BMCR 2020.11.33

Gli Aratea di Cicerone: saggio di commento ai frammenti di tradizione indiretta con approfondimenti a luoghi scelti (frr. 13 e 18)

, Gli Aratea di Cicerone: saggio di commento ai frammenti di tradizione indiretta con approfondimenti a luoghi scelti (frr. 13 e 18). Bari: Edipuglia, 2019. Pp. 292. ISBN 9788872288825 €35,00 (pb).

Cicero’s prose corpus, so dauntingly massive and so obviously important, has tended to overshadow what remains of his poetry. Usually, if we classicists remember that Cicero wrote poetry at all, it’s that one excellently self-aggrandizing verse—o fortunatam natam me consule Romam (fr. 8 Courtney)—that sticks in our brains, inspiring us more to laughter than scholarship. But Cicero deserves better. He is an important, interesting, and even a good poet; readers of republican and Augustan verse would benefit from spending more time with him.

Ciano’s new book, a revised Roma Tre thesis, constitutes a modest but welcome addition to the scholarship that has begun proving this point.[1] She takes as her theme the Aratea, Cicero’s youthful rendering of Aratus’ Phaenomena which, at nearly 550 extant hexameters, survives in relative abundance. Rather than treating all of these hexameters, however, Ciano has chosen to limit her focus: she offers a commentary on, an Italian translation of, and three essays about the poem’s indirectly transmitted fragments (i.e. those thirty-three one- to six-verse chunks of the Aratea that have survived through quotation in prose texts—mostly, alas, in Cicero’s own prose texts). This was a smart choice. Not only has it ensured that her scholarship is a companion to, rather than in competition with, Pellacani’s recent commentary on the entire Aratea,[2] but the limited focus allows Ciano to study this uniquely preserved portion of the poem with, in some ways, more attention than anyone really ever has before. The result is a sensitive, learned, and mostly rigorous book that, while not quite ground-breaking, has new and interesting things to say about the Aratea and its influence on the Latin tradition.

Ciano’s introduction provides an overview of some basic issues—Aratus’ poem, its Roman Nachleben, the date of Cicero’s translations (she carefully and sensibly places both the Aratea and the Prognostica around 90 BCE). A particular interest of Ciano’s here, and throughout her book, is the idea that Cicero and other Romans studied Aratus as a kind of school text. Many of the arguments that arise from this belief are compelling: for instance, she makes a surprisingly solid case for the possibility that the grammaticus L. Aelius Stilo played some role in Cicero’s translation;[3] and she will, again and again in her commentary, insightfully show how Cicero has drawn on the Aratean scholia in his rendering. I wonder, though, if Ciano’s commitment to the Aratea’s scholastic context goes a bit too far at times. She argues, for example, that Cicero translated the Phaenomena so that other young Romans could study that Greek poem con il concorso della sua versione (18); but Cicero’s rendering sits uneasily with that suggestion. Consider just one example: Aratus’ simple clause, ἀμφότεραι (scil. χέρες) δ’ Ὄφιος πεπονήαται (Aratus 82) becomes, in Cicero’s hands, hic pressu duplici palmarum continet Anguem (fr. 15.1 Ciano). This is something far more ambitious than a crib: with the striking, alliterative enallage in pressu duplici palmarum, Cicero in fact complicates Aratus. To my mind, if we want to imagine an intended audience for such a translation, we would do better to think, not of adulescentes stumbling through Aratus’ Greek, looking for linguistic guidance, but early-first-century poets like Matius, Sueius, and Laevius, whose bold, Hellenizing fragments give us some sense of the literary scene of Cicero’s youth.

But Ciano nowhere insists that Cicero was writing purely for the classroom. And in fact, one welcome aspect of her commentary is its constant interest in taking Cicero seriously as a poet, whose language creatively incorporates, and will go on to influence, other Latin poems. To that end, she amasses a huge amount of comparative material (one highlight among many: Cicero’s dragon at fr. 9 looks an awful lot like Pacuvius’ turtle at trag. 3 Ribbeck3 [78-79]), and she uses this material to offer some compelling new interpretations (so, the sense of corniger at fr. 27 is not simply cornuto, dotato di corna, but armato di corna [149]). Other strengths of Ciano’s commentary seem to me her sensitivity to Cicero’s style, the wealth of recent bibliographical material that she generously discusses, and the clarity with which her arguments tend to be advanced. Not all of these arguments, naturally enough, are equally compelling, and there are redundancies in her occasionally overbrimming, quotation-heavy notes (Enn. Ann. 336 Skutsch is repeated three separate times in her treatment of fr. 3, for instance). Pellacani’s much briefer discussions of the same text, then, might be a better first port of call, but Ciano’s commentary will be an essential next stop.

As for the actual text presented in this commentary, and the layout of that text: with each individual fragment, we have, first, the Latin from Soubiran’s Budé,[4] then, on the same page, Ciano’s own Italian translation, the prose testimoniumfrom which the relevant fragment has been extracted, the relevant verses of Aratus, and finally Soubiran’s apparatus criticus. There are benefits to this format—mostly, it is convenient to have so much information on one and the same page. Reprinting Soubiran’s standard text, too, rather than editing the fragments anew, seems fair enough.[5] But the testimonia and apparatus have both been a little carelessly treated: Ciano garbles Priscian in the testimonium at fr. 24 (palustri should read aplustria) and omits three entire lines from Soubiran’s apparatus (frr. 15.5, 18.2-3). These are frustrating blemishes, which make a good commentary less useful.

