Monday, June 18, 2012


Ferruccio Bertini, Inusitata verba. Studi di lessicografia latina raccolti in occasione del suo settantesimo compleanno (da Paolo Gatti e Caterina Mordeglia). Labirinti, 133. Trento: Università degli Studi di Trento, Dipartimento di Studi Letterari, Linguistici e Filologici, 2011. Pp. 332. ISBN 9788884433640. €13.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Luca Grillo, Amherst College (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Gatti and Mordeglia express in this volume their sincere gratitude to their teacher, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. Bertini's recent death, on April 14th of this year, makes this collection all the more valuable as a testimony to the research and mentorship of a dearly loved scholar.

Toward the beginning of the fifth century C.E., Nonius Marcellus, a native of Tubursicum (in Numidia), composed the De Compendiosa Doctrina, an encyclopedic work of lexicography and grammar, which has survived almost completely for us. In twenty books, broadly divided by subject, Nonius covers morphology (e.g. book 8-10) and semantics (e.g. books 1, 2 and 4), also listing technical and unusual words, ordered alphabetically and elucidated by short definitions (books 13-20, 16 is lost).

Many classicists may regard Nonius as a careless and unreliable source and know him only because, as Ferruccio Bertini points out (e.g. p. 16), his quotations include many passages otherwise lost: to Nonius we owe almost seventy per cent of our fragmentary Lucilius and a similar amount of Varro's Menippeae as well as many quotations from Sisenna, Accius and Pacuvius. But Nonius and his own magnum opus are the main theme of the volume under review: as Jean-Louis Charlet writes in his short preface (in French), Nonius and lexicography lay at the beginning of Bertini's research and, even if his interests have covered an impressively broad range of genres and authors (from classical, late antique, medieval and humanist Latin), the work on Nonius affected his whole scholarly career. To such a career Paolo Gatti and Caterina Mordeglia pay homage, by presenting chronologically fourteen articles, all previously published, to celebrate their master's seventieth birthday: of these articles eleven deal with Nonius, two with Osbern of Gloucester and one provides a brisk overview of Latin lexicographers from late antiquity to high Middle Ages.

Bertini firmly believes that glossaries and lexica "are not unreliable witnesses of classical Latin, but most valuable witnesses of medieval Latinity" (p. 245; cf. p. 190). These essays document Bertini's effort to study the work of lexicographers in its own right, considering each case in its historical and cultural contexts, but they also show how this effort can be beneficial to classicists. By observing the lexicographers' working method and their use of the tradition, Bertini has improved our appreciation of this strand of the ancient grammatical tradition, and, by elucidating their treatment of quotations, he has shown how the authors of lexica can be less unreliable witnesses to classical Latin than generally assumed.

The first essay exemplifies the possibilities offered by this methodology. In looking at the mistakes in the manuscript tradition of the De Compendiosa Doctrina, Bertini concentrates on Nonius' usus scribendi and specifically, as he ironically puts it, on his usus errandi (p. 15). A thorough comparison of Nonius' quotations and the direct tradition of manuscripts allows Bertini to catalogue Nonius' most common mistakes, which he gathers by type in eight subgroups (pp. 18-64); clear tables list references from Nonius next to references from classical authors and highlight the difference, illustrating where passages are misquoted. Nonius' most common types of mistake follow specific patterns: for instance, concludes Bertini, he seldom omits or interpolates words (and when he does so, it is almost always with monosyllables); but he often switches singular and plural, confounds both genders and cases (especially accusatives) and alters prepositions, conjunctions and adverbs (e.g. he systematically writes tunc for tum, and frequently has neque for nec and cum for dum); he consistently displays archaizing tendencies and is most unreliable with proper nouns. These conclusions have important implications for restoring the text of passages quoted by Nonius but otherwise lost to us: when Nonius quotes a verse which does not fit a meter, given that he rarely omits or adds words, Bertini suggests considering the possibility that he altered the word order. Bertini also observes that, in spite of these shortcomings, Nonius can help to restore the text when the direct tradition is lacunose, and another essay in the collection, "Nonio, un passo dell'Orator e due del De oratore", provides three examples.

In the Orator Cicero famously divides oratory into three genera (grande, tenue and medium) and speaks of the medium style as tempered by the other two. At 21 the text is lacunose, but a citation by Nonius has allowed critics to correct the manuscript tradition, restoring hos after inter, and reading temperatus instead of temperandus. In the same passage Nonius differs from the manuscripts in reading flumine instead of fulmine and ut cinnus amborum instead of vicinus amborum: Bertini vigorously argues that Nonius' readings are preferable to the manuscripts', since Cicero here opposes flumen to acumen (to indicate subtle arguments) and since flumen is often used of Asian eloquence; equally, ut cinnus amborum would indicate that the medium style is, as Nonius explains, a commixtio plurumorum (rather than close, vicinus, to the other two styles). One can easily see how the manuscripts' UTCIÑUS has become UICINUS. In the second and third cases Bertini suggests that at De or. 1.66 Nonius' reading tecum serram vocabit provides a valuable alternative to the manuscripts' tecum communicabit (pp. 162-6), and that at De or. 2.198 sodalis esset is preferable to quaestor fuisset (pp. 166-8).

Bertini's study on Nonius also sheds new light on the relation between Nonius and other lexicographers. Comparison between lemma and quotations in Nonius and Fulgentius (pp. 77-110) and between Nonius and Priscianus (111-156 and 321-32) shows that both Fulgentius and Priscianus knew and used the De Compendiosa Doctrina, even if only at times do they acknowledge their debt to Nonius. The same applies to the fifteenth-century humanist Niccolò Perotti, who compiled his Cornucopiae sive Latinae Commentarii making extensive use of Nonius.

