Sunday, 27 December 2009

Statius: The Villa of Pollius Felix at Sorrento (Silvae 2.2)

Next term colleagues and I will teach for the first time a first-year course on the Roman empire. The aim is to include literary and archaeological approaches within a historical structure. An important feature is the text of the week, and one week is reserved for descriptions of villas, by Pliny and Statius. But we can't make students buy a copy of the Silvae for one poem, and nothing was available online. So I have done a translation. I have represented Latin hexameters with English blank verse; the number of lines is regularly greater in the translation than in the original, but as the original has abundant enjambment I hope that it is not thereby misrepresented. I have translated Shackleton Bailey’s text, and in many places been influenced by the wording of his prose translation. A couple of lines which are conjectural are represented in italics.

As with other poems in the Silvae, Statius makes a point of his facility of composition, when he describes this one in the prose preface to book 2: ‘My dear Pollius’ villa at Sorrento, which follows, should have been put into words by me with greater care, if only in honour of his eloquence, but my friend forgave me.’

There stands, between the Sirens’ famous walls
and the cliffs weighed down by great Minerva’s shrine
on the Tyrrhenian sea, a lofty villa
that watches all the Dicarchaean deep.
The soil there’s well-beloved by Bromius,
and on the lofty hills the grapes are baked,
grapes which don’t envy the Falernian press.
Here came I, glad after the festival
my homeland holds five-yearly, when a lull
had fallen on the stadium, when the dust
lay white, and athletes turned to Ambracian laurels;
across my native bay the eloquence
of gentle Pollius, the youthful grace
of glittering Polla brought me, though I longed
already to turn my steps where Appia runs,
familiar route, and queen of all long roads.

Delay soon turned delight. Both sides, curved cliffs
break up the seas, lunate in calm recess.
Nature gives way; a damp beach pushes through
the rock, runs in between the lowering crags.
The place’s first delight: from double dome
a bathhouse smokes, freshwater nymphs run out
from land into the bitter sea. Here Phorcus
with lightfoot chorus, here Cymodocē,
her locks all sodden, Galatea here,
green sea-nymph, all alike delight to bathe.
Before the house, blue Neptune keeps his watch,
the ruler of the swelling wave and guard
over a blameless home; his temple foams
with friendly surge. The happy fields’ defender
is Hercules. Its twin god cheers the port.
One keeps the lands, one stops the savage waves.
Wondrous the quiet of the main! Exhausted seas
here lay aside their fury, and mad winds
breathe gentler; here the headlong storm dares less;
an untumultuous moderate pool lies still,
and imitates the morals of its lord.

From there, at angles creeps a colonnade
over the hills, a city’s work, and tames
harsh rocks with its long ridge. Where sunlight once
mingled with darkling dust, and where the path
was charmless wilderness, joy now to walk:
just like, if you ascend the lofty peak
of Bacchis’ city, Ephyrē, there runs
a covered path from Inoan Lechaeum.

If Helicon should grant me all his streams,
Piplēa quench my thirst, the flying horse
give waters generously from his hoof;
should trusty Phemonoē open up
her waters chaste, or those my Pollius
disturbed when with Apollo’s auspices
he dipped his urn in deeply, I could still
not equal in Pierian songs the sights
innumerable, the adornments of that place.
In that long list, scarcely my eyes sufficed;
scarcely, while I was led past everything in turn,
my steps sufficed. What a great crowd of things!
Is it the place’s brilliance, or the master’s,
that should amaze me first? This mansion views
the sunrise and Apollo’s youthful beam;
this one detains him as he falls, forbidding
him to dismiss the light that’s rightly spent,
when day’s fatigued, when the dark mountain’s shade
falls in the water, when the palace swims
in glasslike sea. Some buildings bustle with
the ocean’s roar, others are ignorant
of the sounding waves, and favour earthly silence.
Some places Nature’s favoured, but in some,
beaten, she’s given way to cultivation,
learnt to be mollified for unknown ends.
A hill once stood where you see level ground;
there once were lairs where now you enter houses;
where you spy lofty groves, no land was there.
Their owner tamed them; while he shapes the rocks
or fights them out, the soil rejoicing follows.
Behold the cliffs learning to bear the yoke,
the houses entering, mountain moving back
when ordered. Let Methymna’s bard withdraw
his hand; with it the Theban lyre withdraws;
the Gothic plectrum’s glory yields to you.
You too move rocks, high forests follow you.
Why should I tell of ancient shapes in wax
or bronze: whatever with his paints Apelles
rejoiced to animate; whatever marvel
the hands of Phidias carved, when still the shrine
of Jupiter was empty; what the skill
of Myron or what Polyclitus’ chisel
ordered to live; bronzes from Corinth’s ash
worth more than gold, the heads of generals
and poets, heads of ancient sages, whom
you strive to follow, whom in all your heart
you feel – untroubled as you are by cares,
your mind always composed in tranquil virtue,
your mind always your own. Why should I list
the thousand rooftops and changes of scene?
Each bedroom has its own delight, its own
particular view, and different lands, across
reclining Nereus, serve different windows.
This looks on Ischia, and from that appears
rugged Prochyta; Hector’s armourer
lies open here; there sea-girt Nesis breathes
malignant breezes, while from here is seen
Euploea, sign of luck for wandering ships;
Megalia juts and wounds the curving waves;
your Limon’s pained, because his master lies
across the bay; he watches from afar
your Sorrentine headquarters.

