Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2010.12.71 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.12.71

Stefania Santelia (ed.), Prospero d'Aquitania: Ad coniugem suam. In appendice: Liber epigrammatum. Studi latini 68.   Napoli:  Loffredo editore, 2009.  Pp. 236.  ISBN 9788875643324.  €14.50 (pb).  

Reviewed by Roberto Chiappiniello (

The poem Ad coniugem suam (or Carmen ad uxorem as it has been alternatively called by editors and scholars), transmitted by two manuscripts (the Reginensis Lat. 230 and the Casinensis Lat. 226) is generally referred to, together with three other poems (the Epigramma Paulini, the Carmen de providentia dei and Orientius’ Commonitorium), as an example of the immediate response from Gallo-Roman poets to the havoc caused by barbarian migrations in the Roman West during the first decades of the fifth century AD. The Ad coniugem is composed in the voice of a poet who urges his companion to live with him in piety and chastity and to devote their lives to God. The cause of this radical change of lifestyle appears to be a dramatic disturbance of social order and endemic wars. As a consequence of this state of uncertainty, the concord of the couple is seen as the only force to combat the external discord. The authorship of the poem is variably attributed by manuscript tradition either to Prosper of Aquitaine or Paulinus of Nola but there are good reasons to attribute the poem to Prosper.

In recent years the Ad coniugem has received increased attention from scholars of late antiquity,1 but this is the first full commentary on the 122 verses (16 anacreontic lines followed by 53 elegiac couplets) of the poem.

Santelia opens her study with nine introductory sections (pp. 7-51) in which she gives a concise overview of the historical context and the poem’s authorship, structure, and linguistic and stylistic features, all of which illuminate the issues of date and authorship. The central chapters (pp. 29-48) are focused on the main themes of the poem, its intended readership and its author’s cultural milieu. I shall consider these chapters in the final paragraph of my review.

The introductory section concludes with a discussion of the date and the early editions of the Ad coniugem. Regarding the dating, although Santelia agrees with previous scholars in seeing the Ad coniugem as the effort of a young Prosper, she tentatively suggests that it could have been written some years after the barbarian irruption of 407: “mi chiedo se non sia possibile pensare che l’exhortatio rivolta alla moglie risalga al periodo immediatamente precedente quello in cui Prospero si dedicò a contrastare le idee degli avversari di Agostino [i.e. the (semi-)pelagian controversy blown up in 426] (p. 49).

The Latin text follows the CSEL edition of Hartel (1894) with minor changes of punctuation. Santelia diverges from Hartel only in three cases, all clearly explained in the commentary.2

The Italian translation, which faces the Latin text, succeeds in reproducing in prose both the rhythm and the images of the poem. Santelia achieves an accurate and fluent translation and, in several instances, she improves on Ruggiero’s previous, good translation.3 I generally agree with Santelia’s choices although, for the rendering of lines 63f. qui Christum passum poenas crucis, ultima mortis / … vident, Ruggiero’s translation overreads? the pathos in the iunctura ultima mortis. Ruggiero has “coloro che vedono il Cristo che ha sofferto le pene della croce, gli estremi tormenti della morte”; Santelia translates “chi vede Cristo sopportare le pene della croce fino alla morte”. At lines 27-8, undique bella fremunt, omnes furor excitat armis, / incumbunt reges regibus innumeris. Santelia sees armis as agreeing with innumeris and interprets it as: “dovunque rimbombano le guerre; la follia sconvolge tutti, re si scagliano contro altri re, alla testa di innumerevoli eserciti”. Ruggiero’s translation reads: “da ogni parte fremono le guerre, tutti sconvolge il furore, con le armi i re si impongono ad innumerevoli re.” Although the poet of the Ad coniugem uses enjambments very sparingly (I counted four other occurrences of enjambments but this is the only one which would link an adjective and noun pair at the ends of successive lines), Santelia’s translation is more expressive and gives more emphasis to the strong image of countless armies ravaging the Roman West.

A detailed commentary (pp. 69-104), which collects relevant information including numerous parallels , follows the translation. The material collected in this section is well ordered, in-depth, and elucidates the author’s textual choices. In general, it renders good service to readers. For certain entries, however, Santelia could have been more exhaustive on the intertextual impact of some resonances. For instance, in line 13 (ubi nunc imago rerum est) Santelia should have explored the force of the echo of Verg. Aen. 12.665 (obstituit varia confusus imagine rerum), as surely the author of the Ad coniugem sought to draw a parallel between his desolate sight of earth ravaged by countless enemies and Turnus struck silent in bewilderment at the picture of impending calamity in defeat at the hands of Aeneas. Similarly, line 17 (qui centum quondam terram vertebat aratris) recalls the righteous and wealthy Galaesus who had a hundred ploughs to turn his soil and who was killed as he sought to intercede for peace in Aen. 7.536ff. esp. 539 ( … et terram centum vertebat aratris). On a similar intertextual note, the image Pax abiit terris at line 30 deserves more explanation (see e.g. Hes. Erga 197ff., where Aidos and Nemesis abandon the earth and leave mankind at the mercy of war and death; in Verg. Georg. 2.473f. Justice leaves the Earth). Two final textual remarks: the expression contentus modicis (line 53) is not, as Santelia argues, seldom found but rather a proverbial tag comparable to e.g. Iuv. Sat. 9.9 (… certe modico contentus agebas) and still alive later on in e.g. Maxim. 1.53 (pauperiem modico contentus semper amavi). At line 56 (insontem vitam pacis amator agat) Santelia argues that the adjective insons is never paired with vita (p. 86). In fact, this is a laudatory cliché which can be found in funeral inscriptions such as CE 1530.5 vitam insons, integer aevum.

