- Classical Commentaries: Explorations in a Scholarly Genre ed. by Christina S. Kraus, Christopher Stray
This collection of essays is the latest addition to a relatively new trend in the history of classical scholarship. Where Sandys, Pfeiffer, and Wilamowitz were concerned with the details of scholars’ lives and the impact of their work, this new approach to the history of classical scholarship is informed by developments in literary and critical theory in the latter half of the last century that problematized the very modes of scholarship revered by previous generations. Ideally, this approach will lead scholars to reflect on their own work and their motivations for doing it, which will in turn lead to progress in scholarship. [End Page 283]
The twenty-six essays collected in this volume are the work of a diverse group of contributors, including men and women from a wide variety of backgrounds and institutions. There is also diversity of thought and focus, and the editors have done a good job of organizing the essays into coherent groups that consider the genre of commentary writing from many different angles. Limited space prevents all of them from being discussed here, but each essay deserves to be read.
Part 1 (“Individuals: Commentaries and Modern Commentators”) features chapters about commentaries familiar to all classicists (Jebb’s Oedipus, Dodds’ Bacchae), but rarely considered as the products of their time. Stray himself contributes a chapter on Fraenkel’s Agamemnon that assembles archival material from Oxford University Press and elsewhere to reveal the story behind that unique monument to scholarship.
The second part (“Traditions: Commentaries on Specific Authors and Texts”) includes a survey of commentaries on Tacitus through the ages, an essay on the challenges of commenting on a fragmentary text, a chapter on the difficulties of writing commentaries in an age of religious and social turmoil, and discussions of how commentators have received and reacted to the work of previous generations of commentators.
Part 3 (“Material: Form, Series, Markets”) considers commentary writing and real-world concerns about manufacturing, marketing, distributing, and selling intellectual products. Kraus herself contributes an interesting essay on the paratexts—“elements at the ‘fringe’ of the text that surround and extend it” (318)—associated with editions of Tacitus’ Agricola from the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is exemplary of the new type of history of scholarship mentioned at the beginning of this review. Many will also find Gibson’s chapter (“Fifty Shades of Orange: Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries”) illuminating and, as his title suggests, provocative and even a little disturbing—not because of anything untoward, but because Gibson is forthcoming with details about the personalities behind the series.
Part 4 (“Reception: History of Commentary”) surveys the Nachleben of commentaries, with chapters on Hipparchus, ancient commentaries on Theocritus and Vergil, Servius, and two later commentators: Christian Gottlob Heyne and Jean-François Vauvilliers. Although the chapters on the ancient commentators are not to be missed, the chapters on Heyne and Vauvilliers are some of the most intriguing and absorbing work in this collection, since they humanize their subjects and examine their triumphs and failures against the backdrop of the times in which they lived.
Part 5 (“Futures: Commentaries and the Web”) is the most provocative and challenging section. It opens with a thoughtful piece by Peter Anderson on the potential uses of, and audiences for, digital commentary. In the next chapter (“The Dream of a Universal Variorum: Digitizing the Commentary Tradition”) Peter Heslin pulls no punches as he argues that modern copyright protections prevent digital commentaries from reaching their full potential. As an alternative, he encourages scholars to consider the “digital past,” commentaries and other scholarly materials in the public domain, as ripe for use in a digital variorum. Unfortunately, his essay takes a negative turn when he attacks modern textual criticism in a section titled “Textual Criticism Considered as a Mental Disorder.” In the absence of textual criticism, one wonders how successful readers would be in navigating the universal variorum of...