Just one room,
one only, far apart from all the rest,
stands out and offers you across the sea’s
straight path, Parthenopē. And here, dug deep
from Grecian quarries, marbles: this the vein
of eastern Syenē has tinged, and this
in mournful Synnas Phrygian axes mined,
among the fields of grieving Cybelē,
where on the painted marble, purple rings
set off the pure white base. Here too, cut from
the mountain of Amyclaean Lycurgus,
a stone that’s green, rock mimicking soft grass;
here shine Numidia’s yellowing stones, and Thasos,
and Chios, and Carystos that delights
to match the rolling wave. All turn and all
salute the towers of the Chalcidian city.
Hail to your spirit, for you love and live
in Grecian country! May Dicharchus’ walls
that gave you birth not envy – for it’s right
that we possess our learned foster-son.
Why should I now recount the country’s wealth,
and ploughlands thrown upon the main, and rocks
dripping with Bacchus’ nectar? Oftentimes
in Autumn, when the vines are ripening,
there climbed the rocks, hidden in shades of night,
a Nereid; she wiped her dewy eyes
on shoots, and snatched sweet bunches from the slopes.
And often too, the neighbouring waves threw spray
on to the vintage, satyrs tumbled down
into the shallows, and the mountain Pans
longed to catch Dōris, naked in the waves.
Be blessed, earth, for lord and lady both,
for all the Trojan’s and the Pylian’s years;
and do not change your noble servitude.
Let the Tirynthian hall with its display
surpass you not, nor the Dicharchan bay;
Let not the pleasant vineyards please them more
beside Galaesus, Therapnaean stream.
Here Pollius practices Pierian arts
whether he ponders Epicurus’ lore,
or strikes my lyre, or weaves unequal songs,
or threatens to unsheathe the avenging iamb.
Here lightly flies the Siren from her rock,
to better songs than hers; Tritonia there
listens and moves her crests. Then blustering gusts
are calm, the seas themselves no longer roar,
delightful dolphins rise up from the deep,
drawn to his lyre, and wander past the cliffs.

Live long, live wealthier than Midas’ treasure,
than Lydian gold, more blest than diadems
of Troy or Persia. The uncertain rods
of state, the fickle crowd, the laws, the camp,
shall not irk you, who in your mighty heart
tame hopes and fears, lifted above all prayers,
one who’s immune to fate and who rebuffs
indignant Fortune. When your last day comes,
you’ll not be found engulfed in doubtful doings,
but ready to depart, replete with life.
We, worthless crowd, always prepared to slave
away and long for fleeting benefits,
we’re scattered to the winds of chance; but you,
you from your mind’s high citadel despise
our wanderings, and laugh at human joys.
There was a time when you yourself were torn
by a twin land’s votes, when you were lifted high
through the two cities, by Dicarchus’ folk
greatly revered, adopted too by mine,
and generous here and there in equal share,
in the heat of youth, proud in your wandering
from the right path. But now, the fog dispersed,
you see the truth. Others are tossed about
again upon that ocean, but your ship
has come unshaken to a tranquil calm
in a safe harbour. So proceed, and never
send back your well-sailed ship into our storms.

And you, who stand above all Latin daughters,
whose mind equals your man’s, whose heart no cares,
whose brow no threats have turned, but in whose face
is candid joy, and pleasure free from cares:
for you no luckless strongbox suffocates
your wealth, no loss from greedy usury
torments your soul; your riches can be seen,
and with restraint and wisdom you enjoy them.
No hearts are joined under a better god,
no other minds has Concord better taught
to love their bonds. The joys of fleeting life
learn now carefree; flames mingled from your breasts
have made a lasting bond, and hallowed love
preserves the laws of honourable friendship.
Go through the years and centuries to come,
and outdo all the claims of ancient fame.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Symmachus to Ausonius again

This letter combines several of the cliches of Symmachus' style; it begins with the 'nothing-to-write' topos, then identifies a subject, and reveals itself by the end as yet another letter of recommendation. The Rhetor Palladius had a successful career in Rome; it was not under Ausonius as Praetorian Prefect (376-9) that he moved on to a political career, but a few years after this letter, under Theodosius I in the east (he became Comes Sacrarum Largitionum in 381 and Magister Officiorum in 382-4).

What exactly the situation was in which Symmachus heard Palladius is not clear, nor what exactly the Latiare concilium, the group which heard Palladius put his declaiming skills into practice, was. John Matthews attractively adduces the parallel case of Augustine of Hippo; Symmachus as Prefect of Rome and famous orator heard the young rhetor in 384 and sent him off to Milan with a recommendation, with results that changed the history of Christian thought ("Four funerals and a wedding: this world and the next in fourth-century Rome", in P. Rousseau and M. Papoutsakis, Transformations of Late Antiquity: Essays for Peter Brown, Farnham, 129-146). I should also admit that I am not too sure of whether the text or my translation can be trusted in section 2, when Symmachus suggests that Palladius is part of a (non-literal?) family of speakers. I would love to be illuminated!

Ep. 1.15
1. It almost turned out that I communicated succinctly and briefly with you, since there was a lack of things worthy of mention, and when facts are absent there’s no point indulging in words, but in a timely fashion our rhetor Palladius’ declamation has lengthened my page. As it pleased the leading men of literature it should not be secret from you. So since such a report befits both my sense of duty and your enthusiasm, although our gathering has scarcely scattered, I have dictated with red-hot judgment an account of what I heard, while it’s still ringing in my ears. 2. The logos of our Athenian guest moved the Latian assembly with with the skill of his division, the abundance of his inventiveness, the seriousness of his feelings, the clarity of his words. I speak my opinion: he’s as proper in his speech as his morals. On this occasion the men of our city, who often disagree with each other about other things, held a united view of his excellence. I firmly believe, and my credence is not misplaced, that this is a family of rhetors; this race, full of genius, can be recognised. It is not features or complexion alone that claim descendants for their ancestor’s honour; nature has surer ways of claiming paternity. Heirs of thinking well and speaking well are born, not written into the will. What others have from teaching, he had from birth.
3. About this, my lord, I did not believe I should not keep silence, because I consider nothing of any weight beside my love for you, and because in turn I will never regret how valued I have become with you, and because I want for Palladius that things honourable to proclaim should not be hidden. Take care of your health, and since you have at hand the capacity to write, add to that the wish to do so.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Three more letters of Symmachus to Ausonius

Two letters of recommendation and a thank you letter for a favour. This is the bread and butter of Symmachus' correspondence. Ausonius is at the peak of his power, Praetorian Prefect and either consul or consul elect.

