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  • The Thinking Eye: Some Remarks on Visuality and Metapoetics in Claudian’s Carmina Minora 17

This short paper will seek to read a minor poem by one of the major late Latin poets by handling it, as it were, in vitro.1 Instead of systematically considering Claudian’s Carmina Minora 17 in relation to the rest of Claudian’s carmina and similar late antique specimens, we will mostly move over its surface and try to interrogate its structure while looking at its verses as miniature reflections of aesthetic phenomena which characterize Claudian’s writing as a whole.2 [End Page 275]

Examining Claudian’s aesthetics on the basis of Carmina Minora 17 might seem a rather obvious approach: where else if not concerning an ecphrastic poem would one discuss the formal strategies of a poet traditionally interpreted as a clear example of the late antique fondness for synesthesia, visual narration, and digressive structures?3 Indeed, Carmina Minora 17 may be read first and foremost as a sort of expanded ecphrastic epigram in twenty-four couplets describing a sculptural group seen in Catina (i.e., Catania).4 The sculpture portrays two local heroes: brothers who saved their parents during an eruption of the Aetna volcano. Maria Lisa Ricci has meticulously outlined the literary Fortleben of these two fearless sons, whose brave enterprise had already offered some anecdotical material to, to name just a few, Strabo (6.2.3), Valerius Maximus (5.4.4), Martial (7.24.5), Silius Italicus (14.196ff.), Ausonius (Ord. urb. nob. 16–17), and, especially, the anonymous author of the Aetna (603ff., most probably Claudian’s main source of inspiration).5

Thus the subject of this carmen seems to be profoundly conventional, and the same might be argued of its structure. The poem starts with an exordial apostrophe to the reader-viewer (aspice), immediately followed by the presentation and description of the statue (1–26):

Aspice sudantes uenerando pondere fratres,  diuino meritos semper honore coli,iusta quibus rapidae cessit reuerentia flammae  et mirata uagas reppulit Aetna faces.conplexi manibus fultos ceruice parentes     5  attollunt uultus adcelerantque gradus. [End Page 276] grandaeui gemina sublimes prole feruntur  et cara natos inplicuere mora.nonne uides ut saeua senex incendia monstret,  ut trepido genetrix inuocet ore deos?     10erexit formido comam, perque omne metallum  fusus in attonito palluit aere tremor.in iuuenum membris animosus cernitur horror  aeque oneri metuens inpauidusque sui.reiectae uento chlamydes. dextram exerit ille   15  contentus laeua sustinuisse patrem;ast illi duplices in nodum colligit ulnas  cautior in sexu debiliore labor.hoc quoque praeteriens oculis ne forte relinquas  artificis tacitae quod meruere manus:     20nam consanguineos eadem cum forma figuret,  hic propior matri fit tamen, ille patri.dissimiles annos sollertia temperat artis:  alter in alterius redditur ore parens,et noua germanis paribus discrimina praebens     25  diuisit uultus cum pietate faber.

See these two brothers toiling beneath a burden piety bade them bear. They deserve to be worshipped with divine honors: at the sight of them, the respectful flames ceased their ravages and Aetna in admiration restrained her flooding lava. Embracing their parents, they lift them up on their shoulders and, with eyes raised to heaven, hasten their steps. The aged parents, thus carried aloft by their two sons, impede their flight, but dear to the children is that very delay. See, the old man points to the cruel flames; the aged mother’s trembling lips call upon the gods for help. Fear has set their hair on end, the bronze is terror-stricken, and a pale shiver runs over all the metal. In the limbs of the sons is seen bold terror, and, if fear, then fear for their burdens, none for themselves. The wind has blown back their cloaks. One raises his right hand; his left is enough to sustain his sire. But the other embraced his burden with both arms; working more carefully for it is one of the weaker sex that he bears. This, too, as thou passest by, leave not unnoted, for well the craftsman’s [End Page 277] dumb hands deserve such regard; both he has moulded with a likeness such as brothers bear, yet the one resembles rather his mother, the other his father.

The artist’s (faber) cunning has succeeded in expressing a difference of age in their faces, though a likeness to either parent is apparent in the features of both the sons; while, to ensure a further dissimilarity in that resemblance, he has varied the tenderness that either countenance expresses.

