Daniel J. Taylor (ed.)

Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1996
[Studies in the History of the Language Sciences, Volume 85]. ix + 205pp. ISBN 90 272 4573 8 (Eur.)

The scholarship of Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC - 27 BC) was so wide-ranging that the Romans would certainly be somewhat surprised that the twentieth century thinks of him primarily as a grammarian. I would also expect that they would be shocked that in spite of this only six books of his great grammar, De lingua latina, survive and that their textual tradition is so chancy.

Book X sets out in Professor Taylor's words, to demonstrate that while the nature of language is indeed characterized by regularity, it is also characterized by irregularity, and also to show where each obtains in language. Taylor opens his edition with a long introduction on Varro himself and on the Varronian Revolution in linguistics. It includes a good account of the manuscript tradition and printed editions of De lingua latina, before passing to a discussion of why and how yet another edition is needed to correct a tradition. This is followed by Taylor's edition of Book X with his own translation on facing pages. He furnishes a minimal but adequate apparatus criticus, a daunting task given the complexity of the tradition, and, one might add, the bumbling of previous editors. An extensive commentary on both text and translation follows with a word-index and bibliography.

Like Varro himself, Professor Taylor is both classical scholar and linguist and sets out to do justice to both aspects of the task. The first pages of his account of Varro are an exercise in casual and salutary name-dropping, which brings home to the reader the reputation Varro had earned in his Rome. His reputation as a voluminous and interesting writer had earned for him the respect and friendship of the orator, Cicero, and a commission from Caesar to acquire books for the library he was planning for the city of Rome but never built. Varro is quoted from the first century until the Renaissance. He appears in the Attic Nights of the second-century literary gossip, Aulus Gellius, and in the works of the Latin Fathers, Augustine being particularly indebted to him. Later authors who cite him include the great twelfth-century educator, John of Salisbury, and the Italian humanist poet, Petrarch. Taylor emphasises Varro was a man in public life; a polymath whose writings range from literature to agriculture; a grammarian whose analysis of language drew from a general interest in culture and scholarship. There follows a short account of De lingua latina, which originally consisted of twenty-five books. Of these only book 5-10 have survived and those in one eleventh-century manuscript now in the Laurentian Library in Florence. Books 5-7 are the completion of the discussion of etymology begun in the lost Books 1-4; Books 8-9 detail the Roman controversy the differing roles of analogy and anomaly in language, and Book 10 lays out Varro's own position on these questions.

Varro's reputation slipped after the sixteenth century, and it is only during the twentieth century that he was again taken seriously. Taylor begins discussing Varro's "revolution" in linguistics with a pithy review of recent literature and a very short account of pre-Varronian developments. Short as they are, both of these accounts adequately situate Varro as a linguist. Taylor then embarks on a very dense discussion of Varro's thought on language as we see it in Book X, contrasting him with the received doctrine that had come through from the Stoics and the Alexandrian philologists. This discussion is notable for its demonstration that Varro clearly understood the nature of language processes and linguistic regularity and irregularity. This section concludes with the claim that Varro made an autonomous intellectual activity of linguistics. This I would not dispute, although the direction of Low Latin grammar would indicate that the lesson was only partially learnt by the Romans who admired him.

The next chapter of the Prolegomena is an account, both sobering and entertaining of the textual and editorial tradition which is notably corrupt. It should be said at the outset that we do not have many classical manuscripts older than the eight century, and that Varro, with one major work, the De re rustica, surviving complete, and the De lingua latina being transmitted by one partial manuscript and several fragments has not suffered any worse than the majority of classical authors. Florentinus (F), the single manuscript of De lingua latina V-X, was copied at the monastery of Monte Cassino during the eleventh century. It passed through many adventures until it finally came to rest in the Biblioteca Medicea-Laurentiana in Florence. Taylor's account of F and the sins of the scribe is a competent piece of codicological writing. In that few of his readers would ever have seen an ancient manuscript or done an edition themselves, it would have been useful to have reproduced a page of the manuscript, as many critical editions do. This is followed by a valuable account of the printed editions, beginning with the editio princeps (1471) by Pomponius Laetus up to the Kent edition of 1938 published in the Loeb Classical series.

