Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.07.25

J. G. F. Powell (ed.), M. Tulli Ciceronis De re publica, De legibus, Cato Maior De senectute, Laelius De amicitia.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2006.  Pp. lxxvi, 390.  ISBN 0-19-814669-8.  $35.00.  

Reviewed by W. H. Shearin, University of California, Berkeley (
Word count: 2987 words

If Michael Winterbottom is correct that we have entered "what may be the last decades of the systematic editing of classical texts,"1 then Cicero's philosophica, previously somewhat neglected by anglophone editors, are going out with a bang.2 Within the Oxford Classical Texts (OCT) series alone, the last fifteen years have seen new editions of De Officiis (M. Winterbottom, 1994) and De Finibus (L. D. Reynolds, 1998); and Jonathan Powell now provides us with a new OCT volume of four of Cicero's dialogues: De re publica, De legibus, Cato Maior De senectute, and Laelius De amicitia.

Powell has edited previously, in two separate editions, the De senectute3 and the De amicitia, the latter prepared and published together with the somnium Scipionis.4 The edition under review represents the continuation and evolution of this earlier work. Powell here reproduces, apart from minor changes and corrections, his previously published texts, now adding new versions of De legibus and the remainder of De re publica. The volume also includes an editorial preface and an index nominum for all four dialogues; for De re publica alone, there is a concordance (between Powell's and Ziegler's editions), testimonia, and an index testimoniorum.

What sort of editor is Powell? He may be characterized as traditional but not (or not necessarily) conservative. He is traditional in that he believes in restoring, to the best of his abilities, a text that, aside from more recent orthographical conventions, plausibly represents Cicero's original text.5 Moreover, unlike some recent editors (e.g. James Willis in his Macrobius Teubner, which deals with, in some respects, a more vexed transmission), in each instance where a manuscript tradition exists, he provides a stemma codicum, assessing the relationship between his various primary manuscripts. These traditional aspects of Powell's practice do not, however, make him a conservative critic: above all else, he values good Latin and editorial judgment. When confronted with a difficult text, he does not shy away from emendation, a fact that is particularly clear in his new version of the De legibus.6 As he remarks at one point in his preface (p. xxxiv), "...this should be understood: not every reading that the editor offers in his text can be held utterly certain, but instead it can be judged (iudicari) best among those readings available..." Judgment, then, matters quite a bit.7

Here follows a brief survey of Powell's judgments, a summary assessment of the ways in which he rearranges and emends each of the four dialogues in this edition. However one feels about each individual judgment, the appearance of Powell's edition is a great boon to scholarly interest in these dialogues. The fact that, with each work, Powell has examined the relevant manuscripts afresh and carefully reported that information means that anyone interested in Cicero's text will be able to consult his edition with confidence and profit. Moreover, as will be clear in the comments that follow, in many places Powell has made improvements to the text that will be of lasting value to scholars of the philosophica, whether they be philosophers, textual critics, or scholars of a more literary or historical persuasion.

As parts of the volume have appeared in print before, the following remarks focus primarily upon what is new (first and foremost, the text of De legibus and the first five books of De re publica). But some modifications of earlier work will be noted as well. The dialogues will be considered in the order in which they appear in the volume, beginning with De re publica.

I. De re publica

Readers moving from Konrat Ziegler's Teubner edition, the previous standard, to Powell's OCT will note immediately the amount of rearranging that has occurred in the new version of De re publica. This rearrangement applies both to the famous palimpsest (Vaticanus latinus 5757) that provides most of the continuous extant remains of De re publica and to fragments preserved in later sources. (It does not, however, much impact on the somnium Scipionis, which has a separate, much fuller manuscript tradition.) Why has Powell altered previous ordering? Local justifications vary, but his chief motivation is to clarify how much of De re publica we have and how certainly our ancient sources place these remains. Thus, Powell re-classifies several fragments included by Ziegler within his main text as testimonia, fragmenta incertae sedis, or fragmenta dubia. His organizing principles, straightforwardly outlined in the preface at pp. xxxi-xxxii, dictate that, barring independent evidence, he places in his main text only those fragments which are both attributed by their source to the De re publica and located in a specific book. Otherwise, fragments are located either on pp. 148-50 among fragmenta incertae sedis (when securely attributed) or on pp. 151-54 among fragmenta dubia (when doubtful).8 General testimonia are collected not with the text of De re publica but at the end of the entire volume (pp. 366-70).

