Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2016.05.18 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.05.18

Response: Zetzel on Zwierlein on Zetzel on Riesenweber, 'C. Marius Victorinus, Commenta in Ciceronis Rhetorica'.   Response to 2016.03.44

Response by James E. G. Zetzel, Columbia University (

[Zwierlein's response to Zetzel on Riesenweber is BMCR 2016.05.09.]

I am grateful to Professor Zwierlein for pointing out my error in confusing the Compendium de rhetorica with the Tractatus de attributis. Had he read my footnotes (n.3), he would have seen that I am aware that Pronay’s edition is a reprint of Stangl’s.

As for his other comments, he largely elaborates on what I in fact said in my review, that I did not read through the entirety of a very dull thousand pages. What I objected to in Riesenweber’s work is not the quality of his scholarship, which I described as careful and learned, but his approach. In particular:

a) While I do not question the improvements Riesenweber has made to Ippolito’s work, he is so obviously hostile to her (e.g. omitting her edition from the table of readings) that I distrust his arguments against her, especially since he does not present the evidence clearly.

b) Professor Zwierlein may admire a recension that results in a stemma in which 40% of the manuscripts are hypothetical and there are eleven posited lines of contamination, but I do not. Arguments of this kind are inevitably circular, and I find them very unconvincing.

c) Riesenweber himself describes his commentary as purely textual. That does not mean that he ignores relevant arguments about substance in explaining his textual choices. It does mean that he does not comment on important passages that have no textual problems, and it does mean that his commentary contains trivia that not even he thinks worth reporting in his own apparatus. It is a waste, as I said, of time and paper. One need only compare Rainer Jakobi’s excellent commentary on the (shorter and textually simpler) comparable work of Grillius, which does not hide the substantive explanations under a mass of truly unimportant textual variants. Jakobi is worth reading through. Riesenweber is not.

I add that, having now consulted this new piece of Pro Tullio, I am not convinced that the eight words it adds are genuine. If they are, Cicero’s rhetoric is rather less effective than it was before, and it is curious that the new words do not seem to be represented in the paraphrases of the same passage of Pro Tullio by Julius Victor (who is cited by Riesenweber) and Martianus Capella (who is not).

Professor Zwierlein understandably has greater admiration for—and greater knowledge of—the work of his pupil than I do. Since I disagree strongly with Zwierlein’s ideas about the transmission of texts, it is not surprising that I also disagree with Riesenweber. The big difference to me is that Zwierlein’s work, though I think it often wrong, concentrates on important issues, while Riesenweber does not distinguish what is important from what is not. The sad part about this is that I am (to borrow John Dillon’s memorable phrase in this journal) one of the half-dozen demented pedants who actually enjoy reading histories of texts, but I still found Riesenweber unreadable. I hope, for his sake, that the other five disagree.

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