Saturday, 29 November 2014

Plutarch's Moralia

I am marching my way through the Moralia by Plutarch (and possibly others depending on the scholar you happen to follow), currently on volume III where he deals with the moral nature and habits as well as pithy quotations of the Spartans. By all accounts a stern bunch and as happy fighting as throwing themselves from crags or rooftops to preserve their honour. The translations vary, all being Loeb but from different decades. The current volume is Frank Cole Babbit who is reassuringly inter-war 1920s in tone!


Monday, 24 November 2014

Works and Days - The Two Strifes

Right at the start of Hesiod’s Works and Days (WD), we come across the startling revelation that there is not one Strife (Eris) but two.

‘So in fact, there was not just one birth of Strifes but there are two Strifes upon the earth. One of these a man would honour once he got to know it, but the other is blameworthy; and they have totally opposed spirits. Since one fosters evil war and conflict-the cruel one, no mortal loves it, but it’s out of necessity (hup’anankes) that they honour the oppressive Strife, according to the plans of the Gods. But the other one was first born from Night; and Kronos’ high-throned son, who dwells in the aether, set it in the roots of the earth, and it is much better for men. It rouses even the helpless man to work. For a man who is not working but who looks at some other man, a rich one who is hastening to plough and plant and set his house in order, he envies him, one neighbour envying his fellow who is making haste to get wealth; and this Strife is good for mortals. And potter is angry with potter, and builder with builder, and beggar begrudges beggar, and poet poet. ‘(WD 11-26)

There are two things that make this section stand out for me. One is the fact of the apparent correction or editorial process that Hesiod applies to his earlier proclamations on Eris in the previous work the Theogony. This is a first in the sense that previous to written texts such a correction would have been unthinkable or unnecessary. I say unthinkable since with many different performers, who had no text to prepare from, the changes could be all true and none of them true at the same time. It is the arrival of the fixed text that heralds other textual and written technologies involved with the recording and transmission of literature as well as culture and eventually religious and ritual practice. Hesiod has his Theogony as a realised material object which can be examined, altered, critiqued, and added to, all of the things that you can do with a written text that cannot be done within the previous oral tradition. It’s nothing less than the quantum leap that takes us out of the archaic period into the classical period.

The other striking point lies in the contrast between the two Strifes. Like a split pharmakon, we now have a good Strife in addition to the traditional (albeit second born) evil war type Strife which is just an all-round bad trip for mortals and something which the Gods seem to like inflicting on us in order to play out their inscrutable divine plans or to play out on a miniscule scale their mere Olympian squabbles.

 The good Strife then appears to be the envy of wealth which spurs men on to get some for themselves and jostle against each other in all walks of life for a piece of the action.  It seems very close to our later formulations of the Capitalist spirit and the ideology of man as a basically selfish individual struggling and vying for riches against ones fellow as opposed to working with him for happiness. I can imagine this passage being quite a favourite of the more conservative leaning Classicists such as  Boris Johnson! Peer envy is healthy and the kind of rivalry it involves, along with the begrudging and anger with which Hesiod colours it, is accepted as both necessary and good. I wonder if Hesiod envisaged  any room for overlap or bleed between the two Strifes which rather seem at least to moderns to be two aspects of one being rather than two totally separate and opposed spirits as they are described here (andicha thumon).

 I wonder how in Hesiod’s understanding they are totally opposed yet both involve anger and begrudging, emotions which can easily escalate into open conflict even on an individual or minor group scale. Is it entirely clear how these two Strifes are totally opposed? Perhaps he means coming from totally different directions, one from the Immortals upon high...and the other buried deep in the earth. Perhaps we could look at this in more detail when we meet!


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Hesiod - The Big Crunch


We come back to Greece with a bang and a cosmic one at that. Or rather a crunch since the Theogony (literally the birth or coming into being of the gods), composed at some point towards the end of the 8th Century or beginning of the 7th Century BCE, appears to take us on a journey from the outermost primal elements of the creation gradually moving through the grades of divine beings and monsters to heroes and finally humans with the two lines at the end of the work presaging the Catalogue of Women. It also culminates in establishing Zeus as the supreme judge and arbiter of justice.
This is a startling work from the end of a transitional period from oral to literary transmission of the names and pedigrees of the gods. Hesiod stands at the very beginning of Greek literature, giving definition to the primordial mythic landscape and in the opinion of many ancients and scholars after, practically inventing Greek religious practice and could possibly be the earliest of philosophers to boot (if we take the view that the Theogony is a cosmography in the tradition of which the pre-Socratic philosophers such as Empedocles and Parmenides are members).

 It’s quite an achievement and although it is a literary production, one of the first texts open to comment and criticism by ancients, it still belies its oral origins. The language is replete with assonance and alliteration, literary devices which helped in its committing to a poets memory for later and repeated performance.

 It is a thoroughly bardic work in tone and purport and it should be seen in the context of the wandering poets of the archaic period and earlier, in particular Homer. The two poets or at least one and a half poets are intricately bound up together being the subject of intense debate even now as to who was the earliest on the scene. It’s a question that will probably never be resolved but there are some interesting contrasts between the two works as well as similarities. Homer never refers to himself throughout the whole of the Iliad and the Odyssey, where Hesiod does refer to himself and his brother Perses on several occasions throughout his work. He is the first ancient Greek writer to do so – it’s such an innovation and one perhaps born of the relatively new technology of written literary culture that one is tempted to view Homer as perhaps coming from the end of the oral tradition and Hesiod at the beginning of the new written tradition. It will have to remain an idle fancy since there is no way to decide with the current evidence available to us who is the earlier. The current middle ground consensus is that they are rough contemporaries, that is, if Homer is a person rather than a composite construct of bards, the best bits of Phemius, Demodocus et aliis. To be fair to both there has been considerable and sustained scholarly debate over the question of whether we are dealing with actual historical figures here at all or rather authorised constructs – the so-called Homeric (or indeed Hesiodic) authorial question.

The other factor that doesn’t lend credence to my fantasy is the relatively higher level of poetical sophistication in Homer, although that may be due in part to the kind of works that we are faced with. The Theogony is a depiction of the cosmos and an explanation of how everything came to be so that humans can see their place in the religious, physical and moral order – it’s the tube map of the ancient Greek divine cosmos. To name the gods is to create them. This is the dramatic ritual enactment of each sacred performance/utterance of the Theogony.

With Homer I think we have very much the later intricate interactions of the worlds of Gods Heroes and Men – it’s as if Homer has set the world described in the theogony in movement and is skilfully recounting its detailed action.  Hesiod as astrolabe constructor and Homer who sets the wheels in beautiful motion detailing all of its intricate movements with consummate poetic skill.
This is not to detract from the skill and surprising deftness of Hesiod’s work. He has artfully linked the names of the gods and other beings as well as the key activities that led to the formation of the ancient Greek system into a flowing inspired hexameter form. It’s a song essentially where the words and possibly the music (that must have existed) literally bring the burgeoning universe to life before the very eyes and ears of the listener. The recitation of names alone (for it was key to a Greeks identity to know who ones father was and where one was born) would have caused intense delight familiar as they were to ancient audiences, but this added and totally new concept of linking the brief oral passages (perhaps originally short songs themselves from earlier oral times and diverse regions all over Greece) stitching them together into a sustained narrative with its own structure and solidity and direction of thought must have seemed nothing less than astounding. Reading parts of it aloud can give a slight hint of the magical hypnotic effect it must have had. It’s a both a colourful and beautiful work with great contrasting passages of darkness and light as well the frenzied interplay of the elements.

The Theogony provides a neat counterpart to the Works and Days where we move to the world of men and how best they might function in the world which the former work has so lavishly, even luridly, depicted.  Taken together they constitute a macro to micro view of the cosmos, geospatially and ethically positional for man and protreptic in intent.  We have the image before us of the muse-struck shepherd singing of the world of the Gods and also of man’s place and duty within it, linking the themes of the two complimentary texts.

I look forward to discussing the Theogony and the Works and days in more detail when we meet again!


Saturday, 4 October 2014

Persius - A nasty little piece of work

Aules Persius Flaccus 34-62 CE
Imagine the scene if you will…a drinking party in Hades where all three chief Satirists are gathered. Horace would probably entertain you with mildly barbed repartee, enjoying a jewel studded goblet of Falernian wine with you as he subtly and wittily took you to task for your most recent shady business dealings (while benefiting handsomely from some of the resulting largess at the same time), Juvenal? He would be wagging his finger at you loudly and eloquently censuring your shortcomings and urging you not to get married to that rich aging freedwoman as he sipped from a glass of sparkling apple juice (homemade of course)…and what about Persius/ What would he do?

