Casey Dué and Mary Ebbott
As Many Homers As You Please: an On-line Multitext of Homer
What is a multitext and why is it valuable?
The scope of the project and how it will be achieved
The multitext edition as a research and teaching tool
Current state of the project
This article introduces the multitext editions of the Iliad and Odyssey that are currently being produced by a team scholars in association with the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. (chs.harvard.edu) and the Stoa Consortium (www.stoa.org).
What is a multitext and why is it valuable? [top]
Homeric scholarship has not yet succeeded in achieving a definitive edition of either the Iliad or the Odyssey. The obvious obstacle is, of course, that there is not yet a consensus on the criteria for establishing an edition as “definitive.” The ongoing disagreements reflect a wide variety of answers to the many serious questions that remain about Homer and Homeric poetry. Most of these Homeric questions are inseparable from the controversies that are inherent in the texts and transmission of an oral tradition. While the medieval manuscripts of Homer present a relatively fixed text that has often been termed “the medieval vulgate,” the same cannot be said for the ancient evidence. Homeric quotations by ancient authors, the papyri of the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, and the scholia in medieval manuscripts create a picture of the Homeric text of the Classical and Hellenistic eras that is quite different from our own. There are numerous verses that are seemingly intrusive from the standpoint of the medieval vulgate, the so-called plus verses, and others that are absent, which may be termed minus verses. Equally prevalent is variation of phrasing within lines. In most cases the variation is of a demonstrably formulaic nature in which one Homeric formula is present in place of another, and the superiority of one or the other reading cannot be assumed.
An ideal edition of Homer would encompass the full historical reality of the Homeric textual tradition as it evolved through time, from the pre-Classical era well into the medieval. Our attempt to create such an edition is already underway. Instead of choosing between variants and plus verses in an attempt to recover the ipsissima verba of Homer, we propose to include them in a multitext edition that embraces the fluidity of the textual traditions of the Iliad and Odyssey. The ideal format for this multitext edition of Homer is not a traditional printed text but an electronic, web-based edition. Unlimited in its ability to handle complex sets of variants, an electronic multitext offers critical readers of Homer the opportunity to consider many historical Iliads and Odysseys from the standpoint of many different sources of transmission, and so also allows the user to recover both a more accurate and more accessible picture of the fluidity of the tradition in the earliest stages of textuality. Unlike traditional modern scholarly editions of Homer, this edition does not represent an editor’s attempt to establish a single authoritative text of the Iliad and Odyssey. The multitext has no need for an apparatus criticus, because it emphatically does not represent editorial intervention and excludes such interventions on the part of other editors.
The scope of the project and how it will be achieved [top]
A team of scholars, working under the auspices of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., and in cooperation with the Stoa consortium, is currently developing the tools and resources that will eventually comprise the CHS Multitext of Homer. Although electronic texts and translations of the Iliad and Odyssey are currently available in various places on the web, the CHS multitext will be much more than that. The multitext will be able to display known variants from papyri, scholia, medieval manuscripts, and ancient quotations, presented in a diachronic framework. For example, one diachronic layer that we plan to feature is a reconstruction of the koinh/ text of Aristarchus’s day (approximately 150 BC). This koinh/ text, itself a collation of the many koinai/ texts in circulation, is the point of departure for Aristarchus’s commentaries (u(pomnh/mata) on the text of Homer, but it does not reflect Aristarchus’s own vision of the ideal Homeric text. It is instead a representative collation of the state of the transmission in his own time.
The multitext will also be linked to supplementary materials, including translations, scholia, a modern commentary, and information about Alexandrian and Pergamene libraries, scholars, and scholarship. The project will eventually include multitexts of both the Iliad and Odyssey and Greek texts with English translations of the lives of Homer, Proclus’s summaries of the Epic Cycle, the fragments, and the Homeric Hymns. A major component of the project is to offer unprecedented access to the scholia contained in the tenth century Venetus A manuscript of the Iliad. We plan to do this by means of high resolution digital images of the manuscript, an electronic edition of the Greek text of the scholia with an English translation.
The crucial and perhaps most difficult aspects of this project involve structure and presentation. Each of the components of the multitext is being created as a separate entity, but must eventually be integrated into one interoperable and unified system. This will be achieved by the use of structured markup of the raw data of the multitext. To this end we are spending a good deal of time in the initial stages of this project simply getting the raw data in usable form. As more and more texts, translations, images, and essays get marked up, the multitext will be built. Even more fundamentally, we are attempting to visualize the uses for this data in all of its many possible manifestations, so that those uses can inform the markup of the data. We wish only to stress here that however the data is ultimately presented—and we already are envisioning several different modes of presentation for the user to choose among—the multitext offers access to historically grounded moments in the transmission of Homer.
The multitext edition as a research and teaching tool [top]
The coordination of these many, disparate sources within one system provides two great benefits to scholars and students of Homeric poetry: accessibility and ease of use. Users of the multitext will be able to find variants easily, and view them within their chosen version of the text, rather than search for them in an apparatus (and hope the editor chose to include them!). Other functions, such as extracting a list of places where variations occur or searching for every variation that occurs within a formulaic slot in the line, will provide tools to expedite research on the oral and textual transmissions and may in themselves raise new questions about the sources and our understanding of the transmission. Scholars can consult many sources that they might not have access to otherwise, such as digital photographs of the Venetus A manuscript. Through their selection of a variety of texts users can view the variety of sources and the possibilities that exist, choosing “as many Homers as they please.”
The multitext will be not only a convenient but also a striking and immediate way to introduce students to the complexity of the oral tradition and its textual transmission and accordingly to the serious questions that students of Homeric poetry must confront. That is, the multitext will offer a means to demonstrate, and not just describe abstractly, the variety of witnesses that we have (and the resulting suggestion of what has been lost). Students beginning to learn the practice of textual criticism can use the multitext as a way of compiling an edition, and they can experience firsthand choosing between varying evidence and justifying those choices. The multitext provides a means for a student to view whatever variations might be included and come to understand how these variations would affect a reading of the text. The accessibility of these sources on-line also allows students themselves to explore the questions on their own—no longer are the manuscripts and papyri sources limited to “rare books” or scholarly journals, available in only some libraries, if at all to students. The access provided by the web-based environment is unlimited for students at all types of institutions.
Current state of the project [top]
One guiding principle of this long-term project is to make available whatever components are developed as soon as possible, even before they are linked to one another in the ways we have described here. To see components of the project that are already available, including digital photographs of a facsimile of the Venetus A manuscript and Villioson’s edition of this manuscript, the Homer and the Papyri database, and books and articles on Homeric poetry and textual transmission, please see http://www.stoa.org/chs/.
Our immediate plans are to gather all sources and whole texts for Iliad1 in order to develop a prototype or working model of the multitext that we can make public as soon as possible while we continue to work on the whole.
To refer to this please cite it in this way:
Casey Dué and Mary Ebbott, “As Many Homers As You Please: an On-line Multitext of Homer,” C. Blackwell, R. Scaife, edd., Classics@ volume 2: C. Dué & M. Ebbott, executive editors, The Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University, edition of April 3, 2004.