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The Poetics of Late Latin Literature$
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Jas' Elsner and Jesús Hernández Lobato

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199355631

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199355631.001.0001

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To Speak or Not to Speak

To Speak or Not to Speak

The Birth of a “Poetics of Silence” in Late Antique Literature

(p.278) 9 To Speak or Not to Speak
The Poetics of Late Latin Literature

Jesús Hernández Lobato

Oxford University Press

This chapter identifies a typically late antique phenomenon: the emergence of a “poetics of silence” involving a metaliterary problematization of language and representation. This phenomenon, reminiscent of the postmodern “linguistic turn,” is not restricted to literature but is omnipresent in late antique culture; it underlies Augustine’s semiotics, Evagrius Ponticus’s hesychasm, Gregory of Nyssa’s apophaticism and Pseudo-Dionysius’s negative mysticism. The metaphor of silence is tackled by several authors: Sidonius Apollinaris, Fulgentius, Augustine, Ausonius, Rutilius Namatianus, and the anonymous writer of the Peruigilium Veneris. At times, silence is depicted as the haven of tranquillity enabling literary creation; at other times, as a threat of dissolution hovering over the fragility of the poet’s work. Above all, it is the deep, ultimately unknowable reality beyond the murmuring of words. Common to all these authors is a problematizing approach to language and a fundamental distrust of the classical idea of representation.

Keywords:   Augustine of Hippo, Ausonius, Fulgentius, crisis of representation, linguistic turn, metaliterary reflections, Peruigilium Veneris, poetics of silence, Rutilius Namatianus, Sidonius Apollinaris

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