Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.10.02

Thomas Baier, Werk und Wirkung Varros im Spiegel seiner eitgenossen. Hermes Einzelschriften 73. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1997. Pp. 208. ISBN 3-515-07022-2.

Reviewed by Andrew R. Dyck, Department of Classics, University of California, Los Angeles,

Learned antiquarian and literary historian, correspondent of Cicero, and, like Cicero, a Pompeian pardoned by Caesar for his role in the civil war and a target of the proscriptions, Marcus Terentius Varro must have cut an impressive figure among his contemporaries. If he looms less large in modern histories of Latin literature, it is because an unkind fate has robbed us of almost all of his vast literary legacy, with only Books 5-10 of de Lingua Latina and the three books de Re Rustica surviving intact.

The attempt to repeal, insofar as possible, the effects of the fata libellorum has been led mostly by German scholars, with major landmarks along the way including the Goetz-Schoell edition of de Lingua Latina (1910), Cichorius' still unsuperseded "Historische Studien zu Varro" in the Römische Studien (1922), a series of important studies by the Cologne Latinist Hellfried Dahlmann, including his article in the sixth supplement to the RE (1935), and B. Cardauns' commented edition of the Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum (1976).

The work under review focuses not on the establishment of the text or chronology of the life and works but rather the influence Varro exerted on authors of his own generation and the one following. The monograph of Baier (hereafter B.), written, so far as I can judge, in a clear and attractive style, is the revised version of a dissertation directed at Freiburg by Eckard Lefevre. After a brief introduction B. juxtaposes Varro with Cicero (ch. II), Livy (ch. III), Horace (ch. IV, including an excursus on a similar motif at Tib. 2.1.51-60), Virgil (ch. VI), and Ovid (ch. VII). He also includes an investigation of Varro's sources for the history of the theatre (ch. V), though this might better have been placed before ch. IV, where Varro's views on the subject are first discussed. A brief summary (ch. VIII) rounds out the presentation. The volume concludes with a "Stellenregister (in Auswahl)" but, unfortunately in view of the diverse contents, no general index.

B.'s method is to compare Varro with other authors he has chosen and determine similarities and differences and hence the degree to which the other author can be considered to have borrowed from, criticized, or otherwise reacted to Varro. This approach offers the advantage of clarity of focus. The danger, however, is that some important phenomena may become marginalized by not falling under one of the chosen authors. Thus, though Sallust is not among the select authors, an exploration of the relation of his diagnosis of the causes of moral decay at Rome to that of Varro might have been of great interest (B. throws out some hints on the subject at p.177, n. 88; 178, n. 95; pp.181 and 184). Again, the ludi saeculares do not naturally fall under any author, but if their celebration in 17 B.C. was based on Varro's chronology, this would be an important example of Varronian influence in the following generation (B. alludes to the problem at n. 67, pp.174-75).

Another danger of B.'s method is that of overrating the "vertical" links between Varro and the compared authors and underrating the "horizontal" connections among the latter. Thus B. might have considered whether the traits that seem to be borrowed from an account of the early history of the theatre at Ov. Met. 14.452 ff. might not derive from Livy 7.2, rather than directly from Varro (the parallels he cites, p.183, are from Livy).

Taken on its own terms, this study usefully places Varro more at the center of things than he usually is in recent discussions. This involves attention to sometimes complex problems of source-criticism, which B. generally handles with assurance. B.'s monograph is, however, more synthesis than original research, and specialists on the individual authors will not find a great many new insights. For Varro on religion B. mostly relies on Koch,1 for theatrical history on Waszink,2 for Horace on the standard commentaries, etc. At times the work resembles a mosaic of the phrases and opinions of others, quoted verbatim and sometimes at length, subjected to less critical scrutiny than they might have been, as when he takes over Hermann Fraenkel's characterization of Ovid as a "poet between two worlds," a well-worn cliche, and uses it evidently to denote a position between the Republic and Empire (p.184), whereas for Fraenkel the two worlds were antiquity and Christianity.3

