Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.07.08

Frances Muecke, John Dunston (ed.), Domizio Calderini: Commentary on Silius Italicus. Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance 477.   Geneva:  Librairie Droz, 2011.  Pp. 958.  ISBN 9782600014342.  $150.00.  

Reviewed by John Jacobs, The Montclair Kimberley Academy (

N.B. Supplements to this review are posted in the comments to the BMCR blog.

Modern study of the Punica begins with the rediscovery of the epic by Poggio Bracciolini during the Council of Constance in 1417, followed relatively soon thereafter by the publication of the editio princeps (more accurately, two editiones principes) in Rome in 1471 and by the appearance of the first printed commentary, by Pietro Marso, in Venice in 1483. Pietro Marso was not, however, the first to comment on the Punica. Rather, as Marso himself explains in his dedicatory letter to Virginius Ursinus, he owed a great debt to a trio of predecessors at the Studium Urbis in Rome: Pietro Odo da Montopoli, Giulio Pomponio Leto, and, most importantly, Domizio Calderini, whose own commentary never made it into print. Now, half a millennium after Marso’s work was last published, Calderini finally gets his due, as Muecke, in the publication of the book under review, brings to completion an imposing project, begun by Dunston over half a century ago, by collating and editing not the (lost) commentary itself but the evidence for it preserved in the lecture notes recorded in the margins of five copies of the 1471 edition produced by Pomponio Leto, as well as in the margins of the Casanatense MS (Σ). The result is a book which marks a major milestone in several respects and which, one hopes, will lead to the publication of the remaining extant marginalia on the Punica.

The volume itself consists of the usual parts, including a preface (pp. 9-10) with an account of the discovery of Houghton Inc. 3431 (A) at Harvard, an introduction (pp. 13-65), a table of sigla and abbreviations (pp. 67-73), a life of Silius found only in Houghton Inc. 3431 (pp. 75-6), the text itself book-by-book (pp. 77-830), an extensive if incomplete bibliography (pp. 831-44), and a series of eight indices (pp. 845-958). The introduction comprises three sections, 'Domizio Calderini and his commentary on Silius Italicus' (pp. 13-25), 'The witnesses, their nature and their relationships' (pp. 25-39), and 'The sources' (pp. 39-63, including a list of unidentified sources in n. 114, on which see below), as well as a brief explanatory 'Note on the edition' (pp. 63-65, with 'Stamp. Ross. 1446' for 'Stamp. Ross. 1146' on p. 65) in which Muecke explains how she and, before her, Dunston grappled with the many challenges posed by the material to be edited. The physical book itself is not especially sturdy: the glue along the spine of my copy has already given way, and the cover for such a hefty tome perhaps ought to have been hard rather than soft. Nevertheless, even at the understandably high price, the volume is worth every penny.

In the compass of this brief review, I will focus on the many textual problems which, ultimately, render the edition less authoritative and less reliable than it might otherwise have been: this is an especially important point given the difficulty of the material to be edited and the corresponding need for accuracy and consistency.1 In the 'Note on the edition' (pp. 63-5), Muecke makes her position clear: 'In this edition our [i.e., Muecke and Dunston’s] purpose has been to present the raw materials of Calderini’s commentary on Silius Italicus as they have been transmitted by the students, not to reconstruct the finished version that Calderini might have produced had he revised his lecture notes' (p. 63). Muecke goes on to explain what implications this approach has had for the presentation of the text, the modernization of the orthography, and the use of both the apparatus criticus and the apparatus fontium to mark any divergences between the text reported in the lecture notes and that reported in the modern editions for the various authors cited. Furthermore, throughout the book, Muecke quotes from the commentary of Pietro Marso, given its close connection with the work of Calderini. Accordingly, the errors in question fall into three categories: errors in Latin, in Greek, and in the citation of passages from Marso.

