BMCR 2023.09.42

The complete works of Claudian: translated with an introduction and notes

, The complete works of Claudian: translated with an introduction and notes. Routledge later Latin poetry. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2023. Pp. 444. ISBN 9781032416786



Neil W. Bernstein’s book offers a complete English translation of the works of Claudian, accompanied by an introduction and explanatory notes. It maintains the standard structure and verse numbering, and thus gives the opportunity to read the poet even to those who are not familiar with the Latin language and poetry. Bernstein underscores that the translation is primarily intended for students and lovers of late Latin poetry, who until now had to rely on the outdated translation by Platnauer (p. 14)[1].

The work is divided into 15 chapters. The first offers a general introduction to Claudian’s life and works, with the remaining 14 providing an introduction to, and translation of, each poem included in the collection. Particular attention is paid to the many historical figures who populate Claudian’s poetry. It could be interesting to note some aspects of the articulation of the poems. Especially, in Chapter 3, Olybrius and Probinus’s Consulship and Letters to Olybrius and Probinus, the brief introduction gives the content of the panegyric; for the reader’s convenience, the panegyric is followed by the verse epistles to the consuls extracted from the Carmina Minora (Shorter Poems 40, 41). Furthermore, Chapter 14, In Praise of Serena and Letter to Serena, focuses on the figure of Serena, adoptive sister of Honorius and Arcadius, wife of Stilicho and mother of Eucherius, Maria and Thermantia. Bernstein explains the choice, albeit eccentric, to print here the Laus Serenae and the Epistula ad Serenam from the corpus of shorter poems, with his desire to underline the importance of the noblewoman. But perhaps the juxtaposition could also be explained with the intention of equating the two shorter poems to the epic-panegyric genre: even in the editions of Heinsius, Barth, and Gesner[2] the Praise of Serena follows the Panegyric on Honorius’s sixth Consulship. For the complete table of contents see below.

The aims of the translation are readability, fluency and fidelity; it can certainly be said that the objectives are fully achieved. Taking into account the differences between Latin and English, Bernstein has had to make compromises to ensure both adherence to the text and the correctness of the modern language. Often he modifies relative clauses making them coordinate with the main, and does the same with ablative absolute constructions.

The legibility of the translation is ensured by the addition, where necessary, of the names of the characters featuring in the poems. These additions have been designated “in-text explicitations” (p. 16), which provide the reader with names Claudian omits for reasons of metre or poetic effect. This is the case, for example, with the catalogue of philosophers studied by Mallius Theodorus during his otium in the Panegyric on his consulate (399 AD): at ll. 70-79 Anaximenes, Thales, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Democritus, Plato and Anaximander are indicated by the poet through the element that each of them recognized as the principle of life (air for the first, water for the second, etc.). The insertion of the names provides an indispensable aid to those who are not familiar with ancient philosophy. Some brief additions are aimed at making the mythical context immediately understandable: the mention of the ability of the Gorgon to petrify men (suggested by the adjective rigida, but made explicit through a relative clause) clarifies the use of the creature’s head by Perseus in battle in the Invective against Rufinus 1.280.

The regular use of footnotes to identify ancient localities according to modern toponyms is certainly a good choice: this is the case of the catalogue of Italian rivers invited to celebrate the consulship of Olybrius and Probinus in the panegyric at ll. 254-260. In the note, Bernstein reports the modern hydronym and the geographical location where each river flows. Places or mythical characters mentioned more than twice by the poet are listed and explained in the rich Glossary at the end of the volume (pp. 397-411).

The fluidity of the translation and the readability of the text are occasionally clouded by some misunderstandings. I point out the description of the passage of Ceres’ chariot which fertilizes the land near Etna in the Rape of Proserpina 1.187-188, cano rota puluere labens / sulcatam fecundat humum. Bernstein translates “spread white dust” rather than “run over white dust.” In the Panegyric on Honorius’s Third Consulship 165-166, the poet describes the journey of Theodosius’ star through the orbit of Mercury, but Bernstein writes “the Great Bear”, perhaps interpreting Arctoa instead of Arcas. In the Panegyric on Honorius’s Fourth Consulship 524, Honorius in arms is taller with helmet and crest: rutilus cristis et casside maior, but Bernstein translates “larger than your helmet”, making the adjective depend on the crest. In the Invective against Eutropius 2.283-284, summoque uolutus / uertice crinalis uiolatur puluere murus (rolling down from the top / the tower-like hairstyle is corrupted by the dust) the fall of the hair of the goddess Cybele heralds the fall of the cities of Phrygia, but in the translation the crinalis murus, the tower-like hairstyle, is more simply the city wall (it is not clear which city Bernstein is talking about).

The edition consulted is that of J-L. Charlet.[3] However, Bernstein takes care to footnote those passages where he deviates. In some cases, the footnote is missing and the translation seems to follow a variant not adopted by Charlet. This is the case with the Invective against Rufinus 1.133 where the poet describes the terrified reaction of the river Rhine in front of Megaera: Charlet writes Rhenus proiecta torpuit unda but Bernstein translates ‘urn’, following the variant urna attested in a few manuscripts. Another passage concerns the Invective against Eutropius 1.357-358: the French editor writes quidquid inane / nutrit Iudaicis quae pingitur India uelis, but Bernstein talks about Alexandrian curtains, following the variant Niliacis present in the Excerpta Gyraldina that Charlet rejected. Again, in the Invective against Eutropius, 1.185 inque orbem tereti mitra redeunte capillum, the poet describes Bellona with the features of Tarbigilus’ wife: Bernstein deviates from the edition of the Belles-Lettres, which suggests the circular shape of the crown (inque orbem … redeunte). Instead Bernstein speaks of a crown which holds the coils curled: the lesson adopted is therefore retinente, a variant known from one attestation.

Only two typos emerge: in the Invective against Eutropius 1.241, “fro” instead of “from”, and in the Panegyric on Stilicho’s Consulship 2.60, an incorrect numbering appears (50 instead of 60).

In conclusion, Bernstein provides an updated English translation, modern but never colloquial, and substantially reliable, despite some imperfections. Readability and fluency are guaranteed by an organization in verses that follows the word order of the English language, omitting to render the ordo verborum of the Latin language which would have made the translation incomprehensible. It is therefore easily accessible even to a non-specialist audience who is passionate about Latin poetry. The translation is therefore worthy of becoming part of university courses on late Latin poetry.



  1. Introduction
  2. The Rape of Proserpina
  3. Panegyric on Olybrius and Probinus’s Consulship and Letters to Olybrius and Probinus
  4. Panegyric on Honorius’s Third Consulship
  5. Invective Against Rufinus
  6. Panegyric on Honorius’s Fourth Consulship
  7. Wedding Poems. Fescennines and Epithalamium
  8. The War with Gildo
  9. Panegyric on Manlius Theodorus’s Consulship
  10. Invective Against Eutropius
  11. Stilicho’s Consulship
  12. The Gothic War
  13. Panegyric on Honorius’s Sixth Consulship
  14. In Praise of Serena and Letter to Serena
  15. Shorter Poems



[1] M. Platnauer, Claudian with an English translation, London-Cambridge 1922.

[2] Cl. Claudiani, principum heroumque poetae praegloriosissimi, quae exstant Caspar Barthius […] restituit […], Francofurti 1650; Cl. Caudiani quae exstant. Nic. Heinsius […] restituit […], Amstelaedami 1650; C. Claudiani quae exstant edidit et illustravit J. M. Gesner, Leipzig 1759.

[3] Œuvres. Claudien; texte établi et traduit par Jean-Louis Charlet, tom. I-IV, Paris 1991-2018.