CUP (2022) h/b 486pp £99.99 (ISBN 9781108481809)

PLINY THE ELDER’S WORLD: Natural History, Books 2-6

Tr. by Brian Turner and Richard J.A. Talbert

CUP (2022) h/b 317pp £79.99 (ISBN 9781108481755)

In 2018 T&T. discovered that R. was working on a commentary on the same books of Pliny the Elder (1-6) that T&T. were busy translating, together with selections of geographical interest from Books 7-37. They agreed to ‘advance in parallel’ but not specifically to collaborate. That can be seen in the minor differences that emerge between the two quite different operations. They have different spelling conventions (e.g. T&T. call a Ligurian people Sallui, R. Sallvi), and there are rare disagreements on place names (T&T. call a tributary of the Tiber Clanis, R. calls it Glanis) and on interpretation (in a famous passage comparing the relative sizes of Europe, Asia and Africa, T&T. suggest that the mileage for Europe [8714] refers to length [!], while R. prefers circumference: a crucial piece of text is missing at that point). The Ancient World Mapping Centre and the Barrington Atlas are points of reference for both.

None of this is of serious significance. The fact is that the last full commentary in English was published in 1877, and Rackham’s Loeb text (1942) is hopelessly inconsistent in its presentation of place names, let alone out of date in the light of the Barrington Atlas. The crucial point here, emphasised by both T&T. and R., is that the text of Pliny is in far better shape with the publication of the Budé edition and König’s text for Sammlung Tusculum. The one regret is that only R. makes the occasional reference to the Latin, and that one’s head is soon spinning with obscure place names and no map on which to locate them (at least R. gives many places their modern names too).

But with texts such as these, there is only so much that a publisher can do. The resources, after all, to meet those needs are all out there. That said, this reader does feel that reference to the Latin in T&T.’s translation where questions of text or interpretation are at stake would have been helpful (as in Rackham). It is the least a brand-new translation of a new text calls for. For example, at 2.86 Pliny says of the moon’s position that it is in medio solis ac terrae. T&T. translate ‘half-way between the sun and the earth’, but as R. points out it is more likely to mean simply ‘in between’.

R. sticks firmly to his remit, occasionally deviating from the strictly geographical and associated historical problems to e.g. consider a textual problem (his introduction discusses the wider picture). The detail is extremely impressive and indeed (given the range of sources on which Piny seems to have been drawing) sometimes rather overwhelming, but that can hardly be counted a fault. He provides a bibliography and a full index of both passages cited and of toponyms and ethnyms.

T&T. express the hope that their translation reflects Pliny’s at times terse and opaque style, but the most important consideration is that it reads well and makes sense and in that respect it is wholly successful, triumphantly so with regard to place names. They provide a detailed table of the contents of books 2-6 and of their further, personal selection of geographical passages from books 7 to 37 (who could have resisted the temptation?). Three appendices cover titles and technical terms, units of measurement, and translations of both the Budé and Sammlung Tusculum texts. There is a list of modern works cited and a concise index.

In sum, both translation and commentary are to be warmly welcomed and a great improvement on anything else that is available in English. They will stand the scholarly world in extremely good stead for many years to come.

Peter Jones