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Inventing History : forgery: a great British tradition (British History)
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Mick Harper
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Always look to pornography if you want to know how a new technology is going to go. The state is quite relaxed about upscale stuff, erotica they call it, but comes down like a ton of bricks if it excites the masses. Though they do permit harmless Page Three type stuff. Seaside postcards, they call it. So the new printing industry knew exactly what to do. Put out the Classics.

Only they soon ran out of classics so they started making their own.
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Hatty
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The first full frontal female nude, Botticelli's Venus, was unveiled in the 1480s. It was, and is, a sensation. The rest of the painting has no artistic merit, say art critics. But said to be the most popular Renaissance painting ever.
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Mick Harper
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You're doing it again. We have to excise the artistic renaissance from the intellectual renaissance. After all, contemporaries did not link the two in some grand design. In fact, it is highly doubtful whether they knew of one another's existence. The whole conception of The Renaissance is an artefact created by historians ever anxious to show they understand the past by lumping things in together on the simple grounds of contemporaneousness. Even so you raise a vital point: how do you judge what's a work of genius.

If my book sales are anything to go by, the answer is 'badly'. But we have run into this problem before in our discussions of Beowulf. Our early position was to dismiss it as not a work of genius but simply sui generis and therefore hailed as such. But this was always a weak argument and it was a great relief when we discovered Beowulf was written by Milton. But now we run into 'Stockholm 100 metre syndrome': i.e. any club runner today would have won the Olympic gold medal a hundred years ago. If you took Botticelli's Venus along to the Royal Academy's Summer Show you would be shown the door.

But it is interesting that you say today's art critics rather sniff at the Venus whereas the public go for it in droves. We shall have to factor that in as well; intellectuals are always sniffy when their own rarefied world is invaded by the hoi polloi. That's why I discourage sales of my books.
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Mick Harper
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Let's suppose, being a sixteenth century printer, you decide there will be a considerable demand -- in Italy, France, Germany and England -- for a book about Caesar's military campaigns in these countries. A safe enough subject, one might think, but care will have to be taken that the peoples of these countries (as well as Caesar himself) are shown in a reasonably good light. Nobody likes reading what a bunch of arseholes they used to be though it is good to know how far we've come since.

There was not much known in the sixteenth century about Caesar's campaigns, which has its advantages and disadvantages. It will be a very short book if it keeps to the facts but won't be easily exposed if it doesn't. On the other hand since everyone knows not much is known about Caesar's campaigns, you can't really make up any facts without being exposed. Bit of a puzzler for the Future Projects Dept. Unless, somebody points out, it is Caesar's own account of his campaigns -- he'd know plenty of stuff and nobody could argue with words straight from the horse's mouth. If only we had such an account, he muses.
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Mick Harper
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"I can't see how it would work. Just on the technical level. People would demand a sight of the manuscript, wouldn't they?"
"It will be in manuscript when it arrives here. Do you think typewriters have been invented yet?"
"No, what I meant..."
"I know what you meant. Nobody is expecting a manuscript from Roman times, that's a physical impossibility. It will be a copy of a copy of a copy of the original, but I see your point, the one we've got will be pretty old, you can be sure of that. It's a miracle it survived as a matter of fact but don't forget this is Caesar, In His Own Words, a real best seller in its day, so it's not so miraculous that one survived. But I see your point, we might arrange for a few others to have survived as well."
"What about sequels?"
"It turns out Caesar was an inveterate recorder of his campaigns. The Civil Wars were endless."
"A bit parochial. I'm not sure they're going to appeal to a northern audience."
"You just wait. There'll be all kinds of stuff about ... I don't know, the leader of the other side is maybe Caesar's son, maybe not. He does have a son with a beautiful queen who later shacks up with ... It writes itself."
"Well, not yet it hasn't, better get on with it."
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Mick Harper
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Roman history is always a pot boiler. However, when Roman emperors, say, start making their horses consuls and having sex with, preparatory to murdering, the rest of the Royal Family, even our own academic historians get a bit worried. It's history but not as we know it. History when the documentation is secure. Ah, they explain in learned footnotes, it must be taken into account that the chroniclers of these events were political rivals -- take it all with a pinch of salt. Willdo, over and out. Wait, af're ye gang, which parts? The interesting parts or the uninteresting parts? Aren't you supposed to do that on our behalf?

Oh, I see, just apply a bit of common sense. I've got a better idea. Why don't we apply academic history's own rules. Rely on contemporary sources and make cautious extrapolations from them. OK, then. Willdo. There is Roman archaeology in Britain, some inscriptions and coins with various emperors on them. Now tell us how it all got here. If you want to rely on de Bello Gallico, Tacitus and whatnot, please provide chapter and verse demonstrating these are contemporary sources.

