BMCR 2009.08.60

Q. Horati Flacci, Carmina. Liber IV. Bibliotheca Nazionale. Testi con commento filologico, 17

, , Q. Horati Flacci, Carmina. Liber IV. Bibliotheca Nazionale. Testi con commento filologico, 17. Firenze: Felice le Monnier, 2008. 706. ISBN 9788800208024 €48.00 (pb).

After Nisbet-Hubbard published their commentary on Odes I in 1970, (not only Horatian) scholars eagerly awaited the following volumes. In 2004 Nisbet-Rudd completed the series of commentaries on Horace’s first collection of odes, so we are well-equipped for a reading of Odes I-III. But what about IV? Apart from the standard, but dated commentary on all four books by Kiessling-Heinze (latest edition 1960, but commentary section unchanged since 1930),1 a rather condensed volume on all four books by Quinn (1980, with 30 pages on IV) and a medium-sized work by Romano (1991, again covering all four books and additionally — like Kiessling-Heinze — the epodes and the Carmen Saeculare, with 95 pages on IV) there is not only nothing comparable to Nisbet-Hubbard / Nisbet-Rudd, but virtually nothing exclusively devoted to Odes IV.2 Two monographs have been dedicated so far to Odes IV: Putnam’s pioneering study of 1986 and more recently Johnson (2004).3

This situation is going to change in the next few years: apart from several projects in the making (e.g. Richard Thomas for the Cambridge ‘green-and-yellow’ series) we now have the large scale commentary by Paolo Fedeli and Irma Cicarelli: more than 500 pages of commentary (apart from introduction and indices) match 582 lines of poetry. Therefore exspectations are high, especially when one considers Fedeli’s experience in commenting on Propertius (three well-known and large volumes on books I to III (1980/ 1985/ 2005) and a shorter work on IV from 1965) and his commentaries on Horace’s satires (1994) and epistles (1997). Ciccarelli, too, is no neophyte in commenting on Augustan Poetry.4

The commentary by Fedeli-Cicarelli is structured in the following way: An introduction (pp.9-57) by Fedeli is subdivided into six sections: (1) ‘From I-III to IV, (2) ‘Chronology and Genesis of I’ (3) ‘Structural Design?’ (overview of the different opinions about the architecture of I (4) ‘Horace between Pindar and Callimachus’, (5) ‘Horace, Augustus and the potentes’ (about Augustus and his entourage in IV and Augustus as the centre of I (6) ‘Difficult to judge’. The introduction is followed by a note on the text (which is that of Shackleton Bailey, with fifteen deviations listed on p.59; moreover we read how work has been divided between the commentators, Fedeli taking 4.1-3/7-13/15 and Cicarelli 4.4-6/14); a rich, albeit not full bibliography concentrating on Odes IV (pp.61-80); text and commentary (pp.81-629); and (very helpful and extensive) indices (pp.633-706: parolé nomi e cose notevoli; lingua, stile, tecnica compositiva; prosodia, metrica, struttura dei carmi; poeta, poesia, poetica; topoi; passi citati).

The introduction is not so much concerned with presenting new research as providing a general introduction for the reader looking from different perspectives at Odes IV (see above). Worth mentioning though is Fedeli’s idea of how book IV is organised (p.26f.). He compares it with Prop. IV, which is structured along an axis of three main poems (4.1-6-11) as is, says Fedeli, Horace’s fourth book (4.1-8-15). Fedeli devotes a considerable part of his introduction (pp.45-57) to giving a balanced view and judgement of Horace’s last collection of odes. By stressing the different cultural backgrounds of Horace and his modern readers Fedeli wants to free his reader from the prejudice that Horace became merely a court poet writing propaganda. This is all very convincing and I for one would absolutely agree. Perhaps therein lies the problem: it is all too easy to agree, and this kind of rehabilitation seems a little outdated in the twenty-first century (maybe it is telling in a way that Fedeli cites Lessing’s ‘Rettungen des Horaz’ at the end of his introduction). One would have hoped instead for a deeper exploration of the Pindaric background as a framework for this new collection of Odes: Fedeli limits himself to six (interesting!) pages on Horace, Pindar and Callimachus which focus on the different literary ideals (in short profundum os vs. lepton) and their reconciliation in IV.

