Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Romeo Schievenin, Nugis ignosce lectitans: studi su Marziano Capella. Polymnia 12. Trieste: Edizioni Universit√† di Trieste, 2009. Pp. vii, 217. ISBN 9788883032707. €20.00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

This attractively priced and produced paperback is the elegant and incisive product of three decades of sustained investigation and enjoyment of one of the most elaborately written and certainly one of the most written-off texts among Latin classics. Eleven of the thirteen chapters re-present articles first published for the most part in less than easily accessible journals or collections between 1983 and 2008. Together they weave together a sort of skein from prologue to epilogue of Martianus' marvellously audacious prosimetric opera to celebrate Philology's big day. There is virtually no inducement from Anglophone criticism to join this feast, and Schievenin is out on his own among devotees for critical nous and sophistication.

Schievenin's single most exhilarating theme artises from the simple principle that (whether here for kicks or to learn something) we never let slip the framing of the whole wondrous performance as dialogical engagement between author and son (his pupil and his self as pupil) dramatized through multiply self-reflexive montage of the education programme as the re-telling of Satire's story of the harmonized self-explication by the seven approved disciplines. He accentuates the negative: beware all raiders of this lost Art! No excerpt is ever self-contained, no episode is stand-alone, no disquisition ever stands proud of these in-folded layers of texturality fringed by paratextual seriojocularity in verse and prose jabs and stunts from Martian outer space. But discussions regularly develop toward the positive: Medicine and Architectonics are to be extruded, after De nuptiis convokes the elect and the gods to tune in through the nine Muses' party pieces in Book 2 for the harmonics scaled through the remainder of the nine book totality. To create one of the European tradition's greatest powerbooks, catchy insets theme, pattern, and metapoetize the parade of learning massively expounding Learning. True, no actual boy, no matter how native to Latin, can ever have coped with the gorgeous coruscation, the fiendish intricacies; but professors across the Humanities really ought right now to be accessed, once again, what amounts to the most splendiferous assertion ever of the interdependent consonance in the philological curriculum of unitary hermeneutic with fecund stylistics.

As it is, Schievenin's final chapter will gently but painstakingly hang out to dry the only full translation into Italian available (by the almost indefatigable Ilaria Ramelli, who has done so much to promote and enhance Martianus). When he regretfully dubs this a 'lost opportunity' (p.184), would it be too much to hope that he is, De nuptiis fashion, also prepared to turn the spoudogeloious pseudo-goad of Satire upon his own efforts? For these collected articles obviously in no way amount to job done; they must (I urge) launch, not obviate, the full monograph splash for Martianus that they warrant. Otherwise, 'Insomma', Schievenin's Studi will themselves mark 'un'occasione mancata', and this 'Reader' for one won't easily 'Forgive him for Trifling'. Meantime, these articles prove time and again that the grain of this text—a dad roughing up the sceptical teenager with syrupy fantastico-sarcasmo-magical impulsion to go learn about learning learning and even Learning—mocks both the traditionally itemic myopia of experts and any visiting dipper's folly in discounting textual intricality. Schievenin's speciality is to catch scholarship time and again tripping over the referents of narrational shifters—before he forays out into grander, broader themes poetic and pedagogic.

1. Prologue: Schievenin expounds the brief elegiac hymn to Hymenaeus as prequel for Philology as cosmic synthesizer, performing as it hails faith in reasoning, in wisdom; and outlines the double framing exchanges between MC pater and MC junior, and between MC and Satura (hooked to metaliterary featurettes at 6.575-9 and 8.806-09)—both of which dub bantering mutual provocation onto the entire mix, indelibly, for the duration. In this wake-up call, bargain on not one word of neutral, unmarked, monologism. The m. c.'s rejoinder to the boy's scathing but unerring jeer at father's rubbishy chanting √† la Isis priest opening up for dawn-chorus worship (self-imagery which will persist through to the close of business after the long winter's night read: 9.999) casts the educational project as a Lucretian, Porphyrian, pagan rallying-cry from Roman Carthage against the Epilogue's autographical context set for the pair locked into their dis/respectful jousting (pietas; see 12 below).

2. egersimos: Schievenin's (aptly philological) word-study probes the term in, out, and through nuptial contexts: used at 1.2, as the morning-after bridal song, it recurs at 9.911 of Harmonia's 'ineffable' maiden speech in the senate in the sky. Schievenin would scotch martial/Martian—associations (p.29 and Addendum).