In addition, Powell provides a triple apparatus for his text, a fact that may surprise those raised on older OCTs with scarcely any apparatus at all.9 Yet this practice is in keeping with his general aim of placing the complex details of the preservation of the dialogue at the reader's disposal.10 Alongside textual variants, he provides, where relevant, information on the sources of fragments, testimonia, and (for the palimpsest) a conspectus paginarum to allow the reader to compare the printed arrangement of the text with the state in which the palimpsest was found.

Let us now take a closer look at a selection of Powell's innovations.

One book that shows marked changes is the third. There, within the first several pages of the book, Powell has placed one folium (fol. 199-200) previously assigned to the fifth book by Mai, and he has moved a second pair (fol. 207-08, 201-02) that Mai placed in quaternio 27 to quaternio 28. These "new" placements can have a disorienting effect upon a reader accustomed to Mai's order (generally followed by Ziegler); however, as Powell makes clear in his preface (pp. vii-viii), there are good reasons to prefer the new order. The first folium is written in a hand (that of scribe 'B'), which (so far as we know) occurs only in the third book, and it seems to treat, like other similarly located fragments, the origins of human society, while the second pair follows well upon the discussion of the two kinds of sapientia at 3.4 [7]. Thus, while neither of these transpositions is therefore certain, both (especially the first) have plausibility. As Mai himself used conjecture in ordering the jumbled leaves of the Vatican palimpsest, Powell's innovations, when well-motivated as here, are a welcome challenge to the blind acceptance of Mai's ordering.11

Similarly salutary (and again in the third book) is Powell's adoption of Lactantius' order for certain fragments of Philus' speech. As Powell points out (p. ix), Lactantius (at Institutiones Divinae 5.16) seems to indicate that, in making his excerpts, he is following Cicero's text sequentially.12 Lactantius' ordering is otherwise unverifiable, but the fragments make at least as much sense in his order as in any other; and we have no other ancient evidence suggesting another arrangement of the fragments. The primary change that this evidence occasions is that what was section 3.23 in Ziegler's edition (along with part of 3.24) now follows 3.25-30 of that same edition. (In Powell's edition, 3.23 becomes 3.17, and 3.25-30 become 3.12-16.)

Other rearranging seems less clearly necessary. Powell no doubt has his reasons for mildly re-ordering the fragments in the fourth book, although it is hard to discern them from his preface. He argues (pp. xxi-xxii) that the discussion of the nature of mankind in this book should be a peroratio rather than a prooemium, and he places that discussion accordingly near the end of the book. For the remaining fragments, he groups them and provides appropriate subject-headings, but it is unclear (to this reviewer at least) why he orders the subjects as he does. In such a fragmentary book, there are many possible (if not equally plausible) orderings, so further clarification and argument (even in a separate publication) would be useful.13

By comparison with rearrangement, emendation plays a less striking, though still significant, role in Powell's De re publica. A few examples:

[N.B. V = Vaticanus latinus 5757 (palimpsestus)]

1.9 (p. 9): ...neve ab eis dilacerari rem publicam patiantur... Powell
...ab eisdem lacelari... V

This line early in the first book shows some of Powell's ingenuity as a critic. For the palimpsest's lacelari, Mai has already proposed lacerari. Powell, perhaps inspired by Cicero Mil. 24: dilacerandam rem publicam..., here prefers the compound dilacerari to Mai's simplex. He finds the prefix (di-) lurking in the transmitted -dem of eisdem. Powell's proposal here, as with many of his changes, is both palaeographically plausible and worthy of consideration; it deals with the transmitted text in a neat, non-invasive fashion.

3.9 [15] (p. 97): ut esset posteris ante oculos documentum Persarum sceleris sempiternum. Powell
...ante os... V

Powell's apparatus suggests that ante oculos may be the reading of a corrector of the palimpsest, although it is impossible to be sure. Whatever the case, the minor change from os to oculos, while unnecessary, does have nice resonances with other parts of the dialogue. The phrase occurs at (e.g.) 1.31 and 1.56, and it seems often to appear (as here) when evidentiary and epistemological claims are at stake.

