Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.12.03

Fritz Fajen, Oppianus Halieutica. Sammlung Wissenschaftlicher Commentare.   Stuttgart and Leipzig:  B.G. Teubner, 1999.  Pp. xvii, 409.  ISBN 3-598-74290-8.  DM 158.  

Reviewed by C.L.H. Barnes, Brooklyn College, City University of New York (
Word count: 2888 words

In the introduction to his new Teubner edition of Oppian's Halieutica, Fritz Fajen (hereafter F.) expresses the simple wish that "the present edition with facing-page translation open the way to new understanding (my translation, p.VII)." There is good reason for making such a statement.

First, Oppian is not an author widely known or read. In part, this may be due to the subject matter of these five books of didactic poetry: marine fauna and fishing. Yet, the recent popularity of James Davidson's Courtesans and Fishcakes and interest in Athenaeus, who has much to say on the bounty of the sea (see the proceedings from the 1997 conference on Athenaeus at Exeter, Athenaeus and his World: reading Greek culture in the Roman empires, forthcoming November 2000), suggest that the appearance of this volume is well-timed. Oppian offers plenty of material to engage Homerists, scholars of epic, philosophers, and cultural, social and economic historians, not to mention anyone interested in the literature of the Antonine period.

More serious grounds for Oppian's relative obscurity arise from conflicting assessments of the overall quality of the poem, which seem to divide on chronological lines. As F. relates in his "Einfuehrung" (p.vii), Giovanni Battista Marino (1569-1625), considered one of Italy's finest poets, ranked Oppian alongside Homer, Pindar, Sophocles, and Aristophanes as one of the nine greatest writers of verse in Greek literature. Oppian is also said to have enjoyed success in his own lifetime. According to a Vita found in some of the manuscripts, the emperor (Septimius) Severus was so pleased by the Halieutica that he rewarded the poet with, among other things, one gold coin for each of the approximately 3500 lines. The poem then went on to enjoy popularity in Late Antiquity, the Byzantine period and after.

Recent judgment of Oppian's work isn't nearly as positive. Alongside the testimony of Marino, F. juxtaposes the opinion of A. Lesky who dismisses the Halieutica for its dull versification, conspicuous abundance of spondees, and its paucity of interesting material (p. vii). A. S. F. Gow has written that readers might find the poem, "hardly worth the aureus for every line with which Marcus Aurelius (sic) is reported in the Life of the author to have rewarded it, or [might] hesitate to say, with St. Jerome, that O. Alieutica miro splendore conscripsit ..."1 A similar sentiment is offered by A.W. Mair in the preface to his 1928 Loeb (reprinted in 1987, which includes the Cynegetika of an Oppian of Apamea and works by the authors Colluthus and Tryphiodorus) where he admitted being tempted to consider his own work, "as being, however useful, σπουδῆς γε μέντοι τῆς ἐμῆς ὀυκ ἄξιον"(p. vii).2

F. does well to point out the discrepancy in opinions regarding the Halieutica, strongly implying that Oppian merits more attention. Whether the arrival of this new critical edition will lead to a re-assessment and renewed popularity remains to be seen. Since the poem has continued to attract scholarly interest over the last thirty years, there is a community that will be most thankful for this work, even at its current price of roughly $72 US and given the added complication that it must be special ordered through the University of Michigan Press.3 The last critical edition of the Halieutica was published by J. G. Schneider in 1813. Until now, anyone in the English-speaking world wishing to consult the text more than likely turned to Mair's Loeb, which relies heavily upon the text of Schneider, but contains virtually no apparatus criticus. Mair's decision to use Schneider's kleinere Ausgabe was particularly lamentable due to its numerous printing errors and because Schneider consulted a rather small number of manuscripts and "was often overbold in his emendations."4 Thus, for all of these reasons, F.'s new edition, the first in over 150 years is most welcome.

F. brings considerable expertise to the task. He wrote his dissertation on the manuscript tradition (published as volume 32 in the series Beiträge zur Klassischen Philologie in 1969) and followed this with, among other things, articles on moods and tenses in Oppian, on the so-called Euteknios prose paraphrase of the Halieutica, and, most recently, with his substantial monograph, Noten zur Handschriftlichen Überlieferung der Halieutica des Oppian (hereafter, "Noten"). The latter tome exhaustively documents the variants and readings F. faced in the manuscripts and provides him (in 429 pages) the opportunity to display the breadth of his learning, which reflects sensitivity to the language of epic (from Homer to Apollonius, Quintus of Smyrna to Nonnus), tragedy, and prose, as well as an awareness of meter, and great concern with Oppian's style. In short, F. has, in over 30 years of his career, laid the groundwork for the volume currently under review.

