Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.05.09 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.05.09

Richard Stoneman, Tristano Gargiulo, Il Romanzo di Alessandro, Volume II. Scrittori greci e latini.   Roma; Milano:  Fondazione Lorenzo Valla; Arnoldo Mondadori editore, 2012.  Pp. lxviii, 451; 11 p. of plates.  ISBN 9788804613992.  €30.00.  

Reviewed by Brad L. Cook, University of Mississippi (

This book, the second of an in-progress three-volume set, might seem at a glance to be simply a new printing of Pseudo-Callisthenes’ Alexander Romance, a three-book work, published here one book per volume with facing Italian translation.1 But this publication is much more. When Pseudo-Callisthenes was first edited by Karl Müller in 1846, he constructed a composite text using what are still today the three most important manuscripts of the three earliest, separate Greek recensions of the Romance.2 In assembling a compiled text Müller was following contemporary practice; what worried him rather was editing the Romance at all: Ptolemæo et Aristobulo jungentes Pseudo-Callisthenem veremur sane ne quis ad aliena nos aberrasse et quadrata junxisse rotundis clamitet (Müller 1846, v). We are in a new age and Müller’s fear is, I hope, less an issue. His diligence, however, in creating a composite text caused a different kind of problem which Stoneman and Gargiulo are greatly helping to unknot. They are filling the many pages of this new text by printing separately the three Greek recensions (α, β, and γ) merged together by Müller but now standing intact, one after another, on the basis of modern, scholarly editions of these three recensions.3 They print a fourth text, the fourth-century AD Latin translation of rec. α by Julius Valerius (printed also by Müller as the Latin translation for the Didot edition). This last is currently available in an excellent Teubner edition,4 but the modern editions of the separate Greek texts are out of print and were rare to begin with. The advantage of having these texts assembled in this new way, recension by recension, makes this new publication invaluable for everyone wanting to read and study these foundational texts of the Romance. Add the bibliography, the textual notes (by Gargiulo, new to this volume, xxxiii–lxiv), the select apparatus criticus, the Italian translation (by Gargiulo), the curious comments (by Stoneman, pp. 377–451), and, lastly, the superb manufacture of the volume (good paper, brilliantly clear printing, and stitched signatures) and I can only hope that the third volume will hasten through the Gedrosian Desert of editing, translating, and printing to bring the final volume into readers’ hands sooner than later.5

One structural feature of Müller’s work remains and that is the chapter numbering he created for each book. This chapter numbering facilitates comparison across recensions, and across languages, and has been used in editions of the Romance following Müller. (Still see Müller, x–xv, for, among other things, a succinct glimpse of the differences between the Greek recensions of manuscripts A, B, C/recensions α, β, γ, and also Valerius’ Latin.) Stoneman and Gargiulo have further facilitated comparison by applying to the three Greek texts the section numbering used by Kroll for his 1926 edition of rec. α (all other modern editions, though they use Müller’s chapter numbers, have only line numbers per page and no section numbers whatsoever; the Latin here has line numbers per chapter). It is true that the numbering can give the impression of incompleteness when, for instance, Book 2 of rec. β begins with chapter 7 or when, in the same recension, Bk 2.23 is followed by Bk 2.32. But the full application of this numbering system chapter and section numbering here allows us to see more readily each redactor at work with the earlier recension in front of him.

For an example of the four versions and of the Italian translations, consider an episode when Alexander is preparing for what will be the final battle with Darius (≈ Gaugamela) and, on a dream, goes to visit the Great King in his palace disguised as a messenger. He dines with the assembled Persians who marvel at how short he is. When Alexander “has an idea” and starts pocketing the drinking cups, which are constantly being brought to him, he explains to the perplexed Darius that Alexander thus gives away cups at his banquets. The narrator comments: πλαστὸς ἀεὶ μῦθος, ἐὰν σχῇ πίστιν, ἐκστῆναι πεποίηκεν τοὺς ἀκούοντας (2.15.5, rec. α, though ms. A reads ἐκστάναι); the Italian reads, “Un discorso fittizio, se ha credibilità, ha sempre incantato gli ascoltatori.” The subsequent Greek recensions clarify the language slightly. The manuscripts of rec. β alter πλαστός variously: πάντως (ms. V), πᾶς τι (ms. L), and πᾶς (mss. BF), which is printed here (Italian, “ogni [discorso]”); rec. γ, by comparison, has παντί (Italian, “in ogni circostanza”); and the somewhat awkward ἐκστῆναι πεποίηκεν also receives varied alteration: εἰς ἔκστασιν φέρει (ms. B) and ἐν ἐκστάσει ποιεῖ (mss. FVL), which is printed here and also followed by rec. γ (Italian, “tiene avvinti coloro”). Julius Valerius turns the version in rec. α into: hoc blandimento responsionisque eius gratia cum rex ceterique permulsi essent, admirationem sui silentio testabantur (Italian, “Il re e gli altri, placati dalla lusinga di questa risposta, mostravano la loro ammirazione rimanendo in silenzio”), which draws, in fact, on the genitive absolute, πολλῆς οὖν σιγῆς γενομένης, in the following sentence in rec. α. Though I have added one extra reading (from Bergson’s exceptionally thorough apparatus criticus for rec. β), this sort of comparison of text and variants can be made in a matter of minutes with this new volume. The TLG may show the text for the Greek recensions but not Julius Valerius, of course, and no apparatus criticus at all.