3.36 [47] (p. 114): ...illud tamen non tibi assentior, tantum praestare regi optimates. Powell
...tibi assentior, iusto... Ziegler

The text here is corrupt, and Powell's apparatus indicates that the first hand reads tibi sentio auttu. This last "word" (that is, auttu) is perhaps corrected into tantum by a second hand, a reading that Powell accepts into his text. But the sense tantum provides is, if not intolerable, less appealing (at least to this reader) than an adjective (e.g. iusto or optimo) in agreement with regi in the same position. The continuation of the passage discusses not the relative placement of monarchy against oligarchy but rather how the two are the same, so long as both represent the governance of wisdom (sapientia). (That is, what Scipio will not assent to is not tantum praestare but simply praestare.) For this reason, Ziegler's iusto, even if it is palaeographically harder to justify, remains attractive.

4.11 [8] (p. 121): Admiror nec rerum solum sed verborum etiam diligentiam... Powell
...elegantiam... codd.

Nonius Marcellus preserves this fragment with almost no context. Presumably following the lead of L. Müller, Powell does not like taking elegantiam with both rerum and verborum, and he therefore emends to diligentiam. This change seems to me unnecessary. In fact, as the passage that follows is precisely about distinguishing between two words, iurgium and lis, elegantia, "choosiness" in diction, seems to fit the context fairly well, while elegantia rerum, however we translate it, is certainly construable.14

II. De legibus

With this second dialogue, a work that often stands in the shadow of De re publica, Powell introduces his greatest number of new emendations. Ignoring minor instances where he has adopted the correction of a previous editor (or a lightly modified version thereof), we may count at least sixteen new changes in Powell's text, passages where the apparatus reports scripsi. (Modifications occur at 1.16, 24, 34, 37, 49, 54; 2.22, 37, 41, 43, 63, 64; 3.4, 11, 45, 49.) While Powell's changes will perhaps not make De legibus, which has been described as "a puzzling and not altogether satisfactory work," a smooth, polished masterpiece, they should nonetheless remove some of the linguistic difficulties experienced by current readers of this incomplete philosophical exchange.15 Even if one disagrees with some of Powell's choices, one may certainly concede that he has improved what was heretofore a rather rugged text.

A few examples:

(N.B. In these examples, I use Powell's sigla, but for simplicity of orthography I occasionally omit reports of correctors, redundant manuscripts, and other details provided in Powell's apparatus. Readers should thus refer to his text -- and to his sigla provided on p. 156 -- for full manuscript details. Capital roman letters should be understood as individual manuscripts, while Ω denotes the consensus codicum omnium and thus the reading of the supposed archetype.)

1.16 (p. 165): ...nam sic habetote, nullo in genere disputandi honestiora patefieri... Powell
honesta BAEHL

Editors have noted previously that something is amiss with the most commonly transmitted reading in this passage, honesta. Cicero's text clearly calls for remedy -- he can hardly be saying "in no type of argument are honorable things made clear" -- and one solution is to provide a more fully articulated point of comparison (i.e. "in no type of argument are more honorable things made clear," which explains the list of questions that follows). Powell's honestiora thus provides the desired sense quite economically. Other proposed emendations improve the text successfully, but none is as plausible paleographically as Powell's.

2.41 (p. 218): <De> diligentia votorum satis in lege dictum; est autem votum sponsio qua obligamur deo. Powell
diligentia PH/ diligentiam BAHL
dictum est ac Ω
voti P/votis rell.

Powell has made several changes to this single period, all of which are sensible. <De> diligentia, explicable by a simple haplography, makes for easier Latin than the bald diligentia, and retrieving autem from the cumbersome ac is a stroke of genius. ac could have arisen easily from the common suspensions at or au, and autem makes for better connection in the expression.16 votum, too, is an improvement on the transmitted voti and votis, although one wonders (an idea registered already by Dyck) whether votum is not then simply an intrusive gloss on sponsio. Moreover, although unnecessary, it is possible a second est has fallen out after dictum (another haplography); but one should perhaps resist further rewriting.

1.34 (p. 175): Tu vero iam perpauca licet Powell
perpaucas valet licet B
perpauca sua licet AHL
perpauca si licet P

The Aldine edition prints perpauca scilicet here; and while some of the nuance of scilicet is desirable in a passage where Quintus seems to be insinuating sarcastically that Marcus is a bit of a windbag for saying "very few" words on a subject where they already agree, Powell's perpauca licet is paleographically better. In Dyck's commentary (ad loc.), Powell explains his supposition that sua is an abbreviated gloss -- in full s<cilicet> v<erb>a -- that should be deleted. This theory easily accounts for the variation of B, and if we can give perpauca licet a bit of a sarcastic or ironic edge, Powell's suggestion will succeed both textually and semantically.