There is much to recommend this new and unusual Teubner, although it is not without its problems. This dichotomy is reflected by the dust jacket, which features an unidentified mosaic of marine fauna, presumably from Pompeii or Herculaneum. Apparently in an effort not to distract the viewer from the art, the title information is printed in a pale gold which is not particularly visible or easy to read. The sea life catches one's attention, providing an analogy for the text within.

The contents of the volume include the introduction, text, and the first-ever German prose translation. In addition, F. provides 77 pages of catalogues and indices: alphabetical catalogues of the names of the fish used throughout the poem and of the names of the other marine fauna (mammals, crustaceans, cephalopods and other mollusks, coelenterates which include anemones and urchins, and sponges); an alphabetical index of the Linnaean designations for the various species and their Greek equivalents; an alphabetical index of the German names and their Greek equivalents; and indices listing the line numbers for the Greek names of land animals, birds, persons and geographical locations.

Most importantly, the Greek text is remarkably clean and considerably improved. For example, this reviewer found only two very minor errors, ὀπωινῇσιν for ὀπωρινῇσιν at 3.50 and ἐμφεφύασιν for ἐμπεφύασιν at 4.473. F. has restored a significant number of readings through careful comparison and collation of 71 manuscripts and papyri filled with variants and glosses. Thanks to his efforts, we see not only Schneider's emendations, but also the influence which scholars such as Koechly and Brunck had on the edition of Mair. Furthermore, F. has corrected accents and effectively reorganized both the punctuation and the sections of the text.

Because Oppian changes subjects frequently within a given book, often rather abruptly, editors have indicated these sections with capital letters at the beginning of a line. Thus, determining and marking these respective beginnings is very helpful to the reader and F.'s reworking of this is well done (see for example, 3.567; 4.419, 531; 5.21, 410, and 352). On the topic of capitalization, F. is, however, rather inconsistent in his treatment of proper nouns. He capitalizes the names of divinities when they are addressed, as is fitting, but outside of the vocatives we encounter in prayers or entreaties, we find less regularity. Poseidon's name is not capitalized at 1.364, but is in 1.385. The Eileithuiai begin with an upper case letter at 1.477 and 487, but not in 1.589. Other instances, which may or may not be metonymy, involve the names of the winds and, more frequently, but not always, Amphitrite, Aphrodite, Ares, and Hades. Still, one must concede that this is but a minor complaint.

In terms of emendations, F. is, generally speaking, very careful and applies his knowledge well and responsibly. For instance, the change of the reading at 2.91, from ὑπένερθε to ἐφύπερθε, brilliantly takes account of the physiology of the monkfish. At the same time, it exposes F.'s willingness occasionally to reject the manuscript readings, although radical departures are very few. Rarely did I find F.'s editorial decisions unpersuasive.

To provide readers with some idea of the less convincing cases, I include the following. In line 1.466, F. prefers the far rarer ἀπαλύξασα to the better attested ἀπολ̔λ̓ήξασα (see "Noten" pg. 102-103). Not only does the latter have the required meaning, the variation seen in the former is easily accounted for by Byzantine pronunciation. At line 1.771 with the variant δίνῃσιν ἅμα πλήθῃσι, and the three far less common alternatives δίνῃσι παλιμπνοίῃσι, δίνῃσι παλιμπνοίῃς τε and δίνῃσιν ἅμα πνοιῇσι, F. opts for something completely different. He substitutes part of line 5.285 so as to make the two lines identical, μισγομένη δίοισιν ὁμοῦ πυρσοῖσι θάλασσα. In light of the fact that δίοισιν is hardly a secure reading in 5.285 (δεινοῖσιν is much better attested), the additional change to ὁμοῦ πυρσοῖσι appears a bit too daring. The next three examples revolve around the disputed reading of one or two words. For the unanimous reading θήρης ἄπο ́ ἀπο- πειρήσαιτο in 2.214, Koechly proposed ξηρῆς ἔπι πειρήσαιτο which F. retains. This is, however, unnecessary as θήρης has the required range of meaning, even if the verb is prosaic (see F.'s "Noten", p. 195). At 5.342, all mss. read φόβος, with one exception which has πόνος. F., however, deems both terms inappropriate in the context and substitutes πόθος; yet all three possibilities work. Similarly, F. replaces the ἄντην at the end of 5.367 with ἐχθρὸν. His explanation in the "Noten" (pg. 411-412) is quite clever, but goes too far in rejecting the manuscript readings.

