RE: Classical Greek

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 11 1998 - 08:57:48 EST

At 6:18 AM -0600 3/11/98, Peter Phillips wrote:
>Does the difference lie in the fact that both Homer and Catullus used
>specific metres etc and so we are more aware of the possible shpes of the
>missing pieces while the free prose of the Koine gospels and letters means
>that we have fewer guides to show us where to go?

Well, the meter is certainly an immense help in recognizing what the author
(assuming he/she was a competent metrician!) is most unlikely to have
written, but of course good students of Greek or Latin are likely to be
able to write reasonably competent dactylic hexameters and
hendecasyllabics--so, metrically flawed words or syllables are red flags in
a text that can be readily recognized, yet there can still be competent
forgeries or interpolations--and this is a notorious problem in the text of
Homer. I'm leery of overgeneralization in this area, and that's the main
thing I was trying to say in my response to the original question: I think
it is somewhat perilous to say that either the tradition of the Biblical
text is sounder than that of non-Biblical texts of other ancient authors or
vice versa, or to make overly general comparisons between the textual
traditions of any two ancient authors based solely upon a single criterion
such as age and/or number of MSS that are extant.

>From: Carl W. Conrad []
>Sent: 11 March 1998 11:54

>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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