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cento, Latin  

Stephen Harrison

The extant Latin tradition of cento (the replication and combination of verse lines from a previous text to make a new work) largely uses the hexameter poems of Virgil, familiar to all educated Romans. The earliest extant cento proper is the 461-line tragedy Medea, usually ascribed to Hosidius Geta (200 ce), in which all the characters speak in Virgilian hexameters, and the choral lyrics consist entirely of final half-hexameters. There are eleven other pagan Virgilian centos from late antiquity, none longer than 200 lines; many are short epic narratives on mythological subjects (e.g., Mavortius’ Judgement of Paris [Iudicium Paridis]), but some are amusing parodies on trivial topics (e.g., the anonymous De alea and De panificio on dice playing and baking). The best known are the two epithalamian examples, the wittily obscene Nuptial cento (Cento nuptialis) of Ausonius, written c. 374, and the slightly less risqué Marriage-song of Fridus (Epithalamium Fridi) of Luxorius (early 6th century); Ausonius describes his technique in an important prefatory letter, classifying his cento as frivolum et nullius pretii opusculum—‘a slight work, frivolous and worthless’.



Peter G. M. Brown

Contaminatio, a word used by modern scholars to express the procedure of *Terence (and perhaps *Plautus) in incorporating material from another Greek play into the primary play which he was adapting. Terence tells us that he had done this in adapting *Menander (1)'s Andria (adding material from Menander's Perinthia), and that his critics had complained that he ought not to contaminare plays in this way (i.e. to ‘spoil’ them by adding alien material: An. prologue 9 ff.; at Haut. 17 he says he has been accused in a general way of ‘contaminating’ many Greek plays while writing few in Latin). Terence claims the precedent of *Naevius, Plautus, and *Ennius, we cannot tell how truthfully (though some have claimed to detect contaminatio in Plautus; the fragments of Naevius and Ennius are too meagre to judge). He followed the same procedure in Eunuchus and Adelphoe but was there accused of ‘theft’ (plagiarism from earlier Latin comedies), not contaminatio.



Edward Courtney and Gail Trimble

Epyllion (diminutive of epos), term applied in modern (not ancient) times to some ‘short epics’, hexameter poems of mythological narrative in not more than one book. The texts most frequently called ‘epyllion’ are Hellenistic (especially the Hecale of *Callimachus (3), certain poems of *Theocritus, and Moschus’ Europa) and Roman (the sixty-fourth poem of *Catullus (1), lost works by other *neoterics, and the *Ciris).

Characteristics often considered typical of epyllion include: unfamiliar mythical subject-matter, often erotic; a subjective, emotional style; an uneven narrative scale, with some events elaborated and others quickly passed over; the inclusion of a second theme within the main narrative by means of a speech or *ekphrasis.

However, many of these features are shared with other Hellenistic or neoteric poetry, with earlier poems in the post-Homeric epic tradition, or with shorter poetic narratives in other metres (especially lyric), while some poems usually identified as ‘epyllia’ exhibit only one or two of them. The meaningfulness of the term has therefore been questioned, although its convenience is generally agreed.


explanation, historical  

Christopher Pelling

‘Which of the gods was it that brought the two together in strife?’, asks the Iliad as it launches its narrative (1.8); early in the Odyssey*Zeus complains that mortals blame the gods when they are responsible for their own sufferings (1.32–3). Both poems however swiftly complicate any attempt to limit explanations to either the human or the divine level. Achilles and Agamemnon quarrel, Achilles kills Hector, and Odysseus gets home, largely because they are the people that they are, but gods often intervene too. The Greeks win because they are better fighters; they also win because more gods are on their side. The poems also suggest another form of explanation, not tracing events to their origins but relating them to a familiar pattern of human life. Suffering is the lot of humanity (Il. 24.525–6); outrages like those of the suitors are punished. Life is like that, and one should not be surprised.


feminism and ancient literature  

Helen Morales

Feminism does not refer to one coherent theory, doctrine, or political movement. The range of movements and ideologies that thrive under the term feminism, however, are all committed to political and social change. Feminism recognises that we live in a patriarchal world, that is to say a world in which women are, and have historically been, oppressed by and unequal to men. It opposes this, and strives to change existing power structures so that people of all genders and races have control over their own bodies, have equal opportunities and value, can participate fully in community life, and are allowed to live with dignity and freedom.

What has this to do with ancient literature? There are several significant ways in which feminism and ancient literature interact. Ancient literature, particularly ancient Greek tragedy and myth, has played a formative role in shaping feminist theory. Feminism encourages scholars to uncover and reevaluate a tradition of women’s writing. Feminism has provided the tools for us better to understand how ancient literature functioned to promote, and sometimes to challenge, the misogynist practices of ancient Greek and Roman societies. Scholars have detected feminism, or proto-feminism, in ancient writing. Queer theory and feminism join forces to mine ancient literature for alternatives to hetero, cisgender, and gender binary models of identity. Feminism has changed the field of ancient literary studies by valuing authors and genres that are sensitive to the perspectives of women of all ethnicities and statuses. Finally, ancient literature is used to serve contemporary activism: Greek and Latin texts are used by modern feminist authors who rewrite and creatively adapt ancient literature, and classicists resist the use of ancient literature to promote misogyny and white supremacy.



