Thursday, August 15, 2013


Eleanor Dickey, The Colloquia of the Hermeneumata Pseudodositheana. Volume 1: Colloquia Monacensia-Einsidlensia, Leidense-Stephani, and Stephani. Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries, 49. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xi, 276. ISBN 9781107020108. $150.00.

Reviewed by Anthony Corbeill, University of Kansas (

Version at BMCR home site

The title Colloquia of the Hermeneumata Pseudodositheana does not come tripping off the tongue easily, and it will probably not receive instant recognition even from most classicists. This is a real shame, since these imaginary monologues and conversations (hence, colloquia), rendered in a normally straightforward Greek and Latin and bundled with other bilingual materials (thereby composing the hermeneumata; see 52-53), can provide both a pleasant diversion to beginning students of these languages and a wealth of information for the scholar. (The last element of the title, pseudodositheana needlessly perpetuates the memory of a scholarly attribution of the texts to the grammarian Dositheus that was definitively discredited by the mid-nineteenth century.) A brief selection reveals the charm lying behind the imposing name:

I awoke from sleep before dawn, got out of bed, sat down, ... and put on my shoes. I asked for water for my face: I wash my hands first, then I washed my face. ... I anointed my head and combed it. ... I left the bedroom with my pedagogue and nurse to say good morning to my father and mother. I greeted and kissed them both and then left the house and go to school. (This translates an excerpt of the Latin at Gloss. III 645-646 = ME 2a-4 Dickey)

In this short excerpt can be found elements still familiar today from primers for the teaching of foreign languages. The use of everyday situations (in this particular instance, for a young student), familiar vocabulary, and elementary syntax combine with the sometimes awkward attempt to vary grammatical constructions and inflectional forms, e.g., the juxtaposition of the present and perfect tenses of the Greek and Latin forms for "wash" and "go." But it is the immediacy of the narrative and the homeliness of the subject matter that most attracts attention; scholars of ancient Greece and Rome spend so much time reading about souls that we are taken by surprise—and consequently delighted—at the mention of soles. Until now, the majority of these texts could be found scattered throughout the third volume of Goetz's Corpus Glossariorum Latinorum of 1892. The fruits of Goetz's labors throughout the seven volumes of CGL are as impressive as their shortcomings are well recognized. Dionisotti's remarks about the quality of the texts found there apply with equal validity to the colloquia: "the material [is] in a much more raw and provisional state than we are used to in the classical field."1

That situation has now changed, thanks to the superlative efforts of Eleanor Dickey. This volume, the first of two on the colloquia, makes full use of the scholarship of the past century and a quarter to produce an exemplary critical edition, accompanied by helpful notes (chiefly on textual critical and philological issues) and a useful English translation.2 Dickey's accomplishment here will be welcome not only to teachers, who can easily adapt for the classroom these bits of Latin and Greek, but also to scholars working in a wide range of fields, from linguistics to education to the ephemera of the lived world.

The book falls into four parts. Part 1 consists of a lengthy introduction to all six colloquia, surveying their function, content, and development over time. Each of the subsequent Parts 2-4 contains an edition of the three colloquia traditions indicated by the volume's subtitle and adopts the same order of presentation: a thorough account of the textual tradition is followed by bilingual text (including full apparatus) and English translation, with a line-by-line commentary at the close. The entire volume concludes with a tabular appendix comparing the titles of the capitular glosses across the six colloquia (an important element for determining their relationship; see 22-24), bibliography, and a concordance with previous editions. I expect, and hope, that volume 2 will include a full set of indices.

The lengthy Introduction to the two volumes (3-56) begins with a survey of what we know of the teaching in antiquity of Latin and Greek as a non-native language. Dickey includes a helpful conspectus of all the surviving material used to teach Latin — grammatical treatises, glossaries, annotated Latin texts—and the audiences for which each was intended. From here she moves to reconstruct the complex transmission of a precise subset of these materials, namely, the surviving collection of hermeneumata. These bilingual teaching packages, amassed over centuries from several sources, typically include the colloquia together with glossaries (arranged alphabetically and by topic) and elementary dual-language texts such as fables from Aesop, mythological tales, and collections of sayings. Dickey demonstrates that the colloquia, of which she identifies six different versions, developed separately from the other contents of the hermeneumata and consequently have their own textual history. It seems clear that these colloquia were intended from an early stage to provide bilingual instruction, since the compilers avoid constructions in one language that have no obvious counterpart in the other (e.g., the Greek sections avoid the articular infinitive and present participle of "to be," while the Latin avoids gerunds and gerundives, or constructions using quin). Furthermore, since these materials functioned as pragmatic tools rather than as literature, the texts freely underwent changes, additions, and omissions during the course of transmission (the Colloquium Stephani even contains what seems to be a rudimentary "teacher's guide" at sections 18-19). One particularly clear indication that the texts were compiled at different times from a variety of sources can be seen in the basic division exhibited by most of the colloquia between a "schoolbook" and a "phrasebook" portion. The "schoolbook," a selection from which I quoted above, tends to present a coherent narrative of a child's day and, accordingly, seems designed to aid children learning both to read their native tongue and to acquire basic familiarity with a second language. The "phrasebook," in contrast, contains narratives that are frequently interrupted by sets of disconnected phrases and vocabulary lists, and its adult situations—going to the baths, visiting a sick friend—imply that the principal audience consists of adults who are acquiring a second language. Dickey further distinguishes between these two types by demonstrating in convincing detail that the "schoolbook" probably developed in the West as a resource for learning Greek, while the "phrasebook" was originally designed to teach Latin (44-48).

