Friday, October 19, 2018


Greti Dinkova-Bruun, Julia Haig Gaisser, James Hankins (ed.), Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum. Medieval and Renaissance Latin Translations and Commentaries. Annotated Lists and Guides, 11. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2016. Pp. xxxvi, 416. ISBN 9780888449511. €95.00.

Reviewed by Daniel Abosso, Dartmouth College (

Version at BMCR home site

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

It can be hard to comprehend the transmission of an ancient text down the centuries. A text may have passed through dozens or even hundreds of manuscripts and printed editions before being published in a modern critical edition. But there are compelling reasons to explore a text's transmission. One can read first-hand accounts of the discovery of manuscripts, detailed prefaces laying out critical practices,1 laudatory poems revealing the scholar-patron relationship, insults editors hurled at their predecessors and often the ancient authors themselves. And the authority that ancient texts had in the early modern period makes studying their reception richly rewarding. But given the mass and diversity of material that is out there, one needs help.2

Thankfully, the Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum (CTC) series, begun 60 years ago by Paul Oskar Kristeller, has gone before us and cut a path through the thickets. Kristeller's vision for the series was to "list and describe the Latin translations of ancient Greek authors and the Latin commentaries on ancient Latin (and Greek) authors up to the year 1600" (xvii). Scholarly interests and needs have, of course, changed since then. Thus, under a new team of editors, "the period covered by the articles has been extended beyond … 1600 to allow contributors to explore the reception history of their authors past that date, even down to the present. Vernacular translations and commentaries have also been included in the purview of the series. … [A]rticles may now include not only lengthy dedications in manuscripts or early printed editions but also other paratextual material pertinent to the understanding of the Nachleben of ancient authors" (vii). Manuscripts, continuations, commentaries, and translations are all set out with great care; noteworthy dedicatory and prefatory texts are printed; and rich bibliographies are offered. Even with (and perhaps also because of) the myriad digital resources available to the scholar these days, it is no easy or brief task to marshal all the material needed to complete a typical CTC article. Articles are published as they are received. Previously published volumes are now offered under Open Access on the series' website.

Volume 11 covers the transmission of four Greek historians: Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Zosimus, and Procopius of Caesarea. These are followed by an article on the Latin author Dares Phrygius. Extensive addenda et corrigenda to articles in earlier volumes on Valerius Maximus, Petronius, Martial, and Martianus Capella follow. Four indices finish the volume, covering ancient and medieval authors and works, manuscripts, translators and commentators, and authors treated in volumes I-XI. The length of the articles on each author varies: about 60 pages are devoted to Polybius and Zosimus, respectively, nearly 70 pages to Dares Phrygius, and nearly 100 pages to Diodorus Siculus. The outlier is Procopius, who gets just 26 pages.

Polybius and Diodorus Siculus were re-discovered in the West in the 15th century. In 1419, Polybius' work was paraphrased and used without attribution by the Italian humanist Leonardo Bruni to supplement the missing books of Livy. Excerpts of Books 1-16 and 18 were transmitted in Vaticanus Urbinas gr. 102 (11th or 12th century); the Excerpta Constantiniana (10th century) transmits excerpts from all books except 17, 19, 26, 37, and 40. Niccolò Perotti translated it into Latin in 1454, but it was not until 1530 that the editio princeps of books 1-5 appeared. By that time, interest had passed from the complete Books 1-5 to the excerpts of Book 6, which describe the organization of the Roman constitution and military. Isaac Casaubon published his monumental edition in 1609, including, for the first time, the excerpts.

It seems that the 40 books of Diodorus Siculus' Bibliotheca Historica survived at least until the 12th century, but by the 15th century, when the work began to circulate in the Latin West, only books 1-5 and 11-20 had survived complete. The editio princeps of books 16-20 appeared in 1539; the first edition with the surviving books and fragments was published in 1559. Excerpts of Diodorus Siculus were transmitted in the Byzantine tradition, including Photius' Myrobiblion (9th century; all excerpts are from Books 31-40), the Excerpta Constantiniana (10th century; 949 excerpts), and the Suda (10th century; 64 excerpts, including some from Books 21-40). There is also the Excerpta Hoescheliana, published in 1603 by David Hoeschel. This collection of excerpts from Books 21-26, also of Byzantine origin, was copied from an manuscript of unknown provenance.

