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  • The Other Virgil: "Pessimistic" Readings of the Aeneid in Early Modern Culture
  • W. Scott Blanchard
Craig Kallendorf . The Other Virgil: "Pessimistic" Readings of the Aeneid in Early Modern Culture.Classical Presences. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. xiii + 252 pp. index. append.illus. bibl. $90. ISBN: 978–0–19–921236–1.

In this wide-ranging study Craig Kallendorf has taken an approach quite different from his earlier work on Virgil's fortuna, which focused on humanistic allegorizations of the Aeneid and on its use by humanist authors for purposes of mimesis and exemplarity. Here we are treated to a reading that strives to uncover Virgil's importance for authors who read against the text of his work, as it has become fashionable to say, a Virgil that is no longer a servant to the project of Western geopolitical domination but rather an author who can be read as possessing a subtly camouflaged sympathy for the losers, the Turnuses and Didos of the world, beneath his overt triumphalism. Kallendorf's capacity to unearth a counter-discourse that is critical of the imperialist project of the early modern period is made possible by his attentive, close readings of a variety of texts from Italy, Spain, France, England, and the Americas. Furthermore, his theoretical moorings —a combination of new historicist contextualization and postcolonial excavation —remain grounded in the sensible and timely concern that literary critics must acknowledge the possibility that literature does not merely reflect reality but is often engaged in shaping it: "literature can provide the belief systems through which historical reality is made" (15).

Kallendorf opens the book with a chapter dedicated to describing an "alternative paradigm" (14) for reading Virgil that he imagines appealed to mature authors "later in life" when they had shed the assumptions inculcated in them in [End Page 999] the schoolrooms of their youth. His claim that "what used to be called source study" (84) will allow him to solve interpretive cruxes in the authors he treats, revealing "a new kind of allusion" reflective of postcolonial conditions is a bold one, and it is largely successful. The readings that he undertakes begin with Filelfo's unfinished epic composed for Francesco Sforza, the Sphortias, a work that he suggests is ultimately a failure because Filelfo could not negotiate successfully the task of both flattering his patron and criticizing him obliquely enough to sustain his career as a court poet (Filelfo, I might add, prided himself on being blunt in many of his works). He thus did not negotiate auctoritas as well as Virgil had, a term that Kallendorf parses in Foucauldian terms as a reciprocally constructed concept quite different from potestas.

Kallendorf's study roams widely following its first section, discussing Don Alonso de Ercilla's La Araucana (encounters with native Americans), Shakespeare's The Tempest, two lyrics of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and culminating in three studies framed by the topic of revolution: Milton's Paradise Lost, Joel Barlow's Columbiad, and Victor le Plat's Virgile en France, a parody of Virgil. The inclusion of several major authors is not in itself problematic, but Kallendorf gives sketchy treatments of The Tempest, a foundational text for postcolonial theorists, and Milton —where a "nostalgia for republicanism" (169) compromises the poet's ability to endorse unilaterally the monarchical regime that overcomes Satan —leaving the reader anxious for a more comprehensive application of his postcolonial methodology.

Kallendorf's erudition, and especially his willingness to attend carefully to the views of past critics even as he embarks on new paths, is admirable, and I especially recommend his two important appendices that will be useful to scholars working on Francesco Filelfo. My one complaint is that sometimes the evidence that is adduced to support the book's postcolonial readings is a bit thin: the discussion of de la Cruz's poems amounts to a few paragraphs, while the analysis of Filelfo's long, unfinished epic quotes rather selectively from an author whose obsequiousness is legendary, even though it may have failed him as a patronage strategy in the final analysis. But these are minor flaws in an impressively conceived study. Kallendorf has established some new lines of...


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pp. 999-1000
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Archived 2009
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