Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review of Feeney, Beyond Greek: The Beginnings of Latin Literature

Denis Feeney, Beyond Greek: The Beginnings of Latin Literature. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 377. ISBN 9780674055230. $35.00.

Reviewed by Jackie Elliott, University of Colorado Boulder (


This characteristically elegant and learned book essentially takes what we know about the origins of Roman literature and re-frames it in a larger, comparative context. That larger context illuminates not only how peculiar it is for a literature to have developed at all in the ancient world (either in Greece or at Rome) but especially how peculiar it is that Roman literature, from its origins and successively, presents itself as a continuation and development of Greek literature. (Ovid, Am. 15 and Accius’ Didascalica are Feeney’s opening examples of that representation.) Feeney’s object is “to de-familiarize the terms of comparison and of reference we use in describing the Roman experiment so as to bring the strange developments of the period into perspective” (p. 8). His engaging comparative data and the work he does to breathe life into facts and ideas we have long lived with (e.g. the First Punic War becomes the “Great War” on analogy with the war of 1914-18, explained in n. 2 on pp. 279-80) readily assist him in that aim.

The subject is not of direct interest to PaleoJudaica, but the book does touch on some matters of interest, such as Manetho, Berossus, Carthage, "the Hebrew texts," and Ancient Near Eastern literature. There appears not to be much, if anything, on translations of the Bible into Latin.