Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.01.02

Francesca Romana Berno, L. Anneo Seneca. Lettere a Lucilio libro VI: le lettere 53-57. Testi e manuali per l'insegnamento universitario del latino 91.   Bologna:  Pàtron, 2006.  Pp. 419.  ISBN 88-555-2864-5.  €32.00.  

Reviewed by Andrea Balbo, Università di Torino (
Word count: 1634 words

Table of Contents

It is commonly known that one of the most difficult and attractive topics in Latin philology is Seneca's (henceforward S.) Epistulae ad Lucilium. The number of the letters, the depth of the philosophical themes that are developed in these texts and the complexity of the cultural references and allusions that are examined there mean a challenge for all the scholars who want to interpret them. In the wide field of research about ad Lucilium, a great and until now very open space is left open for commentaries: there does not exist a complete commentary to S.'s Epistles, and the partial works that exist concern a limited number of letters. The art of explaining and clarifying S.'s texts requires experience, literary taste and the reading of an enormous bibliography that is increasing year by year.1 So it is a very great pleasure when a product of this art of commentary obtains good results, and this is the case for Berno's (henceforward B.) work.

After the index, B.'s book contains a Premessa (pp. 8-9), with the sigla codicum,2 the brief list of the loci where her text is different from Reynolds' text (only two, in 53, 6 and 54, 4: see infra) and the acknowledgements. Then comes an Introduzione generale (pp. 11-32), where B. summarizes some of the main problems that concern Epistulae ad Lucilium (the chronology of every letter, the character of Lucilius Iunior) and analyzes the structure and the contents of the sixth book of Epistulae . B., starting from the studies of G. Maurach and G. Mazzoli,3 rightly says that letters 53-57 construct a complex built up from many elements: a) the similarity of the introductions and literary frames; b) the autoironical perspective; c) the inner structure of the letters (anecdote, philosophical reflections, final moral encouragement); d) the theme of endurance; and e) the location of the events described in the letters, Campania and in particular the area of Baiae and the sea between Naples and Pozzuoli. B. points out also intratextual links between the single epistles, such as the military lexicon used in the end of 53 and start of 54, the medical and surgery terminology of 54 and 55,and the flight theme of 56 and 57. B. underlines that in her commentary it will be necessary to exceed the limits of a simple textual and stylistic perspective: she will dedicate pages to the rich and complex philosophical questions arising from reading a letter and she is also convinced of the impossibility that this section of letters evinces a crude structure, because "il fare eccezione rispetto ad ogni tentativo di ridurla a formule prefissate è sempre stato il fascino dell'opera di Seneca".4

After the introduction, the Epistles. Each of them is introduced by a section where B. discusses the main problems of structure and contents. She examines clearly and completely the theoretical problems of interpretation. In my opinion, B. achieves an important result: she writes in a reader-friendly style that is particularly evident in the translation, where she makes the effort to follow the Senecan expression without renouncing bright and fluent Italian. It is sometimes very difficult to reproduce S.'s ductus: B. gets near this by the additional means of good punctuation; the large number of paragraphs in the Italian translation underline efficaciously the main points of S.'s argumentation. In general, the notes achieve their purpose of explaining the sense and the difficult points of the single parts without losing their connection to the overall interpretation. B. does not lose herself in little details but explains in a clear way the problems of meaning. She is aware of the subtlety of S.'s text and often uses summaries to focus on the problems and confront the different positions or ideas expressed by S. Another typical characteristic of B.'s commentary is the attention to medical and surgical matters; the strong connection between philosophy and medicine in these letters (e. g. the asthma problems of 54) receives the appropriate attention.

