Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.11.22

Giancarlo Giardina (ed.), Lucio Anneo Seneca: Tragedie, II. Edipo, Agamennone, Tieste. Testi e commenti 24.   Pisa/Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, Pp. 214.  ISBN 9788862271714.  €70.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Carrie Mowbray, University of Pennsylvania (

Giardina was a conservative editor in his 1966 edition of Senecan tragedy, but these days he is both a creative and a strong textual critic (for a fuller analysis, see 2008.06.10 and 2006.05.02. At times his conjectures illuminate another (potentially preferable) way to read a passage. Quite often, however, his conjectures in the absence of any manuscript evidence diagnose ‘problems’ that may not actually need rectification. In volume 2 Giardina proposes 376 of these independent conjectures: 114 in Oedipus, 121 in Agamemnon, and 141 in Thyestes. In doing so he essentially presents his version as a textual witness, as the ‘Gd.’ notation in the sigla and apparatus attests. While a good many of his conjectures attempt to fix metrical anomalies or to improve a passage’s syntax, diction, or sense, often the impetus for emendation seems simply to be the existence of interesting textual parallels. As a productive emendator, Giardina aims to open the text to various readings, and ultimately, to grapple with textual issues which predate the (in his view, late) split of the MSS into the main E and A branches and so infect both branches’ texts. His is a valiant undertaking, and while I do not agree with all of Giardina’s choices, he certainly succeeds in defamiliarizing the text of Seneca’s tragedies.

Before examining some of Giardina’s conjectures, which are the edition’s most distinctive features, a few words on the makeup of vol. 2: it includes the texts of the three plays, a bibliography of works not cited in vol. 1, and a sigla codicum. Vol. 2 lacks a separate introduction; it would have been improved by a section detailing his method of recensio and emendatio for these plays, as vol. 1 offers for its five plays (44-64). He does include useful tools which serve for both volumes: the index nominum (indicating disputed/corrupt names), conspectus metrorum, and list of cantica polymetra.

The apparatus criticus is well-executed, and reflects a process of judicious selectio between the E and A branches (which he breaks into individual witnesses when there is disagreement), more recent MSS (classed v), and other key witnesses such as the ‘excerpta Thuanea’ (Th.) and the palimpsest R, which most often agrees with E, but occasionally with A, and so serves as a witness in, e.g., Oed. 517 and 536. Giardina helpfully indicates MS readings before and after corrections (ac/pc) when relevant. He considers a variety of conjectures – a testament to his deep understanding of the critical tradition. Vol. 2’s apparatus is even more prominently displayed than vol. 1’s, being the same font size as the text itself. This split-screen layout puts into relief the relationship between text and apparatus that informs Giardina’s critical philosophy: the one is on equal footing with the other, and readers should evaluate both concurrently. Given the abundant information the apparatus furnishes, it is generally easy to navigate and only occasionally becomes unwieldy. One difficulty that might be identified in the execution of the apparatus is that for Giardina’s (numerous) independent conjectures, he does not indicate clearly enough his editorial hand. Whereas the stemmatic information of individual MSS and MS branches, including the consensus omnium w, appears in boldface, his contributions are designated by a less-visible italicization (Gd.).

Though there is no commentary per se, explanatory notes are quite helpful (Aga. 712, 837; Oed. 779; Thy. 51), as are notes about metrical curiosities (Oed. 737 on a Horatian hiatus). Only rarely does Giardina explicitly articulate his motivation for emending on stylistic grounds, as in Oed. 310 (‘chiasmon restitui’). Disappointingly, the text and apparatus are riddled with typographical errors, at times leaving ambiguous which reading Giardina intended. Volume 2 would have benefited not only from a list of errata corrigenda (an item vol. 1 does contain), but also from a final round of editorial proofing.

Since Giardina’s provocative emendations set his edition apart, the comments below focus on a sample of these.

