The elegies of Propertius are referred to by the enigmatic description Monobiblos in two places: the incipit of one of the two earliest manuscripts (A, Leiden, Voss. lat. o. 38),incipit monobiblos propertii aurelii nautae, and the lemma to Martial, apoph. 189 (xiv.189), Monobyblos Properti. Current consensus holds that the title in A was interpolated from Martial (cf. Butrica 1996), but there is no consensus as to the precise signification of the word and why it was attached to Propertius' work (Heyworth 2007: xii).
This paper will survey all the attestations of the word, and its relations in Latin and Greek – monobiblon, monobiblion, μονόβιβλον, etc. I show that, pace centuries of lexicographers, there is no evidence that monobiblos or μονόβιβλος, i.e. the masculine noun, is a word at all, outside of these two attestations, and that the related form monobiblon only begins to be attested almost a century after Martial. Indeed, there is good reason for it to arise so late: it only becomes a necessary concept when book and physical object are no longer coterminous, with the rise of the codex. Inductively determining its precise force, I show that Monobyblos means in this context a version of an existing work redacted to fit into one volume.
Hence, the relationship between our two attestations goes the other way: the lemma in Martial was interpolated from a manuscript of Propertius. Close attention to the sequence of lemmata in Martial (cf. Leary 1996), and the earliest manuscripts of the epigrams, will confirm the suspicion that monobiblos is an interloper. Instead, the tradition of Propertius must have acquired the title Monobiblos in late antiquity. This in turn will shed light on the central question of the central problem in Propertian studies since Goold (and before) and still very much a live concern (cf. Fedeli 2016, Tarrant 2016): the state of the transmitted text. What we have surviving is the 'Monobiblos Properti elegiarum', the 'One-Volume Elegies of Propertius', a late-antique redaction of the original Propertian corpus. Hence, the manuscripts of Propertius will avail only to reconstruct that late-ancient edition. They cannot help us get further back four centuries to the pen of the elegist.