Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.05.16

Michael D. Reeve, Manuscripts and Methods: Essays on Editing and Transmission. Storia e letteratura, 270.   Roma:  Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2011.  Pp. xvii, 430.  ISBN 9788863723021.  €62.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Antonio Ramírez de Verger, Universidad de Huelva (

In the introduction Reeve offers an autobiographical outline of his scholarly career. He covers his attraction to the Greek novel, which led to his Teubner edition of Daphnis and Chloe, and his incursions into the Heroides of Ovid and the Ovidian manuscripts collated by Heinsius, as well as the Consolatio ad Liviam and the Querolus, not to mention his contributions to the now-classic Texts and Transmission, an authentic homage to Sir Rogers Mynors. He gives an account of his participation in methodological debates on textual transmission and his publications on Livy and Florus. His life has been dedicated to the reading of classical manuscripts, taking him from Oxford to Naples via London, Paris, Milan, Florence and Rome. He has also visited Spain, although as far as I know he has not yet been able to pay a lengthy visit to Seville for a thorough examination of the collection in the Biblioteca Colombina. In short, Professor Reeve’s scholarly career has been devoted to the inspection, reading and collation of thousands of manuscripts, particularly Latin, and in this it reminds me of the invaluable labours of Nicolaus Heinsius (1620-1681) in the course of his diplomatic journeys throughout Europe, reading and collating from 16th century editions the manuscripts held in the continent’s finest libraries. Those of us with experience in reading manuscripts and ancient editions cannot but admire Reeve’s Herculean contribution to the history of the transmission of classical texts in particular, and textual criticism in general. I certainly do not believe that the publication of the present volume has “a whiff of obituary” to it, because we are still awaiting the culmination of his current projects (Pliny’s Natural History) and the commencement of others of equal importance. His scholarly output has been immense and of fundamental value for classical philology. And above all his work stands out for its scientific rigour, with no concessions made to the gallery.

Reeve has selected twenty contributions published between 1987 and 2009, with the exception of number 11 (part of which had not appeared previously) and the hitherto unpublished number 20. However, he has introduced numerous additions, especially in the footnotes, enclosed in angular brackets, as well as in the Addenda on pp. 397-9. The ordering of the articles on the transmission of classical Latin texts is explained by Reeve himself on p. X: “I have arranged the pieces first in a stemmatic hierarchy, from autographs to printed editions; I pass to wider matters of history and geography and finish with some editorial episodes in chronological order, up to electronic innovations.”

It would be tiresome, and occupy too much space, to summarize one by one the twenty studies collected here. Suffice to say that they all offer a wealth of information and are argued to the smallest detail. What we have here is not a volume to be read through at top speed but one to be savoured slowly, chapter by chapter.

In 1996 (OCD, p. 1490) Reeve stated that “textual criticism sets out what a text originally said or meant to say. Anyone who checks a garbled message with the sender has given a faultless demonstration of it. Classical texts, which have mostly come down through a succession of copies, present stiffer challenges.” Reeve attempts to rise to these challenges in his works, which are always firmly built on specific examples and address a wide and varied number of issues, such as the fact that there are already errors of different kinds to be found in the autographs themselves; that the stemmatic method (pluripartite rather than bipartite stemmata) is the least bad of all those at our disposal to work back to the archetype (“the oldest obtainable version of the author’s work”); that particular attention must be paid to the marginalia of the manuscripts and oldest editions, as they tend to be textual variants; that a considerable number of methodological problems are involved in the eliminatio codicum descriptorum, as it is not possible to establish a credible stemma and therefore eliminate secondary manuscripts if the manuscripts or a selection of passages are not collated in full; that the last quarter of the 15th century witnessed the dissemination of manuscripts copied from printed editions, a phenomenon scarcely considered by editors; that the manuscripts of a given work that are written on the periphery (Reeve establishes a division between Italy and the north of Europe) are better than those preserved in Italy, as is the case, for example, with Cornelius Nepos (p. 222); that the rediscovery in the Renaissance of Ptolemy’s Outline of Geography was of crucial importance for Columbus’s discovery of the New World (also rediscovered were the Letters to Atticus and the Metamorphoses of Apuleius); that the humanists had some impressive achievements in classical scholarship, especially in the discovery of ancient works, collating them, identifying the manuscripts and improving the texts; that John Wallis (1616-1703) was not only a brilliant mathematician (he invented the symbol for infinity: ∞) but edited the Harmonics of Ptolemy in 1682 with significant editorial innovations (pp. 306-8); that A. E. Housman (1859-1936), the great classical scholar and poet, depended to a large extent for his editions on the collations made by others; that Nicolaus Heinsius collated a total of 286 manuscripts of Ovid between 1645 and 1653, 97 of them being of the Metamorphoses; and that computer-aided editing of classical texts has not led to any significant advances either for the history of the text or for establishing it.