Ep. 1.19
People who have been deserted by their self-confidence accept my letters to use their recommendations. It’s different in this case. I have given my letter to my brother Potitus on condition that he recommends it to you. He is, you see, no differently from me, among the highest of your friends. When he has brought you to share his presence, I fear that you will think my evasion not pardonable. But if through my experience I have properly become acquainted with your toleration towards me, I think it will turn out that you won’t attack me, who has stayed behind, in comparison with the other person who has come, but that you will welcome him all the more for the sake of us both. Farewell.

The letter is assumed to have been written at the end of 378 to excuse Symmachus for not coming to Trier for Ausonius' inauguration as consul on 1 January 379. Potitus was appointed Vicar of Rome later in 379.

Ep. 1.21
I rejoice that I’m worth more to you than the rest, when you are so energetic that on your own initiative you take care of my problem and don’t await entreaties, but follow the mere rumour of my wishes. I have received the four passports which will be incredibly convenient for my goings and comings. May the gods reward you for such kindness, and, since nothing can be added to blessings which are perfected and raised in a heap, may they keep safe with you and in your possession what they gave you. Farewell.

This letter is assumed to be from 379, when Ausonius holds both the senior consulate and the Praetorian Prefecture; he has sent Symmachus passes for use on the cursus publicus.

Ep. 1.26
I am making use with you of the confidence which you have given me. You have long been sparing of letters, but I shall not imitate your example, since I know that, for a man who’s placed at the pinnacle of honours and who therefore looks after varied and mighty concerns, it is not so much enthusiasm that is lacking as opportunity. It’s of course the way of the world that we consider things neglected despite all efforts as pardonable. But I, sure as always of your love, will not abstain from my customary sense of obligation, and will count it as the highest favour and honour, if profit in some form could fall to the good friend who will give you this letter, in proportion to his considerable attentions towards us. Farewell.

From around the same date, though it could be earlier on in Ausonius' period of power from 376-9.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Symmachus' speech for Trygetius

Symmachus’ speeches were rediscovered in the early nineteenth century by Cardinal Angelo Mai. The manuscript is a fragmentary palimpsest from Bobbio, the same codex as gave us what we possess of Cicero’s De Re Publica and the letters of Fronto. None of Symmachus’ speeches survive complete.

This speech, we know from Ep. 1.44, was delivered on 9 January 376, just over a week after the events described in Ep. 1.13. The context is the same: the immediate aftermath of the accession of Gratian and a change of attitude towards the senate, and of his father’s return from temporary exile. The speech was to support the designation of the young son of his colleague Trygetius as praetor in ten years’ time. The praetorship was the office which in this period launched a senatorial career, in the holder’s late teens: it’s suggested that the games a praetor had to put on were so expensive that time that the family needed time to prepare. Symmachus appears to have hijacked this speech in order to thank the senate for his father’s recall, and to praise the young emperor in terms reminiscent of Pliny on Trajan. He later sent copies to many leading senators.

I am not aware of any previous translation into English. There is a German version by Angela Papst; and the speeches were translated in the fifth and final volume of Callu's Budé of Symmachus, published about a month ago. Symmachus' precise meaning is often hard to gauge. Any corrections gratefully received!

‘… from longing for (?) you [the senate] when we are away, from witnessing you, when we come. Nor do we fear Envy. She has felt and experienced how she benefited from hostility to my father. Now, he had of his own accord yielded to the convenience of a few though his modesty, and free of cares was cultivating his mind with literature in order to return to you a finer man. But this the most excellent order did not long tolerate: at once you besought him, as if from far away, that he should agree to return – you told him, I’d rather say, for the senate, when it asks, gives rather firm instructions. 2. This seemed too little for those who asked it. Especially noble men are sent to him as ambassadors, to convey and announce the public will. How great is this procession of your longing, which wanted its benefaction almost to seem like canvassing. I believe it was your will, that he should be called in some way by fetiales: only the rods and scared herbs were lacking. What you ask, conscript fathers, is sure to be followed and cannot be refused, but he was summoned as if he could have said no.

3. To you too, revered emperor, the highest of this praise should be offered: the man keeps a republic free, under whom something enviable is in the senate’s grant. This is why you are great, this is why you are outstanding, because you prefer to be first than to be alone. Whatever good men obtain, benefits your age. Many once dragged… [lacuna]… sighs, and, as though being loved were permitted only to emperors, trod down the merits of private citizens. But to me he seems truly the father of the fatherland, under whom the best man is not afraid to be praised. That too is the freedom from care of your time, that nobody thinks himself less in the prince’s eyes if the emperor prefers a second person to him. For what room is there for envy, since all are loved by you in their rightful place?

4. But that’s already more than enough about us! Let us give some effort, some time to Trygetius, a man who is a faultless senator, who desires that I should pray and prevail upon you, that the tenth year from now should be designated for his son to fill the duties of Praetor. If his willingness is to be examined, you ought to approve a senator who is generous; if his resources, you can impose nothing more. 5. It is fitting that I too be considered in this business, who am accustomed to offer thanks, who do not allow good deeds to be ignored. It’s right that favours are lent for the second time, when the first have been strong. Bind this man with a new debt, and me with a double…’

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Dutch Commentary on Ammianus

A review of mine in the new Journal of Roman Studies (vol. 99 (2009), pp. 294-296). The commentators are not only remarkably good but also remarkably fast at their job. The commentary on Book 27 is due to be published on 31 December, less than two years after the last. (The bad news is that, with the collapse of the pound, it will be £110!)

