Scholiasts and Commentators

Scholiasts and Commentators

Wilson, Nigel

Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, articles (2004 – 2008)


The diversity and the weaknesses and value of the ancient commentaries can be illustrated through various examples, which show their evolution across antiquity and the middle ages.

DR JOHNSON’S DEFINITION of the lexicographer as a harmless drudge is well known. Perhaps the scholiast was also a drudge, but whether harmless is the right adjective for him is an intricate question, which I shall attempt to explore in this paper. “To interpret scholia exactly is not always a simple task.” So wrote Eduard Norden, and he gave a striking example. A scholiast’s note on Vergil’s fourth Eclogue appears to give us the authority of the excellent scholar Asconius Pedianus for the view that the child celebrated by the Eclogue was Asinius Gallus. Norden argued that if the scholium is read attentively it demonstrates the exact opposite: Asconius was in fact refuting on chronological grounds Gallus’ claim to be the child in question. The matter was incidental to Norden’s main purpose, and so he did not explain how it comes about that scholia are difficult to interpret. Other scholars have not always recognised the existence of the difficulty, to their cost, as examples will show. The nature of the problem and its significance will be one of my main themes, but in addition I shall try to show that at their best scholiasts offer something of value to their modern successors, who disdain the title of scholiast and replace it with that of commentator.


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