Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Stefan Feddern, Die Suasorien des älteren Seneca: Einleitung, Text und Kommentar. Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft, N F, Bd 4. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2013. Pp. viii, 544. ISBN 9783110306248. $182.00.

Reviewed by Heiko Westphal, University of Western Australia (heiwest@gmx.de)

Version at BMCR home site


Producing a critical edition of a corrupt and lacunose text is always a difficult task. In the case of the elder Seneca, however, this challenge is complicated even further by the fact that his rhetorical works, commonly known as the Controversiae (10 books) and the Suasoriae (1 book), consist largely of collated excerpts, a circumstance which can cause occasional syntactic or even semantic discontinuities. Therefore, Stefan Feddern's new critical edition and literary commentary of the Suasoriae, a revised version of his 2010 PhD thesis, must be seen as a vital contribution towards the establishment of Seneca's text as well as a basis for any further research into the field of early imperial declamation. Of course, Feddern is not the first to discover the works of the elder Seneca. For more than a century, the standard edition of Seneca had been that by Hermann Johannes Müller (1887), before it was superseded by Lennart Håkanson's Teubner edition (1989). Håkanson had also been preparing a commentary on Seneca, a project which was ended prematurely by his early death. His unfinished typescript, however, remains at the University of Uppsala in Sweden and was consulted by Feddern.

Feddern's text and commentary are preceded by a solid general introduction, discussing, in a concise and never excessively detailed way, the role of suasoriae within the genre of declamation, the internal structure and patchwork-like character ('Kollagencharakter') of Seneca's excerpts, as well as their underlying rhetorical framework and their socio-political implications. The introduction comes to a conclusion with a short assessment of all extant ancient suasoriae and a brief review of modern scholarship on the subject. Throughout his survey, Feddern proves to be a critical and mindful analyst of facts and scholarly opinions, never failing to substantiate his personal observations with supporting evidence. At times, however, he appears to be a little too careful, for example when doubting the existence of an individual praefatio to Seneca's Suasoriae (p. 152). It also needs to be asked why Feddern dedicates 16 pages to the (admittedly very interesting) discussion of the rhetorical concept of colores, as opposed to 3 pages on sententiae and 7 on divisiones, only to conclude that they do not feature in the Suasoriae (p. 59). Perhaps a shorter chapter would have sufficed here. Nonetheless, the introduction provides an interesting read, even for scholars without previous knowledge in the field of declamation. I believe, however, that Feddern's study would, especially with regard to the performative and socio-political implications of the Suasoriae, have profited from Erik Gunderson's Declamation, Paternity, and Roman Identity.1

There can be no doubt that Feddern's real strength lies in his meticulous and mindful treatment of Seneca's text. In contrast to Håkanson, who successfully tidied up Müller's often overwhelmingly cluttered apparatus criticus but still kept (or even added) a large number of conjectures, Feddern sets out to follow the paradosis wherever possible and to avoid unnecessary interference with the text. In order to account for the origin of his readings and not to suppress alternatives, however, he opts for an extensive positive apparatus. As dangerous as this choice can be in the case of a highly corrupt text, Feddern's selections generally display common sense and an excellent understanding of the textual problems. On few occasions, however, the positive effects of Håkanson's work are reversed. One example of this is Wehle's puzzling proposition to read ludere in 1.1, which Håkanson had rightly banned from his apparatus. Feddern, in turn, mentions the reading, even though he is fully aware of its irrationality, as he states in his commentary: 'Unverständlich ist uns Wehles (1863) 165 Vorschlag, ludere zu lesen […].' (p. 158). Luckily, cases such as this are rare.

Feddern's apparatus criticus offers complete collations of the three essential manuscripts, namely the codex Antverpiensis 411 (A), the codex Bruxellensis 9581-9595 (B), and the codex Vaticanus Latinus 3872 (V), occasionally supplemented by two codices recentiores, the Bruxellensis 2025 (T) and the Bruxellensis 9142-9145 (D), both deriving from V. Apart from the manuscripts, Feddern also seems to have consulted all relevant previous editions of the elder Seneca. Unfortunately, however, he does not offer the absolutely essential tool of a conspectus siglorum, thus abandoning those readers who wish to retrace the origins of particular readings. To give an example, it can only be assumed that the siglum L in the apparatus on page 127 actually refers to the codex Leidensis Vossianus Latinus 72, as Håkanson's edition lists it.

Overall, Feddern's text and commentary present well-thought-out and convincingly argued readings (which cannot be discussed in detail here), always paying great respect to the paradosis. Feddern eliminates unnecessary conjectures and implausible emendations by previous scholars and attempts, for the most part very successfully, to explain the transmitted text on the basis of the philological and historical evidence. More than once, he seems to have profited from Thorsten Burkard's thoughtful comments. A few things, however, require correction or are worth reconsidering:

1.11 (p. 106): εἴτε πρεσβύτατον στοχεῖον ... Not only does Feddern present this reading in his text, he also repeats it in his apparatus and in his commentary. The manuscripts (cf. ITPΛeCBYTaN CTIXION), however, clearly support the correct reading εἴτε πρεσβύτατον στοιχεῖον.

1.14 (p. 107): LATRO †sedens hanc dixit† non excusavit militem, sed dixit: … Unfortunately, Feddern does not feel confident enough here to follow up on his good observation (see commentary ad loc., pp. 211-12) that sedens hanc dixit might be an incomplete gloss, commenting on Latro's habit of presenting parts of his declamations sitting, as Seneca mentions in contr. 1.pr.21. Not only is this Latro's first appearance in the Suasoriae, which may have provoked the scribe's remark, but also the unusual doubling of dixit and the irrelevance of the message in this context seem to provide enough evidence for a deletion of the passage in cruces.

4.tit. (p. 123): Deliberat Alexander Magnus, an Babyloniam intret, … Feddern vigorously defends his (or, more precisely, Bursian's) reading Babyloniam, as opposed to Kiessling's Babylona (see commentary ad loc., p. 340), pointing out that the term Babylonia can describe both city and kingdom. In his overview of Seneca's Suasoriae, however, the title of the fourth suasoria is given as Deliberat Alexander Magnus, an Babylona intret, … (p. 79).

6.15 (p. 133): Itaque numquam per Ciceronem mora fuit, quin eiuraret suas esse, quas cupidissime effuderat orationes in Antonium; … Given the fact that there is no textual evidence of a form of eiurare followed by an accusativus cum infinitivo, it remains doubtful whether the infinitive esse can be kept here. Perhaps it is necessary to follow Müller's recommendation to delete esse, in order to retain a direct object (suas … orationes) which can follow eiuraret.

7.10 (p. 144): Brevem vitam esse omni, multo magis seni; … Since the absolute, substantival use of omnis in the singular form is not accounted for before Tertullian, as Feddern himself admits, it appears to be more likely that his alternative reading omni <homini> is correct here (s. commentary ad loc., p. 514). The context demands a contrast to seni, and an accidental omission of homini after omni could be explained without further difficulty.

Inevitably, Feddern's commentary focuses mainly on textual problems. It does, however, also provide sufficient information on literary motifs and intertextual parallels (cf., e.g., the discussion of the Virgilian plena deo, pp. 307-311) as well as the significance of historical or mythological protagonists and events mentioned within the Suasoriae. One aspect which might have deserved a slightly more detailed discussion is the issue of imitation versus plagiarism within the declamatory genre (cf. pp. 295; 335-36). The publication of Scott McGill's Plagiarism in Latin Literature came almost certainly too late to be of further use to Feddern's study.2

After having discussed these specific issues, a few general things also need to be mentioned. First of all, Feddern's constant use of the pluralis modestiae is odd and old-fashioned, adding an antiquated touch to an otherwise modern book. The volume itself has been proofread thoroughly, leaving almost no typos behind. The only two errors I stumbled upon were nomem instead of nomen (p. 7) and Name instead of Namen (p. 9). Somewhat irritating is Feddern's spelling trophaea in 1.2 (p. 101), despite his pledge 'semper tropaea scripsi' in the apparatus at the beginning of the fifth suasoria (p. 125). Overall, the print is well-arranged and clearly legible, highlighting each declamator's name with capital letters. Only a minor editorial offence is the fact that 2.20 seems to begin with the last part of 2.19 (p. 118). At the price of $182.00, however, the book is no bargain. This is even more regrettable as it does not come with an index. The rather short 'Verzeichnis der rhetorischen und literaturwissenschaftlichen Termini' provided instead (pp. 543-44) is not a serious replacement.

Despite the little flaws mentioned, Feddern's book offers an informative and useful introduction, a diligently established text with many intelligent readings, and a convincing and well-researched commentary. Feddern has thus provided scholars interested in the elder Seneca and his Suasoriae, but also in the declamation genre in general, with an essential tool for any further research.


1.   Gunderson, Erik. 2003. Declamation, Paternity, and Roman Identity: Authority and the Rhetorical Self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (BMCR 2004.02.29)
2.   McGill, Scott. 2012. Plagiarism in Latin Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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