Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category


Things Metrical

Two quickies for your consideration:

Christopher Francese reads Horace’s priamel to Maecenas in the latest Latin Poetry Podcast, and Kiichiro Itsumi’s Pindaric Metre: The Other Half finally gets a proper (and a positive) review.

Horace 1.1 is one of the first pieces I can recall really working on to produce a good, literary translation, and Itsumi’s book is still sitting on my meter shelf, waiting for enough time in the schedule to dive in.

Good news all around.


Farewell, K.J. Dover

I’ve read on rogueclassicism of the death of Kenneth Dover, and thought it might be worth sharing what may be the first assessment of his work as a Hellenist in print.

When Kenneth Dover was just 19 (in 1939) Oxford published his winning lines for the Gaisford Prize for Greek Verse. His model was a selection of 113 lines from Racine’s Phèdre, and this publication was reviewed very favorably by the great Lionel Pearson (perhaps best known for The Local Historians of Attica, published three years after this review), who wrote that this “Oxford prize version in iambic trimeter is a reminder that the wholesome and fascinating practice of Greek verse composition has not been abandoned by English undergraduates and that their standard is a high one.”

I’d like to quote at length to show the respect the young Dover earned from Pearson, and which he should still command from us now:

The opening scene of the Phèdre introduces a theme entirely strange to the story told by Euripides. Hippolytus, after first giving the excuse that it is high time he departed in search of his absent father, explains to his tutor Theramenes that he must flee from Troezen because he has fallen in love with Aricia, whom he can never marry because of his father’s deadly feud with her brothers, the Pallantidae; and since he has not yet performed any heroic exploits, he dares not face the shame which his love is likely to bring him if he remains behind; the irregular loves of Theseus, he feels, can be excused only in consideration of his benefits to civilization; he himself cannot give that excuse

ὡς ταὐτὸ κείνω πανδίκως φράσαι παθεῖν.

Such argument is in the Euripidean spirit and it is admirably presented in lucid idiomatic Greek.

— CW 33. 5 (1939), p. 52

At 19 Dover was a master of Greek verse in a way that it seems none of us can be today, and in that he seems to have belonged to another time. The scholar he became seems just as out of time, but I suppose great scholars always do.

Reading through his commentaries (e.g., his Theocritus is still the best in my eyes) is an experience unmatched by more modern, chattier, less-definite works. He could be authoritative while being frank about the state of the evidence, cutting through the common mistakes and false suppositions of other editors without condescending. He was, unlike so many, willing to say that a question could not be answered, and both his front matter and notes were tempered by good judgment and attention to the needs of his readers. (Too often today scholars are prone to cram their research into every page, whether the reader needs it or not.)

I’ll be giving some time again to reading through his works and finding inspiration from his example.


Digital Find of the Day: Housman’s Opuscula

This one is a real treat, but very odd: a work on Google Books listed as Opuscula by A.E. Housman. The truth is that no such work was published, and what we have is a poorly scanned PDF of a collection of Housman’s articles which had been collected by someone at Oxford and bound together.

Here are the contents:

  1. Emendations Propertianae, JP XVI. 1 ff.
  2. Note on Emendations Propertianae, JP XVI. 291
  3. The Manuscripts of Propertius, JP XXI. 101 ff.
  4. The Manuscripts of Propertius (cont’d.), JP XXI. 161 ff.
  5. The Manuscripts of Propertius (cont’d.), JP XXII. 84 ff.
  6. Review: Butler and Barber’s Propertius, CR XLVIII. 136 ff.
  7. Note’s on Seneca’s Tragedies, CQ XVII. 163 ff.
  8. The Silvae of Statius, CR XX. 37 ff.
  9. Notes on the Thebais of Statius, CQ XXVII. 1 ff., 65 ff.
  10. Notes on Latin Poets (Catullus, Horace, and Ovid), CR IV. 340 ff.
  11. Remarks on the Vatican Glossary, JP XX. 432 ff.
  12. Adversaria Orthographica, CR V. 293 ff.
  13. Greek Nouns in Latin Poetry from Lucretius to Juvenal, JP XXXI. 236 ff.
  14. Siparum and Supparus, CQ XIII. 149 ff.
  15. The Latin for Ass, CQ XXIV. 11 ff.
  16. Vester = tuus, CQ III. 244 ff.
  17. Prosody and Method, CQ XXI. 1 ff.
  18. Prosody and Method II: the metrical properties of GN, CQ XXII, 1 ff.
  19. Praefanda, Hermes LXVI. 402 ff.
  20. On Certain Corruptions in the Persae of Aeschylus, AJP IX. 317 ff.
  21. The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, JP XVI. 244 ff.
  22. On the Aetia of Callimachus, CQ IV. 114 ff.
  23. Dorotheus of Sidon, CQ II. 47 ff.
  24. Dorotheus Once More, CQ XVII. 53 ff.
  25. On the New Fragments of Menander, CQ II. 114
  26. Sophoclea, JP XX. 25 ff.
  27. The Oedipus Coloneus of Sophocles, AJP XIII. 139 ff.
  28. The Michigan Astrological Papyrus, CP XXII. 257 ff.
  29. Abstract of a paper read at the Cambridge Philosophical Society, “Dryden, Poem upon the death of his late highness, Oliver


Thanks to Kevin for pointing out that the OPVSCVLA seem to have been compiled by Eduard Fraenkel.

