Darwin-L Message Log 2:82 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<2:82>From GA3704@SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU  Thu Oct 14 08:49:36 1993

Date: Thu, 14 Oct 93 08:42:24 CST
From: "Margaret E. Winters" <GA3704@SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU>
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: manuscript transmission

I too am a little uneasy about pushing the parallels between
manuscript transmission and genetic transmission too far, and in
fact much beyond the idea that there *is* transmission.  It is
the social factors of manuscript transmission that bother me
somewhat, although I may easily be missing too much about the
genetic parallels.  A couple of examples which seem to me to
be problems:

 1. Biblical transmission is often altered by the sacred nature
of the text (and this goes for sacred texts in general) - they
are often copied far more carefully than secular texts - I'm
talking about the 11th-13th centuries for the secular texts
since that is the period I know most about.  This goes for
translation too (where other parallels may lurk).  The only
decent amount of East Germanic we have extent (called Gothic)
is a translation of parts of the gospels.  BUT, the syntax,
when examined carefully, is often word-for-word renditions
of Greek (the source language), therefore making the text
relatively useless for historians of syntax looking for clues
as to East Germanic.  The same kind of respect goes often into
the simple copying of such texts so that they end up being
much more conservative than the number of generations of mss
should be.

 2. Another factor is the reason why texts exist.  We have
to differentiate between those which were originally written
and meant for a literate public  (courtly romances, for example)
where at least one person could read to the others and those
which were written down almost accidentally after centuries of
oral transmission (epic poems in Old French) where we actually
have mss which were more cheat-sheets for recitation than
sources for reading.

I'm not sure where all of this leads, but these factors are
very much part of manuscript transmission.  And of course let
us not forget how random our collection of mss is compared
to how many were copied and lost!
           Margaret Winters

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