Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.10.21

Christina Meckelnborg, Bernd Schneider, Odyssea: Responsio Ulixis ad Penelopen. Die humanistiche Odyssea decurtata der Berliner Handschrift Diez. B Sant. 41. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 166.   Munich and Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2002.  Pp. 190.  ISBN 3-598-77715-9.  EUR 80.00.  



Reviewed by J.L. Butrica, Memorial University (jbutrica@morgan.ucs.mun.ca)
Word count: 2539 words

[[For a response to this review, see BMCR 2002.11.08.]]

In 1977, while collating manuscripts of Propertius, I came across one in (East) Berlin that also contains an extended elegy representing a letter of Ulysses in reply to one of Penelope, attributed to Angelus Sabinus, vates egregius. My curiosity was stirred, and no doubt I thought of perhaps coming back to it one day; that is now possible without revisiting Berlin, thanks to the edition by Meckelnborg and Schneider (hereafter M & S). They offer it as "ein wichtiges Zeugnis" to the Renaissance reception of classical Latin poetry, and it is at least an interesting one, when it offers innovations to the story -- Hermes (somewhat redundantly) puts the intoxicated Polyphemus to sleep with "dew of Lethe" (109-10), while the Sirens swoop down to sink the ships and devour "the slow limbs of sailors" (247-8) -- or when the author has Ulysses say rapturously of Penelope that "she brings the longed for sun and fair winds, is the sea and wind beneath my fleet, drives away the clouds, is a clear day dawning and bright stars seen in a darkened sky" (17-20). They are well aware, however, that it is no masterpiece (ungeschickt recurs constantly in the commentary), and indeed it seems at times to be a lesson in what poor poets the minor humanists could be -- this one is egregius only in the normal sense of the word's English derivative.

The introduction covers the necessary ground with welcome clarity. The first section (1-12) considers the awkward issues of date and authorship, the latter complicated by the existence of a second humanist elegy in which Ulysses replies to a letter of Penelope, first printed with Ovid's Heroides in Parma in 1477, and attributed there to "A. Sabinus": this is now accepted as the work of Angelus Sabinus, a humanist whose scholarly achievements include the editio princeps of Ammianus. (A further complication lies in the two passages where Ovid indicates that a friend named Sabinus wrote responses to some of his Heroides, but no-one would mistake the Berlin Odyssea for a work of antiquity.) Faced with these two works, identical in nature though not in content and attributed to the same man, M & S say only that they are completely different and cannot be the work of the same author, but not why they cannot. They might have considered another possibility, that Angelus Sabinus did indeed write both, though at different times, with the Berlin poem representing an early draft subsequently whittled down into what was printed in 1477; I found myself wishing that they had included a text of the other letter so that I could make my own comparisons, or that they had at least enumerated some features of language or metre to prove their case. Instead, they suggest that either the author of the Berlin poem, or perhaps the scribe of the manuscript, invented the ascription to Sabinus because he was known already to have written such a poem. This leads to difficulties over dating. The poem is followed by a colophon, Fatius hunc librum scripsit nutritus in antro / Pieridum papa tunc dominante pio. The natural interpretation is that the manuscript was copied at some point during the pontificate of Pius II (1458-64): tunc goes with scripsit, since it would be superfluous if taken with nutritus. But this conflicts with their theory about the ascription, since Angelus is known to have composed his replies in 1467, too late for a scribe writing 1458-64, and so they take tunc with nutritus rather than with scripsit, with the (hardly reliable) evidence of watermarks adduced to assert a date of composition in 1470 or the late 1460's. Until I see a text of the published letter, I will remain open to the possibility that we are dealing with an authentic early work of Sabinus, composed under Pius II or perhaps even earlier, and that Fatius was an acquaintance of Sabinus lucky enough to be favoured with a copy.

