BMCR 1999.09.01

Aratus: Phaenomena

, , Phaenomena. Cambridge classical texts and commentaries ; 34. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xxiii, 590 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9780521582308 £60.00.

Bloom was pointing out all the stars and comets in the heavens … the great bear and Hercules and the dragon and the whole jingbang lot. — James Joyce.

You could tell the weather by frogs too,
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain. — Seamus Heaney.

Not since the appearance of Hipparchus’s commentary in the second century BC has there occurred so important an event in the Nachleben of Aratus’s Phaenomena as the publication of D. Kidd’s edition of this minor masterpiece, with text, translation and full commentary. Readers who have experienced the many frustrations of reading the poem without the aid of a full-scale commentary that devotes equal attention to the poetry, the astronomy and the weather signs can now thank their lucky — dare I say — stars that they are now able to read Aratus in the luxurious ease and comfort of this magisterial edition. That praise is in no way intended to diminish or undervalue the labors of other scholars, most notably and indefatigably Ernst Maass and Jean Martin who have contributed so much of fundamental importance to the understanding of this poet and to the improvement of the text. However, as will be readily apparent to students of the poem, Kidd’s edition stands apart from its predecessors: the superior quality of the text and the comprehensiveness of the commentary mark the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the reading and interpretation of the Phaenomena.

The “Introduction” (pp. 3-68) is divided into seven sections: I. Life of Aratus, II. The Phaenomena, Structure of the Poem, III. The Astronomy and Weather Signs, IV. Language, Style and the Hexameter, V. Contemporary and Later Poets, VI. Scholia and Commentaries, VII. Text and Manuscripts. In section I the editor recounts what few facts are known about the poet’s life. On p. 4 he cites Cicero’s notorious and misunderstood judgment on Aratus as hominem ignarum astrologiae ( De orat. 1.69). As the context of this statement reveals, ignarum is an exaggeration intended to give added emphasis to the point under discussion, namely that the orator, who, as a verbal artist, is closely akin to the poet, does not have to possess the expert’s knowledge to speak fluently and intelligently on any given subject. The fame and fate of Aratus’s Phaenomena, when compared to that of Eudoxus’s prose treatise, the source on which the poem is based, bears out the truth of Cicero’s point. More interesting in this same passage is the fact that Cicero couples the names of Aratus and Nicander as metaphrasts who, though not knowledgeable in their chosen subjects, astronomy and agriculture respectively, wrote elegant poetry on those subjects. Cicero’s view reflects the judgment of Greek critics who, on the one hand, recognized the literary gifts of Aratus and Nicander and, on the other, did not allow those gifts to mask their scientific shortcomings. In the discussion of astronomy in earlier poetry (section III, pp. 12-13) there is room for mention of Cleostratus of Tenedos (Diels-Kranz 6.B.1).

In section X (pp. 49-69) K. sets out the evidence for the text: eight papyri ranging in date from the second century BC to the fourth century AD and fourteen manuscripts, thirteen of which the editor has collated; the readings of one, the Charecovensis, which was unavailable to the editor, are taken from Buhle’s edition (1793). Among these fourteen manuscripts there is a newcomer, E (Edinburgh, Nat. Library of Scotland, Adv. MS 18.7.15, last decade of the thirteenth century, a descendant of M (arcianus) 476, eleventh century), whose readings are now reported for the first time. K. follows Martin’s reconstruction of the transmission detailed in his Histoire du texte des Phénomènes d’Aratos [Paris 1956]): the grammarian Theon of Alexandria is credited with producing an edition of the Phaenomena in the late first century BC “which became the standard edition in late antiquity and ultimately the basis of the medieval manuscript tradition represented by M and its descendants” (p.49). In the late second or early third century a secondary edition appeared, designated F by Martin, though K. doesn’t use this symbol; it was based on the earlier edition which was stripped of its scholia and fitted with new scholia on the catasterisms; it also introduced new variants into the text. This branch of the tradition is represented by the eighth-century Latin translation known as the Aratus Latinus and the fifteenth-century S (corialensis). However, as a result of contamination their readings are found in other mss. And it is the widespread contamination evident in the mss. that determines editorial procedure: “I have not included a stemma, since that would have been of little help in choosing the best readings for the text. Contamination has brought many good readings into late MSS” (p. 60). This richly attested and contaminated tradition offers the ultimate challenge to an editor’s judgment.

