BMCR 2007.02.15

Commentum Cornuti in Persium

, , , Commentum Cornuti in Persium. Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana. Munich and Leipzig: Saur, 2004. ix, 201 pages ; 21 cm.. ISBN 3598715781. $96.50.

Persius’ satires rank among the most difficult Latin texts, and those who summon enough courage to tackle his six relatively short poems often suffer from the frequent headaches that come from trying to make sense out of this wearisome author. Simply put, we require help to understand Persius. So has everyone else who has ever read him, and, given his popularity in antiquity and in the middle ages (certainly much greater than today), there developed several aids to make Persius more accessible. One of these aids is the subject of the book under review, a much-needed and expertly executed critical edition of the so-called Commentum Cornuti (hereafter cited as “CC”). This long-awaited volume supplants Jahn’s edition of the Commentum which has served as the standard since 1843.1

Just what is the CC? As the editors point out (p. v), it is in essence a continuous, independent commentary on Persius’ satires, a compilation made in the Carolingian period based on earlier exegetical material. Despite its title, it was certainly not composed by Annaeus Cornutus, Persius’ mentor and friend ( Sat. 5 and the Vita Persi), and it is unlikely that Cornutus ever wrote on his pupil’s works (although we do learn from the vita that he “lightly edited” them). But many in antiquity apparently did comment on Persius, starting perhaps right after publication and continuing on into the early middle ages: Jerome mentions a commentary on Persius, and Johannes Lydus was clearly familiar with some form of early exegesis on Persius. In the view of the editors, someone in the ninth century, perhaps Heiric of Auxerre, took some of this material and organized it, adding other sources, such as Servius’ commentary on Vergil and Isidore’s Etymologies, creating the collection that has come down to us under the name CC.

It is worth emphasizing here that although the CC is the most extensive and best organized exegesis on Persius’ Satires, it is only part of the story. A great mass of exegetical material on Persius survives independently of the CC, in vastly different forms, ranging from interlinear glosses to extensive marginal scholia. To complicate matters, much of this other scholiastic material is related to material found in the CC, sometimes duplicating a note, at other times providing similar content but with completely different wording, phrasing, or details. From an editorial standpoint this great swirling cloud of exegetical material is intractable, and the editors of this volume, after abandoning their hopes to retrieve the “reliquias vetusti commenti in Persium” (p. viii), made the eminently reasonable decision (for the apparatus is full enough already) to publish the most faithful representation of the CC itself (comprising four manuscripts, MLUR, with three secondary witnesses) and not to include every instance where a given note occurs in some other scholiastic text..

Scholars working on Persius, then, should note that the non-CC scholia from mss. WOKQPNF have been collected in Zetzel, Marginal Scholarship and Textual Deviance: The Commentum Cornuti and the Early Scholia on Persius (London 2005). They will, therefore, need to have at hand both the edition of the CC as well as Zetzel’s monograph if they wish to consult the full range of ancient exegesis on Persius. To be precise, this means that when citing the material from Clausen/Zetzel’s edition we should not speak of “the scholiast” or “the scholia” (as most commentators have done when referring to Jahn’s edition), but specifically of “the Commentum Cornuti,” reserving the term “scholia” for the other exegetical material.

Since Jahn’s edition great progress has been made in clarifying the mass of exegesis and identifying the CC as a distinct form within that mass. The two giant leaps forward were 1) Paul Wessner’s2 discovery of three manuscripts (MLU) that contained a relatively pure representation of the CC; and 2) the discovery of R, which contains a seemingly better text of the same, but only because the scribe often made intelligent corrections.3 Thus, the editors—rightly, I believe—downplay the importance of R (as urged by Jannaccone), and give MLU equal importance in establishing the text of the CC (this is not unlike Clausen’s diminishing of the primacy of P over AB for the text of Persius). Although we find an overview of their editorial decisions in the preface, one must again consult Zetzel, Marginal Scholarship, for detailed proofs in support of weighing the relative importance of the manuscripts. Since that volume has been judiciously and extensively reviewed in this journal by Schlegelmilch (2006.01.24), there is no need to weigh in again here.

But as a consequence of the discovery of pure representatives of the CC, Clausen/Zetzel’s edition looks quite different from Jahn’s. A comparison of the first two lemmata of Satire 4 in the CC (covering roughly half a page) reveals ten differences, many quite substantial improvements. But more than that, we now get a clear picture of what the CC actually looked like. A comparison of the two editions at 4.10 is instructive:

Jahn (I have replaced his italics indicating a lemma with capitals):

4.10 SCIS ETENIM IUSTUM: Hoc per ironiam dicit. Revera scis iustitiam in lance pensare, et ipsius dubiae lancis rectitudinem calles discernere. LANCE, id est libra. Et curvam regulam momentanae, ubi inter curva subit. REGULAM dicit ipsum momentanae stilum. VARO PEDE, id est torto, hoc est declivi post pondus. Scis etenim aestimare huc illuc inclinans iudicium donec in liquido stet sententia, etc.

