Thursday, November 11, 2010


Version at BMCR home site

Christine Perkell (ed.), Vergil: Aeneid Book 3. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2010. Pp. viii, 179. ISBN 9781585102273. $15.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Anne Rogerson, University of Sydney

Christine Perkell's commentary on Aeneid 3 is a welcome addition to the growing number of commentaries on Classical texts currently being published for undergraduate students at an intermediate level. As its preface states, it is part of a projected series of commentaries on all the books of the Aeneid from Focus Publishing which aims 'to make available to [...] students the full help with translation that many of them, quite new to Latin, need, along with the addition of materials reflecting the breadth and interest of contemporary approaches to the Aeneid,'1 and it succeeds very well in these aims. Though American college students are the stated target audience, there are many students in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and elsewhere, similarly coming to university without much or any background in Latin, for whom this commentary will also provide much-needed assistance with Virgilian diction, technique, prosody and themes. If Aeneid 3 has in the past been less frequently taught on its own than other books of Virgil's epic, this commentary makes it accessible, and thus has the potential greatly (and deservedly) to increase its popularity in the curriculum.

The commentary offers its readers a range of aids (for a full list, see the table of contents at the end of this review). These include helpful appendices on Vergil's meter and on stylistic terms used in the body of the commentary,2 and a full vocabulary.3 An introduction to the Aeneid by the series editor, Randall Ganiban, succinctly sets the text in its historical, political and poetic contexts.4 Perkell's introduction to Book 3 then briefly argues its importance for the epic before discussing in more detail the implications of Virgil's allusions to (and – she stresses – differences from) Homer's account of Odyssean homecoming, an issue that is also explored throughout the commentary. The introduction also identifies some key themes and motifs of Book 3, such as exhaustion, flight, uncertainty, misinterpretation and loss, which will be further traced and developed in the commentary proper, and finally addresses the question of Book 3's putative imperfections (its half-lines, its varying tone, and some occasional startling choices of vocabulary by the narrator Aeneas). Perkell is unconvinced that these reflect a poet still honing his epic craft, as Horsfall has argued in his densely detailed and scholarly commentary on Aeneid 3,5 and instead urges that readers pay close attention to Virgil's use of reported speech in characterising both Aeneas and the many individuals whose stories he narrates throughout Book 3.

The commentary itself then begins: between two and thirteen lines of the text are given per page,6 with commentary in smaller font below. The commentary also contains brief synopses of the various sections into which Perkell has divided the narrative. The synopses are usually followed by short discussions of the key themes and interpretative questions related to that section before the lemmata commence. The discussion after the synopsis of ll. 1-12 (After the fall of Troy, Aeneas and his companions build ships for their journey to a new homeland), for example, treats both Aeneas' characterisation as a leader growing into authority and the rhetorical techniques used in these lines 'to achieve emphasis, solemnity and pathos'. The synopsis of ll. 13-18 (The Trojans land in Thrace; Aeneas begins to found a town, naming it after himself) is followed by a brief discussion of the representation of Trojan colonial practice in the Mediterranean and the ways in which Virgil uses and adapts the Aeneas legend. His novel association of Polydorus' story with Aeneas' is then further discussed after the synopsis of ll. 19-48. This fuller discussion considers the Euripidean source of Virgil's Polydorus episode, its important motifs ('the failure of attempts to preserve, refound, or imitate Troy', and '"inadvertent trespass" (editor's term), in which Aeneas stumbles into impiety or other violence'), as well as the range of scholarly responses to it.

Though there are some errors in matching line numbers to the Latin quoted and discussed in the lemmata,7 the commentary itself is well pitched to its audience, combining translation help with grammatical analysis (and references to Allen and Greenough, New Latin Grammar (1931)),8 and noting points of historical, cultural, literary and metrical interest in ways that often enhance appreciation of the effect and implications of Virgil's poetry. For example, among comments on ll. 564-65 (tollimur in caelum curvato gurgite, et idem / subducta ad manis imos desedimus unda.), where considerable help is given with translation and comprehension, we also read on desedimus: 'The "instantaneous perfect" (from desidere), unexpected after the present tollimur, dramatizes the event through the contrast of tenses.' Or elsewhere, on l. 490 (sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat), Perkell not only assists with the translation of ferebat but also notes the parallel to Odyssey 4.148-49 'where Menelaus likens Telemachus to Odysseus in his hands, feet, hair, eyes' and in the same lemma comments on the 'highly emotional' tricolon abundans with anaphora (asterisks attached to both terms refer the reader to Appendix B).

