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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
American Journal of Philology
Vol. 61, No. 4 (Oct. 1940), pp511‑512.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

Ammianus Marcellinus, with an English Translation by John C. Rolfe. Vols. II and III. Loeb Classical Library. 3 vols. Cambridge, Harvard Univ. Press, 1937 and 1939. Pp. vii + 683; pp. ix + 602; frontispiece, illustrations, index, and maps in both volumes.

It is now possible to judge Rolfe's edition and translation as a whole. He expressly disclaims having produced a critical edition of the original; but as I pointed out in reviewing Vol. I (Class. Phil., XXXIII [1938], pp124 ff.), he has given us a welcome revision of the latest text, with a few conservative emendations of his own, largely to fill lacunae. He has, however, accepted very few of the hundreds of changes suggested by various scholars during this last quarter century; those few in general based on the sound principle of a return to the MS reading. Rolfe passes no judgment on Robinson's theory that V is a copy of M; I still believe it is simpler to postulate a joint ancestor, since the material is so scanty. In any case, Rolfe lists all the publications which must be considered by the scholar who would like to tackle the perennially fascinating task of Ammianus text correction; and the critical apparatus comprises the more important new suggestions. I note the inclusion in the text of a few conjectures which sin against the accentual cursus — a procedure of which I cannot approve. I feel it is perfectly legitimate to leave in the text a MS reading which offends the cursus, but that one should not adopt a new reading contrary to its principles, any more than a conjecture in Lucretius which contravenes the hexameter.

p512 The translation makes available for us one of the great historical works of all time, and in an English style which closely reproduces the strange combination of the original. Ammianus was a Greek officer of the Roman General Staff under Julian the Apostate; he devoted his later years to writing a Roman history in a style partly Ciceronian and Tacitean, with reminiscences of Caesar, Livy, and many others, but at the same time permeated with Asian rhetoric and full of the words and idioms of his own day. Rolfe's translation, always intelligible, cannot help reflecting this curious mixture; Ammianus is slow reading in any language; but one finishes this English text with the same respect for a sturdy, independent character, a really great historian, that is given by acquaintance with the original. Rolfe may well be proud of the satisfactory achievement of a supremely difficult task. He has also done well to include the valuable Excerpta Valesiana, which supplement Ammianus, the one dealing with Constantine and the other with Theodoric, and both hitherto inaccessible in English.

Charles Upson Clark.

City College, New York City.

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Page updated: 5 Jun 07