Readers will want to delve into Powell's text further to explore other emendations, but this selection should make clear that Powell's several changes in De legibus are always thoughtful, especially with regard to negotiating paleographical issues.

III. Cato Maior De senectute

The version of the De senectute printed here reproduces Powell's earlier Cambridge text except that Powell has now "silently" corrected "the smallest blemishes" (p. li). Indeed, this updated text manifests precious few departures from what was already, at least from the standpoint of language, punctuation, and syntax, an excellent text. The few alterations include:

At 28.5, Powell previously wrote per sepse. He now opts for persaepe, which is suggested by the pers(a)epe ipsa found in several manuscripts. Given Cicero's well-known predilection for per- compounds, this choice certainly seems more Ciceronian.

At 44.17 (p. 293) and 45.20, 21 (also p. 293), he has changed three dashes to a colon, semicolon, and a period, respectively. These changes were perhaps spurred by Nicholas Horsfall's remark (in his review of Powell's Cambridge edition) that Powell is "a little free with the dash."17 Whatever their source, these minor alterations give the text a somewhat statelier feel, with firmer pauses. Theodor Adorno once compared the dash to that intermediate traffic signal, the yellow light.18 If we adopt this comparison, we may suggest that limiting the number of dashes helps corral the reckless reader, who is otherwise inclined to race through recommended linguistic stops. But however we construe them, these changes leave the bulk of Powell's earlier work unchanged.

IV. Laelius De amicitia

With the concluding dialogue of the volume, Powell again makes only a few perceptible changes to his earlier published text. He appears to have accepted suggested corrections (especially those outlined in the review of Daniel Knecht) as well as to have made a few other, minor alterations based upon further consideration of the manuscript evidence; many of these changes are indicated at the conclusion of a recent article.19 For a fuller discussion of some of the textual (and other) questions raised by that first publication, readers should consult earlier reviews (e.g. Knecht, Oakley).20

V. Errors

As the brief nature of the following list suggests, the proofreading for Powell's edition was carried out in a thorough, accurate fashion. His volume is a work that, with its combination of extensive learning and sound judgment, will no doubt aid both scholarly study and classroom instruction for years to come.

Praefatio (p. lii): The "9." in left the margin is misaligned slightly, at least when compared with the other section numbers.

1.25.2-3 (p. 19): "auctoritateeteloquentiaetconsilioprincepscivitatissuae" should be, I presume, "auctoritate et eloquentia et consilio princeps civitatis suae".21

Fragmenta Dubia (p. 154): In section (c) οἶς should be οἷς.

Testimonia ad libros de re publica #2 (p. 366): For ἐξωτερικούς I would write ἐξωτερικοὺς, although this choice is a matter of convention.

Testimonia #5 (p. 367): "patiar" seems to have fallen out after "qui volet."

Testimonia #5 (p. 368): For ἱστορικόν I would write ἱστορικὸν.

Testimonia (pp. 366-70, passim): Powell's capitalization practice throughout the testimonia seems erratic. His normal practice in the text of Cicero is to capitalize the first letter of each new period, but many of the testimonia (e.g. 1, 5, etc.) begin their first period in lowercase. (Perhaps there is some rationale here, but its logic evades me.)

Index testimoniorum ad libros de re p. (p. 375): Move "Felix" to the same line with "Minucius".


