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21.09.11 Böckerman, The Bavarian Commentary and Ovid

21.09.11 Böckerman, The Bavarian Commentary and Ovid

Robin Böckerman's edition, with extensive introduction and English translation, of the earliest extant commentary on Ovid's Metamorphoses constitutes an invaluable contribution to the study of medieval Latin commentaries on classical Latin authors. Having access to the complete text of the commentary preserved on ff. 61v to 84r of Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 4610 greatly advances our understanding of how masters and students in south German monastic schools ca. 1100 read Ovidius maior, as Ovid's great poem was often called, and by means of that exercise deepened their command of Latin grammar and ancient mythology.

It is truly accessible, because the handsomely produced volume appears under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. A free PDF of the book can be downloaded from

The volume consists of two sections--a contextualization and analysis of the commentary (1-169) and the text with facing translation (170-321)--followed by an appendix in which Böckerman provides an edition and translation of the accessus and commentary on Met. I from a related but distinct twelfth-century commentary tradition ("Bavarian B" is Böckerman's designation). The volume concludes with a list of manuscripts, bibliography, and four plates from the manuscript, although the entire manuscript can be accessed digitally, as Böckerman notes (171), at

Böckerman is to be commended. As far as I can tell, the transcription is flawless--a judgment based not only on spot checks against the digital images but against my own transcription of the commentary made many years ago in Munich. Though he presents the text of one manuscript, his is not a strictly diplomatic edition, and wisely so: as he explains in his "Editorial Principles" (178-81), his interventions are meant to help modern readers navigate the commentary. Both apparatus fontium and apparatus criticus are easily used.

The English translation is accurate and readable, surprisingly considering the rebarbative nature of much school commentary style. His readers have it much easier than the original users would have. Böckerman spells out the lemmata, the words of the Metamorphoses the commentator has selected to explain, in capital letters. In the manuscript there is no such graphic differentiation and heavy abbreviation. One imagines that users of Clm 4610 would have had to proceed painstakingly with a manuscript of Ovidius maior open before them to unlock the commentary's explanatory riches.

In the introductory section, Böckerman gives a brief overview and somewhat selective summary of "The Fate of Ovid Until the Twelfth Century" (10-28), focused primarily on the Metamorphoses. In chapter 3, "Situating the Commentary" (30-48), he discusses its historical and institutional context. His summary of grammatical education and the use of the auctores in cathedral and monastery schools is particularly deft (40-48). His careful dissection of the vocabulary deployed in the different forms of commentary and its parts (50-54) will be salutary for students approaching such a text for the first time. He, perhaps overcautious, remains agnostic as to the extant commentary might or might not reflect classroom teaching (56-59).

After reviewing the schemata several other scholars devised to analyze the pedagogical functions represented in other commentaries, Böckerman proposes a four-part typology to categorize the explanations in Clm 4610: (mythological) background; grammar; lexical; interpretative (68). The typology is somewhat blurred by the few "Explanations Outside the Categories" (90-92), which seem largely interpretive. Within the "Grammatical Explanations," Böckerman exemplifies several different types, e.g., a comment beginning "Ordo" ("Order"), in this case 14.760 (73). He might perhaps have also drawn attention the kind that begins "Continuatur" ("It may be continued thus" as at 9.248 bis, 262), a type of comment on the border between grammatical explanation and paraphrase.

In chapter 5, "Clm 4610 and the Commentary Tradition," the largest section of the introduction (112-166), Böckerman surveys commentaries present, in whatever form, in Metamorphoses manuscripts predating Clm 4610 as well as those roughly contemporary, i.e., twelfth-century commentaries. Of this chapter, the largest portion focuses on the degree to which there are overlaps between Clm 4610 and the Bavarian B commentary, known from four extant manuscripts (133-57). The detailed information Böckerman provides about other commentaries and their manuscript witnesses makes this volume even more valuable for students of Metamorphoses commentaries.

No small part of this chapter is devoted to considering the possibility of affiliations between commentaries. For example, Böckerman is able to describe some "close matches" of comments in Clm 4610 to Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana MS San Marco 223 (117-121). As he acknowledges, given the tralatitious nature of school commentary, one can rarely be sure of the immediate source for any given explanation. I find attractive Böckerman's phrase "modular nature of the explanations": "an explanation can be used whenever the commentator saw fit and [sc. was applicable] not only to one specific passage in the Metamorphoses" (125). Though he doesn't make it explicit at that point, the same or a similar explanation could be applied to other works by Ovid or other authors, just as material from Servius, Hyginus, and Isidore (among others) made its way into teaching materials on all the school authors.