The themes of the letters are the object of good interpretative ideas; in particular I believe the attention paid to the mirror reflection of epistles 55 and 56 is very important. B. right points out that the noisy house of the philosopher of 56 is connected by contrast with the perfect villa of the male otiosus Vatia in 55; moreover, the correspondence is underlined by recourse to a vocabulary of sense-perception, sight in 55 and hearing in 56: "il quadro delle due lettere assume dunque una completezza esaustiva, con la particolarità che il rilievo accordato ai due sensi è funzionale all'argomentazione: la vista è necessariamente legata all'esteriorità e dunque ben si adatta ad essere privilegiata dovendo trattare di un otium che nell'esteriorità si esaurisce; l'udito, al contrario, è un senso più legato all'interiorità, che si presta maggiormente ad esprimere, attraverso il contrasto rumore/silenzio, la condizione tormentata o serena dell'animo umano" (pp. 233-234). There is only a single point on which I do not agree. In 56 S. says that he is living supra balneum. After a brief but complete discussion of the locus and above all of the town described by S., B. thinks that supra balneum does not mean "above the public baths", but that the expression refers to another house near the baths, from where S. can observe the crowd there. So B. accepts the idea that S. is referring here to a real experience of his life, but not all scholars agree. For instance, Miriam Griffin asked to herself "did Seneca really stay in the bath-house at Baiae more than five minutes?";5 also Italo Lana (whose commentary on this epistles is cited by B. in p. 234 n.2) thinks that the situation described in the letter is a literary construction, and that it is hard to think that S. is speaking of a real situation: "Pare anche strano che per passare le sue vacanze (al mare o altrove) S. avesse affittato un alloggio in un edificio che al pianterreno aveva uno stabilimento di bagni".6 So it would be betterif B. had discussed a little more closely the problem of the reasonableness of S.'s words.

If we pay attention to the text printed from B. we can observe a close fidelity to Reynolds' work. B. in fact declares carefully where she departs from the Oxford editor's choices. This happens in 53, 6, where she prints ubi et talaria instead of ubi ut talaria , and in 54, 4, where she rejects the expulsion of at and so reads Faciat; at ego. Both cases are explained in a clear way: in 53, 6 the choice is justified because the syntagm does not exist in any other classical text; in 54, 4 I think that Haase's and B.'s choice to maintain at are right, because "la presenza di at ego, come poco sopra ego vero, non farebbe che ribadire la combattività di S." (p. 137). However, in my opinion, in B.'s text, two loci -- even if they sound good -- could be improved: 1) At 53, 10 ] I wonder if Haase could be right in deleting rebus in the phrase rebus omnibus non sum hoc tempus acceptura quod vobis superfuerit,; it is possible that rebus omnibus has been influenced by rerum omnium of 3 lines previously and by omnibus aliis rebus of 13 lines previously The idea that things can be personified as Martin Kölle wants7 is strange here because there are no other personifications of objects in this section. Moreover, in her speech philosophy underlines the importance of human beings (vobis ... vos) and it seems strange that in the introduction form there is no reference to human beings. 2) At the end of letter 57 codices Α and Γ8 have si superstes est corpori propter illum nullo genere posse propter quod non perit quoniam nulla inmortalitas cum exceptione est nec quicquam noxium aeterno est. The best codex of this epistle, p,9 has: si superstes est corpori praeter illum nullo genere posse propter quod non poterit quoniam nulla inmortalitas cum exceptione est nec quicquam noxium aeterno est. It seems to me very difficult to consider propter quod non perit a glossematic interpolation because it explains si superstes est corpori. I would argue that the good opteri of Madvig can be conserved together with propter quod; poterit could derive from perit opteri. I and my good friend G. Magnaldi suggest the reading si superstes est corpori propter <quod non perit, opteri> illum nullo genere posse [propter quod non poterit], quoniam nulla inmortalitas cum exceptione est. The section [propter quod non poterit] is not a gloss, but it finds its origin probably in the marking word ("parola segnale") propter that indicates a mistake or a misunderstanding of a copyist that has gone into the text from marginal spaces in an uncertain moment of the tradition.10

B.'s bibliography is good and wide, with only small gaps: for instance, I have not found references to the translation of R. Rauthe,11 and the book of Chiara De Filippis Cappai, which is quoted twice in the text as De Filippis 1997, is not in bibliography;12 I have also a suggestion: in the commentary to 55, 3-5, pp. 193-194 is perhaps not enough to use only Werner Eck's article in the Neue Pauly to explain the characteristics of the person of Asinius Gallus: it would be better to refer at least to G. Danesi Marioni, All'ombra di un grande padre: Asinio Gallo in Seneca retore e Tacito, in AA. VV., Poikilma. Studi in onore di M. Cataudella, La Spezia 2001, I, 323-331. Some imperfections in printing can be found in the text, but they are not important.13 The general judgment about this work is very positive. B. has published some other studies about S.,14 but this work is probably the most convincing and satisfactory.


