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  • Varro Varius: The Polymath of the Roman Worlded. by D. J. Butterfield
  • Joseph Mcalhany
D. J. Butterfield (ed.). Varro Varius: The Polymath of the Roman World. Cambridge Classical Journal SupplementaryVolume 39. Cambridge: The Cambridge Philological Society, 2015. Pp. ix, 216. £30.00. ISBN 978–0-9568381–4-8.

A figure long relegated by scholarly success as much as failure to the footnotes of late-Republican intellectual history, Varro is now occasionally elevated into the titles and headings of major publications, once a rare occurrence, especially in Anglophone scholarship. The increased critical attention means, naturally, a greater variety of scholarly voices addressing him, and this collection of eight papers, needlessly grouped into three categories (a nod to Varronian tendencies?), represents both trends. Not a product of the “Companion” cottage industry, these contributions, as variias their object, display the breadth of scholarly approaches to Varro, and serve in part as advertisement of even more work to come.

In his judicious and pleasant introduction, Butterfield summarizes Varro’s biography as well as can be done without getting mired in minor controversies, such as the status of the Trikaranos, and prepares the ground for reevaluation of Varro. (As a bonus, he summons the spirit of Pietro Crinito or Giacomo Leopardi—both Varronian offspring—for a learned divagation on “Armenian” tigers.) In the first grouping of papers, “Varro on language,” two of the three contributors hark back to earlier work. Daniel Taylor, with some distant echoes of his 1975 study of Varro’s linguistic theories, asserts that the De Lingua Latina, despite much evidence to the contrary (including Varro’s), has a bipartite structure in accordance with the Stoic treatment of language ( verba simpliciaand verba conjuncta), and thus its lost books can be reconstructed, at least in broad terms. Giorgio Piras continues his thoughtful examinations of poetic etymologies in the De Lingua Latina, situating Varro’s treatment within a larger tradition; he includes a handy chart of poetic citations in the De Lingua Latina(70). Between these two rests Adam Gitner’s contribution, an exemplar of careful rereading of scholarly history, in which he demonstrates the invention of Aeolism, and clears away many cobwebs obscuring our view of Varro and Roman scholarly activity.

Diana Spencer opens the second triad, “Varro on Rome,” though her reading—if that is the right word—of the De Lingua Latinaequates it to “Varro on language” as well. Her (dis)associative, Hendersonesque tracing of narrative arc-flashes through the text, in a vertiginous style that does not always convey the thrill the adjective implies, will disturb lumbering approaches to the De Lingua Latina, though to what end will be seen in a forthcoming monograph. T. P. Wiseman’s densely knit essay attempts to resolve a puzzle lingering among the various citations of Varro’s foundation story: whatever did he mean by Roma quadrata? Wiseman displays all the acumen which characterizes his work more [End Page 569]generally, and if by necessity speculative at times, his paper draws on the kind of well-founded speculation that improves scholarship as a practice as much as a product. Even if his ultimate solution leaves some space for doubt, the path there offers numerous improving vistas. On the other end of the spectrum, Yves Lehmann concludes this section with his version of Varro as Roman philosopher, much of which is shaky biographical reconstruction. It is unfortunate that Lehmann’s is the one contribution where the Menippean Satiresreceive anything like sustained treatment, since in the end his Varro is a revivified nineteenth-century Übermittler.

The third and final section, “Varro’s Afterlife,” presents only a pair of essays, and also less of Varro’s Nachlebenthan one might expect: the second of the two is R. H. Rodgers’ preview of a new text of the De Re Rustica, arguably as much Varro’s life as afterlife. Regardless, Rodgers sets out the texts of two passages from the edition of Flach and notes by Giusta, followed by the paradosiswith his own text-critical commentary: he displays sensitivity to the text and expert judgment, free of editorial dogmatism, and his edition will clearly be a very welcome improvement...


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