Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.02.02

Anna Cox Brinton, Maphaeus Vegius and his Thirteenth Book of the Aeneid.   London:  Duckworth, 2002.  Pp. 183.  ISBN 1-85399-629-7.  £14.99.  

Reviewed by Emma Buckley, Cambridge University (
Word count: 2607 words

In the reception-history of Virgil, Maffeo Vegio's Aeneidos XII Supplementum undoubtedly deserves a more prominent place than it has been given. A thirteenth book written by the Florentine humanist in 1428, it 'finishes off' the Aeneid, narrating the burial of Turnus, the marriage of Aeneas and Lavinia, and finally Aeneas' apotheosis. Though the Supplement has been all but ignored in modern scholarship, it demonstrates a thorough and sophisticated engagement with all of the Aeneid as well as a critical and manipulative rewrite of the Aeneid's end. The Bristol Classical Press is to be commended, then, for choosing to reissue and make more widely accessible the little known 1930 Stanford edition of the Supplement by Anna Cox Brinton. This is a remarkable work that contains a lengthy and wide-ranging introduction, offers two major English-language translations of the work and includes a commentary and special section devoted to resemblances between Maffeo's poetry and that of Virgil, all in less than 200 pages. Inevitably, critical approaches to the study of Renaissance Latin have moved on over the last seventy years, and in some ways this is a very dated book, offering a reading of the Supplement, and by inference a reading of the Aeneid itself, that few now would adhere to. However, this edition of the Supplement is still an essential introduction to Maffeo's thirteenth book: Brinton's interrogation of the nature of the Supplement's relationship to the Aeneid's end strikes at the heart of contentious issues of interpretation still in play today.

The first sections of the introduction put text and poet in context. In 'The Thirteenth Book of the Aeneid and Virgil's Continuators', Brinton (hereafter B.) traces the period of popularity of Maffeo's Supplement and gestures to other continuators of Virgil, from Pier Candido Decembrio, who wrote shortly before Maffeo, to the nineteenth century and T. Seymour Burt. This section also summarises the narrative of the Supplement, offers a brief analysis of Maffeo's style, and compares the similes and speeches of Maffeo with Virgil. Some of the information B. offers is simply wrong. For example, B. states that the greatest flaw in Maffeo's composition is an excess of speeches and comments resignedly that 'an age in which public eloquence was prized before every other literary accomplishment fell naturally into this error of taste' (4). This is unfair to Maffeo, as Kallendorf has convincingly shown. Maffeo's speeches do not overshoot their mark: they follow the Aeneid in structure and proportion very closely indeed.1

B. then focuses on the man himself. 'Maphaeus Vegius, Poet and Essayist' first sets the scene with a sweeping overview of mid-fifteenth century Italy before taking the reader on an enthusiastic and engaging tour of Maffeo's life and work. B. relies heavily on Maffeo's own rhetorical treatises De educatione liberorum and De perseverantia religionis in this reconstruction, taking at face value Maffeo's autobiographical tale of a life characterised by a youthful devotion to the works of the pagan poets, superseded at a more mature age by a commitment to the production of religious works. She follows Maffeo from his childhood in Milan to Pavia, where he wrote the Supplementum at the age of 21, to Florence and finally Rome where he held religious office and concentrated on dialogues, essays and liturgies. B. includes discussion of the style and content of Maffeo's later prose works, religious and archaeological, before concluding with a discussion of Maffeo's patrons and fellow scholars. A critical reader will have trouble swallowing much of the anecdote that B. offers as historical fact here, and she certainly makes some big claims for Maffeo's scholarship, attributing to his prose work De educatione liberorum an important place in the pedagogic output of the fifteenth century as well as claiming of Vegio's last work, an archaeological treatise entitled De rebus antiquis memorabilibus Basilicae Sancti Petri Romae, 'It entitles its author to be ranked as the founder of the study of the Christian archaeology' (14). However, B. always has an eye on the wider picture and does a good job of contextualising Maffeo within the wider workings of the religious and social structures of the time, as well as drawing upon a wide number of texts, Renaissance and later, that even today's reader may find difficult to obtain.

