Archive for December, 2007

Athenaeus, a “Πρῶτος-Surfer”

The idea comes from Christian Jacob’s article on Athenaeus in the collective work Athenaeus and his World (2000). Jacob claims that the way Athenaeus navigates through the large corpus of literature available to him could be compared to what a creator of electronic hypertexts would provide. It is, according to Jacob, a reading of a large and heterogeneous corpus of texts, where decisions are made in order to link together key words of lexical searches or thematic investigations. Jacob calls this a new way of reading but also a new way of writing. This is exactly what happens with electronic publications, where often the distinction between readers and writers tend to disappear.

A similar proximity of ancient dealings with their books and modern internet publications, can bee seen when thinking about the ancient concept of editing (ἔκδοσις). It has often been emphasized that it should not be compared to the modern idea of editions or publications. The link between the author and his text was not so tight as it is in a modern book, with copyrights for both, editors and authors. Van Groningen for instance emphasizes that by editing a text an ancient author loses control over the text. It can be copied and altered freely by readers either directly from the original or from a copy of the text. This is also perceived as one of the dangers of online publications.

However besides this disadvantage, there could also be an important gain from this online experience for scholars working on ancient texts. It could bring us again closer to the ancient ways of dealing with literature. It could for instance bring new insights on questions concerning revisions of ancient books by the authors themselves. Would a revision done by, let’s say, Thucydides or by Strabo on his own work be similar to a work updated on internet, which has already been quoted in its older form in other texts? Quoting an online publication and the difficulties linked to the possibility of updating a previous version of a text and the absence of pagination could perhaps be compared to the ones faced by an ancient reader trying to refer to a book or to make a quotation.

In this context, and besides the difficulties just mentioned, we could also add a statement made by G. Nagy, who believes that an online edition of the Homeric texts could come closest to the way they were available in Antiquity. There would be no need to find an original, first or best text of the Homeric poems and the many variants could coexist as they did in the different versions available in different places throughout Antiquity.

So by losing such great achievements as the codex (a very stable gathering of pages) or printing (a mean of making hundred of identical and unchangeable copies of a text linked to an author and an editor), classical scholars may also gain a lot…


Jacob Ch., Athenaeus the Librarian, in Braund D./Wilkins J. (ed.), Athenaeus and his World, Exter 2000.

Van Groningen B.A., “Ἔκδοσις”, Mnemosyne 16, 1964, 1-17.

Nagy G., Editing the Homeric Text: West’s Iliad, in Homer’s Text and Language, Urbana/Chicago 2004.

Two Web-pages Focusing on Technical Aspects of Learning Greek

Among many tools, blogs and web-pages on and about the ancient Greek language, I just want to emphasize two. One is based in Europe and the other in the US.
Greek Grammars and Other Resources for Learning Ancient Greek

Back to a “Virtual” Roll

It is well-known that the format of our book derives directly from the ancient codices. After a coexistence of about three centuries (roughly from the 2nd century AD to the 4th century AD) of both of the formats (rolls and codices), the codex won over the roll. And some modern scholars claim even that it has not changed its format since then for over a millennium (see Roberts C.H./Skaet T.C., The Birth of the Codex, London /New York 1983, 76).

Nevertheless with the better understanding and growing usage of the new electronic devises to create texts the domination of the codex is somewhat challenged. It will certainly not be completely ruled out, as the advantages of its format are far to many. One could mention for instance the compactness which allows to take along a book while travelling. This has been suggested as one of the reasons for the preference for codices in ancient times, especially in a Christian tradition (see McCormick M., “The Birth of the Codex and the Apostolic Life-style”, Scriptorium 39, 1985, 150-158). In our times, even if travel is again an important part of our lifes, the weight of some of the book is now seen rather as an inconvenient.

It has also be suggested several times that the use of internet changes the way of reading and writing, especially as the notion of “page” tent to disappear (as well as paginations, which is more inconvenient for modern readers).

The comment I would like to add to this debate occurred to me while reading an article by T.C. Skeat, where the scholar investigates the reasons why the codex replaced finally the roll and why this process took so long (see T.C. Skaet, “Roll versus Codex- A New Approach?”, ZPE 84, 1990, 297-298). He mentions one advantage of rolls, which could also be of interest for a discussion on web-based publications.

He mentions the fact that when illustrations are involved in a text, the roll, with its continuous process of reading unbroken by page-turning, allows to see an illustration and the discussion about it simultaneously. In a codex, on the other hand, in a great number of cases, the illustrations and the comments on them are not visible together. The illustrations are either given before or after the discussion, sometimes even at the end of the book, or their presence interrupts the discussion, because they are, for instance, on the right-hand page, which has to be turned over in order to read the end of the argumentation.

The possibility to display visual data along with texts without page-turning is also an advantage of web-based publications.