Friday, April 10, 2020


The Importance of Punctuation

Gian Biagio Conte, Ope Ingenii: Experiences of Textual Criticism (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), p. 9:
The mishap that befell Abbot Martin, according to a burlesque French tradition of the XV century, is well known: this devout figure had thought of embellishing the entry to his monastery with a sign saying:
Porta patens esto. Nulli claudatur honesto

Let the door remain wide open. Let it not be closed to any honest man.
But the stonemason who was given the task of engraving this inscription got the punctuation wrong:
Porta patens esto nulli. Claudatur honesto

Let not the door be opened to anybody. Let it be closed to the honest man.
What should have been a warm welcome, inspired by Christian charity, was turned into a curt message of rejection. The end of the story relates that, as a punishment for this, Martin was deprived of his ecclesiastical rank.
Id., p. 14:
It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of punctuation for the textual critic. Editors do not always devote the necessary attention to this aspect of their work; often, indeed, in their effort to choose the authentic reading among those transmitted, and to correct verbal corruptions or crypto-corruptions, they end up by accepting texts which require a more careful distinctio. This kind of intervention, too, can produce quite remarkable results for the restoration of a corrupt text. The rule will always be one, and one alone: try to translate the text you are reading literally; it is only in this way that, as you try to find a precise equivalent for the single words, you discover all the obstacles that a reading of the text as a whole overcomes and simplifies.

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