BMCR 2021.02.39

Cornifici seu Incerti Auctoris, Rhetorica ad C. Herennium

, Cornifici seu Incerti Auctoris, Rhetorica ad C. Herennium: Prolegomena, edizione, traduzione, commento e lessico. Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare (SWC) . Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2020. Pp. xxvi, 1790. ISBN 9783110557091. $290.00.


How can the Rhetorica ad Herennium be so underappreciated and even forgotten, when we know that rhetoric was a tenet of the education of Roman magistrates and writers and that this manual was so influential? Is it because its later reception was eclipsed by Cicero and Quintilian’s works? Or because its authorship and date of composition remain debated? Or perhaps because histories of Latin Literature give it so little space?[1] Whatever the reason, Calboli vigorously argues that this is the best manual of rhetoric ever written (pp. 1-8), and his first contribution consists of a passionate reevaluation of this work. To this aim, Calboli follows two main lines of inquiry: he thoroughly locates the Rhetorica ad Herennium (henceforth Her.) in its original context, showing how it partook in the politico-ideological, philosophical, linguistic and cultural debates of the Late Republic; how it related to other schools of rhetoric, and how this relation affected the translation and transmission of Greek precepts of rhetoric in Rome. Calboli’s second line of inquiry deals with the reception of Her. in and beyond the Roman world, through Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages and all the way until the Renaissance. In other words, Calboli demonstrates why and how much Her. matters not only for scholars of ancient, medieval and modern rhetoric but also for those interested in Roman history and philosophy and in Latin linguistics and literature, both prose and poetry.

The book, which is divided into three volumes for a total of more than 1,800 pages, is a monument of scholarship. It can be seen as an update and expansion of Calboli’s 1969 introduction, translation and commentary (reprinted in 1993); but it can also be regarded as the culmination of Calboli’s many other contributions on Her. and related topics. After a thorough introduction in Latin (131 pages), the first volume includes a detailed and user-friendly summary of the content of each book of Her., a critical edition with a rich and positive apparatus, an Italian translation and fifteen colored pictures from manuscripts; the bulk of the second volume is the “commentario,” which spans almost 400 pages in Italian and is followed by an appendix, the bibliography and four indices (nominum, locorum, rerum notabilium and graecorum nominum). The third and longest volume is a lexicon.

Volume I. In the first part of the introduction, Calboli returns to various themes he addressed in previous publications, but he engages with updated bibliography and brings some new arguments toward largely the same conclusions he reached in 1969: Her. was composed between 86 and 82 BCE (pp. 8-12), just after Cicero’s De Inventione, which comes from the same source (pp. 12-19 and 51-64); the anonymous author, who can be identified as Cornificius (pp. 19-37), displays a popularis and patriotic stance (37-51); and his doctrine was especially influenced by Aristotle, the Stoics and the rhetorical school of Rhodes (64-77). A quick look at the 2016 (online) OCD entry suggests that these conclusions pretty much encapsulate the current communis opinio about Her.; but we must give due credit to Calboli, because some of these views have shifted, as shown by the 1970 OCDentry (which does not mention Calboli’s 1969 edition). In two ways, however, Calboli, tempers his convictions about authorship. He admits that the identification of the author of Her. as the Cornificius mentioned by Quintilian and as the etymologist cannot be proven but depends on a very strong conjecture (p. 33), and accordingly he changes the title, from Cornifici Rhetorica ad Herennium (1969) to Cornifici seu incerti auctoris Rhetorica ad Herennium (2020).

Two sections from the introduction find no direct correspondence with the 1969 edition and deal with the style and reception of Her. in Late Antiquity and in the Middle Ages. In the introduction to his 1894 Teubner edition, Friedrich Marx described the style of Her. as unpolished, disarranged, vulgar and childish (rudis et incomposita… elocutio, pp. 86-7, sermo plebeus, p. 169, puerilis, p. 176). Accordingly, Marx’ section on the language of Her. systematically lists its impurities or irregularities (pp. 167-79), tracing them to the alleged Greek original or to the author’s rhetorical exuberance and limited skills. For example, he finds fault with Her.’s minting of adverbs (e.g. adcommodate, adcumulate, insignite, perpolite) and nouns ending in -io (e.g. dubitatio, percontatio and occisio), misuse of pronouns (e.g. suus for eorum), deponent verbs and consecutio temporum.

On the contrary, Calboli argues that Her. shares Cicero and Caesar’s good Latin: the irregularities impugned by Marx must be seen as liberties, and these liberties, far from signaling incompetence (or vulgar, childish and unpolished style), are better explained by the author’s adherence to the linguistic principles of analogia and by his patriotic stance toward the Greeks. The paladins of analogia broadly stood for Latin regularization: new vocabulary should be introduced only when necessary and coined according to the general rationale of Latin, that is, according to ratio (which is Latin for Greek analogia). Similarly, ratio, as opposed to consuetudo, broadly indicating “common usage,” should adjudicate between competing interpretations of Latin morphology and syntax (think of Plautus’ faxit/faciet or indirect interrogative with the indicative). Calboli convincingly demonstrates that Her. adheres to ratio, in theory and in practice. For example, having defined onomatopoeics as words which phonically imitate what they mean, like mugire mimics the mooing of a cow, Her. recommends creating new vocabulary sparingly and only when no fitting word already exists (4.42).

