‘Lapidary' Latin and Poetic Mediality: Conceptualising the Medium of Poetry in Roman Verse
This project seeks to investigate the traditional characterisation of Latin as ‘lapidary’ – a material quality that allows for significant visuality and ‘medial’ play in Latin poetry, and something which (especially under imperial, socio-cultural influences) Latin poets became increasingly aware of, enabling them to shape a unique ‘poetic medium’. Taking in a broad chronological, generic and cultural view to both chart and assess Latin poetry’s self-conceptualisation, my research will build on what Michael Roberts (in relation to ‘the jewelled style’ of Late Antique poetics) has identified as ‘the physical existence of words and of metre’: the building-block, tessera, even atom-like, nature of individual words, and the careful placement of such elements to create a minutely constructed ‘artefact’. These distinctive characteristics are also intimately related to issues of monumentality (e.g. Hor. Carm. 3.30.1) and regular resonances with epigraphic text. Additionally, such close affiliations with stone suggest further parallels with gems and mosaics. Initial analysis therefore points to the overall ambiguous ‘medial’ existence of the Latin poetic text: something both materially constructed and contained, yet also ultimately transcendent (by virtue of being poetry). Through this investigation of poetic ‘mediality’, I aim to offer a new perspective on Latin poetry, revealing concerns with media not unrelated to modern times, and thus helping to highlight a renewed relevance for Classical literature in the present digital age. The thesis will use close textual analysis to investigate mediality, monumentality and epigraphic play in Horace’s Odes, before exploring Ovid’s exile poetry and the work of Optatian for comparison.