3. Schievenin next hammers home the thesis that the stake of Varro's Disciplinarum libri in De nuptiis is indirect. The connexion is mediated at 6.639 and 662 through Plin. Nat. Hist. 3.45, 4.77-8, including the naming of Varro; at 4.335 and 5.510, 517 through Cic. Acad. 1.25, 2.119-22—was MC's report at 9.928 of Varro's autopsy report at Res Rust. 3.17.4 itself autoptic? And where Varronian information is involved, as at 3.229-30, on litteratio (cf. Cic. Part. 26) or 8.817, the etymology sidus/sido (cf. De ling. Lat. 7.14) the Discipl. were not MC's source. Instead the entre/es of the maids of honour Philosophy and Paid(e)ia tagged to 'M. Terentius and a few Romulean consulars' at 6.578 will open onto the introduction with Arithemetic at 7.728 of the Varronian model of the full encyclic syllabus, but with that crucial trimming of earthbound Architectonics and Medicine from the advanced quadrivium of 'sciences' set to build upon the core trivium. So MC worked (away) from the master plan minus the master.

4. Under the slogan 'the talents of Paideia', Schievenin unpacks that key pair of featurettes overturing Geometry and Astronomy (Books 6 and 8), where the weave of narrative levels is exposed as the chief phases of the syllabus are art...iculated: Satire intervenes to identify those maids to that ass MC; Satire's sarcasm—'fancy inflicting Silenus on heaven!'—provokes donkey MC to formulate his marzipan poetic, as a face-off between that long-forgotten memory, Philosophy, and deliberate disregard of her richly 'multi-talented' sister Paideia (see 9. below). In these seriocomic negotiations the grounding of the Latin tradition of the West in Philological culture is graphically delivered from MC to son, world, and classical futurity (so the envoi poem at 9.997).

5. talentum: a second 'word-study' presentation reclaims 'talent', figurative, in that introduction of Paideia at 6.578, utpote talentorum conscia, from direct inspiration by the NT parable and its Jeromian exegesis: far from picturing evangelical Christian revelation of inner riches as natural gifts, MC perms 'the arts' from the challenging matrix of higher classical education.

6. Still camped in Book 6, at 596-8, Schievenin expounds MC's aptly holistic range of Geometry over all measurement, whether astronomical or terrestrial, while anchoring the chapter on painstaking rescue of MC and/or his MSS from editors and scholarship: far from bungling Eratosthenic measurements of the circumference of the earth as reported in Diomedes' classic account, Geometry fairly explains the operative principles of a complementary set of Eratosthenes' calculations, while not accepting his overall figure.

7. A second barrel of vindication for MC's geometry next rescues his account of the other sectors of the two habitable temperate zones, viz. antoeci, antichthons, antipodes, by pressing their definition as hemispheres pitched from the point of observation relative to the centre of the earth: his consistent (minority but not bungled) nomenclature uses antipodes of a northern temperate zone across from Europe, with our antoeci south of us in the southern zone, and our antichthons opposite us in the southern temperate zone.

8. Fooling around with Fescennine lasciviousness, Venus gets the party going after Geometry's long stretch and in readiness for the number-crunching of MC's seventh heaven. Picking up on her joking with Mercury (6.704-05), the Sex Goddess now whispers an 'indecent proposal' in his ear—to stop drooling over Pallas and (ahem) honour Priapus. Suppressing a giggle, the groom replies just guardedly enough (via cues from Reposianus and Apuleian Cupid). This is turning out to be some wedding.

9. Here Schievenin merrily scotches interference with the paradosis' uel at 8.806 (p.124). Warming up for that second metapoetic ding-dong between Author and Genre thresholding Book 8's Star Turn, Silenus too prompts peals of merriment (cheap laughs, growls Satire)—by stumbling over in a heap when woken from his snores by a smack on the pate from Cupid: not a blushworthy but a fine moment to set out MC's megamix plan of miscere-utile-dulci for an unbuttoned chewing-over at the reception. If it was good enough for Eclogue 6 (with splashes of Ovid, Nemesian, Apuleius), and it was, Satire should come join in this Martian's echt classical fun, patterned on Martial's ... quoting from Ovid (8.809).

10. Is fabulation—reception of Astronomy's speech by the guests—missing from the end of book 8 (887) ? No, explains Schievenin, adducing the explicits of Books 4 and 9, and gently protesting that Venus at once motivates the abrupt ending as interruption, as she protests that what is threatening the occasion is Astronomy's learned longueurs: quis modus? (9.888, v.3) Contrast the matching protest over (in)decorum that opened the preceding book (and chapter from Schievenin).

