Monday, August 15, 2011

Marenbon on Textual Editions

The following is from a flyer for the Auctores Britannici series from the British academy, via  Brunellus (but I can't remember where). It was written by John Marenbon

Scholarly editing

Bringing a work like Anselm’s or Wylton’s into the form of an
accessible, edited, printed text is an extraordinarily time-consuming
and skilled job. First, the manuscripts must be transcribed. Whilst
scribes in the earlier Middle Ages used an easily-readable form of
handwriting that was revived in the Renaissance and provided the
model for print, most medieval philosophical manuscripts are
written in difficult to decipher Gothic and late medieval scripts.
Since parchment and then paper was precious, the hands are often
tiny; and a complex system of abbreviations was used to save more
space. Only someone specially trained in the reading of medieval
handwriting, with an excellent command of Latin, and who also
fully understands the often highly technical discussions in the text
can set about the task. Usually, there will be more than one
manuscript, and often dozens. They are rarely authorial autographs,
and so the editor needs to collate and classify the manuscripts, so as
to reconstruct as well as possible the text the author intended. And
then, if the text is to be accessible and useful, the sources it uses and
references it makes must be sought out, a translation provided, and
an introduction written on the work’s context and contents.

Unfortunately, universities and funding bodies in Britain today seem
blind both to the fundamental value of such editions for scholarship
and to the extraordinary skills needed in those who make them. Any
genuine scholar of the Middle Ages, even one not personally
inclined to text-editing, recognises that, without new editions,
scholarship in the area is condemned to try to build without
foundations, and that editing a text is one of the supreme tests of a
medievalist’s training and ability. Yet officially far less credit is given
for the years of patient work required to produce a good edition than
to a few articles or a monograph that catch a fashionable theme and
will probably no longer be read in a few years – whereas a good
edition can still be useful a century later. It is a tribute to a certain
self-sacrificing integrity that so many scholars continue to come
forward to make available, through their painstaking work, more of
the philosophical heritage of medieval Britain – but sad that so few
of them have been trained or work in this country.