As if to enhance further the fame of Aratus, volume LXIV of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (London 1997), published in the same year as K.’s commentary, contains three new papyri of the Phaenomena and a fragment of a hypomnema on 452-455. What is surprising about the three new papyri is that they hold so few surprises. Their main value is to establish the antiquity of variants transmitted by the medieval mss. and to support poorly attested readings which are regarded as genuine. To take some examples, at 47 P. Oxy. 4423 (ii-iii AD) has φ]ερ[ο]ντα[ι], the accepted reading, which is preserved only as a GR. variant in M and in Hipparchus’s quotation φύονται M E S; at 107 it agrees with S, ἐπισπεύδουσα] ἐπισπέρχουσα M E, the accepted reading; at 125 it has traces, which are crossed through, of a supralinear variant ἀνάρθμιον for ἀνάρσιον codd. : as the editor G. B. D’Alessio notes, the variant is preserved only in the scholia of Q (fifteenth century) as a GR. variant (Martin, Scholia Vetera p. 136, 7-8) and in the scholia to Aeschylus’s Prom. B. 191, which, according to Martin, is derived from the scholion in Q; and, most interestingly, the papyrus omits verse 126 which, for that reason and the multiple variants in the line, D’Alessio is inclined to regard as an interpolation. Cf. 138 which is generally regarded as an interpolation. At 523 P. Oxy. 4425 (i-ii AD) apparently offers a new variant θρ[ασυς, restored by the editor R. Luiselli, for μέγας codd.; the papyrus also preserves the letters of a supralinear variant which may well represent μέγας. It appears that already in antiquity the text of the Phaenomena had generated a complex set of variants as the result of being much read and studied and that many of those variants have survived in the medieval mss.