The errors in Latin include, first and foremost, orthographical issues like capitalization, corrupt or inferior spellings, and outright mistakes.2 The variant forms of sequor and auctor well illustrate the pervasive nature of this problem. In the case of forms of the verb sequor, Muecke generally adopts the standard Classical orthography, but there are a number of exceptions, especially in the present indicative and the perfect participle.3 In the case of forms of the noun auctor, Muecke again generally adopts the standard Classical orthography, but here there are even more exceptions, as well as some inconsistencies. 4 The handling of numbers, whether written out in full or not, also involves several slips. The errors in morphology and syntax far outnumber these (admittedly, minor) errors in orthography and encompass everything from simple inflectional mistakes in the various declensions and conjugations (at least some of which may be classed as orthographical errors rather than morphosyntactical errors) to more serious problems of clause and sentence structure.5

The errors in Greek include orthographical issues similar to those seen in the Latin, as well as a number of slips in the marking of breath and accent. At times, the etymological links between the Greek and the Latin are not made explicit enough.6 Beyond that, there are a few passages which call for more extended comment. In II 445, we read fistula dicitur thissao inflo instead of the expected phissao (~ φυσάω) probably because the initial phi was misread as a theta. Later, in XIII 588, we read Cocyti θ gigis frater instead of the expected et probably because of another misread theta: read Cotti et Gigis frater here, cf. I 435, esp. Cottos for coctus, the reading in AF, and Giges for gigas, also the reading in AF. In II 89, Muecke, following the Guarino-Tiphernas Latin translation of Strabo, fails to correct the note fuit item tertius Mopsus filius Tiresiae vatis, which arises from a misinterpretation of Μαντοῦς (= Manto, daughter of T(e)iresias) as a form of μάντις (= prophet, i.e., vatis) in the Latin translation of Str. 9.5.22 οὐκ ἀπὸ Μόψου τοῦ Μαντοῦς τῆς Τειρεσίου ~ non a filio Teiresiae Mopso vate. In V 580, Muecke seems to overlook the possible etymological link between indagator / intagator (sic) and ἑρμενεύς, despite the inferior Erinius for Herminius in the lemma. Finally, in XII 340, there may be another possible etymological link, with λαμβάνω (~ capio), in the note dictum delubrum a deo capiendo quemadmodum candelabrum a candela capienda.

The errors in the citation of passages from Marso, as well as in the citation of passages both from other ancient authors and from Calderini’s own commentaries on other ancient authors, constitute, by far, the most serious challenge to the integrity of the text.7 Here too, there are a few passages which call for extended comment. In VIII 604, in a citation from Marso ad XII 215, Muecke reads Prentelia (sic), even though the reading appears quite clearly to be Prentesia, i.e., Brentesia, cf. Brentesia in Pomponio Leto ad Verg. Aen. I 244, cited by Muecke herself later in the same paragraph. (For the alternate forms Brentesia / Prentesia, cf. Spoletum [> It. Spoleto], in a citation from Marso ad VIII 460 / Spoletium). In XV 170, in a citation from Marso ad loc., Muecke reads rararim (?), even though the reading appears quite clearly to be tararim: read taranim, i.e., Taranim, cf. Luc. 1.446 (Taranis).

Beyond these errors in Latin, in Greek, and in the citation of passages from Marso (at least some of which, admittedly, may not be true errors, but instead examples of the more flexible Latinity of the Renaissance), there are errors and significant omissions in the citation of both the ancient authors and modern scholarship (in general, more use of the subsequent commentary tradition could have been made throughout the volume). Altogether, despite the difficulty of the material to be edited, the level of editorial control is not as consistently high as it could have and perhaps should have been.8 Nevertheless, all of this in no way detracts from the quality of Calderini’s work or diminishes the inherent importance and interest of his (lost) commentary, and so I would like to conclude this review with three notes which illustrate this point.9

II init.: like many scholars since him, Calderini attempted to find a ratio for the 17 books of the Punica in the 17 years of the Second Punic War (presumably, from the fall of Saguntum in 218 B.C. to the battle of Zama in 202 B.C., counting inclusively): Calderini returns to this idea later, towards the end of the commentary, in his note on XVII 385. I would only add to this bit of numerology (and the 'modern' aversion to the practice is not an argument against its 'validity' in the ancient world) that Carthage was said to have burnt for 17 days at its fall in 146 B.C. (Flor. 1.31.18 = 2.15.18 and Oros. 4.23.5), a coincidence (?) which lends support for a reading of the Punica as a telescopic presentation of all three Punic wars as one.

