Robin Schlunk (1967; 1974) and Tilman Schmit-Neuerburg (1999) have both written at length on Vergil’s supposed use of Greek—particularly Homeric—scholarship in the composition of the Aeneid, a claim that seems intrinsically probable for a variety of reasons. There is, however, a large stumbling block that we must overcome before accepting their thesis: were such works of Greek scholarship in fact at Vergil’s disposal? What was available at Rome for Vergil and others to use in the first century BC? Schlunk and Schmit-Neuerburg are both somewhat uncomfortable with this question and skirt the issue, simply assuming that Vergil would have had access to Hellenistic scholarship and making statements like: “Diese Überlegungen lassen die Annahme plausibel erscheinen, daß auch Vergil alexandrinische Homerexegese zugänglich war und er als ‘poeta doctus’ … Kenntnis der alexandrinischen Homererklärung und -kritik … besessen haben dürfte” (Schmit-Neuerburg 1999, 14-5). We can, however, push the available evidence much harder, and I will show that those who wish to discuss Vergil’s use of Greek scholarship need not fear to grapple with basic issues of its availability in first-century Rome. By considering the evidence presented by both Vergil himself and his contemporaries, especially Cicero in his letters and Horace in the Ars Poetica (none of which is taken into account by Jolivet ), I will show that Vergil would indeed have had direct access to sources of Greek scholarship.
Furthermore, Schlunk and Schmit-Neuerburg tend to assume that anything found in Vergil resembling a comment found in the extant Greek scholia is necessarily evidence that Vergil would have read some unabridged version of that comment in an original Greek á½‘πÏŒμνημα, but this is a very problematic assumption. To establish the claim—which I do not yet take to be conclusively proven—that Vergil used Greek scholarship directly, we must look to passages in Vergil containing hard-to-explain correspondences with preserved Greek scholia but at the same time differing from the standard explanations of the corresponding passage in their Greek models. I will conclude with a few cases in the Eclogues (vis-à-vis the Theocritean scholia) that I believe meet these criteria.
To give one such example, in Theocritus’s eleventh Idyll Polyphemus attempts to woo Galatea with these words (11.43-4):
á¼€λλ’ á¼€φÎ¯κευσο ποθ’ á¼μÎ, καá½¶ á¼‘ξεá¿–ς οá½δá½²ν á¼”λασσον,
τá½°ν γλαυκá½°ν δá½² θÎ¬λασσαν á¼”α ποτá½¶ χÎρσον á½€ρεχθεá¿–ν· ...
“But come to me and you will fare no worse, but let the green sea do something (á½€ρεχθεá¿–ν) against the shore.”
The word á½€ρεχθεá¿–ν puzzled ancient commentators, with the scholia to the Iliad (ad 23.30) and other ancient lexica offering explanations like στÎνειν (“groan”) or á¼€ποτεÎ¯νειν (“stretch out”); modern scholarship has followed suit (see LSJ s.v.; cf. Gow ad loc.). Vergil, however, in his reproduction of the song of Polyphemus in the ninth Eclogue, while translating his Theocritean model almost word for word, says in the very same line number of his own poem (ecl. 9.43):
huc ades, insani feriant sine litora fluctus.
“Come hither, let the raging waves strike the shore.”
Vergil’s use of ferire to render á½€ρεχθεá¿–ν seems puzzling until we observe that in the Theocritean scholia to Idyll 11.43 the word á½€ρεχθεá¿–ν is glossed with προσρÎ®γνυσθαι (“to dash or beat against”), i.e., ferire. This correspondence is all the more striking because the Theocritean scholia are the only ancient source to offer this definition.
While such glosses are not always the most spectacular examples of Vergil’s borrowing from ancient Greek scholarship, they are among the most secure, and in sufficient quantities they provide a solid foundation for pursuing what Schlunk and Schmit-Neuerburg were after, the potentially more interesting instances where Vergil may have followed the lead of Hellenistic scholars in matters of aesthetics or literary criticism.
- Gow, A.S.F., Theocritus (Cambridge 19522) 2 vols.
- Jolivet, Jean-Christophe, “Philologues et commentaires alexandrins à Rome à la fin de la république et au début de l’empire,” in Perrin (2010) 105–115.
- Perrin, Yves, Neronia VIII: Bibliothèques, livres et culture écrite dans l’empire romain de César à Hadrien (Brussels 2010).
- Schlunk, Robin, “Vergil and the Homeric scholia,” AJP 88 (1967) 33-44.
- ———, The Homeric Scholia and the Aeneid (Ann Arbor 1974).
- Schmit-Neuerburg, Tilman, Vergils Aeneis und die antike Homerexegese (Berlin 1999).