B's next section, "'The Thirteenth Book of the Aeneid': The Allegorisers", gets to grips with what B. sees as the real motivation for the writing of the Supplement. She had already claimed that Vegio was reading the Aeneid as Christian allegory: 'To Vegius, Virgil's epic was above all an allegory of the soul" (2). She claims that Maffeo's motivation in writing a thirteenth book was clear: it was intended to re-form an epic's programmatic inability to 'begin at the beginning and end at the end' into a hagiographical discourse, in which the ending, Aeneas' ascent to heaven, was essential for the completion of the allegory. B. offers a brief account of the Fulgentian tradition, before claiming that it was only with Christian interpretation of the text that it became imperative that the Aeneid end with apotheosis: 'Thus Christian exegesis, centered as it was on the supernatural and replacing the this-world ideals of the ancients with other-world aims of the Church, opened the way for a supplement to the Aeneid in order to bring Aeneas to heaven' (27). While it would be foolish to play down the importance of the Fulgentian, allegorical tradition, however, there are problems with such an explicitly allegorical reading of the Supplement. Aeneas is certainly a reformed character here in the Supplement, purged of his anger, but there seems to be no real evidence in the text itself that it is Maffeo's aim to make Aeneas a Christ figure. Furthermore, we already have an example of Maffeo's attempts to write Christian epic in a hagiographical style, his later work on the life of St. Antony. Badius Ascensius, Vegio's first commentator, chooses to comment not on the Christian significance of Aeneas' ascent to heaven, but quotes Horace's doubts about the apotheosis: 'quae est de translatione Aeneae in coelum, de qua veritatem secutus recte dubitat Horatius dicens quarto carminum ad Torquatum. Quo pius Aeneas? Quo Tullus dives, et Ancus? Pulvis et umbra sumus.' (Hor.Carm.4.7.15-6) There is no doubt that an implicit aim of the Supplement is to recast Aeneas as a hero fit for the Christian age, but it should at least be noted that there is nothing in Maffeo's treatment of the apotheosis of Aeneas that differs substantially from the apotheosis prophesied in the Aeneid or narrated in the Metamorphoses. B. overstates the importance of allegory in her analysis of the Supplement, then.

B. goes on to qualify such a reading of the Supplement with a brief discussion of contemporary critical attitudes to the ending of the Aeneid, which clearly show that there was much unease with the propriety of writing a supplement in the first place. B. then examines Maffeo's own popularity and worth as a poet in the eyes of contemporaries and later readers (the response of J.C. Scaliger is particularly memorable: he ranks Maffeo alongside and even above both Statius and Lucan). B. then briefly looks at Badius Ascensius' commentary of 1500 on the work, though she is dismissive of its worth: 'his observations exhibit no remarkable penetration' (33), before treating at greater length British translations of the text. Starting with the Middle Scots translation of Gavin Douglas, claimed to be the first metrical translation of any classical poem by a British scholar, B. again returns to Renaissance discomfort with the Supplement, citing Douglas' own dramatic staging of a confrontation with the shade of Maffeo in his prologue to the thirteenth book, in which the Scots bishop initially resists Maffeo's demands that his work should be translated alongside Virgil's. B. then moves on to the second major British translation, the work of Thomas Phaer, completed by Thomas Twyne in 1583, before examining treatment of the Supplement in both serious and satiric form up to the nineteenth century and T. Seymour Burt's English blank verse version of a fourteenth book, which drew largely on Livy. Once again, B. covers a broad sweep of history, with inevitable costs in detail. Though both the translations of Twyne and Douglas are included in B's text, consideration of each translation gets barely a paragraph's mention, hardly befitting their importance. And moving from English translation to Swiss art, the final section of the introduction focuses on 'Virgil's Greatest Illustrator' (in B's eyes), Sebastian Brant, who in 1502 produced a series of illustrations of the thirteenth book. Here we have an excursus on Brant's work and a brief appraisal of print and artistic conditions, followed by a description of the pictures included with the text. Focussing on the last plate, the death of Aeneas, B. quotes Henry's description of the picture at length, here examining an artistic response to apotheosis. Some clarity has been lost in the reproduction of the images, but these, with their mix of pagan and Christian imagery, offer a near-contemporary negotiation of the issues of interpretation that Maffeo's text faces from a different angle, serving as a useful cultural point of reference for the reader. The introduction ends with a short section on prologues and colophon.

The Supplement follows, with the translation of Thomas Twyne facing. The text itself is out of date: Schneider's text is now the scholar's natural choice and includes a full apparatus criticus, commentary and German translation.2 For those without German, though, B's edition will be the only really accessible text with English until Michael Putnam's translation for I Tatti Renaissance Library is published. Though in metrical terms the Supplement does not follow Virgil very closely, it is suffused with Virgilian vocabulary and imagery, drawing extensively on scenes from the Aeneid such as the burial of Pallas, the banquet at Carthage and the meeting of Jupiter and Venus in the Aeneid's first book. For the apotheosis scene, Maffeo draws upon Ovid's Metamorphoses. In recycling these episodes Maffeo contrives to rewrite the Aeneid itself, recuperating not only Aeneas' character but also repeating episodes in the Aeneid where the rightness of Aeneas' actions is far from clear. This happens most obviously in Maffeo's redistribution of the Carthage episode. The troubling love-scene played out by Dido and Cupid-Iulus is repeated; but this time Iulus is the subject of admiration from Latinus, who marvels at the boy's maturity of speech. Maffeo boldly replays the relationship of Dido and Aeneas as the fitting love of man and wife in his treatment of Aeneas' marriage to Lavinia, and so forth. Maffeo shows not only sophisticated control of the Aeneid itself, then, but also a self-aware desire to manipulate it for his own means. When Maffeo adds material of his own to the mix, the results are more hit-and-miss. The simile comparing the Latins to a group of farmers rejoicing at the end of a downpour of rain (454ff) is not a direct rewrite of Virgil, but is a fresh and apt image; on the other hand, it is difficult to keep a straight face when confronted by an Aeneas whose protective nature is expressed in the less than heroic terms that make him a kind of Incredible Chicken, translated by Twyne thus: 'The combed Dame then touchte at heart, doth streit herself advaunce, / Affrighted with the sodayne feare, and chickens heroic chaunce.'

