Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.04.11

The Collected Works of Erasmus v. 33, Adages II.i.1 to Translated and annotated by R.A.B. Mynors. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. $100. ISBN 0-8020-5954-6.

Reviewed by James Romm, Bard College.

This volume continues the Adagia series begun in volume 31 of the Collected Works of Erasmus (CWE), and along with the preceding volume (CWE 32) it represents the last project undertaken by the late Sir Roger Mynors. The AdagiaAdagia due next (CWE 34) will again contain his completed work, and the remaining two volumes will also be substantially his effort, as a CWE editor informs us in a foreword.

As in the earlier volumes, Sir Roger here confines himself to the goals he first set for his notes, "to identify the sources on which Erasmus drew, and to show how his collections increased and fresh comments suggested themselves" in the evolution of the Adagia. The former project has been carried through with great thoroughness and precision: Sir Roger frequently tracks down not only the author and work from which an obscure reference was taken, but sometimes even the exact manuscript from which Erasmus had culled it. There are also useful cross-references to other portions of the Adagia, to the larger corpus of Erasmus's writings, and to modern proverb collections. The annotator's second goal, to distinguish the various layers of the work's 36-year growth, has also been fulfilled, although I for one found it difficult to map the information in the notes onto the text--especially since the CWE editors have abandoned the footnote format of volume 31 and chosen endnotes instead. A reader distinguishing among three or four strata of composition longs to have notes on the same page as text, or even to have different layers of text marked off by identifying symbols (as is sometimes done for Montaigne's Essais).

The translation, also by Sir Roger, is graceful and smooth, aiming at straightforwardness and readability rather than at a strict reproduction of Erasmus's often complex prose style. Problems of translation and of Erasmus's Latinity are discussed in the notes, so that even Latinless readers can feel fully apprised. The text is handsomely laid out and printed, although without the occasional illustrations that have graced earlier CWE volumes. There is a sequential "Table of Adages" at the back (true indexes are set to appear in a separate volume when the Adagia are complete).

In short, this third installment of the Adagia lives up to the high standards set for the CWE series as a whole, and testifies again to the great talent that has been lost with the passing of Sir Roger Mynors. "Ficus ficus, ligonem ligonem vocat" (II.iii.5; cf. Mynors' explanation of how Erasmus misconstrued Aristophanes to produce this phrase, the origin of our "call a spade a spade").