The issue of source is particularly important for Clm 4610, since one "Manogaldus" is on several occasions cited as the authority for an interpretation. This has long been presumed to be Manegold of Lautenbach (c. 1030/40-1112), an identification Böckerman does not reject (102-103). Böckerman cites five references to Manegold, including one at 12.432, where he expands "Dicit M" to "Dicit Manogaldus" (292). There might well be a sixth at 15.622, where Böckerman prints "†M†" (318) but appears not to consider the possibility this also represents Manegold (which Meiser 1885 72 assumes; for bibliographic reference see Böckerman 378).

I elsewhere entirely agree with the loci desperati Böckerman has marked, but there is one patch where I think one could by conjecture get closer to solving the puzzle. In the explanation on 13.720, I concur with Böckerman that the manuscript unambiguously reads the nonsensical lateris postquam dea aram (f. 81ra). However, with Vergil, Aeneid 3.330 in mind, where Orestes kills Pyrrhus ad aras, and recalling that Servius ad loc. reports that Pyrrhus...ab Oreste insidiis interfectus est, could one not imagine a phrase modifying Orestes and reading at some stage latens post deae aram?

I remarked above how carefully produced the volume is. There are very, very few misspellings in the text: "Illiad" (39); "recedendeo" for "recedendo" (63, par. 2, line 4); "with led" for "with lead" [Latin plumbo] (267, on 9.408). "Erichthonius" (71, line 6) lacks an apostrophe. A very minor flaw of production is that occasionally the English translation is not on the page facing the Latin, either on the previous page (on 1.30 and 1.32, 199 instead of 201, and 2.272, 213 instead of 215) or the following page (on 9.967, 259 instead of 257).

A more serious confusion occurs at the point where Böckerman is giving examples of comments in which "the information provided" is "a conclusion drawn from the content" (84). Example 30 has the Latin for the comment on 9.241 (262-63), which, however, he misidentifies as 2.118 and gives the English of that passage (as at 210-11). Much less confusing is that the English translation of Example 35 stops before the last, brief sentence of the Latin (86).

One might quibble with a few English renderings, for example, in the note on 7.759 to call Diana'sambigua carmina "uncertain" (250-51) is less helpful than "equivocal" might have been, but, again, a minor point.

The footnotes, however, would have benefitted from further proofreading, as blemishes are not uncommon: for example, Glauche's first name is "Günter" not "Günther" (12, n. 24); "Gerald" not "Geralrd" (26, n. 67); "Twelfth" not "Twelft" and "Renaissance" not "Renaissanc" (31, n. 80); "another" not "anohter" (201, n. 5); and "Aeneas" not "Aenas" (307, n. 43). These are obvious. One can only hope greater care was taken with volume and page numbers, less easily detectable until one is searching to check a reference. (Such an error can take years to be corrected, nearly 35 in the case of mine which LR resolves [66, n. 199]; my apologies to all and gratitude to Dr. Böckerman.)

Having "Bavarian A" complete now invites deeper inquiry and study. I for one wish we could know more about how masters collected and sorted materials from a range of sources to assemble them for their own and their students' needs. This is a question of "technology," not unrelated to the development in the medieval period of "finding devices." How is it that the commentator could say, in the note on 7.687, "And still from this book we do not have it that Cephalus had slept with Aurora, but in Ovid's Letters it can plainly be found that he slept with her" (251)? Böckerman comparesHeroides 4.93 (250), but did the medieval master know to go to that passage or was it pure recall?

The comment on 12.309 contains a tantalizing reference to a very non-Ovidian work. The explanation runs, in Böckerman's English, "Here, where he says that Nessus should be saved for Hercules' bow, when he has said above that he was killed by Hercules, it is evident that we cannot trouble ourselves with the order of the stories. Therefore, if we want to keep the order in the stories, we cannot accomplish this as in the book of Genesis" (291). To what exactly, I would like to know, is he referring?

