Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.07.18 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.07.18

Gian Biagio Conte, Critical Notes on Virgil: Editing the Teubner Text of the Georgics and the Aeneid.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2016.  Pp. xiv, 97.  ISBN 9783110455762.  $84.00.  

Reviewed by Boris Kayachev, Trinity College Dublin (


This slim volume is a companion to Conte’s Teubner editions of the Aeneid and the Georgics (reviewed here by Heyworth: BMCR 2010.10.03 and 2014.02.47). It consists of a concise Foreword (VII–X), Critical Notes on about two dozens of passages from the Georgics (3–27) and the Aeneid (28–58), and two Appendices: ‘Georg. 3.230: pernox vs. pernix’ (61–8) and ‘The dossier on the Helen episode’ (69–87). These are accompanied by a Table of Contents (XI), a list of Editions and Commentaries (XIII–XIV), an Index locorum (91–3) and Index rerum and nominum (95–7). There is no general bibliography. The Aeneid section largely duplicates, but also expands, Conte’s 2013 paper presented at a conference in honour of Michael Reeve,1 and there are also some intersections with Conte’s 2013 volume on textual criticism.2

Conte’s approach is rather selective, both in the choice of textual problems he discusses and of earlier scholarship with which he engages.3 We are thus given a glimpse into the editor’s laboratory, but this is hardly a comprehensive companion to the text of Virgil.4 Conte ‘could have written additional critical notes beyond those presented here’ (IX), and it is a pity that he did not. The majority of Conte’s notes aim to justify his editorial choices in the most complicated cases, but he also confesses some second thoughts: he would now print Baehrens’s parua initu primo5 (for parua metu primo) at Aeneid 4.176 rather than confining it to the apparatus (VIII), he would accept mitto quae (for mitto ea quae) at Aeneid 11.256 recently proposed by Kraggerud6 (IX), he would prefer teneant to teneam at Aeneid 3.686 (38); and he re-attributes si quos for et quos at Georgics 3.159 to Heyne7 (11). Since Conte’s excellence as a Virgilian scholar requires no confirmation, in the rest of the review I feel permitted, in keeping with the spirit of Conte’s book, to voice some doubts and disagreements. I arrange my comments in the order of the Virgilian text.

In the second appendix Conte restates his case for the Virgilian authorship of the Helen episode. I am inclined to agree with Conte’s rejection of the hypercriticism of the ‘exclusionists’ (Conte spends several pages, 76–81, on refuting Murgia’s arguments8), and his view of the passage as ‘a first, provisional, sketch, still awaiting the labor limae’ (76) does not seem implausible. Yet some of Conte’s new arguments in favour of its authenticity are less compelling than he thinks. Inspired by what art historians call ‘Morelli’s method’ – a method of authentication of paintings based on the study of inconspicuous features such as ‘the shape of ears, nails, the form of fingers and toes’ (82), to which a forger would not pay attention, – Conte applies a similar approach to the Helen episode and finds in it ‘at least two distinct elements of this type […] that bear witness to the Virgilian origin of the passage’ (83). One such element is the two striking cases of enallage, which is indeed a characteristically Virgilian figure: Aeneid 2.576 sceleratas sumere poenas and 585–6 sumpsisse merentispoenas (83–5). Yet this feature of Virgil’s diction is far from ‘surreptitious and almost unnoticeable’ (84), so as to escape the attention of a forger. The other element is indeed ‘elusive, almost imperceptible’ (85), but I doubt that it is specifically Virgilian. Conte notes that the hexameter-ending meorum (which appears at 2.587 cineres satiasse meorum) is frequent in the Aeneid (2.431, 4.342, 544, 6.717, 8.386, 10.853, 904, 11.273, 12.882, 947), but does not occur in the Eclogues or Georgics, nor before Virgil. This is true; but it does occur in Ovid (Met. 2.837, 4.534, 6.198, 7.583, 8.140, 9.621, 755, 13.496, 510, 14.205, 511, 541), not to mention Lucan, Valerius, Statius, and Silius. And in any case Aeneid 2.587 could be explained as based on 2.431 Iliaci cineres et flamma extrema meorum. This is hardly ‘an unambiguous example of Virgilian autograph, and a strong clue to authenticity’ (86).

Conte presents his note on Aeneid 5.323–6 as an ‘homage to the Reverend Richard Bentley, the most glorious master of philology that Cambridge has ever known’, in which he endorses ‘Bentley’s beautifully economical conjecture’ ambiguumue in 5.326 transeat elapsus prior ambiguumque relinquat (40). The conjecture is obviously right, but it is less clear whether Bentley made it himself rather than finding it elsewhere (and if he did, he was certainly not the first). A quick search in Google Books reveals that ambiguumue was printed more than once since the sixteenth century. Conte’s note thus turns into an homage to Philip Melanchthon.9

Conte insists that at Aeneid 6.602 quo super rather than quos super should be read, referring to Tantalus who will have been mentioned in the lacuna after 601 (41–4). ‘Either case is grammatically possible after super’,10 but it may be significant that on other occasions Virgil says quem super (Georgics 3.260) and quam super (Aeneid 6.239, 7.344), never quo super or qua super.

Conte argues that at Aeneid 7.543 caeli conuersa per auras ‘the text must of necessity indicate where [Allecto] is going in order to meet Juno’ (49–50) and that accordingly Schaper’s caelo (dative of direction) should be accepted. Yet I wonder whether Conte’s own words – ‘it seems to me that he errs in an excess of rationalism’ (38) – would not apply here and whether 11.595 caeli delapsa per auras (another minor divinity moving in the opposite direction) could not support the transmitted reading.

