From the Protohistory to the History of the Text

by Javier Velaza (Author)
©2016 Edited Collection 394 Pages


This volume contains the papers of the colloquium Protohistory of the Text, which took place on 28 and 29 November 2013 at the Universitat de Barcelona. Each paper is devoted to the transmission of a major classical Latin text. The contributors are distinguished scholars from around the world such as Paolo Fedeli, Peter Kruschwitz, Marc Mayer, Stephen Oakley, Oronzo Pecere, Antonio Ramírez de Verger and Richard Tarrant. They discuss texts ranging from the comedies of Plautus and Terence through the writings of Cicero, Livy and Virgil to the Historia Augusta. Their papers review existing scholarship and offer new insights into the transmission of these texts and especially into their protohistory, the phase of their history that precedes the earliest surviving manuscripts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Summary
  • Javier Velaza - Preface
  • Carlo M. Lucarini - Playwrights, actor-managers and the Plautinian text in antiquity
  • Peter Kruschwitz - Ne cum poeta scriptura evanesceret. Exploring the protohistory of Terence’s dramatic scripts
  • Clara Auvray-Assayas - Which protohistory of the text can be grasped from Carolingian manuscripts? The case of Cicero’s De natura deorum
  • Xavier Espluga - Cicero. Speeches. An overview
  • Antonio Moreno - César: aproximación a la difusión temprana de su obra
  • Dániel Kiss - The protohistory of the text of Catullus
  • Rodolfo Funari - Outlines for a protohistory of Sallust’s text
  • S. P. Oakley - The ‘proto-history’ of the text of Livy
  • Paolo Fedeli - Protostoria del testo di Properzio
  • Maria Luisa Delvigo - Preistoria e protostoria del testo virgiliano: ancora sul preproemio dell’Eneide e le laudes Galli
  • Richard Tarrant - The protohistory of the text of Horace
  • A. Ramírez de Verger - The sources of the editions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (The example of Met. 6.401–674)
  • Javier Velaza - The protohistory of the text of Martial
  • Oronzo Pecere - The protohistory of the texts of Persius and Juvenal
  • Marc Mayer - Génesis y evolución del texto de la Historia Augusta. Consideraciones a propósito de la Vita Pescenni Nigri
  • Bibliography

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Javier Velaza


‘The last century has seen a great deal of labour successfully expended by classical scholars in investigating the history of manuscript texts. The MSS. of Virgil, Horace, Plautus, and other Latin authors, have been classified in ‘families’ and each ‘family’ or group traced to a parent MS., usually of the time of Charlemagne, occasionally of a still earlier age. It would seem that in this century the inquiry into the history of Latin texts will be pushed a stage further back. Scholars will have to ask, not from what Carolingian archetype this or that group of MSS. has come, but what ancient edition of the author has its text reflected in the Carolingian archetype. From the history of the text in the Mediaeval scriptoriums we must pass to its history at a far earlier time, in the second, third, and fourth centuries of the Roman Empire’.

These words are more than a century old and were written by Wallace Martin Lindsay in his introduction to the book Ancient Editions of Martial, published in Oxford in 1903. However, it can be said that the field of research set out by the Scottish scholar still has not been explored.

The transmission of our classical texts can be divided into two phases. The second phase begins with the earliest surviving manuscripts and runs up to the present. It is generally better known, because we have tangible evidence for it, namely the surviving manuscripts. Textual criticism has developed instruments to reconstruct their predecessors – their archetypes –, to determine their relationship to each other and finally, to establish a text that aims to be as faithful as possible to the original. Since our knowledge of this phase is based on direct evidence, we can call it the ‘history of the text’.

However, there is also an earlier stage, which begins just when the ancient author completes his work – or when he dies leaving it unfinished – and continues up to the date of our first manuscripts. This phase is always more difficult to know, because we have only indirect or secondary evidence. Nevertheless, we know that its importance to the textual tradition is fundamental: it tends to be the time when the morphology of the works is established, canons are constituted, and variants are fixed. The vicissitudes affecting the text at this stage are more numerous and much more important than those that take place in the course of the history of the text. We can call this earlier period ‘the protohistory of the text’.

The chapters of this book were originally presented at a colloquium held in Barcelona in November 2013. It was devoted precisely to describe the outlines of ← 7 | 8 → the protohistory and the history of the text of some of the major Roman authors. I want to express my gratitude to the institutions that made possible the Colloquium through their financial and logistical support: the Department of Latin Philology and the Faculty of Philology of the University of Barcelona; to Gemma Bernadó and Blanca Rodriguez Belló, who took charge of the organization of the event with admirable enthusiasm; and finally to Michael von Albrecht, who has kindly accepted to publish this volume.

