BMCR 2001.10.34

Carmen de figuris vel schematibus

, Carmen de figuris vel schematibus. Bibliotheca Weidmanniana ; 5. Hildesheim-Zürich-New York: Georg Olms, 2001. 178 pages ; 21 cm.. ISBN 3487113457.

Any student of the ancient theories of rhetorical figures and tropes is aware of their pitfalls: the distinction between tropes and figures is often imaginary, that between figures of style and those of thought especially so, and the number of figures, their varying designations and their differences may lead one to despair. Thomas Conley has culled from Greek handbooks a long list of figures and tropes,1 a list which makes one’s despair greater yet. One of these handbooks is that of Alexander, the son of Numenius, a book which has come down to us in an epitome (Rhet. Graeci ed. Spengel, iii.1-40). Alexander’s book was influential both on the Greek side (e.g. Phoebammon) and the Roman. There it was heavily used, be it indirectly, by the anonymous author of the Carmen de figuris vel schematibus, who probably lived in the fourth or fifth century A.D. This Carmen contains at least 186 lines, divided into at least 60 stanzas of three lines each ( tristichi) and treats in each stanza a figure of style.2 It now enjoys two modern editions, one by Maria Squillante (Roma 1993) and the other one by Rose Maria D’Angelo, which is under review here.

The Anonymus used, as I have said, Alexander’s treatise περὶ σχημάτων. This is done in the second part of the poem. In the first part of his poem (ll. 1-150) the author has much in common with Rutilius Lupus’ De figuris sententiarum et elocutionis, a treatise 3 which for its part is a (condensed?) Latin translation of a contemporary work on figures composed by the rhetorician Gorgias, who lived at the end of the first century B.C. Due to the Greek origins the examples by which the Anonymus illustrates the figures he discusses very often are translations of passages from Greek authors such as Homer, Demosthenes and Lysias. Greek influence is also apparent from the headings above the stanzas: these are the Greek terms of the figures, and at least in the first part these Greek terms determine the alphabetical order of the figures treated. Incidentally, Rutilius Lupus tells us that Gorgias is his source, but the Anonymous does not so for his sources. Similarities between our poem and the treatise of Rutilius Lupus are numerous, but some differences between the two make D’Angelo think that the Anonymus used a common source, “probabilmente Gorgia” (p. 31).

The Carmen de figuris vel schematibus offers a theory of figures in a poetical form. In doing so its author places himself in the long tradition of the authors of didactic poetry. Some of these have done a great job, like Hesiod, Lucretius and Vergil, but many didactic poems are just tedious versifications of rather dull subjects, such as poisons, fishes and stones. One of these latter versificators is Terentianus Maurus, who in three poems treats letters, syllables and metres (Gramm. Latini VI.325-413); another one is our Anonymus.4 Why this man made this choice of versifying the theory of figures we do not know. Was it because he wished to show his ability in this field (thus Terentianus Maurus) or did he wish to offer an easier method of retention? If the latter, he may well have been a schoolmaster, as D’Angelo (p. 22-3) suggests. He does not state his intentions; he only dedicates his Carmen to someone, well versed in both prose and poetry. The implication may well be that this dedicatee will appreciate what he has done. The dedicatee is named Messius. If this is Arusianus Messius, the author of Exempla locutionum from Vergil, Sallust, Terence and Cicero, we have something to go on when trying to fix the time of the Anonymus for Arusianus Messius very probably wrote his work at the end of the fourth century or the beginning of the fifth. Another Messius was praefectus urbis Romae in 470. D’Angelo prefers to identify our Messius with Arusianus Messius, and one can agree. At any rate, the treatise is a product of late antiquity.

As to the theory of figures set out in this poem, we may not expect any new insights for very much of it is also found in the treatises of Alexander and Gorgias-Rutilius. It also agrees with that found in the treatises of Aquila Romanus and Iulius Rufinianus, and these two rhetoricians followed Alexander’s treatise. What is new or relatively novel are a few terms not found elsewhere, such as (ll. 136-8) πάντα πρὸς πάντα, a figure of accumulation and division.5 The most important feature of the Carmen is, of course, its metrical presentation. All lines are dactylic hexameters with some peculiarities, set out by D’Angelo (pp. 43-4 and in her commentay). They do not run very smoothly but that may well be due to the difficulties the author had in fitting both theory and exemples for verse. Thus in line 10 on περίοδος we find a curious case of tmesis : Circuitus, peri—quam dicunt—odos, orsa duobus eqs.. Or take line 138 Est coniunctio conque gregatio, cum adcumulo res. They may remind the reader of similar cases in the poetry of Ennius, and indeed, this phenomenon and others, such as the use of indupetravi (l. 66) are explained as archaisms used to heighten the stylistic level of the poem (D’Angelo p. 43). The commentary is “philologisch-linguistisch”, as the backflap says. Here D’Angelo discusses the constitution of the text, linguistic peculiarities as well as parallels from rhetorical works. At the end we find an extensive bibligraphy, a very useful analytical index and a list of scholars quoted in this book.

