Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.07.64

Markus Sehlmeyer, Origo Gentis Romanae. Die Ursprünge des römischen Volkes. Texte zur Forschung 82.   Darmstadt:  Wissenschaftliche Buchgessellschaft, 2004.  Pp. 176.  ISBN 3-534-16433-4.  €34.90.  

Reviewed by Thomas M. Banchich, Canisius College. Buffalo, New York (
Word count: 1432 words

The so-called Origo gentis Romanae (hereafter OGR), a critical exposition of the prehistory of Rome from Saturn's arrival in Italy through Romulus and Remus, survives with the De viris illustribus and Sextus Aurelius Victor's De Caesaribus in two fifteenth-century manuscripts, both perhaps copied from what was described by its owner, the sixteenth-century erudite Jean Matal, as a codex antiquissimus.1 OGR was first attributed to Victor, then pronounced a humanist forgery by Niebuhr, but the identity of the author of the OGR is now agreed to be beyond recovery, though he cannot be Victor or whoever produced the De viris illustribus or the compiler of the tripartite Corpus Aurelianum of which the OGR is the first segment.2

Beginning in 1983, when Jean-Claude Richard's Budé provided the first critical edition of the OGR since Roland Gruendel's 1970 revision of Franz Pichlmayr's 1911 Teubner and, it seems, the first published translation into any modern language since Albert Forbiger's 1866 German version, the OGR has received a steady stream of scholarly attention.3 1992 saw Giovanni d'Anna's text, Italian translation, and commentary, a third edition of which appeared in 1997, the same year as a concordance;4 2002 a second edition by Richard; 2003 Hans Jürgen Hillen's edition, German translation, and commentary;5 and 2004 two on-line English translations and Sehlmeyer's edition, German translation, and commentary here reviewed.6 In addition, following Peter Lebrecht Schmidt's fundamental Pauly-Wissowa article of 1978 -- to which Sehlmeyer is heavily indebted -- there have appeared a number of specialized studies, soon to be increased by an appendix to Alan Cameron's forthcoming Greek Mythography in the Roman World.7 Given this state of affairs, it is reasonable to ask what, if anything, distinguishes Sehlmeyer's particular contribution to scholarship on the OGR.

With respect to the actual text of the OGR, Sehlmeyer admittedly (p. 27) and essentially reproduces Richard. In light of this, it is understandable that his apparatus is minimal, including only a few variant readings, proposed corrections, supplements, and the like, almost all by earlier scholars. Occasionally textual matters are relegated to the commentary, e.g., p. 90 on Acilius <et> Piso for the Acilius Piso at OGR 10.2. The real value of Sehlmeyer's Latin text, then, and what fully justifies its presence, is twofold: to show what he has translated and to clarify just what his commentary elucidates. It is, then, in no way redundant.

Indeed, the translation, which has no literary pretensions, is of very high quality. This is no small feat, for the Latin of the OGR presents a range of challenges. Unlike Hillen, whose translation is also excellent, Sehlmeyer opts to stay as close as possible to the OGR's syntax. For example, Sehlmeyer renders OGR 11, which comprises a sentence of thirteen lines of Teubner text, as an eleven-line German sentence, while Hillen uses two sentences, each subdivided by semicolons. For those to whom faithfulness to form matters -- as is must for any translator interested in capturing an author's (or the sources of an author's) method of composition -- Sehlmeyer here wins out over Hillen. That said, both translations serve readers of German well.

