Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Late Evidence can be Invaluable

Sometimes, in the process of answering one question, we actually discover the answer to a completely different question, unsought.   It remains for someone to look afresh at longstanding ordinary data to see what in hindsight is obvious.

One of the most fruitful occasions for such lucky discovery is in the re-casting of long-known facts, or in their more efficient display. Such was the case recently, when we, in the process of attempting to improve standards, readability, accuracy and utility of Manuscript Stemma, we allowed easy viewing some crucial facts concerning later miniscule manuscripts.

Here is K. Lake's original stemma (family tree) for the MS Group Family Π:
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The problem with Lake's original stemma,is that in spite of dating each MS, the vertical position does nothing to place the MSS on a proper timeline, and it also makes somewhat difficult reading off the generational level of a MS.

Nazaroo's improved stemma design allows for charting of both MS age and generational position. 

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We used Nazaroo's new stemma display design to make simultaneous visualization of both manuscript age and generational position easy:

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The semi-orthogonal time and generation scales allow easy grasp of MS position in the copying stream.

But now look at the actual situation for Family Π:  The two very latest MSS for this transmission-stream happen to be 3rd and 5th generation copies of the archetype or Master-copy for this Group.  Lake placed these manuscripts here in the tree because of their text: that is, their accuracy and close agreement with MS Π. 

Had no copies older than the 10th century from this family survived, we could have reconstructed a very excellent copy of the archetype (Π) from these two 14th century manuscripts alone.  

We might have done what textual critics habitually suggest, and ignored these two late MSS,   instead preferring to use 11th century MSS like 72, 652, , 1478, and 178.  We would have in that case reconstructed a 6th generation text, far inferior in quality to the text offered by either 116 or 489 alone!

Nor is this an unusual situation, or some kind of exception to the rule.  Over half of the surviving MSS here have texts which are 5th generation or earlier (10 MSS).  A minority of the MSS have late 6th - 7th generation texts (8 MSS).

Most manuscripts will be made from the oldest and most reliable master-copy available at the time of manufacture.   As a result, late MSS made on parchment or vellum typically have texts some 500 years earlier than their own date. 

Typically, the older manuscripts of a transmission-line (or Family of MSS) are rare to non-existant.  But excellent copies of the early text will have survived in later MSS.

Erasmus' choice of a dozen handy but later copies for his Textus Receptus was not particularly "lucky" in this respect.  His result would be typical of taking any 12 manuscripts at random, and would inevitably involve some copies of very ancient exemplars, only a few generations away from family Archetypes.

Picking the absolute latest MSS available, and limiting collations to a few of the very best copies will in most cases result in an excellent and reasonably early generation text.


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