BMCR 2007.04.49

Una guerra in Colchide. Valerio Flacco, Argonautiche 6,1-426

, Una guerra in Colchide : Valerio Flacco, Argonautiche 6, 1-426. Testi e studi di cultura classica ; 38. Pisa: ETS, 2006. 385 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9788846717139. €23.00 (pb).

Almost ten years after his edition (with an Italian translation) and commentary on Valerius 6,427-760 (Pisa 1997), in which the poet describes Medea’s enamoured “teichoscopy”, M. Fucecchi (hereafter F.) has published a commentary on the remaining earlier part of book VI. A novelty of the 2006 book is that the Latin text is no longer equipped with an apparatus criticus, scanty parts of which are now disseminated in the notes of the commentary. This he justifies in a personal section of a literary introduction (pp. 11-28), the title of which is “Carattere e ragioni di una pubblicazione ritardata (e parziale)”.1 The introduction is followed by an up to date bibliography (pp. 29-40), where however I miss G. Dumézil’s Romans de Scythie et d’alentour (Paris 1978), A. Aalto and T. Pekkanen, Latin Sources on North-Eastern Eurasia (Wiesbaden 1975-1980) and J. Soubiran’s edition (without apparatus criticus but with a French translation and notes) of the whole poem (Louvain 2002).2 Then the Latin text and the generally faithful Italian translation face each other, preceding a lengthy and very detailed commentary of more than 350 pages, which is followed by four useful indexes.

The 1997 commentary had somewhat less than 200 pages. F. has now provided classical scholars with the longest and most detailed existing commentary on book VI. At the end of the preceding century it would have been difficult to believe that the scholarly world would soon be enriched with no fewer than four commentaries on this particular book: H. J. W. Wijsman’s (Leiden 2000), T. Baier’s (München 2001), F. Spaltenstein’s (Bruxelles 2005, in part III of his commentary on the whole poem) and, last but not least, Fucecchi’s. That would have been all the more incredible since book VI, especially the first part (ll. 1-426) is “an exotic and, in point of language, difficult catalogue of warriors (cf. part of the catalogue of Pompey’s allies in Lucan 3,169-297) followed by the description of their fights and may without offence be said to make less exciting reading than book VII, for which we have only (so to say) three commentaries, the most important of which is that of F.’s teacher A. Perutelli (Florence 1997). It is true the war between Aeetes (and the Argonauts) and Perses (the subject of 6,1-426) has no equivalent in the Greek model. As students of Valerius Flaccus know, this war is meant to echo the one which the Latins waged with the Trojans in Virgil’s great poem, the main (by no means only) Latin model of Valerius as Apollonius’s poem is his main (by no means only) Greek source.

F.’s literary introduction3 is well informed and interesting, but I miss something about Valerius’ and his public’s interest in the countries involved in the war described in book VI (Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 7,89-95 and 244-251, is a fascinating testimony). It would be unfair to reproach F. for not providing a close and archaeologically, geographically and historically well informed study of Valerius’ ethnography and of how Valerius’ poetic fantasy and knowledge of the exotic peoples he mentions intertwine with each other. Such a study can only be the result of a collaboration between specialists in different fields. The only monograph I know on this topic is A. Heeren’s good but old dissertation De chorographia a Valerio Flacco adhibita, Göttingen 1899. In his commentary F. duly uses this book and others related to the culture and the language of the peoples which make book VI so exotic. But it is not enough.

There is hardly a word which F. in his notes does not comment on. He deals with trite poeticisms but may neglect more recondite idioms (e. g. the loose use of nec l. 52 or that in l. 73 maesta nec reditura). He doesn’t seem to me to pay close enough attention to Valerius’ exotic onomastics (see the amusing “rapprochement” Dipsanta Caresus l. 192 with my note). Every section of the poem is provided with a careful and accurate introduction preceding the commentary of the Latin words. F. is generally quite successful when he copiously illustrates epic and poetic “Motiven” and topoi, when he sets Valerius’ poetic diction in the tradition of Latin epic poetry and carefully compares Valerius with his models and with his colleagues Statius and Silius.

