Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.05.10

Thomas Zinsmaier, [Quintilian], Die Hände der blinden Mutter (Größere Deklamationen, 6). Collana Scientifica 24.   Cassino:  Edizioni Università di Cassino, 2009.  Pp. 281.  ISBN 9788883170775.  €26.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Neil W. Bernstein, (Ohio University)

Zinsmaier’s Konstanz dissertation, a translation and commentary on the sixth pseudo-Quintilianic Major Declamation entitled Der von Bord geworfene Leichnam (i.e., Corporis Proiecti), received high praise from reviewers for its fullness and accuracy. When it appeared in 1993, it furnished a much-needed (at the time) introduction to the pseudo-Quintilianic Major Declamations, a collection still largely unknown to many professional Latinists. Now Zinsmaier has published a slightly fuller and more detailed version of the dissertation, under the title Die Hände der blinden Mutter (i.e. Manus Caecae),1 in the Cassino series of commentaries edited by Antonio Stramaglia. Latinists now read Roman declamation with considerably more interest than they did 18 years ago, thanks to recent work that has begun to reveal the genre’s dramatization of the central conflicts of Roman culture and its affinities with numerous literary genres, from New Comedy to the ancient novel.2 The pseudo-Quintilianic Major Declamations themselves have been made more accessible thanks to the recent appearance of several Cassino commentaries and a special issue of the journal Rhetorica.3

Like many Roman declamations, Major Declamations 6 places loving family members in conflicts of obligation. After being captured by pirates, a man wrote to his family in search of ransom. His wife cried herself into blindness out of grief and attempted to keep their son at home in order to support her. The young man instead went to effect his father’s ransom by offering himself to the pirates as a substitute. After the son’s death, the pirates threw him into the sea, and his body washed up on the shore of his native land. The father now wants to bury him, but the mother opposes him. The result is a pseudo-legal contest staged before an imaginary panel of jurors tasked with assessing the couple’s rival claims, prompted by the mother’s appeal to a declamatory law that forbids burial to those who desert their parents in time of need. Major Declamations 6 presents the father’s counterargument, in which he appeals to his status as a Roman father. Since the son was unable to fulfill both parents’ claims, the obligations imposed by pietas were properly owed first to his father.

Zinsmaier’s introduction and commentary place the declamation in its cultural, juristic, and rhetorical contexts. Both the longest section of the introduction and a substantial portion of the commentary are devoted to careful analyses of every rhetorical figure in the speech. The pirates who prompt the family conflict are familiar figures both from Roman comedy and the ancient novel. For a number of reasons, this case could not have come up under Roman law; it is generated instead by a lex scholastica. Numerous elements of the declamatory situation, such as the obligation to support parents, the mother who literally cries her eyes out, and the threat of deprivation of burial can be paralleled in some of the other Major Declamations (4, 5, and 16). The father’s arguments regarding the pietas due to parents and the humanitas due to an unburied corpse can be paralleled in Greek and Roman ethical teaching. Though set in the small self-governing community typical of declamation (dubbed “Sophistopolis” by Russell), and involving a Greek lex scholastica (cf. 36), the declamation also makes some effort to include Romanizing elements (such as, for example, the allusion to Verres, DM 6.9). The father’s observation that “I gave my order as a father; this name is greater than every law” (DM 6.14) is a characteristically Roman appeal to patria potestas.

Though the title of this revised and expanded dissertation may have changed, the contents remain largely the same as the 1993 publication. The introduction has been brought up to date with citations of all relevant recent work on declamation. A few new divergences from Håkanson's 1982 Teubner edition have been adopted in the text, some reflecting suggestions by Stramaglia per litteras. The lemmata in the commentary have also been expanded to incorporate recent work. Less expected but certainly welcome was the inclusion of some relevant material from older commentators such as Badius Ascenius (1528) and Lorenzo Patarolo (1743) that did not appear in the original publication. The inclusion of this commentary in the Cassino series should be welcomed by all readers of Roman declamation.


1.  . Corporis Proiecti is the reading of the Montepessulanus, adopted by Håkanson in his 1982 Teubner edition; Manus Caecae is one of the alternatives found in the Vossianus.
2.  . E.g. Erik Gunderson, Declamation, paternity, and Roman identity: authority and the rhetorical self (Cambridge 2003); Daniëlle van Mal-Maeder, La fiction des déclamations (Leiden 2007); Emanuele Berti, Scholasticorum studia: Seneca il Vecchio e la cultura retorica e letteraria della prima età imperiale (Pisa 2007).
3.  . The Cassino series now covers about half the collection: Stramaglia 1999 (DM 8), 2002 (DM 12); Schneider 2004 (DM 3); Krapinger 2005 (DM 13), 2007 (DM 9); Longo 2008 (DM 14-15). Cf. further Rhetorica 27.3 (2009): An International Project On The Pseudo-Quintilianic Declamationes Maiores.

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