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Philology and Textual Editing in the Classroom (and Beyond)

Francesca Schironi

This is an aporetic paper, which is neither meant to provide answers nor even suggestions; rather, it raises questions. It will be divided in two parts: first a ‘pars construens’ and, then, a ‘pars destruens’. This anticlimactic order indeed reflects my own ‘aporia’ about the future of our discipline. I will tackle the problem from a didactic rather than scholarly perspective, and focus on which space, if any, philology and editing have or should have in the training of younger generations of classicists.
In the pars construens I will list and briefly discuss some examples of what philologists can (still) do. Aside from editions of new texts, there is still plenty to do for scholars with what is already published. Papyri, fragments of minor authors, texts already published but nevertheless little known are waiting for more studies to gain appreciation in a wider audience. While most students gravitate toward the ‘usual’ authors (Homer, the tragedians, Virgil, just to name a few) there are many other authors, more or less technical or ‘famous’, that lay neglected and that could be excellent topics for dissertations or beyond, if only scholars were willing to present them in a more interesting way. Technical disciplines like medicine or mechanics, or minor authors of more important/literary genres are all fields that need work – and good editions. Papyri with fragments of unknown or very little known authors are also another field of research; moreover, papyri allow us studying also the ‘material’ aspect of our discipline, namely, book and book production – another neglected area of investigation. Yet, (and this is the pars destruens) there are problems. For all these very interesting studies one needs a rather technical background. It is not only a (fundamental!) question of an excellent knowledge of the ancient languages. To carry out philological and editorial work one often needs training in paleography and papyrology and sometimes a background in other, even more technical disciplines, such as medicine or mathematics for those who are interested in ancient sciences. Who is giving our students this training? I am not talking of whether or not there are instructors capable to teach these disciplines. I am much more concerned with the actual possibility to find the time and the ‘mental space’ to do it. In the institutions I have worked recently, faculty is more and more pressed to offer ‘broad’ courses to attract undergraduates. I teach a lot of reception and courses in translation. In fact, I genuinely enjoy them; yet, this is how most of my time is occupied. Another problem is that graduate students, who would be the target of philological training, often do not have a sufficient background for it. It is not their fault, as everyone knows. It is the system. Colleges do not train ‘philologists’ and I am afraid that graduate programs do not often have the time or the energy to bridge this gap. There are exceptions, of course, but they do not change the broad picture. In fact, these exceptions face another problem: finding a job. Who is going to hire someone with a dissertation on philological topics or, worse, consisting in an edition? American academia does not train or search for philologists, at least, not generally. I am not even certain that this is a bad thing – there are many other interesting areas to explore in classics. For all these reasons, many of us dissuade students from working on ‘editions’ or purely philological topics.
As is clear, I do not have an answer to what we should do or even if we should do anything at all to ‘resuscitate’ philology in our classrooms and beyond. Yet, at least, I am
glad that a panel has been organized to start facing these issues and discuss them.

Session/Panel Title

The Problematic Text: Classical Editing in the 21st Century

Session/Paper Number


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