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Text Transmission: The (non)-survival of Ancient Books
#1
The fragmentary classicizing historians of the later Roman Empire; Eunapius, Olympiodorus, Priscus and Malchus; by R.C. Blockley; 1981:

The Histories of Eunapius, Olympiodorus, Priscus and Malchus emerged from a uniform background, one that was elitist, conservative, classicizing, and greatly concerned with the major political issues of the day. They must have been important documents for an important group within the eastern Empire. (26) Why then, to put Bury’s question, “did all these works disappear?”(27) In one respect the question is of little significance. Many other ancient works, which were clearly of contemporary importance, and would probably have been of lasting value, have disappeared. Often chance played the key role in that.(28) Moreover, as Bury himself remarked, they did survive until the ninth or tenth centuries, to be read by Photius and the compilers of the Excerpta. Bury offered two answers to his question: first, the historians were pagans; and second, much of what they wrote about was of little interest to readers in the ninth and following centuries, and what was of interest, the wars in the Illyrian peninsula, was preserved in the Excerpta. The first answer, however, is only relevant to Eunapius, since, if my analysis is correct, the other historians were either not pagans or, if they were, their paganism was of little importance in their histories.(29) As for the second, it is weak and rather unhelpful, since the same comment would be relevant to the sixth-century historians, especially Procopius and Agathias, who have survived. The question, indeed, is not open to a satisfactory answer. But three points can be made, which together might help further to illustrate the position of the fifth-century histories within the milieu in which they were produced. They were written for a small, if wealthy and still-powerful group, so that, as Bury noted, they probably never had a wide circulation and never existed in many copies. Secondly, unlike works directly on Christian subjects, which the Church was concerned to preserve and multiply, they did not appeal to a special-interest group which would and could strive over many centuries to ensure their survival. Finally, as is clear from later notices upon the histories and the quarrying of them by excerptors, chroniclers, and church historians, even though they were works of limited circulation, they were esteemed as important and authoritative sources. Thus, in that they were supplanted by more superficial but more accessible and popular works, they may well have been victims of their own success.


(26)     Certainly, in the sixth century Menander (Fr. 1) thought that the writing of such a history would bring him esteem and rewards.


(27)     Bury 1958 II p.418.   
                            
(28)     Cf. Ammianus, who, if his work had not survived in the MS Fuldensis (plus a few scraps of the Hersfeldensis), would be unknown, even by name. Similarly the stemmata in the editions of Procopius, Agathias, and Theophylact show that their works descended by a very tenuous thread.

(29)     Momigliano (1963 pp.97-99) remarks that the Church could ignore the works of secular history because they were irrelevant. This may have been the case with Eunapius and Ammianus, but if, as I have argued, the later works were not anti-Christian either explicitly or implicitly, then their relevance in the eyes of the Church is not an issue.


*

The disappearance of ancient books; Jona Lendering:


http://www.livius.org/articles/misc/the-...ent-books/
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#2
Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science, Translated with notes and introduction by N.P. Milner, Translated Texts for Historians Volume 16, Liverpool University Press, 1996 (1993)

However, it seems that one can also have too much of a good thing. Learned commentators such as G. Stewechius (Leiden 1585) expressed disappointment that it was due to the preservation of Vegetius that works by his named sources, Cato, Celsus, Frontinus and Paternus, had not survived whereas Vegetius’ Epitome, a late Christian source not from the best period of Roman culture, gave no indication which parts were owed to which classical author. This complaint is almost certainly misguided; there are a number of indications in the Epitome that even Vegetius worked from late epitomes of the named sources, so that it may be doubted that the latter would have had an independent chance of survival. Secondly, in spite of the demand for Roman military treatises from the Carolingian period onwards, no manuscript of the lost authors can be demonstrated to have been discovered.
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