BMCR 2004.06.15

Anneo Cornuto. Compendio di teologia greca

, , Compendio di teologia greca. Bompiani Il pensiero occidentale. Milano: Bompiani, 2003. 607 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 8845292495 €27.00.

Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, if that is indeed his name, was a Stoic scholar of the Neronian era, known best perhaps from Persius’ Fifth Satire. Among the various works attributed to him, the only one to survive intact is the Compendium of Greek Theology, though its name, much like its author’s, fluctuates in the manuscripts, and the attribution has only recently achieved something approaching consensus. Scholarship on Cornutus has been unsurprisingly scant, but Ilaria Ramelli [R.], author previously of books on Musonius Rufus and Martianus Capella, has now published a book-length treatment of Cornutus and the Compendium.

In recent years interest in Cornutus has experienced a very modest upsurge, not least because of growing interest in the ancient theory and practice of allegory, yet the two best starting points have remained the relatively brief articles by Nock and Most.1 R.’s book dwarfs those contributions, yet it is not unreasonable to ask what more R. adds to the study of Cornutus or the Compendium. Most in particular had already outlined some intriguing areas for further study of the Compendium, such as its importance as an early example of an educational treatise, its relationship to imperial ideology, and the contribution it could make towards understanding some of the doctrina utilized by Latin poets; but while R. touches upon these issues, she adds little to the discussion, and often recapitulates what Most and other scholars have already stated.2 It might be said that R.’s aim was not to pursue the suggestions of Most or anyone else, but it is not exactly clear what the aim of her work is, nor is there an introduction or conclusion to offer any hints at what this might be. It is also unclear to whom this book is directed: the subject matter and density of treatment certainly suggest a scholarly audience, but no knowledge of Latin or Greek is presupposed (all quotations are translated either in the body-text or in the notes, and on occasion the original is dispensed with).

R. has divided her book into three discrete sections: a Saggio Introduttivo, the Greek text with facing Italian translation and accompanying commentary, and finally a Saggio Integrativo, which promises a complete overview — “un dettagliato panorama” — of Stoic allegoresis. Both the first and last sections are followed by their own set of endnotes, and the first also has an appendix on the manuscript tradition with yet another set of notes. There is as well an index of proper names to the Italian translation of the Compendium; though a full index is always a desideratum in a book of this scope, the rather detailed subdivisions of the contents obviate this need to a certain extent.

The Saggio Introduttivo, entitled “Anneo Cornuto Neo-Stoico ed Esegeta del Mito Greco su Base Etimologico-Allegorica,” provides an overview of all that is known (and not known) about Cornutus’ life and work and an evaluation of their sources, most notably Persius’ Fifth Satire. In addition, R. offers extended discussions about the relationship of Cornutus and the Compendium to a wide range of other texts and authors, including Heraclitus grammaticus, Chairemon of Alexandia, the Tabula of Cebes, Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Philo, and the ps.-Plutarchan Vita Homeri. These are only the authors mentioned in the sub-headings; other authors such as [ps.-]Ecphantus, Philodemus, and Palaephatus also receive treatment. R.’s intention seems to be to situate Cornutus within a broader Stoic tradition of allegorical interpretation, and this she certainly does, but the exhaustive detail applied to every point, while displaying R.’s impressive command of the scholarship, too often obscures the relevance of the discussion to Cornutus or the Compendium. For example, the lengthy discussion on the Vita Homeri reveals unsurprising parallels with some of Cornutus’ text but is largely concerned with what might be said to be Stoic or not in the Vita Homeri, nor, beyond the mere fact of possible Stoic elements, is any meaningful connection to Cornutus made. In fact, R.’s treatment of the Vita Homeri could just as well stand as an independent article, and this holds true for many areas of discussion in the introductory section. R. is clearly a capable scholar and would have much of interest to say, but she is too often occupied in the collection of parallels and the review of past scholarship.

The centerpiece of the book is a Greek text of the Compendium with facing Italian translation and accompanying commentary. A wish for a new text of the Compendium has been expressed by scholars almost since the day Lang’s appeared, and though R. has reproduced Lang’s text (happily, in a more legible typeface), she does so with full recognition of its deficiencies and excuses its use while awaiting Most’s new Teubner. In addition, the appendix to the introductory section summarizes Krafft’s detailed examination of the manuscript tradition, which revealed the weakness of Lang’s assumptions about the families.3 We could not expect R., in addition to the Herculean efforts she put in this work, to add that of producing a new text, but her commentary on Lang’s excisions (which she thoughtfully translates throughout) amounts mostly to restatement of the fact that interpolation is suspected. The vast majority of the commentary furnishes, as promised on the dust-jacket, “molti paralleli esegetici,” given both in the original and in translation. As with the Saggio Introduttivo, there is greater concern here with the collection of numerous parallels and less with comment on or analysis of the content. Some of the more promising issues are thus glossed over: the interesting section in the middle of the Compendium on the status of the various myths from various peoples finds no discussion in the commentary or elsewhere in the book, nor does one of the more intriguing aspects of the Compendium, its treatment of artistic representations as parallel to linguistic evidence. The commentary would have also benefited from cross-referencing. For example, one of the explanations proposed by those who claim there are three Graces is based on the Stoic division of philosophy into three parts; the same explanation is proffered for Athena’s epithet Tritogenia, but in the commentary on each section there is no indication of its appearance elsewhere. In the thankless task of translating the Compendium, R. acquits herself quite well: she eschews an overly literal translation and makes judicious use of periphrases to treat troublesomely vague expressions. Some may quibble at a few of her choices, but none is without justification, and they possess the added merit of making the Compendium actually seem a readable text.4

