Rules of thumb for commentary writing

Our commentaries are akin the the Bryn Mawr Commentaries: for first-time readers, whether students or advanced scholars who want to read the text expeditiously. Commentary authors are asked to keep the following considerations/rules-of-thumb in mind:

1. Respect the reader’s time
Stick to what a curious reader would want and need to know to help understand and appreciate the text at hand. Tangentially related material and ancillary texts can be handled in an introduction or in a close reading essay.

2. Look out for what is assumed
Readers frequently need to know what’s not there, or rather what’s there but invisible: the omitted antecedent of a relative pronoun, half of a compound verb form, or the explanation of some constitutional nicety, religious custom, or mythological detail that the author takes as common knowledge.

3. Use jargon only for a good reason
Technical terms are ok, but as a tool, not a substitute for explanation. Explain in a way that doesn’t simply rely on everybody being fully familiar with your own favorite terminology, at least the first time through.

4. Go easy on cross-references
Only use a cross-reference when it’s genuinely important for comprehension, or to spell out what is assumed. Avoid especially untranslated parallel passages.

5. Elucidate first, observe second
First make clear what is going on, whether by judicious translation, paraphrase, rearranging the word order. Then move to whatever comment you would like to make.

6. Look out for what is typical or atypical
It is sometimes useful to point out what is unusual or what is standard, what is distinctive or what is cliché, what is central or what is peripheral, interesting word order, or striking word choice. 

7. Separate interpretation from elucidation
When it comes to serving first-time readers, even expert ones, literary interpretation is out of place. If you advance a clever observation in a note that doesn’t help elucidate the language itself, you are likely to alienate rather than to enlighten. And there’s not enough time in a note to make a literary argument effectively, anyway. Save that for a close reading essay.

8. When the text makes no sense when translated literally, translate it idiomatically
Many commentators on classical texts see translation in a note as dishonest, allowing the reader to cheat. Think of it instead as modeling the sort of careful, close translation you’d like to see: not over-literal pseudo-English, but the real, satisfying mots justes.

9. Save space by linking to stable resources
Link to DCC grammars for grammatical points, to Logeion for lexicography, to Wikipedia for literary devices, to Perseus for classical texts, to Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology for those topics, and to Pleiades for geography. But don’t link to a news article or blog post that’s likely to be gone in a year or two. 

10. Model close reading practices
Humanists and scholars read slowly and carefully, alive to the precise meanings of words. They appreciate the beauty of the style. They read critically, aware of what’s left out, what’s partial or unfair. They want to take something away and apply it to life. The other rules flow from this central purpose.

An honest editorial preface

Pieter Burman’s edition of the works of Ovid (1713, with many later versions) was the dominant edition of Ovid until the early nineteenth century. It was a variorum edition based on the text of the great Dutch poet and classical scholar Nicolaas Heinsius the Elder (1652) with notes in Latin by various scholars, especially the German humanist Jacob Micyllus

Burman’s preface begins with this charming bit of rueful indignation:

text of the beginning of Burman's introduction

“If I ever began a piece of work quickly and eagerly, it was certainly this edition of Ovid. At the same time, I cannot conceal the fact that in the process of completing it so many tedious annoyances arose for me that I cursed my plan of editing Ovid in the first place a thousand times, and I regretted naively trusting men who did nothing but delay and had no concern but their own financial profit.”

Burman’s Latin is just delightful, and I recommend this edition to those who want to understand Ovid’s Latin in Latin, that is, by reading explanatory notes in Latin:

Burman, Pieter. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Opera omnia, vol. 1. (Amsterdam: R. & J. Wetstenios & G. Smith, 1727) unpaginated preface.

 

Workshop: Commenting on Latin Poetic Texts

I am both pleased and daunted to be leading a workshop on writing commentaries on Latin poetic texts, a full-day affair to be held on June 30, 2016 at the Guanqi Center at Shanghai Normal University. Here is an abstract:

Ut tibi sit legisse voluptas: Commenting on Latin Poetic Texts

This workshop will consider the art of commenting on Latin poetic texts, first as it has been done in recent years for English-speaking audiences, and then, in open discussion, considering how it might be done in the future for Chinese-speaking audiences. While scholars sometimes think of commenting on a text as an objective process of collecting the facts necessary for full understanding, in practice, the question of audience is paramount. Commentators mediate a text for an imaged reader, and must have a sympathetic awareness of what that reader needs, desires, and can process or understand. In addition to supplying felt needs, however, the commentator can actively lead and model humanistic practices: the precise appreciation of poetic language, close reading, cultural literacy, and skill in translation. The workshop will analyze some good examples of this kind commentary in English on Ovid, then invite a forward-looking brain-storming session on how best to enhance the experience of reading Ovid for Chinese readers of Latin literature. Topics will include the art of the interpretive paraphrase, gloss, and summary; some reliable resources for finding information about geography, mythology, grammar, Roman customs, and rhetorical and literary devices; and techniques of commenting on style and tone.

