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Puts Latin back at the heart of reading Latin poetry
on 23 March 2013
This book is an attempt to engage those without Latin or, necessarily, a background in Classics, in the reading of Latin poetry. The aim is admirable: `public engagement' is ubiquitous in academia at the moment, and Classics, especially, with its baggage of elitism and privilege, has benefited hugely in the last couple of decades of being opened up to scholars with less traditional viewpoints. However, as nicely democratic as this is, the growth of Classical Studies & Classical Civilisation at school and university, has meant that students are reading classical literature only in translation - and are missing something absolutely central about the texts with which they are engaging. One of the aims of this book is to put Latin back at the centre of reading Latin poetry.
Fitzgerald's subtitle is `If you can't read Latin YET' (his emphasis) - and this book is a plea to master at least some language skills. The pegagogical paradigm which this book follows models a scholarly, critical engagement with poetic texts to uncover how the Latin is being put to work within the text, and how it intersects with interpretation and meaning. Fitzgerald's close readings thus centre on Latin: metre, tone, register, syntax, allusion. He usefully compares the resources of the language with English and draws attention to the relative compression of Latin in comparison with an English translation.
The scope of the book pretty much covers the canon of Latin poetry, though we might all put our emphases in different places. At the heart of Fitzgerald's project are the chapters on Horace and Virgil, `the two great poets of the Augustan age' (Horace - really? I would have chosen Ovid here), but surrounding chapters include Latin love elegy, satire (Juvenal and Martial), Lucan, Seneca's Thyestes, Lucretius and Ovid.
The label `Latin poem', then, is wider than lyric, and this does mean that some of the chapters are looser than others as they struggle to contain long poems (the Aeneid, the Pharsalia, De Rerum Natura, the Metamorphoses, and Seneca's play), looking at only a few key lines and falling back into general discussion of the work.
This is a book which will be useful, even inspirational, to A level students or those at the start of undergraduate degrees, or general interested readers - or anyone who teaches classical literature and poetry.