Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Alessandro Lagioia (ed.), Nicola Trevet. Commento all'Oedipus di Seneca. Quaderni di Invigilata Lucernis 35. Bari: Edipuglia, 2008. Pp. lii, 137. ISBN 9788872285527. €20.00 (pb).
Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge

Edippus completes the series of first editions of Nicholas Trevet's 'commentaries' on Seneca's tragedies initiated by E. Franceschini in 1938 with Thyestes (hence the final comprehensive Index of Names appended here, audaciously covering the whole 'set').1

The Londoner turned Dominican friar and prior went on to produce an Edward I-sweet and anecdote-laced Annals of Half-a-Dozen Kings of England besides regaling Oxford, Paris and London audiences with disputations and quodlibeta; and he strung together a finally impressive body of commentary, on the Pentateuch and Psalms, on Boethius and (most of) The City of God (still without a modern edition), on Seneca's Declamations and Livy's first decade, alongside elementary chronicles from the year dot. The ten tragedies belong to the period around 1311-17, and played a part in widening Trevet's reputation.

Alessandro Lagioia's introduction can afford to be be brief since earlier volumes have dealt with the main topics in detail: can we document a historical context for these Expositiones and define their objectives? (Cardinal of Ostia and Velletri Niccolò Alberti di Prato writes to commission the Senecan expositiones: p.XI.) What were Trevet's working-methods, his reference books, and library? (See below.) A clear resumé of the paradosis follows, showing in particular that the lemmata from the play are not taken from the versions included with the commentary, and that there is a ticklish editorial task in sorting copyers' variants and nailing users' interpolations. (Future editors must record tremat at v.50 as attested by Trevet before Gronov's conjecture, but that's the total catch.) L. sets out his policies on orthography and design features, then provides a full bibliographical guide to Trevet's writings and writings about Trevet. He has done his precursor proud. (I noted Deplhica on p.5.19 as -- presumably! -- a slip from L.)

Trevet's commentary runs through the six acts and eleven carmina of this the fifth play in his manuscript evenly, competently, and (you'd guess) effectively. Rare glitches are: p.32.7, Ditis (as if nom., from v.395, where gen.) for Laius, on v.393, ipse; and p.54.22-4, reptet: scilicet manibus et pedibus -- sicut solent ceci facere, immediately followed by the lemma: pretemptans iter triste senili baculo, on vv.656-7. Trevet comes up with what look like sloppy transcription all his own, too, as at p.6.8, patriis regnis, for paternis ... regnis at v.22. But the besetting problem is that he steams on regardless through moments of violation and ruination such as timeo ne genitor, scilicet meus, perimatur manu mea nefanda, for infanda timeo: ne me genitor manu | perimatur (v.15) or ipse, scilicet ego, parui, id est obedivi, michimet, quasi dicat: sponte recessi, non compulsus, for parum ipse fidens mihimet (v.24: presumably poisoned by posui, v.25). And of course rapping choruses extract from our pony correspondingly more sang froid, panache, traction ... If you wanted to 'get through' Edippus, Trevet sure would help: he never questions the text he was working to, even when it made him construe rubbish and not turn a hair. Sorting high-pressure poetry that works word-order hard into phrases prepared for decocting into perspicuous paraphrase makes for an excruciating model of engagement with Latin, literature, drama, verse, reading; and what would be a fair score in terms of avoiding obscurum per obscurius (e.g. p.30.8, iecur, id est epar, ad v.358): +/-10%? What shape does your Latin have to be in for the crib to pay off? But, hey, motes and beams! On my wreckoning, Trevet's reassuring hustle could nevertheless get those pages turning, especially considering that his Seneca was as mutilated as it is demanding. And as a site for sore eyes, more or less whatever state it's in, this Edippus takes some beating.

After a preliminary outline of the Oedipus story, the trip through the text follows a still more firmly set format than the modern editions'. Trevet sticks to his last, rolling out metaphrastic Latin-on-Latin glossing on an imperturbable phrase-by-phrase basis. That formula id est alternates with scilicet, relieved only by a ration of quasi dicat's and enlivened by the odd clumpy note occasioned by references to myths, names, and sundry props. Trevet makes sure to inter-reference loci within Edippus (p.34.15, ut dicetur infra; p.72.18, ut supra dictum est; p.87.20-1, ut patet supra, carmine IX) with his earlier expositiones (p.11.1-2, de quo habitum est supra, tragedia tertia, carmine primo; cf. p.85.1, sicut alias dictum est = his HF), and with his other commentaries (p.63.2, non est putandum propter hoc dictum ... de hoc magis patet super Boetium, libro I metro IIII, p.70.13-14, dictum est in prologo primi libri Declamationum). At p.61.19-20, unde dicitur in principio Georgicon dicitur (= 1.8) looks like Trevet's own addition to Papias on Caonia (at v.728). L's Index of Author Citations directs us to the scattering of quotes from Isidore and Fulgentius, Virgil and Ovid, Digest and Papias' vocabulary, etc. (as set out above the Apparatus ad locc.; and a running head of line numbers keeps pace with the original).

Featured entries concern: pagan Hell (p.14.4-7: citing theologiam Platonis but quoting Macrobius; p.32.11-21: Seneca in eo volumine quo de sacris Aegyptiorum tractat, silently from a mythography attributed to Neckam, and including the only citation from the Aeneid [= 6.329]; p.47.3-17: this time crediting Alexander [Neckam] in Scintillario poesis); details of Bacchic cult and myth (esp. p.36.9-37.2, see below; p.51.13-18, from Fulgentius Book 2, with Ino/vino, Auctonoe/auten-ou-noe, Semele/soma-luon, Agave = insania as the four stages of inebriation, ad vv.616-17); and ethical-theodical pontification (p.18.16-17, ut dicit [Aristoteles] Philosophus in principio Metaphysice, omnes homines naturaliter scire desiderant; p.86.4-6, fingunt enim poete quod nec Iupiter, quem ponunt summum deorum, possit mutare dispositionem fatalem rerum).

The Expositio was designed to be consulted in blocs as well as read through (hence the bridging doublets marked as such: ut (iam) dictum est, at p.4.11, p.33.15, etc.). Each section announces the metre (shakily: esp. p.77.1-4, on vv.882-914), tells us who'll be speaking, and gives the total number of exchanges ahead before counting them out (which gets clumsily distracting when the stichomythia total hits Thirty-Seventhly, between vv.845 and 867 (pp.67.5-73.10). Trevet accepts interjection by Jocasta at vv.103-05.

Rhetorical comment is confined to just three, irresistible, notes: sub yronia dicit (p.7.3, on v.34, ergo tu reus Phebi: where we prefer asto scilicet Phoebi reus), ingeminat ex vehementia doloris (p.12.6 on ille, ille at v.106), and sub yronia in se ipsum invehens dicit (p.76.20 on i, perge, pete, gratare, at vv.880-1). Scholarly debate occurs only when Trevet asks himself why Bacchus has a team of lions, not tigers (as per Fulgentius Book 2) or lynxes (as per Ovid, de Transformatis Book 4): fingunt poete quod tigres trahunt currum Bachi, non leones. unde cur hic Seneca posuit leones non michi satis apparet, nisi forte aspiciatur ad rationem figmenti magis quam ad ipsum figmentum (p.36.9-37.2, on v.426). Does Trevet think up his own etymology when pasting in his word-list definition for contus (-o, at v.168): p.16.4-6, est autem contum [sic] lignum longum ad modum lancee habens cuspidem acutam sed carens ferro, cum quo iste Caron regit, id est movet cimbam suam -- ?


1.   For punctilious extended reviews, see BMCR 2000.06.06 Rolando Ferri on Rebekka Junge, Nicholas Trevet und die Octavia Praetexta; and BMCR 2004.12.09 John Fitch on Maria Chiabò, Nicola Trevet, Commento alla Phaedra di Seneca, and Luciana Roberti, Nicola Trevet, Commento alla Medea di Seneca.)

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