BMCR 2012.02.27

Corpus dei papiri storici greci e latini. Parte B: storici latini. 1. Autori noti. Vol. 1: Titus Livius

Rodolfo Funari, Corpus dei papiri storici greci e latini. Parte B: storici latini. 1. Autori noti. Vol. 1: Titus Livius. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2011. 277. ISBN 9788862273480 €185.00 (pb).

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This projected series, the ‘Corpus dei Papiri Storici Greci e Latini’ (CPS), is chiefly the brainchild of renowned papyrologist Mario Capasso at the University of Salento. Its aim, as he expressed the case for it in a paper published in 1997 and which I paraphrase, is ‘to give life to the collection of fragments of Greek and Latin historical writing preserved upon papyrus, and also of [later] testimonies relating to the same.’ Today, a team of scholars, papyrologists, historians of the ancient world and specialists in Greek and Latin literature, both Italian and of other nationalities, are working to realise CPS under the direction of an editorial committee led by Emilio Gabba. ‘We are perfectly aware’, writes Capasso, ‘that our project is extremely difficult and that its realisation will demand a very long time.’ His initiative is obviously to be welcomed for highlighting, as it does here, those sadly fragmentary, Greek and Roman historical texts which frequently languish unused in our libraries. Yet I cannot help but feel that, at least for this particular publication of Livy fragments, the brief is too wide. The finished volume tries to serve the needs of such a diverse range of scholars that it will probably finish by pleasing, in entirety, very few.

Capasso apparently felt that the papyrus sources for, in this case, ancient histories, were generally hard to access, being held usually in collections (libraries) widely dispersed across the (usually Western) world, and that the printed versions of the same appear often only in ‘rare, outdated and altogether insufficient editions.’1 He was also keen that the relationship between the ancient historical texts and the medieval editions of the same works should be illuminated and better understood. (Our modern texts owe their existence, of course, directly to the preservation of the mediaeval rather than the ancient manuscripts.) This last hope, given the state of the ancient evidence, has proved completely impossible to realise. The gap between the fifth century CE (the date of the last ancient Livy manuscript) and the fifteenth (to which all the medieval editions of Livy’s work as listed by Funari are attributed) is far too great, in terms of the history of the book alone, to be bridged by a work such as this. F.W. Shipley’s 1904 attempt at a similar exercise, albeit of a far lesser ambition, seems somehow to be a more successful attempt at the kind of book Funari wanted to write.2

So far, out of a projected 19 volumes for this Corpus, four have appeared. Volume 1, reviewed here, which presents the ancient evidence for the works of Livy, has, for whatever reason, reached the press later than Volume 2; the latter, which presented the ancient evidence for the historical writings of Sallust, was also edited by Funari and appeared in 2008. The magnitude of the task that lies ahead, therefore, is only increased by the observation that, perhaps striving to expand the number of his included ancient Livy representatives to three, Funari chose to include here a fifth century Livy fragment, written not on papyrus as the book’s title suggests, but on parchment (PNaqlun Inv. 15/86). This inclusion can only blur typological boundaries.

I had supposed that the habit of labelling parchment fragments ‘papyrus’ was exclusively that of librarians and archivists. It is a little shocking, and disappointing to say the least, to find a modern editor making the same mistake. While Funari does indeed describe PNaqlun Inv. 15/86 as being an ivory-coloured parchment, he makes no comment on the significance, if any, of this choice of writing material. Yet he is writing in a series which aims, among many other cited noble objectives, ‘to contribute to a better understanding of the history of writing and of ancient books’ (to paraphrase Capasso’s intentions once again). It seems to me that if this last is to be to any degree achieved, the distinction between ancient texts on papyrus and those on parchment must be preserved, particularly since in the period extending from at least as early as the second century CE until at least as late as the sixth, books made of both materials co-existed, and each might appear either in codex or in volumen form.

The reasons that ancient scribes elected to use either parchment or papyrus and in whatever form, remain, as yet, little elucidated. It is most unlikely, however, — particularly given the appearance of PNaqlun Inv. 15/86 (whose former glory, admittedly, it takes imagination to perceive) —that the codex was, as Birt once had it, a ‘liber pauperum’.3 To compound the problem, in his introduction to the piece, Funari compares PNaqlun Inv. 15/86 with a very fine, probably fifth century parchment manuscript containing the third decade of Livy’s history and held today in Paris (MS. BN. 5730, Puteanus). One could ask why this very much more complete manuscript has not also been included herein.

