Why Vergil?: A Collection of Interpretations

Author: Stephanie Quinn
Product Code: 4355
ISBN: 978-0-86516-435-2
Pages: 451
Availability: In stock.
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We lack automatic and simple answers to the question "Why Vergil?" — or many similar questions for that matter: why literature, why art, especially why old literature — and at that — why literature in an old language? Yet even after 2,000 years, the voice of Vergil still resonates with the universal human cry.

—From the Introduction

Vergil's gift to our times, as to others, is to teach us a way to see a world in turmoil, to hold many visions of it simultaneously, excruciatingly, all in absolute conflict with each other, and all of them true. . . . Vergil created for us something that perhaps had not existed in quite this way before: the imaginative possibility of moral choices located between tragic recognition and idealized hope. . . . Vergil's popularity in this century and this country may mean that more citizens now share Vergil's artful knowledge. The knowledge is a glimmer, a warning: be prepared, like Aeneas, to believe in something, to act for it, in action to compromise your ideal of it and then, and this is the hard part, to survive with grieving memory to act in hope again, with no promise of success and no choice but to go on.

—From the Conclusion

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Review: Classical Outlook - September 30, 2005
...Why Vergil? A Collection of Interpretations, 43 essays that attempt to demonstrate Vergil’s genius or influence from differing perspectives, edited by Stephanie Quinn. Most of the essays are reprinted, but there are new materials by Michael C.J. Putnam and Stephanie Quinn. The reprinted essays cover a wide range and include many well known names, e.g., Bernard Knox, Adam Parry, George Duckworth, Herbert Benario, Meyer Reinhold, Marilyn Skinner, Charles Segal. The first section is fairly traditional literary analysis, but of high order; the second section is entitled ‘The Uses of Tradition and the Making of Meaning’ and concentrates on Vergil’s influence. The third section contains twentieth-century works of literature, mostly poetic, that show Vergilian influence and will surely spark fine class discussions. It is a large book (451 pages) and thus is a bit expensive-$80 for the hardback and $40 for the paperback.
Review by: Sophia Papaioannou, Texas Clasics in Action - September 30, 2005
All in all, the above summary anything but does justice to the impressive range, selection of topics and scholarly presentation, and variety of issues covered in this volume. The close readings of the Vergilian text in the first part are well-chosen models to exemplify those insightful critical approaches that have so enriched and widened our understanding of Vergil, and mainly the Aeneid, in the last quarter of this century. The studies on Vergil’s inspirational presence in western literature in the course of the two millennia following the great poet’s death are, to say the least, illuminating. Stephanie Quinn’s collection should benefit anyone interested in the study and understanding of Vergil, regardless of one’s level of expertise in the Vergilian text.
Review by: John Higgins, Bryn Mawr Classical Review - September 30, 2005
This is a very good and intellectually stimulating volume of essays about Vergil. In it, Stephanie Quinn means to address two different, if largely complementary purposes: to provide a collection of essays for students and teachers of Vergil in schools and colleges, and to present that audience and a broader academic and general audience with a compelling case for reading and thinking about Vergil outside the schoolroom.... the book succeeds. The book starts with a question, even in its title. Without further qualification, the question is incomplete, and we the audience are asked to supply the predicate. On the face of it, the question answers itself.... The collection as a whole, while containing much of value for AP students and more especially for their teachers, far exceeds the scope of high school students, even ones with excellent Latin... One of the things that strike me reading this anthology, and indeed in reading Vergil (more to the point), is his fullness — the Aeneid is full of humanity, of concern for the ultimate values of our life here, of regard for what it means to be a human and live in human society. At the same time, the epic as a whole is so carefully wrought in detail as much as in the large design, that it is the most subtle poetry. Vergil is also one of the most temporally grounded of writers: his poem is an artifact of the Augustan age and without it, we could not understand that period even to the extent we do. Hence Vergil’s work is subject to an immense variety of interpretations, and has been the object of many different ways of understanding throughout the past two millennia. Quinn has chosen to compile a collection of pieces to illustrate how those of us who read Vergil on the cusp of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries do so. This is explicitly a collection for the turn of the century, and approaches the question “Why Vergil?” with the addition of “Why Vergil Now?” To see what Quinn is attempting to do in the collection, we should look at her introduction (‘Why Words?’) and Conclusion (‘Why Vergil?’). This is some of the most interesting reading in the volume, when Quinn gives her own take on Vergil’s contemporary importance. In the Introduction and Conclusion we get to go beyond the initially apparent function of the anthology — to provide background for the AP course — and see Quinn’s further purpose. Quinn makes her position clear in her Acknowledgements: ‘The book’s readers will discover that it is not only a collection; it is also an argument, a case, for the reading of Vergil’s poetry...’ The Introduction sets the stage for the individual selections in the book and establishes the framework in which we are to see them... Quinn initially establishes the power of words, the words of Vergil, and so the first section contains the collection of interpretations of individual passages... This leads into a discussion of the first several essays on particular passages. Quinn then proceeds to.. ‘turn from the intrinsic quality of Vergil’s poetry and the benefits and pleasures of understanding a master’s craft to questions of poetic, cultural, and historic context, meaning, and use’ (p. 17-18). The passages are meant to illustrate how Vergil is in fact very modern as a poet and provides a key to understanding the contemporary world. The contents are divided into two sections. In the first, we find a selection of recent (and not quite so recent) papers dealing with some of the main issues in Twentieth Century Vergilian criticism in the US, under the general title ‘The Power of Words and Meaning of Form’... Here is the most AP-oriented section, with papers on individual books and individual selections, all on the AP syllabus. Some are chestnuts (notably the selections by Knox, Parry and Duckworth), emphatically none the worse for that. There is a reason everybody reads ‘The Serpent and the Flame’ for instance — because it is superb literary criticism — and our own students should know it too. Much of the other material is of the 80’s and 90’s; this is a collection very much of this time, a reading of Vergil as we do it now. ...Garrison’s notes on the first 11 lines of the Aeneid can serve as an excellent introduction to the poem as a whole for students, and every teacher should examine these pages on his/her own: it is the basis for an ideal first assignment.... Herbert Benario’s excellent piece on Book 10 will be of great benefit to those AP teachers facing the revised syllabus: that book has been... ‘more completely ignored than any of its companions’ (p.195), a neglect that the new syllabus, and indeed this very collection, will surely help to turn around. The selection does not condescend and includes several more difficult essays… ‘Although the two articles in this collection devoted to book 6 are … difficult, they will repay the effort of studying them’, both of which statements are true. Feeny and Bacon will not be easy for any of our students, and I imagine that these are not the only articles of more use to the AP teacher than to the high school AP student…the material here has been chosen with care and purpose. The second section, which addresses the issue of Vergil’s place in literary tradition, is less exclusively concerned with the Aeneid. There are several pieces that refer to the Georgics or the Eclogues, and there are several snippets of discussions of Vergil’s influence on Dante, Milton, Shakespeare’s Tempest, Phillis Wheatley and Spike Lee. These selections are followed by a variety of literary works of the twentieth century, collectively called ‘Some Twentieth-Century Heirs: Poetry and Power’… In her conclusion: ‘Why Vergil’, Quinn makes her case explicitly and leads us to a way of reading Vergil that is intimately engaged with the concerns of the late twentieth century. Sheattempts to bring Vergil and his poetry into the sphere of public discourse, to become our guide to the complexities and ambiguities of life as we find it there. Vergil will thus become part of the public dialogue within the world of education and beyond — a part of the formation of our understanding of the world. Quinn’s last paragraph draws the moral: ‘Vergil anticipated the emotive and moral catastrophes of our century through the comparable experience of his own. With the Aeneid, he exercises our comprehension of the moral and emotional incomprehensiblity of those histories. Our century’s brutality is not news on the world’s stage; our understanding of it may be. Maybe. A surety abides. When we have the creative, loving strength for it, when love and need are one, Vergil will be our guide as we work to make the world we want in the world the way it is.’ (p. 430). These are high hopes. We who teach and read Vergil should heed these words. If Vergil is important to us, he should be important in these terms; if he is to be important to our students, he will be important in this way.
Review by: John Godwin, JACT Reviews - September 25, 2005