He’d probably punch you in the face - and leave after insulting the other guests as fakes, warning them not to listen to those other has-beens. Yes, Persius seems to be the sort of chap that might have carved ‘4 Real’ into his forearm with a razor if you so much as utter the barest whimper of doubt in the direction of his ‘semipaganus’ street cred. He was hard-core. You can tell this right from the start of his programmatic Satire...where he informs us he doesn’t drink from the same trough as the other windbags and tells it like it is. He might have been even more live and direct had his erstwhile mentor and posthumous amanuensis Cornutus not fluffed the text over, removing any potentially insulting references to the Imperial elite.

‘Nec fonte labra prolui caballino
Nec in bicipiti somniasse Parnaso
Memini, ut repente sic poeta prodirem.
Heliconidasque pallidamque Pirenen
Illis remitto quorum imagines lambunt
Hederae sequaces; ipse semipaganus
Ad sacra vatum carmen adfero nostrum.
Quis expedivit psittaco suum  ‘chaere’
Picamque docuit nostra verba conari?’

(Prologue l.1-9)

The immediate thing we note with the Prologue is its metre, limping iambics or choliambic. This is a metre which originated with the lyric iambic poet of 6th Century Ionia, Hipponax.

The USP of this choliambic is its unexpected substitution of a long breathing instead of the expected short, thus giving a kind of limping or disjointed or interrupted flow to the line. A bit like an unusual time signature used by a jazz guitarist or a deliberate ‘bum-note’ used in a saxophonist’s phrasing to comment on a section or take the rise out of a particular riff or style. Hipponax was apparently well known for using this style to great effect, ripping into his subjects and using the long pause at the end for an extra sonic surprise lunge at the target. What is Petronius telling us here with the use of this metre?

III.l00. 'sed tremor inter vina subit...'
To me it firstly acts a s a punch in the face of those satirists who proudly declare Satire as a truly Roman invention (a half-truth at best of times since it refers to Satiric verse only ignoring its dues from earlier Greek iambs), re-establishing and underlining the Greek iamb tradition in opposition to what Persius perceives as mere effete posturing in a Greek mode as opposed to the real thing. It also gives him a chance to set himself as distinct and apart from the other poets and marks him out as a purist devoted to his art. Perhaps it’s also a bit flash like a hot blues riff that shows up the others as mere imitators and him as a bit of a nerd into the hard-core stuff of the roots of what he perceives to be true Satire. Hence his side swipe at those’ parrots taught to say Chaire’ (the Greek form of Greeting…fashionable in those days as say French was during certain periods of English history), not so much a dig at the Greekness since I think he regards earlier iamb and its exponents with honour and respect, but a sneer aimed at those who use Greek for effect without really knowing its meaning or application. Persius is aiming at the money grubbing literary dilettante who might pepper his or her work with superficial or clichéd Greekisms and bon mots but in reality unable to properly use speak the language itself – hence a mere parrot or performing monkey.

Persius would have us know that he stands in noble isolation, disdainful of the herd and its vanities and from this self-elevated position looks down on the ravens, and magpies of the contemporary literary scene – a scene to which as semipaganus, he only half belongs.


Saturday, 27 September 2014

In Praise of Damnation - Satire VI

Salve Indignates!

Juvenal devotes an entire book (Book II) to the follies and crimes of women...or to be more accurate starts off with a harangue at the ills of marriage having heard that Postumus a friend of his is contemplating marriage. The guns are soon lowered on anything female in sight and we follow the satirists line of fire as he piles barrage upon barrage never failing to miss a target.

l. 63-4
'Tuccia vesicae non imperat'
Its a 661-line sustained attack on the ills of matrimony and by extension women in general and has often been written off as an extreme misogynist rant but there is more than meets the eye here.  Juvenal sends everything up and nothing seems sacred ;even the sacred rite of Bona Dea, an all women rite re-imagined as a license for orgy and the occasional man in drag as sexual invader, even to the classic stereotypical Roman images of the chaste pre-lapsarian Hesiodic country lass, all hairy boobs and munching acorns like the best of them, or the haughty moralistic matron mother of the Republican freedom fighters and latter Empire builders as well, figures which you would think his chauvinism would spare by way of contrasted models of feminine virtue.

But no, all fall under his merciless high epic cleaver and in the process undermining the vantage point of the misogynist itself and it is this that makes me sense that earlier readers (Dryden for one – who wondered what had happened to Juvenal that had turned him so much against all womanhood) and some moderns are mistaken if they take Juvenal or indeed his constructed persona of the outraged equestrian jade at face value branding him in the process as a class ‘A’ Gender-war-criminal. Perhaps this less enlightened, black and white view has tended to diminish as modern scholarship focusses more on the concept of the Juvenalian satiric persona and its role in the presentation and development of the satires.

Its worth reproducing a part of Dryden's Argument to the Sixth Satyr by way of illustration of the extent and limit of his understanding. Its very perceptive as far as it goes but Dryden still appears to miss the possibility that it could be a conscious effort rather than an accidental result on Juvenals/his constructed persona's part which results in the reverse of its ostensible aim, that of the denigration and damnation of womankind and all her works. The underlinings are my own.

l.481 'verberat atque obiter faciem linit'
' This Satyr, of almost double length to any of the rest, is a bitter invective against the fair Sex. 'Tis, indeed, a Common-place, from whence all the Moderns have notoriously stoln their Sharpest Raileries. In his other Satyrs, the Poet has only glanc'd on some particular women, and generally scourged the men. But this he reserved wholly for the Ladies. How they offended him I know not. But upon the whole matter he is not to be excus'd for imputing to all, the Vices of Some few amongst them. Neither was it generously done of him, to attack the weakest as well as the fairest part of the Creation: Neither do I know what Moral he could reasonably draw from it. It could not be to avoid the whole Sex, if all had been true which he alledges against them: for that had been to put an end to human Kind. And to bid us beware of their Artifices, is a kind of silent acknowledgement that they have more Wit than Men: which turns the Satyr upon us, and particularly upon the Poet, who thereby makes a Compliment, where he meant a libel. If he intended only to exercise his Wit, he has forefeited his judgement, by making one half of his Readers his Mortal Enemies: and amongst the Men, all the happy Lovers by their own Experience, will disprove his Accusations.'

So much for Dryden. I can wholeheartedly recommend you to read the whole of the Argument as well as his Englishing of the Satyr itself. It flows well and sparkles as it fills the glass, ageing into an extremely fine vintage.

 Satire VI starts off innocently enough with Juvenals credo of a time where chastity and simplicity existed on the earth before the silver age (Hesiods Arguron Genos the second of five ages of man), the time he tells us when the first adulteries took place, once the gods and the female divinities of chastity and modesty had fled the human world. The fact that it is a credo indicates that even this stock Alexandrian epyllonic mythic framing is already pretty suspect in Juvenals eyes and worth a quick sneer a la Johnny Rotten. Things go downhill pretty fast from there. Juvenal considers that his friend Postumus has gone mad and suggests some easier methods of self- destruction but Postumus counters that even the well-known gigolo Ursidius is getting hitched.

This is the blue touch paper for Juvenal and what ensues is a coruscating display of outrages in high epic style. Readers must have recognised many of the allusions, some of them pretty obvious such as Messalina, the wanton and debauched wife of Claudius with her clandestine part-time job at the brothels and stews of Rome by night, but others, although they must have raised a laugh amongst the in-crowd of the time, are somewhat lost to us. Actors, gladiators, dancers, lyre players, teachers of all things (god forbid!) Greek and other names and allusions to figures now obscured by the clouds of time add a touch of obscurity, no doubt compounded by the often corrupted text. The sections referring to gladiators (The 'O' Passage and l.370/373A-350) are particularly difficult to unpack and interpret.

 The translation I am reading (The Loeb translation of Susanna Morton Braund 2003 HUP), although quite often innovatively accurate fails in my opinion to catch of the double or even other layers of meaning hinted at throughout the text (I am thinking for example of the senators wife Eppia l.82 ff.  who prances about on deck copping a feel of the sailor boys hard ropes! L.101 haec inter nautas et prandet et errat per puppem et duros gaudet tractare rudentis).  Braund puts it more tamely as handling the rough ropes but for me this doesnt convey the full implication of duros.rudentis. But then again perhaps I am getting carried away again on an over inspired cloud of translucent chiffon! Juvenal can tend to do this to medont get me started on the many references to swords, practice posts and grunting of female wannabe Murmillones!

