Plautus’ lowbrow comedy the Asinaria (“The Jackass Affair”) is quite possibly the world’s oldest episode of Married … with Children. The plot is simple. Two rival young men are competing for the affections of a prostitute named Philaenium; Philaenium is in love with the first one, named Argyrippus, but her mother, a lena, insists that, if he does not pay her twenty minae for a one-year, exclusive contract to enjoy her daughter’s favors, she will give the contract to his rival. To help his son pay for the contract, Argyrippus’ father conspires with two of his slaves to cheat his imperious, but wealthy, wife of twenty minae. A sentimental father-son team effort? Not really, as it turns out, because after his enterprise succeeds, Argyrippus’ father claims for himself from his son the jus primae noctis over Philaenium. A drinking party follows, wherein, while his loyal son miserably looks on, the old man shares drinks and kisses with Philaenium — until his wife suddenly bursts onto the scene and drags the lecher back home in disgrace. In the interim, you get to watch the two slaves swindle a gullible foreigner of his money, and one of the slaves ride on his master’s back, playing horsey, around the stage! There’s little material here for moral edification, and even less that’s politically correct, but it must have been a riot to watch.
It is a great satisfaction, therefore, to welcome this excellent new critical edition of the play by R. Danese, the third volume to appear in the Editio Plautina Sarsinatis. It offers a marked improvement over its predecessors, and it will certainly become the standard text of the Asinaria.
The book is sumptuously produced. As is usual with this series, there is a very brief monitum in Latin, a thorough conspectus of editions and articles referred to in the apparatus, a text of the play, twelve pages of ancient testimonia (also critically edited), and an index of meters used in the play. Act- and scene-numberings have been eliminated. Critical information about the text is separated into two apparatuses, the first of which addresses scene headings and speaker attributions, and the second of which reports MSS readings and conjectures.
Danese’s text is based on his own fresh collation of all the manuscripts, including a few of the fifteenth century not previously edited; these later MSS by and large confirm the tradition, although they do offer superior readings in two places ( potitur in 324 and sublimen in 868, both previously conjectured by editors). In a very clean and clear apparatus, which, to its credit, rigorously avoids doxography, we are given full reports of all the MSS readings. To a greater degree than in any previous edition, various hands of correctors in each MS have been differentiated, such that MS B is now distinguished in the codicum sigla as B1, B2, B3, B4, and B5; so too with D (5 distinctions), J (2), E (4), K (2), S (2), and G (2). The apparatus is fairly sparing in its report of conjectural emendations that are not admitted into the text; one could have desired a few more here and there. In a couple of places (vv. 5 and 61) an interpretative comment is helpfully included in the apparatus.
The edited text is conservative. In twelve places Danese obelizes a word or line ( arg. 6, which is unquestionably corrupt, as he has proven in a separate article, and in 65, 77, 482, 484/5, 499, 530, 565, 656, 738, 826, and 856), and he indicates a partial line lacuna in 331 and 908. The only conjecture of his own that Danese admits into the text is iniquae in 205, which, however, is excellent and very possibly correct. In accordance with the norms of the series, he does not regularize spelling, so that forms such as seruos (nom. sing.) are found beside seruus; the older form is printed only where there is manuscript support for it. Greek words are likewise reproduced in whatever is the oldest form in the MSS, resulting in oddities like Argirippus and singraphum. All cases of hiatus in the text, of which there are scores, are signalled with a vertical hasta. As a rule, Danese has chosen to allow each hiatus to stand unemended in the text, but he often suggests in the apparatus how it could be avoided — for example, by writing med for me. This is definitely the way to go; earlier editors, believing hiatus intolerable in all cases, expended far too much effort and ingenuity in transposing words or rewriting the text; the sheer number of emendations they had to make should have told against this practice.
In the twentieth century the Asinaria was separately edited and published in two notable editions, the one by L. Havet, and the other by F. Bertini. Danese’s text is superior to both of them. With one important exception, Havet vitiated his edition ( Pseudo-Plaute. Le prix des ânes [Asinaria], Paris: Société d’ Édition “Les Belles Lettres”, 1925; out of print) with numerous unwarranted suspicions of the text, and it remains a curious, if learned, artifact of scholarship, memorable today only because, despite its defects, that text offered the single greatest advance in the history of editing the Asinaria. Havet realized that an ancient hyparchetype of all of our MSS had misattributed the second and third scenes of the play (vv. 127-248) to Argyrippus, rather than to Diabolus, and that by reversing the change, a number of inconsistencies resolve themselves. Quite rightly, Danese adopts Havet’s change (but also directs our attention to an article by J.C.B. Lowe that voices dissent: CQ 42, 1992, 152-175).
