BMCR 2020.09.19

Der Aeneis-Kommentar von Juan Luis de la Cerda (1612)

, Der Aeneis-Kommentar von Juan Luis de la Cerda (1612): kritische Edition, Übersetzung und Erschließung des ersten Buchs. Noctes neolatinae, Band 36. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2020. 1226 p.. ISBN9783487158778 €236,00 (pb).

Table of Contents

The book under review here originated at the Philipps-Universität Marburg as a doctoral dissertation that was devoted to the Aeneid commentary of Juan Luis de la Cerda, a Jesuit scholar and educator who was active at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The focus is on the commentary to Book 1, for which Sirchich von Kis-Sira presents a critical edition, translation into German, and brief commentary, preceded by a 189-page introduction that is divided into the following major sections: Verortung des Werks, Charakterisierung des Werks, Bezugsnormen zur Beurteilung von Vergil—die Virgilii Elogia, Nachwirkung, Forschungsstand, Zum Text des Aeneis-Kommentars, Abkürzungs- und Literaturverzeichnis, and Kommentarteil.

La Cerda’s commentary is not exactly unknown: it was used by Milton, signaled as valuable in Georg Knauer’s survey of Homeric references in the Aeneid, and made the object of the occasional article and doctoral dissertation over the last twenty-five years.[1] It has not, however, received the attention it deserves. In part this is because its sheer length—almost three million words spread over more than two thousand folio pages—is off-putting, to say the least. And until now, there has been no easily accessible modern edition of any part of it. Because they were expensive when originally published (and thus well cared for), however, the early editions are not particularly rare, so La Cerda’s work is actually more accessible today than many of the sixty-five Aeneid commentaries that were published in the generations before it. Early modern commentaries to classical texts have begun to attract more attention of late, but as Jan M. Ziolkowski and Michael C. J. Putnam have noted, “The vast body of commentaries and translations will become truly navigable only once the relevant entry in the Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum has been published.”[2] It has therefore been difficult for the intrepid scholar who waded into it to figure out what to make of La Cerda’s commentary.

The orientation offered by the lengthy introduction is thus very welcome. Sirchich von Kis-Sira begins right where he should, with the Jesuit schools, the environment for which the commentary was produced. The Jesuit Ratio Studiorum outlines what should be covered in the grammar class and how it should be presented, beginning with the content (argumentum) of an approved classical text and moving to an explicatio that develops the broader context of the passage and the notae that allow for a deeper exploration of potentially confusing points. The commentary also served the needs of the humanitas class, where the emphasis was on the locutionum usus ac varietas and on the auctoris imitatio. This kind of explication advanced the twin goals of a humanist education, which was to produce a graduate who could write a correct and elegant classical Latin and who possessed the desired virtues of honestum, utile, and iucundum.[3] If every commentary helps to constitute its base text by highlighting some points and passing over others,[4] then La Cerda’s notes produced a Virgil who ends up being fully compatible with the educational goals of his day.

Sirchich von Kis-Sira does a fine job of explaining these points, but La Cerda’s commentary actually adds another layer to this traditional approach to the Aeneid. Iodocus Badius Ascensius, for example, used a similar exegetical technique to accomplish the same goals in considerably fewer than three million words, and Philipp Melanchthon was able to accomplish the same end within the margins of a small octavo edition.  The only other sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century commentary to come near this length was Iacobus Pontanus’s Symbolarum libri XVII, and later seventeenth-century commentators like Nicolas Abram and Thomas Farnaby were able to return to the marginal notes in octavo editions. What made La Cerda’s commentary different was his interest in Realien, the concrete details of ancient life as they appeared in Virgil’s text. Sirchich von Kis-Sira notes that La Cerda saw Virgil as omnium artium doctissimus (p. 54) and devotes some seven pages (pp. 85-92) to his treatment of Realien, but the point deserves more emphasis and development: La Cerda participated in an important shift in the goals of the classical commentary that would result in a seventeenth-century version that posited the commentary as a sort of encyclopedia of ancient life, in which the discussion of points raised by the base text withdrew into a freestanding digression that achieved value in and of itself. This point is developed well in Maarten Jansen’s unpublished Leiden dissertation, which reads La Cerda’s commentary as part of the early modern drive to organize an ever-increasing store of knowledge.[5] Sirchich von Kis-Sira is not to be faulted for not reading an unpublished dissertation, nor for not having the overview of the early modern Aeneid commentary tradition from the Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum that has not yet been published, but his work can benefit  from being placed into this larger context.

