This volume is the first in a series of texts and commentaries, Syllabus, published by the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Giampiero Rosati notes in a brief preface that the series is intended for university and advanced upper school students. This handsomely produced book contains an introduction and textual note, Virgil’s text and a facing page translation in clear, literal prose, a commentary, extensive bibliography, a useful contents index, and an index locorum. It sets a very high standard for the Pisa series and immediately places itself among the elite commentaries of Aeneid 2, alongside Austin (1964) and Horsfall (2008). Sergio Casali draws on these – on occasion he refers the reader for further bibliography to Horsfall’s exhaustive work – as well as on Italian scholarship (Feliciano Speranza, Alfonso Traina) and on Giacomo Leopardi’s verse translation of Book 2. He brings us up to date with scholarship and criticism published in the last decade since Horsfall’s work. Casali manages to be both thorough and more selective in his annotation (the commentary comes in at 250 pages – Horsfall at 500 plus, Austin at 265 with smaller print.) He offers short preliminary summaries and guides to interpretation of sections and episodes of the book, before digging into questions of textual variants, usage, verbal nuance, allusion. The result is a well-shaped, reader-friendly guide to Virgil’s poetry by one of its top scholars and critics.
Casali’s introduction systematically examines the relationship of Book 2 to the preceding tradition of accounts of the fall of Troy and of the Aeneas legend. Virgil’s “delicate task” – the delicate task as well of Aeneas, the narrator of his own story – is to depict the hero experiencing defeat and yet surviving the destruction of his country. Virgil has to take into account stories less creditable to Aeneas: that he left Troy before the Greeks took the city, that he may even have been a traitor who went over to the Greek side. Such stories circulated, and in some cases may have originated, among enemies of Rome. Casali shows how the serpents’ killing of Laocoon and his sons – the portent that, according to the most authoritative tradition (the Ilioupersis and Sophocles’ Laocoon) caused Anchises to persuade Aeneas to leave the city before it fell – becomes instead in the Aeneid the divine sign that clinches Sinon’s fraudulent story and causes the Trojans to bring the wooden horse into the city. Virgil’s Anchises, in an inversion of Ennius’s Annales as well, refuses to leave the burning city, and is only convinced to do so by a very different portent sent from Jupiter, the Julian omen of the fiery hair of Iulus and the comet-like shooting star. Following Heinze, Casali also explains why Virgil does not follow versions in which Aeneas worthily takes command and holds the Trojan citadel: After losing most of his band of followers after they follow the stratagem of harebrained Coroebus and don Greek arms (so explaining the tradition in which Aeneas looks like a traitor), Virgil has Aeneas reach the citadel only to witness the death of Priam and then, through the intervention of Venus, the gods’ demolition of Troy; he finally realizes that further resistance is futile. Where Venus in other accounts guides Aeneas and family out of the city, Virgil’s Venus only accompanies Aeneas back to his house.
The absence of divine protection in the final flight from Troy is the condition for the loss along the way of Creusa, who will turn out, as one tradition had it, to be under the protection both of Venus and of Cybele. “At one and the same time, Creusa, humanly, is lost, while, divinely, she comes to be saved by Cybele.” (37) Casali shows how Virgil, masterfully rewriting his own story of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Fourth Georgic, both makes Aeneas responsible and absolves him for the loss of his wife. Both here in the Introduction and in the Commentary that follows, Casali notes how Virgil points to prior accounts of the Aeneas story that he is not following as well as to his own innovations. When Lucifer, the star of Venus, appears at the end of the book (2.801-2) to signal a new dawn for the hero and the Trojan refugees who have gathered around him, we are asked to remember the alternate tradition in which the goddess accompanied her son out of the city as well as the story that Venus sent a star to guide the Trojans across the sea to Italy (a story that Aeneas himself glances at 1.382, when he tells his story in Carthage to none other than Venus in diguise). Aeneas’s wonder at finding new fellow Trojans placing themselves under his lead – “hic ingentem comitum adfluxisse nouorum / inuenio admirans numerum” (2.796-7), Casali argues, tips the reader off to the new invention and tradition that Virgil is creating. These metaliterary arguments are a feature of Casali’s own wider criticism and of his critical moment, and they lend a distinctive flavor to his commentary vis-a-vis its predecessors.
