BMCR 2004.04.01

C. Valerius Flaccus. Argonautica. Latin/German. Studien zur klassischen Philologie, 140

, , Argonautica = Die Sendung der Argonauten : Lateinisch/Deutsch. Studien zur klassischen Philologie, Bd. 140. Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 2003. 620 pages : maps ; 21 cm.. ISBN 3631507992. $69.95 (pb).

1 Responses

Flavian epic seems to be fashionable nowadays, especially in France, and there have been numerous recent studies of it. Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica is no exception, though the text itself has many problems, which probably explains the blooming of new editions in 1997-2003, P. Dräger’s work being the latest.

The earliest manuscript is the Vaticanus (V), which was written in the ninth century but is full of mistakes. The others come much later, written in the 15th century: among the recentiores some have as model the Sangallensis codex (S) some are a copy of a Laurentianus (L). S was written in the 9th century or perhaps at the very beginning of the 10th, but was incomplete (only the first four books of the poem) and is lost. L would be from the beginning of the 15th century and would derive from an archetype that was used as a model for V and S. Nevertheless, what makes the difference between the last editions of Valerius Flaccus is the place given to the Codex Carrionis: Ludwig Carrion (1547-1595) was a young Belgian humanist who published two editions of the Argonautica in 1565-1566, pretending to have used a six centuries-old manuscript. (This manuscript was actually from the 12th.) We know this codex only indirectly, through Carrion’s text and notes.

In 1980 W.W. Ehlers published an edition in the Teubner collection which has become the standard reference:1 it is, as usual with Teubner, without commentary. The main change his edition brought was his refusal to use only V and his choice to consider more seriously the recentiores. But Ehlers considered Carrion’s codex unreliable, while G. Liberman, who published a French edition2 in 1997-2003, based his text partly on it. G. Liberman’s work on the text is quite impressive, but his translation has been criticised and the numerous notes don’t deal with literary aspects, especially in the first book. That is why J. Soubiran has given another French edition,3 in 2003, that is really fine for people interested in literary questions because of its rich introduction, the author’s attempt to give a translation in free verses and its numerous notes. Still, there is no apparatus criticus, no stemma, the bibliography offers only French studies, and J. Soubiran only occasionally explains the text he has chosen to edit.4

P. Dräger’s Argonautica may be put somewhere between Ehlers and Soubiran. It provides work on the manuscript tradition, an apparatus criticus (which is based on Liberman’s stemma), an interesting commentary of around 250 pages, that completes Soubiran’s notes quite well and shows the familiarity of the author with the Argonauts’ myth,5 but the book’s curious organization makes it hard to use. Ehlers and Liberman’s editions are for scholars, Soubiran’s for French students: who is D.’s audience?

The book is composed first of the original text with a German translation in front of it, then an apparatus criticus with the stemma, then a commentary, and finally an “Einführung” (introduction) with a bibliography. I will start with what should have been at the beginning: the introduction. What D. says about the poet’s biography is complete and very cautious. The comments about the Argonauts’ myth are very interesting, especially its evolution from one author to another. The following pages deal with the models of Valerius: Apollonios of course, but Vergil more than any other (and through him Homer). D. analyses the Vergilian influence mainly on the structure of Valerius’ poem, more briefly on the use of some literary devices like analepsis and prolepsis, and finally on the relation between the poet and the princeps through the choice of the subject and the presentation of the heroes. The Argonauts’ expedition to East recall Vespasian’s to Britannia. One might regret that D. focuses mainly on Vergil, and only mentions briefly at the end Lucan and Seneca’s influence (Ovid should probably not have been forgotten, for the psychological analyses of erotic poetry and also for his lost tragedy on Medea). D. gives at the end some explanations about his philological choices — a combination of Ehlers’ edition and the Codex Carrionis6 — and his translation with some stylistic comments. The bibliography at the end of the introduction, i.e. at the end of the book, is quite complete, though not exhaustive: one might have expected A. Moreau’s book, Le mythe de Jason et Médée: le va-nu-pied et la sorcière (Paris 1994).

The translation is generally accurate, but D. sometimes comments more than he translates, which gives the following result for example: noxque ruit soli ueniens non mitis amantis (7, 3) is translated by “, die allein für einen Liebenden nicht mild kommt “.

