Love in the hands of the commentator: Servius reads Vergilian erotics
Sobolewski, Scott Anthony
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Scholar commentators played an important role in the intellectual culture of Roman late antiquity, as demonstrated by the work of Robert Kaster and others. By helping educate elites and participating in learned conversations of the sort fictionalized by Macrobius, they exercised a cultural influence that was perhaps less subtle than that worked by prose tracts or poetry, but pervasive nevertheless. This dissertation examines one strand of scholarly dialogue of the era, the engagement on the part of the Vergilian commentator Servius with erotic themes. In the late fourth and early fifth centuries, Vergil's poetry remained pre-eminent, persisting through the centuries since his death as a fundamental school text and cultural touchstone. Servius was himself pre-eminent in his day as an expositor of Vergil's texts. By considering how Servius presents and expounds upon Vergil, then, we come to a site of discourse that was of considerable importance to the Roman intellectual and educational environment of the day. The importance of erotics within this discourse is established by the considerable attention that Servius himself devotes to the subject. To evaluate Servius' discourse of erotics requires first setting Servius and his commentary in their full context. Chapter 1 establishes how Servius stands in relation to the previous commentary tradition generally. Chapter 2 presents an original survey of modern views of late antique erotics, in particular how the advent of Christianity altered the Roman discourse. Chapter 3 begins the exploration of Servius' representation of erotics with an analysis of his amatory vocabulary. Chapter 4 shifts to consideration of Servius' treatment of erotic myth. Chapter 5 returns to comparison of Servius with other commentators on Vergil to arrive at a fully informed view of what makes him distinctive. Chapter 6 offers some concluding observations on how the approach of Servius fit into the late antique discourse of erotics overall. A set of three appendices conclude the dissertation, composing an overview of the elements that make up Servius' amatory discourse. The interpretation of all of these approaches to Servius leads to one overarching conclusion. Far more than his fellow commentators, Servius practices an antiquarianism that gives a full hearing to the rather different erotic mores of Vergil's day, and, in so doing, effectively engages in recuperating those values. In an era where much of the erotic impulse in writing was channeled either into the advocacy of chastity or into sublimated spectacles of martyrdom, Servius goes out of his way to develop Vergilian tales in ways that highlight the complexity of erotic passion, from its pleasures to its dangers, and does so with a psychological perception far beyond that shown by his peers.