The ecphrastic moment proper then abruptly turns into a eulogy of the pair’s virtue with a series of mythological exempla (vv. 27–48: v. 37: Castor and Pollux; v. 38: Aeneas; vv. 39–40: Cleobis and Biton):

o bene naturae memores, documenta supernae  iustitiae, iuuenum lumina, uota senum,qui spretis opibus medios properastis in ignes  nil praeter sanctam tollere canitiem.   30haud equidem inmerito tanta uirtute repressas  Enceladi fauces obriguisse reor.ipse redundantem frenauit Mulciber Aetnam,  laederet exempli ne monumenta pii.senserunt elementa fidem: patri adfuit aether   35  terraque maternum sedula iuuit onus.quod si notus amor prouexit in astra Laconas,  Aenean Phrygio raptus ab igne pater,si uetus Argolicos inlustrat gloria fratres,  qui sua materno colla dedere iugo,   40cur non Amphinomo, cur non tibi, fortis Anapi,  aeternum Siculus templa dicauit honos?plura licet summae dederit Trinacria laudi,  nouerit hoc maius se genuisse nihil,nec doleat damnis quae deuius intulit ardor,   45  nec gemat exustas igne furente domos:non potuit pietas flamma cessante probari;  emptum est ingenti clade perenne decus.

Faithful were ye to Nature’s law, bright example of divine justice, model for youth, fond hope of age! Wealth ye despised, and dashed into the flames to rescue nought save [End Page 278] your venerable parents. Not undeservedly, methinks, did such piety quench the fires in Enceladus’s jaws.6 Vulcan himself checked the flow of molten lava from Aetna that it should not harm those patterns of filial duty. The very elements were influenced thereby: father air and mother earth did their best to lighten the burden.

If signal piety raised Castor and Pollux to the skies, if Aeneas won immortality by rescuing his sire from burning Troy, if ancient story has rendered famous the names of those Argive brothers, Cleobis and Biton, who harnessed themselves to their mother’s car, why does not Sicily dedicate a temple to the ageless memory of Amphinomos and Anapius? Though the three-cornered isle has many titles to fame, let her be sure that she has never given birth to a nobler deed. Let her not weep the destruction wrought by the spreading flames nor lament the houses burned down by the fire’s fury. The flames abating had never put affection to the proof; the great disaster purchased immortal fame.

(trans. Platnauer, modified)

The poem is said to consist of two sections, one usually referred to as descriptive and the other narrative (Ricci 1986). However, I will show how such a polarized reading is blurred by Claudian’s poetical practice, which may be described as a continuous “questioning” of that textual configuration.

If asked “What’s Carmina Minora 17 about?,” one might go beyond the obvious: “A statue you can admire in Catania” and answer, admittedly quite enigmatically: “It is about duplicity, ‘con-fusion,’ and representation.”7 That Claudian’s Carmina Minora provide unexpected multi-layered readings was shown by Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer in her interpretation of [End Page 279] the collection as sets of structured series (2009.15–19).8 She demonstrates how seemingly heterogeneous texts like Carmina Minora 1–7 (i.e., praise of Stilicho, four descriptive poems, the nefarious effects of fury, and the ecphrasis of a marble quadriga) could actually be read together as a proemial micro-section, thickly interwoven with meta-poetical reflections.9 The same, she shows, is true of the much studied sequence Carmina Minora 33–39: De crystallo cui aqua inerat (“On a Crystal Enclosing a Drop of Water”), in which the endless play on themes such as closedness vs. openness, transparency, and reflexivity contributes to the emergence of meta-literary interpretations.

The meta-literary is also to be found in Carmina Minora 17. We will start with a very literal reading, so stubbornly “superficial” that it might ironically seem far-fetched in its understanding of the conceptual play suggested by the textual surface. The whole (so-called) descriptive section (1–26) is permeated by an insistence on binary patterns both at the level of the signifier and of the signified. In presenting the four characters—the two brothers and the old parents on their shoulders—Claudian exploits every opportunity to linger on various oppositions: up and down (“attollunt vultus adcelerantque gradus,” 6: the verse starts with a reference to a lifting movement, attollunt, and ends stomping on the ground, gradus); old and young (7–8: grandaeui . . . natos); movement and stasis (7–8: feruntur . . . mora); right and left (15–16: dextram . . . laeua); and fear and courage (14: “aeque oneri metuens impauidusque sui”). At the same time, however, this tendency towards polarization is counterbalanced by a centripetal force which leads the opposite poles to merge. Parents and sons are conplexi (5), and the former inplicuere the latter (8); moreover, the young [End Page 280] man bearing the mother “duplices in nodum colligit ulnas” “embraced his burden with both arms” (17).

There are other verses particularly representative of this tension between divergence and convergence. At line 7, “grandaeui gemina sublimes prole feruntur,” the ordo verborum, through a dexterous alternation of words referring to parents and sons respectively, seems to echo iconically the meaning of the participle conplexi (v. 5): parents and sons are tightly interlaced in the verse, and their position, in turn, is echoed by inplicuere in the following pentameter: an interesting example of polarized imbrication.

Even more striking are lines 11–12, a controversial couplet: “perque omne metallum / fusus in attonito palluit aere tremor.” Early editors replaced in aere with in ore, apparently assuming in attonito aere to be an “awkward” rather than a “skillful” joining of words (callida iunctura; Ricci 1986.225–26 and 2001 ad loc., p. 72). Ricci rightly argues that we have no plausible reason to preserve the emendation, but then she goes further, maintaining that fusus should be deprived of any technical meaning concerning metalworking (fundere can mean “to cast metal”)—since there is no other evidence of such usage in Claudian’s corpus—and instead paraphrases the passage as follows: “Fear runs over all the metal and scars the whole statue, so that the bronze itself seems to blanch.” I would just observe that by admitting some semantic overlap with the technical meaning of fundere, we may account more convincingly for the “awkwardness” of verse 12. If, from a syntactical point of view, there is a patent chiasmus here, on the semantic level, one can detect a pattern not far from the alternating structure of verse 7. In fact, according to a more natural semantic pairing, fusus would then go with aes, and attonitus with tremor. The syntactical chiasmus is thus crisscrossed by a reiterated semantic displacement, a double enallage. The pivot point of this tension-engendering mechanism is the verb palluit, which, as many commentators underline, agrees with tremor but might refer to the colour of bronze as well (Ricci 1986.225–26).

Verses 5–18 present to the reader (viewer) not so much a factual or sensory description of the statue as a conceptual game that uses complementary dichotomies: similarity/dissimilarity, singularity/duplicity, and linearity/intricacy. Visual elements are made to break apart in the contradictory environment of verbalization: the image is used as a springboard to dive into the paradox of verbal-based conundrums.10 [End Page 281]

This process is still more evident in verses 19–26, in which what was previously disseminated through keywords and hinted at rhetorically is now thematised. After marking the transition by means of a new apostrophe to the reader (viewer) (19: “hoc quoque praeteriens oculis ne forte relinquas”), Claudian invites us to marvel at the craftsman’s ability (sollertia) to represent sameness in difference, and vice versa: indeed, the two boys have the same forma, but they are nonetheless dissimiles with respect to their resemblance to their parents (24: “alter in alterius redditur ore parens”), their age (23: dissimiles annos), and their attitude (25–26: “et noua germanis paribus discrimina praebens / diuisit uultus cum pietate faber”).11

Extending our survey to other Carmina Minora, we notice that the motif of the paradoxical coexistence of similarity and diversity constitutes the core theme of Carmina Minora 7, an ecphrastic epigram on a marble chariot whose introductory line eloquently reads: “Quis dedit innumeros uno de marmore vultus?” (“Who had the skill to fashion so many figures out of one block of marble?” 1), but then the unifying effect of the forma is contrasted with the proliferating nature of the materies (vv. 3–4). The poem is so rich in doublings and parallelisms that early editors divided it into two distinct tetrastichs: the dialectics of identity and difference changed the textual history of the carmen.12

It is not my intention to embark here on a discussion of whether Carmina Minora 7 should be used to corroborate a neo-Platonic reading of Claudian (cf. Guipponi-Gineste 2010.325–27 and Moreschini 2004.69–73);13 [End Page 282] many parallelisms could be found in certain Greek ecphrastic epigrams (Prioux 2007). I point rather to a conceptual movement common to both poems 7 and 17: while working on descriptions, Claudian does not attempt to render in words the material object, and he interrupts any “physical” observations in order to develop a series of theoretical remarks on likeness, difference, singularity, plurality, object, subject—in a word, on representability. If it is true, as is usually pointed out, that Claudian’s poetical writing is very often descriptive, this tendency should be seen as a consequence of its deeply self-reflexive, meta-poetic nature. Claudian’s “figurative” poetry is intrinsically poetry about representation, which is another way to say, poetry about the making and reading of poetry.14

