Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Textual Criticism as a Branch of Medicine

Cardinal Bessarion, letter to Lorenzo Valla (1453), tr. Brendan Cook:
We have always counted Quintilian as among the foremost authors of the Latin language. Your statement did not merely confirm this opinion of ours, but actually strengthened it so that we now think him second to none in the art of rhetoric. We have recently had the book transcribed, and for beauty of decoration it surpasses other books as the sun outshines the other stars. But in truth this same book, like nearly all of them, is riddled with error. It is surely a great shame that a man of such noble countenance, so ruddy and flushed with blood, whose whole body has a natural beauty and regal dignity, should also be so feeble of frame and frail of limb. We have accordingly decided to have the book attended to with the greatest possible care, so that it may be worthy of its beauty. We do not lack the doctors to achieve this, but the instruments to effect the cure.

In the name of your humanity and our mutual affection, we therefore ask you to send us those instruments, that is to say your Quintilian, the only correct copy on earth. He will remain with us as our guest until our copy makes a full recovery. Afterward he will be returned to you at once safe and sound, feeling that he has earned no small glory from his journey by having restored such a man from illness to good health. For our part, we shall forever remain in your debt, along with our Quintilian.
The Latin:
Fabium Quintilianum unum ex praecipuis Latinae linguae auctoribus semper putavimus; quam opinionem nostram sententia tua non solum confirmavit, verum etiam ita auxit, ut neminem iam huic in arte rhetorica preponendum existimemus. Fecimus proximis diebus eum librum transcribi, tantum inter ceteros libros pulchritudine ac decore praestantem, quantum sol ceteris sideribus lucidior est. Verum idem, ut alii fere omnes, mendosus est; indigna sane res, ut homo facie tam liberalii, multo sanguine, multo rubore suffusa, cui ingenua totius corporis pulchritudo et regius quidam decor inest, adeo imbecillis viribus, adeo nervis infirmus sit. Quare nos quidem statuimus quam maxima fieri poterit diligentia eum librum curari, quo talis sit qualem pulchritudo eius meretur. Ad hoc vero non medici nobis desunt, sed instrumenta ad medendum.

Petimus igitur abs te per humanitatem tuam, per mutuum amorem nostrum, ea instrumenta, idest Quintilianum tuum, qui solus in orbe terrarum correctus est, ad nos mittas. Tamdiu hospitabitur nobiscum quoad noster recte convaluerit. Postea ad te statim integer revertetur; nec parvam sibi laudem ex hac peregrinatione adeptum putabit, qui talem virum ex valetudinario bene valere fecerit. Nos vero una eum Quintiliano nostro tibi perpetuo devincti erimus.
Cf. the use of the words mendosus, sanus, etc., when discussing the soundness of texts. Here is another example, from the prolegomena of Tischendorf's Evangelium Palatinum Ineditum (Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1847), p. ix:
Ex quo tempore operam dedi ut graecum Novi Testamenti textum ad eam revocarem integritatem quae ex summae vetustatis monumentis diligenter excussis hauriri posset, intellexi, insigne ejus rei subsidium in antiquis interpretationibus latinis positum esse. Ut autem non potest qui ipse aegrotat alii medicus esse: ita nec ad corrigenda graeca tuto adhibueris latina, nisi haec ipsa satis sana esse cognoveris.
And who can forget Housman describing the diagnostic acumen of Bentley?
Lucida tela diei: these are the words that come into one's mind when one has halted at some stubborn perplexity of reading or interpretation, has witnessed Scaliger and Gronouius and Huetius fumble at it one after another, and then turns to Bentley and sees Bentley strike his finger on the place and say thou ailest here, and here.
M. Manilii Astronomicon Liber Primus, ed. A.E. Housman (London: Grant Richards, 1903), p. xvi.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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