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Why Attic Nights? Or What's in a Name?*

  • Amiel D. Vardi (a1)

In the preface to his Nodes Atticae, Gellius explains his choice of title:

quoniam longinquis per hiemem noctibus in agro, sicuti dixi, terrae Atticae commentationes hasce ludere ac facere exorsi sumus, idcirco eas inscripsimus Noctium esse Atticarum (praef. 4)

He then proceeds to enumerate other titles used for miscellaneous works similar to his own, both Greek and Latin, which, he claims, are far more refined and witty than his title (§§4–9). Attractive as Gellius' explanation may be, it raises some serious difficulties2 and should not be taken at face value, especially since it seems to establish a novel type of relation between title and work. None of the titles in Gellius' list seems to have been based on the circumstances of the inception of the work, nor indeed does any other extant title prior to the publication of the Nodes Atticae. There is no reason to deny Gellius the credit for inventing a novel principle of titling, yet titles based on the circumstances of composition rather than on the content of the work fail to perform a primary function of titles, namely an initial direction of the expectations of prospective readers.

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H. Levin , ‘The Title as Literary Genre’, MLR 72 (1977), xxiii–xxxvi

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The Classical Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0009-8388
  • EISSN: 1471-6844
  • URL: /core/journals/classical-quarterly
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