BMCR 2021.10.40

Il limen (sottile) tra congettura e restituzione: Sulla validità delle congetture ritenute palmari

, Il limen (sottile) tra congettura e restituzione: Sulla validità delle congetture ritenute palmari. 2a edizione ampliata. Anthologiarum Latinarum Parerga, VIII. Hildesheim: Weidmannsche Hildesheim, 2020. Pp. 224. ISBN 9783615004441 €58,00.


Zurli, well-known editor of many Latin poems such as Persius’ Saturae and the fifth-century Aegritudo Perdicae, compiled in 2016 for the first time, and in 2020 for this revised edition, many of his textual-critical notes. The resulting book is divided into a preface, an ‘[a]vvertenza alla seconda edizione’, a methodological introduction, and a detailed discussion of diverse textual problems arranged by author, when known, and work. In the first edition, about 30 passages were discussed; in this one, well over 40: Ovid, Am. 3.15.18; Metam. 6.585, 8.371, 12.216, 14.334, 14.671, 15.838; Persius, 2.9–10, 3.29, 3.56, 4.35; (ps.)Seneca, Apocol. 7.4–5, Herc. O. 1721; Petronius, fr. 27 and 36 (Müller); Statius, Silv. 1.6.8; 5.3.127; Alcestis Barcinonensis 72; Pervigilium Veneris 46; Pentadius, 234 (Riese); Reposianus, Concubitus, 41 (Riese); Dracontius, Or. 288, 455, 516; Aegritudo Perdicae 97, 261; the Virgilian centos De alea 73, De ecclesia 26ff., Europa 23ff. (8, 16 and 14 Riese, respectively); Anonymi versus serpentini, 52, 76 (Riese); Luxorius, 298, 336, 364, 370, 372 (Riese); Unius poetae sylloge, 99, 117, 123, 133, 142, 152, 154, 174, 196 (Riese). The stated aim of the book is to show that evident conjectures rarely exist, yet Zurli often dwells on his own, often remarkable, conjectures. Among the most solid ones, I will mention in armis for inermis (against the usual conjecture eneruis) in (ps.)Sen. Herc. O. 1721 (62); urgentes for argentes, usually corrected into ardentes, in Petr. fr. 27 (69); sal instead of the conjecture mare in Alc. Barc.72 (the only witness is missing the word; mare was proposed by Hutchinson and Nisbet) (93–94); my personal favourite, Pentadius 234, 17-18, Hostia saepe fuit diri Busiridis hospes (no comma) / aris, Busiris hostia saepe fuit, ‘Vittima soleva finiva l’ospite sugli altari (aris) dell’empio Busiride, Busiridi finì vittima del suo altare (saepe)’, instead of Hostia saepe fuit diri Busiridis hospes, / Busirisque aris hostia saepe fuit (108); De alea 73, dixerat atque illum instead of dixit adq; cum of the manuscript (usually corrected into dixit et e curru); Unius poetae sylloge 99, 6, audit instead of audet of the manuscript (192).

The book closes with a conclusion, an Index locorum and an Index nominum rerumque notabilium. An exhaustive list of the contributions in which the textual notes originally appeared would have been welcome.

The stated focal point of the book is the subtle distinction between supposedly crystal-clear or evident conjectures (‘congetture ritenute palmari’) and restitutions. Zurli does not defend a hierarchy having at one end weak conjectures and at the other real restitutions as confirmed retroactively by latter witnesses (as Koechly’s ἐλαίης rather than Ἀθήνης in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca 15.112, a conjecture later confirmed by a papyrus). It rather claims that conjectures rarely, if ever, can be taken as real restitutions. Most scholars were already aware of that, even though Paul Maas believed that some conjectures were obviously correct (diuinatio may lead “zu einer evidenten Emendation”, Textkritik § 15).

Zurli’s contention that no conjecture can be taken to be sure is correct: ‘una congettura, per quanto brillantissima, resta una congettura’ (64). He might have added that many readings supported by the witnesses, some of them not even suspected by previous editors, are not certain either. This is possibly the real limen: even the objective and non-anomalous paradosis is falsifiable and may be eventually corrected, as later manuscript findings have sometimes proved. An example is the famous locanda of Ovid’s Amores (1.10.30), in what was then considered to be the unanimous manuscript tradition. After Munari’s collation of Berolinensis Hamilton 471 (1965) editors read licenda, together with the Hamiltonensis: sola locat noctes, sola licenda venit.

