Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2016.03.44 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.03.44

Thomas Riesenweber, C. Marius Victorinus, Commenta in Ciceronis Rhetorica (2 vols.). Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, Bd 120.1–2.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2015.  Pp. xxiii, 531; 50 p. of plates; 520.  ISBN 9783110316377.  $266.00.  

Reviewed by James Zetzel, Columbia University (

Jerome in his Chronicle records under the year 354 CE the eminence of two teachers (insignes habentur): one, his own teacher the grammarian Donatus; the other, the rhetorician Marius Victorinus. He reports also that Victorinus was honored by a statue in Rome, in the Forum of Trajan—appropriately, as it was one of the places where teaching regularly took place. Victorinus’ name has faded from the glory he had in his own day, but he stands out for his career, his interests, and the range of his writings. Victorinus was a grammarian, rhetorician, Neoplatonic philosopher, and finally Christian convert (whose transformation was recorded by, and affected, Augustine himself). Even those works of his that survive represent a range of interests that few ancients can match and that even fewer modern scholars can control. We possess the opening chapters of his Ars grammatica; his commentary on Cicero’s De Inventione; a work on definitions; some anti-Arian tracts; three hymns; and commentaries on several letters of St. Paul that represent the first known New Testament commentaries in Latin. And that is only part of what seems a fairly prodigious and remarkably varied output that also included (now lost): a commentary on the first part of Cicero’s Topica; a translation of and commentary on Aristotle’s Categories; and more.

Victorinus was renowned in his own time and at least until the sixth century, when some of his works were used and recommended by Cassiodorus and replaced by Boethius. In modern times, however, he was largely out of fashion until he was resurrected in an important book by Pierre Hadot in 1971.1 Until 1960, the only remotely modern editions of any of his works were Keil’s 1874 edition of the fragment of his Ars grammatica in Grammatici Latini VI and Halm’s edition of the commentary on De Inventione in Rhetores Latini Minores in 1863.2 Hadot and others began to edit Victorinus’ theological works in 1960; the Pauline commentaries were edited in 1972. Victorinus’s secular works have not been neglected. The Ars grammatica was edited with commentary by I. Mariotti in 1967, the Liber de definitionibus was edited by Pronay in 1997, and there have been two critical editions within ten years of the commentary on Cicero’s De Inventione.3 The volumes under review are supplementary to the second of these editions, a Teubner text edited by Riesenweber and published in 2013. It follows the earlier edition by A. Ippolito that appeared in the series Corpus Christianorum in 2006.4

The work under review, despite its vast size, contains no text of Marius Victorinus: that is to be found in Riesenweber’s 2013 edition, to which all references in the present work are keyed by page and line. The first volume includes a brief review of Victorinus’ life and works, a discussion of the form of the commentary, a history of the transmission, a descriptive list of all the known manuscripts, extant, partial, and lost, and an extremely detailed reconstruction of the relationships among the manuscripts. It concludes by providing three critical editions of other texts: two late accessus to Victorinus, the anonymous ninth-century Compendium de rhetorica transmitted in manuscripts of Victorinus (sometimes between the two books of Victorinus, sometimes at the end), and the Renaissance Castigationes in Victorinum of Marinus Becichemus (Marino Bezicco), who had access to the far less well represented side of the manuscript tradition. It also includes fifty color photographs of manuscripts and early editions. The second volume contains a critical commentary on the text and a long list of differences between Riesenweber’s edition and that of Halm, accompanied by bibliography and indices.