The editiones principes of Procopius' various works appeared between 1531 and 1623, although Procopius became increasingly known in the West in the 15th century (Leonardo Bruni had completed a translation of De Bellis 5-8 (covering the Gothic Wars) in 1441 and claimed it as his own work, much as he did with Polybius 22 years earlier). The editio princeps of Zosimus, though not printing the complete text, appeared in 1581. The fortunes of Procopius and Zosimus reflect the tension between Catholics and Protestants during the 16th century: the pagan Zosimus was put on the Index in Italy but found favor in Protestant countries, and Procopius was mined by both sides for the light he shed on early church history. The Italian and German humanists also used Procopius to interpret their proto-national histories.

On the Latin side, the excellent article on "Dares Phrygius" and his De excidio Troiae gives a good idea of just how influential a text can be before falling into relative obscurity. Purportedly an eyewitness account of the Trojan War from a Trojan perspective, and (also purportedly) translated from Greek into Latin by Cornelius Nepos, the De excidio Troiae was probably written in the 5th or 6th century AD and survives in about 200 manuscripts. More interesting than the content of the text itself is how it was altered in the medieval period . In the 8th century, some ingenious Frank raised the profile of his people by condensing and altering the De excidio Troiae to link the Trojans to the origins of the Franks. Several hundred years later, Dares Phrygius' text enjoyed great popularity, particularly in England, where it was the work most frequently paired with Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae — which itself linked the founding of Britain to a certain Trojan Brutus. Dares Phrygius' text remained popular until the 17th century, when scholars such as Joseph Scaliger and Isaac Vossius argued that the terrible style of the De excidio Troiae was evidence enough to prove that Cornelius Nepos did not translate it; scholars have not paid it much notice since.

While the volume's content is excellent, there are drawbacks to its format. References to the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC), Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachbereich erschienenen Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts (VD 16), and libraries where certain editions are held are indispensable; a reference to "Google Books" (without a link) is nearly useless. It would make more sense for a work of this kind to be published online, with links to online facsimiles and catalog records. The book is packed full of citations, but they are presented in list form. The bibliographies in particular are hard on the eyes, since they are laid out as paragraphs, and not as items in a list. Excerpts of Latin and Greek are printed without any font or heading change, making pages crabbed and difficult to distinguish while flipping through. As with any work crammed with bibliographic references, there are occasional errors, though none serious.

The series is useful to classicists, medievalists, historians of the Western intellectual tradition, and rare book librarians. Those with an interest in the tangled histories of ancient authors will be grateful to have the CTC as their guide.

Table of Contents

Preface, Greti Dinkova-Bruun, p. vii
Preface to Volume I, Paul Oskar Kristeller, p. xvii
General Bibliography, p. xxv
Abbreviations, p. xxxvii
Greek Authors
Polybius, Jerone De Keyser, p. 1
Diodorus Siculus, John Monfasani, p. 61
Zosimus Historicus, Francesca Niutta, p. 153
Procopius Caesariensis, Réka Forrai, p. 211
Latin Authors
Dares Phrygius, Frederic Clark, p. 237
Addenda et Corrigenda
Valerius Maximus, Marijke Crab, p. 307
Petronius Arbiter, Bratislav Lučin, p. 337
Martialis, Marianne Pade, p. 371
Martianus Capella, Sinéad O'Sullivan, p. 383
Index of Ancient and Medieval Authors and Works, p. 401
Index of Manuscripts, p. 405
Index of Translators and Commentators, p. 410
Index of Ancient Authors Treated in Volumes I-XI, p. 415


1.   See the two recent volumes of Aldus Manutius' prefaces translated in the I Tatti series. A more diverse sample of prefaces from various editors is found, without translations, in Beriah Botfield's 1861 anthology, Praefationes et epistolae editionibus principibus auctorum veterum praepositae. Silvia Rizzo's Il lessico filologico degli umanisti (1973) remains invaluable for understanding technical vocabulary of the Italian humanists.
2.   Der Neue Pauly, Supplemente I (2004; English translation 2009), gives a very concise overview of manuscripts, important early and modern printed editions, commentaries, and translations.

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