Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.06.22

Charles Guiraud, René Martin (ed.), Palladius, Traité d’agriculture. Tome II. livres III à V. Collection des universités de France. Série latine, 398.   Paris:  Les Belles Lettres, 2010.  Pp. xxv, 140 p..  ISBN 9782251014586.  €39.00.  

Reviewed by John G. Fitch, University of Victoria (

Palladius was the last, and in current estimation the least, of the four auctores rei rusticae. It was not always so: he was the chief conduit of Greco-Roman agricultural knowledge into medieval Europe, among the first classical authors to be translated into the vernaculars (into English c. 1440), and his text was reproduced in extenso by such encyclopedists as Albertus Magnus and Vincent of Beauvais. There is a rich field here to be tilled by students of reception.

The first volume of the Budé Palladius, covering Books 1-2, was edited by René Martin in 1976. Apparently Martin also prepared a translation of other Books. When Charles Guiraud was asked to edit volume 2, he adopted Martin’s translation, adding to it a brief introduction, Latin text, apparatus criticus and commentary. After Guiraud died suddenly in 2006, Martin and Jean-Christian Dumont made slight changes, but essentially the volume is as it was left by Guiraud.

Guiraud’s introduction sensibly refers the reader to Martin’s 60-page introduction to Palladius in Volume 1. Guiraud simply adds a few remarks, conveying a rather more favourable impression of Palladius as excerptor. He rightly emphasises Palladius’ skill in abbreviating the sometimes prolix Columella, and his remarkable ability to draw together material scattered through his source: e.g. in the ten lines of 1.36.2 Palladius amalgamates data from Columella 2.20.6 and 1.6.24, and from Geoponica 2.26. How did he do so? Guiraud believes that he knew Columella by heart, and relied on memory as he composed. That would explain, for example, the odd placement of 3.22: Palladius forgot about flax when listing the crops to be sown in February (3.3-8), and when he remembered it, he inserted it where he was, because of the difficulty of backtracking. But since he read Greek with little fluency, one doubts if he relied on memory for his data from Geoponica.

Martin’s translation is much the best part of the material that follows. Sound and reliable, it serves as a running elucidation of the text. Of course it is not infallible, and I shall footnote the more salient errors and omissions which I noticed.1 To balance the account, however, I should say that there are several places where my understanding of the text has been improved by Martin’s rendering. Its general dependability is particularly valuable as it is likely to be only recent translation available on the shelves of most university libraries. The lack of a modern English version of Palladius is reflected in the dearth of English-language scholarship on him.2

I have not checked the Latin text which faces the translation, but happened to notice omission of uel argilla … adlini at 3.25.17 and of spatia after per alia at 4.9.3; also trivial errors like amno for anno 3.14, Februrario 4.5, necesssarius 4.14.4, which suggest inadequate proofreading. Of the handful of textual emendations in this volume, some are certainly worth considering: Guiraud’s 3.9.2 deflorent for codd. florent at 3.9.2, Martin’s neque fecundas for atque fecundas ibid., his cui (surely correct) for quibus at 4.11.4, and his signis aut for aut his signis ibid. Fortunately there are few textual problems in Palladius which seriously obscure his meaning. Perhaps one might question some of Guiraud’s editorial choices. The umidae of the early editors at 3.18.3, which he prints, looks like a trivialisation of codd. uiuidae, the latter supported by Columella 5.8.6. I am puzzled by editors’ suspicion of codd. ex locis siccioribus at 3.31.2 and their alteration of ex to et. The myrtle berries are to be collected (a) with no rain on them and (b) from drier areas, to ensure a minimum of water and maximum of flavour; for similar reasons the preceding recipe calls for the berries to be dried before use. But for the most part Guiraud’s choices are at least comprehensible.

The same forbearance cannot be extended to the apparatus criticus. It lists long-discarded Renaissance conjectures (e.g. 3.17.8 exacto for exempto, 4.1.4 pastinato for pastino) simply because they were included by the nineteenth-century editor J. Schmitt, while omitting more persuasive emendations (e.g. 3.17.8 Schneider’s intra for infra, 4.10.3 Crescentius’ deletion of in). Some entries are quite garbled. The report at 4.10.6, for example, “est codd. : exsiccet Pol. ”, conflates what should be two separate reports, one of Iucundus’ inest for est, the other of Politian’s unnecessary exsiccet for the MSS’ siccet. Readers are best advised to avert their eyes from the right-hand page of this edition altogether, and to rely on the text and app. crit. of Rodgers’ Teubner edition of 1975, reprinted in 2010.

The commentary is particularly disappointing, given the shortage elsewhere of elucidations of Palladius. It is thin from the start, and dries up completely at 5.5. There is little engagement here with the realities of Roman agriculture, or with archeological and historical evidence. No light is shed on three-month crops (3.3) or the uses of hemp (3.5) or intercultivation of an arbustum with grain (3.10.5) or the purpose of caprificatio (4.28.10). Palladius’ sources are often overlooked, even though a full list of them is available in Rodgers’ Teubner. Where Palladius cites Vergil (3.25.6), one might expect a commentator to provide the reference, but no (it is Georg. 2.71). When references are given, they are frequently incorrect: on the first page 3,2,5,8 should be 3,24,4; on the second page 1,17,7 (of Columella) should be 2,17,7, and Palladius 1,5 should be 2,5, which refers to January not February. Textual issues are often not adequately discussed. At 3.12.2 Guiraud describes Rodgers’ choice of focalis as “un peu inattendue” but does not address Rodgers’ arguments for it. At 3.25.7 Rodgers uses the criterion of prose rhythm to support a deletion; Guiraud asks “can this argument carry conviction?”, but it is surely the job of a commentator to answer such questions, not just ask them.

Some of the shortcomings noted above are perhaps to be explained by ill health. But the Budé editors have done Guiraud no credit by publishing his work in this state. The Budé series is noted for its editions of the technical writers: one thinks of the excellent work of Marie-Thérèse Cam on Faventinus and Vitruvius, or that of Suzanne Amigues on Theophrastan botany. One can only hope that the future volumes of the Budé Palladius will regain this high standard, and will appear rather more promptly than at 34-year intervals.


1.  A line or so of the Latin is left untranslated at 3.25.6, 3.25.17, 4.9.5, 4.10.13; shorter omissions include 3.10.3 recepto umore and 4.11.5 et grandibus. At 3.1 seruare in the title means to “reserve” the pastures, i.e. protect them (custodire in the text) from livestock so the hay crop can grow. At 3.9.13 simul means “together” rather than “en même temps”. At 3.9.14 “mare” is a misprint for “marc.” At 3.12.6 summas is a variation on Columella’s extremas 4.24.11 and means “at the ends” not “en haut”. At 3.25.20 Februario uel inchoante Martio does not modify radicatas; there is also muddle and repetition in the rendering of the last three sentences of this section. At 4.9.12 loca means not “un terrain” but the “places” i.e. eyes on the asparagus where new growth would occur. At 4.9.17 blitum is blite spinach, not beets, whose very different growth requirements were given by Palladius at 3.24.10. At 4.10.37, March 24 is the recommended date for planting black mulberry (3.25.28), not grafting pistachio.

2.  An Italian translation of Books 1-13 by Enrico Di Lorenzo, Bruno Pellegrino and Saverio Lanzaro appeared in 2006, and a Spanish translation of Books 1-14 and the Carmen by A. Moure Casas, with useful if limited commentary, in 1990, but neither is easily found outside its country of origin. There is no modern English version: that of Thomas Owen (1807), though resuscitated by the reprint industry, should be used only as a last resort.

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