Thursday, October 18, 2018


Javier Velaza (ed.), From the Protohistory to the History of the Text. Studien zur klassischen Philologie, 173. Bern: Peter Lang, 2016. Pp. 394. ISBN 9783631666760. $85.95.

Reviewed by David Butterfield, Queens' College, Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The analysis of ancient texts is typically seen as a bipartite process: the collation and categorisation of the extant manuscripts, and the critical improvement of the transmitted text by judicious selection of attested variants and conjectured emendations. These two aspects, however, afford only partial insight into a given text's survival: a perfectly constructed manuscript stemma leads not to the author's autograph but to a late-antique or (much more probably) mediaeval archetype. In the context of Latin literature, often more than a thousand years separate that reconstructed exemplar from the original text—the very thing editors aspire to set before their readers. It would seem, then, that the only mechanism for ascending beyond the archetype, and advancing closer to a work's pristine state at first circulation, is conjectural emendation of the archetype—a business of logical argument, probability weighing, and finger-crossing luck.

Yet there are other windows through which to glimpse the 'protohistory' of an ancient text before the appearance of its earliest complete witnesses. Where, then, to look? Many places: at how the author describes his own process of writing and circulating his texts (before, during or after that process); at what other contemporary and subsequent authors say about that author's works; at the citations drawn from that work over subsequent centuries, which may differ from the direct tradition owing to the books they consulted, their own imprecise method or faulty memory, or indeed the corruption of their own manuscript traditions; at the disparate physical fragments that survive; at gradual accretions to the direct transmission—titles, subscriptions, inherited marginalia, accidental incorporations and deliberate interpolations. Many of these processes did not reach a workable level of technical sophistication until the twentieth century; as such, most Latin authors still lack a thorough treatment of their 'protohistoric' survival. Although this sort of work is inevitably wide-ranging and slow-going, it often sheds remarkable light upon a long period of relative shadow.

This dense and ambitious book seeks to provide chapter-length surveys of Roman authors spanning from Plautus to the Historia Augusta. The collection contains fifteen papers (of 9 to 46pp.) that have been worked up from a colloquium held by the University of Barcelona in November 2013. The majority of chapters focus upon such 'protohistories', i.e. a work's transmission from composition—or, commonly enough, incompletion—to the time of the earliest extant manuscripts in the direct tradition. The collection is a fertile plain for exploration, and there are some big beasts grazing: Fedeli on Propertius, Oakley on Livy, Tarrant on Horace, Kiss on Catullus, de Verger on Ovid. If you were minded to put together a first XI of author-focused philologists, you'd guarantee a good first day's play. That said, the scope and originality of each chapter varies considerably, and the book's primary utility is likely to be for text-specific consultation.

For what follows in this review, I will briefly summarise the scope of each chapter, adding the occasional observation of greater detail.

Carlo Lucarini (pp.9-27) investigates Plautus' protohistory, a topic far too large to treat in its totality. Instead, building on his own work and that of Marcus Deufert, he gives particular focus to the relationship the playwright had with Roman actor-managers and aediles. Although much of the relevant evidence must be drawn from Terentian sources (dramatic prologues, Suetonius and Donatus), Lucarini remains open to the possibility that Terence was able to read Plautus' plays. He proceeds to give a lucid summary of the three most significant phases in Plautus' early textual history: an edition (of 40 plays) in the 2nd cent. BC, an edition of the 2nd cent. AD containing the works verified by Varro's scholarly sifting, and a transcription made from that in the 3rd cent. BC, the ultimate archetype of the Ambrosianus and the codices Palatini.

Peter Kruschwitz (pp.29-43) considers the earlier protohistory of Terence, in particular his process of composition and (according to Donatus) response to critical feedback. Like Lucarini, he gives particular focus to the prologue of the Eunuchus (20-4), on the basis of which Kruschwitz tentatively posits the possibility that official copies were lodged as a pre-condition for the staging of a play. He proceeds to distinguish how multifarious the various existences of a single play's text were at different times for different people in antiquity. Since the book's collected 'Preface' is only one full page of text (pp.7-8), the first three pages (pp.29-31) of Kruschwitz's article helpfully set out some of the theoretical and methodological difficulties of investigating textual protohistories.

