Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.05.27
Paolo d’Alessandro, Varrone e la tradizione metrica antica. Spudasmata, Bd. 143. Hildesheim; Zürich; New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2012. Pp. 299. ISBN 9783487147901. €49.80 (pb).
Reviewed by David Butterfield, Queens’ College, University of Cambridge (email@example.com)
[The Table of contents is listed below.]
How did the greatest intellectual of the Roman world conceive of Latin and Greek metre? For such a πολυγραφώτατος scholar, whose magpie-minded researches ranged across almost the entire terrain of Universal Knowledge, the form in which ancient and contemporary poetic literature stood could only have been a subject of the utmost interest. And yet, despite the numerous works of Varro Reatinus (116-27 B.C.) on poems and poetry, on dramatic form, on literary history and authorial authenticity, and on the Latin language, d’Alessandro can politely remind us that ‘[n]on esiste alcuna prova – e non sarebbe verisimile – che Varrone abbia pubblicato un trattato di metrica’ (§88, p.262). For all of the innumerabiles libri issuing from his historical, antiquarian and literary-critical exertions, there is no sign that he ever produced a didactic manual on metrics, such as would bear comparison with any extant Greco-Roman treatise on the subject: Varro, being no Orbilius or Gradgrind, fails to appear in Suetonius’ De grammaticis, save for his libellous cameo as Palaemon’s pig (23.4). As a result, with no metre-specific work being known, and with no detailed account of metre being found in any extant work, Varro’s metrical doctrines can be reconstructed only by the most laborious and yet most tentative processes.
The vast resources of Keil’s Grammatici Latini do not inspire the prospective researcher with confidence. These grammarians rarely cite Varro on matters pertaining to metre, and in the sixth volume (Scriptores Artis Metricae, 1874) his presence amidst such tracts, which often suffer from internal inconsistency, confound various strata from diverse sources and report authors at third hand (or worse), is disconcertingly uncommon: the paraphrase of a Menippean verse in Caesius Bassus’ De metris, two brief Varronian definitions in Aphthonius’ Ars grammatica, two passing mentions in Terentianus Maurus’ De syllabis, and three puzzlingly arranged citations from Varro’s De lingua Latina ad Marcellum in Rufinus’ Commentaria in metra Terentiana. The broader scope of Funaioli’s Grammaticae Romanae Fragmenta (1907) supplies a little more colour, particularly via Gellius and Augustine, but the relevant pickings remain decidedly slim. Since such testimonia provide unequivocal evidence of Varro’s intense interest, and influence, in the subject of Greco-Roman metre, the debate lies wide open as to what his contributions to the field were and in which work(s) they were made. Faced with such bewildering opacity, the scholar of ancient metre will welcome d’Alessandro’s book with both relief and delight: it is the most important contribution to the study of Varronian metre of the 150 years in which the subject has been tackled in any earnest.
In 1889 Friedrich Leo, building upon the pioneering observations of Rudolph Westphal, crystallised in print the bifurcation of metrical theory that emerged in the Hellenistic period, between so-called metra deriuata, and μέτρα πρωτότυπα;1 one hundred years later Jürgen Leonhardt reworked Leo’s contentions, arguing that the latter theory was a subsequent development from the former.2 The system of μέτρα πρωτότυπα (originating from the school of Alexandria and represented by, inter alios, Philoxenus, Heliodorus and Hephaestion in Greek, and Juba, Plotius Sacerdos and Apthonius in Latin) supposed that a fixed number (28) of fundamental feet underlie all metrical forms, which can be classified by their basic units, or χρόνοι, and can, within certain parameters, be repeated, united and modified through catalexis and analogous processes. By contrast, the system of metra deriuata (originating from the school of Pergamon but first attested among Latin authors, particularly Caesius Bassus and Terentianus Maurus) posited that all metrical forms, whether whole verses or cola, ultimately derive from the dactylic hexameter or the iambic trimeter – the two metra principalia – by various processes of addition and subtraction (adiectio, detractio), compilation and alteration (concinnatio, permutatio).
D’Alessandro’s learned and lucid monograph shows conclusively how Varro’s own adherence to the derivationist school pointed the way for Roman metricians.[ He does not overstep the mark of factual objectivity, carefully grounding his arguments at all stages in written testimony and readily highlighting all cases where aporia is safer than doxasma. The text contains throughout long extracts of Greek and Latin metricians, both in the main text and in footnotes, in which significant points of philological and/or textual interest are given due focus. Ample citations of secondary literature, particularly of Hellfried Dahlman and Francesco Della Corte, intersperse the work; given how little Anglophone scholars have brought to this particular table, English is understandably rare.
