Tuesday, March 29, 2016


An Esoteric Parlour-Game

Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003), "Apologia transfugae," Didaskolos 4 (1972) 393-412 (at 409):
Above all, they loved to emend those texts. How those famous scholars vied with one another in that esoteric parlour-game! How they conjured with syllables, transposed lines, inverted letters, in the hope of finding themselves immortalised, in the apparatus criticus of their successors, with that noblest of epitaphs 'emendatio palmaris'! When I first read the Greek tragedians, I was adjured to marvel at those brilliant tours de force which had made the names of Bentley and Porson and were still regularly continued, as a ritual exercise, in the pages of the Classical journals. Now (I am afraid) I view these ingenious reconstructions with considerable scepticism. My scepticism began when I had my own writings copied by a typist. The most regular error of any typist, I then discovered, was to jump from one word to the same word repeated a line or so later, omitting the intermediate text and thus making nonsense of the whole passage. Clearly, in such circumstances, no amount of textual tinkering can restore the original text. Assuming, as I do, that a certain common humanity links a modern typist with a monastic copyist of the Dark or Middle Ages, I now assume that such omissions are the cause of many corruptions in ancient manuscripts, and ingenious conjecture is effort wasted.
The "jump from one word to the same word repeated a line or so later," with omission of "the intermediate text," is called "saut du même au même" in manuals of textual criticism. See e.g. Louis Havet, Manuel de critique verbale appliquée aux textes latins (Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie, 1911), pp. 130-133 (§§ 441-467), and Martin L. West, Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique Applicable to Greek and Latin Texts (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1973), pp. 24-25.

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