BMCR 2006.06.05

Prolegomeni a Sisenna

, Prolegomeni a Sisenna. Testi e studi di cultura classica ; 27. Pisa: ETS, 2004. 140 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8846709780 €13.00.

Prolegomeni a Sisenna is not a revealing title. The book jacket claims that it is modelled on the prolegomena to the great critical editions of the past; one thinks immediately of Ribbeck’s Virgil as a masterpiece of this sort. Perutelli’s volume, although it deals with some of the same kinds of problems as the nineteenth-century prolegomena, attempts rather less. It falls into two rough halves: the first part deals with questions of authenticity, attribution, and style; the second offers a historia critica of editions of the fragments of Sisenna from Popma in 1620 to Sensal in 1997, concentrating, rightly, on Peter’s Historicorum Romanorum reliquiae in its three different versions. The account of the various editions is followed by brief discussions of orthography and of particular points of translation in the most recent editions and a brief appendix on the connotations of the diminutive servulus.

As with his previous volume, which dealt with fragments of Roman poetry,1 P. has two major interests: the development of Latin style in the early first century BCE and the problems of using Nonius Marcellus, our major source for the fragments of Sisenna as of so much other early Roman literature. These two concerns animate the two parts of his monograph, and are of interest to very different audiences.

The second part of the book is highly technical, and is, for the average reader, oddly arranged. P. goes through the editions of Sisenna in order, arraigning them for their failings and, much less commonly, praising their strengths. His account of Peter is long and detailed, concentrating on his failure in the second edition of 1914 to take full account, for whatever reason, of Lindsay’s work on Nonius (both the monograph of 1901 and the Teubner text of 1903). In the course of his treatment of the editions, P. offers valuable discussions of particular fragments and (again as in his earlier book) points out places where Nonius’ lemma itself enshrines a corrupt text: these lead to a peculiar and important anomaly in editorial technique, where the same text must be printed differently in editions of Nonius and of the fragments he preserves. P. is a fine philologist and a fine historian of scholarship; he is also, very clearly, an expert on the theory of Editionstechnik of fragments. Anyone undertaking to edit fragments—and any student who needs to learn to use some of the editions of early Roman literature—will be well served by reading him before entering these minefields of classical scholarship. But to those who are not devotees of the subject, three pages (88-91) devoted to the way in which ellipsis points are used in editing fragments may seem somewhat excessive, and to those who are interested in the text of Sisenna rather than the failings of his modern editors P.’s order of exposition (although there is a good index of fragments) may seem less than helpful. And on certain topics, such as whether the use of ubi to introduce Sisenna’s comment on Plautus’ Amphitruo indicates the use of a commentary or a monograph, fuller discussion from an expert like P. would have been very helpful. It is also the case that P.’s discussion of editions was out of date even before it appeared: not one, but two new editions of Sisenna came out in 2004: M. Chassignet, L’annalistique romaine vol. 3 (reviewed by H. Beck, BMCR 2005.05.01) and H. Beck and U. Walter, Die frühen römischen Historiker vol. 2. P. alludes to their imminence on p.112; I doubt whether there is enough work left to justify the production of the edition which the title of this volume implicitly announces.

The first part of the book is not untechnical either, but it is philology of a high order rather than editorial technique. Part of it is devoted to questions of biography and attribution of fragments. P. is right that there is no real evidence for Sisenna’s supposed Epicureanism; right, against E. Rawson, to restore the translation of Aristides’ Milesian Tales to the historian; but wrong to suggest that the historical fragments dealing with early Roman history come from a work other than the Historiae. His discussion of the fragments of the grammarian Sisenna is excellent, involving an emendation (necessary on grammatical grounds) that makes it clear that we have no reason to believe the grammarian a different person from the historian. But the core, and the most valuable part, of P.’s discussion of Sisenna is stylistic: he believes Sisenna a representative of the last stages of early Republican expressionism, and in that respect comparable in certain stylistic devices—tragic style, archaism, heavy use of alliteration—to his contemporary Laevius, whose fragments P. analyzed in a similar way in Frustula Poetarum. According to P., such mannerist expressionism was a fundamental Roman literary style; it goes into abeyance in the first century (from Catullus to the Augustans), but then becomes dominant once again in the early Empire. I am not certain whether or not I agree with this argument—I think that it implies an oversimplification of Catullus’ style, and needs filling out with regard to Terence and Lucilius—but it has much to commend it as a broad reading of the history of Latin style, both prose and poetry. And P.’s discussions of individual elements of Sisenna’s style are lucid, intelligent, and learned. It is the kind of philology that one admires in Axelson and Tränkle: using words not just to explain words, but to understand style and through style substance. Between the discussion of Laevius in his earlier book and the discussion of Sisenna’s style in this one, P. casts considerable light on a very murky period in the history of Roman literature.


1. Frustula Poetarum (Bologna, 2002). See my review in BMCR 2003.05.22.