Gian Biagio Conte and Glenn W. Most

A grouping of texts related within the system of literature by their sharing recognizably functionalized features of form and content. Theory of genre as such is quite lacking in antiquity (its place is taken by theories of *imitatio) and ancient theoretical discussions of specific literary genres are few and for the most part unsatisfactory. They operate according to criteria which are one-sidedly formal (generally metrical), thematic (the characters' moral or social quality, the general subject-matter), or pragmatic (the situation of performance), but scarcely attempt to correlate or justify them; they are more interested in classifying existing works than in understanding the mechanisms of literary production and reception and are directed to the needs of the school and the library, not to the critic's; they bungle some genres (lyric) and ignore others (the novel). Rhetorical handbooks sometimes distinguish among oratorical genres, but the precise relation between their (often pedantic) prescriptions and the literary works remains uncertain.



Gian Biagio Conte and Glenn W. Most

Imitatio (μίμησις), the study and conspicuous deployment of features recognizably characteristic of a canonical author's style or content, so as to define one's own generic affiliation (see genre).Although Plato (Resp.10) and Aristotle (Poet.) often apply μίμησις philosophically to the semantic relation by which language or art represent their objects, the more widespread ancient usage of the term is rhetorical, to designate a later writer's relation of acknowledged dependence upon an earlier one. The Muse is the daughter of memory: poets have always learned from other poets (ἕτερος ἐξ ἑτέρου σοφὸς τό τε πάλαι τό τε νῦν, ‘one learns his skill from another, both long ago and now’: Bacchyl. Paean fr. 5 Snell–Maehler) and are listeners or readers before they become singers or writers. But starting already with the *sophists, the careful study and imitation of (usually written) models of discourse became an established educational technique. Throughout antiquity, a strong continuity in method and attitude linked school exercises on canonical texts (memorization, excerpting, paraphrase, translation, commentary, variation of theme or style, comparison) with a poetic practice which drew attention to its skilled use of models, ‘not so as to filch but to borrow openly, in the hope of being recognized’ (Seneca the Elder, Suas.


inconsistencies in Latin literature  

Patrick Glauthier

In the context of Latin literature, inconsistency is most often invoked to mean self-contradiction: for example, in the second Georgic, Virgil declares that Italy is blissfully free from snakes, but in the following book, snakes pose a deadly threat to the Italian farmer and his animals. Inconsistency, however, can also describe general ambiguity, lack of unity, factual inaccuracy, and incoherence of almost any kind. A number of historically contingent factors affect how readers recognize and respond to inconsistencies. Ancient criticism of the Homeric poems and the Aeneid often considered inconsistencies flaws, and this tradition has influenced modern thinking about the topic. From the late 20th century onwards, critics have frequently viewed the creation of inconsistency as a deliberate authorial strategy: the reader is exposed to two different realities, and the resulting tension contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole. The apparent receptivity of Roman literary culture to inconsistency may imply a worldview that had more in common with quantum mechanics than an Aristotelian universe dominated by the law of non-contradiction.


locus amoenus  

Philip Hardie

Locus amoenus, ‘charming place, pleasance’, a phrase (Cic. Fin. 2. 107; Isid. Etym. 14. 8. 33, etc. ) used by modern scholars to refer to the literary topos of the set description of an idyllic landscape, typically containing trees and shade, a grassy meadow, running water, song-birds, and cool breezes. The tradition goes back to *Homer's descriptions of the grotto of *Calypso and the garden of *Alcinous (1) (Od. 5. 55 ff., 7. 112 ff.); the rural setting for the dialogue in *Plato (1)'s Phaedrus was much imitated. In *Theocritus and *Virgil's Eclogues such landscapes form the backdrop for the songs and loves of shepherds. *Horace criticizes the fashion for such descriptions (Ars P. 16 ff.). This perfect nature is also the setting for the innocence of the *golden age and the blessedness of the Elysian Fields (see elysium); among real places the vale of *Tempe in Thessaly was idealized as a locus amoenus.


