BMCR 2022.03.35

Hesiodi Ascraei Opera et dies

, , Hesiodi Ascraei Opera et dies. Travaux d'humanisme et Renaissance, DCVII. Genève: Droz, 2020. Pp. xviii, 246. ISBN 9782600060295 $68.89.

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

Editing the works of Humanists, especially those who exercised significant influence over the genres of translation, redaction, and commentary, is major desideratum of modern classical scholarship and a herculean task of philology. In that era a comprehensive knowledge of both Humanism and Christianism was deemed necessary for educated life.  To this end, scholars studied both Latin and Greek and sought to instruct European literature culture in the interpretation of ancient masterpieces such as Hesiod’s didactic epos. Jesús López Zamora’s edition of the Latin version of Hesiod’s Works and Days by Nicolaus de Valle (Italian, Niccolò Della Vall ca. 1444-1473), aims to contextualize Humanist philology within its didactic presuppositions and intellectual methodology. This was a context in which learned persons earnestly debated whether Latin derived from Greek, and thus whether a corpus in Latin might allow for the omission of Greek culture (and the learning of Greek) as irrelevant to contemporary didactic goals.[1]  Knowledge of this context is essential to any discussion of a Latin version of an ancient Greek was seeking to achieve.

The translation of Hesiod’s work has captivated scholars and students since the mid-fifteenth century. Nevertheless, Nicolaus de Valle’s Latin translation was the first to appear in print and gained remarkable popularity throughout Renaissance Europe. Being simultaneously a poet and a doctor of law from Rome, de Valle had only to master both Latin and Greek, but sought also to surmount an earlier tradition of verbum ad verbum translations. The resulting text displays the enthusiasm of a barely eighteen-year-old Humanist who aspired to remain faithful to the author’s spirit. De Valle’s engagement with Virgil’s hypotext (p. 34), for example, shows his quest for personal inspiration. López Zamora’s volume touches on the issue of how, in de Valle’s terms, a translation could possess its own stylistic and poetic autonomy. The answer lay in adhering to the criteria of “imitatio” (p. 29).[2]

López Zamora fully understands the challenges of producing a scholarly and philological edition undertaking, not least for a text that has not benefitted from substantial critical scholarship. The three sections of his introduction therefore provide comprehensive insight into the author and his work. The first section (pp. 1-44) is a well-documented account of the author’s family life and the formation of his notion of Greek antiquity. The second section focuses on the reception of Hesiod’s literary work during the Humanistic era and the 16th century; the application of de Valle’s poetic technique to translation; metrical and prosodic analysis; and the different necessary processes for the elaboration of the critical edition (pp. 45-156). The third section focuses on the manuscript and print tradition of the work: the process of recensio is taken into account parallel to commentators, printers, and publishers, on whom the demanding process of collatio must be based, with the appraisal of every single variant, so as to constitute a more or less sound stemma codicum (p. 153).

In the critical edition of the text (pp. 157-198), a critical apparatus reflects both the textual testimonies presented and the editorial criteria applied. Its basis upon the pristine and more significant mss C V1 r does not exclude the interpolation of readings from μ, π, and δ. Many of the misreadings noted are conspicuous orthographical deviations from grammatical normality, and thus an index catalogue of various readings appears necessary. When reading the critical edition, it is helpful regularly to consult the chapter on prosody and metrics (pp. 33-40), considering that hexameter came into Latin as an adaptation from Greek long after the practice of singing the epics had faded.  In consequence, the properties of the meter were learned as specific “rules,” including a higher proportion of long syllables than Greek, more spondaic than musical by nature. The study of de Valle’s Latin hexameter, with its own special characteristics, therefore adds to our knowledge of Renaissance metrics.[3]

The most significant contribution of López Zamora’s volume lies in its directing our attention to the way Hesiod and Hesiodic poetics were interpreted, in a long tradition influenced by Lorenzo Valla.[4] De Valle translated by paraphrasing, addressing, and interpreting the Hesiodic text in a Horatian, Ovidian, and Virgilian context, all at the same time. By this means, the translation might infuse a young Humanist’s imagination with the mists of primary and conductive poetical composition: ut spes scribendi.

An exhaustive bibliography (pp. 217-230), divided in a tripartite schema of supporting editorial data, completes the meticulous structure of this most serious academic achievement. Last but not least, the particular edition confirms Librairie Droz’s high caliber regarding reliable typographical production.

Table of contents


Nicolaus de Valle
Ἔργα καὶ ἡμέραι en los albores del humanismo italiano: La recepción del poema hesiódico
Opera et dies: caracterización de la obra

Tradición manuscrita e impresa de Opera et dies
del corpus
Stemma codicum
Criterios de edición y ortografía
Abreviaturas y símbolos

Pio II Pontifici Maximo Nicolaus de Valle
Hesiodi Opera. Liber primus
Hesiodi Opera. Liber secundus
Hesiodi Dies

I. Loci similes et iuncturae
II. Loci citati
III. Nomina ad mythologiam pertinentia
IV. Nomina astronomica et geographica
V. Nomina propria
VI. Codices


[1] See Concett Bianca, “Byzantines at Rome in the Fifteenth Century,” in A. Frazier & P. Nold (eds.), Essays in Renaissance Thought and Letters: In Honor of John Monfasani, Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2015, p. 9, n. 31.

[2] On the editial principles see J. López Zamora & Antonio Moreno Hernández, “La editio princeps de la traducción latina de Nicolás Valla de Hesíodo, Opera et Dies (Roma, Sweynheym & Pannartz, ca. 1471)”, Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 116 (2017) pp. 151-178. This article focuses on the analysis of the edition established by the German printers Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz (Rome, ca. 1471).

[3] See Gianpiero Rosati, “The Latin Reception of Hesiod”, in F. Montanari, C. Tsangalis & A. Rengakos (eds.), Brill’s Companion to Hesiod, 2009, pp. 343-374.

[4] Giancarlo Abbamonte, “The Transformation of Attitudes towards Ancient Latin Authors and the Legacy of Lorenzo Valla,” in Patrick Baker, Johannes Helmrath & Craig Kallendorf (eds.), Beyond Reception: Renaissance Humanism and the Transformation of Classical Antiquity, Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2019, p. 40.