Non-Biblical Textual Criticism

Contents: Introduction *The Methods of Classical Criticism: Recensio, Selectio, Examinatio, Emendatio *Books Preserved in One Manuscript *Books Preserved in Multiple Manuscripts *Books Preserved in Hundreds of Manuscripts *Books Preserved in Multiple Editions *Textual Criticism of Lost Books *Other differences between Classical and New TestamentCriticism *Appendix I: Textual Criticism of Modern Authors *Appendix II: History of Other Literary Traditions *Appendix III: The Bédier Problem


Textual criticism does not apply only to the New Testament. Indeed,most aspects of modern textual criticism originated in the study ofnon-Biblical texts. Yet non-Biblical textual criticism shows notabledifferences from the New Testament variety. Given the complexity ofthe field, we can only touch on a few aspects of non-Biblical TC.But I'll try to summarize both the chief similarities and themajor differences.

In one sense, the materials of secular textual criticism resemblethose for Biblical criticism. Both are involved with manuscriptsother than the autograph -- or, in a few strange cases such as Malory'sMorte D'Arthur and the works of Shakespeare, with the relationshipbetween editions and autographs. (We have only two early sources for Malory,both near-contemporary: Caxton's printed edition and a manuscript presumablyclose to the autograph. They differ recensionally at some points: Caxtonevidently rewrote.)

The works of Sir Walter Scott are an evenmore complex case: Scott's native language was Braid Scots; it differs inpronunciation and vocabulary, though hardly in grammar, from British English,which is the language in which his books were to be published.To a significant extent, he relied upon his publisher to correct his Scotticisms.He also produced a second edition of many of his works, making marginal emendationsin the first edition. So what is the authoritative text of, say, Ivanhoe --Scott's manuscript, Scott's first edition, Scott's interlinear folios which werethe source for the second edition, or the second edition? And how do Scott's correctionsto the galley proofs fit into this? Not all of his corrections were proper English,and the editors ignored some of these.

Percy's Reliques have some similar problems, because there quite literallywas no original manuscript. Percy assembled fragments from various sheets he hadcollected, tore out portions of manuscripts (yes, the man was a vandal), scribbledover it them, promised fillers but supplied them late, added material after portionsof the book had been printed, and in general did everything he could to torture hispoor printer. Little wonder that the book took two and a half years to publish. Butwhat, then, is "the" text of the Reliques? The various materialsPercy submitted? The corrected proofs? Something else? This is a book which waspublished in relatively modern times by a known author, but still there is noautograph.

 The sole manuscript of Malory, BritishLibrary Add. 59678. The top portion of folio 35, showing the change fromthe first hand to the second (a change which seems to prove that it is notthe autograph). The manuscript is imperfect; eight leaves are lost at thebeginning, and probably as many at the end.This manuscript seems to have been known to Caxton; there aremarks from his print shop in it. But the published edition differs, sometimesdramatically, from the manuscript.
It appears that Caxton rewote most extensively in the earlier portions,where Malory was, in effect, writing independent short stories; the end,in which Malory seems to be trying to create a unified narrative, is almostthe same in manuscript and print book. The whole still poses an interestingchallenge to textualcritics, since the manuscript is not the autograph and there are hintsthat Caxton had some other source -- perhaps another manuscript.
Copies of Caxton's first printed edition are almost as rare as manuscripts:Only two survive, and oneof them imperfect. Simply being printed did not assure the survival ofdocuments!

The history of printed editions ofclassical works is often similar to that of the New Testament text followingErasmus: "[T]he early printers, by the act of putting a text into print,tended to give that form of the text an authority and a permanence which in factit rarely deserved. The editio princeps of a classical author wasusually little more than a transcript of whatever humanist manuscript theprinter chose to use as his copy.... The repetition ofthis text... soon led to the establishment of a vulgate text... andconservatism made it difficult to discard in favour of a radically newtext" (L. D. Reynolds & N. G. Wilson, Scribes &Scholars, second edition, 1974, p. 187).

There is, however, one fundamental difference between classical andBiblical textual criticism. Without exception, the numberof manuscripts of classical works is smaller. Even the Golden Legendof Jacobus de Voragine, which in many countries was better-known than the Bibleitself, exists in only about a thousand copies.The most popular classical work is the Iliad, represented bysomewhat less than 700 manuscripts (though these manuscripts actuallyaverage rather older than New Testament manuscripts. Papyrus copiesof Homer are numerous. As early as 1920, when the New Testament wasknown in only a few dozen of papyrus copies, there were in excess ofa hundred papyrus texts of the Iliad known, a fair number of whichdated from the first century C. E. or earlier.) Butthe case of Homer is hardly normal. More typical are works such asChaucer (somewhat over 80 manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales,of which about two-thirds once contained the complete Tales; a fewdozen copies of most of his other works). From this we work down throughPiers Plowman (about forty manuscripts) to Thucydides, preservedin only eight manuscripts (this even though he was so well-known and admired thatone of Josephus's assistants is known as the "Thucydidean hack")to the literally thousandsof works preserved in only one manuscript -- including such greatclassics as Beowulf, the Norse myths of the Regius Codex,Tacitus (Tacitus's Annals arepreserved in two copies, but as the copies are partial anddo not overlap at all, for any given passage there is only onemanuscript). Indeed, there are instances whereall manuscripts are lost and we must reconstruct the workfrom excerpts (Manetho; the non-Homeric portions of the Epic Cycle;most of Polybius, etc.)

This produces a problem completely opposite that in New TestamentTC. In New Testament TC, we can usually assume that the originalreading is preserved somewhere; the problem is one of sortingthrough the immense richness of the tradition to find it. Inclassical criticism, the reverse is often the case: We know everymanuscript and every reading in the tradition, but have no assurancethat the tradition preserve the original reading. As an example,consider a reading from Gregory of Tours' History of Tours:in I.9 the manuscripts of Gregory allude to the twelve patriarchs(specifically mentioning that there are twelve) -- and then listonly nine: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan,Gad, Asher. Clearly, three names -- Naphtali, Benjamin, and eitherJoseph or his sons -- have been omitted. But where in the reading?And is it Joseph, or his sons? We simply cannot tell.

It will be observed that many of the documents cited above are inlanguages other than Greek. Textual criticism, of course, can be appliedin all languages; the basic rules are the same (except for those pertainingto paleography and other aspects related to letter forms and the historyof the written language). For perspective, many of our examples will be basedon works written in languages other than Greek -- though, because I lack thebackground, none will be taken from ideographic languages.

The text which follows is littered with footnotes and parentheses. I amgenuinely sorry about this, since it makes the article much more confusing.But this is a far more complex field than New Testament criticism -- there aremany different sorts of documents requiring many different techniques. Mostrules have long lists of exceptions. And I don't want to deceive by overgeneralizing.The only alternative is the long list of special cases.

The Method of Classical Textual Criticism

Classical textual criticism, as its name implies, goes back to theclassical Greeks, who were concerned with preserving the text of suchancient works as Homer. One of the centers of ancient textual criticismwas Alexandria; it has been theorized (though there is no evidence ofthis) that the reason for the relative purity of the Alexandriantext of the New Testament is that Egyptian scribes were influenced by the careful andconservative work of the Alexandrian school. Their textual work onHomer was not always sophisticated (indeed, their conclusions wereoften quite silly), but they developed a critical apparatus of highsophistication (see the discussion ofAlexandrian Critical Symbols).

Modern textual criticism, however, dates back toKarl Lachmann, whowould later edit the first text of the New Testament to be fullyindependent of the Textus Receptus. In hiswork on Lucretius, Lachmann defined the basic method that has beenused ever since.

Textual criticism, in this system, proceeds through four basicsteps (some of which will be neglected in certain cases, and whichoccasionally go by other names):

  1. recensio, the creation of a family tree for themanuscripts of the work
  2. selectio, the comparison of the readings of the variousfamily members, and the determination of the oldest reading (this is sometimes consideredto be part of recensio)
  3. examinatio, the study of the resultant text to lookfor primitive errors
  4. emendatio, (also called divinatio, and sometimesconsidered to be a part of examinatio or vice versa),the correction of the primitive errors.


Recensio is the process of grouping themanuscripts into a stemma or family tree.Of all the steps involved in classical textual criticism, thisis the one regarded as having the least direct relevance for NewTestament TC. In this stage, the differences between the manuscriptsare compared and a stemma compiled. (This assumes, of course,that several manuscripts exist. If there is only one manuscript,we will omit this stage, as described in the section onbooks preserved in one manuscript.)

The essential purpose of the stemma is to lighten our workload, and alsoto tell us what weight to give to which manuscripts. Let's take an examplefrom Wulfstan's thirteenth homily (a pastoral letter in Anglo-Saxon). Fivemanuscripts exist, designated B C E K M, the latter being fragmentary.According to Dorothy Bethurum, these manuscripts form a stemma as follows(with lost manuscripts shown in [ ] -- a useful convention though not onewidely adopted):

    [ARCHETYPE]         |    -----------    |         |   [X]       [Y]    |         |  -----       |  |   |       |  C   E       B  | [Z]  |-----|   |K   M

That is, the archetype gave rise to two manuscripts, X and Y, nowboth lost. (Based on the stemma itself, it would appear that thearchetype was actually the parent of X and Y, but this is by no meanscertain in reality.) B was copied from Y, and C and E were copied from X.Another lost manuscript, Z, was copied from C, and gave rise to K and M.

Observe what this tells us. First, K and M are direct descendents(according to Bethurum, anyway) of C. Therefore, they tell us nothingwe don't already know, and can be ignored. Second, although C, E, andB are all primary witnesses, they don't have the same weight. Since Cand E go back to a common archetype [X], their combined evidence is nogreater than B alone, which goes back to a separate archetype. (We mightfind that [X] was a better witness than [Y], but the point is thatC and E are dependent and B is independent. That is, the combinationB-C against E is a good one, and B-E against C is good, but C-E againstB is inherently weaker; it's ultimately a case of one witness againstanother.)

So how does one determine a stemma?

One begins, naturally, by collating the manuscripts (in fullif possible, though family trees are sometimes based on samples).This generally requires that a single manuscript be selected asa collation base. (Unfortunately, since the manuscripts are notyet compared, the manuscript to collate against must be chosenunscientifically. One may choose to start with the oldest manuscript,or the most complete, or the one most superficially free of scribalerrors; as Charles Moorman comments on page 35 of Editing the Middle EnglishManuscript, the determination can only be made "by guessor God.")

Once the manuscripts are collated, one proceeds to determine the stemma.Methods for making this determination vary. Lachmann based his work on"agreement in error." This is a quick and efficient method, butit has two severe drawbacks: First, it assumes that we know the originalreading (never a wise assumption, although critics as recent as Zuntzhave sometimes used this technique), and second, it requires a fairlyclose-knit manuscript tradition. Both criteria were met by Lucretius,the author Lachmann studied.

According to the latest research I have seen (summarized on pp. liv-lviiof the Loeb Classical Library edition of Lucretius, the 1992 revised editionby Martin Ferguson Smith), the stemma of the Lucretius is as follows:

          AUTOGRAPH              |ARCHETYPE (with 26 lines per page)              |   ---------------------   |                   |   O                  (?)(IX; corrected         | by Dungal)            ------------   |                   |          |(Poggio's MS)          Q        G+U+V    |                 (IX)      (IX)    -------------    |           |    L     Other MSS (about 50, from Italy; XV-XVI)

This stemma, being so compact, is readily revealed by agreement in error. Otherbooks are not as cooperative. Paul Maas observed that the agreement-in-error method requirestwo presuppositions: "(1) that the copies made since the primary split in thetradition each represent one exemplar only, i.e. that no scribe has combinedseveral exemplars (contaminatio), (2) that each scribe consciously orunconsciously deviates from his exemplar, i.e. makes peculiar errors"(Paul Mass, Textual Criticism, translated by B. Flowers, p. 3). The firstof these conditions will generally be true for obscure writings -- but it is nomore true of the Iliad or the Aeneid than it is of the NewTestament. As for the latter requirement, it makes scribes into badly-programmedcomputers -- they are not accurate, but are inaccurate in particular andrepeatable ways. This can hardly be relied upon.

In addition, there is an unrecognized assumption in Maas's Point 1: Thatthere is a "primary split" -- i.e. that the text falls intotwo and only two basic families. Bédier noted that the"agreement in error" method seems always to lead to trees withtwo and only two branches. (This is not as surprising as it sounds. First,it should be noted that most variants have two and only two readings. Thusa single point of variation can only identify two types. On this basis, if there aremore than two types, the types which are more closely related will tendto be grouped as a single text-type. Thus when trying to seek new text-types,the first place to look is probably in the largest and most diverse of theestablished types. This is certainly true in the New Testament; the "Western"text has generally defied attempts to subdivide it, but the Alexandrian text oftencan be subdivided -- in Paul, for instance, the manuscripts called Alexandrianactually fall into three groups: P46+B, Family 1739, andℵ+A+C+33+81+1175+al.For fuller discussion, see the appendix onThe Bédier Problem.)

In any case, for most sorts of literature we cannot identify errorswith the certainty that Lachmann could. As Moorman notes (p. 50), "Forwhat passes in recension as science isin fact art and as such depends for its success upon the artistry of the editorrather than the accuracy of the method."E. Talbot Donaldson makes this point even more cogently in"The Psychology of Editors of Middle English Texts": "It is alwayscarefully pointed out that MSS may be grouped together onlyon the basis of shared error, but it is seldom pointed out that if an editor hasto be able to distinguish right readings from wrong in order to evolve a stemmawhich will in turn distinguish right readings from wrong for him, then hemight as well go on using this God-given power to distinguish right from wrongthroughout the whole editorial process, and eliminate the stemma. The only reasonfor not doing so is to eliminate the appearance -- not the fact -- of subjectivity:the fact remains that the whole classification depends on purely subjectivechoices made before the work of editing begins."The student, therefore, whowishes to have a truly repeatable method and must be content to work fromagreements in readings (which is slower but does not depend on any assumptions).This, if pursued consistently,is a more than adequate method (and it can be made to work even if ourmanuscripts are mixed, as Lachmann's were not). It can also, if a systemof characteristic readings is used, identify multiple independent branchesof the tree, even if two branches are more similar to each other than toa third branch.

Below:Perhaps the single most important manuscript of Wulfstan: Cotton Nero A I,bearing corrections perhaps by Wulfstan himself. This is the introductionto Homily XX, the Sermon to the English. Observe the Latin introduction --and how distinct are the alphabets used for the Latin and the Old English!
The Latin preface reads (abbreviations expanded; note the interestinguse of the chi-rho for "per"):
The five complete lines of the Old English text shown here are
Leofan men, gecnawaðþætsoðis: ðeos worold
is on ofste, 7 hitnealæcðþamende, 7 þy hit is,
on worolde aa swa leng swa wyrse; 7 swa hit sceal
nyde for folces synnan, ær antecristes tocyme,
yfelian swyþe,7 huru hit wyrðþænne
Codex of Wulfstan

(Note: There are cases where agreement in error is absolutelyreliable. A classic instance is in Arrian. Here, one codex is missing aleaf, causing a lacuna. Every other known copy -- there are about forty --proceeds from the last word on the page before the loss to the first wordof the page after, with no indication of anything missing. Thus, one canbe sure that all the manuscripts are descended from this one --and that it lost the leaf before the others were copied. Observe thatthis is identical to the situation ofFp andGp.)