Some more evidence can be collected from throughout the sylloge. Carmina Minora 9: De hystrice (“The Porcupine,” in which the “formidable” animal is described through a witty comparison with war machines) is from the very beginning a playful reflection on appearance and illusion. The apparently humble Carmina Minora 10: De birro castoreo, “Of Beaver’s Overcoat,” is, in fact, a veritable “nominalistic” riddle starting out with the mysterious statement: “Nominis umbra manet veteris” (1: “Tis but the shadow of a name that is left”).15 Carmina Minora 26 (Aponus), an encomium of the famous mineral spring near Padua (nowadays Abano Terme), works with the thin line between natural entities and artificial ones (Fuoco 2008.104ff., Guipponi-Gineste 2010.339–44, and Squire 2010a.600–16). Thus I suggest reading Carmina Minora 17.5–26 as a meta-poetical climax, at first disguised, or more precisely, disseminated, then made visible by the invitation to admire the faber’s (“craftman’s”) artistic skills. The culmination is the iunctura artificis tacitae manus (“the craftman’s dumb hands,” 20): by resuming the traditional contrast between poetry and painting (that is, “silent poetry,” whence the adjective tacitae), Claudian [End Page 283] reminds us that such effects of similarity-in-difference and difference-in-similarity, if astonishing when achieved through material media, lie at the very heart of his own verbal creative activity.

Having highlighted the profoundly intellectual—yet not dully intellectualistic—flavour of Claudian’s descriptions, we can now turn to a more general question: how does such a stylistic treatment relate to the usual ecphrastic procedures? Since it is not feasible to recall the multifarious academic discussions of ecphrasis of the last three decades (at least), I will limit my observations to a very few points.16

By adopting Michele Cometa’s classification, we may consider Carmina Minora 17.5–26 an example of “image-dynamization” (dinamizzazione dell’immagine), that is, a passage where the condensed, epitomized temporality of the visual object (contrattissima epitome temporale) comes to be diluted in the sequential linearity of verbalization.17 Pushing such an interpretation to its extremes, we might say that it is almost impossible to describe without narrativizing (though, admittedly, with varying degrees of intensity), since the very act of verbalization cannot but be staged temporally. Claudian is not only disclosing the narrative potential encapsulated in the image—as any ecphrastic text is supposed to do (Cometa 2012.91–93)—he is also exploiting the condensed temporality of the image to provide its narrativization with “iconic” values. As I have tried to show, the narrativization of the statue does not result in any sort of brief anecdotic narration, it evolves into a fluctuating and abstract speculation, going in circles around a limited series of key concepts. Instead of narrating, the poet seems to lean on the “emblematic” potential of the image and to deal with it as if it were an emblem of something else (in this case, of meta-poetical mechanisms), or even an emblem in its own right, an inseparable and dialectic semantic unity of image and words. [End Page 284]

Mario Praz almost eighty years ago drew attention to the conspicuous consonances between some theoretical principles found in a few baroque treatises from the seventeenth century (among others, Daniello Bartoli’s De simboli trasportati al morale, “Symbols morally interpreted” and the appendix to Tesauro’s Canocchiale aristotelico (“The Aristotelian Telescope”), most significantly entitled Trattato degli emblemi, “Treatise on emblems”) and many ecphrastic epigrams of the Greek Anthology, going so far as to claim that “between an emblem of Alciati18 and an epigram of the Anthology there is a difference only in name” (Praz 1939.25). The sequence epigram-ecphrasis-emblem has been re-proposed by Murray Krieger, whose analysis of this (he assumes) progressively more complex semiotic relation between images and words (starting from a situation of dissymmetry in archaic votive epigrams, in which words were “at the service of” images, to finally reaching the reciprocity of late Renaissance and baroque emblems) still remains helpful as an attempt at creating categories (Krieger 1992 and 1995). But Krieger’s scheme is burdened by a teleological and evolutionary perspective that fails to account for in-between objects such as our poem (and many others).