Since Hillen's translation and eleven pages of comments (Erläuterungen rather than Kommentar) comprise only an appendix to his investigation of the foundation legends of Rome, it is no surprise that Sehlmeyer's commentary, a central concern of which is to use those same foundation legends to understand the OGR, has much more to say about many more passages. Fairer measures of Sehlmeyer's 53-page commentary would be those of Richard and d'Anna (177 and 71 pages, respectively). As Sehlmeyer himself notes (p. 27), his focus is mainly historical, in contrast Richard's and d'Anna's emphasis on philological matters and Quellenkritik; for the marshalling of parallel passages, he advises consultation of the 1958 edition of Giulio Puccioni (Florence: Vallecchi). His own observations are succinct and illuminating, sometimes original, and always based on the best and most recent scholarship. The length of the commentary alone is deceptive because therein Sehlmeyer regularly directs the reader to his Introduction (pp. 7-28) or to the seven essays (pp. 119-160) which follow the commentary, and which, because they complement it so perfectly, allow brevity while contributing to an impressive overall cohesiveness often lacking in this scholarly genre.

The Introduction first treats the schizophrenic character of the OGR -- Part 1 (1.1-5.9) a sort of commentary on Vergil as a source for the history of Latium and the prehistory of Rome; Part 2 (10.5-23), after a transition (6-10.4), an antiquarian and historical overview of Aeneas, Ascanius, the foundation of Alba Longa, its early kings, and Romulus and Remus. It then discusses the OGR's transmission, language, and date; considers whether the OGR can be classified as an antiquarian or historical breviarium; describes the principles underlying Sehlmeyer's text and translation; and provides his rationale for the nature of his commentary.

Several of the Introduction's most important observations, especially those concerning the sources, character, and genesis of the OGR are developed in the seven Essays. "Die augusteische Quelle," the first of these, argues for the lost Rerum memoria dignarum of Marcus Verrius Flaccus as the "augusteischer Basistext" from which the second portion of the OGR derives, and which, via Suetonius' De regibus, a number of later authors -- e.g., Tertullian, Jerome, and Solinus -- reflect.8 Among several noteworthy features of this part of the OGR which seem to Sehlmeyer to betray associations with Augustus' "Rome" is its exposition at 17.4-19.1 of the succession of the kings of Alba Longa, whose statues were displayed in the Forum of Augustus (p. 126 and pp. 103-104 of the commentary).9 Essay 2, "Archäologie und Geschichte," concludes that the testimony of the OGR is valueless for the study of the archaeology of Roman prehistory. Essay 3, "Anthropologie," argues that in its mixture of a mainly Greek diffusionist model of cultural development with a mainly Roman evolutionist view the OGR reflects the ethnographic attitudes of Verrius rather than preserving any accurate ethnographic information about early Italy or Rome. Essay 4, "Mythologie," shows how the OGR produces prehistory by linking a Greek construction of Roman prehistory through myth with homegrown foundation tales of Italy, Lavinium, Alba Longa, and Rome which had themselves been integrated with earlier Greek elements. Essay 5, "Religiöse Praxis," links concerns about cult and ritual characteristic of the Augustan era, and so of Verrius Flaccus, to Part 2 of the OGR and contrasts these to Part 1, in which treatment of these same concerns are inseparable from exegesis of Vergil. Essay 6, "Bildung in der Spätantike," argues that this specific approach to Vergil as an inspired font of antiquarian lore betrays the authorship of a late antique grammarian. Essay 7, "Mutmassungen über die Intention," suggests that this grammarian meshed his work with a roughly contemporary epitome of Verrius Flaccus by some now-unknown author who, because he already focused on issues of particular interest to the antiquarianism of the fourth century, provided our grammarian with a ready-made bridge from his own material, through Latinus, Aeneas' departure from Troy, and up to Romulus and Remus.10

The book ends with a valuable glossary of Republican authors cited in the OGR (pp. 160-164), an up-to-date bibliography, and an index which includes names, words, and subjects discussed in the Introduction, Commentary, and Essays, though not in the OGR itself follow. Maps of localities in Latium mentioned in the OGR (p. 129), of the northern Gulf of Puteoli (p. 130), and of Rome and its environs as they appear in the OGR (p. 132) are a welcome feature, as is a table of variant traditions noted in the OGR (p. 25).

