Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Giorgio Jackson, Commento a Lucrezio, De rerum natura, libro V 1-280. AION, 17. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2013. Pp. 296. ISBN 9788862275699. €96.00 (pb).

Reviewed by David Butterfield, Queens' College, Cambridge (djb89@cam.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site

The fifth book of Lucretius' De rerum natura is well served: alongside the complete commentaries for the poem, it has enjoyed over twenty specific commentaries since 1876. The most thorough partial treatment is that of Gordon Campbell on lines 772-1104 (Oxford, 2003); a recent and impressive doctoral thesis (Francesco Staderini, SNS Pisa, 2013) has covered the book's close (1105-1457); briefer commentaries have been offered by Carmelo Salemme on 416-508 (Naples, 2010) and 1308-49 (Invigilata Lucernis 32, 2010). Giorgio Jackson has undertaken to produce a commentary up to verse 508, thus covering the eulogy of Epicurus (1-54), the book's programmatic summary (55-90), the world's mortality (91-109, 235-415), its non-divine and inanimate nature (110-234), and its creation (416-508). This volume represents the first instalment, up to verse 280, 1 of which the first 54 verses had already appeared in Vichiana (2011-12) but are reprinted here in somewhat modified form.

The commentary opens (pp.[11]-15) with five brief introductory surveys ('Cenni biografici', 'Fonti, modelli', 'Tecnica letteraria', 'Lingua e stile (cenni)', 'Prospetto dell'opera'), each covering roughly one page. The rest of the book (pp.53-279) is devoted to the commentary. There is no separate critical text or translation; instead, each section of commentary follows the citation of (between 8 and 40) Lucretian verses. The book closes with two indexes, one of topics covered (pp.283-5), one of each place scholars' names are mentioned (pp.287-96).

The commentary's strengths can be quickly outlined: (i) it is dense, with 280 verses being afforded 227 (44-line) pages; (ii) it provides detailed information about in what other authors Lucretius' vocabulary occurs, citing a rich number of parallels; (iii) it is keenly concerned with metre and the minutiae of Lucretius' hexameters; (iv) it pays close attention to the sound and aesthetic of his verses; (v) it is based upon the wide-ranging study of scholarship. 2 Good examples of where the commentary is particularly worth consultation are verses 24 (hiatus), 27 (the golden line), 110 (fundere fata), and 151 (tactile... contingere). All of these technical strengths are welcome but each, on occasion, is discussed to excess.

The weaknesses of the commentary can likewise be briefly stated: Jackson's almost exclusive focus upon linguistic, stylistic, metrical and textual matters 3 leaves issues of philosophical argument, Epicurean doctrine, historical context and broader reception almost entirely untapped. For those wanting to corroborate statistics on linguistic or metrical points, here is a helpful handbook; for those seeking to understand the poet and his work better it offers sparse fare, beyond references to other commentaries and studies. As a result, several important discussions are curtailed or omitted. For instance, on the first occurrence of the name Memmius (8), one finds nothing original about either the person(a) or his remarkable 'reappearance' in Book 5 (being absent in 3, 4 and 6). On two of the most important problems in this section, namely Lucretius' interpretation of Epicurean theology ('idealist' or otherwise) and his apparently unfilled promise to discuss the gods' dwelling place largo sermone (146-155), Jackson is aporetic and refrains from offering his own view about the poem's doctrine or its state of completion. We find little clarity in the brief and inconclusive treatments of the section's extended instances of repetition (e.g., 5.28-90 = 6.58-66, 5.128-41 = 3.784-97, 5.261-72 ~ 6.608-38), which certainly merit closer inspection. Exegesis, then, forms a disappointingly small part of the work.