K.’s text will now be the standard. It is the product of a critical judgment that consistently makes the right choices in that most difficult of textual traditions, one that has undergone extensive contamination and therefore requires careful analysis of the variants themselves in every instance. K.’s discussions of his textual decisions, which often illuminate more than the immediate problem, reveal again and again his intimate knowledge of Aratus’s diction, usage, metrical habits and the bewildering intricacies of the morphology of the poet’s highly artificial dialect. In a number of places K. rightly returns to manuscript readings which were rejected by Maass and/or Martin in favor of inferior variants or conjectures. K.’s text is given to the left of the bracket: 23 οὐρανὸν αὐτὸν M E (both before correction)] this reading is superior, both in sense and syntax, to the readings of the indirect tradition adopted by Maass ( οὐρανὸς αὐτὸς) and Martin ( οὐρανὸν αὐτὸς) — there is an excellent note on the passage; 124 τεξείεσθε M E, and now P. Oxy. 4423 ] τέκνα τεκεῖσθε Kaibel (Martin); 187 μεγάλοιο M E S ] σκολιοῖο Q Hip(parchus) (Maass, Martin) – here the temptation to adopt the more colorful epithet is rightly resisted; cf. 506 ἀγαθοῦ M E S ] ἐλαφροῦ Mgr. (Maass, Martin) and 523 μέγας codd. ] θρ[ασυς P. Oxy. 4425; 282 μετασκαίροντα codd. ] – ροντε Maass μετὰ σκαίροντα Martin; 376 εἰπεῖν codd. ] εἰπέμεν Wilamowitz (Maass, Martin), to remove a spondaic fourth foot; 417 βορέαο M E S ] ἀνέμοιο A (Maass, Martin); 433 τεύχοι M E ] φαίνοι Hip. (Maass, Martin); 641 ἐξ αὐτῆς codd. ] ἐξαυτῆς Matthiae (Maass, Martin); 775 κελεύων codd. ] κελεύει Maass (Martin); 833 σκοπιαὶ καὶ M E S ] σκοπαί εἰσιν Buttmann (Maass, Martin); 883 οὕτω codd. ] αὕτως Buttmann (Maass, Martin); 896 οἰήσασθαι M E S ] οἰίσασθαι Maass ὠίσασθαι Martin; 927 τοὶ δ’ codd. P4 P5 ] τοῖς δ’ Philoponus (Martin, who had P4) τοῖς Maass, who had neither papyrus; 950 χέρσῳ M E ] χερσαῖ’ Maass (Martin); 1004 μετ’ ἀθρόα M ] μεγ’ ἀθρόα Buttmann (Maass, Martin); 1069 τὰ δέ γ’ ( M E) ἄρσεσι πάντα M E S ] ταὶ δ’ ἄρσεσι, πάντα Martin – Buttmann’s conjecture πᾶσαι is worth recording; 1127 λέχος M E S ] λόχος Mgr. (Martin). At 950 K. prints, rightly in my judgment, κύματος P3, unknown to Maass and rejected by Martin, for χείματος codd. These are solid gains for the restoration of the text. K. prints his own conjectures in the text at 237 λοιπῶν] πολέων codd.; 268 χέλυς ἐστ’] χέλυς ἥτ’ M E S; 276 ἄλλοθεν] ἄλλ’ ὁ μὲν codd.; 381 ὀνομάστ’ ἐγένοντο] ὀνομαστὰ γένοντο M S; 830 πέρι] περὶ codd.; 899 εἰ δὲ καὶ] ἥ τε καὶ codd. (I have omitted frequent instances of K.’s separation of the prepositional prefix from the verb.) Other noteworthy conjectures adopted in the text are: 33 Λύκτῳ Grotius] Δίκτῳ codd.; 63 ἀγχοῦ Buhle] αὐτοῦ codd. αυ]το[υ P. Oxy. 4423; 183 ἔοικεν Martin] ἐοικὼς codd.; 199 περισκέψεσθαι Martin] περισκέψασθαι codd.; 657 καμάτων Reeve] γονάτων codd.; 787 ἄμβλυνται Mair] ἀμβλύνεται M ἀμβλύεται S; 927 ἐπιλευκαίνωνται Voss] επι[λευκα]νθ[ω]σιν P5 ]ωνται P5 (above the line) επι P2 P4 ὑπολευκαίνονται codd.; 1002 κραυγὴν Maass] κρώξῃ M E S; 1003 ἐρημαῖον Martin] ἐρημαῖοι codd.; 1133 ἐοικότα Maass] ἐοικότες codd.

Commentary and Translation

In the commentary K. achieves a true first in combining philological and literary analysis with detailed exposition of the poem’s astronomy and weather signs. One of the best features of the commentary is the informative headnotes on individual constellations which preface Aratus’s descriptions of them. Readers who want information and guidance on the wide range of literary and technical questions that inevitably arise in reading the poem will not be disappointed: see, to cite just a few examples, the notes on the meaning and history of the Homeric phrase πτερὰ πυκνά (969); on the influence of Hesiod’s poetry on Aratus’s proem (1-18); on the ecliptic 525-558; on the technical aspects of the simultaneous risings and settings (559-732); and on weather signs from the moon (778-818). The translation is a workmanlike performance. Concise and exact, it displays that same lightness of touch and skill in neat syntactical organization that are found in the Greek. In short the editor’s acumen in matters philological, literary, astronomical and meteorological makes him our best observer and interpreter of Aratus’s σήματα. With the aid of K.’s commentary students of the poem will, I think, feel that for the first time they are reading the Phaenomena with true understanding and appreciation of Aratus’s art as a Hellenistic didactic poet.

