Friday, March 30, 2018

Yes, That is a Very Great Amount of Augustinian Manuscripts

Recently I read a reference to the "literally myriad" manuscripts of the works of Augustine of Hippo.

At first I mistakenly thought that Aristitle's manuscripts were being described as literally myriad. I looked up the word myriad, learned that it literally means ten thousand, wondered how someone knew for sure that there were that many manuscripts of Aristotle, did some research and learned some interesting things about the transmission of Aristotle, but without any indication that anyone had ever actually attempted to count up all the Aristotelian manuscripts, before realizing that the reference to myriad manuscripts had been to Augustine.

It proved to be much easier to find out how someone could, with great assurance, state that there are over 10,000 manuscripts of Augustine. I will go that one better, and state that there are over 15,000. I can do this because of a series of publications known as Die handschriftlichen Überlieferungen der Werke des Heiligen Augustinus.

That's German for The Manuscripts of the Works of Saint Augustine. (I could be snarky and translate "handschriftlichen Überlieferungen" exactly, as "manual transmissions," instead of accurately as "manuscripts," but I won't.) Beginning in 1969, the Austrian Academy of Sciences began publishing these volumes, and there are now at least 14 volumes, each volume devoted to the Augustinian manuscripts in a particular region of the world, and they have listed over 15,000 of them, and I gather that they are not done yet.

They are doing this because Augustine wrote a great many works, including letters, sermons and what we today would call books, and theologians, historians of early Christianity and other interested in Augustine would like to find as many of them as they can. Die handschriftliche Überlieferung der Werke des Heiligen Augustinus is the latest and most thorough attempt to account for all of the Augustinian manuscripts, and it has indeed led to the discovery of missing works, and I gather that it is assumed that more manuscripts will certainly be found, and hoped that currently-missing works will be found among them.

This is certainly thrilling for those who are passionately interested in Augustine. For those less passionate about him and his writings, these volumes help to understand why such exhaustive lists aren't made for every ancient author: the great majority of the entries say "s XV," "fifteenth century," or "s XIV," "fourteenth century," and "cart," "paper." It's rather monotonous. The chances of, oh, say, for instance, a palimpsest of a missing text by Livy lurking under the top text one of the recent manuscripts on paper are much less than with older manuscripts on parchment. And that's only one of very many reasons why, generally speaking, manuscripts become much more interesting when they are older.

Back when I had thought that I read that there are more than 10,000 manuscripts of Aristotle, I learned that there are a tremendous number of manuscripts of Latin translations of Aristotle, so tremendous that it seems possible, if manuscripts of translations are counted in the grand total, that the manuscripts of Aristotle may, in fact, be myriad.

Well, an inspection of some of the volumes of Die handschriftliche Überlieferung der Werke des Heiligen Augustinus seem to indicate that it is, in fact, conventional to count such translations among the number of the manuscripts of an author.

And now I'm also wondering whether there has been any serious attempt to list all of the manuscripts of the Bible. Seek and perhaps I shall find. I'm guessing that the most which may have been done is to attempt to list all of the Bible texts from one particular century in one particular language. But that is, I cannot stress this enough, only a guess. Like my guess that the total number of Biblical manuscripts, if ever it were known, would dwarf the number of Augustinian manuscripts.

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