Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Keith Maclennan, Virgil Aeneid I. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2010. Pp. 188. ISBN 9781853997167. $24.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Matthew Carter, The University of Western Ontario (

Version at BMCR home site

[The reviewer apologizes for the lateness of this piece.]

[The volume's table of contents is included at the end of the review.]

This useful edition, like the author's two previous Aeneid commentaries for Bristol Classical Press (reviewed here, 2004.06.38 and 2008.07.53), offers vocabulary and grammatical help for students, along with interpretative notes "very heavily dependent upon Austin" (p. 7).1

The introduction provides biographical and historical information ample enough for a student audience, although Maclennan's discussion of the poet's career is not sufficiently critical of the accretion of romantic lore that is Donatus' Life of Virgil. Throughout this section the author shows his fine grasp of a major facet of Virgil's art: the ability to present and sustain multiple points of view at once. Maclennan invites the reader to compare the end of Georgics 1 with the end of Georgics 2, "how things are" versus "how they might be" (p. 15). This is a commendably efficient way to present the idea of the "two voices" that resonate not only in the Aeneid but throughout the Virgilian corpus.

After four pages on Rome's history with Carthage, and seven more to summarize what happens in the Aeneid, Maclennan offers two welcome additions to the format of his previous introductions: a good discussion of Virgil's afterlife in European literature and music (pp. 29-33) and a set of specimen translations of Aeneid 1.81-92, presented in chronological order, by Gavin Douglas, John Dryden, and David West. The collocation of these three versions will make it easy for teachers to generate classroom discussion about the art of translation itself.

The extended treatment of metrical matters (pp. 35-43) is for the most part satisfactory, and especially good on ictus and accent, although one feature of Maclennan's guide to scansion may confuse beginners. Here is how he presents line 60:

sēd pǎtěr | ōmnǐpǒt|ēns spēl|ūncīs | ābdǐdǐt | ātrīs

The long marks here are, misleadingly, visually identical to the macrons he prints over the naturally long vowels in his Latin indices.2 A student could thus be forgiven for thinking that sed, omnis, and ab contain long vowels or for failing to see that a metrically long syllable may yet contain a short vowel.3 The suggested syllabification is also misleading: in Latin, "a single intervocalic consonant is assigned to the onset of the following syllable" (omnipo|tēns, spē|luncīs).4

The commentary notes themselves are economical without ever being over-terse, and make good use of Austin, though readers deserve to know just how useful that older commentary is; Maclennan cites Austin fewer than twenty times, which seems somewhat stingy in light of the author's admitted "heavy dependence."5

As a practical matter, Maclennan's commentary offers especially good coverage on the portions of Aeneid I included on the newly-pared-down Advanced Placement syllabus (1-209; 418-440; 494-578, non amplius) that goes into effect in 2012; this coverage, along with the affordable price, should make it possible for teachers to adopt the book with confidence. The Focus series, with its fuller bibliography and more generous citation of Greek, remains the better choice for university students,6 but Maclennan has produced an enjoyable, eloquent, and effective volume, carefully tailored to the needs of beginners.

Some more detailed observations:

p. 83, on. vv. 25-8: fuller citation of Theognis and Callimachus is needed.

p. 87, on v. 65: Ennius is cited from Warmington's Remains of Old Latin I (Loeb, 1935, revised 1956) here and elsewhere with the abbreviation W, but the work is missing from the bibliography on p. 52-53.

p. 87 on vv. 76-9: Maclennan winningly attributes to Aeolus "the exaggerated (perhaps ironical) humility of a servant." However, because of the way the rest of the note is presented, Maclennan's momentary assumption of the persona ("it's such a bother for you, madam, just to decide what you want") could be mistaken for an actual translation of Virgil's tuus, o regina, quid optes | explorare labor.

p. 88, on v. 93: Maclennan cites the Oxford Classical Dictionary for the prayer stance with raised arms: it would be more helpful to cite a primary source (e.g. Iliad 5.174, Διὶ χεῖρας ἀνασχών).

p. 98, on vv. 200-1: Maclennan calls the pistrix "an alarming but unknown creature": we can be more exact; see now Horsfall's commentary (Brill 2006) on Aeneid 3.427.

p. 112-13, on vv. 315ff.: An excellent note on Harpalyce, but it is tendentious to refer to her as a "gipsy bandit." Even so, Maclennan makes a simple and elegant point about Harpalyce as a model for Camilla.

p. 116, on. v. 343: Maclennan's note implies that there is critical consensus in favor of Huet's emendation auri for the universally transmitted agri, but auri was already rejected as trite by Heyne, and Conte in his new Teubner edition (2009) rightly prefers agri.

p. 133, on vv. 485-87: There is an incomplete sentence beginning "if at the moment of ransom".

p. 139, on vv. 539-40: The author does a good job explaining why neuter /hǒc/ (<*hod-ce) scans long; students should also be aware that it always has this scansion. p. 144, on vv. 592-3: Nisbet and Hubbard's commentary (OUP, 1970) is cited without bibliographical information.

p. 153, on v. 661: Maclennan translates bilingues "with forked, snake-like tongue"; this may be going too far (Servius offers merely "fallaces", "deceitful"). There are a few macrons missing from words in the index of names (pp. 164-168): Bēlus, Īllyricus, Oenōtrī.

There are also macrons missing from words in the cumulative vocabulary list (pp. 169-188): āēr; ārdeō, ārdēscō; coniūnx; dehīscō; dēsuētus; flūctus; fōrma; frūstum; lāpsus; mīlle; nūllus; nūntiō, -āre; nūtrīmentum; ōrdior, ōrsus; ōrdō; ōrnātus; ōstium; pūrgō; rēgnō, -āre; rēgnum; rēx; succīnctus; ūllus, ūllius, ūllī; vīscera

Table of Contents

Preface 7
Introduction 9
1. Tantae molis erat… 9
2. The Aeneid and Roman history 10
3. Virgil's life and writings 14
4. Virgil's predecessors 15
5. Rome, Carthage, and Dido 19
6. Summary of the Aeneid 22
7. The Aeneid after Virgil 29
8. Translating Virgil 33
9. Metre 35
10. Virgil's use of metre and language 40
11. Reading Virgil 46
Some reading 52

Aeneid I: The Latin Text 54

Notes on the Text 77

Index 1: Literary, grammatical, and metrical terms 163
Index 2: Names etc. 164

Vocabulary 169

Abbreviations 188


1.   P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos Liber Primus, ed. R. G. Austin, Oxford 1971.
2.   Maclennan alone is not to blame; this problem has arisen in many other commentaries, including the Focus series (books 1 and 2, ed. Randall Ganiban, 2011.03.29 and 2009.05.24; book 3, ed. Christine Perkell, 2010.11.23). Although the formatting will not be easy, there remains a need for metrical symbols to be superimposed above the low-profile diacritical markings that should be used uniformly to indicate vowel length.
3.   Maclennan made this second point clearly in his Aeneid 6 introduction (p. 42 n. 53) but does not make it in the present volume.
4.   Michael Weiss (2009), Outline of the Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin. Ann Arbor: Beech Stave Press. p. 67.
5.   Austin named: ad 95-6; 106-7; 119; 200-1; 275; 315ff., 376, 402-4; 435; 439; 448-49; 502; 544; 573; 617-18; 636; 724.
6.   Instructors may also wish to consider the newly published reader by Peter Jones, Reading Virgil: Aeneid I and II. Cambridge intermediate Latin readers. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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