Closer to our needs is William J. T. Mitchell’s concept of “image/text,” defined as a place of inexhaustible dialectical tension, slippage, and transformation, a liminal entity in which space and time, as well as linear (dynamic-narrative) and circular (static-descriptive) temporality, tend to conflate (Mitchell 1994.106ff.). Philippe Hamon goes further (1993.72–75) by ascribing to any descriptive gesture a tendency to confuse synchronicity and diachronicity—up to the very effacement and rejection of temporality as a whole (except for the above-mentioned hardly escapable linearity of verbal utterances).19 According to him, description is quint-essentially “catalogical,” insofar as catalogues exhibit a contradictory nature: formally open structures that, at the same time, need saturation. On the one hand, they can be easily expanded ad libitum; on the other, [End Page 285] they embody the tendency of description towards exhaustiveness.20 Similarly, descriptions can easily be started, but it is precisely their “greed” for exhaustiveness that prevent them from being “concluded,” unless by means of an arbitrary intervention. Actually, even if the descriptor were given an eternity, he or she would still in no way be able to completely accomplish the task, that is, to transfer an object from a material domain into a verbalized one (Hamon 1993.39–83). This is one of the most fundamental paradoxes of verbal representation: a paradox towards which Claudian’s wondering about the miracles (and limits) of the artis sollertia draws our attention (Guipponi-Gineste 2010.252). While we read Claudian’s descriptions, a statement made by Jean-Michel Caluwé comes to mind: “Décrire c’est, en dernière instance, rendre compte de l’élaboration de l’œuvre en le refoulant sans cesse [ . . . La description est donc le] lieu d’une mise en abîme de l’œuvre” (1999.21).

It is also worth noting that in Carmina Minora 17, the only passage which, rhetorically speaking, could be defined as a catalogue is to be found in the second half of the poem, the so-called narrative section, verses 37–42, where a quite short list of exempla (the Dioscouroi, Aeneas, Cleobis and Biton) is provided. To what extent are we allowed to consider such a series of nominal periphrases a “narrative”? Maria Lisa Ricci, on the basis of the second section of the poem, stresses the prevalence of narrative elements in a text which is supposed to be descriptive (and by an author accused of not being able to properly narrate, even in his epic poems).21 I would rather speak of a continuous instability which escapes any strict categorization: in the first ecphrastic section, the gradual emergence of meta-poetical reflections and the abundance of conceits work against a detailed visualization of the sculpture, consequently defaulting on what we might call the “descriptive/ecphrastic mandatum”; while the second, narrative part shows a catalogical, i.e., descriptive, cadence. Once again, but now at a macro-structural level, the inclination towards polarized structures (a [End Page 286] descriptive half to be opposed to a narrative one) is resolved in favour of an interwoven, entangled, “con-fused” pattern.

I would argue that Carmina Minora 17, with its recursive doublings on both the micro- and macro-structural levels, might be compared to a fractal-like set exhibiting a repeating pattern that emerges at every magnification. The usual meta-literary mood of Claudian’s poetry is enhanced by the ecphrastic/descriptive theme: what results is a conceptual and formal twist characterized by a relentless process of self-mirroring: poetry as perpetual speculation about its own conditions of possibility, that is, the necessity of representation, on the one hand, and the impossibility of representation, on the other.22

Both Harich-Schwarzbauer and Guipponi-Gineste repeatedly highlight the peculiar nature of Claudian’s poetry, suspended, to adopt somewhat questionable literary-aesthetic categories, between classicism and mannerism (Guipponi-Gineste 2010.411–12). The latter, in particular, lists Carmina Minora 17 and its architecture built on polarities among the examples of Claudian’s admiration of harmony and the sovereign power of the artist—in other words, of the creator who is able to overcome the inconsistencies of his raw material by means of poetic form.23 In her view, Claudian promotes a conciliatory aesthetics which succeeds in tempering the mannerist drift already present in the previous generation of poets (e.g., Ausonius) by means of a restored equilibrium in lexis and composition. It is not difficult to recognize in such a judgement an update of the traditional critical assumption which wants Claudian to be “the last great pagan poet” (Christiansen and Christiansen 2009). This analysis is all the more striking if one considers Guipponi-Gineste’s several contributions devoted to Claudian’s inclination towards baroque (or even post-modern) themes and textual strategies.24 But Claudian’s poetical practice, far from looking for [End Page 287] closed representational systems (to paraphrase what I think is referred to with the label “classicism”), is open in nature and, under some conditions, might deliberately strive for effects of unrestrained semiotic proliferation.

