Selections from Schröder’s “Titel und Text” – 2

Continuing from the table of contents of Schröder’s “Titel und Text” here, this is a rough translation of the conclusion to the first part, on the titles of ancient books.

   *     *     *     *     *     *

Part 1 – Conclusion (p.90)

It should not surprise us, if the most ancient book titles seem unimaginative to modern eyes, because they are simply the term for the theme or the genre. It is particularly surprising to modern eyes that the titles of books of poetry are no exception: they are not explicitly given by the authors, but the earliest uses in the secondary tradition are the titles Bucolica, Carmina, Epistulae, Sermones, Epoden.  In some cases we can only say what the work was not called: neither ‘Register’ nor ‘Cynthia’ nor ‘Monobyblos’ can be  detected as the title of a book.  Metaphorical  titles appear only in collections, in those cases where a theme cannot be  concretely identified.

The literal interpretation of a title must not be avoided, but it may indicate the presence of its predecessor, a connection [1] or a difference, for example (Ambrose, De officiis 1:23-25): Dum igitur hunc psalmum considero, successit animo de Officiis scribere; de quibus etiamsi quidam philosophiae studentes scripserint ut Panaetius et filius eius apud Graecos, Tullius apud Latinos […]. videamus utrum res ipsa conveniat scribere de officiis et utrum hoc nomen philosophorum tantummodo scholae aptum sit an etiam in scripturis reperiatur divinis […] (While, therefore, meditating on this psalm, it has come to my mind to write ‘on duties‘; although some philosophers have written on this subject—Panaetius,  for instance, and his son among the Greek, Cicero among the Latin, writers […] let us see whether the subject itself stands on the same ground, and whether this word is suitable only to the schools of the philosophers, or is also to be found in the sacred Scriptures.”); Cicero had already used this as the best translation of the Greek title, see p.31 above.

The number of titles known from the Retractiones of Augustine gives us a good idea of the state of book titles in late Antiquity (see the Capitula at the start of the work, the list of titles).  Only a few titles require explanation, e.g. Soliloquia  (Retract. 1,4,1) De animae quantitate (Retract. 1,8,1), see above p. 13; where the theme is named, e.g. De beata vita, De moribus ecclesiae catholicae et de moribus Manicheorum. Occasionally the addressee is simply named (Ad Simplicianum), otherwise the name is always accompanied by information about him or the content, e.g. Ad Cres­conium grammaticum partis Donati, De spiritu et littera ad Marcellinum, De pec­catorum meritis et remissione et de baptismo parvulorum ad Marcellinum; reference is made to opponents with contra: Contra epistulam Donati heretici, Contra Adimantum Manichei discipulum, De Genesi adversus Manicheos. Genre titles serve as titles also: Quaestionum, Soliloquiorum, Confessionum; Ex­positio quarundam propositionum ex epistula apostoli ad Romanos. The different forms may also be combined: Ad Hieronymum presbyterum libri II unus de origine animae et alius de sententia Iacobi, Contra Pelagium et Caelestium de gratia Christi et de peccato originali ad Albinam Pinianum et Melaniam, De unico baptismo contra Petilianum ad Constantinum. Sometimes the title refers to the state of the work: De Genesi Epistulae ad Romanos inchoata expositio; De Genesi ad litteram liber unus imperfectus — Equally prosaic are the titles of the works of Gregory of Tours (hist. Franc.) and Bede (hist. eccl. 5, 24), likewise the title given in many places by Cassiodorus in the Institutio.

J.C. Scaliger defines the ancient sense (Poetices Libri Septem,Geneva, 1561, book 3, cap. 123, p. 171c): Inscriptio est uno, aut non multo pluribus verbis comprehensio eius partis operis, cuius partis gratia ceterae partes omnes veniunt ad totius constitutionem […]. (i.e. an inscriptio is one or not many more words which summarise the stuff that makes up the work.)

Before we consider the background to poetry book titles in part 3, we must investigate in part 2 the further possibility that short sections of text in tables of contents etc, were designated as chapter titles.

  1. [1][126] On the use (Übernahme) of titles in historical writing (annales, historiae) in order to emphasise the continuity of the content, see Zehnacker, Hubert: Les oeuvres antiques peuvent-elles se passer de titre? L’exemple de l’historiographie romaine, in: Fredouille (ed.), p. 209-221.

Leave a Reply