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The Fragmentary Latin Poets.

I am never certain whether to envy or pity Hellenists for the ever-increasing body of literature revealed by the papyri. Roman literature remains relatively stable, and new poetic discoveries are few: the Barcelona Alcestis, the new Gallus, the Epigrammata Bobiensia. What can be read of poets not preserved in late antique or medieval manuscripts is distressingly little, and unlikely to change very much. After Cicero, and aside from one twenty-line passage by his brother, there is not a single fragment longer than ten lines of any poet until Albinovanus Pedo's description of Germanicus' sea voyage; most fragments of the neoterics and their successors are four lines or shorter. Improvement in our knowledge of this important area of literary history - all Latin poetry other than drama - comes only from the improved understanding of the little that survives, not from new discoveries.

Perhaps because the quality and quantity of Latin poetic fragments are so unrewarding, they have received relatively little attention. The major archaic poets - Naevius, Ennius, Lucilius - have been relatively well served, but complete editions of the other non-dramatic fragments in this century have been few and undistinguished: Morel's 1927 Teubner text appears adequate only in comparison with Buechner's 1982 revision. All that is now changed: Edward Courtney has not only produced a superb text of the fragments but has supplied them with a commentary that makes them comprehensible and (at least for fragments) relatively accessible. This is a book that all students of Latin literature will need to own.

The qualities revealed by FLP are those that one would expect from the editor's previous work. Courtney is a fine textual critic: not only are his own emendations intelligent and often imaginative (e.g., <locis di>catus at Varro 2.1 or pars infima at Rabidius 4), but he is able to discard accepted readings and return either to the transmitted text or to earlier emendations. Equally welcome in an edition of fragments is his willingness to wield the obelus: at least fifteen passages emended in Buechner's text are daggered in FLP. Buechner's frequent and ill-considered emendations have disappeared from the text and all but Vanished from the apparatus: I have noted some hundred places in which Courtney's text departs from Buechner's, in virtually every one for the better. There are a few doubtful choices (the rewriting of Domitius Marsus 1.5-8 seems extreme, and Knaacke's excellent tumido at Aemilius Macer 5 belongs in the text rather than the apparatus), but for the most part, Courtney's text is superb. I should add that I have found only three typographical errors in the text itself: aeru for aera at Gaetulicus 1, cadentes for candentes at Apuleius 7.8, and agitur for igitur at Tiberianus 1.1. At Cicero 10.78 the lemma in the commentary disagrees with the printed text (which oddly shows the orthography uocat for uacat).

Not only are Courtney's textual judgments in themselves excellent, but he knows as few do how to set out a fragmentary text in the context in which it survives, and to tease every possible bit of information out of that context. He makes a practice of quoting together, with adequate surrounding material, fragments that are preserved together. That is true not only of fragments of the same author that are quoted together (e.g., Manilius 2 and 3), but also of some important groups of different authors that are cited together: the early epigrams of Valeflus Aedituus and others quoted by Gellius, the poems about Terence quoted in the Suetonian Vita, and others. He uses his close reading of the ancient sources in several instances to recognize that an introductory word or two belongs to the fragment rather than the source (e.g., Cicero 13; Aemilius Macer 14); his knowledge (impressive) of Pliny's Natural History gives the occasion to add some new fragments of Aemilius Macer.

Central to Courtney's sureness as an editor is his knowledge of metrics and of ancient material culture. He uses meter not merely to establish colometry (especially for Laevius) but to evaluate emendations and to define the generic implications of metrical features (e.g., the ascription of Manilius 2-3 to tragedy). At times his enthusiasm for metrics leads to a certain obscurity: he never explains what the Bentley-Luchs Law and the caesura Korschiana are, and there is a gap of more than 250 pages between the first reference to miuric verses and the explanation of the term. His scattered comments on the development of the hexameter and the elegiac couplet, however, are very valuable: he gives an excellent introduction to the Ciceronian hexameter (pp. 150-52), and he makes frequent observations about changing fashions in the ending of the elegiac pentameter and about the distribution of adjective and noun pairs in the hexameter. Courtney's knowledge of the Roman world will be familiar to those who know his commentary on Juvenal; he is superb in explaining references to such diverse items as nuts (Sueius), snakes (Aemilius Macer), and mules and jennies (Maecenas ft. 3). He occasionally indulges himself beyond what is strictly necessary: the extensive note on the gender of deities (Laevius 26) is out of proportion with the rest of the commentary, as is the very long discussion of Calvus ft. 15-16.

