De Pallio, a commentary

by Vincent Hunink
J.C. Gieben, Amsterdam 2005

[cloth, 332 p.; ISBN 90 5063 439 7;  price EUR 65,-]

The epideictic speech De Pallio by the Christian author Tertullian (about 200 A.D.) is considered as one of the most obscure texts ever written in Latin. As a logical sequel of my research on Apuleius, I have prepared a new edition with translation and literary commentary (in English) of Tertullian's text. It  has been my main research project in the period 1998-2004. The book has been published March 2005.

De Pallio is one of the strangest and perhaps most difficult texts ever written in Latin. In this speech, presented before a live audience in Carthage around 200 A.D., Tertullian defends his radical choice to drop the Roman toga and take up the pallium of philosophers and christians. This theme may seem innocently simple, but it has been elaborated with impressive rhetorical pyrotechnics, couched in deliberately artificial language. And is this speech profoundly christian or shamefully pagan? A work of youth or of old age? Is it a serious apology or satire?

Tertullian’s De Pallio has puzzled scholars for generations, yet it  has often been neglected or left aside. In this new edition the text is presented with a new English translation and a full commentary, the first one in English. Much attention is paid to the interpretation of the speaker’s often obscure words. In addition, the book puts the speech into the context of Latin Second Sophistic. De Pallio emerges as a fascinating  text that stands midway between non-christian and christian literature.

For practical information about De Pallio see the relevant page on the excellent site on Tertullian by Dr. Roger Pearse.



Fifteen years after its publication as a book, the full text of the 2005 edition has been scanned and put online, for  free use by readers and researchers.

De Pallio [18,2 Mb]

Please add a proper bibliographical reference if you use any of this material in a new publication.




R. Mayer in BMCR

H. Savon in L'Antiquité classique

M. Turcan in Revue des études augustiniennes et patristiques

P. Kitzler in Listy Filologické

C. Moreschini in Gnomon

R. Mayer in BMCR

There is a detailed review by Roland Mayer, in BMCR 2006.01.39, available online at BMCR. Having provided long lists of specific points of textual criticism, historical detail and linguistical aspects, the reviewer sums up his judgement as follows: "It will be gathered from what has been written above that this commentary often leaves the reader in the lurch, by inadequate or misleading discussion. Hunink has a solid track record as a commentator on out-of-the-way literary works, which nonetheless deserve attention, and I approached this book with high expectations. On balance, however, I now deem it to be a missed opportunity."

My reaction to the review (January, 23th, 2006):
It is always disappointing to receive less favourable reviews of one's work. In this case, I feel my work has been rather hard done by. Most importantly, the reviewer has taken the book for what it explicitly does not wish to be: a contribution to the textual constitution of De Pallio. Mayer's long discussion on textual notes ignores my basic position of not discussing these matters, complex as they are (extensive discussion of textual issues would have made it impossible to write a readible book about this speech). I deliberately started from the modern edition of the text in the well known Corpus Christianorum. That is surely a text with which one seems to be entitled to work and which stands in need of further explanation in the form of a commentary. If all that philology can achieve is to rediscuss every textual decision over and over again (and in the case of De Pallio this process would definitely be endless), no progress will ever be made.
    Mayer also deals at some length with numerous historical and linguistical issues. Although I do consider it to be my task as a commentator to include information about these areas, my main focus has been on matters of composition, rhetorical strategy and literary technique. On these subjects, Mayer has very little to say. That is a pity, for I feel that in this sense my book may even be called innovative, given the fact that philological attention for De Pallio has invariably been restricted to textual criticism and Realien. Of course, I fully accept all relevant corrections and suggestions as to various such matters, but I feel sorry that the main purpose of my book has been passed over nearly undiscussed.
     Much the same goes for other aspects of the book which I tried to place in the foreground, such as the added translation (the first one in English since many decades) and the observations on the relation of the text with contemporary non-christian Second Sophistic. And not a single word is said in the review about such matters as the presentation and punctuation of the text and the material side of the book (typeface, layout, cloth), practical aspects that often remain rather undervalued.
      I am sorry that my book is not the book as Mayer would have written it, but my main choices still stand and can be defended, so I think, and the book has something to offer to anyone who wishes to approach this difficult text. I can only hope that the BMCR review has attracted the attention of scholars and readers to the very existence of the new commentary, and that future readers will judge for themselves.