Conte explains Iuppiter ille (rather than ipse) of the indirect tradition at Aeneid 7.110 as ‘an ancient sacral formula by which Jupiter was originally indicated “deictically”, that is by thrusting one’s finger towards the sky’ (34), though admitting that ‘the formula is usually pronounced by a speaker and therefore seems linked to an invocation as if in prayer […], whereas in Aen. 7.110 Iuppiter ille is to be referred to the objective impersonality of the narrator’ (35 n. 17). This may perhaps be a case of focalisation, but could not the variant ‘have arisen from the vanity of some erudite reader eager to “enrich” the text of Virgil’ (65)?

Conte argues, against Horsfall,11 that at Aeneid 7.773 Asclepius is referred to as Phoebigenam, not poenigenam (63–5). He may (or may not) be right, but he overstates the strength of the linguistic argument: ‘The suffix -gena produces composite forms in which the first part always indicates origin by birth or by geographical locality, i.e. it notes the name of the father or mother or native land’ (64). Ovid’s ignigenam (Met. 4.12) referring to Dionysus is admittedly not as bold, but it is a revealing parallel: fire in Dionysus’ case, punishment in Asclepius’, was what both killed the mother and precipitated the child’s birth. The Latin ignigena is of course a calque of the Greek πυριγενής / πυρογενής (Str. 13.4.11, AP 9.368.6, App. Anth. 153.3). To prove that poenigena is impossible in Virgil (as Conte insists it is), one must I believe demonstrate that ποινογενής (vel sim.) would be impossible in Greek poetry Virgil might imitate. Given the Homeric μοιρηγενής / μοιρογενής (Il. 3.182), ἀγαθῇ γεγονὼς μοίρᾳ (Hsch. s.v.), εὐτυχής (Hdn. Epim. p. 89), I doubt that -γενής compounds can be restricted to indications of either genealogical or geographical origin.

Conte defends the paradosis at Aeneid 10.366: aspera quis natura loci dimittere quando (51–2). He rightly rejects Madvig’s aquis (commonly printed for quis), but his justification of the double subordination (quis and quando) with 4.90 quam simul ac (introducing a new period rather than a parenthesis) seems insufficient. It is not clear why Conte ignores the recent discussions by Nikitinski (conjecturing equis), Hendry (endorsing Parrhasius’ quondam for quando), and Trappes-Lomax (deleting 10.366–7 altogether). 12


1.   Now published as G.B. Conte, ‘On the text of the Aeneid: an editor’s experience’, in R. Hunter, S.P. Oakley (eds.), Latin Literature and Its Transmission (Cambridge, 2016), 54–67. The De Gruyter volume reproduces (with expansions) all the notes from the CUP volume, except on 10.385–7, and adds some more. The two English versions, however, are different, and occasionally I find the CUP one more accurate (cf. below n. 9).
2.   G.B. Conte, Ope ingenii: Experiences of Textual Criticism (Berlin, 2013).
3.   An attractive feature of Conte’s notes is that they convey a feeling of ongoing dialogue with colleagues, in particular those who reviewed Conte’s editions (listed on p. VII), – a dialogue that now continues in E. Kraggerud, Vergiliana: Critical Studies on the Texts of Publius Vergilius Maro (Milton Park, 2017).
4.   Certainly not in the sense in which S.J. Heyworth, Cynthia (Oxford, 2007) is A Companion to the Text of Propertius.
5.   Now also printed by N. Holzberg, Publius Vergilius Maro: Aeneis (Berlin, 2015), 198.
6.   E. Kraggerud, ‘On Vergil, Aeneid 11.256: a conjecture’, Eranos 107 (2012–13), 21–3. Kraggerud was forestalled by D’Orville: see P. Burman, P. Virgilii Maronis opera, vol. 3 (Amsterdam, 1746), 626.
7.   C.G. Heyne, P. Virgilii Maronis opera, vol. 1 (Leipzig, 17882), 405.
8.   C.E. Murgia, ‘The date of the Helen episode’, HSCPh 101 (2003), 405–26.
9.   Publius Vergilivs Maro, Philippi Melanchthonis adnotatiunculis, ut breuissimis, ita doctissimis illustratus (Paris, 1534), 111v., is the earliest edition to print ambiguumue that I could find, though it may well not have been the first to do so. Conte admits that ‘Nicholas Heinsius claimed he had found ambiguumue in some of his manuscripts, but this reading is surely a conjecture of his’ (40). In the twin publication (see above n. 1), the story sounds somewhat differently: ‘Nicholas Heinsius stated that he had found ambiguumue in his manuscripts, but this was certainly a conjectural reading’ (64). I presume the latter version is closer to what Conte actually meant. The Homeric model with which Conte supports the conjecture (Il. 23.382 καί νύ κεν παρέλασσ’ ἀμφήριστον ἔθηκεν) is noted already in C.G. Heyne, P. Virgilii Maronis opera, vol. 2 (Leipzig, 1771), 484.
10.   N. Horsfall, Virgil, Aeneid 6: A Commentary (Berlin, 2013), 2.420.
11.   N. Horsfall, Virgil, Aeneid 7: A Commentary (Leiden, 2000), 501–2.
12.   O. Nikitinski, ‘Zu Vergil Aen. 10, 366’, RhM 139 (1996), 191–2; M. Hendry, ‘Two notes on Vergil, Aeneid X’, MCr 32–5 (1997–2000), 145–9; J.M. Trappes-Lomax, ‘Virgil, Aeneid 10.366–7’, CQ 55 (2005), 315–17.

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