Chapter 1 (‘Varrone e i due sistemi metrici dell’antichità’) sets out the ancient context of the two metrical schools, as well as weighing up theories about their chronology and interrelationship. D’Alessandro sets himself apart from a number of scholars, especially Leonhardt, in treating the two schools as enduring in tandem throughout antiquity, and suggesting that Varro’s own metrical doctrines importantly foreshadowed developments and refinements of the Augustan age and beyond. For the rest of the book d’Alessandro attempts a clarification and, insofar as is possible, a reconstruction of Varro’s metrical theories through the various lenses that subsequent testimonia present.
Chapter 2 (‘Cesio Basso, l’endecasillabo falecio e il verso saturnino’) focuses upon two particular verse forms, the Phalaecian hendecasyllable and the Saturnian. Twentieth-century scholars placed great weight upon a curious reference by the Neronian metrician Caesius Bassus (recently edited by Giuseppe Morelli, who first prompted d’Alessandro to work on Varro’s metrical fragments) to the Cynodidascalus (s.u.l.), in which Varro phalaecion metron ionicum trimetrum appellat (GLK VI 261,18-19); interpretation of this curious remark has been complicated by both the textual uncertainty of Bassus’ subsequent assertion quidam ionicum minorem (which suggests an alternative view, but the conjectured et quidem [Westphal] would introduce a further Varronian specificity) and the evidence of the beguiling metrician Terentianus Maurus (2845-8, 2882-4). D’Alessandro shows that Bassus’ comment can scarcely be taken as evidence of anything other than a passing Varronian labelling (a protracted metrical survey hardly suiting the satirical context); furthermore, he demonstrates that Terentianus drew only upon Bassus and therefore cannot serve as an independent witness. In the case of the Saturnian, despite Varro’s direct treatment of Fauni and their Saturnii in his De lingua Latina (VII.36), prompted in part by Ennius’ famous claim (Ann. 207 Sk.), d’Alessandro argues convincingly that he could not have advanced in any location a clear theory of the form and origins of the Saturnian, owing to his acceptance of its native Italian origin, thus rendering a derivationist analysis impossible.
Chapter 3 (‘Gellio e i Disciplinarum libri’) investigates Varro’s treatment of metre in the Disciplinarum libri. Gellius provides the most significant evidence that metrical issues were broached in this polymathic work, although certainty about where such a treatment occurred, and in what detail, is unattainable. The available evidence suggests either a geometric or a musical context: d’Alessandro argues that there is much more reason to associate Varro’s metrical doctrines with the sphere of geometry than of music (reconstructed with particular help from Augustine’s De musica). He points especially to the division of the hexameter by its regular penthemimeral caesura: d’Alessandro advances the interesting case that Varro rationalised the resultant inequality of 5 and 7 elements in each half by dividing 7 into 4 and 3, such that 52 = 42 + 32. Although such material may indeed be more germane to a book on geometry, d’Alessandro prudently acknowledges that the precise location and extent of the metrical discussion in the Disciplinarum libri is ultimately unknowable.
Chapter 4 (‘Rufino e il De sermone latino’) moves to the third and final source that points to Varro’s treatment of metre, Rufinus of Antioch (s.V), whose Commentaria d’Alessandro edited in 2004. Drawing upon the famous claim of the so-called Anecdoton Parisinum (Paris BN lat. 7530, f.28r, s.VIII4/4) about the use of critical signs, and Varro’s use of the term clausulae in De sermone Latino to refer to metrical cola in the context of early scenic drama (GLK VI 556,7-13), it is shown that Varro did engage with elements of lyric verse in this largely linguistic work. D’Alessandro chooses to correct Rufinus’ reference to the seventh book of a work de lingua Latina ad Marcellum, since Marcellus and such cited material are absent from the extant seventh book of Varro’s De lingua Latina; the testimony of Gellius (XII.6.3, 10.4; notwithstanding XVIII.12.8), who records that De sermone Latino was dedicated to Marcellus, suggests that the work’s name suffered banalisation in Rufinus, his transmission or his source. Omelettes require broken eggs, and Jerome’s record of five books for De sermone Latino must therefore be chalked up as an error for seven or more. In considering the likely range of De sermone Latino, d’Alessandro argues that as part of his survey of Latinitas Varro must have incorporated reflections on metrical practice and propriety, at least with a view to early scenic poetry. Rufinus’ citations from the pell-mell of Varro, Charisius and Diomedes appear to prove Varro’s belief that the iambic septenarius derived from the senarius (as befits a derivationist), that breuis in longo stood in the eighth element of the septenarius, and that / (the nota transuersa) should be deployed to signify elementa indifferentia (particularly at verse end). Furthermore, d’Alessandro plausibly suggests that both semipes and sesquipes were Varronian technical terms, as well as comicus and tragicus quadratus.
