Re: Classical Greek

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 11 1998 - 06:54:24 EST

At 6:03 PM -0600 3/10/98, Ron Rhoades wrote:
>Every one,
>Is the following quote concerning the extent MSS of Greek writers
>still up to date? I have a feeling there must have been more finds of
>source material for some of these writers. Any body have an updated
>"Many people say that because we have no original manuscripts of the
>Old and New Testament Scriptures, we have no means of proving the
>genuineness and authenticity of our Bible. But there are no original
>manuscripts of the classical Greek and Latin writers, yet no one seems
>to be disturbed about it. Twenty or even ten or less, manuscript
>copies are considered sufficient to establish a genuine text. Some have
>only 1 to 3 manuscripts. And these copies were made from 200 to 1600
>years after the author's death. The 2 works of Tacitus (55-117 C.E.) are
>represented by 1 manuscript each, written in the 11 century. The Greek
>Anthology exists in but 1 manuscript. the work of Aeschylus (525-456
>B.C.E.) and of Lysias (450-380 B.C.E.) have a few manuscripts written
>1400 years after their death. There are but 3 independent manuscripts
>of Catullus (84-54 B.C.E.), and they date from the 14th century, 1400
>years after his death. There are about 100 manuscripts of Sophocles
>(946-406 B.C.E.) dating from the 11th century, 1400 years after his
>death, but only 7 are of any value. The Greek historian Herodotus
>(480-425 B.C.E.) is represented by 15 manuscripts, none of which are
>older than the 10th century. There are still fewer manuscripts of Plato
>(427-347 B.C.E.), dating from the 9th century, and so on down. Virgil
>(70-19 B.C.E.) has 1 manuscript of the 4th century and 2 of the 5th,
>besides some fragments."=97H.S. Miller, "General Biblical Introduction";

Except for what I assume is a typographical error making Sophocles 540
years old at his death in 406 (there's a wonderful anecdote of perhaps
questionable historicity that his sons took Sophocles to court in 406 to
have him committed as senile so they could procure his estate; Sophocles,
it is said, recited the "Colonus" ode from the "Oedipus at Colonus" which
was produced that year and asked if that was the work of a senile poet.
Needless to say, his sons lost their suit). I think it's usually said that
Aeschylus fought in the battle of Marathon in 490, Sophocles danced in the
boys' chorus that celebrated the Athenian victory, and Euripides was born
that year.

There are loads of literary papyrus fragments of Homer even from the
pre-Christian era and there are growing numbers of recognized papyrus
fragments of other classical Greek authors also. I wouldn't try to make a
summary judgment about the above paragraph, but I'd offer a couple
comments: (1) While the editors of classical texts would like to ascertain
what were the IPSISSIMA VERBA of the author of a literary work, they know
very well that to do so is a very IFFY proposition, and they don't make the
sort of claims about the reliability of their edited texts that some NT
critics make about the MS tradition of the Greek NT; (2) The antiquity of
the MS tradition is not of equal weight in every instance; in the case of
Catullus' little book of poems, while it is true that it rests upon three
14th-century MSS, there is a general consensus that about 200 emendations
made by Renaissance scholars in the text as presented in those MSS are
surely correct and that the text of Catullus is one of the most trustworthy
of ancient texts.

In sum, comparison of the textual problems in the MS traditions of
non-Biblical ancient authors with the problems in the traditions of
Biblical texts is interesting, but it doesn't in and of itself establish
any particularly solid case for the relatively reliability of either corpus
of textual traditions. It's interesting to discuss these things, but the
proof-value of such arguments must remain questionable.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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