The Aesthetic Turn: Latin Poetry
and Aesthetic Criticism
The aesthetic critic needs always to be on his guard against the confusion of mere curiosity or antiquity with beauty in art1
The title of this chapter signals its concerns by means of a pun. 'The aesthetic turn' is modelled on such phrases as 'the linguistic turn' or 'the cultural turn', which embodied, and promoted, claims that a particular paradigm shift in interpretation had occurred in the humanities and social sciences. At the same time it suggests that, in a scholarly world still dominated by the new culturalism and by ideology critique (most conspicuously so, perhaps, in post-colonial studies), it is high time that aesthetics had, as we say, its turn. Accordingly I want to go back to the issue I touched upon at the end of the first chapter. If the arguments put forward so far have any validity, what consequences, if any, do they have for the student of Latin, or indeed any other, poetry? What sort of criticism do I want Latinists, or at least some of them, to write in future? We are particularly fortunate in Britain to have a distinctive tradition of 'aesthetic criticism' which could be traced from Ruskin through Pater to Adrian Stokes in the last century2, a tradition which, if not providing models to copy (an unaesthetic procedure according to
1 Pater (1894) 210.
2 See the introduction to Carrier (1997). For Stokes, in relation to Ruskin and Pater, see
Read (2003); for a bravura example ofStokes's version ofaesthetic criticism see his account of
'Verrocchio's Lavabo' in The Quattro Cento (Stokes (2002) 58—67). Other critics who, at least
on occasion, might be claimed for this tradition include Swinburne (an important influence
on Pater), Henry James, R. A. M. Stevenson, Charles Ricketts, G. K. Chesterton, Herbert
Horne, William Empson.