BMCR 2022.03.09

The Bavarian Commentary and Ovid: Clm 4610, the earliest documented commentary on the Metamorphoses

, The Bavarian Commentary and Ovid: Clm 4610, the earliest documented commentary on the Metamorphoses. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2020. Pp. 398. ISBN 9781783745760 £33.95.

Open Access

Students of the medieval reception of Ovid’s Metamorphoses once faced the daunting task of identifying, procuring, and deciphering the commentaries, marginalia, and pseudepigrapha that would be essential to reconstructing the context in which medieval authors and artists engaged with Ovid’s most influential work. Except for a few venturesome souls—the names of Ralph Hexter and Frank Coulson come immediately to mind—this field of scholarship largely lay fallow after the days of Fausto Ghisalberti, especially in the Anglophone world. That situation is now changing rapidly with results that non-specialists such as myself can be very grateful for. As Robin Böckerman reports in his introduction (pp. 5-8), there are projects in the works in several countries that will provide students and scholars with new editions of the commentary by Arnulf of Oréans, Giovanni del Virgilio’s Expositio, the Vulgate Commentary, and the Ovide Moralisé. Böckerman’s work is a welcome complement to these projects, as well as others that have already appeared. It consists of a text and English translation of the anonymous commentary on ff. 61v to 84r of Clm 4610, housed in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich (pp. 170-321). The text is accompanied by an extensive introduction (1-169) and an appendix with what Böckerman characterizes as an “experimental edition” of the accessus and commentary on Book 1 of the Metamorphoses in Clm 14482c, another twelfth-century commentary that is distinct from, but probably related to Clm 4610. Together with three other manuscripts, it represents what Böckerman has dubbed the “Bavarian B” commentary. The volume is rounded out with a bibliography and four plates from the manuscript.

Following brief, prefatory remarks, the long introduction consists of four sections: “The Fate of Ovid Until the Twelfth Century” (pp. 10-29); “Situating the Commentary” (pp. 30-49); “Form and Function” (pp. 50-98); and “Clm 4610 and the Commentary Tradition” (pp. 112-68). The treatment of Ovid’s reception in the opening section is workmanlike and offers a useful context for readers unfamiliar with the subject. There is much more that could be said on the late antique and early medieval reception, but this is not the place for it and Böckerman’s brief summary is adequate to the purposes of this edition. The following section is a sketch of the medieval commentary tradition and the place of Clm 4610 within it. Newcomers to the field would find this an excellent introduction to the uses to which texts were put in the medieval schoolroom. As to whether this commentary was actually used in a teaching environment, Böckerman is non-committal (pp. 54-8). The longest section of the introduction deals with other commentaries that either predate or are contemporary with Clm 4610. It includes a detailed comparison of this commentary with the notes in the four manuscripts that represent the “Bavarian B” commentary. Böckerman also investigates the relationship between Clm 4610 and marginal notes in contemporary manuscripts of the Metamorphoses, an area in which there is potential for much fruitful study on the movement of manuscripts and the material they contained. Böckerman concludes that there is no conclusive proof of a predecessor to Clm 4610, but some close matches that offer hints of one.

The text and translation are preceded by a brief discussion of Böckerman’s editorial principles, which seem sound enough for a text represented by a single manuscript. Böckerman has done more than provide a diplomatic edition, supplying helpful supplements and corrections to make the commentary more accessible for modern readers. So far as I can tell from random spot checking, Böckerman’s text is faithful to the original. Readers will be able to verify this for themselves by checking the digitized microfilm images of the manuscript at: The English translation is generally quite readable and accurate. Quibbles are always possible. For example, in the note on Met. 4.671, the subject of daret is Cepheus, not Jupiter. But in such cases of disagreement there is ample material in Böckerman’s presentation of the text for readers to come to their own judgements.

The volume is attractively produced, although as is often the case in these days when copy editors are not considered cost-effective, there are a fair number of misprints and minor errors, both in the text and in the notes. (The trade-off for the reader encountering the “Illiad” on p. 39, is that the book is open access). This is a welcome addition to the burgeoning field of Ovidian reception, which is well worth the modest price of the print edition.