At the moment, according to my sources, they don't go back much further than, you know, Renaissance times qua documents. But whether from Constantinople, Toledo, Cairo or Florence I wouldn't like to say. It's that old copy-of-a-copy problem. But given the importance, I'm sure you're on the job. Tracing the lineage. It's all the rage on the internet. But that's amateurs of course.
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Hatty
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According to Wiki the first edition of De Bello Gallico was produced by the Bishop of Aleria

The editio princeps was published by Giovanni Andrea Bussi at Rome in 1469

Bussi was 'a major editor of classical texts and produced many incunabular editiones principes (first editions)' according to Wiki. His name came up a propos of Cicero's 'family letters'

In 1467, the two printers left Subiaco and settled at Rome, where the brothers Pietro and Francesco Massimo placed a house at their disposal. The same year, they published an edition of Cicero's letters that gave its name to the cicero, the Continental equivalent of the pica. Their proof and manuscript reader was Giovan de' Bussi, since 1469 Bishop of Aleria in Corsica.


Bussi worked for Nicholas Cusanus, an immensely influential philosopher and cleric, and 'one of the first German proponents of Renaissance humanism' says Wiki
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Mick Harper
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Gotcha.
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Mick Harper
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But does Wiki or anybody else mention a mention earlier? Does Bede, or a Christian father or some Byzantine scholar say, "As Caesar himself says..."? If they do we're in trouble. If they don't the academics are in trouble. Only joking ... that's the whole point of a Re-Naissance, it's the discovery of lost knowledge. In fact they'd be in more trouble if it turned out it wasn't lost at all! You've got to admire them. Coming or going, the paradigm is indestructible.
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Hatty
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The 'talk' page on De Bello Gallico discusses the title, saying the proper title is 'Commentaries on the Gallic War'. It also worries about the lack of an original manuscript

What is the earliest vetted manuscript of the text? Can something be added about the history of the text. Has the original manuscript been lost? Do any ancient copies remain? Are modern editions derived from a single medieval source or many? Zeimusu | Talk page 14:25, 25 April 2006

It's over two thousand years old, I would be unbelieveably surprised if the original manuscript made it. --AiusEpsi 00:32, 16 May 2006

According to Christie's there are 75 early copies in existence, some dating from the 9th century (i.e. at least 850 years after the original). --Chilukar (talk) 18:22, 23 July 2010

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ACommentarii_de_Bello_Gallico#History_of_the_text
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Hatty
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Mick Harper wrote:
But does Wiki or anybody else mention a mention earlier?

The Commentaries were "known in Rome before the year 46 B.C." according to historians. How do they know this? Because of "Cicero's enthusiastic praise".

Cicero is the sole source

There is no other external evidence about the date either of the composition or of the publication of the Commentaries.

Rather surprising in view of Caesar's fame, and presumably his military successes.
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Mick Harper
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We can all pack up and go home. Christie's says there are some dating from the ninth century so our theory is straight out the window. It was great while it lasted. Although 'some' is a strangely ambivalent number.

"Manuscript department? Front desk here. Got an enquiry about early Bello's. How many, how early, the usual."
"Well, off the top of my head it's nullus early doors but let me see what the good book says ... a couple in the fourth century, but they're outliers and between you and me a bit iffy. The old exponential starts with a one for the fifth, one again in the sixth, then pro rata. Hold up, that's odd. It just says 'some' for the ninth century. I wonder what that means. Sounds like Sotheby's did that one."
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Hatty
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Christie's says there are some dating from the ninth century


There are two sets of manuscripts containing De Bello Gallico...

The extant mss fall into two families. The alpha family contains only the Bellum Gallicum, and is notable for allusions in colophons to late antique ‘correctores’. The beta family contains the whole collection of works. Where the two overlap, the readings are often rather different.

...but no original manuscript. Historians recognise this and the missing link does worry (some of) them

How the text travelled from the ‘correctores’ of late antiquity to the earliest manuscripts is not clear.

Two derive from a common lost ancestor: these are:

Amsterdam 73, 2nd quarter of the 9th century, written at Fleury (=A)
Paris lat. 5056, 11-12th century, written at Moissac (=Q)

The remaining four derive from another now lost ms:

Paris lat. 5763, 1st quarter of the 9th century, French, later at Fleury (=B)
Vatican lat. 3864, 3rd quarter of the 9th century, written at Corbie (=M)
Florence, Laur. Ashb. 33, 10th century, possibly French (=S)
British Library Additional 10084, 11-12th century, probably from Gembloux (=L)

So the only sources for the self-styled ninth-century manuscripts are
1) Fleury
2) Corbie
Neither of these two monasteries seems to have been around in the ninth century, certainly no remains of scriptoria have ever turned up.

