Haud sane indocti neque ignobiles: reassessing the evidence about Virgil’s early critics

Lorenza Bennardo (University of Toronto)

Early criticism of Virgil identifies inappropriate content and weak and ineffective vocabulary as recurrent shortcomings of the poet’s works. Ancient scholars informing us about such criticism, and the modern interpreters studying the exegetical tradition, dismissively treat the perspective of Virgil's early critics as a telltale sign of their inability to understand the poet's style. This paper counters such dismissive treatment by reconsidering, as a case study, our evidence for one early Virgilian critic, L. Annaeus Cornutus. Pursuing the holistic approach to Cornutus’ work recently suggested by G. Boys-Stones, the paper will situate Cornutus' contribution to early Virgilian debates in the context of his broader grammatical and philosophical interests. Such a new and comprehensive approach to the evidence aims to debunk current ideas about the supposed failures of Cornutus’ aesthetic and literary judgment, while demonstrating the influence of ancient and modern interpretative biases in constructing normative representations of early Virgilian criticism.