«t Wisdoms: On Preparing a Digital Hyperedition of Greek Gnomic Collections Denis Searby T he practice of compiling collections of sayings by Greek ...»
Sharing Ancient Wisdoms: On Preparing a Digital
Hyperedition of Greek Gnomic Collections
he practice of compiling collections of sayings by Greek wise men
and philosophers, or gnomologia as they are properly called, began al-
ready in classical antiquity and continued throughout the centuries with
increasing regularity into medieval times and beyond. Linguistically, the prac-
tice was not confined only to Greek, but it also flourished in other languages
in whose culture Greek letters made a significant impact, particularly in Latin, Syriac, and Arabic. Always a popular genre, it was adapted to meet various needs by the societies, or classes within societies, that used it to express them- selves. Perhaps originally intended for school-room instruction, the compila- tion of gnomologies gained a new and significant function during Hellenistic and early Imperial times as the main medium for the propagation of the tenets of philosophical schools that owed their popularity and wider appeal to their ethical content. The Epicureans to a certain extent (the preservation of Epicu- rus’s own kyriai doxai in the form of a gnomology comes immediately to mind), the Stoics certainly (Chrysippus is one of the founders of the genre), and par- ticularly the Cynics (whose main theory of parrhesia an apophthegm with a quick repartee is ideally suited to convey) made sustained use of gnomologies in their teaching.
A natural characteristic of the genre, in all languages, is its fluidity. It is fluid with regard to both the extent or size of each individual collection and the text of the sayings contained in each collection. A particular gnomology may have a greater or smaller number of sayings in each of the various manuscripts in which it is preserved, and it may vary substantially in extent if it happens to have survived in more than one recension. The text also of a discrete saying may vary from one manuscript to the next. Since the very point of a maxim or witticism depends heavily on its form, on the precise wording, attempts to im- prove upon a perceived imperfection by a transmitter or even scribe must be responsible for many of the textual variants. Furthermore, given the longevity of the collections and the sayings they contain, the development of the Greek language is also a factor in considering textual variations. A wording that made the point perfectly in the fourth century BC in Athens no longer fulfilled the function twelve centuries later in Constantinople, and it was accordingly recast Presented at the Ars edendi Workshop, 22 September 2010 at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto in a linguistic form more immediately intelligible.1 Today I am going to talk specifically about problems in editing Greek gnom- ologia – and, for these purposes, will simply define a gnomologium as a collec- tion or an arrangement of anecdotes and sayings (apophthegms). Specifically I am dealing with a group of collections arranged alphabetically by author. One has a series beginning with, say, an anecdote to the effect that Alexander the Great did this followed by another to the effect that Alexander the Great said that. However, it is usual not to repeat the name of the author, so you get “Alexander the Great did this”, followed by “The same man said that”. Since the name of the author is not usually repeated but just indicated with ὁ αὐτός, it is obvious that many mistaken attributions will arise as series of sayings get copied over time.
There are many bunches of anecdotes and sayings in many Greek manuscripts – they were often used as filler – as in modern magazines – they were also often more than filler: they were deliberately compiled as, among other things, educational resources. Collections of these anecdotes and sayings take on a special interest if you can show connections between them that point to a common source. During the 19th century, there was quite a lot of scholarly interest in such collections. Scholars often tried to mine them for fragments of ancient authors. Smitten with the Lachmannian method, they also were eager to trace the knotty transmission of these collections back to some Ursammlung.
I call my particular group of sources the GV family, GV standing for Gnomologium Vaticanum. The Der Wiener Apophthegmen-Sammlung (WA) was published by Curt Wachsmuth in 1882 from cod. Vindobonensis theol. 149, ff 302v– 308r. It is unfortunately rather incomplete, lacking selections for letters B–Π.
Gnomologium Vaticanum is the name of a collection of 577 apophthegms, alphabetically arranged by name of author, in cod. Vat. gr. 743 (ff. 6–46v) edited by Leo Sternbach shortly after Wachsmuth’s publication of WA. GV is the most extensive representative of a corpus of apophthegms found in various manuscripts, for example Appendix Vaticana, Florilegium Leidense and several others. For simplicity’s sake, I have designated this tradition as the GV-family, because GV is the more famous and easily accessible collection, now available on the TLG.
