Page tree
Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

The tradition of a work is made up of the texts in which this work has been transmitted, as attested by its witnesses. The tradition is said to be 'direct' if the witnesses are 'direct', i.e. if they are assumed to be copies (manuscripts) or prints (editio princeps, incunabula) of the work itself. Part of the tradition can be 'indirect', consisting of indirect witnesses, i.e. excerpts or citations from the work in other works or translations of the work into another language.

Several other distinctions have been proposed with respect to traditions. A long-standing one is the distinction introduced by Giorgio Pasquali (1952) between vertical and horizontal transmission, i.e. uncontaminated vs. contaminated transmission (cf. contamination). Alberto Vàrvaro (2004; originally 1970, 574587) proposed to distinguish between active and quiescent traditions (tradizione attiva and tradizione quiescente, cf. redaction): in the former, the copyist is supposed to play an "active" role in modifying the text while copying it; in the latter, the act of copying is considered more passive and therefore only few and unintentional innovations happen to be introduced. With respect to the medium of transmission, a distinction is often drawn between oral and written (and even mixed) traditions, cf. media transmitting texts

Some scholars (like Zumthor, 73ff.) would like to draw a distinction between a manuscript tradition and a textual tradition, in the sense that a manuscript tradition is the sequence of physical copies of the work being made, while a textual tradition is the sequence of texts that are vehicles for the work.

The development of textual/manuscript traditions is sometimes studied by artificially creating such traditions (see artificial textual traditions).

Martin West (1973, 53) uses to term paradosis in a similar meaning. He defines it as: “the data furnished by the transmission, reduced to essentials.” I.e., paradosis are the different features that occur in the text due to its transmission history. The Greek word παράδοσις means 'tradition'.


– Hunger, Herbert. 19611964. Geschichte der Textüberlieferung. 2 vols. Zürich: Atlantis.
– Pasquali, Giorgio. 1952. Storia della tradizione e critica del testo. 2nd ed. Firenze: Le Monnier. – 1st ed., Firenze: Le Monnier, 1934.
– Vàrvaro, Alberto. 2004. “Critica dei testi classica e romanza: Problemi comuni ed esperienze diverse.” In Alberto Vàrvaro, Identità linguistiche e letterarie nell’Europa romanza, 567–612. Roma: Salerno editrice. – Originally published in 1970.
– West, Martin L. 1973. Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique Applicable to Greek and Latin Texts. Stuttgart: Teubner. 
– Zumthor, Paul. 1972. Essai de poétique médiévale. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

In other languages

DE: Tradition
FR: tradition
IT: tradizione


  • No labels