"No one knows exactly, or even approximately, how many times the works of Vergil were printed in the early modern period. Giuliano Mambelli (1954) listed 1,637 editions published between 1469 and 1850, but the real total may be double Mambelli's, perhaps even more." -- Craig Kallendorf, in A Companion to Vergil's Aeneid and its Tradition, ed by Farrell and Putnam, 2010, p 234.
Gee, Craig, that's really swell. But what I wanted to know is how many manuscripts of Vergil there are.
In the Introduction, Farrell and Putnam write:
"Our view is that a new Aeneid companion would be warranted only if it did not tread well-worn paths."
Cool! I guess they weren't thinking of readers like me, who've never see a companion to Vergil before, and were actually more interested in those well-worn paths.
I'm not knocking this Companion. It's interesting to know that so many editions of Vergil were published up until 1850, and to learn about literature written in Latin in Mexico, the theme of Andrew Laird's chapter, which comes immediately before Kallendorf's, and there is a lot of other way-cool stuff in the over 550 pages of this large quatro.
I'm already familiar with most or all of the manuscripts of Vergil which are most important to Classical scholars: the 7 manuscripts written before AD 500, plus 1 more written before 600, plus 1 more written before 800, plus 13 more chosen from among the 9th-century manuscripts, consulted by R A B Mynors in his highly-regarded 1969 edition of Vergil's works.
Plus 17 or more papyri containing fragments of Vergil, the oldest of which may have been made around AD 100.
It's not at all hard to find information about those manuscripts, because Classical scholars are always exclaiming over them, because there are so many more of them from those time periods than for any other Classical Latin author. Take those 13 ninth-century manuscripts which Mynor chose to consult for his edition. 13 is a whole lot of manuscripts that old for one author. But they keep saying that Mynor "chose" those 13. Which seems to imply that there were even more 9th-century manuscripts of Vergil for Mynor to choose from.
How many more?
Well, you see, that is the point -- exactly the point -- where the numbers go from being extremely easy for me to find, to, so far at least, impossible. Classical scholars go so wild about the numbers of Vergilian manuscripts referred to above because no other author is represented by so many manuscripts which are so old, and also because some of those ancient manuscripts are of extremely high quality. For them, the Classical scholars, the name of the game is to establish a text as close as possible to what the ancient authors wrote, and the manuscripts referred to above are a huge help in establishing that text, and other manuscripts, from the 9th century on to the 15th century and the age of printing, are quite simply much. Less. Interesting.
To Classical scholars in general, that is. There seems to some exceptions to this, because every now and then a Classical scholar will mention that there are so-and-so many hundreds of manuscripts of the work of this or that author, without disagreeing in the slightest that the number of those manuscripts which are crucial in establishing the best possible text is, for example, 2, or 5, or 12, as the case may be.
You see, time after time, they're able to prove that an entire group among those more recent manuscripts are all copies, or copies of copies, or copies of copies of copies, etc, of manuscript A. And since A has survived and is right there in front of them, they have no use at all, when editing the text, for that group of more recent manuscripts, unless they contain passages which are missing from A because pages are missing from A or are badly damaged, or because A contains some passages which are obviously incorrect, and some of the more recent copies might have a better guess at the original text as written by the ancient Roman author, or for other considerations along those lines.
I suspect that the total number of manuscripts of Vergil is very high -- in the hundreds or possibly in the thousands. However, although scholars always exclaim over the high number and high quality of ancient Vergilian manuscripts, and although just today I read Kallendorf, one of our day's leading Vergilian scholars, exclaiming over the thousands of editions (printed versions) of Vergil made between 1469 and 1850 -- I have never actually read anything written by an expert to that effect. I suspect that the number of Vergilian manuscripts is so high that most scholars would shudder at the very thought of even trying to count them all up, let alone making a catalogue of them all with descriptions of each and every one.
I suspect that. I still have no statement at all by any authority and well-respected scholarly expert on such things, to support my suspicion.
Perhaps The Cambridge Companion to Vergil, edited by Charles Martindale and published in 1997, will have, if not an exhaustive list of manuscripts, then perhaps a footnote saying where such a list can be found, or at least a tentative number.
(Perhaps the volume I have now, A Companion to Vergil's Aeneid and its Tradition, ed by Farrell and Putnam, 2010, has such a number and/or reference to a detailed catalogue, tucked away in some footnote. I just really doubt that it does, is all.)
Why, scholars as well as laypeople, if they have bothered to read this far, may well be asking, do I even care how many Vergilian manuscripts there are? I don't know why. I can tell only tell you that I care even more, much more, about how many manuscripts of Livy there are. (And I don't know the answer to that question either.)