Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 41.

David Wardle (ed. & tr.), On Divination Book 1. Clarendon Ancient History Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Pp. xii + 469. ISBN 0-19-929791-6. UK£75.00.

J. Linderski
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Brave and erudite must be the scholar who ventures to comment on De divinatione; he squares his wits with Cicero, consul and augur, and with A. S. Pease, the most learned of modern scholiasts.[[1]] David Wardle is well aware of the pitfalls of hubris, but as he notes in his preface, Pease’s commentary is to most contemporary students almost as baffling as Cicero himself. The book appears in the Clarendon Ancient History Series, and the new commentary, as the blurb informs, ‘is fully accessible to the reader who knows no Latin or Greek’. Classicists should indeed not turn away from Latinless public; I remember how deeply thankful I am to scholars who provide for those unfortunates who do not know hieroglyphs, cuneiform, or Chinese exact translations, and illuminate them with precise notes. Wardle’s translation is exact and readable, the introduction lucid and informative, and the comments set an example of how such an enterprise ought to be conducted. For there is the ever present danger of simplification, of avoiding the difficult and the technical, and of treating the non-specialist as somehow also not very inquisitive. Certainly we can transmit only a general idea of linguistic form and style, but the matter itself should be treated as completely as possible. We have to confront concepts and notions, and, in particular, searching readers would wish that important technical terms be presented in the original form and adequately explained. For it is ultimately of such notions and expressions that religious systems, including that of divination, are construed. Wardle rises to the task. For example, on a few pages (pp. 174-80) the reader is treated to concilium plebis, imperium, tripudium sinisterum solistimum, templum, auguraculum, saxum solidum, vitium, dirae, and in the process he makes throughout the book observations that will be of interest and instruction also to ‘professional’ students of Roman religion and divination (see below). The bibliography that rounds up the volume is chosen with discernment.[[2]] Wardle keeps his fingers on the pulse of scholarship, but he also cultivates the vetera; he adduces and utilizes two classics of augural studies, I. M. J. Valeton and P. Regell,[[3]] because of their complexity often condemned to oblivion in various amateurish excursions into this difficult field.

The introduction (pp. 1-43) deals with two themes -- divination as part of religio, and De Divinatione as a literary work. To peer into the mind of god(s) in order to find out what the future has in store for us is a common impulse. The procedure requires technique, and a multitude of such techniques have developed in the ancient Mediterranean. In Rome, official divination was managed by priestly colleges of augurs and decemviri (later quindecimviri) sacris faciundis, who interpreted the Sibylline books, all aristocrats and mostly senators, and also by the Etruscan haruspices. This divination, as Wardle helpfully notes, served the state; individuals would consult assorted private diviners, astrologers and dream-interpreters (pp. 3f. -- he seems to dismiss oracles, but cf. p. 128). Wardle also opportunely stresses (p. 2) that Roman state religion of the Middle and Late Republic was not ‘a dead or fossilized system’,[[4]] though the stab at Wissowa as to the alleged earlier spirituality and later sterility of Roman cult should rather be aimed at Latte.[[5]]

A major problem is the character of the De Divinatione itself. In Book I Quintus is a credulous speaker, in Book II Marcus is a sceptic. It has been argued (notably by M. Schofield and M. Beard),[[6]] and this view has attracted some following, that Marcus’ disproval of Quintus’ Stoic arguments cannot be taken as expression of Cicero’s personal beliefs or as ‘the triumph of a rationalist approach to Roman divination’. Wardle’s approach (pp. 8-18) is balanced and sensible. From the very fact that Cicero assigns the Academic part to Marcus (and I would add, that Marcus speaks second and last, like a senior patronus in a trial) follows that in the overall structure of the dialogue the Academic arguments are given much greater weight than the exempla of Quintus. The Academic philosopher counters, contradicts, but does not construct. He shows that Stoic and Peripatetic arguments for divination are incoherent, however (and I fully applaud this conclusion) ‘he will not himself say how divination might work or state for certain that divination does not exist’ (p. 16). This fully and definitely disposes of the hasty argument of Beard, and it also offers a bridge to the understanding how a sceptical philosopher reconciled this position with his obligations as a statesman and official priest. The Roman state has practised divination since times immemorial, and Rome has prospered. It would be foolish to abolish it. Thus the augur Cicero stands by the mos patrius, and, as Wardle perceptively notes, he argues that this mos is much superior to the Greek practice. The Greek mantike (and also the augurs of the superstitious Marsi) attempted to gain foreknowledge of future events, whereas augury was not engaged in telling the future (and was thus less offensive to reason).