Clara Auvray-Assayas (pp.45-53) singles out Cicero's De natura deorum for inspection. In particular, she considers the remarkable editorial transposition of 2.86-156 to after 2.15. Her case, that the transmitted textual order reflects not the incorrect rebinding of a quaternion, but rather the preparatory state of a second recension by Cicero, and that the passage was inserted incorrectly by an early editor, struggles to be compelling without a fuller analysis of alleged structural inconcinnities in the work.

Xavier Espluga (pp.55-101) provides, in the book's longest chapter, an informative general survey of the protohistory of Cicero's orations, from their composition and delivery through to various ancient editions and commentaries. The piece ends (pp.97-101) with useful appendices of all ancient parchment and papyrus witnesses. As a concise summary of the available evidence, this currently holds the field.

Antonio Moreno (pp.103-23) analyses the early diffusion of both the Bellum Gallicum and the Bellum ciuile, before turning to the complex evidence of Aulus Hirtius and Suetonius. His summary of the latter source (pp.118-23), which considers other Caesarian works, is particularly deft.

Dániel Kiss (pp.125-40) provides—with astounding efficiency—a far-reaching survey of Catullus' textual history, from the poems' composition through to their re-emergence in thirteenth-century Verona. This is a magisterial survey, at once the most precise and up-to-date account, drawing significantly upon eight other pieces by Kiss himself. In his survey of the indirect tradition, it may be unduly optimistic to insist that any quotation not preceded by another extant quotation confirms direct knowledge of Catullus' text. Kiss makes a strong case for the lively circulation of Catullus in the Carolingian period. In a couple of instances, he perhaps pushes too far. William of Doncaster's Explicatio aphorismatum philosophicorum, for instance, survives by a thread —aged photocopies of a microfilm copy of a microfilm copy of a 12th-century manuscript destroyed in the War. In its margin it carries a pseudo-Catullian quotation-cum-paraphrase, which Kiss takes as evidence that William or his early reader somehow had access to Catullus. Much more probable is that the annotator drew upon Heiric of Auxerre's Collectanea, which contains much of the fanciful material found in the so-called Convivium Ciceronis. I also remain unconvinced of Catullus' circulation in Mediaeval England, and sceptical that William of Malmesbury ever saw a copy of Catullus.

Rodolfo Funari (pp.141-64) tackles the case of Sallust. In practice, the chapter limits itself to a survey of the Sallustian fragments surviving from antiquity, followed by a brief account of the indirect tradition. Although its codicological detail is of great use to the potential editor, as is the micro-edition of their texts (pp.159-64), the discussion is a little out of step with the volume's other contributions.

Stephen Oakley (pp.165-86) analyses Livy's protohistory from seven complementary perspectives: knowledge of Livy's text in antiquity, extant ancient copies, epitomisation of the work, its transmission by decad, the extent of its popularity, ancient subscriptions and editions, and the state of the direct tradition. Some of these discussions are necessarily brief, but there is meticulous referencing throughout. In the latter half of the chapter, Oakley carefully sifts through the relevant arguments of Alan Cameron's Last Pagans of Rome (2011). In the final section, which appraises the general state of Livy's known manuscripts, he well emphasises the important general point that, even if two manuscripts are heavily corrupted, they can produce a comparatively secure text in combination, provided that their errors are not coincidental.

Paolo Fedeli (pp.187-205) traces Propertius' fate, from composition and private circulation through to its medieval transmission. Although the discussion is not divided by any subheadings, it is a fascinating tour de force, ranging (inter alia) through the grammarians, mediaeval florilegia and the various book divisions Propertius has suffered.

Maria Luisa Delvigo (pp.207-22) turns to the most august transmission of all, Virgil. After outlining the evidence for the poem's incompletion and posthumous editing, she focuses on the four-line 'pre-proem' and the laudes Galli, in regard to which she defends the traditional Servian account.

Richard Tarrant (pp.223-44) surveys the complex evidence for Horace. In particular, he analyses the tituli, interpolated verses, and ordering of works in the corpus. In the case of the tituli, he argues from the blend of Greek rhetorical terms with general exegetical material that they reflect a late-antique medley; his recommendation that future editors (himself included) confine them to an appendix is sound. Of various contenders for interpolation, he discusses two of the most secure: Sat. 1.10.1-8 and Carm. 4.8 (where, to maintain the Lex Meinekiana, he recommends deleting verses 17 and 33). Finally, he argues for restoring a fully chronological order, i.e. following the Epistles with the Ep. ad Florum, the Carmen saeculare, the Odes, then the Ep. ad Augustum and the Ars poetica.

