Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Randall T. Ganiban (ed.), Vergil: Aeneid Book 1. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2009. Pp. viii, 161. ISBN 9781585102259. $15.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Massimo Gioseffi, Università degli Studi di Milano (

Version at BMCR home site

The volume is part of a welcome series of new commentaries on individual books of Vergil's Aeneid for undergraduate students at an intermediate level. Ultimately the series will encompass the whole poem and also be available in a two-volume set. Randall T. Ganiban, associate professor of Classics at Middlebury College, Vermont, is the author of the commentary on book I; he has already published the commentary on book II, see BMCR 2009.05.24; for the commentary on book III by Christine Perkell, see BMCR 2010.11.23. Ganiban is also overseeing the first half of the poem, books I-VI.

The volume contains a brief Preface; a rich Introduction, both on Vergil and on Aeneid I; the Latin text with a commentary in a smaller font on the same page; two Appendixes, one on Vergil's hexameter (not "hexamater", as it is misprinted at page 107), the other on the stylistic terms selected by the editor and marked throughout the commentary by an asterisk; there are also a list of Works Cited and a Vocabulary, i.e. a list of words used by the poet in book I, compressed into a few pages, so that it is possible to read the text in the classroom without a complete dictionary. The main aim is to help students of varying backgrounds to translate, but also to understand and, possibly, to appreciate the Vergilian text. Vergil is often explained through Vergil, quoting other lines from the same book or, more frequently, lines from different books of the Aeneid; references to Homer are brief and translated; short, single Greek words are transliterated. In such a way, scholarly intentions and school target are mixed together, usually with success. The printed Latin text is that of F.A. Hirtzel (1900). There are several changes in punctuation; the preliminary lines Ille ego qui quondam… are rightly omitted; at l. 2 Ganiban writes Laviniaque, not Lavinaque; at l. 224 despiciens, not dispiciens; at l. 455 inter for intra and at l. 599 exhaustos for exhaustis. All these and other changes are in accord with Mynors' text (1969). The commentary is divided into sequences, each of them offering the occasion both to recapitulate what has happened and to list a few bibliographical items. According to the criteria of the series, the commentary is not totally new: the starting point is the old, but still valuable, commentary by T.E. Page (1892), reprinted in abridged form in his Vergil: Aeneid 1-6 (1894). Page's notes have been pared down, and new and updated material has been added; of course, the commentaries by Conington (1858, rev. 1883), Conway (1935), Austin (1971) and Williams (1972) were, as Ganiban says, «particularly helpful». Much use is also made of Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar, in the revised edition by Anne Mahoney (Newburyport, MA 2001).

The general introduction has been completely renewed. It consists of a life of Vergil with an overview of his works, as in Aeneid II and Aeneid III. Minor interventions refer to the bibliographical updates, for example the insertion of K.Volk's Vergil's Eclogues, Oxford 2008, in note 11. Ganiban denies any credibility to the ancient Lives; his life of Vergil is, essentially, a recapitulation about historic and social facts in the second half of the first century BCE. Ganiban underlines the idea of a political meaning of Vergil's opera. But what does it imply? Ganiban falls between the optimistic and the pessimistic poles, referring to bibliographical items rather than committing to one side or the other. The Bucolics are important because "by interjecting the Roman world into his poetic landscape, Vergil allows readers to sense how political developments both threaten and give promise to the very possibility of pastoral existence". As to the Georgics, "the poem explores the nature of humankind's struggle with the beauty and difficulties of the agricultural world, but it does so within the context of contemporary war-torn Italy". The Aeneid is a highly literary work, a "creative, aesthetic and moral achievement", a masterpiece unto itself. Central to the poem is the use and transformation of the Homeric epos; but also important are the impact of Hellenistic poetry, the neoteric experience, the Ennian precedent and, last but not least, the influence of Greek tragedy. All these are duly reviewed; no example is given; the duty of proof is again handed over to the selected bibliography. As for the original part of the introduction, the importance of book I lies, according to Ganiban, in the representation of Aeneas at one of his lowest points, although others would judge the idea more fitting in connection with the temporary decline of the hero's pietas in book IV. In consequence, Aeneas appears from the beginning as "a complicated figure" struggling to make sense of what happens to him and to the whole humankind, and the book is a convenient prelude to books II-IV. In itself, it is divided into two sequences: the first one, from the beginning until Aeneas' arrival at Carthage, explores Aeneas' "cosmic" fate and makes clear the new type of heroism embodied in the Trojan hero; the second is more concentrated on the "private" dimension of Aeneas' fate. This is perhaps disputable, and Dido's banquet does not seem to me significant for its private dimension more than for public recognition of Aeneas' heroism (or supposed heroism). Ganiban then affirms that the book must be read against Odyssey V, even if Vergil situates Aeneas' story in a wider situation and makes it a turning point in world history, both in his own time and in time to come. As the summary shows, this is a neat, readable, convincing presentation, though not exempt from slight corrections or rethinks. What Ganiban says is sensible; it is not particularly innovative. As I have already anticipated, the introduction hands over to the bibliography the duty of any demonstration. The bibliography is rich and up-to-date, but it is only English-speaking; Alessandro Barchiesi's La traccia del modello, Pisa 1984, and Georg Knauer, Die Aeneis und Homer, Gottingen 1964, are the only exceptions. This is questionable; for example, Antoine Wlosok's essay about Dido (translated into English) is duly quoted, but the same author's volume about Venus (in German) is not, although Venus is a major character in the book and no general bibliography is given about her.