J. den Boeft, J.W. Drijvers, D. den Hengst, H.C. Teitler, Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XXV, Leiden: Brill, 2005. Pp. xxvi + 415. ISBN 978-9-00414-214-2. €119.

J. den Boeft, J.W. Drijvers, D. den Hengst, H.C. Teitler, Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XXVI, Leiden: Brill, 2008. Pp. xxx + 356. ISBN 978-904016-212-9. €109.

The Dutch commentary on Ammianus is a remarkable achievement. The first six surviving books, 14-19, were covered single-handedly by Pieter de Jonge between 1935 and 1982. The tempo accelerated in 1987 when the baton passed to Den Boeft, Den Hengst, and Teitler; joined subsequently by Drijvers, they have now taken us as far as Book 26. De Jonge’s work focuses more on language than history and will in due course need replacing, but the current quadriga’s commentaries are unimpeachably multi-disciplinary, immensely thoughtful and learned, and likely to be used and admired for generations.

Books 25 and 26 are highlights in Ammianus’ history, with the death of the hero, Julian, and his replacement by inadequate successors, the short-lived Jovian, the brothers Valentinian and Valens, and the usurper Procopius. The commentators show due appreciation of the best passages, like Julian’s last speech (25.3.15-20) and the tsunami (26.10.15-19), while allowing themselves to be impatient of the confused pseudo-learning of the digression on the calendar (26.1.8-14). They cover almost every question raised by the text in luxuriant detail, and the bibliography is comprehensive. They march in step like the tetrarchs: this collaboration has none of the open disagreements of Woodman and Martin on Tacitus or Nisbet and Rudd on Horace, which is perhaps a pity.

The commentary is at its best on matters of philology (the province of Den Boeft and Den Hengst). They marry the grammatical expertise characteristic of their nation to an alertness to the nuances of late Latin. They comment usefully on the successes and failures of the major published translations, and in numerous places explain Ammianus’ often difficult usages (the palm goes to the explanation of why convenerat at 26.1.1 should be an irrealis). But they are notably bold – more, I think, than in previous volumes – about challenging Seyfarth’s conservative Teubner text, which they use for the lemmata. Particularly outstanding and significant textual notes come at 25.3.6 (Julian’s fatal wounding, where they propose the very meritorious in certamine), 25.7.13 (where the names of the Roman hostages guaranteeing the peace now include a senior general, Nevitta), but most of the rest are equally authoritative (see e.g. 26.10.5 paucos post dies, 26.10.16 revolutis [NB bold here substitutes for caret signs, not recognised by blogger]. They very occasionally defend the readings of the principal ms, the Fuldensis, against conjectures printed by Seyfarth (25.1.3, 26.5.1, 26.7.3), but much oftener argue forcefully for readings from Gelenius’ 1533 edition, which may well go back to the lost Hersfeldensis (fourteen times), the conjectures of earlier scholars, especially Valesius (over twenty times), and conjectures of their own (about ten times). About fifty divergences in two books prompts one to wonder whether it is not time for a new edition. Personally I would have changed the text in another ten places (e.g. they are right at 25.8.15 to commend Petschenig’s medimnus, but it should go in the text, not just the apparatus). My only criticism on textual matters is that the commentators do not always take enough account of Ammianus’ exceptionally regular prose rhythm. It is striking how often odd grammar and asyndeton coincides with poor cursus: at 26.6.17 the active detestabant is previously unattested and produces a poor clausula, and restoring the deponent regularises the cursus; at 25.3.17 an ugly asyndeton is also unrhythmical (read ínferens vel repéllens with Heraeus). At 25.4.19 the commentators should add rhythm to the arguments for their emendation cum háec ita éssent. Rhythm should have excluded E’s excogitata from consideration at 26.5.13, and also calls into question their acceptance of Sabinus’ circulo at 26.3.2 and G’s praeterlaberetur over Valesius’ praeterlambere at 25.10.5. Finally, while it is possible and plausible that Ammianus used venire for evenire, one of the three transmitted cases (neque secus venit, 26.9.4) gives a poor clausula (evenit would be fine), and in the other two (26.1.5, 29.1.26) the initial e could have been lost by haplography.

Questions of allusion – and Ammianus is very allusive – are comprehensively covered. One might pick out the use of Seneca to restore the text at 25.4.27, or a network of allusions to Lucan at 25.1.19 (apparently not previously observed). They equally expand our understanding of Ammianus’ engagement with contemporary texts (e.g. 26.2.2 on Symmachus, Or. 1 and 26.10 (introduction) on Libanius Or. 24; on Eutropius in the latter half of book 25 add my Ammianus (2008), 240-53). They are understandably cautious on questions of source criticism. In just a few places allusive engagement could be better handled. At 25.3.15 (the opening of Julian’s deathbed speech) they note the fact, but not the extent, of the similarity to one of Julian’s first speeches, at the battle of Strasbourg (16.12.30). At 25.10.13, after the emperor Jovian’s mysterious death in the night, Ammianus adduces an example: ‘although a similar departure from life befell him as Scipio Aemilianus, we find that a investigation was pursued into the death of neither.’ Earlier commentators compared Cicero, Mil. 16. Unfortunately, Den Boeft et al. quote the wrong part of the Cicero passage, relating to the death of M. Livius Drusus. The passage on Scipio’s death is much closer to Ammianus’ Latin, and attributes the death to nocturna vis. The case that Ammianus is hinting that Jovian was murdered is therefore much stronger than suggested here (‘not a good idea’).