In my opinion, the article which sums up the whole editorial work of Reeve is number 19 (“Cuius in usum? Recent and future editing”), first published in JRS 90, 2000, 196-206 and, in my view, compulsory reading1. Its ten densely argued pages introduce us to all the problems the textual critic has to face: the need to collate the manuscripts with the utmost care; the study not only of the texts contained in the codices but also of their history and their geographical ties; the dispute between stemmatists and eclectics or antistemmatists (problems of contamination); the fight between conservatives and conjecturalists; the impossibility of establishing the history of a text with the aid of computers (e.g., Hyginus’s Astronomica by Viré); the importance of the spelling variants in the manuscripts for the development of Latin and the Romance languages; the significance of commentaries containing critical texts; the minimum conditions for undertaking the task of editing a classical text (“a survey of the available witnesses, reasons for using some rather than others, accurate collation, guidance on the difference between the best text that can be extracted from the witnesses and what the author seems likely to have written, and substantial progress in at least one of these four,” p. 349); the fact that the genealogical classification of the manuscripts must be based on the undoubtedly exhausting task of a direct reading of them; the struggle between conservatives and sceptics. The article closes with a review of the work in recent years of the publishers devoted to the edition of classical texts: the irregular Budé, the Bibliotheca Teubneriana with its ample apparatus critici, Oxford Classical Texts with their selective critical apparatuses, the variety of publishers in Italy and the dearth of critical editions in North America. As summed up by Reeve on p. 359, it all boils down to two questions: “contact with primary evidence, and the ability to evaluate it.” And as regards the possibilities offered by the Web, Reeve is justifiably pessimistic, as in textual criticism “it will need more than a Netscape navigator for its voyage through the third millennium.”

The pages of this collection are sprinkled with touches of wit and irony, offering some respite in the midst of such rich and varied argumentation and wealth of information. Thus, on the possible influence of psycholinguistics on Freudian slips in the course of textual transmission, Reeve lets off steam as follows: “Sono sicuro che nel corso del prossimo secolo la psicolingüística riuscirà a dimostrare che un autore è più propenso a commettere errori di perseveranza se è di origine scozzese, se ha mangiato cipolle poco prima, se fa un po’ freddo, e se aspetta che arrivi una bella monaca; ma di questa scoperta il filologo no potrà tanto spesso approfittare” (p. 16). The title of contribution number 11 (“A man on a horse”) is a memorable expression of L. Reynolds in reference to the possible removal of manuscripts from one place to another. The rediscovery of the Metamorphoses of Apuleius is rounded off with “Zanobi da Strada and Boccaccio deserve the thanks of every child in the western world today.” Nor is there any lack of anecdotes, such as Housman’s excuse for not visiting Madrid to consult a manuscript of Manilius. This fine but haughty textual critic snubbed Spain and its culture in the following terms: “For the readings of M I depend on others. This MS [of Manilius, Madrid Nac. 3678] is a bad sailor, and has not forgotten the Armada: it will travel to Germany and Italy, but to England it will not travel; it is also modest, and dislikes to be photographed; and I am not disposed to learn a fresh language with a poor literature, and undertake a long journey to an uninviting capital, merely in order to settle a question of so little practical importance as the question whether V is or is not a copy of M.”

It only remains to add three observations.

