Friday, October 06, 2017



M.L. West (1937-2015), "Problems in Euripides' Orestes," Classical Quarterly 37.2 (1987) 281-293 (at 281, footnote omitted):
'Begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, and then stop.' Hardly any literary artist succeeds in composing substantial works in quite such a straightforward way, by uninterrupted linear progression from start to finish. As he composes, he has new ideas, and sometimes he goes back and changes what he has already written or makes insertions in it. If he is not very careful, this is liable to lead, if not to actual contradictions, at least to mild discontinuities and interruptions of the logical sequence of thought.

The occurrence of such discontinuities and interruptions in classical texts often provokes proposals for deletion or transposition. In some cases these are no doubt the correct answers. But it seems to me extraordinary how little use scholars have made of the concept of the author's afterthought — something that nearly all texts must contain, whether detectable or not — to account for irregularities of those kinds. In many instances what is recognizable as an insertion is at least as likely to be due to the author as to a second hand, unless one takes the a priori view (easily disprovable by experience) that an author will not fail to notice all the structural implications of an insertion in his own work. In certain instances we may recognize interpolations or rearrangements that cannot plausibly be ascribed to anyone but the author himself.
Id. (at 285):
I anticipate two kinds of adverse reaction to all these hypotheses of Euripidean afterthoughts. One is to say that it is all empty speculation, because we have no evidence for prior drafts and never will have. Of course there is no documentary evidence. The position is not much better for other sorts of textual criticism: in exceptional cases a new papyrus may confirm a conjecture, but in the vast majority of cases there is not going to be a new papyrus. That does not mean that in the absence of manuscript variation it is pointless to try to identify corruptions. The evidence is internal, in the coherence or otherwise of the text. It is the same with authorial revisions. There is evidence of that kind, whatever conclusions one ventures to draw from it.

The other possible objection is that our concern should be with the text as the author finally intended it to be, and that it is not our business to pry into the stages by which he arrived at it. I disagree. The creative process is a legitimate object of scholarly interest, and especially when it holds the key to difficulties that the finished text poses.

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