As to the Greek sources of De Divinatione (pp. 28- 36), we have to settle on Posidonius and Cratippus –- though the fruitlessness of the old Quellenforschung and the more recent disagreements between F. Pfeffer (1976), W. Theiler (1982), and I. G. Kidd (1988) should rather dissuade us from trying to be deceptively too precise. The dramatic date Wardle would put in April 44 (Cicero was at Tusculum, where the dialogue takes place, on 8 and 9 April). The date of the composition will be between ‘late 45 and the death of Caesar’, with some revisions after the Ides (this is very close to the old proposal of R. Durand -- January-March 44), and the date of the publication April/May 44 (pp. 28-43).

As valuable as the introduction is, most readers would rush to the commentary to mine its riches. Difficult concepts or involved passages Wardle explains with lucidity and skill. Here, only a few observations on selected points of debate. P. 171 (1.25): for augural symbolism on coins, cf. with further bibliography RQ II.164-71. P. 175 (1.28): the paradosis reads †aut tripudium fieri, where the old emendation is avi. Pease suggests that a modifying adjective is needed; Wardle convincingly opts for omni, and points to 2.73 omnem avem and to Serv. auct. Aen. 1.398 qualibet avi (but he fails to notice that at 2.73 Pease had already, albeit hesitatingly, considered omni avi). P. 177 (1.28): on the auspices nuptiarum, cf. (correcting Treggiari[[7]]) RQ II.530-31. P. 188 (1.31): on the praenomen of Attus Navius, see also O. Salomies, Die römischen Vornamen (Helsinki 1987) 68f. P. 340 (1.98): on ortus androgyni, cf. RQ II.334. Pp. 362-71 (1.106-8): a very good discussion of the auspical sign received by Marius and of the famous verses of Ennius about the foundation of Rome, but cf. now in greater detail RQ II.1-19. Genus altivolantum I would take as a poetic rendering of praepetes (thus Ennius avoids the repetition of the term). We certainly should emend pictis to pictos, and refer the description to currus. I very much doubt that longe pulcherrima avis would denote Remus’ bird. The significance of vultures, not mentioned by Ennius, finds its explanation in a new epigram of Posidippus[[8]] where the vulture functions as the best sign with respect to birth, and thus also the birth = the foundation of cities. P. 392 (1.118): on the phrase hostias deligere, cf. RQ II.529.

Despite Cicero’s sceptical reservations we should not shrink from a prediction; Wardle’s commentary will stand for decades to come as a worthy modern counterpart and complement to Pease’s grand opus. And let us hope that avibus bene iuvantibus a second volume on Book 2 will soon be in the hands of avid readers.


[[1]] A. S. Pease, M. Tulli Ciceronis De Divinatione Libri Duo (Urbana 1920, 1923; reprinted in one volume Darmstadt 1963).

[[2]] Unfortunately there is a flaw; scores of titles cited in commentary solely by the author’s name and the year of publication do not appear in the bibliography.

[[3]] Valeton published in Latin in the Dutch Mnemosyne between 1889 and 1898 a series of fundamental papers. Regell, who was a Gymnasial professor in Hirschberg (in the then Prussian Lower Silesia), published between 1881 and 1904 in various places another series of fundamental contributions (in German and Latin). His dissertation, De augurum publicorum libris (1878) is adduced by Wardle as ‘Diss. Vratislava’. There is no such place. On the cover the publication place is given as ‘Vratislaviae’. This is of course Breslau in German (today Wrocław in Polish); the Latin nominative is Vratislavia (also spelled Wratislavia). Cf. J. G. Th. Graesse, Orbis Latinus (Berlin 1909[2]; also available online).

[[4]] Still, I miss the reference to the seminal article by H. D. Jocelyn, ‘The Roman Nobility and the Religion of the Republican State’, Journal of Religious History 4 (1966) 89-104.

[[5]] G. Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer (Munich 1912[2]); K. Latte, Römische Religionsgeschichte (Munich 1960). Cf. J. Linderski, Roman Questions II (Stuttgart 2007) 595-96.

[[6]] M. Beard, ‘Cicero and Divination: The Formation of a Latin Discourse’, Journal of Roman Studies 76 (1986) 33-46; M. Schofield, ‘Cicero for and against Divination’, Journal of Roman Studies 76 (1986) 47-65.

[[7]] S. Treggiari, Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges from the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian (Oxford 1991) 164.

[[8]] C. Austin et G. Bastianini (edd.), Posidippi Pellaei quae supersunt omnia (Milano 2002) 48-49, no. 27.