A fragmentary summer I

Photo authored by Ewa Kondracka and kindly provided by Jan Kwapisz

Photo authored by Ewa Kondracka and kindly provided by Jan Kwapisz

Last week the conference entitled Fragments, Holes, and Wholes was held in Warsaw. Its theme was the reconstruction of the past in theory and practice. The papers focused on several aspects of the fragmentariness of our access to the past, especially to the Greco-Roman past and gave fascinating insights into the different fields of Classics. Here is a sort summary:

Themes linked to the more theoretical aspects:

  • A first important aspect was the question of how scholars should deal with quotations and their incorporation in later works. The context in which they have been transmitted is different from the original one and there may be a huge gap between the original context and the several and various reuses of the pieces coming from the lost work.
  • Secondly much attention was given to the concept of reuse and what the new context of a given piece may tell us about either the way ancient people understood these pieces or about the social context in which these reuses were made. This was illustrated with examples such as the tabulae Iliacae and the ancient collections of poems preserved in papyri. It was, however, also a central element in two further papers: the one on the Hellenistic machines and that which presented an interesting attempt to make sense of a large amount of pottery remains.
  • Furthermore, the quoting methods of ancient authors was brought to the fore in several papers. It was illustrated in Cicero’s speeches and in Latin oratory in general, in Plutarch’s Lives, in Polybios, in Ps.-Apollodorus and to a lesser degree even in Stephanus of Byzantium. On the other hand, also the quoted authors were discussed and how a new approach focusing more on the context could help to collect the fragments of their works. Here we had examples from the Latin Atellane comedies and from Dicaearchus. In the paper on the Pythagorean tradition the question was raised whether it was always necessary to reconstruct the past or if the awareness of several readings of a lost past would be more accurate in some cases, especially when we start to think about the evidence we have as several layers of reception.
  • Finally, as a result of this focus on the context in which a piece has been preserved, the question was raised whether one can trust the ancient context in which a fragment has come down to us. This new aspect was for instance also addressed by the papers dealing with the ways the quotations are introduced, either by a certain category of verbs which can be analysed or by imputed intentions that a quoting author may mention while he reproduces the thoughts or speeches of the quoted author. Similarly interesting was the idea which came up in the discussion that we should also explore the ways a work disappears in order to get more information about how it could be recovered.

Themes related to more practical aspects of the reconstruction of the past:

  • Here we may first mention the brilliant demonstration given by the papyrologists of how they reconstruct on a daily basis the often very tiny pieces and bits preserved on the papyri.
  • We had also several papers on the previous collections of fragments, such as Jacoby’s FGriHist, Diels’ collection of Presocratic fragments and Kassel-Austin’s collection of comic playwrights. The choices from these outstanding editors were presented and discussed. The papers showed how controversial they are today, even if they also pointed out how necessary these choices were for the projects themselves at the time when they were undertaken. A large part of the discussion was, however, dedicated to the presentation of new projects and their new ways of approaching the difficult question of collecting fragments.
  • Finally we also had an interesting summary of the archaeological project of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures from the Polish Academy of Sciences and this reminded us that fragments can be more than just textual elements.

The three days were extremely inspiring and they will certainly help to develop further research on fragments and their modern understanding. However, I am also please to announce here that this was only one of two venues scheduled for this summer where fragments play an important role. The second is coming soon…


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