(The Latin tag in the title comes from the epigram to Ovid’s Amores.) The workshop is part of the festivities for the second annual Shanghai Normal University Guangqi International Center for Scholars Classics Lecture and Seminar Series, organized by the wonderful team of Jinyu Liu 刘津瑜 and Heng Chen 陈恒

GuangqiClassicsSeriesII_2016

Prof. Liu is the Principal Investigator of “Translating the Complete Corpus of Ovid’s Poetry into Chinese with Commentaries,” a multi-year project sponsored by a Chinese National Social Science Foundation Major Grant (2015-2020). She is collaborating with more than a dozen scholars from four countries A full conference with a very impressive roster of speakers will be held in Shanghai in May 31-June 2, 2017.

I am not directly involved with this project, but it served as a useful handle to think about a commentary-writing workshop in Shanghai, helping achieve a more concrete focus for what is a rather terrifying topic. My own activity as an editor on DCC has given me lots of particular ideas and preferences, but the last thing I would want to do is foist those on a Chinese audience. The really exciting thing here is the opportunity to reinvent the genre in a different context, taking the best aspects from the traditions of European commentary and liberating new energies. My goal is to show a few examples of what I think are particularly good recent instances in English, and let the discussion go where it will. Looking forward to a stimulating discussion!

–Chris Francese

Favorite Commentaries: Jones’ Selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses

I’ve been reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses with a third year college Latin class, and we are using Peter Jones’ commentary on selections from this work, published by Cambridge University Press in 2007. I wanted to take a minute to celebrate the virtues and pleasures of this book, as does Betty Rose Nagel in her enthusiastic BMCR review. What Rose Nagel couldn’t do is show the layout.

If you can take a minute to read the introductory paragraph, text, notes, and close readings for this short passage (pp. 33–34), it will be clear that this is philology of a very high order, but put at the service of the first-time reader of Ovid.

Jones p. 33 Jones p. 34

 

  • Introductory note
    • Clear, brief summary of what has gone just before, setting the physical scene for the passage
    • Mention of who the main characters in the scene are, with details that are important background for understanding the passage at hand, in this case their lineage
  • An italicized heading, with line numbers and summaries: helps in reader orientation
  • Text with macrons: this helps in pronunciation and metrics. Jones’ word order helps, those little carats, are idiosyncratic and may seem distracting to experienced readers, but they are quite helpful to students, at least when first encountering Latin hexameter poetry. They taper off later in the book.
  • Notes:
    • line numbers signaled in bold
    • vocabulary is given in full dictionary form, with typographic difference between lemma and definition
    • references are given to a standard grammar
    • glosses are literal, with any understood matter in brackets.
    • freer translations are followed by a more literal versions in parentheses
    • high frequency vocabulary is marked as such (and given in a list at the end of the section)
    • definitions are brief, and context appropriate
    • there is mention of rhetorical figures, but not too much
    • the important items for comprehension are given first, followed by other information (see especially the ordering of the three items in the note on 353 iungo)
    • notes point out what is typical of Ovid (e.g., note on 351)
    • typography contributes to clarity (note the hanging indents)
    • There are no quotations of parallel passages from other authors, such as litter most classical commentaries, often bewildering and frustrating novices
    • There is a small number of frequently used abbreviations
  • Close readings (at the foot of the page):
    • every point made is followed by parenthetical citation and/or quotation of the Latin that supports it.
    • “cf.” is used sparingly for relevant parallels from the work under discussion
    • Jones comments on tone (“tearful emotions,” “charming innocence”)
    • He frequently mentions what Ovid chooses not to do, but which might have been expected
    • Discussion of rhetorical devices notes the effect of such devices
    • He comments on what makes the passage particularly effective and well-written

Writers of commentaries on classical texts, even at levels higher than the student audience Jones aims to serve, could do worse than imitate its style, layout, and self-restraint. Cambridge’s Green and Yellows get much love in the classics world, and have even inspired a tribute rap. But surely I am not the only one to blanch at the baroque tendencies of some recent volumes of the series. Perhaps there is a middle ground to be staked out, a commentary that possesses the clarity and restraint of Jones, so helpful to novices, but which also puts the reader in touch with contemporary scholarship and criticism, as the Green and Yellow series does so admirably.

