Friday, July 22, 2011


Marino Neri (ed.), Ruricio di Limoges: Lettere. Pubblicazioni della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofía dell'Università di Pavia 122. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2009. Pp. 416. ISBN 9788846723833. €25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Ralph W. Mathisen, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (

Version at BMCR home site

Recent years have been a great age of the study of late antique epistolography in general, and late antique Gallic epistolography in particular. Along with synthetic studies,1 the last few decades have seen the appearance of a multitude of studies and translations—facilitated by the Liverpool series "Translated Texts for Historians"—of the letter collections of Augustine of Hippo, Jerome of Stridon, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, Sidonius Apollinaris, Ruricius of Limoges, Avitus of Vienne, and the Epistulae Austrasicae.

The present study of the letter collection of Ruricius, bishop of Limoges ca. 485-510,2 by Marino Neri, who received the Dottorato di ricerca from the University of Macerata and previously published several article-length studies on Ruricius,3 is a worthy addition to this tradition. The book consists primarily (pp. 23-385) of a text and Italian translation of Ruricius's letters. Also included are a brief introduction (pp. 7-21), a bibliography (pp. 387-408), and a useful "Index nominum," which catalogues the addressees of all of Ruricius's letters, although leaving out other persons mentioned in the letters.

The Introduction commences with a biography of Ruricius, and establishes Ruricius's family connection to the region south of Limoges toward Cahors. In his discussion of Ruricius's immediate family, for example, Neri rightly concludes that of Ruricius's two "nepotes" Papianilla and Parthenius, it was Parthenius who was Ruricius's own grandchild and Papianilla who was the daughter of Agricola (pp. 8, 409). After his conversion to the ascetic life perhaps in the late 470s, Ruricius was chosen as bishop of Limoges in 485.

There follows a brief overview of the letter collection, which survives only in the Codex Sangallensis 190, written in the late eighth or early ninth century. Neri's discussion of the contents of the manuscript mistakenly assumes, however, that the list included in the manuscript's index accurately reflects the contents of the manuscript. Thus, the "due lettere di Gerolamo" and "florelegio di epistule sidoniane" (p. 11) cited by Neri as present in the manuscript are not actually there.

Regarding the contents of the letters, Neri rightly points to Ruricius's general silence about current events, and focus, rather, on the pursuit of amicitia and caritas, and a concern for "la preservazione della civiltà" (p. 12). As for the Visigoths, Neri also notes three letters apparently addressed to Goths, and speaks of a "raffinatezza culturale cui alcuni Goti soni giunti assimilando la Romanitas" (p. 13). As a result, Neri sees "una duplice tensione" in Gaul of the fifth and sixth centuries, consisting of attempts to preserve Roman ideals on the one hand, and efforts to maintain a dialogue with the Visigoths that included not only personal friendships but even collaboration on the other (p. 14). The letters reflect the rhetorical flavor of the classical education that all Gallic elites received, and Ruricius's own collection is noteworthy for its "very local flavor" (p. 17), and thus is set apart from the collections of writers such as Sidonius, Avitus of Vienne, and Ennodius of Pavia, which to a greater or lesser degree include correspondence relating to emperors, kings, and popes. At the same time, Neri observes that Ruricius's letters include a multitude of quotations from scripture and patristic authors, but only two from classical writers (only one of which is cited, p. 19 n.60), demonstrating the changing flavor of aristocratic literary mentalities as one moves from the fifth into the sixth century.

A few desiderata are missing. First of all, an index, with obvious consequences. Secondly, the texts and translations curiously fail to include the twelve letters written to Ruricius, which also survive in the same manuscript. Curious because these letters form an integral part of the paper trail of the topics covered in Ruricius's correspondence; thus, we have Ruricius's replies to the letters of Faustus of Riez, but not the extant letters to which he was replying, or Faustus's replies to him (Mathisen, Ruricius, pp. 87-105), or we have Ruricius's famous "horse" letter to Sedatus of Nîmes, but are lacking Sedatus's hilarious response (Mathisen, Ruricius, pp. 201-203). Given many references to these letters in the commentary (e.g. pp. 232, 269-70, 323-4, 331, 341, 349), and the occasional long quotations from them, it perhaps would have been better to provide them, too, with formal translations and commentaries.