One aspect I reserve for the end of this review. There are some differences between the first part (ll. 1-150) and the second one (ll.151-86). The presentation differs, for instance. In the first part almost all stanzas give in the first line a definition of a figure, introduced by fit or est and in the two other lines an example or examples. In the second part this regularity is also used but with more freedom. The first part has the lemmata in an alphabetical order, the second not. These differences have led scholars of the 19th century—inevitably, one may add—to the idea that the Carmen consists of two parts, each made by a different author, the second one being a pupil of the first one. D’Angelo’s own position in this matter is not wholly clear to me. After reviewing the arguments of the older scholars in favour of a double authorship she adds (p. 23) that “una trattazione unitaria” is imposed by the elements undoubtedly common to both parts: composition in stanzas, exemplification of the figures by quotations most times drawn from classical authors, and the unity in prosody and metre. Thus one author for both parts? At p. 32, however, she still speaks about “gli autori delle due parti”, but at p. 45 of “l’Anonimo” as if he is one person. There is no reason, I think, to side with the 19th century scholars. The author first follows the Gorgias-Rutilius tradition and at the end he adds (without saying so) some more figures he takes from the Alexander tradition. He changes to some extent his format of presentation, but keeps to his main principles of composition. Let us not forget, moreover, that the material ancients are working in (roll or codex) has as its consequence that insertions and additions are difficult to place except at the end.

Having written this review, I had time to consult Schindel’s publication on this Carmen.6 I was glad to see that he and I agree on many issues. The paper is very rich in content and one looks forward to the wider discussion of the Carmen in the publication announced in a note.5 For instance, Schindel has an ingenious and convincing explanation about the order of the figures in the second part and an equally convincing argument about the dedicatee being Arusianus Messius. D’Angelo refers to it in her preface but does not state that she has not used it at all for her own book (it is lacking from her bibliography). At least she could have said that it was published too late to pay attention to it.


1. Byzantine Teaching on Figures and Tropes, Rhetorica IV.4, 1986, 335-74.

2. In line 1 (dedicatory stanza) the author identifies his subject as in lexi schemata quae sunt. The figures he discusses are all figures of style according to the Gorgias-Rutilius tradition; the fact that some of these are sometimes classified elsewhere as figures of thought is not enough reason to suppose with D’Angelo p.19 that the author means by the words I have quoted both figures of style and figures of thought.

3. Modern editions are that by Edward Brooks Jr., Leiden 1970 (see my review in Mnemosyne 27, 1974, 427-9) and the one by Giuseppina Barabino, Genova 1967. The work as we have it consists of two books and only discusses figures of style. Gorgias had written about the subject of figures (of both style and thought) in a work consisting of four books, as Quintilian 9.2.102 tells us. Quintilian goes on to say that Rutilius in unum suum transtulit the four books. The emendation of Ahrens (1843) in usum suum transtulit is very attractive.

4. See W.-L. Liebermann, Lehrdichtung A-B.1 in G. Ueding, Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik, Bd. 5. 93-107, Tübingen 2001.

5. Of course, these “new” figures and terms may well originate from parts of Gorgias’ books which were not preserved by Rutilius Lupus. One may regret that D’Angelo does not look at the theory of figures of Gorgias-Rutilius-Anonymus in the wider perspective of the theory of figures in antiquity. This was done by K. Münscher, art. Gorgias 9 in [RE] 1912. 1604-19. See also W. Kroll, art. Rhetorik in [RE], Suppl. VII, 1940, section 33. Ulrich Schindel announces on internet a study on Die Rezeption der hellenistischen Figurenlehre bei den Romern. Private communication confirms the date of publication as being October 2002.

6. Ulrich Schindel, Entstehungsbedingungen eines spätantiken Schulbuchs: Zum ,Carmen de figuris’ (RLM 63-70) in Siegmar Döpp, Antike Rhetorik und ihre Rezeption. Stuttgart: Steiner, 1999, pp. 85-98 (see also BMCR 01.03.10).