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Classics / Literature


Nox Philologiae
Aulus Gellius and the Fantasy of the Roman Library
Erik Gunderson

Wisconsin Studies in Classics
Patricia A. Rosenmeyer, Laura McClure, and Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell, Series Editors

“Should become one of those cult books loved by bibliophiles of whatever area of expertise.”
—John Henderson, University of Cambridge, editor and translator of Asinaria by Plautus

In this strikingly original and playful work, Erik Gunderson examines questions of reading the past—an enterprise extending from antiquity to the present day. This esoteric and original study focuses on the equally singular work of Aulus Gellius—a Roman author and grammarian (ca. 120–180 A.D.), possibly of African origin. Gellius’s only work, the twenty-volume Noctes Atticae, is an exploding, sometimes seemingly random text-cum-diary in which Gellius jotted down everything of interest he heard in conversation or read in contemporary books. Comprising notes on Roman and classical grammar, geometry, philosophy, and history, it is a one-work overview of Latin scholarship, thought, and intellectual culture, a combination condensed library and cabinet of curiosities.

Gunderson tackles Gellius with exuberance, placing him in the larger culture of antiquarian literature. Purposely echoing Gellius’s own swooping word-play and digressions, he explores the techniques by which knowledge was produced and consumed in Gellius’s day, as well as in our own time. The resulting book is as much pure creative fun as it is a major work of scholarship informed by the theories of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Derrida.

“As a practice, antiquarianism concerns itself with symbols of violence as well as symbolic violence. . . . The process entails the mastery of others as well as the mastery of the self. Preliminary to either conquest, though, one masters the contents of books. This first success empowers the scholar to challenge all competitors.”
—excerpt from Nox Philologiae

Erik Gunderson is associate professor of classics at the University of Toronto. His other books include Declamation, Paternity and Roman Identity: Authority and the Rhetorical Self and Staging Masculinity: The Rhetoric of Performance in the Roman World.


“A sustained jeu d’ ésprit of rare verve and panache. It is also perhaps the deepest and most perceptive assault on the complex world of Aulus Gellius’s Noctes Atticae in modern scholarship: by turns playful, conversational, difficult, discursive, penetrating.”
—Jas’ Elsner, University of Oxford

Of Related Interest:
The Alexandrian Library and the Origins of Bibliography
Rudolf Blum
Translated by Hans H. Wellisch

This landmark study of the Alexandrian Library, published in German in 1977, is available here in English for the first time. In this significant contribution Blum suggests that Kallimachos of Kyrene was an innovative literary historian and the inventor of two essential scholarly tools: the library catalog and the biobibliographical reference work.

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the cover of Gunderson's book is illustrated with an old painting of a still life of books that appears to be a man.

January 2009

LC: 2008012088 PA
344 pp.   6 x 9

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Cloth $55.00 s
ISBN 978-0-299-22970-2
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