Where Did Odysseus Enter the Underworld?

In his first book against Rufinus, Claudian places Odysseus’ meeting with the shades of the dead in Gaul–or, rather, shows that he is familiar with a tradition that places the event there (fertur):

Est locus extremum pandit qua Gallia litus

Oceani praetentus aquis, ubi fertur Ulixes

sanguine libato populum movisse silentem.  (In Rufinum 1.123-5)

Does anyone know the antecedent for this tradition locating the event, not just at the edge of the world, but precisely in Gaul? I don’t recall coming across this before, but that presumably just shows my ignorance. Is this found anywhere in the mythographical tradition?


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: An Echo in Aeneid 1.613

After Aeneas has been revealed to Dido and has identified himself, she is in awe of the man, dumbstruck with wonder:

Obstipuit primo aspectu Sidonia Dido,
casu deinde viri tanto, et sic ore locuta est. (1.613-14)

The first word of the line assimilates her to Aeneas, who, when he saw that many of his companions had survived, was described thus:

Obstipuit simul ipse, simul percussus Achates
laetitiaque metuque… (1.513-14)

The similarity between the two passages is enhanced by what follows: in 517ff., a series of indirect questions (quae fortuna; quo litore; quid); in 615 ff., a series of direct questions (quis; quae vis; tune ille…).

The assimilation, though, is unsettling, for that first word, obstipuit, and the further parallel of questioning make Dido and Aeneas seem much closer than they actually are: Aeneas was dumbfounded at the survival of his friends, men with whom he had been close for a long time. Dido has never seen Aeneas before, and thus has no real bond with him whatsoever, and the closeness she desires with him (signaled by the echo?) will prove to be her undoing. And indeed, it may be that Vergil alerts the reader to that very fact here. For, immediately after the echo of obstipuit, in the same line-initial position, the first words that follow in 613 are primo aspectu; Vergil reminds us that Dido has never laid eyes upon Aeneas before, and perhaps indicates that we should notice the inconcinnity of the two figures despite the verbal resemblance.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Word-Order in Aeneid 1.584

After hearing the report of their Trojan companions, Achates impresses upon (compellat, 581) Aeneas that things stand as Venus had said, presumably because he believes it is time for them to be revealed (we know from 580-1 that they both were eager to become visible again). Here is what he says:

“Nate dea, quae nunc animo sententia surgit?

Omnia tuta vides, classem sociosque receptos.

Unus abest medio in fluctu quem vidimus ipsi

summersum; dictis respondent cetera matris.” (1.582-5)

The words medio in fluctu are placed oddly: they belong in the relative clause introduced by quem, but they have been pulled out of it. Why? For one thing, it serves to draw added attention to the one man who has been lost, Orontes, as does the enjambed summersum in the next line. Both are, in a sense, displaced, as was poor Orontes. Also, the word-order allows Vergil to put the phrase for the “middle” (of the wave) in the middle of the line. The elision of medio with in is also effective to mimic aurally the drowning of the man.

A couple of other notes: there is a nice contrast between line-initial omnia and unus in consecutive lines: “all are safe, one excepted.” The contrastive parallelism is accomplished also through the double use of videre: “you see all things safe [now], except for the one man we saw drowned [then].

Finally, there is a nice contrast between the quotation and its frame. The description of the death of Orontes has to do with concealing and disappearance (summersum). The quotation comes as a transition between the concealment of Aeneas and Acestes, who were already desiring to be revealed (jamdudum erumpere nubem/ardebant, 580-1), and their bursting into appearance from behind the cloud (repente/scindit se nubes et in aethera purgat apertum, 586-7). Within the quotation itself, the opinion of Aeneas “rises” (surgit) in contrast to Orontes, who sinks.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Place-Names in Aeneid 1.549-58

In his speech to Dido, the Trojan leader Ilioneus wonders aloud whether their king Aeneas (rex erat Aeneas nobis, 544) is still alive; if not, the Trojans would like to make their way to Sicily, where a group of Trojan exiles led by Acestes have settled. Here is part of his speech:

Sunt et Siculis regionibus urbes
armaque, Troianoque a sanguine clarus Acestes.               550
Quassatam ventis liceat subducere classem,
et silvis aptare trabes et stringere remos:
si datur Italiam, sociis et rege recepto,
tendere, ut Italiam laeti Latiumque petamus;
sin absumpta salus, et te, pater optime Teucrum,               555
pontus habet Libyae, nec spes iam restat Iuli,
at freta Sicaniae saltem sedesque paratas,
unde huc advecti, regemque petamus Acesten.’

The passage begins and ends with Sicily (549, 557) and Acestes (550, 558), with material about Italy sandwiched in between. The longing for Italy, which is primary, is brought out by the emphatic repetition of Italiam in the same case and same line position in two consecutive verses. If, however, their king is dead, sunk in the Libyan sea, they will go to Sicily and Acestes. These last two place names (Libyae, Sicaniae) are in the same line-position as Italiam (with the caveat that Libyae is only trisyllabic), and that serves to contrast them with the real goal: Italiam twice (primary goal, to be sought [petamus] and realized if [si, line-initial] their old king [rege] still lives); pontus Libyae (possible cause of disaster); freta Sicaniae (secondary goal, if [sin, line-initial] Aeneas has died, in which case they will seek [petamus] a new king [regem]).