In view of space limitations I will lay emphasis on chapter II, "Varro und Cicero," which accounts for more than 1/3 of B.'s text. Its first section, "Gespannte Freundschaft," includes background about Varro's political activity prior to the civil war. His friendly relations to Pompey went back as far as 77 (the date of his Ephemeris navalis ad Pompeium); during his exile Cicero hoped that Varro would open Caesar's ears to his case for recall (Att. 3.15.3), and Varro accepted a post as a vigintivir for the execution of the agrarian law as early as 59. In view of these facts it seems quite implausible that Varro's TRIKA/RANOS was critical of the triumvirs, as B. (pp.21-22) and others suppose.4 Either -- in spite of the negative connotations of the title -- the work was not hostile in tendency, or Appian (BC 2.9), our sole source, has wrongly contextualized (on the basis of the title alone?) an attack on the second triumvirate, which proscribed Varro.

As B. states (p.23), "Die Verbindung zwischen Varro und Cicero verlief ... zunächst ausschliesslich über Atticus." In spite of this critical role, B. has surprisingly little to say about Atticus; one will not find in these pages any view about when Varro and Atticus might have become acquainted,5 or that Varro dedicated to Atticus de Vita Populi Romani, and used him as a speaker in de Re Rustica, and named after him one of the Logistorici, etc.; nor does he point the reader to the literature on Atticus, such as O. Perlwitz's recent study.6 B. does mention Atticus' role in pressing Cicero to have Varro included as a speaker in de Republica (Att. 4.16.2) and mediating the dedication of the Academici libri;7 but he oddly fails to mention that Varro's planned dedication to Cicero (Att. 13.12.3, cited p.24) did finally reach fruition with the dedication of a large portion of de Lingua Latina.8

The second section, "Verhältnis zu den Griechen," sets in parallel Varro as mediator of antiquities and Cicero as mediator of philosophy. The analogy is a bit strained, however, since the antiquities Varro is mediating are Roman antiquities even if he constructs them, as B. suggests, after a Greek model, whereas philosophy prior to Cicero was essentially a Greek achievement. The relation to the Greeks, then, is a somewhat different one, with Cicero, the wholehearted philhellene, recognizing the value of Greek philosophy and trying to appropriate it for Rome, whereas Varro merely uses Greek analogies to touch up the Romans' view of their own past, rather than taking something Greek as an object of investigation in its own right (though he would later, under Cicero's prodding, write on philosophy himself). When B. later returns to the topic, he makes the quite astonishing (and unsupported) claim that in his antiquarian research Cicero "immer nur das griechische Vorbild vor Augen hat und bestenfalls griechische, nie italische Aitien und Etymologien aufzubieten weiss" (p.146),9 whereas, although the Greeks remain present as a point of reference and as the source of the theoretical framework, what is remarkable about the archaeology of Rep. 2 is the emphasis on an early and native origin for major Roman institutions (note also the reliance on Latin etymologies, such as the derivation of Servius Tullus' praenomen from servus as a basis for his biography: Rep. 2.37.3 ff.).10

The third section, "Verhältnis zu Philosophie," begins with a subsection oddly entitled uti - frui; in fact, the verb corresponding to utilitas and opposite to frui should be prodesse or the like. Here B.'s essential point is sound if not new that neither Varro nor Cicero was a highly original philosopher; both were probably much influenced by their teacher Antiochus of Ascalon,11 with Varro placing a more Epicurean, Cicero a more Stoic emphasis on a basic position corresponding to that of the Peripatetic doctrine of goods. However, B. overstates the possible influence of Varro on Cicero's portrait of Cato in Sen. At Sen. 46 Cato states: habeo ... senectuti magnam gratiam, quae mihi sermonis aviditatem auxit, potionis et cibi sustulit. B. comments (p.33): "Derjenige Aspekt, den Varro als BIWFELH/S bezeichnet hatte, wird zu besonderer Geltung erhoben." But, in fact, the point of Varro Men. 340 Astbury was rather different: in convivio legi non omnia debent, sed ea potissimum quae simul sint BIWFELH= et delectent. Varro's was not a higher valuation of conversation than food but a preference for certain types of conversation over others. Forced, under Caesar's dictatorship,from politics, Cicero in some degree modelled his new life on that of his learned friend. It was in this period that, as B. rightly notes (p.40), the two men drew closest, with Cicero even adopting an Epicurean tone in some of his letters, though, unlike his Reatine friend, he never found full satisfaction in the vita contemplativa.

