BMCR 2005.03.18

Textkritische Studien zu Valerius Flaccus. Hermes Einzelschriften, 90

, Textkritische Studien zu Valerius Flaccus. Hermes. Einzelschriften, Heft 90. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2003. 147 pages, 2 unnumbered pages of plates : color illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3515083847. €36.00 (pb).

1 Responses

The primary goal of this monograph is to examine the value of (the lost) manuscript C, and to decide whether a dozen verses in C and other manuscripts were written by Valerius Flaccus (hereafter VF). Our only way of knowing readings from C is through the young Louis Carrion’s reports in his editions of Argonautica (1565, 1566). The suspect verses have been discussed for centuries, and this book’s main weakness is that it presents hardly anything new: it consists largely of a review of former research, merely weighing earlier arguments. Consequently, the results depend on the author’s ability to discuss the problems systematically and according to a good method, to draw logical conclusions and to present a readable text. However, the present book fails in all these respects. In particular, one misses a chapter on method. Hurka’s writing is extraordinarily unclear, and in my opinion, many of the problems in the book result from presenting long and entangled sentences and placing too much of the argument in an inordinate number of lengthy footnotes.


An important question is whether Carrion’s ancient codex ( C, Codex Carrionis) should be regarded as independent of the main manuscript tradition ( γ). Florian Hurka (H.) states rather superfluously: “Diese Diskussion ist kritisch und streng zu führen”. (p. 38) The question is how. Logically, the basis for a treatment of C must be a certain trust in Carrion — our only witness to the textual witness. Ruth Taylor has made a methodologically interesting attempt to study Carrion’s way of working through an examination of another edition, where we still have his manuscript.1 But Hurka comments on her results as follows: “Dürften ihre Beobachtungen zu Carrions Kollationsverfahren … manchen Zweifler nicht überzeugen — es ist nicht auszuschliessen, dass Carrion seine Arbeitsweise geändert hatte”. (p. 17) H. finds that we should suspect Carrion of dishonesty in the presentation of readings from C, a problem he finds should be dealt with as follows: (p. 18): “Aus methodischen Gründen müssen bei dem Versuch, eine eigenständige Rezension nachzuweisen, diejenigen Lesarten, die mit Carrion bekannten Konjekturen identisch sind, unberücksichtigt bleiben.” What follows is not even a sentence on how this might be put into practice: Carrion may, for instance, have had access to manuscripts, other than C, that are lost today.2

Around 1990 an important discovery was made, in the form of a fragment of a medieval Valerius Flaccus manuscript. The manuscript leaf is called fragmentum Valerianum Duacense ( Δ), and contains verses 8.46-8.105 of VF’s Argonautica. It has been discussed whether Delta is the last leaf of C : some of the readings that Carrion reports from C coincide with Delta, against Gamma. And besides, there is the fact that the fragment ends with the very same verse as C did; the possibility that this should have happened by chance is 1 to 60 (Delta has 30 verses per page). But H. does not accept this; instead he claims that C and Delta had “die identische Zeilenzahl pro Blatt, die aus dem gemeinsamen Seitenende mit Vers 8, 105 abgeleitet werden darf”.3 The material does not allow such a conclusion. H.’s main argument against the identification of Delta with C, which is connected to the shape of letters, as reported by Carrion, does not convince.


In some cases, the readings reported from C are quite impressive. One possible explanation of the discrepancies between C and Gamma is to assume the existence of a coniector doctus, a ‘Redaktor’, who made corrections and additions in C — perhaps in the Middle Ages. This explanation has the status of a hypothesis, or in Ehlers’ words: “Ich halte es für möglich, daß … die Vorlage von C ( Δ) stark bearbeitet worden ist.”4 H., on the other hand, takes the coniector doctus for granted, without arguing his view.5 Some of the discrepancies have to do with metre: some verses have (in Gamma) a short syllable for a long before the caesura. In C, on the other hand, these verses have a different form, so that they are metrically blameless. H. and others find that Gamma transmits the genuine version in these cases, while the changes in C are made by a vir doctus. However, verse 7, 633 is transmitted in C only, and with the same kind of metrical irregularity. H. discusses the problem on p. 62:

