Virgil’s Aeneid

Virgil Reading from the Aeneid, painting by Ingres, credit Wikipedia

Virgil’s Aeneid

G.B. Conte (ed.), Publius Vergilius Maro: AENEIS, Editio altera, De Gruyter, 2019. Pp. IX-LI; 1-384, reviewed by Darrell Sutton

It is always a happy occasion when a critical text of a classical author is released. Much more opportune is the event when G.B. Conte places in the reader’s hands an original text that is accompanied by an expansive apparatus, one that makes it easier for students to form their own judgments. The first edition was reviewed at length. The changes made in this edition are for the better. This review is concerned rather with whether Aeneus’  adventures are set forth shrewdly in the unclouded horizons of a newly revised and edited text.

Virgil needs no introduction. The Aeneid is one of the great treasures of Western civilization. Herein the adventures of Aeneas are wonderfully told. Departing from Troy, he faces one obstacle after another before arriving in Italy. His enemies are gods and men. The poem’s originality is well known to readers of its Latin text. Conte knows Aeneas and his worlds.

In the Ad Lectorem (MMXIX) section, Conte reminds the reader of C.G. Heyne’s (1729-1812) remarks about the difficulty of Virgil’s texts (difficile est Virgilium…). Therefore a sound-minded guide is needed. We concur. He also says that errors were gradually introduced into the texts; but that not all of what has been transmitted is corrupted. He has respect for certain previous critics. Richard Bentley (1662-1742) and Emil Baehrens (1848-1888) provided emendations and are to be remembered.

In the Praefatio, one gets the impression that the distinctiveness of Conte’s edition is that it differs from R.A.B. Mynors Oxford Classical Text of The Aeneid. Mynors was no enthusiast for conjectural emendation.

I disagree with Conte on orthography and MS readings at several places:

Book I: 1-4 were believed at one time to have been added by later writers. The evidence for that claim is slim. In book I (744) to say ‘and the rainy…’ pluviasque does not need to be written pluuiasque with two vowels.

In book II:77 Conte prints the singular fuerit quodcumque. But for better sense why not insert the plural fuerint… quaecunque , ‘…they might have been’, whatsoever’? The apparatus shows its certainty where it has ‘fuerint b?cd?efghij?qtwzy’.

At book V:850 describing them as fallacibus (cunning), austris (south winds) is [con]textually exact, much more than the auris (air or breeze) in Conte’s vulgate.

Of transpositions of lines, there are some harmless but unnecessary changes. For example, at V:778 there was no need to misplace ‘certatim socii feriunt mare et aequora uerrunt’ before V:777. The actions of Aeneas’ companions in striking the waves during the sacramental ritual are not out of harmony with the formal dress and solemn rites described in previous verses.

A textual crux is presented at the verse following VI:601. It looks like this <. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .>. He writes that Sine dubio desideratur uersus ubi nominatim Tantalus memoretur. I do not agree. From a literary perspective, Tantalus’ pains, described in 602-607, are not reasons enough to suggest that a few words are missing. The human imagination is powerful, and when left ungoverned, it envisions many superfluous problems and solutions. If Philip Wagner’s (1794-1873) herculean labors on the texts of Virgil left it unsolved, all the recent guesses cannot be said to have brought critics nearer the truth. But see E. Kraggerud’s article ‘A. 6. 601-2 Should we Miss Tantalus? In other words: is the text sound, corrupt or lacunose?’ (pp.228-230), in Vergiliana (2017), who writes of 601-602, stating, it ‘is just what I think Vergil wrote’.

The punctuation of any critical text draws attention to an editor’s abilities, particularly in relation to grammar, comprehension and ancient literary style. Conte’s method does not abuse the reader. A common method of punctuation in ancient Latin texts did not exist, although spacing was used variously to indicate phrases. Meanings in passages are not always clear, and Quintilian was correct to refer to places where the essence of one’s understanding ends or begins (1.8.1) ubi claudatur sensus, ubi incipiat.

Conte does a good job lightly punctuating the scene at IX: 621-625 where Ascanius, who is skillful in archery, soon would slay his first nemesis. Unable to tolerate the sounds of too much boasting, he prayed, asking Jupiter to aid him in his audacious attempt with the bowstring and arrow.

Talia iactantem dictis ac dira canentem,
non tulit Ascanius neruoque obuersus equino
contendit telum diuersaque bracchia ducens
constitit, ante Iouem supplex per uota precatus:
‘Iuppiter omnipotens, audacibus adnue coeptis.

The formal structures of Virgil’s sentences are addressed by Richard Heinze (1867-1929) in his 1903 publication Virgil’s Epic Technique. It reestablished Virgil’s reputation on the continent. So many writers had misunderstood Virgil. Even so, the subtle nuances concerning how Virgil should be understood do not escape Conte’s eagle eye: e.g. see note on munera at XII: 520.

Virgil’s poems have been with us for two thousand years. More work will be done. So a definitive text will be hard to come by. Therefore, a critical edition in which one more editor’s findings are issued, and newly found MS variants are made public, with older ones being revisited, is welcome. Novel opinions on the transmission of MSS and on a scholar’s modes of inscription are important and must be considered. This assumption undergirds the notion that Mynor’s OCT edition of Virgil superseded Arthur Hirtzel’s on account of the documentary evidence presented. Each generation’s classical scholars try to view the extant evidence in a new light. The logic employed in the selection and deletion of readings is not infallible. An editor’s motives hardly can be impugned when they are not known.

Not unreasonably, Servius commentaries are used extensively. Older letter forms are updated. That notwithstanding, an intralinear production of a text, with older and new forms displayed above and below the other, is better for critical study. Conjectures by various critics appear in the app. crit.  The font is easy to read and printed in a dark hue.

The app. crit. is legible and well-ordered. For example, at VI:425-447 (p.157) the apparatus has 427 in limine primo sequentibus coniungit Seru. ut uid. (<in limine primo quia de prima hi subrepti sunt uita>), et dist. Wakefield (vd. I. Privitera, <MD> 57, 2006, 211-215) : primo dist. … .

Reading the above poses no difficulty. But this critical edition is not for the novice. It requires an adept reader who can spot the carelessness of a scribe and can sift through the nonsense in many medieval Virgilian MSS.

Amid the buzz of books circulating in the field of classical studies, the editing of texts is generally avoided by scholars who possess small knowledge of scribal tendencies, or do not relish the study of manuscript variants and lexical change in ancient idiom. The earliest commentators added notations to MSS for various reasons, often to provide comments, interlinear-glosses and other annotations; but always to affect how readers interpret various phrases. Marginalia have been known to contain both accurate and inaccurate facts. An editor of texts, however, must make educated guesses and supply presumptive solutions. Quite naturally, some conclusions will be praised, some censured.

Conte provides a new criterion for Virgilian studies with this publication. Its value and survival will depend entirely on the continuance of pure philological study at the highest levels. A useful Index Nominum concludes the volume.

Darrell Sutton reviews classical texts for QR

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1 Response to Virgil’s Aeneid

  1. David Ashton says:

    Anyone interested in the “opinions” among the “woke literati” about this production of a Dead White Cis-Gendered European Male should do a Google/Bing search for “Aeneid is racist” and “Aeneid is sexist”.

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