The Emendations to Propertius of Arthur Palmer

Brian Arkins


Arthur Palmer was born in Canada in 1841, but lived in Ireland from the age of 19.[i]  Elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin in 1867, he succeeded R.Y. Tyrrell as Professor of Latin in 1880, and edited the Trinity journal Hermathena for ten years from 1888.  Palmer was awarded honorary doctorates from Glasgow and Oxford.  He suffered ill health for the last ten years of his life, and died from cancer in 1897 in his mid fifties.

Palmer is chiefly noted as a brilliant textual critic, who worked on the texts of Greek writers such as Aristophanes and Bacchylides, and on those of Latin writers such as Plautus (?corrections of exceptional brilliancy?),[ii] Catullus, Horace (Satires), Propertius, and Ovid (Heroides).  His colleague Tyrrell noted that for Palmer textual criticism ?was a passion? and that emendation was ?an art in which he may be fairly said to occupy a foremost place among modern scholars.?[iii] Indeed such was Palmer?s distinction as a textual critic that he was paid a remarkable tribute by no less a figure than A.E. Housman:

In width and in minuteness of learning, in stability of judgement, and in even in what is now the rarest of virtues, precision of thought, he had superiors among his countrymen and contemporaries: in some of these things many excelled him, some excelled him far, and Munro excelled him far in all.  But that will not disguise from posterity and ought not to disguise from us that Palmer was a man more singularly and eminently gifted by nature than any English scholar since Badham [1813-44] and than any English Latinist since Markland [1693-1776]. [iv]

This evaluation of Palmer should be viewed in the light of Housman?s account of Badham:

Badham, the one English scholar of the mid century whose reputation crossed the channel, received from abroad its praises of Duebner and Nauck and Colet, but at home was excluded from academical preferment, set to teach boys at Birmingham, and finally transported to the antipodes.[v]

But Housman also found defects in Palmer: he shunned ?the labour of severe and continuous thinking?; ?he kept a very blind eye for unwelcome facts and a very deaf ear for unwelcome argument?; ?with all his genius he remained to the end of his days an amateur?.  Indeed there were times when ?no one could defend more stubbornly a plain corruption or advocate more confidently an incredible conjecture, than Palmer?.[vi]  Nevertheless, Stanford is correct in his assertion about Palmer that ?despite these faults his work still stands high in critical estimation?.[vii]

Textual criticism is a difficult discipline.[viii]  It is, of course, impossible to attain a perfect Ur-text in the case of many authors, whether ancient or modern.  Recent controversies about the text of Yeats? Collected Poems and of Joyce?s novel Ulysses have clearly shown that, even in the case of a modern writer, the attainment of a perfect text is impossible.[ix]  A fortiori, it is impossible to attain such a perfect text for authors who wrote several thousand years ago, before the invention of printing.  Nevertheless, it is possible to make important advances in the establishment of a text of a Greek or Latin author by identifying certain or probable corruption in the manuscript tradition, and by then proposing alternative readings that are superior and more likely to be what the author wrote or could have written.

Propertius? text abounds in problems.[x]  The two manuscripts that are generally held to be closest to the original text of Propertius  - N written in France about 1200 CE, and A written near Orleans about 1240 CE are corrupt to a greater or lesser degree.  Reasons for this corruption include Propertius? abrupt transitions, his novel use of language, the lack of clear division between poems, and transpositions in the text.  Yet Quintilian (10.1.93) held that Propertius was ?polished and elegant? (tersus atque elegans), so that the corruption is likely to derive from mediaeval editions.  Book 2 of Propertius, now generally held to contain two separate books, presents particular textual problems:

The chaos of the text beyond the middle of Book 2 points to a violent physical damage to the archetype and must preclude any notion that minor surgery is all that is required.[xi]

Palmer was specially keen on establishing the text of Latin elegiac poets, and Tyrrell notes that he achieved ?many certain and beautiful restorations in this sphere?.[xii]  Of particular note was Palmer?s edition in 1880 of Propertius, and his later emendations of this poet.[xiii]  As Leeper says, ?his contributions to Propertian criticism are perhaps his most important legacy to scholars?.[xiv]  Housman makes specific Palmer?s excellence in establishing the text of Propertius: ?his achievement equalled Baehrens? [1880] and surpassed Lachmanns [1816].[xv]  But a prevailing conservatism is the field of textual criticism, and the fact that Palmer?s edition was published in Dublin may have militated against wider recognition for him.

