I’ve commented before on “learning by doing”, how you have to actually attempt something in order, not to do it, but to find out how to do it. You never get it right first time, because when you make your first attempt, what you’re actually learning is how not to do it. When you try again, you know what to avoid. Here are some notes from my experiences.
A few days ago, I changed tack, more or less by accident. Chapters 14 and 15 of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas – in the early editions – are clearly spurious, and I’ve neglected them. But I started work on John’s text with chapter 15, because it was only half-a-dozen sentences. A year on, rather guiltily, I thought that I should return to it, and apply the lessons learned over the year to the translation.
Inevitably I used my machine-generated collation of the two early editions, and noted the variants; and then, equally inevitably, I started using the PDFs of the manuscripts that I have on disk.
Because this “chapter” is not actually authentic, the lessons learned about the manuscripts may not apply to the genuine portions of the text. But never mind.
Because the text is so short, I felt able to collate the whole chapter. This was rather a good thing, because you could do so much more, and you felt much more positive about the experience. You could feel the wind in your hair. You really could collate all the manuscripts; although your apparatus swiftly got very big!
Here’s the first sentence. I’m only 16 manuscripts and 2 editions into the task:
Laetemur ergo**, carissimi, laetemur in domino, et diem** festum sancti Nicolai** salubriter ** celebremus**, quoniam si nos ille concorditer festivos** inspexerit, favet, credite mihi, favet** nostrae devotioni.**
Let us, then, rejoice in the Lord, dearest friends, let us rejoice, and celebrate wholesomely the feast-day of Saint Nicholas, for, whether he examines** our festive selves amicably, he favours, believe me, he favours our devotion.**
** FUTP – hidden future.
** favet takes dative
Now here’s a look at my working notes for the apparatus so far. Note that I quickly found that you absolutely must have each variant on a separate line, variant first, witnesses later. This bulked up the stuff quite a bit.
** “in domino et” — Mom., Angers, Milan P113supp, Arras 462, BNF 989, BNF 2627, BNF 5287, BNF 5344, BNF 5360
“in domino” (omits “et”) — Orleans 342 (a space, tho)
“in domino ut” – BNF 1864, BNF 5296C
“Laetamur ergo in domine carissimi” – Fal.
“Laetamur ergo fratres karissimi laetamur in domino” – BNF 5573
“Laetamur itaque fratres karissimi laetamur omnes in domino et diem festum sanctissimum nicholai devotis mentibus celebremus: quia si nos concordes conspexerit sue intesse festivitati? adjuvat credite michi et favet nostrae devotioni” – BNF 5284, BNF 5345 are an abbreviated version of the text.
** “diem”: Mom., default
“dum” – Fal.;
“venerabile” – Orleans 342; BNF 989;
“hunc venerabile” – BNF 5360
“diem venerabilem” – BNF 5607
** “festum sancti Nicolai” – Mom., default.
“festum sanctissimi patroni et pastoris nostri Nicolai… more text … celebremus” – BNF 5287. Seems to be text added to create a pattern on page.
“festum venerabilem sanctissimi viri nicholai” – BNF 5344
** “salubriter” – Mom., default.
“solenniter” (solemnly) – Fal.
** “celebramus” – Mom, Fal; OTHERS?
“celebremus” – check all mss viewed before BNF 2627
“celebremus” — BNF 2627, BNF 5284, BNF 5287, BNF 5296C, BNF 5344, BNF 5345, BNF 5360, BNF 5573, BNF 5607
** “festinos” – Mom. (checked against PDF);
“festivos” – Fal., default.
** (REDO) “favet, credite mihi, favet” – Mom.; erased BNF 2627, Fal., Angers 802, Arras 462, Milan P113supp, BNF 1864; BNF 5287, BNF 5296C, BNF 5344 RECHECK, BNF 5573
“adjuvat credite michi et favet” – BNF 5284, BNF 5345
“adjuvat…adjuvat” – BNF 5360, BNF 5607
“adjuvat” (helps) – Wien ONB 12831 (15th), Orleans 342, BNF 989
** “devotioni” – Mom. Fal., etc; – treat as default, signal only others.
“devotionem” – Orleans 342, BNF 5607
“devotion3” – BNF 1864
You’ll note that I write “default” in places. Originally I started out indicating every variation, other than minor word order stuff, for every manuscript. I ended up with huge long lines of witnesses.
