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Thus variation, which is typical of oral poetry, continued along with the system, even as transcripts of performances were recorded in writing, and even as these performances relied more and more on scripts than on the techniques of composition-in-performance as time went on. Accordingly, the earliest surviving phases of this poetry show the most variation. With the passage of time, however, the text becomes more and more fixed, and eventually the textual tradition takes over from the oral tradition. But variations still exist in the textual tradition. That is, written sources continue to show variation, which is a sure sign of the continuing operation of the system that is oral poetry, which was the medium of the Homeric tradition for centuries before it became a fixed text.

An understanding of this medium forces a rethinking of how the text of Homeric poetry is presented on the printed page—and how the Multitext presents the information in a different way, a way that is more intuitive for the reader, more transparent in showing the multiple sources, and more true to the textual and oral traditions of the poetry. In printed critical editions of texts, editors choose what they judge to be the original text, that is, what the author actually wrote (or as close as possible to such an original), and they place into an apparatus criticus what other witnesses to the text record. The text as printed on a given page of such a critical edition gives the reader the impression that this text is the standard, while everything else at the bottom of the page is somehow beneath that standard. Such a formatting of the text by textual critics is reasonable when the aim is to establish the original text that was composed in writing. In the case of the Homeric text, however, the aim of determining an original, especially in a system where each performance could change the composition, is self-defeating. And attempts to achieve such an aim end up sacrificing accuracy in reporting the status of variations. Textual variants in the Homeric text are not necessarily “mistakes” to be corrected. In many cases such variant forms are reflexes of variations that were once just as much a part of the system as those forces that are placed by editors in the upper register of printed texts of Homer.

What is at stake

The last of these paragraphs that I have quoted from the general statement coauthored by the Homer Multitext team focuses on a central proposition: that the concept of a Homer Multitext edition, or of any multitext edition, is vastly enhanced by new methods of formatting made possible by way of online publication.

This proposition brings me back to my point of departure at the beginning of this presentation, where I stressed what Rupert Pickens (1994:61) says about the “multitext format” of his 1978 printed edition of the songs of the Provençal troubadour Jaufré Rudel. To quote again his own words, Pickens describes that work of his as “the first widely recognized edition attempting to incorporate a procedure to account for re-creative textual change.”

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Source:  OpenStax, Online humanities scholarship: the shape of things to come. OpenStax CNX. May 08, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11199/1.1
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