The commentary does show a healthy interest in establishing what Lucretius wrote. However, Jackson has based his commentary upon the controversial text of Enrico Flores (Vol. 3, Naples, 2009). This edition presupposes that the fifty-plus fifteenth-century manuscripts of DRN have authority independent of the three ninth-century codices (OQS); however, copious evidence has led almost all scholars to regard the lost Poggianus, from which the Renaissance manuscripts descended, as a copy (probably at one remove) of the extant Oblongus. Such codices of the Quattrocento should therefore be used as repertories of conjectures alone. 4 Since Jackson does not engage with this essential question at all, his text produces inaccurate, and often misleading, results. For instance, in the book's very first sentence, Jackson's apparatus (like Flores') fails to report that the printed text, maiestate hisque, is a fifteenth-century conjecture for maiestatis atque of OQ: the vital distinction between factual transmission and conjectural emendation is thus ignored at the outset. Things do not improve: e.g., at 28 we again find no apparatus, although OQ read geryona for the correct Geryonai, which became further corrupted in Renaissance codices; the emendation first appeared in print in Naugerius' second Aldine of 1515 (as O's correction dates from c.1675-1725). When manuscripts are recorded, they are cited haphazardly and without obvious method; more regrettably, the book gives no indication of what the manuscript sigla signify, but simply adopts Flores' own ad hoc distribution of one or more letters. There is no evidence to suggest that Jackson has inspected any manuscripts himself: instead, his evidence seems based upon the shaky foundations of Flores' apparatus, combined with the hotchpotch of Tonson's (1712), Havercamp's (1725) and Wakefield's (1797) pseudo-collations.

Jackson's dependency upon Flores leads him on occasion to defend an improbable text, such as Flores' transposition of verses 144-5 to between 125-6, some twenty lines earlier in the text (which would stand as the largest transposition of two or more lines in the whole poem). By contrast, at 199 Flores' tantast at is prudently rejected, not least since the hyperbaton of at is unattested in the poem (in all 113 instances). More regularly, Jackson's discussion of textual variants ends in disappointing aporia: at 35 he leaves open Flores' bold suggestion that sonora (surely a Renaissance conjecture/corruption for the transmitted seuera) is an authorial variant that has chanced to survive; at 71 quoque is favoured (on the dubious authority of Nonius) over the transmitted quoue, but Jackson suspends judgment; in such cases, the uncertain commentator should introduce the obelus into the text (yet it is never deployed).

Jackson's apparatus, which is provided at relatively random points, is often misconstructed, so that like readings are not compared with like (e.g. 35, 152, 154, 175, 201, 239, 241, 247); on several occasions it is uselessly vague and imprecise, with 'alcuni codd.' or 'altri codd.' being recorded after an often unqualified lemma: e.g. '72 uesci codd. : nosci alcuni codd.' (cf. 78); 86 'religiones : relligiones alcuni codd.' (cf. 137); '85 supera codd. : supera altri codd.' (cf. 114). At times Jackson's practice is contrary in the extreme: he persists in attributing the reading of dis at 182 to Oxford Bodl. Auct. F 1 13 (which unsurprisingly reads diuis): as I have explained in print, which Jackson references but does not apprehend, this was a mistake of Havercamp (who also wrongly attributed dis to OQ); the emendation was instead first made by Isaac Vossius, in the margin of his copy of Gifanius' edition (Leiden 757 G 25). More alarmingly, the apparatus does not state how those who read diuis preserve the verse's metre. 5

This disregard for textual particulars contrasts with Jackson's passion for tracing conjectures back to their earliest sources (see, e.g., 31, 45, 116, 117, 152). This is admirable, but a number of corrections are required: for instance, at 122 distant was read by Montaigne (Essais, II.12) some 150 years before Havercamp; at 158 Pomponio Leto had already suggested id laudabile for adlaubile in the margin of Utrecht X fol. 82 rariora (also recorded in Basel F VIII 14), thus predating Pius 1511; at 191 possent antedates Orelli 1823 by three centuries, being read by Pius 1511; at 267 Jackson attributes deminuunt to 'cod. apud Wakefield' without troubling to establish that the manuscript is London BL Harl. 2694 or to verify his claim; at 133 P (1417) should precede Q2 (mid-fifteenth) for the reading neruis (corrected from 3.789); at 112 tripodi, adopted by Clay in 1983 (who has kindly confirmed to me his support of that reading), and thereafter adopted by others (e.g., Roller, Sharrock, Ryan), is still defended as the innovation of Flores 2009. 6

