Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.12.26

Lee Fratantuono, A Commentary on Virgil, Aeneid XI. Collection Latomus 320.   Bruxelles:  Éditions Latomus, 2009.  Pp. 339.  ISBN 9782870312612.  €48.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Kyle G. Gervais, University of Otago, Dunedin (
Word count: 1930 words

The 11th book of Virgil's Aeneid is, in Lee Fratantuono's opinion, the poem's "most important", in which Virgil "most thoroughly and dramatically presents the major themes of his poem in microcosm" (p. 5). Book 11 has also been, until recently, understudied, with K. W. Gransden's useful but short entry (only 75 pp. of notes) in the Cambridge "green and yellow" series (1991) the only modern commentary available to English readers. But with the publication in 2003 of Nicholas Horsfall's Aen. 11--predictably intimidating in its thoroughness and insight--the field of Aen. 11 commentaries is suddenly rather crowded. We now have Fratantuono's effort, revised from a 2002 doctoral thesis. Fratantuono's reading of Virgil is incisive and stimulating, and his literary approach to the text is commendable. As a commentary, however, the work is ultimately a slight one, and beset with significant problems. Scholars will still turn first to Horsfall, students to Gransden; Fratantuono's work will be supplementary.

Fratantuono offers 300 pages of notes (this page count is deceptive, since he employs very few abbreviations, a fairly expansive style, and, unfortunately, repeats himself often), but his selective approach means that readers will often find he has nothing to say on a particular word or line. Fratantuono includes a bibliography, index locorum, and index rerum nominumque , but gives no text or apparatus criticus, no translation, and no introduction (these omissions are briefly addressed in the preface). Most of this, while inconvenient for the reader, is forgivable, since good texts and translations are readily available (and furthermore, Fratantuono's notes consistently give lucid and insightful discussion of textual variants and conjectures). But an introduction is sorely missed here, especially since the thematic and structural threads that Fratantuono traces through his notes-- the commentary's major strength--would have benefitted greatly from a focussed treatment at the outset; as it is, I sometimes struggled to piece together coherent arguments from fragmentary discussions spaced throughout the commentary (the problem is exacerbated by the absence of cross-references). Fratantuono refers readers to the chapter on book 11 in his previously published general survey of the Aeneid, Madness Unchained (Lanham, Md., 2007). Hardly an adequate substitute for a proper introduction, and the source of another, disconcerting problem: readers wishing to know Fratantuono's opinions on Aen. 11 may turn to his previous book to find many of them in a more complete, concise, and contextualized form.

While these are all important shortcomings, the notes that Fratantuono provides are generally very good. He pays some attention to traditional areas of philological interest, especially diction and textual problems, but dedicates most of his energies to literary questions. These include: structural links between book 11 and books 2, 4, and 5; links between the young, doomed warriors Pallas and Camilla; the tripartite arrangement of book 11; maestus as the defining word of the book; and the suppression of Trojan identity in the final ethnic disposition of Italy. The expressive possibilities of Virgil's prosody (especially dactylic and spondaic textures) receive full attention; such interpretation is always subjective and open to objection, but Fratantuono seems to get it right (e.g., 3461 on Drances' spondaic speech: "he wants every last word to be savored") more often than not (e.g., 474: "The slow spondees underscore the difficult labor"--but that labour is described in the preceding, half-dactylic line; 474 in fact describes the blowing of war-trumpets). Virgilian repetition is treated with sensitivity: character "doublets" (usually linked by names sharing the same first and last letters: Anna-Acca, 820; Camilla-Cassandra, 865: Phoebus-Pallas, 913), the opening and closing of "rings" (Camilla's death answers her earlier energetic leap from her horse, 818; the news of her death corresponds to the news of resumed hostilities after the burial truce, 896), and the repetition of words in the same scene (800 conuertere echoes 798 uertere; dedit in 798 and 799). Virgil's predecessors are barely discussed, although, I gather, this is a result of the subject matter (in his preface, Horsfall calls Aen. 11 "sadly barren terrain" for intertextual study). But Virgil's posterity is given more consideration: aside from frequent quotation of the medieval Roman d'Enéas and Dryden's translation of Virgil, Fratantuono makes several recondite references to later literature and art. Thus at 139-81 we hear of a painting of Evander's lament for Pallas by Antoine Coypel, "preserved in a regrettably ruined state in the Louvre", and at 423 we have a reference to Prudentius' Epiphany hymn (Cathemerinon 12.125-32), "the text appropriately used in the Breuiarium Romanum for the Matins of the Holy Innocents". Finally, Fratantuono shows a consistently excellent grasp of the wide field of Virgilian scholarship: his footnotes (a rarity in commentaries) are numerous and wide-ranging; particularly useful is his footnote on the "increasingly formidable" bibliography for the Camilla episode (pp. 163f. n. 137). He also participates fully in the commentary tradition on Aen. 11, quoting, praising, criticizing, or modifying the work of previous scholars, Horsfall in particular, with whom he frequently disagrees.