Needless to say my students loved using the Jones commentary, and missed his help when we moved on to read some excerpts from Fasti 4, with the aid of Fantham’s excellent Greek and Yellow. But by that time, thanks to Jones’ help, they were no longer novices, and could take on the challenge of figuring out things on their own. Indeed, the final project is a collaborative commentary writing exercise on the Parilia section of the Fasti, in which they are trying to imitate Jones’ style. The results should be ready to show in a week or two, and will be published online. Watch this space for more details. And on behalf of the members of this class, thank you, Mr. Jones!

Choosing notes on the Aeneid

The ideal book must contain enough material to insure an adequate presentation, yet not so much as to dismay the beginner by its amount or to perplex him by its subtlety. It is a question of perspective and proportion which must be adapted to the learner’s point of view; he alone is to be considered. The progress of the pupil, not the display of the editor’s erudition, must be the constant objective. ((H.R. Fairclough and Seldon L. Brown, Virgil’s Aeneid Books I-VI with Introduction, Notes and Vocabulary (Chicago: Benj. H. Sanborn, 1919), p. iii.))

As mentioned in an earlier post, we are in the process of creating a multimedia edition of the Aeneid, to include

  • Notes, drawn mostly from older school editions, that elucidate the language and the context
  • Images, art, and illustrations, annotated to make clear how they relate to the text
  • Complete running vocabulary lists for the whole poem
  • Audio recordings of the Latin read aloud, and videos of the scansion
  • A full Vergilian lexicon based on that of Henry Frieze
  • Recordings of Renaissance music on texts from the Aeneid
  • Comprehensive linking to Allen & Greenough’s Latin Grammar
  • Comprehensive linking to Pleiades for all places mentioned in the text

Here is a list of the editions we are focusing on when compiling the notes. The most promising so far seem to be those of Fairclough and Brown, Greenough and Kittredge, Bennett, and Frieze. I thought it might be interesting to post the evolving  list of criteria we are using to select notes, mainly because there is such a dearth of written discussion about the process of writing annotations on classical texts. True, there are book reviews of commentaries, but few commentators themselves seem to come out with positive statements of the sorts of notes they are trying to write.

We have already published guidelines for contributors that speak to this issue, but the practical task of selecting useful notes from older editions (and omitting the dross) has prompted me to re-phrase and focus that discussion. So here, for what they are worth, and in hopes of prompting a discussion, are the rules of thumb designed to create a useful and consistent set of notes for those who have some Latin but not much acquaintance with Vergil and his style:

Choosing Notes

Include notes that explain

  • idiomatic words and phrases
  • complex word order, where the syntactical connections between words may be for whatever reason less than clear to a first-time reader (prefer notes that re-arrange the Latin to make the logic clearer)
  • unusual grammatical constructions. Choose a note that most economically and specifically elucidates the sense and helps the reader to understand the original language. Use and Allen & Greenough reference where possible. There is no need to repeat grammatical explanations that can be found in the standard grammars.
  • cultural, historical, and literary context, such as personal and geographical names, clear and important allusions to other texts, and customs and historical items that would have been familiar to the imagined audience of a text but are not familiar to non-specialists now.
  • style and tone: Notes that observe tone, nuance, and implication are more valuable than notes that simply point out a nameable stylistic feature. When naming rhetorical or poetic figures, seek out a note that discusses the effect, rather than simply points out the figure.

Avoid notes that

  • paraphrase or translate large chunks, since this only obviates the necessity of understanding the original language;
  • simply name a grammatical construction when a judicious paraphrase or translation is also required. If an Allen Greenough reference is available, give that instead.
  • give an un-translated parallel passage in place of the other types of elucidation
  • cite parallel passages without explaining why a passage is parallel and important
  • merely say “cf.” followed by something whose relevance is not clear.

