Scholia Reviews ns 9 (2000) 32.

D. Wardle (ed. and tr.), Valerius Maximus. Memorable Deeds and Sayings: Book 1. Clarendon Ancient History Series. Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1998. Pp. ix + 301, incl. introduction, translation, commentary and index. ISBN 0-19-815016-4. UK£40.00.

Alex Nice
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Wardle's English translation of the first book of Valerius Maximus Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium is the first since that of Samuel Speed in 1678[[1]] and there has been no commentary on Valerius in any language. The publication of this translation and commentary is testament to a revival of interest in an author for whom more manuscripts survive than any other Latin prose text with the exception of the Bible.[[2]] The very extent of Wardle's commentary (223 pages), by comparison with the translation (36 pages), indicates the wealth of material that can be drawn from theexempla contained in the Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium.

The introduction (pp. 1-25) has customary concerns: the author's life, the date of composition, the contents, construction and purpose of the work, its sources and textual transmission, and observations specific to the Book 1 and Roman religion. The subject matter is, however, somewhat uneven. Over four pages build up to the negative conclusion that the publication date of the Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium 'remains uncertain' (p. 6), although we do know by virtue of the dedication that the book was published during the reign of Tiberius. Wardle's comments on Roman religion, however, are restricted and result in at least one over-generalisation. For, although the quindecimviri sacris faciundis could recommend that the Senate send an embassy to Delphi or introduce a new cult or religious practice to Rome, this was not their 'usual' (p. 22) practice.[[3]] It would also have been helpful if this overview of Roman religious practice during the Republic had been expanded and some consideration given to other forms of divine experience, such as dreams and miracles, to which Valerius pays close attention.

Rightly Wardle does not try to pigeonhole Valerius into a particular school of thought, rejecting any reliance on Stoic principles (p. 7). He suggests that Valerius' evident belief in the gods and their involvement in human affairs provides the incentive to the moral tone of his work. Wardle argues that Valerius provided what he 'believed his emperor would find appropriate' (p. 25). However, Valerius' reliance on the Latin annalists, Livy in particular, as well as Varro and Cicero, indicates an adherence to a certain mode of thought prevalent in the late Republic, a mode of thought that continually looked for and offered to their reader a concept of a 'traditional' Roman religion.[[4]] It is thus not surprising that Valerius' ideas often coincide with a most traditional emperor and another scion of the late Republic, Tiberius.

Although Wardle admits that he has not attempted to recreate the elegance of Valerius (p. v), the English style of his translation (pp. 27-65) is often stilted. Some sense of Valerius' ornate style might have better conveyed why Valerius remained popular in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. However, the translation is mostly free from error. There are one or two minor quibbles. I am not totally convinced that the translation of sollemnis as 'customary' (p. 30) conveys enough of the sollemnity of such occasions, and Wardle's translation of procurare as 'averted' (p. 30) does not adequately suggest the principle of reciprocity where the Romans 'took care' to avoid the anger of the gods. On p. 42 Wardle translates perisse anddecesserat as 'had died' rather than finding a suitable synonym.

The commentary is primarily historical. Each section commences with a survey of the known and probable sources of Valerius' exempla. His reliance on Livy, Cicero and Varro is apparent, but so too are the number of instances where we simply do not know what the source was. Although instructive, Wardle fails to match passages of the translation with the numbers given for the cross-references. For example, 1-4 on p. 74 all refer to passage 1.1.1, thus the reader has to be completely au fait with the translation of Valerius or keep turning the pages to match the figures with the appropriate passages. Wardle comments on various versions of the exempla as in his discussion of Appius Claudius and the reorganisation of the Hercules' cult (pp. 118-20) or that concerning the prodigy of the Alban lake (pp. 187-89). Wardle also shows an ability to synthesise the modern interpretations of such events to produce concise but intelligible statements concerning the substance of the exempla. This is particularly evident in his comments on the preface and his discussion of the dedication to Tiberius (Val. Max. pr.; pp. 68-70) which considers the importance of the invocation and its precedents, the ideological themes which mirror the propaganda of the early principate, the question of imperial divinity and a discussion of the background to the reign of Tiberius.