Finally, needless emendations occur at 3.585, where the variant νηπιέην should simply modify "hand" in the previous line, at 3.599 where F. himself admits the manuscript reading works (see "Noten", p. 339), and at 4.567-8 where F. has changed the punctuation and a finite verb form to a participle. Whether the alterations in question here actually constitute an improvement is debatable.

As for the rest of this edition, the rather pithy introduction (about six pages) auf Deutsch, begins by discussing the identification of Oppian and what is known about his life. F. then uses the story of the 3500 aurei to segue into a discussion of the importance of didactic poetry at the end of the second century A.D. The numerous surviving manuscripts and papyri, which indicate the Halieutica's adoption as a school text, attest to the work's popularity, but also present the editor with a difficult task. Luckily, there is the prose paraphrase for lines 3.605 and following, which appears in a manuscript dated to circa 500 A.D. F. makes good use of this, and the paraphrase provides a considerably older source against which to check the manuscripts, the earliest of which dates to the end of the twelfth century. However, F. discusses the manuscript tradition in one paragraph and refers the reader to his earlier works. Since this is the first critical edition to appear after such a long period of time, these topics merit more attention and a stemma. There is also the additional and quite serious complication that in his opinion all the manuscripts are contaminated to the point that discovering their relationships beyond immediate families is impossible. Thus, he has arrived at thirteen hyparchetypes and discusses these and the manuscripts without any attempts at interconnection. His conclusions have not been without their critics.

D. Robin produced a complete stemma for 62 of the 72 known mss. in her dissertation at the University of Iowa (later published as The Manuscript Tradition of Oppian's Halieutica, Bolletino dei Classici 3 S. 2, 1981, 28-94). F. relegates any reference to this work to a footnote which condemns Robin's efforts as aergerlich and guilty of producing an unsatisfactory stemma (p.XII n.23). Given his considerable expertise and experience with Oppian, one may not take his opinion lightly. However, a second Iowa dissertation, that of Lynn Leverenz completed in 1991 on the scholia of the Z family of manuscripts, has supported Robin's work, contending that the latter successfully identified six parent manuscripts which were grouped into two families, AL and FMVZ, and that all later differences derived from the interlinear variant readings and glosses. The implications of this dispute for the apparatus criticus are significant.

As F. himself admits, the apparatus is rather full. One consequence of this is that there is plenty of potential for confusing the inexperienced. In producing this edition, F. relies on all thirteen hyparchetypes (drawn from forty-four texts) and an additional fifteen individual mss. In addition to the numerous variae lectiones and glosses, whose locations in their respective mss. F. occasionally indicates, he also includes the emendations of scholars from the sixteenth century to the present. If nothing else, F.'s obvious desire to be thorough is commendable. The apparatus also frequently provides references to the relevant scholarship in which F. explains his choices. While it is a great help to have these secondary works, some may object to the clutter which this system produces and may further complain that these publications are only to be found in very good research libraries. What is more, one cannot help wishing that F. had been more judicious and selective in assembling the apparatus.

There are a number of places (1.485; 2.234, 519; 3.235, 533; 4.46, 84, 148, 242, 355, 599; 5.94, 254) where nothing appears to explain the discrepancies between the text of Mair and that of F. While many of these are doubtless Schneider's errors, some comment, particularly about 4.599 and the two instances in Book 5, would be nice. One other less than felicitous practice is F.'s use of the ap. crit. to offer corrigenda for his earlier work. This latter tendency is particularly egregious both for the odd Latin that he uses and his system of reference. For example, for line 3.534 where the issue concerns whether the original reading involved a moveable nu or not, F includes this note: "vide "Noten", 147 (qua me afferre fugit hunc locum versu 16 ante "4.82"; proinde dele "534" versu 15!)." After some reflection, the reader may or may not realize that the author intends one to consult his Noten zur Hanschriftlichen Überlieferung, page 147 where one should insert 3.534 before 4.82 in line 16 and delete 3.534 from the list of passages in line 15. Versus, a very strange usage, refers to the lines on the page of Fajen's "Noten". F. could have printed these corrections elsewhere and left a more accessible ap. crit.

