Scholia Reviews ns 10 (2001) 10.
John E. Atkinson, Curzio Rufo: Storie di Alessandro Magno. Volume I (Libri III-V), trr. Virginio Antelami and Maurizio Giangiulio. Pp. xcix + 449, incl. 7 maps. Milan: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla/Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1998. ISBN 88-04- 43468-6. Lire 48,000.
University of Iowa
This handsome volume, produced with the usual scrupulous care lavished on the Mondadori series Scrittori Greci e Latini -- few classical texts or editions are so pleasant to look at or work with -- forms part of a group bearing the overall title Le Storie e i Miti di Alessandro. In addition to Q. Curtius Rufus, we are to have editions of Arrian, Plutarch, and the Alexander Romance, plus companion volumes of essays by various scholars on Alessandro in Oriente (nothing by A. B. Bosworth) and Alessandro nel Medioevo Occidentale (nothing by Richard Stoneman, though he has been tapped to edit Pseudo-Callisthenes). One striking omission from the Mondadori plan is the earliest surviving source for Alexander, Book 17 of Diodorus Siculus, and it is hard to fathom why this crucial text is being so pointedly ignored. There is no indication that it will appear elsewhere in the series and since Curtius Rufus and Pseudo- Callisthenes are both getting the full treatment, the absence of Diodorus can hardly be ascribed to a lofty contempt for the so-called 'vulgate tradition'. Would someone in the Fondazione Lorenzo Valla care to explain?
Meanwhile, Curtius Rufus is off to a very promising start. Atkinson was the obvious -- indeed, virtually the only -- choice for this onerous task, having devoted twenty years to the Historiae Alexandri Magni, including the publication of English- language commentaries on Books 3-4 and 5-7.2, besides a recent survey in ANRW.[] As all scholars working in the area are only too well aware, Curtius Rufus abounds in horrendous problems, both textual and interpretative, which may explain why Atkinson has had so little competition over the past two decades. We lack the first two books of the Historiae, and with them any statement of methodology or self-identification the author may have provided (e.g. in a preface). Numerical corruptions and lacunae (especially in Books 5, 6, and 10) abound. Despite endless rehashing of the same internal evidence, it is still not at all certain either who Curtius was or when he wrote: dates from Augustus to Severus Alexander have been proposed. Indeed, in her recent stimulating work Elizabeth Baynham writes (p. 7): 'A survey of modern scholarship on Curtius' date from . . . 1959 to 1995 leaves one with an impression comparable to viewing an Escher drawing.'[]
Baynham's and Atkinson's books both appeared in 1998, and Baynham acknowledges the receipt of references and an advance copy of a publication (apparently the ANRW survey) from Atkinson. Yet there is no evidence, on the face of it, that either discussed the other's on-going work, though both resulted in major studies; and with an author as little investigated as Curtius Rufus this can only be accounted a regrettable, and surprising, omission. (But then neither Atkinson nor Baynham seems aware of two recent Oxbridge dissertations: see below.) As Rüdiger Kinsky has pointed out,[] though Atkinson's preference for a Claudian date is possible, nevertheless 'die Bezeichnung des princeps als nouum sidus (Curt. 10.9.23)' -- a point Atkinson stresses -- 'ebenso auf Vespasian paßt', and Baynham in a well-argued appendix (pp. 201-19) makes a very persuasive case for Curtius Rufus having been a contemporary of Vespasian. Atkinson himself is now far less exclusively wedded than he was in 1980 and 1994 to a Claudian context -- which carried with it identification of our author as both the senator Curtius Rufus (Tac. Ann. 11.20-21, Plin. Ep. 7.27.2-3) and the rhetorician Q. Curtius Rufus (Suet. De Rhet., index) -- and seems (p. xiv) to be conceding the equal likelihood of Vespasian as the nouum sidus.
Does the date matter? At one level, not for the Alexander historian, once it has been established that the Historiae was written 'posteriore a Diodoro e Trogo e anteriore a Plutarco e Arriano' (p. xv). But then comes the kicker: 'Ma la differenza è di importanza cruciale per la ricerca circa la possibile esistenza di un sub-testo.' This sub-text is closely bound up with the authoritarian habits of various Roman emperors: in particular with the notorious trials conducted intra cubiculum under Claudius, but more generally with the atmosphere of terror induced by the arbitrary exercise of regnum by rulers from Augustus to Domitian, the widespread reliance on informers (delatores), and the coded rhetoric employed by intellectuals (cf. Czeslaw Milosz's description of 'ketmanism' in The Captive Mind) to voice their opposition to such imperial practices.
