Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.11.17

Rolando Ferri (ed.), The Latin of Roman Lexicography. Ricerche sulle lingue di frammentaria attestazione, 7.   Pisa; Rome:  Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2011.  Pp. 254.  ISBN 9788862273763.  € 78.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Anthony Corbeill, University of Kansas (

[Table of contents appears at end of review]

Latin lexicography often has an oedipal aspect, with "new" dictionaries borrowing generously from a previous generation whose deficiencies, in turn, tend to receive more attention than their virtues. The tendency appears as early as Festus's lexicon in the second century, based on Verrius Flaccus's compendium from a few generations earlier. In a familiar scholarly move, Flaccus normally remains a quiet source until Festus has reason to differ from him.1 Nor is the practice confined to antiquity; consider from Lewis and Short's title page: "founded on Andrews' edition of Freund's Latin dictionary," a genealogy that can be traced back at least another couple of centuries.2 Practical reasons for this dependence exist, of course; consider the bold decision of the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae team to begin their lexicon from scratch, initiating an enterprise whose centenary was celebrated in 1994 as work continued on the letter "P."3

This collection originated in a conference held at Pisa in December 2008. The organizer and subsequent editor, Rolando Ferri, has done a fine job collecting an international group of contributors who treat individual areas of expertise while developing similar themes: most essays examine ancient writers and scholars looking back on prior texts—both scholarly and literary—to enhance an inherited lexicographical tradition. The result is a convenient collection that covers expected areas while at the same time striking out in new directions. The editor has chosen a chronological arrangement, reaching from Athenaeus to the Venetian publishers of the sixteenth century. The nine essays also, however, fall into a trio of triads, and it is upon these groupings that I base the following remarks.

Three contributions treat the organizational principles of some ancient and Renaissance lexica. Marie-Karine Lhommé begins by providing a useful critical summation of scholarship on the relationship between Verrius Flaccus and Festus ("un reflet fìdèle mais partiel"; 30). Of particular interest is her summary and expansion of the Russian scholar E. I. Cekalova's typology of Festus's entries (32-35). She then turns to her main argument, isolating the principles of selection adopted by Paulus in epitomizing Festus's second-century lexicon into a glossary for the Carolingian court. Concentrating on entries in the "P" section that treat religion, Lhommé concludes that Paulus, in creating a work approximately two-fifths the size of his model, erases signs of scholarly debate and details that would be irrelevant to his audience, thereby creating a more static image of ancient Roman culture.

Paolo Gatti exploits many years of familiarity with Nonius Marcellus and the attendant scholarship to offer an up-to- date survey of this author and his Compendiosa doctrina ad filium. In particular, Gatti assesses and supports Lindsay's theory of composition from 1901, with its important ramifications not only for Nonius but also for the ordering of fragments quoted from authors no longer extant.4 Gatti further notes that the lex Lindsay indicates almost without doubt that the twenty books were completed simultaneously (61). He then argues that the so-called Glossae Nonii should be taken into account in reconstructing Nonius's text.

The contribution of Marine-Noëlle Furno represents the collection's chronological endpoint with a wide-ranging survey of Latin lexicography's evolution in Renaissance Europe. She focuses on the Aldine editions of Ambrogio Calepino's dictionary, for which, beginning in 1558, Paolo Manuzio produced as an appendix a series of Additamenta. By asking why a publisher as concerned with aesthetics as scholarship would choose such an apparently inelegant arrangement, Furno shows convincingly that the separation was knowingly designed to advertise Paolo's original research on cultural and historical issues that do not belong in a traditional dictionary. Moreover, the appearance on the title page of Manuzio's name—a recognized scholar—serves to distinguish this Calepino from the many others on the market.

