BMCR 1996.03.05

1996.3.5, Murgatroyd, Tibullus II

, , Elegies II. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994. xix, 305 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 9780198149613. $65.00.

This volume is a sequel and companion to Murgatroyd’s commentary on Tibullus I (University of Natal Press, 1980; reprinted by Bristol Classical Press, 1991). Readers of Tibullus I will find few surprises in Tibullus II, for in general Murgatroyd follows the “practices and procedures” of his first volume, although he says that he has “streamlined the notes, in an attempt to place less of a barrier of scholarship between the reader and the Latin” (p. vii).

Tibullus II does not stand alone, for Murgatroyd assumes that his reader will have Tibullus I at hand and writes accordingly. The assumption makes sense and has certainly saved duplication, but there is no denying that it also makes Tibullus II somewhat annoying and hard to use. Some small concessions on the matter of repetition would have been a kindness to the reader. This is particularly true in the case of minor points. Thus, on 2.3.64 ( lacus) Murgatroyd’s gloss reads: “On lacus see 1.1.9-10 n.” Following up the reference we find at 1.1.9-10 “Lacu refers to the vat in which the fresh wine ( mustum) is stored (2.3.64, 2.5.86).” For conspicienda in 2.3.52 we are referred to “1.2.67-70 n.”, where we learn that: “conspiciendus: appears here first as an adjective (cf. 2.3.52, 4.64).” The reader would have been better served at 2.3.64 by: “lacus: “vats for new wine; cf. 1.1.10, 2.5.86.” At 2.3.52 it would have been better to say: “conspicienda: found used as an adjective first at 1.2.70.” Tracking down back-references within a single volume is one thing; but the task becomes much harder with two. When the payoff is slight, the reader should be excused.

But even together Murgatroyd’s two volumes give only partial assistance to the reader; for in the case of major points, where one might expect a full or complete discussion in Tibullus I, one is often referred instead to a third or even fourth or fifth source. Thus, for the triumph predicted in 2.5.115-20 we have two back-references to the same discussion: ( ad 115-16) “On the triumph see 1.7.5-8 n.”; ( ad 117-18) “on laurel and the triumphing general see 1.7.5-8 n.” At 1.7.5-8 instead of a discussion of the triumph we are sent to Galinsky ( WS 1969), Pauly s.v. Triumphus, and Versnel’s Triumphus. For the laurel we get more—a series of references to generals and laurels in Ovid, Plutarch, Pliny, etc. On the important Tibullan theme of the inventor at 2.1.37-8 Murgatroyd refers us to 1.4.59-60, where he refers us to Leo, Plaut. Forsch. (ed. 2), Nisbet and Hubbard on Horace C. 1.3.12, the relevant passages in Tibullus, and several important parallels for the cursing of the inventor. All of this information is valuable, but many readers will not have the relevant secondary (and in some cases, primary) sources easily available. More discussion of both themes and their use in Tibullus would have been welcome.

Murgatroyd’s principal interests are lexical and philological, with questions of historical context, literary criticism and literary history definitely taking a subordinate role. Often, as in the cases of the triumph and the first inventor, he sends the reader to the appropriate primary and secondary sources. Sometimes he gives no information at all. In the introduction to Tibullus II, for example, he treats: “1) Chronology of Book 2” (with a back-reference to the introduction of Tibullus I); “2) Completeness and Construction of Book 2”; “3) Main Characters of Book 2” (Cornutus, Nemesis, Messalinus, Macer). In the introduction to Tibullus I we find a biography of Tibullus; “Main Characters of Book 1” (Delia, Marathus, Messalla); “The Chronology of Book I and Arrangement of the Elegies”; “The Relative Dating of Propertius 1 and Tibullus 1”; “Tibullus and the Analogistic Grammatical Theory.” In neither introduction does Murgatroyd discuss: Tibullus’ literary treatment of Messalla, Tibullus’ position in the development of elegy, the influence of Propertius and Horace on Book 2, the changes between Books 1 and 2, Tibullus’ treatment of “Augustan” themes, Tibullus’ style, or the transmission of the text. These questions are relevant to our reading of every elegy. Discussion of at least some of them would have been very useful, especially since most receive little attention in the commentary of either Kirby Flower Smith (1913) or Michael Putnam (1973). (Smith discusses the Nachleben and transmission of Tibullus, but his comments are long out of date.)

Murgatroyd’s great strength lies in his attention to the nuances of individual words. He hardly ever presents a one-word English definition, but rather gives a semantic range that suggests multiple possibilities. Although this procedure sometimes seems merely indecisive (and could be maddening to an inexperienced or impatient reader), it generally produces good results. Some examples: On 2.5.56 magnae … urbis : “Magnae here encompasses any or all of the following: ‘large in size’, ‘of importance/consequence’, ‘famous’, ‘powerful,’ ‘splendid’, ‘outstanding’, and ‘proud’.” On 2.5.105 pace tua : “‘with your blessing’ ( OLD s.v. pax 2; cf. Virg. Aen. 10.31f. …) and ‘with all due respect to you’ ( OLD s.v. pax 3) are both possible translations (given the context, T. may also be playing on the sense of ‘peace’ in pace, perhaps, as Lee-Maltby propose, with specific reference to the peace ushered in by the battle of Actium, thanks largely to Apollo …).” On 2.5.57 ( Roma, tuum nomen terris fatale regendis): “Strictly nomen here means ‘race’ (see OLD s.v. 19 …). But there also appears to be play on nomen = ‘name’, since the description of Rome’s strength and power suggests the connection of Roma with rhome‘might’.”