Oed. 52 sors Gd.: pars w

In this line Giardina does not articulate his basis for emending. While sors can signify social rank (OLD 9a/9b), in Senecan tragedy its meaning is more circumscribed: all the other examples of sors refer to chance, oracles, or lot (Oed. 212, 288; Med. 431; Tro. 524; Phoe. 239). Additionally, the paradosis’ reading is preferable in that pars offers the metadramatic resonance of a role in a play (OLD 9a). Thus what ostensibly struck Giardina as a colorless word is in fact rich with available meanings; he does not make a sufficient case that an alternative reading is necessary.

Oed. 63 suumque Gd.: su(a)eque w/exanimes Gd.: exequi(a)e w

Here Giardina astutely diagnoses a problem of diction. He proposes exanimes on the grounds that exsequiae denotes the people attending funeral ceremonies very rarely, and then only among late Latin authors (he provides TLL examples). Otherwise, exsequiae denotes the rites themselves, as in the phrase exsequias ire. Giardina bolsters his reading by citing other attestations of exanimis and exanimus (Seneca employs both declensional possibilities). If Giardina has rightly identified an error predating the E/A split, it is possible that exsequiae arose as a psychological error due to the proximity of funus. The emendation necessitates a subsequent accommodation, suumque; however, this does not pose great difficulties.

Aga. 236 egregius Gd.: ignavus w

Giardina explicitly rationalizes his conjecture, arguing that the sense of this line requires an ironic modifier for ductor. Aegisthus’ sarcastic point is that Agamemnon is an ‘outstanding’ leader only by being a ‘brave’ father – one who would, and did, sacrifice his own daughter. An apt parallel from Statius with a commentator’s note that the line reads ‘ironice’ strengthens Giardina’s case, as do analogous examples of ironic egregius in iuncturae with dux/ductor. One can imagine the nuance being lost on scribes who emended an original reading to ignavus (understandably, as even Homer’s Agamemnon was charged with cowardice). Also worth noting is that Giardina’s earlier conjecture was insignis1; while the three-syllable word is less cumbersome metrically, egregius deserves serious consideration.

Aga. 261 stimulis Gd.: flammis w

Literary parallels along with Cassandra’s later line mentioning stimuli furoris (720) seem to spur Giardina’s emendation. At first glance the conjecture is attractive: it echoes other stimuli in Latin poetry, recalls the ke/ntra of Aeschylus’ Aga. 1624 (a parallel Giardina does not acknowledge), and features in philosophical discussions of being ‘goaded’ by powerful emotions such as anger. But metrical considerations must be factored into the assessment. As Giardina’s line reads, iramque stimulis iam residentem incitas?, the initial second-foot syllable is problematic. While productio or correptio are each possible before sc/st/sp,2 -que cannot here be long (this would produce a dactylic second foot), and more generally, Latin poets avoid the combination open vowel + initial st- unless the syllable preceding st- is either long by nature or in a metrically ambiguous spot3. Even rarer is -que+st- except before str-. There is no instance of short open e before initial st- in Senecan drama, so for metrical reasons this conjecture is implausible.

Aga. 589 mentibus Swodoba: mortalibus w/inditum Gd.: additum w

Giardina tackles a metrical question mark that has long vexed critics in this first line of the Trojan chorus’ polymetric ode. Accepting Swodoba’s conjecture, Giardina’s text reflects his dissatisfaction with this line’s meter in the MSS: while most editors, following Leo, read the line as a Lesser Asclepiad with an extra syllable beginning the second half,4 Giardina prefers to standardize the meter so that both 589 and 590 read as ‘regular’ Lesser Asclepiads. Mentibus calls for a second conjecture to accommodate the sense; so Giardina’s inditum. Giardina weighs in with a viable reading in a metrically anomalous line.

Aga. 596 mens aequa Gd. : pax alta w

Giardina provides good parallels for the iunctura mens+aequa but neglects to mention Seneca’s numerous instances of pax alta/alta pax – which indeed becomes something of a Senecan catchphrase (later imitated by Statius). What is more, pax alta in that order occurs in Senecan tragedy only here and in Tro. 324 and 326, where Pyrrhus and Agamemnon debate whether to sacrifice Polyxena. The echoing of this phrase, I believe, is a function of a dialogic quality of Senecan tragedy whereby characters or scenes often ‘speak to’ one another across the dramatic corpus. Uttered by both Trojan chorus and Greek leaders, pax alta underscores the similarities between vanquished Trojans and victorious Greeks after the Trojan war--a recurring theme in both plays--and encourages thinking of these two scenes in tandem. Giardina’s emendation does injustice to a subtlety of Senecan poetic technique.

