Archive for the 'Book reviews' Category

A Book Mentioning Demetrios of Scepsis

In her Book, From Alexandria to Babylon, Francesca Schironi mentions Demetrios of Scepsis twice.

First when discussing the larger context of glossographical works, she describes the tradition of glossography in the library of Pergamon. And, even if she prefers the Alexandrian hypothesis, she mentions a fragment of Demetrios of Scepsis illustrating this kind of interests. Indeed in fr. 70 (Gaede) he attributes the word χεράδες to the dialect of Apollonia in Pontus. As it is difficult at first glance to see how this piece of information would fit a commentary on the Trojan Catalogue, it provides at least a good example illustrating how far-reaching his Τρωικὸς διάκοσμος must have been.
The interest of Demetrios, or more generally of scholars linked to the library of Pergamon, for places with strange, foreign names, especially those in the areas around Pergamon, can also be seen in the preserved attempts to explain for instance the name of Demetrios’ hometown Scepsis. Several attempts to explain the name have come down to us (see below january 2008). One of them is linked to the name of Demetrios (ΣD Il. 20.3) and Strabo wonders about the validity of Greek etymologies about “barbarian” names such as the one of Scepsis (Str. 13.1.52).

The second mention of Demetrios of Scepsis occurs in her commentary of fragment 5 of the preserved glossographical work. The wording ]ἐν τῷ Τρωικῷ[ suggests the title of a work and, of course, the one given by Demetrios to his work is among the first the be mentioned (ὁ Τρωικὸς διάκοσμος). This is certainly not the only possibility and the author makes several other suggestions.

But there is a striking coincidence to be mentioned. It has often been argued about Athenaeus that he may not have read all the sources he quotes but would have used lexicographical works, where he found the quoted sources already listed under the lemmata he was interested in. This seems to be true for at least two of the fragments of Demetrios coming from Athenaeus (Athen.4.141e = fr. 1 and Athen. 7.300d = fr. 11). To be more assertive further studies should be done on Athenaeus but even so, and only with a hypothetical mention of Demetrios, the book gives precious insight about such intermediary works one has to presuppose between the Hellenistic scholars and their later users.

Giuseppe Zecchini, La cultura storica di Ateneo, Milano 1989

Thoughts about Writing in a Digital Environment

I just finished a chapter from a very inspiring book: L’humanista digitale, Teresa Numerico, Domenico Fiormonte and Francesca Tomasi (eds.). Further details about the book can be found on the blog of Monica Berti, where I actually got the information about it.
I started to read the part entitled Scrivere e produre because it was closest to the work I am doing in my project on Demetrios of Scepsis. Indeed much there is about producing a text or, let’s say, several texts, with all the stages of its composition including the documentation preceding as well as the modifications, additions and corrections added later on.
First the study as such, as it analyses the act of composition along other ways of using the new technologies assembled in chapters such as Rappresentare e conservare or Cercare e organizzare, defines the poetic part of the large field of digital humanities in it overall context. In order to contribute in an appropriated way to the world of digital humanities all the parts have to be taken into account even if it is no longer possible to be an expert in each if these fields.
It is the same message one gets when reading the schema of the four different texts discussed within the chapter on Scrivere e prudure (p. 78). Again when starting from the point of view of the composition of a text, we enter the schema from the first level (testo in sé) and stay focused on it for the whole process of the grammatical or rhetorical treatment of the content we would like to transmit. However as the authors of this study show this first level cannot be detached from the three others (testo-codice; testo processato; testo che (ci) scrive), even if these are fields which are rather far away from the preoccupations of an author, at least when he is focused on the act of composition.
But still it cannot be ignored, as the new technologies imply also a new way of thinking about the act of writing of a text, a document or let’s say the more delimited concept of a book (a text within a front and a back page), especially if we follow the image the authors of the study suggest, comparing the architecture of the information to a system of classification in a library (p. 98). Indeed in the context of a traditional library the act of writing, leading eventually to the creation of a book, is completely independent from the act of classifying this item in a larger repository, by either sticking a code on the back of the book or, more up-to-day, by adding a code-bare on its first or last page. In a digital library this devices, leading to a specific book in a huge repository, are found within the document itself and are fixed on the very elements of the text. So it seems that they became part of the concerns of an author if he wants to use all the possibilities of these new technologies.

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.