Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.4.06

M. Fucecchi (ed.), La teichoskopia e l'innamoramento di Medea. Saggio di commento a Valerio Flacco Argonautiche 6.427-760. Pisa, 1997. Pp. 299. ISBN 88-7741-997-0.

Reviewed by Andrew Zissos, University of Texas at Austin,

Scholarly commentaries on Valerius Flaccus continue to do a brisk business within Roman literary studies -- on the far side of the Atlantic, at any rate. The past year has seen the publication of two Italian commentaries which will almost certainly prove to be important for the field: the present volume by Fucecchi (henceforth "F."), and a commentary on Book 7 by Alessandro Perutelli (Firenze 1997). These are not unrelated projects: in his preface, F. identifies Perutelli as "maestro e compagno di studi valeriani." Given that Perutelli's is the third commentary on that particular book in the last half-decade (and the second in Italian), it is hard not to feel a little more excited about F.'s undertaking, which represents, in terms of recent scholarship at least, a foray into untrodden territory. Like Korn before him, whose commentary on 4.1-343 is a model of precision and economy,1 F. has chosen to deal with a small and more or less self-contained textual sequence. The choice of the conclusion of Book 6, in which Medea feels her first pangs of desire for Jason, is a good one: a close study of this part of the poem has been wanting for some time. In taking up the challenge, F. has combined a sensitivity to thematic concerns with an impressive philological rigor. The result is a very fine commentary indeed.

The layout of the volume is conventional. There is a prose analysis of the passage and a discussion of the manuscript tradition (these serving as an introduction of sorts), a text with facing (Italian) translation, the commentary itself, a bibliography, and a series of indices. As often with European commentaries, the reader will look in vain for an introduction to the poet, his poetic style, the Argonautica tradition in ancient literature, a summary of the poem, or a discussion of historical context. This is clearly a drawback for non-specialist readers, who would perhaps hope for a little more basic guidance from their commentator. Instead F. provides an introductory essay running to 31 pages which offers a close-reading of the passage, and discusses its importance in the larger context of the poem. This is in fact a distillation and re-elaboration of F.'s important recent article on Valerius' Argonautica.2

The bibliography is admirably comprehensive, and in itself constitutes something of a boon to students of the poem. Its value is further enhanced by the impressive amount of reference to scholarship in the commentary itself. As a result, the reader is rarely without an indication of where to look for further discussion on any given passage or topic. F. provides three separate indices (by subject, Latin word, and name), which are both accurate and logical, but at the same time selective rather than comprehensive. The indices cover only the commentary and not the introductory essay -- a regrettable limitation, given that there is much important information in the essay.

A ten-page discussion of the manuscript tradition concludes the introductory section. This offers some important correctives to the work of Ehlers, including a reappraisal of the importance of manuscript "L". But here F. confines himself to general remarks, deferring to the fuller discussion in the aforementioned commentary on Book 7 by Perutelli, upon which his own essay is based. As F. defers to Perutelli, so I shall defer to Perutelli's reviewers.

F.'s text deviates significantly from Ehlers' 1980 Teubner edition twice, in both cases reverting to the texts of Ehler's immediate predecessors, Mozley (Harvard 1934) and Courtney (Leipzig 1970). The first change is the restoration at 538 of the older reading simulacra rapinis in place of Heinsius' emendation simulamina Panis, which Ehlers had adopted. F., I think, makes a good case for rejecting Ehlers' decision and reverting to Courtney and his predecessors. The second change is the return to the cruces in 561 crudelis, with Courtney, instead of Delz's emendation credulus; at accepted by Ehlers. Again, F. convincingly defends his choice. F. has made some minor changes in orthography (433 querelis; 467 iampridem for iam pridem; 507 Drangiaque with Courtney for Drangeaque), but these are hardly earth-shaking. F. also makes some minor alterations in punctuation (e.g. 438, 443, 452, 461, 488, 513, 532, 539 with n., 541, 548, etc.). Since Ehlers' punctuation is at times suspect, these are welcome changes, even if, in many cases, F. is simply reverting to the punctuation of Courtney or Mozley.3

A good commentary is above all a body of focused and precise analysis, and that is exactly what F. provides. An impressive philological rigor is in evidence on every page. F.'s lists of parallels and precedents for individual phrases are almost invariably thorough and accurate.4 F. has made judicious (and fully acknowledged) use of Langen's pioneering annotated edition, which remains an important staple for all Valerius scholars.5 But while this commentary owes much to Langen's seminal work, it is a rare note indeed in which F. has not advanced significantly beyond his predecessor. A typical case is the note to 491 commissa, which builds very usefully upon Langen's annotation at 3.594. One of the most admirable qualities of F.'s commentary is his persistent refusal to duck difficult issues. The note on 512-3, for example, tackles the perhaps insoluble question of the identities of the respective parties in the phrase victores ... contra ... victis. F. does well to present the issues squarely without cutting corners or rushing to judgment, wisely leaving readers to draw their own conclusions (likewise on, e.g., 688-9).

