Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Tiziana Pellucchi, Commento al libro VIII delle Argonautiche di Valerio Flacco. Spudasmata, 146. Hildesheim; Zürich; New York​: Georg Olms Verlag, 2012. Pp. lviii, 502. ISBN 9783487148663. €78.00.

Reviewed by Cristiano Castelletti, University of Fribourg (

Version at BMCR home site

In the last two decades increasing interest in Valerius Flaccus' Roman Argonautica has produced a multiplicity of publications, including commentaries on several of the eight books of the poem. If we except Spaltenstein's commentary on the whole poem, only Book 3 and 8 were missing a modern monograph. Ironically (a quality Valerius didn't lack...) two commentaries on Book 8 (both in Italian) have been published almost simultaneously in 2012, by C. Lazzarini1 and T. Pellucchi. Both are revised editions of doctoral theses, but the work by Lazzarini only covers up to line 287, whilst Pellucchi's commentary encompasses all the extant part of Book 8. Most certainly this last book of the Latin Argonauticais very interesting, but also very problematic, and raises a number of issues. Pellucchi's work is therefore very welcome, since it fills a real gap in Valerian studies.

The book proceeds in the expected commentary format by providing an introduction (divided into two chapters: "la struttura narrativa del libro VIII"; "il libro VIII e il sistema ideologico del poema"), followed by the Latin text with a facing Italian translation. Then follows the actual commentary itself (divided into three sections: "le vicende di Colchide (vv. 1-174)"; "la navigazione sul mare (vv. 175-216)"; "l'episodio di Peuce (vv. 217-467)") with bibliography and five indices.

Introduction (pp. v-lviii). In the first part of her introduction ("La struttura narrativa del libro VIII") Pellucchi starts with an analysis of Valerius' rewriting of Apollonius' Book 4 (Valerius' main source, together with Aeneid 4). The discussion of the crucial issue of the end of the poem starts at p. xii. Little attention is given to the reasons why the poem breaks off at line 467, and to the question of the number of books intended by Valerius for his poem: Pellucchi argues that scholars seem now to agree on the incompleteness of the poem (most likely due to the death of the poet), rather than on a loss of part of the poem due to an accident in the textual transmission. As for the final number of books, Pellucchi agrees with Schetter's arguments in favor of an 8-book poem (a resumé is provided on pp. xiii-xv). A larger discussion is devoted to which ending Valerius was planning for his work (pp. xv-xviii). After rejecting Jachmann's theory (the poem would end with the Argonaut's return to Pagasae), Pellucchi agrees with the hypothesis formulated by Hershkowitz and Nesselrath: the poem would end with the killing of Absyrtus on the island of Peuce. This reading would be supported by the Virgilian model (Aeneas' and Turnus' final duel) and several correspondences (suggesting a ring composition) between Valerius' Book 1 and Book 8. This first part of the introduction ends with observations on the book's composition and the influence of tragedy.

In the second part of the introduction ("Il libro VIII e il sistema ideologico del poema"), Pellucchi discusses the following topics: the poem's bipartite structure (xxii); Jupiter's world-plan and the Argonauts' civilizing mission (xxiii-xxiv); connections with the Trojan saga (xxv-xxvi); the function (and justification) of war (xxvi-xxvii); the influence of the elegiac genre (xxvii-xxviii) and the discussion of the character of Medea, whom Valerius successfully portrays, combining her two natures of sorceress and lover into a psychologically coherent unity (xxix-xxxvi). After a few pages on the poem's bipartite composition and the contrast between epic and tragedy, Pellucchi tackles the problematic issue of Jason's character (xxxviii-lviii, probably the best part of this introduction). There are two profoundly diverse interpretative currents on Valerius' Jason. The one, inspired by Lüthje, brands Jason as a failed hero, a hypocrite, a selfish, ambitious and ruthless man. The other, pioneered by Adamietz, sees in Jason an example of pure heroism. Between these two opposing visions, one finds contributions such as Ripoll's, which suggest that single episodes in the epic reveal different traits of character, according to the author's poetic intentions, which tend to privilege pathos over ethos. For this reason, utterly positive or negative interpretations of Jason's character and heroic qualities need to be nuanced. Pellucchi shares Ripoll's conclusions that a comprehensive assessment of the figure of Jason cannot overlook the evolutions induced by the very structure of the poem.