Palmer?s contribution to establishing the text of Propertius can be assessed by examining a select number of his emendations.  In several cases, Palmer?s emendations involve only slight but necessary changes to the manuscripts.  A spectacular example of how Palmer could brilliantly emend a corrupt passage in Propertius by effecting minimal changes to the manuscript reading can be found at 4.8.58.  In Propertius 4.8, the poet is entertaining two women in the absence of Cynthia when Cynthia suddenly appears, and all hell breaks loose.  One of the women named Teia acts as though there were a fire, and water was needed to put it out.  Barber?s text[xvi] reads at line 58: territa vicinas Teia clamat aquas, which is simply gibberish and not Latin.  By minimally altering the two words ending in as to i and am respectively, Palmer cleverly made sense of the line: territa ?vicini?, Teďa clamat, ?aquam?, which means ?terrified, Teia shouts, ?neighbours (bring) water??.[xvii]

In the same poem Palmer has produced no less than three further cogent emendations that involve small changes to the transmitted text.  At line 36, where the reader is imagined as asking about the seating arrangements at table of Propertius and the two women, Palmer emended concubitus, which means ?lying together (for sex)?, to discubitus, which means ?reclining at table?.  When Propertius is playing dice and hoping for the lucky Venus-throw (the highest) at line 45, the manuscript reading is me quoque per talos Venerem quaerente secundo; Palmer saw that the adjective secundus must agree with Venerem, reading me quoque per talos Venerem quaerente secundam: ?then at dice when I was hoping for the lucky Venus-throw?.  Finally, at line 39, Palmer convincingly identifies the name of the Eastern piper as Miletus  (manuscripts have nile tuus), and the name of the eastern-player as Byblis (the manuscripts have phillis); for both of these names appear in Milesian myth.[xviii]

There are further likely emendations to Propertius by Palmer that involve small changes to the transmitted reading.  At Propertius 3.6.22, when Cynthia is attacking the poet?s infidelity, she asserts that he possesses another woman at home, whom she does not wish to name: ille potest nullo miseram me linquere facto, / et qualem nolo dicere habere domi? (?Can he leave me miserable though I have done nothing, and keep at home a woman I do not want to name??). Here ?nolo is a palmary emendation of Palmer for nulla of the archetype?.  Indeed Housman held that ?no more brilliant and certain correction was ever made in the text of Propertius?.[xix]

At the end of Poem 1.8A, Propertius states that no matter how far afield Cynthia may travel she will be his.  Line 26 sees Cynthia in Hylaea, a place beyond Scythia; in line 25 we require a further remote place, but the manuscript reading is Atraciis, which refers to Atrax, a town in Thessaly.  Palmer convincingly conjectured Artaciis, which refers to Artace, a island on the Propontis:[xx] et dicam ?licet Artaciis considat in oris, /et licet Hylaeis, illa futura meast (?and I will say ?though she settle on the shores of Artace or on the shores of Hylaea, she will be mine? ?).

When Cynthia?s ghost is ubraiding Propertius about his behaviour in Poem 4.7, the transmitted text at lines 21-22 is: foederis heu taciti, cuius fallacia verba / non audituri diripuere Noti (?alas for our silent pact, whose deceitful words the south wind that will not hear them has swept away?).  But there is an obvious problem with this: if the pact is ?silent? (taciti), how can it produce ?words? (verba)?  Palmer?s conjecture pacti ?alas for the pact you pledged? neatly obviates this difficulty.[xxi]

Lines 19-20 of Propertius 4.5, where the bawd Acanthis is compared in a derogatory way to something (ceu), are very corrupt.  Palmer succeeded in making sense of line 19 by altering blanda of the manuscripts to blatta, ?bookworm?, and perure to papyrum, ?papyrus? so that Acanthis ?used to ply her trade in the darkness like the bookworm that bores through papyrus?, and the tireless mole that bores its underground path: exercebat opus tenebris ceu blatta papyrum/suffosamque forat sedula talpa viam.[xxii]

Sometimes more radical surgery is required in the text of Propertius.  In Poem 1.20 Propertius uses the story of how the boy Hylas was lost to the Nymphs to advise his friend Gallus about the risk of losing his boyfriend to a girl.  The last two lines of the poem (51-52) sum up the issue, with line 51 saying ?Warned, Gallus, by this story, guard your love?.  The transmitted text of line 52 reads formosum nymphis credere visus Hylan, ?being seen to entrust beautiful Hylas to the nymphs?.  But this is to apply the story of Hylas in a literal way to Gallus, when it is meant to be an exemplum.  Palmer?s ?dazzling conjecture? [xxiii] neatly meets this point: formosum ni vis perdere rursus Hylan, ?unless you want to lose beautiful Hylas again?.

