Ascraeus Vergilius:
Some Unobserved Instances of Intertextuality

Chad Matthew Schroeder

The subject of this paper is an unraveling of a complicated nexus of texts stretching from the fragments of Hesiod to Virgil, focusing in particular upon two incompletely understood instances of intertextuality in the Aeneid. Virgil’s use of Hesiod has been largely confined to the presence of the Works and Days in the Georgics, taking the cue of Servius in the Georgics prologue, while the Theogony and the fragmentary works have received less attention. Further, Virgil’s appreciation of Hesiod is often viewed only as having been diluted through the lens of Hellenistic poetry. Virgil was a finer and infinitely more subtle poet than this; he was aware of the Hellenistic reworkings of Hesiod, but he also knew Hesiod well, and a reassessment of his poetic relationship to Hesiod is needed.

This paper takes as its starting point an article on the same intertextual nexus by Jeffrey Wills: “Scyphus – A Homeric Hapax in Virgil,” AJP 108 (1987) 455-457. Wills offered a convincing argument that in composing the hospitality scene of Evander and Aeneas in book eight of the Aeneid, Virgil sought to evoke the hospitality scene of Eumaeus and Odysseus in Odyssey book fourteen. In typical Alexandrian fashion, Virgil did this by employing the Homeric hapax skyphos, as well as other verbs and by paying attention to metrical positioning. Wills also suggested that Theocritus’ use of skyphos in the first Idyll shows that he too had looked to Homer for a model. Wills detected a further connection: in Homer and Theocritus, the skyphos is called a kissybion. Virgil, consciously imitating Theocritus’ first Idyll in his own third Eclogue, called the kissybion there a pocula. Nowhere in this article is any mention made of Hesiod.

This paper argues that Wills’ interrelation of these passages, while fundamentally sound, leaves out another important model for Virgil: Hesiod’s now-lost Melampodia, a poem that narrated the deeds of the Argive physician and seer Melampus. In a hospitality scene similar to that in Homer and Virgil, Hesiod used the same Homeric hapax skyphos. Hesiod also used one of the other verbs found in the nexus of Homer, Theocritus, and Virgil. There are other textual clues, however, which tie Hesiod and Virgil together and which are not found in Homer or Theocritus. Evander, for instance, in taking up the sacer scyphos assumes a religious function which alludes to the Melampodia, where it is a seer who presents the skyphos. In the preserved fragments of the Melampodia, the word kissybion does not occur. It is, however, preserved in a fragment attributed to Hesiod by the scholia to the first Idyll of Theocritus (this fragment is also incorporated tout court in Callimachus’ Aitia). This paper argues that this fragment is authentic Hesiod, and that it should be assigned to the Melampodia.

That Virgil knew Hesiod’s Melampodia well cannot be doubted. Servius, commenting on the sixth Eclogue, relates that Gallus, one of Virgil’s closest friends, translated a poem of Euphorion on the riddling contest of Calchas and Mopsus into Latin. Although Euphorion’s poem does not survive, it may well have been heavily dependent upon Hesiod’s Melampodia, which included this same contest of Calchas and Mopsus. An examination then of Virgil’s use of Hesiod can demonstrate that his intertextual references are in many cases more complicated and more evocative than has previously been realized.

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