This article revisits a famous staple of the Vergilian tradition, Servius's heavily contested scholion on the actress Volumnia Cytheris's theatrical rendition of Vergil's sixth Eclogue. By shifting the focus of inquiry from the strictly historical question ‘did it happen?’ it cuts through, identifies and disentangles a nexus of prejudices which have led to the devaluing of Servius's information. The sidelining or dismissal of this piece of evidence, I argue, has more to teach us about our own culturally entrenched and discipline-inherited assumptions than about what could have happened in late Republican Rome. Scrutiny of the evidence on the stage re-mediation of high poetry suggests it is entirely plausible that Cytheris would have performed a theatricalized version of Vergil's masterpiece. Indeed at the very heart of the story lies the convergence between élite poetry and the world of professional stage artists. Moreover, Cytheris's possible performance of a repertoire that coincides with the mythological core of pantomime dancing in its artistic maturity opens pivotal questions concerning what Plutarch (Mor.748a) aptly calls the “full association and mutual entanglement” between the arts of poetry and dance. Taking Servius seriously gives us the impetus to explore more decisively dimensions of Roman life that have been messily sidelined as a result of the systematic privileging of “texts” in our surveys of Roman intellectual landscapes over the centuries. Even if Servius's extract turned out to be no more than a “myth”, an “anecdote”, as such narratives go, this is an incredibly helpful one, provided we are willing to press it into the service of larger inquiries regarding the “circulation” of cultural energy between élite and popular culture.
Research Article| April 01 2019
On Taking our Sources Seriously: Servius and the Theatrical Life of Vergil's Eclogues
Classical Antiquity (2019) 38 (1): 91–140.
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Ismene Lada-Richards; On Taking our Sources Seriously: Servius and the Theatrical Life of Vergil's Eclogues. Classical Antiquity 1 April 2019; 38 (1): 91–140. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ca.2019.38.1.91
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