BMCR 2019.01.31

Storia di Apollonio Re di Tiro. Scrittori greci e latini

, Storia di Apollonio Re di Tiro. Scrittori greci e latini. Milano: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla – Mondadori, 2018. cv, 341. ISBN 9788804702801. €35,00.

The story of Apollonius, the King of Tyre, narrates how Apollonius loses his wealth and his family, how he recovers them after several years, and how his wife and daughter preserve their dignity in the meantime. The story was extremely popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but its origin remains unknown. The lack of information about its author, place of redaction, and even of the language in which the novel was first written has led to the rise of two opposite theses since Welser’s editio princeps (1595). The prevailing thesis during the nineteenth century, and strongly put forward by Kortekaas,1 maintains that the novel was initially redacted in Greek during the third century, and that it was later epitomized and translated during the fifth century. This thesis was challenged by Klebs,2 and later by Schmeling,3 who claim that it was a Latin novel from the very start. Recently, Panayotakis4 not only has argued that this text is a Latin novel, but also has stated that it is not necessary to assume from its style that it is an epitome, and therefore he challenges the thesis of an early first redaction. These different theses ultimately condition how the editors reconstruct the text from the one hundred and fourteen Latin manuscripts in which it has survived.5 Since Klebs, they are classified in three groups: the recension A (RA), the oldest; the recension B (RB), closer to A than the others; and the Mischtexte, a heterogeneous group of redactions that derive from the two previous ones to varying extents. Among the redactions included in this group, the editors frequently single out two redactions in order to clarify readings both in RA and RB: Rα, which derives mainly from RA; and RC, which takes elements from RA and RB in equal proportion.

The present edition of the Hist. Apoll. is the result of a new collation of manuscripts. The Latin text is supplemented by an Italian translation on facing pages, a positive critical apparatus and an apparatus of sources, the richest among the previous editions (for instance, Vannini points out the myth of Enomanus as the possible underlying model of the Antiochus episode, as it was previously stated by Rohde6, but now he identifies Hyg. Fab. 84 as its precise source). A comprehensive preliminary study precedes the edition, in which Vannini presents innovative ideas regarding the question of the work’s origin. There follows an updated bibliography of editions, commentaries and studies, and a map in which Vannini illustrates the travels of Apollonius and his family, including the travels left aside by Alvares7 and eliminating the ones included by Kortekaas8 without textual support. A thorough commentary is placed after the edition, as well as an appendix with the text of the recognition scene in Mytilene as it is amplified in RB. The volume ends with two indices, the first of proper names and the second of themes and keywords. Vannini employs the division into chapters used by the previous editors since Riese,9 and the internal numbering of Panayotakis, with the goal of developing a quoting system detached from any specific edition.

Vannini’s edition is innovative in many ways. To start with, Vannini abandons the tradition of editing RA and RB separately. The explanation requires a short preamble regarding the previous editions. Since Riese, these two recensions are considered the oldest and closest to a common, previous redaction, of which there is no piece of evidence. Despite giving the same version of the story, both redactions have linguistic and stylistic features that differentiate one another in such a way that the previous editors have considered it impossible to constitute a single text from them. At the same time, regarding the problem of the origin, it is stated that both recensions relate separately to a previous, common redaction, which would have been closer to the original. While Riese10 considered RB a prima variandi forma of RA, Tsitsikli11 claimed that RB is the oldest redaction and that RA corrects RB from a direct reading of the “original.” Therefore, he printed the two redactions in facing pages, a model that would be followed by the subsequent editors, and that would be called into question only by Vannini. Kortekaas and Schmeling, however, argue that RA is correcting RB from a previous common redaction: a Greek one according to the former, and a Latin one, according to the latter. At the same time, Schmeling edits RC along with RA and RB, since he considers that the unclear readings in RA and RB should be corrected from RC.

Vannini agrees with Riese and Kortekaas on the assumption that RB has a substantial dependency on RA. Nevertheless, he maintains that Kortekaas’ thesis, according to which RB would have made use of a previous lost redaction to correct RA, is uneconomic (p. lv); therefore, he abandons that thesis, despite having accepted it cautiously before.12 At the same time, he agrees with Klebs on the idea that RB is earlier than the witnesses of RA, but differs on the claim that both redactions would have been independent derivations from a common antecedent (the epitome of the novel according to Klebs).

For these reasons, Vannini put forward a new stemma, according to which RB represents a systematic reworking of the redaction A, made by exploiting a lost witness, less corrupted than the surviving witnesses of RA, named APVa c. Such a manuscript, named “X” in the stemma, would have been a witness of the oldest and best preserved version of the Hist. Apoll., the archetype of RA. As a consequence, Vannini considers that RA is the archetype of the Hist. Apoll. itself, and that RB offers better readings of this archetype than the witnesses of RA, which is why he utilizes the readings of the witnesses of RB to correct the corrupted readings of APVa c (p. lv).