Thankfully, with the three approfondimenti that constitute the book’s second half, we are back on solid ground. Approfondimento II, “Nel “segno” di Omero. Arat. 72; Ap. Rh. 3, 1002; Nonn. D. 33, 374,” treats the motif of Ariadne’s crown in Aratus, Apollonius of Rhodes, and Nonnus; this brief discussion seems convincing, though, insofar as it does not actually discuss Cicero, I suspect it would find a wider readership in another venue. Approfondimenti I and III, on the other hand, are much longer, more substantial, and more at home in this book. They take as their subject the intertextual afterlife of, respectively, frr. 13 and 18 of Cicero’s Aratea. In the first essay, “L’arte di cantare la Corona di Arianna. Da Arato ad Avieno,” Ciano argues that Cicero, under the influence of the Aratean scholia, finds a pun in the σῆμα of Aratus 72, the double meaning of which (“memorial”/“constellation”) he incorporates into his own phrase, eximio fulgore. Taking their initial inspiration from Cicero, as Ciano continues, poets from Virgil to Avienus in various ways incorporate this same polysemous play into their descriptions of Ariadne’s crown. In the third essay, “Il versus aureus e l’aurea aetas,” Ciano contends that “Golden Lines”—which she carefully and intelligently defines (208-12)—appear in thematizations of the “Golden Age” in Latin poetry from Cicero onwards. The essential thesis in both approfondimenti I and III, then, is the same and straightforward: Cicero’s treatment of various Greek tropes subtly but perceptibly shapes their development in the later Roman tradition.

Both manifestations of this thesis are, I think, largely persuasive (if a bit dry and long-winded). Ciano incorporates a startling diversity of poets (Tibullus, Silius, Juvenal, Manilius and more) into her discussions, but does so without, in most cases, forcing implausible connections: her suggestion is not that each and every Latin poet mentioned alludes directly to Cicero’s poem (although some of them clearly do), but that they all allude to a tradition which Cicero got started. She directs our gaze, then, at a kind of ripple—or rather, two ripples—of Ciceronian influence through the Latin poetic tradition.

Two ripples, of course, do not amount to a flood, and I don’t want to overstate the importance of these insights, but they are, to me, exciting and bode well for research to come: there is much more to be said about Cicero the poet and the Latin tradition. That is one major implication of Ciano’s focused study. All the same, I would briefly identify two misgivings about her approfondimenti. First, invocations of Conte’s auctoritas notwithstanding, I am hesitant to accept Ciano’s belief that Latin poets generally allude to the earlier tradition in order to demonstrate their knowledge and mastery over that tradition (195-96). Love, hatred, and/or any number of thematic resonances could potentially issue from any given act of allusion: to flatten the workings of la memoria poetica into a posturing contest of mastery seems to me (to put it lightly) unsatisfying. Tous les cas sont spéciaux, after all[6]—I wish Ciano had attended a bit more to the particular motives and the particular effects of the individual allusions that she has found.[7]

Second, I would register some discomfort with the teleological language of “perfection” that Ciano uses to describe changes in poetic style in her third approfondimento. Despite its traditional (and playful) name, the “Golden Line” is not some platonic form to which Latin poets were by nature aspiring but only, and with great toil, managed to “perfect” in the first century BCE. If we act as if it were (I worry), then we perpetuate an anachronistic view of Latin literary history that imagines “archaic” Latin style as in some sense deficient, a view on account of which Cicero and many other good poets have suffered neglect. The scare quotes that Ciano sets around perfeziona and perfezionato—on only two occasions, in her essay’s second half (232, 241) – perhaps suggest a concession to the point I am making here; but it would have been better if she had just left this language out of her essay altogether.

But let me sum up by stressing that my criticisms of this book are, in the end, pretty minor and should in no way be mistaken for a lack of respect. This is a serious work of scholarship, full of useful information: research libraries ought to buy it, Latinists interested in republican, early imperial, and didactic poetry will consult it with profit. If we are lucky, Ciano’s commentary and essays will help encourage yet more scholarship on Cicero poeta and his Roman reception. In short, I welcome this rich and detailed book on a relatively understudied poet, and you should, too.


[1] Notable contributions to this minor trend include: Gee, E. 2013. “Cicero’s poetry.” In Steel. C. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Cicero. Cambridge: 88-106; Volk, K. 2013. “The Genre of Cicero’s De consulatu suo.” In Papanghelis, T. D. et al. (eds.) Generics Interfaces in Latin Literature. Berlin: 93-112; Bishop, C. 2018. “pessimus omnium poeta: Canonization and the Ancient Reception of Cicero’s Poetry.” ISC 43.1: 137-59.

[2] Well, recent and forthcoming commentaries, plural: Pellacani has published a bilingual (Latin-Italian) edition of all of Cicero’s translations of Aratus with notes (2015. Cicerone. Aratea e Prognostica. Introduzione, traduzione e note. Pisa) and the first part of a projected two-part scholarly commentary on the entirety of the Aratea (2015. Cicerone. Aratea. Parte I: Proemio e Catalogo delle costellazioni. Introduzione, testo e commento. Bologna).

[3] Many readers, though, will be dismayed to see the earnest invocation of il Circolo degli Scipioni (19).

[4] Soubiran, J. 1972. Cicéron. Aratea. Fragments poétiques. Paris.

[5] Though if Ciano is willing to excise the first verse of Soubiran’s long fr. 33 to make her own one-verse fragment (which she calls fr. 33), then I do not understand why she does not just print, e.g., ex his at fr. 6.1, the reading she defends and translates against Soubiran’s ex is.

[6] To recall Timpanaro recalling Pasquali recalling Dain recalling Bidez (Timpanaro, S. 1985. The Freudian Slip. Psychoanalysis and Textual Criticism. London, New York: 87).

[7] A highlight for me in the third essay is her discussion of Cicero in the Georgics (212-17), in part precisely because she there pays some attention to the specific meaning that Virgil’s Ciceronian allusions create within his poem.