Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.08.34

Bernhard Georg, Exegetische und schmückende Eindichtungen im ersten Properzbuch. Studien zur Geschichte und Kultur des Altertums, 1. Reihe, 17. Band.   Paderborn:  F. Schöningh, 2001.  Pp. 211.  ISBN 3-506-79067-6.  $48.00.  

Reviewed by H.P. Stahl, University of Pittsburgh
Word count: 3156 words

This Bonn dissertation endeavors to show that 149 out of the 353 distichs which in our editions make up the first Book of Propertius are the work of a reviser ("Bearbeiter"). Following an Introduction on method and purpose, the work offers two main parts (labeled here Y and Z).

Y (pp. 21-173) has three major sections. (I) deals with "the spurious" ("die unechten") elegies (19, 20, 21); (II) turns to "the genuine" elegies (1-18, 22), by (A) outlining G.'s understanding of "the structure" of the Monobiblos, (B) exploring "the inner interweaving" ("Binnengeflecht") of elegies 6-14, (C) treating "the framing elegies" (1-5 and 15-18, 22). (III) revisits "the spurious elegies" (19, 20, 21).

Z (pp. 175-198) offers a "typology of the interpolations" in Book 1, distinguishing two kinds: exegetical and embellishing (each group in turn being further divided into sub-groups).

A half-page conclusion (p. 199) is followed by a short bibliography (pp. 201-4) and an index of passages (pp. 205-11).

The dissertation was "suggested" ("angeregt") by G.'s teacher, O. Zwierlein, himself known for a 1999 study in which he, by means of interpolationist criticism (Echtheitskritik), not only restricts individual book size in Vergil's Aeneid to less than 700 verses (Book 12 is cut by 275 lines) but also deletes Book 4 of Propertius wholesale and, from Book 1, expunges elegies 19, 20, and 21 -- the same three elegies which, echoing his master's voice, the pupil here (23-48) diligently imputes to the "reviser".

Athetesis of Book 4 takes scholarship back in time as far as the 1863 dissertation by Heimreich (himself not without followers), and for G. an ipsissimus dixit is apparently justification enough to view a distich as spurious ("Heimreich hat die Verse ... getilgt", n . 107; cf. n. 115; n. 670, cf. n. 471) -- though Heimreich is missing from G.'s bibliography.

Although G. derives his typology of interpolations from R.J. Tarrant's articles (1987; 1989), his methodological justification of interpolationist criticism in Propertius bases itself on a "trailblazing" 1936 article by U. Knoche, with its "proof" ("Nachweis") "that Prop. 4.5.55f. is interpolated" (13); G. does not mention here that Tarrant (1987, 293) considers the same distich "arguably a wry self-citation rather than an intruded parallel".

Beyond Knoche, G. (14) invokes a 1935 article by G. Jachmann who smelled an interpolator wherever a commentator such as Rothstein cannnot explain the words "with full certainty" or finds them barely understandable. This makes for fertile interpolation-hunting, and it is no wonder, then, that Rothstein's excellent commentary appears only three times (as does Enk's) in G.'s monograph (rather, the reader is most often served from Hodge and Buttimore's 1977 "text, translation and critical analysis of each poem").

G. (15) claims methodological superiority over scholars who arbitrarily and constantly assume lacunae (Richmond) or transpositions of distichs (Goold). He who looks for interpolations is "by the nature of his undertaking" ("durch die Natur seines Ansatzes") required "to present his hypotheses in a well-reasoned and convincing fashion", always to cite a possible reason for the interpolation and to show that the text when cleansed of the assumed interpolation appears to be the original one. Since setting out from an intended modification of the text (i.e., a modification subject to certain rules), the interpolationistic critic (G. tells us) will be able to systematize the interpolations and simultaneously draw a clear profile of their author, and so to achieve that individual interpolationistic hypotheses support eachother mutually.

Setting momentarily aside thoughts of circular reasoning, only the reader unacquainted with Zwierlein's Augustan poetry reviser ("Montanus") will be surprised that G. ascribes interpolations in the Monobiblos to a single individual: "a poetically ambitious, rhetorically trained exegete" ("exegete"? Yes, after all, this Dr. phil. dissertation originated from a Graduiertenkolleg on "The Commentary in Antiquity and the Middle Ages"), who set out partly to clarify or explain, partly to embellisih the text of Propertius (199).

The mysterious reviser remains anonymous, but is assumed to have revised the Monobiblos within the first hundred years after its conception (19; no pronouncement is given on the questions whether he worked on later Books, too, or how he managed to monopolize the future archetype of the manuscript tradition). His sources are said to reach from Catullus to Seneca's "youngest tragedies". A lot of his material he "fetched" ("holen" is a favorite verb of G.) from Ovid and from Propertius himself.

