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Fwd: BMR: Alistair Elliot (trans.), Roman Food Poems

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  • Sheila Michaels
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31 7:35 PM
      >Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 12:32:31 -0400 (EDT)
      >From: owner-bmr-l@...
      >X-Authentication-Warning: ada.brynmawr.edu: majordom set sender to
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      >Subject: BMR: Alistair Elliot (trans.), Roman Food Poems
      >Sender: owner-bmr-l@...
      >Reply-To: bmr-l@...
      >(From BMCR 2003.07.45)
      >Alistair Elliot (trans.), Roman Food Poems. Devon: Prospect Books,
      >2003. Pp. 160. ISBN 1-903018-25-0. L12.50.
      >Reviewed by Farouk F. Grewing, Universita+t zu Ko+ln
      >Word count: 1103 words
      >"The Roman poets mention food quite a lot" (p. 9). Thus the first
      >sentence of Alistair Elliot's (henceforth E.) annotated bilingual
      >collection of Roman poems or sections of poems that deal with or are in
      >some way or another related to (the making, consumption, or digestion
      >of) food.
      >A playwright and poet himself, E. is well known for his translations
      >and adaptations of quite a few ancient (e.g. Aristophanes, Euripides,
      >Virgil) but also French (Verlaine) and German (Heine) works; his
      >version of Medea opened at the Almeida Theatre (London) in the fall of
      >This 'food book' embraces pieces by Ennius, Lucretius, Catullus,
      >Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Phaedrus, Seneca, Lucan, Petronius, Martial,
      >Juvenal, and also a few inscriptions. As E. emphasizes, the collection
      >is highly selective and subjective; he intentionally left out some
      >central poems of Horace, e.g. Satire ii 8, and others in order to not
      >"overload the book with too many lines" of the same poet(s) (p. 9).
      >The material is arranged in three chapters: I. "Ingredients, sources,
      >taste, morality, gifts and mythology", II. "Meals -- invitations,
      >occasions, manners, courses and aims", III. "Making the day's food".
      >Being by far the largest part of this book (80 or so out of 150 pp.),
      >chapter 1 is also the most wide-ranging or, if you want to put it less
      >nicely, disorganized. To be honest, I was unable to discover any
      >particular structural arrangement -- by (say) subject-matter (kinds of
      >food, regions, etc.), author / chronology, genre, or whatever. Hence,
      >one comes across passages from poems as diverse as Ennius'
      >Hedyphagetica, followed by the Ovidian Pythagoras and the "Forbidden
      >Food" (p. 27) of Seneca's Thyestes, etc.
      >At chapter end, there are two inscriptions. I cannot really see why CIL
      >iv 7038 = CLE 1934 appears here ('Stercorari ad murum progredere. / si
      >pre(n)sus fueris, poena(m) patiare neces(s)e est. / cave.', p. 94). Yes,
      >the second sentence is a hexameter (p. 157), but the mere fact that (as
      >far as I can tell) any defecation is inevitably the result of eating
      >(usually food) should not justify the graffito's presence in this book,
      >unless for reasons of closure. The threat uttered sounds very Priapean
      >(at Priap. 35, the god's menace is quite explicit), the piece as a whole
      >mock-religious.[[1]] You could as well quote Iuv. ix 43-44 and its
      >The other inscription, CIL iv 1645 = CLE 953 (from the Palatine), is a
      >lover's threat: 'Crescens: Whatever rival fucks my girl, may a bear eat
      >him in remote mountains.' One needs a good deal of imagination to
      >consider this a food poem. The two Latin lines have become no less than
      >eight in E.'s rendition (p. 97). However, the comment that "[t]he Latin
      >here is a clumsy adaptation of a couplet about Love burning [...]
      >wherever you are, even in the distant mountains" (p. 157) is not
      >compelling. The threat is not directed at a mountain-climber. Also,
      >Crescens is most likely nominative (add 'dicit' or so) rather than
      >vocative; see Courtney, Musa, pp. 304 and 307.
