Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.02.26

R.H. Jordan (ed.), Virgil: Aeneid II.   London:  Bristol Classical Press, 1999.  Pp. xvi, 105.  ISBN 1-85399-542-8.  Sterling 8.95.  

Reviewed by Braden Mechley, Rutgers University (
Word count: 1616 words

This new Aeneid II, offered as a "completely new edition" which can "replace the long-serving version of Gould and Whiteley,"1 addresses most of the grammatical/syntactical difficulties of the text and provides the basic background and vocabulary readers new to Virgil will need to negotiate it successfully. (The foreword commends the book "to both GCSE and A level students"; American teachers might consider it for the close of an intermediate Latin course or part of an advanced one.) It is clearly written and laid out, and I found very few outright errors.2 It does not, however, offer a significant advance over its predecessor, and in some respects that earlier edition remains preferable.3

The notes on the text4 make it plain that Jordan means to follow Gould and Whiteley by keeping the beginning reader in mind at all times. Attractive illustrations, some with Latin captions, have been retained throughout. Matters of scansion, addressed in the previous edition's introduction, here are consigned to two appendices. As before, the editor provides a vocabulary, though one now plagued by an application of macrons that might charitably be described as "partial." In his notes, Jordan, like his predecessors, quite rightly keeps a rein on extensive interpretative comment (as distinguished from explanation of names, terms, etc.), preferring to attend to issues of grammar and style so that Virgilian tyros may march more easily through some treacherous terrain. He does find room to show his sensitivity to the sound and flow of the poet's language, though; it is good to see much made of Virgil's word order, alliteration and metrical effects, and students who use this book should come away with a sense of the range of the poet's technique. Jordan also helps the reader keep larger contextual matters in view; in the Sinon scene, for instance, he highlights Virgil's manifold irony with the adroitness of a seasoned teacher. This is a particularly useful stretch of commentary.

Indeed, Jordan's eye for points at which students will need his help in translating is a good one; he also works hard and effectively at explaining idioms rather than simply translating them. But there are moments when inexperienced students seem to have been forgotten. Surely they would benefit from having certain terms consistently defined at their first uses or, better still, finding a list of such terms with definitions in the back of the book for easy reference. As things stand, one meets half a dozen terms or more in these notes, but no consistent policy as to their explanation (something modern students will certainly require). "Zeugma," for instance, is semi-explained at best (259 and 654, the latter apparently a "mild zeugma"), while at 28 we are simply instructed to "note the chiasmus." "Synecdoche" gets a neat definition its first time out (23), but at 25 Mycenas is explained thus -- "= 'Greece', the particular for the general" -- without recourse to the term just introduced. "Hendiadys" appears at least three times in these notes (at 265, 534 and 722), but I can find no definition of it. And at least once an opportunity for proper naming is missed altogether (the anaphora at 361f., unnamed as such but called "a rhetorical device to make the question more forceful").

Jordan also seems over-fond of the phrase "so-called," a brush with which he tars such (I thought) uncontroversial phrases as "objective genitive" (at 31), "ethic dative" (146 and 601f.), "Greek accusative" (122 and 569) and "inverted cum" (256, 567 and 589f.). First, unexplained references to rarefied debates can only bewilder neophytes, who will surely wonder why their commentator uses phrases whose authenticity he does not fully support. Moreover, here too he applies a principle inconsistently. Genitives both "objective" and "subjective" pass without comment elsewhere (at 162 and 526, respectively), as do another "Greek accusative" (747) and, heaven forfend, a "Greek genitive" (392), and late in the game he reaches quickly enough for "ablative of place" (at 761), though without specifying "where" or "from which." Strangest of all, Jordan identifies an unusual "genitive of respect" (638) without further comment ("so-called" or otherwise) -- surely no student at this commentary's level would know this term, which therefore occasions an explanation not forthcoming here.5

Three other trends discernible here worry me, because they all reveal common assumptions understandable as shortcuts, but needlessly misleading. Each of the three appears a dozen or more times. First, consider this note on caelo (8): "as often in poetry a preposition is omitted, 'from the sky'." One gets similar (mis)direction at lines 12, 26, 29f., 88, 115 and on and on -- only to get better information as late as the note at 742 (tumulum, sedem): "in poetry, the destination of movement is sometimes expressed by the acc. without a preposition." Precisely: in other words, ancient poets very frequently use the cases for motion ("whence" or "whither," or even to show "place where") without recourse to prepositions. They do not "omit" anything; rather they, as so often, use their language in a deliberately archaizing manner, since prepositions are in origin adverbs available to help clarify existing case usages; the practice is more "natural," perhaps, in Homer, but countless ancient poets after him felt free to retain it as a routine part of poetic expression. A second trend involves Jordan's explanation of the frequent usage of -um rather than the more familiar -orum (second declension, genitive plural). This is not a poetic shortening of the familiar ending but a return to the original -um -- metrically convenient, to be sure, but mischaracterized by Jordan's repeated locution "-um for -orum," which reverses the chronology. As he seems happy to hail igni (649) as the "old abl. sg. of ignis," he might easily have maintained similar accuracy throughout in his handling of -um = -orum.6 And third, Jordan's many references to the perfect tense ending -ere as a "shortened form of" -erunt are also inapt (students like to call the perfect -ere a "syncopated" form, which shows the same misconception, I think). It is of course a shorter form, and its vowel ending makes it metrically convenient (cf. e.g. the first two words of Aeneid II, conticuere omnes), but it cannot truly be called a "shortened" form of -erunt. Better to call them equivalent, note the frequency of -ere in verse, and leave it at that.7