After a brief section on the form of the poem (13-16; epistolary, but not consistently so), the introduction offers a lengthy consideration of sources and models (17-32). This begins with what I would regard as a faulty assumption -- that the model is "obviously" the Homeric Odyssey itself -- which M & S maintain even while acknowledging that the author almost certainly never read the work and does not seem even to echo the translations by Leonzio Pilato or Francesco Griffolino (though the lack of clear verbal echoes is not the soundest basis for an argument, given that one must expect substantial differences between prose and verse). As they show, the poem attests to the reception of classical Latin poetry in the Renaissance because (though they do not use the term) it is something of a pastiche of classical poets who dealt with Ulysses' wanderings. Hence Aeneid III and Metamorphoses XIII-XIV play a large role here, though M & S have also done well to identify Boccaccio as one of the sources, though not as significant a source as they claim (he is supposed to have provided the "Gerüst"), since they have unaccountably missed two important classical sources which are far more likely to have supplied the framework. One is Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto 4.10.9-28, which contains a "mini-Odyssey," and in an epistolary form; they know that this exists, since the commentary cites the obvious verbal similarities, but nowhere do they acknowledge that the poem contains a version of Ulysses' wanderings and nowhere do they acknowledge that it served as a model for the author of this poem. The other is Corpus Tibullianum 3.7, the so-called "Panegyric of Messalla," which does indeed contain all the adventures, and in the same order as Homer (something that M & S deny can be found in Latin poetry).

Since no other copy is known to exist, the study of the manuscript tradition is exclusively the study of Diez. B Sant. 41 itself (32-34). M & S have examined it carefully; they clearly gave the watermarks more attention than I did, and they argue from them, with a high degree of probability, that Odyssea is an integral part of the manuscript and not a later addition (however, as indicated earlier, I do not share their faith that we can date manuscripts precisely through watermarks). They propose no place of origin more specific than Italy, but my own study of Diez. B Sant. 41 showed that the manuscripts with which its text of Propertius is most closely affiliated are largely Neapolitan and/or Roman in origin (the privately owned Tomacellianus, copied in Naples about 1445; Pal. lat. 1652 [Book 4 only], the Manettis' manuscript and therefore from Naples and/or Rome but not later than 1459; Barb. lat. 23, a late [Roman?] copy written by a Paulus of Viterbo). A date during the pontificate of Pius II would be consistent with the dates of these other manuscripts as well. The reference to the Pope perhaps favours Rome, which just happens to be where Angelus Sabinus claims to have first composed his replies to Ovid's Heroides. Since, as they indicate, the scribe Fatius seems to be otherwise unknown, it might have been helpful to include a facsimile of one folio, at least, in the hope that someone might be able to identify the hand.

Since editing a work by an unknown author that survives in a single copy comports such unique difficulties as the lack of stylistic comparanda, an editor is left wondering what should be emended and what should not. M & S announce (34-35) a conservative approach that corrects only "deutlich erkennbare Fehler und offensichtliche Schreibversehen" and preserves the scribe's orthography.

Even with their conservative approach, however, they are required to make numerous corrections (in lines 31, 97, 127, 135, 143, 152, 155, 213, 245, 289, 292, 308, 309, 313, 319, 323, 325, 335, 348, 368, 375, 385, 402 bis, 442, 444) -- and these are in addition to some corrections of genuine errors in spelling. Rarely did I feel that a conjecture was unwarranted; at 64 accipit, which is only offered in the apparatus, spoils the sequence seeing/attacking that neatly expresses the ferocity of the Thracians, nor do I see any reason to suspect cernite in 160 (the speech contains other interjections as well). Even less often did I think that the correction offered was the wrong one, perhaps only in 8, transmitted as coniugis in mente tam ualuere morae. Here in mente cannot be right on grounds of sense (but not, as M & S claim in the commentary, on grounds of metre: the author also allows lengthening at a caesura in 469 intramus [hortos]), and I do not see what force their conjecture immeritae is supposed to have; read instead inuentae (sc. morae), one of several tributes in the poem to Penelope's cleverness. In 323 the correction Graia manus certainly sounds right, but I would be happier with something that could better explain the corruption Graiaropus.