“Last Statues of Antiquity” Database

I just learned about this from a review in BMCR. Looks pretty nifty: “a searchable database of the published evidence for statuary and inscribed statue bases set up after AD 284, that were new, newly dedicated, or newly re-worked.”


Conventiculum Latinum at Kentucky (July 2013)

If you want to practice speaking Latin with some of the people who know best both how to do it and how to help others learn comfortably, then check out the Conventiculum Latinum, Annual Workshop for Spoken Latin at the University of Kentucky (Lexington). The workshop is run by the venerable duo of Terence Tunberg and Milena Minkova. I attended a one-day workshop of theirs at Dickinson college, and it was a great experience.

You can learn more on their site and sign up to attend the eight day (!) event, held July 17–24 next year. $100 to attend, and $140 for 7 days of breakfast and lunch and 5 nights of dinner. You can find your own lodging or stay in the dorms for $27/night.

Quite a deal for such an opportunity. If you’re a teacher, just think of the PD hours you can get out of that!


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Elision in Aeneid 1.520

While Aeneas hides in a cloud, an embassy comes from other Trojan ships that, it turns out, hadn’t been lost after all. Their entry to the temple of Juno is described as follows:

Postquam introgressi et coram data copia fandi,

maximus Ilioneus placido sic pectore coepit…. (A. 1.520-1)

The blending of the first three words (postquintrogresset) gives a sound-picture of the men crossing the threshold, and the quickened pace at the end of the line (vv-vv-x), carried through to the next line, entirely dactylic except for the fourth foot, reminds the reader of their haste. Once again, sound and rhythm reinforce sense. Note that the -eu- in Ilioneus is a diphthong.


In memoriam: Jacques Barzun

Jacques Barzun has died.

Jacques Barzun, a Columbia University historian and administrator whose sheer breadth of scholarship — culminating in a survey of 500 years of Western civilization — brought him renown as one of the foremost intellectuals of the 20th century, died Thursday. He was 104.

His death was announced by Gavin Parfit, his son-in-law, the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Barzun was 92 when he published what is widely regarded as his masterwork, “From Dawn to Decadence, 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present.” Journalist David Gates spoke for a majority of critics when he wrote in Newsweek magazine that the book, which appeared in 2000, “will go down in history as one of the great one-man shows of Western letters.”

(Thanks to John J. Miller for the link.)


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Allusion in Aeneid 1.498-504

As Dido enters the temple of Juno in Aeneid 1 she is likened in a simile to Diana (Artemis):

Qualis in Eurotae ripis aut per iuga Cynthi
exercet Diana choros, quam mille secutae
hinc atque hinc glomerantur Oreades; illa pharetram               500
fert umero, gradiensque deas supereminet omnis:
(Latonae tacitum pertemptant gaudia pectus):
talis erat Dido, talem se laeta ferebat
per medios, instans operi regnisque futuris.

Dido is like Diana leading the hunt as she proceeds carrying her quiver (pharetram), towering above the other goddesses. One cannot help but recall here the description of Venus disguised as a Tyrian huntress earlier in Book 1; for instance, she too carried a quiver (virginibus Tyriis mos est gestare pharetram, 336). She there presents herself as one of Dido’s subjects: she dwells in the Punic realms (Punica regna, 338; cf. regnis futuris, 504). Aeneas suspects from the beginning that she is a goddess (dea certe, 328), even thinking she might be Diana (an Phoebi soror?, 329). Diana in the simile is followed by Nymphs (Oreades, 500), while Aeneas previously thought Venus might be a nymph (an nympharum sanguinis una?, 329).

The irony is rich: Venus, an immortal, is likened in appearance within the poem to a mortal; Dido, a mortal, is likened by Vergil in a simile to an immortal, the same goddess for whom Aeneas had mistaken Venus; Venus-as-mortal is on a hunt; Dido-as-immortal is on a hunt; Venus presents herself as a  subject of Dido, though we know that Dido is and will be shown to be subject to Venus. The picture of Dido as chaste maiden strikes an odd note when one remembers what happens in the poem, just as the earlier picture of Venus did. Thus Dido is drawn into a symbolic connection to Venus, only for the dark irony of the connection to be exploited later.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Sense and Word-Choice in Aeneid 1.483-7

As Aeneas inspects the pictures in Juno’s temple, he sees Hector dragged three times around the walls of Troy by Achilles:

Ter circum Iliacos raptaverat Hectora muros
exanimumque auro corpus vendebat Achilles. (483-4)

Vergil describes Aeneas’ reaction thus:

Tum vero ingentem gemitum dat pectore ab imo,
ut spolia, ut currus, utque ipsum corpus amici
tendentemque manus Priamum conspexit inermis. (485-7)

The triple repetition of ut corresponds to the triple-sensed ter in 483. Aeneas sees Hector dragged three times around the walls and gives forth a groan as he sees the (1) spoils, (2), chariots, and (3) the body of his friend and Priam’s outstretched hands (these last two being joined after the third ut). Note the expansion in the third member (tricolon crescens). The verb is delayed to the last-but-one word, and that choice is important: delaying inermis, of Priam’s hands, increases pathos.

Aeneas’ groan is reminiscent of an earlier one, discussed here.

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