Monday, May 3, 2021

Foundings, Roman and American

 From Spencer A. Klavan at the Claremont Review of Books:

Scholars have only recently started reading Virgil as a covert critic of Augustus, much as they have only recently begun insisting that Western culture answer for its sins of prejudice and exclusion. The two impulses likely spring from the same source: a rising discomfort with attitudes expressed in the West’s great masterworks which now seem beyond the pale in erudite circles. Motivated by that discomfort, scholars have gone looking for nuance, admonishments, and even censure of Augustus in the Aeneid. This “pessimistic” reading was, so far as we know, unheard of in antiquity—in the 4th century, Maurus Servius Honoratus wrote in the preface to his monumental commentary, “Virgil’s intention is this: to emulate Homer and praise Augustus via his ancestors.” The first person to contest that assessment in a sustained and influential way was Harvard classicist Robert A. Brooks in his 1953 essay, “Discolor Aura.” Brooks and the others who followed him, such as Yale’s Adam Parry in “The Two Voices of Virgil’s Aeneid” (1963), were serious scholars. They did not scrap the traditional reading entirely so much as suggest that some of the poem’s more subversive tendencies had been overlooked. But it is difficult not to view this shift in emphasis—away from the poem’s obvious triumphalism and toward its subtler undercurrents of self-conscious unease—as a product of postwar anxieties which continue to haunt us. (Read more.)


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