A. BARCHIESI, Speaking Volumes: Narrative and Intertext in Ovid and Other Latin Poets. London: Duckworth, 2001. Pp. 206. ISBN 0-7156-3027-X. STG £14.99 (Pb).
Review by Martin Brady
This book comprises a select collection of eight of the author?s articles from the period 1986 to 1997, all previously published in periodicals. As the title suggests, the central focus of all these articles is on one author, Ovid, and one core aspect of Ovidian poetics, intertextuality. The history of Ovidian scholarship and the history of Latin intertextual studies have been near-synonymous throughout the last two decades, as scholars such as Barchiesi have demonstrated Ovid?s masterful control of his literary tradition and his exquisite sense of the metaliterary: in that respect, this volume forms a fine overview of the work of the preceding generation of scholarship, and demonstrates the extent to which Ovid has been rehabilitated since the barren years of the middle twentieth century.
Part of the rationale behind this collection is linguistic: six articles previously only available in Italian are now accessible to Anglophone readers for the first time. In this respect it is odd that no translations are offered of any Latin passages cited. This practice might be justifiable on the grounds that Barchiesi?s close and intricate readings of his Latin authors are hard to follow without a thorough grounding in Latin, but since Latin scholarship has forged ahead in recent years in its comprehension and theoretical discussions of the practice of intertextuality, it is surely appropriate to allow other disciplines unhindered access to the fruits of Barchiesi?s labour. Moreover, our subject nowadays depends upon the influx of students without ambition to learn Greek or Latin in order to remain viable; it is possible to educate such students in the subtleties of intertextual practice, but it is a task made more difficult if the best publications in the field remain inaccessible to those without linguistic expertise.
Some of the articles have been superseded by Barchiesi?s later work, although they remain of value as accessible introductions to complex arguments. The subject material of chapters 1 and 2 both prefigures and complements the author?s 1992 commentary on Heroides 1-3; while chapter 3, on narrative strategies in the Metamorphoses, is reprised and greatly expanded upon in his contribution to the Cambridge Companion to Ovid. Moreover, two of the articles, chapter 5 and chapter 8, are reprints of articles already published in English language journals (ch.5 in HSCPh and ch.8 in AJAH) and so will already be familiar to an English-speaking readership. Chapter 5 (?Future Reflexive: Two Modes of Allusion and the Heroides?) is justifiably reproduced: it is already a canonical piece of scholarship on the Heroides and on the theme of intertextuality, and it gains added significance in this volume as it is read in the context of the evolution and development of Barchiesi?s ideas. Chapter 8 (?Allusion and Society: Ovid the Censor?) is less well-known, but deserving of a wider audience in that it focuses on the cultural and political context of Ovid?s poetry, the wider discourses within which the Amores are located, above and beyond pursuing readings of the ?text-in-itself?. Readers of Barchiesi?s The Poet and the Prince (Berkeley & London 1997) will already be aware of the author?s interest in the interplay between Ovid?s poetic technique and the social politics of the Augustan period: here and in chapter 4 (?Teaching Augustus through allusion?) he deploys the tools of intertextual analysis in seeking a new angle on the often over-simplified question of the relationship between Ovid and his emperor. In these two chapters, Barchiesi demonstrates convincingly that this branch of scholarship can be as alive to political and cultural contexts as it is to close and nuanced readings of the Latin text.
Who are the readers to whom this volume is catering? As with all ?best of? compilations, the intention is surely not to cater for the hardcore fans, but to seek a wider readership by offering a choice selection of the author?s greatest hits. Even so, I do not feel this is a book for the reader with general interests Barchiesi?s readings are close and detailed, and his arguments are often complex and depend upon his readers? being sensitive to many aspects of literary nuance and subtlety. This volume will speak loudest to a reader who is an advancing student of Latin literature, one who has come to appreciate the turn for the meta the subject has taken in recent years and who wishes to immerse herself more deeply in the work of one of the leading exponents in the field.