending his ready glances everywhere. He is captivated by the scene, and joyfully inquires about and hears tales about each and every reminder of earlier men.
According to his host, Evander, this human past is uncanny: "These woodlands were inhabited by native-born fauns and nymphs and a race of men born of the tough wood of tree trunks" (314-15 haec nemora indigenae fauni nymphaeque tenebant / gensque virum truncis et duro robore nata). These native, autochthonous beings have none of the arts of civilization, in particular agriculture and settled living, until Saturn, in flight from the wrath of Jupiter, arrives to rule them (8.319). He too, like Aeneas, is an exile from his kingdom (also like Metabus or Mezentius, among the poem's latter-day Italian kings). But Saturn and his subjects have no direct relation to the later inhabitants apart from dwelling place. The next inhabitants of the place are Italians arriving from the south ("an Ausonian band and Sicanian peoples" ), who themselves yield to Evander's "Greek city" (as the Sibyl provocatively calls it at 6.97). Each population is replaced or displaced by another; the very names keep changing (329). Any identity that can be claimed among the different settlements will, as a metaphor based only on the sameness of their place, disintegrate readily into metonymy. Romulus' accomplishment will be to orchestrate a fresh convergence from various directions on the newly built Rome (note 342 asylum). There is an emptiness at the geographic heart of identity, waiting to be-not exactly filled, but given outward shape, by a play of contrasts.
In the Aeneid's version of Roman foundations, Aeneas' settlement will include not only Trojan colonists and Latin indigens, but representatives of other peoples: Cretans whom Aeneas' men married during their sojourn on that island (3.136; the slave Pholoe, awarded as a prize at 5.285, may be one such), a few Epirotes picked up at Buthrotum, and even various Greeks, like Salius and Patron at 5.298. The opposing sides of the Italian war in Books 9-12, the bloody prerequisite to Aeneas' settlement, are not cleanly defined ethnically, but include each other's characteristic ethnic components (note the Greek-Italian ancestry of both Pallas and Turnus, for example). The presence among the Italian army of Greek figures like Aventinus, Virbius, and Halaesus approximates it to the Greek army that fought against Aeneas in the Trojan War; but the Trojan army, too, includes Evander's Arcadians and other mainland Greeks. One is Antores, one-time companion of Hercules, who, felled by an "alien" wound (that is, by the Etruscan king Mezentius, fighting on the Latin side), famously "looks to heaven and, dying, remembers sweet Argos" (10.781-82 caelumque / aspicit et dulcis moriens reminisctur Argos). Both the broad narrative of the poem and the smaller genealogies and stories of origin, inserted with the passing mention of a name like that of Antores, make Italy a sink of many peoples, a destination not only for Aeneas and his followers. The war, characterized as a proleptic civil war between peoples meant to become one, dramatizes our sense of the Roman not just as the combination of Trojan and Latin, but as forged out of cross-cultural exchanges from many sides. The ethnic presences they bring to a cumulative Roman identity, I suggest, prevent that identity from ever being fixed or independent of the multiple oppositions that inhere among its components.
Beyond the actual, narrated movements of the poem's persons we have the symbolic ethnic identifications produced by extra-textual allusions of various kinds. Here we enter the shadowy realm of meaningful etymology, so beloved of Latin poets: nomen as omen. Names of warriors, for example, introduce overtones, at least, of blurred national identity. To be sure, warriors on the Trojan side may have clearly Asiatic names like Asius, Assaracus, and Thymbris (10.123-24), overflowing with Anatolian geographical and mythological connotations. Others, like Tyres (10.403) and Aeneas' captain Orontes point to a broader Oriental sphere (in these cases recalling the city Tyre and the river Orontes in the Levant). Sometimes names allegorize national transition, as when at 10.145 another Trojan warrior, Capys, is said to have given his name to "the Campanian city" (Capua). This old etymology not only recapitulates the ethnic trajectory from Troy to Italy, but, in this poem, etiologizes the dominion of the Romans over Campania in central Italy (specifically through the city that served as the Italians' capital during the Social Wars) in a way that nevertheless evokes or preserves the ethnic boundaries that separated the Trojan-descended Romans from the rest of the Italians. This case is both like and unlike the etymologies of Roman clan names from followers of Aeneas in Book 5 (the Memmii from Mnestheus, the Sergii from Sergestus, the Cluentii from Cloanthus), which also emphasize the transition from Trojan to Roman, but which direct that trajectory toward Rome itself.
But this sense of national transition is sometimes not historical, but synchronic. At 10.337 a Rutulian Maeon-a poetic synonym for "Lydian"-bears a name elsewhere used of the "Lydian" Etruscans, his enemies. At 10.399 an Italian named Rhoeteus dies in the place of an Italian named Ilus-both bear names associated with the toponymy of Troy. At 9.344-45 the name of a Rutulian Rhoetus could be etymologized from either Trojan Rhoet- or Italian Rut- (analogically to the alternation Poenus/Punicus, among others). This blurs the boundary line of nationality in a way reminiscent of Virgil's almost exclusive use for the river Tiber of the name Thybris, which recalls both the Tiber and the Trojan river Thymbris. Personal names connected with this last specimen recur in significant ways. We hear of both an Italian Thymber (10.391-94) and a Trojan Thymbraeus (12.458); there is also a Trojan Thymbris (10.124). And Evander at 8.330-32 reports that the Tiber took its Trojan-sounding name from a local king named Thybris. One message here is that these peoples belong together: the near- homonymies allegorize an identification that lies in the future-and attest one that lies in the past, when we remember that the poem makes Dardanus originate in Etruria. But what are we to make of Italians with blatantly Egyptian names like Pharos (10.322: the Ptolemies' famous lighthouse), Lagus (10.381: the founder of the Ptolemy family), and Osiris (12.458: the Egyptian god)? Here one message might be of eventual Roman-that is to say, Trojan-Italian-conquest of Egypt (subtly correcting the Trojans' own status as "Orientals," capable of being classed together as such with Egypt). The last-named, for example, is slain by Thymbraeus in a foreshadowing of Octavian's victory over Antony and Cleopatra. But other, conflicting messages are also latent; in our discussion of Turnus we shall explore the way Oriental features-like names-given to Aeneas' Italian enemies repeatedly estrange them from the land they are fighting to keep the Trojans out of.
Excerpted from Virgil's Gaze by J. D. Reed Copyright © 2007 by Princeton University Press . Excerpted by permission.
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