In interpretative matters, this is not a heavily didactic commentary. Generally speaking, Perkell presents her readers with the range of scholarly opinion on a particular issue without stating strongly her own views. She notes, for example, the slighting comments made by several scholars about Helenus' loquacity and describes his prophecy as 'unengaging',9 but also suggests possible reasons why Helenus is characterised through his speech in the way that he is, including a desire to 'draw a contrast between him and Aeneas'.10 Subsequent references to Helenus in the lemmata similarly stop short of writing him off completely as an unsympathetic bore. His 'prescriptions are resolutely practical' (ad l. 377), his 'use of his own name may suggest self-importance, although other readings are possible' (ad l. 380), his speaking style is 'elevated' (ad ll. 408-9), the 'perhaps pedestrian nature' of the parenthetical reflection of l. 415 'may contribute to [his] characterization', his 'expression [...] is particularly laborious' (ad l. 453). Such comments, particularly the rather enigmatic remark on l. 380, give Perkell's readers space to make up their own minds. Directing attention to modern scholarship that debates or sheds light on the issues that she highlights, the commentary thus fosters further research and classroom debate on questions that engage the students' (or their teacher's) interest.11

In short, this is a commentary that I would be happy to use with students, despite some problems with its editing. It combines grammatical assistance with analysis of the text in ways which make reading easier and encourage interpretation. It also introduces current debates in Virgilian scholarship clearly and helpfully, and promotes and provides guidance for further reading. Perkell has provided valuable support for those wishing to teach Aeneid 3 at an intermediate level, and I look forward to the other volumes in this series.


Introduction to Vergil's Aeneid by R. Ganiban
Introduction v>Introduction to Book 3: Its Role in the Aeneid
Latin text of Aeneid 3 and Commentary
Appendix A: Vergil's Meter
Appendix B: Stylistic Terms
Appendix C: Places Named in Aeneid 3


1.   p. vii.
2.   These include anaphora, ecphrasis, enjambment, prolepsis, and so on.
3.   A useful feature of the vocabulary is its inclusion of line references to places in Book 3 where a word is used in a slightly unusual or idiomatic way. For example, the entry for abruptus, a, um notes that, when used as an adjective to describe clouds at l. 199, 'bursting' is a more appropriate translation than more common meanings such as 'broken off' and 'precipitous'.
4.   Unfortunately, the references cited in Ganiban's footnotes do not appear in the bibliography unless also cited by Perkell, one of several signs of some haste in the final stages before publication of this otherwise admirable commentary.
5.   N. Horsfall, Virgil, Aeneid 3. A Commentary. Leiden: Brill, 2006, pp. xxviii-xxix. Reviewed in BMCR 2007.08.47
6.   The text follows Hirtzel's (1900) Oxford edition with a few exceptions noted on p. viii.
7.   Another indication, as in note 4 above, that the commentary needs careful editorial review before a second edition is printed. There are also numerous inconsistencies in the presentation of the commentary notes and bibliography; occasional discrepancies between the Latin of the text, commentary and vocabulary list; some references in the commentary to stylistic terms which do not have separate entries in the appendix ('synecdoche', for example, appears only under 'metonymy'); repetitions of material (though this can sometimes be helpful) in the commentary and appendices; and several instances of incorrect line referencing in the vocabulary list.
8.   I found only one error in the grammatical notes: at l. 342, animosque virilis is in the accusative governed by the preposition in, not the direct object of excitat. Similarly, discussion and explanation of context is generally very clear.
9.   p. 56, on lines 294-355.
10.   p. 65, on lines 374-462.
11.   Perkell is similarly suggestive, for example, about the use of the adjective infelix to describe Odysseus at l. 613 and l. 691, though without noting that Achaemenides' point of view may also be reflected at least in the first instance of this surprising epithet.

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