Under "Verhältnis zur Religion" (chapter II.4), B. works out some similarities between Varro's and Cicero's views on the subject; others could have been added; e.g., Cicero, like Varro (B., p.43), has no fear of divine wrath or intervention; cf. Off. 2.12, 3.102; again like Varro, he had great regard for the ius fetiale as a guarantor of justice in warfare (cf. de Vita Populi Romani fr. 75 Rip.; L. 5.86; Leg. 2.21 and Off. 1.36). Unfortunately, however, as B. points out (p.61 and n. 299), our evidence does not allow us to judge to what degree the views of Cicero and Varro are peculiar to themselves or representative of Roman intellectuals of their time. Here B. sometimes goes overboard in his generalizations. Thus on p.64 he infers from a sentence at Leg. 2.23 "dass Cicero Religion primaer als einen Gesetzgebungsakt betrachtet"; this needs to be restricted to religion as handled in Leg.; in N.D. other perspectives appear. Again, B. asserts (p.65) that in N.D. Cicero "entwickelt ... eine theologia naturalis, die ganz varronischen Mustern verpflichtet ist." His attached n. 317 refers the reader to A. Wlosok, "Vergil als Theologe: Iuppiter - pater omnipotens," Gymnasium 90 (1983), 196, where (n. 21) one finds Rep. 1.56, N.D. 2.4, and Var. R.D. fr. 13 cited in parallel for the Stoic conception of a god ruling the universe, but this hardly constitutes a case that Cicero in N.D. depends on "Varronian models," rather than the Greek source(s) assumed by previous scholars (if that is what B. meant).

The final section on Varro and Cicero ("Wirkung und Nachwirkung") contains useful remarks on Cicero's construction of clementia in the Caesarian speeches (pp.68-70). However, clementia was a tactic developed by Caesar himself more than B. acknowledges,12 so that we have another example of Cicero's "Kunst, die politischen Schlagworte der Zeit an sich zu reissen."13 At p.67, ll. 7-8 and n. 336, B. remarks that under Augustus religion becomes merely a facade for politics and cites as an example the dedication of an altar of Fortuna Redux upon Augustus' return with the comment: "Die 'Göttin' dient lediglich der Überhöhung eines äußeren Vorgangs"; but this sort of thing had been going on at Rome for centuries (B. shows awareness of this fact at p.62, n. 300).

The rest of the book is devoted to establishing the thesis that Varro was "einer der geistigen Wegbereiter der augusteischen Epoche" (p.17). Though its dependence on Varro was already accepted by most scholars, B. adds nuance to our understanding of Livy's important chapter on satire (7.2) by reading it in light of Varro's definition of satire and distinction between poema and poesis (see p.95). One caveat on this chapter: at p.75, ll. 3-5 B. makes the blanket assertion without evidence or argument that Cicero had recourse to Varronian dating in Brut., Tusc., and Sen. This question really required a detailed, nuanced discussion with reference to F. Muenzer, "Atticus als Geschichtsschreiber," Hermes 40 (1905), 50-100. One source Cicero expressly cites for chronology in the Brutus is Atticus (§ 72), though he may in turn have been following Varro. Note, too, that the citation of Varro at § 60 as holding a divergent opinion from the veteres commentarii on the date of Naevius' death suggests acquaintance with Varro's work but not use of it as a main source.

The Augustan poets are difficult to handle in relation to Varro in the same way as Cicero and Livy, but there are hints that these poetae docti knew the work of the Reatine luminary. Thus B. calls attention to some interesting structural similarities between the Georgics and de Re Rustica (e.g., pp.152-53). One wonders, however, whether it is not oversimple to suppose, as B., p.164, does, that Virgil added Georgics 3-4 because he was inspired by the appearance of de Re Rustica (though that may have been a factor). Horace, on the other hand, rating formal polish higher than Varro did, thought it worthwhile to contradict Varro's view of Lucilius (Sat. 1.4.1 ff.) and elsewhere plays "neue Variationen auf varronische Themen (p.130).

