Early opinions on chapter divisions

I have been reading an article about the history of scholarship on the subject of chapter titles, from 1962-3, by Diana Albino.(1)  It begins with some interesting remarks.

In modern printed editions the surviving works of the Graeco-Latin civilization are published divided into books and in chapters.  But the scholar who wants to restore the original reading and that therefore examines the manuscript tradition, finds that in the codices few works are distributed in chapters, differing among themselves in various ways and very rarely supplied with titles and numeration. The problem arises therefore as to whether the ancients used the system of division into chapters and whether, therefore, they cited literary works in the way we are accustomed to for modern works, or whether instead such a method was introduced only in a more recent age.

The first scholars who addressed themselves to this issue (1) asserted that the distribution into chapters of literary works was unknown to the ancients, that they would have only known the use of summaries, and they attributed them to later editing; above all to the librari of the Middle Ages. In fact they were of the opinion that the division documented for some works from manuscripts and incunabuli also need not  necessarily be thought to be derived from the author.  This was because many were often clearly in contrast to the general design of the work or quite were made in an awkward and approximate way; that the titles of the chapters, they found, did not perform the function of indicating the content with sufficient clarity and precision.

(1) V.I. Matthaeus GESNER: Scriptores rei rusticae veteres Latini, Biponti, 1787, vol. 1°, pp. 48-53.

Interesting stuff.  But in these blessed days, we can wonder whether Gesner’s book is online.  And thanks to the generosity of the Americans, who have placed their libraries online and made them freely available to those of us living in less liberal lands, we find that it is!  In fact I find that Albino got the page number wrong.  It is, in fact, p.xlviii-liii!

 The remarks of Gesner quote various authors.  It is too late tonight for me to work on this much, but I see at a glance on p.xlix a discussion of indexes or summaries.

XXI. Sed exortum tamen mature est genus quoddam, unde gradus ad capitum, quae vocant divisiones factus est. Nimirum qui de rebus diversis scriberent, quas non omnes omnis palati esse praeviderent, ii solebant indices quosdam, lemmata, summaria (his enim utuntur unius ejusdemque rei nominibus auctores idonei) apponere libris suis, sed non partibus eorum, quas ita distrahere & lacerare nolebant, verum uno in loco sub conspectum legentis ponebant uniuscujusque argumentum libri. Hoc Valerius Soranus fecerat, cujus se exemplum secutum ait Plinius in ipso praefationis fine, cui indicem illum subjungit, quo liber totus primus impletur. Hoc Gellius, hoc Solinus fecit, de quorum summariis plenissime, ut solet, disputat in praefatione ad opus magnum Claudius Salmasius. Quod vero ait, ab initio tantum operis, & post praefationem positos id genus indices, oblitus est credo Columellae nostri, qui diserte docet in ipso fine libri, qui undecimus nobis est, se illo loco “omnium librorum suorum argumenta subjecisse, ut, cum res exegisset, facile reperiri possit, quid in quoque quaerendum, & qualiter quidque faciendum sit.” & habet in eo ipso loco lemmata Lipsiensis Codex & Goesianus, nec ipsa tamen multum editis meliora, aut talia, qualia a Columella scripta jure putes. Quin Martialis quibusdam epigrammatibus, v. g. Xeniis, nisi tamen aenigmata voluit scribere, plerisque, apposita lemmata fuisse, nec aliter potuisse, res ipsa loquitur. Alia quaestio est, utrum ea, quae habemus, sint Martialis, quod de toto hoc genere merito negat Sanctius Minervae 3, 14, p. 507. Sed illud plane diversum scriptionis genus est, & a nostro proposito alienum.

A very hasty translation, mostly wrong in detail but getting the message over:

XXI. But we have entered prematurely on the subject of how chapters, which they call “divisions” were made.  Obviously anyone who writes on diverse subject, which not everyone has foreseen, will be accustomed to prefix to his books some indices, lemmata, summaria (both terms are used by competent authors), but not in bits, which they were unwilling to tear into chunks, but in one place as the argument of the book.  This Valerius Solanus did, whose example was followed by Pliny at the end of his preface, who added an index to it, filling the entirety of book 1.  This Gellius, this Solanus did, whose summaries Claudius Salmasius discusses very fully, as it is his custom, at the start of his great work.  …??… I think he forgot Columella, who eloquently teaches at the very end of the book which is our book 11, that in that place he “appended the arguments of all his books, so that, at need, it would be easy to discover what was also being sought, and to do so.”  And in that place the Lipsiensis and Goesianus manuscripts have lemmata, which …??… you may think written by Columella.  In fact Martial in some epigrams, i.e. the Xeniis (=’Gifts’) unless he was writing riddles, has added lemmata to many of them, which talk about the gift itself.  The other question is whether the ones we have are by Martial, which is denied by the most holy of Minerva (?), 3, 14, p.507.   But this is a different kind of writing and obviously alien to our subject. 

I’d like to get all those paragraphs of Gesner in English.  If this really is the start of all the thinking on the subject, it would be good to understand the argument clearly.

1. Diana Albino, La divisione in capitoli nelle opere delle antichi, Annali della facoltà di lettere e filosofia, Napoli, vol. 10 (1962-3) pp. 219-234


3 thoughts on “Early opinions on chapter divisions

  1. (1) V.I. Matthaeus GESNER: Scriptores rei rusticae veteres Latini, Biponti, 1787, vol. 1°, pp. 48-53.

    In fact I find that Albino got the page number wrong. It is, in fact, p.xlviii-liii!


  2. Have a look at the link! It shows the relevant pages of Gesner. When I found Gesner, I started by entering page 48, which had nothing. It was by chance that I suddenly thought of the intro, and tried Roman numerals. And there it was.

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