Jackson's approach to metre is also remarkable. He has troubled to provide the scansion of every verse along with a list of its various caesurae. This may aid those who struggle to scan but achieves little more: for detailed discussions of Lucretian metre, one can more profitably consult Lachmann, Merrill and Ott. In many places the posited scansion perplexes: at 137, tandem in eodem homine atque in eodem uase manere, is marked only as '3f', i.e. with a caesura after the second in; meatus (76, acc. pl.), menti (97) and sumpsi (248) are scanned as verse-final trochees; of the eight bucolic diaereses that Jackson alleges none exhibits a natural pause (i.e. punctuation). The strange symbol '/ /' appears twice in the Latin text: at 139, after the close of the fourth foot, it seems to signify a bucolic diaeresis, although it follows a spondaic foot and the proclitic et (a fourth-foot trochaic caesura being alleged between esse et); 7 and at 270, where it stands at a fourth-foot masculine caesura (alleged between ad and caput), although the verse has a clear third-foot feminine caesura supported by a second-foot masculine. I do not know why at 74 the o of orbi sports a macron (as if it could be otherwise) and at 190 consueuerunt is written with its first u italicised and underlined. 8

Although Jackson provides some cogent metrical analysis – e.g., on the rejection of pr- making position after quaesita (5), and on prosodic hiatus (7 etc.) – his treatment is generally unenlightening, not least his insatiable interest in the arrangement of dactyls and spondees in Lucretius' hexameter. Given that the sixth foot can hardly prompt interest, and the fifth foot occasions comment only when spondaic, sixteen possible arrangements of dactyls and spondees are left for the first four feet, all of which Lucretius employed. Jackson chooses to comment on the significance of fifteen of these at points he deems fit, usually attributing to them 'dizione epica / solenne' or a 'tono omerico / enniano'. Rather bizarrely, the only arrangement not discussed is 'ssdd', which by virtue of its rarity (only twice in these 280 lines: 10, 93) should have merited treatment from someone so enthused by this subject – very probably more than Lucretius was. To conclude: this is a commentary that reflects wide reading and (for the most part) the careful compilation of references and statistics: it will provide some core assistance to scholars (especially the thesaurus- and concordance-averse) working on the opening sections of Book 5, or on Lucretius' language and style more broadly; but the diligent scholars of the poem will still find themselves reaching for Lambinus, Lachmann, Munro, Giussani, Ernout-Robin and Bailey on every line. The quality of printing is high, and misprints are rare and minor. 9


1.   The end-point of verse 280 is awkward: on p.258 the heading even reads '247-305'.
2.   The large bibliography covers over thirty pages ([17]-49) and ranges from incunabular editions (1473-) to recent Lucretian scholarship; nevertheless, for a number of surprising omissions see the blog post to this review.
3.   The book's biases are revealed by the 'indice analitico': of its 54 lemmata, all but six relate to metre, language and style; philosophical topics are absent from the index because philosophical analysis is almost entirely absent from the commentary.
4.   For further details see D. J. Butterfield, The Early Textual History of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (Cambridge, 2013), Chapter 1, pp.18-45, with references to Reeve 1980, 2005, Deufert 2005 and Butterfield 2011.
5.   Jackson's treatment of the so-called capitula is also unsatisfactory: see the blog post to this review.
6.   Karl Hidén seemed to prefer tripodi in both passages (1920, 50: the work is cited in the bibliography). For another strange and idle obsession of Jackson's apparatus, see the blog post to this review.
7.   This '4tr' caesura is also incomprehensibly alleged at verse 106 (omnia conquassari in paruo tempore cernes); trochaic 'caesurae' are regularly marked in the fifth feet, even after proclitics such as atque, e.g. 80 (elided), 165.
8.   For another novel but misguided aspect of Jackson's metrical analysis, see the BMCR blog post to this review.
9.   See the BMCR blog post to this review for details.


