Friday, September 28, 2012

Homer Multitext related publication

In August 2011 Homer Multitext Co-Editor Mary Ebbott and Associate Editor Leonard Muellner joined scholars in many humanistic disciplines at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland for a conference called “From Ancient Manuscripts to the Digital Era: Readings and Literacies.” The proceedings from that conference, including our contribution “Multitextual Reading in Manuscripts of the Iliad and the Future of the Homer Multitext” has now been published in Lire Demain / Reading Tomorrow, available here: An e-book version will also be made available.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Undergraduate interest in manuscripts

In 2011-2012, an enterprising group of students involved in the Homer Multitext project worked through the lengthy administrative requirements to form a new Registered Student Organization at the College of the Holy Cross.  The Manuscripts, Inscriptions and Documents Club is, as far as I am aware, unique:  an undergraduate club with the stated mission " to further the study of ... paleography, codicology, epigraphy, as well as the study of languages" through collaborative research involving students and faculty.

They seem to be succeeding:  at the club's first general meeting of the new academic year on Friday, seventeen returning members and three faculty collaborators were joined by twenty newcomers.  Six of the club's most active members could not attend Friday's meeting because they are currently studying abroad, but they have already sent back photographs of inscriptions as part of a club project on the epigraphic sources for tribute in fifth-century Athens, just one of an expanded roster of projects the club is hosting this year.

A larger group working on the Homer Multitext project will also allow us to expand our work on manuscripts of the Iliad.  We are experimenting this fall with new methods to help automate parts of the process of creating normalized texts parallel to the more strictly diplomatic texts that remain our central focus, and will be able to supplement our ongoing work on the Venetus A and Escorial Upsilon 1.1 with new teams looking at the Venetus B.

While the work on the Iliadic manuscripts will directly contribute to the HMT project, it is gratifying to see the broader awareness of and interest in primary-source material that the project is generating.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Albert Lord Centennial

Albert Lord would have turned 100 tomorrow (September 15, 2012). The Center for Studies in Oral Tradition has published a variety of commemorative resources. For our part, I would like to link to a blog post I wrote last year. No scholar's work has influenced the methodology of the Homer Multitext more. As Lord wrote in his 1995 book, The Singer Resumes the Tale: "the word multiform is more accurate than ‘variant,’ because it does not give preference or precedence to any one word or set of words to express an idea; instead it acknowledges that the idea may exist in several forms." (Lord 1995:23). See also The Singer of Tales (1960), p.101:
The truth of the matter is that our concept of the "original," of "the song," simply makes no sense in an oral tradition. To us it seems so basic, so logical, since we are brought up in a society in which writing has fixed the norm of a stable first creation in art, that we feel there must be an "original" for everything. The first singing in oral tradition does not coincide with this concept of the "original."... It follows, then, that we cannot correctly speak of a "variant," since there is no original to be varied! ... Our greatest error is to attempt to make "scientifically" rigid a phenomenon that is fluid.
If you would like to learn more about the work of Albert Lord and his teacher, Milman Parry, I highly recommend the 40th anniversary edition of the Singer of Tales, edited and introduced by Gregory Nagy and Stephen Mitchell. You can also read more about Lord's work and see some video clips from lectures given by Lord at the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Digital Humanities Postdoc Position at University of Houston

I am pleased to announce that the University of Houston is offering a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in Digital Humanities, beginning this January. Please see the details here, and forward this post to anyone you think may be interested. Thank you for your help!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What's in a Name (of a Manuscript)?

Along with the exciting new additions (with more to come) and the reorganization of the Homer Multitext website, you may have noticed that the primary names used for our Iliad manuscripts have been changing as well.

Here are the “shorthand” designations we will use henceforth, and the other possible designations or past names we have used for our five current manuscripts:

HMT designations       [names in brackets are other library catalog designations and modern
                                                                                                 edition sigla]

Venetus A or Marciana 822    [=Marcianus Graecus Z. 454, Allen’s A, West’s A]    

Venetus B or Marciana 821    [=Marcianus Graecus Z. 453, Allen’s B, West’s B]
Marciana 841       [=Marciana Graecus Z. 458, Allen’s U4; West does not include]
Escorial Υ.1.1      [=Escorialensis 294, Escorialensis 291, Allen’s E3, West’s E]

Escorial Ω.1.12    [=Escorialensis 513, Escorialensis 509, Allen’s E4, West’s F]

Why are there so many names for each manuscript? And how did we settle on the names that we now use?

One reason why there are multiple ways to refer to each of our manuscripts is that names or other designations come from two different sources: the libraries which house the manuscripts, and modern editors’ designations or “sigla.” Within each of those sources, in turn, there are additional reasons that names or designations change over time.

Modern editors’ names
When a modern editor collates multiple manuscripts to create a modern edition, s/he might use sigla to designate the manuscripts so that s/he can use those one or two letters and/or numbers in the cramped spaces of a traditional print apparatus criticus. Even the first modern publication of the Venetian manuscripts created such sigla: Villoison in his 1788 edition of Homer’s Iliad with the Scholia called the two manuscripts “A” and “B” for ease of reference in tight print spaces when he compiled the scholia. (You can see digital photographs of Villoison's edition here.) That is the origin of the names “Venetus A” and “Venetus B” (“Venetus” is the Latinate version of “Venice”).