Like Nonius, Perotti has not enjoyed a warm reception: in Oliver's words (TAPA 78, 1947, 373-424, cited at p. 174), "Perotti was a bastard, a pederast, a pathic, an adulterer, and a thief, but one will be impressed by his enemies' silence on the score of really serious misconduct, i.e. forgery." In four essays (pp. 167-85, 223-30 and 215-22 and 223-30) Bertini proves that in fact Perotti was no forger; rather, having access to a more complete edition of De Compendiosa Doctrina than we do (a Nonius plenior, as Bertini calls it), he abundantly relied on Nonius, even coming close to plagiarism. This invites caution in systematically labeling all the "new fragments" of Latin authors found in Perotti as false creations of humanists. Bertini uses a new fragment from Sallust, commonly considered spurious (cf. Oliver 31), both to exemplify the normal distrust towards Perotti and to argue that Perotti seems to draw from a fuller Nonius, quoting (rather than inventing) an otherwise unknown passage from Sallust, which should therefore considered authentic. Two contributions on "The fortune of Nonius from the Middle Ages to Perotti" (pp. 257-78 and 279-322) corroborate with plenty of detailed and wide-ranging evidence that Nonius was widely used by other lexicographers and that some of them, like Perotti, had access to a an edition of De Compendiosa Doctrina which was richer than what we have.

The essay on the Latin lexicographers between late antiquity and the Middle Ages (pp. 187-203) provides a brisk outline of their main collections, considered "summae of medieval knowledge and precursors of modern encyclopedias" (187). The overview, sweeping from Nonius to Giovanni Balbi (15th cent.), gives an update on studies and editions of the main lexicographers, followed by eight pages of bibliography grouped by subject. The two remaining contributions are concerned with Osbern of Gloucester, a Benedictine monk who lived in the twelfth century and wrote a massive lexicon entitled Liber Derivationum. Faithful to his method, Bertini treasures this text not only as an important witness of its own time and as a link in the evolution of medieval lexicography, but also for its potential to shed light on classical and even early Latin authors, like Plautus, whom Osbern cites about 300 times. The first contribution gives an update on the progress of the critical edition of the Derivationes: Bertini summarizes the work conducted by a team of scholars he led and illustrates their challenges and methodology. The second presents the results of the fusion of two groups who, having independently started to work on the same project, successfully joined efforts toward a common edition. A new stemma and a complete list of the manuscripts are also offered, along with a distinction between a shorter and a more complete version of Osbern's work.

It must be admitted that, as the title suggests, Gatti and Mordeglia do not claim to be editors, but simply to have collected some essays: their approach is very restrained and limited to some cross-references, which bring readers back to some passages (e.g. n. 26 at p. 163 and n. 1 at p. 223), without signaling when a theme is developed later in the collection. The level of proof-reading is high, and I can think of only one typo which may hinder understanding (flamine for flumine, in the context of a discussion on different readings, p. 158). One can think of three ways in which the volume could have been further improved. Most regrettable is the lack of an index locorum, especially considering the number and impressive span of quoted passages, and considering that the essays could assist scholars coming from diverse backgrounds and approaching the volume with different interests and questions. One equally regrets the lack of an updated bibliography. Bertini's bibliography on Latin lexicographers (pp. 195-203) stops at 1979 (the year when his paper was given), making this deficiency more evident: studies of lexicography are flourishing, and an appendix with recently published works would have proved valuable for readers, and it would also have demonstrated that Bertini's pioneering research has found many followers. For example, in 1979 Bertini confessed that he was looking forward to the forthcoming twenty volumes with new edition and translation of Isidore's Origines (p. 191). Readers might have liked to know that some of these volumes have appeared (2, 3, 9, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, and 20 [volumes 16 and 14 were published in 2011, most likely after the collection under review was put together, BMCR 2012.04.43), along with other works (e.g. Henderson, BMCR 2009.01.45), translations and commentaries (e.g. English, 2006, BMCR 2007.11.05; Italian, 2006, ed. Canale; German, 2008, ed. Möller). Lastly, given that lexicography is but one among Bertini's interests, a list of his publications would have demonstrated the impressive range of his expertise and contributions.

But this review should not end on a negative note, and Gatti and Mordeglia should be commended for putting together this volume. The selection succeeds in illustrating Bertini's methods, passion and many valuable insights: while following ideas and appreciating the development of Bertini's lines of research, readers may feel invited to stretch the chronological and methodological borders of their own research.

Table of Contents

Préface di Jean-Louis Charlet
Nota dei curatori
Errori nella tradizione manoscritta del De Compendiosa doctrina
Nonio e Fulgenzio
Nonio e Prisciano
Nonio, un passo dell'Orator e due del De oratore
Niccol Perotti e il De compendiosa doctrina di Nonio Marcello
La tradizione lessicografica Latina fra Tardo Antico e Alto Medioevo
Tracce del XVI libro del De compendiosa doctrina di Nonio nel Cornucopiae del Perotti?
Spigolando lungo il testo del Cornucopiae perottino
Ancora su Nonio e Perotti
Come affrontare oggi l'edizione di un lessico latino medievale: le Derivationes di Osberno di Gloucester
Osberno di Gloucester
La fortuna di Nonio Marcello dal Medioevo al Perotti (I parte: Da Fulgenzio a Lupo di Ferrières)
La fortuna di Nonio Marcello dal Medioevo al Perotti (II parte)
Riesame dei rapporti tra Prisciano e Nonio alla luce di nuove ricerche

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