The general outline of the commentary follows the method Fedeli has adopted in his previous works (cf. especially on Prop. II):5 after the text (without apparatus criticus) follows a bibliography to each ode, a prose paraphrase, a general introduction and, in contrast with all the other commentaries on IV mentioned above, what Butrica in reviewing Fedeli’s Prop. II has called an ‘essay-commentary’: “When the commentary proper begins, it does not proceed line by line and lemma by lemma but rather short paragraph by short paragraph, with philological points treated as they arise in context; and these sections of the commentary themselves generally begin with yet more paraphrase. This approach accounts for much of the book’s substantial bulk.” (BMCR 2006.03.25). I have to agree with Butrica on this point because essentially the same holds true for the commentary on Odes IV as well. This is — which is equally important to note — basically the only real criticism I have of the commentary section. Fedeli is very eager to get his reader to understand the train of thought in a particular ode. That is a crucial point in reading Horace’s odes, no doubt, but the first paraphrase would have done that sufficiently. Therefore one may wonder if a conventional lemma commentary would have been a better way to organise the material. It would have rendered it more easily accessible for looking up a certain point of interest and it would have been possible to omit certain duplications (e.g. on 4.1.-8: a general paraphrase on p.82, a mixture of paraphrase and explanation on p.86, a detailed commentary on p.96; there are more unnecessary repetitions, e.g. the background for 4.4 and 4.14 provided by Suetonius is discussed on p.13 (general introduction) and on p.208 (4.4), but only on p.565 (4.14) is there a reference to the discussion in the general introduction; cf. too pp.602f. and 605). Moreover, scattered remarks to the same verse(s) could be assembled in one place (e.g. about Catullus and Sappho in 4.1 on p.87 and 111). I stress this point because so much of the interesting and valuable material assembled is dispersed in the commentary. I am afraid that much valuable information is in danger of being unremarked by the casual reader who seeks clarification of a special line or problem (help is, however, offered by the indices to some extent).

Criticism apart, I would like to say that Fedeli-Cicarelli is an extremely helpful tool for anyone working on Odes IV. Let me demonstrate this by some examples:

Fedeli-Ciccarelli are very good on lexical issues and can intuit when a further investigation of a certain word might bring up illuminating results. I especially like their balanced use of ancient commentators in this regard. (e.g. the discussion on purpureus on p.97, on aureus p.147; for further examples, see index 1). Parallels are sometimes not just cited but discussed in terms of their impact (e.g. on 4.1.14 non tacitus, p.100f.; metapoetic water imagery pp.131-136). Fedeli-Ciccarelli often quote parallels in full, which on the one hand consumes a lot of space (e.g. pp.604f.) and can result in a rather confusing layout (e.g. p.416), but is on the other hand comfortable for the reader who has the important passages readily available. Topoi (cf. also the index!) are appropriately investigated (e.g. Horace’s use of elegiac motives in 4.1: this shows Fedeli’s familiarity with this genre; on athletic victors and Roman triumphs p.143; on immortality via poetry pp.390f.; epigrammatic topoi in 4.10 p.451 and in 4.13 p.535). Stylistic features such as word order constantly form the basis of interpretation, showing the importance of rhetorical aspects in IV (passim, e.g. p.146 or 608). Questions of textual criticism are often dealt with in a convincing way (e.g. on 4.2.49 teque dum procedis pp.167-169; on the deletion of 4.8.33 pp.397-399). Informative documents of earlier scholarship are considered as well (e.g. the letter by Lachmann to Gottfried Herrmann quoted on p.398). This shows that the strengths of Fedeli-Ciccarelli include the cardinal virtues of a classical commentary.6 Interestingly, commenting individually on separate odes they still manage to establish a homogeneous style throughout.

There is one further point I would like to comment on. Although I am not a native speaker of the Italian language I have to say that I enjoyed reading this book because of its easily accessible and clear style. Discussing difficult things in plain words is surely another virtue worthy of mention! I noticed only a few, unimportant, typographical errors.

In sum, despite some doubts about its structuring as an ‘essay-commentary,’ I am quite sure that the commentary by Fedeli-Ciccarelli will become a work of reference and an indispensable tool for anyone working on Odes IV. It has left room for further work on Horace’s last book of lyrical poems, but that is only because it raises the right questions!


1. For the history of the Kiessling-Heinze commentaries cf. Rowell’s review of Burck’s re-edition ( AJPh 79 (1958) 311-313).

2. I confined myself to works from the twentieth century. Of course, there are older commentaries, e.g. of the nineteenth century including Odes IV like Orelli-Baiter-Hirschfelder (1886) or Wickham (1896). One could add, though, the commentary-like essays by Syndikus (third ed., 2001, two volumes for all four books).

3. M. Putnam, Artificies of Eternity. Horace’s Fourth Book of Odes, Ithaca/London 1986. T. Johnson, Symposion of Praise. Horace Returns to Lyric in Odes IV, Wisconsin 2004.

4. I. Ciccarelli, Commento al II libro dei Tristia di Ovidio, Bari 2003.

5. Note however the similar comments made by J.B. Hall in reviewing Ciccarelli’s commentary on Tristia II: “C.’s commentary ranges at all points over a variety of topics, and one could wish that it had been rather more systematically ordered, with textual discussion perhaps separated off from disquisitions on the tone of words, a matter which much interests C., or from reflections on politics and morals. Furthermore, C.’s practice of writing whole sentences and even paragraphs rather than short notes preceded by a lemma makes her commentary unnecessarily wordy.” ( Gnomon 78 (2006) 646).

6. Cf. the quite appropriate title of the series ‘Testi con commento filologico’.