If the historical aspects are not quite as authoritatively covered as the philological ones, they are still very good—and it is much less obvious what the responsibilities of a historical commentary are. Chronology is well covered in the introductions to each volume and passim; geography comes to the fore in the retreat from Persia; the two together in dealing with the rather tangled account of Procopius’ usurpation. They are judicious on prosopographical questions. On Ammianus’ general reliability they can be defensive. In particular they are reluctant fully to accept the case recently made by Barnes and Lenski, inter alios, for his tendentiousness about Jovian, though they occasionally offer evidence in support themselves (25.8.18). Other reviewers have commented on this (e.g. Kulikowski at BMCR 2006.04.31), so I will only add that at 25.5.9, they play down the significant echo of 21.16.21, which suggests that it was Ammianus’ own view that Jovian’s rule was shadow-like; at 25.9.11 they do not observe what was clear to Gibbon, that the exemplum of the Roman surrender of their disgraced general Mancinus to the Numantines in 137 BC hinted that Jovian deserved to be handed over to the Persians (and John of Antioch in fact tells us that people in Antioch thought the same). The authors are generally hostile to Barnes’ case that Ammianus was a militant pagan. They score a few minor hits at 25.4.3, 25.5.3 (though could this be a ‘formal’ second person plural?) and 25.5.8; but the absence of reference to Jovian’s Christianity until his obituary (Book 25, p. xiii) is not conclusive evidence against anti-Christian bias. On the contrary, it shows that something very odd is going on.

There is nothing so controversial in the coverage of Valentinian and Valens, though they do not really engage with a view conveyed both in D. S. Potter’s The Roman Empire at Bay (2004) and R. M. Errington’s Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius (2006). The selection of emperors after the dominant Constantius and Julian passed into the hands of the military high command and they chose those whom they control. Valentinian is a much weaker ruler than his ostentatious terribilità implies, and we should reconsider the implications of anecdotes like that retailed by Ammianus about the magister equitum Dagalaifus (he told Valentinian that he could elevate his brother if he loved his family, somebody else if he loved the republic, 26.3.1).

A major controversy about these books concerns dating, and here the commentators are again helpful but not quite as helpful as they could be. In his Pauly article of 1894, Otto Seeck proposed that Ammianus had originally stopped writing at the end of Book 25 at the end of the 380s and that the last six books, 26-31, were added later. This view, which is neither unsupported nor compelling, has been taken as established by most scholars since, but in the last generation some heavyweights have argued for earlier publication of the final books (Straub, Cameron, Matthews, Barnes, and Lizzi Testa among them). The commentators have thought about these problems, but point in completely different directions. At the end of Book 25, the case is made that the final anecdote would not have been an inappropriate ending for a first edition; in the introduction to Book 26 it is argued that the last six books belong after 390 (cf. 26.5.14), and probably after the death of Valentinian II in A.D. 392 (presumably because of Ammianus’ frankness about his father, though that argument would be more convincing if Valentinian II had not been a cipher). But in the commentary at 26.1.1, the most significant single prop for Seeck’s dating (the interpretation of convenerat as referring to an earlier stopping point) is kicked away. It was a pity not to deal with the whole problem in the introduction to book 26.

However, any minor criticisms and supplements which I offer here should not detract from our appreciation for this magnificent – and thankfully ongoing – scholarly monument.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Another letter to Ausonius (Symmachus Ep. 1.14)

This one certainly has been translated before, many times (I haven't compared this version to any others except Callu's Budé). It is usually found with editions of Ausonius' Mosella, a delicious irony given that Symmachus' letter complains of the fact that Ausonius did not send him a copy of the poem. The conceit count is through the roof, and there are doubtless some that I have missed. The date is the early 370s, as there are references to Symmachus' stay at court in Trier at the end of 360s, but the western emperors are still Valentinian (d. 375) and Gratian. The version of the Mosel here described is therefore prior to the one that now survives, which refers obliquely to Ausonius' consulship of 379. The circles in Rome to whom it was sent may have been linked to the Prefect of Illyricum, Italy, and Africa, Sex. Claudius Petronius Probus, who has plausibly identified as the holder of high office praised in the latter stages of the poem.

You ask me for a longer letter. That is a sign of true affection for me. But since I am aware of the poverty of my intellect, I prefer striving for Laconic brevity to laying open, over manifold pages, the meagreness of my immaturity. And no surprise if the vein of my eloquence is diminished, since you have not helped by letting me read any poem of yours, nor any volumes in prose. Why do you request such a sizeable loan of my conversation, when you have trusted me with nothing of your own literary credit. 2. Your Mosella is flying through many people’s hands and laps, immortalised in divine verses by you, but its flow goes past my lips alone. Why, tell me, did you wish me to be deprived of that little book of yours? Either I must seem to you too kulturlos to be able to judge, or at any rate malicious so as not to know how to praise! So you either traduced my intellect or my character. And still, against your ban, I have managed, barely, to discover that work’s secrets. 3. I’d like to be silent about what I feel; I’d like to get revenge with a justifiable silence about you, but admiration for your writings breaks through my hurt feelings. I knew your river myself, when some time ago I was a companion [i.e. comes] to the standards of the eternal emperors: it is the equal of great rivers, unequal to the greatest. This river, against my expectations, you have rendered with the dignity of your lofty verses greater than Egyptian Melo, colder than Scythian Tanais, and more famous than our fellow citizen here, the Tiber. I would absoluely not believe the many things you say about the rise and flow of the Mosel, if I didn’t know for sure that you don’t lie even in a poem. 4. Where did you find those swarms of river fish, so various in their names and their colours alike, so distinct as in their size so in their taste, which you with the palette of your song have coloured beyond the gifts of nature? Although I often experienced your table, and though I often marvelled at many other things which offered for consumption in the palace, I never managed to catch this sort of fish. When were these fish of yours born in your book (they never existed in serving dishes)? 5. You think I am joking and dealing in trifles? So may I be esteemed by the gods, I place this poem of yours by the books of Vergil. But now I’ll stop being cloying in praise of you and forgetful of my hurt, in case you also twist to your glory the fact that I am offended and amazed. Even if you scatter your books around and always leave me out, I’ll still enjoy your work—but other people’s generosity.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

A classics issue of TLS

The Times Literary Supplement covers classics very well - unsurprisingly, with Peter Stothard as Editor and Mary Beard as Classics editor. Their reviews on all subjects tend to be the right length, finding a golden mean between the curt notices of Literary Review or the newspapers, and the endless narcissistic non-reviews of the ghastly London Review of Books.

