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The manuscripts of Plautus

Here is a list of our MSS.1:—
  • The “Ambrosian Palimpsest,” now in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, formerly, it seems, in the library of the Irish monastery of Bobbio in North Italy. It is written in capitals of the fourth century. Its readings2 in the critical apparatus of editors of Plautus are indicated by the letter A.
  • The “Codex Vetus,” now in the Vatican Library, formerly in the Palatine Library at Heidelberg. It was written in Germany in the tenth century. Its symbol in editors' critical apparatus is B.
  • The “Codex Decurtatus,” in the Palatine collection at Heidelberg, written in Germany in the eleventh century. Its symbol is C.
  • The “Codex Ursinianus,” in the Vatican Library, written in Germany in the eleventh century. It was this MS. whose discovery at the Renaissance caused so much enthusiasm; and all MSS. of the fifteenth century and later which contain the last twelve plays are copied from it. Its symbol is D.

Of these four MSS., which are our leading authorities for the text of Plautus, A contained all the twenty plays and also the Vidularia, but only a fragment of the MS. has been preserved to us; B contains all the twenty plays; C only the last twelve (in this order, the order also of B and DBacchides, Mostellaria, Menacchmi, Miles Gloriosus, Mercator, Pseudolus, Poenulus, Persa, Rudens, Stichus, Trinummus, Truculentus); D the first three (Amphitruo, Asinaria, Aulularia), with vv. 1-503 of the fourth, the Captivi, followed by the last twelve.

To these we may add three twelfth-century MSS. which contain only the first eight plays in the same order as B (Amphitruo, Asinaria, Aulularia, Captivi, Curculio, Casina, Cistellaria, Epidicus), viz.:—

  • A MS. at Milan (E).
  • A MS. at Leyden (V).
  • A MS. in the British Museum (J).
  • Also a fragment of a MS. in the Vatican Library, containing about 150 lines of the Captivi (vv. 400-555). This fragment belongs to the eleventh century, and is designated by the letter O. Of a lost MS., designated by T, a MS. used by the scholar Turnebus, we have only isolated readings preserved. They show that T was very like B, and therefore of great value.

We have seen that all these minuscule MSS. are ultimately copies of a single lost minuscule codex, assigned to the eighth or ninth century. The readings of this lost archetype, which we can infer from the readings of BCDEVJ etc., are, for convenience, designated by the symbol P; so that, for example, in Stich. 595, where the minuscule MSS. have all of them the corruption una instead of vasa of the Ambrosian Palimpsest, we may indicate3 the two readings in this way: una P, vasa A. The relationship of the several members of this family, the “Palatine” family, of MSS. seems to be as follows4:—

The first eight plays in B and the first three and a half in D were copied from the same original, a ninth- or early tenth-century MS., now lost. But this part of B was corrected from a much better MS., perhaps the archetype itself. EVJO were all copied immediately or ultimately from one original—a MS. possibly of the tenth or early eleventh century, which was itself a copy of the original of BD, so that their text is not of much value. The second part of B, containing the last twelve plays, is probably copied directly from the archetype. In the latter portion of the MS. the task of copying was divided between a number of scribes, to each of whom only a short piece of the original was assigned, with the result that the last seven plays (Pseud., Poen., Pers., Rud., Stich., Trin., Truc.) have been copied with extraordinary fidelity (see above, p. 2). C and D (last twelve plays) are copies, made apparently in the same scriptorium, of a lost (ninth- or tenth-century?) MS., which was probably, like B, a direct copy of the archetype.

If we put these results in the form of a stemma codicum, we have—

It is probable that P, the archetype, was directly copied from a MS. in capitals (i.e. not later than the fifth century); so that our authorities for the text of Plautus resolve themselves into two ancient MSS. in capitals—one preserved, though in a fragmentary condition, viz. the Ambrosian Palimpsest; the other lost, viz. the original from which P was copied.

1 A full account of them will be found in Ritschl's Prolegomena, and in the Introductions to the several plays in the large Teubner edition by Loewe, Goetz, and Schoell. Facsimiles in photography of their writing are given in Part I of Chatelain's Paléographie des Classiques latins.

2 The fullest account of the text—a text extremely hard to decipher—is to be found in Studemund's Apograph of the Ambrosian Palimpsest (Codicis Rescripti Ambrosiani Apographum), Berlin 1889.

3 P is the initial of Palatinus. The text of this lost archetype is usually called the “Palatine” text, because the MS. which most faithfully reproduces it, the “Codex Vetus” (B), belonged to the Library of the Elector Palatine.

4 See my pamphlet, The Palatine Text of Plautus, Oxford (Parker) 1896.

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