Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.11.06 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.11.06

Marie-Laure Freyburger-Galland, Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer (ed.), "Le sel antique": Epigramme, satire, théâtre et polémique / Das "Salz" der Antike: Epigramm, Satire, Theater, Polemik. Leur Réception chez les humanistes dans les sources imprimées et manuscrites du Rhin Supérieur / Ihre Rezeption bei den Humanisten: Drucke und Handschriften am Oberrhein. Collegium Beatus Rhenanus, 6.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2016.  Pp. 252.  ISBN 9783515114080.  €48.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Felix Mundt, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (

[Authors and Titles are listed below.]

The volume under review is the outcome of a congress held in 2010 by the Collegium Beatus Rhenanus, an international research and teaching network comprising Classics departments and classical scholars from the universities of Basel, Freiburg, Mulhouse and Strasbourg. As the choice of its patron suggests, one of the aims of this network is the promotion of studies dedicated to the humanistic heritage of the Upper Rhine region. The volume contains 17 contributions differing in scope and method; it has three indices (ancient authors, humanist authors, and index rerum).1 Despite the long interval between presentation and publication, the bibliographies of at least some articles have been updated. As the title indicates, there is a certain thematic focus on satirical, polemical or, at any rate, entertaining ancient texts and genres and their reception in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Since no structure is suggested either in the table of contents or in the short editors’ preface,2 it is up to the reviewer to give an impression of what the reader has to expect. One group of the papers deals mainly with the history of editing and commenting upon (satirical/entertaining/polemical) ancient texts, mostly by discussing one or more humanist editions or commentaries, while the other focuses on satirical/entertaining/polemical texts written by humanists who were natives or residents of the Upper Rhine region. It is unlikely that anyone is going to read the whole volume from the first to the last page, so for the comfort of the reader I decided to re-arrange the contributions in order to provide this review with a coherent structure.

(A) Humanist manuscripts, editions and commentaries

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the decision to edit and/or comment upon an ancient text was often highly personal, influenced by personal taste and preference or the wish to make a substantial contribution to contemporary discourse by presenting a relevant and authoritative ancient text to the public. This might be the general insight gained from the reading of all pertinent papers.

(1) Case studies of single editions or commentaries

Marie-Laure Freyburger-Galland presents a manuscript of the Pseudo-Homeric Batrachomyomachia containing an interlinear translation into Latin as well as a brief commentary in margin. The manuscript was owned and – at least partially – written by Beatus Rhenanus himself for the sake of his own advancement in Greek. The Greek text widely corresponds with the text given by the edition of F. Tissard (1507).

Gerard Freyburger deals with the 1496-Strasbourg edition of Terence published by Johannes Grüninger, with special emphasis on the commentary and indices. Unfortunately the volume omits the two facsimile reproductions he refers to in the text.

Catherine Notter examines the Latin translations of Greek terms in Martial’s epigrams provided by the Alsatian humanist Ottmar Nachtgall in the 1515-Strasburg edition. Somewhat descriptive at first sight, the study touches upon some interesting editorial problems and may well be of interest for those interested in the history of Martial scholarship.

In the second and fourth century AD, both Aelius Aristides and Libanius were inspired by the Iliadic embassy to Achilles to write their own prose declamations. Aristides created an alternative speech to Achilles, Libanius a reply on behalf of the offended hero. Both texts were for the first time published in 1535 by Joachim Camerarius along with translations and Camerarius’ own Latin paraphrase of the Homeric original. Jean-Luc Vix relates this edition to humanist efforts to present unknown texts to the public and to compete with ancient models.

Erasmus used to refer to his edition and commentary of Jerome’s letters (printed by Froben in Basel in 1516) as a Herculean labour. Delphine Viellard has chosen the conflict between Jerome and Augustine concerning lying and the translation of the Holy Scripture for her case study. She shows that, unsurprisingly, Erasmus in his commentaries on the pertinent letters takes Jerome’s part. It is well known that Erasmus at this time had particular sympathy for the great philologist among the church fathers. Regrettably, the author completely ignores the ample research on Erasmus and Jerome. She could at least have cited Hilmar Pabel’s magisterial study.3

Cécile Merckel analyses Beatus Rhenanus‘ commentary on Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis published in 1515. She argues that Rhenanus used the commentary as a means to express his own ideas and to engage in a virtual debate with Seneca about the deficiencies of ancient philosophical schools.