narrative, narration  

Massimo Fusillo

In the last 30 years, interest in narrative has developed at an incredible pace. Two branches of this ‘narratology’ may be distinguished. The one is oriented towards the ‘story’ as signified (‘what happened’: cf. especially the work of Greimas and Bremond, looking back to Propp's famous Morphology of the Folktale); the other is oriented rather towards the narrative as signifier (‘the way it is told’: Stanzel, Genette, in the line of the Russian formalists, Henry James, and E. M. Forster). Both approaches have been widely applied in classical studies, but the first has perhaps been more successful in the anthropological study of myth (see mythology), the second in literary studies, in that it focuses on the rhetorical construction of the work rather than its underlying functional structure. The sophisticated armoury of methods that is modern narratology is one of the products of structuralism and semiotics, and like those more general movements it has in recent times been subject to qualifications and criticisms from post-structuralists and from reception theorists and students of literary pragmatics with their greater focus on the audience or readership of a work.


queer theory and ancient literature  

Sebastian Matzner

Queer theory takes its name from a derogatory term for persons considered “odd” or “abnormal”, notably those whose sexual behaviour, gender expression, or other characteristics do not conform to established social norms. It harnesses the experience and perspective of gender non-conformists and sexual deviants as a vantage point for understanding—and dismantling—the coercive workings of social structures and discursive regimes. Since queerness marks a position outside or at the margins of—and thus relative to—the social order, it necessarily takes on different forms under different normative regimes: while different kinds of queers have existed at all times and in all places, what counts as “queer” in any given time and place depends on what counts as “normal”.Ancient literature’s queerness, consequently, has two dimensions: (a) accounts—real and imagined—of sexual behaviours, erotic desires, intimate relationships, and notorious figures recognizably at odds with the sociosexual norms of Greece and Rome (“ancient queers”); and (b) accounts that, whatever their status in antiquity, appear strikingly odd in their later reception (“queer ancients”). These two dimensions can and do converge, as in the development of modern Western sexual identity categories (homosexual, bisexual, etc.), which drew heavily on ancient “case studies.”Frank about their committed stance in the present, queer readings of ancient literature interrogate interconnected formations and histories of misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, racism, and classism; ponder and celebrate pre-modern instances of resistance to sexual norms; and tap into the classical past in order to open new possibilities for erotic and social relations and subjectivities.


Rufinus (3), grammarian, 5th century CE  

Rolando Ferri

Rufinus is known only for a work transmitted by the manuscripts as A commentary on the metres of Terence (Commentarium in metra Terentiana), which includes a section clearly taken from a different treatise and reconstructed with the title On the composition and rhythms of the orators (De compositione et de numeris oratorum). In the two sections, Rufinus uses different styles of address, identifying himself as u. d. (uir deuotus, ‘a devout man’) in the former work and as u. c. (uir clarissimus, ‘a right honourable man’) in the latter, perhaps as a result of an intervening change in his status. The incipit also gives Rufinus the adjective Antiochensis, ‘of Antiochia’, thus identifying him as a Latin teacher active in the Greek East.1 The inclusion of Servius among his authorities provides a terminus post at the end of the 4th century, while the presence of Rufinus as a source in Priscian places him no later than the 5th century.


textual criticism  

M. D. Reeve

Textual criticism sets out to establish what a text originally said or meant to say. Anyone who checks a garbled message with the sender has given a faultless demonstration of it. Classical texts, which have mostly come down through a succession of copies, present stiffer challenges. Even some inscriptions (see epigraphy) are corrupt.Politian (Poliziano; see scholarship, classical, history of) in 1489 first refined ancient methods by showing that for historical reconstruction authorities were less to be counted than weighed and derivative ones ignored. He made such arresting discoveries as that all copies of Cicero's Ad familiares in circulation derived from one misbound ancestor. For 300 years these insights were seldom exploited even by critics good at picking out valuable witnesses, like Heinsius and Bentley; and when genealogical classification finally took hold, among editors of the Bible in the later 18th cent. and of classical texts in the 1820s, it was not until 1872 that the historical linguist Johannes Schmidt framed the cardinal principle, still often flouted, that in a family only shared innovations indicate a closer relationship.



Glenn W. Most and Gian Biagio Conte

Topos, a standard form of rhetorical argumentation or a variably expressible literary commonplace.In classical rhetoric, inventio aids the orator to find elements of persuasion: τόποι or loci are both the places where such elements (especially plausible argumentative patterns) lurk, and those patterns themselves (e.g. Arist.Rh. 2. 22–3; Quint. Inst. 5. 10); if universally applicable (in various senses) they can be called κοινοὶ τόποι or loci communes. They are the habitual tools of ordinary thought but can also be studied and technically applied. No two rhetoricians provide the same catalogue, but some of the more familiar τόποι include arguments ad hominem or a fortiori, from homonymy or *etymology, from antecedents or effects.Although in this sense the ancient discussions remain important for contemporary analyses of everyday argumentation, the general decline of rhetoric in modern culture has led topoi, like other rhetorical concepts, to seek refuge in literary studies. The recent critical topos of applying the term also, and especially, to commonly but variably expressed literary contents (clichéd metaphors and commonplace thoughts) ultimately derives from E.