(Additional note: It appears that this method has now been renderedtruly reliable. Stephen C. Carlson's work onCladisticsseems at last to have rendered stemmatics mathematically coherentand repeatable.)

This is not entirely to dismiss agreements in error even in the NewTestament tradition. I use agreements in error regularly in groupingByzantine manuscripts. For closely-related texts such as those, it is acompletely reliable method. The problem comes in when one moves awayfrom the closely-related texts. Zuntz, for instance, classed P46,B, and 1739 together based on what he considered shared errors. Butlooking at overall agreements makes this appear quite wrong: P46/Band 1739 are separate types, and Zuntz's shared errors in fact giveevery evidence of being the original text!

It's worth stressing that there are instances where scholars havecreated inaccurate stemma by the above means. The Middle English workPierce the Ploughman's Creed (Piers Plowman's Creed) exists inthree substantial copies. W. W. Skeat thought all three to be derived fromthe same original. A. I. Doyle offered strong evidence that this is notso. An even more absurd situation occurs in the homilies of Wulfstan. There arefour extant manuscripts of Homily Xc: C E I and B. N. R. Ker suggested that Icontained marginalia in the hand of Wulfstan himself, and Dorothy Bethurumconcedes that it offers "a more authoritative text of the homilies itcontains than do any of the other manuscripts" -- yet she offers thisstemma, which puts I and its marginalia at the end of the copying process:

     [Archetype]          |   -----------------   |               |  [X]             [Y]   <-- lost heads of manuscript families   |               | ---------       ------ |    |   \      |    | C    E    \    I*    B            \   /             \ /             I**

Even if documents do descend from the same original, it cannot automaticallybe assumed that they are sisters as opposed to cousins at some remove. Ifmanuscripts are sisters, then every deviation, be it as small as achange in orthography, must be explained. These requirements are much lessstrict for cousins, since there could have been work done on the interveningcopies. It is much easier (and probably more accurate!) to produce asketch-stemma than a detailed stemma -- and there is really no loss. If youknow which manuscripts are descended from others, no matter at how manyremoves, the primary purpose of recensio has been served. (Andit's worth noting that sketch stemma are possible even for New Testamentmanuscript groupings such as Family 2138.)

Sometimes it will be found that recensio brings us back to asingle surviving manuscript. For example, it is believed that all Greekmanuscripts of Josephus's Against Apion are derived from theimperfect Codex Laurentianus (L) of the eleventh century. In thiscase we are, in effect, in the situation of having onlyone manuscript (or, in the case of Against Apion, one manuscriptplus a Latin translation and extensive quotations from Eusebius, the latter twobeing the only authorities for a large lacuna in L and all its descendants).We proceed to the final stages (examinatioand emendatio) as described below.

(We should add a few footnotes to the above statement, which is absolutelytrue only if the archetype manuscript is complete and entirely legible, andif all the descendents are immediate copies. If, for instance, theexemplar is damaged, even for just a few letters, we may need to turn to thecopies to reconstruct it. This happens in the New Testament, e.g., with CodexClaromontanus and its copies. D/06 has lost its first few verses, and weuse Dabs1 -- which has no other value -- to reconstruct them. Also,if manuscript B is not a daughter of manuscript A, but rather a granddaughteror later descendent, it may have picked up a handful of reading frommixture in the intervening steps. Although most places where B differs fromA can be ignored as scribal errors, it is not proper to dismiss them entirelyout of hand. Similarly, there may be marginal scholia in B which come from adifferent source, and may inform us of other readings.)

While some traditions will resolve down to a single surviving archetype,it is also common to find that all the manuscripts prove to derive from a lostarchetype which is not the autograph. This is the case, for instance,with Æschylus. We have dozens of manuscripts all told (in fact,the number approaches one hundred) -- but they all contain the sameseven plays or a subset. It appears that every extant manuscript derives its contentsfrom a single manuscript of about the second century, which contained theseseven and no others. (The later copies may include a few readings derivedfrom other ancient manuscripts, but the plays they contain are based on thatone manuscript.)

To critics accustomed to the riches of the New Testament, this mayseem highly unlikely. But we should recall that most classical texts,including Æschylus and the other Greek dramatists, were the solepreserve of the educated -- used only in the schools to teach Attic grammarand the like (even a relatively small book cost the equivalent of a month'swage for a civil servant, and could be more; the tenth century ArchbishopArethas's copy of Plato cost 21 gold pieces when the annual salary was 72).In a number of cases, it is theorized that the ancestor of all copies wasa lone uncial. In the ninth or tenth century, perhaps as a resultof Photius's revival of learning, thisuncial was transcribed into minuscule script. Since this transcriptiontook real effort (the scribe had to determine accents, word divisions,etc.), all later copies would be derived from this one ninthcentury minuscule transcript. The only way multiple families would emerge isif two different schools transcribed their uncials. (Or, of course, if thetext evolved after the ninth century, but given the limited number of copiesmade in that time, when the Byzantine Empire was much reduced and undersevere stress, this seems relatively unlikely.) Even if other copies existedin Byzantine libraries, vast numbers were destroyed in the sacks of Constantinoplein 1204 and 1453. (It is believed, in fact, that the Christian Crusaders whosacked Byzantium are more at fault than the Ottoman Turks who finally capturedConstantinople in 1453. The Crusaders had no use for literature, while the Ottomansrespected learning. In addition, real efforts were made to rescue survivingliterature after 1204. So if an author's work was not made accessible in the yearsafter 1204, it is probably because all copies had been destroyed by then.)Therefore, when confrontedwith a single lost manuscript, we reconstruct thatarchetype and then proceed to examinatioand emendatio.

But for documents which were widely copied (even if only a limitednumber of copies survive), we usually find more complex traditions,such as those shown here for Seneca's tragedies and Xenophon's Cyropædia.In these instances, there were a handful of early copies which spawned familiesof related manuscripts.

In these charts, extant manuscripts are shown in plain type andlost, hypothetical manuscripts are shown in [brackets]. Fragmentsare marked %.

        [Seneca's Autograph]                |       ------------------       |                |   [E-Group]        [A-Group]       |                |  -------------     -----------  |     |     |     |    |    |  E     R%    T%    α    ψ    A1  | [Σ]  |-----|    |M    N            [Xenophon's Autograph]                     |  ----------------------------------------------  |        |          |            |     |     | [x]      [y]        [z]           |     |     |  |        |          |            |     |     |-----    -----    ---------        |     |     ||   |    |   |    |   |   |        |     |     |C   E    D   F    A   G   H        r%    m%    π2%

This situation also occurs in New Testament manuscript families. (So there isactually some relevance to this.) For example, Von Soden's breakdown of Family 13would produce a stemma like this (note that other scholars have given somewhatdifferent, and perhaps more accurate, stemma):

                          [Φ]                           |     ----------------------------------------------------     |             |                   |                |    [w]           [x]                 [y]              [z]     |             |                   |                |-----------     -------      ---------------------      ||    |    |     |     |      |    |    |    |    |      |13  788  69    1689  983    826  543  346  230  828    124

It should be noted that stemma are not always this simple; families may havesub-families. Rzach, for instance, found two families in Hesiod's Theogony,which he labelled Ψ and Ω. But Ω, which consisted of sevenmanuscripts (to two for Ψ), had three subgroups,Ωa, Ωb, and Ωc.

This reminds us of Bédier's warning about finding onlytwo branches, and also about making casual assumptions about therelationships of the groups. Can we be sure that the two manuscriptsof Ψ actuallyform a group, or are they simply non-Ωmanuscripts? (This problem is well known in other contexts: It's called "longbranch assimilation," where two specimens far from the main mass appear toconverge simply because they're so different.)Do the three subgroups of Ωactually form a larger group, or are they simply closer to each other than toΨ? There is noassured answer to any of these questions, but it reminds us that we mustbe careful in constructing our stemma. One should also be aware thatnew discoveries can affect the stemma. (This, in fact, can apply also inNT TC; the discoveries of P46, P47, and P75have all given us reason to re-examine the textual picture of thebooks they contain.)

Having determined the families, their nature must be assessed.This process has analogies in New Testament criticism(consider Hort's analysis of the "Western" and Alexandrian/"Neutral"types), except that in classical criticism it usually applies to precisely definedtexts as opposed to Hort's less-well-defined text-types. (The differencebeing that the reading of a text, being derived from a single ancestor,can in theory be determined exactly; text-types properly speaking will nothave a single ancestor, and so no pure original can be reconstructed. Text-typesare a collection of similar manuscripts.)

Once the types have been assessed, it may prove that oneor another group is so corrupt as to offer little more than a sourceof possible emendations. (This is almost the case with the familiesof Seneca shown above: The E text is regarded as clearly superior, somuch so that A-group readings are rarely considered if the E groupmakes sense. This rule is also often applied, though unjustifiably,in Old Testament criticism, where the LXX usually is not even consultedunless the Masoretic Text appears defective.) But this situationwhere one particular family is universally superior is not usual;more often we find that each group has something to contribute --though we may also find that different groups have different sortsof faults (e.g. one may be prone to omission, one to paraphrase,and another to errors of sight).

Once we have assessed the types, we proceed to the next step inthe process....


This phase of the critical process occurs only if recensioreveals two or more textual groupings more recent than the autograph.If we have only one manuscript, or if ourmanuscripts all go back to a single ancestor, selectio hasno role to play. For selectio consists of choosing themost primitive of the surviving variants.

When we begin this process, we know our materials. Manuscriptshave been grouped, their local archetypes more or less reconstructed,and their variants known. Now we must proceed to assess andchoose between the variants.

Here one applies canons of criticism generallysimilar to those applied to the New Testament, though thereare exceptions. So, for instance, we still accept the rule"that reading is best which best explains the others."And obviously the same basic scribal errors(homoioteleuton, etc.)still occur. But in secular works, one is unlikely to see the pilingon of divine titles one often observes in the Bible (so, e.g., if aGreek author refers to "the Lord," it is hardly likely thata scribe will expand it to read "the Lord Jesus Christ"). Similarly,there is little likelihood of assimilation to remote parallelssuch as we find in the Gospels and Colossians (although assimilationto local parallels can and does occur). And, of course, thereis no Byzantine text to influence the tradition (though there may,in some limited instances, be some equivalent sort of majoritytext that affects other manuscripts).

For all that we apply canons of criticism here, the usual approach is asort of "modified majority" process (rather like the American electoralsystem, in which each congressperson is elected by a majority in thatperson's district, and laws are passed by a majority of those congressmen --meaning that a law can actually be passed despite being opposed by the majorityof the general electorate). Consider the following provisional stemma of ninemanuscripts M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U. The manuscripts A (the archetype),B, C, D, and E are all hypothetical (indicated by square brackets aboutthe letters).

                   [A]                    |       --------------------------       |                        |      [B]                      [E]       |                        |  -----------                   |  |         |                   | [C]       [D]                  |  |         |                   |-----     -----         -----------------|   |     |   |         |   |   |   |   |M   N     O   P         Q   R   S   T   U

Now suppose we have two readings, X and Y. Assume these two are equallyprobable on internal grounds. Assume that X is read by M, N, P, and R, whileO, Q, S, T, and U have reading Y. Thus, Y is the majority reading. However,reconstruction indicates that X is actually the correct reading. How do wedetermine this? We follow these steps:

  1. Observe that M and N agree (this is the only subgroup where all the manuscripts agree). Therefore C had reading X, since this is supported by both M and N.
  2. Observe that C agrees with one of the manuscripts of the D group (in this case, P). This implies that the original reading of D was X, in agreement with C, and that the reading of B was therefore X
  3. Observe that B agrees with one of the manuscripts of the E group (in this case, R). This implies that the original reading of E was X, and that the reading of A was therefore X.

The above is not absolutely certain, of course. If reading X could havearisen as an easy error for Y, then Y might be original. Or there mightbe mixture -- the eternal bugaboo of critics -- involved. Intelligence andcritical rules must be applied. But the above shows how a text can bereconstructed where critical rules are not clear. Whatever rule we usefor a particular reading, we eventually reconstruct the set of readingswe believe to have existed in the archetype.

When this is done, we have achieved a provisional text -- the earliesttext obtainable directly from the manuscripts. It is at this pointthat Biblical and classical textual criticism finally part ways.As far as Biblical TC is concerned, this is usually the last step -- though Michael Holmeshas argued ("Reasoned Eclecticism in New Testament Textual Criticism,"published in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes, editors, The Text ofthe New Testament in Contemporary Research, p. 347), that there isno fundamental reason why New Testament criticism must stop here. The generalopinion of New Testament critics was expressed by KirsoppLake in this way (The Text of the New Testament,sixth edition revised by Silva New, pp. 8-9): "In classical textual criticism,the archetype of all the extant MSS. is often obtainable withcomparatively little work, but often is very corrupt. There is therefore scope formuch conjectural emendation. In Biblical textualcriticism, on the other hand, it is still doubtful what is the archetype ofthe existing manuscripts. But at least we may be sure that it is an exceedinglyearly one, with very few corruptions, and therefore the work ofconjectural emendation is very light, rarely necessary[,] andscarcely ever possible.")

Thus it is only in classical criticism that we proceed to...


This process consists, simply put, of scanning the text for errors.This step, though it may be distasteful, and certainly difficult, isnecessary. Classical manuscripts were no freer of errors than wereBiblical manuscripts, and are often further removed from the archetype,meaning that there have been more generations for errors to arise. Sothe scholar, armed with knowledge of the language and (if possible) ofthe style of the writer, sets out to look for corruptions in the text.If they are found, the editor proceeds to...


If examinatio consists of looking for errors,emendatio(also known as divinatio) consists of fixing them. This,obviously, requires the use of conjectural emendation.This is no trivial task! Take the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf as an example.The Chickering text (Howell D. Chickering, Jr., Beowulf, Anchor, 1997)includes about 280 readings not in the manuscript (of which some200 are conjectural emendations), and othereditors have proposed many emendations not adopted by Chickering. Thecase of the Old English poem "The Seafarer" is even worse:in 124 lines of four to ten words each (usually toward the lower endof that range), the edition of I. L. Gordon adopts 22 emendations(I. L. Gordon, The Seafarer, Methuen's Old English Library, 1960).Thus the effort involved in correcting these texts can often begreater than that of simply comparing manuscripts.

Of course, the way one proceeds through the four steps of classicalcriticism depends very much upon the actual materials preserved. We say,for instance, that emendatio is thefinal step in the process. But it should use the results of the othersteps. The variants at a particular point, for instance, may give a clueas to what was the original reading. If, for example, we were to findtwo variants, "He went to bet" and "He went too bad,"a very strong conjecture would be that the original was "He went tobed." Therefore we must perform each step based on the materialsavailable. Nor is emendation a trivial task. To repair a damaged textrequires deep understanding of the language and the author's use of it(a better understanding than is required simply to read the text; when reading,you can look up a word you don't know. How can you look up a word which maynot even exist?). It also requires great creativity -- and knowledge ofall the materials available. The following sections outlinevarious scenarios and how critics proceed in each case.

