Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.02.10


R. P. H. Green (comm.), The Works of Ausonius. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. Pp. lvi + 780. $185.00. ISBN 0-19814463-6.


Reviewed by William E. Klingshirn, The Catholic University of America.

Arguably the best and certainly the most versatile Latin poet of the fourth century, Ausonius has been the focus of increasingly close attention in recent years. Since 1971 there have been two new editions of his work, by A. Pastorino (Turin, 1971) and S. Prete (Leipzig, 1978), and dozens of articles on his poetry and academic career. Nor has interest in Ausonius come only from philologists and literary critics. Ausonius plays an important role in John Matthews' Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court (Oxford, 1975) and in Raymond Van Dam's Leadership and Community in Late Antique Gaul (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985) represents an entire class of aristocrats in the transition to Christian modes of authority. The attractions of Ausonius's poetry and prose will now command even more attention, thanks to the labors of R.P.H. Green, Lecturer in Humanity (Latin) at the University of St. Andrews. G. has rewarded Ausonius's genius with an excellent text and an expansive commentary, which will not only stimulate and inform generations of readers, but will also go a long way toward granting the poet a well-deserved place in the canon of classical literature.

G.'s book is vast. It begins with an introduction to Ausonius's poetry, career, influence, and text. This is followed by a completely revised edition of his works. Next comes a detailed commentary, which offers approximately two pages of discussion for every page of text. (The ratio varies considerably from one work to the next. For the Epistulae, it is 3:2; for the Mosella, it is 8:2.) The commentary is followed by three appendices: the first reproduces texts of doubtful authenticity, including De Rosis Nascentibus and the imperial constitutions issued when Ausonius was quaestor; the second contains letters written to Ausonius by Theodosius, Symmachus, and Paulinus of Nola; the third consists of a list of Ausonius's works, including lost works, composed by Giovanni Mansionario in c. 1320. Following this is a series of concordances to the editions of Schenkl, Peiper, Pastorino, and Prete, required by G's substantial rearrangement of Ausonius's works. Next comes a full bibliography of works devoted to Ausonius, which supplements the brief bibliography of major studies found in the introduction and the bibliographical references scattered throughout the text. The volume ends with four helpful indices, of Latin words, Greek words, names, and subjects.

It is not clear that a new text of Ausonius was badly needed -- G. himself acknowledges that "Schenkl and Peiper were on the whole very accurate" (ix) -- but G. has nonetheless produced an edition improved by emendation, repunctuation, and reorganization. He rightly rejects the theory that wide divergences between V (Voss. Lat. F 111) and the manuscript family known as Z are to be explained by the existence of two authorial editions, and he provides new evidence against such a view (xlii-xlix). The emendations and changes in punctuation that he proposes are explained at length in the commentary, and justified on paleographical, metrical, grammatical, and stylistic grounds. G.'s reordering of the texts is also generally well-justified, but there are bound to be complaints about the existence of yet another system of references to Ausonius's works. This does not matter much for the transposition of whole works from one part of the edition to another: no one will be greatly inconvenienced by finding Ordo Nobilium Urbium in part XXIV instead of XVIIII (Schenkl), XI (Peiper), XVI (Pastorino), or XXI (Prete). The Epigrams, Eclogues, and Letters have been so radically renumbered and reorganized, however, that it will require some effort to become accustomed to their locations in G.'s edition.

For most readers the most useful part of this book will not be its text -- as good as this is -- but its commentary, which is superb. G. is enormously wellinformed on the whole range of Latin literature, and he puts the whole of his knowledge to work in explaining Ausonius. He also genuinely admires Ausonius' poetic craft. From the very start this enthusiasm works to undermine traditional images of Ausonius as an overly mannered, pedantic, conventional, and rhetorical writer. Indeed, G. is at pains throughout the book to demonstrate the skill, the wit, and the innovation evident in Ausonius's use of literary tradition. References to Ausonius's borrowing and reworking of themes and language from earlier poets are a regular feature of the commentary. G. also devotes considerable attention to echoes of Ausonius in later Latin poets, from Prudentius to Erasmus. There is a broad and humane learning at work here.