There are, however, problems with Fratantuono's notes (beyond the larger problems discussed above). He sometimes allows irrelevant material to intrude into a note (e.g., the discussion of sexuality in the deaths of Pallas, Camilla, and Nisus and Euryalus at 56f., or Camilla as a foreshadowing of the she-wolf of Romulus and Remus at 809-13), and repeatedly collates into a single paragraph not only a discussion of the lemma, but also other words from the same or subsequent line: thus, e.g., a reader risks missing Fratantuono's thoughts on 495 perfundi, which are hidden in the middle of a note on the previous line, 494 ille. Fratantuono occasionally pushes the significance of syntax too far (on 841 luisti, "a funereal perfect, echoing the Latin use of fuit to describe one whose life is now finished"; on 384 stragis aceruos / Teucrorum, "the genitives strikingly 'heap up' like the bodies"), although other readers may be more adventurous than I am here. More troubling, the force of Fratantuono's argument sometimes gets in the way of an accurate reading. Thus, on 120 obstipuere, Fratantuono argues (rightly) that the Latins are shocked by the revelation that the protracted war may be ended by single combat between Aeneas and Turnus, but this is not why Drances is infensus iuueni Turno (123, discussed at 120); in fact, Drances is SEMPER infensus iuueni Turno, and for personal rather than political reasons (as Fratantuono correctly notes elsewhere). Many of Fratantuono's longer notes make for difficult reading, seeming a disjointed collection of brief thoughts rather than a coherent whole (e.g., 136, 442, 539ff. and the associated footnote, n. 159). Fratantuono's discussion of the Camilla episode, intended to be "the most detailed study yet offered of Virgil's most enigmatic character" (p. 5), is generally good, but suffers from an excessively symbolic reading of Camilla's infancy (555 habilem does not point to C.'s future adaptability; 556 mediae and librans do not suggest that she will find no balance in her adult life) and an argument for Camilla's lycanthropy that never really coalesces from its fragmentary parts, and thus never convinces. Finally--a temptation familiar to me in my own work on Statius--Fratantuono's admirably sympathetic reading of Virgil's oft-criticized book omits any possibility of Virgilian shortcomings (I found nothing overtly critical in 300 pages of commentary on 915 lines of poetry).

Before turning to ad loc. comments, I must again commend Fratantuono's literary approach to commentary-writing. While student commentaries have been more willing to engage in literary interpretation, "scholarly" commentaries have traditionally confined themselves to a drily philological approach. An unfortunate practice, especially since the commentary is in some ways peculiarly suited to a literary approach--in particular, the line-by line, word-by-word reading demanded by a commentary encourages a rigour of interpretation often missing when the literary critic is free to range across his text, discussing or ignoring material as he sees fit. I hope that Fratantuono's forthcoming commentary on Aen. 5 will continue this literary approach, while at the same time providing readers (who cannot expect another Horsfallian behemoth on this book) some of the ancillary materials expected in a commentary. An introduction is absolutely necessary, and many readers would appreciate more attention to some of the traditional philological concerns (grammatical, historical, logical) against which Fratantuono wittingly, if over-frequently, rails--"Virgil is a poet, not a bookkeeper" (35); "Virgil creates images, he does not provide instruction manuals" (64); "dative better than 'archaic ablative', for morphological worriers" (197); "a good example of how poetry cannot abide grammatical analysis" (370, quoting George Shea); "this interpretation removes the pedantry of wondering whether or not spurs were post-heroic" (714).