Since the commentary is so rich and detailed and illuminates so much that previously was obscure, I can do no more than offer a few observations on points of special interest and of disagreement with the editor. Yet, even in the case of those disagreements, it is K.’s edition that provides the starting point for other views and interpretations. 5: The recording of variants in the apparatus doesn’t begin until line 5. Has material on lines 1-4 been inadvertently omitted? 11: The apparent discrepancy between the divine origin of the constellations given here and the organization and naming of them by an ancient observer described at 370-382 is resolved by the consideration that Zeus, who has no need of constellation figures, is responsible for a providential arrangement of the stars as σήματα (10) which are beneficial to humankind; the task, however, of deciphering the σήματα, i.e. organizing spatially related stars into recognizable figures, giving them names, and discovering their significance for agriculture and seafaring, falls to human intelligence. Cf. 768-772. 16: K. retracts his previously published interpretation of αὐτὸς καὶ προτέρη γενεή as referring to Zeus alone “yourself our progenitor” ( CQ 31(1981) 355-57); he now follows an interpretation suggested by M. Reeve that προτέρη γενεή means “the whole company of the immortals, the race of gods as opposed to the human race”. This is preferable in light of the Homeric parallels, presented in the note, for this type of expression, αὐτὸς καί + noun. 20: For the phrase οὐρανῷ ἕλκονται three interpretations of the dative are given, instrumental or sociative, both found in the scholia, or locative. Although K. discusses the possibilities, he does not make clear why he takes οὐρανῷ as “across the sky”. Since the sky rotates around the earth and the stars are fixed in the sky, taking their motion from it, the sociative or instrumental dative gives better sense. And if ἕλκονται is understood as a synonym for a verb of motion, then the sociative dative is to be preferred. 29: The difficult phrase κατωμάδιαι φορέονται describing the two Bears is translated “they move with shoulders leading”, and K. suggests “that what A. means is that each Bear’s movement is ‘from the shoulder’ and that the sense of movement in φορέονται is in this case significant…” The purpose of the description, however, is to give their position around the pole and their orientation with respect to one another. The detail “with their shoulders leading” is uncharacteristically vague in this context. Because the pole is the cardinal point of reference in the description, I think that the position of the Bears suggested by κατωμάδιαι is to be understood in relation to the pole, i. e. both Bears move “on their shoulders” around the pole, an apt expression especially when the Bears are turned on their backs in their circuit around the pole. Here we have an example of Aratus’s habit of stating an idea and then repeating it with variation, in this case the position and orientation of the Bears. With regard to position he first says that they wheel on either side of the pole (26-27) and then makes that picture more precise by adding that they move round it “on their shoulders” (29), a detail which clearly indicates that their backs, rather than some other feature of the figures, face the pole. With regard to the orientation of the pair he first says that their heads point to each other’s loins (28-29) and then describes that same orientation from a different anatomical perspective in 30, “turned in opposite directions upon their shoulders”, another way of saying that the orientation of the pair is back to back, but with heads facing in opposite directions. 45: The constellation Draco is compared to a river, οἵη ποταμοῖο ἀπορρώς. K. translates “in the likeness of a river” which suggests that ἀπορρώς is tautologous. In the note he explains that here ἀπορρώς strengthens the comparison to emphasize the notion “in the very likeness of a river” and rejects the possibility that the word has its normal meaning ‘a piece broken off’ or ‘portion’. However, in light of the Homeric and later parallels (to which add Aeschylus, frg. 273A Radt), in all of which the notion of ‘piece’ or ‘portion’ is still felt, it seems better to accept ἀπορρώς in its normal sense, “a portion of a river”, and assume that Aratus means that because the constellation Draco begins and ends, unlike the entire length of a river, at fixed points within the observer’s field of vision, it resembles “a portion of a river”. Similarly Eridanus is described as the “remnant of a river” (360), a description which fits both the mythological river scorched by Phaethon and the constellation figure which, beginning at Orion’s left foot and extending to Cetus, does in fact resemble a section of a river. 