Antonio Ramírez de Verger (pp.245-78) takes a rather different turn. Since the open recension of Ovid's Metamorphoses precludes reconstructing a single tale for its mediaeval transmission, this chapter seeks to reconstruct the manuscript sources used by printed editions of the poem, from the editio principes of 1471 to the Lorenzo Valla edition of 2005-15 (based on Tarrant's Oxford Text of 2004). To make this Herculean task manageable, he has limited his collations to the passage 6.401-674. Although in some cases it's only possible to gesture towards families, rather than particular codices, this hard-won survey sheds especial light upon the moments when major editorial progress has been made, and emphasises the degree to which most editors have repeated unthinkingly a predecessor's text without alteration.

Javier Velaza (pp. 279-94), the editor, treats Martial's early transmission, a notoriously complex case. Velaza argues for a fourteen-book edition of the epigrams produced late in his life (without the Liber de spectaculis), followed by two separate posthumous editions, only one of which contained De spectaculis. He thus argues against an antique critical edition being the shared source for the three transmitted manuscript families, while remaining aporetic on how authorial variants passed into and down the tradition.

Oronzo Pecere (pp.295-311) combines an account of Persius with his regular bedfellow Juvenal. In particular, he explores the surprisingly late success of Juvenal in antiquity, before unpicking the thorny problems of the 'Niceus subscription'. Amidst such an engaging and confident discussion, it is a shame that that the 'Oxford fragment' is given only brief treatment at pp.310-11.

In the book's final chapter, Marc Mayer (pp.313-32) considers an element of that complex gallimaufry, the Historia Augusta, by focusing on the Vita Pescenni Nigri. His chapter, profiting from a most careful analysis of Pal. Lat. 899, is an impressive piece of work, which will hopefully inspire treatments of other elements in the collection.

Given the extensive range and technical detail of the work, it's unsurprising that it closes with so large a bibliography (pp.333-94). The nature of the book makes the absence of an index locorum pardonable, but an index rerum would have allowed readers to make much more profitable links between its chapters.

For all the philological prowess on show throughout the book, something should be said about the variable quality of the English. Several chapters (Lucarini, Auvray-Assayas, Espluga, Funari, Velaza) have unidiomatic expressions on every page; in some cases, it is hard to see precisely what is being said.1 Given that other chapters in the collection are published in Italian (Fedeli, Delvigo, Pecere) and Spanish (Moreno, Mayer), it would have perhaps been better to allow the same for these. Furthermore, beyond these infelicities of expression in English, typographical errors are relatively common in a number of chapters. An informative book, with many high-quality contributions of lasting value, deserves more from its own transmission.

Authors and titles

Carlo M. Lucarini, 'Playwrights, actor-managers and the Plautinian text in antiquity.'
Peter Kruschwitz, 'Ne cum poeta scriptura evanesceret. Exploring the protohistory of Terence's dramatic scripts.'
Clara Auvray-Assayas, 'Which protohistory of the text can be grasped from Carolingian manuscripts? The case of Cicero's De natura deorum.'
Xavier Esplugam, 'Cicero. Speeches. An overview.'
Antonio Moreno, 'César: aproximación a la difusión temprana de su obra.'
Dániel Kiss, 'The protohistory of the text of Catullus.'
Rodolfo Funari, 'Outlines for a protohistory of Sallust's text.'
S. P. Oakley, 'The 'proto-history' of the text of Livy.'
Paolo Fedeli, 'Protostoria del testo di Properzio.'
Maria Luisa Delvigo, 'Preistoria e protostoria del testo virgiliano: ancora sul preproemio dell'Eneide e le laudes Galli.'
Richard Tarrant, 'The protohistory of the text of Horace.'
A. Ramírez de Verger, 'The sources of the editions of Ovid's Metamorphoses (The example of Met. 6.401-674).'
Javier Velaza, 'The protohistory of the text of Martial.'
Oronzo Pecere, 'The protohistory of the texts of Persius and Juvenal.'
Marc Mayer, 'Génesis y evolución del texto de la Historia Augusta. Consideraciones a propósito de la Vita Pescenni Nigri.'


1.   I give only two instances by way of illustration: 'the fragments referring to the monographs and other remains of manuscript tradition are a considerable term of comparison because of their singularity allowing a deeper critical scrutiny on the text transmitted through the Medieval manuscripts' (p.159); 'such hypothesis would not be justifying so good the existence of a large series of variants that do not look as the result of a process of transmission and that may be seen as old variants' (p.288).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.