Bertini’s ( Plauti Asinaria, cum commentario exegetico [in Latin], 2 vols., Genova: Università di Genova 1968; still in print) was the last critical edition of the play, and Danese’s edition naturally invites closer comparison with it. Not counting insignificant differences of spelling, punctuation, and automatic corrections to hiatus, Danese’s text differs from Bertini’s in about eighty places. In most of these, Danese returns to the MSS readings; he prefers to keep rather than delete lines where he can (as does Bertini), and to obelize rather than conjecture (as does Bertini). In several places he has tacitly corrected errors in meter (and conjectures based on meter) that had crept into Bertini’s edition, and so in those places Danese offers a demonstrably better text. Bertini also took pains to record the doxography of earlier scholars in his apparatus; by omitting this, Danese’s apparatus allows you to follow the MSS readings more easily. (Bertini’s commentary, however, remains an important interpretive guide to the play, and readers will still want to consult it.)
Specialists in Plautus are familiar with Bertini’s edition, but because many Anglophone readers will still have been using W. M. Lindsay’s Oxford text ( T. Macci Plauti Comoediae, 2 vols., Oxford: Oxford University Press 1913-1915; in print), a word or two comparing Danese’s text with Lindsay’s may be worthwhile. Here again Danese’s text is superior; this becomes apparent already by the time that you reach the tenth line, in which you learn a fact not recorded by Lindsay, namely, that the title of Demophilus’ Greek model of the Asinaria is, according to the best MSS B and D, Onagros“The Wild Ass,” which corresponds correctly to the Latin title Asin-aria, while Onagos (The Ass-Driver,” printed by nearly all editors — wrongly, I think, but here is not the venue to argue it) is the reading of the much inferior MS E, and which suggests an erroneous segmentation of the Latin title as though it were Asinar-ia or Asinari-a. Nor would you be aware, using Lindsay’s text, of Havet’s proposal to reassign the second and third scenes to Diabolus, the rival lover, unless you checked the 1910 addenda, and then considered the implications carefully; or that the word rivinus, printed by Lindsay in v. 6 of the acrostic argument, does not actually exist in Latin at all. (This should be taken, not as petty carping against Lindsay’s text, but rather as an illustration of how much our understanding of the text has changed in the last century.)
Readers will regret that no aids to scansion are printed in the new text to signal unusual metrics such as, for instance, cetera (long a, neuter plural) in 199, or novisse (disyllabic) in 348, or sanusne (sc. sanun, short u) in 385. That is a pity, for a thorough familiarity with Plautine meter is rare even among experienced Latinists. It is true that attention is drawn to many metrical anomalies in the apparatus when they occur, but even there one needs some experience to understand the notes. I suspect that the decision to forego these marks applies to the series as a whole; if so, I hope the Urbino editors, who are among our foremost authorities on the subject, will reconsider their position, especially since we still await, in English at least, a thorough and up-to-date treatment of meter in Plautus.
Now a few quibbles. In 131: why not print as one word tres viros, since, like decemviri, the two words when put together form a single concept (“police officers”)? In line with spelling Greek words elsewhere, should we not read Eacidinis, not Aeacidinis, in 405? In 480 we could use a note telling us that BDE read iis ( is J alone, eis some editors: the old form?).
The standard of proofreading is generally very high, but a few misprints have slipped by and will need to be corrected. In the text: in 225 read eum for eo; in 274 read Libanum for Libano; in 351 me is missing after facetum; in 367 nos is missing after ut; in 452, 455, and 580, for Damaenetus read Demaenetus; in 657 hic istam is missing after pone. In 846, does hiatus need to be marked between quae and ego ? A period or other final punctuation is missing at line-end in 98, 162, 206, and midline in 940, and in 882 one needs a dash or series of dots instead of, or after, the comma. In the apparatus: on 828 read syllaba for sylllaba; on 127-152 the abbreviated citation for Blänsdorf is inconsistent with that given in Questa 1995. In the bibliography, add an entry for Lachmann’s Lucretius.
Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas ? With this edition of the Asinaria we reach an important milestone, for it seems unlikely that the MSS of this play will ever need to be collated again. Bertini, having himself collated the MSS from microfilm, found that earlier editors’ reports of the MSS readings were sound (see his p. 62, vol. 1), and as far as I can judge from comparing various apparatuses, Danese’s fresh collation has not turned up anything new, either. Since Danese’s edition is conservative, and does not tamper with spelling, word order, and the like, you can at last judge for yourself the relative merits of each manuscript, and decide for yourself, for instance, when, if ever, we ought to privilege a reading attested only by J, or by E, over one attested only by B or D. Failing the discovery of an antique manuscript of excellent quality, any future improvement on the text of this play will necessarily come from conjectural emendation.
In sum, then, we can say this. With Danese’s edition before you, you have a conservative text, equipped with a full and reliable report of the MSS, and a text that has been edited by an expert in Plautine meter. It is a very sound basis for interpreting the play, and one which renders obsolete previous editions. Inevitably, people will differ about this or that reading, but one can say in short that this is simply the best text of Plautus’ Asinaria.