BMCR 2009.04.33

Commento storico al libro II delle Guerre Civili di Appiano. (parte I). Pubblicazioni della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell’Università di Pavia 116

, Commento storico al libro II delle Guerre Civili di Appiano. (parte I). Pubblicazioni della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell'Università di Pavia 116. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2007. 309. ISBN 9788846718785. €18.00 (pb).

1 Responses

Carsana has written a commentary that is the final instalment in a larger project. In the past half-century, exponents of what might be termed the “School of Pavia” have been engaged in studying and elucidating Appian’s Civil Wars. In 1956, Emilio Gabba published a monograph that was concerned with the historiography of Appian as revealed in the Civil Wars. Subsequently, he published commentaries on books 1 and 5 of Appian’s Civil Wars in 1958 and 1970 respectively. Gabba’s student and Carsana’s teacher, the late Domenico Magnino, published similar commentaries for books 3 and 4 in 1984 and 1998. With the volume under review and its companion to appear in the near future, this series of Italian commentaries upon an essential work of ancient historiography will have achieved completion. Therefore, the interest was great and expectations were high.

With this historical commentary, which is the first of two parts, Carsana provides a detailed discussion of App. BC 2.1.1-77.324, which text ranges from the Catilinarian conspiracy to the very moment in which the armies of Caesar and Pompeius were to engage in battle at Pharsalus. The present book has five sections. There is first an introductory essay dedicated to Appian’s historiography, his sources, and the overall architecture of book 2 of the Civil Wars (pp. 11-29). Next there follows the “Bibliografia”, which is in fact a relatively brief list of abbreviations for the modern works most frequently cited (pp. 31-37). Then comes the heart of the work, the commentary proper, which often consists of introductions to each chapter (or a group of chapters) as well as comments upon individual matters (pp. 39-223). Fourthly, there is a photostatic reproduction of that portion of Appian’s text to which this volume is dedicated (pp. 227-306). Lastly, there is a brief index of persons and places named by Appian and keyed to the section numbers of his text (pp. 307-309).

Carsana’s accomplishment is varied. She has clearly invested a great of time and labour in the writing of this historical commentary. Readers will benefit from her collecting of materials and eye for details relating to Appian’s perspective and possible sources. Moreover, the volume is attractively presented and appropriately priced. However, the final judgement must be one of disappointment. As far as the reviewer can tell, the author was not subject to any editorial intervention other than her own. Consequently, she is extraordinarily repetitive and self-indulgent. The theoretical editor ought to have also proposed to Carsana some basic questions regarding Appian’s handling of data. As matters stand, Carsana is usually so mired in details that she provides no overall sense of Appian as an author of the Second Sophistic. That is a shame, for much might have been said upon the subject, even within the unnecessarily limited context of a historical commentary.

As has become common practice, Carsana reprints as a major element in her introduction an article that she published a few years ago (p. 13 n.1). To be precise, this reworked article constitutes a section (“paragrafo”) that occupies somewhat more than seven (pp. 13-20) of the nineteen pages of the introduction. In the article she makes interesting observations regarding the structure and unity of book 2 of Appian’s Civil Wars. The opening of the work with the Catilinarian conspiracy and its closure with a comparison ( σύγκρισις) of the figures of Alexander the Great and Caesar are indeed innovative within the historiographical tradition for the period treated. Whether readers will wish to follow Carsana in her conclusions, it must be agreed that she has identified a fundamental problem for our understanding of Appian’s literary artistry. On the other hand, her treatment of Appian’s sources and his possible use of them is poorly structured and not well executed. No clear vision of Pollio’s historical work emerges from the discussion offered by Carsana, which discussion also ignores contributions made in German and English since the time of Gabba 1956 and Hahn 1964 (Hahn 1982 is cited for the whole of Appian’s Civil Wars). Readers would have benefited considerably from a review of possible sources done on the order of what is to be found within C.B.R. Pelling’s commentary to Plutarch’s Life of Antony. Without the evidence being set forth clearly, confusion reigns. So, for example, Carsana follows within a tradition consolidated by Zecchini 1978 (curiously not cited by Carsana), wherein claims are advanced for the Historiae of Gaius Asinius Pollio that are not substantiated by the available evidence. Carsana would have done readers a service by writing a clearly organized introduction that provides a straightforward listing of possible sources for and prominent themes within Appian’s historiography of Roman civil war.

The bibliography provided at the outset (pp. 31-37) is commendable in that it aims to illustrate what Carsana used, not the totality of what exists. Yet, there are strange choices and omissions that give pause for thought. Why cite the English version of the masterful and yet unsurpassed biography of Caesar written by M. Gelzer? Why cite the first edition of that same author’s biography of Pompeius Magnus? Why cite only the first of the two volumes (published in 1991 and 1993 respectively) of the ever useful commentary dedicated to Caesar’s Bellum Civile by J.C. Carter? Why the failure to list W.J. Tatum’s 1999 biography of P. Clodius Pulcher? Is it not a more developed version of that same author’s articles? Questions of this sort might easily be multiplied. Alas, Carsana has not kept apace with the publications of recent decades and her choice of versions or editions is frequently hard to justify. Theodor Mommsen in French, Christian Meier in Italian, and Matthias Gelzer in English seem rather strange preferences over the original German editions. Moreover, the latest edition (not to be confused with a mere reprinting) is in principle to be preferred, for it should theoretically be free of the errors of previous editions. Unlike a certain reputable publishing house, readers will remember the difference between the two editions of A.H.M. Jones’s Cities of the Greek East. Enough said of such matters.

