BMCR 2012.06.48

Claudius Claudianus, Der Raub der Proserpina. Edition Antike

, , Claudius Claudianus, Der Raub der Proserpina. Edition Antike. Darmstadt: WBG, 2009. 154. ISBN 9783534181414. €24.90.

Edited by Anne Friedrich and Anna Katharina Frings, the book under review belongs to the “Edition Antike” series, the aim of which is to make significant ancient works available and accessible to a wide readership through “Leseausgaben” – that is, to provide an original Greek or Latin text accompanied by an updated translation, along with other indispensable reading resources. The editors of this volume fulfil the task admirably, and a remarkable balance has been struck between the various parts of the work. The core of the book comprises a reliable Latin version of Claudian’s De raptu Proserpinae (DRP), with a German rendition in prose on facing pages; this is prefaced by two preliminary sections and followed by thirty pages of explanatory notes and an introductory bibliography. The volume is an engaging introduction to the last great poet of ancient Latin literature.

Significant philological interest in Claudian in recent decades has prompted the production of several critical editions, translations into modern languages, literary commentaries and monographs on individual poems. A native of Alexandria, Claudius Claudianus is known principally for his Latin hexametric panegyrics, invectives and historical epics, which were written under the patronage of Stilicho and deal in considerable detail with events at imperial courts. From a literary point of view, these political poems reflect Claudian’s outstanding command of the Latin poetic tradition and an innovative combination of genres. Thus, engagement with these works requires a sophisticated literary and historical knowledge. The uninitiated have tended to eschew the complexity of such courtly verses, seeking refuge instead in the DRP, Claudian’s only lengthy mythological composition.

For a long time, the poem was regarded as unoriginal and overly descriptive. The volume edited by Friedrich and Frings is no minor achievement; DRP is a difficult text. Because it is unfinished, both the dating of the poem and its interpretation as a literary text pose significant challenges. Since the editions of Charlet (1991) and Gruzelier (1992), 1 research on Claudian’s work has set out to reevaluate the artistic merits of DRP by exploring the specific narrative technique it embodies and re-contextualizing it within the aesthetic mainstream of late Latin poetry.

In the introductory section (“Einleitung”), which discusses the author and his audience and the poetic tradition of the work, Friedrich also raises a number of issues not commonly addressed in other editions and commentaries. She pays considerable attention to the archaeology of cults to Ceres in Sicily and the reasons that may have led Claudian to locate his version of myth on the island. Friedrich emphasizes the polysemic layers of the narrative, a view which rests on the assumption that Claudian’s version alludes to the political background in which the epic was written. She observes that DRP is an innovative fusion of the tale of Pluto and Proserpina with the Gigantomachy, and argues consequently that the traditional meaning of the agrarian myth is imbricated with political significance. Hence, the version of the story given in DRP may be read as referring to the legitimation of power, the corn supply crisis in Rome and the Gothic invasion of Italy in 400-401. Accordingly, Friedrich assigns the poem to a later date, noting the effects this attribution has on the question of text transmission.

The Latin text is taken primarily from Hall’s edition (Teubner, Leipzig 1985); however, twenty-three passages follow Gruzelier’s version of the text (Oxford 1993). In line with the overall design of the series, such variations are usefully listed in a single page appendix, “Zur Textgestaltung.”

The German text is a joint translation produced by Friedrich and Frings, who are careful to stay close to the original text, rendering the poem in clear and fluent prose. In general, they retain Claudian’s bold mode of expression (e.g. the opening verses 1.1-19; and 2.137-8 and 327). However, in some passages their translation tends towards epexegetic commentary (e.g. 2.161: fessis serpentibus inpedit axem“wickelte seine erschöpften Schlangenfüße um die Achse”; 186: victa manu“besiegt von des Dis Gewalt”; 206; 265-7; 3.20-2; 353, etc.). The translation of 3.332 evinces a slight inconsistency with the original text: lucus erat prope flumen Acin“Ein Hain befand sich in der Nähe des gelb strömenden Acis”. The Latin text retains the wording flumen Acin recorded in almost all the manuscripts, but construes a cretic flūmĕn Ā-, which is irreconcilable with the dactylic rhythm and unexpected in Claudian’s regular metrics, but is acceptable if a correptio of Ăcin is conceded (as in Charlet 1991, Gruzelier 1992 and Onorato 20082). In turn, the translation seems to render a reading ( lucus erat prope flauum) that Hall had recovered from the Claverius edition, which is based on the precarious ground of a single manuscript. Finally, in 2.366: pervigili plausu“unter unaufhörlichem Klatschen” is correct, but the adjective has lost its original strength in the context of that dark underworld scene.

The subsequent section is a set of explanatory notes (“Anmerkungen”) to guide the novice reader through the forest of mythological, poetical and geographical allusions. The writing is occasionally concise, but does not compromise clarity of expression. Most of the annotations fall into one of three main categories: simply informative notes, literary comments on compositional aspects, and advice or warnings as a proper reading guide. Friedrich combines common sense with philological competence to build a well-balanced section; however, a more in-depth reading will still require the use of further commentary. In this regard, a more expansive approach to some topics would have been welcome. For instance, page 42 and note n. 72 make reference to the praefationes of Books 1 and 2, but more specific information might have helped the reader to reach a more refined understanding of these two sections, which, though formally separate from the rest of the poem, are significant to a full appreciation of its meaning.

The volume concludes with an introductory bibliography, which includes all of the essential items. The subcategory “Sekundärliteratur zu Claudian”, however, betrays a number of minor imbalances (Wilson 1990 on the archaeology of Sicily would be more at home with Hinz 1998 on Ceres’ cults in the following section3). Nevertheless, these quibbles do not detract from the achievement of the whole. Readers looking for a detailed introduction to the on- going discussion on DRP may be disappointed, but many others—not only in the German-speaking world—will benefit from this propaedeutic work on this notable piece of Latin poetry from Late Antiquity.


1. J.-L. Charlet, Claudien. Oeuvres. Vol I: Le rapt de Proserpine, Paris 1991 (Les Belles Lettres); C. Gruzelier, C., Claudius Claudianus, De raptu Proserpinae, Oxford 1993 (Oxford Classical Monographs).

2. M. Onorato, M., Claudiano. De raptu Proserpinae, Naples 2008.

3. V. Hinz, Der Kult von Demeter und Kore auf Sizilien und in der Magna Graecia, Wiesbaden 1998; R. J. A. Wilson, Sicily under the Roman Empire, Warminster 1990.