Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.01.11 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.01.11

Martha Malamud, Namatianus' Going Home: De reditu suo. Translated and with an Introductory Essay. Routledge Later Latin poetry.   London; New York:  Routledge, 2016.  Pp. xiii, 89.  ISBN 9781138781979.  $120.00.  


Reviewed by Scott Bruce, University of Colorado (scott.bruce@colorado.edu)

This slim 89-page volume inaugurates an exciting new book series called Routledge Later Latin Poetry (RLLP). Edited by Joseph Pucci of Brown University, RLLP will publish translations of the works of Latin poets who lived between the fourth and the eighth centuries. Forthcoming volumes in the series will feature select works of Juvencus, Ausonius, Prudentius, and Ennodius. The volume under review is devoted to the sole surviving work of Rutilius Namatianus, entitled De reditu suo (“Going Home”), an early fifth-century epic poem composed in elegaic meter. Only about half of the poem has come down to us, some 644 verses from Book 1 and a paltry 68 verses from Book 2. De reditu suo purports to describe a sea voyage that Rutilius took from the city of Rome to his homeland in southern Gaul in 417, three years after serving as praefectus urbi in 414. The reason for his voyage is unknown, but Malamud follows earlier scholars in her suggestion that Rutilius “was asked to assist in the restoration of Roman order in Gaul after the Gothic invasion [of the early 410s]” (p. 1).

The volume begins with a brisk yet informative 41-page introduction to the poem, its author, and its context. Malamud first sketches the tumultuous political circumstances during which Rutilius composed De reditu suo, only a few years after the sack of Rome at a time when the provinces of Gaul and Spain were in disarray due to the incursions of Vandals, Alans, and Suevi. She then provides a brief account of Rutilius’ secular career, which mirrored proudly the outstanding curriculum vitae of his illustrious father Lachanius. Malamud concludes, as most scholars have, that the poet was a pagan, but was nonetheless amenable to working in a Christian court. The structure of the poem is “at once progressive and digressive” (p. 11); it describes the progress of a journey with a plausible itinerary and yet digresses frequently to talk about local characters, landscapes, and history. The most colorful vignettes in De reditu suo include harsh caricatures of a Jewish inn-keeper and two groups of Christian ascetics. Even more vicious are political attacks in the poem targeting traitors to the Roman state, including family of the Lepidi and the half-Roman, half-Vandal general, Stilicho, who allied himself with Alaric and the Visigoths at the expense of the empire.

I have two quibbles about the volume directed at the press. First, Malamud’s translation of Rutilius’ poem is a refreshing improvement on the eighty-year-old rendering by John Wight Duff and his son Arnold M. Duff for the Loeb Classical Library 1, but readers would have been better served by the inclusion of the Latin text. For a work that is an undergraduate teaching tool, I can understand why this volume (and presumably others in the series) does not have the Latin text on the facing page, but for many readers of this poem, having Latin in close proximity with the translation is highly desirable, in no small part because it obviates the need to scramble for one of the modern Latin editions whenever a question about its vocabulary or meter comes to mind. Moreover, the recent success of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library has shown that there is a demand for facing-page Latin-English editions among academic and non-academic readers alike, even if the Latin text itself is a reprint of an older edition. Second, at $120.00, this useful volume is well out of reach of professors and students alike. Routledge would be wise to publish a paperback edition comparable in price to a Penguin Classics volume specifically for classroom use. An inexpensive PDF of the book would also do the job of putting Malamud’s translation into the hands of students, where it belongs.

We are long overdue for a modern English translation of De reditu suo for classroom use, so this volume is both timely and welcome. The poem is particularly instructive for the light that it sheds on a pagan’s perspective of Rome and its legacy in the early fifth century. Rutilius’ pride in his secular achievements and his tenacious optimism in Rome’s future in the aftermath of the sack of 410 is striking in contrast to the opening chapters of Augustine’s On the City of God Against the Pagans and Orosius’ baleful Seven Books of Histories. Malamud’s modern translation deserves to find a place in college classrooms. Hopefully Routledge can find an affordable alternative to the steeply priced, hardcover format of the present volume.


Notes:


1.   Minor Latin Poets, ed. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff, Loeb Classical Library, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA, 1934), vol. 2, pp. 753-829.

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