G.'s commentary displays all the variety of Ausonius's poetry. The author naturally spends much time discussing technical details, such as difficult manuscript readings, metrical peculiarities, and obscure syntax and diction. But he also comments liberally on the wide range of subject matter that comes up in Ausonius's writing. From the fishes of the Moselle (472-480) and the flowing robes of the Chinese (591) to the mysteries of the Trinity (249) and the making of torches in Medoc (628), every conceivable sort of topic receives comment. This is historical commentary in the broadest sense, including political, social, cultural, and natural history, and G. regularly offers just the right mixture of explanation and up-to-date bibliography. This is not to say that G. is invariably correct. A note on "arvum" in De Herediolo 23 (284) misleadingly suggests, on the basis of a law of 342, that 25 iugera was a typical minimum property qualification for decurions. In fact, as Jones has shown (LRE 738), this figure was promulgated for a special case involving the diocese of Oriens, and is far too low to have been applied in the empire as a whole. Such lapses, however, are few and far between. In the main, G.'s explanations show wide, careful reading and good judgment.

In a work of this magnitude, there are bound to be small errors of citation and bibliography, and G. is not immune from these. At p. 248, for E. Griffe, La Gaule chrétienne (Paris, 1964), iii. 291-8, read (Paris, 1965). At p. 320, the use of aeae as an interjection is better illustrated by CGL v. 45. 9. At p. 334, for Karl der Grosse (Düsseldorf, 1965), ii. 259-60, read ii. 59-60. At p. 577, for Scavi di Ostia (Rome, 1961), iv. 74, v. pl. clxxiv, read iv. 74, iv (Tavole). pl. clxxxiv. And at p. 623, for J. Humfrey, Roman Circuses, read J. Humphrey. Also, bibliography could have been expanded at several points. For example, Claude Sintes (ed.), Du nouveau sur l'Arles antique, Revue d'Arles 1 (1987) is now an essential supplement to L.-A. Constans, Arles antique (Paris, 1921), cited on pp. 514 and 577.

Another quibble involves G.'s fondness for abbreviation. It is certainly proper in a commentary of this length to abbreviate frequently used references. But no matter what system is used, it should be intelligible to all those who will have occasion to consult it, not just professional classicists, but a wide range of readers with serious interests in Latin poetry and late antique history and culture. Although G. informs his reader where to find abbreviations for journal titles and Greek and Latin authors (li), he neglects to do the same for reference works, for whose abbreviations he uses "the familiar forms or briefer ones". The trouble is that while a professional classicist will know that CE refers to Buecheler's edition of Carmina Latina Epigraphica, that GL refers to Keil's edition of Grammatici Latini, that KS refers to Kühner-Stegmann, Ausf¨hrliche Grammatik der lateinischen Sprache, and that LHS refers to Leumann-Hofmann-Szantyr, Lateinische Grammatik, many other readers will not only not know these, but will find it difficult to look them up. It would not have increased the length of the book to have added a brief list of these abbreviations. To such a list could also have been added the unusual abbreviation PN for Paulinus of Nola, more often abbreviated Paul. Nol., as in TLL.

Despite these very minor complaints, G.'s Ausonius must be judged an impressive success. Far from constituting the last word on Ausonius, it promises to open up new horizons of research. It deserves the attention not only of professional classicists, medievalists, and historians, but also of students and educated readers with a serious interest in Latin poetry. Unfortunately, at $185 this is the most expensive single volume in the Oxford classics catalogue, excepting only the OLD and Lampe's Patristic Lexicon. This virtually guarantees that the book will be purchased only by libraries and specialists. It looks as if OUP, which has begun to make a commitment to the poetry of late antiquity, has concluded that the market for this subject is still of limited size. Yet, if the increasing volume of publication in this field is any indication, that market appears to be growing. A book as good as The Works of Ausonius is likely to increase interest even further, not only in Ausonius, but also in all later Latin literature. It is a pity that most readers will not be able to express their appreciation of its worth by purchasing a copy.