Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.09.13

Sean Gurd (ed.), Philology and Its Histories. Classical Memories/Modern Identities.   Columbus:  Ohio State University Press, 2010.  Pp. vii, 234.  ISBN 9780814211304.  $49.95.  

Reviewed by David Butterfield, Christ’s College, Cambridge (

The name of philology has a chequered past. Receiving at once the highest praise and the sharpest criticism both in antiquity and from the Renaissance onwards, attitudes towards philology have been as varied as have conceptions about quite what the slippery term encompasses. Jargon-free analysis of its history, particularly of its intimate relationship with Classical literature, is therefore a welcome exercise, provided that theory does not forget its (ir)relevance in practice.

As the second volume in the OSUP series Classical Memories/Modern Identities, Sean Gurd has united essays from a 2006 workshop in Montréal, with some tacit alterations and omissions. Of the eight contributions, three abbreviate material published in monographs and three rework articles in print; two (Maynes, Sachs) are new. Although Gurd has not limited the volume’s perspective to Classical philology alone, most contributions have Greek and/or Latin literature explicitly or implicitly as their focus. However, the book’s temporal range is not so widely spread as one might expect or desire: only one chapter, that of McNamee on the marginalia in Greek papyri, concerns material before the invention of moveable type; the remaining seven span the intellectual life of late- fifteenth-century Italy through to twenty-first-century theory. Much is thus left unsaid on the professionalisation of philology not only in Ptolemaic Alexandria but also throughout the Roman Empire and the Mediaeval Age, essential chapters in understanding what the goals have been, and to some extent still are, of philology. Nevertheless, this undeniably broad collection contains much to interest readers from diverse disciplines.

In his introduction, Gurd sets out some of the widely differing attitudes, ancient and modern, to philology, demonstrating how these multiple "philologies" bear an uncertain relationship to one another and the past. Such questions about what philology should be and do will no doubt continue, and these essays should add vigour to some of the more productive debates. Gurd is not concerned, here or elsewhere, with the extent to which text-based philology may approximate a more correct, i.e. less corrupt, state of an author’s work; rather, the potential instability of philological criticism serves as a prompt to challenge methodologies evidenced (but rarely voiced) in the discipline’s history. He singles out a statement of Timpanaro in his celebrated La genesi del metodo del Lachmann as exemplifying a teleological view of the history of philology by its claim, in Politian’s case, that Classical textual criticism has improved objectively since his age, Politian being partly responsible for major advances. Although Gurd disregards the existence of a narrative of genuine progression in text-critical practice, one barely needs a smattering of theory to trace the concrete developments from an incunable to a Lambinus to a Heinsius to a Madvig to a Housman to a Delz.

Chapter 1 (McNamee) analyses several classes of marginalia attested in Greek literary papyri from Egypt, providing a useful taxonomy for those approaching this subject afresh. The survey amply demonstrates the range of purposes with which figures from diverse backgrounds read literature, each contributing to the complex process by which a single text could undergo the agglomeration, in several strata, of varied philological engagements. Despite its clarity, this chapter leaves many questions of historical and philological interest untackled (several are mentioned on p. 43), with more attention given to elementary annotations than to higher-level philology, the more instructive end of the spectrum. A useful table of marginalia in various authors (pp. 45-6) presents several surprising figures (e.g. the scarcity of text-critical remarks on six Theocritean papyri, eighty times rarer than elementary/factual exegesis). McNamee’s easy-access account will spur readers to turn to the full-length analysis provided by her formidable book.1

Chapter 2 (Maynes) concentrates on the transmission and editing of the elegiac itinerary composed by Rutilius Claudius Namatianus (early s.V). Disregarding a fragment (s.VII/VIII) brilliantly recovered by Mirella Ferrari in 1973, the earliest (defective) witnesses to this poem are of the early sixteenth century, independent and indirect apographs of the Bobbio manuscript stolen from the Res Publica Litterarum in 1706. Maynes voices an admirable insistence upon a manuscript’s value qua historical and cultural artefact. Yet to see every given manuscript as representing per se a conscious philological project dictated by its cultural and intellectual environs is in most cases an anachronism. Even reduced to the context of Rutilius, this claim requires further substantiation, for, although the three major witnesses demonstrate the differing abilities of Sannazaro (V), Pius (B) and Crucianus (R), the practical variations in their "modes of philology" are not demonstrated, beyond R’s being error-prone, a situation that does not undermine the stemmatic necessity to consider (not record) its readings throughout. Maynes’ attempt to downplay the efficacy of the “Lachmannian” method is unconvincing: that emendations made prior to R’s discovery (which represents a second branch from the Bobbian archetype) were not supported by R only means that the errors posited, if correctly diagnosed, were made in the first three centuries of the poem’s circulation, not in Inghirami’s lost intermediary. recensio and emendatio are not in conflict.2 Since the book lacks illustrations (with one exception: p.114), reference to the reproductions of VRB in R. Merkelbach and H. van Thiel, Lateinisches Leseheft (Göttingen, 1969, pp. 103-10) would have provided useful orientation.

