- Virgil: Aeneid, Book XII ed. by Richard Tarrant
To say that students of Vergil have long awaited a commentary dedicated to Aeneid 12 would be an understatement. W. Warde Fowler’s 1919 volume, The Death of Turnus: Observations on the Twelfth Book of the Aeneid (Oxford), was the last work to fit this description. This is surely in no small measure due to the extremely difficult nature of the task. How would one begin to fit the amount of copious scholarship spanning a century to a volume of manageable size that will be thorough and useful? With this new commentary, Tarrant meets the challenge with great aplomb, having produced a volume that is balanced, nuanced, learned, and thought-provoking. Tarrant follows the familiar commentary format: a substantial introduction, text (with apparatus criticus), commentary, an interesting appendix, bibliography, a general index, and an index of Latin words. [End Page 291]
The author states that the commentary aims “to be accessible to students at the university level and upper classes of schools, but also to contain material of interest to professional classicists” (44). I submit that he succeeds admirably in both goals. For instance, early on in the commentary when he uses literary terms such as “focalization,” he gives a brief description of the meaning of the term (85), while the longer entries are frequently followed by bibliography, which will benefit the student (and the scholar) who wants to research a specific episode or passage further. As a scholar, I was often intrigued by Tarrant’s interpretations and comments and was pleased to be forced to rethink passages I believed I understood well. One such example is the comment on the description of Turnus riding his chariot in line 370, where the plume of his helmet is blown backward while the chariot moves into the wind. Tarrant insightfully interprets the chariot’s movement as “an implied conflict of forces, between the wind that ‘strikes’ (quatit) the plume and the ‘opposing’ (aduerso) chariot,” linking this moment with the storm motif that occupies a prominent place in the poem as a whole.
The lengthy introduction lays the groundwork for much of what is to follow in the commentary proper. Tarrant begins with a discussion of the book as the final in the epic and points out a series of thematic and structural analogies with other parts of the Aeneid and especially Book 1. He rightly brings to the foreground many issues that have been the topic of discussion in the most recent scholarship, such as narrative delay (3), the problem of Italian identity (7), the connection between Aeneas’ killing of Turnus and Romulus’ killing of Remus (8), the representation of the conflict as civil war (7), the problem of anger and revenge (18–21), and the depiction of Turnus’ death as a sacrifice (21–22). As one would expect, Tarrant devotes a considerable portion of his introduction to the final scene and presents a balanced and sober discussion of the controversy surrounding Aeneas’ killing of Turnus, arguing for deliberate ambivalence on the part of Vergil. He identifies two perspectives that help interpret the actions of the characters: one that comes from external forces, larger than and beyond the control of the characters, and an internal one that focuses on their emotional forces. Tarrant concludes that these two perspectives “do not cancel each other out, but co-exist,” a manifestation of Vergil’s tragic view of humanity (28–29).
Tarrant’s comments on metrical issues are excellent. I plan to assign the portion of his introduction dedicated to Vergil’s meter as required reading for my undergraduates. In addition, throughout the commentary, Tarrant frequently demonstrates the ways in which meter, anaphora, enjambment, etc. contribute to the construction of meaning and makes a strong case for their impact on interpretation. This is an important lesson for today’s student, who gets little exposure to meter, or worse, tends to ignore it altogether. Take, for example, the note on lines 56–59, Amata’s plea to Turnus not to enter the fight. Tarrant...