BMCR 2005.08.08

Flavio Merobaude: Panegirico in versi. Academia Latinitati Fovendae: Bibliotheca Scriptorum Latinorum 6

, , Panegirico in versi. Bibliotheca scriptorum Latinorum / Academia Latinitati Fovendae ; 6. Rome: Herder, 1998. 346 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8886301065 It. Lire 90,000 [€46.48].

Merobaudes is one of those ancient authors, the survival of whose works has hung by a thread. Apart from one poem extant in sixteenth-century printed editions (the De Christo), his other known works are preserved partly lacunose in a single palimpsest not published until 1823 (Sangallensis 908; see pp. 71-4). Since this was written in the late fifth or early sixth century, perhaps within a generation of the author’s death, the text suffers from little corruption and, of course, needs no complex manuscript stemma. The works preserved are those of an anonymous court poet, in the tradition of Claudian, but composing for the court of Valentinian III (425-455). There are four carmina and two panegyrics. Both panegyrics are for the generalissimo Aetius, and for long it was presumed that the first (in prose) was the preface for the second (in verse), but it is now accepted that the former is a separate work, being both a panegyric of Aetius and a gratiarum actio (dating c. 443). The details from this panegyric plus other ancient testimonia (see pp. 7-9: Sidonius; Boethius; the Chronicles; CIL VI 1724 = ILS 2950) make certain the identification of the palimpsest author as Flavius Merobaudes. M. came from Spain, although apparently of Romanized Frankish origin, and enjoyed a career holding military and civil office, as well as being of literary eminence (pp. 10-12).

It is the second, verse panegyric that is the subject of this volume. B. has already published a concordance to M. in the Olms Alpha-Omega series,1 and now comes this largely literary study of the second panegyric, which complements the older historical commentary of Clover.2 B.’s introduction passes quickly over the author and his works, although citing some of the key ancient testimonia, to concentrate on the poem in question. Fewer than 200 lines survive, with two major gaps of over 50 lines. The opening is intact, preceded by a few terminal words of its prose preface, a dedicatory letter (to Aetius?: pp. 20 and 23), while the text peters out probably only a few lines from the end (p. 293). The subject is the magister militum and patrician, Aetius; the occasion his third consulship of 446. This appears as no pro-forma Menandrian panegyric, although several elements of such are present (pp. 28-9). The poem concentrates upon recently gained peace across the western provinces, with Aetius as restorer of order. Not only are his current achievements recounted (as well as the discomfiture of the goddess of War), but also his ancestry3 and his progress to this point from childhood onwards. The picture of Aetius as an adept of peace and uncorrupted by pecuniary concerns matches other contemporary accounts, notably the laudatory depiction by Frigeridus (p. 35 n. 19 and p. 41).4 The language describing the barbarian enemy uses a long-established vocabulary of madness and violence (pp. 43-6: furor, rabies, bacchatus). B. establishes clearly the pedigree of M. in the Latin poetic tradition, with Claudian the most obvious model, but other significant points of comparison are with a range of Augustan and Silver poets: Virgil, Ovid, Statius, Silius Italicus, Seneca and Lucan (pp. 47-54 and throughout the commentary). Note, for instance, that M. refers to Carthage/Africa by the rare adjective ‘Elissaeus’, otherwise attested only in Silius (pp. 112-13 on line 25). M.’s language and style are therefore studiously classical with late antique flashes (pp. 55-61).

After the introduction comes the text (pp. 81-6), reprinted from the standard edition of Vollmer,5 and then follows a line by line commentary on the poem, comprising the bulk of the book and supporting the themes picked out in the introduction, especially the thematic and linguistic footprints or parallels from his predecessors or contemporaries (pp. 87-293). Speaking to a contemporary audience of the informed, M. is often obscure to us, employing periphrasis, anonymization and compression, as well as veiling of the unpalatable, all hall-marks of such panegyric. Yet the unevenness of fifth-century material makes M. a source to be exploited, for example regarding the likely intended marriage alliance between Vandal royalty and the imperial family (lines 28-9 pp. 115-17: Latiosque parentes / adnumerare sibi sociamque intexere prolem). B., however, does not seek startling new interpretations of allusions to events. Nor does she indulge in speculative restorations of the lacunae. (About half the lines are defective at the beginning or end.) B. reports fully the readings and conjectures of the few earlier editors, generally supporting the modern consensus (usually Vollmer), but is seldom dogmatic. Thus there is the restoration of Aurora possibly and Osiris certainly at the beginning and end of line 50 (p. 132). Line 56 is a versus aureus requiring an ‘elemento acquatico’ to complete its sense and shape, the substantive Thybris being a strong, but not the only, contender (pp. 68 and 136). Enyo is the accepted restoration as the diva nocens in line 61 (pp. 139-40). B. does suggest restoring ‘[Aeti]us’ at the start of line 171, which would be the second occurrence of his name in the work (pp. 262-3), but throughout she remains cautious and judicious.

B. has provided a careful and detailed account of the text and literary context. We can only hope that M. continues to have such care lavished upon him. While the survival of the single early manuscript means that there is no need for an edition to supersede Vollmer’s from 100 years ago, Clover’s English translation and commentary have not been matched in the major languages of scholarship, nor has M. been much anthologized.6 It would appear that B. is now working on the prose panegyric and may in due course deal with the rest of M.’s work.7 An edition, French translation and commentary upon the Merobaudian corpus by François Ploton-Nicollet of Université Paris IV is also underway.8 M. is certainly no longer a neglected author.


1. A. Bruzzone, Concordantia in Flavium Merobaudem (Alpha-Omega A 199; Hildesheim, 1998). Note also the useful volume on the panegyric genre in the same series: T. Janson, A Concordance to the Latin Panegyrics : A Concordance To The XII Panegyrici Latini and to the Panegyrical Texts and Fragments of Symmachus, Ausonius, Merobaudes, Ennodius, Cassiodorus (Alpha-Omega A 37; Hildesheim, 1979).

2. F.M. Clover, Flavius Merobaudes: A Translation and Historical Commentary (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society n.s. 61.1; Philadelphia, 1971).

3. In a fine passage (lines 112-19, pp. 188-95), his father, Gaudentius, is compared to self-sacrificing early Republican heroes, the Fabii and Decii (a clear echo of Silius at line 117, p. 193), while the actual circumstances of his killing employ a highly compressed metonymy. M. seems to suggest the assassin got close by pretending to present a petition: callidus et falsa tectus prece perculit ensis (line 114, pp. 190-1; Clover 1971 p. 56).

4. The relevant part of Book XII of Renatus Frigeridus’s lost history is quoted in Gregory of Tours, Historiae II.8.

5. F. Vollmer, Fl. Merobaudis reliquiae. Blossii Aemilii Dracontii Carmina. Eugenii Toletani episcopi Carmina et epistulae (Monumenta Germaniae Historica Auctores Antiquissimi 14; Berlin, 1905 [repr. 1984]).

6. The few editions and translations of M. are discussed and listed by B. on pp. 75-6 and 297.

7. The only article I have been able to find is: A. Bruzzone, ‘In margine a Flavio Merobaude, grat. act. fr. IA, ll. 5-7,’ Invigilata Lucernis 24 (2002).

8. See the website of Textes pour l’histoire de l’Antiquité tardive, which lists work in progress on this area.