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50.2.Nelsestuen

This paper explores the linguistic, historical, and literary aspects of the otherwise unattested phenomenon of oporothecae, which crop up at crucial, but seemingly incommensurable, points of Varro’s De Re Rustica (RR) and thus provide insight into the treatise’s generic affinities and extra-agronomical agenda. Appearing to denote some kind of place where fruit is stored and/or displayed, these “fruit-galleries” occur in three passages of the work: the first instance emblematizes the unsurpassed fecundity of Gn. Tremelius Scrofa’s estates and the man’s concomitant status as the “most expert” (peritissimus) agronomist of his day (RR 1.2.10); the second passage employs the term more ambivalently, as oporothecae are upheld as aesthetically-pleasing places for occasional dining and commemoration of arable achievement, but are unfortunately also susceptible to deceitful display and mendacious spectacle (1.59.1-3); and the third occurrence caps a decidedly pejorative catalogue of Greek architectural units, which, as foreign transplants now sprung up across Roman Italy, stand in synecdoche for contemporary Romans’ putative abandonment of the mos maiorum (2.pref.1-3).

Linguistically, oporotheca masquerades as a Greek loanword, but further investigation reveals that it is a neologism of the sort that one might find in works of satire – Menippean, Varronian, or otherwise. In other words, the linguistic play at work here is twofold: a neologistic creation of a non-native word and the presentation of it as an existing loanword. The deployment of oporotheca is thus indicative of the sort of verbal play of which the satirical side of the RR partakes. The historical evidence for oporothecae or other similar structures is accordingly scant, but its coinage may, in fact, have had some tenuous basis in reality, most notably, painted garden scenes found in late Second- and Third-Styles of wall-painting (e.g. in the Villa of Livia Ad Gallinas Albas and in the House of the Fruit Orchard, Pompeii; cf. Leach 2004: 123-5 and Petersen 2006: 157-9).Simply understanding the “fruit-gallery” as either a quasi-historical architectural unit or neologistic invention of Menippean fantasy, however, does not account for the thematic importance and programmatic function of the Varronian oporotheca within the RR. Instead, the key to its interpretation lies in the structure’s countervailing capacities not only to satirize contemporary rural practices of the elite (cf. Kronenberg 2009: 100-1), but also to reify the RR’s attempted reconciliation of the pursuit of pleasure (voluptas) with utility (utilitas), the end results of which are, respectively, delight (delectatio) and profit (fructus) (cf. RR 1.4.1). In these respects, oporothecae epitomize the difficult, but ultimately, constructive, tension generated by the RR’s generic amalgamation of the technical treatise, philosophical dialogue, and satire.

Bibliography

  • Kronenberg, L. (2009). Allegories of Farming from Greece to Rome: Philosophical Satire in Xenophon, Varro, and Virgil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Leach, E. W. (2004). The Social Life of Painting in Ancient Rome and the Bay of Naples. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Petersen, L. H. (2006). The Freedmen in Roman Art and Art History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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