After a while I decided to erase the biggest list, where the others were just one or two witnesses, and replace it with “default”. It doesn’t mean that I am going to accept that reading, just that I will only signal deviations from it. This is just to reduce the sheer bulk. I’m still not sure that I did right here. It conceals just how many witnesses there are for each reading.
In some cases I misunderstood what the “unit of variation” is. So initially I noted “favet” as the variant; only to find that the whole phrase varies, from “favet, credite mihi, favet” (“he favours, believe me, he favours…”) in all sorts of ways. Either or both “favet” can be replaced with “adjuvat” (helps), and other words can appear. When I found this, I realised that I would need to recollate for this phrase, rather than the note that I put originally just on “favet”.
Here we get the same old lesson. The first time through is just a trial run. You don’t know what you need to look out for until you’ve finished, at which point you will need to redo portions of it. You can’t just collate the text once.
In this case the “variation unit” was larger than one word. I’ve had three or four places, so far, in which I have discovered this only after a dozen manuscripts have been collated. Of course I can’t be sure if I looked that closely at the other words in the newly enlarged phrase, so I’ll have to go back and redo.
In some cases, I only noticed later. I didn’t notice that “celebramus” varied until I was well in. So of course I wasn’t really looking for it in the early manuscripts.
In some cases I just could not read the manuscript. So I made a note, and carried on. Maybe it would become intelligible later.
This did indeed happen in one place yesterday. The day before there was a mysterious word inserted in one place, that I couldn’t even read – 5 letters, following “NIcholaus”. But later that day I came across a manuscript with a different variant – “Nicholaus mirreorum litie”. Even that was baffling, until I realised it said “Nicholas of Myra in Lycia”! The baffling word “litie” was “Lyciae” with a medieval twist. Ho hum.
As you actually write the collation, you become uncomfortably aware of how subjective it is. You always ignore clutter. So… again, once you have your draft collation, you will need to go back and try again.
I’m doing all this to prepare a translation, so it is helpful to add the English meaning of the alternatives sometimes.
I have 53 manuscripts on disk, and the number is growing all the time, thanks to the wonderful, wonderful accessibility of the manuscripts held at the Bibliothèque Nationale Français in Paris. You can find almost anything by shelfmark starting from here, although some are still microfilms. The monochrome versions are harder to work with, when you are navigating around the text, looking for a “Laetamur”. The medieval scribes used colour to indicate the start of paragraphs, which is a big help for the eyes. Without it, you can miss your bit in the mass of apocryphal miracle stories.
What I do is go to the Bollandists site, the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Online. My text is BHL 6108, so I search for that, and display the list of manuscripts by “fond”, i.e. the library holding it. And once you hit “Paris, BNF lat. 12345”, you’re in easy street. The BHLO will tell you the folio numbers. Well, I keep another tab open with the BNF entry point, go and find it, display the manuscript, download it, and mark up the folios I want in the PDF. (I sort of wish that I could contribute my markers back to the BNF site, but of course you can’t.) Once I’ve found the “Laetamur, karissimi, laetamur” bit, I can then collate it against my working file.
That’s what I’ve been doing, and, actually, it’s rather fun!
I’ve still got quite a few BNF manuscripts to go. Not all of them actually contain my text – the BHLO is not 100% accurate.
French manuscripts are generally rather accessible. The IRHT website helps you find non-Paris manuscripts. Outside of France it is hit and miss. The accessibility of English manuscripts is a disgrace. American manuscripts are few, but not much better. Italian manuscripts, other than those in the Vatican, are generally not online. The Vatican ones would be much, much more helpful, if you could download them, but at least most of them are there. Still, in five years I imagine this will improve out of all recognition.
As ever, I hope these notes will be useful to people coming to collate a text for the first time. The first time, you’re just working out where everything is. Your second pass is the real thing.