Review of Poetry Underpinning Power

by Barbara Weinlich, University of Montana

(For full review see: Phoenix, Journal of the Classical Association of Canada, vol. 71 no. 1-2.)

Can the AENEID be viewed as poetry of the human condition (Menschheitsdichtung)? Is Turnus the epic’s tragic hero? Does the text’s rhetorical and logical organization open itself up to any approach that aims at de-Augustanizing Vergil’s epic? Not in the eyes of Hans-Peter Stahl, who in his thorough, well-argued, and persuasive contextual analysis of the plot as well as the main characters’ representation refutes any hoped-for prospects of uncovering an anti-imperial, more humane Vergil in the Aeneid. In doing so, he goes far beyond challenging some of the most noteworthy trends in the recent study of Vergil’s epic for the sake of recovering the authorial intent. The strength of Stahl’s contribution to past and more recent scholarship on Vergil’s epic is that it offers a (con)textual analysis which, based on a close reading and informed by a profound knowledge of Greek and Latin literature, may be regarded as exemplary, even formative...

...Stahl’s proposed reading of the Aeneid as poetry underpinning Augustus’ power offers an engagingly written, extremely well-annotated, and, most importantly, original contri- bution to current scholarship on Vergil’s epic. Within the polyphony of scholarly voices on the Aeneid Stahl’s is not only a strong but at times also a thundering one. Shattering the wishful concept of a regime-critical poet time and again, by insisting on a precise and contextual reading of Vergil’s text, he fearlessly (and at times fiercely) takes on the approaches of the Harvard School as well as readings that are informed by, among others, New Criticism and Semiotic Theory. In view of the opening questions, however, it may be said that Stahl contributes a valiant voice to the monumental “song” of the human condition that scholarship on the Aeneid has created and will continue to create.