      >Chapter 2 is much better structured. It contains invitation poems
      >(Catullus, Martial) and some related party-pieces (e.g. Horace, Ovid,
      >Martial). Again, one finds an inscription at the end (p. 138), the
      >anonymous line "Quod edi, bibi, mecum habeo, quod reliqui perdidi" (CIL
      >vi 18131 = CLE 244 = ILS 8155a). The verse is part of an epitaph (hence
      >E.'s translation of mecum habeo as 'I still have as a ghost', p. 139).
      >But why omit the prose lines that frame this mediocre septenarius,
      >"D.M.T. Flavius Martialis hic situs est" and "vi(xit) a(nn.) lxxx"?
      >Indeed, this is one of the many adaptations of the so-called epitaph of
      >Sardanopallus, for which see Cic. Tusc. v 101; cf. R. Lattimore, Themes
      >in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (Urbana 1962 [= 1942]), 261-262.
      >Chapter 3, "Making the day's food", contains just two texts: the
      >Moretum, the preparation of bread and the flavoring of cheese, and the
      >opening 12 lines of Ovid's 'biography', Trist. iv 10.
      >It probably matters little that E. does not indicate from which
      >(critical or uncritical) editions the Latin texts were taken since it
      >is the English renditions that are the substance of this collection.
      >Still, the philologist may at times be interested in the exactitude of
      >the Latin. Only regarding the Moretum does E. refer to a particular
      >edition and commentary (that of E.J. Kenney [Bristol 1984]), from which
      >he departs occasionally, without however giving any reasons (pp.
      >159-160). All in all, E.'s deviations from the standard texts are, I
      >think, mostly immaterial; but note that the text of the inscriptions is
      >not reliable. E.g., in the 6-line elegiac poem written in the corner of
      >a Pompeian wall-painting, which depicts a young woman suckling an
      >elderly man, (CIL iv 6635 = CLE 2048), E. prints ll. 4-5 thus:
      >"as[pice, ia]m venae lacte [rep]lente tument. / [ambiguo]q(ue) simul
      >voltu fri[c]at ipsa Miconem" (p. 32), which is a mixture of conjectures
      >by various hands (cf. Lommatzsch's ed.). However, we should (exempli
      >gratia) print "re[plente tument]"; but even the 're-' is uncertain.
      >Secondly, as E. rightly remarks, "friat (crumbles) is surely a mistake
      >of the painter" (p. 155), so it should be "fri<c>at" (unless you want
      >to defend friat with Mau). I am, however, willing to agree with anyone
      >saying that my philological nitpicking is out of place here.
      >Most readers who have little background will find the notes (pp.
      >153-160) insufficient. There are a huge number of details that would
      >require some, however brief, comment to help the layperson. Also, it
      >needs to be pointed out that many of the poems convey significance in
      >interpretive contexts well beyond their actual surface meaning. E.
      >mentions, e.g., the 'big fish' of Iuv. iv (pp. 9 and 155). There is,
      >however, a lot more allegory or metapoetry involved in many of the
      >other food poems. E. Gowers' magnificent The Loaded Table (Oxford 1993)
      >gives some idea. E. suspects a metapoetic dimension in Mart. vii 91,
      >addressing Juvenal (quoted at 66): "here surely the nuts are a comment
      >on Martial's production of short epigrams compared with the younger
      >man's production of large satires" (p. 156). I leave that open to
      >debate. Some pieces may seem dull unless they are read in their (intra-
      >and intertextual) context. So it is regrettable that any indications of
      >context, allusions, references, quotations, etc. are virtually absent
      >from the notes.
      >On the whole, E.'s English renditions are masterful. It would be
      >inappropriate to discuss their accuracy or even correctness since they
      >are poems of their own right; all deviations from the Latin are
      >intentional and ultimately document the editor's commitment and joy.
      >1. See E. Courtney, Musa Lapidaria (Atlanta 1995), 354 for
      >inscriptional parallels. It is not certain if stercorari is vocative
      >(as e.g. in OLD, s.v. '-ius', whence E.'s "dung-producers"). It could
      >as well be an irregular deponent form of stercoro; the infinitive would
      >then be one of purpose (Courtney 354).
      >The BMCR website (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/) contains a complete
      >and searchable archive of BMCR reviews since our first issue in 1990.
      >It also contains information about subscribing and unsubscribing from
      >the service.
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