Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

9/1/2012 - 8/31/2013

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,307.88 (awarded)

Varying Editions of Classical Literary Texts and Their Reception: A Case Study of the Roman Poet Virgil

FAIN: FB-56237-12

Craig W. Kallendorf
Texas A & M University, College Station (College Station, TX 77843-0001)

This project proposes a new methodological paradigm for literary history, fusing reception studies with book history to ground the changing interpretations of any text in the physical objects that both carry and contribute to its meaning. To test this new paradigm, the project focuses on the works of the Roman poet Virgil, which stood at the center of western education for 2,000 years. The manuscripts suggest that for the Middle Ages, Virgil’s poetry served as a sort of secular scripture that complemented the Bible, while early printed editions show that to Renaissance readers, Virgil offered moral wisdom and stylistic models. From the eighteenth century on, Virgil’s poetry moved gradually to the cultural margins, with the various editions serving as unread monuments or handbooks of increasingly specialized knowledge. The protean character of these texts is evident in the illustrated editions, in which the same text is reenvisioned within each successive culture.

Associated Products

The Protean Virgil: Material Form and the Reception of the Classics (Book)
Title: The Protean Virgil: Material Form and the Reception of the Classics
Abstract: he Protean Virgil argues that when we try to understand how and why different readers have responded differently to the same text over time, we should take into account the physical form in which they read the text as well as the text itself. Using Virgil's poetry as a case study in book history, the volume shows that a succession of material forms - manuscript, printed book, illustrated edition, and computer file - undermines the drive toward textual and interpretive stability. This stability is the traditional goal of classical scholarship, which seeks to recover what Virgil wrote and how he intended it to be understood. The manuscript form served to embed Virgil's poetry into Christian culture, which attempted to anchor the content into a compatible theological truth. Readers of early printed material proceeded differently, breaking Virgil's text into memorable moral and stylistic fragments, and collecting those fragments into commonplace books. Furthermore, early illustrated editions present a progression of re-envisionings in which Virgil's poetry was situated within a succession of receiving cultures. In each case, however, the material form helped to generate a method of reading Virgil which worked with this form but which failed to survive the transition to a new union of the textual and the physical. This form-induced instability reaches its climax with computerization, which allows the reader new power to edit the text and to challenge the traditional association of Virgil's poetry with elite culture.
Year: 2015
Access Model: not open access
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780198727804
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes