BMCR 1995.12.11

1995.12.11, Maurer, Interpolation in Thucydides

, Interpolation in Thucydides. Mnemosyne, bibliotheca classica Batava. Supplementum, 150. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995. xxiv, 242 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9789004103009 $84.00.

Karl Maurer of the University of Pennsylvania has written a scrupulous, distinguished and important book. If Thucydides is reading it somewhere, he is surely muttering “At last!” The combination of akribeia with occasional wrath, and a witty if sometimes acid style, all remind one of The Master himself. Maurer proves hearteningly that work of the very highest value can still be and is being done on the most difficult and the most rewarding of Greek prose authors.

The preface announces with disarming, and as it turns out misleading, mildness, that the author (henceforth “M”) found himself feeling that “present-day conservatism is a trifle insensitive”. But on p. xiii of the Introduction the mask has begun to slip because we read that “my own position will be somewhat relentlessly conservative”; the beguiling words “trifle” and “somewhat” are characteristic. Again: ch. 1 begins by declining to use or to offer a “typology” of interpolation: “the attempt to organise the entire work by types would be self-defeating”. But again things turn out otherwise (“somewhat otherwise”?) than we should expect from this programmatic utterance, because the organisation of the book is indeed and fortunately determined by, though admittedly it does not exactly follow, the different types of interpolation (unconscious, conscious and so forth). Ch. 2 is on interpolation in some capital mss. exposed by others; the epigraphic ch. 3 treats IG i 3 83 and its relation to Thucydides (henceforth “Th.”) v.47; the inscription, M. concludes, does not encourage excisions. Ch. 4 covers ‘linguistic’ evidence (arguments from supposedly impossible Greek. M. rightly calls this “the weakest of all grounds of excision”). The magnificent and in every way central ch. 5 is about the scholia and other sorts of indirect evidence. Here M. makes some acute and elegant distinctions, designed to subvert some traditional arguments of the slovenly “scholiastes non legit” variety. Thus he notes that some “scholia” were not originally written as such but were drawn from (for instance) reference works whose authors extracted information from Th. This disposes, or may on occasion dispose, of the standard editorial argument that verbatim repetition by a scholiast of something in a text is a reason for excision of the relevant bit of that text. Ch. 6 discusses the evidence of L. Valla and its misuse by modern critics, ch. 7 is on the papyri (conclusion similar to that of ch. 3), ch. 8 is about internal evidence (allegedly implausible or otiose supplements and so forth), ch. 9 discusses miscellaneous passages in book viii. The remaining chapters are 10, “Unconscious interpolation”, the short ch. 11 is “On the possible extent and causes of very early corruption”, and 12 is a global Summary. There are appendixes on: Longer omissions in the MSS; Conflated scholia; Dionysius’ text of Th.; Valla’s mistakes; Remarks on editors and the stemma. Naturally with a book of this degree of technicality, the indexes will be much used and include above all a full index locorum but also a helpful index of passages adduced for comparison.

M. asserts early on that “The MS tradition is sometimes, for whole passages, at base astonishingly sound; and it is so even where modern scholars find it impossible”. This general statement (which much of the book is devoted to demonstrating) is however preceded by another to the effect that “one gets a strong impression that much of the worst corruption is very old”. By this time one has begun to grasp what M.’s conservatism amounts to. He does not at all deny corruption, or interpolation; but he thinks the amount of “crude interpolation in Th. has been exaggerated” (187) and (1) that when a passage is plainly corrupt one should not immediately posit interpolation, “but bear in mind the more constant presence of other kinds of corruption” (M.’s emphasis). At several points in the book, M. has hard and no doubt justified things to say about what he startlingly calls “paranoia”—that is, the behaviour exhibited by those readers of Th. who (like the present reviewer, who is singled out) “suffer a sudden sort of paranoia, in which any kind of queerness or roughness puts him [or her, one hopes] in mind of interpolation”.

