Valerius Flaccus, Virgil and the Poetics of Ekphraris

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Descriptions of works of art in classical poetry are often susceptible to interpretation as instances of mise en abyme, i.e. miniature representations of (an aspect of) the work of which they are part. The Argonautica features two major instances of ekphrasis: the description of the pictures that adorn the Argo’s hull (1.130–48) and the description of the reliefs on the doors of the temple of Sol in Colchis (5.407–55). In this chapter This chapter shows how both passages, positioned at two crucial moments in the narrative (at the very beginning of the voyage in book 1 and right after the arrival of the Argonauts in Colchis in Book 5 respectively) reflect the poetics of the entire epic. The metapoetical significance of the ekphrasis in Book 1 is suggested by its close link to the immediately preceding passage describing the construction of the Argo. It is argued that the ‘Callimachean’ and Ovidian subject matter of the pictures on the hull should be read accordingly and point in the direction of Valerius’ positioning of his epic vis-à-vis his main model, Virgil’s Aeneid. This ekphrasis is clearly linked to the description of the temple in Book 5, which also features the construction of the Argo and has ‘Ovidian’ overtones as well. For instance, Valerius reads his main model – Virgil’s description of the temple of Juno in Aeneid 1 – through Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the palace of Sol is described (2.1–19). Together, these two interconnected ekphraseis reveal Valerius’ self-conscious positioning of his Argonautica in the epic tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBrill's Companion to Valerius Flaccus
EditorsM. Heerink, G. Manuwald
Place of PublicationLeiden
ISBN (Print)9789004227415
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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