This volume assembles just some of the many articles on Vergil published over the last half-century, all designed to ‘demonstrate Vergil’s genius or illustrate his enduring influence’ as the back cover informs us. Most of the pieces are from the USA and there is nothing here from mainland Europe, giving the reader a feeling that this is a book celebrating ‘the American way of Vergil’ … There are older pieces here — Adam Parry’s seminal 1963 article on ‘The Two Voices of Vergil’s Aeneid’ is here reprinted and is as vital now as it ever was, along with Benard Knox’s famous 1950 piece on ‘The serpent and the flame’, as well as extracts from the (now discredited but still worth reading) books on Vergil by Otis and Johnson. There are also more modern pieces — though little from 1990 onwards. Each article is prefaced by a short summary of its content by the tireless and helpful editor. Poetry is a living tradition, of course, and this volume shows the influence of Vergil on some of the poetry which has been written in the 20th century: here is reprinted some famous poetry by Walcot, Frost and Auden, along with a brief (translated) extract from Hermann Broch’s Der Tod des Vergil. Besides these literary creations there are also articles on the Nachleben of Vergil in European Literature — Dante, Shakespeare, Milton — and also the reception of Vergil in the USA over the last few centuries. This is where the book very much comes into its own with a fascinating insight into the way Vergil was prescribed for study but also treated with some disapproval, with one teacher in 1769 fulminating against `the ungrateful, lustful perfidious Aeneas’ and resigning his post in disgust. A poem written to Maecenas by a young slave woman (Phillis Wheatley) in the late 18th century answers this moral censure from the white male establishment with a personal response from the underclass. This book assumes little knowledge on the part of the reader. All Latin and Greek are translated, and names (e.g. Maecenas) are explained. There is even a short lesson in understanding Vergil’s Latin by David Garrison for the benefit of those whose Latin is rusty. This is a very safe (and inexpensive) book to put into the hands of students — and one which ought to inspire them to read the poetry — and join the debate — for themselves.”
Review by: Merton College, Oxford J.S.C. Eidinow, Classical Reviewer - February 1, 2002
This collection is a passionate defence of the place of Virgil in education: it is aimed principally at an American audience, but the lessons are there also for non-Americans. The editor provides a preface, an introduction, and a strongly argued (and profusely footnoted) conclusion, all of which air to put the selected material, reprinted from elsewhere, into its apologetical context;there are also prefatory notes to most of the selected pieces. The book has two focuses; the interpretation of Virgil's texts themselves and the ways different critics have approached this task on the one hand, and Virgil's (continuing) importance to Western civilization on the other. These focuses are reflected in a division of the collection into two parts; the first, under the rubric "The Power of Words and the Meaning of Form", consists of five translations of Aeneid l.l-ll, and eighteen interpretative essays ranging over the whole poem; the second, entitled "The Uses of Tradition and the Making of Meaning", is an imaginative compilation, which explores, not only through academic papers, but also through literature, Virgil as the inheritor of a tradition and Virgil as the source and material of a civilized tradition. The first part does not avoid essays already selected by Harrison (Oxford Readings in Virgil's Aeneid [Oxford, 1990]) or Commager (Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays [Englewood Cliffs, 1966]), so Knox's classic essay 'The Serpent and the Flame' has an outing here, as does Parry's 'The Two Voices of Virgil's Aeneid', and Feeney's "History and Revelation in Vergil's Underworld". Other mainstays which also win a place include Duckworth on "The Architecture of the Aeneid", Chapter V of Gurval's Actium and Augustus (arguing that Virgil Created, rather than reacted to, the Augustan understanding of Actium). Benario on Book 10, Hornsby on 'The Virgilian Simile as Means of Judgment', and one of Putnam's several explorations of ecphrasis ('Daedalus, Virgil, and the End of Art', see also his recent collection, Virgil's Epic Designs: Ekphrasis in the Aeneid [New Haven, 1998]. These, and other thoughfully selected papers, will enable the unfamiliar reader to cover some good critical ground in well-ordered way. The second part takes in essays classical (including Otis on Virgil's relation to Homer, Putnam on the influence of Catullus' lyric, the marvellous first chapter from Johnson's Darkness Visible and Gruen's presidential reminder to the A.P.A. of the cultural diversity of the ancient Mediterranean), essays in the cultural tradition stemming from Virgil (Dante, Skakespeare, and Milton are usefully, if briefly, addressed here), Meyer Reinhold on the reception of Virgil in America before 1882, an exploration of Virgilian modes in Spike Lee'sfilm Do the Right Thing, an extract from Brock's The Death of Virgil, and poets: Frost, Brodsky, Day Lewis, Allen Tate, Auden, Rosanna Warren, and Walcott. It is a stimulating mixture. The fact that some of the essays have been cut means that undergraduates will not be allowed to use it, like Harrison's collection, as a shortcut to the open shelves; but read as a whole, its careful yet imaginative choices, thoughtful editing, and passionate argument will offer pleasure and excitement to most readers.
Review by: Marc Mastrangelo, Classical Journal - December 5, 2001
page 89 - 93 of Classical Journal, Winter 2001
Review by: Marianthe Colakis, Clœlia - July 26, 2001
...a valuable resource for university faculty (both classicists and non-classicists), graduate students, undergraduates, and talented secondary students. It deserves a place on every reserve shelf or classroom where Vergil is taught.
Essays on Virgil's work and their importance from several eminent scholars.
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