Books Preserved in One Manuscript

In terms of steps required, this is the easiest of the varioussorts of criticism. There is no need forrecensio or selectio.One can proceed immediately to examinatio andemendatio.

But there are complications. For one thing, when there is only onemanuscript, one is entirely dependent upon that manuscript. There isnothing to fall back on if the manuscript is illegible. And this canbe a severe problem. Again taking the case of Beowulf, theonly surviving manuscript was burned in the Cotton Library fire, andis often illegible. So we are largely dependent on two transcriptsmade some centuries ago, both of which have problems of their own.Similar difficulties are found in other texts. The manuscript may bea palimpsest. Or it may use anon-standard orthography. Ina handful of instances we may not even be able to read the scriptof the original (e.g. the Greek Linear A writings, but also somePersian inscriptions and even Old English writings in odd forms ofthe runic alphabet.) Thus the scholar must pay particular attentionto the seemingly simple text of just reading the manuscript.

The second problem of texts preserved in a single copy is thatwe have no recourse in the event of an error. If a Biblical manuscripthas lost a line, we can determine its reading from another copy.But if the ancestral copy of the Antigone has lost a line (and wecan tell that it is missing because the surrounding lines makenonsense), how can we correct it? I use this as an example because thisis a casewhere we can show this happened; the text of Antigone 1165-1168makes nonsense in all the manuscripts. We know the correct readingonly because Eustathius's commentary preserves the missing line.In the case of multiple manuscripts,even if all of them have an error, the nature of the mistakes maytell us something about the original. Not so when there is onlyone copy.

The sole manuscript of Beowulf, Cotton Vitellius A.xv. The firstpage of the poem. The photograph, digitally adjusted to increaselegibility, still shows the scorch marks at the bottom of the page;the outer margin has also been eaten away by the fire, with someloss of text (corrections in []). For a better view of the actual manuscript,see the British Library site; there it an imagehere.The first seven lines of the text read as follows (the*, equivalent to a raised point in the Old English, indicates the endof a metrical line; these are not always marked in the manuscript; wherethey are not, {*} is used; suspended letters are spelled out. The word divisionmatches the manuscript as I read it, though modern editions consider this defective):

na in gear dagum *þeod cyninga
þrym ge frunon {*}huðaæþelingas elle[n]
fre medon * oft scyld scefing sceaþe[na]
þreatummonegum mægþummeodo setla
ofteah {*} esgode eorlsyððanærest wear[ð] {*}
fea sceaft funden heþæs frofre geba[d]

Beowulf Manuscript

Thus the task of editing a book preserved in only one manuscriptis arguably the most complex and difficult in textual criticism,for the scholar must reconstruct completely wherever the scribehas failed. We have already seen that these manuscripts oftenneed vast numbers of emendations. They also require particularlyclever ones.

There is a minor variation on this theme of emendation in the caseof works which exist in only one manuscript, but for which we alsohave epitomes or other works based on the original source. (An examplewould be the portions of Polybius which overlap the surviving portionsof Livy. Livy used Polybius, often quoting him nearly verbatim butwithout identifying the quotations.) These secondary sources can supplyreadings where the text is troubled. However, since the later sourcesare often rewritten (this is true even of the epitomes), and may be interpolated aswell, it is usually best to use them simply as a source foremendations rather than to use them as a source of variant readings.

This theme has a variation in the case of editions copied from other editions:This applies in the case of Malory above, and also some of Shakespeare's plays,where we have two semi-independent editions. Caxton surely consultedBritish Library Add. 59678, but he must have consulted something else, too, evenif it was only his own head. In the case of Shakespeare, we can take A MidsummerNight's Dream as an example: There are two texts, the quarto (properly, thefirst quarto, but the second quarto was copied from the first quarto), and thefolio, copied from the second quarto but with corrections seemingly from anauthoritative second source. The interesting question here, then, is howauthoritative is the text in the places where our two sources agree: Does thisagreement have as much strength as an instance where two genuinely separate sourcesagree (meaning that we trust the joint reading as much as a reading supportedby two different manuscripts), or is it a case where one corrector or anotherdidn't notice a divergence? This question, unfortunately, has no simple answer --but one should be aware of the problem.

Another variation is the criticism of inscriptions. Although an inscriptionis, of course, the original inscription, it is not necessarily the originaltext. When Darius I of Persia ordered the making of the Behistun inscription,he certainly didn't climb the rock and do the carving himself -- rather, hecomposed a message and left it to the workers to put it on the rock.Thus the inscription will generally be a first-generation copy of the original.This is still much better than we expect for literary works -- but it isnot the original.

Still another variation is the Gilgamesh Epic. This exists in multiplepieces, recensionally different, in multiple languages, from multipleeras, with some of the later versions incorporating material originallyseparate, and not one of the major recensions is complete. Here one has tostep back from the problem of deciding how to reconstruct and first settlewhat to reconstruct.

Books Preserved in Multiple Manuscripts

This is the case for which Lachmann's technique is best suited. Itis ideal for traditions with perhaps five to twenty manuscripts, andcan be used on larger groups (though it is hardly practical if thereare in excess of a hundred manuscripts).

We begin, of course, with recensio. Thiscan have three possible outcomes:

  1. All manuscripts are descendents of a single manuscript, which survives.In this case we simply turn to that manuscript, and proceed to subject it toexaminatio andemendatio.
  2. All manuscripts are descendants of a single manuscript now lost. Inthis case we reconstruct the archetype (this will usually consist simplyof throwing out errors, since all the manuscripts have a recent commonancestor), and proceed as above, subjecting this reconstructed text toexaminatio andemendatio.
  3. The manuscripts fall into two or more families. In this case, weproceed through the full process of selectio,examinatio, andemendatio.

Books Preserved in Hundreds of Manuscripts

This is an unusual situation; very few ancient works are preservedin more than a few dozen manuscripts. But there are some -- Homer beingthe obvious example. (Another leading example, the Quran, is rarelyconsidered as a subject for textual criticism. At least one major editionof the Quran, in fact, was not even taken from manuscript; it wascompiled by comparing the recitations of 20 or so Quranic scholars. The primarytradition of the Quran is considered to be oral, not written.)The Iliad, which is preserved in somewhatmore than 600 manuscripts, is believed to be the most popular non-religiouswork of the manuscript age. (Of course, it should be noted that the worksof Homer were regarded as scripture by the Greeks -- but certainly notin the same way that the New Testament was regarded by Christians!)

In the handful of cases where manuscripts are so abundant, of course,the stemmatics used for most classical compositions become impossible.We have the same problem as we do with the New Testament: Too many manuscripts,and too many missing links. We are forced to adopt a different procedure,such as looking for the best or the most numerous manuscripts.

Since the methods used are fundamentally similar to those used forNew Testament criticism, we will not detail them here. It is worthnoting, however, that most critics consider the Byzantine manuscriptsof Homer to be more reliable than the assorted survivingpapyri. The papyri will occasionally contain very good readings --but in general they seem to contain wild, uncontrolled texts.Whereas the Byzantine manuscripts reflect a carefully controlledtradition, presumably going back to the Alexandrian editors whostandardized Homer.

This fact should not be taken to imply anything about NewTestament criticism; the situations are simply not parallel.But it serves as a reminder that a late manuscript need notbe bad, and an early one need not be good. All must be judgedon their merits.

Books Preserved in Multiple Editions

A special complication arises when books are preserved in multipleeditions. This is by no means rare; an author would often be the onlyscribe available to copy his own work, and should he not have theright to expand it? (We may even see a New Testament parallel tothis in the book of Acts, where some have thought that the authorproduced two editions, one of which lies behind the Alexandriantext and the other behind the text of Codex Bezae.) Even authors who werenot their own scribeswould often expand their work. The Vision of Piers Plowman, forinstance, exists in three stages (perhaps even four, though thefourth is actually a prototype and was not formally published).The first stage, known as "A,"is 2500 lines long, and does not appear to have been finished. Someyears later the "B" text, of 4000 lines, was issued (this isthe text most often published). A final recension, the "C" text(only slightly longer, but considered to be of poorer quality) followeda few years later. All were probably by the same author (though thisis not certain), but it is believed that, in revising the "B"text to produce the "C" version, the poet used a manuscriptthat was produced by a different scribe. What became of theoriginal copy of the "B" text is unknown; perhaps it waspresented to a patron. 

Near-contemporary but not really a witness:Piers the Plowman, the upper portion of folio 9 inCotton Vespasian B.xvi (cited in critical editionsas "M"). Thought to date from the late fourteenthcentury, which, since the "C" text dates from around 1385and the author died within a year or two of that date, was copied withina generation of the author's death. But, since it is a revision of the"C" text, itself a revision of the "B" text, ittells us nothing useful about the "A" text shown in the stemmaat left.

Note how different this hand is from the Anglo-Saxon hands usedfor Beowulf and Wulfstan. Note also the elaborate use of coloured inks:the red dots to indicate line breaks, the red in the first letter of almostevery line, the coloured first letters of sections, and the marginalsquiggles which also mark section breaks. Finally, observe how very differentis the hand scribbling in the margin.

Piers Plowman

This also poses a problem for the scholar working on a stemma. Theedition of the "A" text of Piers Plowman by ThomasA. Knott and David C. Fowler, for instance, gives the followingstemma (somewhat simplified), with actual manuscripts denoted byupper case letters (sometimes with subscripts or two-letterabbreviations) and ancestors in lower case letters:

            |----x-----V H            |Archetype---|----y--|--y1----T H2 Ch D            |       |            |       |--y2----U R T2 A M H3            |       |            |       |--y3----W N Di            |       |            |       |--------I            |       |            |       |--------L            |            |----------------B text

Thus, for Piers Plowman, a later recension must be used as one of thethree witnesses to the earlier recension -- a practice which, if we were todo it in another context, we would not call "reconstruction" but"contamination" (or, if we want to make it sound nicer,"harmonization").

Even more curious is the case of the Old English poem TheDream of the Rood, which exists in a long form, in the Romanalphabet, in the tenth century Vercelli Book, and in a much shorterform, in a runic script, inscribed on the eighth(?) century RuthwellCross. (In this instance it is not really clear what the relationshipbetween the texts is.)

We could cite many other instances of works existing in multipleeditions (e.g. Julian of Norwich; for that matter, we know that evenJosephus issued multiple editions of his works). Indeed, there is amodern equivalent, even if I hate to mention it: Consider the movie,which often has a "studio cut" and a "director's cut."But citing examples is not our purpose here; our interest is in what we learn from these examples.

In addition to editorial work, multiple editions can come aboutas the result of ongoing additions to a document. This typicallyoccurs in chronicle manuscripts. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,for instance, begins with a core created by King Alfred of Wessex(reigned 871-899). But from then on, the various foundations maintainingit kept their own records, often comparing the documents. In addition,a new foundation might make a copy of an older Chronicle then addits own additions (so, for example, with Chronicle MSS. A and A2).And, since the Chronicle was updated sporadically, it is theoreticallypossible for a manuscript to be "its own grandpa" -- the firstpart of A2 is copied from A, but later parts of A might(barely possibly) be derived at some removes from A2 or anotherlost descendant. To add to the fun, the manuscript A is in a differentdialect of Anglo-Saxon from all other Chronicle manuscripts. The differentrecensions cannot be considered translations -- the dialects were stillone language -- but adjustments had to be made to conform the text in onedialect to the idiom of another.

When multiple editions of a work exist, of course, it is not properto conflate the editions to produce some sort of ur-text. The editionsare separate, and should be reconstructed separately. The questionis, to what extent is it legitimate to use the different editionsfor criticism of each other?

Although the exact answer will depend on the circumstances, ingeneral the different editions should not be used to editeach other. (They can, of course, be used as sources ofemendations.) They may be used as witnesses for one or anothervariant reading -- but one should always be aware of the tendency toharmonize the different editions.

Textual Criticism of Lost Books

At first glance, textual criticism of a lost book may seem impossible.And in most cases it is; we cannot, for instance, reconstruct anythingof Greek tragedy before Æschylus.

But "lost" is a relative term. The "Q" source usedby Matthew and Luke islost, but scholars are constantly reconstructing it. The situation issimilar for many classical works. Consider, for example, the Egyptianhistorian Manetho. We have absolutely nothing direct from his pen.So much of his work, however, was excerpted by Eusebius and Africanus(and sometimes by Josephus) that Manetho's work still provides theoutline of the Egyptian dynasty list.

This is by no means unusual; many classical works have perished buthave been heavily excerpted. Polybius is another good example. Of his forty-volumehistory, only the first five books are entirely intact (we also have a largeportion of book six, and a few scattered fragments of the other books). Butmost of the information from Polybius survives in the writers who consulted him --Livy and Diodorus used him heavily, and Plutarch and Pliny occasionally.

The problem in Polybius's case -- as in Manetho's -- lies in tryingto determine what actually came from the original author and what isthe work of the redactor. (We can perhaps grasp the scope of the problem ifwe imagine trying to reconstruct the Gospel of Mark if we had onlyMatthew and Luke as sources.) This is made harder by the fact thatthe redactors often introduced problems of their own. (A comparisonof Africanus's and Eusebius's use of Manetho, for instance, showssevere discrepancies. They do not always agree on the numberof kings in a dynasty, and they often disagree on the length ofthe reigns. Even the names of the kings themselves sometimes vary.)

Thus it is often possible to recover the essential content of lostbooks. However, one should never rely on the verbal accuracy of thereconstructed text.

There are variations on this theme. When the second part ofDon Quixote was long delayed, an enterprising plagairist publisheda continuation in 1614. This was not an actual work of Cervantes (whopublished his correct continuation in 1615), but it thought to have beenbased at least in part on a manuscript Cervantes allowed to circulateprivately. The result is at least partly genuine Cervantes -- but notsomething the author wanted published, and not entirely in his ownwords, either.

Other differences between Classical and New TestamentCriticism

We have already alluded to several of the differences between Classicaland New Testament criticism: The difference in numbers of manuscripts,the use of stemmatics, etc. There are other differences which much sometimesbe kept in mind:

At this point it is perhaps worth quoting another passage from Reynolds &Wilson (page 212):

[Rules such as the above] will inevitably give the impressionthat textual criticism is a tidier and more cut-and-dried process than itproves to be in practice. While general principles are undoubtedly of greatuse, specific problems have an unfortunate habit of being sui generis,and similarly it is rare to find two manuscript traditions which respond toexactly the same treatment.

Appendix I: Textual Criticism of Modern Authors

Most of the preceding discussion has been directed toward writings which,in broad outline at least, have histories similar to the New Testament:Written in manuscript, and copied one at a time by scribes, with most ofthe copies being lost.

