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Faculty of Classics


Modes of Reading and the Transmission of Texts in Antiquity 

The Faculty is host to this project conducted by Professor Richard Hunter, Regius Professor of Greek Emeritus, with Dr Cédric Scheidegger Laemmle as Co-Investigator. 

The project’s aim is to put the study of ancient literate culture on a new footing, by paying proper attention to a major source for the history of reading and interpretation which remains largely un-tapped: the anthologies, lexica and miscellaneous works, both pagan and Christian, of the imperial period and later antiquity – Plutarch, Aulus Gellius, Athenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Macrobius, Stobaeus etc. Such texts preserve hundreds of quotations and extracts from classical texts, both those which have also survived in medieval manuscripts and those which have been otherwise lost in the course of transmission. In the former case, much of this material has not even been systematically collected, and scholars have on the whole tended to ignore this so-called ‘indirect tradition’, except when it seems to be useful for establishing the correct text of a classical author. Important as such matters of textual criticism are, however, the quoting texts themselves offer a rich opportunity to study what was being read and in what forms, how texts were interpreted and exploited in antiquity, which texts (or citations) tended to ‘travel together’ and when particular texts begin to disappear from view. Careful attention to this ‘indirect tradition’ offers rich dividends for the history of books, of canon formation, and of reading and interpretation in antiquity. We are also constantly reminded of the contingency of our own approaches to ancient literature. Modern reading practices, which have, in various ways, privileged unity and coherence as virtues of the literary text, are challenged by the apparently radically different reading practices of antiquity and the Byzantine period. 

Musa reading a volumen (scroll), at the left an open chest. Attic red-figure lekythos, ca. 435-425 BC. From Boeotia

The project works across two major traditional fault-lines in the study of antiquity and the early medieval period, namely Greek ~ Latin and non-Christian (‘pagan’) ~ Christian. We are interested in whether citation and the use of the past follows roughly similar patterns in the two languages, that is in the east and west of the Roman empire, and how Christian authors present classical literature to an audience which does not share their assumptions. 

‘Modes of Reading and the Transmission of Texts in Antiquity’ has received generous first-phase funding from the Patrum Lumen Sustine Foundation of Basel (PLuS). The project hosted a major international conference, ‘Sourcing the Classics: textual transmission and reading practice in antiquity’, in the Faculty in June 2023.

‘Sourcing the Classics: textual transmission and reading practice in antiquity’ Flyer

Latest news

Greek Literature and its Critics Conference

24 November 2023

The programme for the Greek Literature and its Critics conference, to be held on 7th - 9th December 2023 in room G21, is available here .

A.G. Leventis Professorship of Greek Culture

26 September 2023

The Board of Electors to the A.G. Leventis Professorship of Greek Culture invite applications for this Professorship from persons whose work falls within the general field of the Professorship to take up appointment on 1 September 2024 or as soon as possible thereafter. Further information is available at:

Professor Caroline Vout's book 'Exposed' named winner of 2023 London Hellenic Prize

12 June 2023

The Faculty is delighted to congratulate Professor Caroline Vout on her book Exposed being named winner of the 2023 London Hellenic Prize. Further details are available here: