Saturday, February 20, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
J. E. Atkinson, J. C. Yardley, Curtius Rufus. Histories of Alexander the Great, Book 10. Clarendon Ancient History Series. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. xiv, 274. ISBN 9780199557622. $55.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Jacek Rzepka, Warsaw University

The final book of Curtius Rufus, himself an author extremely difficult because of textual gaps and corruptions as well as of the obscurity of his sources, is one of the most intricate in the Historiae Alexandri Magni. It recounts such crucial episodes of Alexander's reign as his death as well as the events that followed. The narration of the latter introduces the readers to the history of the Successors, and is often considered as a proof of Curtius' competence as a historian. Now this book is freshly presented to the scholarly community in a prestigious and well-read Clarendon Ancient History Series with an extensive introduction and a detailed commentary written by a scholar who has almost monopolized studies in Curtius Rufus for two decades.1

In 1980 John Atkinson published first of his commentaries on Curtius Rufus, which covered books III and IV (two first preserved), and was a token of providing scholars with a large and modern commentary on the whole Historiae Alexandri Magni.2 This promise was revived after 14 years by the publication of Atkinson's second volume, this time somewhat more concise than the preceding volume and reaching so far as Curtius VII 2.3 Atkinson's commentary on the final three and a half books of Curtius has not been published in the same series. Still, the scholarly world has been able to profit from his expertise on Curtius, since in 2000 a fine Italian edition and translation of Curtius Rufus with Atkinson's notes was published (in the series Fondazione Lorenzo Valla by Mondadori).4 It must be said, however, that the treatment of the books was not equal, and books that had been included in 1980 and 1994 volumes received a much longer commentary than the closing section of the Historiae. The commentary on Book VI covered 40 densely printed pages, whereas the notes on Book X did not exceed 27 pages, and seemed less-prepared in comparison to preceding books. Perhaps, it was a dissatisfaction with this part of his job for Mondadori that prompted Atkinson to re-do Book X. The 170 or so pages of the present commentary supersede, therefore, Atkinson's former approach to Book X. Similarly, the introduction to this volume is perhaps the best introduction to Curtius Rufus in a widely distributed form in the past few decades.

However, the Mondadori volume annotated the Latin original, whereas the new commentary refers to Curtius in translation. That may sometimes lead to some misunderstanding by readers who do not know Latin. This translation, made for Penguin years ago by John Yardley,5 himself an experienced and well-reputed Latinist, responsible for Anglicizing Justinus/Pompeius Trogus and Livy,6 was corrected or adapted by Atkinson. It reads smoothly and does render the content of Curtian Latin well. However, readers should be warned that this translation does not stick as closely to the Latin as possible and misses some stylistic peculiarities of Latin, which were visible e.g. in John Rolfe's Loeb Classical Library Curtius. It is impossible to collect all the places, where the present translation diverges from the Latin syntax of Curtius in order to give better and more readable English. It is possible, however, to show examples of these divergences in a one randomly chosen chapter of Historiae, the beginning sentences of X 5 with a description of Alexander's death.

Thus, a temporal sentence cum excessero in X 5.2, rendered After I am gone by Rolfe, is translated here without a verb as After my death. And conversely in X 5.3, an ablative supine incredibile dictu audituque, in LCL translated with an imitation of a Latin verbless phrase as Incredible to tell and to hear of, is here It's incredible to tell and hear. An ablative absolute dismissoque vulgo in X 5.3, translated by Rolfe with a participle as and having dismissed the common throng, is in Atkinson/Yardley He then dismissed the rank and file and. Similarly, another ablative absolute adiectis mandatis, in Rolfe adding instructions, is here He also gave instructions. The present translation also avoids Latin infinitives, as in X 5.4, where a sentence adiectis mandatis ut corpus suum ad Hammonem ferri iuberent, which Rolfe tried to render in a manner close to the Latin syntax adding instructions that they should order his body to be taken to Ammon, comes out as He also gave instructions that they should have his body transported to Hammon. (Let us note here that from a semantic point of view Atkinson's/Yardley's transported may provide a more precise translation of Curtius' ferri than Rolfe's to be taken)

Sometimes, however Yardley (and Atkinson) go away from the Curtian Latin in a more disputable way, and render a general sense rather than an exact wording of a phrase, e.g. fatigata membra reiecit (X 5.4), in Rolfe translated oddly, but more or less close to the Latin, as he threw back his exhausted frame, is rendered in the present text as (he) collapsed in exhaustion.

Coming back to the commentary, which is the main part of this book, we must note one more difficulty in reading Curtius. A commentary on Historiae Alexandri Magni cannot be restricted to the problems of Alexander's history, but it must explore numerous questions of Roman history (the date and identity of Curtius included). Atkinson is competent in both fields, and his commentary should serve a pure Alexander or Greek history specialist as an invaluable help in identifying Roman motives for Curtius' treatment of many episodes of Alexander's history presented in a different shape by other Alexander historians. Atkinson himself prefers a Claudian date for the composition of Historiae (which seems convincing to the reviewer), yet he duly collects the voices of and arguments by opponents of this date (one should underscore that Atkinson treats these different opinions with courtesy and respect rarely met with in scholarly debates).

The book is carefully edited. A basic index will provide help to readers less accustomed with the text of Curtius to find a reference to Alexander's story. The impressive bibliography covers 19 pages, but does not include all modern works referred to in the main text. As it seems, Atkinson did not list in his bibliography works, which he quoted second-hand.7

It must be said in conclusion that Atkinson's Curtius, Book X is a very useful tool for students of ancient history, and together with Atkinson's earlier commentaries on Curtius, Bosworth's and Brunt's commentaries on Arrian and Hamilton's on Plutarch's Life of Alexander will form a the desk equipment of every Alexander historian.8


1.   Now he must share the glory of leadership in Curtian studies with Elizabeth Baynham, who established herself as an expert on Curtius with a book presenting a rehabilitation of Curtius as a writer and thinker, see Baynham, E., Alexander the Great: The Unique History of Quintus Curtius, Ann Arbor, 1998.
2.   Atkinson, J.E., A Commentary on Q. Curtius Rufus' Historiae Alexandri Magni Books 3 and 4, Amsterdam 1980.
3.   Atkinson, J.E., A Commentary on Q. Curtius Rufus Historiae Alexandri Magni Books 5-7.2, Amsterdam 1994.
4.   Atkinson J.E., Curzio Rufo: Storie di Alessandro Magno. Volume I - II, translated by V. Antelami and M. Giangiulio, Milan, 1998-2000.
5.   Quintus Curtius Rufus, The History of Alexander, (Penguin Classics) Harmondsworth - New York, 1984.
6.   Livy was published in Oxford World's Classics series, and Justinus/Pompeius Trogus, originally published in APA Classical Resources Series was partly republished in the Clarendon Ancient History Series.
7.   Let us note that such references, usually to works in exotic languages, are less reliable, both in sense of content and orthography. E.g. on p. 136 the title of M. J. Olbrycht's 2004 book is Aleksander Wielki i swiat iranski, not: Alekasander Wielki I swiat iranski [BMCR apologizes for its inability to properly represent Polish characters]. Also the accuracy of the second-hand reference to the content of this book is debatable--Olbrycht can be hardly classified as just a reviver of orthodoxy, since he collects too much new data to be dismissed with such a label.
8.   After the publication of this book, a commentary on Diodorus, Book XVII, similar in scale and depth, seems to be most wished scholarly desideratum.

1 comment:

  1. Signalons une double erreur dans ce commentaire estimable :

    "1. 3. they had not even refrained from what was sacred]. Cleander and Sitalces were found guilty of plundering temples and vandalizing tombs in Media, and Heracon was judged guilty of plundering ‘the temple’ in Susa (A. 6. 27. 4–5). There was a tradition that Parmenion tore down temples to Jason (J. 42. 3. 5). The reference to Jason probably arose from a Greek-speaker turning the Median word for temples, *Âyazanas, into Iasonia (Shahbazi (2003), 26–7, attributing the idea to J. Markwart)" (p. 77).

    *Âyazanas n'est pas davantage un mot perse qu'il n'a donné en grec IASONIA : le vieux perse est âyadanâ, correspondant à l'avestique âyazana et au sanscrit âyatana (pour les équivalents akkadien et élamite ainsi qu'une étude lexicographique centrée sur âyazana dans l'inscription de Béhistoun, M. A. Dandamaev, Persien unter den ersten Achämeniden (6. Jh. v. Chr.) [Wiesbaden, 1976], pp. 234-236), de la base verbale yaz (sanscrit yaj), "sacrifier, adorer", étudiée par Johnny Cheung, Etymological Dictionary of the Iranian Verb (Leyde & Boston, 2007), pp. 219-220, et le grec est IASONION, "cap Y/Jason". Markwart, écrivant à une époque où âyadana n'était pas encore attesté, songeait pour sa part à *yazona en vertu du traitement en z de l'occlusive d du vieux perse (comparer avestique yazata, "dieu, divinité", et yazaite, "il vénère", arménien yazel, "sacrifier", sanscrit yajati et grec HAZOMAI, "ressentir la (ou : un sentiment de) crainte religieuse").