To read in detail through the thousand pages of Riesenweber’s analysis of manuscripts and textual problems is something that only another editor of Marius Victorinus would undertake, and hence this review will not go over his arguments in detail. Some observations, however, are in order. Riesenweber’s work on Victorinus’ commentary began, as he tells us in his preface, with a review of Ippolito’s 2006 edition. Both that review and the present work make clear that he was shocked by the number of errors (of collation, of judgment, and of proofreading) that he found in her work.5 I will not render a verdict on this dispute since I have not collated either the manuscripts or the two editions. What is clear, however, is that whatever failings Ippolito’s execution of her edition may have, she did extremely important work on the manuscripts. Where Halm in his edition had relied primarily on the earliest manuscript (D, Cologne 166) and very few others, Ippolito catalogued 46 manuscripts and discovered among them a Renaissance manuscript in Oxford (O, Bodleian D’Orville 152) that is in fact an extremely important witness to the text. Riesenweber relies on her work. He has added some manuscripts to the list, but the most cursory examination of his account of the transmission shows that much of his reconstruction rests on hers. In that respect, Riesenweber’s eagerness to point out Ippolito’s errors, even trivial ones, and his incomprehensible decision not to include her edition along with Halm’s in the table of differences between his edition and those of his predecessors inevitably make one distrustful. Riesenweber and Ippolito differ considerably in establishing the shape of the stemma. Ippolito believed that D and O were closely related and (I oversimplify considerably) together constituted one side of the stemma, against almost all other witnesses. Riesenweber believes that O itself, with a few relatives, constitutes one side of the stemma while D is merely an older witness to the same tradition represented by the rest of the manuscripts. He further argues that there has been a considerable amount of contamination from one side of the tradition to the other. The relationship among the bulk of manuscripts is complex and will not concern me here; suffice it to say that under any interpretation, Marius Victorinus was relatively widely read at some periods, and there was certainly contamination.

Although Riesenweber does not present the evidence for his reconstruction in a fashion designed to be intelligible by the non-expert, it is clear enough that he has done a very careful job. I have no reason to question his reports of manuscript readings, which fill lists going on for pages, except for the one, most important question, about the relationship between D and O. There (I, 165–66) he merely says that the 250 shared errors of DO are largely insignificant. His failure to provide full evidence here gives one pause, but I am not about to gather the evidence again to check. His reconstruction here is probably right, but the tradition is contaminated, and a glance at his stemma (I, 453) is a little unnerving. It includes 30 extant witnesses, 20 hypothetical and reconstructed manuscripts, and eleven lines of contamination. The odds are heavily against anything that complicated and that imaginary being completely correct.

The 399 pages on Überlieferungsgeschichte in the first volume are followed by 412 pages of critical commentary on the text in the second. It is, as Riesenweber makes clear, purely a textual commentary. He has no interest in unraveling Victorinus’ argument, his philosophical sources, or his rhetorical theories. That is his privilege, but it is not exciting reading. Riesenweber is, however, a careful and learned student of the text, and, when relevant for his choice of variants, he duly brings in the appropriate parallels for Victorinus’ usage and discusses the different meanings to be attached to the variant readings. At the same time, it is frustrating and often perplexing to read his notes. On the opening sentence of Inv. 1.3, for instance, on the power of eloquence to organize humans into society, Victorinus (13.10–21) discusses the relationship between eloquentia and sapientia. Riesenweber here has only a didactic note (“Die Stelle ist unter methodischen Gesichtspunkten ein Lehrstück . . .”; II, 29) on a haplography in one of the important manuscripts, one that he does not even bother reporting in his apparatus. Indeed, not a few notes discuss very minor readings. The instance I cite above is not the only time he devotes zealous discussion to a variant he himself did not think worth printing. An editor needs to consider such things in evaluating the evidence; but why Riesenweber should waste time and paper in explaining them to anyone else is a mystery to me.

[For a response to this review by Otto Zwierlein, please see BMCR 2016.05.09.] ​


1.   P. Hadot, Marius Victorinus: Recherches sur sa vie et ses oeuvres (Paris, 1971).
2.   H. Keil, ed., Grammatici Latini (Leipzig, 1857–1880) and C. Halm, ed., Rhetores Latini Minores (Leipzig, 1863).
3.   Theological works (not a complete list of modern editions): Marius Victorinus, Traités théologiques sur la trinité ed. P. Henry and P. Hadot (Paris, 1960); Opera theologica ed. P. Henry and P. Hadot (Vienna 1971); Commentarii in Epistulas Pauli ad Galatas, ad Philippenses, ad Ephesios ed. A. Locher (Leipzig, 1972). Secular works: Ars grammatica ed. I. Mariotti (Florence, 1967); Liber de definitionibus ed. A. Pronay (Frankfurt, 1997) (a slightly altered reprint of the edition of T. Stangl, Tulliana et Mario-Victoriana [Munich, 1888] with translation and commentary).
4.   Marius Victorinus, Explanationes in Ciceronis Rhetorica ed. A. Ippolito (Turnhout, 2006); C. Marius Victorinus, Commenta in Ciceronis Rhetorica ed. T. Riesenweber (Berlin/Boston, 2013).
5.   T. Riesenweber, Review of Ippolito 2006 in Gnomon 81 (2009) 25–32. ​

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010