Favorite Commentaries: Jonathan Rockey

What is your favorite classical commentary?  What place did it have in your intellectual development? Recently I asked the members of the DCC editorial board to write for the blog about these questions. Here is the response of Jonathan Rockey, who teaches Latin at North Penn High School in Lansdale, PA.

head shot of Jonathan Rockey smiling, wearing a dress shirt and tie.

Jonathan Rockey

I’ve learned over the years not to assume that my students—even the dedicated ones—will greet a commentary with the same enthusiastic appreciation that I may have for it. In fact, the format of the commentary genre can be off-putting to students: it all looks so fragmentary, so technical; it feels at first like harder work to extract the “help” from the commentary than to just use a dictionary (and a pony) to trot out what you can, hoping for the best. In fact I find my students much better served—as with much in the profession—when they are shown (and not just told) how to benefit from a good commentary. So in my (junior) Latin Lyric poetry course, I begin with healthy doses of Catullus aided by Garrison and occasional support from Quinn. A few of the students will have already met Vergil, and hence R. D. Williams.

In fact, my first thought when asked about a favorite commentary was the R.D. Williams’ two-volume opus on the Aeneid, which was my guide through a one-on-one tutorial on Vergil in my first real Latin literature course in college. I was prepared to expatiate fondly on Williams’ clarity, sensitivity and restrained thoroughness. And what’s not to like about a classicist with the scope, depth, and hairdo of R.D. Williams? Alas James Morwood scooped me on that, so I turn instead to the commentary on Horace, Odes Book I by Margaret Hubbart and the late R.G.M. Nisbet, published by Oxford University Press in 1970.

By the time we get to Horace in the third quarter, my students have been trained in the art of balancing two books at a time; referring back and forth from main text to commentary; finding the bits and pieces of lines in the main text to be illuminated by the commentary; browsing the text and deciding what they need to know and what they could know better and what just catches their interest; balancing that all against whatever too short amount of time they have to give to it all in the first place. But with that initial use of more school-friendly commentaries under their belt they are then ready for a taste of Nisbet and Hubbard. The expectation is not really that the students will absorb all N. and H. have to offer. I don’t think I’ve ever accomplished that for myself, except for a very few, very often reread poems. It’s really more an exercise in giving the students the gift of being in the same room for a while with true scholarly greatness, linguistic mastery, and literary insight of the first magnitude. For this I especially like N. and H.’s treatment of the Cleopatra ode (I.37, nunc est bibendum). In what amounts to an article-length (14 pages to the poem’s 32 lines) disquisition on a poem celebrating the suicide of one of Rome’s foes, we are treated first to a six-line English précis of the poem followed by four pages of historical and literary background. Then we get to the line-by-line analysis and commentary proper, replete with parallel citations, Greek antecedents, and later echoes and imitations. Students who might have been intimidated with N. and H. as their first commentary experience instead find them informative, authoritative, inspiring even. The occasional scholar will even ask for more.

One other particular delight of N. and H. is their rare and essentially British talent for barbed wit, especially in the understatement department. Some examples:

On an emendation by Zielinski from deo to deae at 1.5.16: “deae has been rejected by editors with the not altogether reassuring exception of A.Y. Campbell.”

In the general introduction to l.8 (Lydia dic): “But these inconsistencies do not matter; a charming blend of the Greek and the Roman, the fanciful and the actual, is a characteristic feature of Horace’s Odes. Hellenistic sentimentality and Augustan militarism might seem not to mix, but in this poem Horace does not take either of them too seriously.”

On divine kingship themes in 1.12 (Quem virum): “The description of Augustus as Jupiter’s vicegerent jars with the republican tone of the previous section, where the Princeps is simply the greatest Roman. This is not so restrained a poem as is sometimes imagined; for a ruler to claim that he is God’s vicegerent is not really a sign of modesty.”

Or in their ability to portray an entire literary tradition with a few quick strokes, as on 1.13 (Cum tu, Ludia, Telephi): “For much of its length the poem moves in the epigrammatists’ world of furtive tears and smouldering marrows, bruised shoulders and nectareous kisses. Telephus indeed belongs completely to this milieu, to which he owes his name, his pink and white complexion, and his violent habits.”