Clausen/Zetzel (again replacing italics with capitals):

10 .SS. SCIS ETENIM I. GEMINA S. L. ANCIPITIS L. R. D. V. I. C. S. V. C. F. P. R. V. hoc per ironiam dicit: revera scis iustitiam in lance pensare et ipsius dubiae lancis rectitudinem calles discernere, et regula momentanae ubi inter curva subit pede varo cognoscis. (2) REGULAM dicit ipsum momentanae stilum. (3) VARO PEDE torto, hoc est declivi post pondus. (4) SCIS ETENIM IUSTUM aestimare huc illuc inclinans iudicium donec in liquido stet sententia. (5) LANCE libra, etc.

In the edition of Clausen/Zetzel more than that of Jahn one can see the basic intention of the compiler, which was to compile and organize exegesis on Persius under major lemmata (marked in MLU by the symbol “.SS.”), a process that was systematic and consistently applied even if somewhat imperfectly executed in the details. Beneath this major heading individual notes on more specific topics were grouped, unmistakable traces of marginal scholia incorporated into a more systematic whole. It is this form, more than anything else, that separates the CC from the other exegesis of Persius. And so unique and orderly is this kind of editorial activity that I am inclined to agree with Clausen/Zetzel, who see it as the result of a single compiler as opposed to numerous revisors between the 9th and 11th centuries ( pace Schlegelmilch).

The text itself is carefully edited, not surprising since the editors bring a great deal of expertise to this immensely difficult task: Clausen’s edition of Persius has long been and (I suspect) will be for some time the gold standard, and Zetzel has published extensively and fruitfully on scholiastic traditions, including Persius. A cursory glance at the complicated apparatus will show that the four primary manuscripts and three secondary manuscripts exhibit a great deal of variation within themselves, not unusual in an exegetical work where preserving “the text” (whatever that means) is less important than clarifying Persius. (Again, one may consult Zetzel, Marginal Scholarship, with profit.) In many cases the decision is between MLU on the one hand, and R on the other, but this vastly simplifies a rather complex tradition. Every variant is accurately noted in the apparatus, and the editors have sensibly emended the text on those few occasions that seem to demand it.

Rounding out the edition are four helpful indices: 1) a careful index of testimonia and adnotationes which lists parallels and potential sources for the material in the CC, although occasionally these are not particularly relevant or helpful; 2) an index orthographicus, necessary because Clausen/Zetzel usually standardize to ancient norms without noting the change in the apparatus unless it might help explain a corruption; 3) an index scriptorum, where we discover (not unexpectedly) that Horace and Vergil are most often cited, with Juvenal and Terence a distant third and fourth; and 4) an index of names, subjects, and words which is extensive but not exhaustive.

The text is clean, and I have found very few errors.4 But what is wrong with the printing? The typesetting is simply atrocious (or, hardly less charitably, the printer was not entirely compatible with the font), and spaces between letters are with vexing regularity too wide. For instance, on p. 7 at the middle of the page the words “si non optimum nihilominus utilem. Editio Vineti tribus” look like “s i n on optimum, nihilominus u tilem. E ditio V ineti t ribus;” again on p. 55 ad 2.32 “avia aut” looks awfully close to “a via a ut.” Scholars consulting the edition are unlikely to be misled by this annoyingly persistent problem, but surely we, as do Clausen and Zetzel, expect and deserve more from the Teubner series. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurrence: the printing of other volumes in the series has also been handled poorly. One hopes that in the future Saur will take more pride in producing clean, more readable texts. Even so, we should be very glad to have such a fine edition of a difficult text, and Persius scholars will benefit greatly from its appearance.


1. Otto Jahn, Auli Persii Flacci Satirarum Liber (Leipzig 1843; repr. Hildesheim 1967).

2. P. Wessner, “Zu den Persius Scholien,” Wochenschrift für Klassische Philologie 20 (1917) 474-502.

3. S. Jannaccone, “Rapporti di codici nella tradizione degli scolii a Persio,” GIF 12 (1959) 198-213. Cf. M. Robathan and F. E. Cranz, “A. Persius Flaccus,” Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum: Mediaeval and Renaissance Latin Translations and Commentaries 3, ed. F. E. Cranz (Washington 1976) 215-232.

4. A few misprints: p. 8 ad 1.20(3) I suspect we should read “studendi causa” for “studendi causam” (cf. 1.93[1], 6.75[2]); p. 12 ad 1.19(6) in the lemma for “MORO PROBO” read “MORE PROBO” (printed correctly at Zetzel, Marginal Scholarship, p. 79); p. 178 s.v. “Vergilius, Aeneis,” for “3.303-4” read “3.203-4” (noted correctly in text); p. 194 s.v. “Persius” for “6.17(1)” read 6.16(3). In the Index Scriptorum I noticed a few omissions: add Horace, Carmina 3.23.17, found at CC 2.75(1); Plautus, Aulularia 170 at CC 3.89(1); Vergil, Aeneid 7.184 at CC 6.45(1). I am surprised that cross-references to the text of Persius itself were not indexed here; those interested might want to note that CC 2.44(4) refers back to Persius 2.10; 4.42(1) to 4.24; 5.3(3) to 1.70-1; 5.24(2) to 3.22; 5.115(3) to 3.54-5; and 6.32(1) to 1.89-90.