BMCR 2005.02.40

Altera Ratio. Klassische Philologie zwischen Subjektivität und Wissenschaft. Festschrift für Werner Suerbaum zum 70. Geburtstag

Altera Ratio : klassische Philologie zwischen Subjektivität und Wissenschaft ; Festschrift für Werner Suerbaum zum 70. Geburtstag. Klassische Philologie. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2003. iv, 175 pages : some illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3515083154 €38.00 (pb).

This slender Festschrift celebrates the 70th birthday of Werner Suerbaum, a major scholar whose magnificent new Handbuch der lateinischen Literatur der Antike, erster Band: Die archaische Literatur (Beck 2002), noticed in BMCR 2003.09.39, deserves a prominent place on the shelf of every Latinist.

The unifying theme of the volume is “the subjective element” or “the personal voice” in relation to classical scholarship. The fourteen papers collected here (all, except one in Latin, are in German), most of which address Latin literature, treat this leitmotiv in different and, for the most part, interesting ways: some address the problem of subjectivity in scholarship, others examine questions of authorial voice or ancient biography, and still others (the majority) present personal and mostly meditative reflections on an aspect of the classics. As is true of nearly every Festschrift, the essays vary in quality, but on the whole this is an entertaining and stimulating collection. In the spirit of “the subjective element,” I single out here a few of the more arresting items for brief mention, in no particular order.

Over the last decade or so, the late H. Petersmann penned several very interesting and important essays on the foreign, vulgar, and substandard elements in the language of Plautus. Here his wife presents her translation of his unpublished 1994 lecture on language as a means of characterization in Plautus. The essay falls roughly into two parts. P. first argues that archaisms in the Aulularia and elsewhere characterize the speech of old men, ladies of high society, and slaves, who use the older forms to parody tragic diction; some of these points are weak, and I do not know that Petersmann would have maintained them in later years. Much more persuasively, he then argues that we must restore to the text a number of rustic forms in the Plautine manuscripts which are usually considered scribal errors and emended away. Some of his arguments here were refined or repeated with fuller documentation in a 1996/7 article, “Die Nachahmung des Sermo Rusticus auf der Bühne des Plautus und Terenz” (AAntHung 37, 1996/7, 199-211), and, since they work in a complementary fashion, the two essays should be read side by side. Petersmann’s argument is not always free of problems, but it does deserve careful consideration because it may change how we understand an important aspect of Plautine characterization.

Thorsten Burkard asks and seeks to answer the question, ‘What makes Sallust a “classic”?’ The author argues, fairly convincingly, that a partial answer is found in Sallust’s narrative method, which, as he illustrates, singles out for praise or blame, not individual persons, but individual actions. To Sallust, every man or woman is equally capable of good and evil behavior, and the historian accordingly invites us to judge specific actions or attitudes as they arise rather than attribute events to any sort of innate or predetermined character. This, in turn, may explain why Sallustian characterization does not always appear consistent, and also why Sallust does not seek to arouse our sympathies for the characters in his writings. This is a good assessment of Sallust, the man, as a whole, and could certainly benefit from an expanded treatment along the same lines.

Siegmar Döpp closely analyzes the image of Cornutus that Persius gives in his fifth satire, calling attention to Cornutus’ adherence to Stoic philosophy, and concludes that for Persius, Cornutus was not just an instructor, but a mentor, an educator, and a friend.

In the learned and very interesting essay ‘Beim Hunde!: Sokrates und der Eid des Rhadamanthys’, Andreas Patzer explores the origins of Greek oaths such as “By the dog!” and “By the goose!” — that is, oaths in which the speaker swears, not by the name of a god or gods, but by an animal or object, and which the Suda calls “Rhadamanthine oaths.” Patzer argues that these succedaneous curses may in fact go back to Rhadamanthys, who first instituted a prohibition against swearing in the name of a god, probably for reasons of piety. If so, it seems the religious origin of such oaths was lost already by the time of Socrates, who famously uses these expressions alongside other garden variety oaths that invoke a god by name. Patzer then expatiates on Socrates’ use of the oaths and how they became entangled, at least already in early Socratic literature, with the charge of asebeia leveled by Anytus and Meletus. My only complaint with the essay is that because the scholarly apparatus is meager (no footnotes, no scholarship since 1965 listed) I cannot really gauge its originality; but it remains a fascinating investigation of a curious phenomenon.

Martin Hose offers a long and complex essay on the ancient biographical interpretations of poetic texts; he believes that current scholarly skepticism about the personal voice in ancient poetry, as an expression of the will of the author, and about ancient biographical data in general, is too extreme. He argues that ancient biographies may, indeed probably, contain some truth mixed in with obviously spurious legend, and that they also can provide clues to the history of interpreting a text in antiquity, which in turn will help us to establish and pursue lines of ancient literary communication. H. analyzes from a variety of theoretical perspectives the literary function performed by the use of “I”-expressions in Greek lyric poetry, Hellenistic poetry, and bits of Latin literature, stressing that, from about the fourth century B.C.E. onward, the fictional first-person narrator was rarely kept separate from the poetic.

The book’s thematic stress on subjectivity in its various forms gives the constituent essays, even when they touch on the theme only superficially, a greater cohesion than is usual for a Festschrift. This ultimately makes the volume as a whole more appealing than many Festschriften, and it perhaps is to be recommended for other such collections in search of a theme. There are a few formatting irregularities in the book, and occasional misprints, but nothing that seriously affects the sense.


Thorsten Bukkard, “Sallust als Klassiker”;

Siegmar Döpp, “Ein Satiriker porträtiert seinen Lehrer. Zu Persius sat. 5, 1-65”;

Martin Hose, “Das lyrische Ich und die Biographie des Lyrikers. Überlegungen zu einem alten Problem und seinem Nutzen”;

Harald Kloiber, “Der Affe als Richter — ‘Verkehrte Welt’ bei Phaedrus I 10?, oder: Warum Fabeln als Schullektuere nicht zu unterschaetzen sind”;

Eckhard Lefèvre, “Dichter und Zeisig (Jakob Balde, Lyr. 3, 27)”;

Detlef Liebs, “Mein Ulpian”;

Friedrich Maier, “Sonne. Gottheit, Lebenskraft, Symbol”;

Andreas Patzer, “Beim Hunde! Sokrates und der Eid des Rhadamanthys”;

Hubert Petersmann+/Astrid Petersmann, “Sprach und Stil als ein Mittel des Personencharakterisierung in den Komödien des Plautus”;

Renate Piecha, “Wenn Frauen baden gehen … Agrippinas Ende bei Tac. Ann. 14, 1-13”;

Georg Rechenauer, “Leben, Angst und Tod bei Lukrez und Epikur”;

Gabriele Thome, “Virides Nereidum comas (Hor. Carm. 3,28,10). Wie ich zu Sinnen kam”;

Ernst Vogt, “Von den Möglichkeiten der Dichtung und den Aufgaben der Philologie. Zu Dagmar Nicks Gedicht ‘Ich bin nicht Äneas'”;

Alfons Weische, “Cur Exercitationes Latinas diligam”