Appendix A: Other Instances of Multitextuality

I offer here some further illustrations of how the concept of “multitextuality” can be observed in other fields.
The first case comes from the New Testament, specifically the Book of Acts, whose text presents the textual critic with unusually thorny problems. Rather than there being one basic text with minor variants, there are two distinct forms of the text, called the Alexandrian and the Western. Both have early papyrus support, but the Western version is nearly 10 percent longer. One of the theories advanced to account for this state of affairs contends that a perceived freedom to “incorporate from oral tradition all kinds of additional details” led to a “wild and uncontrolled growth of the text during the first and second centuries.” [1] In addition I notice with approval the rejection of the methodology by which one or more manuscripts are compared to an external standard, and the replacement of this methodology by one in which manuscripts are first compared directly with each other. [2] One might also think of how the existence of different versions of some episodes in the four Gospels can be thought of (at least in part) as surviving written records of one or more oral “performances.” [3]
Secondly, I notice that in the history of the transmission of mathematical texts, particularly theorems, one finds significant variations which reflect traditions attributed to individuals. In the introduction (appropriately titled “Philologist, Heal thy Text”) to his work on ancient and medieval geometrical texts, W. R. Knorr says: “Ironically, the office of personal succession can sometimes give rise to considerable freedom in the treatment of texts: the perceived essence is maintained, even as the verbal package is transformed.” [4] Knorr proceeds to state that at least six different versions of the method of cube duplication presented by Hero of Alexandria (first century CE) survive, and he presents several of them in parallel columns. [5]
The remaining two examples come from the field of music, one early and the other modern. A paper written in 1974 by Leo Treitler argues that Gregorian plainchant melodies were composed and transmitted in a manner analogous to the composition and transmission of oral poetry. [6] Treitler identifies musical “formulas” as well as a “formulaic system,” along essentially the same lines as the Parry-Lord formulation.
In addition I mention an unpublished Ph.D. dissertation which contains a detailed analysis of the improvised performances of the jazz pianist Bill Evans, with specific reference and comparison to Homeric oral formulaic techniques. [7] The jazz analogy is perhaps most pertinent when one bears in mind that no two performances are ever the same, and that none is more “correct” than another; the most that can be said is that one is more “inspired” (and inspiring) than another. [8]


[ back ] 1. Metzger 1971:259, 264.
[ back ] 2. See above, p. 59; also Epp and Fee 1993:62.
[ back ] 3. E.g. the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew ch. 6 and Luke ch. 11. See p. 5 above.
[ back ] 4. Knorr 1989:6.
[ back ] 5. Ibid., chap. 1, pp. 11ff.
[ back ] 6. Treitler 1974, whose title appropriately begins “Homer and Gregory . . . .”
[ back ] 7. G. E. Smith 1983. I myself can recall being told, when learning to play jazz piano, to transcribe and memorize the improvised solos of the masters (from tape recordings), and then to use them as a basis for my own original performances. In future work I hope to explore further the relationship between Homeric oral poetry and jazz improvisation.
[ back ] 8. I also draw attention to the following quote about jazz, with reference to a song entitled “Tiger Rag”: “There was no single composer: The music was still part of an aural tradition” (quoted from Porter and Ullman 1993:5–6, 16, 31).