His intertextual notes are generally good. But I can hardly agree with him when he says that ducentem cornua l. 376 “drawing the bow-horns” is a “risemantizzione” of such a phrase as ductus cornu in Virgil’s line et ductus cornu stabit sacer hircus ad aram ( Georg. 2,395). Latin poets do not write only with poetical stock-phrases which they modify in one way or another: this poetry is written in a language which was also a living one for those poets, and cornua ducere is a semantically plastic phrase the use of which may follow the rules and ways of the language without being a modified “réemploi”.

F.’s explanation of the meaning of Valerius’ Latin is most of the time sound. But his command of the Latin language and grammar, his accuracy and clarity of perception in these and related matters do not seem to be always what they should, as one can see both in parts of the text which are not suspected of being corrupt and in parts which are. Thus, in order to illustrate super + acc. with sisto (l. 7) the first example he quotes (4,312) is one where super is an adverb (the same adverb l. 88 suggests to him “l’idea di un letterale “stendersi dall’alto”, but he reasonably translates “dopo di loro”). He thinks ea uellera l. 18 can mean “il famoso vello” (Heinsius and Renkema suppressed the pronoun, rightly I believe). He attributes without further ado a “relative” function to dum at l. 26. He illustrates the interpretation of Bisaltae as genitive in l. 48 proxima Bisaltae legio with Pliny N. H. 4,38 gens Bisaltae, where it is obviously nom. pl.4 The note on l. 95 makes no difference between inter pedes construed ὑφ’ ἕν as ante labores“the preceding toils” and inter used by Valerius at the end of a line (5,336-337 stetit arduus inter pontus; 6,220; 8,303 and 382) so that it modifies a verb. He doesn’t see that hos l. 178 is opposed to illinc l. 171. He translates and explains clara l. 181 as if it were certa, a conjecture which he rejects, and he compares the well known personal idiom by which Greek usually says “it is clear that”. He thinks rapit ille necem l. 191 can mean “porti via con sé in fuga la [propria] morte”. In ll. 204-205, pater armento quos diues ab omni | nutrierat fatisque uiam monstrarat iniquis, we find ignorance of an idiomatically loose use of que (discussed by Housman Classical Papers, p. 1079;5 the use of nec in l. 52 is no different), which leads him to propose three wrong interpretations, one of which is ” quos uiam (apposizione) monstrarat = “e che [i cavalli] aveva indicato come via al destino crudele”. For l. 213 hunc age uel caeso comitem me reddite fratri he suggests the explanation “ quest’uomo, dunque o, al limite, restituite me quale compagno a moi fratello ucciso”. At ll. 234 sqq. porrecta per armos abies he says per expresses “il passare attraverso” though he rightly translates “tesa lungo gli omeri” (an idiom illustrated by P. Langen ad loc.). Earlier he explained that per bella l. 35 has “valore temporale (con sfumatura finale)”. He thinks nec fragmina curat l. 250 can mean “non si fa scrupulo di continuare a utilizzarlo”. He says that the subjunctives l. 276 have “a sfumatura consecutivo-potenziale” (they can be consecutive or potential or optative). At l. 320 nec longa dies, ut uideres, where I think Burman’s et restores an idiom which I illustrated, he says ut has a “funzione temporale-consecutiva” and quotes Mozley’s inaccurate translation “nor lacked there yet many days that thou shouldst see”. He suggests that eadem in eademque parentis rura colunt ll. 404-405 amounts to eiusdem and discards thus the obvious correction parentes. Other examples may I believe be found in the notes on l. 17 hinc and l. 31 suis commisit proelia telis (strained interpretation). But Wijsman’s and F.’s explanation of ll. 350-351, which I did not even mention, is or may be right.

The Latin text printed by F. is a rather conservative one. I think it contains not a few suspect or corrupt readings which F. defends in a misguided or strained way akin to the way he explains some of the above-mentioned passages. Sometimes he mistranslates the suspect reading and thus renders it unproblematic and admissible. He too often (I believe) quotes parallels of more or less dubious relevance and doesn’t address the main problem of a suspect reading. I will now list in a note all the places where I think F. prints a plausibly or almost certainly corrupt reading and, being content with a few short remarks which mainly point to difficulties unanswered by F., I ask the reader who wants more detail to consult the notes of my edition, which F. has I believe not always fully taken into account (that may be due to the fact that part of his commentary seems to have been written before my 2002 edition was available to him).6 The reader will see that in a few of the following cases I now think I also accepted a very suspect or corrupt reading without acknowledging the difficulty.

