Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.07.13

Anthony R. Birley, Onomasticon to the Younger Pliny. Letters and Panegyric.   Munich/Leipzig:  K. G. Saur, 2000.  Pp. xi, 111.  ISBN 3-598-73001-2.  DM 128.00.  



Reviewed by Mika Kajava, Department of Classical Philology, University of Helsinki (Mika.Kajava@helsinki.fi)
Word count: 1364 words

As B. says in his Preface, this onomasticon was commissioned "in the hope that it might supply for the younger Pliny something comparable to those for Cicero by D.R. Shackleton Bailey" (viii). This is not the place to make comparisons between those repertories; I note only that the idea of producing full onomastic indices to prosopographically rich authors is highly welcome. The work of a writer like the Younger Pliny is so imbued with names, persons and identities that a normal reader would inevitably be lost without a competent guide. B.'s Onomasticon provides a necessary substitute for the list of persons included in A.N. Sherwin-White's commentary to the Letters of Pliny (1966); in fact, not only S-W's 'General List of contemporary persons' but also his commentary as a whole needs thorough revision. B. has also made use of B. Radice's Loeb edition (1969) which contains a good 'Biographical Index'. The problem is that today so much more is known about persons and families in Pliny that even a good thirty-year-old onomasticon is getting antiquated.

The Onomasticon itself is preceded by four introductory chapters on (1) Pliny's family, (2) career, (3) correspondents, and (4) his practice in naming Romans. In the first chapter B. recapitulates what we know about Pliny's family. The question of the number of Pliny's marriages is wisely left open, though, as B. admits, there is evidence which may suggest that Pliny was married twice altogether (2 f.). As for Ch. 2, one may note the detailed discussion of the date of Pliny's praetorship, traditionally put in A.D. 93; following R.H. Harte, JRS 25, 1935, 51 ff., B. dates with good grounds this office to A.D. 89/90 (pp. 10 ff.). Also, contrary to the views of Sherwin-White and Syme, B. plausibly argues that Pliny became prefect of the aerarium militare only after Domitian's 'terror' phase (14 ff.). Ch. 4, especially pertinent to the scope of the book, catalogues the various onomastic styles used by Pliny (the most popular one being the combination of gentile name and cognomen) and discusses the reasons for their choice (archaism, onomastic traditions, omission of very widespread elements, official forms, 'aristocratic' forms). As a rule, perspicuity and practicality counted most. As an interesting parallel to the naming practice in Pliny, B. also gives a brief account of the use of personal names in the Vindolanda tablets from northern England and in Fronto's Letters (32 ff.).

B. modestly claims to have "no particular expertise as a Plinian specialist or as a classical philologist" (viii). However, he is known as an outstanding ancient historian and prosopographer a reputation clearly mirrored in the organization of the individual entries: B.'s work is not a simple list of names but a rich collection of entries with all the necessary information on the persons' identity and origin (known or assumed), and the (relevant) family connections. The entries are not loaded with unnecessary prosopographical details and references, however, but provide a balanced selection of evidence which is likely to match the needs of most readers. In prosopographical and other discussions B. often--and justly--takes a different view from Sherwin-White, much more rarely from Ronald Syme (to whose work he is much indebted), or others. Whatever the primary or secondary sources, B. always treats them with sound critique and witty argument.

As may be expected from a full onomasticon, not only persons are listed but also the names of deities; a separate index is devoted to the geographical names. As for the 'Miscellaneous' items at the end of the book, some of them might have been included in the preceding indices. The vast majority of the almost 500 entries included in the first index (Persons and Deities) are names of persons (historical or living, including a number of emperors, poets, variously famous persons, etc.). Those persons who are not named but clearly identifiable have also been given entries, with their names in brackets, e.g. Pliny's mother (Plinia) and his natural father (L. Caecilius Secundus). The geographical index shows 165 entries (with many subentries), many of them referring to places relevant to Pliny's career (Bithynia/Pontus, Syria), or to his origins and the places where he had landed property (Northern Italy, Umbria), though many other regions are also represented.

