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  • Textual Permanence: Roman Elegists and the Epigraphical Tradition
  • Martin T. Dinter
Teresa R. Ramsby . Textual Permanence: Roman Elegists and the Epigraphical Tradition. London: Duckworth2007. Pp. ix, 197. $81.50. ISBN 978-0-7156-3632-9.

Mother told us not to peek into the back of books first. If we do, we usually find out who murdered whom or marries whom all too quickly. In the case of academic books, we usually encounter indices which often tell us much about the volume we are about to digest. In Ramsby's book, a half-page [End Page 262] index rerum with just eighteen entries gives the idea that this book is dealing with a well confined topic. A one-page index operum maiorum indicates that although we will be looking at Catullus, Ennius, Horace, and Virgil, most attention is going to be paid to Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid. Worrying, though, is the index inscriptionum encompassing twenty-four entries, almost all of which are mentioned on 21–25 only. The realia of the epigraphical tradition seem to have been banned to an introductory section never to show up again in the main discussion.

In the book's opening section, Ramsby explains why she considers embedded inscriptions in literature to be mimetic rather than ecphrastic, asserting that invented inscriptions "constitute a perfect marriage between the 'world-reflecting' and the 'world-creating' aspects of poetry" (8). After a brief overview of the existing scholarly literature on literary inscriptions, Ramsby provides a neat section that covers all the basics: the surge of the elegiac meter, slowly but surely replacing the Saturnian verse, and the encroachment of poetic aspects into the dry career-driven funerary inscriptions of the Roman Republic in the second century B.C. These developments are exemplified with a corpus of Scipio epitaphs (15–29). In addition, Ramsby outlines inscriptional types at Rome (epitaphs, votives, tituli, and graffiti) which have their counterparts in the types of epigraphic passages seen in Augustan poetry (29-38). With this groundwork behind us, Ramsby then embarks on literary analysis. Putting forward the idea that the elegists wrested the elegiac genre from the epig-raphers who had made elegy the preferred medium of memorial, adding the spice of Hellenistic poetics, she discusses Catullus' lament for his deceased brother (Cat. 65). This personal experience adds to the thematic development of Latin elegy, since Catullus intended his verses as a monument for his brother. This is an important precursor for Propertius' musings about his own legacy and his struggle as a poet to provide a career worth remembering as an alternative to the existing categories of Roman manhood in politics and in the military. In addition, Ramsby frequently links the elegists' drive for (self-)memorialization to the political situation in Augustan Rome, which usurped public honors for the princeps. Propertius thus "utilizes the elegy to memoralize those whose voices were lost [ . . . ] in the age of Empire" (71). A brief chapter on Tibullus' inscriptional formulations in Tib. 1.3 and 1.9 follows (73–87).

The most stimulating part of the book, however, are the three final chapters on Ovid. Here Ramsby successfully adopts a thematic approach and thus showcases the workings of literary inscriptions by examining those in which Ovid parades his own name in the Amores, Ars Amatoria, and Tristia (89–112). Here Ramsby clearly finds her own path and her close readings provide numerous new insights. The highlight of this volume is the chapter on the most epigraphically minded of Ovid's texts, the Heroides (113–129), which brims with four epitaphs (Phyllis [2], Dido [7], Hypermestra [14], and Sappho [15]), one dedicatory inscription (Acontius' inscribed image of an apple, 20), Paris' tree graffito for Oenone (5), and his writing in wine to seduce Helen (17). Ramsby succeeds in connecting these instances and distils the relevance of embedded inscriptions for the whole of the Heroides. A final chapter (131–142) discusses examples from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Phaethon, Met. 2; Iphis, Met. 9; and Caieta, Met. 14). Each chapter is followed by a brief conclusion, and Ramsby also provides an overarching conclusion at the end of the volume. The reader thus follows a well signposted path. Ramsby well...


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