Skip to main content

In the world of Greek philology, the beginnings are the wellspring of everything to follow: the ocean of Homeric poetry flows through and around every subsequent expression of creative thought in Greek literary tradition. The scholars who devote themselves to the Homeric tradition look back to two monumental texts, preserved and obsessively reread through the centuries, and offering limitless opportunities to find new meanings in them and in the literary culture they have endowed.

In Latin philology, the situation is quite different: we begin with fragments. Through assiduous labor and accumulated learning, scholars over the centuries have managed to identify, classify, and understand the verbal remains of early Latin literacy and the even rarer bits of early literary language. Unlike the ocean of Homer, these fragments produce at best a trickle, temperamental and random in its flow, from what was once a fresh spring of youthful creativity. Only the great scholarly editions of fragments produced over the last century and a half have allowed us to make some sense, however scant, of the literary origins that would lead eventually to Livy, Virgil, and the other surviving representatives of a remarkable creative past.

The single figure regarding whom questions of interpretation are perhaps most fundamental is Ennius, who with his Annales inaugurated an authentically Roman epic tradition. Fragments of this great work survive scattered throughout the extant corpus of Latin texts, both pre- and post-Virgilian, and are substantial enough—but barely so—to make clear the formative influence of Ennius on Virgil. Ironically, the significance of this influence is also indirectly responsible for the disappearance of Ennius’ great poem from the literary record; thus, while the centrality of Ennius to precise features of Virgil’s diction and style can be clearly seen, far less clear is the nature of Ennius’ poem itself.

In a remarkable book that combines painstaking scholarship with brilliant intuition, Ennius and the Architecture of the Annales (Cambridge, 2013), Jackie Elliott dissects the intricate layers of learned opinion that have surrounded not only Ennius and Virgil but also their receptions. The result is a work both meticulous in its acuity and daring in its willingness to take on the question of how little we really know, but how much we may with caution be able to infer, about the content, organization, sophistication, and ideology of the Annales. Near the beginning of the book, she advises her readers as follows: “This study will have served its purpose if to any extent it promotes the open toleration of ambiguity among the community of interpreters who have a stake in what we find to say about the fragments of Ennius’ Annales.” On behalf of this community of interpreters, the SCS is proud to award the Charles Goodwin Award of Merit to Jackie Elliott for her groundbreaking achievement, Ennius and the Architecture of the Annales.

Barbara Weiden Boyd, Chair
Fritz Graf
Mark Griffith
Sheila Murnaghan