Editing a Latin Text

The advent of printing had an unprecedented, immense effect on editing Latin (and other) texts. Its invention in the middle of the fifteenth century enabled scholars to achieve a standard of accuracy that had previously been impossible. Printers were able to produce identical copies of a book in whatever quantity was required. As a result, readers could be certain that the printed text of a Latin author was, barring the odd typographical error, exactly as the editor had intended. Subsequent editors could be sure that they had before them the text as their predecessor had meant it to be.

In earlier times, readers had been obliged to cope with mistakes that were the inevitable result of the way in which books were produced (see '"The Roman Book," page 18). Such errors were often confined to one manuscript, while the original text was preserved in others; sometimes a mistake was even corrected in the faulty manuscript. An example occurs in Propertius Elegies 2.12 (see page no), where one manuscript has the first line as follows.

Quicumque ille fuit, primus qui pinxit Amorem

Whoever it was who first painted Love (i.e., Cupid)

This reading is intelligible as it stands but, if genuine, would mean that Propertius, at the beginning of his poem about Love, does not mention that the god was universally shown as a child despite the allusion to this in line 13 (puerilis imago); with primus, there is also a clumsy repetition with primum in line 3. A reader of this manuscript corrected primus to puerum, which is also in the other manuscripts. With this revised reading, Propertius is saying that the artist who painted Love as a boy was the first to see that lovers live without judgment (is primum vidit sine sensu vivere amantes, 1. 3). This makes much more sense than saying that the artist who first painted Love was the first to recognize this flaw in lovers; it is also a neater fit with the rest of the poem.

It often happens, however, that all surviving manuscripts agree in giving a faulty text. This occurs when at some stage in the transmission of a text over the centuries following its composition, only one copy remained in existence and contained an error that was reproduced in the copies made from it. Very occasionally, the true reading survived in a quotation. The following two examples, from Ovid and Juvenal, show how wrong all manuscripts of an author can be.

In a poem composed during his voyage into exile, Ovid explains why he continues to write. The manuscripts have the following two lines.

Seu stupor huic studio sive est insania nomen, omnis ab hac cura mens relevata mea est. Tristia i.n.iif.

Whether folly or madness is the [correct] name for this pursuit (i.e., writing poetry), all my mind is lightened hy this concern (i.e., for poetry).

The text here appears sound. However, the elegiac couplet is quoted in an inscription where the pentameter is given as follows.

omnis ab hac cura cura levata mea est.

all my anxiety (cura) is relieved by this concern (ab hac cura).

This new reading illustrates one of Ovid's favorite tricks, the repetition of a word with two different senses; it is obviously correct. The manuscript corruption was caused by the accidental omission of the second cura; a later scribe, seeing that levata ... est lacked a subject to agree with mea and that two syllables (-«) were missing from the line, supplied mens and then altered levata to relevata to fill out the meter.

In his eighth satire, Juvenal complains of how a consul, who came from an old and distinguished family, demeaned his office by driving a carriage himself instead of leaving such a lowly task to a slave. The manuscripts of the poet give the pertinent lines as follows.

Praeter maiorum cineres atque ossa volucri carpento rapitur pinguis Lateranus, et ipse, ipse rotam adstringit multo sufflamine consul. Satires 8.i46ff.

Lateranus, the fatso, dashes past the ashes and bones of [his] ancestors in a swift carriage and he himself, [yes] himself, a consul, checks the wheel with a long bar.

The third line describes how Lateranus slows down his vehicle by pressing a long bar against one of the wheels. Such a bar might well have been long, but we would have expected it to be described as longus rather than multus. Fortunately, the original reading has been preserved in an anthology that quotes this passage.

ipse rotam adstringit sufHamine mulio consul.

[yes] himself, a mule-driver consul, checks the wheel with a bar.

This reading not only eliminates the difficulty with multo but also provides the phrase mulio consul, which is very much in Juvenal's style. It is easy to see how the corruption came about. The word mulio was mistakenly copied as multo, and a later scribe, seeing that this would given a highly unusual spondee in the fifth foot, normalized the meter by transposing sufHamine and multo.

In the vast majority of cases, however, where manuscripts present a suspect or obviously wrong reading, there is no other evidence for what the author wrote, and here scholars are obliged to make informed guesses, or conjectures.

When preparing to edit a Latin text, an editor must consult, compare, and assess all surviving manuscripts. If some are merely copies of others, they can be rejected because they simply present the words of the manuscripts from which they were copied as well as their own mistakes. Next, the variations of the remaining manuscripts must be noted. From these variants the editor must decide which, if any, is the original reading, that is, what the author wrote. In what is called a critical edition, important variants are given at the bottom of each page, because the editor, although he has rejected them, thinks that they may possibly be correct or that they illustrate some significant feature of the manuscripts in which they occur. The name given to these footnotes is critical apparatus. The following example is taken from Otto Zwierlein's edition of Seneca's tragedy Troades (see pages 169-170).

quidquid bis veniens et fugiens lavat, aetas Pegaseo corripiet gradu. 385

quo bis sena volant sidera turbine, quo cursu properat volvere saecula

384 bis ... et E: vel... vel A lavat A: labat E 386 quo bis sena A: bis quos s. E volant A: voc- E 387 volvere secula E: s. v. A

[whatever [Oceanusj, coming and fleeing twice [in a day] washes, time will sweep away with Pegasean pace. With the same revolution as the twelve constellations fly, with the same motion as [the lord of the stars] hastens to bring around periods of time]

For the sake of brevity, manuscripts are indicated by capital letters, and here E is the designation of a particular manuscript, A that of a combination of several. The reader is left to deduce why the text of a manuscript has been adopted, but the reason is usually obvious.

line 384: The manuscript E has the reading bis ... et, which the editor considers correct and has adopted in the text, while the manuscripts indicated by A have vel ... vel. The latter makes sense (whatever [Oceanus], either coming or fleeing, washes), but the former gives a more precise description of tidal action (whatever [Oceanus], coming and fleeing twice [in a day], washes) and so is to be preferred. The last word of the line in A is lavat (washes), in E labat (totters); lavat makes perfect sense, but labat does not; in addition, because labo -are is an intransitive verb, quidquid cannot be fitted into the clause as an object or in any other way.

line 386: There is a variation in word order between A and E (here and throughout the notes, Latin words are abbreviated) and for As quo E has quos, which, as the masculine accusative plural of the relative pronoun, has no antecedent and cannot be fitted into the overall construction. In addition, the word order of A is to be preferred, since an adverb generally comes immediately before the word it qualifies. The variant in E, vocant (for volant), seems to have been a deliberate alteration to accommodate the corruption of quo to quos and would give the meaning whom the twelve constellations call, which makes no sense.

line 387: A interchanges the final two words as they appear in E (se-cula is the normal medieval spelling of saecula and is of no importance). The transposition makes no difference in sense, arid since volvere has ex-acdy the same metrical value as saecula, no decision can be made on internal grounds. The editor has been forced to choose volvere saecula simply because E appears elsewhere to be a superior witness to A.

Two important series of critical editions are the German Bibliotheca Teubneriana and the English Oxford Classical Texts; both give the text of an author together with critical apparatus and an account of the manuscripts, but with no explanatory notes. The American Loeb Classical Library and its French counterpart, the Bude series, have a translation facing the text, as well as explanatory notes and an account of the author; they also have a critical apparatus, but that of the Loeb series is confined to the most significant variants. <-:


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