the Avram Davidson electronic newsletter

Vol. II No. 1
8 May 1997
ISSN 1089-764X

Henry Wessells, Editor.
Cooper Wessells, Honorary Secretary.

Published bimonthly.
Contents copyright 1997 The Nutmeg Point District Mail and assigned to individual contributors. All rights reserved.

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Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-0072


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The NEW URL of the Avram Davidson Website is:
Please update browsers and links accordingly, and tell all your friends.
The compiler 'umbly 'opes to have some dramatic new features and material available this summer.

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VERGIL AND THE WOMEN, or, 19th-century Scholarship through a Kaleidoscope

Vergil in the Middle Ages by Domenico Comparetti.
Translated by E.F.M. Benecke.
With a new introduction by Jan M. Ziolkowski.
Princeton University Press
41 William Street, Princeton, NJ 08540

A hundred years after its first publication in English, Comparetti's Vergil in the Middle Ages remains an acknowledged masterpiece of philological and literary scholarship. It is an unparalleled repository of material about Vergil, his poetry, and also about nineteenth century attitudes toward the classical and mediaeval periods. The introduction by Ziolkowski looks at the place of this book and its author in the intellectual history of the late nineteenth century. Comparetti (1835-1927) also shared in the patriotic sentiments that culminated in the formation of a unified Italy; certain anticlerical and "antiteutonic" propensities accompanied his pro-Italian fervor. In 1853, Comparetti wrote: "To the foreigners who visit the monuments of Italy, an epigram. These monuments admired by you still show you the Latin might [virtu latina], but the deep ruins which cover them show you of whom you are the descendants." Ziolkowski comments that, "The understandable political suspicions of Italians toward the Austro-Hungarian empire were imposed retrospectively upon the Middle Ages. . . ."

This phenomenon will not surprise readers of the District Mail or of the works of Avram Davidson. Consider this, from the Author's Note to The Phoenix and the Mirror:

"From the Dark Ages to the Renascence the popular view of the ancient world as reflected in the Vergilean Legends was far from the historical and actual one in more than the acceptance of legend and magic and myth. It is a world of never-never, and yet it is a world true to its own curious lights -- a backward projection of medievalism, an awed and confused transmogrification of quasi-forgotten ancient science, a world which slumbered much -- but whose dreams were far from dull."
The reissue of Comparetti's work on the magician Vergil prompts me to read through Vergil in the Middle Ages in light of Avram's novels. Scandalous, and post-modern, perhaps, but such a proces