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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a book review in the
Classical Review
Vol. 4 (1890), pp162‑163

The text is in the public domain:
John Percival Postgate died in 1926.

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!

 p162  Urbini's La Patria di Properzio.

La Patria di Properzio — Studi e polemiche di Giulio Urbini.​a (Ermanno Loescher. Roma, Torino, Firenze. 1889.) pp. 210. lire 3 50.

This book is interesting, not merely in itself but for the light it throws upon the present state of classical studies in Italy. With a very few exceptions, the Italian scholars are both in knowledge and method half-a‑century behind their northern neighbours.​b In no other country would it be necessary (as no doubt the author himself would admit, cf. p210) to spend seventy pages on 'polemiche'  p163 against the pretensions of various towns to the honour of having produced Propertius, or even two pages in proving that axis cannot mean 'a hill' (29‑30). In Italy this question of the birth-place seems to be one of municipal importance; and a candidate in Spello, Bevagna, Assisi, etc. (see the list in pp51 foll.) would have little chance unless he were 'sound' on the birth-place of Propertius. The disproportionate interest which the subject excites is shown by the writer's peroration to the Studi (p100), which may serve also as a specimen of his style:

'E per vero, senza essere nè uno Champollion, che con la sola iscrizione trilingue (Pietra di Rosetta) del British Museum arrivò a decifrare i geroglifici egiziani, nè un Cuvier che da un solo ossicino si vantava di ricostruire la forma di tutto un megaterio scomparso, e tanto meno un di quegli savi dell' Egitto che da un sandalo rapito da un' aquila (attenti gli archeologi!) argomentarono, si dice, tutta la bellezza del corpo di Rodope, io credo di aver proprio colto il pensiero del Poeta che, meno forse pel capriccio di lui, che per le bizzarre ipotesi di molti esegeti e commentatori pareva impenetrabilmente ascoso — direbbi l'Alighieri —

Sotto 'l velame degli versi strani.'

Urbini defends the claims of Spello (Hispellum) against those of Assisi. His chief arguments may be briefly stated thus. The claims of Assisi must be rejected because it was a place of no note, which does not agree with the noti Penates (Prop. IV.1.121), a phrase which must refer to a town. Its position on the side of the hill does not suit scandentes arces (ib. 65; cf. 125) nor with I.22.9 which implies contiguity with Etruria, whereas the inhabitants of Asisium never had a foot of land in the plains of Angeli​c and Bastia, nor with the reference to Mevania (IV.1.123),º as the whole territory of Spello lay between Bevagna and Assisi. The Lacus Vmber or Vber (ib. 124) is not the river Clitumnus; but is to be sought round Bastia which was once an island and is called insula in eleventh and twelfth century documents (p43). To a criticism of Prof. C. Braggio — that there are plenty of islands in Italy where there is no vestige of a lake, it is replied that lakes have disappeared from all parts of Italy without leaving a trace, as Lake Trasimene and three in Umbria itself. The required conditions are satisfied by the Roman colony Hispellum. The MS. reading in IV.1.125 'scandentisque Asis consurgit vertice murus' is accordingly to be retained, Asis being the present Monte Subasio (originally Asis) on which both Assisi and Spello stand. Urbini adds a bibliographical appendix, which is useful, though by no means complete. According to him the best Italian translation of Propertius is Casella's (opere edite e postume, Firenze, Barbèra, 1864, vol. 2). The French translations he condemns, and, if he is right in thinking the best to be that of De la Roche-Aymon (Quantin, 1885), with justice. Scholars who make a special study of Propertius will find Urbini's book worth purchasing.

J. P. P.

Thayer's Notes:

a Giulio Urbini, an expert on the Valle Umbra, is represented onsite by his book: Spello, Bevagna, Monte­falco.

b It always pays to be polite; and sarcasm, as in this savage little review, has a way of recoiling on you. Prof. Postgate, a most distinguished scholar, having panned Urbini in far stronger terms than needful, someone pursued the topic a few months later, doubling down on Prof. Postgate's i's and crossing his t's — and proved himself embarrassingly wrong, tarring both of them. Read the article, not that reluctantly annotated by yours truly: The Birth-Place of Propertius (CR 4:393‑396).

c A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Postgate has tripped up again on his unfamiliarity with the area. He means S. Maria degli Angeli, a frazione of Assisi at the foot of the hill. There is no such place as "Angeli", the name of the place being derived from the large Franciscan shrine there, of St. Mary of the Angels.

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