BMCR 2009.10.45

Martini Bracarensis De ira: introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento. Studi e testi tardoantichi; 7

, Martini Bracarensis De ira: introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento. Studi e testi tardoantichi; 7. Roma: Herder, 2008. 274. ISBN 9788889670347. €35.00.

“Applaud, Galicia, saved by this new Martin; this man of yours was of apostolic nature.” So Venantius Fortunatus praised Martin of Braga (died 579), a man “coming, they say, from Roman Pannonia,” who served the people living under Suevic rule as “a Peter to you in courage, a Paul in doctrine.”1 He was a monk, a bishop, and a scholar who “cuts the fruitless wild vines out of the Lord’s field, and there are clusters of grapes where once were shrubs. He tore up the bitter tares from God’s sowing, and the fruitful harvest springs up evenly.”2 Thanks to this excellent new edition and commentary on his short treatise, De ira, we can see precisely how Martin selected and pruned from the vineyard of ancient philosophy, specifically from the work of Seneca. Martin’s treatise, which Marcia Colish once scorned as a “pseudo-Senecan larceny,”3 was a disquisition on the effects of anger and how it is to be avoided or remedied, which was not only palatable to Christians but accessible to a broader audience than the original version. Torre’s well-balanced introduction demonstrates the benefits that close study of texts and their transmission can have for intellectual history — in particular, for understanding the reception of classical authors and the history of emotions, the recent object of much scholarly attention. Martin might be considered Seneca’s last ancient reader, as well as the point of entry to Seneca for generations of readers after the eleventh century.4

Chiara Torre, who also has written on Seneca,5 shows that Martin the epitomist was engaged in more than mere cutting and trimming. He struck a middle course between Virgilian and Ciceronian style to achieve a more contemporary form that Venantius extolled for its fluidity and accessibility.6 Moreover, writes Torre, in “flattening” Seneca’s discourse, cutting away its abundant exempla and reordering its construction, Martin’s epitome was more tightly and transparently organized than its model. Torre’s text makes the argument, its emendations often depending on multiple parallels in the Senecan treatise. So, for example, she proposes to emend one of the most difficult, badly corrupted sentences (II.1, p. 104, lines 6-7, with commentary at pp. 146-9) on comparison not only with Seneca’s 1.1.4, on which previous editors had settled with unsatisfying results, but also with section 3.4.2 in the original.7 Torre explains her decisions and analyzes Martin’s method in the extensive commentary, where each sentence is treated under three rubrics: 1) philology, 2) meaning and structure, 3) syntactic and lexical notes. Numerous useful tables demonstrate visually the complex relationship between Seneca’s original and the epitome. Notes in the text proper are minimal and used only to provide citations to the closest passages in the Senecan treatise, while the apparatus tracks emendations and variants in the manuscripts and all previous editions, including the most recently published text with Portuguese translation and commentary.8

The arrangement of its chapters distinguishes this edition most noticeably from its predecessors, including Claude Barlow’s text, which has been the standard since 1950.9 Torre describes the tripartite division of the treatise, excepting the dedicatory introduction, marked by section headings in the earliest surviving manuscript, Escorial M.III.3 (Real Biblioteca, Madrid, s. X). The second section, de effectibus irae, which included the manifestations of anger as well as how to avoid it, was much longer than the other two. When Andreas Galland edited the text for the Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum, he abandoned the tripartite structure, dividing the text instead into ten chapters of mostly equal length, preserving the three titles from the Escorial manuscript and adding new ones from marginalia in the editio princeps of 1652.10 Torre is not the first to recognize how this disturbed the treatise’s deliberate design. Although he preserved the division into ten chapters, Barlow observed that the three original titles — ‘de habitu irae’, ‘de effectibus irae’, and ‘quomodo leniatur ira’ — corresponded closely to Martin’s description of his project in the prologue. Observing evidence of a lacuna in the Escorial manuscript in the second section, precisely where Martin turns to the avoidance of anger (between ch. 3 and ch. 4), Torre concludes that the original divisions must have corresponded not closely but exactly to the partitio materiae announced in the prologue. She therefore supplies a lost section title, ‘de fugienda ira’, reinforcing her portrait of a tightly ordered treatise.