 Throughout VI, the satirist displays a mastery of rhetorical technical devices, literary allusions and socio-historical references which his educated audience must have revelled in and found levels of amusement which are regrettably lost to us. That notwithstanding, a lot of the force and majesty of the satire can still shine through and Juvenal uses a wide range of poetical and linguistic devices, alliteration, assonance, chiasmus and other clever arrangements which add colour and spice to this crushing bravura performance. The satire is so relentless and forceful that he takes things right to the possible limit of satireup to the ramparts where his indignation and disgust can find no more space in which to flail and the roadrunner he has run out of tarmac at the end of the satire and it squeals to an end with the terrible and debased image of the botched poisoning of a husband aided by a swift stab of steel ferrum est quod amant. It is no surprise then that he has to start off on a different tack with the next Satire having mined this vein to its roots.

l.76-7 'accipis uxorem de qua citharoedus Echion aut Glaphyrus fiat pater..'
There are interrogations to be made of this tour-de-force of savage indignation. Juvenal doesnt leave us with a definitive answer to the issue or a final judgement or any moral direction. It is effectively a catalogue of crimes with the cataloguer becoming the figure of satire himself by his over-excessive zeal, shooting himself in the foot where a potential model of feminine virtue presents itself.  Is it misogyny? Or perhaps Misogamy? Is there a difference? Can we usefully apply such a term with all of our modern baggage associated with the term? In other words what did misogyny mean to the ancients, (e.g. Semonides of Amorgos Poem VII)? Its interesting to contrast Semonides and his earlier iambic work, a more straightforward lambast of the types of women sent by Zeus to plague us blokes with Satire VI since it further underlines the level of sophistication of the latter work with all its crazy hyperbole and sustained rhetorical power riffing.

 By pushing the Satire to its limits and beyond and, as its perverse internal logic dictates, undermining its own theoretical foundations, has Juvenal escaped such accusations of mere misogyny? If this is plausible then can we in any way sympathise with him in his subtle praise by vitriolic yet ironic damnation? If his subtle conceit is successful, what in turn does that imply for the role and purpose of his particular form of satire? If there is no clear moral instruction on offer what can we expect to take away from a deeper reading of Satire VI?


Monday, 8 September 2014

Dryden on Juvenal - Restoration Elegance and Satyrickal Wit

I got hold of the most recent Loeb translation of Juvenal and Persius translated and edited by Susanna Morton Braund. For obvious reasons I cannot reproduce any of her actual translations for comparison but I note her preface addresses her reasons for a new translation and something of her modus operandi.
She observes that previous 20th Century translations, essentially the efforts of the ‘wild and lurid’ 1960s and 70s as she might have it that were in vogue at the time ‘seem very dated’ and indulge overmuch in ephemeral expressions. It is a difficulty not unique but certainly pronounced with Latin to reflect the effects that word order and its variation had on a Latin reader when translating into English. She has also tried to render the text as natural as possible to our ears by removing connective words between clauses (nam, enim etc). The intended effect is that of robust fidelity to the original Latin and a decent and serviceable translation that will stand the test of at least a few generations, if not more.

All well and good...but what of John Dryden (1631-1700)? His style seems very fast and loose on the whole but at times his renderings to seem to crack through and expose a vein of Juvenal that no mere scholar can hope to unleash. Perhaps it is the advantage that the poet has – a supreme artist with words and an innate understanding of the lifeblood of the text rather than its accurate rendering into another language.

 I would not go so far as to say that Dryden has created another version of Juvenal but there are flashes, turns of phrase which somehow make the plainer more accurate translations fall flat. I am always torn between the two poles since I imagine that the effect on me of Dryden at his best must surely come close to hearing the work as it was intended to astound in its original language from the perspective of a native speaker of ancient Latin – one which we will never have. Can Dryden and others bring us closer or are they taking us further away from the text? Or are both the necessary light and shade to any full rendering of ancient works? At the very least it’s a good reason to explore and rediscover how subsequent eras have tackled the Classical authors.

 I will give a few of my favourite Drydian sections of each of the Satires we are going to deal with. I provide the Latin first and then Dryden’s splendiferous Restoration filigree. We shall have to wait until we meet to compare with Braund (2003), the latest offering on the Loeb slab.

Satire I: l 22-30 Why Write Satire?

‘cum tener uxorem ducat spado, Meuia Tuscum
figat aprum et nuda teneat uenabula mamma,
patricios omnis opibus cum prouocet unus
quo tondente grauis iuueni mihi barba sonabat,
cum pars Niliacae plebis, cum uerna Canopi
Crispinus Tyrias umero reuocante lacernas
uentilet aestiuum digitis sudantibus aurum
nec sufferre queat maioris pondera gemmae,
difficile est saturam non scribere.’

 ‘When Sapless Eunuchs mount the Marriage-Bed,
When Mannish Mevia, that two-handed Whore,
Astride on Horse-back hunts the Tuscan Boar,
When all our Lords are by his wealth outvy’d,
Whose Razour on my callow beard was try’d;
When I behold the Spawn of conquered Nile,
Crispinus, both in Birth and Manners vile,
Pacing in Pomp, with Cloak of Tyrian Dye
Chang’d oft a-day for needless Luxury;
And finding oft occasion to be fan’d,
Ambitious to produce his Lady-Hand;
Charg’d with light Summer-rings his fingers sweat,
Unable to support a Gem of Weight;
Such fulsome Objects meeting everywhere,
‘Tis hard to write, but harder to forbear.’

Satire III. L.60-78     The Foreigners are taking over!

‘non possum ferre, Quirites,
Graecam urbem. quamvis quota portio faecis Achaei?
iam pridem Syrus in Tiberim defluxit Orontes
et linguam et mores et cum tibicine chordas
obliquas nec non gentilia tympana secum
vexit et ad circum iussas prostare puellas.
ite, quibus grata est picta lupa barbara mitra.
rusticus ille tuus sumit trechedipna, Quirine,
et ceromatico fert niceteria collo.
hic alta Sicyone, ast hic Amydone relicta,
hic Andro, ille Samo, hic Trallibus aut Alabandis,
Esquilias dictumque petunt a vimine collem,
viscera magnarum domuum dominique futuri.
ingenium velox, audacia perdita, sermo
promptus et Isaeo torrentior: ede quid illum
esse putes. quemvis hominem secum attulit ad nos:
grammaticus, rhetor, geometres, pictor, aliptes,
augur, schoenobates, medicus, magus, omnia novit
Graeculus esuriens: in caelum iusseris ibit.’

‘And whom I most abhor: To speak my Mind,
I hate, in Rome, a Grecian Town to find:
To see the scum of Greece transplanted here,
Receiv’d like Gods, is what I cannot bear.
Nor Greeks alone, but Syrians here abound,
Obscene Orontes diving underground,
Conveys his wealth to Tyber’s hungry shores,
And fattens Italy with foreign Whores;
Hither their crooked Harps and Customs come;
All find receipt in Hospitable Rome.
The barbarous Harlots crowd the public Place;
Go, Fools, and purchase an unclean Embrace;
The painted Mitre court, and the more painted Face.
Old Romulus and Father Mars look down,
Your Herdsman primitive, your homely Clown
Is turn’d a Beau in a loose tawdry Gown.
His once unkem’d and horrid Locks, behold
Stilling Sweet Oil: his Neck inchain’d with Gold:
Aping the Foreigners in ev’ry Dress;
Which, bought a greater Cost, becomes him less.
Mean time they wisely leave their Native Land,
From Sciyon, Samos, and from Alaband,
And Amydon, to Rome they swarm in Shoals:
So Sweet and easie is the Gain from Fools.
Poor Refugees at first, they purchase here:
And soon as Denizen’d, they domineer.
Grow to the Great, a flattering servile Rout:
Work themselves inward, and their Patrons out.
Quick-witted, Brazen fac’d, and with fluent Tongues,
Patient of Labours, and dissembling  Wrongs.
Riddle me this, and guess him if you can,
Who bears a Nation in a single Man?
A Cook, a Conjurer, a Rhetorician,
A Painter, Pedant, a Geometrician,
A Dancer on the Ropes, and a Physician.
All things the hungry Greek exactly knows:
And bid him go to Heav’n, to Heav’n he goes.’

