Chapter titles in the first printed edition of Tertullian’s Apologeticum

I’m still turning photocopies into PDF’s.  Today I reached a photocopy of an incunabulum of Tertullian’s Apologeticum, which I scanned and have uploaded to here.

Very early printed books, produced before 1500, are known as incunabula from the Latin “in the cradle.”  Early ones are essentially facsimiles of the manuscripts from which they were copied.  The first printers simply did what the scribes were doing, but did it with moveable type.  In fact some early printed texts were mistaken for manuscripts written by a very regular scribe.

These early books can be very useful, since the manuscript — usually just one! — that the printer had often no longer exists.  On the other hand, they usually just used whatever copy was to hand and easy to read.  This was usually a late copy, made recently, and cheaply available, so the quality could be poor.

As we all know, manuscripts tended to have decorated initial letters at the start of chapters.  These were works of art, added after the text was written, and the copyists left room for them, indicating what letter of the alphabet was required.  Not a few manuscripts failed to get the initial added.  Early printed books did the same, and a few were even illuminated.  This Tertullian was not:

Extract from Tertullian incunabulum with chapter title and missing initial

The medieval chapter divisions and titles were faithfully copied also.  Here we have one of them — “De Saturno & Iove” — for chapter 10.  But the text does not give chapter titles for chapters 2, 3, 6 and 8 (as you can see if you look at it).  This means, I  think, that they are not the product of the work of the printer, but copied from the manuscript he used, where some of the titles (but not the division) had dropped out.  These would be written in red in a manuscript, but of course in a printed book are just in ordinary black text.

The incunabulum also has a “table of contents” at the front, listing the chapters.  It would be most interesting to know whether the printer compiled this or copied it.  I have never seen a manuscript with such a table, myself.  My guess would be that he compiled it from the chapter titles in the text as it was.  The fact that it lists the titles, and simply gives “De ignorantia   caput primum, ii & iii.” suggests to me that he knew titles were missing, didn’t invent some — he was little more than a glorified copyist — and just gave what was there.

Later medieval Latin texts often have these short “capituli” inserted into spaces, just as we see above.  The editions rarely record them, so it is difficult for us to know which manuscripts have them, and whether they vary.  Until this work is done — a work that will get easier as manuscripts come online — then it is hard to say whether they are medieval additions, as has always been presumed, or more ancient.


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