It should be noted, however, that there is a form of textual criticismpracticed on works written since then, though it is a very different sortof subject. The difficulty is that a printed copy of a book, or even theauthor's autograph, may not really represent the author's actual intentions.(Compare the case of Malory described above, where Caxton much expanded fromthe manuscript.) A modern example of this is noted by Jerome J. McGannin A Critique ofModern Textual Criticism (Virginia, 1992), p. 59. He notes Byron'spoem The Giaour. This had an extraordinarily complex history, withmost "states" of the text surviving:

First draft: 344 lines
Fair copy by the author: 375 lines
Printed trial proof: 453 lines
First edition: 684 lines
Second edition (not corrected by Byron): 816 lines
"Third" edition, first run: 950 lines
"Third" edition, second run: 1014 lines
Fourth edition (not corrected by Byron): 1048 lines
Fifth edition: 1215 lines
Sixth edition: (lineation not noted)
Seventh edition: 1334 lines

And so on, through fully fifteen editions in a very short span of time(supposedly 14 editions between 1813 and 1815).

Now it should be obvious that the first and fourteenth editions aren'treally "the same," and a textual critic shouldn't be reconstructingone with reference to the other. But there is another question: What didByron intend each edition to look like?

This is an even more complicated question, because of orthographicconsiderations. Particularly in the early era of printing, there wasno standardization of spelling or punctuation. We see faint vestigesof this even today -- e.g. Americans refer to workers collectively as "labor,"the British refer to them as "labour." Again, newspapers tendto omit the serial comma ("I went to work, the store and home")while higher-end books tend to include it ("I went to work,the store, and home").

And authors often expected their publishers to help them inthis regard. Sir Walter Scott wanted his writings to be"de-Scotticised" by the publisher. Byron's works were overseenby Mary Shelley, who introduced corrections both orthographic andsubstantial -- and Byron accepted a very high fraction of thesechanges, implying that he desired the help.

Or take A. E. Housman. He wrote many poems more poems than hepublished. In his will, he allowed his brother to publish any additionalpoems from his notebooks which Laurence Housman thought good enoughto publish (while allowing him to make minor alterations). Laurenceprobably published more than his brother would have liked, but he didcut out and destroy much of his brother's manuscript book -- and thenfiddled somewhat with the poems he published. So what, exactly, is theoriginal of those poems? A. E. Housman's unfinished version? LaurenceHousman's published version? Some ideal version toward which one orthe other was striving?

Thus, even the author's final draft was not necessarily regardedas final in the author's mind. So what does one reconstruct?

And even if one has decided what to reconstruct, does it followthat one should actually retain that form? Should an American versionof Byron or Housman, e.g., use the spelling "labour"?

This is apparently a rather hot topic in textual criticism ofmodern works; it is the whole and entire subject of the McGann workcited above. (Though I must confess that I never figured out whatMcGann actually wanted to see happen. There is apparently a school withwhich McGann is associated which thinks that texts only have meaning whiletheir writer is alive to be able to fiddle with them, which obviously haspeculiar implications for New Testament criticism, not that they're worriedabout that! Just for their reference -- yes, I regularly revise works likethis as I gather more information. But, McGann and Co., I publishedthis thing. I published it because I want it out there. Might the nextversion be better? Yes, if I live long enough and don't develop dementia.But I published because I'm satisfied and this work is real and dealwith it, OK?)

I suspect, however, that the issue is not of much interest toNT critics. (I know it isn't of much interest to me!) NTeditions necessarily create their own punctuation (derived perhapsin part from a manuscript -- see the article onCopy Texts), and the tendency is alsotoward modern orthography.

A matter somewhat more serious (to my mind) is the case ofBishop Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765 andlater editions). This was an annotated edition of poems Percycollected here and there, most particularly from a manuscript ofthe previous century which he had saved from burning.

The manuscript, however, was mutilated, and much of what was stillintact had nonetheless been damaged in transmission, and several of thepieces were indelicate. So Percy included pieces not from themanuscript, omitted much that was in the manuscript -- and heavily rewroteit all.

The result, frankly, was a botch. Many versions of traditional songsare defective, and it is accepted that an editor who wishes to preparea song for singing must sometimes conflate or rewrite. But this still leavestwo obligations: The author should admit to rewriting -- and the authorshouldn't produce garbage. Also, the author should not hide the manuscript(as Percy did), so that later editors can produce diplomatic editions orpropose their own emendations.

Take it as given that Percy failed in all three of his tasks. But whatshould be done instead? About a century after Percy performed his butchery(an ironically successful butchery, since the Reliques was the mostpopular collection of tradition-based ballads to that date), an authorproduced a revised edition. What should he have done? ReplacedPercy's hacks with the original manuscript versions? Printed Percy's versionwith footnotes? Something else?

There is no answer, really -- but it reminds us of just how badan editing job can be. Percy's edition was not useful to scholars becauseit was too heavily edited, and was no use to ordinary people because it wastoo badly edited, and at no point said what it did. Whatever else moderncritics do, they really need to learn the Percy Lesson.

Appendix II: History of Other Literary Traditions

Note: This is not a history of literature, nor an account ofliterary criticism. It is simply a very brief account of the manuscripthistory of non-Biblical traditions. (Limited by what I myself know orcan find out about these traditions. The primary sources for most of theshorter entries is David Crystal's An Encyclodepic Dictionary of Languageand Languages and the Encyclopedia of Literature editedby Joseph T. Shipley, though I have consulted fuller literary histories formost of the longer entries. I have attempted to cover all current Europeanlanguages, though examining the remaining languages of the world is beyondeither my powers of the scope of this article (yes, I know this isunfair; a language such as Persian, e.g., has inscriptions from Biblicaltimes, and a large literature, and its speakers have influenced Biblicalhistory. But I have to draw the line somewhere). For that matter, even decidingwhat constitutes a language is difficult; the definitions are as oftenpolitical as linguistic. Czechs and Slovaks, for instance, can understandeach other, but their languages are called distinct. Different dialects ofItalian, by contrast, are mutually incomprehensible but labelled as onelanguage.

Knowledge of the history of literature in a language can behelpful in reconstructing the history of manuscripts. Our understanding of the historyof the New Testament text, for instance, is strongly influenced by themanuscripts which have survived. We have a handful of early manuscriptsfrom Egypt, then a very quiet period in the sixth through eighth centuries,from which little of significance survives, then a great floweringbeginning with the ninth century.

Latin literature and manuscripts have a history somewhat like thatof the New Testament, though thedates are later, and there is no early phase. There are effectively noLatin manuscripts from the papyrus era (apart from those buried byMount Vesuvius, of course); the areas where Latin was spokengenerally did not have a climate suitable for long-term survival ofpapyri. We have some inscriptions, but few are literary.

The transition from uncial to minuscule happened somewhat earlier inthe Latin than in the Greek tradition; the west, which was poorer thanthe Greek East, probably felt the need for a smaller hand at an earlierdate. In any case, we see attempts at literature in minuscules as earlyas the seventh century. By the late eighth century, the CarolingianMinuscule became dominant, and uncials all but died out.

The Carolingian period also saw the first real revival in Latin learning.Old texts were unearthed and recopied; most of our oldest manuscripts arefrom this period.

The impoverishment that followed the breakup of Charlemagne's empiresaw literary productions decline, but there was another revival in thetwelfth century. This was the heyday of Latin literature in Christendom,and the single richest period for Latin manuscripts.

The Romance Languages, naturally, have a much shorter literaryheritage. Although tongues such as French and Italian were starting to takeform by Charlemagne's time, a literature requires more than that: It requiresboth authors and copyists. Monks, at this time, were still concerned withLatin literature, and few if any vernacular writers seem to have existed.

While a language recognizeably French appears to have existed by theninth century, French literature has a complex history, as France remaineda nation of semi-independent counties until the fifteenth century. (The Frenchking was overlord of Normandy, Burgundy, Brittany, etc. -- but hadn't the strength orauthority to control the dukes who ran those fiefs. At best, he was allowed to namea new Duke if the old line died out.) Language andculture were by no means united. So the earliest importantFrench writing was the Song of Roland,regarded as the earliest (and certainly the best) of the chansons de geste.It is believed to date from around the beginning of the twelfth century, andother chansons date from somewhat later in that period. Also fromthe twelfth century (probably the latter half) is Marie de France (so named,it is thought, because of her birthplace; she seems to have worked in England), a writerof romantic fables (lais). At the same time, the flood of romances(many of them, ironically, connected with the legendary British King Arthur)began to appear. Few of these, however, survive in many copies. Even the Rolandexists in only one significant manuscript, Oxford, Bodl. Lib. Digby 23,which seems to have been copied by an Anglo-Norman scribe. (There aremany later manuscripts, but they are all so bad that the criticaleditions tend to work simply by emending the Digby text.) Similarly,there is only one complete manuscript of Marie's lais; British MuseumHarley 978. A large subset, nine, are found in a Paris manuscript,Bibliothèque Nationale nouv. acq. fr. 2168, also from the thirteenthcentury. There are a handful of other fragments, all from the thirteenthand fourteenth centuries. It seemslikely enough that the compositions survived primarily because theyare so recent.

We tend to think of France as the country of French-speakers, but asignificant minority still speaks Provençal (also knownas Languedoc, and known to linguists as Occitan). Althougha minority language in France, many of the traditions we regard as Frenchare actually Provençal; in its early form (known since the tenthcentury), it was the language of the troubadours who created the"courtly love" mythology. The tongue itself was much moreimportant in the past; today, northern French is imposed on southernchildren in the schools, and Provençal is a sort of a streetlanguage comparable to Braid Scots in Scotland. It flourished until the fourteenthcentury, but came under pressure thereafter (probably in part as a resultof the Hundred Years War; many of the southern French had preferredEnglish rule and the French government wanted to bind them more closelyto France). The earliest written manuscript is a fragment of the Boeci,thought to have been written around the year 1000. Another fragment, theLife of Saint Fides, was copied at about that time. Then came William IX,Count of Poitiers, the so-called first Troubadour (who lived around 1071-1127).Although only about a dozen of his works survive, Provençal literaturebecomes common starting from him -- starting, of course, with the CourtlyLove lyrics of poets such as Bernart de Ventadorn (mid-twelfth century).

It is not really proper to speak of Spanish literature of themanuscript era; for much of this period, the Iberian peninsula was inMoslem hands (Granada, in the south, was not dispersed until 1492). And even once Christiansreclaimed the area, they formed separate principalities (Aragon, Castile,Leon, Navarre). Thus, properly, we should refer to either Iberianliterature or the literature of the individual nations -- though almostno one does so. It was not until 1469 that Ferdinand of Aragon marriedIsabella of Castile (with Isabella reigning from 1474 in Castille andFerdinand from 1479 in Aragon), at last forming a united Spain. (And eventhis nation was not united administratively, and did not have a singlemonarch until 1516, when Charles I -- who was also the Holy Roman EmperorCharles V -- succeeded his grandfather Ferdinand, setting aside his motherJuana "the Mad.") There are, of course, manuscripts from Spain --such as the excellent Vulgate manuscripts cav and tol, plus some Visigothicfragments -- but these properly fall under other headings.

Still, we have documents from this era. The earliest vernacularSpanish writings (as opposed to writings in late Latin) seem to belaw codes from about tenth century. We do not find actual literaturein Spanish until the about the twelfth century. From about this timecome three epic romances: the Poema del Cid (Cantar de Mio Cid, about theCastilian Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, died 1099) was written about 1140(which, although it survives entire in only one manuscript, is consideredthe great early example of Spanish literature; we also find extremely largeportions of it quoted in later chronicles), the Crónica Rimada,and the Roncesvalles (a translation and adaption of the FrenchSong of Roland), also surviving in a single manuscript. All ofthese are evolved works, hinting that there are older epics, but theyare lost. From this time, we see increasing volumes of literaturein all categories (epic, drama, poetry, etc.)

Portugese is now spoken primarily in Brazil, which has a far largerpopulation than Portugal itself, but of course the languagedid not reach that nation until after the invention of printing. Portugalitself has had a complex history, occasionally being united with Spain;the two languages have influenced each other. The famous Portugeseexplorers also brought home many loan-words. The basic language, however,remains fairly close to the Latin from which it sprang. There is a strong literarytradition starting from the twelfth century (the earliest dated inscriptioncomes from 1189); the songs of the troubadours, the most important part ofthe tradition, come from the next century. These have a complex history,written separately and combined, with many of the anthologies lost, butthey may have cross-fertilized. Portugeseis especially closely related to Galician, spoken primarily in thenorthwest corner of Spain north of Portugal (the two did not split untilafter Portugal became an independent country and the western Iberianswere largely cut off from each other). Distinctly Galician literatureis, however, rare and largely confined to the period after the developmentof printing and the split with Portugese; although there are cultural hintsof a Celtic history in the region, this has not affected the language or literature.

Catalan was for much of its history the official speech of Aragon(a small country which came to be incorporated into the larger Catalan state butretained the name Aragon because Aragon had kings and Catalonia only counts), but it is nowthe forgotten Romance language -- it's almost the only Romance speech not to be officialsomewhere. It is spoken primarily in northeastern Spain and surrounding areas(e.g. into the eastern French Pyrenees; the primary city of Catalan Spainis Barcelona). Catalan speakers have been oppressedat various times in Spanish history (as recently as under Franco), which hasresulted both in the destruction of texts and in a strong tendency to conformto Spanish. Still, there are literary remains going back to about the twelfthcentury, and chronicles starting not much after -- and the fact that Aragonand the County of Barcelona came to be dominated by Castile, and thatCatalan texts and speakers have been abused, means that there is much needfor textual reconstructive work.

Even more thoroughly ignored is Corsican, spoken by only a few hundredthousand people on the island of that name. Although Corsica has been governedby France for more than two centuries, it is a language with Italian roots(closest to Tuscan). It has, however, no real literature (Corsica long remaineda land of subsistance farmers and shepherds), particularly from the manuscriptera.

Sardinian has been written since the eleventh century, but has onlya small literature; the language (which is close to Italian, and also saidto be closer to vulgar Latin than any other Romance language) has severaldialects, none dominant, and it has never been an official language evenon its home island.

Ladinic is the usual name for a Romance language spoken primarilyby Jews. As such, it has a fairly large literature, though much of it isfairly recent. The tradition is confused by the fact that both Hebrewand Roman alphabets have been used for it.

The name "Ladinic" is also sometimes used for the fourth officiallanguage of Switzerland, but the correct name is Romansch orRhaetian or Rhaeto-Romansch. It has several dialects, influencedvariously by Italian and French. The earliest writings date from the twelfthcentury, but the small number of speakers has kept the tradition small.