Sehlmeyer's major conclusions are three: that a fourth-century pagan grammarian (Sehlmeyer's Bearbeiter) combined what was essentially a commentary on Vergil with a revision of some now-unknown contemporary's (Sehlmeyer's Excerptor) epitome of Verrius Flaccus to produce the OGR; that the second part of the OGR is chiefly valuable for what it tells us about the revisionist and Augustan appropriation of Roman prehistory during the late Republic and early Principate; and that between 360-390 another anonymous hand joined the OGR to the De viris illustribus and De Caesaribus to form the Corpus Aurelianum.

The forcefulness with which he argues these points will compel those who disagree to state their cases in at least as compelling a fashion. The result should be a more nuanced appreciation of the OGR as a suitably Janus-faced text, looking back on the one had to the Golden Age not of Saturn but of Augustus and forward to the dawn of Late Antiquity's golden age of antiquarian scholarship, the principal exemplars of which are Servius and Macrobius.11


1.   A. Mazzarino, "Appunti sul metodo III. Per un' edizione critica dell' Origo gentis Romanae," Helikon 33/34 (1993/4), pp. 482-512, is an exhaustive discussion of the Codex Metelli. On Matal himself, see Peter Arnold Heuser, Jean Matal. Humanistischer Jurist und europäischer Friedensdenker (um 1517 - 1597) (Cologne: Böhlau, 2003).
2.   Momigliano, Arnaldo. "Some Observations on the 'Origo Gentis Romanae,'" JRS 48 (1958), pp. 56-73, offers a good overview of the discovery of the Corpus Aurelianum and of the early scholarship the OGR engendered.
3.   Forbiger, Sextus Aurelius Victor (Stuttgart: Krais and Hoffmann).
4.   D'Anna, Anonimo, Origine del popolo romano (Rome: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla; Milan: Mondadori); Luca Cardinali, Origo gentis Romanae. De viris illustribus. Concordantiae et Indices (Hildesheim: Georg Olms).
5.   Von Aeneas zu Romulus: Die Legenden von der Gründung Roms (Düsseldorf: Artemis & Winkler).
6.   Roger Pearse issued an invitation to any who wished to participate in a collaborative translation of the OGR on January 31, 2004. The finished work was posted online on March 6, 2004. The second, supervised by the reviewer, and Number 3 in the Canisius College Translated Texts series, is available through De Imperatoribus Romanis.
7.   Schmidt, "(Aur.) Victor," RE Supplementband XV (1978), cols. 1583-1667; Cameron (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
8.   Verrius, who taught Augustus' grandchildren in the Palatium (Suet. Gram. 17), wrote, among other things, a De verborum significatu, epitomized by Festus and, indirectly, by Paulus Diaconus (ed. W. Lindsay [Leipzig : B. G. Teubner, 1913]). Macrobius Sat. I.4.7 mentions a Saturnus. For fragments of his works, see Funaioli, Gramm. Rom. Frag., pp. 509-523; on Verrius himself, cf. Albrecht Dihle, RE 8 A2 (1958), cols. 1636-1645, and P. L. Schmidt, Kl. Pauly V (1979), cols. 1209-1210. No actual fragments of the Rerum memoria dignarum survive. For testimonia, see Funaioli, p. 510. However, on the basis of parallels between Festus and the OGR, Schmidt (RE Supplementband XV, cols. 1612-1616) concludes that a section of the Rerum memoria dignarum was the direct model for the compiler of the OGR. Richard, pp. 40-44, argues against the direct or indirect dependence of the OGR on Verrius.
9.   For the layout of the Forum Augustum, see Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988), p. 194.
10.   With Essays 6-8, cf. Schmidt, RE Supplementband XV, cols. 1587-1590.
11.   Sehlmeyer closes (p. 160, n. 13) with a mention of his forthcoming Habilitationschrift, in which he will examine breviaria in the context of the "Umbruch vom paganen zum christlichen Imperium." On the basis of the work here reviewed, this is welcome news.

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