Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.08.08

Ermanno Malaspina (ed.), L. Annaei Senecae De clementia libri duo.   Alessandria:  Edizioni dell' Orso,  2001.  Pp. 480.  ISBN 88-7694-500-8.  

Reviewed by Michael Winterbottom, Corpus Christi College, Oxford (
Word count: 1444 words

The text of De Clementia takes up 38 pages of the 480 of this book, but anyone who may feel that this is a rather high proportion can be reassured: the author's views on the dating (Dec. 54-6), structure, sources and ideological standpoint, only sketched here (pp. 6-8), will eventually be argued for at length in the introduction to Malaspina's edition of the same work in the series 'Classici Latini' UTET. The present handsomely produced volume contains, besides the text, 'Prolegomeni' on the manuscripts; a 'Lista Critica' giving details of manuscript readings and editorial conjectures that did not find a place in the apparatus criticus proper; a full commentary; a 'Nota bibliographica', and 'Indices librorum, locorum, nominum'. It is easy to object that this is all on too large a scale for comfort; but there will be no disagreement on the learning, industry and acuteness that inform this book, which will become a standard work.

The tendency to gigantism is encouraged by the author's commitment to 'un approccio globale al testo antico' (p. 6): an editor should look both forward, by employing the latest methods, and backward, by not neglecting our distinguished predecessors, who had to read texts where we can click on them. Accordingly, frequent use is made of the old giants, especially Lipsius and Gruter. This is very well and good when their words are cited: thus Lipsius, magisterially, on 1.26.4: 'sicut aratro condebantur [sc. urbes], ita eodem significabant exscindi.' But is anyone really going to look up even one of the references to Gruter, Lipsius, Gronovius and Ruhkopf listed on 2.5.3? And though it is nice to be told that Erasmus already knew the Greek verse alluded to at 2.2.2, we do not need to learn how he spelt one of its words. As to the future: the use of PHI enables Malaspina to list countless (and often unnecessary) parallels for some locutions and to note that others are found nowhere else. He would have done better to select the most relevant parallels rather than give unnuanced lists. And there are dangers. Malaspina must be well aware e.g. that the fact (retailed on p. 277) that PHI shows up 30 case of 'quoties' against 1284 of 'quotiens' tells us more about editorial practice (or negligence) than about the practice of scribes, let alone authors. And where so many undoubted locutions lack a parallel, it is hardly good method to object to a conjecture because it produces a phrase not found elsewhere (thus on 1.19.8: 'una successione di pronomi ille hoc cui ... sarebbe hapax in latino'). Again, the fact e.g. that all three Senecan cases of 'o ne [affirming]' are followed by a verb in the perfect indicative should not be seen as more than a hint as to the possibilities at 1.19.8. At 1.10.4 Malaspina tells us that Seneca elsewhere writes 'alieno sanguine' without remarking that that order here would give a markedly dactylic run.

In this context, I add some further remarks on method. Malaspina has devoted enormous labours to (what he takes to be) the extant archetype of all our MSS of De Clementia, Vaticanus Palatinus lat. 1547 (N). He has not merely (as one would expect) re-collated it; he has in the most elaborate possible way analysed the kinds of errors it displays (pp. 117-23). But the knowledge thus won is perhaps used too mechanically: thus at 2.7.1 conjectures are ruled out because the confusion of C and Q is 'del tutto assente in N'. Malaspina is in any case to my taste far too worried about palaeographical considerations when conjecturing or judging a conjecture; it is surely true that all of us (not only a Préchac) can, if we wish, find a palaeographical argument for anything at all whose claims we wish to press. Equally, a scribe, in a bad moment, can write anything (contrast Malaspina's disallowal of 'un errore casuale' at 2.2.2). Malaspina's painstaking and intelligent discussion of many cruces in this volume seem to me to be unduly constrained by his own presuppositions, both particular and general.

