From my diary

In my last post I summarised as best I could the textual tradition of Plato, much of it from Pasquali’s Storia, written in 1934 (!).  After that, I returned to Pasquali, to see whether any other useful summaries of textual traditions lay hidden therein.  Sadly “hidden” is the right word.  The book is divided into sections, and the sections into chapters, and neither indicates the gold buried within.  The material about Plato was in one of those chapters.

The chapter itself was divided into 13 sub-sections, each headed only with a numeral.  One of these gave the tradition of Plato, but if I had not known that it was there, I should not have known.  Each sub-section was itself divided into sub-sub-sections, separated only by three asterisks.  In fact the sub-sub-sections formed a pattern; stuff in the manuscripts, stuff in commentaries, etc.  But no titles or marginalia indicated this.  This is very hard on a non-Italian speaker.

Worse yet, while each sub-section is indeed concerned with an author, such as Plato, or Homer, the reader must read almost a paragraph of piffle before any name is mentioned.  Three of these mention some other author first, just to confuse.

It is really important, when writing something intended for more than one language group, to provide an apparatus of headings and numberings allowing the reader to find what he is looking for!

Since then I have been reading into the textual transmission of Homer.  The sheer quantity of talk is extraordinary, and most of it inward-looking.

I was amused by some words of T. W. Allen, Homer: The Origins and the Transmission (1924), online here, whose edition of the text is still fundamental.  Page 6:

The removal of ‘literature’ and the neglect of the principles of investigation imposed upon us these hundred years has led with me to remarkable results, namely the discredit of contemporary method and the rehabilitation of tradition. With whatever refraction and inaccuracy classical and mediaeval mentality present to us the ancient world, the image produced by modern philological method is more distorted, and is in fact in most cases completely false. The reasoning applied to ancient records in the last hundred years is not only baseless, but it has cumbered the old world with lumber which makes the study of it a difficult and certainly most tedious matter. The repulsive jargon in which ancient history and literary criticism are conveyed, the narrow outlook, low vision and ignorance of human nature and the human mind—its working and possibilities— have turned classical philology into ridicule.

A century later, the same might be said again, I suspect.  Indeed another scholar writing a couple of decades ago suggested that there is no such thing as “Homer”, only a mass of oral material more or less edited ad hoc by persons unknown in antiquity.  From the lofty heights of his ivory tower, so far up in the clouds that the ground is no longer visible, he actually mocked a fellow scholar for expressing concern about whether we lose our Homer altogether in all this learned hairsplitting.  It did not seem to occur to this gentleman, in his privileged little world, that somebody has to pay for his ivory tower, and that this someone might rather object to paying for the privileged to study something that doesn’t actually exist.  The job of the text critic is to heal the text, not destroy it.

There is a persistent lack of reference to the primary facts about the tradition in much of what I have read so far.  This is not a good sign, in my experience.  Whatever we say about antiquity must be grounded in that data.


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