Wednesday, December 29, 2010


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Giulio Vannini (ed.), Petronii Arbitri Satyricon 100-115. Edizione critica e commento. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde Bd. 281. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2010. Pp. 377. ISBN 9783110240917. $140.00.

Reviewed by Benjamin Todd Lee, Oberlin College

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Giulio Vannini's previous articles and monograph on the scholarly tradition and manuscripts of Petronius will have made him known to Petronian scholars.1 This book presents a new critical text and commentary on 16 chapters of the Satyricon (100-115), containing the sea voyage and naufragium of Lichas' ship, as well as the famous Widow of Ephesus tale. It presents a full and learned introduction to many literary aspects of this important episode of Petronius' work, and is perhaps most noteworthy for its reconsideration of the complex manuscript tradition underlying the constitution of the text. The commentary itself is learned and thorough, and the work in its entirety presents a scrupulous and useful contribution to Petronian scholarship. The book also compares favorably with the recent and well-received commentary on Satyricon chapters 79-141 by Peter Habermehl (also published by de Gruyter, though in the Texte und Kommentare series), since Vannini's text is based on a new collation of the manuscripts, while Haberhmehl's commentary is based on the text from Müller's Teubner.2 Vannini is also able to consider the literary texture of the naufragium episode and Widow of Ephesus tale on a closer scale than would have been possible in Habermehl's commentary.

The commentary begins with a clear overview of the evidence about the author and early history of the text. Vannini advances a new hypothesis on the number and length of books in the original Satyricon, suggesting that our surviving fragments all come from a second volume containing books 13-24, while the first volume of books 1-12 has been completely lost. He would approximate the book lengths of Petronius' original work to those found in Apuleius (4,000-6,5000 words). This represents an important revision and alternative to Bücheler's reconstruction advanced in the editio maior of 1862, and often followed since, which claims that all our excerpts come from books 14-16, and that the original Satyricon was a behemoth eight times the length of Apuleius' novel; Vannini's reconstruction envisions a book twice the length of Apuleius, and suggests that our surviving fragments include nothing drawn from books 1-13 or 22-24.3 In the introduction Vannini also provides a discussion of the literary genre of the Satyricon, specifically on the intertextual relationship of this shipwreck scene to that appearing in the Odyssey; and after a discussion of the previous scholarship on the question of the genre of the Satyricon, he rejects the notion that it is a parody of the Greek Romance, and would rather assign it to a pre-existing strain of "low" prosimetric Greek erotic tales (8-11).

Vannini dedicates a chapter of the introduction to the Widow of Ephesus tale, a miniature study in its own right, focusing on the complex question of what the sources were for the account in Petronius and other versions appearing through the Middle Ages. Here Vannini makes significant revisions to the source studies of Thiele and Weinreich, and provides a new stemma on page 35. He argues that the versions appearing in Petronius, Phaedrus, and Romulus all derive from a lost Latin archetype, itself derived from the same source as the Vita Aesopi. Vannini also sheds light on the date of a later witness in the Widow-tale tradition, a codex from Lucca (Biblioteca Statale 1432).

The remainder of the introduction (pages 39-63) is devoted to the tradition of the text, where Vannini makes a series of important refinements to the highly complex stemma of Petronius. The most important for the constitution of the text and apparatus criticus are: 1) he notes that Mz, codex Parisinus Mazarineus 4319, is an important testimony for Satyricon chapters 111-112, just as important as B, R, and P (see pages 44-46). 2) Particularly significant is his demonstration (pages 50-53) that the readings attributed by preceding editors (including Bücheler and Müller) to the Memmianus codex (owned by Henri de Mesmes, a friend of the sixteenth century editor Pithou) are none other than readings from 'r' (the codex Rogertianus, Londinensis Lambethanus 692), corrected with readings drawn from the Thuaneus (Parisinus lat. 7647).

