Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Manuscript Collation in the 21st Century

It seems worth restating an obvious benefit that the on-line publication of high resolution images of multiple Homeric manuscripts offers. As was made clear to us again and again during our recent two week summer seminar, when you find something in a manuscript that you don't understand, it is often illuminating to look at other manuscripts. When Martin West or Helmut Van Thiel made their editions of the Iliad, if they wanted to check the contents of the Venetus A directly, they had to make a costly trip to Venice, where they might be allowed to look at the manuscript for a few hours, perhaps, if they were very lucky, over the course of a few days. (When our team was in Venice, we were able to in fact see the handwritten log of visitors that recorded these visits.) If West or Van Thiel noticed something that reminded them, however vaguely, of something they had seen in one of the Escorial manuscripts in Spain, another costly and time consuming trip would have been required to make a comparison. (I believe Martin West was in fact able to make use of a microfilm provided by the Esorial, as have we before we photographed those manuscripts. But he almost certainly was not able to use that microfilm while looking at the Venetus A.) Last week at the seminar, we were able to make direct comparisons again and again between manuscripts that have perhaps never been in the same room. So for example, when students noticed a particular siglum in book 7 of the Venetus A that was used to connect a small subset of intermarginal scholia with the word being commented upon in the poem — a method of linking not typical in the Venetus A, which relies instead upon placement and lemmata to connect text and scholia —we were immediately able to look at Escorial manuscript Ω.1.12 (E4), which makes use of a similar siglum for a particular group of scholia in that manuscript.

In the next month we are planning to make available on a test server an all new manuscript browser. Unlike previous versions, this one will be able to display all of our data, and it will do so in a way that will make perfectly clear the relationships between all the different materials we have collected so far. So for example, you'll be able to ask for line 1.1 of the Iliad, and you'll get a page that will give you the option to also display, in addition to the Greek text of any given manuscript for which we have a diplomatic edition, the manuscript folios and papyri that contain that verse, and what scholia comment upon it. The more editions that we create and publish, the more options there will be for you to choose from. So very soon you will able to collate manuscripts from Spain and Venice (and Geneva and London and so on) side by side, something that has never before been realistically possible. The system will always be a work in progress, in that we will continue to feed it new data as we acquire or create it, but the tools themselves that will enable such browsing are elegant, simple, and flexible — not to mention open source and platform independent. We look forward to sharing this exciting new development with you soon.

The Venetus A and Escorial manuscript Ω.1.12 side by side

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