Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A beautiful emendation

In the second section of his Hymn to Rome, Rutilius speaks of Rome’s ancestry (1.67-72):

Auctores generis Venerem Martemque fatemur
Aeneadum matrem Romulidumque patrem.
mitigat armatas victrix clementia vires.
convenit in mores nomen utrumque tuos.
hinc tibi certandi bona parcendique voluptas:
quos timuit superat, quos superavit amat

As begetters of our race we acknowledge Venus and Mars, the mother of the sons of Aeneas and the father of the sons of Romulus. Victorious clemency softens armed strength: both names are appropriate for your character. Hence your noble pleasure in combat and in mercy: it overcomes those it feared, which loves those it overcame.

There are obvious echoes of the hymn to Venus that opens Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura: both of the opening words, and of the famous image of Mars infatuated by Venus. The idea of Rome fighting and sparing in the third couplet alludes to a passage also alluded to in the previous lines, Anchises’ description to Aeneas of the Roman mission in Aeneid 6, parcere subiectis et debellare superbos, “to spare the conquered and war down the proud”. After the introduction of Venus and Mars in the first line of the passage, the following lines blend together the two gods and concepts associated with them, for Venus victorious clemency, sparing, love, for Mars armed strength, combat and overcoming. The arrangement is chiastic, with the Venus concepts at the start in the first couplet and at the end in the last couplet, and mingled with Martial ones in the middle couplet.

In line 71, the word bona stands out. To translate ‘noble pleasure’ smoothes over the banality. Admittedly bonus is not as banal a word as the English good, but it looks like a metrical filler: the question would be whether it was Rutilius’ filler or an editor’s. And a glance at the apparatus criticus took me to the suggestion of Emil Baehrens (1848-88):

hinc tibi certandi par parcendique voluptas.

Hence your equal pleasure in combat and in mercy.

This seems to me so obviously right that I cannot understand why it is not printed by all editors. One reason that this brilliant conjecture may not have got so far was that it was made by Baehrens, who churned out so many frivolous conjectures that all of them tended to be ignored. If the name Housman were attached to it, or that of Baehrens’ old Professor, Lucian Müller, it would have done better. Secondly, there is a manuscript reading which makes sense – if poor sense. But it would be an odd thing if the only corruptions in texts only changed them so that they made no sense. And here it is easy to see how the corruption arose, through the omission of par before parcendi by haplography, and then the conjecture of bona to fill the gap in the metre. It is generally accepted that all our manuscripts of Rutilius derive from a copy made by Giorgio Galbiate in 1493/4from an eighth-century Bobbio manuscript. And while the best ms and the first printed edition, which has the independent value, have many mutual disagreements and corruptions, it is vanishingly rare for these not to scan acceptably – in other words, there is every likelihood that metrical emendation was applied to the text at an early stage of the transmission, probably by Galbiate.

Final thought: it is the aesthetic appeal of this emendation which draws me to it. This seems to me right, proper, and inevitable -- but also something to create unease. Clever is not the same as true: was Baehrens just improving the author? And my aesthetic judgment comes into play again, in favour of Rutilius' talent.

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