Monday, October 04, 2010

Eusebius, Origen, and text-production in antiquity

Harry Gamble quotes the following from Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, which provides an interesting discussion of text-production in the early-third (or perhaps early-fourth) century.
As [Origen] dictated there were ready at hand more than seven shorthand writers [tachygraphoi] who relieved each other at fixed intervals, and as many copyists [bibliographoi], as well as young women who were skilled in fine writing [kalligraphein], for all of whom Ambrose provided without stinting the necessary means.1

In all that I've read about text-production in antiquity, I'd never run across the role of women as scribes. Origen, of course, is unusual in his literary output, the veritable Ben Witherington III of the third century (or perhaps Ben Witherington III is the Origen of the twenty-first century), so we certainly cannot assume his method of text-production is generalizable. But extreme as Origen's process may have been, it is nevertheless an extreme version of ancient text-production, and Origen's peculiarities seem to be quantitative (the volume of text-production) rather than qualitative (the method of text-production).

1 Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995), 120.

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