Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Exemplary Comparison from Homer to Petrarch

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Exemplary Comparison from Homer to Petrarch

Article excerpt

Olive Sayce, Exemplary Comparison from Homer to Petrarch (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008). xiv + 408 pp. ISBN 978-18438-0-992. £5 5.00.

Only the title of this excellent book is slightly problematic, though it would have been difficult to reflect the content concisely. It is concerned with exemplary comparison (and later on, identification) with a named figure from mythology, history, the Bible, or literature, principally in the lyrics (on which Olive Sayce is an authority) of the troubadours, the trouvères, the German medieval poets, and those of Italy and Sicily, but taking into account also classical and medieval Latin poetry. The titular reference to Homer is because two initial chapters look at the origins of such comparisons (or contrasts) in Homer and Virgil. Petrarch provides a chronological end point.

The work is enormously detailed, and functions essentially as a reference book; it is, however, thought-provoking in both general and specific terms. The study enumerates, cites, and translates all the relevant instances of comparisons of this kind, and then summarizes them in style and contextual terms, looking at their placing within individual works, for example, or their relationship to rhyme. After the chapters on the classical epics, Latin poets from Catullus to Ovid are examined, and then the very large corpus of later Latin, before moving to the vernaculars. The work makes clear the many variations from the basic distinction between positive and negative exemplars onward, and also the movement (partly to be expected, of course) from mythological to literary comparators, although later literature afforded access to mythological stories, so that Helen, for example, maintains her position. In the love lyrics, Tristram is predictably in the forefront, although there is an intriguing frequency of comparisons with Andrieu, who loved the queen of France' in a lost tale. It is also of the essence of comparison that the reference should be recognized; however, sometimes they are confused in the originals, and detailed explanations are given for these cases (as with Jove's disguises, p. 109).

Sometimes (infrequently) one may question individual examples. That from the Carmina Burana on p. 122 (put tentatively in any case) reads quite differently in the Hilka/Schumann text, which has 'fui pro Iupiter' rather than 'fuit Priiupiter'. Hugo Primas has the Dacian comparison again in poem 23 (of the Meyer edition). …

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