Taylor's hard-edged assessment of his predecessors makes it clear why a new edition of Book 10 is necessary. Text-editing is a difficult business that boils down to a balance between contemporary scholarship, what is written on the pages of manuscripts and editions, the editor's sense of language and his knowledge of the matter of the text. Nobody who has dealt with students should ever be surprised at the errors scribes will commit - and F is a rather bad manuscript, and the fragments are of mixed quality - and our experience of our colleagues should make us understanding of both the triumphs and pitfalls of editors. Varro has not been consistently well served by his scribes and editors. I would recommend that this section be carefully read before one tackles Taylor's text. It is a fine account of how one deals with what is in essence a sole manuscript (although Taylor has taken notice of fragmentary manuscripts which do seem to depend on other traditions) and with the conjectures of editors which can at times be right on target, and at others, woefully off.

By all the normal tests one makes in the absence of manuscripts, the Latin is a competent editing job. One is not brought up short by errors in grammar or slowed by oddities in vocabulary, of which Taylor records many in the apparatus. As promised, the textual apparatus is exiguous by the standards of other editions of Varro, but it is adequate for its purpose of demonstrating why Taylor made the choices he did in establishing the text. The text is accompanied by Taylor's own translation on facing pages. He recommends that the text be read in conjunction with the immense commentary that concludes the book, a wise counsel even if it does mean that the reader is continually flipping from one part of the book to the other. My own feeling is that this is preferable to dealing with an edition that crowds the text off the page by placing all the commentary in footnotes, as many of the great nineteenth-century editions of classical authors do.

It is germane to Taylor's approach to translation that Latin grammar was still a young science in Varro's time. Varro is only a couple of generations later than Crates of Mallos, from whom stems the systematisation of Roman rhetoric and grammar. In 168 BC he had come to Rome as the envoy of Attalus of Pergamum and had broken his leg in the Cloaca maxima the main sewer. He whiled away his convalescence by lecturing on grammar and by applying Stoic grammar to the analysis of Latin. In Varro's time, Latin grammatical terminology was far from fixed, and in any case Varro was an innovator and experimenter, but his use of terms is consistent and consonant with his theories. Under these circumstances Taylor seeks a translation that is an "exegesis" of the text. Consequently while his version avoids the two extremes of literality and paraphrase, it is a "modernising" translation, using twentieth-century linguistic metalanguage. It seems to me that this is the only appropriate course of action.

The commentary exemplifies the close relationship that there should be between text-editing and the matter and style of the text. On one level, the commentary elucidates Varro's thought and Taylor's reading of it as we find them in text and translation; on the other it demonstrates the completely reciprocal relationship between establishing a sound text and interpreting the author. There is a lot of thinking aloud in this commentary on Varro's relationship with contemporary and modern linguistic thought, the peculiarities of his Latin, previous editions and their success or failure in the face of individual problems in the original manuscript.

It has often been said that one who shares the profession of an ancient or medieval technical author has a better chance of producing a satisfactory edition than one who is a specialist editor. This is an excellent publication with far more than a sound text and competent translation of a great Latin grammarian. Varro is presented to the reader as an original thinker on language with a wide humanist culture, an Alexandrian, if you will, with rather heterodox opinions. He comes across as a formidable scholar whose lines of argumentation were clear and cogent. This edition gives one of the clearest accounts of the anomaly-analogy issue I have come across, while situating it in what we know of Varro's ideas on language. I like the way in which Taylor exploits the instincts of a good classical editor to validate his concerns as a professional linguist. In all, an excellent piece of work.

L.G. Kelly, Cambridge