F. does not seem to be much at home in Latin prosody and metre. He explains that in l. 352 arduus inde labos medioque the final syllable of labos is “lunga per posizione” (the note of his 1997 commentary on l. 571 considered 5,591 eques iunctis as “prosodia anomale davanti a pausa”). It may be true que l. 112 is “necessaria alla coordinazione con agmine“, but above all it is demanded by the metre. The specificity of the lengthening in l. 152 omnibus in superos saeuus honor seems to escape him (he still refers the reader to his note on l. 571, which contains more than one mistake: thus he wrongly believed, as others still do, that the last syllable of subiit is lengthened at the caesura: see my note on 8,67). As I wrongly did, he admits in l. 165 a correction which introduces a problematical elision, aut is apud fluuios clamor uolucrum, aethera quantus, for no other elision at this place of the hexameter coincides with the end of a proposition (the difficulty, pointed out by M. D. Reeve, escaped even the diligent H. Koesters, Quaestiones metr. et pros. ad V. Fl. pert., Münster 1893, p. 46): the right correction must be Heinsius’ uolucrum canor. He doesn’t seem to see that atque interum intrat, the clausula of l. 300 in Carrio’s ms., contains an elision which is alien to Valerius (cf. Koesters, p. 47). In densa spargens hastilia dextra l. 229 densa cannot be acc. n. pl : this would violate a law of classical Latin metre, known to Justus Zinzerling in 1610 ( Criticorum iuvenilium promulsis, pp. 183-198) but not (sad to say) to Schenkl, Langen, Wijsman, Spaltenstein and (seemingly) F.

It would be wrong to infer from some of the preceding remarks that F.’s painstaking commentary is bad. It is the most thorough we have on book VI and one of the most thorough recent commentaries on any book of Valerius Flaccus. Unfortunately not a few of these commentaries,7 most of which have unquestionable qualities, are not (in my judgment) conspicuous for accurate, subtle and deep knowledge of Latin or for expert textual criticism. That’s why, however imperfect it may be, Langen’s commentary on the whole poem (published 1896-1897), once described by Housman ( Classical Papers, p. 530) as “diligent, intelligent, honest, and unpretentious”, is by no means superseded (nor is Burman’s editio variorum of 1724). The refinement attained in literary criticism by some modern commentaries including that of F. is truly admirable, but with due respect I suggest authors of commentaries should be more mindful of the requirements of competent Latin scholarship and textual criticism. That would for example prevent them from misusing some modern tools of literary criticism (notably intertextuality) to justify suspect or corrupt readings in any classical author but especially in a poet like Valerius, whose language is difficult and whose textual transmission is notoriously bad.


1. The reader is referred to the apparatus of my 2002 Budé edition of books V-VIII. As far as I am concerned, I miss an apparatus criticus like that of the 1997 edition; a shortened apparatus for ll. 1-426 would have been easy to compile from mine (needless to say, I would have found nothing wrong with that).

2. Soubiran’s note on ll. 31-32 addresses a difficulty unnoticed by recent critics including F. and myself but fully exposed by K. Schenkl in his acute Studien zu den Argonautica (Vienna 1871, p. 291).

3. Here are the titles of the section: “Una guerra che ‘non avrebbe dovuto aver luogo’ (oppure sì?)”, “Apostrofe alle muse e catalogo”, “Taccuino di una (strana) guerra”, “Digressione e azione prinzipale: la guerra e il dopo-guerra”.

4. In ora rursus Posidium et sinus cum oppido Cermoro, Amphipolis liberum, gens Bisaltae; 40 ad Bisaltas usque supra dictos; 5,27 super illos fuere gens Psylli, super quos.

5. See also the note of my forthcoming edition of Statius, Silvae on 2,2,81-82. I think this idiom also explains Lucan 2,397.

