By Christopher M. Brunelle
OUP (2015) p/b 131pp £17.99 (ISBN 9780199987337)
This seems to be the first in a series of Greek and Latin commentaries edited in America and aimed at ‘intermediate and advanced college undergraduate students’—roughly equivalent to A level and first year of university in the UK.
AA.3 is the book where Ovid advises girls on how to keep their men from straying. The format proceeds page by page, so there is no need to keep turning to the back: a chunk of text at the top, followed by a full running vocabulary, grammatical and syntactical explanation, and some elucidatory commentary. There are rarely more, often fewer, than ten lines of text per page. Most of the space ‘below the line’ is taken up with vocabulary, e.g. in ll.300 – 304, of 28 words of text 16 are glossed (including tunica, aura, superbus, velut, maritus and ambulo). Grammatical content is heavy, often referring onward to a standard grammar or even the OLD—useful perhaps for those interested in delving into this kind of thing, but not necessarily an aid to understanding the text, surely the commentary’s primary aim. The same could be said for citations of parallel passages, which have largely dropped out of student commentaries since the nineteenth century (who follows them up?) on this side of the Atlantic; e.g. at hospes (l.39) it’s fair enough to mention Virgil, since Aeneas is being referred to, but do we need two more references to Ovid, one where he is quoting himself? Consequently comments on e.g. Ovid’s art or Roman society have to fight for room on a crowded page. This is a pity, as B.’s notes are excellent; would that he had spread himself more generously.
B.’s introductory material is also very good, and explains clearly and concisely what a student needs to know before tackling the poem. There are sections on didactic, Roman elegy, AA.1 and 2, the legal and social context of the puella (excellent), carmen et error, the poem’s later influence (mercifully little on reception), myth in elegy, scanning the elegiac couplet, Ovidian style and prosody, and a helpful bibliography (obviously Gibson’s 2003 commentary, but no room for Wilkinson).
It will be interesting to see how further commentaries in this series fulfil its aim of being ‘streamlined, up-to-date, and user-friendly’, addressing ‘the needs of a reader encountering a work or author for the first time’. It may well be that teachers in the USA approach the business of introducing students to ‘real’ continuous Latin differently from their UK counterparts. For this reviewer, the commentary’s often helpful material is over-weighted and sometimes obscured by the kind of detailed technical explanation that belongs to a more advanced edition—though it is admittedly hard to decide exactly what students need to help them make sense of a witty and elegant poem. But they could probably manage without a precise knowledge of syllepsis and polyptoton.