In spite of his poetical ambition and rhetorical training, G.'s reviser likes to use model passages for taking shortcuts of convenience ("Interpolatorenökonomie", "Bequemlichkeit", "Formulierungshilfe", 41), lacks smoothness of thought ("gedankliche Unebenheit", 27), shows inability to bring about a conclusive or consistent train of thought 30; 31); but he can also be "unusually precise"' (28), even "unfittingly macabre" (30), and loves to form sections of equal length (25). His language offers innumerable difficulties, often using words or word combinations not documented before Propertius ("erstmalig belegt", e.g., 36; 37): the combination of Jachmann's procedure and Thesaurus Linguae Latinae methodology encourages G. to rid the text of allegedly later additions which scholarship traditionally may have viewed as characteristic of Propertius himself.

G. does not shun methodological inconsistency in order to stick to his thesis of a single interpolator. The Hylas elegy 20 is said to display a "basically alien character" (a "grundlegend fremdartigen Charakter", 39) in Book 1. Within the elegy itself, lines 25-32, offering the Boreades' attack on Hylas, are deemed an "alien body" ("ein Fremdkörper innerhalb der Elegie", 37). G. does not apply his Echtheitskritik so as to assume a second interpolator here, but informs his reader (41) that in this case (and two other ones) his reviser's train of thought is "even more unsatisfactory" ("noch weniger zufriedenstellt") than elsewhere.

Scholarship has had difficulty with integrating elegies 20-22 into the whole of the Monobiblos (G. 23 offers a brief overview condensed from Stahl [1985]). But it was left to G. (and his teacher Z.) to expel 19-21 wholesale -- one supposed advantage being that, with 8 divided into A and B, there remain, after surgery, no more than exactly twenty elegies, for "similar numbers are found in poetry books of the same period"(23). True: so one has to cut the Monobiblos as we have it down to size in order to restore "the blueprint of the genius" ("der geniale Bauplan", 18)? (Already before G., 1-19 were favored as a separate group by numericists such as Skutsch, Courtney, Goold [1990, 6ff.])

But indeed, G.'s "surgical procedure" ("Eingriff") is "new" (neu", 19), as detailed discussion of an example (elegy 21) may show. G. declares this elegy spurious: 21 is assumed to be the reviser's commentary on the sphragis poem 22. Herrmann had once (1959) declared both 21 and 22 together spurious because politically too daring, but no one has to this reviewer's knowledge assigned the two contiguous ten-line poems to different authors.

Now: in 22 the poet addresses his friend (and patron?), Tullus (in Book 1 profiled as an active member of a pro-Octavian family), and, while declaring himself a child of the Perusine War, specifically deplores the loss of a relative. (The conquest of Perusia was a highpoint of cruelty in Octavian's bloody early career.)

G.'s objections to Propertius himself being the author of elegy 21 (the epitaph on a soldier, Gallus, killed in the aftermath of Perusia's fall) are numerous: textual problems; extraordinary language ("sprachliche Auffälligkeiten", among them acta, for which he might have consulted Tränkle, Hermes 96, 1968, 567); unevenness of thought; unusual contents; the deceased's "sister" not sufficiently identified; the poem's unusual epigrammatic character; its unconnectedness to the 'Cynthia theme'; the circumstance that it allegedly has nothing to do "with Propertius himself" (46-48); an unambiguous political reference to Octavian ("für Properz nicht üblich", 173); its closeness to vv. 2.1.17-38, which Heimreich deleted (n. 670); its tight connection to elegy 22, evidenced by many references (called "Parallelen"). The "parallels" lead G. to uncover his interpolator's motive: viz. to provide information helpful to understanding elegy 22. Such preparatory function of 21 "proves suspicious" ("erweist sich als verdächtig", 172f.). G.'s readers will decide for themselves on the value of such arguments. (In a comparable attempt, G. Williams [1968, 171ff.] conversely viewed 1. 22 as partly written to explain 1.21, because 22 identifies the dying soldier of 21 as a relative of Propertius. But G. would hardly care for the rich literature on these two poems.)

G. asks: if Stahl (1985, 108) admits ("admits"?) that 22 for itself avoids an open (perhaps risky) political statement, why would Propertius in the preceding poem supply the key by naming Octavian as the aggressor? G. here overlooks two things. First, Stahl goes on by drawing attention to the political affiliation of addressee Tullus in 22 as well as developing the political implications resulting from the mention of the Perusine War: "... it was hard for him (scil., for the politically informed contemporary reader) to exclude a political dimension from ... elegy 1.22, and to read the epilogue merely as the non-partisan expression of private grief," etc. (Stahl 1985, 110). ..."The seemingly hesitant poet has become surprisingly outspoken", (Stahl 121, cf. 121f.). Second, G.'s athetesis, by denying 1.21 the status of a Propertian poem in its own right, de facto forbids the poet to voice his lasting grief caused by the impact that political events had upon the close circle of his family.