Ovid used Varro as a source for information in the Fasti but then went his own way, showing little interest in debating or otherwise reacting to the older author. Ovid's view of Rome's past is also relevant here: he was no laudator temporis acti, but this would place him in opposition not only to Varro but to Roman traditionalism generally. Thus, without anything more to go on than commonality of information or treatment (in a different sense) of similar themes, B. sheds less light in the chapter on Ovid and Varro than he does elsewhere. He also seems to be of two minds about Ovid's use of source material: if Ovid sometimes did not know what to do with his material (p.169, n. 32), he can hardly be said to have sovereign independence from his sources (p.167). Finally, for the sake of contrast with the Hellenophile poet, Varro is portrayed onesidedly in this chapter as the propagator of a "romzentrische(s) Weltbild" and of an attempt "alles auf autochthone Wurzeln zurückzuführen" (p.170), in spite of all B. has previously said about Varro's etymology of Luperci from the Arcadian divine epithet Lycaeus (p.86) or of the ludii from the Lydi (in view of the Anatolian origin of the Etruscans: p.90) or Varro's general tendency "im Zweifelsfalle Griechisches in einen römischen Kontext hineinzukonstruieren" (p.86).

Greek authors or topics play a role here, especially on the history of the theatre. Unfortunately, B. is sometimes less well informed in Graecis than he should be. Thus if B. had used the newer commented editions of Posidonius, rather than Karl Reinhardt's 1921 book, it would have been clear to him that the philosopher cited O)RQO\S LO/GOS as a criterion used by earlier Stoics (fr. 42 E.-K. = 460 Theiler), not his own construct (p.57, n. 271). Again, for Euanthius on Middle Comedy (pp.108-9; cf. also p.139, n. 46) B. ought to have cited and discussed the different interpretation of H.-G. Nesselrath, Die attische Mittlere Komödie (Berlin-New York, 1990), 41-45. For askoliasmos in the Erigone of Eratosthenes (p.134, ll. 33-34) a reference to F. Solmsen, "Eratosthenes' Erigone: A Reconstruction," TAPA 78 (1947), 270 = Kleine Schriften 1 (Hildesheim, 1968), 243, would have been helpful. On p.138 B. asserts: "Hesych leitet FLU/AKES von FLUA/SSEIN (FLUARI/A) ab ..." and in the attached n. 39 cites K. Latte's Hesychius s.v. FLU/AKES. However, Latte's Hesychius advanced no further than the letter omicron.14 There is, in fact, no Hesychian gloss s.v. FLU/AKES; there is one s.v. FLU/AC (F 649 Schmidt), but it includes no such etymology, which is evidently modern, based on a combination of F 649 and F 651 (s.v. FLUA/SSEI). On this topic B. would have been well advised to consult Oliver Taplin, Comic Angels and Other Approaches to Greek Drama through Vase Paintings (Oxford, 1993), esp. 48 ff.

The following are the typographical errors I have found that might cause difficulty: p.44, n. 189: Leg. 2, 33 (not 83); p.62, n. 302 and p.67, l. 5: FANEROI/; p.63, n. 304: "Bücherverbrennung"; p.143, n. 73: KATARIQMOU=SIN; p.162, notes 147, 148, 152, and 155: read "3" instead of "4" in the references to the Georgics; p.164, first line of the paragraph under "6. Rückblick": "dieses"; p.170, l. 8: "Region." I have noticed a few omissions from the bibliography, e.g., "Norden 1901" (p.65, n. 322); "Wissowa 1971" (p.66, n. 326). A few other slips: p.73, ll. 18-20: the writing of political history is oddly attributed to Valerius Maximus; p.76: B. offers no support for the assertion that "im üblichen Sprachgebrauch deutet [hic] immer voraus auf etwas Neues, nicht jedoch zurück auf bereits Gesagtes"; but either deixis is possible and "üblich": cf. J.B. Hofmann and A. Szantyr, Lateinische Syntax und Stilistik, new ed. (Munich, 1972), 180-81; p.122: in printing Tib. 2.1.58 B. makes odd use of the asterisk as a critical sign apparently in lieu of a cross; p.143: the idea that Fabius Pictor wanted to represent the cults of Mens and Aesculapius, introduced in 293 and 217 respectively, as "'schon immer' im römischen Religionsleben beheimatet" strains credulity, for these events were within the living memory of Fabius' readers or their fathers; furthermore Fabius' office as decemvir sacris faciundis would put him in a position to know the facts and thus makes it less likely for him to have misrepresented them; p.145: in calling the elder Cato "ein gelehriger Schüler griechischer Wissenschaft und Bildung" B. perhaps takes too much at face value the way Cicero portrays his learning (for his own purposes!) at Sen. 3; p.155, n. 80: in the reference to Ennius' Annales after "fr. 556 Vahlen" add "= 570 Skutsch."