There is very little to be criticized in this book. The following observations, and suggestions, mostly concern only minor details.

Arria, the Younger: is always referred to by cognomen only; her full name would have been (Caecinia A.f.) Arria. --Arrionilla: instead of taking this name as a unique Latin cognomen (cf. Kajanto, The Latin Cognomina 141, referring to the Plinian passage, "uncertain whether corrupt for Arrianilla or independent"), one could consider the possibility that it stands for Gr. Arionilla (which would be related to Ario as Gorgonilla to Gorgo, Tryphonilla to Trypho, etc.). Ar- could conceivably have become Arr- in the mss. tradition. Note also that this woman's husband had a Greek name (Timo). --Caepio Hispo: It has been thought that Caepia Procula was related to Caepio Hispo. This is because Caepia is often considered to be the feminine form of the gentile name Caepio. In reality, however, it seems that the feminine form of Caepio was Caepionia.(cf. Arctos 22, 1988, 82 f.). --Clarius (?) indeed sounds somewhat suspect. How about C. Larius/Larcius/Lartius, etc.? (for the use of this style by Pliny, see Ch. 4, p. 22 f.). --Fannia, (Clodia?): I would omit the question mark, cf. also M.-Th. Raepsaet-Charlier, Klio 75, 1993, 262 f. --Hedia, (?Antonia?): the gent. name would indeed have been Antonia and so the question marks seem unnecessary. --Pontius Allifanus: Allifae was not a pagus of Nola. --Priscus (2): inexperienced readers might think that Aeclanum is in Umbria; the passage of Dig. 32,35,2 does not seem to point to Umbria. --Triarius: it is not absolutely certain that the wife of L. Vitellius, known from Tacitus, used Triaria as her gentile name, for she may have been a (Valeria) Triaria, deriving from the Republican Valerii Triarii. --Ummidia Quadratilla (Asconia Secunda): I am inclined to think (with Raepsaet-Charlier, PFOS 830) that the Ummidia Quadratilla who also used the names 'Asconia Secunda' (according to NSc. 1929, 29 from Casinum) is not identical with the Ummidia Quadratilla known from Pliny and a number of inscriptions. --Virdius Gemellinus: further evidence for the nomen in H. Solin-O. Salomies, Repert. nominum gent. et cogn. Latinorum (1988; 2nd ed. 1994) p. 210.

Regarding the Geographical Names (102 ff.), one might note s.v. Arpinae that Arpino is rather east of Rome. --Carsulae is said to be "modern Consigliano". I do not know where to locate such a place (but there is a 'frazione' of Acquasparta called Casigliano, some 10 kms north of Carsulae). Rather, ancient Carsulae is now known as S. Damiano and belongs to the municipality of S. Gemini. --Centum Cellae: write Civitavecchia. --Firmani: Firmum (Picenum) is modern Fermo (not Firmo). --Formiae is not "modern Mola in Gaeta", having been re-named 'Formia' at the time of the Risorgimento. Moreover, 'Mola di Gaeta' earlier denoted only the lower city. --Tusci: the place in question is nowadays aptly called Colle Plinio.

Misprints or other minor slips are hard to find (p. 2, line 27 read 'sister', not 'brother'; p. 6: read Caecilius (in the inscription); p. 35 s.v. Acilius: read Himeraeae; praef.; p. 107 s.v. Nicaeenses read: Nicaea). The book is well printed, though the division of the catalogue text in two columns has created some slight typographical problems. As a personal comment, I would say that the black circles used as dividing marks in inscriptions are not particularly beautiful (p. 5 f.). Finally, readers not familiar with Latin epigraphy (and senatorial careers) might have preferred the abbreviations of the inscriptions cited on p. 5 f. to be expanded.

These marginal observations do not disturb the overall positive impression. What we have here is an exemplary book, well documented, written in plain style and easy to consult. B.'s work will not only provide an indispensable tool for anyone reading or studying the Younger Pliny, but also a new, handy companion to the Roman onomastic studies. Those interested in the history and prosopography of the Flavian and Trajanic periods in general are likely to find it equally profitable.

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