A second trio covers the lexical treatment of words in works of literature. A narratological analysis of the lexical digressions in Athenaeus's Deipnosophistae makes a surprising introductory essay to a book on Latin, but its relevance to the volume becomes clear in its second half. After discussing the function of the various long excurses on Greek terms for items such as cups or fish—they allow the banqueters to engage in one-upmanship, or the author Athenaeus to pace his own narrative—Dirk Uwe Hansen proposes a similar function for the twenty-three Latin glosses contained in the treatise. Consisting principally of rare words, these asides allow the guests both to nuance their Greek accounts with lexical precision and to taunt the pretensions of the interlocutor Ulpian, who undervalues the use of Latin. In a second contribution, Robert Maltby examines passages from the Servian commentaries, particularly on the Aeneid, that indicate stylistic registers for individual lexical items. Of special concern is the avoidance of low style (tapinosis or humilitas). Reasons for the virtual disappearance of such notes from the later commentaries on Eclogues and Georgics are left unexplored.

Scholars have devoted a great deal of recent work to the phenomenon of etymology in Latin literary texts, much of it in response to Robert Maltby's invaluable Lexicon of Ancient Etymologies (Leeds 1991). Paolo Pieroni offers here a contribution that examines the fifty or so places that Cassiodorus treats word origins in the epistolary Variae. Pieroni identifies a dual function: etymologizing allows Cassiodorus, first, to furnish rhetorical adornment to this otherwise factual collection while simultaneously conducting from afar learned conversations with intellectual peers and, second, to clarify to his correspondents the duties inherent in a given political office (iudex, for example, originating from iustus at Var. 3.27.2). Pieroni concludes by contrasting Cassiodorus's practice here with that in his commentary on the Psalms, where his etymologizing appears to originate from different sources.5

A final group of essays, characterized by the editor as written from a "historical-linguistic perspective" (9), provides background for three different texts that contain various types of Latin glosses and aims at, among other things, reconstructing the intended audience. Frédérique Biville focuses on Martyrius's De B muta et V vocali (Keil VII.165-199). In addition to the announced purpose of this orthographical treatise—to guide the reader's writing and pronunciation for cases in which the letters "b" and "v" are confused—the text includes sixty-two unexpected glosses of the words treated, of which forty-six offer Greek equivalents. From an examination of the Latin words glossed— some deriving from literary texts, with the rest being late and colloquial—Biville hypothesizes that Martyrius is writing for a Greek-speaking public desirous to master Latin at all levels (a conclusion that meshes, incidentally, with a manuscript explicit associating Martyrius with Sardis).

Jonathan Powell's detailed "reassessment" of a portion of the Appendix Probi occupies more than one-fifth of the volume. After discussing the differences between two editions published independently in 2007 by Asperti and himself,6 Powell establishes convincingly that scholars are unwarranted in using (as they frequently do) this portion of the Appendix as evidence for an interim stage from Latin to Romance in features such as orthography, phonology, or morphology (a sample explains the allure for historical linguists; consider the corrections aqua non acqua or auris non oricla). Powell demonstrates that this list of corrections, rather than mirroring the state of Latin at some time in late antiquity, derives from a disparate number of sources that were not necessarily contemporary with its compilation, such as a bilingual glossary and an orthographical text. Also included in the compilation is a set of words that are best explained as corrections of simple graphic errors in a literary text of uncertain date (e.g., of the type iuuencus non iuuenclus). The neat solution creates its own problem, of which Powell is himself aware: if the list indeed represents an assemblage of material with different purposes, then what practical use would a user derive from it and why has it survived in its present form? No single solution satisfies, particularly since the list that has come down to us has no transparent principle of organization, alphabetical or otherwise. One is left with the uncomfortable suspicion that an ancient user would have to have had Powell’s patience and acumen to derive any reasonable profit from this text. Nevertheless, the essay offers a model of what can (and, alas, cannot) be learned from compilations of this type, and I recommend it to anyone interested in scholarly practice during late antiquity.

