BMCR 2023.09.02

Virgil: Aeneid book XI

, Virgil: Aeneid book XI. Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. Pp. viii, 307. ISBN 9781107071339



McGill’s work contributes to ending the critical relegation suffered by book XI: it is the only commentary that perfectly fits the mission of teaching the book at undergraduate and graduate level, Horsfall (2003) being too difficult, and Gransden (1991) too selective and overly traditional.

The new commentary follows rather closely the guidelines for the Aeneid in the green-and-yellow series, which is good news, since the latest Virgilian green-and-yellows, Hardie on book IX and Tarrant on book XII, are quite simply the best commentaries on a single book of the Aeneid since Norden (in their company one should single out Stephen Harrison on book X and Casali on book II[1]: the second goes unmentioned by McGill, and it is a pity to see that publications in Italian are not receiving attention even in specialized commentaries).

McGill’s approach to the text of Virgil and to the art of commentary is balanced and solid: he manages to pack in his notes information and interpretation, with attention to grammar and style (note e.g. the elegant explanation of the sequence simul his dictis…linquebat at p. 263) but also to narrative technique and character design. His commentary is definitely helpful on issues like the representation of Camilla and the assessment of Aeneas and Turnus in the plot. Readers are constantly made aware of the relevance of details to the overall evolution of the narrative, and this is a visible difference versus previous generations of Virgilian commentaries. The other major (and timely) innovation in McGill’s approach is the constant attention to gender and gender-bending, which is truly a crucial aspect of book XI as a whole: this again marks a clear difference and improvement versus the traditional way of explaining Virgil in the classroom.

McGill is one of the first commentators to operate after Conte’s Teubner critical edition, and he stays quite close to Conte in the selection of readings, although with a very minimalist apparatus in the style of Tarrant. His coverage of textual and editorial problems is not thorough, as pointed out by Sergio Casali[2], but this is in part a consequence of the space limitations imposed by the green-and-yellow format. In general, the new commentary expresses a convincing feeling for the needs of teaching and interpretation, and avoids an excessive ramification of learned detail. In some cases, unavoidably, people will disagree on decisions about leaving out or including some type of information.  I personally think that a note like the one on 11, 270 pulchram Calydona (p. 131), simply mentioning Hom. Il. 9, 531 and 577, is not sufficient, and that readers need to be alerted to the fact that ‘lovely Calydon’ is a formula used (twice) by a Homeric narrator, while Virgil wants it to be voiced (once) by a character who feels the pain of exile and loss. Other moments where I felt that more background is needed are the references to the ordeals of colonization in the Diomedes episode (where it would be helpful to have more attention to the Alexandra, the object of significant work recently), and the remarkable presence of Italic landscapes in book XI. For example, in two mirror passages (11, 521-31 and 896-905), the narrator sketches with striking precision and emotional intensity the location used by Turnus for a failed ambush against Aeneas: McGill mentions briefly (p. 192) that some have seen a reference to Caudium (cf. Livy 9.2.7-9), but the matter would deserve more interest, especially since this mountain landscape is one of the very few places in Virgil’s antique Italy that are not explicitly identified or implicitly identifiable on a map, not to mention the fact that the highland setting looks incompatible with the actual geography of coastal Latium. If the problem of word limit is raised, there is a type of note that I would single out as dispensable: information like ‘meorum at line-end occurs twelve times in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but only twice in Lucan, four times total in Statius’ Thebaid and Achilleid, twice in Valerius Flaccus, and three times in Silius Italicus‘ (p. 132) could easily be omitted, unless of course it helps some specific argument or textual discussion, since lists of word occurrences in Classical Latin are in fact a few keystrokes away for all students of Latin poetry.

The presentation of the text is usually accurate. One detail that bears correcting is the information (p. 188) that the form Aeneadae is not found before Lucretius: it is copiously attested as the title of a praetexta by Accius, presumably an authorial title, although its implications are debated (see the important discussion by S. Blair in L. Austa (ed.), Frammenti sulla scena vol. 1, Alessandria 2017, 157-74, with bibliography). Accius had been preceded in Greek by Flamininus in his famous dedication at Delphi (Plut. Flam. 12.6).

This is a remarkable work of interpretation and a worthy addition to a very successful series.



[1] Stephen Harrison, Vergil, Aeneid 10. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); Sergio Casali, Virgilio, Eneide 2. Introduzione, traduzione e commento. Syllabus, 1 (Pisa: Edizione della Normale, 2017), with a fine review by D. Quint in BMCR 2018.03.59.

[2] Who offers very interesting new contributions to text and interpretation of book XI (Notes on the text and interpretation of Aeneid 11 (a propos a recent commentary). Exemplaria Classica, 26, 2022, 169-194), confirming that this book has been relatively neglected in 20th century scholarship.