Aga. 725 quo Gd.: quid w/agor Qpc: ago EA

Giardina would like Cassandra to question where she is being driven, choosing the reading given by a single 14thc. MS against the ago of all other MSS. This reading is questionable for several reasons. First, it necessitates another emendation, quo. Second, it makes her next question, ubi sum?, redundant. Finally, the emendation excludes the metadramatic nuance of active ago as ‘act’ (TLL I.1398.8): ‘Now that Troy has fallen, why do I continue to ‘play’ falsa vates?’ Such a reading coheres with Cassandra’s self-conscious uncertainty of her utility in this play.

Thy. 47 vilissimum Gd.: levissimum w/facinus Bentley: fratris EA

Stuprum is to be the most trivial crime (accepting Bentley’s emendation, as do other recent editors) in this household. Giardina’s dissatisfaction with levissimum is puzzling, though it could stem from his contention that the MSS were corrupt from an early date: in this line, there could have been a transposition error of majuscule letters with further accommodation, producing the paradosis’ levissimum. But Seneca uses vilis forms concretely in the tragedies, while positive and comparative levis forms recur in conjunction with ‘evil’ and ‘crime,’ trivializing what would normally be considered appalling actions5 (Med. 905-7; Phoe. 270), or their horrific effects (HF 63; Tro. 934; Thy. 305). Superlative vilis forms occur nowhere in Senecan tragedy, while superlative levis occurs only here – perhaps reserved for this play’s crime as the apex of human evil.

Thy. 314 ac ferrum Gd.: asperum w

This seems to be a diagnostic conjecture which aims to eliminate asyndeton. But as Tarrant points out,6 Atreus employs what would normally be emotionally overwrought language to undercut the Satelles. Giardina often prefers to emend rather than allow asyndeton, as is evinced by supplemental conjunctions, e.g. Thy. 302, 603. Further, the conjecture’s concrete quality renders Atreus’ language prosaic.

In conclusion, Giardina’s physically attractive, useful edition deserves a place on Senecan scholars’ shelves. Its sturdy card-stock pages and large typeset in both text and apparatus are conducive to using the two-volume set as a reference for all issues textual. Giardina’s major contribution is that his textual choices do not just invite but force the reader to question his or her assumptions about the transmitted text. Some may balk at the superabundant editorial conjectures, many of which have no MS basis, and by the errors that sometimes compromise the text. But if one is prepared to weigh Giardina’s conjectures diligently, there are real rewards to be gleaned from consulting this edition.

-170: iussus Gd. But the Ovidian parallel he cites uses rursus, not iussus. Did Giardina intend for his line to read rursus?
-201: vitia re for vitiare
-214/228/231: inconsistent orthography ph/p
-286: missing full paradosis (only v given)
-574: incorrect line number (apparatus)
-680: Epc occurs twice
-925: saeum (apparatus)

-466: tu for tum (apparatus)
-542: incorrect line number in apparatus; respendet for resplendet
-636: cum in text (Gd.’s conjecture?), not given by apparatus. Apparatus provides a lemma for et (et not in the text, but given by the MSS)
-737: sigla missing
-849: sigla missing
-932: incorrect sigla

-48: nc sit (apparatus)
-76: sigla missing
-526: pares mei (apparatus), pares meis (text)
-588: versos] (mersos in text)


1.   See Giardina’s review of Fitch’s Loeb: Mouseion 5 (2005), 168.
2.   Platnauer, M. (1971), Latin Elegiac Verse, 63. Cambridge.
3.   On productio and correptio in Senecan tragedy, see Ferri, R. (2003), Octavia, 174. Cambridge.
4.   Tarrant, R.J. (1976), Agamemnon, 373. Cambridge.
5.   Tarrant, R.J. (1985), Thyestes, 94. Atlanta.
6.   ibid., 135.

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