Friday, March 20, 2020


The Tide Has Turned

Martin L. West (1937-2015), Studies in Aeschylus (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1990), pp. 355-356 (footnote omitted):
The period of manuscript transmission serveyed in the last chapter might be described as half a millennium of more or less continual deterioration of the Aeschylean text. Since then the tide has turned, and another half millennium has elapsed during which hundreds upon hundreds of corruptions that affected the medieval text have been progressively identified and cleared away.

There are of course many contradictory fluxes in tides. Certain medieval scribes were capable of improving the text by conjecture. Some of their attempts only resulted in deeper corruption, but sometimes they did succeed in restoring the truth. Conversely, the waves of printed editions that have rolled in since 1518 have not uniformly crept higher up the shores of enlightenment. But the overall movement has been steadily upward. Each successive century has brought a purer and more intelligible text, as understanding of Aeschylus' thought, language, style and metres has grown more refined. By the end of the sixteenth century more than five hundred errors had been corrected. But well over a thousand still remained. If one looks at Schütz's edition of 1782-1797, the best of its time, one finds many passages, especially in the lyrics, from which no coherent sense had yet come into sight: the student of Aeschylus was still moving through patchy fog. Things are much clearer today. But even now many problems remain unsolved and probably — unless papyri come to our aid — insoluble. We shall never be able to restore the text just as Aeschylus wrote it. Even if we did, we would not know we had done so, and many scholars would continue to dispute the necessity for the emendations that had brought us to that goal. Yet no one in his senses would deny that we are nowadays immeasurably closer to it than were our colleagues of five hundred years ago, or that the intellectual efforts which have been responsible for this progress must be sustained.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?