Satire X. l.58-72 Sejanus – Today’s Big Name, Tomorrow’s Pisspot

‘descendunt statuae restemque secuntur,
ipsas deinde rotas bigarum inpacta securis
caedit et inmeritis franguntur crura caballis.
iam strident ignes, iam follibus atque caminis
ardet adoratum populo caput et crepat ingens
Seianus, deinde ex facie toto orbe secunda
fiunt urceoli, pelues, sartago, matellae.
pone domi laurus, duc in Capitolia magnum
cretatumque bovem: Seianus ducitur unco
spectandus, gaudent omnes. 'quae labra, quis illi
vultus erat! numquam, si quid mihi credis, amaui
hunc hominem. sed quo cecidit sub crimine? quisnam
delator quibus indicibus, quo teste probauit?'
'nil horum; uerbosa et grandis epistula uenit
a Capreis.' 'bene habet, nil plus interrogo.'

‘Down go the Titles; and the Statue Crown’d,
Is by base Hands in the next River drown’d.
The Guiltless Horses and the Chariot Wheel
The same Effects of Vulgar Fury feel:
The Smith prepares his Hammer for the Stroke,
While the Lung’d Bellows hissing Fire provoke;
Sejanus almost first of Roman Names,
The great Sejanus crackles in the Flames:
Form’d in the Forge, the Pliant Brass is laid
On Anvils; and of Head and Limbs are made,
Pans, Cans, and Pispots, a whole Kitchin Trade.
Adorn your Doors with Laurels; and a Bull,
Milk white and large, lead to the Capitol;
Sejanus with a Rope, is dragg’d along;
The Sport and Laughter of the giddy Throng!
Good Lord, they cry, what Ethiop Lips he has,
How foul a Snout, and what a hanging Face?
By Heav’n, I never cou’d endure his Sight;
But say, how came his monstrous Crimes to Light?
What is the Charge, and who the Evidence
(The Saviour of the Nation and the Prince?)
Nothing of this; but our old Cesar sent
A noisie Letter to His Paliament:
Nay Sirs, if Cesar writ, I ask no more,
He’s guilty; and the Question’s out of Door.’


Saturday, 6 September 2014

Corruption in the Darkness - the transmission of early manuscripts of Juvenal

I thought I would try to summarise some of my recent reading on the history and transmission of Juvenal manuscripts upon which all of our modern texts and in turn translations are inevitably based. How did Juvenal's work survive through the end of the antique period and into the dark ages and in what condition? Is it possible to arrive at a definitive or most accurate text of the Satires? How can we be sure of the accuracy of one scribal amendment over another? How do we choose and which texts do we ignore? Are they all equally relevant and part of a continually developing scholarly endeavour to continually improve our understanding of the Satires? I am not sure if we are able to answer any of these questions due to the chaos we have had to deal with when it comes to the MSS but here goes.
Juvenal has not fared as well as other classical authors - his work soon fell into obscurity a couple of generations after his death. The reasons for this relatively rapid descent into desuetude and oblivion may have been the dire state of Latin poetry in the later second century CE followed  by the crisis in the Roman Empire of the 3rd. There was a gradual cultural shift from a pagan to a Christian one in which the familiar tropes were utilised for different ends and others discarded or actively suppressed. Added to this there was a decline in the use of classical Greek and Latin and the rise of other literary cultures such as Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and vulgar Latin. In some ways it is miraculous that Juvenal survived at all. Luckily for him the early Christians were also pretty enthusiastic when it came to denouncing the vices and folly of mankind - and so they found most of his work useful for their moralising purposes. There is a whiff of stoic philosophy about his work which certainly didn’t do him any harm in their estimation.
The result of his sojourn in oblivion for centuries until being rediscovered by the christian apologists is that he survived the late antique period in only one damaged manuscript. this MS was copied and generated many commentaries and scholia and due to these various copies being made at different points in time and space across the late antique/early dark ages world, contamination and cross contamination was inevitable. The upshot of this is that of the 50 or so extant MSS not one is free from corruption and contamination. Consequently there are some serious problems to deal with when using any or a combination of manuscripts in order to create a complete text of the Satires. For example, in any given MS, the main text and any marginalia may have completely different origins. The marginalia and scholia may have been inserted into the text to become a part of it. The MS could be a hotchpotch or frankenstein text made from a scribe having various copies at hand when making their own version, or it will normally be a corrupt text with the usual scribal errors copied and occasionally magnified repeatedly.
Juvenal is known to some of the late antique and early Christian era writers, for example he is quoted by Lactantius (240-320 CE) but his mentions seem pretty sporadic and he is not quoted at length or apparently read by anyone. Then in the 4th Century (around 360-70 CE) he seems to be rediscovered and becomes more popular, possibly experiencing a revival as a useful moral epigrammatist. By 390 CE (roughly the period of the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus 320-390 CE) he is back in the limelight as a popular and well known author. Macrobius, Prudentius and other prominent 4th Century figures were aware of him. He was much imitated at +the period, the Carmina contra Paganos an invective poem ‘Poem against the Pagans’) demonstrates much of Juvenal’s style and approach (epic hyperbole, bathetic contrasts, rhetorical questions etc). It is from around this time that our single master MS must have emerged, i.e. at the height of Juvenal’s rediscovery.
The MSS tradition is dogged by two key inconsistencies. Every surviving MS is descended from a very damaged archetype, the scars of which have been inherited by all the descendants. Furthermore, some of the manuscripts have correct readings and lines which are not evident in  any other MSS. there must therefore have been two separate branches of transmission. In the past it has been assumed that the ancestor of the MSS was a unique item.However the above anomalies indicate that this cannot be the case and that the situation is more complex and hence more chaotic. Courtney ((1967) 40) mentions in his study of the MSS that ‘when a demand was once again created for texts of Juvenal γ (the conventional marker for the ancestor text) was the only manuscript which could be found at Rome. But according to Cameron (2011, 453-4) there is
‘ no justification for assuming that the text used several decades earlier by Ausonius and his pupils in Gaul derived from this same supposedly defective Roman exemplar...Texts of Juvenal were being copied all over the empire between ca. 350 and 550. The very fact that the Satires were so popular makes it all the more likely that they circulated among the smart set in the form of uncorrected, ever more corrupt luxury copies.
It even possible that the Gaul copies may have helped to provide alternate and more accurate readings, since it is clear that Ausonius possessed a copy in which the Oxford lines (discovered as late as 1899 by E.O. Winstedt an Oxford undergraduate consisting of 34 four lines of missing text immediately after 6.365).In his work Parentalia (10) the poet reuses the phrase seria vitae (life’s anxieties or troubles) from 6.O.18 a phrase which exist nowhere else in Latin literature.
The MSS can be loosely categorised into three types, good , bad and wildcard texts. The ‘good’ category indicate the MSS more directly derived from the Roman archetype and although they are more corrupt texts, the scribes decided to leave the corruptions uncorrected, happier to pass on errors than to try to repair them. The ‘bad’ are the descendants that incorporate readings from other uncorrected corrupt copies in a well-meaning but disastrous attempt to improve the text. the result being even more corruption. The last category the wildcards are from the surviving scraps of Late Antique codices (Ambr., Ant., Bob.), quotes from other authors works, lemmata (short excerpts of text used as entry headings in commentaries)  and other indirect sources.
The Roman ancestor text went through about five stages.
In the first stage the archetype MS lost its tail (the text breaking off at 16.60...ut laeti phaleris omnes et torquibus, omnes). It is an error which is found in every MSS and since there is no evidence of any later commentary or scholia this seems to happened very early on in Rome and probably before the revival of interest in Juvenal alluded to before.
There is a second stage where a copy or copies (?) are made with the Oxford fragment still intact. Ausonius’ text is probably from this point in time and outside of Rome (the Gaul family). Stage three surprising enough is where the Oxford fragment disappears. It is possible here to deduct some more details about what the MSS might have looked like. The appearance would have taken a roll with twenty-nine lines per column with 6.O.1-29 occupying one column. The loss of the first 29 lines of the Oxford fragment was thus the loss of a page or a whole column. Other MSS such as Aurel. has two columns of 29 lines per page and so lend credence to this idea.
At the fourth stage the remaining lines of O 30-34 were redacted to three, but not before a copy with the five lines still intact was made since commentaries exist for the five lines where the corresponding text is absent from the work. Finally the last stage would have been the reshaping of the five verses of O 30-34 to the three verses of 6.346-48. the fragment makes little sense in its position and may have deliberately shortened due to the scribes doubts about its relevance or meaning.
At the end of this series of manglings, the text of Juvenal emerges in the 5th Century. the family of manuscripts divides into two main streams at this point: The P stream (with its relatives) and the Phi stream. The P stream seems to flow down through time with no further offshoots remaining relatively unchanged in its overall shape and contents but the Phi stream  became quite compromised over time as a result of the polluting effect of interpolation where scribes 'correct' what they saw as errors as well as cross contamonation where scribes may have been referring to several different copies in an aerly attempt to 'improve' on what they had befoe them. There are also various wildcard texts of the 5th and 6th Centuries which add to the chaos quite admirably. The result is that Phi stream is much less reliable that the P stream but that should not cause us to assume that the P stream MSS are corruption free as Houseman (1931) has observed.
So the upshot of all this is that the would be editor of Juvenal has to make a choice between a limited group of texts whih require some emendation and tidying (the P stream) and a larger repository of texts (the Phi stream) that have already been heavily edited and modified. In essence, it's a bit of a crap shoot with perhaps some safer ground in the P stream.
The revival of Juvenal surely helped his work survive into the Carolingian Renaissance. there are fragments of three late antique codices which give some albeit limited evidence for this :-
1. Ant.=Mertens-Pack 2925. Leuven Database of Ancient Books.
An early codex fragment found at Antinoe in Egypt which gves a tantalising idea of how far across the late antique world Juvenals appeal reached. Its a single leaf of a parchment document and from forensic orthograhical evidence apparently hailing from the same scriptorium in Byzantium that produced the Justinian Digests. The writing is in uncial which is commonly found in legal texts of the period (possibly a legal scribe fulfilling a clients special commission?) and dating to the early 500s CE. There are several generations of marginal notes in both Greek and Latin which perhaps indicates that the codex itself may have travelled about a bit in both literary directions.
2.,pp. 63-64, 77-78. LDAB 7374.
Dated to te early 500s CE, written in rustic capitals and therefore of probable Italian provenance. It is a rebinding of a single outer folio stripped from one quire of another book and compromises the end of the satires with the beginning lines of Persius which is a strong indication that already in the late antique period, the two satirists were being circulated together. the text came from the monastery at Bobbio and has survived by being lucky enough to have been used as a palimpsest for the letters of Galla Placidia and the Acts of the Synod of Chalcedon.
3. Ambr.=once at Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Cimelio MS 2 (now lost). LDAB 7653.
A single folio from a codex used to contain papyrus fragments (an ancient scapbook of sorts) written in half uncial. Its a rare hand and so could be interpreted as the work of a super nerd of the era...mainstram interest in the works having once again started to wane.
We know that Juvenal was part of Charlemagne's court library. The Irish founded monastery of Bobbio (as we noted above) had two books containing Juvenal (around the end of the 800s CE). the ancestry of these MSS can be more or less relaibly follwed as they survived the dark ages. from the common anceestor mentioned earlier (gamma) a generally quite accurate copy was made which led to a later version V and the family line eventually results in P manuscript, which Highet ((1954) 207) as the 'only complete manuscript which contains something close to what Juvenal actually wrote'.
The P family of mauscripts then are accepted as a very close version to the orignal state of the work soon after it left Juvenals' pen.
On the Phi side the important MSS are F,G,H,K,L,O,T,U and Z. From this mass group of interdependent texts there has been an attempt (Knoche 1940) to identify four families but it was not very successful considering the heavy intercontamination we have noted before. These Vulgate MSS are very confused and it is very difficult to create a a coherent or meaningful stemma. Its only real uuse is to act as a warning not to rely too much on the MSS of the P family and to bear it in mind when loking for clarification of other corrupt sections.
The MSS, redisovered in that later Middle Ages and the Renaissance formed the basis of the earliest printed texts and subsequent apparatus we have today.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

