VIRGIL, AENEID 6: A Commentary

Nicholas Horsfall

De Gruyter (2013, 2 vols) p/b xl+706pp £26.99 (ISBN 9783110482416)

This is a work of formidable erudition by a—or the—leading scholar in the field of Virgilian studies, now published in paperback at an outstanding bargain price, on which de Gruyter is to be warmly congratulated. It is not, as the author makes clear, a book intended for undergraduates, but rather for other commentators: one is reminded of Housman’s edition of Juvenal, editorum in usum. It is also a kind of homage to Eduard Norden, whose justly famous commentary on Aeneid 6 appeared in 1903 (Interestingly, H. contrasts G. Bond’s commentary on Eur. Heracles, where there is no mention of Wilamowitz in the preface & introduction). H. of course has already edited Aen. 2, 3, 7, and 11, and, since he does not repeat himself, ideally readers should have these editions at hand.

Volume 1: The Introduction covers a number of topics (Aen.6; Chronology; Structure; Aen.6 and its neighbours; Eschatology; Commentaries; Text). Those are considered rather briefly, but two are far more important and dealt with in much more detail than the others: Sources, considered both by scene and by type; and Language, grammar, syntax, style. An 8-page bibliography follows the Introduction; this in turn is followed by the Text, presumably H.’s own, which is given without apparatus criticus, but with marginal sigla pointing to notes in the commentary on matters of text, punctuation, and orthography, accompanied by a Translation which attempts no literary graces (at 595 Tityon strangely becomes ‘the Titans’).

Volume 2: The Commentary, detailed as it is, makes no concessions to the unlearned, especially as references only, without full citation, are often given in the case of parallels, nor are H.’s references always easy to decipher. Of course, H. gives ample coverage where problems emerge, e.g. at l. 460 (invitus, regina, tuo de litore cessi with much discussion of Callimachus/Catullus 66.39—but is the line so very different from Aen. 4.361, Italiam non sponte sequor ?), not that any new solutions are proposed. Again, the famous case of the Gates of Horn and Ivory (ll. 893ff.) occupies no fewer than six pages of commentary, which end with the words ‘Certainly, I have no neat, general answer to offer’: but at least the reader is given every opportunity to make up his/her mind. H. takes a relaxed view of matters of topography (e.g. of Elysium and the Underworld) and inconsistencies in the text (thus he is confident that the Marcellus section simply lacked revision—see the commentary on ll. 886-901—and he is unworried by the notorious cunctantem (of the Golden Bough) at l. 211 after the apparent opposite promise at l. 146). H. has the considerable merit of regarding Virgil as a superb poet rather than the careless blunderer of some (American) scholars. He has, incidentally, a low opinion of the veracity of the ancient lives of Virgil (p.636).

The Commentary is followed by three Appendixes, two of which are long and of great interest: ‘Fifty years at the Sibyl’s heels’, amounts to a partial autobiography, with much fascinating comment on Latin scholars and—especially Virgilian—scholarship (not always flattering), and ‘In the shadow of Eduard Norden’, which, inter multa alia, includes lists both of the principal virtues of N.’s edition, and the defects, as H. sees them; Norden was, of course, regarded as one of the world’s leading Latinists . Overall, your reviewer feels justified in comparing this work (mutatis mutandis) to E. Fraenkel’s Agamemnon in terms of its scope and magisterial command of the Latin language and Virgilian scholarship. It is perhaps no coincidence that H. is the author of the chapter on Fraenkel in Briggs/Calder Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia (1990).

Of modern commentaries, that of R.G. Austin (1977) (cited as ‘Au’) receives most commendation, despite H.’s implying that Austin, who died before publication, was then well past his best; by contrast, R.D. Williams comes off poorly, while the generally dismissed edition of F. Fletcher (1941) receives a rare word of praise.

Colin Leach


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