The introductory statements for each section give useful overviews of the meaning and etymology of the terms under discussion, as for example,auspicium (p. 153) or omen (p. 167). Other terms are discussed as they appear. The etymology and meaning of superstitio is analysed on p. 144 but neither the article by Calderone, nor that of Grodzynski is utilised,[[5]] although the latter's views on the meaning of the term seem to form the basis for his discussion regarding the pejorative sense of the term in the third century.

The historical form of the commentary, however, does not mean that Wardle is averse to linguistic comments regarding, style, translation or textual emendation as at p. 170 on the formulaic 'if to any of the gods', p. 279 on Callanus' prophecy to Alexander, pp. 122f. on the interpolation or p. 231 on the emendation of hausit to habuit. Useful though such observations are there is an implicit irony given the lack of a Latin text with this translation and commentary.

The constraints of the commentary form mean there are instances where more clarity was required. For example, at p. 78 Wardle states that 'in Roman practice a sacrificial animal was slain and then the entrails inspected by a haruspex'. In fact, it is probable that magistrates could preside over sacrifices as they could over the taking of the auspices.[[6]] There was also a clear distinction between the Roman practice of litatio and Etruscan extispicy.[[7]] The use of the word haruspex needs to be employed with more care if, by its use, Wardle does not mean an Etruscan haruspex. In another instance, Wardle refers to 'crucial augural terms' (p. 201) when discussing a haruspex' interpretation of the entrails. This sort of error undermines the credibility of the work. Fortunately, there were very few of these in the commentary.

Wardle also does not consider North's revisionist view concerning the passage from Cato's De Agricultura 5.4.4. Cato does not despise astrology here but rather suggests that his vilicus should not have access to the kind of power of which only is master might make correct and proper use.[[8]] Under 1.6.4 (pp. 189f.) Wardle suggests that Sulla was accompanied by a private haruspex named Postumius. However, it is not at all certain that Postumius was not an Etruscan haruspex.[[9]] Moreover, this relationship was certainly not like Caesar's relationship with Spurinna as Wardle intimates. Caesar had an uneasy relationship with the Etruscan nobility[[10]] and, in any case, it is highly likely that Spurinna was a member of the Etruscan nobility, and his name may have been preserved because he was the summus haruspex in 44 BC.[[11]] Haruspices accompanied Roman commanders on campaign, and it is likely that Postumius has gained notoriety, as did Tiberius' astrologer Thrasyllus, because of his association with an extremely prominent public figure and a timely remark that, with hindsight, appeared prophetic.

More could have been made of the difference between Greek and Roman oneiromantic practices. At p. 218 Wardle suggests that dreams did not require oneirocritics for their interpretation but authors from Homer onwards had suggested that only certain individuals could reliable receive dreams, a view later echoed by Artemidorus.[[12]] It is also surprising to find that Wardle does not include as bibliographic references the important works of van Lieshout, Hanson, or Kessels which have provided the groundwork for explorations into the form and function of dreams in ancient literature.[[13]] The copy-editing of the translation and commentary should have been more thorough.[[14]] However, criticism is simple to make and faults easy to find. This translation and commentary is a fine contribution to the study of a neglected author. In his opening comments Wardle admits to a relatively low estimation of Valerius as 'one of those authors into whom historians dip for minor details . . .' (p. v). In the production of this commentary David Wardle has produced a book that, like its subject matter, will be dipped into again and again for the wealth of information and insight that it provides the modern commentator on aspects of Roman history, religion and culture.


[[1]] S. Speed, Romae Antiquae Descriptio (London 1678).

[[2]] W. M. Bloomer, Valerius Maximus and the Rhetoric of the New Nobility (London 1993) 2. Cf. also Clive Skidmore, Practical Ethics for Roman Gentlemen: The Work of Valerius Maximus (Exeter 1996), reviewed in Scholia ns 7 (1998) no. 8. Archived at:

[[3]] An analysis of Livy indicates seven definite instances where they do introduce a new rite or suggest the consultation of Delphi in comparison to twenty-four instances where the rituals of expiation already pre-existed or were not that unusual.

