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Fama and Fiction in Vergil’s Aeneid

Antonia Syson

Publication Year: 2013

What does it mean to “know” what a work of fiction tells us? In Vergil’s Aeneid, the promise and uncertainty of fama convey this challenge. Expansive and flexible, the Latin word fama can mean “fame,” long-lasting “tradition,” and useful “news,” but also ephemeral “rumor” and disruptive “scandal.” Fama is personified as a horrifying winged goddess who reports the truth while keeping an equally tight grip on what’s distorted or made up. Fama reflects the ways talk—or epic song—may merge past and present, human and divine, things remembered and things imagined. Most importantly, fama marks the epic’s power to bring its story world into our own. The cognitive dynamics of metaphor share in this power, blending the Aeneid’s poetic authority with the imagined force of the gods. Characters and readers are encouraged—even impelled—to seek divine order amidst unsettling words and visions by linking new experiences with existing knowledge. Transformative moments of recognition set the perceptual stage both for the gods’ commands and for the epic’s persuasive efficacy, for pietas (remembrance of ritual and social obligations) and furor (madness). Antonia Syson’s sensitive close readings offer fresh insights into questions of fictive knowledge and collective memory in the Aeneid. These perspectives invite readers to reconsider some of the epistemological premises underlying inquiry into ancient cultures. Drawing comparisons with the nineteenth-century English novel, Syson highlights continuities between two narrative genres whose cultural contributions and rhetorical claims have often seemed sharply opposed.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This project has made me learn just how grateful it is possible to be for the unfathomable depths of generosity I have found in friends, family, and colleagues.
First and last, Nelly Oliensis: I don’t know what would have become of the project without her sharp questions, her untangling...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-43

Both Aeneas and his enemy Turnus are told “Look!” at pivotal moments in the Aeneid. A goddess issues each imperative; each drastically alters its recipient’s mental state and sets the Aeneid’s story on a new trajectory. “Look,” his mother Venus instructs Aeneas...

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2. Monstrous Fama

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pp. 44-62

Approving and disapproving talk classifies characters and their actions in a moral and political framework. Fama puts people in their place, but it thrives on anomaly and other forms of disorder. This is partly for the simple reason that people who earn either praise or censure need first to step out of order in some...

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3. Matter out of Place I: Across the Styx

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pp. 63-90

For much of the Aeneid we hear no more about the Trojans’ efforts to clean things up in the interests of ritual purity than about their dishwashing or laundry. But at a few key junctures the poem shows how material dirt, if it is not cleaned away, may disrupt the relations between humans and gods. A tidy cosmos...

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4. This and That

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pp. 91-116

This chapter builds on the analysis of the mutually reliant poetics of fama and pietas in chapter 3’s exploration of “matter out of place.” Characters within the Aeneid’s story world, in their attempts to hew their lives into the shape of a dimly perceived ...

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5. Matter out of Place II: Nisus and Euryalus

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pp. 117-134

The Aeneid makes pietas central to the work of shaping fama materially as well as verbally, as we saw in chapter 3. Pietas valorizes forms of remembrance intense enough to cross boundaries of time, space, knowledge, and mortality. It helps fama cross...

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6. The Order of Metamorphosis

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pp. 135-164

In the story of Nisus and Euryalus, readers can determine no more confidently than Nisus whether to envisage his ardor as given by the gods, or if his own strange yearning is made a god by his imagination (dine hunc ardorem mentibus addunt / Euryale, an sua cuique deus fit dira cupido? 9.184–85). The gods’...

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7. Slithery Changes

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pp. 165-190

In Aeneid 2 Venus suggests that human beings usually perceive their submission to divine will through a cloud, which obscures the forces shaping material existence and acting on mortal minds, as we saw in the previous chapter. This chapter explores some of the ways that hellish forces join with Olympian gods to shape ...

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8. How to Do Things with Birds

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pp. 191-213

I discussed in chapter 1.1 how generalizations and similes call the reader to look for links between the story world and perceptions originating outside the narrative. These seams of fiction allow us to feel the joins between two different fabrics in the text. In this closing chapter I explore an episode in the Aeneid centering on ...

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Afterword: Swan Song

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pp. 214-218

As we saw in chapter 8, Juturna (speaking in disguise as Camers) presents her brother’s prospective poetic immortality as something that makes him worth fighting for, and worth emulating. She follows this up by selecting a swan to represent Turnus in her omen. Setting up Turnus to be seen as a beautiful swan who...

Works Cited

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pp. 219-229

Index Locorum

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pp. 230-231

General Index

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pp. 232-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780814271186
E-ISBN-10: 0814271189
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212349
Print-ISBN-10: 0814212344

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013