Turning to the commentary, the reviewer thinks it appropriate to begin with the observation that commentaries are composed to be consulted, not to be read. Notwithstanding that fundamental truth, this reviewer read Carsana’s commentary. Surprises were not lacking. Foremost amongst these was the discovery that Carsana “plagiarizes” herself. Carsana frequently transposes verbatim entire sentences and portions of paragraphs from her general introductions for chapters to her detailed comments upon particular passages (e.g. pp. 134 and 135: intro. and commentary upon App. BC 2.36.144). Repetition is indubitably a virtue when teaching in the classroom, but this habitual redundancy of the written word is bereft of value and annoying. Had Carsana not engaged in such repetition, her commentary would have been at least one third shorter.

The commentary seems rather lifeless and perfunctory on many an occasion. So, for example, the brief listing of the accomplishments of L. Afranius ( cos. 60) does show that this figure was a military collaborator of Pompeius over the course of three decades, as is also clearly documented for M. Petreius. But there is nothing quite so striking or effective as the brief vignette offered by Ronald Syme in The Roman Revolution (Oxford 1952 corr.) at p. 396f.. Afranius and Petreius were the forerunners of Agrippa and the other viri militares of the Principate. This fundamental idea somehow gets lost in the verbiage and references to RE and MRR. Yet, the judgement of Sallust ( Cat. 59.6) is memorable and illuminating. Similarly, as an illustration of the divisions within the camp of Pompeius in mid-48, Carsana might have remarked that Plutarch ( Pomp. 67.6) reports that there were those who wanted to indict Afranius for treason for his conduct of the Spanish campaign of the previous year. Notwithstanding this hostility and his own refusal to follow Afranius’ proposed plan of campaign after Caesar’s retreat from Dyrrachium, Pompeius associated Afranius with himself in the command-structure for the battle of Pharsalus. On that topic, J.C. Carter’s philological note to his Penguin translation of Appian is more incisive than Carsana’s observing that Pompeius did not remain in camp for the battle (ad App. BC 2.76.316). It would seem that the most logical conclusion is that Afranius was partner in Pompeius’ overall command of the course of battle. That naturally raises questions to be addressed elsewhere. Here, to conclude this example, it is only to be remarked that Carsana’s handling of figures such as Afranius leaves the reader with the impression that she went through the motions without critically reflecting upon what she was writing. Despite her assiduous collection of references to parallel or contrasting ancient versions and standard modern works of reference, it is clear that readers cannot look to this commentary in the expectation of finding clear positions or fresh discoveries on the part of the author.

In view of Appian’s Hellenic self-perception and his writing for a Greek-speaking audience, the utter absence of any reference to the Caesarian siege of Massalia is noteworthy. Carsana notes en passant the city’s absence from Appian’s narrative (ad App. BC 2.47.192), but this lacuna merits even more attention than does the cursory treatment that Appian accords to events in Illyria in 49-48 BCE. In view of the importance attributed to Massaliot resistance by contemporaries (Caesar and Cicero) and later writers (Livy, and Lucan)—to name the foremost sources of our information—Appian’s omission represents a decidedly conscious choice on the part of the author, one that is highly informative about his view of what it meant to be Hellenic within the context of the Roman empire. In view of Carsana’s interest in Appian’s handling of his material, we might have expected that she show greater attention to such narrative choices as that involved in the decision to forego a description of the lengthy and dramatic siege of Massalia. By contrast Appian does recount Athenian opposition to Caesar and Caesar’s demonstration of scornful clemency. Why these narrative choices? Here the perspective furnished by the source-question manifestly proves of no use. Attention must instead be given to the self-construction in which Appian as author and imperial bureaucrat engages.