  1. David ButterfieldJune 4, 2014 at 7:26 AM

    Further on note 2: the important second Bipontine edition (Zweibrücken, 1808) is not cited, nor the provocative edition of Orth (Salamanca, 1961); the selections edited by Paratore and Pizzani (Rome, 1960) could have been consulted with profit, as could the Teubner edition that represented Martin’s eventually settled views (5th ed., 1963). More surprisingly, the fifth-book commentaries of Crouslé and Lyon (both Paris, 1886) and Lightfoot (London, 1934) are not mentioned, whereas those of Duff, Ragon and Lowe are: if school editions are to be consulted, such a partial selection is strange. Jackson’s focus upon textual matters throughout the work makes all the more regrettable his omission of the essential articles of Michael Reeve (1980, 2005, 2006) and Helen Dixon (2010, 2011).

    Further on note 5: Jackson’s brief discussion (pp.53-4) about the possible origins of the capitula is insufficient, and his willingness to have such avowedly non-Lucretian marginal material printed amidst his actual text, punctuating the carmen continuum is disconcerting. He fails to record that the capitula at 59, 64, 240 are omitted in the text by Q (as indeed are all of the book’s), and seems unaware of the important distinction between the lists of capitula recorded before Books 4, 5 and 6 and those transmitted in textu: at 240 he reports CVR as the reading of Q (a reading found only in the preliminary index), whereas QVO should be reported as the reading of O (not F, a single Renaissance manuscript).

    Further on note 6: The penchant for listing previous scholars that have followed a given reading pervades Jackson’s critical apparatus: he happily includes the names of those who either have not thought about the text or who have explicitly said that they will follow the text of a predecessor. If this were done thoroughly (it is not) it could serve as a quick means of reference but nothing more; when done haphazardly, and so as to include the likes of Nardi’s Neapolitan gallimaufry (Florence, 1647), Eichstädt’s homage to Wakefield (Leipzig, 1801) or Duff’s Munronian school edition (Cambridge, 1889), it borders on the pointless. ‘Edd.’ alone would suffice, but even that shorthand is curiously deployed: at 186, where Jackson follows Flores in adopting the transmitted speciem, the reading is attributed to ‘edd.’, only for Pius’ most probable conjecture specimen to be followed by a list of 26 editors; at 71 loquela (which is recorded first, although loquella is printed) is attributed to ‘edd.’, despite almost every single edition since Lachmann reading loquella.

  2. David ButterfieldJune 4, 2014 at 7:26 AM

    Further on note 8: Jackson is most interested in the notion of ‘interlinear hiatus’, which he frequently discusses (the ‘selective analytical index’ records 21 passages). This supposed stylistic device is regularly said to create a closer connection between lines, or to throw emphasis on one or both of the words involved. A quick way to evaluate whether such hiatus between lines was indeed a conscious Lucretian device is to see whether its frequency differs from what simple probability would suggest. If we crunch the numbers for DRN 5 of line-final vowels (and m) and line-initial vowels (and h), we find that ‘interlinear hiatus’ should occur 231 times in the book: as it happens, we find 218 instances, i.e. a little over 5% variation from the expected norm, which hardly suggests the careful and discretional use of the device. At any rate, it is strange to posit such a feature without any treatment of the sole (controversial) case of hypermetre in the poem (5.849). No explanation is given as to why line-final pestis (26, nom. sg.) and decebit (50) are scanned as a spondee and bacchiac respectively: even if we humour the idea of Lucretian synaphea, in both cases the following verses begin with h-.

    Further on note 9: E.g., 133 ‘Bernays1852’; 154 an unwanted full stop interrupts Munro’s conjecture; 191 ‘Lambino’; 225 ‘ed.’ twice for ‘Veron.’ and ‘Ven.’; 233 ‘Veron. 148’. I presume that the unexplained emboldening of certain letters within the Latin text (37 portenta, 265 umor) is unintentional. The text is frustratingly inconsistent in its orthography: Jackson alternates between diuum (51, 158, 172) and diuom (73, 75, 81); even where diuom is the original archetypal reading, we find diuum (158, 172). At 66 we find natiuomque but, e.g., aeuum at 172 (although O originally read aeuom) and conjunctive cum throughout. Many new sections of the Latin text enjoy capital letters but many do not; some are haphazardly awarded to sentences that start mid-line (165, 220). In the capitula we find preservation of the orthography TERRE for TERRAE at 200 but not, e.g., O’s CELVM at 91/2.