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Nicolò Campodonico, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa

This Postgraduate-work-in-progress seminar will be held online via Zoom and in person in room 102, Senate House. Booking is required.
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The comparison between Homer and Virgil, as the peaks of Greek and Latin literature, led already in Antiquity to the flourishing of a debate on their works and relationships. Within this, how deeply did the biographical tradition about Homer, i.e. the legends about his life collected in numerous βίοι (starting with the one attributed to Herodotus), influence the narration of Virgil’s life, especially in the so-called Vitae Vergilianae written by Suetonius–Donatus, Servius, Phocas and Probus? On the basis of the characteristics of the literary sub-genre ‘life of a poet’, I would like to develop the enquiry from two perspectives. On the one hand, I want to discuss the passages of the Vitae Vergilianae which explicitly propose a comparison between Vergil and Homer. The importance of this emulation is rhetorically emphasised by Phocas, for whom Virgil is a specimen of Homer and a champion of Latin poetry (25–29). In Suetonius–Donatus 44–46, the parallel with Homer has an apologetic function in relation to the alleged furta committed by Virgil imitating Homer, following a motif that goes back to Ovid (Rem. 365–370). On the other hand, some anecdotes about Virgil’s life seem to be modulated on similar cases that happened to Homer; they include, for instance, the predestination to poetry since childhood, the existence of youthful (and disputed) works, the giving of poems to friends, the way of writing, the presence of rivals, the composition of their own epitaph. In this way, Virgil’s life seems to constructed to reflect Homer’s, in analogy to the imitative relationship between their works. A review of the confrontations between the two poets up to late antiquity not only highlights the fluctuations in Virgil’s position with respect to Homer, but also shows how much this biographical likeness was expected and perceived.