Most users of this volume, however, will be turning to it for the reliable critical editions and thorough commentaries provided for three of these colloquia. As Dickey points out (54), progress in the understanding of non-standard Greek and Latin in the early Empire makes the undertaking more plausible than it had been in Goetz's day, allowing her to retain those non- standard features of syntax, morphology, and vocabulary that subsequent scholarship indicates may have also been present in the archetype (orthography and Greek accentuation have, by contrast, been regularized for the sake of readability). The hypothetical existence of such an archetype facilitates the construction of a stemma for two of the traditions (the third text, the Colloquium Stephani, survives only in printed editions dating back to 1573), the evidence and arguments for which are provided in great detail in the introduction to each separate colloquium, with a generous selection of plates illustrating selected manuscripts (59-97; 187-194). The commentary carefully justifies any unusual or controversial choice in the text, which makes a close reading of the colloquia in this edition not simply a window into daily life (such as one could already glean from Goetz's texts) but an excellent introduction to the variations undergone by Greek and Latin in the first centuries of the common era.

I conclude with a selection of remarks on the commentary in order to convey an impression of the depth and qualities of this work.3 As befits her expertise, Dickey is impressively full on textual issues, on the ways in which the Greek and Latin texts correspond as translations of each other, and on tracing the history of a given lexeme or construction. At the same time, her commentary affords the interested scholar access to the more dimly lit corners of ancient culture into which these colloquies wander. The "schoolbook" portions, for example, persistently stress the narrator's donning of footwear, even to the point that on one occasion this appears to be the only item of clothing that the student wears to school (S 4a). Dickey sensibly observes that such emphasis "is probably not unrealistic in a situation where getting out of bed means putting bare feet on a cold stone floor" (140). Less clear is an explanation for why the boy can also be described as putting a palla around his neck, a garment normally restricted to women, or to men engaging in some type of public performance (141; cf. 176). Turning to the adult "phrasebook," the reader finds in one of these dialogues a rare glimpse into pre-trial proceedings in a provincial court case (ME 4a-p). A paterfamilias exchanges greetings with a friend on the street, in the course of which he persuades the friend to join him at a pre-arranged meeting of his advocati, whom he identifies as the interlocutor's amici. The scene concludes with the paterfamilias going to the bank to get money to pay the advocates and lawyers, after which the case is decided in his favor. Dickey comments well on the linguistic aspects and general background of the passage, but still leaves room for speculation on a number of intriguing details that will recall for many readers the famous satire of Horace on the "pest" (serm. 1.9): like the pest at the poem's close, a chance meeting leads to a friend being invited to stand in court, and the pre-ordained meeting with legal allies echoes details found on papyri from Pompeii that also seem to underlie the situation in the satire.4 Another situation from the "phrasebook" will interest scholars of domestic architecture. Two men go to visit a sick friend at home (ME 6b-j). Upon arrival, they ask the doorman where his "master" lies and are directed to ascend two flights to look for him.5 This exchange raises the question of what type of building we are to imagine: an insula (in which case what is the relationship between doorman and "master")? a two-story residence (with access to the second floor provided by two flights with intervening landing, a design typical for stairways in Ostia)? or a three-story residence, a size not unprecedented but unusual? Dickey, in typical fashion, diplomatically weighs the evidence for each option while refraining from a dogmatic conclusion.

Dickey is to be thanked for this volume. She has spared neither labor nor suffering (cf. ME 1d) to give full access to scholars the tradition behind these now dependable texts. After the appearance of volume 2, would it be too much to expect the equally meritorious service of providing to learners of Latin and Greek a portable (and affordable) small volume containing the texts themselves, perhaps with minor annotations? A catchier title would help too.


1.   A. C. Dionisotti, "From Ausonius' Schooldays? A Schoolbook and its Relatives," Journal of Roman Studies, 72 (1982) 86.
2.   The second volume, the reader eventually learns on page 56, will contain the remaining three colloquia (Harleianum, Montepessulanum, and Celtis—this last not in Goetz) and selected papyrus fragments.
3.   Despite the potentially bad omen of "antquity" in the first paragraph, the volume contains remarkably few misprints given the complexity of subject matter and presentation. Press and author are also to be commended for the formatting of the texts of the colloquia to allow easy comparison between the corresponding Greek and Latin portions (another welcome improvement over Goetz).
4.   For details, see D. Cloud, "The Pompeian Tablets and Some Literary Texts," in P. McKechnie, ed., Thinking Like a Lawyer: Essays on Legal History and General History for John Crook on his Eightieth Birthday (Leiden: Brill 2002) 231-246, who does not consider the evidence from this colloquium.
5.   At ME 6c, Dickey finds no parallels for the phrase a quando, but it occurs several times in Boet. herm. sec. (cf. TLL I 40.62); see too Regula mag. 28.3.

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