Nor are N. and H. mere Horatiolaters: when a poem is outstandingly good, they will say so; but neither do they spare critical assessment just because the subject is Horace. Consider this on 1.26 (Musis amicus): “Yet it remains true that Horace is not celebrating his friend so much as his own power to celebrate his friend … As a result the ode lacks content, in spite of all its elegance. Poetry is not the best subject for poetry, and Horace’s greatest odes are not written simply about themselves.”

And historical insight, as on 1.37 (Nunc est bibendum): “The tale of Cleopatra’s barbaric death was a godsend to Octavian’s propaganda; it provided the perfect confirmation of his own assessment … The story was almost too good to be true. Perhaps it was not true.”

And on Cleopatra’s seemingly magical charm (likewise 1.37): “Cleopatra was 39 when she died, and an ugly and vindictive woman; but she did not captivate two great men simply by strategic resources and political acumen.”

 

 

Favorite Commentaries: Ariana Traill

What is your favorite classical commentary?  What place did it have in your intellectual development? Recently I asked the members of the DCC editorial board to write for the blog about these questions. Here is the response of Ariana Traill, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Sidney Gillespie Ashmore (1852-1911), Professor of Latin Language and Literature at Union College from 1881 to 1911, was the author of what is still the only complete commented edition of all six of Terence’s extant plays in English. A fine scholar and exacting teacher, Ashmore had little patience for the encroachment of non-traditional subjects into the college curriculum. According to Union’s Shaffer Library website:

He considered Latin, Greek and English literature and language far more important for a student than mathematics or the physical sciences and felt that Union was straying from the path of true education when it began offering programs in what Ashmore termed “pseudo-practical” fields such as electrical engineering.

Sidney Ashmore, circa 1881

His passionate nature also occasionally made “Ashy,” as students nicknamed him, a target of student pranks. In October of 1883, again according the researchers of the Shaffer Library, a group of sophomores got an organ grinder to play outside his classroom. Ashmore paid him to go away, but when the organ grinder was found playing at the back window, Professor Ashmore jumped out the window to chase him away, famously putting on his hat prior to doing so.

Whatever his failings as an appreciator of music, his Terence commentary is still very valuable, and I have retained a fondness for it first gained during my own days as an undergraduate student. It is an old-fashioned commentary in the nineteenth century style (you can find all of Suetonius’ Life of Terence in the introduction – in untranslated Latin), published by Oxford in 1908. What I liked about it as a student was Ashmore’s unerring sense of the stumbling blocks for novice readers. He supplies the missing words, without wasting any space about it (Eun. 666, “miserae: sc. mihi”), and will helpfully tell you when an ellipsis “was hardly felt” (as at Ad. 326, quis ergo: sc. fecit). He always names the construction (especially when it isn’t what you might think it should be, like facis at And. 322, “the pres. is more vivid than the fut.”) and he anticipates issues that stump first time readers (Who is subject of inquit at Eun. 581? Oh yes, Thais. The dum at Phorm. 512? “Purely temporal; ‘while’.”) Ashmore doesn’t miss much: it’s a rare line that does not have its own entry in the comments. You can count on him for admirably brief, but informative, definitions of unfamiliar vocabulary: frugalior (HT 681) “comparative of frugi; ‘more exemplary’”; depexum (HT 951) “combed down,” “curried,” hence “flogged.” The notes are sometimes amusing (e.g., perduint, “the form was archaic even in Terence’s time, and confined mostly to this curse”, HT 811).

And Ashmore did more than explain grammar and translation questions: he provided reminders of what one character knows that another doesn’t; he pointed out staging (HT 731, for instance, was “said in a loud voice, that Clinia and Syrus may hear”), explained characters’ motivation and noted ironies. Even more useful, he presented the information needed to follow the plot on a scene-by-scene basis. There were no long plot summaries to read (and forget) at the beginning of the play: just three to four sentences every few pages, throughout the commentary, where they helped most. Yes, you had to flip back to cross-references to find the first time a question was answered; you had to know Greek to get the point of the untranslated phrases that appeared regularly throughout the comments; and, despite the introduction and occasional notes, there was not enough help to elucidate the far-from-simple scansion of Terence’s iambo-trochaics. But there was never a lot of reading to get the essential information from Ashmore’s elegant, concise, and lucid comments, and it was never a waste of time to read his note on a line. He did what the Bryn Mawr Commentaries, and now the DCC, do: he helped students understand the Latin with a minimum of explanation.