Chapter 3 (Celenza) treats certain programmatic and autobiographical elements in Politian’s writings, with especial focus on the spirited prolegomena to his lectures on Aristotle’s Analytica priora, the Lamia of 1492. Celenza expertly outlines how Politian responded to those who criticised his presumption to lecture on Aristotelian philosophy without major training in that field by maintaining (i) that what philosophy requires from a scholar is almost unattainably high, such that none of his adversaries could confidently claim sufficient expertise, and (ii) that philological criteria must be applied by all engaging with philosophical texts, and that these in turn draw support from Aristotle’s Organon. Although Celenza’s focus lies less on philology than on attitudes to philosophy amidst the intellectual circles of Renaissance Florence, this thought-provoking contribution will lead many to his extended treatment of the Lamia and its polemical context.3

Chapter 4 (Nelson) analyses the emblematic genre in Baroque Spain, with particular focus upon its refinement by Juan de Borja in his Empresas Morales (Prague, 1581; etc.). Nelson shows the diverse and pluralistic origins of this particular form in the wake of Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Liber (Augsburg, 1531; etc.), a polymorphous background in obvious tension with any single or unified philological goal. Invoking Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s anti-Foucauldian definition of power as the potential to occupy or block spaces with bodies, Nelson extends this framework from emblematic to theatrical contexts, viz the auto sacramental (primarily a dramatisation of the Eucharist). The survey is engaging, even if its connections with philology are not always obvious; for most, Nelson’s book-length analysis of the emblem and presence theory will be the natural port of call.4

Chapter 5 (Sachs) analyses one of the most interesting English contributions to Classical criticism in the eighteenth century, Robert Wood’s revolutionary analysis of Homeric composition in light of his meticulously documented travels of Mediterranean lands, work that blazed some of the trail for Wolf’s Prolegomena. Wood’s locative – effectively paraphilological – approach to the poet, his insistence on collating Homer’s works with their places of reference rather than with their written transmission, spurred him to ground-breaking conclusions, most significantly that Homer’s composition was oral. Sachs’ poignant analysis of Woods’ marginalia that intersperse his set of Samuel Clarke’s major Homeric commentary provides rich evidence for his invocation of anthropological and ethnological data as much as the geographical and textual. This important contribution can be read with great profit.

Chapter 6 (Altschul), a revised version of the author’s 2005 essay Terminología y crítica textual, gives a provocative account of differing conceptions between countries, languages and disciplines as to quite what "philology" claims to be. Altschul’s colourful essay shows beyond doubt that ‘philology’, filologia, filología, philologie and Philologie are protean entities that differ from one another as much as within themselves. Faced with this discrepancy, Altschul proposes that, by dividing traditional philology into the two categories of "ecdotics" (after Henri Quentin) and wider cultural studies, its integration with more modern disciplines would be facilitated. Her refreshing optimism may be correctly placed, although it remains open to question whether such differences necessarily demand reconciliation or whether the distinction between ancient, mediaeval and ‘modern’ philology presents a significant obstacle to progress.

Chapter 7 (Porter) revises a 1994 essay on Nietzsche’s rhetorical theory that intersects with Kant, Gerber, Barthes and Adorno inter alios. From his Basel days onwards, Nietzsche’s distaste at the narrow-minded practice of philology underpinned his firm conviction that it was, at best, but a means to greater goals. Porter, who exhibits something of Nietzsche’s raciness of style, gives a dense account of Nietzsche’s unsettling and reductionist theories of communication, predicated on positing the ultimate origin of rhetoric at the sensualistic level of the body, a stance well elucidated by comparison with ancient theories of rhetoric.

