BMCR 2008.07.53

Virgil: Aeneid IV, edited with Introduction, Notes, and Vocabulary

, , Aeneid IV. Virgil: Aeneid ; 4. London: Bristol Classical Press, [2012]. 200 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 9781853997051 $23.50 (pb).

The intermediate or fledgling advanced student of Virgil’s Aeneid has never been without numerous options for annotated editions of the poem. Duckworth has a series that oddly weds reprints of advanced English commentaries (Williams on 3 and 5, Fordyce on 7 & 8) with the most elementary of readers, editions complete with lexica and primarily grammatical notes.1

Book 4 is probably among the top choices for young Latinists in their first sustained experience to Virgil’s Aeneid. For those who wish a convenient, separate edition of the tragedy of Dido and Aeneas, Maclennan has provided a useful volume that can be cautiously recommended. The instructor will need to smooth over, refine, and otherwise supplement this commentary—in other words, the usual procedure for dealing with most anything written to assist with the reading of a book of Augustan Latin poetry. In what follows I will outline some shortcomings and suggest some improvements.

Maclennan’s book suffers from the problems inherent in many books of this type: it tells too much on one level while providing too little information on another. So the first page of the introduction aspires to move us from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, and, as one might expect, leaves more questions than answers and fails to provide novices with a coherent picture of the Roman history they might need before tackling a book of the Aeneid. Sulla is clearly important in Maclennan’s analysis of Rome’s transition, but we never learn why; indeed one might get the mistaken impression (p. 8) that Virgil’s life was lived during the conflict between Marius and Sulla. What “four-sided struggle” is Maclennan referring to as he describes the civil war between Octavian and Antony? Where is Cleopatra? Maclennan’s remark that “Juno can be seen as a negative force—but one which in some sense enjoys the support of Jupiter” (p. 26) deserves expansion, refinement, and further explanation, especially at this level of commentary. Books are sometimes mixed up; so Venus seduces Vulcan in Book 9 and not 8 (p. 27).

The mass of disparate material (Maclennan alludes to “verbosity” in his preface) is confusingly organized. We do finally get to Carthage vs. Rome in the introduction, but only after learning about Naevius, the aforementioned hasty jumble of late 1st century BCE history, and Virgil’s own literary life. Perhaps a more comprehensive historical survey, in chronological order, might have made the material easier to present and digest. But, more generally, some stuff might well have been left out: so, e.g., the italicized Homeric reminiscences that are interspersed through the summary of the entire poem. Much of this introductory material is reprinted from the author’s Book 6 edition, on the valid grounds that users might only read one or the other book—unfortunately in this case it means the confused jumble is merely repeated.

The section on the similes of Book 4 is quite useful; so, too, the extensive metrical introduction (which is probably too much for most users of this edition, but still a helpful reference). It might have been desirable to have the apparatus reprinted from Mynors’ OCT; the notes do deal with textual issues, but even at this level students should become accustomed to variant readings. The index of “literary, grammatical, and metrical terms” is a valuable aid, though I wonder if the very frequent asterisks in the commentary are more distracting than useful.

Some problems could have been improved by an editor’s watchful eye (inconsistencies abound—Pompey the Great is sometimes Pompeius Magnus, et sim.); the “Some reading” section (pp. 47-48) is exceedingly sloppy : we find the OCD of 1948, “and later editions”; one gets the impression that Pease’s Aeneid 4 was published in Darmstadt in 1967 (the reprint) rather than Cambridge in 1935; the student is sent for general study to an essentially late 60s bibliography except for Gransden’s slight 1990 monograph (not cited with Harrison’s improvements thereto) and Griffin’s slighter (though sounder) 1986 volume. Oddly, Maclennan thinks that unfinished lines constitute “metrical rarities” (p. 46). Were the Cretans “never in the mainstream of classical culture”? (p. 98), and does Aeneas really play a “surprisingly small part in Book 4?” (p. 20). The note on the quite difficult (for beginners) 11 quemferens gives the incomprehensible “bearing himself in his face as what a man!, i.e., ‘how proud his expression'”, with no explanation of the grammar. The “pale shadows” of line 26 merit the pedantic observation that “shadows are dark”—Latin umbrae here, pace M., has nothing to do with what we find on a summer day. 37 placito is not really “irregular”. The note on 275 regnum (p. 114) betrays a misguided notion of what happened in 476 CE. The note on 360 sends us to “March” without reference. “Kennedy’s Latin Primer”, cited for grammatical notes passim, is not necessarily familiar to most neophyte Latinists and is a somewhat odd choice for citation alongside the OLD, which most users of this commentary will probably not consult.

Despite these shortcomings, the volume is useful if used with caution, and it is good to have a separate edition of Book 4 available for use in the classroom.


1. Duckworth now also publishes the old 2-vol. Macmillan red edition of Williams ( The Aeneid of Virgil, Books 1-6, Books 7-12, London, 1972-1973) on the entire poem.