I will just say a few more words about the kind of material we are dealing with in GV. A majority of the persons cited are Greek philosophers, although there are also a number of apophthegms belonging to other famous authors and artists (tragic and comic poets, orators, historians, kings, generals, etc.), including even Cicero, who is the latest identifiable name. A few anonymous selections are included, for example, two short fables (nos. 420–421) and sayings reflecting ethnic characters (e.g. a Scythian in no. 534, Spartans in nos.
1 I borrow these first two paragraphs from Dimitri Gutas’ preface to my own book: The Corpus Parisinum. A Critical Edition of the Greek Text with Commentary and English Translation, 2 volumes, Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston NY, 2007.
Sharing Ancient Wisdoms 2 392–398). Sayings of women are added at the end of the collection. Other collections are have more or less the same content, though with individual variations – WA, for example, has a number of citations from poetry.
The sayings of philosophers show clear affinities with the various series of apophthegms in Vitae Philosophorum of Diogenes Laertius. Aphorisms or apophthegms as a deliberate promotional or instructional strategy were used in various Socratic schools, primarily among the Cynics, and the Cynics are reasonably assumed to have had quite a lot to do with the compilation and diffusion of these sayings. However, sayings were also studied in rhetoric, and the manipulation of sayings (maxims, gnomai, sententiae) and anecdotes (apophthegmata) formed part of early rhetorical training.
The apophthegms generally follow fairly typical forms. For example:
• GV 68: Ἀγησίλαος ὁ Λακεδαιμόνιος ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος͵ τί ἄν τις ποιῶν γένοιτο πλούσιος͵ ἔφη· ἐὰν τὰς ἐπιθυμίας παραιτήσηται.
• GV 553: Χίλων Αἰσώπου πυθομένου τί εἴη ποιῶν ὁ Ζεὺς εἶπε· τὰ μὲν ὑψηλὰ ταπεινοῖ͵ τὰ δὲ ταπεινὰ ὑψοῖ.
Their style is similar to traditional sayings in other near Eastern cultures, and
one might compare such Gospel passages as these:
• Lk 17.20: Ἐπερωτηθεὶς δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν Φαρισαίων πότε ἔρχεται ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς καὶ εἶπεν͵ Οὐκ ἔρχεται ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ μετὰ παρατηρήσεως͵ οὐδὲ ἐροῦσιν͵ Ἰδοὺ ὧδε· ἤ͵ Ἐκεῖ· ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν.
• Matt. 9.12: καὶ ἰδόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι ἔλεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ͵ Διὰ τί μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν; ὁ δὲ ἀκούσας εἶπεν͵ Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες ἰατροῦ ἀλλ΄ οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες.
I would also like to point out that these sayings are not merely sententious thoughts. In fact a large number are quite simply what we would call bad jokes.
Many of them are related to typical Hellenistic figures – the philosopher, of course, the tyrant, the world-wise poet or even the inept poet, et cetera. I think we can see clear connections here to new comedy.
Most relevant for us at the moment is the continual presence of these sayings in education. For example, Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1144 contains a number of school treatises covering the liberal arts. It starts with a synopsis of rhetoric beginning with “methods” of the progymnasmata, where we find Aphthonius’ definition of chria or “anecdote” and maxim. This manual is found with others in the first half of the manuscript. The other half is filled with collections of sayings and brief historical or mythological notes, including my GV-related sources Appendix Vaticana I and II – also published by Sternbach.
Before I go on to the editorial problems, I would just touch on the interest of studying this kind of material. For example, Here is one of the brief notices
in Appendix Vaticana:
Sharing Ancient Wisdoms 3 It deals with Cleisthenes and the law of ostracism. The information in this notice has been discussed seriously by historians over the past four decades, since it is one of our few references to the origins of ostracism. Often these collections do provide us with testimony and/or fragments of no longer extant authors. More generally, these anecdotes can be studied both for their language use and as forming a part of cultural history: humour, popular philosophy, and so forth.
