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The survival rate of ancient literature
#46
Quote:One item I would like to point out is before anyone can really determine who destroyed all the books we really should realize that we dont even know how many manuscripts we are talking about.

I have heard 250,000 thrown around as the number of manuscripts held at the various libraries of Rome but that is a very vague number since we dont know if that is total scrolls, collections of scrolls, does it count redundent copies.

In addition we do not know how many manuscripts existed in other cities beyond the main one.

All we really know is that violence destorys books and close minded extremists like the early church destroys books even more because they target the books as opposed to general warfare that will destroy books as collatoral damage.

So I really want to know how someone can say things like 8% of Medievel texts have survived to modern times. There is really no way of knowing what was there to begin with to be able to compare it to what is left.
Hi Timotheus. I cited Dr. Kwakkel's sources for the 8% and 15% figures. We have a pretty good understanding of medieval book production, and how long medieval MSS lasted in use. Unfortunately I don't read German, but I very much respect his opinion. If you look at the German Wikipedia article I linked to (using Google Translator or such) they have lots of numerical evidence there. For example, there were ancient libraries of tens or hundrds of thousand of book-equivalents but no medieval ones of over 1,000 or so until after 1200. Both my estimates (no more than 1%, probably around 0.1%) are orders of magnitude in the scientific sense.
Nullis in verba

I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
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#47
Quote:
Timotheus:27xm3tjc Wrote:One item I would like to point out is before anyone can really determine who destroyed all the books we really should realize that we dont even know how many manuscripts we are talking about.

I have heard 250,000 thrown around as the number of manuscripts held at the various libraries of Rome but that is a very vague number since we dont know if that is total scrolls, collections of scrolls, does it count redundent copies.

In addition we do not know how many manuscripts existed in other cities beyond the main one.

All we really know is that violence destorys books and close minded extremists like the early church destroys books even more because they target the books as opposed to general warfare that will destroy books as collatoral damage.

So I really want to know how someone can say things like 8% of Medievel texts have survived to modern times. There is really no way of knowing what was there to begin with to be able to compare it to what is left.
Hi Timotheus. I cited Dr. Kwakkel's sources for the 8% and 15% figures. We have a pretty good understanding of medieval book production, and how long medieval MSS lasted in use. Unfortunately I don't read German, but I very much respect his opinion. If you look at the German Wikipedia article I linked to (using Google Translator or such) they have lots of numerical evidence there. For example, there were ancient libraries of tens or hundrds of thousand of book-equivalents but no medieval ones of over 1,000 or so until after 1200. Both my estimates (no more than 1%, probably around 0.1%) are orders of magnitude in the scientific sense.


I just feel that this is something one could not really quantify. How much literature was produced by hand in monastaries all over Europe? How much was destroyed when the monastary then fell or its members were persecuted? Too many variables from a time when records were not kept to really make an accurate assessment.
Timothy Hanna
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#48
Of course it is difficult to quantify such a question - far more difficult for the ancient world than the medieval world for the very reasons the survival rate is set lower by the good doctor Kwakkel - but that doesn't mean it isn't allowed to try to make an educated guess. Of course, many historians wouldn't want to, as they are well aware of the problems that can arise if their educated guesses are taken as "fact" by laymen, but I for one welcome it. While I much doubt there can be any statistical uncertainty percentages attache to such figures, I am pretty certain they would be bigger than the percentages given themselves. Big Grin

There are a lot of problems involved in such estimates. The issue of libraries being lost due to invasion, as Timotheus points out, cannot really be taken into account - as far as I know, the fate of the collections of Seville and Toledo after the arab conquest of the visigothic kingdoms are uncertain even today - they (or rather their later copies or translations) might have ultimately ended up in the collections of al-Hakam II or they might have just gone to rot - we cannot really say, as far as I know - al-Hakam's efforts of collection seems to have been directed into the larger arab-muslim world, but that doesn't exclude survival of visigothic collections from his own lands. Another major problem is that the numbers given for library collections come from so many different sources - from the 12th century or so it (to me) seems to be more common with precice lists of exactly what codici are in a collection, and what texts they contain, whereas many earlier estimates are taken from estimates made by chroniclers or ethnographers describing a collection, typically as part of a broader description of a city, ruler or region. We know, for example, that descriptions of "tens of thousands of books" in the university library of Paris around 1200 are inaccurate, because the inventory list survives (as I recall it) - something we lack from a great deal of other sources. To use al-Hakam II's libraries as an example, it seems kind of suspicious that the 400,000 volumes reportedly in it around 950AD required a reported staff (of every level from caretakers to copiers to curators and researchers) that was three times smaller than the collections of Paris around 1200, which had at least 40 times fewer books...

One can just go on creating problems like this for an "estimate of survival" or any estimate of volume numbers or works for that matter - such an estimate can never be "certain" ( nothing in history can be entirely certain, after all) but it shouldn't prevent informed academics from making such estimates if it is an useful tool for research.
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#49
To me it is much more important to look at the various events that lead to the destruction of ancient books. Not so much to place blame as that solves nothing but as a source of information we can use today to try and avoid this fate in the future.

Nazi Germany in the 1930's with various literature and the United States in the late 1970's with disco albums proved that societies are still not above the destruction of knowledge in one form or another.

We need to do everything possible to make sure that we limit how much knowledge can be lost.
Timothy Hanna
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#50
http://www.tertullian.org/articles/clar ... arance.htm

Here's another good paper on the disappearance and reappearance of Classical literature during the Renaissance period, published 1921. The string connecting the Renaissance to the Classical period is of extremely tenuous and impossible nature. Some of the most cherished writers, e.g. Tacitus, survive in only one manuscript, which was rescued from oblivion by a humanist attention before itself being obliterated as well. There's only one complete Quintillian that was discovered, which was stored away in a dusty attic in a monastery, rotting, and as Poggio writes, carelessly thrown underneath an enormous pile of books, that evidently being judged its importance. There are even stories that an entire Livy was discovered! But no one would believe the guy, and his house burned down soon after.
Multi viri et feminae philosophiam antiquam conservant.

James S.
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#51
I'm not sure it is quite that simple There are more than one Tacitus out there, but typically containing parts of his histories. The MS 68.1 (containing chpt 1-6 of the Annales) in the Bib. Laurentziana was written in the 9th century, copied from a 4th or 5th century original, and was kept in the Corvey Abbey of the Cisterciencians, quite lovingly by all accounts (its condition is very decent even today), until it was stolen in 1508 and bought by the Pope. The MS 68.2 in the same library, containing the Annales 11-16, was written in the 11th century at Monte Cassino, and might have been copied from an earlier source or might be a copy of a copy. It can't have been quite as neglected as Boccaccio would have it: the same manuscript was referenced to by the bishop of Pouzzoli in the mid-14th century, for example, only some 20 years before Boccaccio himself aquired it. Some believe Boccaccio's description of the bad storage conditions were exaggerated in order to legitimize a "shady aquisition" Big Grin lol:

Of Tacitus other works, I think the last remaining 9th century copy of the germania - also originally a german monastic manuscript (with later additions of missing sections from the 15th century, based on works that were lost between c1500 and today), managed to stay out of the spotlight until 1902 and then led a tumultous life, nearly ending up in Adolf Hitler's collections!

Similarily with the St.Gall manuscripts, the neglect can't have been as drastic as suggested (naturally enough, or it wouldn't have survived at all): St.Galls high medieval fame was indeed as a centre for the copying and dissemination of classical works, and the Quintilian manuscript Poggio found was returned to St.Gall after it was copied by him - it is currently in Zurich (Centralbibliothek, MS74a) whereas Poggio's own transcription was itself lost. St.Gall, after it recovered from the serious troubles it was in during the mid-15th century for economic reasons (and the incompetent abbot Heinrich's bumblings in both economical and political fields), conducted a complete new inventory of its book collections to determine if any books had been lost during the mismanagement or due to theft - according to Kaczynski, the 9th century collections were more or less intact.

There are also a large number of Quintillian fragments scattered all across the world today, some more complete than the term "fragment" would lead one to believe: the 10th century Codex Laurentianus in Florence was earlier believed to be Poggio's transcription of the St.Gall manuscript, for example.

Overall, considering that even with the italian humanists' rediscoveries of a number of manuscripts and the intense interest in them during the renaissance a number of manuscripts were lost or disappeared from view, the printing press probably must be counted the foremost hero for the survival of any texts until today alongside the "silent copiers" of the works from antiquity to the carolignian/12th century/italian renaissance. Many book-collectors can be cast as villains; keeping germania hidden from 1500 until 1902, when hordes of classicists were looking for it, seems to be an overenthusiastic bibliophilia! But enough with the vilification, long live Gutenberg!

Tacitus reference: Reynolds, Texts and Transmission: A survey of the Latin Classics, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1983)

St.Gall references: Kaczynski, Greek in the Carolingian Age: The St. Gall Manuscripts. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, (1988)

I did a search today for a few manuscript numbers and found Roger Pearse's pages on this very subject: http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/manuscripts/index.htm

..and they seem to be as good as anything one can find on the internet on the subject, giving surveys of historeographies and updates on recent research. I believe he has been references on this forum before :-D D .
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#52
In my course on the Carolingian, Twelfth Century, and Early Modern renaissances, I learned that the Italian Humanists were very strong on emphasizing that they were the proper heirs of Roman culture, not those barbarians north of the Alps. So these insistences that the Classics were being neglected in dust were at least partly a way of staking claim on them- "see, only we can truely appreciate the Romans."

On the other hand, most monasteries weren't capable of doing much with the Classics, even if they had and respected copies. After the early middle ages, most clergy with intellectual aspirations were in other parts of the church.
Nullis in verba

I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
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#53
Quote:In my course on the Carolingian, Twelfth Century, and Early Modern renaissances, I learned that the Italian Humanists were very strong on emphasizing that they were the proper heirs of Roman culture, not those barbarians north of the Alps. So these insistences that the Classics were being neglected in dust were at least partly a way of staking claim on them- "see, only we can truely appreciate the Romans."

Nothing builds solidarity like a claim to exclusiveness! Big Grin Some earlier scholars, like J.M.Clark back in the thirties, were quite unflattering to the humanist book-hunters, painting them as unscrupulous thieves and book-raiders. In some cases, they did steal manuscripts, of course (justifying their actions by the argumentation you note, doubtlessly).But, as Kaczynski and others have shown, the monastic libraries of for example St. Gall were not drastically emptied of manuscrips even if contemporary accounts describe Poggio's lads making off with wagonfuls of looted work - It is uncertain exactly how the MS74A in Zurich was returned to St.Gall to eventually survive to our day; Poggio might just have borrowed it for copying rather than making off with it.

Quote:On the other hand, most monasteries weren't capable of doing much with the Classics, even if they had and respected copies. After the early middle ages, most clergy with intellectual aspirations were in other parts of the church.

That depends, I think: St.Gall (again :wink: ) , had a lively book-copying scriptorium going well beyond its heyday in the 9th - to return to Quntilian, his Institutes were the direct influence on teaching methods at Chartres in the 12th-early 13th century. I don't know if this was from copies or fragments somewhere else or from St.Gall's copy, but anyway - the monastry's real decay only set in in the late 1300s. So they at least disseminated books, in addition to storing them, if the monastries weren't at the forefront of the intellectual activity in the high and late middle ages. When you look through manuscript lists, it is amazing how (relatively) many of them are listed as copies from a monastry, considering the much-publizised change to commercial book copying in the 13th century. Some even postdate the printing press!
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#54
Nice website with "survival of information timeline", worldwide, includes good short articles, and many website links for more details:

http://www.historyofscience.com/G2I/tim ... nformation Smile
AMDG
Wm. / *r
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