Where TLL methodology ('not documented until later') and Jachmann-type philology ('difficult language = interpolation') combine to dictate the extent to which Propertius may be "unusual" or original, our discipline easily fails the human core and artistic message. Even an interpolationist critic ought to allow different levels of writing, as here: an intimate memorial of private family sorrow (21), autobiographically 'anonymous' (because Propertius does not yet disclose his affiliation with dying Gallus), is followed by a polite public address to a dedicatee of high social standing and different political orientation. By athetizing 21, the forceful critic a priori reduces any complexity in the poet's situation. On p. 168f., G. accepts and excerpts Stahl's interpretation of 1.22 with complete approval, seven times referring to him expressly by name. He also (47) endorses Stahl's distinction in 21 between what the deceased's sister may know ("sciat", 10: the fact of Gallus' death) and what she should not become aware of ("sentiat", 6: his tragic fate of escaping initially and yet being killed later). Why would one wish to deny the poet (and impute to a "reviser") the dying man's tender wish to spare his beloved bride (or wife) the full impact of his cruel fate? Here Echtheitskritik risks forfeiting its congeniality claim on sharing the poet's via intacta (G.19; cf. intacta...via, Prop. 3. 1. 18).

It remains to point out a contradiction in G.'s reasoning here. No doubt, numerous features in 1. 21 (G. 172f. approvingly lists Stahl's results) help the reader to better understand the poet's outburst of grief about his unburied relative in 1. 22. One thinks especially of the tragic circumstances 1.21 paints of Gallus'death.

But it is only 22 which provides a clue for identifying murdered Gallus as the poet's relative; i.e., without 1.22, the epitaph's essential human dimension (its location on the autobiographical coordinates of the Monobiblos) could not be guessed. It is to the detriment of his own reasoning that G. here quotes his favorite commentary of H.& B.: "The two poems read as glosses on each other, and it is difficult to believe this is not intended" (G., n. 664 on p. 173; reviewer's italics). G.'s confidence of restoring the Monobiblos' "concept of the genius" ("die geniale Konzeption", 199) makes one wonder how he conceived his reductionist idea of a genius.

Detailing one instance is sufficient to exemplifiy G.'s routine of large-scale interpolationistic criticism. What is left of Book 1 after G.'s (and his teacher's) deletion of elegies 19, 20, 21 is divided into the familiar arrangement of 6-14 (B.'s schema on p. 52 reads almost like a German translation of Goold 1990, 7 summarizing Skutsch). The rest of G.'s Monobiblos, consisting of the outer groups (1-5; 15-18, 22), does not yield a similar visually balanced schema (53): if 2 and 15 may perhaps be viewed together under the heading "Moralpredigt", it is doubtful that the other off-center "pair" 3 and 16 should be grouped together as Cynthia's solitude and that of the exclusus amator, -- especially doubtful since Propertius' own stay in solitude ("Einsamkeit" is used to characterize 16, 17, 18) in relation to Cynthia dominates 17 and 18 and, so, these two poems would in G.'s own terms much better correspond to Cynthia's "Einsamkeit" in relation to Propertius as expressed in 3. Like other schematizations, this one runs aground before leaving harbor.

The carnage inflicted on the book as a whole recurs on the level of individual "genuine" elegies. One instance may suffice to illuminate the repetitive procedure. In 7 Propertius compares his own pain-ridden love elegies with the grand epic poetry of his friend Ponticus, the epic poet (1-8); he desires that his own sufferings may be read with profit by rejected lovers (9-14). In 15-20 Propertius predicts a) that Ponticus, too, will fall in love, and b) that then his own epic poetry will lose meaning for him, and also c) that he then will in vain wish to be able to write love elegies. In 21-4 Propertius predicts that then he (Propertius) will be admired by Ponticus --and (23/4) by young men in general. A warning to Ponticus not to look down on Propertian elegy concludes the poem (25/6).

To G. (as to his teacher: "Die Athetese der Verse 17-24 stammt von Otto Zwierlein", n.192), the "gloomy" prophecy of 15-24 does not fit the context, because Propertius "quite apparently" here wants to restrict himself to unobtrusive hints ("verhaltene Andeutungen", 55). How do they know? The "Bearbeiter", we are told, exaggeratingly anticipates (and, in doing so, spoils) the elegist's triumphant later justification in elegy 1.9. As in the alleged incompatibility of 7.7 and 7.22 ("Widerspruch", p.56), G.'s (and Z.'s) reductionist concept of poetry does not allow nuances of perspective. Besides, we read, distich 25f. fits neatly in ("fügt sich gut") with lines 13f. One feels tempted to ask: why not try to make sense of a lucid structure instead of a priori looking for no sense?

