Anyone reading Sophocles’ Antigone in the Oxford Classical Text of 1924, edited by A. C. Pearson, will sooner or later come across the following passage. Antigone has defied Creon’s decree that the body of her brother Polynices, who had recently fallen in battle when waging war against his homeland of Thebes, should be left unburied; discovered, she has been brought before the new ruler.
In Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Titus’s daughter Lavinia is brutally raped by Demetrius and Chiron. They prevent her from denouncing them by cutting out her tongue, and cutting off her hands. But as we see in the passage below, Lavinia nevertheless communicates their crime by pointing to a passage of Ovid’s Metamorphoses describing Tereus’s rape of Philomela.
History and poetry hardly seem obvious bed-fellows – a historian is tasked with discovering the truth about the past, whereas, as Aristotle said, ‘a poet’s job is to describe not what has happened, but the kind of thing that might’. But for the Romans, the connections between them were deep: historia . . . proxima poetis (‘history is closest to the poets’), as Quintilian remarked in the first century AD. What did he mean by that?
Only Oscar Wilde could be quite so frivolous when describing a matter as grave as the punctuation of poetry, something that causes particular grief in our attempts to understand ancient texts. Their writers were not so obliging as to provide their poems with punctuation marks, nor to distinguish between capitals and small letters.