Monday, January 16, 2012

Yet Another Scribal Tendency: Swapping Syllables

Very short recap: I believe that a single act of copying goes wrong when the cumulative weight of distracting forces is bigger than that of the focussing forces. This means that often there may not be one single factor (or 'explanation') that accounts for the creation of a textual variant, but rather a number of factors working in tandem to tip the balance.

Here is another one of those scribal tendencies, misreading αυτου for τουθυ or τουχυ and vice verse. Visually there are two syllables involved (not of course in the full nomen sacrum του θεου, or του χριστου), and such metathesis when reading is not uncommon at all.

A few examples (all [sub]singular readings in order to demonstrate the phenomenon):

Alexandrinus in Eph 3:2, της χαριτος αυτου (for του θυ)

P46 in Eph 3:7, της δυναμεως του θυ (for αυτου)

Minuscule 33 in Eph 3:8, πλουτος αυτου (for του χυ)

In each of these examples there is the additional factor of harmonisation to the immediate context, but the combination of the two has of course more force.
(Other examples, 69 (and others?) Rev 14:10 θυμου αυτου (for του θυ); 1854 Rev 20:4 λογον αυτου (for λογον του θυ).

What is perhaps most instructive is that this phenomenon underlines that even though Greek is written without word breaks and that there is, therefore, a large phonetic component needed when reading a text, there is still a visual component too that also works on the level of 'syllables' or perceived syllables.


  1. Interesting points. I have argued similarly to explain the LXX reading "27th" for "17th" at Genesis 7:11 and the 4Q252 reading "17th" for "27th" at 8:14.

    Viewed atomistically the changeבשבעה ועשרים יום <> בשבעה עשר יוםis extraordinarily complex, but when viewed holistically it is actually quite easy.

  2. This is helpful for a papyrus I'm editing which was recovered from Herculaneum, a treatise on kingship. At one point, I think an error that involves metathesis has occurred. The Homeric hero Hector is being criticized and is said to act ὐπὸ παρατρεπείαϲ, but the word παραπετεία is unattested. I don't think the word is a hapax, but rather that the correct reading is προπετείαϲ, 'rashness', which fits the context well. If this is right, the scribe made two errors. He missed the prefix (προ for παρα) and, by near-perfect metathesis, then wrote τρεπειαϲ instead of πετειαϲ, the same sort of error that causes the confusion of 'Calvary' and 'cavalry' and can make 'revalent' of 'relevant'. (Richard Janko has argued that scribes often make mistakes in pairs.) This may seem a rash correction to you NT scholars, since you work with a text that is generally so secure and has so many copies, but something has to be done in this passage. Several other errors are found in the same column. At any rate, I enjoy this blog, and thanks again for bringing up this problem of syllable swapping.
    Jeff Fish