Casali views the Helen episode as a non-Virgilian interpolation, correctly I believe. The hero Aeneas is not quite a superhero: he would need X-ray vision to spot Helen lurking in the shadows of another building and he can’t fly down to her from the roof of Priam’s palace. Casali prints the Helen passage in brackets and gives due space in his commentary for the arguments of critics who want it to be genuine. He concedes a narrative gap in the text that Venus’s apparition does not suture over.
The commentary teems with new observations as well as careful siftings of the remarks of earlier scholars. It contains one of the best discussions I know of Sinon’s lying stories, in which Sinon tricks the Trojans while telling stories of trickery (something which can reflect on our storytelling hero, Aeneas, and on the poet Virgil, too, who may be putting one over on us). Casali points out many instances in which Sinon takes satisfaction in his own cleverness and in his derision of his duped Trojan audience. At the same time, Casali indicates how Sinon’s words have a way of backfiring on him and the Greeks, particularly in the cock-and-bull story of the stolen Palladium, which looks forward to a real sacrilege in Athena’s temple, the rape of Cassandra, to which Virgil tactfully alludes, but which he does not directly depict. He tactically places the Cassandra episode at the center of the book, the turning point in the battle between Aeneas’s band of defenders and the Greek invaders. If the rape of the virgin Cassandra stands in for the taking of Troy itself, it also occasions Athena’s wrath and punishment, the wrecking of the Greek fleet at Caphereus – punishment, it can now seem, for both deeds. (The wreck is the first event we learn about in the Aeneid, through the voice of grumbling Juno [1.39f].) Sinon’s coupling of the phony Palladium story with the half-true story of Palamedes doubles down on this motif, for Palamedes’s father Nauplius takes his own vengeance by hanging out false signal fires that further shatter the Greek ships against the cliffs of Caphereus (cf. 11.259-260). The reader of the Aeneid thus sees the great opening storm sent by Juno as a damp squib next to the disaster that awaits the returning Greeks and that begins the long decline of Greece before Roman power in the poem: all unwittingly predicted by Sinon. In the same discussion, on vv. 114-115, Casali inserts a brilliant note on Eurypilus, who, according to Sinon’s false story, is sent to consult the oracle at Delphi that demands the human sacrifice – a repeat of Iphigenia and Artemis – that will turn out to be Sinon; Eurypilus, in Pausanias, is indeed involved in a story that concerns the oracle, but one that puts an end to human sacrifice to Artemis.
Another striking note to v. 540 sees Priam’s famously telling Pyrrhus /Neoptolemus that he lacks the mercy and magnanimity of his father Achilles as a reversal of an Ennian fragment in which Hannibal is found to lack the maganimity of King Pyrrhus, who claimed descent from Achilles and Pyrrhus; this link between Pyrrhus and King Pyrrhus will turn up again in Book 3 in Buthrotum, part of the Molossian king’s realm of Epirus.
One of Casali’s most original findings comes at the end of the book. He argues that behind the shade of Creusa, who appears to Aeneas to tell him that she has been deified by Cybele and that he is to find a new royal wife in Hesperia, is the deus-ex-machina figure of Apollo at the end of Euripides’ Orestes : Apollo announces that the divinely engendered Helen is now a divinity and that her husband, Menelaus, should remarry (1638). It is an arresting parallel to discover at the end of a Virgilian book so full of reminiscences of Euripides’ Trojan plays (with the Hecuba and Andromache lurking around the bend in Book 3). We will have to see what other scholars make of this proposal. It suggests relationships in Book 2 among the now prophetic Creusa, the ravished Cassandra, and the never-punished Helen. (Homer places Helen squarely back together with Menelaus in Sparta in Odyssey 4, a situation that Virgil, I think, rewrites into another mismatched couple, Andromache and Helenus, bid by Aeneas in Book 3 to live happily ever after in Buthrotum; Virgil’s Deiphobus has plenty to say about Helen in Book 6.) It might require more thinking about the Helen episode.
Casali’s text follows the principal editions of Conte, Mynors, Geymonat and Horsfall, and notes the manuscript traditions. His commentary discusses the few textual variants that matter. He makes a defensible choice of “lassa” over “lapsa” in verse 739 to describe a Creusa who may have sat down because of weariness on the way out of Troy and was left behind by Aeneas; the latter is also consonant with a book in which so much has fallen.
Casali’s commentary is a must-read for a serious Virgilian.