After J. Godwin’s commentaries on books IV and VI (Warminster, 1986 and 1991), P. Michael Brown, who previously edited the first book of Lucretius for Bristol Classical Press in 1984, continues the Aris & Philipps series of Lucretius with this new edition of book III. He largely keeps to his predecessor’s format (preface, introduction, text and translation, commentary, bibliography and indices), but his commentary comprising 130-odd pages is much fuller than Godwin’s (who devotes about ninety pages each to the longer books IV and VI). Further English commentaries on Lucretius, chiefly designed for students, are on hand for books III (E.J. Kenney, Cambridge, 1971) and V (C.D.N. Costa, Oxford, 1984). It is therefore slightly disappointing to have an additional commentary on book III rather than II, which was last treated by the somewhat dated work of Cyril Bailey (Oxford, 1947). Moreover, Brown’s commentary, although better than Kenney’s at illuminating Lucretius’ philosophical argument, is at best complementary to Kenney’s, but nowhere nearly replaces it.
The introduction comprises six sections, of which four constitute rewritten and expanded, yet hardly updated
I am well aware that the format of the series forces the editor to print a highly selective apparatus criticus. Yet an editor who has space for palaeographic trivialities such as pietate and piaetate (84) and the readings of codices descripti at 1, 702 and 856, must be blamed for omitting readings which are almost certainly correct from the ancient secondary tradition at 676 ( longiter) and from the Quadratus at 1017 ( carnificis, which depends on verbera, not on robur; cf. Mueller’s parallels in Gnomon 46, 1974, 760 and in his critical apparatus a.l.). In at least two instances Brown prints highly doubtful emendations without indicating the manuscripts’ readings: in 735f. sed tamen his (scil. animis) esto quamuis facere utile corpus | cum subeant the corrupt cum is replaced by Bernays’ cui, with cui subeant being unhappily translated as ‘in which to take refuge’. Yet the locative dative instead of the accusative is hardly possible in pre-Augustan poetry (cf. OLD s.v. subeo, No. 10b-c, where the quotations seem to confirm the slight difference in meaning between the two constructions felt by Williams on Verg. Aen. 3.292), and writing quod with the ‘amicus Fabri’, for which Vitr. 2.1.2 provides a very suitable parallel, is a far more plausible solution. In 742 cervis is the wrong emendation of the Venetian edition for the correct cervos of the manuscripts (743 being an obvious interpolation). The difficult lines 79-84 are inadequately treated: indicating a lacuna after 82, which makes the fear of death the subject of 83f. hunc uexare pudorem, hunc uincula amicitiai | rumpere (…) suadet, Brown translates: ‘it persuades one man to betray his sense of honour, another to break the bonds of friendship’, but in pre-Virgilian hexameter poetry hic … hic etc. never means ‘one … another’; contrast in Lucretius e.g. 3.75f., 3.311ff. and see Clausen on Verg. ecl. 4.56. The corrupt suadet has to be replaced by either fundo (Lambinus) or foede (Mueller). New and incorrect punctuation is introduced at 663, where icta for simple reasons of syntax can belong only into the ut clause, and at 1044, where Brown deletes the comma behind restinxit and bizarrely makes Epicurus outshine all stars!
In his notes on prosody, metre, grammar and poetic diction, Brown largely follows Kenney, incorporating some additional help for the less advanced student. In contrast to Kenney, he often confines himself to describing the metrical, grammatical or stylistic phenomenon under discussion, without seeing it, as Kenney does, in the wider context of Latin poetry and language. Compare, e.g., their notes on the omission of quod in 183, on the diminutive tantillus in 189, on the rhythm of 527 (the really remarkable feature is the word-end after the second spondaic element not followed by a monosyllable), on the hysteron proteron in 787, on the word-order in 843f., and on the indicative respondemus in 950. A student who has worked through Kenney will read his next Latin poet with greater understanding and with less need for help, whereas Brown, I fear, does not provide this benefit to the same extent. His additional remarks are not always reliable: in his note on suadet (84), he contends that suadere with accusative and infinitive is the replacement of ‘the prose construction of dative and an ut clause’, but both Ennius in his Annales (278f. Skutsch) and Lucretius (4.1157f.) actually use this alleged prose construction. The note on the spelling of seorsum (499-501) hardly derives from an autopsy of the Lucretian manuscripts. To Clark’s conjecture in 694 et lapis oppressus subsit si ( subitis e codd.) frugibus asper he objects “on metrical grounds, as Lucretius would more probably have written si subsit to secure coincidence of ictus and stress in the fourth foot”. But see, e.g., 3.76, 94, 101, 108 and, for si being the postponed monosyllable, 3.408, 4.298 and 300.
The true value of the book is to be found in its thorough illumination of the philosophical argument. Where the text is sound, the prose translation, as far as I can judge as a non-native English-speaker, fulfils its endeavour to be “as literal as the aim to produce a reasonably idiomatic version allowed”, and it is certainly inevitable that it should sometimes miss the vividness of the Latin (e.g. at 356) and abandon the syntax of the original (e.g. at 1053ff.). In the commentary, discrete passages are headed by informative introductory notes, which do not merely sum up the content of each passage, but also show its specific relevance to the book and its connection with the preceding and following argument. Taken together, these introductions form a sound interpretation of the whole third book and, incidentally, revise Bailey’s numeration of the proofs for the mortality of the soul. After the lengthy introductions, the line-by-line notes are sometimes a bit repetitive, but often improve the reader’s understanding of the consistently Epicurean spirit of Lucretius’ argument by illuminating his allusions to, or anticipations of, other aspects of the Epicurean doctrine. Brown’s superior understanding of the philosophical argument enables him to correct or improve upon Kenney in his notes on e.g. 249-251, 269-272, 580f. and 776f.
These virtues, to my mind, do not outweigh the shortcomings of a book, from which the student of ancient philosophy will certainly profit, even though Heinze’s commentary, which provides the full source-material on the background of Lucretius’ argument, remains indispensible. The student of Latin poetry is certainly better served by Kenney.