One, Three, Ten...Satires are go!

I seem to running out of time with my posts! There is so much to say about Juvenal but so little time in which to make posts about him and his ‘satura’. Therefore in the interests of time I draw your attention to the very useful synopsis guide to the Satires over at Wikipedia.
The link is here:

As I mentioned before we will be looking at Satires I, III and X. Why? Here are a few quick answers to that question:

Satire I ‘difficile est saturam non scribere, nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se…’(I.30-32)

Satire I outlines Juvenal’s purpose in writing his work and the rationale behind his approach – in brief, why write Satire at all? It also offers a potted tour of most of the themes covered in more detail in later books of the satires. It’s the gateway chapter to the whole shebang where we get a taste of things to come and a hint of what the satirists job should or could be. I was reminded strongly of Juvenal when I had the misfortune to catch the opening credits of BBC 1’s new ‘extravaganza’ on Saturday night..Tumble. ‘Panem et Circenses’ indeed….what would Juvenal do apart from following the advice of Democritus to laugh at such insane human folly?

Satire III  ‘quid Romae faciam?’ (III.41)

The multifarious ills of Rome and a nice setting within the satire of Umbricius’ reasons for leaving Rome...the font of all ills for the thinking and virtuous man of moral integrity. It’s an interesting use of an interlocutor as a mouthpiece for Juvenal’s famous ‘indigatio’ and sharp moral invective.

Satire X  ‘Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.’(X.356-)

Few really know what is good..wealth and fame often lead to a sticky end. Juvenal runs through the human vanities demolishing them in his epic and bathetic style.
I thought that the above three give a good snapshot of the work and provide a couple of famous quotes here and there as well. It also has a few interesting figures such as Sejanus and Seneca.

I was going to post something about the more colourful satires which are usually excised from more sensitive and earlier versions of the Satires but perhaps we could leave that until we next meet. Lots to discuss – especially Juvenal’s position in the satirists’ pantheon, compared to Lucilius, Horace, Martial and Persius.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Ideas re Satires

Salve! I have chosen three Satires which we could focus on. They are I, III and X. I will be posting on some of the other Satires, in particular the ones that until recently were left out of many versions, namely II, VI and IX. I thought that, rather than focus on these, I would nonetheless draw some attention to them and their significance by posting about them.

In general, I hope to do a post on the transmission and survival of Juvenal's text down to our times.

If you have any other Satires that you would like to zoom in on, please post your candidates or let me know how you feel by leaving a comment.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Stephen Fry as Juvenal

00/385 02 Laughter and Loathing - The Satires of Juvenal

This might provide some amusement but apart from the redemptive feature of Fry's witty delivery, Hislop comes across as slightly out of his element and Auberon Waugh's comments are in my opinion way off the mark. Clearly a man who doesn't really have too much time for Juvenal. Its not a hugely perceptive piece but worth a look. Vale! Link details below.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Catullus 64 - Riding epyllion with the Gods

Salve! Evoe! Evoe!

I have been quite struck by one of the longer pieces in Catullus’ carmina, that of the mini epic or epyllion of poem 64. I don’t recall this being on the Latin syllabus all those years ago and I would probably have neglected it in favour of the racier or more pithy shorter pieces in the collection – essentially the poems that everyone knows and loves and are the most quoted ‘Vivemus mia Lesbia etc..’. But upon a closer reading this mini epic has a lot to offer, every line seems to bear traces of exquisite and careful craftsmanship and many flashes of brilliance. Catullus brings all of the tricks of the neoteroi out of the box, transforming the Alexandrian model into something altogether brilliant, action packed, passionate and even philosophical.

This is apparent right from the start with the opening lines focussing right in on the pines on the lofty mountain peak. A micro image in the sharpest detail, sweeping the poetic eye from the height of Pelion right into the translucent sea, speeding past us as we speed away to adventure with the Argive lads on a quest for the Golden Fleece! You can practically smell the salt and feel the spray on your face!

‘peliaco quondam prognatae vertice pinus
Dicuntur liquidas Neptuni nasse per undas
Phasidos ad fluctus et fines Aeetos,
Cum lecti iuvenes, Argivae robora pubis,
Auratam optantes Colchis avertere pellem
Ausi sunt vada salsa cita decurre puppi,
Caerula verrentes abniegis aequora palmis;’ L.1-7

Ancient pines, born on the peak of Pelion
Are said to have swum through the limpid
Waters of Neptune as far as the Phasian shore
And the outer limits of Aeetes, when the
Select youths, the young oaks of Argive manhood
Hoping to steal from the Cholchians the Golden Fleece
Dared to speed over the salty deep with swift keels
As they swept the blue expanse with fir-branch oars;

Most if not all of the standard Alexandrine Epyllion poems (or at least those that are considered by convention to meet those criteria – which to be honest are quite broad bordering on the meaningless!) tend to start ‘wide angle’ with an invocation or hymn type section to a god which tends to set the tone of a high epic, grandiloquent phrasing, abstraction and over ornate almost pedantic wordsmithery. With the exception of Callimachus and a few other contemporaries, the fragments we have display a tendency to erudition and allusion as opposed to genuine poetic genius– a regrettable case of the triumph of form over content.