On the other hand, one might have thought that the considerable number of necessary corrections, and the several made already by the scribe himself, would alert them to the likelihood that a conservative approach is inappropriate and that other passages too need emendation: in 28 complectar is surely required with narrabitur 27; in 126 I am puzzled (as are they in the commentary) by iecit, expressing what Polyphemus did to the sheep carrying Ulysses and his men; in 133 hinc would make good sense with emissus, while hic makes good sense with nothing in the line; in 192, I would give the poet credit for being educated enough to write quod ... genus rather than quid (M & S suspect corruption here, but apparently not in quid); in 259 I would read haec, referring to Calypso, since hic serves no evident purpose; in 279 tamquam is rhetorically weak to my ear: read perhaps spes ... o fallax, o sors tamque inuida nobis (the author eagerly follows Tibullus and Ovid in his predilection for postponed and "misplaced" -que); in 289 I think that M & S ought to have printed their conjecture es for est, but I would also emend putet in 290, to yield ipsa tamen nostro tam pectore fixa es / auribus ut surdis uerba dedisse putes; in 296 reading et potam for epotam in spite of the Ovidian parallels would remove the difficulty that M & S rightly find here (in fact, I would be willing to bet that the manuscripts available to the author read et potat at Rem. 740 and et potum at Ep. 4.10.28 rather than epotas and epotum, as in modern editions); in 422 surely Arete did not say that Phaeacia was already giving rest to the freshly arrived Ulysses (haec placida tellus membra quiete leuat) but invited him to rest (read leuet); and finally, in 479, I would credit the author with the knowledge of tenses required to write leuarit rather than leuauit -- and the scribe with the carelessness to corrupt it.

I would punctuate almost the entire poem differently. Much of this is no doubt the result of Continental vs anglophone practice, but at times M & S articulate the Latin in a way that is at least misleading if not simply wrong: they should either have a comma instead of a period at the end of 56, or else explain -que in 57; in 59-60, read pendebantque rates pelago: perflantibus Austris / subdita fit dominis pluribus unda maris; in 65-66 read aggreditur subito Trachum furor impius armis / stipitis et nodis: ignibus ille furit etc.; I would place the comma in 307 differently, si tibi quid feci, pro caris siquid Achiuis; 328 should end with a period, and there should be no period in 329 after vallibus Aemoniis (the phrase is pointless wherever it stands, but enjambment from pentameter to hexameter is virtually unknown after the Republic); in 387-8 I would again place the comma differently (cur alios referam, cesos dicturus abunde / cum reditum nobis aspera fata dabunt -- or perhaps after cesos, but never after abunde); and in 447, instead of making norint parenthetical ("sie sollen es ruhig wissen"), I would punctuate non impune ferent: norint peccasse, dabuntque, "they will know the error of their ways, and they will pay the penalty."

But their claim to have preserved the orthography of the Berlin manuscript is not really true. It certainly applies to the diphthong ae, which they present in whatever way Fatius did, whether as ae, as e, as e with cedilla, or as the ligature ae; this forces them then to second-guess him in 292 and to conjecture hec rather than haec. (But printing ij is not a matter of orthography, since the apparent j was never anything but an i.) On the other hand, they correct not only sagipta but every occurrence of sotius, even though both of these spellings are common in the Renaissance and even though the latter forces on Fatius or perhaps even on the author a consistency which he may have disregarded. The situation is just as inconsistent with regard to proper names; for example, Laodomia is corrected (436), but not Dulichyo (438). In the case of the most exotic names, such as Hippotades, which Fatius spells "Hippodates," I would want to know what was in the manuscripts of Ovid available in the Renaissance at Ep. 4.10.15 before presuming to correct -- especially if my general practice was not to correct. The editors ought to have corrected everything to a classical standard, or nothing, yielding a purely diplomatic transcription; or else to have devised a reasoned compromise that (for example) regularizes the diphthong ae but preserves the orthography of proper names, thus giving a more accurate impression of the author's level of learning.

The extensive commentary is devoted mostly to identifying the author's sources, both for phrases and for content. Since the poem is so close to being a pastiche of its poetic sources, readers would have been served significantly better by having those sources separated out and placed beneath the text in an apparatus fontium et locorum similium, leaving the commentary to concentrate on general parallels for forms of expression. In general, when an expression or an incident puzzled me and I felt the need of a note, M & S had one, though hardly ever on matters of metre: there is no note on intramus scanned with its final syllable long (469), or on reduxerat (171) and referre (268) scanned with a long first syllable. Their notes on 318 and especially 474 could have been helped by awareness of the use of Ithacus to mean "Ulysses" at Ovid, Ep. 1.3.33.

These observations are meant to complement, not to criticize, the generally good work of M & S here, my strongest criticism being that this is very much the Renaissance seen from a classical perspective, not from a Renaissance perspective, where what manuscripts actually read may not be what our modern critical editions offer. I also miss a general summary and assessment of the work itself. The quality of presentation is quite high; I noticed only one trivial misprint, a superscript hyphen ending a line on 25.

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