“There are no biblical quotations” in Martin’s De ira, Barlow noted, “and the content is entirely non-Christian.”11 Torre, however, argues that Martin would have seen his De ira as a perfectly Christian treatise that complemented his trilogy of moralizing treatises, which are widely believed to have been composed as a series for the monks at Dumio, the monastery that Martin founded before becoming bishop: Pro repellenda iactantia, Item de superbia, and Exhortatio humilitatis. She would go further, building on an argument that she has introduced elsewhere, and suggest that Martin might have envisaged a lay audience for the trilogy, De ira, and also the Formula vitae honestae, which also was based on a (lost) Senecan work. The proof of these interrelated claims, some more daring than others, needs more room than even this substantial introduction allows, and Torre refers to published or forthcoming studies for more detailed discussion.12 The implications could be significant. While historians of the early middle ages tend to focus on Martin’s extraordinary sermon, De correctione rusticorum, medieval and Renaissance readers were drawn to his interpretation of Roman moral philosophy, in particular the four virtues “that go to make a perfect man” ( form. 6: hae quattuor virtutum species perfectum te facient virum), which became the prerequisites for an ideal ruler.13

Overall, this edition deserves to become the standard. The Italian translation is for the most part literal, more so than Barlow’s English,14 though with occasional liberties as here (III.1, pp. 108-9): Da eam [sc. iram] patri: inimicus est. Da filio: parricida est. Da matri etc.; Torre translates as “Assegnala a un padre: ecco un rivale. A un figlio: ecco un parricida. A un madre” etc., perhaps to approximate the alliteration or cursus. Curiously, Barlow appears to have skipped from line 3 to line 4 of his own Latin text (p. 151) when he translated the same passage as, “Give it to a father, he is an enemy. Give it to a king, he is a tyrant” (p. 60). Torre’s careful and stimulating arguments about Martin’s effort to “laicize” moral virtue, moreover, deserve a much wider audience than this short treatise is likely to enjoy. I hope that she will have more to say about Martin’s role as interpreter and interlocutor between ancient pagan and medieval Christian culture.


1. For Torre’s biographical summary and up-to-date appraisal of the debate over Martin’s origins, see pp. 9-15.

2. Carm. 5.2.19-44, translated in Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems, trans. J. George (Liverpool, 1995), 18-19. This and other sources for Martin’s life can be found in C. W. Barlow (ed.), Martini episcopi bracarensis opera omnia [Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome, 12] (New Haven, 1950), 288-304.

3. The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages, repr. ed., vol. 2 (Leiden, 1990), 298-9. Since the late nineteenth century it is uncommon to find, at the other extreme, the content of De ira attributed to Martin without reference to Seneca, as one does in Lester K. Little, “Anger in Monastic Curses,” in Anger’s Past: The Social Uses of anEmotion in the Middle Ages, ed. B. Rosenwein (Ithaca, 1998), 12.

4. See Torre, “Nuovo e Antico in un’epitome senecana del VI secolo: Martino di Braga, ‘De Ira’,” Acme 58 (2005) 107-28.

5. “La concezione senecana del sapiens: le metamorfosi animali” and “Il cavallo immagine del sapiens in Seneca,” Maia 47 (1995) 349-69, 371-8; Il matrimonio del Sapiens: ricerche sul De matrimonio di Seneca (Genoa, 2000).

6. Venantius Fortunatus, Carm. 5.1.5: “Quod apud illos est profundum, hic profluum, quod illic difficillimum, hic in promptu.”

7. This is not to suggest that Barlow in general was not aware of Martin manipulating the order of the original: Opera omnia, pp. 145-6.

8. P. F. Alberto (ed. and trans.), O De ira de Martinho de Braga (Porto, 1993).

9. Opera omnia, 145-58.

10. Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum, vol. 12 (Venice, 1778), 284-6; J. Tamayo de Salazar, Anamnesis sive commemorationes Sanctorum Hispanorum [etc.], vol. 1 (Lyon, 1652), 321-5.

11. Opera omnia, 145.

12. Cf. Torre, “‘Regium vitium’: Martino di Braga sui rischi del potere,” in ‘Tenuis scientiae guttula’: Studi in onore di Ferruccio Bertini in occasione del suo 65o compleanno, ed. M. Giovini and C. Mordeglia (Genoa, 2006) 269-300.

13. E.g. recently Q. Skinner, Visions of Politics, Volume II: Renaissance Virtues (Cambridge, 2002), 62-6; P. Stacey, Roman Monarchy and the Renaissance Prince (Cambridge, 2007), 97-9.

14. In Iberian Fathers, [Fathers of the Church: A New Translation], vol. 1 (Washington, D.C., 1969), 59-69.