The contribution of Aude Lehmann is the only one in the volume mainly concerned with an ancient text itself. It deals with the Lucilian fragments related to the praeco Q. Granius, who was well known for his wit and admired by Cicero. But since the important edition and commentary by Franciscus Dousa (Leyden 1597) is mentioned several times, the paper is not too alien to the rest of the volume.

(2) Comparative studies of two or more editions or commentaries

While Marsilio Ficino is well known for his translation and commentary of Plato’s Symposion, the Saxon humanist and physician Janus Cornarius (1500-1558) is merely known among experts in the history of medicine. Just like Ficino, he published a Latin translation of the Xenophontic and Platonic Symposia as well as a commentary on the latter. He was acquainted with Erasmus and Rhenanus and published some of his works with Froben in Basel. Thierry Grandjean compares Ficino’s and Cornarius’ translations, focusing on their remarks upon convivial hilarity.

Céline Urlacher-Becht gives an introduction to the early editions of the Octavius of Minucius Felix. A major part of her paper is, of course, dedicated to the jurist François Baudouin, who is credited with having been the first to attribute the work to its true author in his 1560 edition. His Dissertatio de Minucio Felice, which displays a special interest in the quasi juridical character of the dialogue, has already been assessed by Michael Erbe,4 but Urlacher-Becht goes a bit more in depth and broadens the view to the editors of the early seventeenth century.

Bernard Stenuit delivers a somewhat eclectic and idiosyncratic digest of selected issues of textual criticism and interpretation of the Horatian Satires from Landino to Heinsius.

(B) Humanist writings
(1) Epigrams and occasional poetry

The small forms of Neo-Latin poetry such as epigrams, epicedia and dedication poems may seem ephemeral at first sight, but they are important sources for the investigation of the intellectual culture of the Renaissance. Seraina Plotke has chosen a sociological approach to explain, by taking the example of epigrams written by Erasmus and Thomas More, that poems served as a currency in the market of intellectual reputation and book production.

David Amherdt introduces the poetry of Johannes Fabricius Montanus (1527-1566), a native of Bergheim/Alsace who worked as a pastor and teacher in Zurich and Chur. While studying theology in Marburg, Montanus became acquainted with Petrus Lotichius, who encouraged him to develop his poetic abilities. Apart from ancient models, Montanus seems to have made extensive use of Giovanni Pontano’s De tumulis for his epitaphs. Following Thomas Fuchs’ study of Philipp Melanchthon’s poetry,5 he shows that Neo-Latin occasional poetry has several purposes: it serves as a didactic model for the reader, it has a cathartic effect on the writer, it is (in the best case) entertaining for both and displays the poet’s attitude towards the divine world order.

Judith Hindermann interprets a short poem by Johannes Atrocianus on the proper use of mirrors that combines intertextual references to Seneca’s moral epistles and Ovid’s Ars amatoria.

(2) Satire

In 1529 Atrocianus also wrote a polemical satire against the introduction of the reformed mass in Basel. As Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer argues, Atrocianus ironically inverted motifs taken from Ovid and Vergil for his harsh invective against the reformer Johannes Oecolampadius.

Wolfgang Kofler deals with a satire written by Kaspar Stiblin, who was a teacher in Sélestat and Würzburg. To please the authorities in Würzburg, Stiblin wrote a poem against the murder of the prince-bishop Melchior Zobel, who was killed in 1558 by a henchman of the well-known troublemaker Wilhelm von Grumbach.

Yves Lehmann’s article on parody and irony in Erasmus’ Ciceronianus is a nice introduction, but it does not engage with relevant scholarship.6

(3) Epistolography

Sandrine de Raguenel’s paper on the correspondence between Beatus Rhenanus and Paul Volz, who prior to his conversion to Protestantism was abbot of Hugshofen, is in my opinion the most substantial in the volume. It is based on the author’s 2011 PhD thesis. The thesis, which consists of a complete edition with commentary of this correspondence, will probably be integrated into the upcoming volumes of the complete edition of Rhenanus’ letters directed by J. Hirstein. She makes excellent use of her material, especially by taking into account Erasmus‘ treatise De epistolis conscribendis and thus comparing theory with practice.