It was Dante who truly put vernacular Italian literature onthe map (though he wrote in Latin as well as Italian, his great work,the Divine Comedy, was the first major work of Italian vernacularliterature, and written not many centuries after the first hints ofItalian writing in the tenth century -- that earliest writing beingscribbles in the margins of Latin documents. We have some verse fragmentsfrom the twelfth century, but their dialect seems to indicate that theywere dead ends). So great was Dante's influence that Boccaccio, the second greatlight of Italian literature, adopted almost all of Dante's techniques.Dante did not invent everything he did -- his slightly older colleagueGuido Cavalcanti, for whom Dante wrote the Vita nuova, pioneereda great deal. Dante, however, was the great voice who spread the literatureto the wide world. Like Boccaccio, Petrarch (the popularizer of the sonnet) wrote inthe period immediately after Dante (Petrarch too was of Florentine ancestry,though born outside that city).Dante, Cavalcanti, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, however, wrote only a fewcenturies before the invention of printing. Thus the Italian manuscript tradition presents fewinteresting features. In addition, Italy, like Spain, was not uniteduntil long after the invention of printing -- in this case, the nineteenth century.The Divine Comedy is notreally Italian literature (except in its language; Dante was one of thefirst to write in the Italian vernacular); it is the language of oneof the city-states (even today, some of the Italian dialects are mutuallyincomprehensible; Received Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect ofFlorence, but about half the population does not speak this formas a native language; thereare also minority languages. Francis of Assisi, for instance, wroteextensively in his local Umbrian dialect). There was thus no nationalItalian literature in the manuscript era.

Widely separated from the other Romance languages is Rumanian. Thishas caused it to develop unusual features -- e.g. it adds articles as suffixesto nouns, and of course has many Slavic loan words. The language presumablyevolved away from Latin very early, but the earliest writings seem to datefrom the sixteenth century, and these were confined to official documents andliturgical works. Even then, Slavic alphabets were used for several centuries.

Some texts will speak of Moldavian as a separate Romance language,but this is one of those political distinctions, since Moldova, prior toindependence, was long part of Russia. Moldavian is really a dialect ofRumanian (with some Russian loan words) written in the Cyrillic alphabet, withno real literature from the manuscript era.

Dalmatian, which died out as recently as the end of the nineteenthcentury, was also a Romance language, but seems to have left little literature.(This is fairly typical of Balkan area languages.)

Romani (Romany, Gypsy), despite its name, is not a Romancelanguage; its origin is something of a mystery although it has been attributedto the Indo-Aryan group. The language is very diverse, and tends to take onlocal attributes. When written, it tends to use the local alphabet. Romaniliterature, however, is oral; there is little if any need for textual criticism.

Greek Literature never went into as much of a decline as Latin,so we do not see as much of a revival. The strongest period of copying,however, is not that different; many of our earliest manuscripts datefrom the ninth to eleventh centuries. The Photian Revival of theninth century is no doubt at least partly responsible. After the eleventhcentury, the decline begins. The Battle of Manzikert (1071) began the long slowByzantine retreat which ended with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.The worst destruction, however, was wrought by Christians, not Turks.The Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople in 1204, and many of itstreasures were either destroyed at that time or carried off to Westernlibraries where they were forgotten.

It is interesting to note that, for both Greek and Latin literatures, thereis something of a break following the third century. Until this time,authors freely and regularly quoted works such as the Epic Cycleand the lost plays of the Athenian dramatists.Following the third century, this becomes much rarer. Occasionalextremely diligent authors such as Photius will occasionally producesomething from a lost work, but the strong majority of quotations arefrom works which still exist today. This cutoff is so strong and soobvious that scholars have speculated that the surviving works are partof some sort of official curriculum, with works outside that curriculumbeing ignored. (The problem with this theory is that there is absolutelyno other evidence for it. The likely explanation is just the generaldecline of the Roman Empire.)

Russian literature really gives us very little to work with.There was not even a Russian/Slavic alphabet until the creation of theOld Church Slavonic version. Eventhen, there was little to write down (a fact which is to a significantextent responsible for out ignorance of early Russian history); Russia,more than almost any nation in Europe, was a land of poor peasants andwealthier but equally ignorant aristocrats. It also suffered outsidedisruptions -- the sack of Kiev in 1170, the Mongol and Tatar invasions,the later sack of Novgorod and the other battles for Russian unification.The problem is made that muchworse by the various dialects of the language. (We truly do not know theextent to which early Russian differed from Old Church Slavonic.)Histories do not begin tospeak of Russian literature until the eighteenth century. Prior to that,there were church manuals and a few chronicles and the like (starting fromthe twelfth century), but littleelse save the letters of Tsar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible, 1530-1584).From the manuscript era, there is little original literature exceptfor saints' lives and monastery annals. The latter hardly need textualcriticism. The former may have suffered more modification -- but inthis case, the modifications may be of as much interest as the originaltext.

The situation is similar for most of the eastern Slavic languages (inthe areas where the Orthodox church held sway). The situation is perhapseven worse for the western Slavs; since these regions were Catholic,they used the Latin Bible, and had no vernacular translation to inspirea literary tradition. Slovenian, for instance, is said not to have hadany literature at all until the nineteenth century.

Interestingly, textual criticism continues to be an active need in someof the Slavic languages to this day. Because of the Habsburg Empire'slack of respect for its subject peoples, writings in these tongues wereoften published very casually. A classic example is Jaroslav Hasek'sThe Good Soldier Schweik, written after the First World Warthough including elements from the period before the war. Hasek'smanuscript (written in Czech, though with bits of German)is incomplete, the two early editions differ substantially,and Hasek (who died in 1923) had no real part in either. (He wasdictating almost to the day of his death, and exercised little controlover the volumes which actually appeared in print.) Thus thereis a real need for a critical edition of this famous twentieth centurywriting. This is all the more ironic in that Czech as a language(as opposed to a dialect of East Slavonic) did not emerge untilthe sixteenth century; had there been free publication in theHabsburg Empire, there would be little need for textual work.But government opposition was strong -- in no small part becausemuch Czech literature was anti-Catholic. The literary impulsewas largely a belated reaction to the workof Hus, who tried to regularize Czech orthography and conform thelanguage to that of the people. From about 1350 to 1500,the period when Czech was becoming a distinct language, effectivelyall Czech works were religious and Husite. Hus's orthography eventually came tobe widely accepted -- but, with the Habsburgs trying to suppressCzech aspirations, it took a long time for it to receive universalacceptance. A side effect of this is that many Czech writers, suchas Comenius, had to work outside the Habsburg empire (Comenius,properly Jan Amos Komensky, worked in Poland, Sweden, and Holland;printers there naturally had some troubles with his works.)

The situation for Slovak is even worse. Almost indistinguishablefrom Czech (the two are fairly mutually intelligible, and might be consideredone were it not for political reasons -- the Czech regions of Bohemiaand Moravia were under Austrian control in Habsburg times, while theSlovaks were ruled by the Magyars), Slovak is a language of small farmersand villagers. It has many dialects, there were no schools, and the Magyaroverlords used Latin or, later, Hungarian. The idea of a separate "Slovak"language does not seem to have existed before the time of Bajza(1754-1836), and there was little literary impulseuntil the nineteenth century, when Ludovít Stúr produced anewspaper using a standardized Slovak language. Even that was opposed bymany Slovaks, some of whompreferred Czech as a literary language (Czech influence had long affectedthe few works published in Bratislava). And the outside pressure continued:the influence of first the Magyars and then the Czechssuppressed the development of a literary language. With no Hus to look backto, and no early works to preserve, Slovak has little need for textual criticism.

The other languages of the Former Soviet Union have sufferedsimilarly. Belorussian (Byelorussian, White Russian, Byelo-Ruthenian)written in the Cyrillic alphabet, has literary remains dating back to theeleventh century, but the people has never been independent until now,and both Russian and Habsburg dynasties tended to hold down both peopleand language. Ukrainian has a curious history, as the Ukrainian/Russianseparation was initially more cultural than linguistic. The Ukrainians hada tendency toward the Uniate church, and affiliations with the Poles, whilethe Russians are Orthodox. There are hints of a Ukrainian dialect as earlyas the thirteenth century, but the current language (marked, e.g., by Polishloan words) did not come into being until the late eighteenth century.

Polish as a language existed by the twelfth century, but literaryworks do not appear until the fifteenth century (we have catalogs of olderworks, but apart from a few surviving hymns and fragments, our earliersurvivals are all in Latin; so too the writings of Copernicus, the firstgreat Polish scholar), with a flowering in the sixteenth. There were fewwidely popular Polish works before the invention of printing. And afterprinting came along, Poland was the victim of cultural imperialism (thealmost-universal fate of Eastern European peoples), with the countryeventually being divided by Prussia, Russia, and the Habsburg Monarchy,and was not reunited until after the First World War. This means that, althoughthere was a standard literary Polish (derived from the dialect of Poznan),the local dialects were little influenced by this form. This slowed and fragmentedthe development of Polish literature, which did not really revive until thenineteenth century. In any case, there is little here for textual criticismto do.

Sorbian (Wendish, Lusatian) is a Slavic language spoken in primarilyin Germany in the region of the Polish and Czech borders. There are only a fewtens of thousands of speakers, but even so, the language has several dialects.The earliest texts date from the fifteenth century, but the remains are limitedfor obvious reasons. The New Testament was the first printed work, being publishedin 1548.

Bulgarian is unusual among Slavic languages in that it came tobe written early (though the oldest Bulgarian inscriptions predatewritten Bulgarian, and are in ungrammatical Greek). Closely relatedto Old Church Slavonic (there are Slavonicbiblical manuscripts which can be called proto-Bulgarian), the earliestBulgarian literature dates from the tenth century, meaning that textualcriticism has a genuine place in dealing with Bulgarian writings. (Theearliest writings, for instance, will have been in the Glagoliticalphabet, later to be changed to Cyrillic.) The earliest works weremostly religious and mostly derivative; starting in the twelfthcentury, however, there was a flowering which lasted until theOttoman conquest. Since the Ottomans suppressed education andtechnology, printing did not arrive until late; many works weredestroyed and many that would otherwise have been printed survivedin only a handful of manuscripts.

Macedonian is a curious language, fragmented into very diversedialects, many of which are as close to Bulgarian as to each other.(Indeed, Bulgaria has claimed the Macedonian language as dialects of itsown.) Some features of Macedonian appear in writings as early as thetenth century, but as a literary language, it did not emerge untillate in the eighteenth century, and only quite recently has it trulycome into its own.

The ultimate example of interplay between politics and linguisticsmay be in the case of Serbian/Croatian/Serbo-Croatian. The languagesof Serbia and Croatia are mutually comprehensible in speech, but bothparties insist that the languages are different; the Serbs are OrthodoxChristians and write their language in the Cyrillic alphabet, while theCroats are Catholic and write using the Roman alphabet. There are remainsof the language from the twelfth century, but politics can play a role intheir interpretation. Making the matter even more complex is the fact thatthe Serbs long clung to Church Slavonic as their literary language. Whatfew works there are are mostly liturgical, and needing examination by someonefamiliar with both Slavonic and Serbian. True Serbian literature did not comeinto being until the nineteenth century. Croatian saw a brief flowering in thesixteenth century, but the Croats, as Catholics, tended to use mostly Latinfor their few writings until quite recently. The outcome of this was the veryodd Knjizevni Dogovar agreement of 1850, which caused Croats and Serbsto formally adopt the same literary language!

Related to Serbo-Croatian, but more obviously distinct, is Slovene(Slovenian). Although there are signs of written Slovene from the eleventhcentury, a standard literary form did not develop until the nineteenth.

More distantly related to the Slavic languages are the Baltic tongues of Latvian,Lithuanian, and Old Prussian. Old Prussian is extinct; there are somewritten remains, but here the need is more for linguistic than textualreconstruction. Latvian (Lettish) was first written in the sixteenthcentury, in a Gothic alphabet, though the Latin alphabet has been in use sinceshortly after World War I. Lithuanian also gives us literary remainsfrom the sixteenth century, though it uses a 32-letter alphabet based on the Latin.

Germanic literature (including English, Scandinavian, andGerman writings) had a more complex history than Greek or Latin orRomance literature, as there was never a united German nation in themanuscript era. Then, too, languages like English and Frisian and Dutchdid not formally divide from Old German until well after the New Testamentwas written (indeed, the Germanic group continues to spawn new languages;Afrikaans sprang off from Dutch starting in the eighteenth century). In addition,many of these people acquired writing only after long periodsof independent development, meaning that individual nations had completelyindependent literary histories.

English literature had a curious, rather roller-coaster-likehistory. The Romano-Celtic literature which preceded the Anglo-Saxoninvasions (if there ever was one) was completely extinguished by theGermanic invaders. The invaders themselves seem to have had a rudimentaryknowledge of writing (there are a few inscriptions, such as the RuthwellCross, in runic letters, and as the runes are of an ancient form, withno dependence on Latin letters, the forms presumably predate the conversionof the Anglo-Saxons).There is, however, no evidence of a literature written in thesecharacters. Indeed, there is no evidence that they had any form ofwritten literature at all; all the earliest Anglo-Saxon poems, fromCaedmon's Hymn to Beowulf, seem to have been originally oral. To makematters even more complicated, the invaders were not actually all onepeople, and in any case they did not at once form a unified England.(Traditionally there were seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms -- Northumbria,Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex, Sussex, Essex, and Kent -- but Northumbria,for instance, was formed by the union of Bernicia and Deira, and mostof the other seven kingdoms were also assembled from smaller units.)The result was significant dialectial differences between the nations.

The Viking invasions of the ninth century did much to change thispicture. First, they destroyed all of the ancient kingdoms exceptWessex (without establishing anything of significance in their place),and second, they placed so much pressure on Wessex that it could notafford a child-king. As a result, when King Ethelred I died around871, he was succeeded not by his son but by his younger brother Alfred.

This was significant on two counts. First, it made a united Englandpossible; the old English nations were no more, and the new Viking statesdid not have the strength to resist Wessex. (Nor did they really objectto English overlordship; at this stage, English and Norse were stillfairly closely linked culturally and linguistically.) Alfred did nothimself unite England, but his son and grandsons were able to createa unitary Saxon state which would last until the Norman Conquest.

More significant for our purposes, however, is the revival oflearning encouraged by Alfred. We cannot really tell, from thesurviving records, how much was actually the work of Alfred himself --but there is no doubt that the survival of Anglo-Saxon literatureis due to Alfred's efforts. Anglo-Saxon manuscripts almost withoutexception date from this era (Alfred took the throne in about 871;he held it until about 899). Even in Alfred's time, little Anglo-Saxonliterature was written (other than several translations encouragedby Alfred, plus his own creation, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one ofthe most textually confusing documents ever written). But the oldepics and poems were written down; the manuscript of Beowulf waswritten in the tenth century, and most other surviving texts werewritten in the same period (probably from about 880 to 1010, whenthe Danish invasions resumed).

Despite all of Alfred's work, almost all that survives ofOld English poetry (the core of their literature) is found infour volumes, all from the post-Alfred period:

Also of note is:

Time has not been kind to the handful of other manuscripts containingsmall amounts of Old English material. The Cotton fire of 1731, alreadymentioned repeatedly (as a side note, we might mention thatRichard Bentley was one of those who worked to savebooks from the fire), destroyed Otho A.xii and badly damaged Vitellius A.xv.What we have of Waldere came from the binding of a book in Copenhagen.The Finnsburh Fragment, Lambeth 487, is one of the several lost Lambethmanuscripts. Even much of what survives is on Christian topics; theseare of relatively little value. In any case, almost allthe works survive in single copies, leaving the textual critic withlittle to do except work at conjectural emendation.Among the few exceptions to this rule areCaedmon's Hymn (existing in many manuscripts, including the Moore MSat Cambridge, Kk. 5.16, dating all the way to 737, and the Saint Petersburgmanuscript Public Library Lat. Q. v. I. 18, believed to predate 746; alsoin Bede), The Battle of Brunanburh (multiple copies, with significantdifferences, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) and The Dream of the Rood(three copies, with differences clearly recensional)

In addition to Old English works, the pre-Conquest period produceda number of Latin documents, most notably Bede's history (as well asthe Life of Alfred, but this was of interest primarily to theEnglish). But since thesecould be circulated beyond England, they are properly the province of ahistory of Latin or Catholic literature.