Writing in 1981, Luck noted that Palmer is ?still underestimated today?.[xxiv]  But in Goold?s 1990 Loeb edition of Propertius, revised in 1999, more than 20 conjectures of Palmer are accepted.  The mills of God ?

[i] For Palmer see R.Y. Tyrrell, Hermathena 24 (1898), 115-21; Id., The Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXII Supplement (Oxford 1967-68), 1116; W.B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (Dublin/Totowa, N.J. 1978), 168; R.B. McDowell and D.A. Webb, Trinity College Dublin 1592-1952 (Cambridge 1982), 265-68, 301-03.

[ii] Tyrrell (n. 1), 119.

[iii] Ibid., 117; Tyrrell, Supplement (n. 1), 1116.

[iv] The Classical Papers of A.E. Housman, eds. J. Diggle and F.R.D. Goodyear (Cambridge 1972), 471-72.  Palmer reciprocated: ?Mr. Housman?s position is in the very first rank of scholars and critics?; quoted in A.E. Housman Selected Prose, ed. J. Carter (Cambridge 1961), xi.

[v] A.E. Housman, M. Manilii Astrononicos Liber Primus (Cambridge 1903), xlii.

[vi] Housman (n. 4), 472.

[vii] Stanford (n. 1), 168.

[viii] For a concise account of textual criticism see G. Luck, ?Textual Criticism Today?, American Journal of Philology 102 (1981), 164-94.

[ix] R.J. Finneran, Editing Yeats?s Poems (London 1983); C. Hart and G. Fandelescu, Assessing the 1984 Ulysses (Gerrards Cross 1990).

[x] J.L. Butrica, The Manuscript Tradition of Propertius (Toronto 1984).

[xi] L. Richardson, Jr., Propertius, Elegies I-IV (Norman 1976), 22.

[xii] Tyrrell (n. 1), 117.

[xiii] A. Palmer, Sex.  Propertii Elegiarum Libri IV (London/Dublin 1880); for his articles on Propertius see G.R. Smyth, Thesaurus Criticus ad Sexti Propertii Textum (Leiden 1970), 189-90.

[xiv] A. Leeper, Hermathena 25(1899), 409.

[xv] Housman (n. 4), 471.

[xvi] E.A. Barber, Sexti Properti Carmina (Oxford 1960).

[xvii] Palmer, 1885 [Smyth (n. 18), 152].  Cf. G.P. Goold, ?Noctes Propertianae?, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 71(1966), 61: ?I have no doubt that Palmer is right in proposing the apt and lively territa ?vicini!;? Teďa clamat, ?aquam??.  In his Loeb edition Goold adopts Palmer?s reading (G.P. Goold, Propertius Elegies, Cambridge, Mass./London 1999).

[xviii] Palmer, 1880 and 1894 [Smyth (n. 18), 152].  In his Loeb edition (n. 17), Goold adopts discubitus; secundam; Miletus?. Byblis.

[xix] Palmer 1880; J.L. Butrica, ?Editing Propertius?, Classical Quarterly 47(1997), 188-89; Housman (n. 4), 242, nolo is accepted by Barber (n. 16), and Goold, Loeb (n. 17).

[xx] Palmer 1880.  Atraciis is accepted by Goold, Loeb (n. 17), and considered probable by Housman (n. 4), 293f.

[xxi] Palmer 1888.  Pacti is accepted by Goold, Loeb (n. 17); cf. Goold, HSCP (n. 17), 68.

[xxii] Palmer 1888.  Pacti is accepted by Goold, Loeb (n. 17); cf. Goold, HSCP (n. 17), 68.

[xxiii] Palmer 1880.  Goold, HSCP (n. 17), 74, who adopts ni vis perdere rursus in his Loeb edition (n. 17); it is also supported by Housman.

[xxiv] Luck (n. 8), 168.

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