Monday, February 19, 2018


I derive great joy from learning about numbers of extant Classical manuscripts. I don't know why. It doesn't bother me that I don't know why. Perhaps it goes back no further than my figuring out, perhaps as recently as 2010, that certain fundamentalist Christians had made widely-repeated, spectacularly-inaccurate assertions about the numbers of manuscripts of some Classical authors, claiming that there were only 20 manuscripts of Livy, 10 of Caesar and similar nonsense.

A few months ago, I found what I had thought was a mention, somewhere in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, that the manuscripts of Aristotle are literally myriad. I looked up myriad in the OED and discovered that its literal meaning is 10,000.

My memory is not perfect, and for that and other reasons, I should write these sorts of things down more often when I come across them. I realized that what I had seen might not have been what I remembered it to have been. Finally, yesterday, I found it again: the assertion that the manuscripts of Augustine are literally myriad. Augustine. Not Aristotle. Score one for the Christians.

In the process of looking for the reference to Aristotle which was actually a reference to Augustine, I learned a lot of interesting things about Aristotelian manuscripts. Such as that there are very large numbers of manuscripts of Latin translations of his works.

Whether the number of manuscripts of translations of an author's works are conventionally counted in the number of manuscripts of that author -- that I don't know. If it turns out that, between Latin and Arabic and other languages, there actually are myriad manuscripts of translations of Aristotle, would one conventionally say that there are myriad manuscripts of Aristotle? Or would one count only the Greek manuscripts?

Also several months ago, I sent a email to a distinguished scholar, asking him whether he could round out some areas of my knowledge of the Oxyrhynchus papyri project: Are any of the papyri still in the boxes Grenfell and Hunt put them into between 1897 and 1904? Are we approaching the state of things where all that is left are tiny little pieces of papyrus? Questions like that.

He hasn't gotten back to me. That hurts my feelings, but it's entirely his prerogative, of course. Finally today I sent an email to the general guestions-and-suggestions-etc address of the Oxyrhynchus project, which is perhaps where I should've inquired to begin with.

Also a few months ago, I found a reference to a list of manuscripts of Livy compiled by Virginia Brown. I have since learned that Ms Brown compiled all sorts of information about manuscripts which I would find quite interesting. Just today I noticed a remark by Prof Winterbottom in Texts and Transmission, ed LD Reynolds, pp 35-36: "Virgina Brown has listed seventy-five manuscripts [of Caesar --SB] later than the ninth century, and suggested tentative groupings." In the case of the Livy manuscripts, someone in the FB group Classics International kindly gave me a link to the Pontifical publication containing Ms Brown's list -- but, as has so often happened to me, once I've found the website of some sort of Classical catalog or database or publication, I had no idea how to navigate it.

It seems to me that all of these difficulties and many more which I've had are the sort which could be easily handled if I were a Classics student, rubbing elbows with other Classics students and with Classics professors: Say, do you know how to navigate this website? The answer could be: Yes, you just do this and that; or: No, but there's a hard copy of the volume on the shelf right behind you.

I don't think I'll be re-entering grad school. (I'm 56 years old and just as autistic as I ever was. [That's an autism joke, because an autistic person is born autistic and remains so his or her entire life.]) But today I feel slightly more inclined to do so than I have for a while.

Just in case anyone is politely suppressing the urge to ask whether I've ever actually examined any Classical manuscripts -- yes I have, both via photocopies and actually up close in person. But I've spent much more time studying numbers of manuscripts.

[PS, 21 Feb 2018: Speaking of numbers of manuscripts: today I received an inter-library loan copy of M L West's Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad. Some of you may already be familiar with the following figures. They came as quite a surprise to me. On p 86, West says that around the turn of the 20th century, Ludwich cited 33 papyri of the Iliad, that Munro and Allen listed 103 in 1920, Allen raised that number to 122 in 1931, Collart listed 372 in 1948, Pack listed 464 in 1965, in 1990 Sutton said that there were 703, and West says that in his edition of 1998-2000, he made use of 1543, 850 of which were then-unpublished Oxyrhynchus papyri in Oxford's Ashmolean Museum. West writes of Homeric papyri: "They will continue to accumulate. There is no end to them." On pp 88-129, West catalogues 1569 papyri. By the term "papryi," West refers to all ancient manuscripts, whether written on papyrus or some other material. On p 139, West doubts that a thorough catalog of the Medieval manuscripts of the Iliad will ever be written. (Because there are simply too many items to be considered? I don't know. West doesn't elaborate.)

West passed away in 2015, his edition of the Odyssey was published in 2017, and De Gruyter's website says that it consults 500 papyri, 250 of them unpublished.]

No comments:

Post a Comment