6. L. 5 puppem (only admissible if taken as meaning “equipaggio”, but the confusion pubis / puppis is so frequent). L. 55 nec (I was probably also mistaken: see Exemplaria Classica 10, 2006, p. 428). L. 57 collegerat (mistranslated as “portava raccolti nelle loro spire” and strangely explained away as a “risemantizzione” of se colligere in such a passage as Virgil Georg. 2,154: what corrupt reading could not be justified with such a device? Thus Bolton’s palmary and easy collo gerit is discarded). L. 109-110 tumulisque recepti | inter auos positusque uirum (the problem is not the hapax positus; it is the phrase inter auos positusque uirum). L. 121-122 (impossible ellipsis, not supported by the passages quoted by F.). L. 123 uiresque aliae (the problem is not the sequence que -que et to which F. strangely adds the initial namque). L. 125 mos dictus (translated “è costume stabilito”, which blurs the issue). L. 152 saeuus honor (see below on metre). L. 175 pater (the corr. putat provides something for tempus to depend on). L. 176 semineces (the embarrassed defence F. and I offer strains credulity; Friesemann’s saxificos may be right). L. 181 clara (see above). L. 186 erigit. L. 190 hinc (but he admits the corr. nunc l. 33 and hunc l. 303 where mss. have hinc). L. 206 peditem ( amor and candore without determination are difficult). L. 214 et (this is not a case where et can mean at). L. 223 siluis (I find hard to swallow “per lui le numerose sorelle della madre vegliano nei boschi, intente a fabbricare preziosi indumenti”). L. 230 uiris. L. 237 relinqui. L. 238 altior. L. 241 mori. L. 258 accedit 2x (it is wrong to object to accepit that it implies an absolute use: one must obviously understand contum accepit). L. 264 ramos (neither F. nor I realized that it is corrupt. M. D. Reeve very acutely suggested uentos, ramos having been wrongly repeated from l. 261). (Compare with Valerius’ passage that of Roger Martin du Gard in Mémoires du lieutenant-colonel de Maumort, Paris 1983, p. 634: “comme l’oiseau, qui, après s’être laissé prendre, sans s’en apercevoir, à la glu du piège, parvient à se dégager, secoue ses plumes empoissées, et prend son vol vers l’air libre”.) L. 279 acies ( animos without determination is difficult). L. 285 urbem (L.’s explanation is implausibly strained). L. 289 animam (unsatisfactory parallels). L. 291 uiam (a wrong cj. in Carrio’s ms.). L. 320 ut (see above). L. 330 nunc (“rilievo emotivo nel marcare l’opposizione fra costumi e stili di vita diversi”). L. 332 potiere (unnoticed but I think real difficulty).L. 352 in corpore (I cannot believe in T. Baier’s “plastische Intensivierung” of de corpore). L. 356 ille dies (unsatisfactory parallels; F. mistranslates sequatur ille dies“a chi arriderá l’esito della giornata”). L. 358 frangit ( frangere almost proved right by Hom. Il. 17,390 but discarded by F. who supposes a “possibile memoria ritmico-sintattica” of an unconnected passage of Virgil which contains the words qui and frangit). L. 360 tellus (unnoticed difficulty ; the Homeric passage Valerius is imitating shows the solution). L. 368 sequitur. L. 373 has (unnoticed but I think real difficulty). L. 379 partem ( partem capitis dissipat is so strange that A. J. Kleywegt, to whom F. refers the reader without saying they understand the phrase differently, thought that it meant the same as in partes caput dissipat. Here again F. postulates a “risemantizzione” which I think strains credulity. He doesn’t mention my cj. cratem, which J. Delz, W. S. Watt and M. D. Reeve approved of: cf. Vindicianus, Ep. ad. Valentin. 9, pertundens cratem capitis). L. 385 protulit (4,245 is different and so (I believe) is even aperit in Stat. Theb. 9,556: would Latin say effractam urbem uictoribus profert lapsa turris ?). L. 389 ab agmine (mistranslated “sgomberarsi la strada di tutti Greci”). L. 404 parentis (see above). L. 410 agmina (mistranslated “corpi”, that is corpora, the cj. which F. discards). L. 412 inuoluunt (misleading parallel). At l. 422 F. accepts the correction excipit ( accipit mss.) which I think J. Strand has shown to be wrong; F. seems to find excipit more economical than Strand’s excellent occupat. I’m not convinced F. rightly defends hinc l. 303, but I think he aptly vindicates thalamos ascendere l. 45, where I wrongly accepted Renkema’s accedere. His defence of l. 271 adductis may be right and I may be wrong to suspect this word.

7. See my review of Spaltenstein’s commentary in Exemplaria Classica 10, 2006, pp. 406-431.