Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dániel Kiss on Uncertainty in Textual Criticism

Its [textual criticism] reputation for arbitrariness can probably be ascribed to the fact that
having grown up in a late stage of the age of printing, we are used to carefully edited texts, and textual corruption strikes us not only as unfamiliar, but also as uncanny and somehow fundamentally wrong. But a doubt that affects the reconstruction of a passage in Catullus is no different in kind from one that affects how the same passage should be interpreted, nor from one that might affect Roman economic history in the late Republic. If textual criticism is difficult at times, that is not because it is arbitrary, nor because textual critics are incompetent, but because centuries of textual corruption have resulted in problems for some of which there is no easy solution. Faced with such difficulties, one can only make progress by strenuous and open-minded research.

—Dániel Kiss from What Catullus Wrote, p. vii–viii.


  1. Also from p. vii:

    "Textual criticism is often regarded as an arcane subject that is rendered the more difficult by the impossibility of reaching final conclusions. According to this view, questions regarding the text ... are best left to be settled by a qualified editor .... [who] will make up his mind while sipping claret in the seclusion of his study, and lesser mortals should defer to his superior judgment."

    1. MAR, that is usually how I imagine you working on your commentary. Am I wrong?

    2. Substitute coffee for claret, and that's about right...