Epic in Republican Rome

Epic in Republican Rome

Epic in Republican Rome

Epic in Republican Rome

Synopsis

This book is a major new study of the epic poetry of Republican Rome. Goldberg treats the creators of these now-fragmentary works not simply as predecessors of Vergil, but as pioneers and poets in their own right. But Goldberg goes beyond practical criticism, exploring in the literary experiments of Andronicus, Naevius, Ennius, and Cicero issues of poetry and patronage, cultural assimilation and national ideology, modeling and originality that both come to characterize Roman literature of all periods and continue to shape modern responses to that literature. What emerges from Goldberg's study is both a fresh perspective on Vergil's achievement and new insights into the cultural dynamics of second-century Rome.

Excerpt

This book began as an exercise in reading with a fairly simple motive. the fragments of early Roman epic, though repeatedly edited and annotated as texts, are rarely treated as poetry, and they have never been subjected as a group to a literary critic's close and methodical scrutiny. I found this an irresistible challenge, and the fragments have, I think, justified my New Critical impulse. Yet even a devotee of practical criticism must acknowledge the urgency of larger questions that close reading may raise but cannot answer. What did talented poets like Naevius and Ennius hope to accomplish by writing narrative poems on Roman themes? What encouraged them to do so, and what idea of epic emerged from their efforts? These are questions for literary history, but histories of Latin literature have been reluctant to address them. the tendency has instead been to slight the artistry of early epics, to attribute mundane or even base motives (on rather scanty evidence) to their creators, and to treat their achievement as but a preamble to Vergil's still greater achievement. I do not find this an adequate response. While arguments built from fragmentary evidence are necessarily fragile, and a literary history based on such arguments may never fully satisfy, the effort must be made. To understand what epic meant to the Romans-- and what poets like Vergil and Lucan would eventually do to that meaning--we need to know all we can about the works that established its norms. We cannot afford to hurry by the earliest landmarks on the epic scene simply because they are now ruins. Even ruins are witnesses of a kind, and these witnesses have an important story to tell. Their testimony may nevertheless be a little quirky, and a book that takes them seriously is bound to have a few quirks of its own.

I have allowed the fragments of epic to set their own agenda, which has meant tolerating the incomplete, erratic, and occasionally peculiar lines of argument they suggest. I do not consider this a fault. An uneven argument seems preferable to none at all. My only resistance has been to imposing preconceived notions on the fragments or judging their poetry by the standards of a later time. I have therefore limited my primary discussion to fragmentary texts. Some of Catullus' hexameter poetry and large sections of Lucretius' De rerum natura can doubtless claim a place in the history of Republican epic, but not in this particular history. Whole texts are bullies. They . . .

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