In a paradox dear to him, Pasquali states not only that the receptus cannot be accepted as certain, which would have been obvious enough, but also that it is, in a way, at least when it might be problematic, a conjecture. When an editor accepts a word in an anomalous meaning or use, Pasquali argues, he makes “auch eine Konjektur […], nur eine viel unwahrscheinlichere” (Gnomon 5/8 [1929], 421) than the critic who actually corrects the text; this formulation, which Pasquali ascribes to Vitelli, was considered aberrant by Maas. It shows that to Pasquali conjecture is anything that may be proven false, even the receptus.

On the other end of the spectrum it may be argued that all conjectures are diagnostic, in the Maasian sense. Their historical validity can always be called into question, while at the same time they might be ‘wrong’ and still be useful (Textkritik, p. 32). Zurli does not dwell on the concept of diagnostic conjecture, which in his mind merely coincide with conjectures exempli gratia; these, he writes, do not deserve any attention (29, n. 36). Maas’ concept, however, would have allowed for a distinction between ‘evident’ and ‘less-than-evident’ conjectures. On the other hand, Zurli uses these specific conjectures, for instance on p. 89, where he proposes emendations simply to show a possible solution, which however does not have any claim to historical plausibility.

 Apart from dwelling on the limen between evident conjectures and supposed restitutions, this book is about another conviction of its author: that ‘[l]’esegesi è […] la “via” principale della critica del testo’ (24). This conviction explains the inclusion of many of his critical notes on poems ‘nei quali la sostanziale aderenza, da parte degli editori, al testo trasmesso dai codici permette a malapena di intuire le profonde divergenze esegetiche che li dividono’ (25). The methodological stance allows him to discuss texts in which not even an ending or an orthographical variant is called into question, but only the sense attributed to apparently well-established words. Some will dispute whether this discussion, where no emendation—not even a diagnostic conjecture—is advanced, pertains specifically to textual criticism. Here and there, Zurli finds an elegant way to make his remarks about sense relevant to textual criticism. He includes in his book a crucial subject, often neglected, namely punctuation. Yet on occasion not even a change in punctuation is adduced. The very interesting discussion of Luxorius’ epigram 336 Riese (= 331 Shackleton-Bailey) is a case in point. A very rich interpretation is presented. However, no conjecture or modification is proposed, and this in a book called, unambiguously, Il limen (sottile) tra congettura e restituzione.

To call into question the very category of ‘evident’ conjectures, a discussion of conjectures generally taken to be acceptable or even brilliant would have been instructive—say, Housman’s ΠΑΡΙCΤΟΡΙΑΝ instead of ITAPICTORIA in the mss. of Martial (Liber spectaculorum 24.8), Voss’ πείρομεν οἶδμα instead of τείρομεν ἅμ’ (later, again, confirmed by a papyrus) in Argonautica 2.1127, Politian’s qui instead of cui in Virgil’s fourth eclogue, v. 62 (with the aid of Quintilian’s Vorlage), or even the unmetrical tenebrosus (Catullus 3.11) corrected into tenebricosus by Parthenius. To show why not even these conjectures are solid would be a difficult task, even disregarding the evidence of the papyrus and the indirect tradition.

The first case-study by Zurli, arguing that defuerant of the manuscripts should be preferred to Heinsius’ defuerunt (Ov. Met. 6.585) (32), for example, hardly looks like the refutation of a great conjecture.

