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It must be that, as an undergraduate at Harvard College in the early 1960s, I was present at the founding of the Harvard School. At the time, though, I was quite unaware of any such thing coming into being. Indeed, the label itself I first encountered only many years later. If the putative founders of the Harvard School had in common anything beyond, in most cases, their connection with Harvard University, the bond that [End Page 120] united them may have been above all a shared sympathy with the New Criticism. If the Harvard School broke new ground, privileging the text as the New Criticism enjoined, that is likely to have been the critical point of view that led to a more positive assessment of Virgil as a poet, and to a different evaluation of the Aeneid in particular.

Fifty years on, it is easy to forget how wrongheaded opinions of Virgil's poetry could be in the 1950s and early 1960s. Ronald Syme's big book (1939), widely read and influential, made of Virgil a cheerleader for Augustus. Writing in 1970, Allen Mandelbaum lamented that some years had to pass before he could break free from the "tenacious resonance" of Mark Van Doren's "tag line," as Mandelbaum called it, that "Homer is a world; Virgil, a style" (1981: v). In 1952, concerning the final episode in the Aeneid, a colleague of Van Doren's at Columbia could write, "all bitterness and all passion was [sic] now laid at rest, and all could now join hands as comrades and together walk to meet the shining future" (Hadas 1952: 159). If such declarations are no longer taken seriously, the Harvard School deserves much of the credit. As Willem de Kooning said of Jackson Pollock, the Harvard School "broke the ice," though Pöschl's book, appearing in America in 1962, surely played its part as well.

Arriving in Cambridge in 1961, I had already read the first half of the Aeneid under a notorious martinet at Phillips Exeter Academy. Years later, astonished, Wendell Clausen would exclaim, "You studied with him?" Terror though that teacher was, he taught us a lot. My senior paper on intratextual repetitions in the Aeneid now seems, fifty-five years on, simply too sophisticated to be the work of a senior in high school. That is entirely to the credit of Exeter, where many of today's luminaries, classical and entrepreneurial, also read Virgil for the first time.

Nevertheless, well trained though I was, nothing could have adequately prepared me for reading Horace with Steele Commager and, later, the Aeneid with Wendell Clausen. Clausen's lectures on the Aeneid were nothing less than revelatory, even for someone so naïvely self-confident as I was then. Their philological rigor combined with consummate aesthetic tact has remained a potent influence ever since. I have been asked, though, to write about Virgil, not about Clausen, whose extraordinary qualities as scholar and pedagogue others have documented with insight and eloquence. At the same time, it can be said that Professor Clausen would have had little patience with an analysis of the Aeneid as narrowly pro- or anti-Augustan, or with the equation that this entails between Aeneas and Augustus. "It is this perception of Roman history," he wrote, "as a long Pyrrhic victory of the human spirit that makes Virgil [End Page 121] his country's truest historian" (1964:146). This well-known formulation has little to do with the Rome of Augustus in particular. In the same paper, Clausen writes that "Aeneas is always aware of the fate that draws him irresistibly on towards Italy, but rarely happy about it" (141), and he details what he calls "the sorrows of Aeneas" that pervade the poem (143). In such assessments of the hero of the Aeneid, it is hard to find anything that could be deemed pro- or anti-Augustan.

Hoping to provoke a reaction (though rarely with success), I used to tell my students that what a poet says interests me less than how he says it. In retrospect, this could be only a more tendentious version of Clausen's insisting to us that the Aeneid be read as if it were lyric verse. It is not especially remarkable if a poet portrays Dido and Aeneas, as Virgil does, as if they were twins (Weber 2002: 338–40). Virgil's genius rather consists in the subtlety and complexity of the manifold ways in which this idea is expressed. Thus, his poetry will have the greatest appeal for readers who prefer nuance to extrovert skill and virtuosity.

If my own views concerning the Aeneid should happen to agree with those attributed to the Harvard School, I would prefer to think that the text itself has been my guide, and not that I was somehow indoctrinated during my years as an impressionable undergraduate. Despite the pessimism that is often associated with the Harvard School's view of the Aeneid, Michael Putnam long ago decried what he termed "the artificial polarity . . . in recent Virgilian scholarship between positive and negative, optimistic and pessimistic readings of the poem" (1995: 5). In this connection, the concluding episode inevitably arises.

It is commonly recognized that the end of the Aeneid recalls the beginning thematically, in that the poem begins and ends with vengeful and deadly rage being provoked by the memory of past injury. Reflecting this thematic correspondence are similarities of diction that lead to "rehear[ing] Juno in Aeneas," as Putnam has written (1995a: 438). In addition to the verbal echoes of the beginning that have been shown, or are alleged, to exist, in the final few lines, one small metrical detail may be worth noting.

In 12.945, doloris of Aeneas, eight lines from the end, has a counterpart in dolens of Juno (1.9), nine lines from the beginning. Similarly, exuviasque hausit furiis accensus et ira ("he drank in the spoils, enflamed by furies and wrath," 12.946) recalls vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram ("by the power of the gods, on account of the mindful wrath of savage Juno," 1.4), the key term ira capping both lines. In this echo, there is also a metrical component. In both lines, the distribution of dactylic [End Page 122] and spondaic feet is identical, and all the words from the trithemimeral line position to the end have the same metrical shape (hausit furiis accensus et ira = saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram). Only one other line in book 1 (1.297) bears so close a resemblance metrically to 12.946. Both diction and meter, therefore, conspire to link the seventh line from the end with the fourth line from the beginning, and thus Aeneas with Juno.

I find it hard to resist the conclusion that, in the final episode, clear recalls of the beginning of the poem transfer to Aeneas Juno's persona as the avatar of deadly anger. Together with a final line that has previously related the killing of an Italian maiden, the intimation that Aeneas' rage has replaced Juno's necessarily leaves the impression that the poet's point of view is at least ambivalent, and quite possibly even pessimistic. To quote Clausen, "there is only the grim reality, which the poet . . . will not mitigate, will not explain away" (1987: 100). If this also happens to be what I think, I have not learned it from the Harvard School. Rather, the text itself leads me there, as it did those pioneers at Harvard.

Apparently forgetting for a moment the works of J. S. Bach, Franz Schubert is said to have asked, "Kennen Sie eine fröhliche Musik?" as if to imply that no such thing as joyful music exists. To the extent that Schubert's perception of music comes close to the truth, lovers of music, and of Schubert's music in particular, will instinctively be drawn to the melancholy that readers past and present have found pervading the Aeneid. Yes, we specialists are privileged to enjoy the special delight of entrée into the endless complexities of Virgil's epic. Even we privileged few, however, are likely to treasure most Adam Parry's second voice, subdued yet omnipresent, and clearly audible beneath the panegyric that was all that some could hear before the Harvard School began to write.

Clifford Weber
Kenyon College, Emeritus

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9234
Print ISSN
0009-8418
Pages
120-123
Launched on MUSE
2017-11-06
Open Access
No
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