- Nicolaus of Damascus: The Life of Augustus and The Autobiography by Mark Toher
Much of a biography of Augustus composed in his lifetime by one of his friends has been transmitted to us though the tenth-century c.e. encyclopedic works of Constantine Porphyrogenitos. Aside from references in the Ciceronian corpus, it contains our earliest account of the assassination of Julius Caesar and details of the rise of the future Augustus. Yet this readable and engaging narrative on a much-studied and much-taught period is rarely assigned to students. [End Page 440] Twice before it has been translated into English, by C. M. Hall, Nicolaus of Damascus, Life of Augustus: A Historical Commentary Embodying a Translation (Northampton 1923) and J. Bellemore, Nicolaus of Damascus, Life of Augustus: Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Bristol 1984). Both are out of print, but Hall's translation is freely available online. Yet there is no Loeb edition and Brill's New Jacoby, an ongoing subscription-based digital project, has not (yet?) created a new updated version of Felix Jacoby's 72,910-word original entry (no. 90) in his Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker.
This new text, translation, and commentary by Mark Toher constitute a beautiful culmination of a scholarly life dedicated to an underappreciated historical figure and his literary output. It surpasses and largely replaces all previous treatments of the same texts. In structure, execution, and feel it has much in common with the Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries (the "orange" series). The commentary is billed as "historical" but also treats in depth literary and linguistic issues. Frankly, it should be part of the personal library of any scholar of ancient Rome, and most certainly on the shelves of every college and university library, perhaps even multiple copies. Yet for many it may be prohibitively priced at 160 USD or 99 GBP. Those lucky enough to have institutional subscriptions may access it electronically through Cambridge Core (the new combined replacement of Cambridge Journals Online and Cambridge Books Online). It is the hope of this reviewer that a paperback edition perhaps reworked for undergraduates might be produced by Cambridge, or that, like other Cambridge scholarly translations such as those by D. R. Shackleton Bailey, some arrangement might be made for the translation and text to appear in a Loeb or Penguin edition.
The 65-page introduction is a major scholarly work in itself, providing the best reconstruction to date of Nicolaus' biography and historical significance, essential reading for anyone interested in Herodian Judaea or Roman Provincial Studies. Likewise, the introduction and commentary take great care to situate Nicolaus against other major authors treating the same period, thus making the scholarship relevant to students of Cassius Dio, Suetonius, Appian and more.
Toher's new critical edition of the Greek is based on the eleventh-century Codex Turonensis and the sixteenth-century Codex Scorialensis, cuius imaginem luce expressam contuli ("for which [he says] I consulted a photographic impression," 67). He shows particular sensitivity to the issues of transmission and conveys in both the text and the translation where we must assume omissions and interventions by the Byzantine excerptor. Previous generations of translators of fragmentary historiographical texts often obscured these points from readers.
If this reviewer had any small criticisms, they would be: (1) the choice to list in the works cited only items cited two or more times; this seriously restricts the reader's ability to use the bibliography as a definitive starting point; and (2) the quoting of comparable passages in the commentary only in their original Latin or Greek, with no translation, limits its utility for some audiences. Both can be assumed to be economical decisions to limit the size of the book, which already runs close to 500 pages. [End Page 441]