We can conclude by going back to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s often cited evaluation of Claudian’s style from his work Table Talk. Alan Cameron (1970.285) quotes Coleridge while commenting on Claudian’s tendency to repeatedly vary a theme (what I have called his “going in circles around a limited series of key concepts”), a stylistic gesture Cameron says is “not so much a facility on Claudian’s part as a compulsion.” The Romantic poet was more appreciative, praising Claudian’s “power of pleasingly reproducing the same thought in different language” (Coleridge 1917.268). Coleridge, naturally sensitive to the psychagogical power of words, clearly fell prey to Claudian’s bewitching, “proliferating” poetry. There is more in another of Coleridge’s comments, not quoted by Cameron: “Claudian I recommend to your careful perusal, in respect of his being properly the first of the moderns, or at least the transitional link between the Classic and the Gothic mode of thought” (Coleridge 1917.278). In another passage in Table Talk where a definition is provided of Gothic architecture—and I hope it will be evident why I chose it—Coleridge argues that: “The principle of the Gothic architecture is Infinity made imaginable” (1917.248). Claudian’s self-mirroring carmen minor is a piece of pocket-size infinity.

Paolo Felice Sacchi
University of Ghent

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Ricci, M. L. 1985–86. “Per il commento del carme minore di Claudiano sui fratelli di Catania (c.m. 17, Hall),” Invigilata Lucernis 7–8.175–91.
———. 1986. “Elementi descrittivi ed elementi narrativi nel carme sui fratelli catanesi di Claudiano (carm. min. 17 Birt),” in Munus amicitiae: Scritti in memoria di Alessandro Ronconi, parte prima. Firenze. 221–32.
———. 2001. Claudii Claudiani: Carmina Minora. Bari.
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———. 2004. “Rezeptionsgeschichtliche Erwägungen zur Claudianüberlieferung,” in Aetas Claudianea: Eine Tagung an der Freien Universität Berlin vom 28. bis 30. Juni 2002, eds. W.-W. Ehelers, F. Felgentreu, and S. M. Wheeler. Leipzig. 187–206.
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———. 2010b. “Reading a View: Poem and Picture in the Greek Anthology,” Ramus 39.73–103.
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Footnotes

1. The text used here is Hall 1985. All translations of Claudian’s poems are based on Platnauer 1922, with a few adjustments where necessary. I should like to express my deepest gratitude to both the reviewers and the editors for their very useful observations and suggestions.

2. The critical reception of Claudian’s Carmina Minora has undergone many interpretative shifts. Theodor Birt, in his preface to the MGH edition (1892), exploited the carmina merely as sources for conjectures on Claudian’s biography, paying little or no attention to their literary dimension. If such an attitude was quite understandable in the late 19th century, it becomes at least remarkable when taken up 80 years later by Alan Cameron in his breakthrough monograph devoted to the Alexandrian poet (1970). Cameron’s work is primarily a piece of literary historiography, and even though aesthetical considerations do not lie totally outside the scope of the book (see chapters 10 and 11), they cannot be said to constitute its focus. A short introduction to the critical evaluation of Claudian’s style between the 19th and 20th centuries can be read in Fo 1978. In the past two decades, a number of contributions have tackled the aesthetic implications of the Carmina Minora: Harich-Schwarzbauer 2008 and 2009; Guipponi-Gineste 1999, 2009, and 2010; and Mulligan 2016, though I come to slightly different conclusions. Most recently, Ware 2012 focusses mainly on Claudian’s epic poems, while Coombe 2018, though dealing extensively with Carm. Min. 27 and Carm. Min. 53, follows Cameron in analysing Claudian’s poetry as political propaganda.

3. The literature on ecphrastic epigrams is diverse and abundant. A rich bibliography can be found in Squire 2010a and 2010b. Squire argues for retaining the label “ecphrastic epigram” against, among others, Zanker’s “crusade to abandon the term,” cf. Zanker 2003.61–62.

