They say the age of discovery has passed. It had a good run: five hundred years form the interval separating Petrarch and Boccacio from Angelo Cardinal Mai. At least for Latin texts of antiquity, very little remains to be found, without deciphering the carbonized rolls of Herculaneum.
That at any rate is the story implicit in every survey of Latin literature, the view baked into our histories of scholarship. This despite the troubling counterindications: it has not been forty years since a new work by Martianus Capella was discovered by De Nonno, not thirty years since a new section of Tiberius Claudius Donatus’ commentary on Virgil was turned up by Marshall. Indeed, the last fifty years have been punctuated by the regular discovery of new sermons of Augustine, by Divjak, Dolbeau, and the trio Vindobonensis. The twentieth century saw the discovery of new philosophical works from late antiquity, by Klibansky and Schindel; new bucolic and elegiac poetry, by Lehmann and Garrod; new bits from Sallust, Ammianus, and Rutilius Namatianus, by Bischoff, Cappelletto, and Ferrari.1
One of the discoverers is Lukas Dorfbauer. Examining a known, but unedited, anonymous Gospel commentary in a Carolingian manuscript from Cologne (Dombibliothek cod. 17), he found something surprising: not only was the commentary itself hardly Carolingian, but it matched perfectly with known references to the work of Fortunatian, bishop of Aquileia the mid-fourth century, both quotations of his work in patristic authors and excerpts found under his name in medieval florilegia.
Fortunatian’s commentary on the Gospel achieved considerable notoriety—as early as the 370s, the young Jerome was importuning a correspondent to supply him with a copy, and he was known to Ambrose and Augustine as well. Like many other texts of antiquity—Christian or otherwise—Fortunatian’s commentary was presumed lost. Until now, when, thanks to Dorfbauer, it emerges into light once more.
This book represents the culmination of years of work on his part on Fortunatian and presents the rest of the world with the opportunity to read for the first time the exegesis of the bishop of Aquileia, one of the very earliest exegetes writing in Latin.
It begins with three very short sections on the author and date of the work, and then a long and exhaustive treatment of the manuscripts. As it turns out, excerpts from the work transmitted entire in the Cologne manuscript circulated in other (primarily early medieval) manuscripts, and a very full account of them is provided. There follows a briefer treatment of the commentary’s reception up through the Carolingian period. Several following sections consider the nature of the commentary, while the remainder of the introduction treats stylistic, grammatical and linguistic features of the text—which has more than its fair share of oddities, giving an evangelist, for example, the same name as the poet of the Bellum civile. Jerome made special note of Fortunatian’s sermo rusticus ( de vir. ill. 97); as it turns out, his judgment was impeccable. Scholars of proto-Romance and what used to called ‘vulgar Latin’ will find much here of interest. These hundred pages of preliminaries completed, there follows Dorfbauer’s edition of the text itself. Few tasks in classical scholarship can be more daunting than producing the first edition of a text from a massively corrupt manuscript. Our texts—even our second-string pieces of Latin biblical exegesis—have benefitted from generations and generations of refinements, often starting before the age of print with contaminated but readable fifteenth-century Itali, stretching through multiple editions, sometimes with copious philological commentary, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and culminating usually in a rigorous modern edition in the nineteenth century. At every one of those stages, many of the little imperfections, corruptions and mistakes in the texts were identified and sanated, leaving the ‘scientific’ nineteenth-century editor of the text with a full roster of potential problems and solutions from which selection could be made. The editor of a text fresh from manuscript now has none of that. Under such circumstances, Dorfbauer has done a heroic job, extracting in a huge number of cases good sense from poorly transmitted, corrupt text. A solid ninety per cent of his emendations are undoubtedly correct; the remaining ten per cent should be carefully scrutinized by Fortunatian’s next editor (as Dorfbauer himself admits in a lively note in the apparatus on p. 115). To his credit, Dorfbauer has frequent recourse to parallel passages in the text itself to justify intervention, as well as to other apposite texts, particularly the commentary on Matthew by Fortunatian’s later fourth-century compatriot, Chromatius.
Dorfbauer has also decided to reproduce the whole paratextual apparatus, the incipits, explicits, and the like, of the Cologne manuscript as if they were original features of Fortunatian’s composition—a bold and curious choice. We do not have much secure knowledge at all of the paratextual frames of Latin codices of the mid-fourth-century. That alone makes supposition difficult. But we do have good evidence for early medieval manuscripts, and the paratextual frame of Cologne manuscript looks a whole lot like those in other contemporary manuscripts. This is not to say the original had no such features, but we should not expect them to be transmitted with the same security as text. The most apropos comparand is the Mathesis of Fortunatian’s older contemporary (and co-religionist) Firmicus. It is transmitted with capitulationes and almost certainly had an original capitulatio, but the transmitted form(s) cannot be original since the versions transmitted in the two branches of the manuscript tradition are incompatible with each other. So for the Gospel commentary, when we have a capitulatio headed by the charming nonsense INCIPIUNT SINGULA CAPITULA AD BREVE LECTIONEM QUEM VELIS CELERIUS INVENIAS (cf. p. 66 and 135), are we really to believe it came from Fortunatian’s pen?
Five indices round out the volume, two of them (the index nominum and index verborum) analytical, offering substantial assistance to queries of all sorts. All of this is found in the solid and library-ready binding of the new CSEL volumes published by De Gruyter.
This book has much to offer. For Latin exegesis, it provides us a crucial new text to be read between Victorinus of Poetovium and Hilary of Poitiers. For the text of the Bible, it offers us a new witness to the vetus Latina. For the history of Latin literature, it offers us a new window into the literary world in the Roman Empire of the sons of Constantine. For linguistics, it offers us a wealth of non-standard grammatic features. For textual criticism, it offers us a fine and thought-provoking specimen of an editio princeps. Between all these areas, one may hope that this book finds readers. But even for scholars who cannot bring themselves to wade through a rather roughly written Gospel commentary by a provincial hierarch in one of the more obscure periods of Latin literary history, Dorfbauer’s work may still hold some interest and value. It offers a powerful testament that our textual canon remains provisional and incomplete—that Latin manuscripts from the Middle Ages can still hold surprises.
1. The history of discovery in the twentieth century has been amply covered by F. Dolbeau, “Découvertes récentes d’oevres latines inconnues (fin IIIe—début VIIe s.)” Sacris erudiri 38 (1998): 101-42.