Why Start with Persius?

Briefly, I have three reasons for starting with Persius’ Satires: it’s a short text (one book, seven poems, 664 lines), a very difficult text that offers interesting textual and exegetical problems on every page, and (not least) I have a lot to say about it. All this makes Persius an appropriate subject for an experiment in on-line publishing, distributed discussion, and open refereeing.

The general consensus seems to be that Persius’ manuscripts are “almost good”, as Housman put it (Collected Papers ii.525) and that conjectural emendation is rarely needed. In the Juvenal section of the current Loeb edition (2004), Braund demonstrates that she has no aversion to conjectures, old or new, but in the Persius section she prints just two in the text, one more (mine as it happens) in the apparatus. That is not a lot even for so short a text. The oldest of the three (Madvig’s) is not yet 150 years old, and the other two not yet fifty. Vergil’s manuscripts are the best of any classical Latin author, hundreds of years older than any of Persius’, but the first 663 lines of Goold’s Loeb Aeneid contain three conjectures (all old) in the text, plus one transposition and one deletion. Is Persius’ text in better shape than Vergil’s?

A glance at a fuller apparatus of Persius – Clausen’s separate edition of 1956 or Kissel’s 2007 neoTeubner – shows that even his oldest manuscripts are in fact riddled with idiotic errors. That is why I find Housman’s summary (CP ii. 602) overoptimistic: “Persius is not difficult to edit. The two authorities which preserve him, P on the one hand and AB on the other, are both exceedingly corrupt, yet each so well repairs the deficiencies of its rival that emendation is hardly required. Even recension is no troublesome or dangerous business; for where the two witnesses dissent it mostly happens that either the one or the other is unmistakably wrong; and in some places where the text is doubtful it matters next to nothing how we choose, because both alternatives are good and even equally good.” Is it true – can it be true – that two cloths, each full of holes, would just happen to provide complete coverage when laid together? I find that hard to believe. I also find many of the places where the manuscripts agree dubious.

The contents of the MSS have been thoroughly investigated by very competent scholars, numerous helpful commentaries have been written, and the Internet offers new possibilities for scholarly communication – particularly important for less popular authors, whose admirers are less likely to be able to meet. It seems a good time to take another look at the text and interpretation of Persius.

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