The metre, dactylic hexameter, which is the standard for Greek and Latin epic, in Catullus’ hands frees itself somewhat as he plays with word and line breaks running against the natural rhythm of the meter. Alexandrine works can often run with the metre and create a slightly foot heavy effect.

Of course, in some epic poetry contexts this ponderous spondee heavy style works excellently well - I am thinking of the constant 6th and 5th string Metallica-esque power chord riffing of Lucan’s  De Bello Civile as he relentlessly punches home in the manner of a hobnailed marching rhythm that ‘War is Hell’ and Civil war is well.. even more hell!– But this is not characteristic of Catullus 64 which dances along with real brilliance, no less in term of its sonics than its imagery and word architecture and interplay.

A line sequence I find particularly attractive for its shape and contrasting imagery is 41-3 which describes beautifully the rusting abandoned ploughs of the country folk who flock to the palace and compares with the glittering palace of Peleus which they have left the countryside to see:-

'Non glaebam prono convellit vomere taurus,
Squalida desertis rubigo infertur aratris.
Ipsius at sedes, quaecumque opulenta recessit
Regia, fulgenti splendent auro atque argento.'

Catullus 64 reveals a structure of two parts, the marriage feast of Peleus and Thetis and the story of Ariadne and Theseus – a tale of two marriages if you will. The latter is contained as a clever piece of ecphrasis (itself a Homeric descriptive device – as in the description of Achilles shield) and is a digression from the opening section, where the meeting of Peleus and Thetis is vividly described. The sub-story which in fact is far longer than the framing narrative is cleverly introduced as the moving camera of the description moves through the dazzling gold drenched halls and gilded chambers of Peleus’ palace to rest upon the marriage bed.

‘pulvinar vero divae geniale locatur
Sedibus in mediis, Indo quod dente politum
Tincta tegit roseo conchyli purpura fuco.’ L.47-9

‘But look, the royal marriage bed is set for the goddess
In the heart of the palace,
Smoothly worked in Indian ivory
And covered with purple steeped in the rosy hue
Of the shell’

The ecphrasis continues to describe the ‘other’ marriage or relationship which in stark contrast to the marriage out there in the ‘real world’ (itself an ancient fictional scene of the Homeric past) has gone badly pear shaped. It is here where the flashing movement so characteristic of the rest of the poem changes down gear and I feel that this must be intentional of Catullus (what wouldn’t be in this tightly embroidered work?) and gets very emotional. Here we are confronted with the full emotional turmoil and pain of love betrayed; the desperate loneliness and abandonment of the spurned lover Ariadne. It is also a vehicle where Catullus gets to identify his own feelings of loss and desperation, even of accusation. The two relationships couldn’t be more different. The section takes up Ariadne’s voice and rises to a crescendo of suffering and denial of the horrible reality that Theseus has left her to wander in disarray on the lonely shore. It’s a timeless and powerful expostulation of heartbreak.

It’s a section chock a block with negatives, non, nulla, nil,nec and so mirroring the relentless crash of cruel breakers on the desolate shore on which she finds herself so hopelessly abandoned.

‘sicine me patriis avectam, perfide, ab aris,
Perfide, deserto liquisti in litore, Theseu?
Sicine discedens neglecto numine divum
Immemor a, devote domum periuria portas?
Nullane res potuit crudelis flectere mentis
Consilium? Tibi nulla fuit clementia praesto,
Immite ut nostri vellet miserescere pectus?’L.132-8

‘So, having taken me from my homeland
Far from my father’s home you leave me like this,
Faithless, faithless Theseus, on the lonely shore?
And thus departing, forgetful of the will of the gods,
Ah! are you forgetful of the curse you carry
for these lies to your home? Can nothing deflect the
purpose of your cruel mind? Was there no mercy in you
to bid your hard heart to pity me?’

But all is not lost it seems, who is that we hear crashing through the bushes? Its Bacchus and co…the Dionysian revellers come to whisk Ariadne away to a life of orgiastic intoxication and frenzied sexual abandon!  Obviously the best cure for lovesick heartache and most serious emotional problems. They cut a fine scene as the following extract attests:

‘Harum pars tecta quatiebant cuspide thyrsus
Pars e divulso iactabant membra iuvenco
Pars sese tortis serpentibus incingebant,
Pars obscura cavis celebrant orgia cistis;
Orgia, quae frustra cupiunt audire profane;
Plangebant aliae proceris tympana palmis
Aut tereti tennes tinnitus aere ciebant.’ L.256-262

‘Some of them were waving thyrsi with shrouded tips,
Some were juggling with the disarticulate limbs of a calf,
Yet others ’wrapped themselves in writhing snakes'

Others still worshipped obscure mysteries in hidden caskets,
Mysteries which the profane desire in vain to witness,
Others beat tympani with upraised palms
Or noisily beat rounded bronze cymbals with piercing clashes’

Note the repetition of pars and the onomatopoeia of t sounds in line 262.
The scene telescopes back out to the frame narrative where we have the end of the nuptials attended by divers gods and goddesses and the Fates predict the glorious but eventually doomed future for the son of Peleus. The refrain of their song cycle echoes the physical nature of the coverlet we have been staring at so fixedly in the previous two hundred or so lines – that the past, present and future all flying in and out of psychedelic perspective are linked by the spinning thread of fate – a very neat and multivalent association running through the epillyon like..a golden thread:

‘currite ducentes subtegmina, currite fusi’

‘Run on spindles, run on
drawing out the woof-threads’

The mini epic brings us up to the present day with a moral invective section at the end…an explanation for the why the Gods have abandoned us in these evil times.

‘sed postquam tellus scelerest imbuta nefando
Iustitiamque omnes cupida de mente fugarunt,
Perfudere manus fraterno sanguine fratres,
Destitit extinctos natus lugere parentes,
Optavit genitor primaevi funera nati,
Liber ut innuptae poteretur flore novercae,
Ignaro mater substernens se impia nato
Impia non veritast divos scelerare parentes:
Omnia fanda nefanda malo permixta furore
Iustificam nobis mentem avertere deorum.
Quare nec tales dignantur visere coetus,
Nec se contingi patiuntur lumine claro.’ L.397-408

‘But once the earth had become stained with horrible crime,
And all men banished justice from their avaricious minds
And brothers drenched their hands in brother’s blood,
The son left off mourning his parent’s death,
The father wished for an early funeral for his son
So he undisturbed could enjoy deflowering the virgin bride,
The unnatural mother thrusting herself under her unconscious son,
Unafraid to commit iniquity before the household gods,
Then all right and wrong thoroughly mixed up in an evil madness
Turned us away from the righteous will of the gods,
So that they do not stoop to join with such company
Nor put up with the touch of clear daylight.’

There is so much in this poem that this brief foray has really only served to give you a few glimpses of its sheer delights. What was Catullus doing by juxtaposing the two marriages/relationships? How much or what exactly can we say with regard to Catullus own love affair with Lesbia (aka Clodia), who after all was herself a married woman? Is the moral tone at the end of the poem to be taken seriously or just as a device of invective common to Callimachan poetry which Catullus did so much to imitate and expand upon? For that matter how far can we take any of it as a mirror of the poet’s emotional state of mind at all? Is it just a Homeric flight of fancy? Or could it be an embittered riff on the lies that lovers tell and the moral decay that seems more visible to those spurned or in a heightened and disturbed emotional state? I think it does go deeper than that as a result of the neoteric inventions and highly charged personal tone of the speech sections, in particular Ariadne and Theseus’ father.
It’s worth further investigation and continued study that is for sure.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Augustus by John Williams

Bronze head of Augustus with glass and alabaster eyes; from Meroë, Sudan, 27–25 BC
The bronze head of Augustus with glass and alabaster eyes; from Meroë, Sudan, ca. 27–25 BC. Photo: British Museum

Below is a link to an essay on a novel from 1972 by John Williams about and called Augustus. It's an interesting piece and sounds like an interesting novel written in the epistolatory style principally from the perspective of people around Augustus. The book is just being republished by the New York Review of Books imprint.

Perhaps we should look as this or another modern take on Rome for one of our sessions.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Will the real Catullus step forward? Towards a definitive text


To follow up a suggestion I made at the last Legendum meeting I have decided where possible to take a brief look at how the ancient text we happen to be dealing with have come down to from antiquity. In the case of  Gaius Valerius Catullus (84-54 BCE) the background story appears to be quite interesting and even a compelling case has been made for a new attempt at creating a more accurate critical text. Just how intact a text has come down us perhaps we will never know but each successive generation of scholarship chips away a little more at the mystery in the hope of getting closer to the text as it was first composed or at the very least its first copies.