Those classicists who are not subscribers may want to buy this week's issue. It contains reviews by Mary Beard on two books, one on the Verrines (Margaret Miles) and one on the Borghese collections (Carole Paul), which she links by an argument about cultural property; Christopher Kelly on collections edited by Walter Scheidel and by Fritz-Heiner Mutschler and Achim Mittage on comparisons between the ancient Roman and Chinese empires; Peter Stothard on Robert Harris' new Cicero novel, Lustrum (which I'd rush out and buy, were it not that I can't see time to read novels coming up in the next few weeks); Rowland Smith on a new edition of Seneca's De Clementia by Susannah Braund; Denis Feeney on Ruth Webb's Demons and Dancers: performance in late antiquity, as well as an edited volume on ancient pantomime; Malcolm Schofield on the final volume of Simon Hornblower's monumental commentary on Thucydides (the one review which should definitely have been given more space); and Gail Trimble on Katharina Volk's book on Manilius.

In the novels section is a much slighter review of mine on a piece of popular fiction set in the ancient world, the second volume of Glyn Iliffe's Adventures of Odysseus. Regrettably, an editorial intervention at a late stage, after I had already corrected it back, led to the review implying that the book includes the tale of the Trojan horse. It doesn't. So I offer here the full review before cuts:
Glyn Iliffe, The Gates of Troy
478pp. Macmillan. £12.99978 0 230 52929 8 
One consolation for Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy (2004) was to be reminded through the film’s flaws of Homer’s brilliant selectiveness in narrative: the Iliad starts in medias res and ends with the sack of Troy still unachieved but inevitable (and thus evades the charming but silly story about the horse). The long list of those who have, with varying success, expanded and elaborated on Homer is now joined by Glyn Iliffe: his six-volume Adventures of Odysseus are projected to cover the hero’s whole career, though it appears that he may intend to focus on events not described in the Homeric poems. This, the second volume, opens ten years after the events of the first (King of Ithaca, 2008). Odysseus is established on Ithaca with Penelope and the newborn Telemachus, when the news comes of Helen’s elopement with Paris. The story is taken through a series of semi-familiar set pieces from the epic cycle – the feigned madness of Odysseus, Achilles among the women of Scyros, Iphigenia at Aulis, the marooning of Philoctetes – and climaxes with the Greeks landing at Troy. 
Iliffe is a talented storyteller, but it is hard not to see him struggling somewhat with the episodic nature of the material, and also the fact that some of it is just as hard to take or describe seriously as the Trojan horse. Still, his plotting is very much helped by having the archetypal plotter as protagonist. Odysseus’ wiliness is sharpened by being observed through his guard-captain, Eperitus, a more stolid and traditional hero.

Eperitus does not know what to think when Odysseus tells him that ‘the age of heroes is gone… we’re entering a time of kings’. Eperitus’ uncertainty here can stand for what is distinctive and potentially problematic about this book. It straddles the genres of historical novel (a paradox in a period of which we know next to nothing), and fantasy (unlike Petersen, he keeps the gods in his story). Iliffe does not so much offer an imaginitive reconstruction of Greek life in the heroic age, in the manner of Mary Renault’s Theseus books, as a blend of elements taken from different periods of Greek history: Mycenaean, dark-age, and occasionally classical. Readers will have varying feelings about how successful this melange is – but they should consider that his practice is not so different from Homer’s.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Bishop Lucifer of Cagliari

A recent holiday in Sardinia took me to the (alleged) tomb of Lucifer, bishop of Cagliari in the mid-fourth century. Lucifer of Cagliari's reputation is founded on being the most wackily-named bishop of late antiquity, and also for his trailblazing status as a bishop who used his status to call a Christian emperor (Constantius II) names (the anti-Christ, etc.). He was exiled to Egypt, but was treated altogether more pleasantly that Constantius treated civilian enemies. A translation of his works is being made by Richard Flower of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.
When the cattedrale di S. Maria was built in the early seventeenth century, the crypt was almost wholly dedicated to relics of martyrs brought over from the old church named for San Saturnino. There is row upon row of little wall monuments. Lucifer's statue is placed at the east end of the chapel on the right. It has three inscriptions. The one on the statue base records the role of Archbishop Ambrogio Machin (1627-40) and refers, quite anachronistically, to Lucifer as a spirited speaker in the Roman curia. The next one reads:
+die xxi iunii MDCXXIII inventum corpus S. Luciferi ar[chiepisco]pi Cal[aritani] in capellam hanc eius nomini per ill[ustrem] d[ominum] Franc[iscum] Desquivel Ar[chiepisco]pu[m] Cal[aritanum] dicatam translatum fuit die xxi [M]aii MDCXXVI
On the 21st day of June 1623 was found the body of S. Lucifer archbishop of Cagliari, transferred to this chapel, dedicated to his name by the illustrious Don Francesco d'Esquivel archbishop of Cagliari, on the 21st day of May 1626.
For a late Romanist, it is amusing to see the convenient 'discovery' of bodies, as pioneered by Ambrose of Milan, still in practice (not that there aren't more recent examples). I also wonder why Lucifer was translated on 21st May and not on his feast day, the 20th. The third inscription (below) also calls Lucifer an 'archbishop', anachronistically, and additionally makes him primate of Sardinia and Corcica [sic!] (I don't know if this is an anachronism but would expect so). But the weird thing is that it calls him B.M., which I think has to mean Beatus Martyr (by the way, if anyone can explain the first half of line 4, let me know!).

