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An edition is generally understood as a rendering of a text transmitted in one or more sources in a new medium. This brief typology will only consider editions of texts which have primarly been transmitted in handwritten form, typically from antiquity or the middle ages. A major distinction may be drawn between, on the one hand, texts which are based primarily on a single source, here referred to as documentary editions if they only reflect a single source or synoptic if they reflect several, parallel sources, and, on the other hand, editions which constitute their text on the basis of more than one source, eclectic editions.

1. A documentary edition is based on a single source and will usually render this with a high degree of accuracy. Some editors, especially of mediaeval texts, will not even correct obvious mistakes in the text, while others will do so in the apparatus, and yet others in the text itself, relegating the suspect reading to the apparatus. The rendering may keep very closely to the orthography of the source or it may regularise this to a smaller or higher degree. Also here, many editions of mediaeval texts, especially in the vernacular, will keep the orthography of the source texts, so that it can be used for e.g. linguistic studies. This type of documentary edition is usually referred to as a diplomatic edition. Other editors, perhaps especially of classical texts or mediaeval texts in the classical languages will regularise the text to some degree.

A facsimile edition is also a documentary edition, but since it is a reproduction of the source, not a transcription, it is a rather different kind of edition. Some manuscripts may be so clear and well-preserved that a facsimile offers a sufficient edition of the text, but in most cases, aspects of the handwritten text have to be explained and clarified. For example, many mediaeval vernacular manuscripts have so many abbreviations that they are difficult to interpret, even if the writing as such is clear and unambiguous. It should be noted that many facsimile editions have very useful introductions, often covering the history of the manuscript as well as dealing with palaeographical and linguistic aspects of it.

2. A synoptic edition is basically a set of documentary editions of the same text. In a printed edition, the text is usually set out in columns so that it is easy to compare readings across the manuscripts. For this reason, there is a limit to the number of parallel texts being presented on a single page or a single spread of pages. More than four parallel columns are uncommon.

The synoptic format may also be used for eclectic editions, such as the many synoptic editions of the Gospels, pioneered by Johann Jakob Griesbach with his Synopsis evangeliorum (1st ed. 1776). In some cases, the textual variation is so large that it is impractical to display the variant texts in a parallel format, and they are therefore published one after another, such as e.g. the four main versions of the Old Norse Gospel of Nicodemus, Niðrstigningar saga, published sequentially by Carl Richard Unger (1877, vol. 2, p. 1–20).

In a digital edition, several transcriptions of the same text may be made available in a text archive. It is thus left to the users to establish their own, window-based synoptic editions on their screen or in print-outs.

3. An eclectic edition is based on more than one source and establishes the text on the basis of an analysis of these sources. Usually, the eclectic edition will not reflect a single source throughout, but rather tries to approximate an earlier stage of the textual transmission. In stemmatology, this is commonly referred to as the archetype in the tradition, and it is placed below the presumed original of the text. See the discussion of the stemma for these concepts.

Since an eclectic text is based on more than one source and since these typically will display orthographic variation the editor is forced to choose between an edition which switches between several orthographies or which in some way is regularised. The latter solution is usually preferred. The regularisation may be according to a general norm for the language in question, such as for many editions of Latin texts. Even editions of mediaeval Latin will often be regularised towards the classical Latin language. As for vernacular texts, in most traditions the only viable option is to regularise the orthography of the text according to the internal norm of the main manuscript. See further discussion under regularisation.

A critical edition (based on the Lachmannian method) is usually also an eclectic edition in the sense that its text has been constituted on the basis of more than one source. Since Joseph Bédier’s criticism of reconstructive editing (1928), many editors, especially of mediaeval vernacular texts, have opted for best-manuscript editions, in which the text follows the supposedly best manuscript with a minimum of textual emendation. The German Leithandschriftenedition belongs to this type. However, also best-manuscript editions are based on an recension of the manuscript sources. If not, they should be regarded as documentary editions in the terminology used here.

There are a number of edition typologies. A broad typology of editions, of old as well as of modern texts, can be found in Greetham (1994, Appendix II). The typology presented here is based on Haugen (2014) and is illustrated in ill. 1. It focuses on the criterion of text selection rather than of text representation. For the latter, see the entry regularisation.


Ill. 1. Typology of editions of classical and mediaeval texts.


– Bédier, Joseph. 1928. “La tradition manuscrite du Lai de l’Ombre: Réflexions sur l’art d’éditer les anciens textes.” Romania 54: 161–196, 321–356. – Reprint, Paris: Champion, 1970
– Greetham, David. 1994. Textual Scholarship: An IntroductionGarland reference library of the humanities, vol. 1417. New York: Garland.
– Haugen, Odd Einar. 2014. “The making of an edition: Three crucial dimensions.” In Digital critical editions, edited by Daniel Apollon, Claire Bélisle and Philippe Régnier, 203–245. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
– Griesbach, Johann Jakob, ed. 1776. Synopsis evangeliorum Matthaei, Marci et Lucae. Halle: Curt.
– Unger, Carl Richard, ed. 1877. Heilagra manna søgur: Fortællinger og Legender om hellige Mænd og Kvinder. 2 vols. Christiania: Bentzen.

In other languages

DE: diplomatische, synoptische, eklektische, kritische – Edition / (Text)Ausgabe
FR: édition – diplomatique, synoptique, éclectique, critique
IT: edizione – diplomatica, sinottica, eclettica, critica


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