BMCR 2003.03.19

D. Magnus Ausonius. Mosella, Bissula, Briefwechsel mit Paulinus Nolanus

, , , , , Mosella ; Bissula ; Briefwechsel mit Paulinus Nolanus. Sammlung Tusculum. Düsseldorf/Zürich: Artemis & Winkler, 2002. 320 pages ; 18 cm.. ISBN 3760817297. EUR 29.80.

This edition, translation, and commentary of three key Ausonian texts ( Mosella, Bissula, and the Ausonius/Paulinus of Nola correspondence) is part of a much larger project recently announced by Paul Dräger in BMCR : “God-willing, there will come from a ‘Trier-based scholar’, i.e. from my hands, within the following thirty years about thirty editions of Greek and Latin authors with translation and commentary—and, I reckon, about fifteen—not ‘parerga’, but ‘companion volumes.'” Indeed, a quick glance at the author’s webpage ( Paul Dräger’s Homepage) confirms the breadth of his interests and his ambitious plan to produce editions of classical and late antique authors with German translations and commentaries as well as companion monographs. Although Dräger (D.) does not specify his intended audience, it seems that he is striving to make available for the German-speaking student (and scholar) relatively inexpensive and readable texts, translations and commentaries on essential classical and late antique authors. Taken on these terms, the book under review is a useful addition to the growing body of primary and secondary scholarship on Ausonius.

Ausonius of Bordeaux was one of the shining lights on the fourth-century literary scene, and, in part because he so adeptly foregrounded his engagement with and manipulation of the classical past, many of his prose and metrical works have enjoyed a certain popularity among classicists. Whereas Paulinus of Nola has largely escaped the notice of classicists, his teacher and epistolary correspondent Ausonius has, it seems, regularly been on our radar screen. Since 1971 there have been three new critical editions of his works, including a new Teubner by S. Prete in 1978 and R.P.H. Green’s masterful 1991 edition and commentary for Oxford (and 1999 OCT, which is largely identical to the 1991 edition but does incorporate some new conjectures into the critical apparatus). As William Klingshirn noted in his review of Green’s 1991 edition for BMCR, “It is not clear that a new text of Ausonius was badly needed.” Still, Green’s edition did improve significantly on its predecessors and his commentary is and will remain indispensable for English-literate scholars of Ausonius. Its high price ($185 for the 1991 edition; $60 for the 1999 OCT, without commentary) means, however, that it is more likely to be a book purchased by late antiquity specialists or consulted in a library than assigned for an undergraduate or graduate seminar. Most American undergraduate and graduate students are probably not enough at home in German to make full use of D.’s useful edition and commentary, but I can imagine it serving very usefully as an affordable seminar text for German-literate students. Still, the lack of a serious critical apparatus means that Green will remain the edition of choice for scholars.

D.’s book opens with the Latin texts of the Mosella, Bissula, and Ausonius/Paulinus of Nola correspondence, with each page of Latin text accompanied by a clear and elegant (at least to this non-native speaker) German prose translation on facing pages (pp.8-141). The value of the German translations, which D. calls “das Kernstück der vorliegenden Ausgabe” (p. 308), should not be underestimated. As he rightly notes, this is the first translation of the correspondence of Ausonius and Paulinus into German. Indeed, if part of D.’s aim in his ambitious program is to popularize less canonical authors (e.g. Apollonius of Rhodes, Silius Italicus, or Ausonius), producing good quality, affordable translations for a non-specialist audience is an excellent strategy.

The Latin text is well-presented and D. has thoughtfully maintained the continuity between the Latin and its German translation from page to page, thus enabling a reader to move freely between the two versions. Although other works of Ausonius are perhaps better known (especially the Cento Nuptialis), I was pleased that D. chose to include these particular texts. Each of them illustrates a different side of Ausonius and his complex engagement with and departure from the classical tradition. Yet, with the possible exception of the Mosella, they are virtually invisible to the general population of Latin scholars.

The Mosella is a 483 line hexameter poem composed in the didactic bucolic tradition of Vergil’s Georgics (especially the laudes Italiae). It was likely composed sometime between 371-375, when Ausonius was firmly established in the court of Valentinian and wielded considerable political influence (D. presents the various arguments and relevant internal evidence for the date of the Mosella at pp. 275ff). It presents an idealized view of the Moselle valley, with particular attention to the eponymous river and the wildlife that inhabits it. Humans have no apparent place in Ausonius’s vision of the bucolic.

The Bissula is a fragmentary collection of six erotic, polymetric lyric poems written in the Roman neoteric and elegiac tradition. They show us Ausonius as the fourth century’s answer to Catullus and Martial. The urbane Lesbia has been replaced by the Latin speaking German ex-slave Bissula (a name which may or may not be obscene). D. also suggests that the collection bears the marks of influence from the Carmina Priapea (pp.282ff). The collection was prefaced by a prose dedicatory letter addressed to a Paulus, very much in the tradition of the classical poetry collections of Martial or Statius.

The third text, the complete correspondence of Ausonius and his pupil Paulinus is especially interesting. There are nine letters in total, seven from Ausonius and two from Paulinus. Although Paulinus’s letters are included in other editions of Ausonius, they are typically placed after Ausonius’s letters or relegated to an appendix. D.’s text, on the other hand, recreates the dialogism of the original correspondence (insofar as the evidence allows it) by placing the letters in chronological order and integrating Paulinus’s responses into the ordering. This choice of arrangement nicely illustrates one of the defining features of the correspondence — the demise of a friendship played out before our eyes, as illustrated by Paulinus’s reluctance to write back, despite Ausonius’s eloquent pleas for a response. By integrating the two correspondences, D. restores the elements of exchange and responsion that are so crucial to a proper understanding of the epistolary genre. It seems that every editor of this correspondence feels the need to posit a new chronological ordering. D. is no exception, though he presents a generally convincing case given the scantiness of the surviving evidence (see pp. 292ff). He has, thankfully, provided an accurate concordance of his numbering to the numberings of earlier critical editions.

