Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Stefan Freund (ed.), Laktanz, Divinae institutiones, Buch 7: De vita beata: Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung und Kommentar. Texte und Kommentare, Bd. 31. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009. Pp. x, 707. ISBN 9783110193459. $165.00.
Reviewed by M. Weiskopf

Freund has produced a text of Lactantius, Book 7, de vita beata, commensurate with Teubner standards. His introductory matter begins with a presentation of Lactantius' biographical data (pp. 1-13) and the place of Book 7 in the Divinae institutiones (pp. 14-32). Born of a pagan family in Provincia Africa c. 250 AD, Lactantius, a later convert to Christianity, conceived and wrote the work during the time of persecution (303 AD), finishing it in its original form at the latest 30 April 311: the tone marks the time Christianity was under pressure, contemporary events seemingly evoking the End-Times of the Old and New Testaments. Freund perceptively suggests that Lactantius was sheltered by one he taught, concluding (n. 43 on pp. 11-12): "Kurzum, es ist reizvoll und durchaus schlüssig, sich den hypothetischen Beschützer als den prototypischen Leser der Divinae institutiones zu denken." 324/325 AD marks the death of Lactantius, the dating for which is discussed and defended in Freund's commentary for 7.26.11-17. A summation of the structure and major points of Books 1-6 (pp. 14-16) follows, thereby introducing the main themes of Book 7. This book's contents are presented in a detailed conspectus arranged by sections (pp. 22-27) followed by a summation of Lactantius' points (pp. 28-32). The pagan reader remains Lactantius' prime focus--that reader will be urged to take up the true faith. All this clearly presented material may be abstracted and introduced to gymnasium-level religious studies classes. Before considering Freund's presentation of Lactantius' sources (pp. 31-71, commentary pp. 199-620), I examine his Latin text and German translation (pp. 85-197).

As did Lactantius, Freund presents a reworked earlier text, his Habilitationsschrift of 2005/2006, but one which looks forward to the efforts of both Heck and Wlosok (whose collations he examined) to produce a full modern edition of the Divinae institutiones for Teubner. Freund completed his introduction in 2008, postdating the Teubner editions of Books 1, 2, 3, and 4, predating by a few months in 2009 the release of Books 5 and 6 (cf. Teubner edition pp. lxix, lxii n. 185, lxxiii). Although he characterizes his text as a Lesetext (p. ix; lemmata not piled high), his efforts result in the first modern edition of Book 7 since Brandt's (1890, cf. p. 623). The principles of text-construction are laid down in the introduction (esp. pp. 71-82; p. 80 lists divergences from Brandt). In wording and style Lactantius is heavily dependent on Cicero. Like Cicero in his effort to find Latin equivalents for Greek philosophical terminology, so Lactantius must find terms intelligible to his pagan reading public in presenting Christian teaching (cf. esp. n. 13-14 on p. 73). Freund's attention to Lactantius' habits thus strengthens the produced text. While others will map stemmata, I offer only a few observations:

p. 114 line 19 (7.5.27 add 7), cf. pp. 298-299: offensurum deum does help the intelligibility of the Latin.

p. 154 line 20 (7.15.11), cf. p. 417: e, based on Ciceronian usage, is to be preferred (cf. p. 337, 337 n. 5 for a similar appreciation of Ciceronian usage; also pp. 350-351 on 7.10.11 on the use of both anima and animus).

p. 166 line 1 (7.18.8), cf. pp. 488-489: Freund displays a knowledge both of the textual problems in Greek citations in Lactantius and of the defective transmission of the Sibyllina.

Freund's translation serves the purpose of elucidating difficulties in the Latin, e.g., the use of the future passive infinitive (comments on p. 372 for 7.12.29; p. 485 for 7.18.3--that page mistakenly cites a reference to 7.12.28 rather than 7.12.29).

I found only one modern misprint in the Latin text: line 28 on p. 104 at 7.4.18, navigat navigat, a duplication. Lemma and commentary (pp. 263-264) make no mention of any duplication (cf. p. 577 on 7.25.8 on illa illa, which cites the known appearances of geminatio in Lactantius; 7.4.18 is not present). A parallel error may be found elsewhere in German on p. 541, midpage, in the discussion of 7.23.3.

At this point I take up the remaining introductory matter (Lactantius' sources) and thus aspects of the commentary as a whole.