In the comments for this passage Stoneman includes comparanda which are variously wrong, a digit or two off, misleadingly irrelevant, or, in the end, a fascinating misuse of an opportunity. The reference to Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 1.5 does not fit the description and I know of no passage that does; Plutarch, Alcibiades 4.5 does not illustrate how guests can legitimately react to a stingy host by stealing his cups; Aesop did not steal a cup but was framed. Vita Aesopi 25 should read 127–128; “Ateneo, II 229 e-d” should read VI 229c–d; Diodorus XVII 100.1–4 should be to XVII 101.1–4. The reference to Herodotus 3.148 is misleading; the use of Athenaeus IV 129f should include the far more immense gifting going on in 128b–130d; the statement that Dioxippus was a “ commensale di Alessandro” is misleading since he was an Athenian and his opponent in the fight was a Macedonian Companion of the king, and to say merely that Dioxippus was accused of stealing a cup fails to note that the sources recount how and why he was framed. And, lastly, the tale of how Sir Robert Shirley (Sherley), when toasting the Persian governor at Shiraz (among whose many titles appear “Nutmeg of Comfort, and Rose of Delight,” we read elsewhere), pocketed the gold cup used for the toast with a quip that humored the governor—an anecdote that fills just over seven of the twenty-three lines of “commento” on Alexander’s cup stealing (399)—is memorable but misplaced. This entire macédoine of twenty-three lines of data is certainly fascinating but one could hope, instead, for a more accurate and focused assemblage of comparanda and, perhaps, some succinct thoughts on why Alexander “gets an idea” (ἐπινοεῖ) to steal the cups and about how audacious and Odyssean his bald-faced and shameful lie is. But, whatever one looks to notes for, Stoneman illustrates how challenging commenting on the Romance can be.

The bibliography is thorough, though there is a cut-off point somewhere in the early second millennium AD; thus, for example, for the eleventh- and twelfth-century Latin Historia de Preliis, as well as for all subsequent descendants in the European vernaculars one would need to go elsewhere for that bibliography.6 I would note that the 2003 Dutch text of Faustina Doufikar-Aerts book on the Arabic Alexander tradition in the bibliography is now available in English: Alexander Magnus Arabicus: A Survey of the Alexander Tradition through Seven Centuries: from Pseudo-Callisthenes to Suri (Leuven: Peeters, 2010), and I would recommend for every new, or seasoned, student of the Alexander Romance Tomas Hägg’s thoughts on the ancient Romance in his posthumous The Art of Biography in Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012, 99–101, 117–134, 399–401).


1.   The first volume, containing Book 1, appeared in 2007. A web search discovers a note on Stoneman’s website at the University of Exeter promising volume three “after another such interval” and the promise is held out that “an English edition will one day appear from Oxford.”
2.   Müller’s editions of Reliqua Arriani, Scriptorum de rebus Alexandri M. fragmenta, Pseudo-Callisthenis historiam fabulosam, Itinerarium Alexandri appeared as the very long addenda of Friedrich Dübner’s edition of Arriani Anabasis et Indica (Paris: Didot, 1846).
3.   For rec. α, preserved only in ms. A: Wilhelm Kroll, ed., Historia Alexandri Magni (Pseudo-Callisthenes), vol. 1, Recensio vetusta (only vol. publ.) (Berlin: Weidmann, 1926); for rec. β: Leif Bergson, ed., Der griechische Alexanderroman Rezension β (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1965); for rec. γ there are three volumes, book by book: Ursula von Lauenstein, ed., Der griechische Alexanderroman. Rezension γ, Buch I (Meisenheim am Glan: Hain, 1962). Helmut Engelmann, ed., Der griechische Alexanderroman. Rezension γ, Buch II (Meisenheim am Glan: Hain, 1963). Franz Parthe, ed., Der griechische Alexanderroman. Rezension γ, Buch III (Meisenheim am Glan: Hain, 1969).
4.   Michela Rosellini, ed., Iulius Valerius, Res Gestae Alexandri Macedonis, corr. ed. (Munich: K. G. Saur, 2004), reviewed in BMCR 2005.05.42.
5.   For a somewhat similar assemblage of Romance texts compare the synoptic version of the text of Archpriest Leo and the three recensions of the Historia de preliis prepared by Hermann-Josef Bergmeister, Die Historia de preliis Alexandri Magni (Der lateinische Alexanderroman des Mittelalters). Synoptische Edition der Rezensionen des Leo Archipresbyter und der interpolierten Fassungen J1, J2, J3 (Buch I und II) (Meisenheim am Glan: Anton Hain 1975. Newer editions of most of the recensions included by Bergmeister have since been published.
6.   Consider the annotated list of texts and traditions in Stoneman’s Alexander the Great, A Life in Legend (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 230–245 and bibliography, 284–305.

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