The critical edition of Book I has been carefully prepared and is accompanied by both a textual apparatus and a second apparatus that identifies citations to the other authors referenced by La Cerda. The translation is well done and is particularly valuable, both in making La Cerda’s commentary accessible to a Latin-less readership and in offering at least one reasonable interpretation of the occasional difficult Latin passage. The accompanying bibliography is up to date and complete, and the brief notes at the end are helpful. Since this edition of just one book of La Cerda’s Aeneid commentary runs to over 1,200 pages in two volumes, it is unlikely that the remainder of La Cerda’s work will appear in a modern edition, so it is especially pleasing to see that Sirchich von Kis-Sira’s work is of such a consistently high quality.

The implied argument in this book is that La Cerda’s commentary merits the attention that its editor has given it, and I would like to elaborate on a couple of the points he makes in his introduction to suggest why this is. As Sirchich von Kis-Sira notes, the range of La Cerda’s scholarship is extraordinary, covering some three hundred ancient authors and one hundred fifty Neo-Latin writers. Among the ancient sources, Homer takes first place with over three hundred references, but Cicero, Horace, Ovid, Servius, and Athenaios are each cited over a hundred times, and among the moderns Corrado, Vaillant de Guélis, and Turnebius are each referenced over forty times. Since the identification of parallel passages remains an important part of classical scholarship today, La Cerda’s commentary can at least save the modern scholar a good deal of work and might well generate references that would otherwise be missed.

This leads me to a final point. It is easy for twenty-first-century classicists to work from an unspoken model of scholarly progress in which each generation consigns to the dustbin of history those scholars who went before it, but in fact early modern scholars were much more steeped in the Latin world than we are and have much to teach us today. The history of classical scholarship has been moving from the margins toward the center of the field of classical studies for the last couple of generations, but many of us still see it as an interesting sideline to the real work we do. Sirchich von Kis-Sira’s edition offers us a stimulus to do more with the earlier commentaries. I have La Cerda’s commentary and the eighteenth-century one by Christian Gottlob Heyne on my bookshelf in part because I am interested in the history of classical scholarship for its own sake, but also because I find answers there to questions that my students and I are asking today:  La Cerda’s explication of the final scene of the Aeneid, for example, uses Aristotle’s Poetics to analyze Aeneas and Turnus in a way that the so-called ‘Harvard school’ would find congenial.[6] I hope that some of the other earlier commentaries will appear in modern editions like this, and that the growing number of digital copies of early printed books will continue to become even more accessible than they are now, so that resources like the commentaries from the past will not be lost.


[1] See, for example, “Allusion as Reception: Virgil, Milton, and the Modern Reader,” in Classics and the Uses of Reception, ed. Charles Martindale and Richard Thomas (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 67-79; Georg N. Knauer, Die Aeneis und Homer: Studien zur poetischen Technik Vergils mit Listen der Homerzitate in der Aeneis, Hypomnemata, 7 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964), passim, esp. 82-86; Andrew Laird, “Juan Luis de la Cerda and the Predicament of Commentary,” in The Classical Commentary: Histories, Practices, Theory, ed. Roy K. Gibson and Christina Shuttleworth Kraus, Mnemosyne Supplements, 232 (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 171-203; and María Ruiz-Funes Torres, “El comentario de Juan Luis de la Cerda a los seis primeros libros de la Eneida de Virgilio,” dissertation, Universidad de Murcia, 1995.

[2] The Virgilian Tradition: The First Fifteen Hundred Years, ed. Jan M. Ziolkowski and Michael C. J. Putnam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), xxii. The volume on Renaissance Virgil commentaries is almost finished: my section on the printed commentaries is complete, and the section on manuscript commentaries that was begun by Virginia Brown and taken over by Fabio Stok is scheduled for delivery by the end of this year.

[3] This idea received its now-classic formulation in Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986).

[4] See Craig Kallendorf, Printing Virgil: The Transformation of the Classics in the Renaissance, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 23 (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 45-53.

[5] Maarten Jansen, “The Wisdom of Virgil: The Aeneid, Its Commentators, and the Organization of Knowledge in Early Modern Scholarship,” dissertation, Universiteit Leiden, 2016, 85-126. On the broader effort to organize knowledge in the early modern era, see Ann Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

[6] Craig Kallendorf, “Epic and Tragedy – Virgil, La Cerda, Milton,” in Syntagmatia: Essays on Neo-Latin Literature in Honour of Monique Mund-Dopchie and Gilbert Tournoy, ed. Dirk Sacré and Jan Papy (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), 579-93.