Given the many strengths of this edition, it is unfortunate that the Latin texts are presented without even a bare-bones critical apparatus. This absence is particularly noticeable in the case of Ausonius because there is substantial disagreement between the manuscripts in a number of places. Indeed, the disagreement is so extensive that scholars have theorized the existence of more than one authorial edition (though this theory has since been generally dismissed). D. does include a very short and select set of places (“nur in relevanten Fallen”, pp. 145-148) where he has differed from Peiper’s edition (or Hartel’s, in the case of Paulinus’s letters), often to replace an editorial conjecture with a manuscript reading. Still, these cruces are rarely marked in the Latin text to indicate to the reader that the reported reading is problematic. There is no mention of Green’s 1991 or 1999 editions, though D. often chooses to report a different reading. This oversight is odd since Green reports an extensive critical apparatus and incorporates the most up-to-date conjectures from recent secondary studies.

An example from the Bissula will suffice to illustrate my quibble: at 2.5, D. reports haut Erasinus (as did Peiper) while Green has utque Cratinus; the manuscripts have aut erasinus. Green’s reading is a conjecture by Dezeimeris; and D.’s reading, which Green marks as doubtful, is adopted from a 1558 edition owned and emended by Heinsius. Green then comments ad loc. on his preference for utque Cratinus and offers a somewhat weak explanation in support of the conjecture. D. also comments on the passage ad loc. to explain that the Erasinus was a river in the Argolid known for its icy waters. He suggests that Ausonius is here using the river and its traditional iciness to contrast with the erotic heat of his theme. In a play on the epic/elegy opposition, Ausonius opposes the “heat” of Bissula with the iciness of the Erasinus. D. then defends his adoption of the reading and argues against the importation of Cratinus as an unlikely transmission error.

While I find D.’s argument and defense of his reading superior to Green’s, it is troubling that he does not cite Green or alert the user of his edition to the important contributions to the discussion of this reading (including Scaliger’s suggestion that Erasinus was the name of a mime). Further, one must turn to Green’s edition in order to reconstruct the debate and locate the alternative readings. D.’s reading is absolutely defensible, but he does not provide enough documentation to allow the user to work back through his argument step-by-step. This is excusable in a school text, of course, but means that anybody working seriously on these texts must first consult Green and use D.’s edition and commentary as a supplement.

The commentaries to each of the three texts are very useful and have some fresh insights to offer. In general, there is a tendency to reproduce, without citation, the observations and literary parallels of earlier commentators, but D. acknowledges this (p. 309) regarding the Mosella and Bissula (though, again, I find it strange that he downplays Green’s contribution: “vor allem Hosius und, auf ihm fussend, Green”). D. is generally good about explaining difficult passages or terms, especially geographical. But his real contribution is the commentary on the Ausonius/Paulinus correspondence, which will be of enormous value to scholars working on these texts. He works through the letters carefully, supplies an abundance of contextual information, and generally facilitates a reading of these sometimes complicated letters. About half of the time, the lemmata are keyed to the German translation rather than the Latin text, but this does not present any significant challenges for the user. I would strongly recommend that any scholar working on these three texts also consult D.’s commentary, since he does occasionally differ from Green and, to my mind, offer more convincing and nuanced explanations at times. In addition, because D. has focused on these three rather short texts, he tends to comment in more detail than Green.

The book ends, somewhat oddly, with an introduction. The introduction offers a biographical sketch of Ausonius, an overview of his works, and a detailed discussion of the Mosella, the principles of its composition (i.e. the way that it is structured around the number 7), Ausonius’s intention in composing the text, and its publication. D. also includes introductory comments on the Bissula and the Ausonius/Paulinus correspondence as well as a biographical sketch of Paulinus. This section concludes with some observations about the reception of these texts and then some authorial comments on the text, translation and commentary. I particularly enjoyed D.’s discussion, “Das hebdomadische Kompositionsprinzip der Mosella” (pp.265-271) and found its explication enormously helpful for my understanding of Ausonius’s sophisticated poetic ludi in the Mosella. The other sections also contained useful background information for the student or professional classicist encountering Ausonius for the first time. For those more comfortable in English than German, Green provides largely the same information (excepting D.’s discussion of Ausonian compositional principles in the Mosella). The select bibliography of primary and secondary studies on Ausonius (pp.311-320) is also a useful feature of this book. D. has helpfully divided the studies into clearly marked categories and includes the most important contributions. A quick glance and spot check suggests that it is largely accurate (though “Caroline Newlands” on p.316 should read “Carole Newlands”).

With this edition and commentary D. has produced a useful contribution to Ausonian studies, provided the user understands its limitations. I suspect that most English speakers and readers will continue to prefer Green’s 1991 commentary and 1999 OCT. But D. has provided a tertium quid : an affordable text of three key Ausonian works, with a commentary, plentiful introductory material, and a helpful bibliography. Scholars of Ausonius will want to consult his commentary ad loc.; and students may very well find that this edition, with its commentary, is a nice middle ground between the outrageously expensive 1991 Green text and commentary and his 1999 OCT without commentary.