BMCR 2002.06.35

Valerius Maximus: Memorable Doings and Sayings. Two volumes. Loeb Classical Library

, Valerius Maximus: Memorable Doings and Sayings. Two volumes. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000. Pp. 547; 462. $21.50 each.

With the appearance of D. R. Shackleton Bailey’s (SB) Loeb edition, an important early imperial voice may well be expected to attract increased attention, especially as closer acquaintance with Valerius Maximus, a crucial, but relatively neglected, author, can only, and certainly will, occasion new questions in the study of a more widely and more frequently explicated canon. A brief look at the state of Valerian studies is, therefore, in order, before turning to the volumes’ many virtues and the reviewer’s (minor) criticisms.

We stand at the end of the first decade of a gathering Valerian Renaissance, inaugurated ten years ago by W. Martin Bloomer, whose study recapitulated the critical work of a century and a half (concerned primarily with Valerius’ sources) and offered also a sensitive appreciation especially of Valerian rhetoric in the early imperial context.1 Four years later, Clive Skidmore’s decidedly more traditional reading focused on Valerius’ undeniably strong moral purpose.2 More recently, Jean-Michel David edited an important collection of essays that address a host of historiographical issues,3 Andreas Weileder scrutinized Valerius’ text in the political context of Tiberian Rome,4 and the present reviewer examined the role of traditional Roman religion in Valerius’ rhetoric of virtue.5 One book6 every two years or so hardly constitutes a critical flood. Much remains to be done, and, thanks to the appearance of new texts and translations, Valerian studies rest again on a firm basis. Karl Kempf’s still essential 1854 edition of Valerius’ text (the editio maior)7 was followed by Karl Halm’s Teubner,8 Kempf’s Teubner of 1888 (his editio minor),9 and a century of occasional manuscript studies as well as articles on isolated passages.10 Briscoe’s recent Teubner of 1998 sums up this work,11 and his text constitutes the new standard against which others will be measured.12 We come, then, to translations.13 SB’s is not, in fact, the first to appear in English. That honor belongs to Sam Speed,14 whose work SB did not consult (1: p. 6), and for good reason: much of it is mere (and often inaccurate) paraphrase. Notable translations include those of, in French, Pierre Constant15 and Robert Combès;16 in Italian, Rino Faranda;17 in German, Friedrich Hoffmann;18 and, in English, D. Wardle, whose translation of book one includes an excellent historical commentary.19

We have now a context for the work of SB, whose volumes may be assessed in terms of the quality of the Latin text, the accompanying English translation, and their notes, indices, and cross-references.

SB’s introduction is satisfactory, and he provides basic bibliographical references as well as a sketch of his own editorial principles. Because he commissioned Clive Skidmore to prepare the select bibliography, one gathers SB himself found general studies of little moment. His interests, we may gather, lay in the reconstitution of the Latin text, and, because SB’s Loeb appeared after Briscoe’s Teubner, even those who do not care to consult SB’s translation will need to check SB’s readings (the ambitious will keep Combès and Kempf 1854 handy as well), especially as SB disputes Briscoe’s understanding of the manuscript tradition. Of the more than eighty surviving manuscripts, two, Bernensis (A) and Ashburnhamensis (L) survive from the ninth century. A, moreover, received corrections from the hand of Servatus Lupus, a Carolingian scholar, to whom Briscoe accords respect,20 but SB dismisses (1: p. 5). The primary importance and close relationship to each other of A and L were recognized already by Kempf. A third manuscript, however, Bruxellensis (G) derives from the eleventh century. Dorothy Schullian argued for its independent value,21 a value accepted by Briscoe,22 but dismissed by SB as “a farrago of hit-or-miss medieval conjectures (1: p. 5).”23 Readers will thus be well-advised to keep an eye on the bottom of the page.