In the commentary Ganiban discusses exegetical, grammatical, stylistic, historical and literary questions; usually he provides accurate and complete information; the selection is intelligent and useful. The discussion after the synopsis of ll. 1-11, for example, gives us exact and necessary help with Vergil's grammar as well as with his style; it brings to our attention the pleonastic pronoun ille with resumptive force; the syntactic value of dum + subjunctive; the accusative without preposition after verbs of motion; the dative of possession; the contracted – or perhaps, better, archaic and poetic – genitive form in –um of second-declension nouns; but also the preference accorded by the poet to the infinitive; the metaphorical use of particular verbs; the climax connecting Troiae at l. 1 with Romae at l. 7, an annotation repeated twice. Some information is more specifically connected with Vergil's aims: it is so for the echoing of Homer at ll. 1 and 3 (an issue explored in depth throughout the commentary, always offering useful insights); the way in which Vergil adapts the tradition to his needs in the theme of Juno's wrath or in the invocation to the Muse; the importance of pietas as a virtue; the poet's voice questioning the irresponsible behavior of gods… In the same way, on the first appearance of Aeneas (ll. 92-101) Ganiban quotes at least four Homeric passages; displays Diomedes' genealogy; notices the necessity of supplying ei erant at l. 94; teaches us the difference between contingere (l. 96) and accidere or oppetere (l. 96), occumbere (l. 97) and obire; marks the emphasis obtained through the repetition of ubi and the final tricolon of scuta, galeas and corpora. Sometimes he compresses his materials: on primus at l. 1, Ganiban notes that Patavium, where Antenor landed, was incorporated into Italy only in 42 BCE – the fate of Patavium during the Civil Wars has been disputed, but in 42 the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul, in which Patavium was included, was abolished. A comparison with Page's commentary demonstrates Ganiban's originality. Not only are the introduction, text and lemmata new, but the notes too are generally different: for example, at l. 2, according to Page fato should be connected to venit, not to profugus, because "Vergil does not wish so much to emphasise that it was his (Aeneas') destiny to be an exile, as that it was his destiny to reach Italy". According to Ganiban, instead, fato is "to be construed both with profugus and venit ("came by fate an exile to Italy"), though with venit it makes the larger point for the epic". Compared to Austin, Ganiban is, of course, less scholarly; but he is not concerned only with grammatical minutiae and he is also interested in how well structures and stylistic devices accomplish some artistic or emotional effect. Sometimes, perhaps, he pays more attention than necessary to recognizing grammatical phenomena: at l. 619ff., for example, he is worried about distinguishing Teucer, Ajax's brother, from Teucer, the Trojan ancestor, and misses the opportunity to signal both the similarity between this scene and Aen. 8, 157ff., and that all the three characters involved, Aeneas, Dido and Teucer, are in exile; while at l. 630, one of the noblest affirmations in the poem, Ganiban limits himself to saying that non ignara is an example of litotes and the present disco is more modest than the perfect didici. Adequate help is nevertheless offered. Translations are frequent: usually there are literal translations at first, followed by more elegant translations as second thoughts. In his remarks Ganiban is not particularly original; but it would be unfair to say that he does not state his own opinion, although in matters of dispute sometimes he does not decide: the identity of Troianus…Caesar at l. 286 is not resolved and the inconsistency of septima…aestas at ll. 755-756 is discussed, but at the end no explanation is accepted, despite a preference for the proposal of J. Dyson, CW 90, 1996, 41-43. The summaries are the best part of the work: they remind us that "the opposition between furor and pietas is central to the epic" , or that the contrasts between Aeneas and Odysseus in the shipwreck scenes are especially important because, while Odysseus establishes his personal glory, Aeneas is most concerned with the good of his men (more exactly, I would say, book I establishes an idea of pietas, fama and virtue that will develop and will partially be contradicted by the following events). Great attention is also given to the ecphrasis as an artistic feature, both in general and within the Aeneid; to Dido's role and her fate, tragically in contrast with Aeneas' destiny, while their relationship results in a test for Aeneas' ability to control his emotions; or to the encounter between the Trojan hero and Venus, where to the already ample literature a little more could be added. But I do not think it correct to look for errors, shortcomings and possible amplifications of Ganiban's commentary. What we have is a useful, resourceful, organized book, shaped to its purpose. My impression is that it should succeed very well in a classroom and possibly become a suitable help for both students and teachers. In any case, it is a valuable addition to the existing corpus of commentaries on Aeneid I.

Table of contents
Introduction to Vergil's Aeneid
Vergil's lifetime and poetry
Vergil and his predecessors
The Aeneid, Rome, and Augustus
Book 1 within the context of the Aeneid
Structure and major themes of Aeneid 1
Latin text and Commentary
Appendix A: Vergil's Meter
Appendix B: Stylistic Terms
Works Cited

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