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Contrary to variant readings proper, material accidents in a textual tradition, do not occur because of the voluntary or involuntary intervention of a copyist, but, as the name implies, an accident affects the manuscripts (or any other text-carriers) as material objects: a page or a quire may be lost or misplaced (when the codex is rebound for example), parts of the manuscript may become illegible because of fire, water, fungi, or mice, etc.

Those material accidents, often resulting in a loss of text (or in a change of place), are important elements for the history of a text, as they may help proving a relationship between manuscripts (whereas variant readings are often subject to interpretation). The manuscripts in which a material accident occurred may have disappeared, but the consequences of it will still be visible in its descendants. Lacunae are a typical example of a material accident.

A material accident to the codex unicus will result in text loss. An example is the Latin mediaeval epic Ruodlieb. On several pages the margin was cut off and a part of any verse on these pages is missing. Modern editors may try to fill in such gaps by conjecture (Vollmann 1993 does this for Ruodlieb).

Reference

– Irigoin, Jean. 1986. "Accidents matériels et critique des textes." Revue d’Histoire des Textes 16: 1-36.
– Vollmann, Benedikt Konrad. 1993. Ruodlieb. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

In other languages

DE: physische / materielle Beschädigung
FR: accident matériel
IT: danno materiale 

CM, PR (example)

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