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Classical and Neo-Latin Philology: Separated at Birth?

James Hankins

Neo-Latin philologists who work on texts written by authors who flourished in the last age of the manuscript book enjoy the kind of sources of which classical scholars can only dream:  autographs, idiographs, texts produced in scribal environments demonstrably close to the author, dedication copies, presentation copies, scribal copies annotated or corrected by the author, and detailed contemporary documentation on the circumstances of composition and revision. Or so one might think. In fact it is possible to have ‘too much information!’ as parents and schoolteachers say when introduced unwillingly to the seamier side of adolescent life. Textual problems can often be solved by drawing on the greater wealth of evidence surviving from quattrocento Latin manuscripts, but riches can create as well as solve problems. For instance, contamination is for obvious reasons far commoner when many texts of the same work are in circulation simultaneously in the same place. It is practically a law of Renaissance philology that ‘whenever contamination can occur, it will.’ Moreover, rich textual information often leads to an embarrassment of method. Neo-Latin philologists are often compelled to adapt and combine editorial criteria of varying provenance, from the recensio and divinatio of classical scholars to the variorum editions employed by critics of modern literature; the ‘evolutionary stemma’ is an example of a hybrid technical device developed by Renaissance philologists.

To discuss all these problems there exists, above all in Italy, a rich technical literature on the editorial methods appropriate to Renaissance texts, and there are various schools of thought and ongoing debates on particular issues. However, no one to my knowledge has attempted to use the ecdotika of Renaissance Latin texts to cast light on the early evolution of classical texts, now at best a subject for conjecture. Having an understanding of textual evolution in the earlier stages of better-documented textual traditions can give classical scholars greater insight into phenomena found in their own traditions, where the earliest stages are hidden from view. One example is the tendency of many textual traditions of classical works to be divided into vulgate and learned branches, a phenomenon readily explicable to those familiar with Renaissance texts. Others are the nature and distribution of authorial variants as well as the causes of error in communities marked by the practice of memorization, dictation and mixed orality.

The paper will present these general issues and illustrate them with concrete examples and comparisons drawn from his/her own editorial experiences.

Session/Panel Title

What Can Early Modernity Do for Classics?

Session/Paper Number

6.3

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