Housman, of course, wrote a letter recommending Fraenkel for the Corpus professorship at Oxford, and later defended his appointment in a letter to the Times:



Learn to read Etruscan (as well as you possibly can)

Perhaps the most exciting and rewarding class I took as an undergraduate (about 7-8 years ago), was Languages of Ancient Italy with Rex Wallace. We studied and read Old Latin, Faliscan, Oscan, Umbrian, Etruscan, and some other inscriptions. We had an incredibly fun time interpreting the Iguvine Tables, of all things, and I was able, on a trip to the MFA in Boston, to read the inscription on an Etruscan sarcophagus.

And so I’m very glad to see Professor Wallace’s book, Zikh Rasna: A Manual of the Etruscan Language and Inscriptions., receive a positive review in the BMCR (though it’s likely to be lost on many non-specialists and American classicists who tend to neglect modern languages beyond German and French). The review, by Roberto López Montero, is in Spanish and is quite enthusiastic:

La aparición del volumen de R. E. Wallace supone, desde nuestro punto de vista, un gran acierto. Se echaba de menos, dentro de las publicaciones sobre lengua etrusca, una obra que no sólo recogiera el estado actual sobre el conocimiento de la gramática, sino también que la presentara con orden y en un solo volumen. … La obra de Wallace, por tanto, constituye un claro ejemplo de precisión sobre el conocimiento actual de la lengua etrusca. Consideradas las salvedades a que hemos hecho referencia en la recensión, nos parece un manual imprescindible para todos los que quieran acercarse, de forma científica y global, a la lingüística etrusca. El autor no sólo conoce bien los últimos logros de la Etruscología de los últimos años sino que, además, los ha sabido presentar de forma ordenada, diáfana y precisa en un volumen donde los ejemplos acompañan todas las aserciones. Esto constituye, en conjunto, una de las grandes novedades del libro, al que le auguramos un éxito merecido.

Basically he says that the work is one of precision and a solid, scientific, comprehensive handbook for anyone interested in the study of Etruscan.

Now who wants to buy a copy for a poor teacher?

(PS: I saw some disparaging remarks elsewhere on the internet regarding the book’s title, Zikh Rasna, and while my Etruscan is beyond rusty, I think it should be translated not ‘Etruscan Writings’ (or according to the other commenter, ‘Etruria Text’) but rather ‘The Etruscan People Write.’ Anyone with a better familiarity or access to the book?)


Laryngeal get ya every time!

This, from Wolfgang David Cirilo de Melo’s review of Michiel Arnoud Cor de Vaan’s Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages, is the best and most insightful comment I’ve read in the BMCR in quite some time:

Pater is said to go back to a nursery form *pa, phonologically *pH2. Much as I like the laryngeal theory in its modern form, a phonological representation of babies’ first babbling seems slightly over the top. Exactly the same could be said about atta “daddy” < *H2et-o-.

I told that to my wife and her friend this afternoon as though it were a knock-knock joke, but they didn’t find it as funny as I did.


Now that’s what I call a podcast

Christopher Francese, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Dickinson yesterday (“Active Latin in the Classroom: Strategies for Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Students” with Milena Minkova and Terence Tunberg), has an excellent series of podcasts on Latin poetry, and I don’t know why I haven’t seen these until now.

Listening to Oedipus’ Self-Blinding, there was a sort of grotesque pleasure in reading the Latin as he gave his translation. But he also includes some notes on meter, and finally reads in Latin.

This is a marked improvement to Arms and the Man, which included just a Latin reading. Thankfully this was improved upon in Quintilian on Pauses in Aeneid 1.1-8, which is exactly what I’ve been looking for in a podcast from a classicist.

So we can add Franchese’s Latin Poetry Podcast to our feed readers alongside the always interesting Classics in Discussion from Warwick.

Here’s hoping that more follow these exempla virtutis.


plus uno maneat perenne saeclo

I see that a new introductory Greek textbook has been reviewed in the BMCR, and the reviewer makes comparisons to Athenaze. But how does it compare with Luschnig? I only ask because I want to see my name in print for a while yet.


Dover’s Theocritus: a review (reprint: Bolchazy-Carducci)

As I make my (not so) triumphant return to the field of Mawr’s I feel myself compelled to do something I ought to have done a long time ago. The good folks at Bolchazy-Carducci once thought well-enough of this blog to send along a review copy of my choice with the note, “Be honest about the book, because an honest review will be of more use to your readers. While we at Bolchazy-Carducci are hoping for a good review, a useful review would be better for everyone.”

Good advice, which I will now follow.