Thus the reign of Alexander offered a marvellous field for generic discourse, as Baynham sees, not only on fortuna but also, more dangerously, on aspects of regnum. Just think of the possibilities inherent in the trial and execution of Philotas for a dedicated Roman Stoic. In 1994 Atkinson lined this up with the Julio-Claudian maiestas trials and saw it as a not-so-covert senatorial attack on Tiberius and Caligula. Since Curtius's account occurs in Book 6, we shall have to wait for the next volume of the Mondadori edition to see how Atkinson evaluates it there. By then I hope he has digested Baynham's analysis (pp. 171-80 in particular), which fine-tunes the sub-text by introducing issues such as the justification of uis in government, and the corrupting effect dissimulatio and the desperate competition to win imperial favor.
Of course, such considerations raise further, and equally impenetrable, historiographical ambiguities. Did Curtius simply highlight appropriate episodes in Alexander's career to suggest contemporary parallels in the minds of his readers, or did he take the extra step of manipulating, even modifying his source- material to make sure they wouldn't miss his topical allusions? In other words, how reliable is he as a source? And to what extent should we treat his rhetoric as an integral factor in his historiographical approach, thus making the Historiae far more complex and nuanced than the 'vehicle by which he could communicate his own concerns about the principate' -- Atkinson's view as expressed in his 1994 commentary (p. 28)? This is the direction in which both Baynham and the authors of the (unpublished) dissertations mentioned above now seem to be moving.[]
However, the present volume is primarily a text and parallel translation of Books 3-5, the rough Italian equivalent of H. Bardon's 1965 Budé, which it updates on occasion (Atkinson uses the Müller-Schönfeld text) but not so radically as to oust, for Anglo-American readers, J. C. Rolfe's two-volume Loeb (1946), itself based on Bardon. Though the bibliography is very full, Atkinson's introduction remains brief, and his notes -- the most useful part of this book for the student of Alexander -- are of necessity on a far more restricted scale than those in his earlier volumes of commentary: they occupy only about one- third of a 450-page book. Thus the larger questions of historiography tend to be rather scanted. Atkinson throughout is excellent on military detail: his notes on Issus, for example (pp. 319-24) give the reader just the information and references needed, and he has the arguments of Hammond, Bosworth, Schachermeyr and Devine at his fingertips. On more personal matters he tends toward conservative scepticism. He doubts the reality of Alexander's visit to the Persian royal ladies after Issus ('Se le fonti primarie chiave non ne facevano menzione, essa probabilmente non è storica', p. 324). He also shares Tarn's disinclination to believe that Alexander would have dragged Betis alive at his chariot-tail round Gaza after the city's seven-month siege (4.6.29): others nowadays are less charitable.[] It will be interesting to see his take on Alexander's Eastern conquests.
Meanwhile the tantalizing fact remains that Atkinson originally wrote his introduction and notes in English, and that they here appear in a translation by Maurizio Giangiulio. Thus of his overall oeuvre as editor/commentator we have, at present, a rather dated, ill-organized, and prolix English-text commentary on Books 3-4 (1980); a more recent, better-planned, and more concise one on Books 5-7.2 (1994), both published in Amsterdam; and the current Italian translation of an updated but heavily abridged commentary on Books 3-5. None of these are handily available in the U.K. or U.S.A., and when, or in what language or format, we are going to see Atkinson on Books 7-10 is anyone's guess. It's not only Alexander historians who must find this situation frustrating, especially with the recent steady rise of Curtius' stock in the academic market- place. Is there no English or American academic publisher willing to unite all these disparate strands, and commission Professor Atkinson to produce a major revised three-volume commentary akin to Professor Bosworth's Arrian? Or, failing that, at least to coax out of him the English MS that is going, volume by volume, to Mondadori for Italianization, and which, when complete, should make a nice one-volume commentary for students?
[] J. E. Atkinson, A Commentary on Q. Curtius Rufus Historiae Alexandri Magni Books 5-7.2 (Amsterdam 1994); A Commentary on Q. Curtius Rufus' Historiae Alexandri Magni Books 3 and 4 (Amsterdam 1980); 'Q. Curtius Rufus Historiae Alexandri Magni ', ANRW II.34.4 (1997) 447-83.
[] Elizabeth Baynham, Alexander the Great: The Unique History of Quintus Curtius (Ann Arbor 1998).
[] IJCT 4 (1997/8) 474.
[] P. Moore, 'Quintus Curtius Rufus' Historiae Alexandri Magni: A Study in Rhetorical Historiography' (D.Phil., Oxford 1995), and D. Spencer, 'The Roman Alexander: Studies in Curtius Rufus', (Ph.D., Cambridge 1997).
[] See, for example, A. B. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire (Cambridge 1988) 68.