Unter der Voraussetzung, dass für das Sondergut in 7, 633 dieselbe Hand wie für die anderen Texteingriffe verantwortlich zu machen ist, scheint es fraglich, ob ein Interpolator, der über Bildung, Bereitschaft und Vermögen zur Emendation verfügte, einen für sein Dafürhalten fehlerhaften, zumindest unschönen Vers eingedichtet hätte.

H. concludes that the verse is genuine. And if one accepts the existence of a coniector doctus who, for instance, improved certain verses metrically, it seems logical to conclude that the same person did not write new verses that displayed just the same type of irregularity. But that conclusion cannot prove that VF wrote the verse. Why did the coniector doctus not change this verse, if he changed the others? One answer might well be that the verse was written after his time. The reservation that H. makes, “Unter der Voraussetzung …”, makes the meaning of the quoted sentence obscure or even absurd: How can the coniector doctus be responsible, if he — as H. concludes — did not write the verse?


The book is a revised version of H.’s doctoral thesis (from Freiburg). Even after the revision, the book is full of misprints and other mistakes — some minor and some more important. For instance, there are at least three mistakes in the list of “Siglen” and the stemma (pp. 10f). On p. 17, the concept “die Inkunabelzeit” is used wrongly for Carrion’s period. Moreover, one must question the author’s ability to read a Latin apparatus.

The bibliography has five sections, of which two are reserved for VF editions and commentaries. The section of other textual editions is organised according to the editors’ names; perhaps it would have been better to organise these works according to the authors, the way it has been done in the cases of Poggio and Poliziano, who are alphabetised under P. Even the bibliography is full of mistakes: some books are left out, there are problems with the alphabetical order, and “(printed) in Copenhagen” in Latin is Hafniae, not Hauspiae. And if it is necessary to include a section of “Allgemeine Hilfsmittel” (listing works like OLD and τλλ Crusius’ Römische Metrik belongs there.


Even if it seems impossible to prove that a certain verse was written by Valerius Flaccus, this does not free scholars from the duties of science, i.e., to argue one’s view on the basis of the available material and with reasonable arguments. In this case, inconsistency and the lack of logical reasoning prevail. For instance, when H. finds that we cannot trust the readings that Carrion claims to quote from his manuscript, the logical consequence is to accept that we have no basis for the treatment of C as a textual witness at all. H., on the other hand, accepts certain readings from C and includes the MS in his stemma, as a textual witness independent from γ.

The book represents, I hope, a rare corner of classical philology and textual criticism. In the “Hauptteill” there are some interesting passages in the discussion of individual verses, but as a whole the work does not stand up to scrutiny. It is too theoretical for the wrong reasons, too remote from reality, and does not contribute new knowledge.

[[For a response to this review by Florian Hurka, please see BMCR 2005.05.08.]]


1. Ruth Taylor: “The Authority of the Codex Carrionis in the Ms-Tradidion of Valerius Flaccus, Classical Quarterly 39 (1989), pp. 451-471.

2. H.’s bibliography lists only eight editions of VF from the period before 1565, of which four are marked “nicht gesehen”; it follows that he has not made serious attempts to examine what readings Carrion may have known.

3. H., p. 22, and again on p. 74: “dieselbe Zeilenzahl je Seite”.

4. Widu-Wolfgang Ehlers: “Neuere Arbeiten zur Datierung und Überlieferung der Argonautica des Valerius Flaccus”, in: Matthias Korn and Hans Jürgen Tschiedel (eds.): Ratio omnia vincet. Untersuchungen zu den Argonautica des Valerius Flaccus. Spudasmata 48, Hildesheim/Zürich/New York 1991, p. 33.

5. For instance in the chapter entitled “Coniector doctus” (pp. 33-36).