Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.03.34

Markus Mülke, Der Autor und sein Text. Die Verfälschung des Originals im Urteil antiker Autoren. Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte Bd. 93.   Berlin/New York:  Walter de Gruyter, 2007.  Pp. 419.  ISBN 9783110202502.  $157.00.  

Reviewed by Thomas J. Kraus, Hilpoltstein (
Word count: 1430 words

The book under review is Markus Mülke's (hereafter M.) slightly revised Ph.D thesis, which he submitted in the summer of 2007 at the department of history and philosophy of the 'Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster' and which he accomplished under the auspices of Professors Rainer Henke and, above all, Christian Gnilka. The original title (Falsare haec et corrumpere non timuerunt. Antike Autoren über die Verfälschung literarischer Werke) was undoubtedly simplified in order to attract the attention of non-specialists. M. focuses on the dangers of corruption in texts during their transmission from generation to generation, i.e., on modifications made without and against an author's will. Such dangers also arose from the process of translating a text into another language. Of course, authors themselves were often eager to keep their texts in their original form and consequently despised any attempt to distort their literary products. Frequently they regarded these attempts as attacks on the integrity of their texts and on their own status as authors. So, it is M.'s main concern to determine the (most common) practices of deformation, misrepresentation, and falsification that led to textual corruption. In order to achieve this aim M. concentrates on the testimony of the authors concerned and sets a fixed time frame for the texts and authors he addresses (from Early Greece to the Middle Ages).

The first chapter (on the limited means available for authors to protect their texts; 11-82) starts with an introduction into the conditions under which ancient authors produced their works. In antiquity, authors had little influence on the distribution and the integrity of their texts. Authorship was attributed to the explicitly named author of a text. Nonetheless, the text itself was open to modification, falsification, and corruption, and the author could not do much to prevent it. M. is right to refer to the particularities of ancient book production, and especially to the uniqueness of the copying process. A copyist might have sensed the singularity of the copy produced and thus have felt the freedom, sometimes even the right, to change a 'Vorlage' because of the special responsibility he had for the unique copy he produced (13).

Furthermore, there is another side of the coin. A revised edition could also serve as a means to get rid of corrupt passages in existing versions of a text, a process welcomed by authors themselves. Sometimes authors did not have the chance of integrating information received after the completion of their work and so favored new editions of their own texts (cf. Polybius 16.20). Besides, the collection of the works of a specific author served to guarantee a degree of authenticity and originality and to preserve the works. M. deals with several examples (the New Testament Book of Revelation; Irenaeus of Lyon; Artemidor of Daldis; Jerome; Rufinus; De induratione cordis Pharaonis; Synesius of Cyrene; Cassius Felix; Gregor of Tours; Alcuin), from which he draws some significant conclusions: the authors of the passages leave no doubt that for them deliberate falsifications of texts are detestable whereas interpolations might be acceptable. Falsifications started immediately after the composed text was given away. The range of falsifications differs from one case to another. There are large interpolations and deletions but also intense ideological falsifications (for instance, by heretic groups). The examples even demonstrate a profound knowledge and use of termini technici among authors (M. focuses on addenda, deletions, and changes by substitution). These and additional reflections are sound and clearly phrased. Finally, M. reflects on method and modern approaches to the issue of falsification and authenticity of (ancient) texts. M. recommends adherence to the individual quality of language, style and composition as well as to the individual consistent content of texts as decisive criteria without which the discussion of authenticity would be tentative and speculative. Again M. is right in referring to the present: just as today pirate copies are unacceptable violations of copyright (and cannot be avoided by copy protection or similar means), ancient authors regarded any modification of their work as unfair and unjust, whether it was malicious or well intentioned.

The second chapter concerns the status of texts--whether they were treated as "open literature and works in progress" and how their authors regarded them (83-94). The chapter is strikingly short, so that there is an obvious unbalance with the much longer chapters of the book. Although sometimes texts were seen as "open" and "in progress" even after their ἔκδοσις, authors even asked their first critics in letters about their opinion, their points of criticism, and occasionally their contribution to improve the work (87). Authors, however, did not see their texts as "open" even when, after the ἔκδοσις, a text was published (and distributed).

Chapter three deals with falsifying epitomai and florilegia (95-108). Of course, as M. states, they cannot all be judged by the same criteria, because they are individual in length and quality, to mention only two categories, . Even ancient authors knew about the dangers resulting from the rivalry between attractive epitomai and florilegia and the original composition for their own works: the first two might even have displaced the last. Nonetheless, authors accepted those short versions of their works that resulted from the intention to provide readers/listeners with a swift and precise overview and/or summary (108).

In chapter four (109-201), M. tackles a significant problem: translations and the role of translators. The title of the chapter ('the translator as falsifier or new author') seems to ignore the fact that many translators served as interpreters of the master copy they translated. Of course, the different syntagmata and paradigmata of languages even force translators to search for adequate means of transporting the sense and message of the original text into the target language. M. writes about the 'appreciation of literal translations', which have always had their place next to free (literary) translations, and discusses the well known example of Jerome's Bible translation. In addition, M. deals with falsifications occurring before the translation process itself, refers to translators who might be regarded as 'new authors' (e.g., the contemporary discussion about Jerome and Rufinus) and the problem of (new) titles of translations. Here, the translation (process) of the Greek Septuagint could have provided a very illustrative example, although testimonia about translation practices and the authenticity of the original are few. Above all, the Book of Psalms shows a multitude of strategies: translators tried to be literal, to interpret, to modify or correct (according to their views), or almost to write anew what they had found in Hebrew.

Chapter five is dedicated to comprehensive revisions of complete works (202-260). M. differentiates between the revisions made by the authors themselves and posthumous editions of previously unpublished texts on the one hand and unauthorized falsifications on the other. The sample cases again illustrate very well the various ways of falsifying a given text (corpus). M. refers to critical editions of scholarly works, usually revealed by late-antique subscriptiones: Hippocrates, Aristotle, Theophrast, Zenon, oracles (Porphyry), and others.

The final chapter is short and readers might be disappointed with it: after 260 pages only 5 pages for conclusions and the prospects for future research? But for those who have read the book carefully (and enjoyed doing so) and may have devoured and utilized the pack of precise details and cautious conclusions, a special summary and conclusion section would be superfluous. In addition, M. provides his readers with specific primary sources accompanied by critical remarks in an individual addendum for every chapter (266-288) so that the book itself can serve as a reference tool for first-hand testimony about the authors' attitudes towards their texts and potential falsifications. This impression is underlined by the comprehensive bibliography (295-374) and the exact and helpful indices (references to texts and authors and to names and subjects; 397-419). Another service M. offers to his readers is that he translates some selected texts into German (289-294).

M. does an admirable job by serving both purposes, remaining concise and methodologically accurate on the one hand and writing in a very readable and interesting style on the other. Consequently, for the scholar, the advanced student, and the learned non-specialist alike it is a pleasure to read the book as a whole (as usual, well produced and supplied with a high quality binding by Walter de Gruyter publishers); and it is to be hoped that what M. did--to let the authors themselves 'talk' about their texts and modifications of them--will serve as a model for others, too, so that primary sources will be perceived in their contexts and estimated for what they really are: invaluable testimonies of and indispensable witnesses to times long gone.

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