Friday, August 11, 2017

ETC Interview with Paolo Trovato: Part 2


Here is Part 2 of my interview with Paolo Trovato. Read Part 1 here.

For someone who isn’t an editor or working on an edition of a text, what do think is the main value of your book for them?

Being able to easily detect the typos in a newspaper or a brand-new book. I am not kidding. This means realizing that, even in our time, any work hides or can hide within its pages a number of textual problems, born during the transmission, that is, the journey of the text from the author (via printing house or Xerox copies or internet) to the reader.

Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?

Well, it is a rather long “moment”. Since 2007 I am working with a small team on a critical edition of Dante’s Commedia. The classification of the 600 extant MSS not reduced to small fragments took almost ten years, but now, thank God, we find ourselves in the more amusing and creative phase of fixing the text, for which we use 12 MSS only, the highest and most conservative in our stemma. In these very days I am working on Inferno, IV, but I already published provisional editions of Inferno, XXIII and Inferno, XXXIV on the web where I am getting precious feedback (see here and here). I have also completed some other cantos.

If someone was inspired by your book to start learning Italian (as I was), what are the standard works of textual criticism in Italian that they should try their hand at reading? Pasquali?

Barbi’s Introduction and notes to his critical edition of Dante’s Vita Nuova (1907, rev. ed. 1932) are still a very instructive reading. Pasquali’s Storia della tradizione e critica del testo (1934; 2nd ed. 1952)—which is, to some extent, a review of Maas’ excellent but very selective and brief manual—is indeed a superb book and it deserves an English translation [I agree! In fact, I emailed an editor at the University of Chicago press about this and was sadly told they were not interested.]. Contini was a genius. Nevertheless, even the encyclopedic chapter “Filologia” (1977), which begins the Breviario di ecdotica and is perhaps his most readable work on the topic (I mean one of the few works in which he tried hard to use clear language), is very difficult to understand by non-experts and is thus very hard to translate as well. On the other hand, the Introduction of Cesare Segre to the Chanson de Roland (1971) and all the philological writings collected in his Ecdotica e comparatistica romanze (Milano-Napoli, Ricciardi, 1998) are crystal clear. I know that my friend Paolo Chiesa is considering the idea of translating in English his important Venticinque lezioni di filologia mediolatina [25 lessons about medieval Latin textual criticism], which were published in 2016 (Firenze, Sismel-Edizioni del Galluzzo) and I sincerely hope that he realizes this project.

Can you tell us a bit about your summer school? Who is it for? What material do you cover?

Again, the starting idea is a very simple one. As Pasquali himself wrote in his presentation of the Italian translation of Maas’s manual: “I […] cannot imagine that the original, say, of a Chinese or Bantu text could be reconstructed from copies or any other testimony, in sum, from its tradition, otherwise than on the basis of Maas’ considerations and the rules he laid down”. For the first four days, I gather about a dozen young scholars from different languages and fields of research who are willing to improve their knowledge of textual criticism. Then I repeat for them very quickly the basics of genealogical criticism and I invite them to briefly explain the methodology and main problems of their own research to the other attendees. In the second part I invite some colleagues (specialists of Medieval Latin, of Germanic Philology etc.) to treat in depth some problems. Eventually we go back to the research of the attendees, confronting different methodologies and suggesting possible different approaches. While I hope this confrontation is useful for them, I certainly learn a lot by these energetic, young colleagues.

What developments in the field of textual criticism excite you the most at this point in your career?

At the age of 64, “excitement” sounds like a rather strange, excessive word, but I follow with great interest and, when possible, I actively encourage the use of the common error method in fields in which, as a rule, only a minority of scholars have sound information on his basic rules: Coptic studies, Sanskrit studies, Arabic studies, Old Norse studies etc. (Generally speaking, and not to mention giants like Michael Reeve, Classical studies and Biblical studies, which for centuries were in the forefront of textual studies, don’t seem in too a good condition: few classicists work on textual things, even if most editions of classics depend only on a few particularly old MSS. The fear of altering “iota unum” seems the most pervasive feature in Biblical studies.) Finally, I admit (vanitas vanitatum) that I feel somewhat proud if I think that at least a little part of this still small process of re-evaluation of Neolachmannianism depends on readers of my book or students of my summer school.

Thank you, Paolo, for your time!

For our other ETC interviews with Bart Ehrman, Stanley Porter, Hugh Houghton, and others, see here.


  1. Paolo Trovato8/11/2017 4:03 pm

    "Barbi’s Introduction and notes to his critical edition of Dante’s Vita Nuova (1907, rev. ed. 1934) are still a very instructive reading. Pasquali’s Storia della tradizione e critica del testo (1932; 2nd ed. 1952)" Please correct 1934 to 1932 and 1932 to 1934.

  2. This was one of the most interesting interviews I have read. I loved the interaction with Dr. Robinson in the comments. I will now have to secure the book, especially after reading the portion on academia.

  3. Paolo Trovato8/11/2017 6:57 pm

    Thank you so much, Tim. I am afraid that if the interview was interesting it depends on Peter's questions and Dr. Rbinson's comments. But, of course, I like this topic