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Classical Quarterly 62.

1 223226 (2012) Printed in Great Britain


doi:10.1017/S0009838811000437
PRAMIT CHAUDHURI

223

CLEOPATRA ON THE SHIELD OF AENEAS

NAMING NEFAS: CLEOPATRA ON THE


SHIELD OF AENEAS 1
In the ecphrasis of the Battle of Actium on the shield of Aeneas Cleopatra appears
unnamed (Aen. 8.688):
sequiturque (nefas) Aegyptia coniunx

Fordyce suggested that the omission was deliberate and consistent with contemporary poetic practice: it is a tribute to the success of the campaign of propaganda
directed against Antony that the Augustan poets never use Cleopatras name.2
Nisbet and Hubbard had already noted the use of various words in place of her
name: regina (Hor. Carm. 1.37.7, Prop. 3.11.39), mulier (Hor. Carm. 1.37.32; Prop.
3.11.49, 4.6.65), and illa (Prop. 4.6.63), amongst others.3 Furthermore, the absence
of the name cannot be put down to metre, as Lucan 9.1071 attests. Therefore,
though it is impossible to establish with certainty the deliberate avoidance by
Virgil and his peers, the habit of referring to the queen by various terms but
never by name lends weight to Fordyces suggestion. If indeed Cleopatras name
were a kind of poetic taboo we may detect a hint to that effect in nefas at 688.
Servius regards nefas as an exclamation of disgust not so much at the idea of a
Roman having a foreign wife but rather at the notion of a woman following her
husband to war.4 But the ancient etymology of the word nefas from fari to speak
also confers on Cleopatras name the sense of something that ought not to be

1
I should like to thank Jim OHara, Damien Nelis, Jay Fisher, Ayelet Haimson Lushkov,
Rhiannon Ash and the anonymous referee for CQ for their help and advice.
2
C.J. Fordyce, P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos Libri VIIVIII (Oxford, 1977), 281. See also
M. Wyke, Augustan Cleopatras: female power and poetic authority, in A. Powell (ed.), Roman
Poetry and Propaganda in the Age of Augustus (London, 1992), 98140, esp. 1035. Antonys
own name and memory in the historical record were the subject of some negotiation in the
period after Actium and his death; see H.I. Flower, The Art of Forgetting: Disgrace and Oblivion
in Roman Political Culture (Chapel Hill, 2006), 11621.
3
R.G.M. Nisbet and M. Hubbard, A Commentary on Horace: Odes Book 1 (Oxford, 1970),
413: Cleopatra is nowhere named in Augustan poetry. Fordyce (n. 2), 281 adds the periphrases
femina (Hor. Epod. 9.12; Prop. 3.11.30, 4.6.57) and monstrum (Hor. Carm. 1.37.21). On Hor.
Epod. 9.1116, cf. R.G.M. Nisbet, Horaces Epodes and history, in A.J. Woodman and D. West
(edd.), Poetry and Politics in the Age of Augustus (Cambridge, 1984), 12: These lines vividly
demonstrate the organisation of opinion that was so decisive a factor in the war of Actium.
Antony is simply ignored, while Cleopatra is too abominable to be named. L.C. Watson, A
Commentary on Horaces Epodes (Oxford, 2003), 314, following Nisbet, speaks of the ostentatious refusal to name Cleopatra. Cf. D. Mankin, Horace: Epodes (Cambridge, 1995), 166.
4
Servius ad loc. non in eo tantum quod Aegyptiam Romanus duxerat, sed etiam quod mulier
castra sequebatur, quod in ingenti turpitudine apud maiores fuit: unde bellaturus Pompeius in
Lesbo reliquit uxorem. Propertius offers a quite different perspective through the fictive letter
of Arethusa addressed to the absent Lycotas: Romanis utinam patuissent castra puellis! | essem
militiae sarcina fida tuae (4.3.456).

224

PRAMIT CHAUDHURI

spoken.5 In addition to Servius comment, then, the word nefas draws attention
to the periphrastic function of Aegyptia coniunx and suggests the avoidance of
Cleopatras name.
Cleopatra appears again eight lines later in the text (6967):
regina in mediis patrio uocat agmina sistro,
necdum etiam geminos a tergo respicit anguis.