Several other practices make this apparatus rather daunting. F. is usually consistent in listing hyparchetypes and individual manuscripts in that order respectively. One exception to this is when a variant reading appears not in an hyparchetype, but in only one of its manuscripts. For example, one finds the following for line 1.22: δὲ v.l. in *G, D, Q, I, M, N, L, M, m1, P1, U, p32: TE v.l. in *G, B, o1, E, y, K, L. N, F, R2 where y belongs to the hyparchetype η . This example illustrates the need for a stemma or stemmas to help the readers with the complexity of the manuscript tradition. One should also be careful to note that only the hyparchetype gamma contains these readings as variae lectiones. The designations v.l. and gl. for glosses are inserted in such a way as to suggest to the unwary that all subsequent hyparchetypes and/ or manuscripts are one or the other. Furthermore, since both readings are apparently variants, we are left to wonder how gamma actually reads. Surely, F. could have been more clear in the presentation of the material, even in the face of the contamination for which he argues. Due to his apparent decision not to privilege one manuscript over another, we may wonder sometimes just how useful his thoroughness is, particularly in light of the existence of his "Noten" where the variants are discussed in detail.

With regard to the translation, as a non-native speaker of German, I limit myself primarily to assessing its accessibility and usefulness for other non-natives. The inclusion of line numbers every three to six lines is most helpful for referring between the Greek and German. Be advised, however, that while some passages are quite literal and well done, all too often F. misses a poetic turn of phrase or alters a construction such that only the most adept will be able to follow along easily. Much like Oppian, his choice of vocabulary can also be challenging. One must have a large German dictionary at hand given the subject matter. One highlight occurs at 1.398 where F. translates καστοπίδες as Seehunden, "seals" rather than as "beavers." In the context of a passage concerning sea-monsters (κήτεα) and given that seals are the next animal to be discussed, I find this solution quite convincing.

In the end, only the apparatus criticus distracts from what is otherwise a significant contribution to the field. The catalogues of marine fauna are particularly helpful. For each entry, F. furnishes the variations in the name, the relevant line numbers in the Halieutica, citations in other authors and papyri, references to Mair and to entries in Thompson's Glossary of Greek Fishes and Stroemberg's Studien zu Etymologie und Bildung der griechischen Fischnamen (Goeteborg, 1943), and, finally, to no less than five modern scientific reference works like Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Unfortunately, not all species are identifiable, but for those that are such citations allow the reader the opportunity to see photographs of the animals under discussion and to learn more about them, a truly excellent idea and one which makes this volume useful to those with interests beyond Oppian.


1.   "On the Halieutica of Oppian", CQ 18 (1968), 60. F., based on the work of Keydell in the RE, considers the name Severus a mistake and, like Gow, agrees that the emperor was Marcus Aurelius. A second interpretation of the story is offered by P. Toohey, Epic Lessons, (London and New York, 1996), 199-200, who has written that Caracalla gave the money to Oppian of Apamea, whom many consider the author of the Cynegetika and distinct from the Oppian who wrote the Halieutica. See also the recent article by E. Rebuffat, "Il proemio al terzo libro degli Halieutica e la biografia di Oppiano", Studi classici e orientali (Pisa), vol. 46.2 (1997-1998), 559-584 (non vidi).
2.   While Mair's translation is now rather dated, his work is very useful for its extensive introduction and notes. The latter fill the better part of both the Greek and facing pages not infrequently and supplement the introduction in providing references and remarks from an impressively wide variety of ancient authors on the various species of marine fauna mentioned, modern scientific information about the same, and even a few Gaelic proverbs (translated) and modern parallels to the text when relevant. It is worth pointing out that this was also done without the aid of the Glossary of Greek Fishes by Mair's fellow Scot D. A Thompson, which was published in 1947.
3.   Examples of recent scholarship may be found in F.'s Abkürzungsverzeichnis, pp. XIV-XVI. A useful, but incomplete bibliography of studies on Oppian may also be found at
4.   A.W. James, Studies in the Language of Oppian of Cilicia, (Amsterdam, 1970), 5. Schneider actually produced two editions, a larger and smaller, in 1776 and 1813 respectively. For a detailed assessment, see F. Fajen, Überlieferungsgeschichtliche Untersuchen zu den Halieutica des Oppian, (Meisenheim am Glan, 1969), 27-29. Since 1813, several scholars, notably Vari and Kumaniecki, have worked to produce a new critical edition, but none has succeeded in completing one.

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