Lucifer was no martyr, and he was a questionable sort of Catholic saint, when you consider that he inspired a sect, the Luciferians, who were castigated as heretics by Jerome. What is most interesting here is the (literal) rediscovery and reuse by seventeenth-century archbishops of a predecessor who might have been thought quite problematic. I wonder how far their factual slips were based on ignorance, and how far they were calculated. It would be a fine subject for a historian who combined an expertise in the history of patristic scholarship and seventeenth-century Sardinia!

The church of Cagliari also commemorated several doublets of Lucifer: the cr
ypt contains wall memorials covering the remains of S. Lucifer the Presbyter, and S. Lucifera, both martyrs of Cagliari. Whether Lucifer was a common name in Cagliari, or whether this is a neat illustration of how catholic cult despised birth control when it came to engendering martyrs, I leave to readers to decide.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Harry Sidebottom's Ballista

A recent short review of mine from the Times Literary Supplement of 7 August.

Harry Sidebottom

King of Kings is the second volume in a trilogy of military-historical novels set in the mid-third century AD Roman empire. Few people know as much about this shadowy period of Roman history as Harry Sidebottom: the title page credits him with his doctorate, and there are over twenty pages of historical apparatus, with suggestions for further reading and a glossary. Such academic material may seem jarring in this rollocking page-turner. In fact, the author’s learning, though lightly worn, combines with his narrative skills to produce a superior example of genre fiction, with unusual depth, authenticity, and sense of place.

The lack of known names and dates in the period gives plenty of scope for the historian’s and novelist’s imagination; the first volume, Fire in the East (2008), focused on the fiectional Persian siege of a fictional Roman city in AD 256, modelled on the siege of Amida a century later. The present tale is woven around a military campaign of 257, contemporary persecutions of Christians, and the capture of the emperor Valerian by Shapur I of Persia in 260. This division into three separate narratives means that this story is perhaps not quite as consistently successful as the previous volume (which should certainly be read first); but the climax is very well done.

Sidebottom captures the group psychology of soldiers, and he is good on the peculiar role of ‘barbarian’ soldiers in the Roman army. His hero, Ballista, is an Angle (his chief sidekicks are a large-hearted Irishman and a grumpy Caledonian). Although he has as much culture, and greater linguistic ability and strategic intelligence, than Roman colleagues, Ballista is seen as suspect and is expendable when the chips are down. Having the Romans viewed through the eyes of semi-outsiders also helps the novelist to avoid didacticism. The text offers a number of hints as to Ballista’s future career, and in the next volume he will merge with the little that’s known of the historical Ballista.

One colleague wrote wondering how favourable I had meant to be, perhaps because quite a few of my adjectives were removed in order to fit this on a page with three other reviews. Lest there be any doubt, these books are a great read. There is plenty of good robust historical military fiction about, but it is striking to see it combined with such academic expertise without loss of narrative vigour.

I did think that the second volume was not quite as unremittingly exciting as the first; and I should expand on an oblique comment above. It seemed clear to me that the central and recurring model for the siege which is the principal episode of Fire in the East is a later event, the Persian invasion of Roman Mesopotamia and the sack of Amida (Diyarbakir) in AD 359, described in detail by Ammianus Marcellinus in books 18 and 19. Sidebottom has detailed supplementary material about ancient sources and further reading, but he never mentions Ammianus. I don't see that this is wrong - it's a work of fiction, after all - but it is odd. I shall put the novel in the bibliography when I teach Ammianus books 18 and 19 in the new year, and take pleasure in the thought that my favourite historian inspired - as well, perhaps, as exhibiting - 'the creative and imaginitive powers of a novelist'.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Symmachus to Ausonius (2)

So what is Symmachus letter 1.13 all about (incidentally, I decided to add the Latin text to the previous post)? Perhaps I should have read more widely, but I have yet to see the context of this letter properly explained. Here is my take.

Symmachus was a prominent and aristocratic young member of the Roman senate in January 376. But he was not yet what he was to become: a Prefect of the City (in 384-5) or a consul (in 391). Indeed, his father L. Aurelius Avianus Symmachus had on the very same day returned to Rome from unofficial exile, after after an unwise alleged remark prompted the plebs to burn down his townhouse. But Symmachus did have one advantage over his peers: most of them had never been to court – indeed, the senate had a notoriously bad relationship with the emperor Valentinian – but Symmachus had, on an embassy at the turn of the 360s/370s. At Trier he had given panegyrics of the emperor Valentianian and of his young son Gratian and been promoted to Count, third class; he had also met Gratian’s tutor, Ausonius. And Ausonius, like his imperial masters, had never been to Rome. They maintained a correspondence thereafter (occasionally, as the opening lines of this letter suggest).

On 17 November 375, a month and a half before the events described in this letter, the emperor Valentinian died of a stroke, in Brigetio, near modern Budapest. The heir to the western empire was Gratian, who had held the title of Augustus since 367, but who was many hundreds of miles away in Trier. The civil and military high command on the ground, aided by Valentinian’s widow, decided on the quite unconstitutional promotion to Augustus of Gratian’s half-brother, Valentinian II, in Aquincum (Budapest) on 23 November.

Imagine the position of the teenage Gratian, hearing, perhaps in late November, that his father is dead and that he is the sole western ruler, and then a week later, that the army in Illyricum, many hundreds of miles away, has proclaimed his four year old half-brother as an emperor. He can’t disown his brother, but neither can he allow the civil and military authorities in Illyricum, abetted by his stepmother, to establish a puppet emperor (it is vitally important, I think, that Gratian is in a separate Prefecture, that of Gaul, which also covered Britain and Spain, from that of Illyricum, which also covers Italy and north Africa).