The volume is also equipped with an appendix on Prosper’s Liber epigrammatum (pp. 106-93). The Latin text, without critical apparatus, is that printed in PL 51 and edited in 1711 by Le Brun des Marettes. The Latin poems are faced by a prose translation which is the first modern Italian integral translation of all 106 epigrams.

The book ends with a detailed bibliography4 and two indices on modern and ancient authors mentioned by the commentator.

I close with two rather fundamental issues: the use of the anacreontics and the literary genre(s) of the poem. The Ad coniugem begins with a group of 16 anacreontic lines. In her introduction (p. 29) Santelia writes, “probabilmente il poeta ricorre all’anacreonteo per conferire un tono del tutto particolare.” There is no further explanation of the “particular tone” to which she refers. Later in the commentary (p. 69) on the two opening lines (Age iam, precor, mearum / comes inremota rerum) Santelia acknowledges that age iam is an exhortatory formula amply found in both prose and poetry, but only Claudian uses age at the incipit of Carm. Maior. 12 [fesc. 2] Age, cuncta nuptiali / redimita vere tellus / celebra toros eriles. I believe this is a rather telling point worthy of further consideration. In an article I published a few years ago5, I argued that Claudian’s second fescenninus might have been one of the literary models for the Ad coniugem. Claudian wrote the second fescenninus to celebrate the wedding of Roman emperor Honorius in 395 AD, and the poem was soon widely known among the Roman elite. Furthermore, both the content and the distinctive metrical choice of the second fescenninus might have fostered a high degree of ‘memorability’. Could the presence in the Ad coniugem of both the anacreontics and the prominent position of age be explained as an example of memoria incipitaria?6 Did the poet of the Ad coniugem, from the very outset, mean to signal to his readers to be aware of the amalgamation of topical themes of pagan epithalamia with the Christian message of spiritual marriage? If this frame were correct, his readers would probably have read the list of precepts, the image of the married couple subdued to Christ’s yoke (instead of Venus’s) and the leitmotif of marital concordia as an adaptation of traditional pagan themes into the new genre of Christian epithalamia.

Santelia’s edition of the Ad coniugem suam is an excellent contribution to both the understanding and the interpretation of this fascinating little poem from Late Antiquity. The revised Latin text, the elegant Italian translation, the sound commentary and the affordable price make this book a worthwhile acquisition for universities and scholars’ own libraries.


1.   Notably M. Cutino, ‘Continuità e innovazione nella poesia Latina Cristiana del V sec. in Gallia: il protrettico alla conversione’, Auctores Nostri 4, 2006, pp. 311-50; N. McLynn, ‘Poetic Creativity and Political Crisis in Early Fifth-Century Gaul’, Journal of Late Antiquity 2.1, 2009, pp. 66-8.
2.   At line 11 Santelia restores the reading of the Reginensis and prints cupidasque vana mentes instead of Hartel’s conjecture cupidas vagasque mentes. At line 85 she opts for omitting ut (Hartel’s own addition to the line) in order to make the line metrically correct: sed victum quod erat in me superaret in illo. Finally, at line 97 Santelia corrects the lectio of the mss. and prints mundi (mandus in the Reginensis, mundus in the Casinensis): non metuo exsilium mundi, domus una est. Hartel’s edition reads non metuo exsilium, domus omnibus una est where omnibus is Hartel’s conjecture.
3.   A. Ruggiero, Paolino di Nola, Rome 1990. The Ad coniugem appears among the appendix of poems attributed to Paulinus of Nola.
4.   Bibliography is thorough and updated but three books escaped the attention of the author: G. Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West (Cambridge 2007) could have provided more food for thought in the introductory paragraph on the impact of barbarian disruption in Gaul. D. Trout, Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters and Poems (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London 1999) offers invaluable insights and discussion on late antique poetry. But above all, Santelia should have been acquainted with the article of M. Roberts on the Ad coniugem and the Gallo-Roman literary milieu: ‘Barbarians in Gaul: the response of the poets’ in J. Drinkwater and H. Elton, Fifth-century Gaul: a crisis of identity? (Cambridge 1992).
5.   ‘The Carmen ad uxorem and the Genre of the Epithalamium’ pp. 115-38 in W. Otten and K. Pollmann, Poetry and Exegesis in Premodern Latin Christianity. The Encounter between Classical and Christian Strategies of Interpretation, Leiden / Boston 2007.
6.   So G.B. Conte in Memoria dei poeti e sistema letterario, Turin 1974, p. 10: “specializzazione incipitaria della memoria ritmico-compositiva”.

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