The Space that Remains

The Space that Remains: Reading of Latin Poetry in Late Antiquity

Aaron Pelttari
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Space that Remains
    Book Description:

    When we think of Roman Poetry, the names most likely to come to mind are Vergil, Horace, and Ovid, who flourished during the age of Augustus. The genius of Imperial poets such as Juvenal, Martial, and Statius is now generally recognized, but the final years of the Roman Empire are not normally associated with poetic achievement. Recently, however, classical scholars have begun reassessing a number of poets from Late Antiquity-names such as Ausonius, Claudian, and Prudentius-understanding them as artists of considerable talent and influence. InThe Space That Remains, Aaron Pelttari offers the first systematic study of these fourth-century poets since Michael Robert's foundationalThe Jeweled Style(Cornell, 1989). It is the first to give equal attention to both Christian and Pagan poetry and the first to take seriously the issue of readership.

    Like the Roman Empire, Latin literature was in a state of flux during the fourth century. As Pelttari shows, the period marked a turn towards forms of writing that privilege the reader's active involvement in shaping the meaning of the text. In the poetry of Ausonius, Claudian, and Prudentius we can see the increasing importance of distinctions between old and new, ancient and modern, conservatism and progress. The strange traditionalism and verbalism of the day often concealed a desire for immediacy and presence. We can see these changes most clearly in the expectations placed upon readers. The space that remains is the space that the reader comes to inhabit, as would increasingly become the case in the literature of the Latin Middle Ages.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5500-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Late Antique Poetry and the Figure of the Reader
    (pp. 1-11)

    Claudian began theDe raptu Proserpinaeby asking the gods of the underworld to uncover for him their deepest secrets (“vos mihi sacrarum penetralia pandite rerum / et vestri secreta poli,”Rapt. 1.25–26). He imagines poetry as something hidden that needs to be uncovered. In contrast, Vergil began theAeneidby asking the Muse to remind him of the reasons for Juno’s hatred of the Trojans (“Musa, mihi causas memora,”Aen. 1.8). In theAeneid, the poet asks for a reminder or an explanation, not for a revelation of some deeper truth. Between the first century BCE and the...

  6. Chapter 1 Text, Interpretation, and Authority
    (pp. 12-44)

    In late antiquity, the readers of Christian scripture and of Vergil’s poetry played a visible role in making meaning of the texts at their disposal. These readers of Vergil have often been charged with mindlessly yielding to a dogmatic belief in the poet’s infallibility. Alan Cameron, for example, describes the explanatory notes of Servius and Macrobius as misguided attempts at defensive criticism, at saving Vergil from the charge of ignorance (2011, 590–94). But in describing their canonical texts as deeply meaningful, Augustine, Macrobius, and others made room for their own creative and positive interpretations. At the same time, late...

  7. Chapter 2 Prefaces and the Reader’s Approach to the Text
    (pp. 45-72)

    In late antiquity, prefaces played a significant role in mediating the presence of their texts. Jerome provides a vivid image for the function of prefaces. He does so within an explanation of Psalm 1, which was traditionally described as a preface to the whole book of Psalms.¹ He compares the Psalms to a large house with many rooms: each individual room has a door and a key (its title), and the house as a whole has one door (Psalm 1) and one key.² Thus Jerome imagines this preface as alimen, the boundary that both restricts and grants the reader...

  8. Chapter 3 Open Texts and Layers of Meaning
    (pp. 73-114)

    In the fourth century, a series of Latin authors wrote along multiple, distinct syntactic levels. The figural poetry of Optatianus Porfyrius destabilizes the idea of a univocal text. The allegorical poetry of Prudentius’sPsychomachiapoints the reader to a deeper sense behind the surface of the text. The Vergilian centos blur the line between composition and reception. Without their reader, these poems collapse into dazzling but incoherent fragments, technically stunning but incomplete. They are open texts, as defined by Umberto Eco inOpera aperta,¹ his study of modernist aesthetics. By tracking trends in twentieth-century art, literature, music, science, and theoretical...

  9. Chapter 4 The Presence of the Reader: Allusion in Late Antiquity
    (pp. 115-160)

    Like contemporary texts and paratexts, the hypertextuality of late antiquity was directed toward active readers.¹ When late antique poets allude to classical texts, they often do so in ways that create space for reading. Because late antique allusions lie on the surface of the text, they create a sense of the reader’s presence. And the particular dynamics of allusion in late antiquity mark the distance between classical and late antique poetry. They reveal the pastness of the past, and they call for an appreciative engagement in the processes of interpretation. I will begin by discussing, as a baseline, the ways...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 161-164)

    The figure of the reader lends a sense of coherence and meaning to the Latin poetry from late antiquity. I have described four ways in which the reader structures the textual world of this period. In interpretive and theoretical works, contemporary prose authors presented the reader’s involvement as central to the present instantiation of literature. In their prefaces, late antique poets mediated the eventual reception of their poems through a particular reading of the work in question. In figural poetry, allegory, and centos, late antique poets compelled the reader to navigate the multiple, parallel layers of the text. And by...

  11. References
    (pp. 165-180)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 181-186)
  13. Index of Passages Cited
    (pp. 187-190)