A Fragmented Puzzle : workshop in Berlin

The workshop, held at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin, focused on the methodological problems scholars face when trying to collect fragments. The examples were taken from the medical and philosophical tradition.

The presentations dealt therefore with authors like Alcmaeon (Stavros Kouloumentas), Menecrates (Giuseppe Squillace), Praxagoras (Orly Lewis), Servilius Damokrates (Sabine Vogt), Heraclitus (Glenn Most) and Xenophanes (Gérard Journée). Among the source-texts, Galen took a prominent position (Alessia Guardasole), but also other source-texts were discussed especially some from late Antiquity (David Leith).

Beyond the many interesting elements each presentation brought for its own topic, the aim of the event was to address once again some of the crucial questions about fragments and their presentation no matter which form of output one may choose for their publication.
I followed the discussion with much interest and would like to mention a few points where the discussion seemed to join the issues alluded to by scholars working in the field of Digital Humanities.

  • First of all there is the weight given to the context in which a fragment is preserved. Since the fragments are, as long as they are quotations, pieces from one work preserved in the wording of another later text, it is important to understand the outline of the argumentation in which they are used in order to be able to decide how they have been preserved or to establish how close the wording may still be to the original work.
  • The second concern which seems to be shared by any collector of fragments today, is the desire to achieve transparency in one’s editorial choices about a given text. In the field of Digital Humanities it is believed that the new approach one has to take when working with computers allows the scholars to express their choices more precisely and therefore more openly for their readers. The workshop showed that scholars having chosen a more conventional approach are driven by the same goal and this may therefore become a distinctive feature of any modern edition.
  • Then also the thoughts about the audiences which may use a collection of fragments is something both groups of scholars share. The question comes along with much more insistence when thinking about an online release of one’s results, but nonetheless it is also present with other forms of publications.
  • Further a very useful distinction has been made during the workshop between two approaches a scholar may take when doing his edition of fragments. On the one hand, one can focus on the side of the production and try to reconstruct what the author one is interested in may have written. On the other, it is also possible to highlight the reception of the author’s work and try to understand how he was read and transmitted in Antiquity.
  • Finally I found it particularly interesting to get some insight into a completely different tradition of fragmentarily preserved texts and to compare it with the one to which Demetrios belongs and which is therefore most familiar to me. The balance between the difference and the similarities I saw during the presentations made me think that it may be very interesting to open up the approach and compare, from a much larger point of view, the different quoting methods in different fields.

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