65: The emended text of Germanicus, Aratea 66, non ulli nomen, non cognita causa laboris makes much better sense than the text quoted in the note. 76: ἐπιφράσσαιο is identified as a potential optative without κεν; the didactic context and the occurrence of σκέπτεο in 75 suggest that it is imperatival; see Gow on Theoc. 24. 36 and West on Hesiod, Opera 28-29. Cf. 758 and 1128-1129 for imperative followed by optative. 152: On the etesian winds Callimachus, frg. 75. 36 (Pf.) deserves mention. Cicero ( Aratea XXIII, Soubiran) and Lucretius 6. 716 imitate the corruption. 161: ἄκρα κάρηνα is translated “his head at that extremity”. Why not simply “the crown/top of his head”?; likewise at 201 (“tips of the feet”) and 207 (“top of the head”). Cicero, Aratea XXV 2, actually supports K.’s interpretation. Only by reading the conjecture Helicae/-es does the line mean that it is Ursa Major’s head that lies opposite the Charioteer. 187: μεγάλοιο Δράκοντος. There is no need to attribute Germanicus’s sinuosi Anguis (192) to his reading of Hipparchus who has σκολιοῖο Δράκοντος; he is imitating Vergil, Geo. 1. 244 and Aen. 11.753. 199: I am reluctant to accept Martin’s conjecture περισκέψεσθαι for περισκέψασθαι codd. There is Homeric precedent for the use of the aorist infinitive where the future is normal: see Goodwin, Moods and Tenses, section 127, Schwyzer, Grammatik, 2. 296 and Gow on Theoc. 2. 153. The unanimity of the tradition, including Hipparchus’s quotation, in preserving the more difficult reading, together with the Homeric examples, tells strongly in favor of the aorist. 197: αἰνὸν ἄγαλμα, of Andromeda. In Euripides’ Andromeda (frg. 125 Nauck) Perseus, when he catches sight of the maiden, thinks of her as an ἄγαλμα made by a skilled hand; the sculpted form imagined by the hero in Euripides’ play has now become a reality in the poet’s description. 237: K. prints his conjecture λοιπῶν for the transmitted πολέων which he says does not make sense. This is true if πολέων is taken to refer to quantity. If, however, it is taken to refer to size, an interpretation suggested by τόση in 236, it makes excellent sense: “[the third side of the Triangle, the shorter one] is well starred compared to the long sides [ πολέων ].” For the termination cf. Callimachus, 260. 7(Pf.): πολέωνμεριμνέων. If a comparative is wanted, πλεόνων is a possibility. 250: περιμήκετος, modifying Perseus, is to be taken closely with ἐν βορέω, “higher in the north than the other figures”. περιμήκετος refers not to the length of the constellation, as K. thinks, but to its latitude; this is made clear in the following line (delete the period at the end of 250) in which it is stated that Perseus’s right hand is extended toward Cassiopeia’s chair. It is on account of the location of the right hand that the constellation can be described as “higher in the north” than the others ( ἄλλων 250) which have just been presented as a group with Andromeda as the point of reference (205-248) and which take the observer in a southerly direction until the mention of Perseus brings the observer northwards again. 252: τὰ δ’ ἐν ποσὶν οἷα διώκων ἴχνια μηκύνει. K. interprets τὰἐν ποσίν as a substantival phrase and translates “as if on some immediate pursuit he takes long strides.” I would prefer to take ἐν ποσὶνδιώκων, with ἐν instrumental, as a variation on the Homeric phrase πος ( ς) + a form of διώκειν, “as if pursuing on foot”. There is a touch of humor in the specific detail ἐν ποσὶν : the flying hero and his celestial figure are said to move by mere pedestrian locomotion. 270: τίθημι deserves a comment as the vox prop. for catasterism: see Pfeiffer’s comment on Callimachus, frg. 110.64. 