Gratian needs to exercise his control over the whole of the Roman west, the Gallic and Illyrican prefectures, and particularly over Rome itself; he needs to make sure that Valentinian II is not a threat to him. So he needs to win over the senate, who have suffered under his father from investigations on charges of magic and treason. Torture and executions have occurred. A message of conciliation needs to be got to them – by New Year’s day they have spent weeks wondering how Gratian will react to Valentinian II. If you consider that Gratian in Trier may not have heard of his father’s death and the threat from his younger brother till well into December 375, it is not incredible that his messenger to the senate may only have arrived in Rome on the night of the New Year, the day when the new consuls were announced. The messenger’s breathless haste may not be a commonplace! He may really have been in a desperate rush.

To whom had Gratian turned to compose his message to the senate, asserting conciliation and control? Roman emperors had on official who drafted laws and speeches, the quaestor sacri palatii – and Gratian’s quaestor was Ausonius. This is why Symmachus represents Ausonius as so keen to know how the message went down (though preserving the established fiction that the speech is Gratian’s own). In a different sense, the fact that Ausonius was Gratian’s quaestor, and that Symmachus is one of the only senators who has actually met him, is why Symmachus is so keen to exploit the connection. Gratian’s and Ausonius’ concessions to the senate obviously helped to establish their control over the whole of the west. And, as I shall show in future posts, Symmachus’ sycophancy worked in making him a leading spokesman of the Roman senate and in reestablishing his and his father’s credentials.

Monday, 14 September 2009

A letter to Ausonius (Symmachus Ep. 1.13)

Soon after 1 January 376, Q. Aurelius Symmachus wrote from Rome to Ausonius, who was serving as Quaestor to Gratian, now the senior emperor in the west. Perhaps, as with Festus, this has actually been published in English translation before, but if so I don't remember seeing it anywhere in complete form.

Symmachus to Ausonius

Joyfulness is accustomed to be eloquent and, spurning the narrows of a closed heart, to exult: as for you, my friend, good fortune has made you forget to write. This could not be a point for me to imitate, whom our Lord Gratian’s heavenly speech has filled with good hope and joyfulness. So I have not refrained for my own part from addressing a sluggard, because it’s my duty to do so, or my joy: our friendship suggested one of these options, public felicity the other. 2. If you can spare the time, please cast your mind back just a bit for my purposes.

Janus was opening the first Kalends of the year. We had come, a packed senate, into the curia that morning, before clear day could undo the dark of night. By chance a rumour had been brought, that the words of a longed-for prince had arrived far into the night. And it was true, for a courier stood there exhausted from his sleepless nights. We rush together when the sky was not yet white: with the lamps lit, the destinies of the new age are recited. Need I say more? We welcomed the light which we were still awaiting. 3. ‘Tell me’ you say – for this is important to hear – ‘what did the Fathers feel about that speech.’ May Nature herself answer with those wishes with which longed-for piety is heard. We know to embrace our blessings. If you can believe it, I even now suffer a certain indigestion of that joy of mine. Good Nerva, toiling Trajan, guiltless Pius, Marcus abounding in responsibility were helped by the times, which then did not know other morals: it is the nature of the prince that is a matter of praise now, then it was the blessing of olden times. Why, with order reversed, should we think these examples of outstanding traits and those remnants of an earlier age? 4. May Fortune preserve her blessing, and desire at least to save for the Roman name this beloved! Let the public joy be bitten by no witchcraft! You have heard everything – but only the very first tiny effusions from my lips. The glories of our curia will talk more fully with you. Then, when you find more written to you, think how much more eloquent are the thoughts of one man’s mind than all our effusions of applause. Farewell.

Symmachus Ausonio

Solet facundia esse laetitia et angustias clausi pectoris aspernata gestire; tibi, amice, scribendi officium oblivionem peperit res secunda. id mihi imitationi esse non potuit, quem domini nostri Gratiani caelestis oratio bonae spei et hilaritatis implevit. Ultro igitur adloqui residem non peperci vel officii vel gaudii mei gratia, quorum alterum familiaritas nostra, alterum felicitas publica suggerebat. 2. nunc si operae est, utendum mihi tantisper animum fac remittas. primores Kalendas Ianus anni aperibat. frequens senatus mature in curiam veneramus, priusquam manifestus dies creperum noctis absolveret. forte rumor adlatus est sermonem desiderati principis multa nocte venisse. et erat verum; nam tabellarius vigiliarum fessus adstabat. nondum caelo albente concurritur; luminibus accensis novi saeculi fata recitantur. quid multa? lucem, quam adhuc opperiebamur, accepimus. 3. dic mihi, inquies - nam id praestat audire - quid nostri patres super ea oratione senserunt? rerum tibi natura respondeat quibus suffragiis exoptata pietas audiatur. novimus bona nostra complecti. si credis, etiamnum illius gaudii mei quandam patior cruditatem. bonus Nerva, Traianus strenuus, Pius innocens, Marcus plenus officii temporibus adiuti sunt, quae tunc mores alios nesciebant: hic in laude est natura principis, ibi priscae munus aetatis. cur verso ordine ista optimarum artium putemus exempla et illa de saeculo priore vestigia? 4. beneficium suum fortuna tutetur et has saltem Romano nomini velit servare delicias! nullo fascino felicitas publica mordeatur! audisti omnia, de summo tenus ore libata; monumenta curiae nostrae plenius tecum loquentur. ubi cum plura scripta reppereris, aestima quanto uberiora unius mens optaverit, quam plausus effuderit. vale.