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The Philology of Fragments

Sander Goldberg

It is a fact universally acknowledged that the edition of a fragmentary work can be no

more reliable than those of the sources upon which it draws. Less widely recognized, but

no less true, is an important corollary: arguments based on the testimony of a fragmentary

work will be no more reliable than the edition on which they are based. So, to take a

simple example, a character in Ennius’ Annales certainly referred to the city’s founding

as some 700 years before his own time (154-5 Sk.), but to say the speaker is Camillus and

that the calculation works back from the Gallic sack of 387/6 BCE is a statement based

less on Ennius than on Otto Skutsch’s presumptions in editing Ennius, such as resting the

order of fragments and reconstruction of contexts on little more than a perceived parallel

in Vergil, an echo in Livy, or the conviction that a poem called Annales must have

accounted for all major events of Roman history in chronological sequence. Question

those presumptions, as we now increasingly do, and the whole scholarly edifice begins to

totter. Yet how could the user of such an edition not respect the expert opinion of its

editor? Is not the very point of an edition, especially an edition with commentary, to do

work that the end user will not then have to re-do? Readers expect to be empowered by

the knowledge they find between such covers. The problem is two-fold. First, editions

also empower their editors. By setting the terms for future engagement, they can make it

difficult for readers to think beyond what editors tell them. Second is the awkward fact

that the more thoroughly honest an edition is, the more willing it is to present

complexities of transmission and interpretation, the less user-friendly it becomes. The

simpler the reader’s task, the more dependent that reader is on the editor.

Such problems loom ever larger as scholars turn increasingly to fragmentary material

with an ever-expanding range of questions: not just to recapture some sense of lost

authors and genres or to gain greater control over extant ones through comparison with

lost predecessors and contemporaries, but to explore the very function of texts in ancient

cultures, whether to ask how and why Cicero quoted literary texts as he did or what

ancient traditions meant to later authors like Athenaeus or Gellius or Macrobius. Etc.

Questions like these get well beyond the philology of fragments but are, ultimately, no

less dependent on editorial practice than more specifically text-centered lines of inquiry.

How should editors of fragmentary authors and works respond to the greater range of

demands made upon their material?

Today’s editors are increasingly willing to present fragments within the contexts that

preserve them, to acknowledge the difficulty of distinguishing ‘fragments’ from

‘testimonia,’ to be wary of reconstructing texts, and to make clear the extent of editorial

interventions. The result is a succession of ever-richer, more accurate, and more flexible

editions, but the rise in standards and capabilities comes at a price: these new scholarly

landmarks can be intimidating in their complexity, requiring a patience and expertise for

unlocking their riches that may discourage consultation by all but the most dedicated

professionals. The last part of this paper will suggest ways that digital editions have the

potential to give even casual readers more control over their use of fragmentary material

without disguising its hazards or ignoring its complexities

Session/Panel Title

New Approaches to Fragments and Fragmentary Survival

Session/Paper Number


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