With disconcerting frequency, Carsana fails to cite the relevant modern literature, or does not make opportune use of what is listed in the initial bibliography. Instances are legion. Again I cite but a few in order to provide adequate illustration. For Caesar’s “doubling” the legionaries’ pay, far more problematic than Carsana suspects (p. 121), readers are referred to B. Woytek, Arma et Nummi. Forschungen zur römischen Finanzgeschichte und Münzprägung der Jahre 49 bis 42 v.Chr. Wien 2003. For Caesar’s invasion of Italia, the unjustly neglected monograph of H.-M. Ottmer is of fundamental importance. This monograph appears within the initial bibliography (p. 35), but Carsana fails to refer to it in that connection. Questions of familial ties and allegiance have been treated at length by D.R. Shackleton Bailey, “The Roman Nobility in the Second Civil War,” CQ 10 (1960) 253-267, H. Bruhns, Caesar und die römische Oberschicht in den Jahren 49-44 v. Chr. Untersuchungen zur Herrschaftsetablierung im Bürgerkrieg (Göttingen 1978), and R. Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy (Oxford 1989 corr). As regards the battle of Pharsalus, reference to Morgan 1983 should have obviated the need for a lengthy list of modern bibliography that serves no apparent purpose. For topographical questions in general and more recent literature than that to be found within The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites edited by R. Stillwell in 1976, readers will obviously wish to consult the gazetteer to The Barrington Atlas of the Classical World edited by R.J.A. Talbert in 2002. Carsana has been thorough in reporting recent Italian literature relating to the contents of book 2 of Appian’s Civil Wars, and that is a laudable achievement. But her commentary has a provincial air as a consequence of her failure to do likewise with regard to the scholarly literature in German, French, and English.

As is evident from the very title of this work, Carsana has posed for herself the limited task of writing a historical commentary. Yet, it may well be asked whether a commentary that omits questions of philological interest is of great use to anyone. I cite a couple of examples to illustrate my point. The first example shows how the “generally unreliable and confused” Appian (admittedly Carter writing about Appian within the context of Pharsalus) can serve as a corrective to other sources. In commenting upon Caesar’s alleged citation of Menander at the moment of his crossing the Rubicon, Carsana misses an excellent opportunity to illustrate how parallel transmission permits convincing textual emendation (p. 133). Both the Teubner and Budé (CUF) versions of Suet. Iul. 32 read alea iacta est, even though the Greek paradosis ἀνερρίφθω indicates the need to emend to alea iacta esto. It would seem that lessons learned as children are hard to deny as adults! Of course, things are further complicated by the fact that the “Menandrian citation” was in fact a standard proverb. Whether any intertextuality may be construed is strongly in doubt. In another instance, Carsana’s discussion (p. 136) of Appian’s report ( BC 2.36.145) that Cicero suggested despatching individuals to negotiate with Caesar over a peaceful resolution in mid-January 49 BCE is surreal. Plutarch ( Pomp. 60.6) clearly attributes that suggestion to the consular Volcatius Tullus. The confusion of the gentilician names Tullus with Tullius is reported by Carsana as having been accepted by Meyer 1918 and Garzetti 1954. In view of the mechanisms of textual banalization, they were quite justified in doing so. But then Carsana goes on to follow Rice Holmes 1923 in claiming that the transmitted versions of Plutarch and Appian are both correct. This is indubitably the counsel of despair, even if Marc Bloch once remarked the dangers that coincidences pose for the historian. Although historians seldom publish new critical editions of literary texts, they ought to possess at least the basics of philological method so as to be able to intervene in convincing fashion when the need arises.

The photostatic reproduction of the 1905 Teubner text of Ludwig Mendelssohn as revised by Paul Viereck is extremely clear and legible. Recourse to this expedient is admittedly at variance with the “School of Pavia” commentaries for the other four books of Appian’s Civil Wars. However, Carsana thereby avoids introducing errors into the Greek text, such as those that I have remarked in the Fontes Christiani reproduction of Eusebius’ Vita Constantini from the GCS series. Since Carsana normally avoids textual questions, the resetting of the text in a new font could only have been productive of further errors. On the other hand, this solution permits a fuller commentary than would have been possible had the text and commentary been printed on the same page. That is positive in so far as Carsana can adduce more evidence and engage in detailed discussion. Moreover, it is healthy for students and scholars to have a Greek text that is not flanked by any translation or commentary. Crutches have a way of becoming blinders. Still, the location of this text within Carsana’s book is problematic. There is something unsettling about a scheme that prioritizes the commentary over the text. Appian’s text ought to have come before Carsana’s commentary. The horse always has precedence over the cart.

The index of persons has more than one striking defect. For one thing, it is limited to the preceding text of Appian. Since the commentary mentions many other individuals, a separate and more complete index of persons would have been in order. One of the strengths of Carsana’s work is her supplying readers with specific information reported elsewhere. So, for example, the Appius Claudius Pulcher who brought two legions from Caesar in Gaul to Italy in the autumn of 50 BCE is the individual to whom Appian alludes through a rhetorical plural at BC 2.30.116. Homonymous nephew to the individual who was consul in 54 and censor in 50, he does not figure in the index of persons offered at the end of this volume because of its limited scope. The utility of Carsana’s work would have been vastly enhanced by an index to the commentary itself. On another note, it is to be remarked that the rationale for ordering names varies. Thus T. Annius Milo Papianus is to be found through reference to his cognomen, rather than to his nomen gentilicium. Within a work intended for scholarly use, such variation is neither necessary nor desirable.

The project is ambitious and the execution has proved disappointingly variable in quality, but it is to be hoped that Carsana will complete the task undertaken and thereby contribute to our understanding of a complicated source that is far too often treated as an ancillary tool.