Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A review of Callu's Symmachus

From Classical Review 61, 634

Callu, J.-P. (ed., trans.) Symmaque, Tome V. Discours--Rapports. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2009.

With the publication of this fifth volume of his Budé edition, nearly 40 years after the first, Callu has achieved the first complete translation of Symmachus in any modern language. This is a very welcome milestone. It is also only the second critical edition, after Otto Seeck’s brilliant contribution to Monumenta Germaniae Historica in 1883, of Symmachus’ complete surviving work (ten books of letters, the Relationes, and the Orationes). To edit Symmachus requires not only philological skills but also intimate knowledge of fourth-century administrative history and prosopography. Callu, who has published widely on both philological and historical aspects of his author, certainly has these qualifications.

This volume contains the speeches (parts of three imperial panegyrics and five speeches given in the senate, which were uncovered in a fragmentary palimpsest by Angelo Mai in 1815) and the Relationes (letters written to the emperors as prefect of Rome in 384-5, mostly to Valentinian II in Milan, but some to Theodosius and Arcadius in Constantinople). His text does not diverge hugely from Seeck’s, but he avoids the obelus and prints sometimes quite bold conjectures: his own conjectures are all worthy of consideration, and some are extremely shrewd. Such parts of the translation as I have read are accurate and, as far as I could judge, stylish (but at Or. 4.10 impotentiam refers to Maximinus’ abuse of power not Gratian’s lack of it). His introductions to the two separate parts of the work display his erudition and convey all the relevant information, though they are some way from tractable; the arbitrary mixture of footnotes and endnotes is an unhelpful feature of the Budé series, but the content here is helpful and detailed. If Callu has the habit of occasionally treating his own hypotheses as fact (for example the idea that the elder Nicomachus Flavianus served in the east under Theodosius in the early 380s), he shares it with most other scholarship on his author: it is an indirect product of Symmachus’ maddening vagueness. With the Relationes, he is on well-covered ground, not least by the detailed commentary by Domenico Vera (Pisa, 1981); the Orationes have been less well trodden (though cf. Pabst’s 1989 text and translation). Here Callu rejects Seeck’s deletion of certain phrases as authorial variants, rightly seeing them as a feature of Symmachus’ luxuriant style. He redates the panegyric on Gratian to that emperor’s tenth birthday, 18 April 369, which is plausible; the first panegyric for Valentinian’s Quinquennalia he puts in February 368, rather than 369, which has a minor impact on reconstructions of Symmachus’ career. He may well be right (but note confusion on p. x, n. 1; note also erroneous dates on xxii, where “28 mai 364” should be “28 mars” and xli, where “13 janvier 383” should be “19 janvier”).

I have one significant reservation. The apparatus criticus for the Orationes is flawed in several ways. The situation is complicated by the fact that the MS readings have been destroyed by the acids used to reveal them and are no longer available to be consulted. Mai’s early transcriptions were thoroughly overhauled by Seeck in his great edition of 1883. Thus the names of Mai and Seeck can represent either conjectural emendation or, sometimes, alternative transcriptions of the MS: in the former cases the apparatus should offer an MS reading, in the latter it should not (whether including Mai’s much inferior transcriptions contributes anything may be questioned, but it was reasonable to note them). Unfortunately, in a few places, Callu confuses the two categories, and what is in fact the undisputed MS reading is attributed to Mai: I noticed Or. 1.2 frigentia, 1.18 optauit, 2.5 perueniret, 2.17 fraudamur, 3.7 uinces, 4.14 subripuisset, 4.15 defuit (emendations by Seeck or others are thus implied to be alternative transcriptions). At 2.17 inermitas is not Seeck’s conjecture but the MS reading. A further problem: at places where Callu has adopted Seeck’s or his own transpositions, it is not made clear where the transposed text originally stood in the MS (Or. 1.16. 2.11, 3.3, 3.5). Those interested in serious study of the text of the Orationes will need to use this edition in conjunction with Seeck’s. That said, this volume will be valued for a fine text, translation, and notes.

[Copyright, The Classical Association]

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