BMCR 2004.04.28

Cicero, De Natura Deorum I

, , De natura deorum. Liber 1. Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. x, 236 pages ; 20 cm.. ISBN 0521803608 $20.50 (pb).

There has been a great deal of recent interest in Cicero’s philosophical treatises, including his religious works. In particular, De Natura Deorum (ND) has received three treatments in the last decade: Richard McKirahan’s 1997 commentary on Book I for the Bryn Mawr Latin Commentaries, P. G. Walsh’s 1998 translation and commentary for Oxford World’s Classics, and now Andrew R. Dyck’s (hereafter D.) new Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics commentary on Book I. This follows D.’s commentary on De Officiis (1996) and has very recently been joined by his commentary on De Legibus (2004), both with University of Michigan Press.

The scope of Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series does not allow for the kind of grand project that would replace A. S. Pease’s monumental commentary on all three books of ND (1955-8) or the earlier work of J. B. Mayor (1880-5), already superseded by Pease. D. acknowledges that his work is not intended to replace Pease but rather is meant to supplement it. This it does quite well. Explication of philosophical argument was not Pease’s main interest or strength in his commentary on ND or on De Divinatione. This new commentary focuses almost exclusively on philosophical issues and stylistics, offering clear discussion helpful to novice and expert alike. For matters of historical background, social context, consideration of the intellectual milieu in which Cicero worked, or even the general scope of Cicero’s own philosophical program, the reader will still needs to refer to Pease. Even the question of Cicero’s personal theological beliefs that has so bedeviled modern scholarship on the ND is subordinated here to Dyck’s interest in tracing the lines of the arguments put forward in Book I. As with many other commentaries in this series, it is not quite aimed at most university audiences. Those wishing to teach the text to undergraduates will have an easier time if they supplement Dyck’s commentary with that of McKirahan, which pays most attention to grammatical matters. I speak from experience, having just taught ND to a mixed group of advanced undergraduate and graduate students.

Dyck’s commentary offers a slender introduction, a text of ND I, updated from W. Ax’s 1932 Teubner edition, and extensive notes, as well as a brief appendix on prose rhythm, an updated bibliography, and three indices (Latin, Greek, and general). The introduction offers very brief treatments of Epicurean theology, the composition of the work (including its date and the evidence for a revision of Cicero’s original plan), and the scene, characters and setting. More attention is paid to Cicero’s sources, an assessment of the language and style in ND, and the nachleben of the work. The introduction concludes with a justification of the present text, which is intended as a “stopgap” while new critical editions are under way for the Budé and OCT series. A list of the changes made to Ax’s text is included. The introduction is the only section of D.’s work that I found unsatisfactory. Its concision greatly detracts from its usefulness.

The brevity of D.’s opening discussion may well be a by-product of the fulsomeness of his notes. The space devoted to the notes may also have forced the decision to print the Latin text itself in very small typeface (much smaller than any of the other Cambridge commentaries sitting on my bookshelf). The apparatus criticus is spare, which makes one curious about the forthcoming critical editions. This new effort aims at presenting a text that is more sensitive to Cicero’s philosophical argument than earlier, more conservative editions have been.

The notes themselves are a valuable resource. D.’s comments throughout attend to matters of source material, Cicero’s understanding of philosophical issues, doxography, and style. A constant theme is Cicero’s development of the link between philosophical opinion and religious activity. The addition of a summary / overview at the head of notes on a new section of the argument allows the reader to see the shape and structure of the discussion over the course of the book; this is a much needed improvement over Pease’s commentary. D. indicates throughout where and how each character’s speech responds to the other. Following the notes is a brief discussion of the rhythm of Cicero’s prose, focusing on the rhetorical benefit of rhythmic conclusions to sentences. D. also points out the helpfulness of taking account of Cicero’s metric tendencies for the resolution of textual critical matters as in, to use D.’s own example, the choice of genere prudentior over prudentior est.

It is customary to end a review with a list of quibbles, but I have none to offer beyond those noted above (brevity of the preface and the size of the typeface). In sum, D.’s commentary achieves its aim: it offers a detailed accounting of the philosophical and, to a lesser extent, stylistic aspects of Cicero’s text. Though D.’s offering does not replace the older commentaries, it is without question a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarship on Cicero’s De Natura Deorum.