Monday, January 5, 2009


Antonino Grillone (ed., comm.), Blossi Aem. Draconti. Orestis Tragoedia. Introduzione, testo critico e commento. Invigilata Lucernis 33. Bari: Edipuglia, 2008. Pp. 221. ISBN 9788872285237. €30.00 (pb).
Georg Luck, Johns Hopkins University (

Professor Grillone is an authority on Dracontius, and the Bibliography (pp. 165-70) lists no less than twenty-six of his own publications dealing in one way or another with the poet who lived in the 5th century AD and this particular work of his, a kind of epyllion in 974 hexameters, covering the plot of Aeschylus' Oresteia with some additional episodes.

The text is preserved anonymously in two MSS, the Bernensis Bongarsianus 45, s. IX (= B) and the Ambrosianus O 74 sup., s. XV (=A). About twenty lines (see p. 20, n.7) are found in four Florilegia (s. XIII-XIV).

The first to draw attention to the work was J. R. (not J. B.) Sinner de Ballaigues (1730-1787), the Librarian of the Bibliotheca Bernensis at the time, a contemporary and friend of Albrecht von Haller. In his Catalogus of the Latin MSS. now in the Burgerbibliothek (Bern, 1760, pp. 507-8) he transcribed vv. 1-2 and 752-70, making two evident emendations (754 uatis for satis [B] or sortis [A] and 756 necet, necet for net necet [B] or necet nec [A].

The whole story of this text, as it went through the hands of a succession of editors, is fascinating and represents, in my opinion, a minor triumph in the history of classical scholarship. Grillone, of course, is familiar with all of its phases, but the story itself is told memorably by J. Bouquet and E. Wolff, in the introduction (pp. 8-9) of their Budé Edition (Paris 1995).

C. W. Müller (1857), the first editor of the (still anonymous) work, declared that, because of its language and style, it could not possibly belong to the classical age. The next, editor, J. Mähly (1866), a colleague of Friedrich Nietzsche and Jacob Burckhardt at the University of Basel, placed the poem in the late 5th or early 6th century, but thought, on the basis of the prayer at the very end (vv. 963-74) that the author must have been a Greek writing in Latin.

Only a year later, C. Schenkl published a new edition. He was even more precise. Having compared the text with works of Luxorius and Corippus, he opted for an author who lived in Africa around 600. Then came Cardinal Angelo Mai who published in 1871 the Orestis Tragoedia, along with another epyllion, De Raptu Helenae, ascribed to Dracontius, and declared that both works must have one and the same author.

When F. von Duhn (1873) edited Dracontius' Carmina Minora for the Teubner series, he was able to demonstrate even more conclusively the close stylistic relationship between the work and ten pieces attributed to the poet, including De Raptu Helenae, Hylas Medea.

Next in line was R. Peiper (1875) who collected, in his edition, a large number of parallels between the work and poems transmitted under the name of Dracontius. His results were further substantiated by B. Westhoff (1889), K. Rossberg (1878; 1880), R. Barwinski (1887-1890), C. Giarratano (1906), F. Vollmer (1905; 1914), among others.

Today, no one seems to have any doubts that Dracontius is, indeed, the author of this work, but we should remember the intensive labor of several generations of scholars that led to this conclusion. It also becomes evident that the establishment of the text is the work of a succession of very able textual critics. Grillone offers a useful survey of the contributions made by previous scholars and by himself (pp. 38-41). Obviously, his name appears in the app. crit. and the commentary quite often and he makes it easier for the reader to identify his own ideas by various typographical devices (see the explanation on p. 50).

The two main MSS. whose relationship to each other is not yet fully understood, offer a very inferior text. It has become readable thanks to a great many conjectures, some of them made by little-known scholars, such as A. Rothmaler (1865) and K. Rossberg (1878-1880). (From my work on Ovid's Tristia, I remember one of Rothmaler's emendations in that work, and Rossberg anticipated some of Housman's best ideas in Propertius).

To give an idea of the kind of paradosis they had to work with, I will only cite two examples. In v. 396 B offers nulla stipulauerat aures, and A happens to have the correct reading, perhaps by conjecture: nullas tuba uerberet aures confirmed by Lucan 7, 24-5. In v. 665, missing in A, B has quidque dolent iuualenes which Rothmaler emended to quisque dolent iuuenes. In classical Latin prose this would be uterque iuuenis dolet, as Bouquet explains (n. 462).

A. E. Housman, looking at vv. 462-70 found the passage "so maltreated by editors and yet so easy to correct" that he appended a few conjectures to his article on "Astrology in Dracontius" (CP 812-3), even though the lines have nothing to do with astrology. His emendations are, indeed, so striking that one is surprised to find them neither in Grillone nor in Bouquet, and they deserve to be listed here:

467 uincere rectum est (A) : uincere tecta (B) : uinceret Hector; (Housman) // 468 remanes erepta (A) : remanes et rapta (B) : remaneret rapta (Housman) // 469 laborastis (A) : laboratis (B) : laborasti (Housman). He also noted that si in 467 and 468 means utinam, and the editors should have taken the hint.

I do not find it easy to add new emendations to those already made, even though problems in the text remain. A few suggestions: 236 read, perhaps instat for stat; 457 read, perhaps, post for per (cf. Ovid, Met.. 14, 158 where post taedia longa laborum has become per taedia l. l.. in a few witnesses); 640 read probably subito ; 669 read perhaps subitos for subito (loss of -s before speret); 713 read probably coruscans for coruscus (A: -is B).

Grillone's text is clearly the result of many years of intensive work. Even where one disagrees, one should always consult his notes and see how he arrived at his conclusions. I do not think that the unmetrical egit in 191 can be defended. On the other hand, he is right in adopting Martis (L. Müller for mortis B A) in 699. His book is indispensable for anyone who is interested in Dracontius and in late Latin poetry in general.

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