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Reviewed by:
  • Short Epics, and: Silvae
  • William J. Kennedy
Maffeo Vegio . Short Epics. Eds. Michael C. J. Putnam and James Hankins. Trans. Michael C. J. Putnam. The I Tatti Renaissance Library 15. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2004. lviii + 184 pp. index. append. bibl. $29.95. ISBN: 0–674–01483–9.
Angelo Poliziano . Silvae. Ed. and trans. Charles Fantazzi. The I Tatti Renaissance Library 14. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2004. xx + 215 pp. index. bibl. $29.95. ISBN: 0–674– 01480–4.

With these new bilingual editions of Latin poetry by Maffeo Vegio (1406–58) and Angelo Poliziano (1454–94), the I Tatti Renaissance Library moves forward with another superb set of resources for Renaissance studies. Michael Putnam brings his career-long study of Virgil's poetry to bear upon his edition, translation, introduction, and annotation of Vegio's Virgilian-inspired short epics, while Charles Fantazzi brings his expertise in editing and translating Erasmus, Vives, and Sannazaro to do the same for Poliziano's hexameter praelectiones on classical literature. Their talent graces both volumes, ably assisted by that of the series general editor, James Hankins, who contributed to the textual collation of Vegio's Astyanax and Antoniad.

Putnam's introduction to Vegio is particularly helpful as it emphasizes the latter's unprecedented debts to Virgil. Unlike such vernacular rewritings of the Aeneid as the twelfth-century Roman d'Eneas, or such moralizing commentaries on it as those by Fulgentius and Bernardus Silvestris, Vegio's 1428 Supplement to the Aeneid (or Book XIII of the Aeneid) penetrates deeply into Virgil's linguistic world, and it refuses to Christianize the hero with anagogical interpretations. Putnam shows how Vegio's diction refers to specific passages of the Aeneid even as it modifies Virgil's emphases. The Aeneid ends with a disturbing representation of the hero's terrifying wrath as he kills Turnus. Vegio softens these contours, grants Aeneas a reasoned consideration of why his opponent deserves to die, and restores the magnanimity that savage fury had robbed him of. And he does this by reclaiming nuances of Virgilian diction that earlier imitators and commentators had ignored.

Putnam also shows how Vegio's need to complete this work in Virgilian terms drives his other efforts in hexameter short epic. The 318-line Astyanax (1430), for example, indebted to Seneca's Troades, echoes the Aeneid in ways that prompt us to question the uses and abuses of power represented in that poem. The four-book Golden Fleece (1431), indebted to Seneca's Medea as well as to Ovid's Heroides 12, Metamorphoses 7, and Tristia 3, also draws upon Virgil's portrayal of Aeneas as he hunts down Turnus. Even in the Antoniad (1436–37), the first Christian epic in Renaissance Latin, Virgil's influence imbues Vegio's four-book account of St. [End Page 585] Anthony's meeting with St. Paul the Hermit. Recalling Aeneas's visit with Anchises, it evokes the Aeneid in terms of a conversion narrative, just as St. Augustine had thought of it and as Petrarch in his "Ascent of Mount Ventoux" had thought of St. Augustine's Confessions along with Athanasius's Life of St. Anthony as translated by Evagrius and amplified by St. Jerome's Life of St. Paul. In admirable detail, Putnam's introduction assesses these and other complex filiations.

Putnam's translation splendidly captures Vegio's nuances. Here, for example, are lines from the Supplement that initiate the festive banquet when Aeneas returns to Laurentum and prepares to marry Lavinia. They express both sorrow and joy, the effort to simulate festivity in the midst of woe: "Postquam epulis compressa fames, traducere longam / incipiunt fando et labentem fallere noctem, / nunc duros Troiae casus gentesque Pelasgas, / nunc fera Laurentis memorantes proelia pugnae" ("After their hunger was satisfied by the repast, they begin by conversation to pretend away the long passage of the night — now recalling to mind Troy's bitter demise and the Grecian tribes, now the savage conflicts of the Laurentine war" [509–12]). And here are lines from book 2 of the Antoniad where Satan rallies his followers to corrupt Saints Anthony and Paul, in a demonic scene later imitated by...


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