OUP (2017) p/b 327pp £20.65 (ISBN 9780198727828)
This commentary on ‘the dullest book of the Aeneid’—T.S. Allen’s startling verdict on the wanderings of Aeneas—is welcome. The Introduction (pp. 1-59) is comprehensive: 1. ‘Vergil’s poetic career, life, and times’ (with appropriate attention being paid to the Eclogues and Georgics); 2. ‘The Aeneid: a synopsis’; 3. ‘Intertexts and influences’ (there is a most useful Appendix of ‘Major Intertexts’, with translations) with proper emphasis being placed not only on Homer, but also Apollonius Rhodius, Pindar, Euripides, and Callimachus; 4. ‘Style’ (broken up into five sections, including Repetition and epic style); 5. ‘Context and themes’ (six sections, with emphasis on Fatum and Fortuna); 6. ‘Metre, scansion and versification’ (this section moves from the most elementary to the distinctly sophisticated: reference to S.E. Winbolt’s still valuable Latin Hexameter Verse (1903) would have been relevant); 7. ‘Text and transmission’ (H/M point out in this brief section that the manuscript tradition is both early and strong, but list some examples of cases where conjectures have been accepted here); 8.’ Glossary’ (it is surprising and perhaps a little alarming that H/M see a need to gloss such words as ‘hiatus’, ‘pejorative’, ‘allusion’, ‘spondee’, ‘corpus’: when words in the Glossary appear in the Commentary, they are signalled by an asterisk). The Introduction is followed by five maps documenting the voyage of Aeneas.
At this point there is an omission which some may find surprising: there is no handy vade mecum listing earlier editions, commentaries, translations or general studies. To be sure, the reader of the Introduction will have learnt of the editions by R.A.B. Mynors (OCT, 1969) and G.B. Conte (Teubner, 2009), and of the commentaries by R.D. Williams (originally 1962; noted by H/M in a footnote on p. 52 for its attention to metrical features and effects) and N. Horsfall (2006), and they also appear in the Bibliography, where, however, the earlier large- scale commentaries by Conington and Nettleship, by T.E. Page and by J.W. Mackail (1930) are not included; the Bibliography also includes two large general studies (The Cambridge Companion to Virgil  and The Virgil Encyclopedia ), but not the Lexicon zu Vergilius (Merguet/Frisch, 1912). One suspects that at least the less experienced students would have welcomed guidance to the many available translations, but not even H.R. Fairclough’s Loeb edition (revised edition by G.P. Goold, 1999) is listed. Next comes the Text, austerely presented without apparatus criticus. H/M have ‘punctuated and paragraphed the text anew’, and offer ‘significant differences’ (from Mynors) of sentence structure in five places.
Of course the Commentary (187 pages), which follows, is the heart of the book under notice. A particular strength is the way in which H/M set each scene in context: nowhere better than at lines 356-462, the prophecy of Helenus; see especially pages 179-182, a truly admirable setting out of what Helenus says and what he does not say—and H/M well make the point that it would make ‘no narratological sense for Helenus to predict all that follows’. (It is instructive here to contrast the commentaries of H/M on the one hand and of Conington on the other on the passage as a whole: the broad brush artists against the pointilliste.) The Achaemenides episode (lines 588-691), which is apparently V.’s own invention and allows the introduction of the Cyclops, is handled with equal clarity, with the ‘intertextual’ element with Homer Odyssey 9. 106-566 being notably well brought out. In the moving scene with the ghost of Polydorus, H/M acutely note the relevance of the blunt spondee (linqui) at 61, and of the unusual construction dare classibus Austros. V’s artistry as a poet is always present in the commentary, one of its major strengths. Instances could readily be multiplied: the language describing an eruption of Mt. Etna (lines 572-77) is another example, with a clear recollection thrown in of Pindar on the same theme.
It is always possible for a reviewer to pick on individual points: when I do so here, it is not by way of criticism so much as to remind the reader that non omnia possumus omnes. At line 9 the text gives dare fatis vela iubebat where ventis might have been expected, emphasising, as H/M say, the importance of fate. Just so; but it is also significant that fatis is placed as a lone spondee in the fourth foot of the line—the only such instance in at least the first 100 lines—where fatis dare vela would have been metrically smoother: V. is hammering the point home. At line 433, H/M point out that this is the sole appearance of the word prudentia in the Aeneid, adding that there is no instance of sapiens or sapientia: here it would have been apposite to add that forms of sapiens (etc.) appear in Ennius, Lucretius and Ovid, making the absence(s) in V. even more surprising. At 561 H/M rightly accept Heinsius’s conjecture tridentem for MSS rudentem: here, Conington, whom H/M do not cite, is at fault. At 695 H/M understandably comment (in the Introduction) on the disharmony caused by the presence of a dibrach in the 5th foot (subter mare, qui nunc), but the reviewer respectfully disagrees that this bears much similarity to line 207 (insurgimus: haud mora, nautae), suggesting that the latter is aurally more pleasing, with haud mora as a ‘virtual’ dactyl: Winbolt (op. cit. pp.138-141) has much that is relevant on such unusual line endings.
A more general point is that students who are unfamiliar with words such as ‘hiatus’ or ‘pejorative’ might have welcomed more help with translation than is given them. Take only the word caecis at 200 (caecis erramus in undis) and 232 (caecisque latebris). In the first case, perhaps we see a transferred epithet (‘we wander blindly in the waves’), but there is no comment; and at freta caeca [Georgic 2.503] caeca seems to mean ‘unknown’. In the second case caecis means ‘hidden’ (not far from luce carentibus: OLD sv caecus 6, but H/M do not point this out until 424): however, they do translate caeca caligine at 203, with Conington, as ‘blinding darkness’, where the Loeb’s ‘misty gloom’ is inadequate.
There is little point in expanding such nugae, which in no way detract from the very high overall quality of the Commentary, from which the reviewer has learnt much. After the Bibliography there follow an Index, an Index of passages cited, discussed, or scanned, and an Index of Latin words. The paperback version of this Commentary (which will certainly not be replaced for many years) is very reasonably priced at £20.65.