Book and Article Reviews: Fulgentius


FulgenceVirgile dévoilé.  Translated (into French), presented and annotated by Étienne Wolff; postface by Françoise Graziani.  Villeneuve d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2009.



This bilingual (Latin-French) edition of Fulgentius’ Expositio Virgilianae continentiae secundum philosophos moralis [The Explanation of the Content of Virgil According to Moral Philosophy] inaugurates a collection of mythographic texts launched by Presses Universitaires du Septentrion.

Étienne Wolff’s introduction provides an up-to-date summary of the little that is known about the late 5th- or early 6th-century author of Expositio Virgilianae continentiae, also known as Fulgentius Planciadus, probably not identifiable, as Wolff argues, with the bishop of Ruspe, saint Fulgentius. A brief survey is given of Fulgentius’ other works, Mitologiae, Expositio sermonum antiquorum, the lipogrammatic De aetatibus mundi et hominis, and the apocryphal Super Thebaidem, which, although it imitates Expositio Virgilianae continentiae, is probably a 12th-century production, thus illustrating Fulgentius’ enduring influence. Indeed, Fulgentius’ posterity reaches to the fourteenth century, well beyond the 12th-century Commentary on the first six books of Virgil’s Aeneid by Bernardus Silvestris; Boccaccio and Coluccio Salutati exhibit direct knowledge of Expositio Virgilianae continentiae as well as of the three books of Fulgentius’ Mitologiae. In the 16th and early 17th centuries, ongoing interest for Fulgentius’ allegorical reading of the Aeneid is demonstrated by Commelin’s Heidelberg edition (1589) and its re-edition in 1599, together with Fulgentius’ Mitologiae, Hyginus’ Fabulae, Firmicus Maternus’ De errore profanarum religionum and Albricus’ De deorum imaginibus. Sebastianus Nivellus’ Paris edition of Virgil’s works (1600) incorporates Fulgentius’ Expositio, which does not disappear from the Geneva reprints of 1610, 1620 and 1636.

The significance of Fulgentius’ ingenious allegorical reading of the Aeneid as a representation of human life and its etymology-based exegetical method are sharply brought into focus by the editors’ astute choice of providing several related texts, presented by Françoise Graziani: an edition of Pseudo-Fulgentius’ Super Thebaiden, excerpts of Isodore of Seville’s Etymologies (I, 29 on etymology, VIII, 7 on poets, VIII, 11 on the gods of the Gentiles), excerpts from the preface of Bernard Silvestris’ Commentary on Martianus Capella’s De Nuptiis and from Boccaccio’s Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante, in which Boccaccio goes on expounding his conception of the origins and functions of poetry, in the prolongation of his earlier analyses in Books XIV and XV of the Genealogia.

The theory of the integumentum, or involucrum, the veil of fiction under which the poet hides deep truth like a kernel to be discovered in a rough shell, places classical mythology at the heart of the crossroads where poetry, science, and philosophy meet. The multiple, non exclusive meanings of allegoresis pave the way for polysemy as a poetical tool.

Thus, Fulgentius’ importance as distant forefather of Renaissance poetics cannot be underestimated. Shakespeare’s dramatic and poetic practice often defines itself in relation to mythographic thought — whether it follows, distorts or distanciates itself from its tenets. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Helena’s allegorization of Cupid (I.i.234-41), beyond poets like Marullo, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Girolamo Angeriano, Thomas Watson, and beyond most Renaissance mythographers, reaches back to Isidore’s seminal interpretations (VIII, xi, 80). Similarly, Fulgentius’ association between Ixion’s torture and the vicissitudes of the wheel of Fortune in Mitologiae (II, xiv) starts an interpretative trend which ultimately blossoms out in King Lear’s vision of himself as “bound upon a wheel of fire” (King Lear,


How to cite

FulgenceVirgile dévoilé.  Translated (into French), presented and annotated by Étienne Wolff; postface by Françoise Graziani.  Villeneuve d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2009.  Reviewed by Yves Peyré. 2009.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology (2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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