One less admirable aspect of FLP, however, is the choice of what to include and exclude, which sometimes seems capricious. There has never been complete agreement on what belongs in such an edition, but Courtney has shaped the collection more than most. On the positive side, he has included some texts not included by Morel or Buechner: the epigraphic epigram of Loreius Tiburtinus (although the more fragmentary texts from the same wall are omitted), the poem of Pompeius Lenaeus, the epigrams attributed to Virgil, the verse fragments of Varro's Hebdomades, and the more coherent portions of the Carmen de Bello Actiaco. The most important addition is the minor works of Ennius (the largest entry in FLP); he also includes the fragments of Tiberianus, as well as several poems ascribed to imperial authors in the Anthologia Latina. Some authors are augmented by new fragments: the new Gallus was already in Buechner's edition, but Courtney has added a new fragment of Hadrian (partly epigraphic), two new fragments of Domitius Marsus from the Epigrammata Bobiensia, a fragment of Julius Caesar preserved in Isidore, and various scraps of lesser moment. He has also printed Priapea 3 as a fragment of Ovid, probably correctly. More dubious is his decision to print a large section of Eclogue 10 as fragment 3 of Gallus, even though he says, quite rightly, that it is "not exactly a fragment."

More disturbing are the omissions. At the beginning, Courtney simply dismisses the poets writing in Saturnians as belonging to a separate (and moribund) tradition. Although he includes Ennius' minor works (worthwhile, as they have received no commentary since Vahlen), he subtracts the fragments of Euhemerus because they are probably prose (but still have no new commentary, although they need it), just as he omits the fragments of Accius' Didascalica, which, prose or not - and who can tell? - have traditionally been included in such collections, as have some fragments of Valerius Soranus, omitted "since we have no assurance that they are from verse works." The verses prefixed to Horace Sermones 1.10 are also omitted: but while they are not by Horace, they are very important and certainly fall within the chronological limits of this book. Courtney includes the two words delivered in a recitation by Propertius' polyonymous descendant C. Passennus Paullus Propertius Blaesus - and yet he does not give the status of a fragment to Cicero's parodic flauit ab Epiro lenissimus Onchesmites (quoted p. 189), although it is very important for our understanding of late Republican poetry. He also omits Cicero's translations from Greek poetry as well as those by later writers, because "they do not seem to me to represent proper fragments of Roman poetry" (viii). Why not? They are not original, but they are Latin verse, and are just as illustrative as more independent works of Latin poetic techniques. Any selection involves a degree of arbitrariness, but some of Courtney's choices are both puzzling and annoying. We will still need to use Morel; but since the most unsatisfactory feature of FLP is the incomprehensible comparative table of fragment numbers, it, is never entirely clear just when we need to use him. The texts that are in FLP are excellent, but not all is here that should be.

Space does not permit close examination here of Courtney's commentary. In general, he is far better at explaining words, metrics, and material culture than he is at offering literary analysis. Some notes are remarkably unhelpful: on Furius Bibaculus 14 "some general on the eve of battle" is the entire note; "O fortunat - is a common combination" on Cicero 8 does not even hint at the language of makarismos; "Roman poets sometimes amuse themselves by varying the application of phrases used by their predecessors" (p. 59) is seriously inadequate. There are also some errors: the Stoics did not view flooding as a possible end of the world (p. 163; cf., e.g., Powell on Cic. Somn. 23); Cic. Q. Fr. 2.14 probably refers to an epic on Caesar, not to De Temporibus Suis (p. 173; cf. Soubiran); Hamlet 1.1.114-16 is misquoted on p. 165 ("when great Caesar fell / the graves did empty, and the sheeted ghosts ..." for "a little ere the mightiest Julius fell/the graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead...."). Some obvious cross-references are lacking: to Xenophon on p. 13 (Prodicus), to Iliad 16 on p. 47 (divine tears), to Catullus 46 on p. 156 (iam and the ecphrasis of a season), to Catullus 1 on p. 202 (laboriosum), to Eclogue 6 on p. 274 (Gortynia), to Cornelius Severus fr. 10 on p. 411 (murmuring pines).

Finally, something should be said about one of the more striking features of Courtney's work, that he makes a laudable attempt to place these fragmentary texts within the larger context of Roman literary history. Thus he has long introductory notes on the poetae novi and the poetae novelli; he has important chronological points to make about the latter, as about Aemilius Macer and some others. He suggests, with some justification, that the New Poets did not restrict themselves to minor poetic forms (this applies particularly to the vexed question of the number of Furii concealed under the name of Furius Bibaculus). In other areas, however, his views are more questionable: he does not address the problems of name and chronology surrounding Laevius (cf. Kaster, Studies on the Text of Suetonius "De Grammaticis et Rhetoribus," Atlanta 1992, 41-47); he believes (p. 171) that Lucretius wrote in the late 60s rather than the mid-50s; he adopts much of the misguided pseudobiographical and chronological baggage that has become attached to the Eclogues (cf. esp. pp. 254-55,267, 275); he accepts without question the view that Eclogue 8 is addressed to Pollio. He is at his weakest in dealing with the most familiar texts in FLP, the poetry of Cicero's lifetime; he is at his best with later texts, such as Aemilius Macer, Albinovanus Pedo, and the poetae novelli.

It would be wrong, however, to end on a critical note. This is a masterly edition: these fragments can now be read and appreciated as never before, in a better text than they have ever had, and with a learned, perceptive, and cogent commentary. I expect to use it, and to learn from it, for years to come.

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Author:Zetzel, James E.G.
Publication:American Journal of Philology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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