H. Savon in L'Antiquité classique

In L'Antiquité Classique 75, 2006, 379-381, there is a detailed review (in French) by Hervé Savon.

S. carefully analyses the deliberate choices made in this book, and discusses some of their positive effects as well as some omissions that result from them. Notably, the book does not elaborately enter the debate with Frédouille, as S. would have wished, nor does it provide lists with all the tropes and figures used in the text.

The review ends on a balanced note:

'Il serait un peu injuste de demander à ce commentaire plus que ce qu'il veut nous donner. Dans les limites que l'auteur a tracées lui-même, et même si certained de ces interprétations peuvent être contestées, il représente une contribution bienvenue à l'élucidation du De Pallio.' (p. 381)

M. Turcan in Revue des études augustiniennes et patristiques

Mrs Turcan, who prepares a volume on De Pallio in Sources Chrétiennes, discussed the book in a full review. Although she has many comments to make, her overall assessment is positive. Full text here (large Word-file) 

Czech review by Petr Kitzler in Listy filologicke

Peter Kitzler wrote a detailed review of both Turcan's SC edition and my commentary. The review, in Czech, was published in Listy Filologicke 131, 3-4, 2008 (see ).

The author has been so kind as to translate two passges directly discussing my book. These fragments follow here (witrh kind permission of the author).

(p. 545f.) "Chronologically the first book was prepared by Vincent Hunink, the latinist and teacher at Radboud University in Nijmegen, who is well known as a creative and respected translator from Latin (he published many authors in English, e.g. his commented editions of Apuleius’ Florida and Pro se de magia, Oxford 20072; from the translations into Dutch let’s mention e.g. Augustine, Petronius, Cicero, Seneca and many more). His book consists of a short introduction (pp. 9-27), a Latin text of De pallio taken without critical apparatus from the Turnhout’s Corpus, facing English translation, English commnentary (pp. 67-293), bibliography (pp. 297-305), index (pp. 306-317) and index locorum (pp. 318-332).

In spite of a modest tone which sounds from the Hunink’s preface, his book is a ground-breaking in many respects. First, the English translation of De pallio is only the second translation of this work in English (the first one was prepared by S. Thelwall for the collection of Ante-Nicene Christian Library in 1877). With his „rather literal“ translation (p. 11) Hunink tries to make De pallio accessible to the modern readers as much as he can. He conceives his introduction as an „essay inviting the reader to apply himself or herself to this text“ (p. 12). As Hunink repeats, his main aim is to pay attention to what Tertullian does with words, what he means with them and what he wants to achieve. In the question of dating De pallio – as far as it can be ascertained at all – Hunink, although reserved as to express some explicit statements, tends to the opinion that this treatise could have been written in the early phase of Tertullian’s literary activity, perhaps in 198 or 199. In the matter of genre of De pallio, Hunink on the contrary does not hesitate to identify it as an epideictic speech which was really delivered before audience (which is rather arguable opinion) and compares it with Apuleius’ Florida; both works are, in his opinion, refined rhetorical pieces of the second Sophistics (p. 17, 22f.). In this light he also judges the aims of Tertullian’s work: „His aim was not to convert or to preach, nor to reject and depreciate existing culture, but rather to show himself as a man fully able to cope with the demands of his time, while suggesting his personal advancement in the sphere of Wisdom“ (p. 24). The main contribution of Hunink’s book is, of course, the extensive commentary which is also rather unique in English, together with the commentary of Salmasius being probably the most comprehensive commentary published so far. Although Hunink does not avoid to elucidate Tertullian’s language and style as well as many allusions in the text, his commentary is a literary commentary in the first place which takes Tertullian’s rhetorical mannerism „at his word“ and tries to compare it with existing parallels and to unravel its function as well as Tertullian’s overall strategy when composing his text."

(p. 548): "Both books show evidence of extraordinary erudition of their authors and of profound knowledge of early Christian and antique literature and culture alike. This is especially true of Turcan’s edition whereas Hunink’s commentary is much more „non-specialist-user friendly“. It does not need to be emphasized that both books provide an indispensible starting point for further research and that both, one being complementary to the other, contribute a great deal to a better understanding of Tertullian’s perhaps most remarkable work without despoiling it of its provocativeness."

review by Claudio Moreschini in: Gnomon 2008, 221-225


(A detailed discussion of the book, which is appreciated and praised as a full literary commentary on the text. Some of the basic notions in the introduction, however, are critically discussed. The reviewer disagrees on some of these issues.)



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