Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.07.23

D.R. Shackleton Bailey (trans.), Cicero, Letters to Atticus. 4 volumes. Loeb Classical Library.   Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1999.  Pp. 343; 345; 345; 450, 3 maps.  ISBN 0-674-99571-6; 0-674-99572-4; 0-674-99573-2; 0-674-99540-6.  $19.95 per volume.  

Reviewed by Rex Stem, Louisiana State University (
Word count: 2202 words

In 1965, D. R. Shackleton Bailey published the first two volumes of what has since been universally hailed as the definitive edition of Cicero's Letters to Atticus. Stretching to seven volumes by the time of its completion in 1970, handsome in the brick red cloth of the Cambridge University Press, this deluxe edition included an impressively rigorous critical text, a stylish and elegant facing English translation, and a complete, if often laconic, commentary rich in matters of philology, chronology, history, personality, and otherwise. But despite its now classic status, this edition has long been out of print. The translation fared slightly better, for it was published again separately in one thick volume by Penguin in 1978, accompanied by a new, less scholarly, introduction. By 1986, however, the complete collection was out of print and a volume of Selected Letters, drawn from the whole of Cicero's epistolary corpus, had taken its place.

In 1988 Shackleton Bailey revised and reprinted the text of his Cambridge edition as a two volume Teubner text. With a price tag of over $200, however, the Teubners remain out of reach for all but the seriously committed. It is thus highly welcome that a further revised text, reunited with its equally revised facing translation, has now appeared under the aegis of the Loeb Classical Library at a price of $80 for all four volumes. The patent virtues of this editor's text and translation make these volumes tempting, if not essential, for every student of the world of the Late Roman Republic. Indeed, the remarkably broad range of topics treated in this correspondence, and the innumerable details about Roman life that they include, will likely cause these volumes to be of some interest for every student of the ancient world.

Largely because of the naked honesty and private nature of these letters to Atticus, we know more about the personal and intellectual life of Cicero than we know about any figure from the ancient world before Augustine. The very fact that Cicero never intended these letters for publication makes them all the more revealing for the modern reader, as well as correspondingly more difficult for their editor. Many turns of phrase are colloquial, many jokes are private and unexplained, and many indirect allusions are designed such that only Atticus was to have seen their true intent. But through all these and many other potential points of confusion across the 24 years and 426 letters of the collection, Shackleton Bailey remains a confident guide, and his complete mastery of the whole corpus expertly informs his elucidation of the numerous difficulties that these letters present. He was thus the obvious editor to choose when it was decided to replace the older Loeb edition of the Letters to Atticus by E. O. Winstedt, which first appeared in three volumes from 1912-1918. Though admirably straightforward and highly readable, Winstedt's edition was clearly dated. The text was based on C. Müller's Teubner text of 1898, and what few notes were offered were largely informed by the first edition of R. Y. Tyrrell's commentary, which first began to appear in 1890. Tyrrell's achievement in producing the first complete commentary in English on Cicero's entire epistolary corpus is noteworthy, but even though revised by L. C. Purser from 1904-1933, it remains, as Shackleton Bailey is fond of saying, "a mine of honest misinformation."

Shackleton Bailey's new Loeb edition incorporates the considerable progress, textual and historical, made by his own editions and commentary (and even that made since, cf. p. 3 and n. 4 of the Introduction). He also offers a more complete introduction to the collection (which appears only in Volume I) and a complete index for the whole of ad Atticum (Winstedt's edition included separate indexes for each volume) at the end of Volume IV. Also provided there are a concordance (more on this shortly), a brief glossary, a short appendix on Roman dates, money, and names, and three small but helpful maps. In the Introduction, a slightly revised version of that which first appeared in the 1978 Penguin translation, Shackleton Bailey crisply surveys in 25 pages the nature of Cicero's correspondence to Atticus and its transmission, the history of the period and Cicero's involvement in it, the members of Cicero's family, and the personality of Atticus and his friendship with Cicero. He ends with a very introductory bibliographical note, preceded by brief statements about the text and translation of this Loeb edition. The text, though with a greatly abbreviated apparatus, "is almost the same as in the Teubner, differences (mostly promotions of conjectures from its apparatus) being indicated by an asterisk in [the] critical notes" (23). The facing translation is "basically" that which appeared in the Cambridge edition, but it "has now been revised throughout" (21). The interpretative footnotes to the translation, providing a helpful supplement when Cicero is at his most allusive, are "largely taken" from those in the Penguin edition (21).

Perhaps the most significant facet of this new Loeb edition is that Shackleton Bailey retains the chronological arrangement he developed in his Cambridge edition, and not the traditional arrangement in 16 books (i.e., as in the manuscripts) to which he reverted in his Teubner edition. The letters are thus printed as numbers 1-426, though the conventional numbering is included in parentheses at the beginning of each letter and at the top of each set of pages. The significance of this is that users of the Loeb, in order to move from a traditional reference (e.g., Att. XV.14.3) to Shackleton Bailey's translation of it (402.3), will have to use the concordance at the end of Volume IV. The traditional ordering is, of course, in itself largely chronological, and thus one can usually just flip through and get a sense of where one is in both the traditional and chronological arrangement. But for those letters for which the traditional numbering is not synchronized with chronology (for the reasons why the manuscripts do not consistently maintain chronological order, see Shackleton Bailey's introduction to his Cambridge edition, I.59-76), some frustration might ensue if one does not have to hand the concordance in Volume IV. The obvious negative side to this arrangement, therefore, is that one has no concordance at all unless one buys volume IV (one would have no index, either). This suggests that in the future one should more frequently see references that include both numbering schemes, e.g. Att. 15.14 (402 SB).3. The success of Shackleton Bailey's Cambridge edition has already made such references not unfamiliar, but it seems likely that the names Cicero, Atticus, and Shackleton Bailey will become even more associated than they already are.