The Historia rerum ubique gestarum locorumque of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (p. 245) has been edited by A. van Heck (Enee Silvii Piccolominee postea Pii PP II, De Europa, edition, commentary and introduction by A. van Heck. Studi e testi 398, Città del Vaticano: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 2001), N. Casella (Enea Silvio Piccolomini. Papa Pio II, Asia, edizione di N. Casella, Bellizona: Casagrande, 2004) and D. F. Sanz (Eneas Silvio Piccolomini (Papa Pío II), Descripción de Asia. Introducción, edición y traducción de Domingo F. Sanz, Nueva Roma 34, CSIC, Madrid, 2010); cf. Exemplaria Classica 11, 2007, 197, n. 1.

It might not have gone amiss to mention (p. 341) R. Roca-Puig, Ciceró. Catilinàries (I et II in Cat.) Papyri Barcinonenses, Barcelona 1977, already used in the edition by Maslowski (Teubner, 2003).

If it is true that computers are of little use for the history of the transmission of classical texts, it is no less certain that the Web and the new technologies have made available to us, even in our own homes, material that would have been unimaginable even just a few years ago.2 Manuscripts, ancient editions and articles can be consulted whenever the reader wishes. It is no longer a Utopia, for example, to have at one’s disposal just about all the manuscripts of Ovid’s Metamorphoses or of the poetry of Catullus in digital format, as is now the case at the Universities of Huelva and Parma, respectively. There is now no excuse for not getting down to the reading and/or collation of manuscripts, or consulting ancient editions.

The volume closes with a Bibliographical Note, Addenda and some useful indexes (General Index and Index of Manuscripts and Incunables). Ideally, an Index of Subjects might also have been added, but I understand the difficulties this would have involved.

The book is excellently produced (with clear and sufficiently large letter type and quality paper). The “Italian voices” that urged Reeve to bring together a selection of his articles have rendered him a well-deserved and generous homage, to the great benefit at least of those of us who still believe that the prime mission of the classical scholar is the edition of texts with philological commentary, for as long as “the human race continues to respect its past” (p. 359).3

Table of Contents

Introduction (vii-xi)
Bibliography (xiii-xvii)
1. Errori in autografi (3-23)
2. Stemmatic method: «qualcosa che non funziona?» (27-44)
3. Da Madvig a Maas, con deviazioni (45-54)
4. Shared innovations, dichotomies, and evolution (55-103)
5. Archetypes (107-117)
6. Reconstructing archetypes: a new proposal and an old fallacy (119-131)
7. Misunderstanding marginalia (135-144)
8. Eliminatio codicum descriptorum: a methodological problem (145-174)
9. Manuscripts copied from printed books (175-183)
10. A proposal about Modestus, scriptor rei militaris (185-207)
11. A man on a horse (211-219)
12. Some applications of Pasquali’s «criterio geografico» (221-228)
13. The rediscovery of classical texts in the Renaissance (229-254)
14. Classical scholarship in the Renaissance (255-281)
15. Inspecting the foundations: reflections on Lupus’s edition of Livy I-X (285-295)
16. John Wallis, editor of Greek mathematical texts (297-313)
17. Gruppenarbeit an Handschriften (315-321)
18. Dust and fudge: manuscripts in Housman’s generation (323-338)
19. Cuius in usum? Recent and future editing (339-359)
20. Editing classical texts with a computer: Hyginus’s Astronomica (361-393)
Bibliographical note (395-396)
Addenda (397-399)
General Index (403-421)
Index of manuscripts and incunables (423-430)


1.   Read also G. Luck, “Textual Criticism Today”, AJPh 102, 1981, 164-194; B. Gibson, “Latin Manuscripts and Textual Traditions”, in J. Clackson, A Companion to the Latin Language, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, pp. 40-58.
2.   Some useful websites: Google Books; Münchener DigitalisierungsZentrum Digitale Bibliothek; Gallica Biblioteca digital; Europeana; Internet Archive; Manuscripta mediaevalia; Manus online; Hill Museum and Manuscript Library; Early European Books.
3.   This review has been translated from the Spanish by J. J. Zoltowski. Thanks are due to the Spanish MEC (FFI2008-01843) and the Junta de Andalucía (HUM-4534) for their financial support.

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