VIII 143: the teacher Calderini, and not the student Marso, can now rightfully assert and defend his claim to be the first scholar to note the now famous lacuna at this point in the manuscripts.

XIV 598: in a note on the narrative of the plague during the siege of Syracuse, Calderini offers an extraordinarily 'modern' comment about Silius’ intertextual engagement with Lucretius and Vergil, but then, shortly thereafter, completely misses the patently Vergilian echo in XIV 673 (!).

This volume represents a monumental achievement, despite the editorial issues discussed above, and the interweaving of lemmata, Calderini’s commentary (i.e., notes recorded by his students), and Muecke and Dunston’s further remarks offers visual evidence of the ongoing 'conversation' about the Punica across the centuries. Moreoever, the more recent spate of publications on Silius, including a number of commentaries on single books, makes this the perfect time for a more sustained and thoughtful engagement with the earlier commentary tradition. To that end, I would like to conclude by repeating Ernesti’s plea for an edition of Marso’s commentary which is based on all four recensions of the text and, ideally, offered in a searchable electronic format.


1.   See also the review by Johann Ramminger in RR. Roma nel Rinascimento (2011), available online from Ramminger’s own website.
2.   Details in the comments to the BMCR blog post.
3.   Read sequuntur for secuntur (VIII 390, 412, 483, 515-18, 568, and 588), est secutus for est sequtus (I 513) and secuti sunt for sequti sunt (III 608); cf. V 624 est secutus, the reading in F, for (est?) sequutus, the reading in B, as well as secuti for sequuti (XI 20) and secutus for sequutus (XII 91). Read also esset consecutus for esset consequutus (XI 532-3), as well as locutus est for loquutus est (IX 251).
4.   Read auctor for autor (I 662, II 60, VII 74, VIII 568, VIII 573, X 508, XI 58, XI 311, XI 380, XI 431, XII 342, and XVI 25), auctores for autores (IV 487, X 173, X 321, XI 2, XII 396, XIII 425 [bis], and XVII 417), auctorem for autorem (VII 634, IX 57, and XVI 273), auctorum for autorum (IV 487, X 503, and XIV 37), and auctore for autore (V 466, VI 628, VII 107, VII 171, VII 418 [bis], VIII 573, VIII 580, VIII 593-4, IX 57, IX 306, IX 372, IX 471, X 165, X 173, X 255, X 484, X 492, X 580, XI 10, XI 250-1, XI 278, XIII 94, XIII 445-6, and XVI 583): read also auctoritate for autoritate (XII 364). The inconsistency here lies in the fact that Muecke 'corrects' auctore Plinio, the reading in A, to autore Plinio in VII 171, but later corrects autore Homero, the reading in BF, to auctore Homero in VII 276-7: the first is not a 'correction' at all, but the second is and, furthermore, would seem to suggest that Muecke at least intended to adopt the standard Classical orthography throughout.
5.   For a list of errors in Latin numbers, inflection and syntax see the blog comments.
6.   For a list of errors in the Greek see the blog comments.
7.   For a list of citation errors see the blog comments.
8.   For a list of errors in citation of authors and other editorial slips see the blog comments.
9.   I believe that I have identified the sources for two of the unidentified (?) passages listed in n. 114 on p. 39: in I 277, read Crysaum (i.e., Chrysaor, father of Geryon) for Cryscum (cf. IV 151), and add D.S. 4.17.2, 18.2 for an explicit reference to the three sons of Chrysaor (cf. Just. 44.4.16, Isid. Orig. 11.3.28, and Vat. Myth. I.68); and, in V 581, add Ov. Met 13.904-68 for an implicit reference (perhaps?) to Glaucus as the piscationis inventor in the claim ego primus (13.930), cf. Glaucus in deum marinum (the title given to the myth in the Narrationes fabularum Ovidianarum) ~ Glaucus … in deum marinum (V 581), along with Vat. Myth. I.3, 99; II.168-9; and III.11.8.

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