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.

Favorite Commentaries: William Turpin

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 William Turpin, Professor of Classics at Swarthmore College, and author of the DCC edition of Ovid’s Amores, Book 1:

In practice the most important commentaries are simply those that help me with the language. Daniel Garrison’s editions of Catullus and Horace, for instance, explain the things that he believes students will usually find mysterious, and that frees up my mind to concentrate on everything else. If I can’t understand a passage after checking the commentary, at least I know that it’s my fault.

The transformative commentaries in my own life have been those of T. E. Page, on Vergil. The small red volumes of text and commentary published by Macmillan were as iconic for classicists of my generation as OCTs and Loebs, and not just because they are so wonderfully portable. Their authors are deeply learned, insightful, and stimulating, though even relatively modern editions were probably unrealistic in what they expected of their readers; Kenneth Quinn, in 1970, could expect students of Catullus 51 to profit from his quoting Sappho 31 in the original Greek, with no translation.

Thomas Ethelbert Page (1850-1936), spent 37 years as a master at Charterhouse, one of the great English “public schools” (or we would say “private boys’ schools”). He remained at Charterhouse despite offers of headships of other public schools, and even the chair of Latin at Cambridge. He is also the subject of a short biography by the distinguished Latinist Niall Rudd, (T. E. Page: Schoolmaster Extraordinary, 1981), which I have not seen, and there is apparently a portrait of him at St. Johns College, Cambridge.


T.E. Page

In his 1929 autobiography, Good-bye to All That (which is mostly about his experiences as an infantry officer in the First World War), the poet Robert Graves mentions the profound influence Page’s teaching had on him. English poetry, in those days, was rarely taught in schools, which concentrated on Latin and Greek, but Page’s love of poetry and poetic language had a profound effect on Graves, no doubt on hundreds of other boys, and on readers of his commentaries.

A good example of what I mean is offered by Page’s comments on the first two lines of Eclogue I:

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui Musam meditaris avena
nos patriae fines et dulcia linquimus arva:
nos patriam fugimus; tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas. 

Perhaps I might have found these lines appealing without Page’s help; they are, after all, some of the most important lines in western literature. But Page can pull the language apart in a way that I have never found easy: he comments on “the marked antithesis between tu and nos repeated in inverse order, and the pathetic repetition of patriae and patriam.” And Page enriches our connection with Musam meditaris by quoting Milton in Lycidas: “and strictly meditate the thankless Muse.”

All of this is the standard stuff of commentaries, and Page is by no means a comprehensive guide to what we would now call the “reception” of Vergil. Moreover his taste in “modern” poetry would now be considered downright reactionary; I remember him as referring above all to Milton, to the Psalms, and I think also Shelley. But he was the first classicist I encountered in print who gave me a sense of what made Latin poetry, and English poetry, worth reading.

William Turpin

image source: Michael Gilleland (no known copyright restrictions)