This stemma emerges from a second radical thesis regarding the traditional assumptions about the history of the Hist. Apoll.. As Vannini claims after Kortekaas13 and Konstan,14 the Hist. Apoll. can be considered a text vivant, a text that has an open tradition (p. xlvii), meaning that such a text accepts some kind of indeterminacy and variation along its textual tradition. Therefore, the redaction A represents one stage in a dynamic tradition in which the textual material is continuously adapted as a response to different contexts of reception. In this sense, the redaction A is the oldest stage recorded of the textual tradition of the story of King Apollonius. Its style and the particular mixture of previous narrative materials are typical of the Late Antique world, and suggest that this redaction is to be dated in the second quarter of the fifth century. The redaction B thus would be a prima variandi forma of the archetype, the redaction A. Vannini still places RA before RB in time, but claims that the witnesses of RB present better readings of RA than its own witnesses, APVa c, and discards those readings considered additions of the RB redactor, although he does not exclude the possibility that such additions could have been part of the source of RA –Vannini cautiously avoids calling this source “archetype” or “epitome” because of the open-text tradition he applies as conceptual framework. As a consequence, Vannini carries out a new collation of manuscripts towards the reconstruction of RA, the Hist. Apoll. archetype, making use of APVa c and improving its readings by contrasting them with the recensions α and B mainly, and only occasionally with RC.

The theses discussed above have important consequences for the dispute about the origin of the story. The idea of “open tradition” enables Vannini to overcome the dispute since, according to him, the convergence in the novel of narrative patterns stemming from different genres (such as the Greek novel of adventure, the family novels and the sapiential literature), the well-known holes in the plot, the consequent inorganic structure, and the late Latin lexical and syntactical features suggest that Hist. Apoll., just as it is, is the oldest version of the story of King Apollonius, and that the textual and narrative aspects related to the possible contexts of reception need careful study. As Vannini points out, it is inferred that the materials involved are older than the redaction A, but it is not possible to make any assumptions about their origin from the late Latin text (p. xxv). Collages of this kind, in fact, were typical during Late Antiquity, and this compositional technique was employed not only in literary compositions (p. xxvi). This idea, as a consequence, endows RA with the individuality that the quest for the first lost redaction has traditionally disregarded. In connection with this point, Vannini gives special attention to Symphosius’ Aenigmata included in the riddle contest, in chapters 42 and 43. Since Symphosius’ riddles are thought to be compiled at the end of the fourth century or at the beginning of the fifth, their presence in the novel has been considered to provide the terminus post quem for the antecedent of RA and RB. For that reason, Vannini includes a brief critical study of the riddles embedded in the novel, along with a commentary about the alleged influence of Hist. Apoll. on Symphosius’ textual tradition.

These criteria have consequences for the critical apparatus, which, as Vannini claims, is necessarily positive (p. lxxvii). The critical apparatus is intended to show which witnesses contribute to the constitution of the text. Conversely, a negative apparatus is employed only when the readings in APVa c are not acceptable. Since the recensions α and B are considered to be closely attached to RA, their readings are reported only when they confirm the readings in APVa c. When they are not reported, it must be understood that their readings are considered unacceptable to corroborate or correct the text of APVa c.

In conclusion, Vannini’s thesis concerning the origin of the novel and the importance of RA in its textual tradition simplifies several problems of Hist. Apoll., but when applied to an edition, the open tradition becomes invisible. The stylistic features and additions of RB are subsumed to those of RA, and thus its individuality as the alleged second sequence on this open tradition is left in the shadows. It can be said that Vannini’s edition represents a breaking point in the critical tradition of the novel, but at the same time, it should be taken into account that the study of its open tradition still demands the examination of both recensions separately, whether RA is constituted from its witnesses and from RB or not.


1. G. A. A. Kortekaas, Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri (Groningen, 1984); The story of Apollonius King of Tyre. A study of its Greek origin and an edition of the two oldest Latin recensions (Leiden and Boston, 2004).

2. E. Klebs, Die Erzählung von Apollonius aus Tyrus. Eine geschichtliche Untersuchung über ihre lateinische Urform und ihre späteren Bearbeitungen (Berlin, 1899).

3. G. Schmeling, Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri (Leipzig, 1988).

4. S. Panayotakis, The story of Apollonius, King of Tyre. A Commentary (Berlin, 2012) 8.

5. Vid. Kortekaas, op. cit. (1984), p. 413–418 for a description of the manuscripts identified so far.

6. E. Rohde, Der griechische Roman und seine Vorläufer (Leipzig, 1876), p. 448, n.1.

7. J. Alvares, ‘Maps’, in G. Schmeling (ed.) The novel in the ancient world (Leiden, 1996), 801–814, 809.

8. Kortekaas, op. cit. (2004) 2.

9. A. Riese, Historia Apollonii regis Tyri (Leipzig, 1893).

10. Ibid, viii.

11. D. Tsitsikli, Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri (Königstein, 1981) i.

12. Cf. G. Vannini, ‘Note al testo della Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri’, Maia 66, 2 (2014) 352–373, 354.

13. Kortekaas, op. cit. (1984) 141.

14. D. Konstan, ‘The Alexander Romance: The Cunning of the Open Text’, Lexis 16 (1998) 123–138, 23.