1.   CR 107 (1993), 431, cited at M. Reeve, "Cuius in Usum? Recent and Future Editing" JRS 90 (2000), 196.
2.   On the European continent, the De re publica scarcely has been neglected at any point since Mai's editio princeps in 1822, but until recently it has received limited editorial attention elsewhere. The other dialogues in the volume all have received editorial treatment in the twentieth century, although (with the exception of Powell's own work) none has appeared in a major new critical edition in twenty-five years.
3.   J. G. F. Powell (ed.) Cicero: Cato Maior De senectute (Cambridge, 1988). [Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries]
4.   J. G. F. Powell (ed. and trans.) Cicero: On Friendship and The Dream of Scipio (Warminster, 1990). [Aris & Phillips] It should be noted that this edition, although the product of genuine re-examination of the manuscripts, does not appear with a critical apparatus. The apparatus for De amicitia thus appears in the volume under consideration for the first time as well.
5.   Such focus on what the author actually wrote is "traditional" (if also standard within the discipline of classical studies) when set against the so-called "New Philology" found in recent decades in medieval studies. New Philology professes a greater interest in variants per se and the proliferation of these variants. Cf. the 1990 issue of the journal Speculum for what is often considered the founding document of New Philology. H. U. Gumbrecht The Powers of Philology: Dynamics of Textual Scholarship (Urbana and Chicago, 2003), ch. 2 provides a stimulating theoretical discussion of different "editor roles," mentioning at times both New Philology and textual critical methods from classical studies.
6.   In his recent commentary on De legibus, which is based on Powell's text and prepared at least in partial consultation with Powell, Andrew R. Dyck writes (p. 45) that Powell's text "may be called 'moderately reformist,' i.e., the transmitted text is subjected to rigorous scrutiny with a view to bringing it up to the stylistic level of Cicero's other works without resorting to an implausible degree of rewriting."
7.   This emphasis on judgment occurs at many turns within Powell's preface. At the bottom of p. xxxiv and the top of p. xxxv he enumerates the "weapons" (arma) of the editor as follows: 'manuscripts (let him read quite carefully and thoroughly those of greatest significance); context and sense (let him thoroughly inspect these in each place and grasp them, to the extent he is able, with his mind); finally, his own judgment and intelligence (let him use these, whatever he has).' This triad seemingly has the force of a tricolon crescendo, culminating with "judgment and intelligence" (iudicio atque ingenio).
8.   There are occasional places, though, where Powell (consciously) departs from his own organizing principles. For example, in the prooemium to the third book, Powell prefers to print in his main text the famous "Nature as a step-mother" passage preserved by Augustine (at Contra Iulianum 4.12.60). Powell here is torn between his sense that the exact words used here are not entirely Ciceronian and the feeling that they are nonetheless "not far wrong" (preface, p. xx: haud longe a Tullio). For this reason, he prints the words in the main text but in italics.
9.   Indeed, for Powell's volume, it might not be a bad idea for Oxford University Press to omit the language on its dust jacket that proclaims OCT volumes have only "a brief apparatus criticus." (Powell's apparatus is, I should add, judicious and accurate, to the extent I have checked it; but as it occasionally occupies half the printed page [e.g. pp. 61, 72], it could only be called "brief" with some difficulty.)
10.   On p. 35 of his preface, Powell remarks: "...among the duties of the editor I thought this to be almost the chief one: that both the testimony of the manuscripts and the conjectures of scholars be presented so plainly that, in any place where some doubt remains, the reader himself could apply his own judgment..."
11.   Cf. the discussion in Powell's preface, p. vii.
12.   Among other terms, Lactantius employs "tum...veniebat" (5.16.5) and "transcendebat" (5.16.9), both of which seem to give a sense of moving forward sequentially.
13.   To be clear: as it stands, Powell's preface (p. xxi) lays out what his groupings within the fourth book are, though he does little to justify these groupings. In such a vexed stretch of text, certainty is hardly to be expected. But, as there has been much scholarly discussion (e.g. Pöschl, Büchner, Zetzel) of the structure of the fourth book, further exposition of Powell's own understanding would be of value.
14.   For a turn of phrase similar to elegantia rerum, one could turn to Cicero Mur. 38: "... noli ludorum ... elegantiam et scaenae magnificentiam tam valde contemnere ..."
15.   J. E. G. Zetzel (ed. and trans.) Cicero: On the Commonwealth and On the Laws (Cambridge, 1999): xxiii.
16.   On these suspensions, cf. W. M. Lindsay, Notae Latinae (Cambridge, 1915): 13-14.
17.   CR 39 (1989): 227.
18.   Adorno, Noten zur Literatur I (Frankfurt, 1958): 161.
19.   I refer to Knecht's review published at AC 61 (1992): 386-87 as well as to the list of corrections found at J. G. F. Powell, "The Manuscripts and Text of Cicero's Laelius de Amicitia" CQ 48.2 (1998): 518.
20.   For Knecht's review, cf. n. 19; Oakley's may be found at CR 42 (1992): 445-46.
21.   I would like to thank Richard Fletcher of The Ohio State University (and his alert eyes) for first pointing out this typographical error to me. Thanks are also due to Mark Griffith, who read and improved a draft of this review.

Read Latest
Index for 2007
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:32:02, Friday, 03 April 2009