Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.3.41


H.J.W. Wijsman, Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica, Book V. A Commentary. Mnemosyne Supplementum 158. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996. Pp. xii, 322. ISSN 0169-8958, ISBN 90-04-10506-9.


Reviewed by W.R. Barnes, Department of Classics, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

The commentaries on single books of Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica that began to appear in 1989 are the first of any substance since P. Langen's commentary on the whole poem which was published in 1896/97; the new commentators have much to do.

In an introduction which is in some parts detailed, in others summary, W. treats aspects of the poem as a whole (the poet's chronology, the manuscript tradition, the relation of the poem to recent events, style, influence) and of Book 5 in particular (coherence, structure, similes, sources and models). His description of Valerius' style is too brief (half a page, p.6) to explain what he means by both "revels in extremes" and "shining in his restraint" (the latter from Heinsius), or by "an air of maturity"; he should have made some reference here to other, more detailed descriptions, especially R. Nordera, I virgilianismi in Valerio Flacco, even if she says little about Book 5.

He finds coherence in Book 5 in the idea of an "Other World", and more specifically a world beyond Acheron, with the border at the Mariandyni; but Valerius has not adapted AR 2.734ff (contrast also 4.594ff with AR 2.353ff), and he refers to the shores of Acherusis only in passing, both metaphorically and literally, after the Argonauts have left the Mariandyni (5.73f). W. makes a division of Book 5 in mathematical structures and symmetries which is not especially convincing. Two of his larger structures of approximately seventy lines, 224b-296 and 259-328 (the brackets are misplaced, p.5) are broken by the discrete character of 224b-277 (in his division; better perhaps 222-277). In 1-72 a division is more obvious after 34 than after 36, and a symmetrical structure in 1-72 is less obvious than a dramatic structure in 1-62, especially if the composition is compared with Apollonius' (U. Eigler, Monologische Redeformen bei Valerius Flaccus, 58ff). W.'s sketch of Valerius' sources and models in Book 5 is instructive; he might have said more than he does about the definition of Valerius' characteristics by comparison with his models, cf. F. Mehmel (Valerius Flaccus, Diss. Hamburg 1934) and those who agreed and disagreed with him.

In the commentary itself W.'s first object is to explain Valerius' expression, especially by means of examples of similar language elsewhere (Preface). He explains or illustrates much more of Valerius' language than Langen; and he is more generous with quotations, perhaps unnecessarily generous in the case of apparently conventional language, for some of which indeed a reference to TLL or OLD might have been enough. He contributes here to the description and the location of Valerius' usage, both when he finds similar language and when he does not. He also offers information on a various miscellany of other items in Valerius' usage, e.g. uirum/-orum (n.v. 13; add Poortvliet on 2.128ff.), compound adjectives, en.

Some of W.'s explanations are not persuasive. In 50 nimium modifies anxia; in 528 sortis depends primarily on uox, secondarily on memorem; in 683 mox is not redundant, but refers to 681f., while tunc in 684 refers to the ubi clause in 683; in 685 et means "in the same way as Medea helped the Argonauts". In 454 the Argonauts are not the subject of odere. Tamen contrasts odere with (Colchis) nondum noscentibus, and in 455 quin idem ... error compares the Argonauts with the Colchians. In 578 it is difficult to see with what sense procul can be an attribute of nobis; better to follow Aen. 6.808, quis procul ille (which W. quotes). In matters of syntax W.'s field of reference is occasionally too large, and his description of usage in the field too summary, to demonstrate any peculiarity in Valerius' usage (nn.vv. 330, 373, 480). In Valerius' word order W. often draws attention to the postponement of connectives, as Langen did, but that matter needs more precision, after Leo's observations (GGA 159 (1897), 956f = Ausgewählte kleine Schriften 2,226f). W. notices quando at the end of the verse (n.v. 200), but not priusquam in 346 (cf. J. Adamietz, Zur Komposition der Argonautica des Valerius Flaccus, 73f). He comments occasionally on Valerius' style. At 75 nec uana fides is a phrase that Virgil had used, Aen. 4.12. W. considers the relation of the phrase to its context "an example of things said too briefly". But as uulgatum (-am W.) corresponds to Virgil's credo (as W. notes) so festa ... nocte Lyaei corresponds to genus esse deorum. Not too briefly, then; rather the syntax, for the sense, is different and perhaps less plain. At 340 W. describes lumina rumpere fletu as "highly artificial", and refers to Langen on 1,508 ("similarly"). The idiom that Langen describes, the syntax of which is different, is Virgilian (Austin on Aen. 2.129, Pease on 4.553), and conventional by Valerius' time; 339f should be compared rather with Lucr. 3.297. It is an instance of strong language, which W. finds elsewhere (n.v. 8; but 347 is disqualified by W.'s own examples). W. notices much more often than Langen metrical style (with Koesters' dissertation of 1893; he might have cited Garson, CQ n.s. 18 [1968], 376ff), elision (he might have mentioned Soubiran on earlier practice, and Hellegouarc'h on monosyllables), sound effects, and sound patterns.