I managed to get hold of the Loeb 1962 revised reprint of the Francis Ware Cornish translation. Francis Ware Cornish was the one time Vice-Provost of Eton and a fellow of King's College Cambridge. His translation dates back to 1913 and is based to a great extent on the scholarly work of Professor Postgate (P.J.P. Postgate: Gai Valerii Catulli Carmina, London 1889, and in successive editions of Corpus Poetarum Latinorum and various papers in philological reviews) and seems to have stood the test of time at least up until the end of the 20th Century.

The principal manuscripts of Catullus are listed in at the start of the Cornish translation as follows:

V. Codex Veronensis, from which all others (except T) are derived; no longer extant.
O. Codex Oxoniensis, in the Bodleian Library. Oxford.
G. Codex Sangermanuensis or Parisiensis, in the National Library, Paris.
R. Codex Romanus, in the Vatican Library, Rome.
d. Codex Datanus, at Berlin.
M. Codex Venetus, in the Library of St. Mark at Venice.
T. Codex Thuaneus, in the National Library, Paris; contains only Carm. LXII.

Cornish goes on to explain that, with the exception of T from the 9th Century CE, the extant MSS. of Catullus are derived from V, known to have been at Verona in the late 13th Century. Verona by the way is by a peculiar or not so peculiar coincidence Catullus birthplace. V disappears sometime before the 15th Century and in Cornish's time it was assumed that O and a lost manuscript designated as X both derived from this Veronian manuscript. In turn is was believed that X was the source of G, the Paris manuscript which contains a date, October 29th, 1375, and also of a corrupt MS known as the Codex Vaticanus Ottobonianus or R in our list above. There are several other later MS, many of them 15th Century Italian copies but all appear to derive from the O, G and R codices. Cornish notes that there were the early tremors of scholarly disagreements in the wings and refers the interested reader to several philological reviews where the various arguments as to which MS was the source of which and which was the least/most corrupt and so on. Anyway V stands at the top of Cornish's list at the chief and least corrupt source and consequently the basis for the critical editions and Teubner texts upon which most modern translations are made.

However there are voices that call for a new critical text of Catullus. It has furthermore recently been argued that MSS O, G and R as mentioned above derive from a single lode source and that, due to textual proximity evident between G and R, that they derived from an intermediate copy referred to conventionally as X. This is in contrast to Cornish and most of the scholarship up until the last couple of decades which as we have seen assume the common root MS of O, G and R to be the lost manuscript known as V (codex Veronensis in the list above). MacKie's scholarship has made it clear that O and X, the common source of GR, were not copied directly from V but must have together derived from a lost intermediate source (denoted as A according to current convention). MacKie based his findings by comparing the titles and divisions in the various MSS. It is clear also that the common ancestor of O,G and R, whether it was V or A, was replete with corruption. There is a scribal or copyist addition in one of the manuscript G which alludes to the hopelessness of the condition of the MSS and the difficulties of the copyist:

'Tu lector quicumque ad cuius manus hic libellus obvenerit Scriptori da veniam si tibi cor[r]uptus videtur. Quoniam a corruptissimo exemplari transcripsit. Non enim quodpiam aliud extabat, unde posset libelli huius habere copiam exemplandi. Et ut ex ipso salebroso aliquid tamen sugge[r]ret decrevit pocius tamen cor[r]uptum habere quam omnino carere. Sperans adhuc ab aliquo alio fortuito emergente hunc posse cor[r]igere. Valebis si ei imprecatus non fueris.'

'You reader, whoever you are to whose hands this book may find its way, grant pardon to the scribe if you think it corrupt. For he transcribed it from an exemplar which was itself very corrupt. Indeed, there was nothing else available, from which he could have the opportunity of copying this book; and in order to assemble something from this rough and ready source, he decided that it was better to have it in a corrupt state than not to have it at all, while hoping still to be able to correct it from another copy which might happen to emerge. Fare thee well, if you do not curse him.' (subscriptio MacKie 1977 and Thomson 1997)

This scribal request for indulgence tends to lend emphasis to the sad fact that the textual tradition of Catullus is based upon a late and very corrupt copy. Catullus stands in disadvantageous contrast to the extant MSS of Lucretius (preserved in two excellent condition 9th C MSS) and Vergil with its array of excellent condition MSS from the 5th and 6th Centuries.

Scholarly activity on the late corrupt source text has been going on since the 14th Century, with such notable figures as the humanist scholar Coluccio Salutati, the chancellor of Florence making several important marginal readings. Such emendations continued at the hands of divers scholars through the renaissance until a first printed edition appeared in Venice in 1472 under the auspices of Wendelin Von Speyer. The text of Catullus now became more widely available throughout Europe and as a result the critical apparatus developed considerably. Its seems that there were two main MSS that were used at this time to arrive at a printed text but humanist scholars (Politianus and Scaliger amongst others) must have been looking at other MSS on our list to provide a basis for their suggestions for the more corrupt passages throughout.

Even modern day apparatus criticus still bear some of the traces of this excellent initial textual work. The divisions of the poems in modern editions for example derive from the work of Scaliger (1577) and although it’s difficult to agree whether or not these are close to the original format, they have come to define the shape of the text and hence any translation we now use.

Scholarship in the 19th and 20th Centuries has tended more to the conservative and reluctant to question the text as the humanists did. The result is that a lot of the obvious anomalies of the text have survived unchallenged. It seems that it was considered safer not to posit corruption and to leave the text undecided. This position is slowly changing and scholars are looking again at the textual tradition, especially in the light of the 1896 rediscovery of R in a corner of the Vatican Library by the American scholar W.G.Hale. The textual variants are there in all of the earlier conjectural comments and suggested readings of these MSS and with a bolder approach perhaps we can reconsider the earlier conjectures of scholars before the conservative era, possibly even to revive them. Perhaps the very least we could do would be to have a full criticus apparatus with all of the conjectures rather than the rather limited 'best and most conservative option' in order to arrive at a higher quality edition of Catullus.  The level of corruption in his text would not be tolerated in that of the better preserved Latin poets and we owe it to future scholarship to provide as much material as possible to enable bolder and braver analysis of such a timeless work of art.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Marcus Aurelius - Points for discussion

Possible discussion points for the Ad Se Ipsum of Marcus Aurelius

After reading the so-called Meditations once through and then again with more attention to specific passages as well as a reading of his former tutor Fronto’s correspondence, I thought I would try to list some of the possible questions or demands we could make of this text in order to arrive at an evaluation of the work.

I managed to read the M once as I have said and the 2 volumes in the Loeb Classical Library of Fronto’s letters (many of which are to and from Marcus) and dipped briefly into Epictetus (Arrian) for a taste of austerity! Altogether it gives a fascinating insight into the life and times and concerns of a Roman emperor during  the apogee of the Roman Imperial reach and fortunes,  and also where we see the beginnings of the cracks in the façade to the Imperium and the seeds of problems which were eventually to overwhelm and finally to prove its downfall.

The Work:
What is it? What kind of text, for what audience and purpose?
What is its organisational structure if any? The Greek is difficult for translators, koine, and neologisms and written by a non-greek. Many of Marcus' elite Roman background would have studied the classical language extensively and taught both that and possibly koine (for future administrative uses?) but I suspect that they were stronger at composing epigrams and verse than writing their own original works. So all translations have tended to suffer as a result and have had to approximate – the result is that  it’s not entirely clear what point of Stoic or Epicurean philosophy he is referring to and in what sense. This is surely the fault more of the translator but some of the problem does lie with the author in my opinion, writing as he does in a slightly artificial philosopher’s Greek and with a focus on the ethical rather than the more crunchy epistemological aspects of Stoic philosophy.
What can we learn about Stoicism from this text?

Is it useful or appropriate to attempt to draw such significance from it or should we view it more sympathetically in the way of scribbled notes to oneself on the fly during travels or in the field?
Are there non-stoic elements? Epicurus, Plato Socrates etc. In what light does Marcus see them and how are they used in the notes?

The Author:
What does the text tell us about Marcus? As a person, soldier, leader, Stoic; his attitudes to life and how it should be lived. Is he successful in his own Stoic project of ‘living in accordance with Nature?’ What are his recurrent themes and issues with which he struggles or succeeds?

Since it is a work without conscious intent as its driving force or any organisational pattern apart from Book I, can we expect too much in terms of distilled or coherent Stoic thought?

Alternatively, could he be seen as working through certain Stoic concepts/maxims often repeating the same themes at different points in the text in order to show them in new perspectives in the light of new and varying life experiences?