The final section of the book, the Saggio Integrativo, is perhaps the most disappointing: again, there is a wealth of material along with extensive quotation and citation, but the few insights R. offers are overwhelmed by this secondary material. Instead of a true overview of Stoic allegoresis, we are left instead with a series of quotations from various authors associated with the development of allegorical reading. The section on Plato, for example, amounts to little more than a culling of quotations related to etymological explanations found in his dialogues, and the same process is repeated for each author. In many ways, the ultimate section of the book epitomizes its shortcomings: half of the final six pages of the book, under the grand title “La concezione della storia dell’umanità sottesa al metodo allegorico,” are consumed by lengthy quotations from Seneca and Manilius, and very last page of the book contains only a discussion of how Manilius’ conception of human development differs from that of Posidonius and Seneca.

R. obviously has an impressive command of the material and issues surrounding both Cornutus and the Compendium, and the quantity of notation gives an indication of R.’s thoroughgoing diligence as a scholar. In fact, the notes and commentary comprise a total of 226 pages; add in another 51 pages of bibliography — arranged in chronological, not alphabetical, order — and half the book is already reference material, excluding the extensive quotation found in the body-text. It is no exaggeration to say that almost no piece of scholarship from the past few centuries has escaped R.’s attention, or mention in the book.5 The quantity of notation also hints at the nature of the book, which provides a great deal of material but not a corresponding amount of analysis. Her efforts at turning every stone give her sprawling treatment an encyclopedic air, and one cannot but be impressed with the amount of material R. has at her disposal, but this carries its disadvantages as well. Indeed, some of the notes consist of little more than 2 or 3 dense pages of additional bibliographic references, spanning several centuries of scholarship and often seemingly tangential to the point at hand: one admires the impulse, but dreads its satisfaction.

Aside from a rather frequent occurrence of extra spacing and a tendency for accents and breathings to be separated from an initial capital, the book itself has been attractively produced, and despite the complexity and density of the various typefaces, there are only a handful of minor typos, mostly missing or misplaced accents. On several occasions, editorial brackets in the Greek text are misplaced or missing, though they are correctly represented in the translation.

R. brings a great deal of erudition to her subject, and it is perhaps easier therefore to note the flaws rather than merits in her book, especially without any statement as to its purpose. Nonetheless R. has provided an accessible text and translation6 and a great number of parallels for the study of Cornutus’ text. Though one could always wish for more, R. is to be commended for collecting and organizing material on numerous points salient to Cornutus and his one surviving treatise, thereby providing a foundation for any future work.


1. Nock, A.D., Kornutos. RE Suppl. 5 (Stuttgart 1931) 995-1005. Most, G. Cornutus and Stoic Allegoresis. ANRW II.36.3 (Berlin-New York 1989) 2014-2065.

2. For example, on p. 10 (“Il ‘Compendio’ come manuale didascalico destinato a un giovane romano allievo di Cornuto”) R. reports Most’s view, then without indicating it as such, provides a literally translated passage from Most’s article (but truncates without warning the quotation from Cicero used by Most).

3. Krafft, P., Die handschriftliche Überlieferung von Cornutus’ “Theologia Graeca” (Heidelberg 1975).

4. I noticed only two minor omissions in the translation. At 1.2, ἄνω is omitted in the translation of the etymology of οὐρανός from ὁρᾶσθαι ἄνω. At 16.21, the phrase ὅθεν καὶ τὴν Ὑγίειαν αὐτῷ συνῴκισαν has not been translated.

5. A few notable omissions: Edelstein and Kidd’s edition of the fragments (Cambridge 1972) and Kidd’s three-volume commentary and translation (Cambridge 1988) are missing from the bibliography on Posidonius at n. 217 (p. 547). Also, Kaster’s edition of Suetonius’ De Grammaticis et Rhetoribus (Oxford 1995) is left out of a similar bibliographic note, and R. cites Varro from Agahd’s 1898 partial edition of the Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum rather than Cardaun’s fuller edition (Wiesbaden 1976).

6. English translation: Hays, R.S., Lucius Annaeus Cornutus’ Epidrome (Introduction to the Traditions of Greek Theology): Introduction, Translation, and Notes (Diss. Univ. of Texas at Austin 1983).