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Beyond variants: Some digital desiderata for the critical apparatus of ancient Greek and Latin texts

Cynthia Damon

My aims in the three parts of this brief paper are (1) to illustrate the inadequacy of the conceptualization underpinning the current Text Encoding Initiative module on the critical
apparatus, (2) to demonstrate the power and complexity of the "encoding" already present in the critical apparatus of classical texts, and (3) to encourage a pragmatic approach to the urgent need for digital libraries of critical editions of classical texts. Only with a comprehensive understanding of the content and assumptions of the traditional highly-evolved critical apparatus will we make the right strategic decisions for the future of textual scholarship on the literary legacy of Greece and Rome.
Texts from the ancient world reach us via a long, complicated process of transmission from copy to copy. As printed today they are at best near approximations of what an ancient author wrote. A critical edition, which presents the text along with the surviving evidence of the transmission process and an editor's interpretation of it, allows the reader to go beyond a generalized expectation of error and to see whether any given bit of text is secure, or corrupt, or disputed, or weakly supported by the manuscripts that preserve it. No classical text can be read responsibly without one. Yet existing digital libraries of classical texts routinely omit the critical apparatus.
If we are going to reinstate the critical apparatus, as we must if digital editions of classical texts are to serve the needs of scholarship and if digital libraries are to become the go-to repositories of classical texts, we need a fuller appreciation of what the apparatus is (Reeve 2002, 200). The Text Encoding Initiative guidelines for the relevant module trivialize the apparatus by treating it as a repository of variants, and by making assertions such as "individual readings are the crucial elements in any critical apparatus of variants" (12.1.2). For classical texts, at least, a proper critical apparatus is a set of notes designed to foster in the reader an awareness of the historical and editorial processes that resulted in the text s/he is reading and to give the reader what s/he needs to evaluate the editor's decisions. The apparatus is therefore a repository not of variants but of arguments (in the best sense of the word) about variants (Gabler 2010, 45). We need to find a way to embody the arguments as well as the variants in the digital critical apparatus.
If I try to imagine making a digital critical edition on the model widely considered to be fundamental—where you start with page images of the witnesses, proceed to transcription and coding, then apply tools to produce collations and to link images and versions, and then you add annotations and so on—my first feeling is despair. It isn't going to happen. My next feeling, however, is exasperation. After all, with classical texts, at least, we are far beyond the pioneering textual labors implied by this model. That work has been done and is recorded in the critical apparatuses of generations' worth of editions. Those apparatuses and editions are by no means perfect, but to redo the whole process that produced them would be a massive waste of effort. What classicists need, I argue, is a way to give digital form now to the mature state of textual scholarship represented by print editions, while leaving open the possibility of adding the underlying image and transcription data when and if opportunities arise. In other words, we need to start in the middle, not at the beginning.
The balance of this paper offers some thoughts on how to do so based on projects I have undertaken with students in recent seminars.

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The Problematic Text: Classical Editing in the 21st Century

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