Manuscripts and cultures in the Mediterranean (and beyond). From Antiquity to Middle Ages

[Julián Bértola and Luce Carteron]

            We are interested here not only in the individual content of each presentation, but above all in the richness and fertility of their interconnections: the cycle of conferences aroused questions, but also showed many facets and nuances of possible answers to them.

By the beginning of the week, the conferences that took place during the first two days in Bari have suggested the aims of this summer school and an outline of the direction that IIPS as a whole would take. The lectures offered a global and transverse view of the issues related to paleography, manuscriptology, codicology and papyrology, and an analysis of more specific aspects. At the same time, they aroused common problems and indicated which could be the concrete applications of them, and how to profit from them while studying ancient texts. The presence of original documents from different cultural areas and dated to diverse epochs helped to shed light on the general matters of working with the history of texts, but also on the differences that allow us to understand it better.

The series of lectures not only traced a history of writing and its supports, but also inquired about their varied values – cultural, economic, social and even symbolic – and meanings. Moreover, these contributions reminded how important it is to consider the book as a social object as well as a literary object. Filippo Ronconi´s definition of manuscript as “a transportable handmade object, conceived to contain a long handwritten text” insisted on that point. It is indispensable to place the book in its original cultural context in order to understand at once the reasons of its existence and the diverse values attached to it. In fact, its transmission constitutes a precious piece of evidence of the importance that writing entailed, as regards its material dimension and its content, for a particular society in a given cultural area. The lectures presented an approach at the same time global and plural to the history of texts, by tackling certain questions from different angles and tracking the common underlying correlation between them.

The exposition of the transmission of texts and ideas reinforces the strong link between cultural history and written knowledge, as shown by the conference of Annick Peters-Custot, who examined the presence of Greek language and Byzantine culture in Southern Italy. Books, as well as documents from archives and epigraphic inscriptions, are to be perceived as social objects that help to explain a world order: the contact between civilizations is established through writing, as Paolo Fioretti demonstrated. This interaction influenced and oriented the transmission of knowledge, as described by Christian Jacob, who took Athenaeus’ work as an exponent of structuring an encyclopedic system through the connection of libraries and human memory inscribed in a book as an ultimate symbol of culture. For that reason he defined the passage from text to book as the moment when the latter is received in a given milieu in particular format, which enhances the link between the construction of the world and the transmission of experience.

Therefore, the conferences offered a cultural insight to a technical aspect, and reciprocally. The necessary discussion about the relation between these two dimensions, which deserve both to be treated equally in order that one can understand better books and texts, highlighted the productiveness of an analysis situated at the crossroads of the factors that determine the production of a written text. It is essential, thus, to perceive not only the materiality of the text, but also the fact that the materiality is the outcome of a combination of social, cultural and economic components. Furthermore, the same materiality is determined not only by the production, but also by the circulation, reception and transmission of every text, which at the same time orientate the history of any written document.

It is important to mention too the scientific disputes that are related to the subjects of the conferences. Paleography and papyrology, albeit sometimes still taken as mere auxiliary tools, begin to assert themselves as sciences in their own right, as Gianluca del Mastro pointed out in his intervention dealing with the history of papyrology, its development and conceptualization. A description of the inherent problematics of the various branches of paleography – mainly through the examples of Slavic and Arabic manuscripts given by Barbara Lomagistro et Valentina Sagaria Rossi – provided a further view of the fields it contains. A glimpse into the vastness of traditions in other languages and other scripts showed the contacts and parallels between them, but also warned that the peculiarities of each domain may deserve a sui generis treatment. In the science of paleography there is no automatic receipt to be applied in every case, but actual experience should lead every theoretical construction. In addition, the reference to the amount of texts still unedited –of which we could happily saw a tiny part in the Istituto papirologico G. Vitelli of Florence– encourages us to assume a humble but enthusiastic attitude towards disciplines from which one has still many things to learn, but also one may have many things to contribute.

The moments specially devoted to discussion after the conferences became the setting of fruitful exchanges: the questions aroused, useful and important by themselves, were in turn enriched and nuanced by the multiple answers given by the organizers and lecturers, whom developed some ideas and opened new perspectives. Likewise, the wrap-up session that followed the cycle of conferences allowed us to present our works and nourished them with the questions posed by fellows and the comments of the organizers. This instance also was an invaluable occasion to learn from each other’s topics and establish links among us.

Hence, the lectures of the first two days provided a panoramic picture of the scientific and cultural landscape, focused specially on the up-to-date progresses of the research and the epistemological advances of the different sciences of writing. As long as the conferences approached the book from the perspective of a cultural and social history, they gave an orientation and a heuristic starting point to the week of IIPS, that allowed us to study the texts at the crossroads of historic and social factors that originated them and determined their circulation. Last but not least, the series of lectures allowed us to have interesting exchanges and consequently it constituted the basis of the whole week of study.

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