Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections

By Neil Fraistat | Go to book overview

William S. Anderson


The Theory and Practice of Poetic Arrangement from Vergil to Ovid

Shortly after Augustine took up his post as professor of rhetoric in Milan in 382, he came into contact with Bishop Ambrose. Although Ambrose's influence on Augustine's eventual conversion to Christianity must be the dominant factor of their relationship, I am interested here in a few details that Augustine registers in passing, with amazement, about the bishop. When he and others would go in to talk with Ambrose, they would find him reading. Nobody interfered with them as they approached, but they were daunted by the sight of a man reading silently, and, after watching him a while in his silent activity, they departed. None of them was so bold as to dare to annoy a man so intent. "When he read," says Augustine as of an unusual practice, "his eyes moved through the pages and his heart worked out the meaning, but his voice and tongue were silent." 1 For Augustine as late as the fourth century, it was a novelty to find someone reading silently: he expected the bishop to read aloud. That would have been a surprise four hundred years earlier, in the time of Augustus, but equally amazing would have been the reading materials available to the bishop. Ambrose was silently following the writing down each page, then turning the page and continuing: he was, in short, reading a book, no doubt a parchment codex of the Bible or a commentary on some part of it. Thus, Ambrose was reading very much as we do today, but he was one important stage ahead of Augustine in reading silently, another vital stage ahead of the Latin poets and audiences that I am concerned with in this study, inasmuch as he enjoyed the advantage of a codex and pages, which could be turned easily in either direction.

The five poets whom I wish to discuss, Vergil, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid, in the half-century dominated by the Emperor Augustus, between roughly 36 B.C. and 14 A.D., published collections of their poems, not in books such as we use, but in successive columns on long papyrus

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