The book's introductory pages are particularly disappointing, for here one might reasonably expect to see more evidence of the nuanced work of Virgilian scholars. No such luck: the Aeneid remains clear-cut as half Odyssey, half Iliad (viii), and no intimation can be detected here that there might be anything in this poem but Virgil's zealous devotion to The Glory That Is Rome. In Virgil's hands, we learn, Aeneas becomes "a true Roman of whom those of Virgil's day could justly feel proud" (xv); not for the epic master Horace's complaints about "the moral bankruptcy of contemporary Roman society" (xiv). No one need subscribe body and soul to "subversive" readings of the Aeneid (some of them deeply suspect, after all), but surely such unalloyed optimism about the Aeneid's message ought at the very least not be allowed to stand unqualified by reference to alternate views. (Precious little of those, unsurprisingly, in the bibliography [xvi], apart from R. O. A. M. Lyne8 -- could room not at least have been found for Chapter Two of Michael Putnam's The Poetry of the Aeneid (Ithaca 1965/1988), whose layered, highly readable discussion focuses on Aeneid II?) More troubling still is a section entitled "Virgil and His Predecessors" (xii-xiii), in which Virgil's links to his Homeric legacy are satisfactorily sketched -- only to be seriously compromised by a calamitous final paragraph that I must reprint in full (xiii):

"Links between the Aeneid and the Homeric poems abound and are certain, but it is much more difficult to gauge whether Virgil drew on ideas from other Greek authors. For example, does Dido in Book IV of the Aeneid owe anything to Medea in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius? There is little doubt, however, that Virgil's account of the Trojan wanderings after they left their ruined city follows very closely the route described in a work by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. It is impossible to tell whether Virgil owed anything to the Roman writers before him, as only scanty fragments remain of the hexameter Annales of Ennius and of Naevius' Bellum Ponticum, written in Saturnian metre."
Aside from the erroneous titling of Naevius' Bellum Poenicum (a.k.a. Punicum) and a surprisingly casual reference to Dionysius (whose work cannot be familiar to Jordan's target audience), what astonishes here is the dismissal tout court not only of the admittedly slippery fragmentary poets but also of Apollonius, whose epic survives in full to demonstrate unquestionably its considerable importance to Virgil.9 As for the earliest Latin epicists, that the Aeneid owes something to Ennius in particular is beyond question, not least since Virgil constantly borrows or reworks phrases and entire lines from the Annales -- a fact secured by the presence of many Ennian references and quotations in Servius and Macrobius.10

Books of this type can be very important -- how many students might encounter this text early in their studies of Latin poetry? -- which helps explain my disappointment in this unassuming volume. A real falling off can be discerned from Gould and Whiteley to Jordan, particularly in the pervasive imprecision of expression and inconsistency of detail. There are enough good things here to suggest the book that might have been, but the book we have needs re-editing to help it better achieve its goals, for otherwise this press will be replacing an aging but still quite useful volume with a pale imitation of its predecessor.


1.   The language quoted comes from the back of the new text; by "Gould and Whiteley" throughout this review I refer to H. E. Gould and J. L. Whiteley, Vergil: Aeneid Book Two (London 1943).
2.   Two minor complaints, the first merely typographical: the poem's title should always be italicized (see the notes at 66 and 152, e.g.), and the phrase incluta fama / gloria (82-83) is misleadingly glossed "fama is abl. sg., the other two nouns are nom. sg., 'renown famous by report'" -- incluta being, of course, an adjective.
3.   Naturally both R. D. Williams, Virgil: Aeneid I-VI (London 1972) and R. G. Austin, Aeneidos liber secundus (Oxford 1963) -- the latter surprisingly not to be found in this new book's bibliography -- are indispensable supplements to a commentary of this type.
4.   Essentially F. A. Hirtzel's 1900 OCT, though Jordan acknowledges that he has consulted Williams; at the five points (II.37, 114, 433, 572 and 616) where Hirtzel and Williams part company, Jordan follows Williams everywhere except at 572, where he prefers poenas Danaum over Danaum poenam.
5.   Gould and Whiteley are more generous: "quibus integer aevi sanguis, 'to whom the blood is untouched by time', i.e., 'whose blood the years have not thinned'. The genitive aevi, expressing the instrument, is unusual. Sidgwick quotes a parallel from Ovid, mens interrita leti, 'a spirit undaunted by death'"; cf. also Williams on Aeneid I.14.
6.   Contrast Gould and Whiteley at 14, "-um, the original gen. pl. ending of the 2nd declension, is often found in Latin poetry."
7.   Precisely what Gould and Whiteley do in their notes at 1, 108 and 120 ("This form, too, will not be noticed hereafter").
8.   Further Voices in Vergil's Aeneid (Oxford 1987).
9.   Not so many decades before the Aeneid appeared, Varro of Atax had adapted Apollonius' poem in his Argonautae, a work we know retained a readership for some time thereafter (cf. Ovid, Amores I.15.21-22, and then the elder Seneca, Controversiae VII.1.27, dealing with the nexus of Varro, Virgil and Ovid). But we do not even need that intervening step to encourage our interest in Apollonius as a model for Virgil -- just as it seems totally undeniable that Aeneid IV owes at least something to Argonautica III. Valerius Flaccus, of course, would close the first century A.D. with his own Latin Argonautica, in which a complex interrelationship of Virgilian and Apollonian material can be discerned.
10.   For example, Macrobius offers a line from Annales VI (vertitur interea caelum cum ingentibus signis) as the source for the opening of Aeneid II.250 (vertitur interea caelum et ruit Oceano nox) and another from Annales VIII (nunc hostes vino domiti somnoque sepulti) as the model for Aeneid II.265 (invadunt urbem somno vinoque sepultam) -- two of many examples one could choose.

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