Following the Normal Conquest, English literature as such effectivelydisappears for three centuries. With the exception of the Anglo-SaxonChronicle (which slowly faded out in this period), the surviving writingsare all in Norman French or Latin. By the time English writings re-emergedin the fourteenth century (with Langland and Chaucer and Gower and theGawain-poet), Old English had given way to Middle English -- and thedialects had separated to the point of being mutually incomprehensible.Gower (who also wrote in Latin and French) and Chaucer used the Londondialect, close enough to modern English that little but practice isneeded to understand it. The Gawain-poet, by contrast, used a northwesterndialect equally incomprehensible to us and to Chaucer. We may demonstratethis using the first four lines of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
Sithen the sege and the assaut was sesed at Troye,
The borgh brittened and brent to brondes and askes,
The tulk that the trammes or tresoun ther wroght,
Was tried for his tricherie, the trewest on erthe....
(And this is with spelling regularized!) Most writings in non-Londondialects were equally obscure.The case of Piers Plowman is more complex, as Langland appears to havetried to use more universal forms, but it appears that Langland's owndialect was that of the west Midlands.

It may not be coincidence that the works of the Gawain-poet, who useda highly obscure dialect, survive in only one manuscript, while PiersPlowman survives in 52, and the Canterbury Tales exist ineighty-plus manuscripts (though we only have sixteen of Troilus andCriseyde, and fewer still of most of Chaucer's other works).

These manuscripts show some significant textual variation, but it isworth noting that all were written in the two centuries before theinvention of printing, and that textual variation was rather limited.Much more important and troubling was the matter of dialect translation.

As noted, English was a nation of dialects in the post-conquestperiod. But even worse was the fact that there was no standard dialect --no "King's English." (The only situation more or less parallelto this was Germany in the period before the unification, and eventhere, the Prussian and Austrian courts exerted some influence.) Priorto the reign of Edward III (1327-1377), all official business was donein French. It was not until the reign of Henry VI (1422-1461) thatFrench gave way entirely to English. Until this happened, there wasabsolutely no standard. So texts had to be "translated" --converted from one dialect to another. Sometimes this was just a matter ofcorrecting endings or the like; this is no worse than Attic tendenciesin the New Testament. But sometimes it required significant alterations.This makes textual criticism much more difficult. The only work believedto have been spared this process is the Wycliffite Bible -- and itprobably because of an unusual combination of circumstances: It istranslation English in any case, it is in a fairly standard dialect,and it was not made until the period when English was again emergingas an official language.

Manuals of textual criticism devoted to Middle English are few. The onlyone produced for most of the twentieth century was Charles Moorman's 1975book Editing the Middle English Manuscript, which is less a bookon textual criticism than on the actual task of editing -- and has beenrendered largely obsolete by computer technology. In 1994, Tim WilliamMachan published Textual Criticism and Middle English Texts, but thisis frankly less a study of textual criticism than a screed against thewhole discipline. It is a field ripe for a good manual.

Icelandic literature suffered no such problem. The Icelandiclanguage has evolved so little that it is thought that a modern couldconverse directly with an inhabitant who lived there 800 or more yearsago. Icelandic is almost identical to the Old Norse which is the ancestorof modern Scandinavian languages.

This means that Icelandic literature such as Snorri Sturluson's "ProseEdda" has undergone little linguistic tampering. More problematic isthe matter of limited numbers of copies. Iceland is a small country; for mostof its history, it has had a population little larger than a small townof today. Given its size, it has an immense literature, though much of itis preserved outside Iceland. (The reason is not far to seek: For many years,Iceland was the poetic capitol of the Scandinavian world, exporting CourtBards to the other Norse kingdoms.) Few of these works are preserved inmore than one copy, however. The single most important Icelandic work,the so-called Elder Edda (which is not really a single workbut an anthology), is typical: Although a handful of thetales exist in other documents, the large majority are found only inthe Codex Regius (c. 1275), which is itself damaged. Snorri Sturluson's ProseEdda is an exception; we have three good copies and some lesser manuscripts.The Uppsala Codex, perhaps the best, dates from about 1320, or roughly acentury after Snorri's original composition. But this is exceptional;the Prose Edda isactually a sort of a fictional saga (Iceland was well and truly Christianizedby his time), typical of the prose sagas of the period (which obviouslynever existed in oral tradition). Most of the others sagas are more sparselyattested. Thus Icelandic literature is like Anglo-Saxon literature in that wecan only correct the text by emendation, but unlike it in that we do nothave to concern ourselves with dialect-to-dialect translations.

The history of Norwegian and Danish literatures areessentially tied up with Icelandic literature (and, in the lattercase, there is some link to English literature as well, as the Danesruled all or parts of England for many years -- notably in the reignsof Canute and his sons, 1016-1042). Danish did not become clearlydistinct from Old Norse until the twelfth century, and Norwegianseparated from the common language at about the same time. There arehints of literary remains (inscriptions) from as early as the third century, thoughthese were written in the runic alphabet (it seemsto have been Christianity -- which came late to the North -- which inspiredthe switch to the Roman alphabet; we have, e.g., a numberof law codes from the period before 1200 C. E.Most early Danish works in the Romanalphabet were written in Latin, not the Norse dialects). So the literatures of theselanguages in some cases has gone through two transitions: From runicto Roman alphabet (a transition not complete until the thirteen orfourteenth century), and from generic Old Norse to more modern locallanguages. There are also cross-influences: Since Denmark at varioustimes ruled Norway, some Danish influence crept into Norwegian evenafter the languages split.

Recent changes in Norwegian have further complicated matters, as thereare two basic dialects, neither of which is entirely natural. Bokmål,the "book language," was influenced by Danish (the two were unitedfrom 1380 to 1814), while Nynorsk was invented in the nineteenth century basedon several dialects and was an attempt to return the language closer to its roots.All of this, of course, happened after the manuscript era, but it affectsthe editors' approach.

Also derived from Old Norse, and quite close to Icelandic, isFaeroese (Faroese). As, however, this language was not writtenuntil 1846, it is of no concern to textual critics.

The situation is quite different for Swedishliterature; although Scandinavian, Sweden was not really part of theNorse culture in the sense that Norway and Iceland and Denmark were.(This despite the fact that Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish are quiteclose to each other, and to a significant extent mutually intelligible,while Icelandic and Faroese are much more distinct.)

The earliest Swedish "literature" is found in the thousandsof runestones scattered about the country. These are, for the most part,written in the sixteen-symbol Swedish runic alphabet (which later gaveway to a Danish/Norse runic alphabet) -- but textual criticism is hardlya concern with runestones; they rarely contain material of literaryinterest, and in any case were usually written under the direct supervisionof the composer of the inscription.

There are exceptions. The Rök stone, which came to be part of achurch wall, includes a great deal of text, including some poetic material.It is a mysterious inscription, with several different alphabetsinvolved. (Including both the ancient 24-character runic alphabetand the later, pruned-down 16-rune form.) It seems nearly certainthat at least part of the content of the stone is old, and in needof textual criticism (part of it, in fact, appears to refer toTheodoric the Goth, king of Italy 476-525, which would almost certainlydate it before the time it was inscribed). But as best we can tell, there are no othercopies of the material. (Given the strange alphabets, this cannotbe considered entirely certain.) That older Swedish literature existedseems to be implied by carvings such as that on the Ramsudberg stone, whichappears to allude to the Sigurd epic. But this is only a picture witha short text; it is not literature in itself.

Part of the problem may be that Sweden was the last Scandinaviannation to achieve political unity. Somewhat cut off from the culturesof its neighbours, it was not large enough to achieve a strong literarytradition of its own. We have no clear remnants of Swedish poems fromthe Skaldic age (the era of the bards). Our oldest writings, in fact,appear to be land laws (in copies dating from the thirteenth century,but probably based on older writings). In addition, Sweden did notfound its first University (at Uppsala) until 1477, and it did notbecome permanent until 1593. The Sigtuna monastery (founded in thefirst half of the thirteenth century) had a large library, but it andother Swedish religious institutions seem to have been entirelyhostile to secular, particularly pagan, literature. Thus most booksfound in Sweden are in Latin, and the few in Swedish are generallyreligious, and often translations of Latin works -- e.g. the Fornsvenskalegendariet, a translation of a set of saints' legends byJacobus de Voragine known in English as The Golden Legend;the translation is considered the oldest survivingSwedish prose work except for the land laws. This may have been thework of Petrus de Dacia (died 1289), who in any case is the first namedauthor in Swedish history; he also wrote the Vita ChristinaeStumbelensis (but in Latin, not Swedish). From the next centurycomes Birgitta (died 1373), a mystic whose visions began after her husband'sdeath in 1344, but which were not collected until they were published in 1492(translated from Swedish into Latin asRevelationes Celeste; she had already been canonized in 1391. Thereare a few Swedish fragments, perhaps from Birgitta's own hand, but thesedo not form part of an actual literary composition.)

This paucity of works in the vernacular continued throughout the middleages. Sweden had few of the tales of chivalry so common in the rest ofEurope (partly influenced, no doubt, by the fact that knighthood did notflourish in Sweden). There is a Swedish redaction of the story of Floriceand Blancheflour (part of the Eufemiavisor, perhaps the earliestof these legends -- but compiled at the instigation of a Norwegian queen!).But this is very nearly all there is in the manuscript era. This left thefield to the rhyming chronicles, a form largely peculiar to Sweden butcommon there in the early middle ages. These can perhaps be called the chiefform of early Swedish literature, though they eventually gave way to prosechronices (which were less interesting without being notably moreaccurate). After their time, Swedish literature went into adecline; we have relatively few manuscripts of these works, and few worksof any sort from the final centuries of the middle ages. The last significantworks were the writings of Bishop Thomas Simonsson of Strängnäs (died1443). His "Song of Liberty" was the last important Swedishwork of the manuscript age -- but late enough that it need not detainus.

In addition, Sweden (like most countries) has an oral literature.There are Swedish ballads, just as there are German and English andNorse. (The Swedish ballads, indeed, are almost certainly survivalsfrom Old Norse roots.) But as with most oral literatures, theoriginals are almost certainly beyond reconstruction.

Dutch (Flemish) is a Germanic language, and had the Netherlands andFlanders become part of Germany rather than independent, Dutch might wellhave had a history resembling that of English: Just as Scots split off fromEnglish, then was (somewhat forcibly) re-merged so that it became littlemore than a dialect, so Dutch might have been re-conformed. Indeed, thishappened with East Dutch (Oosters), the language of writers such as MennoSimmons. But the Netherlands and Germany became separate (with the Netherlandsspinning off Belgium in 1830, only a few decades before Germany became a nation),and Dutch evolved into a genuine language with literaryworks coming into existence around 1100. From this time until the end ofthe manuscript era, however, the Netherlands (in this case, includingFlanders) were generally under foreign rule -- French or Burgundianor Spanish. At times this rule was oppressive and sought to control thelocal literature (which often stressed independence). This has probablyaffected the manuscript tradition. In addition, some would call works suchas Reynard the Fox or Beatrijs (all written in BelgianFlanders in about the thirteen century) to be "Belgian,"others Flemish or Dutch. There was also Burgundian influence.

Frisian is considered to be closer to English than any otherlanguage, but it has a very small population base. Only about half amillion people speak it, mostly in the Netherlands in the islands off theDutch coast (and the other groups, also in the coastal areas of theNorth Sea and Baltic, speak rather different dialects with littleliterary history). There are a few written remnants starting from the thirteenthcentury, but the small population base and the fact that (until recently)it received no support from the various local governments kept the literaturesparse. The earliest items in the language seem in fact to have been preservedin Old English works. The few "native" works are primarily law codes,starting from the eleventh century. We also have a handful of rhymed chroniclesfrom the days when Frisia was an independent region.

Tracing the history of actual German literature is beyond the abilityof this writer, as the language has many dialects, some barely mutuallycomprehensible, and some of them (e.g. Luxembourgish/Luxemburgish/Lëtzebuergesch)sometimes listed as separate languages. It should be remembered that Germanywas not a political unity at any time from the era of Charlemagne until 1870.The classical distinction is into High and Low German(Hochdeutsch and Plattdeutsch), but there are also languages and dialectssuch as Yiddish and Swiss German. Insofar as there is any unity, it is basedon the language Luther used in the German Bible -- after the manuscriptera. The "standard" dialect, taughtin the schools, is derived from High German, but this is Modern High German,while the manuscripts will be of works written in Old German and Middle German.The greatest number of texts are those, such as the Nibelungenlied, inMiddle High German. Much of the literature, though, such as the work of theMinnesänger, was long transmitted orally. But there is a significantquantity of manuscript literature, and those manuscripts have suffered theusual troubles. For example, the oldest significant German work is DasHildebrandslied, and all we have is a fragment.

Yiddish is primarily a Germanic language, though it has manySemitic loan words, and some dialects also have Slavic influence. As thelanguage of a large number of European Jews, it naturally has a relativelyrich literary tradition (dating from the twelfth century). Yiddish literaturehas been subjected to several pressures. Jewish tradition would tend toresult in carefully preserved documents -- but Yiddish, unlike most otherlanguages, has never really had a "homeland"; its speakers have beenscattered throughout Europe. This has resulted in the adoption of largenumbers of local loanwords, so that (e.g.) a Jew in Russian territory mightnot understand all the vocabulary of German Yiddish. And since there was neverany national center, there was no centralizing force. Today, East EuropeanYiddish is rather the standard, but a scholar working on Yiddish texts mustbe very aware of the time and place of the original.

