One of the principles that drove Housman’s approach to textual criticism was encapsulated in a quotation he had picked up from Moritz Haupt:
“The prime requisite of a good emendation,” said he, “is that it should start from the thought; it is only afterwards that other considerations, such as those of metre or possibilities, such as the interchange of letters, are taken into account.”
It’s sound advice, and I think many critics have judged it applied rightly in the case of Aeneid I. 343, but the result strikes me as the sort of banalization that good critics often find in ancient texts and root out. Here, it was never a part of the tradition, being inserted in 1722 by Pierre Daniel Huet.
Huet promised two conjectural emendations on Vergil that he was shocked had never been made, despite the mania for textual criticism that had led so many down false paths:
Dans cette fureur de Critique qui a possedé si long-tems les gens de Lettres, je m’étonne qu’en faisant main basse sur tant de passages des anciens Auteurs, qu’ils ont cru corrompus, quoiqu’ils fussent sains & entiers, & qu’ils ont véritablement corrompus en pensant les corriger, ils n’aient pas songé à en corriger quelques-uns qu’ils avoient souvent devant les yeux, & dans la bouche, & qui sont véritablement corrompus.
That’s a bold and cocky proclamation, and he should be able to wow us with his judgment, but he doesn’t.
Huet first discusses the introduction of Venus, specifically in line 317 (if you’re checking his text, his line numbers are not the same as ours). Venus, in disguise, runs up to Aeneas and Achates looking like a Spartan maiden, or sort of like the way Thracian Harpalyce tires out horses and outruns the winged Hebrus (a river in Thrace, naturally enough). Huet rejects this silly notion because the Hebrus is a gentle river, and any man can outrun a river’s flow. Besides, the Eurus (the East wind) makes better sense. Or so he says. But The Hebrus is by now a learned byword for Thrace in poetry, and Harpalyce is a Thracian girl. It doesn’t matter whether a river is gentle in its normal course. When it floods, it becomes deadly, as the Hebrus (now called the Maritsa) has done several times in the last decade. And according to John Henderson’s Telling Tales on Caesar, Pseudo-Plutarch credits Callimachus with the notion that the Hebrus was known to flood. Try outrunning a rushing river.
That emendation (which had been previously proposed by Johannes Rutgers, sapping the force of Huet’s pronouncement) has been debated, and appears in the ap. crit., but is not generally accepted. That’s not our main concern, but I include it because it shows the kind of thinking that lay behind Huet’s emendations, which are lazy and smug. Whatever reputation he had for his work as editor of the Delphin Classics or for his learned edition of Origen should not matter when he is wrong regarding Vergil.
(For what it’s worth, we read in Sandys that the Dauphin ‘for whose benefit … this series … was organised by Huet, … celebrated the completion of his education by limiting his future reading to the lists of births, deaths, and marriages in the Gazette de France.’)
What I want to look at is his next emendation, which has been accepted, changing agri at the close of line 343 into auri, and justifying the change by appeal to context:
Peu après ce passage de Virgile, on en trouve un autre, v. 347. dont la corruption n’eft pas moins évidente que celle de ce premier, & sur lequel néanmoins les Critiques n’ont fait aucune attention: Huic conjux Sichaeus erat, ditissimus agri Phoenicum. Il paroît clairement par la suite que Pygmalion tua Sichée, pour avoir son or: Auri caecus amore clam ferro incautum superat. Quand Sichée après sa mort apparut à Didon son épouse, & qu’il l’exhorta de s’enfuir, il lui enséigna en même tems le lieu où il avoit enfoui son argent, qu’il lui conséilla d’enlever , pour s’en servir dans sa retraite: Veteres tellure recludit Thesauros, ignotum argenti pondus & auri. Didon suivit son conseil, emporta ces trésors & ceux de Pygmalion: Naves quae forte paratae corripiunt, onerantque auro, portantur avari Pygmalionis opes pelago. En tout cela l’on voit que l’or de Sichée causa toutes ces révolutions; de qu’il ne s’agissoit nullement de terres que Sichée eût possedées. Il ne faut donc pas douter que Virgile n’ait écrit, Huic conjux Sichaeus erat, ditissimus auri Phoenicum, & non pas ditissimus agri, comme portent tous les livres imprimez; & cette correction est d’autant plus recevable, qu’il ne s’agit que du changement d’une seule lettre.
I think this should require relatively little comment.
Venus is now letting Aeneas know the outlines of the story of Dido, namely that ‘her husband was Sychaeus, the wealthiest of the Phoenicians in terms of land,’ and so on. Huet conjectured ‘gold’ (auri) instead of ‘land’ (agri) because, as Vergil goes on to tell us, Pygmalion killed Sychaeus for his wealth, ‘an unknown weight of silver and gold’ (line 359). I hope that you see why I find this so objectionable. Land is status and land is wealth. To say that someone is the richest in terms of gold is no more specific and certainly no more poetic than to say that he was the richest in terms of land. Further, Huet justified the emendation by noting that it only required the change of a single letter. But a good emendation, if it really follows the thought, can change more than a single letter, and a simple change is no argument in itself.
Returning to Housman, in nearly the same place he quoted Haupt again saying, ‘If the sense requires it, I am prepared to write Constantinopolitanus where the MSS. have the monosyllabic interjection o.’
Does anything in the sense here require gold, or is gold just a banalization? Is there any reason to preserve the reading of the manuscripts?
For one thing, we have no compelling reason to change the text (as Mynors unfortunately did). For another, that unknown weight of silver and gold was hidden in the earth (tellure), revealed to Dido by her husband’s shade. Sychaeus, the ‘richest in terms of land,’ was able to aid his widow’s escape by revealing a buried treasure. Now that’s more like it.