The Rhetoric of Imitation

The Rhetoric of Imitation: Genre and Poetic Memory in Virgil and Other Latin Poets

Volume: 44
Copyright Date: 1986
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    The Rhetoric of Imitation
    Book Description:

    This collection of essays offer a unified and coherent argument and point toward an important new approach in classical philology that challenges the dominant trends in Anglo-American criticism of Latin literature, which emphasize the autonomy of isolated texts or make extensive use of historical or sociological analysis.

    Gian Biagio Conte here seeks to establish a theoretical basis for explaining the ways in which Latin poets borrow from one another and echo one another. He stresses the systematic nature of literary discourse and its tendency to create systems of interrelated texts wherein each author's mode of assimilating and changing the tradition becomes a part of the tradition. Imitation, Conte asserts, should not be regarded merely as the inert confluence of historical circumstances but rather as a rhetorical figure in itself-and indeed as one of the major rhetorical devices of classical Latin poetry.

    The first half of the book establishes Conte's theoretical position; that position is then applied in detail to Virgil in the second half. Conte shows how Virgil, by contrasting bucolic and elegiac genres in Eclogue 10, effects a confrontation between different models of life. He discusses the Aeneid at length, demonstrating how Virgil modifies and transforms both Greek and Roman epic conventions. Virgil's ability to simultaneously maintain a plurality of points of view, Conte believes, made it possible for him to transcend the limits set by his predecessors and thereby to enrich the communicative and expressive range of the epic genre.

    These suggestive essays address important issues in the field of classical literature and interpretive method. They will find an appreciative audience among classicists and their students, comparativists, literary theorists, and anyone else concerned with the application of contemporary critical and semiotic theory to literary texts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6684-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. 7-18)
    Charles Segal

    Since the publication of T. S. Eliot’s celebrated essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), modern criticism has been faced with a choice between what Claudio Guillén calls the “psychological” and the “literary” ways of relating the discreteness of literary texts to the continuity of literary history.¹ For the Romantics that relation was dominated by the individual poetic genius. For the post-Romantic critics, whose descent may be traced at least in part to Eliot, the relation is less one of persons than one of literary forms and implies the interrelatedness of all literature as a totality. Although the personalizing, psychological...

  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. 19-20)
  5. Part One. Poetic Memory and Literary System

    • Introduction: The Art of Allusion and Models in Literature
      (pp. 23-31)

      The work of tracing “loci similes,” passages in one author which recall those in another, is the bread and butter of traditional classical literary study. Long in the grip of a positivistic hunt for sources for “Quellenforschung,” such study has classified these literary phenomena as “influences,” or more concretely as “sources” (a revealing metaphor of fluidity), rather than in terms of texts and the structuring of texts. Without a basic model of literary production, I would argue, the philologist’s collecting of comparative and contrastive materials (loans, debts, parallels, etc.) suffers from what I may disrespectfully name “comparisonitis”—collecting for the...

    • 1 Poetic Memory and the Art of Allusion
      (pp. 32-39)

      Let us first consider a line by Catullus which has not yet been “recognized.” It is line 1 of poem 101, the celebrated elegy for his brother: “Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus” (Borne through many peoples and many seas).

      The still unvisited tomb of his brother lies near Troy, far from home—“not near the family ashes” (Catullus, Carmina 68.98). To make the painful encounter possible, Catullus must become a navigator. But the “many peoples” and “many seas” that will mark out his long voyage belong to Homer’s Odysseus. The Odyssey begins:

      δζ μάλα πολλά πλάγχθη, έπεί...

    • 2 Poetic Memory: Its Historical and Systematic Features
      (pp. 40-96)

      “In principio erat Verbum” (in the beginning was the Word); the poet beginning to write, contemplates the Verbum, a discourse filled with meaning, an instrument of reason and communication, a way of thinking. This Verbum must be made flesh if it is to be revealed, if it is to take shape and have effect. The various modes of incarnation, of descent into the finite space of poetic discourse, will be our concern. For the moment, suffice it to say that the medium of this process is the poet’s own culture as expressed in the literary act. The art of allusion...

  6. Part Two. Genre and Its Boundaries

      (pp. 97-99)

      In Virgilian scholarship, and in literary studies in general, a basic split has developed between inquiries into literary technique and studies of ideology. Here, as elsewhere, we lack a true synthesis between the various levels of textual interpretation. A full assessment of Virgil can spring only from an attempt to discover a unifying interpretative nucleus. And if this is not to remain simply the desirable feature of a blueprint, an adequate set of critical techniques must be developed. The best chances of success lie here, in fact—in working out a viable method of inquiry.

      When harnessed to the rigorous...

    • 3 An Interpretation of the Tenth Eclogue
      (pp. 100-129)

      It has often been said that of all the great “carmina” in Latin literature, Virgil’s tenth Eclogue has been most resistant to critical authority. Because of its density and composite form, it has rebuffed all of the theories, which, by being too comprehensive, have explained the textual contrasts at only a superficial level. Its complexity of expression, so erratic and elliptical, impedes access to its fullest sense, Despite its effect of wholeness, it appears suddenly to shatter into separate, incongruous segments. And yet readers who have tried to chip away at the text, meticulously examining its separate elements, have found...

    • 4 Aristaeus, Orpheus, and the Georgics
      (pp. 130-140)

      Almost all the recent critics of the Georgics (with varying degrees of awareness) have recognized the need to work within the textual system in interpreting the sense and function of the epyllion that tells the stories of Aristaeus and Orpheus at the end of the poem.¹ Only a small minority of critics, through dissatisfaction with all the interpretations previously proposed, read these lines as a decorative exploit by the poet—an ornamental addition in the form of an aetiological story. They read the epyllion as an elegant literary construct possessing its structural autonomy and lacking any organic connection with the...

    • 5 Virgil’s Aeneid: Toward an Interpretation
      (pp. 141-184)

      What is a critico-philological problem for us was a problem in poetic composition for Virgil. The Iliad, the Odyssey, Apollonius's Argonautica, Naevius's Bellm Poenicum and Ennius's Annales loomed before him as the different strata of a literary genre. All those texts exhibit, through influence or derivation, significant features that link them to one another in different planes of expression and content. But when Virgil first conceived the idea of writing an epic poem, he must have become strongly aware of the need to go beyond this set of linked texts. He had to invent a recognizably new kind of epic...

    • 6 The Baldric of Pallas: Cultural Models and Literary Rhetoric
      (pp. 185-195)

      In the following pages I will examine from another angle the motif of the “mors immatura” (untimely death) on which I touched briefly in the preceding chapter. The baldric of Pallas richly exemplifies the intertextuality of the Aeneid and Virgil’s self-conscious integration of a broad cultural tradition into his own epic voice.

      Once Pallas has been slain, Turnus exults in words of cruel triumph. Bending over the body of the youth, he pulls off the baldric of his sword. It is an object of great worth (Virgil, following the Homeric tradition, even recalls the name of the skillful craftsman). The...

    • 7 The Helen Episode in the Second Book of the Aeneid: Structural Models and a Question of Authenticity
      (pp. 196-208)

      The history of philology certainly contains more important works than Lorenzo Valla’s declamation De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione (On the forged Donation of Constantine); and Richard Bentley’s fame rests on contributions of greater prominence than his dissertation on the (false) letters of Phalaris. Psychologically, though, works of this kind have something particularly intriguing about them—something heroic, I would say, which is enthralling. It is as if the most admirable critical efforts of a philologist were not those directed to repairing the damage done by time and chance but those that lead to victory over a forger’s deceptions,...

  7. Index
    (pp. 209-215)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 216-217)