This introduction is rich and well informed. Further division into chapters, as well as a paragraph to contextualize the poet and his work, would have been very useful, especially for non-specialists in Valerius Flaccus. Quotations of secondary literature should be summarized and translated, and verbatim quotations limited to essential words or concepts (e.g. why quote Moreau in French at p. vi n.4, or Vian p. viii n. 5, et al. passim?). Frequent alternations between the Italian text and long (and often irrelevant) quotations in different languages can confuse the reader, as can the formatting (some quotations are embedded, others are separated from the text) and some very long sentences (e.g. p. xxvii). Mistakes are quite often also to be found in quotations (and this is so throughout the whole book). Some mistakes can be forgiven (e.g. a typo), but hardly when they suggest that the author didn't fully understand the text. See for instance the discussion at p. 336 on how to interpret nec longius inter / quam quod tela vetet superest mare (v. 303-304). According to Pellucchi, all the translators agree that the meaning of these lines is exactly the opposite of what Lemaire understands ("mare inter utrasque naves interiectum brevius factum, ita tamen, ut nondum tela invicem coniici possent"). As a matter of fact, the translations by Liberman ("il ne leur reste à percourir [read: parcourir] que l'espace qui les me[t]tra à la portée du trait") and by Dräger ("nicht weiter als <eine Strecke>, die <das Werfen der> Geschosse verbietet, liegt zwischen ihnen das Meer") do agree with Lemaire.

Text and translation (pp. 1-27). Pellucchi chooses to publish a Latin text without an apparatus (but providing an Italian translation), based on Ehlers' edition (Teubner 1980), discussing any change in the commentary. She is rather conservative in her text, maintaining in most cases the reading of the manuscripts. Very cautious concerning variants, she mostly accepts less radical conjectures, without proposing new ones of her own. Cruces are only for loci irremediably desperati. As for the aporiai of the last ten lines of the poem (v. 458-467 are clearly in contradiction with what comes before: is this due to an ancient interpolation? a double recension?) for Pellucchi the problem is impossible to solve, and it is most likely due to the incompleteness of the poem.

Commentary (pp. 31-443). Discussions introducing the various sections of the commentary ("caratteri generali") are useful and well informed, even if sometimes they are too long and pedagogic.

The philological commentary ("commento") is very rich, but not everything is useful. For instance, it doesn't always seem necessary to quote all the parallel passages (e.g. v. 37 and v. 394: citation of ThLL would be enough; v. 173: instead of an extremely long list, one could just write: "per questo uso proverbiale si veda Otto 1890 (=1964) s.v. ventus 2, 364 s.)"; v. 262: "la preferenza accordata alla forma concutio - voce registrata per la prima volta in Ennio e non molto frequente, se non in Lucrezio (20 occorrenze), Virgilio (21), Ovidio (29) e Seneca (62); singole attestazioni se ne hanno in Ennio, Accio...[there follows a list with 18 more authors!]" All this to prove that the form concutio is not very frequent.

A large number of passages are quoted in Greek or Latin (all of them without translation), sometimes just to comment on a single word (e.g. v. 21 Eur. Med. 1281-1289, 8 lines only for attonito pede, and the last line is twice repeated; see also v. 245; v. 259; 301-302; 430; 457). Sometimes, long discussions inserted in the philological commentary would better fit the introductory essays (e.g. v. 411b and 412-413a). Extensive argumentations on difficult textual passages could often be simplified by quoting (and summarizing) secondary literature (as for instance at v. 254, where Lazzarini (2012, p. 243) reaches the same conclusions in just a few lines).