Of course, all texts leave room for disagreement, and SB’s is no exception. I shall limit myself to one example from Valerius’ preface. Valerius dedicates his work to Tiberius as to a living god, and comments upon what Caesar worship has added to Rome’s state religion: the best manuscripts (AL) read multum … alacritatis ( praef.). Kempf justifies the manuscript tradition at length in his first edition but changes silently in his second to an alternative reading found in inferior manuscripts: multum … claritatis. Did the new form of worship offer the state religion emotional depth or mere pageantry? The choice has much to say about the lived experience of emperor worship in the early empire. Like the later Kempf (and Briscoe and Wardle, but not Combès), SB also fishes claritatis from the mediaeval farrago.24 SB does provide, however, a textual note, so even readers without Briscoe (or the early Kempf or Combès) will know that the alternative exists. One cannot ask for more of a Loeb. Such examples may, of course, be multiplied by any contrarian reader. Suffice it to say that SB’s text is sound indeed and that his departures from other editions will be neglected at one’s peril, but that his Loeb provides no substitute for Briscoe’s Teubner.

The English translation does its job well. It renders the Latin text literally, and those in search of an approach to the vagaries of Valerian syntax will find a confident and reliable friend in SB, whose version, as one would expect, is painstakingly accurate. Nevertheless, should the Latinless ever stray near these volumes, they may find themselves puzzling over the meaning of a translation that generally opts for the literally minded. Two examples selected at random (by a native speaker of North American English): 6.2.12 periculose contumax. “Perilously contumacious.” Even in English, the reader will need Latin. 9.6. ext.1 fontem perfidiae. “Fountain of treachery [i.e. the Carthaginians].” Granted, “fountain” as “source” or “well-spring” is both literal (as well as, once again, derived from the Latin original), but its poetical (and now archaic) use here will not necessarily bring the intended image to mind. Translation by way of derivative is very, very common.

On the other hand, when it comes to religious matters, one finds that the translation can suddenly shift into paraphrase. Spurius Cassius (cos. III 486) was executed for aiming at tyranny (6.3.1). His household was demolished and cast upon his corpse by the Roman people ( interempto domum superiecit). Why? Valerius provides a reason: ut penatium strage puniretur. He then goes on to remark that a temple to Tellus was subsequently built on the spot (a religiosae severitatis monumentum). SB translates the explanatory phrase: “so that he was also punished by the destruction of his dwelling.” We thus conclude perhaps that Cassius’ house was thrown upon his lifeless body so that, dead, he could be rendered homeless? It seems rather that the translation has missed a cultural (here religious) antithesis. As the individual was crushed by the sovereign Roman people, his household gods yielded before the state’s god. SB’s translation cannot be called incorrect and will help readers interpret the Latin, but it does not fully dress Valerian thought in English garb. Translation remains, however, linguistic triage, and the dilemmas of translating alien concepts into modern English hardly need rehearsing for readers of this review. For a Loeb, with facing Latin text, SB generally opts for the literal. Those in search of meaning and interpretation will turn to Wardle’s translation of, and commentary to, book one. Those with German have an excellent translation in Hoffmann. And, despite the vitriol heaped on Combès by English-language reviewers, his thoughtful Budé volumes deserve attention both for his elegant translations and helpful notes. SB knows Latin, and his translation is a helpful starting point. There is room, however, for an English-only edition of Valerius that leaves the Latin a little farther behind for the sake of accessibility.

Loeb volumes are not critical editions. Nor do they provide commentaries. Nevertheless, SB’s helpful notes, textual, historiographical (cross-references to other ancient authors), and historical, will provide useful assistance to all navigators of Valerius’ text. Even more, the index is lavishly appointed and masterfully executed, and the entries offer help with dates and magistracies, thus providing ready cross-reference to such standard works as Broughton’s Magistrates of the Roman Republic or the Oxford Classical Dictionary — the index alone is worth the price of the volumes. One may always, however, ask for more. Gods are, for example, not represented fully and cultural items (institutional, legal, religious, etc.) are not covered (though a compact glossary covers basic Roman institutions, e.g. gown [ toga ], lèse majesté [ maiestas ]). The indices of Kappius’ Delphin edition,25 the lexicon of Otón Sobrino,26 and a machine-readable text of Valerius provide supplements for those in search of more.

We have, then, in SB’s Valerius Maximus a satisfactory introduction (historical, textual, and bibliographical), a thoughtful Latin text, a useful English translation, and as much indexed and footnoted guidance as one could ever demand, or hope for, in a Loeb.


1. W. Martin Bloomer, Valerius Maximus and the Rhetoric of the New Nobility, Chapel Hill, 1992. Bloomer did not write in a vacuum, but because Bloomer’s work so conveniently sums up and evaluates his critical predecessors, we may for the purposes of a review begin here, and refer the curious to Bloomer’s discussions and bibliography for anterior details.