1.   As perhaps a lot of scholars know, the most recent general Senecan bibliography (AA. VV., Bibliografia senecana del XX secolo, da un'idea di I. Lana, a cura di E. Malaspina, Bologna, Pàtron, 2005) contains 6006 titles between 1901 and 2000. The section from 1901 to 1959 includes 247 pages, and the titles from 1960 to 2000 take 567 pp. The Bibliography is available on-line at the site Senecana under the responsability of the writer of this review.
2.   It would have been better to use the modern names of the codices instead of the ancient Latin names, but B. declares that she uses the abbreviations of L.D. Reynolds' edition (Oxford,Clarendon Press, 1965).
3.   Gregor Maurach, Der Bau von Senecas Epistulae Morales, Habilitationsschrift, Hamburg, "Bibliothek der klassischen Altertumswissenschaften" XXX, Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, Heidelberg 1970; Giancarlo Mazzoli, Le "Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium" di Seneca. Valore letterario e filosofico, ANRW II 36 3 1989, 1823-1877.
4.  P. 24.
5.   M. Griffin, Seneca. A philosopher in politics, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976, p. 5.
6.   I. Lana, Analisi delle lettere a Lucilio, Torino, Giappichelli, 1988, p. 122.
7.   Totum in exiguo als Lebensform und Kunstprinzip in Senecas philosophischen Schriften, Heidelberg 1975, p. 98.
8.   Α is consensus codicum L (Firenze, Biblioteca Laurenziana, Plut. 76, 40), Q (Brescia, Biblioteca Queriniana, B. II. 6), g (Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August Bibliothek, 335 Gud. lat. (4642); Γ is consensus codicum O (Leiden, Bibliothek der Rijksuniversiteit, Voss. lat. F. 70, tom. I-II + Oxford, Bodleian Library, Canon. Class. lat. 279-III), v (Città del Vaticano, Vat. lat. 366-II), M (Metz, Bibliothèque municipale, 300) P (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, lat. 8658 A) b (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, lat. 8539).
9.   p is Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, lat. 8540-I.
10.   About this problem see G. Magnaldi, La forza dei segni. Parole-spia nella tradizione manoscritta dei prosatori latini, Amsterdam, Hakkert, 2000.
11.   L. Annaeus Seneca, Epistulae morales ad Lucilium. Liber VI - Briefe an Lucilius über Ethik. 6. Buch, lateinisch/deutsch, übersetzt und herausgegeben von R. Rauthe, "Universal-Bibliothek" no. 2137, Philipp Reclam Jun., Stuttgart 1986, 94 pp.
12.   Imago mortis. L'uomo romano e la morte. (Studi Latini 26), Napoli, Loffredo, 1997, pp. 181.
13.   P. 38 the line number after 25 starts with 1 (a problem of pagination repeated unfortunately at p. 116, p. 166, p. 240 and p. 326, where the starting lines are marked with number 5, 20 or others); p. 116 desinit and not desiniti in 54, 1 line 11; p. 121 hesternum and not hesterunum; p. 129 "definizioni" and not "definizoni"; p. 130 "dentice" without capital letter; p. 162 "realtà" and not "relatà"; p. 217 "Seneca" and not "Seenca"; p. 224 occupatis and not occupati; p. 226 "ricorrere a breve" and not "ricorrere breve"; p. 246 line 25 read inter without capital letters; p. 326 line 4 illo instead of ilio (repeated at 328 line 3).
14.   I think particularly of Lo specchio, il vizio e la virtu : studio sulle Naturales Quaestiones di Seneca, Bologna, Patron, 2003, but other works may be found in the bibliography.

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