I am in no position to dispute Malaspina's view that the recentiores are all descended from N via another ninth-century MS, Vaticanus Reginensis lat. 1529 (R) (though one might wonder why in that case he reports eight of them so fully in his Lista Critica). But doubts may be expressed of his 'Prove di un rapporto immediato N > R' (pp. 64-6). Nothing adduced here seems to prove that R is a direct copy of N (indeed I am not sure what would constitute such a proof); and their readings at 1.1.2 (mortalium R corr.; motalium N; motarlium R) seem to point to an intermediary where 'r' was added above the line in an ambiguous position. Nothing hangs on the directness of the descent; much more, of course, on the fact of the descent. Malaspina handily sets out the evidence of R's improvements on N in De Clementia on pp. 88-90 (it would be interesting to see parallel data for De Beneficiis). It certainly seems that almost all of them could be attributed to conjecture (again we could do with an intermediary, in which some clever person wrote his corrections); but one does wonder about 1.22.2 parcitas (paritas N; only here in Classical Latin), 1.24.2 nobiles (R; N has 'no', cut short by the end of a line) and 2.1.1 Vt de (R; VIDE N); and I should hardly call the change of 'uix ei ibis' to 'uix uiuis' at 1.10.2 merely a matter of orthographical correction, as Malaspina does (p. 54 n. 159). Still, the clean lines of the stemma permit a clean apparatus criticus, and Malaspina's is lucid and professional.

The final section of the Prolegomeni is devoted to prose rhythm. Where Bourgery found this treatise one of the least rhythmical of all Seneca's works, Malaspina sees 'attenzione quasi sempre vigile di Seneca al lato ritmico di clem.' His own critical use of this aspect of style is oddly uneven. Thus rhythm is not mentioned in support of an accepted reading at 1.1.6 meliusque, or of attractive (but rejected) readings at 1.1.7 contigit, 1.9.4 parta, 1.12.3 utatur, 2.1.1 [me] memini (cf. prov. 5.5, ep. 75.9: these exact parallels are typically lost in Malaspina's long list). A supplement of Gertz's that makes a colon end 'tuta haberi' is printed at 1.1.5, and Malaspina's own at 1.19.3 closes a section with 'in minima re congerere'. On the other hand, fine distinctions are drawn between unconvincing clausulae at 1.9.1 (where it is true that one needs all the help one can get); and I see nothing 'bella' about the clausula 'ulli salutaris sit' at 1.25.1. At 1.6.4 Seneca would have scanned 'peccando' with a short final syllable.

For some miscellaneous comments I follow the order of Seneca's text. 1.1.1 I do not find 'hoc iugum' (which causes Malaspina to posit a lacuna) any more mysterious than 'his bonis' at 1.1.7. 1.1.7 Is not 'omnibus ciuibus tuis' dative with 'exprimitur' ? 1.2.1 The position of 'quoque' deserves a note. 1.3.3 For the 'inversion' of 'tam...quam' here Malaspina could have cited his own helpful note on 1.20.2. 1.8.3 Erasmus's 'ista' (not discussed) seems to me far superior to 'ipsa' (I also prefer his deletion of 'et' at 1.11.1). 1.9.1 On precepts v. examples cf. Quintilian 12.2.30. 1.9.10 Haase's 'putas' is dismissed too readily. Do we really want a 'parallelismo con il precedente domum ... potes '? 1.14.2 Kruczkiewicz, quoted by Malaspina, says all that needs to be said in favour of deleting the superfluous (and unrhythmical) words 'illis hoc tribuentes'. 1.20.2 I expect that Malaspina explains this correctly, but 'ut appareat' is awkwardly misleading after the preceding 'ne...ut...ut...' 1.21.4 For these 'small animals', doubtless beetles, cf. Quintilian 12.2.14 (also 12.10.76, where Austin comments 'glow-worms or fire-flies'). 1.26.2 One misses a note on the topic of captured cities (observe Quintilian 8.3.67-9). 2.2.1 Malaspina's note favouring 'immane' has the effect of convincing me of the virtues of 'immensum'.

Such a richness of linguistic detail lurks in the thickets of this vast commentary that one would have welcomed an Index of words and constructions: not too much to ask of an editor so chalcenteric that he can (for example) give us statistics of the kinds of 'a' used in N (p. 20) or a league table (pp. 103-4) of successful innovators (Erasmus wins by a wide margin). This book, one repeats, may be judged to go into too much detail. But it has solid virtues that will make it last: not least a sensible and well punctuated text, and a commentary that gets honestly to grips with the difficulties of this intriguing treatise.

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