11. For once in line with Willis' Teubner, Schievenin defends iussa at 8.803, adducing iussus at 9.904 (p.143). But from this lectio out rolls a storyline arc tracking through the whole panoply of De nuptiis which steadily assumes its bulging cast of players into the celestial hierarchy, according to strict rankings that rise from the scheduled Arts programme for mortal beginners through the ancient 'heroes' and up to the more recent 'sapients' of the advanced specialisms, alongside the gods surrounding Jupiter, up on his feet, at the crunch, when after intense instruction in virile rhythms and feminine melody exeunt omnes escorting the bride to bed, and—yes, MC must've been there (p.155).

12. In fact, MC reserves the last word for himself, through a sphragis poem leavened by more grappling with scornful Satire, as MC blames her for their great sprawling work, while she targets his lightweight feebleness. In recovering self-promotion from this send-up, Schievenin homes on the phrase proconsulari ... culmine (9.999, v.8), identified as, not a claim to authorial eminence (p.168), but a reference to the Byrsa, acropolis of Carthage, with the courts operating at its foot, i.e. the officialdom from which MC stands proudly independent, another self-inventing, workaholic, unfunded, orator in the Demosthenes-Cicero mould. Does this give a terminus ante for De nuptiis of 429 (and the last procos. in Africa before the Vandals' rex was installed)? After more close teasing-out, Schievenin accepts among offered termini post the Sack of Rome (and 411), from 6.637 (p.170, defending from emendation the hapax caeliferis and its double reference to apotheosis and to Atlas). Doctrinally, MC is stationed after Iamblichus' work of the 330s; he goes unmentioned until Fulgentius (pp.172-3).

13. Finally, in usum editorum, Schievenin puts the Ramelli translation through the shredder, warning of many pitfalls between any reader and the work, not least in the shape of tralatician errors and references to long-superseded editions.

De nuptiis is just the text if you want to chortle away while you recover enthusiasm for classical rhetoric intelligently lavished on the just cause of literae humaniores. But most (all) of us need the proper battery of aids if we're going to manage this ornate splendorama of florid Latin prose. Schievenin helps show what a ball this could and should be. Thus far, the groom's still waiting at the altar.

1. 'Il prologo di Marziano Capella': pp. 1-17.

2. Egersimos: risvegli e resurrezioni': pp.19-29.

3. 'Varrone e Marziano Capella': pp.31-45.

4. 'I talenti di Pedia': pp.47-59.

5. 'Per la storia di talentum ': pp.61-74.

6. 'Eratostene e le misurazioni della circonferenza terrestre (Mart. Cap. VI 596-8)': pp.75-87.

7. 'Gli scandalosi antipodi di Marziano Capello': p.88-103.

8. 'Venere alle nozze di Filologia e Mercurio. Una proposta indecente?': pp.105-19.

9. 'Racconto, poetica, modelli di Marziano Capella nell'episodio di Sileno': pp.121-36.

10. 'Il libero VIII del De nuptiis è mutilo? (Mart. Cap. VIII 887)': pp.137-41.

11. 'Eroi e filosofi nel De nuptiis di Marziano Capella (VIII 803; IX 904)': pp.143-55.

12. 'Marziano Capella e il proconsulare culmen': pp.157-73.

13. 'Trappole e misteri di una traduzione': pp.175-84.

(Bibliography and indices: pp.185-211)


  1. Re section 12: "proconsulari ... culmine" . . . Does this give a terminus ante for De nuptiis of 429 (and the last procos. in Africa before the Vandals' rex was installed)?"

    The answer to the reviewers question is 'no' on two counts: (i) the Vandals did not take Carthage until 439, a whole decade after they first crossed to Africa, but (ii), in any case, the Vandal kings continued to appoint proconsuls (drawing on the local landowning aristocracy) and the court of the proconsul continued to function (see Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire vol. 2, 'Dracontius 2', 'Pacideus', and 'Victorianus'). So the terminus ante quem remains the citation by Fulgentius, Expositio sermonum antiquorum, s.v. 'caelibatus' (c. 500/532?).

  2. Comment on the comment on section 12:

    This question is the reviewer reporting (and questioning, ie not accepting) the reviewed's suggestion.

    john h


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