This article analyzes the representational strategies Vergil uses in the description of the shield of Aeneas to shape the reception of his text. Three aspects of the ekphrasis highlight its ambiguous status as a literary representation figuring itself as a material presence that can become part of history as well as depicting it. First, descriptions of rivers frame narrative units within book 8 as though the text were a visual image, while failing to perform such a function in the case of the shield itself. Rivers also symbolize both the linear progression of the narrative and its static visual surface. Second, the presence of multiple levels of internal spectators simultaneously reminds Vergil's audience of the differences between poem and image and image and reality and provides focalizing perspectives from which each represented image can be perceived as real. Finally, intertextual references to defining features of historiography as a literary genre provide a model for how literary accounts of the past can influence events. But the comparison with historiography also draws attention to what Vergil does differently, particularly his direct representation of divine action and his refashioning of history's linear order into a circular, spatial image that can be viewed synchronically.
According to many recent interpretations of Catullus 101, the ritual performance it describes serves primarily as a foil, highlighting the greater expressiveness and communicative power of the poem itself. I argue instead for using the complexities of Roman funerary ritual as a model for understanding the poem's ambiguities. As funerary offerings at once establish a bond between family members and the dead and affirm a distinction between them that allows the survivors to rejoin the society of the living, so the poem articulates a tension between assertions of the brother's absence and intimations of his presence as addressee, even as speaker. Similarly, the split between the poem's fictional context as a one-time-only farewell to the brother and its existence as a repeatable literary artifact further accentuates the double allegiance of the poet. In the second section I consider how the poem, without being an epitaph itself, fulfills the functions of an epitaph, by allowing for the re-performance of the ritual, constructing the opposition between permanence and temporality present in the epitaph/monument complex, "inscribing" the brother's death at the prominent literary "crossroads" of the beginning of the Odyssey, and finally making the commemoration of the brother performed through each reading of the poem a sacrum that builds its audience into a community.
In his description of the boat race in the fifth book of the "Aeneid", Vergil's comparison of the ships to chariots can be read not only as an allusion to the Homeric model on which the scene is based but also as part of a larger attempt to recast the episode as a contemporary circus spectacle. Like the Augustan circus, Vergil's boat race offers an image of cosmic and political order. However, beyond its symbolic function the Roman circus also played an active role in realizing the hierarchies it depicted by incorporating its spectators into a unified vision of state and universe. So the boat race too, far from constituting a hiatus in the action of the poem, becomes an instrument for the socialization of those who watch it. The spectacle gives its audience a glimpse of the gods in action and of the leadership of Aeneas himself, whose past accomplishments are reflected in the conduct of the captains. Moreover, the careful organization of internal audiences within the narrative allows every spectator to identify with another figure closer to the center of events and, by extension, invites Vergil's own readers to see themselves as participants in the scene. Thus Vergil uses the model of circus spectacle to bridge the gap separating his audience from the epic past by restaging that past in a form that both was a part of the immediate experience of the contemporary Roman and also provided a crucial context for the constitution of Roman civic life.