Let’s get into some of the editorial nitty-gritties now. Here is a partial table
of collections related to GV:
Some of these were published (mostly in the nineteenth century) using a single manuscript. This applies to all the collections related strictly to GV. Some Sharing Ancient Wisdoms 4 of the relevant but more distant relatives of GV have received more critical editions based on more than one manuscript – I will not here discuss the problems inherent in these editions.
Instead, let’s take a closer look at the editions of collections in single manuscripts. We begin with the manuscript of GV itself. Here is a typical folio. See
the name of Isocrates beginning a series of his sayings:
This is what it looks like in the TLG with the same saying of Isocrates:
355 Ἰσοκράτης ἔλεγε· “μεγάλους δεῖ λαμβάνειν μισθοὺς ⟨παρὰ τῶν⟩ μαθητῶν τοὺς διδασκάλους, παρὰ μὲν τῶν εὐφυῶν, ὅτι πολλὰ μανθάνουσι, παρὰ δὲ τῶν ἀφυῶν, ὅτι πολὺν κόπον παρέχουσιν”.
356 Ὁ αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς “διὰ τίνα αἰτίαν τοὺς ἄλλους διδάσκων λέγειν αὐτὸς σιωπᾷς”; ἔφη· “καὶ γὰρ ἡ ἀκόνη αὐτὴ μὴ τέμνουσα τὰς μαχαίρας τμητικωτέρας ποιεῖ”.
357 Ὁ αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἐστιν ἔγρον ῥήτορος εἶπεν· “τὰ μικρὰ μὲν
358 Ὁ αὐτὸς εἰπόντος τινὸς ὅτι ὁ δῆμος ὑπὸ τῶν ῥητόρων διαρπάζεται ἔφη· “τί θαυμαστόν, εἰ Κόρακος ἐφευρόντος τὴν ῥητορικὴν οἱ ἀπ’ ἐκείνου κόρακές εἰσιν”.
If we were to have a look at Sternbach’s 1889 edition reprinted in 1963 we would find that Sternbach printed each item separately with copious notes in Latin mentioning all the parallels he could find (the total number of parallel sources cited is enormous). At the foot of the page comes critical annotations.
It’s amazing erudition but disorganized and unwieldy.
Within the research program Ars Edendi, my particular goal is to produce a suitable printed edition not only of the Gnomologium Vaticanum itself but of it and the related collections. This is fraught with a number of editorial problems of which I will proceed to mention just a few. Ah. Where to begin? – I mean that’s the problem: where to begin. Normally when you want to edit a text extant in various manuscripts, you choose as a starting point a lead manuscript. But does that work here? No. What criteria would determine it? Age of the manuscript? They are all more or less equally old – and, as we all know, age is not a good criteria. Besides, we do not really have one text extant in various witnesses. Each collection is in some ways unique.
A complicating factor in editing gnomologia is that they are often compilations of compilations, rather than original compilations. What do you do with compilations of compilations such as the Corpus Parisinum that I edited a few years ago? The compiler of this corpus took from his sources – including some GV-related source – and rearranged his selections, and yet not thoroughly. In the GV-related case he went from an alphabetical collection of apophthegms to a non-alphabetical but still author-arranged collection of both sententiae and apophthegms attributed to the various authors, and yet put any leftovers in an alphabetically arranged collection like GV. The diagram below attempts to show something of this confusing method. GV itself shows a number of traces of deriving its selections from variously arranged sources.
Another editorial problem is how to select the best text. Now GV is the largSharing Ancient Wisdoms 6 est representative of the group but does not necessarily have the best text. But
what can one mean by best text in this case? Below are shown GV 147 and variants in other sources:
GV 147 Βίας ὁ σοφὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος τί ἂν εἴη ἄφοβον [πρᾶγμα] εἶπεν· ⟨ὀρθὴ⟩ συνείδησις.
AV I 26 Βίας ὁ σοφὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἂν εἴη ἄφοβον ἐν τῷ βίῳ ἔφη· συνείδησις.