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Institute of Advanced Study

Evidence and Representation

Textual Evidence

The Life of Texts
Evidence in Textual Production, Transmission and Reception

Texts have lives of their own, which develop both in the run-up to their completion and in subsequent dissemination.

Texts take shape over time, are potentially perfectible ad infinitum and attain their distinctive features through progressive improvements, but also afterthoughts, reconsiderations and even failed attempts. The traces left by this process provide valuable insights into authorial strategies and modes of composition, while casting considerable light on the rationale underpinning the final outcome.

The life of texts continues to unfold after authors have released them or lost control over them, as the vitality of a text very much depends on its being transmitted and made available to a variety of audiences across space and time, regardless of its form or shape. However, the longer the chain of transmission, the greater the chances for the textual message to be altered (deliberately or not) or even lost. Breaks in the continuity of textual transmission can be occasioned by a variety of causes – a change of script or mode of writing; the transition from one form of textual layout or physical support to another; innovations introduced in the mechanics of transmission (e.g., from manuscript to printed or digitized text); the adoption of a new notation system; a mere turn in trends of fashion. At that point, what appears to be no longer immediately comprehensible or accessible may need to be “translated” into more manageable modes of presentation.

Such rough transitions have meant either death or survival for many works. Some would reach the following stage in piecemeal fashion or disfigured by errors; others still, despite looking complete, owe their integrity to the ingenuity and painstaking work of editors. No work of Homer, Dante or Shakespeare survives in utterly dependable textual witnesses. Editions of non-Western masterpieces often rely on notions of textual authority which are at variance with the ones traditionally accepted in the West. Complete scores of symphonies, sonatas or choral pieces may occasionally result from the editorial reconstruction of the surviving instrumental or vocal parts.

This series of lectures aims to tackle an ever-pressing issue common to most civilizations: the need for preserving the written legacy of peoples and nations as faithfully as possible, while ensuring its accessibility to future generations. Given by acknowledged experts in their field including among others Professor Richard Gameson (Durham University); Professor Barbara Graziosi (Durham University); Professor Francis Watson (Durham University); Professor Daniel Newman (Durham University); Dr Annalisa Cipollone (Durham University);and Professor Carlo Vecce (Instituto Universitario Orientale, Naples); the lectures are intended for a non-specialist audience and will address influential works in light of the textual evidence on which they rest. It is argued that an awareness of what the ‘life of texts’ entails is essential for a critical understanding of the transmission of culture.

The lectures will take place in the Learning Centre in Palace Green Library. The dates of all lectures in this series are in the Events Section and are noted in the poster below. For further information contact Professor Carlo Caruso (carlo.caruso@durham.ac.uk)

Resources

Keeping Watch in Babylon: the astronomical diaries between science and history

This conference (23 – 25 June 2016) is devoted to studying the Astronomical Diaries, a set of texts from ancient Babylon which, over a period of several centuries (8th - 1st century BC), charted the movement of celestial bodies as well as reporting on the weather, the economy, and historical events in and around Mesopotamia. Observations were recorded in a dispassionate style, and with accuracy that has long made the Diaries an important source of scientific and historical evidence.
The Astronomical Diaries are a set of texts from ancient Babylon which, over a period of several centuries (8th - 1st century BC), charted the movement of celestial bodies as well as reporting on the weather, the economy, and historical events in and around Mesopotamia. Observations were recorded in a dispassionate style, and with accuracy that has long made the Diaries an important source of scientific and historical evidence. However, in the wake of Sachs and Hunger’s ground-breaking edition, scholars have begun to ask how the Diaries functioned as texts with an agenda and discursive texture of their own. Thus, Yasuyuki Mitsuma has studied the elaborate process whereby they were assembled from the raw data of astronomical and historical observation; while Reinhard Pirngruber has investigated how the genre adapted to shifts in Babylonian scientific and historical thought. This conference – the first ever devoted to the Astronomical Diaries as literature – takes inspiration from the work of these scholars. We ask in what sense the Diaries might be said to function as a ‘cardiogram’ of successive empires (to use Drews’ apt metaphor): what symptoms did they collect, and how did they describe them? Does it matter, for example, that they associated astronomical observation with eyesight whereas they framed historical knowledge as hearsay? We also ask how the genre developed over time: can we make out a distinctly Achaemenid, Seleucid or Parthian style of ‘keeping watch’ (Akk. naşāru ša ginê), as the authors themselves referred to their activity? Or are there other factors that account for changes in tone and narrative texture? Then again, we are interested in the Diaries’ literary affiliations: what scholarly and historical literature (e.g. Šumma izbu and other omen compendia; Babylonian chronicles) influenced the development of the genre at different points in time, and what impact, if any, did the Diaries have on other texts? Throughout the conference, our emphasis will not be on the data contained in the Diaries, as evidence for modern historians and astronomers, but rather on how the data were selected and presented in the Diaries themselves, as a means to ascertain the state of Babylon, the empire, and the cosmos as a whole.
For further details please contact Dr Kathryn Stevens (kathryn.stevens@durham.ac.uk)

2015/16 Annual Programme: Evidence