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Getting Back to Nature: Inverted Metapoetic Metaphors in Latin Poetry

Christopher Chinn (Pomona)
Christopher Chinn academic portrait
Friday, January 12, 2024 - 3:30pm
Denny 112 and by Zoom

Description by Prof. Chinn:

One of the most important concerns of ecocriticism is to figure out ways to access the “real” environment as depicted in literature. Latin poetry notoriously uses landscape descriptions as metapoetic metaphors (rather than as approximations of reality). For example, a description of the sea or ocean may be a metaphor for Homer as the source of all other poetry. Again, a clear-running river may evoke Callimachean poetic aesthetics. Consequently, it is difficult for Latinists to engage meaningfully with the sort of ecocriticism that attempts to access the real environment. I propose a way forward by using intertextual analysis. If one author alludes to a metapoetic metaphor in an earlier author, it may be possible to detect a reversal (at least a partial one) of signification of the metaphor in the alluding text. In other words, the later text may be employing the metapoetic context of the metaphor (river=a certain kind of aesthetics) as a way of describing the actual landscape (an actual river). In this talk I will examine various test cases, including Statius’ description of the origins of the Arcadians in Thebaid 4. We will see how later Latin authors (at least) reverse the direction of meaning of metapoetic metaphors through allusion. In the end I hope to begin to come to grips with how the Romans actually viewed the landscapes around them.

Christopher M. Chinn is Professor and Chair of Classics at Pomona College.  His published work examines the relationship between visual art and text in Statius, Pliny and others; he is the author of Visualizing the Poetry of Statius: An Intertextual Approach (Brill 2022).  His scholarly interests extend also to ecocriticism and the ecology of the ancient Mediterranean.  Chris is a 2002 PhD of our own department (in Classics and Critical Theory), and a 1994 BA of Reed College. 

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