Monday, March 07, 2016


Books Disfigured by Students

Raffaella Cribiore, Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 141-142 (footnotes omitted):
Unusually profuse accentuation in texts other than lyric can also be an indication that a book was written for or used in school. A case in point is a fragment from what was probably the fourth book of the Catalogue of Hesiod in which nearly every syllable has an accent. Though Homeric papyri frequently present abundant accentuation, the presence of this feature accompanied by many lectional signs that indicate a regular punctuation strongly points to a book used in education. Moreover, when a wealth of accents was added not by the original scribe but by the reader, one strongly suspects that a student was engaged in an accentuation exercise. Thus, a beautifully written text of Iliad 24, the "Bankes" Homer, which also presents elementary marginal annotations, is disfigured by numerous accents grossly written by a second hand: a student marked the book with an energetic disrespect for the written word. Other texts that show signs of school use combine an unusual amount of accentuation with marginal notes written by the reader: a carefully written text of Iliad 5, to which plentiful accents and other lectional signs have been added—this time more gently—by a student, also exhibits numerous marginal annotations of an elementary nature. Asked to distinguish the narrative parts of the book from the speeches, this pupil wrote in the margin the names of various speakers and the indication "the poet" in a rough hand. That such an exercise was needed is shown by the evident uncertainty in identifying the poet's voice. In any case, one should not feel too sorry for such ancient books in disgrace. It is likely that an expensive book copied accurately in a formal hand by a scribe landed in the hands of a student only at the end of a useful life spent in the service of more respectful readers.
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