What I came to appreciate later, as a scholar and teacher, is that Ashmore wrote with a view to teaching reading comprehension, not just translation. He glosses in the target language (HT 723 Syri promissa induxerant = Syrus promissis induxit). He explains much that is implicit, what we might call the cultural competence of a native speaker. For example, a note on cistellam, at Eun. 753, explains birth-tokens, infant exposure, and the implication here that “Pamphila had been kidnapped.” His comment on ridiculum at Ph. 901 explains what Demipho is not saying but clearly means, namely “that it’s absurd to ask such a question, as if their purpose in coming to him were not self-evident. Phormio must return the money, which (in their view) he is no longer entitled to keep.” Ashmore understood that there is much more to following a Latin conversation than simply glossing the grammar and the vocabulary. He translated frequently, but always with a view to elucidating the Latin, often juxtaposing a literal translation with a freer one. Eatur (HT 743) is a good example: “let a start be made (then),” “let us go.” After years of teaching myself, I recognize the scene summaries as a well-tested pre-reading strategy to promote comprehension of passages that are being read for the first time. Ashmore also integrated his scholarship so deftly that, to be perfect honest, I ignored it almost entirely as a sophomore reading Terence for the first time. I came to recognize later that this text and commentary was a substantial work of scholarship. Of course, recent and fuller commentaries on individual plays have superseded Ashmore, notably R.H. Martin’s Adelphoe, John Barsby’s Eunuchus and A.S. Gratwick’s Brothers. Yet Ashmore’s remains a model of a commentary with a keen awareness of what students actually need.

Favorite Commentaries: Meghan Reedy

What is your favorite classical commentary?  What place did it have in your intellectual development? Recently I asked the members of the DCC editorial board to write for the blog about these questions. Here is the response of Meghan Reedy, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies at Dickinson College. Her current research is on emotional display in Roman poetry, particularly in the moody love poems of Propertius.

I have a real fondness for David Mankin’s Green & Yellow commentary on the Epodes of Horace. As an undergraduate I loved Kenneth Quinn’s commentary on Catullus. It seemed to hold out the allure of Things Rare and Obscure, and I remember feeling drawn to its tiny fatness, and its densely printed pages—but it was in using Mankin’s Epodes as a graduate student that I came to appreciate something else: namely that an understanding of Rare and Obscure Things is a common goal, and not a trophy.

The first thing I learned from Mankin was that special, cool things need not be beyond comprehension, chilly or impersonal. A work in any genre of academic writing can give the impression, accidentally or on purpose, that it has been received from a higher plane of super-human erudition, rather than written by an insightful person. But the risk of giving such a false impression is especially high in a commentary. A commentator writing for students tends, for good reason, not to develop ideas at much length—which also means that there is not much opportunity to convey a sense of personality, of a distinctive point of view. The reader, on the other hand, tends to go to a commentary precisely for such succinct explanations, looking for aid in an encounter with the Real Author at hand, Horace or Livy or whoever, and not looking for an encounter with some commentator. But it happens anyway. Even with so little to go on, even without meaning to, one invariably trusts or distrusts a commentator, feels a kinship or a distance, ease or frustration. And with Mankin for the first time I felt a kinship. I had the sense as I worked through his Epodes that we were sharing an aim, and I appreciated his candor about what he thought Horace was up to and what struck him as difficult to interpret. It was a revelation to me that this was at all possible.

Which of course led to a knock-on revelation: I realized that commentaries could be controversial. If commentators were actually people, their work was thus something other people were entitled to form real opinions about, to engage with and turn over in the mind. Marvelous to consider, I found that I too had opinions, and could attempt to solve riddles.

Who would have thought a commentator, a mere commentator, could have such an effect? Who knew that commentators mattered in this way? But they do.

Favorite Commentaries: James Morwood

What is your favorite classical commentary?  What place did it have in your intellectual development? Recently I asked the members of the DCC editorial board to write for the blog about these questions. Here is the response of James Morwood, of Wadham College, Oxford, author of many books, including the A Latin Grammar, The Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek, and most recently The Oxford Latin Course, College edition (Oxford University Press, 2012).