In general terms, what distinguishes F.'s approach is his coherent and rather compelling vision of the chosen passage. In thematic terms, the commentary is largely concerned with the underlying psychology of the episode, and this yields a number of impressive insights, invariably supported by sound philological analysis. Particularly rich is the series of comments on pp. 228-31 (discussing 675-80), where the influence of Ovid's Scylla on the figure of Medea is well treated. F. is a keen and sensitive student of Valerius' nuanced techniques of characterization, which are perhaps more in evidence in Book 6 than elsewhere in the poem. A case in point is the impressive analysis on 605-6, where F. discusses the thematically and stylistically intertwined depictions of Medea and Perses as tragic figures. In more general terms, the shrewd but insidious strategy by which Juno (disguised as Chalciope) incites Medea's passion through appeals to familial piety is nicely brought out throughout the commentary (e.g. 681-9n.), and even more so in the discussion on p. 16. F.'s coherent hermeneutic vision clearly has much to offer. Like the section of the Argonautica that it focuses on, F.'s commentary is unified, coherent, and convincing. Moreover, F. frequently touches issues of poetics, including the poem's impressive self-consciousness. In such cases, F. often builds on the fine analysis of Feeney,6 both in the introductory essay and the commentary proper.

On the level of poetics, F. occasionally falls short in his assessment of Valerius' use of allusion, which, as Barchiesi has recently demonstrated, is exceedingly sophisticated.7 A case in point is the treatment of the lament of Jupiter over the impending death of his son Colaxes, in which the supreme god briefly considers working against the decrees of fate in order to save his doomed child (6.621-30). As many have noted, this passage is a reworking of the lament of Homer's Zeus over Sarpedon (Il. 16.459). But the intertextual operation that Valerius carries out here is far from simple, and can only be fully grasped when considered in conjunction with Neptune's lament for his doomed son Amycus at 4.118-32, where the sea-god, again like the Iliadic Zeus, weeps tears of blood. In essence, Valerius has reworked the Iliadic model passage into two separate, but coordinated scenes of divine laments for doomed mortal progeny. Each Argonautica passage reelaborates a different element of Homer's Sarpedon scene, creating a kind of "compound" allusion. Moreover, Jupiter's lament in 6.624-9 underscores Valerius' conscious coordination of the two passages by explicitly alluding to the earlier scene (frater adhuc Amyci maeret nece, 6.626). The second passage, then, through this pointed intratextual gesture to Neptune's lament in Book 4, effectively "completes" it. A tricky point, perhaps, but F.'s failure to point out the close coordination of these two passages on any level whatsoever is a little surprising. Instead, F. focuses on the emotive aspect of Jupiter's utterance, thereby overlooking a very rich and complex allusive gesture on the part of Valerius.

At times F. does not do enough to locate Valerius' poem within the larger poetic tradition. There is, for example, no discussion of the changed role of Phrixus' sons with respect to the Greek Argonautica, surely too important an issue to leave unexplored. Likewise, F. does not always alert the reader to related passages elsewhere in Valerius' poem. In the very fine discussion of Perses, for instance, a reference to earlier treatments of the same figure (especially 5.266-77) would have been useful. The commentary is also likely to leave a false sense of resolution with respect to the sub-plot of Medea's awakening passion. F. would have done well to point out that Medea ultimately resists Juno's efforts to sway her and refuses to succumb to her love for Jason (a point that could have been raised in the introductory essay, for example, or in the note to 680). Indeed, in the following book the goddess openly admits the failure of her attempt to bend Medea to her purpose (7.153-7), which prompts Venus to take over the stalled process of psychological manipulation.

The manuscript is for the most part very well proof-read. There are a few mistaken citations (e.g. the quote on p. 17 should end nescia / futuri rather than simply nescia; the final citation on p. 20 n. 1 should read "516" rather than "51"; for "171 ss." on p. 21 read "171 s."; there is no "cambio del punto di vista a 586" as suggested on p. 24; the quotation from Verg. G. 3.405-6 at 538 n. is missing its verb), but these do not seriously impede comprehension. F.'s scrupulous identification of figures of rhetoric and syntax is occasionally over-zealous: 682 nec ablatam sequitur quaeritve sororem is not, for example, an instance of litotes. A work by "Lewis" is mentioned on p. 18 but not listed in the Bibliography. Minor problems with English can be found on occasion (e.g. p. 27 n. 45: for "action in engineered" read "action is engineered"; 588 n.: for "J have" read "I have"). Finally, F. may have misunderstood Mozley's argument on 512-3. I would not presume to assess F.'s Italian prose, beyond noting that it was consistently lucid and concise, and a pleasure for this Anglo critic to read.

This is a volume that any student or scholar of post-Augustan epic can read with great profit. F. is a commentator who combines a healthy respect for his poet with philological rigor and a great sensitivity to issues of theme and poetics. The result is a commentary that without question ranks among the very best in an increasingly crowded field. In short, F. has made a valuable and distinguished contribution to study of the Roman Argonautica.


1. Korn, M. (1989). Valerius Flaccus Argonautica 3.1-343. Ein Kommentar. Hildesheim.  

2. Fucecchi, M. (1996). "Il restauro dei modelli antichi: tradizione epica e tecnica manieristica in Valerio Flacco" MD 36, 101-165.  

3. Occasionally F.'s punctuation is less satisfactory. Removing the comma in 463, for example, seems rather unhelpful; likewise at 516, where F.'s decision to strip the apostrophized Musa of its enclosing commas is ill-advised, and is moreover inconsistent with F.'s own practice elsewhere (e.g. 606, 676, 719, 730).  

4. In the very rare instances of oversight (at 489 rapidis ... passibus, for example, F. fails to mention the comparandum rapido ... passu at 8.54, along with exact echoes at Sil. 1.65 and Stat. Theb. 3.410) the omission is relatively insignificant.  

5. Langen, P. (ed.) (1896-7). Valerii Flacci Argonauticorum Libri VIII (Berlin).  

6. Feeney, D. C. (1991). The Gods in Epic (Oxford).  

7. Barchiesi, A. (1995). "Figure dell' Intertestualità nell' Epica Romana Lexis 13, 49-67.