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Manuscript and text traditions differ strongly among each other, which makes it necessary to use different methods to study and eventually edit the text transmitted by them. There are smooth transitions between the various kinds of textual traditions, therefore it is to some point arbitrary to define different types. To the author's knowledge there is no attempt at a typology yet. Nonetheless a few quite obvious types may be mentioned here in a sketchy form. One possibility is to group traditions according to the amount of contamination in their transmission:

– "Non-contaminated transmissions": no contamination, no “thinking” or collating scribes, thus a full stemma may be elaborated according to the rules laid out by Paul Maas (1960). Such traditions seem to be very rare for texts that are transmitted in more than a handful of witnesses.

– “Bottle-neck transmission": all extant witnesses can be traced to a bottle-neck, a witness written long after the texts composition. Stemmatics cannot reconstruct texts beyond such a bottle-neck. For classical Latin or Greek texts there is often such a bottle neck either in the 3rd c. AD (when scrolls were copied to codices) or in the 9th century when manuscripts were copied to minuscule script. Before and after the bottle-neck contamination may have been present or not. Such a bottle-neck is the rule for the transmission of texts from classical antiquity.

– “Heavily contaminated transmission”: texts that were very popular among certain groups, such texts are thus very liable to contamination. The editor may be unable to advance further than to individualise some families of witnesses, and it may be impossible to reconstruct the stemma. The Latin Bible or the Regula Bendedicti are examples.

Another criterion may be how scribes treated texts, in how authoritative and consequently inviolable scribes considered them, e.g.:

– “Growing or fluid texts”: texts not written by a single known or prestigious author, but growing around a nucleus that may have been much smaller and very different in the beginning. This is typical for many florilegia and other texts written for every-day use (‘Gebrauchstexte’). Scholarly interest is usually not centred on the “original” but on the growing tradition itself. E.g. the Indian epic Mahābhārata. It may be best to edit several forms of the text along side or to edit the vulgate (if one exists).

– “Textus receptus”: the text was standardised at a certain moment and all other text forms eradicated. This may happen for Holy Scripture, e.g. the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. This is similar to the bottle-neck transmission above.

– “Fixed texts”. For texts preserved in more than one witness it is very rare that there are (nearly) no differences in their text, but this may happen in texts considered to be very holy and known by heart by their community. E.g. the Indian Ṛgveda.

Other ways of differentiating types of transmission include open / closed recensions, or the distinctions described by Bernabé (2010, 24-26).

Such different forms of traditions require different editorial approaches. It would be interesting to work out a typology of textual traditions in detail, a task that has not been attempted up till now.


– Bernabé, Alberto, and Felipe G. Hernández Muñoz. 2010. Manual de crítica textual y edición de textos griegos. 2nd ed. Madrid: Akal.
– Hunger, Herbert, Otto Stegmüller, Hartmut Erbse, Max Imhof, Karl Büchner, Hans-Georg Beck, and Horst Rüdiger. 1961–1964. Geschichte der Textüberlieferung der antiken und mittelalterlichen Literatur. Vol. 1, Antikes und mittelalterliches Buch- und Schriftwesen: Überlieferungsgeschichte der antiken Literatur. Vol. 2, Überlieferungsgeschichte der mittelalterlichen Literatur. Zürich: Atlantis-Verlag.
– Linde, Cornelia. 2012. How to correct the Sacra scriptura? Textual criticism of the Latin Bible between the twelfth and fifteenth century. Oxford: The Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature.
 Maas, Paul. 1960. Textkritik. 4th ed. Leipzig: Teubner. – 1st ed. 1927. The Appendix “Leitfehler und stemmatische Typen” was first published in Byzantinische Zeitschrift 37 (1937): 289–294.
 Pasquali, Giorgio. 1952. Storia della tradizione e critica del testo. 2nd ed. Firenze: Le Monnier. – 1st ed., Firenze: Le Monnier, 1934.



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