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Carlo M. Lucarini

Playwrights, actor-managers and the Plautinian text in antiquity

A detailed account of the history of Plautus’ text in antiquity has been given by Marcus Deufert (2002), whose book is characterized by accurate knowledge of the previous literature and by sober judgement. Few years ago I undertook a new inquiry on this matter, focusing on the Plautinian philology of the republican age, and my conclusions turned out to differ from those of my predecessors on some crucial points (see Lucarini 2012).

In the present article I will consider again the problems discussed in my previous work, but the bulk of this paper will be the examination of a stage of the Plautinian text that I have neglected before, namely the relations between Plautus and the actor-managers who staged his comedies, as well as those between the poet and the magistrates who ruled the ludi. The sources state unanimously that the poets used to sell their dramas (see below), but it is difficult to determine who was the buyer. The main sources about this matter are Terentius’ prologues, especially that of Eunuchus and Hecyra. In addition some passages of Terence’s biography by Suetonius premitted to Donatus’ commentary as well as this commentary itself offer important stuff. The most relevant passages are:

Eun. 17–24:

habeo alia multa quae nunc condonabitur,

quae proferentur post si perget laedere

ita ut facere instituit. Quam nunc acturi sumus


Menandri Eunuchum, postquam aediles emerunt,

perfecit sibi ut inspiciundi esset copia.

Magistratu’ quom ibi adesset occeptast agi.

Exclamat furem, non poetam fabulam

dedisse et nil dedisse verborum tamen.

Some scholars believe that these sources are not consistent, since Eunuchus’ prologue (v. 20) and Suetonius state Terentius sold his drama to aediles, while Hecyra’s prologue suggests that the buyer was the actor-manager. Hecyra’s prologue was ← 10 | 11 → performed by Ambivius Turpio, a well known actor of that age1. He praises his own liberality saying that he numquam avare pretium statuit arti suae (v. 48) and hinting that it was advantageous to buy dramas at a price fixed by him (v. 57). The exact meaning of these words is by no means clear. I have already quoted the comment by Donatus: according to him Ambivius fixed (or simply suggested?) a price that the aediles had to pay to the poet (aestimatione a me facta, quantum aediles darent). This explication has been accepted by some scholars2 and offers the great advantage of conciliating Hecyra’s prologue with Eunuchus’ one and with Suetonius, as it assumes that Terentius sold Hecyra to the aediles and not to Ambivius.

The reliability of Donatus’ statement has been denied especially by Meyer (1902, 69 ff.), who argues that it is nothing but autoschediasm and that the only possible explication of the passage is that Ambivius used to buy the plays from Terence. According to this view Terence (and the other contemporary playwrights) used to sell their comedies to actor-managers (Theaterdirektoren, impresari), who then sold them to the aediles3.

The alternative of the two explications is clearly expressed by Brown (2002, 231): ‘Did Ambivius pay Terence for it and then sell it on to the aediles (with ‘bought at my price’ meaning ‘bought at my own expense’)? Or did his budget include a fee to be paid by the aediles directly to the playwright (the play being ‘bought at a price suggested by me’)?’

It is perhaps impossible to decide if Donatus’ statement relies on earlier sources, but the only important thing is to judge if what he says is true. I think that the whole context makes it plausible. Ambivius’ words give us a sketch of the relationship between the poet, the actor-manager and the audience, and attentive reading can give us a clue. It is very important to notice that Ambivius, speaking about his relationship with Caecilius and Terentius, says nothing related to the money (vv. 14–27). As these lines aim to emphasize Ambivius’ magnanimity, one would expect that the financial point would at least be mentioned, if it was relevant at all, but nothing in this part of Ambivus’ speech hints at his generosity towards the poet. The contrast with the last lines (vv. 49–57) of the prologue, where the ← 11 | 12 → financial point becomes prominent, is evident; it is, I think, also evident, that the lines 49–57 concern the relationship between the actor and the community; in these lines too Ambivius avoids every allusion to his fairness towards the poet (see vv. 44–45: qui in tutelam meam / studium suum et se in vostram commisit fidem), while his fairness towards the community is stressed (v. 49: si numquam avare pretium statui arti meae). All this makes implausible that the actor-manager used to buy the plot from the poet trying to cut the prise, as one should assume, if one refers the emptio of the line 57 to the a purchase by the actor from the poet.

Further evidence in favour of my explanation comes from the first Hecyra’s prologue; this prologue was delivered on the occasion of the second presentation, at the funeral games of Aemilius Paulus in 160 BC4. We read:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Latin philology Latin literature Textual criticism Textual transmission Medieval culture
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 394 pp.

Biographical notes

Javier Velaza (Author)

Javier Velaza is Professor of Latin Philology at the Universitat de Barcelona. His main research interests lie in Latin textual criticism, Latin epigraphy and the pre-Roman languages of the Iberian Peninsula. His publications include monographs on the textual transmission of Virgil and Terence and an edition of the fragments of M. Valerius Probus.


Title: From the Protohistory to the History of the Text