Edited by Charles E. Murgia and Robert A. Kaster

OUP (2018) h/b 588pp £97.00 (ISBN 9780190849566)

First, the background: this is the fifth in the planned ‘Harvard’ series of volumes of Servius: volume 1 (Eclogues and Georgics) was abandoned when its editor, G. P. Goold, died in 2001; volume 2 (Aeneid 1-2), edited by E.K. Rand et al., appeared in 1946; volume 3 (Aeneid 3-5), edited by A.F. Stocker et al. came out in 1965; volume 4 (Aeneid 6-8) is presumably in progress, now edited by E.C. Kopff,  D. Obbink and J. Brusuelas, after the designated editor, P.K. Marshall, died in 2001. This is thus the first edition of Servius’ commentaries on the works of Virgil to have appeared in over 50 years, completed and prepared for publication by Kaster since its original editor Murgia died in 2013.

Servius, the 5th century AD grammarian and commentator on Vergil, is a well-known name; less well-known, however, is that what we have is Servius Auctus: for—probably in the seventh century—a ‘Compiler’ fused with his text of Servius another ancient commentary, that of Donatus (4th century), which itself had served as one of the main sources used by Servius. There are three main scribal traditions (two for Servius [S], one for Servius Auctus (known as DS, after its discoverer), but all are lacunose, and deeply contaminated; worse, one uncontaminated source was destroyed in 1944 in Metz (overnight 31.8.44) by the USAAF supporting Patton’s attack on the town. The MS tradition is of a complexity which would have set a challenge to those working on Enigma at Bletchley; Kaster (K.) takes ten detailed pages of Preface to set it out. 

But the problems do not end there: the question is, how best to present a text which clearly distinguishes S. from DS. K. shows with depressing persuasiveness just how the previous volumes in the series have failed to do this (Preface, pp. xx-xxiii), and then explains his own procedure (pp. xxiv-xxviii), which, while undoubtedly logical, defies brief exposition and ideally calls for physical illustration: it will be useful, however, at least to cite ‘whenever the text starting at the left is not S. but DS., I precede the text with a vertical line’. There is much more (pp. xxiv-xxviii). In practice, the results present a text which, while far from elegant, is comprehensible; and which, above all, justifies K. in his aim of presenting accurately and clearly both the testimony of antiquity and the differences between S and DS.

K. goes on to give accounts of orthography and assimilation (adcurrere or accurrere, etc.), and of the two apparatus critici, the first (superior) being for testimonia; by far the more important is the apparatus criticus inferior, in which K. tries ‘to record all variants … and all conjectures, whether of medieval or modern origin, that either stand a reasonable chance of being correct or have led to conjectures that may be correct’: on p. xxxvii K gives greater detail, under six headings of inclusions and six of exclusions.

There is much more: a Bibliography, list of Abbreviations, Table of Authors and Works (pp. xlv-lxxiii), Sigla, two Appendices, and Indices Locorum and Nominum; the body of the book, the text of S. and DS., with the two apparatus critici, occupies pp. 5-516. Be it added that K. has also updated many of the editions cited in the text, testimonial apparatus, and table of authors and works. And this is in many ways a work of collaboration, for when K. took over on the death of C.E. Murgia, he also had the benefit of the results of Donald Mastronarde’s ‘countless hours devoted to managing Murgia’s Servian Nachlass’. Humour is not to be sought in a work of this (in more than one sense) gravity, but the reviewer commends page xxi of the Preface where the text of A.12.120 is under discussion; and see p. 426 for the two distinctly unhumorous apparatus—and a virtually certain ‘correction’ by K of an MS—on that line. 

When one of the ‘blurbs’ cited by the publisher calls this ‘a work of enduring scholarship’, the reviewer can only (admiringly) agree. Finally, OUP, in producing such an unforgiving text, has done a superlative job.

Colin Leach

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