Dover, K.J., ed. Theocritus: Select Poems. Wauconda IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1994. (Pages: lxxii + 323) $46.00. isbn: 978-0-86516-204-2

As an eager undergraduate (after the turn of the century) disheartened by the lack of advanced Greek offerings, I concocted a plan with two friends to approach a young professor for an independent study in one of his pet areas: Hellenistic Greek poetry. It happened that the subject was heating up at the time, and good commentaries were easily attainable. We purchased our own copies of a handful of Cambridge green and yellows: (1) Argonautica: Book III, (2) Theocritus: A Selection (both edited by R.L. Hunter), and (3) A Hellenistic Anthology (edited by Neil Hopkinson). We had recourse to other texts from the library, relying on Pfeiffer for much of our Callimachus, with the aid of the brilliant commentaries that have surfaced on various of the hymns, and used sources ranging from Hutchinson’s (somewhat disappointing) Hellenistic Poetry to Peter Bing’s (somewhat brilliant) The Well-Read Muse.

To this day it remains one of the most rewarding courses I’ve taken, and thinking back I’m reminded of a sense of awe for learning and scholarship that has never quite been matched.

I’m also reminded of my professor’s recommendation of K.J. Dover’s Theocritus: Select Poems (a classic red Macmillan), and his disappointment that the book was no longer in print.

If only he had known of Bolchazy-Carducci’s reprint, available since 1994. Since neither he nor I knew that we could buy it, I purchased the Hunter and settled for a library copy of Dover. I have distinct memories of the book’s excellence, and while I appreciated Hunter, Dover I loved.

Both editors followed Gow, whose edition has been a holy grail–unattainable yet a source of hope–for me and others like me for some time, and thus stands without compare. It is difficult, however, to not compare Dover and Hunter, and one of the simplest and most significant comparisons for the general reader (if there is a general reader of Greek bucolic) is bang for the buck.

Hunter (the more recent of the two) printed just eight Idylls (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, & 13). By way of comparison, Dover printed eighteen, inclusive of Hunter’s eight (1-7, 10, 11, 13-16, 18, 22, 24, 26, & 28). Both teacher and student benefit from the greater variety of texts.

As a struggling student I found Dover’s notes more readable, less discursive, and on the whole more useful. Hunter, of course, had the advantage of being more ‘current’, and his references are a boon to graduate students dealing with an ever-growing bibliography. But to a reader making his way through the poems, Hunter is cumbersome. His rewards come later, to a smaller audience. Dover, by contrast, reaches more broadly and achieves his aims with great elegance.

One need look no further than the first note of the book to see just how effective Dover’s style is:

ἁδύ…μελίσδεται:Lit., ‘something pleasant the whispering that pine-tree…makes music’, i.e. ‘sweet is the whispered music which that pine-tree makes’. καί…καί is superimposed on ἁδύ…ἁδὺ δέ, thus:
ἁδύ τι … καὶ ἁ πίτυς … μελισδεται
ἁδὺ δὲ … καὶ τὺ … συρίσδες

At once and concisely Dover shows us the music of the line (which transcends the simple position-to-position correspondence that students too often adhere to), and waves his magic wand of the mist that would cloud many a student’s mind: the literal rendering tells the student that he does in fact know his forms. The ‘id est’ that follows is a lesson in adjusting one’s thinking, encouraging the student to read intelligently and to make the leap from translation to meaning. While the literal translation sounds like stilted nonsense, the paraphrase helps us to bridge the gap between Translationese and English.

Add to this the undeniable link in meaning and sound that would, without Dover’s note, have escaped most students, and you catch a glimpse of the sort of useful and encouraging information that is to be had throughout, and how skillfully it is presented.

By contrast, the reader loses himself in Hunter’s pages wherein such things as the linguistic and sound connections (visually displayed by Dover) are buried in explicit prose. Hunter gives a page to a general note on lines 1-11, then another paragraph to lines 1-3, then more than a page to line 1 alone. By the time we’ve reached συρίσδες, which Dover has in a few lines of text, Hunter has written nearly three pages of notes.

Some might say that this brevity has its price. When Dover tells us, for example, that Apollonius and earlier poets ‘represented Herakles as never reaching Kolchis at all’ (Idyll 13.75), some will want to know more about the sources. Dover is unconcerned, but Hunter discusses the scholia on Apollonius, the fragments of Dionysius Scytobrachion and Demaretus, as well as Antoninus Liberalis (who would have gotten his version from Nicander). On the one hand this clarifies an indistinct reference, yet on the other bears little on the poem.

It seems necessary here to stop and ask myself which commentary I use when I want to read Theocritus, and the answer is Dover.

And when I want to study Theocritus? Dover with Hunter. And yet I find myself more likely to read than to study Theocritus, and so it is my Dover whose spine is cracked more often.

A final note on the introductory matter: like much else in the books, Hunter is more current, more discursive, and more laden with references. This again makes Dover more readable, and, though it may seem counter-intuitive, more timeless.

With all sincerity I extend my deepest appreciation to Bolchazy-Carducci for keeping this commentary in print (in a clean, durable paperback) and would love to see more reprints like it. Imagine reprints of Stanford’s Odyssey, or Marchant’s Thucydides, just to name two personal favorites.

Call me old-fashioned.