Freund begins his discussion of Lactantius' sources on pp. 31-71, many of the topics receiving more detailed attention in the commentary proper (pp. 199-620). In general, Lactantius relies on pagan sources, i.e. Greek philosophers (Plato, via Cicero, p. 36; Epicurus, via Lucretius, p. 37ff) and Latin authors, esp. Cicero (pp. 40-44); on Christian sources (biblical citations, Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Cyprian, pp. 45-50); and on so-called testimonia divina, e.g. the Sibyllae (pp. 69-71, cf. pp. 488-489) and the obscure "Hystaspesapokalypse" (pp. 53-69). As a means of illustrating Freund's sober commentary, which never loses track of Lactantius' purpose and his intended audience, I will consider a few topics: Lactantius' knowledge of Epicurus, the Hystaspes pronouncement, and the concluding portions of Book 7. Epicurus was known to Lactantius through Lucretius, an author Lactantius respected. Epicurus' teachings serve as a contrast to Christian teachings and help illustrate incongruities in pagan philosophy. The philosopher is introduced as an "imaginary speaker" (p. 213 on 7.1.10, pp. 275-279 on 7.5.4ff), his content lifted from Lucretius. There are no direct citations of Epicurus' own writings, Freund accepting the earlier studies by Heck and by Wlosok (cf. pp. 323-324 on 7.7.13; cf. pp. 321-322 expressing uncertainty on direct citations from Zeno). He offers (pp. 355-373 on 7.12.1-32) a detailed treatment of Lactantius' attempted rejection of Lucretian views on the mortality of the soul, which contains Lactantius' reference to cetera Epicurei dogmatis argumenta (7.12.30). The counter-arguments are not rigorous, but seem addressed to a reader familiar with Lucretius and thus, like Lactantius, somewhat aware of Epicurus' teachings.

The "Hystaspesapokalypse", whose true title and content remain obscure, has received excessive attention as a putative influence on Lactantius' account of the End-Time. There are three notations of the pronouncement, of which Epitome 68.1 should have kept moderns from glorifying it: Trismegistus, Hystaspes, and the Sibyllae chanted the same thing. The Divinae institutiones have two references (7.15.19, 7.18.2). Hystaspes (7.15.19), a most ancient king of the Medes, after whom a river now called Hydaspes was named, had an admirabile somnium. A boy interpreted it and Hystaspes set it down for posterity at a time before the Trojan race was founded. 7.18.2 provides a brief synopsis of his End-Time: Hystaspes got it wrong because Jove is made the listener to the cries of the pious. Freund traces the modern misuse of the pronouncement (p. 55 ff), begun by Windisch (1929), picked up and extended by Bidez and Cumont (1939). Pp. 62-69 presents a list of passages in Lactantius supposedly indicating usage of the pronouncement (including the potential influence of Iranian End-Time accounts). In sum, multiple streams of thought, partially preserved, were collapsed into one current. Freund is correct in arguing that Lactantius had no Hystaspes-text, only his own recollection and his hope that the reader would be impressed by the antiquity of Hystaspes, who like other pagan seers was ancient, exotic--and erroneous. In the commentary on 7.15.19 (pp. 440-444) and 7.18.2 (pp. 480-484) Freund is able to take a more measured position, without the assumption of Iranian influences (cf. pp. 475-476 on 7.17.9, p. 479 on 7.17.11). Pagan predictions are so imperfect that Lactantius can correct them with citations from other pagans (pp. 483-484). Just as Winiarczyk (Euhemerus Messenius Reliquiae, B. G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1991) deflated Euhemerus, so Freund deflates Hystaspes.

The last aspect of Freund's commentary to be considered is his treatment of the final sections of Book 7. Pp. 591-607 discuss the placement and dating of Lactantius' words to Constantine. Grammar and content fix the speech after 7.26.10, as 7.26.11-17. Intrusions from De opificio dei are removed. A dating after 18 September 324 (when Licinius and his supporters fell alive into Constantine's hands, 7.26.12) is defended, based upon Heck's examination (pp. 598-599 n. 41-42). I would add to the commentary at 7.26.15 (pp. 604-605) that pagan readers would have thought also of Augustus and his shield of virtues, particularly in light of Lactantius' frequent references to Vergil. Following the praise of Constantine as one who lessened the misfortunes of the Christians, Lactantius concludes his work (7.27) by addressing himself to three groups (p.609): his fellow Christians who suffered; pagans who were favorably disposed to the Christians and who could be led to the true faith; and more distant pagans in need of an explanation as to why the Christians accepted their sufferings to the point of martyrdom. This may have been the first exhortation to true faith read by educated pagans in the 320s. But for Hystaspes and the Sibyllae a different fate: Politically correct in Mayan garb, rendered aloft by asphalt moralities, they proclaim uncertain certainties accompanied by degenerate sortes Vergilianae.

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