299: The line has a noteworthy sound pattern in the syllables -λυ. 341: K. prints δοκεύει, found in S and as a gr. variant in M and E; διώκει is attested in M and E and is supported by the Latin translations: sequitur (Cicero), quaerit Avienius, sectatur (Aratus Latinus). δοκεύει strikes me as a Homeric sophistication introduced to make Sirius more like the hunting dog described in Iliad 8.338-340, though the latter, unlike Sirius, has good reason to keep an eye on its quarry ( δοκεύει 340), a boar or a lion which may turn and attack at any moment; these are certainly more threatening than a fleeing hare. The avoidance of repetition ( διώκεται 349) is not a good reason for adopting the variant because, as K. points out on 634, Aratus is not sensitive to such repetition. Cf. διωκομένοιο Λαγωοῦ in 384 and 678. 463: ὄφελος is mistranslated “need”; likewise Martin, “besoin”. 657: Reeve’s καμάτων, while an attractive emendation, is not an improvement over the transmitted γονάτων, although it allows μειρομένη to have its normal meaning, ‘having her share of troubles’. K.’s objection to the passive use of μειρομένη is not decisive. As he notes on 172, εἴρεται occurs in the passive only at Ph. 172 and 261; and throughout the commentary K. emphasizes Aratus’s creative use of language. If μειρομένη passive is read (“[Cassiopeia] being divided at the knees”, so the scholia understood the line), K. further objects that “the horizon cuts the figure at the belt (649-650) not at the knees”. Those lines, however, describe Cepheus, not Cassiopeia. And finally K.’s objection that the participial phrase and the following clause explaining Cassipepeia’s offense against the Nereids seem unrelated can be answered by observing that the punishment of Cassiopeia’s vanity consists not only in her setting upside-down but also in her remaining partially visible in that unflattering position. 756: In this difficult line K. takes the genitives ποσειδάωνος and διός as locatives and suggests that Poseidon = ocean = the horizon and that “stars seen in Poseidon are stars that are setting”, while “stars seen in Zeus are stars that are rising”. It is difficult to see how the two words can bear these very narrow, almost technical, meanings since the stars rise from as well as set in ocean and Zeus is identified with the entire sky. It therefore seems unlikely that either divinity can be identified with a particular part of the horizon. In fact, K.’s translation suggests a more general meaning, “in Poseidon’s realm or in that of Zeus himself”. Although I agree that the locative construction makes the best sense, I think that the names of the divinities are intended primarily to designate spheres of influence and activity, Poseidon seafaring and Zeus agriculture. Earlier in this same passage the name of Zeus is associated with agricultural signs (741-743), while the nautical signs are treated as a separate group (744-747). Also, in the proem Zeus is said to give signs that guide men’s agricultural activities but there is no mention of the importance of the stars for sailors. And when Aratus describes the Pleiades (254-267), he credits Zeus with making them a sign of the onset of plowing time but omits their importance for the sailing season. It appears, then, that these locative genitives express the two spheres of influence and activity in which the signs are operative. As a result of this division Zeus is shielded from his more menacing manifestation as a storm god. 927: K. accepts Voss’ conjecture ἐπιλευκαίνωνται, which is supported by the papyri, for ὑπολευκαινονται of the mss. Although the subjunctive is preferable, I am skeptical of ἐπι -. In a case like this where there is a clear split between the mss. and the papyri and the mss. preserve the rarer word ὑπολευκαίνομαι occurs once in Homer, Iliad 5.502), I prefer the reading of the mss. Cf. 723 where there is a similar divergence between the mss. and a papyrus. 1127: The use of the optative mood ( εἴη) in a final clause after a primary tense calls for comment as a reflection of a Homeric usage.

These nugae aside, one can only be filled with admiration and gratitude for the painstaking scholarship and devotion that went into the making of this book. The reviewer’s well stocked warehouse of superlatives and laudatory clichés provides nothing adequate to the occasion. One might almost say that K.’s book is the true editio princeps of Aratus’s Phaenomena, five hundred years overdue, which at long last gives us our author pristino nitori restitutus.