5. Ricci 1985–86.175–81. See also her commentary on Carm. Min. 17 in Ricci 2001.70–77. Ever since its first preserved version in Lycurgus (in Leocr. 95–96, but here only one boy is mentioned), the story of the two brothers was mostly used as an example of pietas. For Valerius Maximus, they embodied at the highest level the pietas erga parentes (“devotion to parents”) and could be related to another famous pair, Cleobis and Biton. Not surprisingly, in Seneca Ben. 3.37 and 6.36, they are mentioned in relation to Aeneas and Anchises. A later epigram from the Anthologia Palatina (3.17) confirms that praise of the pietas of the brothers from Catina had become very common, probably in conjunction with the description of the statue.

6. Enceladus was one of the Giants, sons of Tartarus and Ge, who fought Zeus and the other Olympians for control of the cosmos (in the so-called “Gigantomachy”). According to some versions of the myth, he was buried under Aetna. Cf. Verg. Aen. 3.578–82; Aetna 71–73.

7. It will appear clearly from the following discussion that the very question “about what” the poem should be is somehow misplaced. My hyphen in “con-fusion” (and its derivatives) is used to highlight the etymologic core of the word, rather than such concepts as “disorder,” “chaos,” or “discomfiture.” The term is related to fusion, hybridization, the merging of dichotomies, and the collapsing of boundaries.

8. Harich-Schwarzbauer 2009.13 states that since Luck 1979, we are allowed “die minora als Einheit im weiteren Sinn zu verstehen,” although Luck 1979.212 could not but admit that “None of the different arrangements seems to reveal a principle, even though related poems are sometimes grouped together.” The origin and internal order of the collection have been matters of debate since Birt’s edition. See Schmidt 1989, 1992, and 2004, and Charlet 2000.xlv–lxi.

9. Per Harich-Schwarzbauer’s suggestion, the opening lines of Carm. Min. 1 (= fesc. 3), “Solitas galea fulgere comas, / Stilicho, molli necte corona” (“Stilicho, crown your head that used to shine with a helmet with a soft garland”) point to a transition from epic poetry to smaller scale poems and “carm. min. 2–7 können als Entfaltung der Thematik gelesen werden, die in carm. min. 1 mit der Ankündigung einer ‘anderen’ Dichtung anklingt.” For example, in Carm. Min. 3, what appears to be a rejection of prose (3–4: “et verba negant communia Musae. / Carmina sola loquor,” “The Muses refuse common words / I speak only in verse”) might also be read as a rejection of “public poetry” (communia verba); or again, Carm. Min. 7, the description of a marble statue, reflects on difference, similarity, and materiality in terms consonant with the present analysis of Carm. Min. 17.

10. As to the tension between verbal and visual codes in ancient rhetorical practices and concepts, cf. Galand 1987. Dealing with Politianus’s (1454–94) treatment of ecphrasis and enargeia (cf. Quint. 9.2.40), that is, analyzing the role played by the visual element in one of the most important Italian Renaissance poets and a leading figure in the re-evaluation of Flavian and late antique poetry, Galand wondered whether for the humanist, “le recours aux référents artistiques (picturaux surtout) . . . correspond vraiment . . . à un désir d’ ‘échapper aux apparence verbales’” (43). She ended up claiming that “Lorsque Politien paraît chanter les beautés de la nature, il célèbre en fait celle du texte: texte des auteurs antiques certes, mais au-delà des réminiscences et de la contamination, texte personnel aussi. La mimesis devient semiosis” (53). And yet, it would be misleading to downplay the importance of the visual stimulus in starting the process; what is going on is a semiotic negotiation in which it becomes harder and harder to distinguish the roles of the involved codes. On the “ideology of distinction” between verbal and visual codes, cf. Squire 2009, esp. 104–11, and the seminal Mitchell 1986.

11. Claudian’s “con-fusing” effects here have given rise to some exegetical and philological uncertainty, since annos is sometimes replaced by animos in the manuscripts, cf. Ricci 1985–86.189–91.

12. Birt 1892.lxii splits the poem in two, on the basis that Claudian “octonarium numerum vitavit” (“avoided eight-line elegiac poems”). Hall 1985.344 follows the manuscripts and prints it as one poem. Platnauer 1922.xviii considers the two tetrastichs as tentamina, i.e., alternative versions. I am thankful to one of the reviewers for bringing this to my attention.