In elegy 1.9. G. denies Propertius not only the triumph of having predicted correctly (a) that Ponticus would fall in love (lines 5-8 must go), but also (b) that Ponticus-in-love would be at a loss in matters of poetry (lines 13-16 must go). Propertius is further forbidden to tell Ponticus in greater detail that his present condition is only the beginning, and that there is worse to come (lines 27-34 must go).

As elsewhere, G. tries to uphold Zwierlein's athetesis, and his own continuations along with it, in the light of Stahl's 1985 Propertius book. In the case of 1.7 and 9, Z.'s athetesis of 7.15-24 relieves G. from acknowledging that fulfillment of three prophecies, made in three continuous distichs (7.15/16 = a; 17/18 = b; 19/20 = c), is triumphantly and exhaustively checked off by Propertius in three groups of two distichs each (9.1-4 = a [followed by indulgent self-praise, 5-8]; 9-12 = b; 13-16 = c). In each group, Propertius emphasizes fulfillment ('Now the situation I predicted has come true...') by nunc (4; 9; 15).

Having destroyed the lucid structural correspondences between the two elegies, G. can assign the second nunc (9.9) no more than the function of reinforcing ("verstärkt", n. 204) Propertius' triumph of 9.1-4. And his interpretation makes no attempt at all to account for (nor even mentions) the third nunc of 9.15.

If lines 9.15f. appear "problematisch" (59; comparable terms used by G. to indicate interpolations are "merkwürdig", 58; "auffällig", 57; "pedantisch", 60; "Widerspruch", 59; etc.), Jachmann-type license to excise can kick into gear, and a scholar's patient traditional service to the text by commentary, explanation and interpretation may be skipped. (G. 2 deplores that Jachmann and Knoche have engendered only "little resonance" in the discipline.)

Later (p.186f.) verses 9.13-16 (this time quoted with the conjecture of Heinsius, i.e., different from p. 59 and from Fedeli's text) are classified as "explanatory", i.e., under one of G.'s subdivisions of "exegetic interpolations", roughly corresponding to Tarrant's "annotation". But what does a typological classification help where the allegedly interpolated lines are (in spite of some difficulties) much rather genuinely Propertian? (To Tarrant's honor, it must be said that he, going rather with Kenney and against Goold, does not introduce one wholesale reviser of a poet's work such as G.'s method inflicts on Propertius' poetry.)

Insensitivity to Propertian architecture is not limited to elegies 1.7 and 9. In 1.6, the progressive separation of the two friends Propertius and Tullus is executed in two movements, each comprising three groups of three distichs. Such even balance, we read, is characteristic of the "Bearbeiter": G. cuts out lines 9/10; 13-18; 23/24 (B. 99-104; cf. his note 28 on p. 25).

The consequences are often devastating. In accommodating Zwierlein's athetesis of 1.33-38, G. (166f.) deprives the introductory elegy of its climax: the poet's description of his vocation, which results from his unrequited love. Sometimes the result is hilarious. In elegy 1.8., Propertius' rival is eliminated by athetesis of verses 3f., 33-38, 45f. (G. 78). How could we ever believe that it was the real Propertius himself who allowed his rival to enter his poetry?

Matters get truly esoteric when (this is part of the "inner interweaving") G. compares mutilated torso with mutilated torso --and finds "manifest correspondences" even in the letters "ectus am" (neglectus amator, 7.13; subiectus amori, 10.27), or in [su]ccedere (13.27) and [a]ccedere (9.24; p. 74; 77). On p. 138, G. offers an instance of "markanter inhaltlicher Gegensatz" in the "correspondence" of early-republican-time prisoners of war (captorum, 16.4) and Andromeda, free from her chains (libera, 3.4).

Remarkable is the extent to which G. accepts and accommodates his teacher's (i.e., Zwierlein's) atheteses: for examples, see notes 272; 295; 311; 377; 386; 396; 406 (this one not endorsed but almost accepted); 412; 524; 533; 633; 646.

Misprints are few and far between. Comic relief is provided by the substitution of "discere" (for "ducere" or dicere") in 4.14 on the occasion of praise of Cynthia's attractive qualities: ingenuus color et multis decus artibus, et quae gaudia sub tacita discere veste libet. A few lines down, the same line is quoted with "ducere" (p. 141).

This reviewer felt tempted to say that G.'s method exposes Propertius' poetry to a sledgehammer (or even a wrecking ball) . But then he happened upon Zetzel's review of Zwierlein's 1999 study: "He wields a meat-axe such as ten scholars nowadays could not lift to excise anything -- parallel passages, quotations, imitations -- that stands in the way of his thesis" (Vergilius 46, 2000, 188). One hopes that G. is still young enough to re-orient the pupil's industriousness and his considerable acumen toward a more adequate and less impoverished idea of classical poetry.

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