Monday, December 8, 2014


Maria Assunta Vinchesi, Calpurni Siculi, Eclogae. Biblioteca Nazionale. Serie dei classici greci e latini. Testi con commento filologico, 9. Firenze: Felice Le Monnier, 2014. Pp. 522. ISBN 9788800812986. €38.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Lee Fratantuono, Ohio Wesleyan University (

Version at BMCR home site

Calpurnius Siculus, the putative pastoral poet of seven (almost certainly) Neronian-era eclogues, has been reasonably well served by commentators and critics (as Vinchesi's bibliography amply proves), though perhaps it can be said that he has never enjoyed an especially vigorous scholarly vogue, let alone heartfelt appreciation.1 Those anglophone students and scholars who are interested enough to pursue the study of the "minor" Latin pastoral poems attributed to him are likely to turn first to the 1887 London edition of Charles Haines Keene, conveniently reprinted by Bloomsbury, Ltd., the current distributor of titles of the quondam Bristol Classical Press.2 (J.B. Pearce's 1990 Scylax Press volume, The Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus, would be a better choice for this audience, though it is regrettably significantly harder to find). The present work can now be considered the "standard" reference commentary on these pastoral poems, though "standard" might require some refinement and specification (Vinchesi's volume is conceived on a vaster scale than that of what is arguably its closest competitor, the 2008 Naples edition of Enrico Di Lorenzo and Bruno Pellegrino, though extensive single-eclogue treatments dwarf even her expansive treatment in terms of comprehensive focus). Keene's volume may likely remain the most readily consulted edition for anglophones, but Vinchesi incorporates much of what remains useful from his edition in her own work, and it may well be long past time to retire his edition. The heavy concentration of Italian works in Vinchesi's bibliography is not mere campanilismo on the part of the editor; Italian, and more generally continental work has been far more attentive to Calpurnius than British and American scholarship, as the ongoing, useful and thorough biannual bibliographies of the Bollettino di studi latini make clear.3

Vinchesi's valuable addition to the Calpurnian bibliography is one of the latest volumes in Gian Biagio Conte's Testi con commento filologico series that commenced auspiciously in 1992 with Alessandro Barchiesi's edition of Ovid's first three Heroides. The format is straightforward: critical text, prose translation, and commentary for each poem, with a lengthy introduction and detailed bibliography.4 Vinchesi's work is largely philological; readers looking for literary criticism of Calpurnius will not be disappointed, however, given the rich introductory essays to the comments on each poem that Vinchesi provides. Further, Vinchesi's commentary will be foundational to any future detailed literary criticism of Calpurnius (such a treatment is a real desideratum for a poet whose sense of mystery and enigma is palpable and, one suspects, not merely the result of a comparative lack of study). Throughout, readers may well find ample foundation for arguments that the seven eclogues of the poet represent more than mere imitation of Virgil; at the very least one finds an appreciably different sort of pastoral for a different age.5 If Calpurnius is indeed Neronian, than his seven short poems present a Neronian Age markedly different from that of Lucan or Persius; while the pastoral genre accounts for some of the contrast, the tantalizing possible connection of the poet to the conspirator of 65 C.E. makes for an intriguing study and an engagingly inspirational historical context.

Much of the value of the present edition comes from the vast collection of parallel passages and lexical commentary it contains, in particular its references to the works of Horace, Ovid, and the Virgilian appendix. A special strength of the introduction is its (welcome) vast sweep, where both Theocritus and Tasso find a place; this comes as no surprise given the wide range of the editor's publications and research interests, which range through to the Latin epic poet Corippus, Paulinus of Nola, and the humanists. Nor are prose authors given scant treatment.

Vinchesi's introduction is a model of how such prefaces to editions with commentary should be composed; there is detailed discussion of major questions and problems (in this case, e.g., the poet's date, praenomen and familial relationships;6 the possible connections of the poet to the Laus Pisonis; the manuscript tradition and history of the early editions), coupled with an admirable sense of the larger dynamic of the production and performance of poetry in Nero's Rome. Readers of Vinchesi's introduction, in short, will receive a thorough grounding in many aspects of early argentine verse; the economical yet detailed section on the language and style of the poet is especially valuable. Throughout, there is rather more attention to Latin than to Greek parallels; the indices are useful if not particularly dense and detailed.

It is welcome to see attention to Manilius's Astronomica as a source and intertext, alongside the expected detailed engagement with the agricultural authors (both prose and poetic). Students of Virgil's Georgics will find interesting material for consideration in Vinchesi's illustration and citation of the Calpurnian hommage to that work as well; an index locorum would have been a useful addition to this already very long book, but one imagines that space considerations given the sheer overabundance of references made it impractical: Cato and Varro alone would have required many pages.