Although rather less attention is given in the commentary to biographical or historical material, there are many biographical comments, not only in the "Index nominum" of addressees, but also, for other persons, in the Commentary itself, with comments, e.g., on Ruricius himself (p. 163, as a saecularis); Namatius (p. 249); Ulfila (p. 263); Foedamius (p. 291), Ceraunia (p. 300), Capilluus (p. 335, 342), Papianilla and Parthenius (their relation to Ruricius: pp. 236-7, 340-1, 347); Agricola (pp. 337-9); Caesarius of Arles (p. 343); Verus of Tours (pp. 342, 349); Maxentius (p. 376); Eparchius and his excommunication (p. 379); Volusianus of Tours (p. 384). There also are a number of useful geographical comments, as on Gemiliacum (p. 262); Gurdo and Decaniacum (pp. 197-8, 216-7, 382); Userca (p. 319-20); Briva (p. 326); Duranius (p. 363); and the marble of St-Béat (p. 383).

Attention also is given to various topics and themes relating to ecclesiastical practices, such as on Christian life (pp. 25, 295-6), monastic life (p. 311), penitence (p. 199-200); conversion (p. 295, 322, 338, 339), commendation and intercession (pp. 263-4, 266, 280, 366, 376), episcopal elections (pp. 335-7), episcopal exile (pp. 342-3, 349), the summoning of Church councils (pp. 343, 349, 352-3), the Council of Agde (p. 342), "quarta feria" (p. 326), and apocalypticism (pp. 306-7). Comment on secular topics is rather more sparse, with brief mentions, e.g., of the Visigoths (pp. 181-2, 212, 267-8, 342, 355, 384), Alaric II (p. 343), and the solidus (p. 367).

In general, attention is given almost exclusively to individual points of interest, be they words, persons, or events. Little attention—except insofar as one can assemble ad hoc from related comments, as done exempli gratia above—is given to broader themes that pervade the collection in general and Ruricius's thought in particular. To some degree, of course, this is part and parcel of the nature of a commentary, but one would have liked to have seen a greater acknowledgment that some of the themes cited individually repeat themselves and form part of a broader pattern. And Neri does, in fact, return repeatedly to several themes, such as that of "amicitia," which recurs throughout the collection. Neri also highlights (e.g. p. 308) Ruricius's use of "lapidary" structure in the construction of his letters. And there is an interesting discussion of the use of nicknames (p. 229).

But in other regards, the forest is left unseen on account of all the trees, and broader themes are not highlighted to the degree that they could be. Although the commentary includes a multitude of interesting tidbits of information about the background to the composition of Ruricius's letters, the general lack of synthesis— especially given that the Introduction is primarily a survey of secondary literature rather than an attempt to place the letters-qua-letters into their literary and historical contexts— means that the observations made in the commentary are not connected to any broader overview or analysis of Ruricius's context. For example, Ruricius's use of medical vocabulary is not related to his excessive concerns about his own health. Or one could put together quite a nice study of Ruricius's connections with Augustine based on comments on pp. 293, 296-7, 310-11, 345, 383, and passim. And little attention is given to the potential significance of the inclusion of two versions (Epist. 2.12 and 2.53) of the same letter (on which see Mathisen, Ruricius, pp. 60-61, 154, 225).

The greater part of the commentary consists of the citation of supposed verbal parallels between Ruricius's letters and other works. But there is no discussion of the methodology used for finding these parallels, or for establishing whether there is in fact a parallel at all. Indeed, the commentary has the look of having been compiled largely by doing a multitude of word searches in the Patrologia Latina, Library of Latin Texts (Brepols), and other databases, and pulling out passages where there is only a one or two word overlap. There is no processing, no application of rules, for being able to suggest reasonably whether a supposed parallel actually is a parallel, or whether there is any reason to believe that there is any genetic connection between two passages, or what the nature of that connection might be. For example, the use of the words "insinuatione" and "commendo" in a letter of recommendation probably does not indicate any kind of organic connection between other letters of recommendation using the same words (p. 341).

