From my diary

I have returned to working on the Latin text of the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon, collating it against a bunch of manuscripts.

Working on the text is a question of repeated passes, as I learn more and work out what I need to do.  Last time I combined the 13 chapters into a single file, but the Latin text and English are still interleaved.  I don’t have a stemma.  But I do have quite a lot of manuscripts in PDF form on my disk.  There are too many to collate the lot.

Last time through I collated the early editions – Mombritius and Falconius, with a certain amount of the modern but non-critical Corsi edition.  I also looked at whatever manuscripts I then had.  So I have notes under the Latin text, and indeed the English, which look like this:

Quid plura**? Ingruente** inedia, tres virgines, quas habebat filias, quarum nuptias etiam ignobiles spernebant viri, fornicari constituit, ut earum saltem infami commercio, infelicem ageret vitam.

** “quid plura (dicam)”, what more should I say? An idiom.
** Mom., Fal.; Corsi: “ingrediente”

What more can I say?  With his hunger** increasing, he decided to prostitute** his three virgin daughters**, whose hands in marriage even humble men spurned, so that by their infamous trade he might at least carry on his unhappy life.

** deponent verb
** Lit. “three virgins, whom he had as daughters”

My Word document is under version control (using Git), so I can safely remove stuff.  The English notes will get deleted.  The Latin needs revision.

But the early editions are hardly a reliable source for the text. What I should be using is the earliest and best manuscripts.  Unfortunately I don’t know what the “best” manuscripts are.  But it was fairly obvious that, if I collated against the earliest few – whichever they were – then I ought to improve the standard of the text.

So I went through my collection of manuscripts and established what the earliest ones are:

9th century

  • Milan P.113sup (last half 9th) = M


  • BNF lat 989 = P
  • BNF lat 17625 = Q
  • Orleans 342 = O


  • Vat. lat.1271 = V
  • Vat. lat.5696
  • Munich CLM 3711 (early 11th) = B

11th 3rd quarter? or “post 950”?

  • BNF lat 18303 = C

Plus a bunch of 11th century manuscripts.  I have this list open in a Word document.  I assigned sigla to the first four manuscripts, which I knew I wanted to collate against my text.  BNF lat. 18303 is a funny one; my information on the date of the text varies wildly.  But it’s clear, little abbreviated, and I just plain like it.  So I’m using it as a second-string source.  Others in the list, as I start to use them, get sigla.

Why am I using the later mss at all?  Because my text derives from the early editions.  If all the early manuscripts disagree, it’s nice to know if there is a manuscript recording the edition reading or not.  I’m not spending much time on that, but a glance at a few later ones can sometimes tell me.

Because I don’t have a stemma, I have no idea how independent the first 4 manuscripts are.  The only way to find out is to try collating them, to learn by doing.  If they are all identical, but different from the early editions, then plainly there is another family of manuscripts around.  It’s a guess, basically; the manuscripts are early, so they ought to have less corruption.  But it’s practical for me to collate 4 manuscripts.  It’s not practical to collate 60.  Even if I know that “recentiores non deteriores”, that “later may not be worse”.  But I won’t know until I’ve done a lot more collating.

It seems that creating a critical edition is just like everything else.  It has to be done iteratively, repeatedly working again and again through the text, learning all the while.  It’s hugely wasteful of time; but there isn’t any other way.  You learn as you do it.  As you search, and research, you find resources and have to go back and use them.

For instance last night I discovered the “History of St Nicholas” in the Golden Legend, in Latin, and in Caxton’s English.  I was googling for a particular phrase, and up it came.  Of course the Golden Legend derives from John the Deacon, so some of the Latin is the same, so the English is a control on my own translation.  Except that Caxton is very loose!  (Is there a modern translation?)  So… that’s another resource.  I ought to go back through my text and translation and check against it.  That would be another pass, once more through the text.

I’m probably not as far along as I think I am.  I feel that I am close to completion; yet there is all this text critical work to be done.

As I collate, I am finding that M, the Milan manuscript – the only one of the Milanese manuscripts that I could get – is indeed somewhat different from P, the earliest Paris manuscript.  But this becomes unreadable through wear by chapter 4.  Q seems to be much the same as P; the Orleans manuscript is mostly the same, but has at least once gone completely off-piste.

I’ve begun chapter 4, and I have found that the Mombritius text is, as I thought last time, more reliable than the Falconius text.  But I am finding the Falconius reading sometimes, and sometimes only in V or  By the time I reach the end of chapter 13, I will have a collation of the lot, and a much better idea of the text and these manuscripts and their character.  No doubt I shall find that I have to go back yet again to apply whatever I learn this time.

Oh well.  Onward.


2 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. If I were you, before attempting full collations, I would look at a few select readings in the MSS, such as your Ingruente / Ingrediente variant above: this might allow you to see groups/patterns/families emerge. I.e. if MSS A, B, and C all heave readings W and X, while MSS D, E, and F all have readings Y and Z in those same places, this would be suggestive.

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