M. insists (26) on the austere principle that “words should not be expelled from the text unless someone can explain how they probably got there”. I expect this is right, though I fear that historians will nevertheless occasionally want to invert this and ask timidly for an explanation of why Th. should have supplied every scrap of the information he does ostensibly supply; I think of some of the ritual material in i. 126 (Cylon); or Dorieus’ athletic victory at iii. 8, which looks to me terribly like some of the items regularly deleted from the early sections of the Hellenica of Xenophon, debatable though some of this stuff is too. M. more than once associates “paranoia” of this sort with the whiskered desperadoes of the nineteenth century, plus a few revenants like myself. But one name oddly absent from M.’s bibliography and I think from his book is that of F. Jacoby: see FGrHist 323a F 24, commentary n. 18 and relevant text: “this text [that of Th.], like any other, was not exempt from small interpolations of matter”; in the footnote Jac. observed that a systematic investigation of the texts of Herodotus, Th., and even Xenophon’s Hellenica with a view to glosses of this kind [he was thinking of i.50] would prove “most fertile”. But, he added darkly, “it must not be conducted along the lines of Jachmann (recently Klio 35, 1942, p. 60ff.)”. At this point, however, I can sense Th. himself, as well as M., beginning to frown, so I move hastily on.

On the “indirect tradition” it is a pleasure to see so many favourable allusions to the late D. M. Lewis’ work on the text, in particular to his Princeton dissertation Towards a Historian’s Text of Thucydides (written in less than five months in January-May 1952!) M. draws both on this and on Lewis’ phenomenally shrewd and assured reviews in JHS 1957 (Hemmerdinger), Gnomon 1966 (Kleinlogel), and CR 1980 (Ferlauto). Lewis’ main thesis in the dissertation, sometimes reiterated in the reviews, was that hellenistic scholars either “improved” Th.’s text so as to bring it into line with what they “knew” from (usually) Ephorus, or interfered with the text in ways which betray their obsessive familiarity with Homer. M. uses words like “astute” of Lewis’ contributions to Th.’s text, even though (75 n.30) in the end he recoils from full acceptance of the 1952 Lewis thesis: “we should be wary of attributing any kind of systematic interference in the MSS to hellenistic “editors”…” M. frequently applauds the “attentive” Andrewes (usually for HCT vol. 5, 1981). This is no more than just, but in justice to Lewis it may be be observed that Andrewes was able to benefit from his very full comments on and correspondence about drafts of that final volume of the commentary. M.’s work is full of incidental surprises which are often a sheer joy. Note the brilliant observation (74 n.28) that Th. tends to enumerate places counter-clockwise, and he instances vii. 57 (Syracuse allies). As it happens I can corroborate this from iv. 109, where Th. enumerates the places on Akte in a counter-clockwise direction, exactly reversing (with one exception) Herodotus’ clockwise order (Hdt. vii. 22)!

Sometimes M. does not cite (it would be rash of a reviewer to say M. has missed) an obvious modern discussion. Mention was made above of Andrewes, particularly for book viii to which (as we have seen) M. allots a whole chapter. But H. Erbse’s book Thukydides-interpretationen (1989) was largely a critique of Andrewes’ handling of book viii and could have been cited by M. with advantage, notably for viii. 71 (M. 156-9; contra, Erbse 17-18). Again, M. (52-4) correctly urges the retention of dia to periechein auten in iv. 102.4 (102.4 in some texts). But W. K. Pritchett, Studies in Ancient Greek Topography 3 (1980) 308-9 had already made this point quite certain.

M. usually writes very well (but shame on him for the verb “to diagram” at 121 n.32). I specially liked the drily sarcastic concession that a “strategically placed” scribe can affect a whole tradition, and the picture at 93 of scholars “sifting the gravel [of Valla’s Latin text] for the gold of old readings”. M. is harsh but fair in his judgments of other scholars, thus (114 n.18) a note of Arnold is “confused but interesting”. More than once he is moved to comment on the beauty of some examples of Th.’s prose (26 n.31; 54 n.11; 121 n.32) but he does not tell us why or how they are beautiful.

In a book of this nature and quality one does not expect to be distracted by misprints in the Greek, but there are too many. 26 n. 31 sumphora; 31, quote from iii. 87 Athenaious wrongly spelt twice and from ii. 50 autous and nosesai wrongly accented; 39 line 3 up meta has gone wrong; 40 foot Hude’s punctuation with Jones’ accentuation; 64f. Meritt misspelt in the usual way (but once spelt correctly!); 111.2 up Endios; 174.6 intrusive breathing in penultimate word.