I end with ad loc. comments. These comprise only criticism; Fratantuono's praiseworthy notes, which far outweigh any other type, will have to remain unacknowledged. Appended is a list of typos and minor errors--rather a lot, as always seems to be the case in modern classical publications.


149. Pallanta much better than Pallante, as usually recognized. Fratantuono's defence of the ablative sequence feretro Pallante reposto is suspect: "The occurrence of three ablatives in a row emphasizes the dehumanization of Pallas: he has become one with the bier, and when it is put down, so is he".

155. "Passing" is adverbial (= "surpassingly") in Goold's "passing sweet", which is thus no mistranslation of praedulce.

215. The mourning sisters are merely part of the sequence of matres, nurus, and pueri; they do not evoke Phaëthon's sisters, nor establish a link between Aeneas-Apollo and Pallas-Phaëthon (these lines in fact not about Aeneas or Pallas).

247. On Gargani: the function of Iapygis is left unclear. If Gargani is a "locative with uictor", then Iapygis must be a noun (this reading, contra Gransden, Horsfall, and Liddell & Scott, should be explicitly stated); if Iapygis is an adjective (modifying Gargani), then Gargani is not exactly "a genitive dependent on Iapygis agris".

367. The line is not chiastic.

500. Seems to imply that cohors describes infantry; relictis ... equis assures that this is not so.

539f. Second paragraph: for the European Virgil, of course, the baby Camilla's transport in her father's sinus evoked no marsupial associations!

685. super not a preposition, unless the object has been elided.

714. DDSS cannot really be called a "dactylic line".

p. 239 n. 204. "It is rather fanciful to see echoes in emendations". It is not.

754. Venulus, not Tarchon, is compared to the snake that "bristles" (horret).

782. Fratantuono somehow reads femineo as a defence of Camilla against her enemies' chauvinism. Surely not: the author of uarium et mutabile semper / femina could exploit stereotypes for his poetic purposes. Keith (Engendering Rome: Women in Latin Epic, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 27-31), whom Fratantuono cites, is better here.

837. Fratantuono is consistently perceptive in discussing the repetition of words. Here, he might have noted the link between interrita and 806 exterritus. MINOR ERRORS

56f. (p. 33). Pallas' funus is at l. 53, not 51.

118. End of note: should be "between two consonants".

140. "Euandri" in the lemma, not "Euandro".

166. hapax (or semel?), not simplex (the same error at 213).

187. In the Statius quote (from 5.197f., not 10.197), "umbram" should be "urbem", and the subject (Somnus) should be specified.

211 (p. 78). Several errors: in the Lucretius quote (from 1.271f., not 1.272), "pontum" should be identified as a conjecture (probably correct) by Marullus; in the Aeneid quote (from 1.84f., not 1.185), "totam" should be "totum(que) " and should not be followed by an ellipsis.

236 (p. 85). The Silius quote from 12.53f., not 2.53.

288-90. In the Seneca quote, "bella" should be "belli".

470 (p. 154). The subject is Aquilo, not Apollo.

614. Lemma should be quadripedantum.

871. Surely "intransitively" is meant.


1.   Unless specified, numbers refer to lines in Virgil, not pages in Fratantuono.

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2009
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review
Bryn Mawr Classical Commentaries

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

HTML generated at 11:37:21, Wednesday, 16 December 2009