Hence Vannini's text includes a number of salubrious revisions of Müller's Teubner, although I was surprised not to find a table listing divergences from Müller or other editions. In general, Vannini aims to restore manuscript readings over editorial conjectures, especially when they improve the colometry of the resulting clause. The most obvious improvements include page 71 line 18 (Satyricon 102.4) et utcumque imponi vel dormienti posset for Müller's et utcumque ei imponi posset ; but in chapter 112.6 (page 85 line 17), Vannini provides an attractive conjecture: sacraret (for the MSS reading faceret or Fraenkel's pateret). Other divergences in the text and apparatus criticus can be found at page 72 line 14 (tam in app.); page 72 line 18 vincula for vincla (Müller); p. 73 line 11; 74 line 6; 76 line 18; 79 line 20; 86 line 19; 87 line 10; 88 lines 3-4; 88 line 14; and finally 90 line 22.4

The commentary itself is a model of thoroughness, and makes good use of having a great deal of space to devote to a relatively small amount of Latin text (the ratio is 21 pages of Latin text to 216 pages of commentary). This is a case where one can learn a great deal about Petronius' style from a careful treatment on a smaller scale. The notes on chapter 108 can serve as a sample to give a good sense of the overall composition of the commentary.

The 15 pages of commentary devoted to chapter 108 (pages 193-208) show above all a clear presentation of careful research into Petronius' style, with special attention to: the position and arrangement of words (e.g. the note on post-positive ego in 108.1, and on the initial position of accenditur at 108.6); on prose rhythm, which often provides the basis for rejecting or accepting emendations (e.g. 108.9 veluti ex proelio, expunged by Fraenkel and adopted by Müller 1961 and 1963; Vannini argues that expunging the phrase would ruin the resolution of the epic clausula into a hypodochmius [= anapestic dochmius]); grammatical quiddities, such as the use of the pluperfect for the perfect in narrative (Vannini suggests that for obstupueram at 108.1 and amiserat at 100.5, clausular rhythm was probably the reason for the choice over the perfect); nuanced lexicography, illuminating erotic, legal, and military resonances in Petronian diction (e.g. perditorum at 108.8, relicta mea causa at 108.6, and referunt…pedem at 108.9); and finally, a sophisticated treatment of intertextual echoes and parallels for the narrative (e.g. the general note at page 196 on the "interstyles" of 108.3-13 at 108.3, which identifies the heavy influence of Livy's style of battle descriptions on the "battle" between the factions of Encolpius' and Tryphaena's supporters; cf. also the notes on the Vergilian and Lucanian bases for the poetic pastiche at 108.14).

In conclusion, this is a serious work of philology that makes an important advance in the textual and interpretive tradition of the Satyricon (albeit for a small part of the larger text). Vannini's edition will have to be taken into account for any future texts or translations that include this section of Petronius. I enjoyed this book and learned a great deal from it, particularly about Petronius' style and manuscript tradition. Some readers will be disappointed by a relatively scant application of literary or critical theory from outside classical philology, particularly in the analysis of the genre and narrative (with the exception of full references to Conte, who does make use of such discourses);5 but clearly theory is not Vannini's primary interest. My other criticism (mentioned above) is that I could not find a table listing textual divergences from Müller's most recent Teubner; this makes it difficult for the reader to distinguish the new from the old. Nevertheless, this is an admirable work by a master of the subject.


1.   See especially his volume 49 of Lustrum, "Petronius 1975-2005: bilancio critico e nuove proposte" (Göttingen, 2007), and articles on the textual tradition of Petronius: "Note a Petronio (Sat. 100,4; 115,12; 115 19)," MD 54 (2005), 213-219, "Quattro note a Petronio (15,2; 23,1; 29,4-5; 97,4)," RhM 149 (2006), 272-286, and "Nove note a Petronio," MD 59 (2007), 215-225.
2.   P. Habermehl, Petronius, Satyrica 79-141. Ein philologisch-literarischer Kommentar: Bd. 1: Sat. 79-110 (Berlin and New York, 2006); K. Müller, ed., Petronius Satyricon Reliquiae (Leipzig, 1995).
3.   On the history of this question see especially Vannini page 7 note 24.
4.   This does not pretend to be a complete collation of differences. On the diminishing influence of Fraenkel's conjectures on Müller's successive Teubner editions see Coccia, M., "Konrad Müller e le Interpolazioni in Petronio," RCCM 38 (1996), 319-328.
5.   Conte, G.B., The Hidden author. An Interpretation of Petronius' Satyricon (Berkeley, 1996).

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