2. Clive Skidmore, Practical Ethics for Roman Gentlemen: The Work of Valerius Maximus, Exeter, 1996.

3. Jean-Michel David, ed., Valeurs et mémoire à Rome: Valère Maxime ou la vertu recomposée, Paris, 1998.

4. Andreas Weileder, Valerius Maximus: Spiegel kaiserlicher Selbstdarstellung, Munich, 1998.

5. Hans-Friedrich Mueller, Roman Religion in Valerius Maximus, London, 2002.

6. I omit articles from this very brief overview.

7. Carolus F. Kempf, ed., Valeri Maximi Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri novem cum incerti auctoris fragmento De praenominibus, Berlin, 1854 [reprint: Hildesheim, 1976]. This edition includes extensive discussion of textual issues.

8. Carolus Halm, Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri novem: Iulii Paridis et Ianuarii Nepotiani Epitomis adiectis, Leipzig, 1865.

9. Karl Kempf, ed., Valerii Maximi Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri novem cum Iulii Paridis et Ianuarii Nepotiani Epitomis, Leipzig, 1888.

10. For bibliographical details, consult John Briscoe, ed., Valeri Maximi Facta et dicta memorabilia, 2 vols., Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1998, 1: xxxiii-xlii.

11. Briscoe, op. cit. supra n. 10.

12. For a review, see D. Wardle BMCR 1999.09.25 (

13. For a more detailed look at translations and commentaries, see Dorothy M. Schullian, “Valerius Maximus,” in Catalogus translationum et commentariorum, eds. P. O. Kristeller and F. E. Cranz, Washington, DC, 1984, 5: 287-403.

14. Samuel Speed, trans., Romae Antiquae Descriptio: A View of the Religion, Laws, Customs, Manners, and Dispositions of the Ancient Romans and Others, Comprehended in their Most Illustrious Acts and Sayings Agreeable to History, Written in Latine by that Famous Historian Quintus Valerius Maximus, and now Carefully rendred into English, together with the Life of the Author, London, 1678 [microfilmed: Ann Arbor, 1976].

15. Pierre Constant, trans., Valère Maxime: Actions et paroles mémorables (Traduction nouvelle avec introduction et notes), Paris, 1935.

16. Robert Combès, ed. and trans., Valère Maxime: Faits et dits mémorables, 2 vols., Paris, 1995-1997.

17. Rino Faranda, ed. and trans., Valerio Massimo: Detti e fatti meomorabili, Turin, 1971.

18. Friedrich Hoffmann, trans., Valerius Maximus: Sammlung merkwürdiger Reden und Thaten, Stuttgart, 1829. The more recent Reclam edition provides only selections: Ursula Blank-Sangmeister, ed. and trans., Valerius Maximus: Facta et dicta memorabilia / Denkwürdige Taten und Worte (Lateinisch / Deutsch), Stuttgart, 1991.

19. D. Wardle, Valerius Maximus: Memorable Deeds and Sayings: Book I, Oxford, 1998. For a review, see Hans-Friedrich Mueller, CW 94 (2001): 403-403. For other commentaries, see Jerzy Linderski,”The Death of Pontia.” RhM (1990) 133: 86-93 [= Jerzy Linderski, Roman Questions, Stuttgart, 1995, pp. 320-327] and Schullian, op. cit. supra n. 13.

20. Briscoe, op. cit. supra n. 10, pp. xi-iv.

21. Dorothy M. Schullian, “A Neglected Manuscript of Valerius Maximus,” CPh (1937): 32: 349-359.

22. Briscoe, op. cit. supra n. 10, pp. vii-xi.

23. Cf. Combès, op. cit. supra n. 16, who ignores G.

24. For a fuller discussion, see Mueller, op. cit. supra n. 5, pp. 17-20.

25. M. Joannes Kappius, ed., Valerii Maximi Factorum dictorumque memorabilium libri novem ex editione Joannis Kappii cum notis et interpretatione in usum Delphini, variis lectionibus, notis variorum, recensu editionum et codicum, et indice locupletissimo accurate recensiti, 3 vols., London, 1823.

26. Enrique Otón Sobrino, Léxico de Valerio Máximo, 4 vols., Madrid, 1977-1991.