Literature in the Celtic languages is relatively sparse. This isnot due to a lack of literary activity, but because the languages themselvesbelong to relatively small populations. It is traditional to speak of sixCeltic languages: Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton.Irish and Scots are so close as to almost be dialects of one another (andManx also closely related), while Welsh, Cornish, and Breton form another,less tight-knit group. This picture is rather unreal, however. The Cornishlanguage actually died out centuries ago, leaving only a few literaryremains (mostly from the fifteenth century and shortly after, though they maybe based on older materials; the earliest one cannot have been copiedearlier than 1340, as it is written on the back of a charter ofthat date). By 1611, the date of Gwreans an Bys (the Creation of theWorld), the language was in decline, and the decline accelerated thereafter;no Bible or Prayer Book was published in Cornish, which doubtless hastenedthe abandonment of hte language. The literary fragments, combined with analogies from Welsh,have been used as the basis of a Cornish restoration -- but no one knowsif the reconstructed language actually matches the original! (This makes foran interesting task in textual criticism; at what point does reconstructingthe text move into reconstructing the language?) Manx is stillspoken, but has never had more than a few thousand speakers, and is now downto a few hundred, not all of whom can call it a first language. Scots Gaelic(derived from the common Gaelic stock which also produced Irish and Manx;Gaels invaded Scotland from Ireland, bringing their language with them, andalthough it appears the two were distinguishable as early as the tenth century, thethree are still largely mutually comprehensible)is now confined to a few fringes in the Highlands and the Hebrides, andwith the coming of television, will likely be extinct within generationsif no attempt is made to save it. Irish would hardly be in a better statewere it not that the Irish Republic is making the effort to save it -- withlimited success; English remains the dominant language of Ireland. Bretonand Welsh are still spoken, and even undergoing a sort of literary revival,but both are become minority languages even in their homelands (and Bretonhas fully four dialects, one of which is barely mutually comprehensible withthe other three. Breton orthography was not fixed until 1807). The resultis that manuscript-era literary remains in Manx, Breton, and Cornish areeffectively non-existant (even though we have a handful of minor writingin Breton, e.g., from the eighth century. Manx, by contrast, has no literaryremains prior to the seventeenth century). Many Breton writers chose to writein French; others saw their works preserved only orally. The earliest Bretonworks are mostly religious, starting with the Life of Saint Nonn, fromabout 1475; these works were generally translations or adaptions; by the timemore original works appeared, the printing press was firmly established (thoughnot always used for Breton works).There is somewhat more material in Scots Gaelic, but Scots,it should be recalled, is not the language of Scotland but of theScottish Highlands; although the kings of Scotland prior to Malcolm Canmorewere Highland kings, from Malcolm's time (reigned 1057-1093) they adoptedlowland customs, including Braid Scots (which, in its most extreme state asspoken in the fifteenth century or so, scarcely resembled English, but wasassuredly a Germanic and not a Celtic language!). Since the Highlands werenot fully reincorporated into Scotland until after the Battle of Culloden (1746)and the Highland Clearances (which functionally destroyed the old clan system),and since the highlanders prior to that were a largely non-literary society,even Scots Gaelic probably never produced much real literature; the first true literarywork was a Bible translation from 1801. Welsh andIrish are by far the strongest literary languages in the Celtic tradition.But even in these tongues, the literary tradition is actually an oraltradition, usually transcribed late in its history (though we have documentsfrom as early as the sixth century) and with significant defects.Nor is the tradition rich. Of the Welsh tales now known (incorrectly)as "The Mabinogion," for instance, there is only one completecopy, The Red Book of Hergist (c. 1400); the earlier White Book of Rhydderch(c. 1325) is now fregmentary for several tales. There are earlier citations(none before about 1225), but their existence mostly demonstrates theimpoverishment of the tradition, since theypredate the Red Book by 300 years or more but contain little additional material. Irishrelics are probably more common (one need only observe the many "IrishMiscellanies" now in print), but almost all are from oral tradition,found in late manuscripts, and usually only in one copy. The case ofIrish differs a bit from the other Celtic languages, as the languagehad more time to develop andIreland was never penetrated by the Romans (Ireland did suffer from Vikingraids, but was never taken over by Germanic speakers as England was).There are inscriptions from as early as the fifth century in the Oghamalphabet; the earliest literary works seem to date from the eighthcentury (some have claimed dates as early as the sixth, making Irish theoldest vernacular literature in Europe). The oldest manuscript, theWürzburg codex, may be as old as the early eighth century.And, of course, many Irish monks travelled elsewhere (e.g.there was a strong Irish presence at Saint Gall).

Several dead Celtic languages are known to scholars (excluding Cornish,which has been revived). Celtiberian, the Celtic language of Spain, is extinctbut known from a few inscriptions. Galatian, used by the Gauls in Asia Minor,did not die out until some time around the fifth century C.E.,but left few literary remains; we know of it from the histories of the period.There also seems to have been a Cumbrian/Cumbric language, spoken in the regionof what later became the English-Scottish border, but this is all very hypothetical.Except for some translations into Welsh and other Celtic languages, the onlyremains of this tongue are some place names.

Albanian is an ancient language; although Indo-European, it is the onlymember of its linguistic group. But as a literary language, it is quiterecent. There are no written remains from before the fifteenth century (afragment by the Orthodox Bishop of Durrës is dated 1462, and someminor religious works date from about the same time; little else exists,as the Turks suppressed writing and publishing in Albanian). Even the fewwritings that exist arerather confused by the mixture of the Gheg (northern) and Tosk (southern)dialects, which show significant variants and have many local subdialects.(Albania is an extremely rough country, with settlers in the variousvalleys having little contact with each other.) It was not until 1909 thatthe Roman alphabet was formally adopted, and a Received Albanian (based onTosk) was first promulgated in 1950. The result is a language with littleuse for textual criticism.

It is generally stated that Gothic is a dead language, with theonly remnants being Bible fragments (see the article on theGothic version), but Crimean Gothicis reported to have been used as late as the sixteenth century. I know ofno actual literature in Crimean Gothic, however.

Armenian literature begins with the Bible (see the article on theArmenian version), but there was anactive literary tradition in the early centuries of the Armenian church(observe how many foreign writings, such as Irenaeus and Ephraem, arepreserved in Armenian; it's interesting to note that the earliest Armenianwork seems to have been Aganthage's biography of King Tiridates, writtenin Greek but translated.) We also have, from the fifth century, Moses ofKhorene's history of Armenia, with many excerpts from folk song, poetry,and epic. Later works were abundant though mostly religious and of littleinterest to non-Armenians. Armenia, however, has had a troubled history asa nation, rarely independent (and when, in periods like the Crusades,it achieved partial independence, it was split between many independentand uncooperative princes). The language has many dialects, and onlya few million speakers; few writings other than the Armenian Bible areavailable in multiple copies.

Hungarian (Magyar), it should be noted, is not the language ofthe Huns, but the language of the later Magyar invaders. It is a non-Indo-Europeantongue, the most widely spoken representative of the Ugric branch of theFinno-Ugric family. The Magyars are an ancient people, and turned to Christianitysoon after coming to Europe,but such writings as they produced in these early days were all in Latin.The first native literature dates from the thirteenth century, but it wasslight (a few chronicles and legends); a standard orthography was notdeveloped until the sixteenthcentury; this, and the need to develop a modified Roman alphabet to handleMagyar vowels, will have some effect on early texts in the language.

Basque is the westernmost non-Indo-European language of Europe, andhas never been spoken by a large community. It did not develop a literatureuntil the sixteenth century (poems by Bernard Dechepare, written 1545), andso has little in the way of a manuscripttradition, though there are inscriptions dating back to Roman times, and a fewquotations (possibly not accurate representations of the original) in worksin other languages.

Finnish long suffered as a result of Swedish political controlof Finland; it did not become an official language until 1883. As John B. Ollwrites, "Due to historical conditions... Swedish as a vehicle of culturehas played and still plays an important role in Finnish life... Finland has abilingual literature. Its historical development has been analogous to thatof language and literature in Ireland and in medieval England, where the languageof a minority gained such prestige that it for a long time overshadowed thelanguage of the majority...." Russia annexed Finland in 1809, but thathad little effect; the schools were and remained Swedish for a long time; thefirst Finnish school opened in 1859. There waslittle literature prior to that time; the first written work seems to havebeen a sixteenth century Bible translation. Even the great Finnish nationalepic, the Kalevala, was not written down until the nineteenth century,and is the edited work of a Finnish scholar.

Estonian, which is also non-Indo-European (it belongs to theFinno-Ugric family) does not seem to have produced any literature priorto the sixteenth century, and written Estonian did not become widespreaduntil the nineteenth century. (Even the Bible did not make it into Estonianuntil 1730, though there are some older liturgical works -- but they wereprinted as soon as they were written.) There is little scope for textualcriticism.

Same is the official name for the language most would callLapp or Lappish. It is not an official language anywhere,and there is little literary material.

The case is even worse for other European members of the Finno-Ugricgroup. Komi (Komian, Zyrian), for instance, is spoken in a smallregion of the Kola Peninsula (in northern Russia near the Finnish border),and although it is now a written language (it uses the Cyrillic alphabet),it has no literary remains. Much the same can be said of the other languagesof this family.

Maltese is a complex blend of European and Semitic elements, thoughtto be derived primarily from Arabic but with a very large admixture ofIndo-European vocabulary and written in the Roman alphabet. The populationis small, and the educated population, until recently, was foreign. Thereis little Maltese material in manuscript form; the oldest recorded materialseems to date from the seventeenth century.

Iberian is an apparently non-Indo-European language spoken inSpain in ancient times, now extinct. It is known only from inscriptions,and to date has not been deciphered.

Georgian as a written language is believed to predate thetranslation of the New Testament (hence the use of an alphabet notderived from the Greek), but of this literature, which is thoughtto date back to the third century B. C. E., nothinghas survived. The post-Biblical literature was about what one wouldexpect: Lives of saints believed to date from the sixth century, and aneighth century translation of St. Cyril. The first secular literatureseems to date from about the twelfth century. From that time on, Georgiawas almost constantly under outside domination (Mongols, Persians, Russians),meaning that relatively few manuscripts were preserved and printingcame relatively late.

Turkish did not become a literary language until relativelylate, but it also did not become a printed language until relatively late,and much material remained in oral tradition until quite recently. Thereis a significant place for textual criticism. An added complication isthat the language has evolved quite rapidly (Old Turkish was spoken untilthe fifteenth century, and Modern Turkish did not come into use until thenineteenth century). In addition, the language was originally written inArabic script, but in the twentieth century, Ataturk converted it to theRoman alphabet.

Arabic literature does not begin with the Quran; there areinscriptions which seem to date to the third century B.C.E.and earlier. These were not written in what we now know as the Arabicalphabet (see discussion below), and if by some chance written materials of this era havebeen preserved in more recent manuscripts,they must have undergone alphabetic conversion with all itshazards, as well as conversion from the archaic dialects. But it is unlikelythat any such works survive; an anthology was undertaken in 772, but editorHammad al-Rawiyah collected most oral works. The Quran is the earliestknown work of Arabic prose, and the inspiration for most later Arabic literature(though there is a large corpus of Arabic translations of Greek philosophers;much of our knowledge of Greek mathematics, for instance, is known onlyfrom Arabic translations. Much of Greek astronomy is also known largely throughArabic; this is in part why the constellations have Latin names while the namedstars usually have Arabic names). To make matters worse, most pre-Quran works havebeen edited to make them seem less pagan. (We see the same thing in the HebrewBible, e.g. with "Eshbaal" being written as "Ish-Bosheth.")These worksfollow some extremely strict structural formulae, giving them relativelylittle variety. In addition, Classical Arabic was largely fixed by the Quran,and is fairly distinct from the language most Arabic speakers use in theireveryday lives (though most also know Classical Arabic, which is used as ameans of communication between those who use distinctly different Arabicdialects). The existence of a fixed language distinct from scribes' ownhas doubtless affected the transmission of early Arabic literature.Thus there is scope for textual criticism here, but little real material fromwhich to work.

The Quran resembles the Bible in that it isnot a single work. Although all parts were taken down by Mohammed, the 114 sectionswere written separately and only later combined. (This led to some dispute overwhich writings would be authoritative, and which texts of those writings.)There are various other mysteriesassociated with the Quran (such as the mysterious letters at the top of certainsections) -- but as the Quran survives in many, many copies and is maintained bya culture significantly different from the Western, we will not delve into itstext here. This is particularly true since manuscripts of the Quran are consideredsecondary -- the goal in Islam is for a scholar to memorize the Quran,and at least one printed edition was compiled not from manuscripts but bycomparing the recitals of a variety of experts. Thus, to some extent, Qurancriticism must be viewed in the context of Oral Transmission.

It is interesting to note that the earliest surviving "manuscripts"of the Quran can be precisely dated -- for they are actually inscriptions in theDome of the Rock mosque.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the authorities for the Quran are in muchbetter order than the Biblical. There is a complete and dated Quran fromA.H. 168 (784/5 C.E.), and several other datedmanuscripts from within a century of that date, as well as quite a few ofthat era or earlier which lack dates and are somewhat fragmentary. Thus thetask of reconstructing the history of the text is much easier for the Arabicwork than for the Bible.

On the other hand, the work of constructing the text itself has hardlyeven begun. I have seen only one book on textual scholarship of the Quran,Keith E. Small's Textual Criticism and Qur’ān Manuscripts (2011), whichbegins (p. 3) "It is widely acknowledged that there has never been a criticaltext produced for the Qur’ān based on extant manuscripts, as has been done withother sacred books and bodies of ancient literature."

An interesting problem with Arabic is that it was written in several differentalphabets -- all ultimately derived from the Aramaic alphabet, but with much separateevolution along the way. In the process of that evolution, several new letters wereadded to the Arabic alphabet (Arabic has 28 consonants, Aramaic was written with 22.)This meant, first, that different letters might be confused in different scripts(e.g. some Arabic alphabets suffer from the problem of confusing d and r, wellknown to scholars of Hebrew; others do not confuse these letters), and second,that there might be occasional conversion problems.

Another thoroughly problematic language is Hindi/Urdu (Hindustani).To begin with, although grammatically a single language, it has two differentcultural forms. Hindi, spoken in large portions of Hindu India, is written in theDevanagari alphabet (which is actually semi-syllabic), while Urdu, the languageof Moslem Pakistan, is written in an alphabet similar to Persian Arabic scripts.Although both languages are derived largely from Sanskrit (a language with literaryremains dating back to Old Testament times; the earliest Hindu literature isnearly as old -- and needs as much textual criticism -- as the Hebrew Bible),Hindi has been more influenced by the old language, which remains the languageof its sacred writings. Texts in Hindi (as opposed to Sanskrit) begin to appeararound the seventh century; Urdu did not begin to produce a literature untilthe fourteenth century. The oldest Hindi literature, the religious hymns of theRig Veda, have a complicated history, first of oral tradition, then ofcompilation, then as the sole scripture of the proto-Hindu religion, thenas one of several units, with a gradually standardized orthography, most formsof which are known only in printed versions. This history is at least as complicatedas that of the New Testament, and requires equal specialization.

The modern nation of India is a federation of many ethnic groups,not all Indo-European speaking, and many of these languages (e.g. Assameseand some of the Dravidian tongues) have ancient literary works. The historyof these must, sadly, be excluded as outside the scope of this author'slibrary.

One of the most fertile fields for textual criticism is Akkadian,a language which presents challenges very different from those above. Akkadianis one of the greatest sources of ancient literature, featuring such worksas the Epic of Gilgamesh (alluded to above) and the famousEnuma Elish -- bothof which have parallels in the material in Genesis. But access to these worksis extraordinarily complicated. The language is dead, and survives only incunieform works. It has relatives but no real linguistic descendants.The tablets on which the works are copied are sometimesdamaged, and individual tablets of multi-tablet works are often missing. Andwhile the tablets are generally very old (the largest share come fromAshurbanipal's library, from the seventh century B.C.E.,with most of the others being older still), they are copies of works fromstill earlier eras -- and which have probably undergone much oral evolution in theinterim. The scribes who copied it were trained primarily in record-keeping,not preservation of literature, since Akkadian was used largely for court documentsand diplomatic correspondence, and often served as a lingua francafor people who did not speak Akkadian as a native tongue.This would strongly influence how scribes understood what they copied.