To sum up, many of the papers presented here will be useful for those interested in the history of classical scholarship, and the volume as a whole proves that the humanist spirit is still alive between Strasbourg and Basel.

Authors and Titles

1. Marie-Laure Freyburger-Galland, La réception de la Batrachomyomachie chez Beatus Rhenanus
2. Thierry Grandjean, Janus Cornarius et Marsile Ficin. Traducteurs et commentateurs des Banquets de Platon et de Xénophon : le rire dans les banquets
3. Jean-Luc Vix, Homère à l’épreuve du temps. Aelius Aristide et Libanios préfacés et traduits par J. Camerarius (Haguenau, 1535)
4. Gérard Freyburger, L’édition de Térence de Jean Grüninger réalisée à Strasbourg en 1496.´Un chef-d’oeuvre de pédagogie pour l’accès au texte latin
5. Aude Lehmann, Le sel lucilien : tradition latine et héritage grec. Réflexion sur le fragment 11, 15 Charpin (411–412 Marx) des Satires
6. Yves Lehmann, Parodie et ironie dans le Ciceronianus d’Érasme
7. Delphine Viellard, La polémique entre Jérôme et Augustin commentée par Érasme
8. Cécile Merckel, Beatus Rhenanus et Sénèque. Ironie et humour au service du criticisme théologique (sur la base du commentaire rhénanien de l’Apocoloquintose)
9. Catherine Notter, L’Interpretamentum dictionum graecanicarum des Épigrammes de Martial par Ottmar Nachtgall (Strasbourg, J. Knobloch, 1515)
10. Sandrine de Raguenel, Quid iocosi ? Entre héritage antique et préceptes érasmiens – la correspondance de l’humaniste Paul Volz
11. Bernard Stenuit, Sal horatianus et commentaires humanistes, de Landino à Daniel Heinsius
12. Céline Urlacher-Becht, Lectures humanistes de l’Octavius de Minucius Felix
13. Seraina Plotke, Epigrammatik im Gattungsverständnis des frühen 16. Jahrhunderts. Die Epigramme von Thomas Morus und Erasmus von Rotterdam in der Ausgabe Froben 1518
14. David Amherdt, Epitaphien, Versbriefe und mots d’esprit bei Johannes Fabricius Montanus. Epigrammpoesie als Spiegel eines Humanisten und Pastors
15. Judith Hindermann, Erkenne dich selbst. Geschlechterdiskurs und Intertextualität in Atrocians Epigramm über den richtigen Gebrauch des Spiegels
16. Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer, Cacare rosas. Die Geburt eines göttlichen Kindes in der Querela missae des Basler Humanisten Johannes Atrocianus
17. Wolfgang Kofler, Ein oberrheinischer Humanist in Würzburg. Die Satyra in sicarios von Kaspar Stiblin


1.   I noticed only a few misprints in the Latin texts: p.113 read „Lucilium“, not „Lucillus“, p. 116 „perfectionis“, not „perfectionibus“, p. 184 „constituerent“, not „constituerunt“.
2.   The contributions seem to have been arranged mainly in terms of language, the five written in German figuring at the end of the volume and the three dealing with ancient Greek texts at the beginning.
3.   Herculean Labours: Erasmus and the Editing of St. Jerome’s Letters in the Renaissance, Leiden/Boston 2008.
4.   François Baudouin (1520-1573): Biographie eines Humanisten, Gütersloh 1978, 108-9.
5.   Thomas Fuchs, Philipp Melanchthon als neulateinischer Dichter in der Zeit der Reformation, Tübingen 2008.
6.   Any serious study should depart from the standard edition by Mesnard (1971) and acknowledge J. Robert’s seminal article „Die Ciceronianismus-Debatte“, in: H. Jaumann (ed.), Diskurse der Gelehrtenkultur in der Frühen Neuzeit, Berlin/New York 2011, 1-54.

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