Chapter 5 (‘Diomede e i metra archilochia’) opens with a repetition of the same extracts of Varro, Charisius and Diomedes on iambic senarii and septenarii. Building upon this case, d’Alessandro mines Diomedes’ discussions for other Varronian deriuationes to which the scholar’s name is not explicitly attached: analogously to Archilochus’ alleged creation of the trochaic tetrameter by adding a cretic to the beginning of an iambic trimeter (so Terentianus and Aphthonius), Varro derived the octonarius from the trimeter by adiectio of two iambic feet at the beginning; by contrast, the iambic catalectic dimeter emerges from the iambic trimeter by detractio (see p.197 for a complete list). Although examples are cited from Virgil and Horace amidst Diomedes’ account of [Varro] on metra archilochia, d’Alessandro supposes that the original discussion could stem from De sermone Latino after the deriuatio of the septenarius (for which later metricians offered Augustan examples). The chapter closes with a discussion of the possible location of Varro’s metrical fragments in the work: d’Alessandro follows Ritschl in assigning them to Book 7, rather than 4 (Wilmanns), various sedes incertae (Funaioli), or to an entirely different treatise (Dahlmann).
Chapter 6 (‘Aftonio, Diomede e i Fragmenta incertae sedis’) treats various definitions of rhythm and verse, including Varro’s own cited by Aphthonius (GLK VI 55,11-12, published under the name of Aphthonius’ textual bedfellow Marius Victorinus). After a detailed discussion, d’Alessandro makes the probable suggestion that Varro regarded division into commata as a prerequisite of verse. Despite Varro’s being cited only once by Aphthonius, careful analysis is offered of a number of other possible fragments, although judgment is suspended as to how Varronian they may actually be.
The conclusion (‘Le opere e la teoria’, 263-91), plainly written and finely cross-referenced, is the part of the book that best repays quick consultation for those who seek a swift summary of the status quaestionis of Varrone metricista. The book closes with two brief indexes of concepts and technical terms (Italian, Latin, Greek), and of passages discussed.
Although much of the book is of an unavoidably technical nature, and is often aimed for the cognoscenti (the frontispiece portrait of Varro on page 5 from Thévet’s Vrais Pourtraits is not even identified ), d’Alessandro’s argumentation is clear and well-paced; the numeration of sections across chapters (up to §99) makes for easy consultation and reference in future. Typographical errors are very rare (e.g., 129 ‘Varrous’[for ‘Varro’], 165 n.65 Accademica, 237 incertae operis) and the typefaces admirable. That is all well and good, for this is scholarship that will endure.
Table of Contents
Introduction and list of abbreviations: 7-23.
1: ‘Varrone e i due sistemi metrici dell’antichità’, 25-51.
2: ‘Cesio Basso, l’endecasillabo falecio e il verso saturnino’, 53-99.
3: ‘Gellio e i Disciplinarum libri’, 101-46.
4: ‘Rufino e il De sermone latino’, 147-82.
5: ‘Diomede e i metra archilochia’, 183-220.
6: ‘Aftonio, Diomede e i Fragmenta incertae sedis’, 221-62.
Conclusione, Le opere e la teoria: 263-91.
1. F. Leo, ‘Die beiden metrischen Systeme des Altertums’, Hermes 24 (1889) 289-301.
2. J. Leonhart, ‘Die beiden metrischen Systeme des Altertums’, Hermes 117 (1989) 43-62.
3. A number of the contentions offered in the book had been touched upon in his earlier article, ‘Di manuale in manuale: un’interpretazione metrica varroniana da Cesio Basso a Rufino’, in M. Silvano Celentano (ed.), Ars/techne: il manuale tecnico nelle civiltà greca e romana (Alexandria, 2003) 115-25.