13. The dichotomy forma/materies refers to the Platonic opposition eidos/hyle, where hyle is characterized as passive, blind, amorphous. (This antithetical pair played an important role in Neoplatonic aesthetics down to Augustine: for whose aesthetic theory, see Fontanier 2008). However, I think it risky to adduce it as evidence for Claudian’s Neoplatonic interests, which can be more pertinently studied by drawing on other works, for instance, De Raptu Proserpinae or the Panegyricus dictus Manlio Theodoro consuli. See Moreschini 2004.73–77.

14. For Claudian’s descriptive style, see Gualandri 1968, Fo 1978 and 1982.

15. Obviously a play on Lucan’s well-known portrait of Pompey Magnus 1.135ff.: “stat magni nominis umbra, / qualis frugifero quercus sublimis in agro” (“There he stood, the shadow of a mighty name, / like an oak-tree, towering in a fruitful field”).

16. For ecphrasis in Greco-Roman literature, especially in rhetorical terms, see Webb 2009, insightfully discussed by Squire 2008. For a problematization of the relationship between image/text and bibliography, see Squire 2009.90–193.

17. Cometa 2012.85ff. Cometa offers a detailed analysis of what he calls the “ecphrastic pact” between the reader and the writer. He pinpoints three major modalities in that pact: denotation (denotazione), dynamization (dinamizzazione), and integration (integrazione). In particular, dynamization refers to the process of narrativizing an image, that is, of rendering in a sequential way what is originally given as temporally unified. Cometa further distinguishes among dynamization of images (dinamizzazione dell’ immagini), dynamization of the creative process (dinamizzazione del processo creativo), and dynamization of the gaze (dinamizzazione dello sguardo). Each category is then subdivided into three. For a rethinking of the classical triangulation image-text-time/space, see also Segre 2006.

18. Andrea Alciato (or Alciati) (1492–1550) was an Italian humanist and jurist. Nowadays he is mainly known for his Emblematum Liber (Book of Emblems, 1539), arguably the most influential collection of emblems, a typically 16–17th century kind of “image/text” consisting of a “motto” (often accompanied by an epigram) and an enigmatic picture. See Moffitt 2004 and Daly 1998 and 2014.

19. Formisano 2017.67–73 and 2019 explicitly point to the anachronic temporality of late antiquity. On anachronic effects in the visual domain, see Didi-Huberman 2000, 2002, and 2008. Cf. also Uden 2018 for the “untimeliness” of late antiquity as a critical trope and its use by Walter Pater.

20. Hamon 1993.60–61: “Une tendance ‘horizontale’ d’éxhaustivité. Le référent à décrire est considéré comme une surface, comme un espace, rationalisé-rationsalisable, articulé, découpé, segmenté, grillé d’un côté par les ‘champ’ lexicaux du vocabulaire, de l’autre par les divers savoirs officiels qui y ont déjà introduit le discontinue de leurs nomenclatures et de leurs spécialités socio-professionnelles reconnues.”

21. In her seminal monograph on Claudian’s poetic technique, Isabella Gualandri (1968.9ff.) argues that his style, even in the epic poems, is based on the juxtaposition of visually powerful scenes more than on coherent, smooth narrative transitions. She grounded her opinion on some observations made by Mehmel 1940.106–25.

22. Claudian’s poetry is therefore enigmatic in the sense discussed by Frye 1957.280: “We have several times noticed the close relation between the visual and the conceptual in poetry, and the radical of opsis in the lyric is riddle, which is characteristically a fusion of sensation and reflection, the use of an object of sense experience to stimulate a mental activity in connection with it. Riddle was originally the cognate object of read, and the riddle seems intimately involved with the whole process of reducing language to visible form, a process which runs through such by-forms of riddle as hieroglyphic and ideogram.”

23. For the ideological implications of harmony in Claudian’s political poems, see Coombe 2018.71–146.

24. The canonically “post-modern” author of late antiquity is Ausonius, cf. Nugent 1990. A thorough discussion of the parallels between late-antique and post-modernist aesthetics can be found in Hernández Lobato 2012 and 2018.

Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6504
Print ISSN
0004-0975
Pages
275-291
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-28
Open Access
No
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