My favourite commentary is R. Deryck Williams’ Aeneid, which dates from 1973 and is now published by the Bristol Classical Press. I think that the main reason that I love it is that it is the work of a man who himself loved Virgil both wisely and well. This love shines on every page. It is a deeply civilized edition, constantly slipping into quotations from English poetry which set the Aeneid in its place near the font of European literature. It is odd that, as reception gains a more and more firm foothold, editors have become increasingly uptight about including literary parallels from the Renaissance and later in their texts. Williams read the Aeneid once a year – each time, he used to say, wondering whether Aeneas would bring himself to abandon Dido – and his understanding of the poem as a whole informs the edition throughout.

Mr. James Morwood, Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford

Of course, it is a work marked by its seventies vintage. It advances the “two voices” view of the poem that we identify with Harvard, and up to a point it tells us what to think. In fact, the two voices approach seems to have weathered well; and even if my own feeling is that editors should present the evidence objectively, giving their own view but not trying too overtly to influence their readers into accepting it, the passage of time has meant that we can regard Williams’ obiter dicta with a questioning sense of detachment. The thoughtful student of any age has nothing to fear and everything to gain from immersion in these pages.

It is not difficult to patronize Williams, as indeed Nicholas Horsfall has done. He wrote too much about this poet and was liable to repetition; his views could later slip into the banal. But he was a good scholar who lived and breathed Virgil, and that has made his edition an inspirational vade mecum for the Aeneid.

Favorite Commentaries: Terence Tunberg

What is your favorite classical commentary?  What place did it have in your intellectual development? Recently I asked the members of the DCC editorial board to write for the blog about these questions. Here is the response of Terence Tunberg, Professor of Classics at the University of Kentucky, and director of the Conventiculum Latinum Lexintoniense:

Sallust in usum Delphini

Daniel Crispinus’ 1674 edition of Sallust, in usum Delphini

When I taught Sallust two years ago, I benefited enormously from a commentary on Sallust’s works that most classicists today would consider obsolete.  My students (most of whom couldn’t care less about what is considered obsolete and what is regarded as current practice) enjoyed the commentary even more than I did. Most of them were quite new to reading unadapted Latin texts, and using this commentary seemed to accelerate their appreciation of Latin as Latin. Here is the title, along with place and date of publication:

C. Sallustii Crispi quae ex<s>tant in usum serenissimi Galliarum Delphini diligenter recensuit et notulas addidit Daniel Crispinus (Parisiis apud Fredericum Leonard, 1674)

All of the introductory material and explanatory notes accompanying the text of Sallust in this edition are written in clear and elegant Latin. Moreover, on every page there is a Latin paraphrase of Sallust’s text, which really amounts to a translation of Sallust’s works into a different Latin. This well-written paraphrase/translation admirably fills out the sense of some of Sallust’s more compressed and elliptical phrases. The Latin footnotes (which are written in a very simple style) not only  explain grammatical peculiarities and harder constructions, but also provide historical and biographical explanations to clarify Sallust’s text.

While all participants in my Sallust course benefited in many ways from the seventeenth century edition, we all, of course, felt the need to use supplementary material now and then.  Historical and cultural information, and some of the textual notes, required updating in light of recent scholarship.  Nevertheless, I came away with huge respect for this seventeenth-century edition as a superb pedagogical instrument – which provides all sorts of necessary help, but keeps the reader always in the target language. The students using this edition had many times the exposure to Latin constructions and vocabulary than they would have had, if they were using a recent edition in which the text of Sallust is explained by copious notes in English.

The late seventeenth-century editions of classical texts (both Greek and Latin) printed in Paris, and entitled in/ad usum Delphini, were indeed “for the use of the Dauphin,” namely for the son of the king of France.  But the phrase in usum Delphini also appears in later editions which had no connection with the royal house of France.

Jean Clouet, “The Dauphin François, Son of François I.” First half of the 16th c., oil on panel. Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.

In such editions this phrase in usum Delphini simply indicates the edition is designed for the younger readers in general, who are still getting used to the reading of the unadapted texts of ancient writers. Such, for example, were the classical texts printed in London in aedibus Valpianis during the early nineteenth century. These British editions also feature detailed explanatory notes written in simple Latin, but these notes are often swollen to such size that there is often room for only a tiny amount of original text on each page. Moreover, by comparison with the 1674 edition of Sallust described above, the Latin paraphrase of the classical author’s text was often vestigial or non-existent.

So, my hat is off to those who produced the original editions in usum Delphini.

Images:Google Books and  Wikimedia Commons.