If in the foregoing I have dwelt overlong on problems or disagreements, I should conclude by emphasizing the merits of B.'s study. Author of a fragmentary and technical extant corpus, Varro is often felt to be an author difficult of access. B. makes a case for the study of Varro by showing that even major surviving authors gain by being read with him in mind. B.'s work may thus serve a protreptic function in an age when scholarship focuses ever more intensely on the "major" authors. In addition, B.'s pages provide some taste of the richness and variety of Varro's work, albeit, given the definition and scope of the project, he can offer merely an hors d'oeuvre. At various points the limits are strongly felt, as, e.g., when he notes that the origin of the Luperci "läßt sich bestenfalls durch eine inhaltliche, religionsgeschichtliche Interpretation klären, die hier nicht geleistet werden kann" (p.84). There are also times when the method "Varro compared with author X" becomes a straitjacket in, e.g., not allowing triangulation among Varro, Atticus, and Cicero, or proves simply not very fruitful (the case of Ovid). Readers will want, as always, to weigh carefully the evidence and arguments presented but will find this monograph generally a good starting point for looking at Varro's early influence.


1. C. Koch, Religio. Studien zur Kult und Glauben der Römer, ed. O. Seel (Nürnberg, 1960).

2. J.H. Waszink, "Varro, Livy and Tertullian on the History of Roman Dramatic Art," Vigiliae Christianae 2 (1948), 224-42.

3. Hermann Fraenkel, Ovid: A Poet between Two Worlds (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1945), 163.

4. Note that Varro's disapproval of Crassus, mentioned by B. in this connection (p.22), was another point shared with Cicero: cf. Off. 1.25 and 3.73 and 75; Parad. no. 6.

5. This will have occurred when Varro was studying with Antiochus in Athens (Ac. 1.12), probably before 82; cf. Dahlmann, RE Suppl. 6, 1175.8-12.

6. Olaf Perlwitz, Titus Pomponius Atticus. Untersuchungen zur Person eines einflussreichen Ritters in der ausgehenden Römischen Republik (Stuttgart, 1992).

7. B. (p.24) misinterprets the sentence of Att. 13.12.3 where Cicero explains his reason for changing the speakers of Ac.; when he says that the original speakers nimis acute loquuntur, he means in relation to their own personae, not Varro; cf. the phrase PARA\ TO\ PRE/PON used of the characterization of speakers in the first edition of Ac. at Att. 13.16.1.

8. On the extent of the dedication cf. Dahlmann (n. 5 supra) 1203.35 ff.

9. It is puzzling that here B. lists Tusc. beside Rep. and Brut. as a locus of Ciceronian antiquarian research.

10. On Cicero the antiquarian B. might have consulted Elizabeth Rawson,Roman Culture and Society: Collected Papers (Oxford, 1991), 58 ff. (on etymologies cf. 65-66).

11. On this philosopher B. might have profited from a dose of the healthy skepticism of Jonathan Barnes, "Antiochus of Ascalon," Philosophia Togata, ed. Miriam Griffin and Jonathan Barnes (Oxford, 1989), 51-96.

12. See B., p.70, n. 357; Sabine Rochlitz, Das Bild Caesars in Ciceros "Orationes Caesarianae." Untersuchungen zu "clementia" und zu "sapientia Caesaris", Studien zur klassischen Philologie 78 (Frankfurt a.M. etc., 1993), esp. 50 ff. (not cited by B.).

13. Hermann Strasburger, Concordia Ordinum. Eine Untersuchung zur Politik Ciceros (Amsterdam, 1956), 67.

14. The reference is also defective in printing "66" as if a page number (it refers instead to "1966," the year of publication of Latte's second volume) and substituting the publisher, Munksgaard, for the place of publication.