He is also very good about noting the many places in which Tibullus uses a word in a new or unusual sense. We have heard endlessly about the paucity of the Tibullan vocabulary, but Murgatroyd presents a refreshing and quite different picture, of a poet innovative and somewhat experimental in his use of language. Thus, within three lines of 2.5 we learn that Tibullus coined depluo (2.5.72), that strepito (2.5.73) is “unusual and poetic”, and that praecino, “foretell” (2.5.74) appears earlier only at Cicero, Har. 20 and in Tibullus himself (1.8.4).

Murgatroyd is interested in word order and sound patterns (the latter probably more important in Tibullus than in any of the other elegists). His notes are sometimes hard to follow, but they reward attention. Here is his comment on 2.5.39-40 in the Sibyl’s prophecy ( Impiger Aenea, volitantis frater Amoris, / Troica qui profugis sacra vehis ratibus): “Placement emphasizes impiger and Amoris (= Aeneas’ divine family connection), while the pentameter as the final member of a tricolon crescendo puts stress on Aeneas’pietas. There is also patterning (cases, nouns, and adjectives) in 40. The grammatical rhyming, which is a common feature of such oracles (Austin on Virg. Aen. 6.77-97) is especially noticeable in the first four lines of T.’s prophecy (here impiger … frater, volitantis … Amoris, Troica … sacra).” As interesting as this note is, however, Murgatroyd’s comment on the word order of 40 seems vague (“patterning” by itself doesn’t tell us very much). Here, and throughout the commentary, one would like to hear more not only about Tibullus’ use of “patterning” but about the place of such word order in the development of Latin poetic style. Reference to Ross’s important discussion of neoteric word order in Style and Tradition in Catullus (absent from Murgatroyd’s bibliography) would have helped to place Tibullus’ practice in its literary historical context.

Murgatroyd is a good observer of alliteration, assonance, rhythm, and various sound effects, although his comments on their affective quality are subjective (and generally presented as such). There are many comments like this one on 2.4.10 ( naufraga quam vasti tunderet unda maris!): “the onomatopoeia in 10 (repetition of a, e, and und-) brings out the pounding of the sea; and the sudden preponderance of spondees and assonance involving long vowels seem to me to have an air of dejection and weariness.” On 2.4.31-8: “the frequent spondees in 31f. and 35ff. have a doleful air.” On 2.4.25-6: “I see assertiveness in the alliteration in this distich and the following two.” Observation of Tibullus’ verbal music is important and helpful, but I would like more evidence before agreeing that alliteration is assertive or spondees doleful.

The notes on each elegy are preceded by an introductory note giving Murgatroyd’s views and acknowledging and refuting or dismissing those of other scholars. As a consequence, the reader is informed of the full spectrum of opinion on every poem, but at the cost of wading through long (the introductions range from 3 to 7 pages) and often tendentious preliminary discussions. Here is one of the few places in which Murgatroyd has deviated (and for the worse) from the format of Tibullus I, which listed the bibliography on each poem but did not undertake to discuss every previous interpretation. Using the earlier format would have allowed tighter and more focused introductions, and saved valuable space as well.

Murgatroyd’s commentary is long—305 pages for the 6 elegies of Tibullus II. The commentary on the 10 elegies of Book 1 is 333 pages. For comparison, Smith’s commentary on Tibullus and Sulpicia is 529 pages, Putnam’s commentary on Books 1 and 2 a mere 210. But Murgatroyd’s 638 pages do not convey three times as much information as Putnam’s 210. His style is prolix, and would have benefited from a strong editorial hand. There are too many meaningless comments (e.g., on 2.1.37-66: “Several critics have remarked on the charm of these lines”); too many parenthetical comments; too many unnecessary backward and forward references. Thus on 2.3.1-10: “This is a variously surprising (see above) and amusing (see below) start to the poem. The reader is teased too: see on 1-2 and note also that at 1-4 it is possible that the girl is on T.’s own estate, and after 1.1 and 1.5 one tends to favour this interpretation, until it is invalidated at 5 ff. (but there we still cannot be sure where she is: she could have gone to stay with family or friends or at a husband’s villa, etc.).” Prose like this is no fun to read, and it takes a very determined reader to persist with it. The commentary could have been cut by a third with no loss of information and with a great increase in its readability and usefulness.

Writing commentaries isn’t easy. It involves not only knowledge of the language and the author, but also a constant exercise of judgment about what to include and how often, how much to interpret and how much to leave to the reader, which parallels to cite and which to omit. Above all, the commentator must decide on his audience. This is a commentary for scholars who already know a good deal about Tibullus and elegy and own or have access to a good research library. Undergraduates, graduate students, and those coming to Tibullus for the first or second time will benefit more from Putnam or Smith.