When we look at how two twentieth-century editors have created sigla, we see that each created his own system, resulting in further designations. Allen calls the two manuscripts from the Escorial “E3” and “E4”: he actually collated four manuscripts from the Escorial and designated them 1–4 in the same order as the Escorial’s catalog numbered them, so although these two are the oldest of the four, they end up as “3” and “4.” West, however, uses far fewer manuscripts in his edition, and chose to call these two “E” (=“E3”) and “F” (=“E4”). Allen gave to the Venetian manuscript Marciana 841 the siglum “U4”: in addition to the Venetus A and Venetus B, Allen consulted 13 other manuscripts in Venice at the Marciana, and gave them the sigla U1–13, using a Latinate consonantal “U” for “Venice” since he uses “V” for the manuscripts in the Vatican library. West does not include this manuscript, and so did not create a siglum for it.

We have written before about the problems with the traditional apparatus criticus, both in terms of the difficulties in deciphering from it what a particular manuscript actually has, and in the way it presents barriers to readers, obscuring what the editor has seen in manuscripts in a secret code, as it were. Since we will not have the constraints of a printed page, and because we want to avoid reinforcing the “outsiders not welcome” feel of using such abbreviations, we will not follow in the footsteps of these print editions by using their sigla or by creating our own for the manuscripts.

Up until now, however, we have used these sigla in our writing about the manuscripts and on the website. We have done so because they are short, and therefore handy, and because we learned to do so as part of our academic discipline. But we will avoid using most of these from now on, for the reasons just stated as well as some further considerations I will explain now.

Because “Venetus A” and “Venetus B” are both easy to say and write and widely known names, we will continue to use them as our shorthand for these manuscripts. They have become such established names (and the manuscripts are so important for our textual history of the Iliad) that both Allen in his sigla and West in his use “A” and “B” to designate these manuscripts. But in addition to the hassle of needing to include multiple equivalences any time we refer to the manuscript using the sigla of a modern editor (such as noting the Allen’s E4 = West’s F), using one modern editor’s sigla as our normal reference could imply some scholarly choices or allegiances that we are not meaning to make. So our decision is to use library names and designations rather than sigla from any one modern edition, with the exception of Venetus A and Venetus B because those are so widely known and consistently used.

Library catalogs and shelving
Deciding to use library names and designations wasn’t the end of our decision making process, however, because in these cases, too, there is more than one possible reference. We have had the habit (once again from our training in the discipline) of using Latinate forms for the library names: Marcianus and Escorialensis. But in our desire to welcome nonspecialists to the Homer Multitext, we have decided to avoid such Latinate forms, and use the actual library names, Marciana and Escorial, in our designations for their manuscripts.

Then we must locate them, as it were, within the library, since we have more than one manuscript from each. The libraries that house our manuscripts naturally catalog them, and give them catalog numbers when they do. The Marciana and the Escorial libraries have long histories as institutions, so it is not surprising that they have cataloged their manuscript collections more than once. We have at times used or included designations for the three manuscripts from Venice that were assigned in the catalog compiled by Zanetti in 1740 ( Those designations, “Marcianus Graecus Z.” plus a number (454, 453, and 458 for our three manuscripts) include the name of the library in the Latinate form, the Latinate designation “Graecus” because Zanetti cataloged the Greek manuscripts separately from the Latin and Italian manuscripts, and the “Z.” to indicate Zanetti’s catalog. So there was both a “Greek 454” (our Venetus A) and, likely, a Latin 454, requiring the specification of the language to distinguish the two. Zanetti also grouped the manuscripts within the language into genres, so the Greek poetry manuscripts all have numbers between 438 and 461.

Similarly at the Escorial, different catalogs have given the two manuscripts different catalog numbers over time: 291 or 294 for what Allen called his “E3” and 509 or 513 for what Allen called his “E4.” Because these numbers have changed over time, using one over the other complicates our designations: even if we choose to use the latest one as the most “current,” it is scholarly practice to include the older numbers so that it is clear that it is indeed the same manuscript. So, just as with using any one editor’s sigla, using one of the Escorial catalogs creates the need for citing the other (294 = 291, e.g.).

Our solution is to use the designation the library has for the shelving of the manuscripts, since that is a designation rooted in some reality about the manuscript as a physical object: namely, where they can be found. For the Escorial, those designations are a Greek letter, followed by two numbers, separated by periods: Escorial Υ.1.1 and Ω.1.12. The numbers from the Marciana of 821, 822, and 841 also refer to their physical place in the library, and are attached to the codices, as this picture of the spine of the Venetus A shows (the label toward the bottom reads “822”).

Spine of Venetus A manuscript, photo published by the Homer Multitext project

The long history of our discipline shows itself in these changing and accumulating designations. As we reinvent the critical edition, we want to use names that reflect the manuscript as a historical object and are lasting, easy to use, and easy to understand. We hope the designations we have chosen will fulfill those desires.