BMCR 1996.01.06

1996.1.6, Brock/Woodman, edd., Leeds Latin Papers 8

, , Papers of the Leeds International Latin Seminar, eighth volume, 1995 : Roman comedy, Augustan poetry, historiography. ARCA, classical and medieval texts, papers, and monographs ; 33,. Leeds: F. Cairns, 1995. x, 307 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9780905205892. $61.50.

Ronald Martin has long maintained so quietly competent and unassuming a style that when he retired from the University of Leeds with a personal Chair in Classics in 1980, his many virtues were still something of a Yorkshire secret. No longer: he has become too distinguished for the rest of us to ignore. His major works—the commentaries on Terence’s Phormio (1959) and Adelphoe (1976), his introduction to Tacitus (1981), and the commentary (with A. J. Woodman) on Annals 4 (1989)—have become trusted companions. His commentary on Annals 3 (again with A. J. Woodman) is an eagerly awaited sequel to F. R. D. Goodyear’s work for the Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries series. This is no small achievement, and it is only right that this volume of papers from the Leeds International Latin Seminar should be dedicated to him at 80.

The bulk of its contributions reflect Professor Martin’s interests in Roman comedy and historiography, with four essays on Augustan poetry rounding out the set. A full appreciation of so rich and varied a collection is well beyond my competence. I can offer here simply a brief description of its contents followed by a few general observations.

Taken as a group, two features of these essays stand out. First is their pronounced conservatism of conception and method. This is most readily apparent on the literary side, where text-based explication remains untouched by the theoretical and “new” historical trends now seizing the attention of Latinists world-wide. Much in these essays is good and true, but none of their insights would baffle Henry Nettleship. The second half of the collection is at heart equally unassuming. Treating history as literature, as authors here with the necessary exception of Dickinson and Hardy and (to some extent) Mayer all do, means taking the ancient texts on their own terms and applying what are essentially literary techniques to their elucidation. Historians may find some surprises here, but these scholars are, of course, only adopting a critical position of considerable antiquity.

The second noteworthy feature is the overall success of this conservatism. Maltby, for example, makes a real contribution to Latin studies—basic research in the best possible sense—by eschewing the statistical analysis that so easily gets a Latinist into trouble. In discussing his data he knows to control for context, dramatic situation, and text length and to consider the frequency of occurrence, but he wisely avoids the kind of flashy calculations that can make too much (or too little) of the available evidence. On the historical side, it is pleasant to see historiography reclaimed for literary studies and remarkable to observe how far a very modern historiographer like A. J. Woodman can go with techniques of literary analysis that I learned as an undergraduate thirty years ago or how far T. J. Luce advances our understanding of what Livy and Dionysius were up to without employing the philosophical abstractions that Hayden White finds so necessary. Some of the conclusions in this section might well surprise Mr. Nettleship, but he would never need to query the terms of the discourse. Surely this is to the good.

Yet one other column remains in this ledger. The scholarly apparatus supporting some of these efforts can be oppressively heavy, and there is a good deal of coughing in ink. Some essays managed to be so equally learned and naive in their approach to poetry that I found myself wondering if there was some causal relationship between the learning and the naiveté. There are also signs of an almost Edwardian sensibility still at work: what else explains a reference in this post-Freudian age to “the unerotic problem of filling a jar with water”? Etc. But why cavil? It is perhaps just as well that not all scholarship on Latin literature is like this, but I am nevertheless very glad that some of it still is.