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Fragmentary Furii and Latin Historical Epic

Jessica H. Clark

“Whole texts are bullies” (Goldberg 1995: v). They are not the only ones; bigger fragments

jostle the smaller, too. Important new work on Cato and Ennius has reaffirmed their importance for

Roman literary and political histories (e.g. Sciarrino 2011; Elliot 2013; Goldschmidt 2013; even

Cicero’s hexameters: Volk 2011). Fragments are more accessible than ever before, as well

demonstrated in this Call for Papers. But it remains the case that most ancient authors are known

only to a tiny subset of specialists; there is just not enough time for all the poets whose names we

know but about whose work we can say little, and thus just as Vergil trumps Ennius, so Ennius

himself edges out other authors of verse Annales, such as Furius Antias.

Fragments give us something that whole texts do not, however, and tiny fragments can give

us more yet: the opportunity to explore our assumptions about matters of genre and style, about meter

and vocabulary, about pleasure and meaning – and to explore these assumptions in an arena that will,

in most cases, never yield definitive solutions. One particular set of fifteen fragmentary hexameters

offers an ideal test case. Modern scholars attribute these fragments to anywhere from one to four

possible authors who bear the name Furius. Furius Antias and Furius Bibaculus are the most famous,

and studies of both poets illustrate the wealth even a single line can hold (Batstone 1996; Kruschwitz

2010). The poem or poems in question are titled with variants on the term Annales, and are various

combined with other testimonia to reconstruct a variety of contents and contexts (e.g. Flower 2014).

There is no consensus on any detail.

       The problem would remain an intellectual puzzle were it not for the fragments’ appeal

to two increasingly distinct academic genres: philology and ancient history. The former divide and

date the fragments with reference to the reconstructed history of Latin poetics; scholars in this area

pull as many fragments as they can under the aegis of Furius Bibaculus, and use them to tell the

Neoterics’ story. Historians, in contrast, are concerned with the fragments’ relationship to other

commemorative genres, and identify two epics on Gallic Wars, sixty years apart. The issue is that the

fragments and the testimonia do not divide neatly, and all declarative statements rest on conjecture.

Learned conjecture, often; but also some quite incredible leaps.

         This paper will approach the fragments anew. First, what can we say if we look only at the

words we have, in the context of their quoting authors? That is, if we leave aside the literaryhistorical

“name that poet” game, and with it all of our chronological and stylistic assumptions, what

do these fifteen lines give us? Second, what are the limits of our notions of genre here? We talk

easily about ‘Latin historical epic,’ but this is in part a chimera. It is a genre of scant fragments;

beyond Ennius’ Annales, we have Hostius’ Bellum Histricum (fewer than eight lines survive) and

Accius’ Annales (not quite ten lines), and Sueius (two partial lines), plus a few possibilities known

only by reference to a name or a title, until the time of Cicero and the traces of Varro’s Bellum

Sequanicum. That is, between Ennius and Cicero, there are about twenty lines of poetry – plus the

fifteen associated with various Furii – with which we define a genre, the parameters of which we

then employ in order to interpret the fragments thus identified.

         This circularity obscures the complicated conversations these poems represent, being as they

were experiments in modes of commemoration and competition. This paper will present the limits

and the potential of our Furian fragments, in order to see how our assumptions about the historical

role of Latin epic and the determinative importance of poetic identification have led us to exaggerate

their value as ‘evidence’ for a host of philological, historical, and literary-historical arguments. 

Session/Panel Title:

New Approaches to Fragments and Fragmentary Survival

Session/Paper Number


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