References to the Bible are few but that is not the only one. In his comment on Met. 1.21, "Bavarian A" seems to harmonize Ovid's deus with the Christian God by referring to Jesus and offering a near quotation of Luke 2.52 (198; also cited 150). Interestingly, the exact form of the quotation, beginning with Puer and placing aetate before sapientia, suggests the commentator had in mind the phrasing of the chant Puer Jesus proficiebat. Whether conscious or unconscious echo, this reminds us of the daily religious observances the masters, scribes, and scholars alike participated in alongside their study of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

While the introductory material places the poem in a typology of narrative modes as "mixed" (194-95; see also 66), there is no trace of this analysis in the commentary itself. Thus the commentary makes nothing of the fact that Orpheus takes over the narration for 10.148-738 (the end of that book) nor does it note that first Athena and then Arachne "tell" their stories by weaving them. Such a disjunction between the categories covered in the accessus and the body of the commentary is standard (64).

While there would be no end to it if one were to remark on everything that is missing, some patterns might be worth highlighting. For example, one notes that as much as the commentator, in the course of his explanations, remarks on many sexual liaisons between females and males (some immortal, some in bestial form), the commentary has no entry when Ovid describes Jupiter's rapacious love for Ganymede, and while it mentions Apollo's grief at Hyacinth's disappearance, the commentary does not betray the nature of their love. Sometimes such absences speak volumes.

There is of course a limit to what any editor of a commentary can highlight, but readers might be interested in the appearance of a unicorn in the long summary of the story of Oedipus. Linked to a lemma consisting of Metamorphoses 9.408 (natus erat [Ovid erit] facto pius et sceleratus eodem), the explanation runs some 112 lines of Latin in Böckerman's edition (266-70). It does indeed parallel Hyginus' Fabulae 66-73, as the apparatus fontium notes (266), but there are many details not in Hyginus, none more intriguing than what one reads at the very opening: Laius rex Thebarum, pregnante Iocasta uxore sua, dormiens uidit bestiam unicornem de camera sua egredientem et se ad mensam sedentem interficientem. Hac uisione cognita dixerunt sapientes quod interficeretur ab illo, qui nasceretur de Iocasta (266). In English: "When his wife Jocasta was pregnant, Laius, king of the Thebans, saw a unicorn in his sleep that walked out of his chamber and killed him while he was sitting at table. After this vision had been made known some wise men said that he would be killed by the one to whom Jocasta would give birth" (267).

Neither Jürgen W. Einhorn's compendious study Spiritalis Unicornis. Das Einhorn als Bedeutungsträger in Literatur und Kunst des Mittelalters (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1976) nor Lowell Edmunds' Oedipus: The Ancient Legend and Its Later Analogues (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984) knows of the unicorn of Clm 4610. Einhorn does report Oedipus and the unicorn linked in a fourteenth-century French world history. (The gist: men hunting a unicorn discover the child Oedipus with his feet bound suspended in a tree; 133 and 293).

How this beast made its way into Clm 4610 is uncertain, but as a suggestion for more intrepid investigators, Einhorn notes the unicorn as a symbol of death in one of the parables in the widely diffused Barlaam and Ioasaph (219). The examples he cites are all later than Clm 4610, but the unicorn is present in chapter 12 (Loeb ed. [1983], 288) of the Greek version long attributed to St. John Damascene but which we now know was translated from Georgian into Greek by Euthymius the Georgian (d. 1028 in Constantinople), likely stylistically polished into the version we now read and--significantly--available no later than 1048 to the anonymous Latin translator whose version is preserved in Naples Biblioteca Nazionale, MS VIII B.10: (

There is one other similarity between the account of Oedipus and Ioasaph that may be relevant. The opening of chapter 3 describes how after the birth of his son Ioasaph, his royal father summoned wise men to predict the infant's future; the prediction of the wisest displeases him greatly and he seeks to prevent it from coming to pass. In vain, as is the case with Oedipus, but there is no dream and no murder involved.

This is just the kind of investigation access to Bavarian A invites. And while there were other ways for medieval students to learn about Oedipus--Statius' Thebaid, also a school text, first and foremost--one might imagine a student utterly captivated by a version that featured a unicorn, a student like Hartmann von Aue would have been in the third quarter of the twelfth century and whose romance Gregorius has the Oedipus story, among others, behind it.

As in the case of school commentaries, whose myriad explanations circulated hither and yon to the extent that rarely can one be certain of direct influence, so with poetic imagination. A student who studied Ovid's Metamorphoses with a commentary like the one edited and translated by Böckerman will have been introduced to a sea of stories, one linked to another, and at least a few will have been inspired to become storytellers themselves.