From my diary – more on the textual criticism of John the Deacon

Last weekend I started reworking some code in QuickLatin, in order to allow me to add syntax notes on the fly, rather than having to break off and make code changes every time.  This went well, but is only partly done.  I had to break off early in the week to attend to other things, which left little time.

So I returned little-by-little to the tedious but mundane task of collating the manuscripts of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.  In principle you just go for it.  You “get into the zone” and the lines fly by.  Sadly the days in which I used to dose myself up with masses of diet Coke and work far into the night are gone, so each day I only collate a few lines.  That means that it takes ages.  But by steady plodding I have reached the end of chapter 7.

Screenshot of Word document of collation

By the time that I reached the end of chapter 5, I had 6 obvious locations in the text where there was textual variation that might divide the manuscripts into families.  Unfortunately two of these – starting “hactenus” and “trade” – proved to have no value.

These were sentences or clauses that were missing from one early witness.  I thought that if I could find other manuscripts with the same lacuna, this would show that they were copies.  Sadly these were few.

I was uncomfortable working with just four locations for comparison.  These did produce some division in the manuscripts, but I was finding too many “mixed” families.  Instinct suggested that I was probably not doing this correctly.  So I pressed on, noting possible other locations for comparision, and marking them with a header starting “VARIANT”.  That means that I can navigate quickly to them in the Word document.

Chapter 6 only gave me one more worthwhile location for comparison, but chapter 7 gave me four.  That’s good.  But I will press on.

It’s also obvious that all the early editions are bad.  Mombritius in 1477-8 has a defective text.  Lippomano in 1553 basically copies him, but has fixed a few places.  Falconius in 1751 has made arbitrary changes all over the place, all worthless or worse.  Corsi’s modern edition is not a critical text but is far better than them all, even though as sources he only had one manuscript (in Berlin) and Falconius.

It’s interesting that very few indeed of the variants involve any change of meaning. I notice this because I revise the English translation as I go along.  I made the translation originally from Falconius, before I came across the awful mess that is chapters 12-13, too great to ignore, even for someone uninterested in text critical issues.  Then I revised it against Mombritius.  Now I revise it again against the text that I create as I go along; but the changes are few.

One variant was interesting.  Nicholas “regionis illius pontificalem accepit infulam”, received the pontifical mitre of that country.  In Mombritius this is “insula”, i.e. island.  Falconius has “infula”, but I misread it and wrote “insula” here too.  All the manuscripts have “infulam”, including the Berlin manuscript that Corsi worked from:

But Corsi misread this when preparing his Italian translation (prior to making his edition), and he translates this as “ricevette le insegne pontificali”, received the pontifical insignia.

I certainly never knew that the word “infula” existed.  I googled “pontificalis insula” and I found a match, or so I thought here, where we find  “desiderabat enim pontificalem insulam deponere”, “he desired to lay down the pontifical ‘insula'”.

But I had neglected to look up a line and see “effundens”, with the “f” indistinguishable from “s”.  So is this “insulam” or “infulam”?  Other texts with “pontificalem insulam” do exist.  The meaning is “pontifical insignia”.

Luckily I noticed, while collating.  An “infula” was originally a fillet of cloth, or a ribband, worn in the hair of a priest.  In later ecclesiastical usage it refers – I think – to a part of the mitre, and so is used for the mitre itself.

I could wish that there was a site dedicated to pictures of ecclesiastical apparel, labelled with names!

I’ll press on into chapter 8, and then think about whether to have another go at classifying the manuscripts.



6 thoughts on “From my diary – more on the textual criticism of John the Deacon

  1. Infula is a very difficult word to translate because of its range of meaning: among other things the pallium of an archbishop, the lappet of an episcopal mitre, or an honour or dignity. (The Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources is extremely useful and, because of the starndardisation of ecclesiastical Latin, not only for British sources: Here I think the sense may be that he wished to renounce the episcopal dignity to withdraw into monastic life.

    Chrysocollate (free) may be of some use for automating collation ( I haven’t used it myself because, like you probably, I’m already too far in to my current project in a more old-fashioned mode, but will certainly try it for my next project, unless I use the very powerful Classical Text Editor ( which automates many of the most laborious tasks of critical editing, though it seems to have a very steep learning curve.

  2. Latham’s Revised Medeval Latin Word-Listhas “chasuble” as the main meaning of “infula”, but “tag of a mitre” attested in an 1570 glossary.

  3. Argh! Of course I should have checked the DMLBS! Dignity is the sense here. Thank you. And it gives a list of other knick-knacks like chasuble, etc.

  4. @Paul – I might try Chrysocollate on a section of the text and see what I think of the results. I did try the CTE, but I didn’t like the price and the learning curve was rather awful.

  5. Strange as it may seem, the word infula (in plural, infulas) has still some currency in standard Spanish, as a fixed expression meaning that somebody gives him/herself airs or acts high and mighty (“se da muchas ínfulas” he/she behaves as if wearingy plenty of infulae). Nevertheless, its arcane meaning remains so, arcane, for most speakers.

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