Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.11.42

Jean-Pierre Callu (ed.), Symmaque. Tome v: Discours - Rapports. Collection des Universités de France.   Paris:  Les belles lettres, 2009.  Pp. xxxviii, 197.  ISBN 9782251014548.  €55.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Cristiana Sogno, Fordham University (

Seven years after completing the edition, translation, and commentary of the entire correspondence of Symmachus in 2002, Jean Pierre Callu has taken leave of “le champion de la tradition mais aussi d’une certaine tolérance” with one last volume devoted to the other two surviving works of Symmachus, namely the Orationes and Relationes. An example of scholarly devotion and perseverance, Callu has thus produced single-handedly the only complete edition, commentary, and translation into a modern language of the entire Symmachan corpus.

The last volume follows a format familiar to readers of the preceding volumes and is divided into two sections, the first devoted to the Orationes, the second to the Relationes. Both sections are structured in the same way, and each begins with a concise introduction to the work in question that comprises a highly focused and selective bibliography, the conspectus siglorum, and the list of editores et emendatores. Next comes the Latin text with the apparatus criticus at the bottom of the page, facing translation in French, and short footnotes offering some commentary. The longer notes that could not be fitted at the bottom of the page can be found under the notes complémentaires heading that follows, and a general index of names completes the volume. Regrettably, Callu has chosen not to repeat the reader-friendly system adopted in the 2002 volume,1 where all the footnotes were placed at the end of the volume and neatly arranged under the number of the letter they referred to. In this, as in the first three volumes, the footnotes are split between short ones at the bottom of the page and longer ones at the end of each section, thus making the reading and consultation of this edition unduly laborious.

Both introductions (pp. vii-xxxi and pp. xxxix-lix) discuss in detail the problematic issue of the first edition and subsequent transmission of the Orationes and the Relationes respectively. Callu rightly laments the fact that “l’art oratoire occidental, au IVe siècle, paraît se réduire aux Panégyriques Latins” (p. vii). To base any assessment of the state of late Latin oratory on the Panegyrici Latini would be especially reductive, since the collection, which comprises Pliny’s speech of thanks to Trajan and eleven fourth century speeches, leaves out both Ausonius’ gratiarum actio and Symmachus’ panegyrics. Callu first adduces a political explanation for this omission,2 but seems ultimately inclined to believe that, at least in Symmachus’ case, his panegyrics were left out because they were already published. The practice of circulating speeches among friends is well documented in Symmachus’ letters, but Callu argues that in ca. 385 Symmachus decided to publish a number of his Orationes alongside the first volume of the Epistulae and the entire dossier of his Relationes (p. ix). This first and now lost edition of the speeches was eventually incorporated into the tenth book of the correspondence that Symmachus’ son Memmius assembled after his father’s death (p. xi). Callu offers an intriguing and persuasive picture of Symmachus’ editorial activity in the year following his difficult tenure of the urban prefectureship, and the polished organization of book one of the Epistulae fully supports Callu’s suggestion that an édition publique of book one was in circulation well before Symmachus’ death.3 But Callu’s ingenious reconstruction of the now lost contents of book ten of the correspondence is too dependent on the highly controversial subscription that preceded it.4 Callu’s theory seems especially weak with regards to the transmission of the Relationes. The inaccuracy and mistakes in the headings of the Relationes make it difficult to believe that Symmachus was responsible for their publication; and it is equally difficult to believe that Symmachus would have wanted to publish his Relationes soon after the premature ending of his prefectureship -- a clear sign that the Relationes had not encountered the publicus favor that Symmachus so often refers to when circulating his work to friends.5

The introduction to the Orationes (pp. xii-xvi) also addresses the problem of the so-called double redactions postulated by Otto Seeck in his still fundamental edition of the Symmachan corpus. Following the principles adopted by Fanny DelChicca and Angela Pabst,6 Callu offers an enlightening analysis of each of these instances. As Callu demonstrates, Seeck’s cuts of what he considered redundant were motivated by his prejudices against Symmachus’ style and by his inability to appreciate Symmachus’ prose aptly defined by Callu as “luxuriante”. The question of style is of the utmost interest to Callu who underscores the need for a study on the “structure de la phrase et ... son évolution au iv s.” (p. xxviii). Very little attention is devoted to the historical background of the Orationes, which might surprise the reader who knows and appreciates Callu’s excellent work on the dating of Symmachus’ speeches. But Callu’s more literary approach is certainly refreshing, and it is encouraging to see the speeches treated as text rather than as a source to pillage and discard. However, Callu reserves his highest admiration for the Relationes, which he regards as “monuments de son [Symmachus’] action, des ses compétences, de son style” (p. liv) and praises for the “exactitude et richesse du vocabulaire du droit” adopted by Symmachus.

Callu’s most impressive achievement is perhaps the translation, which is as elegant as it is accurate. In a few instances a richer commentary on the textual difficulties would have been welcome, particularly in the case of Or. 5.3 (p. 34), where the text is especially problematic. But none of these minor criticisms can detract from the value of Callu’s work, and students and scholars of late antiquity and Latin literature have much to be grateful for.


1.   Symmaque. Tome iv: Lettres. (Livres xi-x) Collection des Universités de France. Paris: Les belles lettres, 2009.
2.   Symmaque. Tome i: Lettres. (Livres i-ii) Collection des Universités de France. Paris: Les belles lettres, 1972; Symmaque. Tome ii: Lettres. (Livres iii-v) Collection des Universités de France. Paris: Les belles lettres, 1978; Symmaque. Tome iii: Lettres. (Livres vi-viii) Collection des Universités de France. Paris: Les belles lettres, 1995.
3.   In support of a first edition of book one of the Epistulae see also The Letters of Symmachus, Book One: Introduction and Commentary by Michele Salzman; Translation by Michele Salzman and Michael Roberts, Writings from the Greco-Roman World Series, Society of Biblical Literature and Brill Press, forthcoming 2011, 55-60.
4.   The authenticity of this subscription, which was found in a now lost manuscript reprinted in Juretus’ edition, was already put into question by Sergio Roda both because of its inaccuracy and because of its suspicious similarity to other headings in the printed edition. See S. Roda, Commento storico al libro IX dell’epistolario di Q. Aurelio Simmaco. Pisa 1981, 71-73; in support of Roda’s view, cf. also A. Cameron The Last Pagans of Rome. Oxford, forthcoming 2010, Ch. 10, which cites further inaccuracies.
5.   This is the view expressed by D. Vera, with whom Callu disagrees. See D. Vera, Commento storico alle Relationes di Quinto Aurelio Simmaco. Pisa, 1981, xciv-; cf. also C. Sogno, Q. Aurelius Symmachus: A Political Biography. Ann Arbor, 2006, 34.
6.   Q. Aurelii Symmachi v. c. Laudatio in Valentinianum seniorem Augustum prior, Introduzione, commento e traduzione a cura di Fanny Del Chicca. Roma 1984; Reden. Quintus Aurelius Symmachus; herausgegeben, übersetzt und erläutert von Angela Pabst. Darmstadt, 1989.

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2010
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 12:47:53, Monday, 22 November 2010