We also have "secondary" sources which may, in some cases, be primary.Parallels to portions of the Akkadian books exist in other languages -- in somecases (especially when the parallels are Sumerian), the parallel may havebeen the source or inspiration of the Akkadian work.

It will be evident that the scholar working on Akkadian (or othersimilar sources, such as Sumerian or Ugaritic/Canaanite)will need a much larger toolboxthan the common textual critic; one must be a paleolinguist as wellas a critic, and the ability to understand archaeology is also important.A good grounding in folklore wouldn't hurt, either!

Egyptian and Coptic offer opportunities rarely found forother languages -- e.g. we have many older texts. There are many complications,though. One is the way the language was written: In syllabic hieroglyphics,in the demotic, and later in the coptic, which came into use before theextra letters were fully standardized. This assuredly produced occasionalcomplications -- a scribe might take down a royal edict in demotic, whichwas faster, and then transcribe it in hieroglyphic, for instance. Also, muchthat has survived has survived as wrappings of mummies. Apart from making ita difficult task to recover the materials, we also have to reassemble thedocuments so scattered and, perhaps, torn up. And Egyptian syllabaries ignorevowel sounds, depriving us of some information (e.g. verb tenses) usefulin reconstructing texts.

The oldest Thai/Siamese works are inscriptions from the late thirteen century; they use an indigenous alphabet based on other local scripts.

We have, of course, written materials from a wide variety of languagesin addition to the above. But we can hardly perform textual criticism whenwe cannot read the language! Examples of lost languages include Mayan,Etruscan, and the language underying Cretan Linear A. This list could surelybe multiplied. (We can, to some extent, read Etruscan, and have some ideasabout Mayan, but the shortness of the contents of the former mean that itcannot be fully deciphered, while Mayan is too complex for understandingwithout additional materials.)

A different sort of problems come from non-alphabetic languages suchas Chinese and Japanese. There are old texts in these languages, of course(we have Chinese texts from c. 1500 B.C.E.; Japanese texts donot appear until later -- the written language is thought to have beentaken from Chinese models in the fifth century C.E. --but there are documents believed to date from theeighth century C.E.. Japanese also possesses two kana syllabaries,which just make things that much more complex),but the rules of criticism are different. Haplographic errors, for instance,are less likely (since a repetition must involve whole words rather than justa few letters). There are no spelling errors, just errors of substitutionand addition/omission. These languages do have other complexities, though --for instance, Chinese writing was invented, according to legend, some timearound 2650 B.C.E., but that version used only a limitedvocabulary; many new symbols were added over the years, and this must bekept in mind in examining ancient texts. If a previously-unattested symboloccurs in an ancient work, it is a clear error -- but of what sort? Also, Chinese combinessymbols in complex and varying ways, sometimes based on the sounds in aparticular dialect -- which may be meaningless in another dialect.For these reasons, we will not consider ideographic languages,leaving them to critics with expertise in this rather different form ofcriticism.

There is also the matter of unknown languages. How do we engage intextual criticism of a text in a script such as Cretan Linear A,which we cannot read? The key to deciphering such a writing is gettinggood samples; if there are scribal errors, it can slow or halt the wholeprocess. There is no general solution to this problem.

But the list of languages with literary remains is actually relativelyslight. Of the thousands of currently-spoken languages, and the thousandsmore spoken up until the last century or two, the majority are not writtenlanguages, or were not written at the time of the invention of printing(many of the latter now have a literature consisting ofa single book: A translation of the Bible, made in the last centuryor so by one of the translation societies). While the above list isfar from complete, the task of textual criticism is finite, even ifthe number of errors perpetrated by scribes sometimes seems infinite.

As a final topic, we should discuss another area where textual criticismhas scope: Music. This poses some interesting questions: Musical notationhas evolved heavily over the years (see the article onneumes for background). Is the scholar reallyexpected to reconstruct the original notation, or just what it represents?One inclines to answer the latter; after all, nearly every modern NewTestament printing includes accents, breathings, word divisions,punctuation, and upper and lower case letters, as well as a standardizedspelling, even though the original autographs probably used these reader helpsonly sporadically if at all.

But, of course, the underlying musical form, and even the most fundamental details,are sometimes in doubt. Many types of music notation circulated in earlytimes, and most were not as complete as modern notation (which in itselfis not truly complete, as it has no way to record the actual dynamicsof a performance). The notion ofkeys, for instance, is quite modern. This isn't really important (atune is the same in the key of C as in the key of G, it's just sungin a different voice range and with different instrumental accompaniment).But the inability of old formats to convey accidentals, or timing -- or quarter tones,as are found in some eastern music -- makes the reconstruction harder.

There are even occasional odd analogies to Biblical criticism. Certainmanuscripts, for instance, have an odd similarity to the Ketib,and Qere variation on YHWH/Adonai. This is the so-called musicaficta or "feigned music." Under the notation systems of thetime, performers were only "supposed" to play certain notes -- butsometimes those notes sounded bad. (For example, in the key of F, hittinga B note instead of a B flat produces a tritone -- a very harsh sound.But the notation didn't allow B flat to be written.) So musicians wereexpected to read these notes and play something else -- just as Jewishlectors were expected to read YHWH and say Adonai. We, unfortunately,generally can't tell what note was meant -- and so we can't reconstructthe pieces with perfect precision even if we have a correct copy of theoriginal notation.

There are also problems of scholarly presuppositions. A noteworthyexample of this is Chappell's book Popular Music of the OldenTime (with variant titles such as Old English Popular Music).Chappell's first edition of this made certain assumptions about the scalesused in old pieces. Later, the book was revised by Wooldridge, who madefewer assumptions and wound up with noticeably different melodiesfor certain of the songs. This, too, has analogies to criticisms oftexts, where scholars may reject a reading as grammatically impossible.

Incidentally, the problem of reconstruction goes far beyond themanuscript era, and even the invention of modern notation. For tworeasons. One has to do with folk songs. Many of these were transcribedin the field by students with limited musical skills -- meaning thataspects of the tune, especially the timing, were often taken downincorrectly. (Folk musicians often have problems with timing. Pitchesthey can test against an instrument; timing requires testing with ametronome, a much more difficult process.) The other has to do withalternate notations, such as tonic sol-fa. Tonic sol-fa was inventedas a means of making music easier to read, but continued to be usedfor about a century because it was a notational form capable of beingreproduced exactly (and easily) on a typewriter, or by hand on ordinarypaper (as opposed to staff paper). But it generates acompletely different sort of error from standard notation or fromneumes. When copying the graphical notations, the typical error willbe one of moving a note up or down a bar line (I know; I've donethis) or missing a note or (more likely) a measure. Errors in timingare rare in copying notation, and the transposed note will usually harmonize with theoriginal. Not in tonic sol-fa! The "notes" in sol-fa ared (do), r (re), m (mi),f (fa), s (sol), l (la), t (ti). The typewriterbeing laid out at it is, this means that common errors would includere/ti (r/t) and the rather more harmonioussol/do (s/d) and do/fa (d/f). Similar types of errors could occur in the timing,though I won't spend more effort to explain.

Appendix III: The Bédier Problem

We alluded to this a couple of times above: The "BédierProblem" is the strong tendency of Lachmann-type stemma to fallinto two and only two main branches.

It's worth noting that this is a non-issue in most fields where stemmaticsis used. For example, one would expect a two-branchstemma in linguistics. Proto-Germanic didn't split into Old English, Old Norse,and Old German all at the same time; two of these three must be more closelyrelated than the third. Similarly with different species; they only split intoto, not three or four. Splits might be very close together, but they wouldn'thappen at exactly the same moment!But it is perfectly reasonable to assume that therewere three or four distinct copies of the archetype of, say, Virgil'sAeneid, so logically the stemma should have three or four branchesgoing back to those four copies.

I haven't seen Joseph Bédier'swork, but I can instinctively understand what he is saying. So I'mgoing to demonstrate artificially how this can arise. I stress that the example whichfollows is artificial, and many of the variants are trivial and orthographicand not really of textual significance, but the whole is based on realmaterials -- in this case, oneof the "Sloane Lyrics," found in British Library Sloane MS 2593.

This is often regarded as a "dirty" piece (though this isby no means certain), but we certainly don't have to get into that. I pickedit because I had so many divergent editions and have a good photoof the original manuscript.

We take our base text from James J. Wilhelm's Medieval Song,p. 358; we'll take only the first stanza (and add line breaks, which aremarked in the manuscript although the text is written continuously):

1) I have a gentil cock,
2) Croweth me the day;
3) He doth me risen erly,
4) My matins for to say.

Against this we collate various texts. We'll denote Wilhelm as "W."We also cite Maxwell S. Luria and Richard S. Hoffman, Middle English Lyrics,item #77 (cited as L); R. T. Davies, Medieval English Lyrics, #64 (citedas D); Chris Fletcher, 1000 Years of English Literature, transcription onp. 34 (cited as F); Brian Stone, Medieval English Verse (Penguin Classics),p. 103 (cited as G -- for "goofed up").

Finally, we include thismodernized-but-not-as-heavily-paraphrased-as-in-G version under the symbol M:

I have a gentle cock,
Croweth for me day;
He bids me rise up early,
My matins for to say.

The Collation

1) gentil FLW ] gentle DM, noble G cock DFMW ] cok L, cockerel G
2) croweth DLMW ] crowyt F, whose crowing G me DFLW ] starts my G, for me M the W ] omit DFGLM
3) doth DFLW ] makes G, bids M risen DLW ] rysyn F, get up G, rise up M erly DFLW ] early GM
4) matins DLMW ] matynis F, morning prayer G

Now we do as Lachmann did, and decide what is an error. And suppose we decidethat modern English spellings are correct, and anything else is an error. By thatmethod, we would probably come up with this stemma, where [A] is of course thearchetype and [B], [C], and [E] lost copies:

                  [A]                   |        ---------------------        |                   |       [B]                 [C]        |                   |  ------------           ------ [E]    |    |           |    |  |     |    |           |    | ---    |    |           |    |  | |    |    |           |    | D L    F    W           M    G

Your standard two-branch stemma. And [C] would probably be consideredmore accurate than [B].

This is in fact just plain wrong. D, F, L, and W are a genuine family --they're all touched-up editions of the actual text. But G and M are nota family; they are independent modernizations of the (hypothetical) originaltext. This is a well-known phenomenon in biology, known as long-branchassimilation. So the true stemma is:

            [A]             |     ------------------------     |             |        |[B]=Sloane MS      |        |     |             |        |----------         |        ||  |  |  |         |        |D  F  L  W         G        M

Three branches, and [B], which in the first stemma was less accurate, isin fact more accurate!

Just to put this in perspective, the following shows how we would reconstructthe original based on each of the two stemma -- plus the original, which shows howfar astray they both can lead us

Reconstruction based on Stemma #1

I have a gentle cock
Croweth me day
He doth me risen early
My matins for to say

 Reconstruction based on Stemma #2

I have a gentle cock
Croweth me day
He doth me rise up early
My matins for to say

 The actual manuscript reads

I haue a gentil cook
crowyt me day
he doþ me rysyn erly
my matyins for to say

Obviously the artificial nature of the witnesses here hurt us.(But I had to use something artificial -- or else make this appendixmuch longer.) The point stands: Agreement in error will tend to producetwo-tree stemma, because (no matter how many actual textual groupingsthere are) each group will almost certainly be closest to one othergroup. In essence, the Bédier problem is that the easiest way to determinea stemma is to find the two most extreme textual groupings, then attachall intermediate groupings to one or the other. This is more or less whathappened to Zuntz: He noted the Alexandrian and Western types in Paul, aswell as the P46-B type, and noted that the latter approachedthe Alexandrian more than the Western, and so classified it as"proto-Alexandrian," then noted that 1739 was closer to theAlexandrian than the Western, and closer still to P46-B,and so classified 1739 with the latter -- in effect reducing fourtext-types to two.

It is unfortunate that the first major response to Bédierwas Quentin, who replied with the "Rule of Iron." This hadtwo problems. First, it was too complicated for algorithm-hatingtextual critics, and second, methodologically, it assumed (in effect)that all trees had three branches, which is even worse than assumingtwo (because, if there are only two, Quentin's method will inherentlyfavor one branch of the tree). So Quentin added further mud to an alreadycomplex problem.

Bédier's own response was to propose the Best Text edition, whichin essence amounts to finding (by whatever means you prefer -- sometimes itwas little better than guessing) which manuscript is best and followingthat relatively blindly, correcting (at most) only the clearest errors. Thus,for the New Testament, that would probably amount to printing the text ofB where it is extant, ℵ or A where it is not. Or, if you're aByzantine type, then some Kx or Kr manuscript thatyou find particularly convenient.

The problems with this approach are surely obvious. A. E. Housmangave a good visual illustration of one difficulty withchoosing a best text and printing it; he suggested a case where onemanuscript is a faithful copy of an original which has been redacted,while another manuscript is an extremely careless copy of a pureoriginal. This situation definitely can arise -- consider the"Western" text of Paul, and particularly the manuscripts Dand F. D has more major differences from the Alexandrian and Byzantinetexts; it is clearly more thoroughly reworked than F. But F is a carelesscopy of the common ancestor of the pair F+G, and the F+G archetype itselfwas a careless copy of the archetype of the "Western" text --F and G, although they have fewer major deviations from the original textof Paul than D, have more minor deviations such as changes of a preposition.So which is the better example of the text, D or F? Housman offers ananalogy: Who is heavier, a tall thin man or a short fat man? You can't know.Similarly, you can't tell whether D or F is the best manuscript, at leastbased on the short description here. What is certain is that there arereadings where D is more correct and readings where F is more correct, anda best-text manuscript based on either one would be frequently wrong. Andwhile the problem is more obvious when we are talking about D and F thanwhen we are talking about, say, B and ℵ, a best-text edition ofthe New Testament based on B or ℵ would still be inferior to an editionwhere both are allowed their voice.

It is true that some people accuse Hortof a best-text edition, but Hort was willing to go against B; he justfollowed B when he couldn't decide on other grounds. That is entirelya different thing! Ultimately, the solution almost certainly is not to abandonstemma; it's to come up with a better solution to creating stemmathan agreement in error. The solution to the Bédier problem isprobably not the best text edition, it's cladistics.

More recently some scholars have gone beyond Bédier andin essence claimed that they don't want to find the original;this idea, for instance, appears in Tim William Machan's TextualCriticism and Middle English Texts. This is, in one sense, adefensible decision; he deals only with extant copies. But it's nottextual criticism. There are times when we want to study the extantcopies, and there are times when we want to study the original, andlet's do both and not pretend they're the same thing.... Machan argues,correctly, that almost all our work in textual criticism is lexical,that is, we operate on the words of the text (as opposed toorthographic details such as punctuation) -- but, in a text thatwas copied (and perhaps written) without punctuation or word divisions,what else are we supposed to do? All that has been preserved is thelexical data.