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  • Introduction
  • Yelena Baraz and Christopher S. van den Berg

This introduction cannot do justice to the long and complex history of intertextuality as practiced by classicists, but it is appropriate to outline some of the more influential developments since Conte1 first reconceived Giorgio Pasquali’s arte allusiva in terms of Julia Kristeva’s intertextuality2 and helped establish a dominant model for the study of Latin poetry. During the last century, literary scholars of virtually every critical persuasion explored the theoretical underpinnings of allusion and intertextuality.3 Bakhtin, Barthes, and Kristeva first formulated the vocabulary and conceptual frameworks which have since been taken up, advanced, and revised by scholars across disciplines.4 The study of intertextuality continues apace in a range of academic fields, with both specialist studies and capable surveys aimed at broader audiences.5 [End Page 1]

Classicists, always on the lookout for verbal correspondences, have engaged with the question of how to define and understand allusive phenomena in a more rigorous way, although this engagement is in many ways a continuation of ancient reading practices.6 In the last three decades, work on the subject has intensified, with two major strands shaping the debate. One can be dubbed, following Hinds’ now classic intervention,7 “allusion versus intertext,” pitting the detection and interpretation of clearly defined literary reminiscences against more diffuse, more Kristevan understandings of interactions on the level of language as a semiotic system.8 The other strand has contested where the interaction, however one may choose to describe it, is to be imagined as taking place. Thus Conte, influenced by structuralism and semiotics, has foregrounded text in order to avoid psychologizing the author9 and distinguished between local and systematic allusion. Thomas,10 in search for greater precision in identifying and interpreting allusive relationships, has proposed replacing “allusion” with “reference,” setting it apart from “accidental” verbal correspondences.11 Hinds has suggested a move away from “philological fundamentalism” towards semiology as exemplified mainly by Conte.12 He identifies allusion and intertext as two opposed concepts which are essential to the philological and the semiological approaches, respectively. He leaves some room for authorial intention in reaction to what he sees as the extremes of reader-based approaches.13 A proponent of one such approach, Pucci,14 has sought to shift the emphasis away from the author and the text15 in proposing that allusion, while present “in potentia” in the text, is only activated in the mental space of a “full-knowing reader,” thus temporarily empowered at the expense of the otherwise controlling [End Page 2] author.16 Edmunds,17 following primarily a Jaussian theory of reading, sees allusion as created through interaction between reader and text, leaving the author out of the equation entirely.18

While no consensus has emerged on these issues, nor does one seem likely to, common ground is discernible concerning the ultimate significance that textual reuse has to offer, and, consequently, the kinds of meaning that modern scholars are likely to see in ancient texts. The results of the critical dialogue about intertextuality have included a new-found appreciation of the pervasive and productive character of imitation, acknowledgement that reference both appropriates and undermines a tradition, and acceptance that alluding authors interpret forerunners and offer metacritical assertions about their own texts. These effects have led to a recognizable framework for the interpretation of textual repetition and reuse, and the most fruitful aspects of intertextuality have now found their way into the critical repertoire of many classicists. Still, for others, numerous alternatives demand consideration. More than ten years ago, Fowler remarked on the tendency “for intertextual criticism to concentrate on poetic literary texts to the neglect first of prose, subliterary and non-literary texts, and second of other types of cultural production.”19 His insight still holds, as critical attention tends to be limited in both genre and era. For example, analysis of Roman texts has focused on poetry—especially epic—of the early empire. Recent exceptions provide an impetus to move beyond the poetic canon on which the theoretical frameworks currently in use are based.20

The present volume originated in the panel “Intertextuality and Its Discontents,” which was held at...