THE PERVIGILIUM VENERIS: A New Critical Text, Translation and Commentary

William M. Barton

Bloomsbury (2018) h/b 153p £80.00 (ISBN 978135004033)

In this edition of a very well-known poem, probably most accessible via the Loeb Library edition (of which more later) where it is joined by Catullus and Tibullus, B. gives what the title promises, together with Bibliography, Appendix and Index. In the Introduction, B. considers the (notably corrupt: see below) Manuscript Tradition, with a Stemma Codicum (only three manuscripts, all of respectable antiquity—the oldest dates from the 8th C AD—are of independent value), the poem’s Date, its Authorship, its Metre, and its Reception. For the date and authorship, B. finds arguments to reject Florus (Hadrian’s friend) and female authorship, before coming down on the side of Baehrens, and, more recently, A. Cameron, in an important article, in attributing the poem to a 4th century CE poet Tiberianus, on varied grounds, including the use of the trochaic tetrameter catalectic; opposing arguments are less than convincing. Other matters considered include a philosophical background and a possible connection to the Pontica of Solinus via a common intellectual milieu. A further long section looks at the poem’s final stanza and its interpretation, as the poet ‘steps into the frame himself and addresses the audience’. Finally, in another long section, B. looks at the literary reception of the poem from 1578 to 1800: later, Walter Pater and even T.S. Eliot earn a mention.

The text is accompanied not only by a line-by-line translation but by an apparatus criticus which might be thought generous for a corrupt chorus of Aeschylus. B. records ‘important, interesting and also remarkable readings’, as well as ‘mere orthographical variants’ and ‘important, interesting and frequently adopted emendations’. This does not make for easy reading or use, and it contrasts sharply with the modest apparatus of G.P. Goold’s text (revised 1987) for the Loeb Library; here it should be noted that internal evidence makes it clear that B. has not seen Goold’s revision of Mackail’s edition of 1913. 

B. does not stint himself: at line 15 occurs the word notos. The MSS offer, to follow it, penates or pentes, and conjectures include patentes, tepentes, tumentes, feraces, tenaces. B. takes four pages to consider the line, finally opting for a correction (universally accepted) to nodos followed by Wernsdorf’s patentes. (Questions of attribution and priority can be tricky: in line 23 where B. accepts the correction Cypridis for MSS prius, he attributes it to Bücheler, but Goold gives it to Otto Müller at a date some five years earlier). Again, at line 11, should we read de maritis imbribus (MSS and B) or de marinis fluctibus (Rivinus/Sanadon), accepted by Goold? Such questions, some of them major, arise through the poem’s 93 lines, and the reviewer will single out only one more: at line 74, the MSS offer romuli (vel sim.) matrem: the 1992 emendation by P.S. Davies to Iulium mater is bold, brilliant and wholly convincing. 

B’.s Commentary is diligence itself: it has something to say on every single line of the poem except line 16: matters considered, besides the textual, are explanatory, grammatical, metrical, contextual, and illustrative (other authors mentioned are Homer [Hymns], Aeschylus, Catullus, Virgil, Plautus, Augustine, Tibullus, Propertius, Horace, Lucretius, Ovid, Callimachus, Apuleius, Cicero, Pliny, Sidonius, Claudian, Fulgentius and Livy—and even Plotinus, in the Introduction). The views of other scholars are considered fairly and fully: besides Cameron (1984), Clementi (1936), Cucchiarelli (2003), Shanzer (1990), Catlow (1980), Cazzaniga (1955), Pagès (1986), E.K. Rand (1934), and Schilling (1999) all get an airing. Neologisms or rare words such as copulatrix (5) florulentae (18), congreges (44) are explained. If at times one has the impression of a butterfly being crushed on the wheel, at least the most zealous reader will not complain about being short-changed. For his part, your reviewer is content to read and enjoy the Pervigilium for what it is: a minor masterpiece, heralding a new romanticism. 

Production values are high (the occasional misprint does not cause trouble), but it has to be noted that the book is distinctly expensive. Of course, one day it may become eagerly sought after by bibliophiles.

Colin Leach

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