BMCR 2022.02.21

On the track of the books: scribes, libraries and textual transmission

, , , On the track of the books: scribes, libraries and textual transmission. Beiträge Zur Altertumskunde, 375. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. Pp. viii, 359. ISBN 9783110622881 $114.99.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume arose from a 2016 postgraduate conference on books, libraries, and ancient and medieval textual transmission. This incredibly broad range of topics meant that the editors had to make a serious effort to impose order on the collected papers, organizing them into three main sections. The first section, with chapters covering depictions of books and libraries in Horace, Aulus Gellius, Lucian, Martial, Jerome, and in Attic oratory of the fourth century BCE, considers the processes by which books were written and published in antiquity, and the relationship between the book as a material object and as symbol or metaphor. The next section focuses on Greek texts, with papers considering the formation of corpora and the relation between text and paratext, while the final section considers the transmission of texts, from the point of view of both author and scribe. This final section is the most varied, covering archaeological, epigraphical, and codicological subjects from the late antique period to the sixteenth-century Humanists. Despite the commendable effort to organize the papers into these three sections, the book still reads as a disjointed assemblage of chapters, with some papers only loosely related to the editors’ purported themes and aims.  Even beyond this lack of cohesion and unified vision, the papers in the volume are of widely varying quality.  I commence with remarks on several that deserve extended consideration, before turning to some more critical remarks.

Olivia Montepaone’s chapter investigates the manuscript sources used by the sixteenth-century Dutch humanist Hadrianus Junius in his work on Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis. Montepaone argues convincingly against the traditional identification of Junius’ codex with the Valentianensis 411 (V), a ninth-century manuscript from the monastery of St. Amande. She suggests instead that Junius was using a copy of V. She bases this argument on different readings in V and Junius’ notes, but especially on Junius’ report that the Greek text in his manuscript was virtually illegible, while the Greek in V is clearly readable. This chapter will be of interest to scholars of the textual transmission of Seneca, but Montepaone’s investigation also shines a light on knowledge of Greek in the sixteenth century.

Nicola Reggiani offers an excellent overview of the textual transmission of Greek medical recipes. He emphasises the fluid and living nature of such texts and their enduring fragmentary nature, in that they remained part of an ongoing discourse and were subject to changes and revisions based on individuals’ lived experience. Reggiani explains how medical recipes were formatted and kept distinct on papyrus and other materials through verbal markers but also through specific physical formatting – important given the ancient practice of writing without word breaks (scriptio continua) – and that this should be kept in mind when doing digital papyrology.

Finally, Alan Taylor Farnes investigates scribal habits by examining the ninth-century Codex Sangermanensis and its fifth-century exemplar, the Codex Claromontanus, a bilingual version of the Pauline epistles. Although this paper still bears the marks having started life as a section of a PhD thesis, it is a solid piece of scholarship and Farnes highlights important questions about how scribes dealt with bilingual manuscripts – how much knowledge of a language do you really need to copy a manuscript, and how does a scribe’s own language competency affect the transmission of bilingual texts?

Beyond these and other well-developed chapters lie others, many of which display the beginnings of strong papers.  For whatever reason, these were clearly not given the benefit of expert peer review, nor of meticulous editing.  Errors in translation from Latin and Greek are common; key works of secondary literature are not cited; and citation styles vary not simply between chapters but even within paragraphs.  The lack of attention to matters both formal and substantive seems particularly unfortunate in the case of papers by postgraduate students, who would have done well to pursue publication in places where they would have received expert advice and the opportunity to develop their arguments.

Table of Contents

Figured books : Horatian book-representations / Stephen J. Harrison
Horace’s book and Sphragis : writing materials in Horace’s Epistles 1.20 / Georgios Taxidis
Fake intellectuals, and books of unquestionable authority in Aulus Gellius’ Noctes Atticae and Lucian’s Aduersus indoctum / Katherine Krauss
Martialis Epigrammaton liber decimus : strategies for a second edition / Ambra Russotti
Poetic quotation in 4th century BC Attic oratory / Antonio Iacoviello
Jerome’s two libraries / Giulia Marolla
Some remarks on P.Lit.Lond. 63, a riddle epigram of an anthology? / Daniela Immacolata Cagnazzo
Textual tradition iand reception in Theocritus / Leonor Hernandez Onate
Eratosthenes’ Studia Aristophanica / Federica Benuzzi
Eratosthenes’ Platonikos between philosophy and mathematics / Sara Panteri
Transmission of recipes and receptaria in Greek medical writings on papyrus / Nicola Reggiani
Latin epigraphy and literary texts in 4th century AD Rome : the case of Vttius Agorius Praetextatus / Rosa Lorito
The scribal habits of Codex Sangermanensis in Greek and Latin in light of its exemplar / Alan Taylor Farnes
The hypogeum of the Aurelii : a collegiate tomb of professional scribes / John Bradley
The library and the scriptorium of the Abbey of Montevergine in the 12th and 13th century : presences and absences / Veronica De Duonni
Apocolocyntosis, codex V and the manuscript of Hadrianus Junius / Olivia Montepaone
The textual transmission of Ovid’s Metamorphoses during the Medieval age : the example of Germany / Cristiana Roffi.