Equally, ratio accounts for Her.’s use of nouns ending in -io much better than Marx’s explanation. Marx reports thirteen –io nouns to exemplify Her.’s plebeius sermo (168-9); in fact, admiratio, conlatio, definitio, deliberatio, dubitatio, exclamatio, percontatio, repetitio, subiectio and vituperatio, that is, ten of those thirteen nouns, regularly occur in literary Latin (especially in prose, e.g. in Cicero, Younger Seneca, Younger Pliny, Tacitus and Quintilian, etc.) and carry no plebeian slant whatsoever. The remaining three, adcomodatio, occisio and perduellio, are rarer but attested in Cicero as well (e.g. Verr. 4.189 and Caec. 41). To disprove Marx, Calboli sets out to catalogue the -io nouns first attested in Her.: he alphabetically lists twenty and duly notes that many of these (I counted ten) appear only in book IV, where Her. deals with figures of speech and hence has to translate much abstract and technical vocabulary from Greek (pp. 85-6).[2] Moreover, it is worth emphasizing that some of these twenty neologisms from Her. became standard Latin words and some of those even entered English and Romance languages: sermocinatio, perversio, elaboratio, maturatio, instigatio, adceleratio, confutatio and adtenuatio perhaps sound so familiar that one can forget where they come from. A sense of familiarity, however, provides one more proof of the impact made by Her., and –io noun document its influence, not its bad Latin.

Calboli convincingly uses analogia to account for Her.’s use of totae rei instead of toti rei and of persuadeo followed by an accusative instead of an expected dative (79-80). His view that Latin writers often allow for more than one “correct” form aligns with what Pinkster has refreshingly shown in his 2015 New Oxford Latin Syntax, but this work is surprisingly missing from the extended bibliography. Lastly, Calboli notes that some of the oddities listed by Marx, like praesente multis for praesentibus multis (p. 42), occur only in one passage where Her. exemplifies poor elocutio. I can only add that, in his magisterial Lateinische Umgangssprache, Hofmann identified other traces of low and spoken Latin both in this same passage and at 4.14, which illustrates the sermo cottidianus.[3] One must conclude that the author of Her. knew how to distinguish good from bad Latin and that Marx’ alleged imperfections are better explained by Calboli. Indeed, my main desideratum from this section on style is that I would have liked to have seen more. For example, the introduction contains only scattered remarks on word order and syntax; and there is nothing about Her.’s use of rhythm, other than a passing remark against Douglas’ use of clausuale for dating the composition of Her. (p. 10). The commentary however, includes a helpful essay on Her.’s theory of the period and of rhythm (731-41), and it would have been nice to see whether this theory applies to Her.’s practice.

Another important addition from the 1969 edition is the critical apparatus. Calboli follows Kayser’s tripartite stemma and prints a neat text with a rich and positive apparatus, which is particularly important for a text like Her. whose tradition is filled with contaminations. One may wish to have a conspectus of the main editions, since Calboli improves the text he printed in 1969 (on average he changes roughly one reading per page) and engages with the good editions by Achard (Les Belles Lettres, 1989) and Müller (Shaker, 1994).

Volume II. The commentario follows the same format as the 1969 edition, but practically all the notes are expanded and updated and there are some new notes as well. As one would expect, Calboli displays a vast and masterful command of the classical, medieval and early modern rhetorical tradition; the commentary covers historical, linguistic and philosophical matters with equal thoroughness; the notes, many of which read like short essays, demonstrate serious and continuous engagement with primary and secondary sources, which are regularly quoted in the original. There is much to learn from these notes, but more cross referencing could have avoided some repetition, and some works are surprisingly missing. For example, Cornell’s The Fragments of the Roman Historians, which was published in 2013, is not in the bibliography; and I was equally surprised to miss Adams’ Anthology of Informal Latin (2016), especially because two of the fifty passages Adams covers come from Her. There are a few typos, which do not preclude understanding.[4]

Volume III is a lexicon, which lists all the words found in Her. alphabetically. Each word corresponds to an entry, which is internally organized according to occurrence, not to meaning. For example, ratio occurs four times in the last chapter of book I and once in the first of book II, so one finds a sequence of these five passages (p. 1564), where ratio means “justification” (twice), “architecture,” “criterion,” and “method.” As promised in the introduction (praemonenda, in Latin), however, Calboli provides enough context to understand the specific meaning of each occurrence. Pronouns are listed by case and then by occurrence, so, for example, quam has an entry for the relative and one for the indefinite or interrogative (listed of course under qui and quis and distinguished from the adverb quam). The result is somewhere between Meusel’s Lexicon Caesarianum and Packard’s Concordance to Livy. One may question the usefulness of lexica in the digital age, but the praemonenda address this objection, and I, for one, enjoyed it more than I thought I would.


[1] For example, Conte’s Letteratura Latina allots a total of six lines to Her. (2002, p. 108); The Cambridge History of Classical Literature vol. II three lines (1982, p. 236), Grimal’s La Literature Latine five lines (1994, p. 146 and 156) and von Albrecht’s Geschichte der römischen Literatur three pages (1994, 470-2).

[2] I wish to add a couple of words to Calboli’s list: for example, dubitatio and definitio are first attested in Her. (TLL5.1.2074.82 and TLL 5.1.350.38, 5.1.353.12).

[3] E.g. convivium fecit at 4.16 signals “trockener Stil” or genus aridum (p. 203, S. 165, §150) and ecce tibi at 4.14 exemplifies low and spoken style (p. 108, § 101 and p. 136, § 127).

[4] E.g. Rhetorica for Rhetoricam p. 14; there is an extra quae at p. 96; constitutio legitima is missing under constitutio coniecturalis at p. 136.