Starting at Corbie as we have already dealt with it: officially it's said to have been founded by monks from Luxeuil (no archaeology) which had been founded by Columbanus (no contemporary record). The absence of archaeology for the early Corbie is no surprise because 'it was destroyed in a Viking raid of 881'. No evidence of Vikings or raids is forthcoming but anyway, to recap the main points

Corbie was renowned for its library, which was assembled from as far as Italy, and for its scriptorium. The contents of its library are known from catalogues of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

... it is recognized as an important centre for the transmission of the works of Antiquity to the Middle Ages. An inventory (of perhaps the 11th century) lists the church history of Hegesippus, now lost, among other extraordinary treasures.

More to the point, Corbie is the centre of pseudepigraphy, i.e. 'the false ascription of names of authors to works, even to authentic works that make no such claim within their text', and it is believed (by historians) Corbie may be where Carolingian minuscule script was invented

In the 8th century Corbie was something akin to "a laboratory for new scripts.”
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Hatty
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Paris lat. 5763, 1st quarter of the 9th century, French, later at Fleury (=B)

Date of origin: 9th - 12th century

This manuscript is written in the same hand that annotated the only extant manuscript of the letters of Lupus (a 'leading classical scholar of mid-ninth century Francia', aka "the first humanist of the Early Middle Ages") and consists of two manuscripts, or fragments of different manuscripts.

The first half is dated 9th century, the second is dated 11th - 12th century. Part I is Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War; Part 2: Flavius Iosephus, Antiquitates Iudaicarum (excerpts). Both parts are in Latin.

The binding is stamped with the arms and name of Charles X. Provenance: unknown

The Bibliotheque nationale's catalogue entry is dated 1744. Only one previous owner is listed, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683)

Christie's manuscript is written on paper, unlike the French manuscripts which are on parchment, and is considerably later, or may be a 'first edition'. It is provided with a provenance

CAESAR, Caius Julius (100-44 B.C.), Commentarii de bello Gallico, in Latin, MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER

[Austria, probably Salzburg], 1463

PROVENANCE:

1. The manuscript, dated 1463, is the work of a scribe who has signed himself 'Johannes T[....]': 'Scil[icet] sc[ri]p[tu]m Anno i[ncarnationis] 1463 die 25 febris cum laude om[ni]potente p[er] ih[es]um ego Ioh[annes] ... ?scripsi ... scribi fecit'.
The paper has a balance watermark, close to Piccard V, 227, found in southern Germany and Austria in the 15th century.
The two notarised deeds used as flyleaves come from the diocese of Salzburg. The first is dated 17 January 1461 o.s. at Friesach, in which Martin Grebowitz resigns the rectorship of St Walpurgis at Eberstein; the second is dated 17 October 1458 at Hartberg, in which Lorenz Warr exchanges the rectorship of St Andrew's, Auger, for the parish church of Our Lady, Munichkirchen, both recording the names of witnesses.

2. Joseph Jacob Henry de Battis, doctor of theology and canon of St Willibald in Eichstatt, 1769: engraved armorial bookplate pasted inside upper cover (Warnecke 127).


P.S. No-one knows the correct title for the work. 'Commentaries' has crept in because it's claimed Caesar sent back (yearly?) reports on his progress which are presumed to have been collated and issued as one volume in Rome (as per Cicero?). When we studied it at school it was still plain De Bello Gallico.
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Mick Harper
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It's all so familiar. One wouldn't mind but everyone concerned is so doing it by the numbers there's hardly any thrill of the chase. "The first humanist" is a bit of a find and needs following up. Doesn't anyone find it strange that the earliest De Bello Gallico is spatchcocked in with Flavius Iosephus' History, the one and only contemporary mention of Jesus Christ? And even that is an interpolation so it would be interesting to hear if these 'fragments' just happen to include the bit that gets the interpolation included. You never know, it could be the first.

Only one previous owner is listed, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683)

This could be mightily important since Colbert, Louis XIV's chief minister, was doing the same job as William Cecil, the bloke in charge of the Great Elizabethan Manuscript Hunt.

No-one knows the correct title for the work.

This won't stop sniffy academics rebuking you if you use the one that happens not to be currently favoured. And they would be quite right. It's how they tell whether you are 'one of us', a hard won honour. Or having a full frontal lobotomy, that works as well.

PS Did you spot the Walpurgis reference? So-o-o Megalithic.
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