Is it possible or necessary now to divest ourselves of the Christian mindset of previous scholarship, particularly the Victorians and to some extent the Edwardians (and I am including both for and against, the Arnold/Long camp and the Plumptre/Farrar camp) and look at Marcus text from a post-christian stance taking care not to over-secularise him and fall into another error of interpretation, in order to stimulate new scholarship in the light of new work on Hellenistic thought and philosophical texts and possibly a new translation?

Marcus uses or refers to the use of rhetoric several times throughout the text [notably I.7,17], but what was his attitude to it? Does he trust it? How does it rate against philosophy for him?

I.7  'From Rusticus, to become aware of the fact that I needed amendment and training for my character, and not to be led aside  into an argumentative sophistry. [for an example of what he might be referring to, see Fronto humiliating a grammarian with sophistry in Ex Auli Gellii Noctibus Atticis, xix. 10] ; nor compose treatises on speculative subjects, or deliver little homilies, or pose ostentatiously as the moral athlete or unselfish man and to eschew rhetoric poetry and fine language.' and from I.17, '..and that when I had set my heart on philosophy, I did not falll into the hands of a sophist, nor sat down at the author's desk or become a solver of syllogisms nor busied myself with physical phenomena.'

Finally, what use is the Ad Se Ipsum to us here and now in our current age? Is it merely a perennial appeal of the same old tropes, know thyself etc, or are there ways in which we can use the text to turn a light upon our present economic, psychological or even political issues that seem to obsess and beset us?


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Educating Marcus - The youth and young manhood of the philosopher-king

Young Marcus
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (121-180 CE) cites a number of influences in the opening forward to his collection of philosophical musings, which have picked up the conventional title of The Meditations among others. Among them are several Stoic philosophers to whom the Imperial author declares his indebtedness and allegiance. From what we know of his boyhood and early education such stoic thinking would to some extent been a part of his education. I thought it would be interesting to look at the early part of his life and schooling to see if we could identify themes and trends that re-appear or are echoed in the meditations themselves.

Marcus' father Verus died when he was three years old and in accordance with the custom for young aristocrats of the day he was brought up for his first few years in the company of nurses seeing very little of his mother Lucilla. He was adopted by his paternal grandfather Marcus Annius Verus with whom he seemed to get on well and spent his early youth in the family home on the Caelian Hill in Rome. He was tutored at home and it is here that we get the first glimpses of what kind of influences must have started to play a part in his philosophical education and perhaps his moral and intellectual development as well.

Education at that time was a tuition based system and influenced by Greek pedagogy with an emphasis at the higher levels on rhetoric and philosophy. Those headed for a public or senatorial career would have focussed more on a rhetoric and oratory training, trips to Greece in order to pursue philosophy pure were also available for the higher class youths but this was surely more a mark of culture than any solid career skill. Even the training in rhetoric was supplementary rather than essential to a public career (outside of the law courts) and we must remember that there were no degrees or qualifications in the way that we understand them today that were required for entry to the career ladder in Rome. Marcus would have been qualified for that already by birth and thus the education at home he received would have been more the result of a personally tailored choice of his guardians. At least at first; I would like to think that like teens of any era, Marcus would have gone through his rebellious phases or have fallen victim to the fads and fashions of aristocratic youth. Most tutors were either Greek slaves or Freedmen. The Greeks seemed to have been the go-to-guys for all things educational and during this era in Roman history Greek style education and letters were enjoying a renaissance in the form of the Second Sophistic. 

The Second Sophistic is a literary-historical term roughly covering the period from the reign of Nero (remember him from our Petronius discussions?) to about 230 CE and includes amongst others none other than the famed rhetor and philosopher Herodes Atticus (101-177 CE), whom Antoninus Pius brought over to Rome to act as personal tutor to his sons, Marcus and Lucius Verus (later to be co-emperor at Marcus request upon his accession).

Herodes Atticus
Herodes as was to be expected had a strong leaning towards Greek learning and Homeric culture, something which stood in contrast (and later opposition it appears) with the Roman Stoically leaning Fronto, another teacher and mentor of the young Marcus who had a more traditional Roman and Latin philological bias. Herodes was appointed as tutor in about 140 and already by the late 130s, Marcus seemed to have been quite taken by the image at least of the Greek philosopher, inspired by his painting master Diognetus who encouraged him to take up the rough woollen cloak, perhaps like the leather jacket of the day, possibly studded with the name of Socrates on the back! The boy even took this admiration to a practical level, sleeping on the floor wrapped in his simple homespun garb, until his mother convinced him that a bed was a more fitting place to rest his noble limbs! It has to be noted here that both tutors from either side of the Greece-Rome spectrum were at best highly suspicious of pure or hardcore actual philosophy, both being highly skilled orators and of a more practical approach to what one could do with Greek or Roman learning in the spheres of statecraft or diplomacy. Fronto warned Marcus against too much or even too little philosophy as dangerous and misleading, looking down on his later philosophical sessions with Apollonius of Chalcedon; Herodes aggressively declaimed against the Stoics and similar philosophers as  foolish and doomed to living a ‘sluggish and enervated life’. In the end it seems that Marcus ignored both of them and continued to be fascinated by the maxims of the Stoics (such as Epictetus) and the philosophers, albeit on a sort of enthusiastic amateur level.

Another early teacher, Alexander of Cotiaeum, apparently one of the greatest Homeric scholars of the day, had a strong influence on his literary styling and could be the inspiration for several Homeric quotations that can be found in the Meditations. So even before Herodes appears on the scene, Marcus has already indicated his penchant for the Greeks in general and philosophy in particular. The illustrious Athenian rhetor can only have deepened this admiration in something of a lifelong love affair that at times clashed with the later demands of Imperial duty. We must also remember that the Meditations is written in koine Greek - possibly we have here the later emperor Marcus expressing his inner thoughts in a language he felt most fitted to the purpose of self-enquiry.

An even younger Marcus
Marcus takes up the toga virilis in 136 and embarks on his further education in oratory and rhetoric but even here, the tutors seem to be weighted heavily on the Greek side; he was taught by Aninus Macer, Caninius Celer and Herodes Atticus, all Greeks. On the Roman side he was taught Latin by Fronto. Perhaps we should not read too much into this since as I have observed earlier, tutors were predominantly Greek slaves or freedmen and it would logically follow in many if not all aristocratic Roman parent’s minds that the much admired Greek culture and letters would naturally be best taught by Greeks themselves.

Fronto and Marcus seemed to have been particularly close, even Greek style lovers as some scholars have suggested. It’s difficult to judge since a lot of the effusive and at times florid language in the correspondence is common to a lot of letters in antiquity and may be just that, the convention of florid declaration of great admiration for an illustrious pupil or master - however the jury is always out and the converse could be quite possible. The discovery of the correspondence itself is in itself a miraculous case of serendipity and another reason to disapprove intensely of the wilful philistinism of the early church elders! It was discovered by chance as a palimpsest on a holding in the Ambrosian Library in Milan in 1815 by Cardinal Angelo Mai. He noticed that a book containing notes of the first Church Council Meeting of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 had been written on recycled parchment - faintly discernible beneath the early Christian doctrinal musings was the entire correspondence between Fronto and Marcus Aurelius; together with his later discovery of another volume of notes which had used the rest of the original parchment ; a find of over 200 letters...80 written by Marcus himself!

Finally, the deepest influence on the young man may well have been Quintus Junius Rusticus (100-170), philosophical lineage descendant of Seneca and a truer torch bearer of Stoicism than Fronto. Marcus has this to say of him in his Meditations (i.15):

‘From Rusticus I received the impression that my character required improvement and discipline; and from him I learned not to be led astray to sophistic imitation, nor to writing on speculative matters, nor to delivering little exhortatory orations, nor to showing myself off as a man who practices much discipline, or engages in benevolent acts from a desire for ostentation’’

Quintus Junius Rusticus
The senior to both Marcus and Fronto and famed Stoic philosopher also introduced Marcus to the works of Epictetus, which for a budding philosopher can be no bad thing. Quintus Junius Rusticus has another claim to fame as the presiding urban prefect (post held between 162-8) in the trial of Justin Martyr who was executed for the capital crime of refusing to sacrifice to the Gods in submission to the Imperial decrees.

So from an early age Marcus steeped himself in Greek philosophy and despite the warnings of his tutors, two of the most famous orators of the day, he continued to display a life-long admiration of his woollen cloaked heroes, using the literary skills of those self-same tutors to eloquently muse on such teachings in the body of his communings with himself - his meditations.

Euge and Vale!