The word regina, like Aegyptia coniunx at 688 (and the examples from Horace
and Propertius cited above), functions as a placeholder, simultaneously doing away
with the need to state Cleopatras name while activating it in the readers mind.6
But for the alert reader the name is not entirely absent; it appears cryptically in
the collocation patrio uocat.7
The verb uoco is commonly associated with naming and addressing, though
here it signifies Cleopatras command or summoning of the fleet.8 The verb is
also used in this way earlier in the same book where it signals a well-known play
on the name and etymology of Latium (8.3223): Latiumque uocari | maluit, his
quoniam latuisset tutus in oris. The myth of Saturns concealment not only provides
the aition of the name of Latium from the verb lateo but also, as Frederick Ahl
has noted, finds representation in the concealment of the letters of Latium in two
anagrams.9 In Aen. 8.696, too, uoco introduces wordplay by means of concealment,
but the mode of wordplay in Cleopatras appearance on the shield is one of sound
and semantic association rather than anagram.
In its grammatical context, the first term, patrio, describes the sistrum or rattle
of Isis that signifies the queens inheritance of ancestral power, but beyond this
symbolic function patrio also echoes the latter part of Cleopatras name, -, in
sound and meaning. The first part of her name (-) derives from Gk. and
is indirectly glossed by uocat.10 Although Lat. uocare does not translate Gk.
precisely, its close semantic overlap with Gk. enables uocat to function as
a calque on the initial part of her name, an association created by the similarity
5
Priscian, Grammatici Latini (ed. Keil), 3.486.20: inde (sc. a fari) putant quidam etiam fas
et nefas dictum esse, quod iustum est dici uel taceri. See R. Maltby, A Lexicon of Ancient Latin
Etymologies (Leeds, 1991), 407 on nefas and the related phrase nefasti dies. This would not be
the first time that something supposedly unspeakable finds voice in the poem: Aeneas narrative
of the fall of Troy is infandum (Aen. 2.3). Dido, seemingly unable to speak Aeneas name out
of anger, refers to him as infandum caput at 4.613.
6
Cf. regia coniunx used of Amata at Aen. 7.567, discussed in J.J. OHara, True Names:
Vergil and the Alexandrian Tradition of Etymological Wordplay (Ann Arbor, 1996), 186.
7
Virgilian allusion to a suppressed name was noted at least as early as Servius ad G. 2.126.
The practice is discussed by OHara (n. 6), 7982 and J. Booth, Naming names or not: some
significant choices and suppressions in Latin poetry, in ead. and R. Maltby (edd.), Whats in a
Name? The Significance of Proper Names in Classical Latin Literature (Swansea, 2006), 4963.
8
Naming: OLD s.v. uoco 9 and 10; addressing: OLD s.v. 1c. Ov. Fast. 3.77 uses the collocation patrioque uocat in the context of naming the month of March after the father of
Romulus and Remus, but there is no obvious allusion to Aen. 8.696. For Ovids general interest
in Virgilian wordplay see J.J. OHara, Vergils best reader? Ovidian commentary on Vergilian
etymological wordplay, CJ 91 (1996), 25576.
9
F. Ahl, Metaformations: Soundplay and Wordplay in Ovid and Other Classical Poets (Ithaca,
NY, 1985), 478.
10
A. Fick, Die Griechischen Personennamen (Gttingen, 1894), etymologizes the masculine
form of the name, , from (1634) and (2312), similarly the Homeric
(394 and 405), on whom further see below.

CLEOPATRA O N T H E S H I E L D O F A E N E A S

225

of sound between the two Greek words.11 The Latinized Greek word sistro further
emphasizes the translational aspects both of patrio uocat and more generally of
a name that is natively Greek.12 Certain features in the surrounding lines further
suggest the existence of the wordplay and point to its location. At 696, in mediis,
while specifying Cleopatras position in the middle of the battle scene, also locates
(the name of) the regina in the middle of the line. And at 688 sequiturque (nefas)
prepares the reader for the name to follow, evoked yet seemingly unspoken, at
696. A hint to the reader to look carefully at the previous line may be found in
respicit at 697.13 It is perhaps an unintended irony that a name formed from
should be so obscured.
In reversing the elements of Cleopatras name Virgil may have drawn on a possible wordplay attributed to Homer in Iliad 9, where the name of Meleagers wife,
, can be read as the reverse of .14 The Homeric wordplay,
if intended, strengthens the link between two characters who persuade the hero,
11
Festus, Gloss. Lat. 225: , id est uocare, unde ... calones et caculae. In addition to
the meaning to call, the verbs also overlap in the meaning to name (LSJ s.v. II, OLD s.v.
9 and 10). uoco also has a Latin synonym calo, the sound of which, like , may suggest
the first part of Cleopatras name (for the equivalence of the two verbs see Porph. ad Hor. Sat.
1.2.44 [ed. Holder]). According to OHara (n. 6), 2223 wordplay on uoco and (con)calo (via
concilium) may also occur at Aen. 10.2: conciliumque uocat diuum pater atque hominum rex.
An intuitive connection between naming and fame supports the notion of uocat as an allusion
to . Such a connection is suggested in Latin by the superficial similarity between the verb
clueo (OLD s.v. 1) and the adjective of dubious pedigree clutus (Festus, Gloss. Lat. 55: clutum
Graeci dicunt). Etymologizing wordplay on a name partially derived from may
even occur earlier in Aen. 8 itself; OHara (n. 6), 2056 identifies a possible play on the name
of Hercules at 8.2878, where laudes may represent and thus allude to the second part of
the heros name (the first part of Hercules name is derived from Hera, for which Virgil substitutes nouercae): qui carmine laudes | Herculeas et facta ferunt; ut prima nouercae.
12
For discussion of bilingual onomastic puns and allusions, though in a later author, see
D. Vallat, Bilingual word-play on personal names in Martial, in Booth and Maltby (n. 7),
12143. In only one of the cases mentioned, Earinos in 9.13, is the name of the person absent
(and then for metrical reasons). Such wordplay is not limited to poetry: see A.J. Woodman,
Tacitus Reviewed (Oxford, 1998), 2212.
13
In 697 Cleopatra does not see (necdum respicit) the twin serpents at her rear that foreshadow her imminent death. The idea that a backwards glance can be revealing of something
unseen or unnoticed, however, also functions as a metapoetic sign to the reader to look back
at the previous line and discover the allusion to the queens name. D.C. Feeney and D. Nelis,
Two Virgilian acrostics: certissima signa?, CQ 55 (2005), 6446 suggest that respicies at
G. 1.425 signals an upcoming acrostic of Virgils name, where the prepositional prefix of the
verb (also reuertentis at 427) specifies how one should read the acrostic, namely backwards:
the letters representing the cognomen, MA- (429), precede the letters VE- (431), which in turn
precede PV- (433). Although in the third rather than second person, and therefore not a direct
injunction to the reader, respicit at Aen. 8.697 may retain some of Virgils previous semantic
play at G. 1.42437 to draw the readers attention once again to the location of wordplay and
to indicate that the elements of the name are reversed. This signposting function may receive
further emphasis from a tergo in the same line.
14
Eustathius ad Iliad 9.556 (ed. van der Valk, 2.8089) suggests the existence of the wordplay
in Homer and then goes on to connect the Iliadic and historical Cleopatras on the grounds of
their name and beauty:

, ,
, . It is impossible to know whether Eustathius
observation is his own or inherited from a source available to (or postdating) Virgil, but in any
case the Roman poet may have seen the potential significance of the Patroclus-Cleopatra similarity independently of the Homeric critical tradition.

226

PRAMIT CHAUDHURI

Achilles and Meleager respectively, to return to battle.15 Virgils Cleopatra, on


the other hand, becomes a parody of her Homeric namesake as her flight draws
Antony away from Actium.
The decipherment suggested here bolsters, albeit on a molecular level, the
already famous complexity of the Shield of Aeneas. It is perhaps because of this
complexity, in which cryptic wordplay has a role, that the shield, like Cleopatra
herself, is said to defy description (non enarrabile textum 8.625). Virgils allusive
wordplay may even reveal a transgressive quality, if, following Fordyce, we see
Cleopatras name as deliberately suppressed in Augustan poetry. In particular, the
cryptic appearance of Cleopatras name figures her as a problem that resists suppression and as a stimulus to poetic creativity, attesting again to the long-standing
fascination of the Augustans with the Egyptian queen.16 Here, as elsewhere in
Virgils condensed universe, verbal artistry finds innovative ways of responding to
conventions shaped by contemporary politics.
Dartmouth College

PRAMIT CHAUDHURI
pramit.chaudhuri@dartmouth.edu

15
E. Howald, Meleager und Achill, RhM 73 (1924), 411 first suggested an intentional connection between the names Patroclus and Cleopatra. Authorities for and against the theory can
be found in M.M. Willcock, Mythological paradeigma in the Iliad, CQ 14 (1964), 150 n. 4.
Willcock himself found the idea fanciful but current scholars are, to varying degrees, more
receptive. Discussion can be found in the commentaries by J.B. Hainsworth (Cambridge, 1985),
136, J. Griffin (Oxford, 1995), 135, and C.H. Wilson (Warminster, 1996), 28.
16
Cf. Wyke (n. 2), 128.

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