Powell may be profitably read alongside Ferri's analysis of the Hermeneumata Celtis, a bilingual glossary sharing around fifty items with the Appendix Probi. The surviving exemplar of this text consists of a transcript of a now-lost manuscript copied out by Conrad Celtis in 1495. Offered for publication to Aldo Manuzio as a means of teaching Greek, it was rejected on the grounds of market glut. Although he perished half a millennium ago, Celtis may be published at last, as Ferri's essay provides a prolegomenon to a projected edition with commentary, of which only a portion containing a bilingual narrative has hitherto appeared in print.7 Ferri provides a paleographical investigation of the lost original manuscript, and compares it with both ancient glossaries and other extant Hermeneumata. His close analysis concludes that the text represents an original monolingual Atticist lexicon that was adapted into a bilingual glossary in antiquity. This compilation was then combined with a monolingual Latin word list (or a bilingual one for Latin speakers). Each component was probably composed before the fifth century, with parts seemingly designed for native speakers of Greek, parts for speakers of Latin (with several unattested words, as well as unattested meanings for words already known).

As mentioned above, a special attraction of the collection is that original contributions develop out of clear and comprehensive introductions to the principal topic, with the result that they are both accessible to the uninitiated and profitable to the specialist. The few typographical errors in this attractive volume are unlikely to mislead.8

Table of contents

Rolando Ferri, "Introduction" (9-10)
Dirk Uwe Hansen, "How do lexica fit into a work of fiction?" (13-28)
Marie-Karine Lhommé, "De l'encyclopédie au glossaire: Festus et son adaptation par Paul Diacre" (29-47)
Paolo Gatti, "Nonio Marcello e la Compendiosa doctrina" (49-62)
Robert Maltby, "Servius on stylistic register in his Virgil commentaries" (63-73)
Jonathan G. F. Powell, "The Appendix Probi as linguistic evidence: a reassessment" (75-119)
Frédérique Biville, "Quae nusquam nisi in diversis cottidianis glossematibus repperi (GL, VII.167.8-9). Gloses et glossaires bilingues chez Martyrius" (121-140)
Rolando Ferri, "Hermeneumata Celtis. The making of a late-antique bilingual glossary" (141-169)
Paolo Pieroni, "Etymologien in den Variae Cassiodors" (171-185)
Martine-Noëlle Furno, "Problèmes de lexicographie humaniste: un savant et un dictionnaire. Paolo Manuzio et le Calepin” (187-222)
Abbreviations and Bibliography
Index of passages discussed
Index of subjects


1.   E.g., Fest. p. 351 s.v. satis; P. Pieroni, Marcus Verrius Flaccus' "De significatu verborum" in den Auszügen von Sextus Pompeius Festus und Paulus Diaconus (Frankfurt am Main 2004) 19-20.
2.   D. Krömer, "Grammatik contra Lexikon: rerum potiri," Gymnasium 85 (1978) 244-251, illustrates some negative consequences.
3.   For hints of the travails resulting from a similar decision for the less comprehensive Oxford Latin Dictionary, see J. Henderson, "A 1-ZYTHUM: DOMIMINA NUSTIO ILLUMEA, or out with the OLD," in C. Stray ed. Classical Dictionaries. Past, present and future (London 2010) 139-176.
4.   W. M. Lindsay, Nonius Marcellus' Dictionary of Republican Latin (Oxford 1901).
5.   H. Erdbrügger, Cassiodorus unde etymologias in psalterii commentario prolatas petivisse putandus sit (Diss. Jena 1912).
6.   J. G. F. Powell, "A new text of the Appendix Probi," Classical Quarterly 57 (2007) 687-700; S. Asperti, "Il testo dell'Appendix Probi III, in F. Lo Monaco and P. Molinelli ed., L'"Appendix Probi." Nuove ricerche (Bergamo 2007) 41-64. The section in question corresponds with Keil IV.197.19-199.17.
7.   A. C. Dionisotti, "From Ausonius' Schooldays? A Schoolbook and Its Relatives," Journal of Roman Studies 72 (1982) 83-125.
8.   I note simply malae for mala in the supplement to Plin. nat. 15.49 (20); at Cassiod. gramm. VII.169.9 read ver[atr]um (126).

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