Saturday, September 24, 2016


Textual Criticism as Dentistry

Bernard M.W. Knox (1914-2010), The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), pp. 104-105 (on Antigone 905-912; endnote omitted):
If we are to believe that these lines were in fact inserted after Sophocles' death by some later actor, producer, or editor, we must face the consequences. And they are grave. Aristotle, the greatest scientific and scholarly intellect of the century after Sophocles, the most influential literary critic there has ever been, the head of a research school which busied itself among many other things with the history of tragedy, saw clearly the difficulties posed by the speech, and called the sentiment 'improbable' (ἄπιστον) and so demanding an explanation by the poet, but it never for a moment occurred to him that the lines might be an interpolation. If they are, then we are forced to conclude that already, in Aristotle's time, the text of the Antigone was so fundamentally corrupt in a crucial passage that there was no criterion, no record, no tradition by which it could be corrected. Such a supposition deals a mortal blow to our confidence in the general soundness of the tragic texts. If that is possible, anything is, and we cannot object to those who would delete and transpose right and left. We must even give our late and reluctant blessing to the shade of August Nauck, who, acting on a principle somewhat like that of the English provincial dentist—"If you won't miss it, why not have it out?" —gave the ungrateful world a text of Euripides some four hundred lines shorter than any it had seen before.

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