[[4]] D. S. Levene, Religion in Livy (Leiden 1993) 248, with references to Cic. De Leg. and Varro Antiq. Rer. Div. who addressed the question of 'authentic Roman religious practice'.

[[5]] S. Calderone, 'Superstitio' ANRW 1.2 (1971) 377-96; D. Grodzynski, 'Superstitio' REA 76 (1974) 36-60.

[[6]] J. Linderski, 'Roman religion in Livy' in Livius: Aspekte Seines Werkes ed. by W. Schüller (Konstanz 1993) 61f.

[[7]] R. Schilling, 'A propos des exta: l'extispicine étrusque et la litatio romaine' in Hommages à A. Grenier. Vol. 3 (Paris 1962) 1371-78.

[[8]] J. North, 'Diviners and divination at Rome', in Pagan Priests ed. by M. Beard and J. North (London 1990) 59, after Colum. De Re Rust.; cf. Cf. the similar prescription of the emperor Theodosius in 392 BC (Cod. Theod. 16.10.12) where a similar sentiment is expressed, although in more forceful terms.

[[9]] E. Rawson, 'Caesar, Etruria and the Disciplina Etrusca', in Roman Culture and Society (Oxford 1991) 289-323 = JRS (1978) 132-52.

[[10]] E. Rawson [9] 311f.

[[11]] Rawson [9] 309-11; M. Torelli, Elogia Tarquiniensia (Firenze 1975).

[[12]] Il. 16.233; Artem. Oneir. 1.2 specifies only a king, archon or someone important could interpret dreams reliably.

[[13]] R.G.A. van Lieshout,Greeks on Dreams (Utrecht 1980); J. Hanson, 'Dreams and visions in the Graeco-Roman world and early Christianity'ANRW 2.23.2 (1979/80) 1395-1427; A. H. M. Kessels, Studies on the Dream in Greek Literature (Utrecht 1978). Wardle's practice of incorporating into the bibliography only secondary literature cited in more than one lemma results in several important omissions. Most obvious by its absence is the most comprehensive scholarly work on divination: A. Bouche/ Leclerq, L'Histoire de la Divination dans l'Antiquite/ (Paris 1879). Others include: M. Beard and J. North (edd.), Pagan Priests (London 1990); R. Bloch Les Prodiges dans l'Antiquité Classique(Paris 1963); W. Liebeschuetz, Continuity and Change in Roman Religion (Oxford 1979); C. Thulin, Die etruskische Disciplin. 3 vols. (Göteborgs 1905-1909); L. Wülker, Die Geschichtliche Entwicklung des Prodigienwesens bei den Römern. Studien zur Geschichte und Überlieferung der Staatsprodigien. (Leipzig 1903).

[[14]] There is confusion at the top of p. 20 due to a lengthy omission. On p. 79 there is an odd sentence discussing Servius, Aen. 11.301 and Cicero, Div. In Caec. 43 which confirm that the 'orators of old began rightly with Jupiter Best and Greatest' . . . 'but one that could be ridiculed by 70'. In fact, the ridicule was based on the fact that there were orators who thought that if this or similar phrases were learnt one would then be ready for court (Cic. Div. In Caec. 43). There are minor errors on p. 45 (1.6.6) the pronoun 'he' is reiterated once too often; p. 59 (end of 1.8.6) seems to require some additional commas to assist the reading; p. 87 (insertion of 'the' required); p. 93 deletion of | required; p. 113 'oVer' should read 'offer'; p. 114 an extra r has found its way into imperartores; p. 133 fifth line down the letter 'n' needs inserting after 'a'; the English at the bottom of p. 152 is also unclear; a minor hiatus (t he) appears on p. 185, 14 lines from the bottom of the page; p. 201, Diskiplin should read Disciplin; p. 223 Hermann lacks an r; p. 224 Lactautius is presumably Lactantius. Herrmann is variously cited in the main text of the commentary (pp. 223, 228, 231). It is ironic that Wardle's own article, '"The Sainted Julius": Valerius Maximus and the dictator',CP 92 (1997) 323-41, is not included in the bibliography, although it is cited frequently (pp. 73, 209, 219, 263).