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Ben Pullan (Exeter): Nature (Un-)Tamed: Man vs. his Environment in the pseudo-Virgilian Aetna

CAH Dept. Research Seminar

Event details

This paper uses an ecocritical perspective to elucidate an under-appreciated tension apparent within the pseudo-Virgilian Aetna: namely, the complex power-play between speaker (the poet-persona) and subject matter (Nature). A surface reading of the Aetna – a 645-verse hexametric didactic poem on the workings of Mount Etna dated to the First Century A.D. – provides the reader with the impression of its poet-persona as a champion of Nature, a true student of the Earth, and someone who expresses genuine environmental concern. Nevertheless, this paper uses ecocritical concepts – particularly that of anthropocentricism – to challenge the impression of the poem’s ecological soundness. It demonstrates that, read from this perspective, one of the speaker’s explicit, overarching aims is to tame his natural subject matter – to deprive it, in a sense, of its wilderness; something he attempts to achieve by familiarising Etna via anthropocentric diction and similes, and more broadly by restricting its destructive power within his explanatory hexameters. Thus the Aetna can be read to challenge the fundamental ecocritical idea that the dissemination of poetry is an inherently ‘ecological’ practice, demonstrating as it does that verse can be used to explain, contain, tame or even restrain the natural environment. I shall use this underlying tension to provide a re-evaluation of the most controversial part of the Aetna, its seemingly contradictory closing miranda fabula, suggesting that the poem’s ending in fact provides a somewhat unexpected ‘final word’ on this power-play, an acknowledgement on the speaker’s part of his ultimate inability to tame Nature with verse.

Classics_seminar_Poster_29_January_Ben_Pullan.pdf (8942K)


Amory C417