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A lectio difficilior is a more difficult reading and as such often a more original reading. When scribes met with difficult passages in the text, they often simplified the text in order to make it understandable to them. For this reason, the more difficult reading is often the better (older) one. The traditional rule therefore states that lectio difficilior potior ‘the more difficult reading is the stronger one’. Its contrary is the ‘easier reading’ or lectio facilior, which is also know as banalisation or trivialisation of the text.
In practice it may not be trivial to decide which of several reading is difficilior or facilior as the difficulty to understand a word or phrase depends heavily on the involved person’s background, which for mediaeval scribes is often not so clear. Studying the different types of errors may help the editor to get some intuition for this. On the whole this rule is at best regarded only as a rule of thumb, similar to Lectio brevior, lectio potior. Both these rules figure among the twelve basic rules to be followed in the edition of the New Testament (cf. Aland, p. 275f.).
This rule was first clearly formulated by Jean Le Clerc (Ars critica, p. 293, 2nd ed. p. 302): Si omnia sint paria, non multum quidem interest quae eligatur, sed si una ex iis [sc. lectionibus] obscurior sit, ceterae clariores, tum vero credibile est obscuriorem esse veram, alias glossemata. ‘If all things are all similar, it does not matter much which one is to be chosen, but if one among them (sc. several readings) is more obscure and the others clearer, then it is certainly likely that the more obscure one is the true one, whereas the others are explanatory glosses (sc. also Timpanaro, p. 38). In the textual criticism of the Bible this rule was made prominent by Johann Albrecht Bengel (Novum Testamentum Graecum, 1734) and Johann Jakob Wettstein, to whom it is sometimes erroneously attributed (for more details, cf. Timpanaro 1963, p. 38–40).
– Aland, Kurt and Barbara. 1987. The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism. Leiden: Brill.
– Le Clerc, Jean. 1697. Ars critica. Amsterdam 1697. – 5th ed. Amsterdam 1730. Online 2nd ed. https://archive.org/details/joannisclericia00unkngoog
– Lorimer, William L. 1934. “Lectio Difficilior.” The Classical Review 48 (5): 171–173.
– Timpanaro, Sebastiano. 1963. La genesi del metodo del Lachmann. Firenze: Le Monnier.
– ———. 1981. La genesi del metodo del Lachmann. 2nd ed. Padova: Liviana. – First ed., Firenze: Le Monnier, 1963.
– ———. 2005. The Genesis of Lachmann’s Method. Translated by Glenn W. Most. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. – Translated from Timpanaro 1981