Obscurities in expression necessarily bring W. to questions of the text itself. The relations of the manuscripts are not as simple as they once seemed. W.'s comments on the text are modest (Preface), but extensive. His own text differs from Ehlers' wording in some thirty places and from his punctuation in others (among which he should have discussed his punctuation in 67ff). He recognises C's new status, although he expresses reservations about some readings (nn.vv. 203,269,438,515; cf Ehlers in M. Korn, H.J. Tschiedel (edd.), Ratis omnia vincet, 32ff); he prints six of C's readings against Ehlers. At 134 Kramer's defence of V, patrius quam sanguine uexerit amnis, against C, patrius quam uexerit amnis in aequor (p. LXXV), is better than the explanations of it that W. does consider; and in aequor has much less point than pelago has in Stat. Theb. 11.277. At 239 W. might have cited J. Samuelsson's argument for C (Studia in Valerium Flaccum, 120f); but if Medea is indeed the subject petat is striking in her circumstances. At 75, combining conservatism with boldness, W. prints Callirhoen (C; -oan V,L) for Callichoron, which editors have adopted from AR 2.904. He explains the appearance of Callichorus in the geographies as deriving from Apollonius (and Callimachus, fr. 600Pf.); he might have cited I. Gualandri, PP 23 (1968), 208ff (cf. W., n.v. 59), but she does not describe the geographical tradition in detail. At 624, 625 W. is over-conscientious about uidi in 624, which has not been printed apparently since Heinsius; the correction diui is confirmed by QEOI/ in Il. 5.873 (which W. himself quotes on 625). In the Latin he will attribute to Valerius he is sometimes conservative, e.g. in 515 iungere dextram rather than iungere dona, sometimes bold, e.g. in 550 incussit menti pauor (Heinsius; but Heinsius' parallels for this suggestion no longer stand; cf. Lachmann on Lucr. 6,1212).

W.'s second interest is Valerius' use of narrative and generic sources and models (Preface). He says too little about Valerius' relation to Apollonius in the voyage episodes of 1-216. He is much more interested in, and useful on, Jason's meeting with Medea in 329-398; he might have reported more than he does from S. Wetzel, Die Gestalt der Medea bei Valerius Flaccus (Diss. Kiel 1957), especially on the meeting with Circe in AR 4.662ff (Wetzel 58ff; cf F. Vian, Les Argonautiques Orphiques, 27f). W. suggests that Valerius' use of Virgil sometimes produces inconcinnities in his expression or in his narrative. That seems to be the case at 275, but not at 383 (the emphasis on felix is as appropriate as it is in Aen. 6.784, because it echoes, in the same place in the verse, TRISMA/KARE in Od. 6.154), or at 391 (opperiens as Jason waits for the frightened Medea to speak is actually more easily intelligible than it is in Aen. 1.454).

I suggest some further identifications of inter- and intratextual reference. 71 Departure at nightfall is unusual (cf AR 2.899f), but with 70b-71a see Aen. 7.8f (where in noctem has been much discussed) with W. Schetter, Ph. 103 (1959), 300f. Also: 70f. > 45ff. (71 > 44f.); cf 2.61ff. 202f. W. refers to the wood that hides the Golden Bough, Aen. 6.138f., 195f. Add, for pellis micet arbore opaca, 203 (micet C, misceat V,L), latet arbore opaca (ramus), Aen. 6.136 (cf. W. on 428). 379ff. The comparison has nothing to do with the armistice (unless perhaps ironically). Jason knows nothing yet of the war; and Medea would scarcely wear arms even for the war. He meets her near the river, and accordingly compares her with a Diana who has removed her quiver because she is no longer hunting but is going to bathe (cf AR 2.936ff, Ov. Met. 2.453ff and esp. 3.163ff; for the comparison in the narrative structure, AR 3.876ff).

The comparison evokes Aen. 1.318ff., 326ff., 498ff. and Od. 6.102ff., 149ff.; see therefore on the quiver in Aen. 1.500f. "Probus" in Gel. 9,9,15 (on the attribution to Probus see H.D. Jocelyn, CQ n.s. 34 (1984), 465). 480f. nec ... / sponte sequor represents (in Virgil's words) AR 3.388 OU)DE\ ME\N I(E/MENOI rather than 388f. TI/S ... E(KW\N (so W., n.v. 481).

W. was trained in the sciences ("chiasma", n.v. 223), and mentions interests in botany, zoology, astronomy. He is good on seals (n.v. 439) and on Laconian purple (n.v. 512); some may think he pursues sacrificial horses (n.v. 123) and Bears and Wains (n.v. 370) a little far. He comments in detail on matters of geography and ethnography (he is a traveller who observes, n.v. 77; cf n.v. 89). For mythology Leo thought that Langen could have referred his readers to Röscher (954 = 224). One hundred years later readers will be grateful for references to current texts; and they may sometimes find something suggestive amid the detail, e.g. at 204ff.

There are a number of slips and errors (e.g. in the reporting of Korn, n.v.93, and Summers, n.v. 642; and in the attribution of the rudder, or rudders, to Idmon, n.v. 8). Proof reading was not very accurate. "Africanus" for "Afranius" is interesting (n.v. 156); "Astronauts" is felicitous (n.vv. 618-695). This review may suggest that W. has not done as much as he might have done; few commentators do, in their readers' eyes. But he offers a useful expansion and updating of Langen on Book 5, and in a second language; and he may be thanked.