Surprisingly the apparatus criticus is not under the text, but after it. And actually it’s no apparatus criticus: it is composed of two columns, the left one with the lectio which was chosen by Ehlers, the right one for the lectio D. preferred, which explains why it fills only eight pages (pp. 303-311). But these eight pages would be less, were the indications of lectio not limited so many times to simple remarks on changing the punctuation, which does not belong in an apparatus criticus: for example doli: becomes doli, (1, 245). Or mouent? turns into mouent, (8, 416). Some other indications deal with the cruces of loci desperati: D. simply chooses sometimes not to indicate them. For example, inlidique+ rates+ pronaeque resurgere turres (2, 520) becomes inlidique rates pronaeque resurgere turres. See also longaque (2,642); ursa (3, 635); in flammas (7, 547) or ab orbibus axis (7, 560). The third unuseful category of remarks concerns capitals: Amnes becomes amnes (2, 537), Tridentis tridentis (1, 615) or Hydrae hydrae (3, 228). The favourite modification seems to be fortuna becoming Fortuna (cf. 1, 326; 2, 594 ; 3, 293). So, I finally arrive at the changes of lectiones : despite D.’s initial claim that he chose to come back to the manuscripts instead of conjectures, he simply puts a conjecture when the text is impossible to deduce. One single example: Dat dextram blandisque + pauens uocem Venus osquam +/adloquiis iunctoque trahit per moenia passu (7, 373-74) is changed according to Kramer’s conjecture and becomes Dat dextram blandisque pauens Venus oscula miscet/adloquiis iunctoque trahit per moenia passu. Only twice does D. propose a solution of his own (7, 633 and 8, 286άβ and it’s about missing words he invents. The stemma’s presentation is an illustration of what damage the computer can do when one copies and pastes: the beginning is in Latin, then it’s in French (probably Liberman’s touch), and finally the cities’ names are in German.

All this gives a bad impression, and it’s a pity, because the commentary is interesting. D. has read other scholars and comments on them in the notes, for example p. 524 for 7,43 ” Liberman folgt mit Summers S. 75 der schlechteren Lesart penetrauit (‘hat betreten’, da parallel zu uenit, ‘Gekommen ist’) “. He justifies, sometimes in a very detailed way, his own choices (see 226 p. 522, 507 p. 532). A second category of comments remind the reader who is the Colchidian (153 p. 519 ; 369 p. 528 …) or the Aesonide (173 p. 488, 429 p. 497 …), 592 p. 505. Was it necessary to remind the reader, especially at the book 7, i.e. almost at the end of the Argonautica ? Other notes give brief explanations about mythology and realia, but inasmuch there is an index at the end of the book with the same definitions, one wonders about the use of it in the commentary, because there are some very interesting remarks which are hidden in this mixture. D. proposes some parallels with other poets, especially with Vergil, which were not mentioned by Soubiran. For example 3 p. 513: at the beginning of Book 7 Medea is sleepless like Dido at the beginning of Book 4. He also notices some meaningful changes: Medea and Jason when they meet are compared by Apollonios and Valerius to trees, but Valerius chooses cypresses because they are connected with death and are an allusion to the tragic end of their relationship. But it’s true the commentary is far from being complete, if it ever could be, because D. does not take in account the evolution of epic under the Flavians with the use of monologues and dialogues which come from the tragedy.

The reader will find at the end of the book some useful tools, like an index nominum with mythological explanations, two maps and a stemma of the Aiolids.

[[For a response to this review by P. Dräger, please see BMCR 2004.05.21.]]


1. Gai Valeri Flacci Setini Balbi Argonauticon libri octo, Teubner, Stuttgart, 1980.

2. Valerius Flaccus. Argonautiques. Tome 1: Chants I-IV. Tome II: Chants V-VIII. Texte établi et traduit par G. Liberman, Collection des Universités de France, Paris, 1997-2002.

3. Valerius Flaccus. Argonautiques. Introduction, texte et traduction rythmée, notes et index, Peeters, Paris-Louvain, 2003.

4. See for example p. 278 concerning VII, 50: “Les mss. ont parentes, “parents”; mais la conjecture penates, “penates”, est tentante.”

5. See his Apollonios von Rhodos, Die Fahrt der Argonauten. Griechisch/deutsch. Herausgegeben, überstzt und kommentiert, Stuttgart, 2002.

6. Though D. has used Liberman’s stemma and sometimes his lectiones, see what he says about his work, cf. footnote 33 p. 579: “Die Ausgabe ist sehr konjekturfreudig und frönt einer eigenwilligen Orthographie”.