The ancient evidence for the writings of Livy consists of, alas, only three very small texts, POxy IV, 668 + PSI XII 1291, POxy XI 1379, PNaqlun Inv. 15/86—all found at or near Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. These preserve small sections of, respectively, Ab urbe condita librorum epitoma, Ab urbe condita liber I, 5, 7-6, 1. and Ab urbe condita liber XI? (sic). The largest of these is the first (POxy IV, 668 + PSI XII 1291), which initially consisted of six fragments of a papyrus roll preserving parts of eight columns of writing (held in the British Library, London and the Bodleian Library, Oxford), and which now also includes, following 1934 excavations at Kôm Abu-Teir, a further small papyrus fragment held, with other Greek papyrus fragments, in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The bulk of Funari’s book (pp. 49-228) is given over to his discussion, edition and commentary of these fragments and they make up, indeed, his largest ancient Livy representative.

Funari’s method of presentation of the ancient texts, which he uses for all three fragments, is as follows: text identification, shelfmark, dating (as given by its former editors), provenance, current holding place, previous editions (bibliographical details), printed reproductions (bibliographical details), published palaeographical commentaries (bibliographical details), and modern reference numbers as given in both the Catalogue des Papyrus littéraires grecs et latins and the Leuven Database of Ancient Books. Then follows, in each case, a detailed description of the manuscript which is, in my opinion, largely redundant, given that the book includes photographic reproductions of each fragment in the Tavola (although these are only monochrome and are greatly reduced). The texts, in each case, are presented in a diplomatic edition followed by a translation. Unfortunately these editions can only make more apparent, I feel, the scrappy and lacunose nature of the texts. Scholars will probably struggle to find sufficient meaningful information, philologically speaking. A full apparatus detailing alternative readings is given for each text however, and a detailed commentary follows the textual presentation.

Funari also expends a great deal of time and energy describing the script of each piece in minute (and largely tedious, it has to be said) detail. This is particularly bothersome in his presentation of PNaqlun Inv. 15/86, which he admits that he has not himself seen, and for which he relies entirely on the description given by Bravo and Griffin in their edition.4 For the convenience of having the text and the palaeographical comments in the same place this may be a worthwhile exercise, but the value of this obviously secondhand scholarship is questionable, at least to me.

The introductory section of the book, entitled ‘Papiri e ricezione di Livio nell’Egitto romano’ (pp.39-48), treats in particular the relationship of the Epitome to the complete works of Livy, and considers the later transmission of the summary work. Despite concerted efforts, however, Funari is unable to relate his ancient texts to later versions of the works of Livy, or to contribute new information on the once popular idea that more than one ‘Epitome’ may have been in circulation in antiquity. To account for the existence of the three Late Antique Livy texts treated in his volume, however, Funari posits the idea that there was, in the fourth or fifth centuries, a revival of interest in the work of Livy to which the three ancient manuscripts are witness. All, he thinks, were probably the work of professional scribes and would have been in the possession (or the libraries) of relatively wealthy Romans keen to participate in the current vogue for the work of this ancient historian. In my view, the distinctions in material, script and layout between these three fragments (all aspects on which Funari dwells in great detail) could have been better accounted for.

This is not an easy book to use and one wonders quite for whom it is intended. For some, no doubt, there is a certain value in a collection of ancient Livy texts. I suspect, however, that the intention for this book is that its readership will be wide and cover a range of disciplines. Despite this however, the book lacks an index. This would surely have rendered it more useful. I also feel that Funari’s somewhat repetitious manuscript descriptions and discussion sections could generally have been better signposted; headings and sub-headings, for example, would have been a useful addition.

Priced as it is, this book is surely intended as a reference work for purchase almost exclusively by libraries. On this theme, it is intriguing to note that the hardback edition, which seems not to have appeared, was originally projected to cost €370, while the e-book of the same title is priced, as is the paperback, at €185.00.

Table of Contents

Abbreviazioni bibliografiche
Titi Livi Codices; editiones, adnotationes antiquiores
Periocharum codices; editiones, adnotationes antiquiores
Auctores Graeci
Auctores Latini
Abbreviazioni usate negli apparati
Sigle usate negli apparati
Altre abbreviazioni
Papiri e ricezione di Livio nell’Egitto romano
POxy IV, 668 + PSI XII 1291
POxy XI 1379
PNaqlun Inv. 15/86
Tavola di concordanza per POxy IV 668


1. Capasso, Mario, ‘Il Corpus dei Papiri Storici Greci e Latini’ in Akten des 21. Internationalen Papyrologen Kongresses. Berlin, 13.-19.8. 1995, 1997, B.G. Teubner, 155-157.

2. Shipley, F.W. (1904) Certain sources of corruption in Latin manuscripts; a study based upon two manuscripts of Livy: Codex puteanus (fifth century), and its copy, Codex reginensis 762 (ninth century). Macmillan: London, New York.

3. Birt, Theodor., Der Codex das Buch der Ärmeren, in ‘Kritik und Hermeneutik, nebst Abriss des antiken Buchwesens’, 1913, Munich, pp. 351 sq.

4. Bravo, Benedetto and Griffin, Miriam, ‘Un frammento del libro XI di Tito Livio?’, Athenaeum N., S.66 (1988), pp. 447-521.