Thursday, February 7, 2013


Kai Broderson, Censorinus: Über den Geburtstag. Edition Antike. Darmstadt: WBG (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft), 2012. Pp. 160. ISBN 9783534181549. €24.90.

Reviewed by Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht (

Version at BMCR home site

Censorinus' De die natali does not belong to the daily fare of most classicists. The text is primarily used as a source by those interested in the history of ancient doxography. Nonetheless, several new editions and translations have been published over the past three decades and Brodersen's is the most recent one. The title of this small treatise, written in 238 CE, probably in Rome, is somewhat misleading for the topic of the birthday is used by Censorinus as a springboard to deal with a wide variety of subjects such as spermatogenesis, embryogenesis, seven- and eight-months' babies, the various forms of periodization of human life, the questions of what is time, eternity, a day, a month, a year, a century, various ways of time reckoning etc. It is a very succinct but instructive treatise on what intellectuals in the Roman Empire thought about such matters, and for that reason a new edition with translation is welcome.

The oldest and best ms is a Cologne codex from the 7th/8th century on which all other mss are dependent. Brodersen took to heart Anthony Grafton's criticism of Sallmann's 1983 Teubner edition (Class. Rev. 35, 1985, 46-8) and refrains from listing useless variants from the later mss; he prints the text of the Cologne ms, correcting its obvious errors and adopting some modern emendations. Since he does not present an apparatus criticus, the corrections and emendations are incorporated into the text while at the same time the readings of the ms are maintained, which results in such unfelicitous oddities as "[T]<C>i[c]<t>ie[i]us" for 'Citieus' (4.10); "s[o]<a>l<l>[e]<u>nt" for 'sallunt' (17.14); and "<h>e[st]<p>ta[x]<c>o[pa]<rd>on" for 'heptac(h)ordon'. This is extremely reader-unfriendly and could have been avoided.

Since there is no commentary, in the introduction Brodersen gives the reader some of the information necessary to understand the text, and into the translation he smuggles other information that is useful for the (beginning) reader. This, too, is reader-unfriendly because the reader can hardly keep in mind all the details given in the introduction and, moreover, the translation is burdened with many superfluous insertions: e.g., at 1.4 Xenophon Socraticus is rendered as "Xenophon (von Athen), ein Schüler des (Philosophen) Sokrates"; at 2.3 apud Lucilium becomes "bei (dem römischen Dichter Gaius) Lucilius"; at 12.2 "(dem Musengott) Apollo" renders Apolloni; etc. Sometimes whole sentences with comments are inserted into the translation as at 10.9, which is awkward. There are also mistakes in the translation: at 6.2 "aus der Kraft eines Samens, der den Geist begleitet" should be "aus der Kraft des Geistes, der den Samen begleitet"; at 6.7 "Wenn die Wärme beider Elternteile für die Samen gleich war" should be "Wenn die Wärme in den Samen [plur.] der (beiden) Eltern gleich war;" at 16.3 eodem modo ends up in the wrong part of the sentence in the translation. At 2.2 "Unsere haben Vorfahren" should be 'Unsere Vorfahren haben" and at 24.6 "die wie" should be "die wir". Moreover, that Empedocles' poem is "nicht erhalten" (25) is a curious statement, to say the least, and Lucretius' poem is entitled De rerum natura, not De natura (31). And there are more signs of sloppiness. We can only conclude that this booklet is disappointing for the scholar but may be a useful tool for students who want to get a very first impression of what De die natali is about.

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