For Metamorphoses 15.838, Zurli deplores that editors place senior similes within cruces, although this is the reading attested by all the witnesses (Zurli’s emphasis); however, Zurli is well aware that all witnesses may share a reading only because it was present in their archetype, and that therefore it is not necessarily more telling than a mistake in a codex unicus. Indeed, Zurli agrees that similes should be corrected. He argues that ‘le lexeis da restaurare, a partire da similes dei codici, non potrebbero che essere simul his’ (44). Here, he approves of an obvious conjecture, taking it (tacitly) to be palmaria. He proposes the conjecture himself. If the unifying thread of the book is to prove that evident conjectures rarely exist, it will not do to multiply them. Yet Zurli proposes such conjectures with a confidence surprising in someone who believes that almost no conjecture is palmaria. On p. 50, for instance, he states that the word which must substitute for an allegedly corrupted magnis in Ovid’s Am. 3.15.18 ‘non può essere che mannis’. He thus corrects pulsanda est magnis area maior equis, a verse which may be problematic, but in which there is no limen, for this is the reading of the manuscripts, into pulsanda est mannis area maior equis. I defy the reader to interpret this emendated verse without the translation proposed by Zurli on p. 51, which presupposes ‘maior comparativo assoluto (=“troppo grande”), costruito col dativo di relazione (dat. iudicantis) mannis’. His translation: ‘un area troppo grande per i cavallini (mannis) va battuta dai cavalli’. Zurli also proposes an alternative emendation, nostris instead of magnis, and minimizes the fact that nostris is to be found in a 15th-c. witness by stating that ‘il suo estensore vi sarà arrivato per via congetturale’ (49, n. 117). Perhaps, but even so, the value, or lack thereof, of a manuscript confirmation of the conjecture should be assessed in more detail.

Once Zurli goes on to quote Giuseppe Giangrande, who concludes about a given conjecture that it is ‘palmaria’. Who is the author of this ‘congettura palmaria’? Zurli himself (‘il compianto Giuseppe Giangrande […] ha concluso –bontà sua– che la mia emendazione audit […] è palmaria’, 194).

A more urgent task, and one which Zurli also tackles, is to dislodge fossilized conjectures from critical texts and apparatuses, often not by finding a new, brilliant conjecture, but by returning to the receptus. ‘A volte,’ he writes, ‘si fa fatica a comprendere come emendazioni cosí palesemente sbagliate abbiano avuto una fortuna incontrastata’ (143).  Indeed, to denounce such conjectures, and others that are less than ‘palesemente sbagliate’, is another goal of Zurli. As he states, ‘[s]pesso una corretta esegesi spazza via le congetture sedimentatesi sopra la lezione trasmessa’ (169). Yet to this aim it is not necessary to attack ‘evident’ conjectures as such, but weak conjectures and, alternatively, the lack of a critical approach on the side of editors who accept said conjectures. (The paradox of being conservative by printing conjectures, and healthily radical by returning to the paradosis, as Zurli tacitly postulates, is, of course, parallel to Vitelli’s and Pasquali’s paradox of calling the reading of a manuscript a more risky conjecture than an actual conjecture.) An example of this rejection of needless conjectures is Zurli’s analysis of matrumque nurumque caterva (Ov. Met. 12.216) corrected by editors in matrum nuruumque, according to Zurli, by one reason, namely, ‘[u]nicamente (pare incredibile!) la considerazione che il gen. plur. dei nomi della quarta declinazione attacca la desinenza um alla u tematica’ (38-39). (Some editors, as Tarrant, fail to indicate that manuscripts have the geminated -u-, making matrumque unmetrical, and thus rendering the actual reading of the archetype invisible.)

The real aim of this book is not to prove that congetture palmari are few, that bad conjectures have to be dislodged from the texts and apparatuses, and that often a return to the receptus is the most cunning thing to do. Rather it is to show the critical acumen of an excellent Latinist in action, displayed in a number of short notes that allow for a detailed exercise of exegesis, contextualization and conjectural emendation. The forte of the book is the very rich discussion of individual passages (‘la serie di exempla addotti’, 9), which offer a practical and theoretical overview of the art of critical conjecture. ‘[I] pezzi esposti provengono dalla collezione personale messa assieme in trent’anni di lavoro critico’ (26).

I have found myself explaining to students how conjectures are made by recourse to Zurli’s examples. He is one of the very few critics who show the often unglamorous backstage of conjectures. He shows the process step-by-step. He does not jump to the glorious result, as a Housman would do, but the painstaking path to it, combined with considerations about the poetic technique of the author (his most illuminating insights concern, I believe, authors of the Anthologia) and about palaeography. Zurli is always conversational, sometimes obscure, and might recur to excessive brevitas; the freshness of the style, its lack of full references, often gives the impression that he is talking to a classroom, rather than writing a treatise. Perhaps this makes the corpus of notes such a pleasure to read. This is one of the few books on textual criticism about which I wished, having finished it, that it was longer.