Chapter 8 (Balfour) provides a learned tour through the (often rigorous and hard-line) attitudes to philology and reading evinced by Friedrich Schlegel, Walter Benjamin and Paul de Man. Balfour deftly explores Schlegel’s fragmentary and wilfully paradoxical Philosophie der Philologie (1797), various essays and epistles of Benjamin, deeply influenced by Schlegel’s notions of critique, and de Man’s treatments of philology’s stabilising contribution to the critical task of reading, most especially his "Return to Philology" (1982). For Schlegel and many in his wake, the philologist must be a philosopher (as well as a historian), just as Politian fervently maintained the reverse. Balfour’s impressive survey, in a field that elsewhere can have much of the Jacques “Jacques” Liverot about it, manages to be informative and lucid.

The volume closes with a bibliography, biography of contributors, and four-page index. More attention could have been given to the last, for little can be learned from incomplete entries such as “theory, 9, 208” and “university, German 1”; “wannabe philologists, 198” must be humorous. The book’s bibliography has a particular focus on recent scholarship: for every item printed before the 20th century there are seven from the 21st. Even so, it is unfortunate that the splendid contributions of Rene Nünlist and Bob Kaster to the field are flagged up in neither the introduction nor the bibliography.

Confidence in the book’s editing is cast into doubt when one reads almost instantly of “Terrence” (p. 2) and “the Hypomenata series edited by Glen Most” (p. 4 n.7), but such errors are not excessive.5 The knowledge of Latin expected by contributors varies from minimal (Maynes, who even translates his apparatus criticus, with novelties such as “ovircums” to convey the error of expunat for expugnant) to high (Celenza, who often quotes Politian without translation).

Gurd rightly states in his blurb that “philology is where literature happens”. The theorising of philology, however, can never eclipse the results of philology in either importance or interest. Although this collection does not necessarily bring one closer to knowing what “philology” is, its multifarious contributions do throw up several insightful questions meriting serious consideration, even if their answers may have little practical effect: philologists will do well to question each of their steps, even if they may tread as they would have done without such a hand on their shoulders. Although greater precision on the book’s profile and purpose would not have gone amiss, Gurd deserves commendation for having united between two covers a broad and provocative set of essays.

Table of Contents:

Sean Gurd (Concordia), Introduction 1
Kathleen McNamee (Wayne State), Reading Outside the Library 20
Craig Maynes (Memorial), Philologizing Philologists: A Case Study. Philological History and the Text of Rutilius Namatianus’ De reditu suo 47
Christopher S. Celenza (Johns Hopkins), Angelo Poliziano’s Lamia: “Philology” and “Philosophy” in the University of Florence 75
Bradley J. Nelson (Concordia), Philology and the Emblem 107
Jonathan Sachs (Concordia), On the Road: Travel, Antiquarianism, Philology 127
Nadia Altschul (Johns Hopkins), What is Philology? Cultural Studies and Ecdotics 148
James I. Porter (UC Irvine), Nietzsche, Rhetoric, Philology 164
Ian Balfour (York, Toronto), The Philosophy of Philology and the Crisis of Reading: Schlegel, Benjamin, de Man 192
Works Cited 213
Contributors 229
Index 231


1.   Annotations in Greek and Latin Texts from Egypt. Oakville, CT: Oxbow Books, 2007.
2.   As regards the poem’s title, R’s (if not β’s) eclectic practice does not rule out that De reditu suo was Rutilius’ choice, transmitted between Books 1 and 2, notwithstanding any damage to the archetype’s opening. Genuine doubt exists about his name: Maynes should have added that Naumatianus is the form recorded by Raffaele Maffei di Volterra and Giacomo Aurelio von Questenberg in their lists of Merula’s reperta Bobbiensia.
3.   Angelo Poliziano’s Lamia: Text, Translation, and Introductory Studies. Leiden: Brill, 2010.
4.   The Persistence of Presence: Emblem and Ritual in Baroque Spain. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.
5.   P.10 l.9 “were”: “was”, p. 47 n.1 “Liddel”: “Liddell”, p. 55 “Barthes”(!): “Barth”, p. 63 “papyrus”: “parchment”, p. 66 n.32 insert “of” after “identification”, p. 72 “impleant”: “impleat”, p. 73 “at”: “ast”, p. 79 “divination”: “divinatio”, p. 155 n.27 “L.P”: “P.L.” Schmidt, p. 179 n.26 Lucr. 4.35-65 should be 4.31-2 (the mistake is from Gerber), p. 192 “deMan”: “de Man”, p. 207 l.11 delete the first “be”. That the critic is born not made (p. 53 n.12) is Ruhnken’s not Housman’s maxim.

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