Indeed, the vocabulary of agricultural matters (both the land and the implements used to farm and till it) receives noteworthy attention throughout the commentary. Calpurnius's work is replete with evocative adjectives and delicately lovely, fascinating responses to storied passages of his predecessors (cf. 1.85-86 Romanae pondera molis / … excipient); Vinchesi is at her best in offering a history of the use of the poet's vocabulary and his reworking of the lexical building blocks of his predecessors. There is thorough use of the TLL throughout the commentary, with reference to Hoffmann-Szantyr on points of style and syntax; in general there is more throughout on the Calpurnian use of cases than on, e.g., metrical phenomena. Those interested in the changing nuances of poetic vocabulary, however, will be happiest with the rich assembly of material here; Vinchesi's commentary is now one of the best sources of reference for the Neronian poetic lexicon. Throughout, Vinchesi's volume also displays the same familiarity with and affection for the world of nature that one encounters in, e.g., the commentary of Mynors on the Georgics; throughout, there is an enviable grasp of the appearances of flora and fauna through the long tradition of Latin and Greek pastoral and elegiac verse.

It may be unfair to the poet to say that Vinchesi's commentary rehabilitates him; among the authors of the Neronian and Flavian epochs, Calpurnius's very obscurity has served alongside his undeniable charm and technical talent to defend him from the harsh criticisms that have been leveled now and again at other artists of the Silver Age. But Vinchesi's work does perhaps leave one with the sense that her commentary is something greater than the poems it seeks to explicate; ultimately, the pages of this edition serve to provide a deeper and more nuanced appreciation of those earlier (and, in the estimation of most if not all, worthier) poets Calpurnius loved enough to respond to with his own act of bucolic worship. The editor and the series are to be congratulated for the production of a lovely, affordable, and conservatively provocative edition of a haunting poet of a haunted age.


1.   Calpurnius is possibly the most important of the least studied surviving Latin poets. Note especially D. Korzeniewski, Hirtengedichte aus neronischer Zeit. Titus Calpurnius Siculus und di Einsiedler Gedichte, Darmstadt 1971, and the important work of R. Verdière, T. Calpurnii Siculi De laude Pisonis et Bucolica et M. Annaei Lucani De laude Caesaris, Einsiedlensia quae dicuntur carmina, édition, traduction et commentaire, Berchem-Bruxelles: Editions Latomus 1954, a volume that is rich in useful information and detail, though somewhat hamstrung by the author's allegiance to the Herrmann school of pseudonymic allegorizing. The title of Verdière's work – rightly called "provocative" by the reviewer cited below – should not dissuade potential readers.
2.   The Loeb library relegates Calpurnius to the first (at least since 1982, when the original work was divided) volume of the Minor Latin Poets edited by J.W. and A.M. Duff, who comment "the group of poems consisting of the pastorals by T. Calpurnius Siculus and by Nemesianus, the Laus Pisonis and two short Einsiedeln eclogues present a bundle of interconnected and, though baffling, still not uninteresting problems." One might add to this list the three hundred and twenty five surviving verses of the Cynegetica ascribed to Nemesianus, for which there is now the edition with commentary of R. Jakobi, Nemesian Cynegetika, Walter de Gruyter 2014, alongside the useful Budé edition of P. Voliphac of the "complete" Nemesianus (Paris 1975), with helpful introduction on sorting out the whole tangled web.
3.   Not to be missed, however, is J. Henderson, "The Carmina Einsidlensia and Calpurnius Siculus's Eclogues," in E. Buckley and M. Dinter, eds., A Companion to the Neronian Age, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013, 170-187, which did not appear in time for inclusion in Vinchesi's volume; note also B. Martin, "Calpurnius Siculus: The ultimate imperial 'toady'?," in A.F. Basson and W.J. Dominik, eds., Literature, Art, History: Studies on Classical Antiquity and Tradition in Honour of W.J. Henderson, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2003, 73-90.
4.   Note here the addition of the important work of P. Esposito, "Interaction between Bucolics and Georgics: The Fifth Eclogue of Calpurnius Siculus," in Trends in Classics 4.1, eds. F. Montanari and A. Rengakos, Walter de Gruyter 2012, 48-72, with particular attention to the Tibullan intertexts alongside the Virgilian and Ovidian; also E. Karakasis, "'The (singing) game is not afoot': Calpurnius Siculus' sixth eclogue," in Trends 2.1 (2010), 175-206.
5.   Some will, of course, share the judgment of Robert Browning in his review of Verdière's Calpurnius in The Classical Review N.S. 6.1 (1956), 34-36: "It sometimes seems that the attraction of texts for editors is in inverse proportion to their value as works of literature or as historical sources. At any rate, the present volume is the ninth edition of Calpurnius Siculus to be published in the last forty-five years."
6.   Vinchesi's is a concise yet detailed appraisal of what might be called the faintly lingering doubts over the dating of the Calpurnian eclogues; best on the case contra Neronian-era ascription = E. Champlin, "The Life and Times of Calpurnius Siculus," in The Journal of Roman Studies 68 (1978), 95-110, with argument for reconsideration of the traditional Severan dating. On the whole matter see also N. Horsfall, "Criteria for the Dating of Calpurnius Siculus," in RFIC 125 (1997), 166-196.

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