Friday, August 18, 2017


Michael von Albrecht, Geschichte der römischen Literatur: von Andronicus bis Boethius und ihr Fortwirken. 3. Auflage (2 vols.). Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2016. Pp. xxiv; xiv, 1,605. ISBN $99.95 (pb). $9783110496437.

Reviewed by Fred W. Jenkins, University of Dayton (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

Von Albrecht's monumental work has reached its third edition.1 Much that has been said in reviews of earlier editions remains applicable. E.J. Kenney justly praised it as "a work of prodigious labour and encyclopedic erudition, informative and protreptic in equal measure." He and other reviewers also noted the sometimes problematic arrangement of material, inadequate explanations and cross-references for students, and sundry omissions in the bibliographies.2 Little has changed in these respects with the third edition.

For those unfamiliar with earlier editions, von Albrecht takes a largely traditional and humanistic approach in covering Roman literature exhaustively from Andronicus to Boethius. After a lengthy introduction on the development of Roman literature, he arranges material chronologically by period with each subdivided first into prose and poetry, then by genre. Von Albrecht provides each period with a historical and literary introduction. He treats individual authors in a highly structured manner: life and dating; overview of works; sources, predecessors, genres; literary technique; style; reflections on the Gedankenwelt ("thought-world") of the author; transmission; and influence. He provides extensive notes and bibliographies throughout. It is very much a book to be consulted rather than read at length.

The question, then, remains how does this iteration differ from its predecessors. The foreword does not explicitly address changes but offers clues: von Albrecht notes the difficulty of listing the most important editions, commentaries, and monographs amid the rapidly burgeoning scholarly literature, laments the growing monoglot tendencies of the academy, reviews recent trends in scholarship with many bibliographical references, and speaks briefly on the importance of reception studies. Bibliography was clearly central to this revision. Sample comparisons with the second edition indicate that the text is virtually unchanged, footnotes occasionally updated, and bibliographies substantially augmented. Von Albrecht's section on Ammianus Marcellinus is a good example. Neither text nor footnotes have been altered, although a generous selection of recent works has been added to the bibliography. Similarly, in his introductory chapter on the development of Roman literature, von Albrecht virtually reprints the text of the second edition, with very sporadic additions to footnotes and extensive updates to the bibliographies. He has rarely failed to note updated editions or significant new works that appeared through 2009.

In short, von Albrecht remains a valuable reference work, especially for graduate students seeking an orientation and key bibliography for an author or genre in Roman literature; his treatment of influence (Fortwirken) will be of use to anyone tracing each author's impact on later European literature and culture. It is disappointing that von Albrecht chose not to revise his main text to reflect changes in thinking and emphasis over almost twenty years of scholarship.


1.   Earlier versions: 1. Auflage, Bern: Francke, 1992; 2. Auflage, Munich: Saur, 1994; English translation of the second German edition: A History of Roman Literature from Livius Andronicus to Boethius with Special Regard to Its Influence on World Literature, Leiden: Brill, 1997. NB: the third German edition reviewed here was originally published in hardcover in 2012.
2.   Among reviews of earlier versions that I have consulted: Joseph Hellegouarc'h, Gnomon 66 (1994): 496-499; Philip Hardie, Classical Review 109 (1995): 57-59; E.J. Kenney, BMCR 98.2.04; Philippe Desy, L'Antiquité classique 68 (1999): 389-390; Hubert Zehnacker, Latomus 60 (2001): 478-480.

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