You are here

Evidence from Servius on the Use of Greek Models by Virgil and his Commentators

Joseph Farrell

University of Pennsylvania

The work of R. Schlunk and T. Schmit-Neuerburg has confirmed the intuition of R. Heinze, E. Fraenkel, and others that Virgil used commentaries on at least some of his Greek models to guide his imitations of them. The situation is clearest in regard to Homer and other authors of archaic or classical date on whom commentaries were written in the Hellenistic period, since these could certainly have been available to Virgil. And if they were available to him, they would also have been available to his earliest critics, which is important because it has long been clear from testimonia concerning Greek scholarship like Zoilus' Homeromastix and Latin works like the anonymous Virgiliomastix and Carvilius Pictor's Aeneidomastix that some of Virgil's critics modeled themselves in at least a general way on Homer's critics, perhaps even in something like the same way that Virgil imitated Homer. It is thus possible to investigate the extent to which Virgil's imitation of Homer and Virgil's critics' imitations of Homer's critics are related to one another. Preliminary investigation suggests that an understanding of Virgil's Homeric program did inform the efforts of Virgil's critics to produce commentaries that resembled Homeric scholarship not just in general ways, but in detail. It is not easy, however, to say when a particular piece of Homeric commentary migrated into the Virgilian commentary tradition. That is because our main evidence for this comes from Servius and other late antique commentaries, and Homer appears to be the Greek author whom Servius himself knows best, as may be inferred from the fact that he quotes Homer so frequently and relatively accurately. That being the case, it is not impossible that some at least of those Servian comments that involve Homer are either his own work or were derived from Homeric commentaries by him, or perhaps by his teacher, Donatus. However, Servius' knowledge of other Greek sources is much less secure. A recent investigation suggests that his first-hand knowledge of Theocritus, for instance, is almost nil, and there are further indications that Theocritus had not been very well known to Roman readers for a long time before Servius wrote. Because the earliest known Theocritus commentaries were written at around the same time that Virgil was writing the Eclogues, and grammarians began lecturing on Virgil during his lifetime, it seems quite possible that the feedback loop between Virgil's use of Theocritean commentaries and use of these same commentaries by Virgil's earliest critics was quite direct. Little or no formal investigation of commentaries on Virgil's other major Greek sources, such as Aratus and Apollonius of Rhodes, has yet been undertaken. This paper will present the preliminary results of a survey of these sources, along with whatever inferences can be drawn from them about the stratification of contributions to the Virgilian commentary tradition.

Session/Panel Title

New Age Servius

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy