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The story of a manuscript's travels through the ancient world.

The story

Around 200 BC, Quintus Septimus Calamus wrote an epic poem in dactylic hexameters on Romulus, the Romuleid . (In fact, Calamus works within a long tradition of oral composition in southern Italy. His is but one version of many still in circulation ca. 200, though it becomes the standard one. Themes in the poem resemble those found in Homer; some modern French theorists would insist that Celtic and Vedic themes are also present. Glib American grad students, I should add, claim to find remnants of the Romuleid tradition in Italian pop music.) This is the story of that poem.

Calamus actually writes two versions of the poem, as he corrects various things in it after it was already in circulation. Both versions remain in circulation throughout antiquity; moreover, copyists sometimes combine readings from them.

The poem becomes a favorite of P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus, or the "Younger Scipio," and his circle. Copies circulate among that circle, as well as outside of Rome, including in the Greek East.

Around 110, the grammarian Pedanticus does a critical edition of the poem, incorporating the critical signs developed in the Hellenistic period, in association with the Library of Alexandria. (In the early Augustan period, Pedanticus' great-grandson will write a treatise on unusual words in Calamus.)

In 56, Cicero writes to Lucullus, knowing that Lucullus' father had a very good edition of the Romuleid in his vast and excellent library. Cicero asks for a copy, because he has been unable to find a good edition of Calamus' poem among the booksellers at Rome. Cicero had earlier (ca. 67) written to Atticus, asking for a copy of the same poem; perhaps Atticus had failed to deliver, or perhaps Cicero had lost that copy (during his exile?). In 46, Cicero's slave Dionysius steals the copy of the poem Cicero had procured from Lucullus.

In 45, Varro prepares to include a copy of Calamus' poem in the first public library at Rome. The assassination of Caesar halted that project, and Antony made off with Varro's copy. It ends up in the hands of Octavian in 29 BC, after he defeated Antony and Cleopatra in 31 at the Battle of Actium, and after the lovers had committed suicide in Egypt in 30.

In 39, another fine copy of the Romuleid fines its way into Asinius Pollio's library, now the first public library in Rome.

In 22 BC, Augustus (having shed the name Octavian in 27), opens his Palatine Library and includes the copy that he had taken from Antony's estate. A copy can also be found in the library at the Porticus Octaviae around that time.

Meanwhile, a good many copies of Calamus' poem circulate among the booksellers in Rome. Most are of very poor quality-filled with mistakes made by weary and marginally educated copyists, as well as their "corrections," which are in fact simplifications.

Copies also circulate in the provinces, of varying quality.

Julius Hyginus, a man of great learning, translates the Romuleid into Greek, and he makes some observations on the text of Calamus, stating that he consulted an autographed copy. Marcus Valerius Probus also claims to consult that copy in the first century AD.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Text as property/property as text. OpenStax CNX. Feb 10, 2004 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10217/1.7
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