Nor is there any synthesis as to what these suggested similarities might signify. No distinction is made between comparative citations that date to before (e.g., Ambrose), during (e.g., Ennodius), or after (e.g., Epistulae Austrasicae [sixth century], the letters of Desiderius of Cahors [seventh century]) Ruricius's floruit. Are these parallels being suggested from a purely antiquarian perspective, or is Neri suggesting that one work had some influence on a later one? But if the latter, no indication is given regarding what the nature of the influence might have been, or how it might have occurred. For example, Neri presumes that Ruricius draws from Leo I of Rome one citation from Serm. 43.4 in Epist. 2.20 (pp. 319-320), and three from Serm. 17.2 in Epist. 2.48 (pp. 368-9), an interesting suggestion that would have benefited from some discussion of how this might have occurred and what it might have meant. Likewise, on p. 271, a passage from Epist. 2.9 to Julianus Pomerius, a priest and rhetor of Arles, is cited as being "similar" to a passage from a sermon of Caesarius of Arles, but there is no suggestion that this is a conscious parallel by Ruricius (which would mean that the sermon must have been written early in Caesarius's career), or that there might be a connection because Pomerius was one of Caesarius' own priests. In general, there is little connective tissue to relate the philological and rhetorical observations to the world in which Ruricius was actually living.

In sum, Neri's commentary provides a magisterial example of compilation and distillation of primary and secondary source material. The amount of painstaking labor that went into it is clear. In general, the commentary benefits from excellent cross-references to the appearance of similar words and locutions in other letters. There are few obvious errors (an unfortunate exception being the citation (p. 409) of "Joseph [sic] R. Martindale" as sole editor of all three volumes of PLRE) or inconsistencies (although one might note Sidonius Apollinaris cited as "Sidonio Apollinare" in the introduction [e.g,. p. 18], but as "Apollinare Sidonio" in the "Index nominum" [e.g., p. 410]). The commentary thus provides a tremendous amount of often undigested material, carefully assembled, that can serve as a mine of information for future synthetic studies of Ruricius' correspondence.


1.   E.g., R.W. Mathisen, "Epistolography, Literary Circles, and Family Ties in Late Roman Gaul," Transactions of the American Philological Society 111 (1981), 95-109; I.N. Wood, "Letters and Letter-Collections from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages: The Prose Works of Avitus of Vienne," in M.A. Meyer, ed., The Culture of Christen¬dom (London, 1993), 29-43; Suzanne Louise Abram, "Brevity in Early Medieval Letters," Florilegium 15 (1998), 23-35; Jennifer Ebbeler, "Tradition, Innovation, and Epistolary Mores in Late Antiquity," in Philip Rousseau, ed., Blackwell Companion to Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2009), 270-284; and in R.W. Mathisen, D.R. Shanzer, eds., Society and Culture in Late Antique Gaul. Revisiting the Sources (Ashgate Press, 2001), note R. Mathisen, "The Letters of Ruricius of Limoges and the Passage from Roman to Frankish Gaul," 101-115; Richard Bartlett, "Aristocracy and Asceticism: The Letters of Ennodius and the Gallic and Italian Churches," 201-216; D.R. Shanzer, "Bishops, Letters, Fast, Food, and Feast in Later Roman Gaul," 217-237; and Mark Vessey, "The Epistula Rustici ad Eucherium: From the Library of Imperial Classics to the Library of the Fathers," 278-297.
2.   R. Demeulenaere ed., Foebadius, Victricius, Lepori¬us, Vincentius Lerinensis, Evagrius, Rurici¬us, CCL 64 (Turnholt, 1985): Ruricii Lemovicensis epistularum libri duo, 312-394.
3.   Marino Neri, "Ruricio esegeta di Lc. 15, 22," Filologia Antica e Moderna 30-1 (2006), 79-85; Idem, "Ex Arione in Orpheum repente mutatus," Bollettino di Studi Latini 37 (2007), 140-144.

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