Method and Theory in Classics
Session 4: Manuscript and Text
“Sulla, who had captured Athens, carried off Apellicon's library to
Rome, where Tyrannion the grammarian, who was fond of
Aristotle, got it in his hands by paying court to the librarian, as
did also certain booksellers who used bad copyists and would not
collate the texts—a thing that also takes place in the case of the
other books that are copied for selling, both here [Rome] and at
Alexandria.” Strabo (13.1.54), writing in the 1 century BCE.
Relevant material in chapters 18, 19 (and 20) in the textbook (though not
necessarily best read in that order). Note that we’ll return in more detail
to papyrology in a later week. In the further reading in chapter 20 note
especially Martin West’s Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique
(Teubner 1973), and the last items by Housman. The article on ‘The
application of thought to textual criticism’ is also available in Housman’s
collected Classical Papers, vol. 3 1058-1069 (Cambridge 1972).
Housman’s preface to his 1905 edition of Juvenal’s Satires is a classic in
its own right.
Easterling and Knox’s chapter on ‘Books and readers in the Greek
world’ in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature (1985)
provides a genial introduction to many of the topics mentioned today (and
much of the last session), and is recommended. Note that the UofT library
website provides online access to all of the Cambridge Histories series.
The word ‘text’ is used in a number of senses by Classicists, and often
rather loosely. Sometimes it does just mean a piece of writing. Sometimes
it is more precise, and can refer to the words actually written by a
classical author (as opposed to a translation, and excluding material
added by someone else, such as an introduction, commentary or notes).
Sometimes it has the particular sense of a given version of a piece of
writing – in which case the text might be identified by its editor or the
series in which it is published. In literary theory it is defined in still more
precise and technical terms. A manuscript is just something that is written by hand. For classicists
this almost always means a hand-written copy of a text: not the author’s
own original version.
• Classics has traditionally been based very much in the literary culture of
the Greek and Roman worlds.
• Literary texts have survived because in the time between their
composition and our reading them, people took the trouble – repeatedly
– to copy them out. What survives is therefore the result of the
preferences and interests of generations of readers.
o It is important to remember the obvious fact that we do not
have the original copies of any literary text. What we have are
copies of copies of copies of copies... (and so on). Texts which
survived by being copied until the middle ages (at least the 9