The English of Phaer/Twyne, which accompanies the Latin, was the major English translation of the Aeneid in the Renaissance. It was decidedly archaic-sounding even in 1583, though married to an innovative metre that aimed to get closer to a Classical style than ever before.3 In the introduction to his work, Phaer sets out his criteria of translation: 'I haue therefore followed the counsell of Horace, teaching the duetie of a good interpretour, Qui quae desperat nitescere posse, relinquit, by which occasion, somewhat I haue in places omitted, somewhat altered, and something I haue expounded, and all to the ease of inferiour readers, for you that are learned need not to be instructed.'4 The translation of the Supplement generally tends to expansion rather than compression of the Latin and maintains the same lofty style used to convey the Aeneid. In some places, though, the English undoubtedly misses something of the gravity Maffeo was aiming at; for example, Maffeo compares the flight of the people from burning Ardea to the hopeless flailing of a tortoise on its back (226-231); Twyne renders this 'And like the Snaile which creeping on an house with fire opprest. / When firste she feeles the heate, with striving long doth take no rest, / With head and taile she toyles, all means of scaping to assay, / The heat her skorching, wiles she non lets pas to get away.' The futile struggle of Maffeo's upturned tortoise is here rendered as the slow-speed getaway of the English snail. After the Supplement itself there follows the translation of Gavin Douglas, including its prologue. Unfortunately this text does not include an English glossary for the more difficult Middle Scots idioms. After the Supplement and its translations, B. adduces a bibliography of the works of Maffeo in chronological order and then her own list of works consulted. The actual commentary on the work itself is tacked onto the end of this and is split into two parts: first, a straight commentary, and second, a section on 'the influences' of Virgil and Ovid. It is here that B. shows most clearly that she trained as an archaeologist, not a philologist, offering an erratic and partial response to the text, and dealing with all 633 lines of densely packed allusion in just twenty pages of explication. Large swathes of the text pass without any comment at all. Puzzlingly, though the separation of the commentary into two parts implies that echoes of Virgil and Ovid are to be dealt with separately, in some cases they are also cited in the first section. And in some places the commentary can tend to the bizarre; B. cites anything from the motto of the state of Massachusetts to the poetry of Anne Bradstreet as an aid to interpretation. Even if this is a commentary unusable by contemporary philological standards, though, it does have a number of strengths. B. cites Renaissance Latin as well as Classical Latin authors on stylistic points and idioms of translation, as well as making use of Badius Ascensius' commentary. In short, B's 'commentary' aims more to set the Supplement in its era and demonstrate its debt to Virgil and Ovid than to produce a fully rounded philological survey of the text.

There are a few errors in the 1930 text which have not been corrected in the reprint; B. cites the simile of the Italian farmers celebrating the lifting of a long siege of rain at lines 445-449 (page 7); this should read 454-459. The preface (vi) refers to a profile of Maffeo which appears on the front cover; this is true of the 1930 edition, but not of this 2002 one, which shows instead Sebastian Brant's fifth illustration, 'The Wedding Feast of Aeneas and Lavinia'. There is also slippage in B's dating of Badius' commentary at 1500; more recently, scholars of Maffeo have dated this to 1501.

As a piece of serious scholarship, B's edition has been overtaken, but this is a classic work that still holds an important place in scholarship on the subject. For those interested in the reception-history of Virgil and intrigued by the 'audacious effort of ardent youth to bring Virgil's narrative to its sublime conclusion' (v), B's text and commentary offer a good starting point from which to explore this Renaissance response to the Aeneid.


1.   See Kallendorf, C (1989) In Praise of Aeneas: Virgil and Epideictic Rhetoric in the Early Italian Renaissance. University Press of New England.
2.   Schneider, B (1985) Das Aeneissupplementum des Maffeo Vegio. Acta Humaniora.
3.   See Burrow, C (1997) 'Virgil in English Translation' in Martindale, C (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Virgil: 21-37.
4.   Lally, S (1986) The Aeneid of Thomas Phaer and Thomas Twyne: a Critical Edition Introducing Renaissance Metrical Typography. New York: Garland.

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