As already noted above, the text printed here is largely that of the Teubner edition, with a few differences marked by asterisks in the critical notes. I counted 28 such asterisks across the four volumes. They are minor changes, places where Shackleton Bailey apparently felt he could be less conservative than in his Teubner text, or where he simply changed his mind. He is certainly not shy about printing his own conjectures, and while one will not likely prefer all of them, what he prints always deserves serious consideration. The apparatus criticus in this Loeb edition offers the bare minimum, aiming only, as Shackleton Bailey says in his Introduction (22), to indicate when the reading printed has little or no manuscript support. The Loeb should thus by no means be taken as a replacement for the Teubner, but rather as an opportunity for Shackleton Bailey to offer some second thoughts with a slightly freer hand.

The real value of this edition is the translation, especially since it serves as Shackleton Bailey's interpretation of the text. His understanding of the sense of Cicero's sometimes loose transitions from one idea to another, the colloquial and sometimes abrupt syntax of the Latin, and the wide range of tone and mood found in these letters, is often best understood from his translation, which in the Cambridge edition was intended to minimize the need for further explication in his commentary. The economy of this approach is no small feat, and one which makes this set of Loebs one in which you need not be all that embarrassed about reading the right side of the page. This is a translation which aims more for the spirit than the letter, and in that aim it is usually remarkably successful. The accuracy with which Shackleton Bailey can capture a nuanced rendering of a closely interconnected set of clauses is often dazzling, enhanced even further by the frequent elegance of his turns of phrase. Moreover, a consistent persona develops in Shackleton Bailey's translation of these letters, an English persona fully intended to stand as the modern equivalent of the Roman whose charm resides on the left half of every set of pages. A fine example of this rendering of Cicero's persona, as well as the tone and pace of his narration, can be found in the description of the jury at the trial of Clodius in 61. The Latin, here slightly adapted from its context, reads (16 [1.16].3):

ut primum iudices consederunt, valde diffidere boni coeperunt. non enim umquam turpior in ludo talario consessus fuit: maculosi senatores, nudi equites, tribuni non tam aerati quam, ut appellantur, aerarii. pauci tamen boni inerant, quos reiectione fugare ille non potuerat, qui maesti inter sui dissimilis et verentes sedebant et contagione turpitudinis vehementer permovebantur.

Shackleton Bailey translates it thus: "As soon as the jury took their seats, honest men began to fear the worst. A more raffish assemblage never sat down in a low-grade music hall. Flyblown Senators, beggar Knights, and Paymaster Tribunes who might better have been called 'Paytakers'. Even so there were a few honest men whom the accused had not been able to drive off at the challenge. There they sat, gloomy and shamefaced in this incongruous company, sadly uncomfortable to feel themselves exposed to the miasma of disreputability."

Despite its overall excellence, a couple of caveats about the translation are in order. The first, which should be obvious from the passage quoted above, is that as a crib for the Latin the translation is not all that helpful. It is not very literal and it often does not follow the order of Cicero's clauses in his long periodic sentences. Secondly, while Shackleton Bailey does impressively translate the wit and wisdom of his author, there are points where his translation employs a tone or a phrase that seems too old-fashioned for a reading public at the turn of this century. Thus there are moments when Shackleton Bailey's Cicero sounds a little too much like a Victorian in disguise. At 125 (7.2).7, for example, the Latin reads: itaque Caesar iis litteris quibus mihi gratulatur et omnia pollicetur quo modo exsultat Catonis in me ingratissimi iniuria! The more prosaic Winstedt translated: "Accordingly in his letter of congratulation and lavish assurances, how Caesar exults over the wrong Cato did me by his deep ingratitude!" Shackleton Bailey, however, renders it thus: "Accordingly Caesar, in a letter of congratulation in which he promises me full support, is fairly cock-a-hoop at Cato's 'most ungrateful' ill-usage." In the very first letter of the collection, to offer another example (1 [1.5].5), Quod scribis, etiam si cuius animus in te esset offensior, a me recolligi oportere, teneo quid dicas neque id neglexi; sed est miro quodam modo adfectus becomes "You say that even if a certain person were out of humour with you I ought to bring him round. I understand your meaning and have not been remiss, but he is marvelously hipped." Such examples are admittedly quibbles, but let the reader be warned.

One last point of criticism, but one directed against Harvard University Press rather than against Shackleton Bailey, is that the breaks between volumes come at inconvenient spots. Winstedt's three volumes broke down by book divisions, but given the decision to maintain Shackleton Bailey's chronological numbering scheme, those (often quite logical) division points are obscured. One could still hope that meaningful chronological breaks would be respected, but that is not the case. Volume I ends with letter 89, when between letters 93 and 94 is a chronological gap from November of 54 to May of 51. The split between Volumes II and III occurs in the middle of the tremendous sequence of letters from the spring of 49 (and not even at a book division: the very last letter of Book 8 begins Volume III), and Volumes III and IV split up the equally thorough series of the spring and summer of 45. If one divides the correspondence into four equal parts, that is simply where the breaks fall, I suppose, but why wasn't the collection configured into a more coherent three volumes along the lines of Winstedt's edition? One hopes the rationale was not to cause the buyer to spend $80 dollars on four volumes instead of $60 on three.

In any case, the editors of the Loeb series are still to be commended for making this editor's rendition of Cicero's Letters to Atticus so conveniently accessible. The collections of Cicero's correspondence are of undeniable importance in illuminating the Roman world, and Shackleton Bailey's editions of them well deserve their definitive status.

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