Discussions of textual problems are in general accurate, but the choice not to provide an apparatus criticus to the text should be followed by clear presentations of all the variants and readings. This is not always the case (e.g. v. 1 lacks a discussion on fata (Bon. 1474) instead of facta; at v. 20 Pellucchi states that "erecta è scelta lessicale veramente felice", without mentioning who has adopted the manuscripts' reading eiecta; at v. 23 on Liberman intervention ("non giustificato") in extremum coniunx ferit inritus Isthmon there is no mention of the origin of the conjectures; at v. 224 ipse is a conjecture of Balbus, but the manuscripts' reading is ipsa. Who proposed the conjecture invictae for invitae? Sandstroem 1878 or Loebach 1872?; at v. 455b Watt's conjecture is nox alta, not nox illa).

An important topic for Valerius is clearly missing in this commentary: the influence of Aratus' poem and its tradition. In a recent contribution,2 I have tried to point out that in the crucial episode of the capture of the Fleece, through a complex network of allusions, involving an astronomical context, the poet exploits the analogies between the myth of the Golden Fleece and the myth of the Golden Apples of the Hesperides to establish a connection between the last actions of Jason in Colchis and the last labor of Hercules. The connection is meant to highlight the difference between the two characters and their destinies. On one hand, this study supports Pellucchi's reading of Jason's figure, but on the other, it also helps to understand better some complex passages for which Pellucchi doesn't provide satisfactory explanations. See in particular v. 56-63 (Valerius plays on two dragons, the one in Colchis and the Draco constellation); v. 90-91 (the problematic simile with the rivers Padus, Nilus and Alpheos becomes clearer through the astronomical context and the Hesperides myth); v. 109-116 (the awkward scene of Jason's walking on the dragon alludes to the constellation of Hercules- Engonasin); v. 122-126 and 230-1 (the much discussed Jason-Hercules similes are part of the same imagery).

Bibliography (pp. 447-482). The most recent works cited in the bibliography are Gärtner 2010 and Sauer 2011, but there is no mention of Manuwald 19993 and 20094 (useful for p. xl-xli, n. 126; p. 121 n. 41 and p. 228). Since Murgatroyd's commentary on Valerius' Book 4 is cited, it would have been helpful to quote it on p. 245-246 (Io's tale). Missing also is Castelletti 20085 (useful for a commentary on acrostics at v. 64-7; 154-8; 391-4, not mentioned by Pellucchi).

To conclude: in the preface of his commentary on Valerius Flaccus' Book 4, Murgatroyd writes: "Any commentator has to decide what kind of commentary will serve the Classical author best, i.e. what material should be included or excluded and be played up or down. (...) I did not want to erect a great barrier of scholarship between the reader and the poem, so I have avoided extensive explication with long list of references, massive notes on themes, epic topoi etc., lengthy discussion of minutiae (...) and consideration of grammatical and linguistic norms".6 Surprisingly Pellucchi's commentary has no preface, but one can say that she adopted a very different attitude. This work is very rich, but not everything is useful (or correct), and the feeling is that the transitional process from a PhD dissertation into a tool for scholars has not been fully completed. But this doesn't mean that the quality of this work is not good. Pellucchi's commentary doesn't provide a solution for all the issues (and some will probably never be solved), but it certainly tackles almost all of them, with competence, generosity and intellectual honesty.

In sum, this is probably not the ultimate commentary on Valerius' Book 8 (especially for English readers), but it certainly will be of significant value to students and critics of the Flavian Argonautica. ​


1.   Lazzarini, C. (2012) L'addio di Medea. Valerio Flacco, Argonautiche 8,1–287. Pisa.
2.   Castelletti, C. (2013) "Why is Jason climbing the dragon? A hidden catasterism in Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica 8", ICS 37: 141–65.
3.   Manuwald, G. (1999) Die Cyzicus-Episode und ihre Funktion in den Argonautica des Valerius Flaccus. Göttingen.
4.   Manuwald, G. (2009) "On profecies and their deficiencies in Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica", Mnemosyne 62: 586–608.
5.   Castelletti, C. (2008) "Riflessioni sugli acrostici di Valerio Flacco", GIF 60: 219–234.
6.   Murgatroyd, P. (2009) A Commentary on Book 4 of Valerius Flaccus'. Argonautica., Leiden and Boston. ​

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