Day 5 of my summer research leave
On Day 5 of my summer research leave, I continued working on organising folders and files and getting a general overview of what I have on my local drive, what is already on the GitHub repository for the Ethica project and what should go into related repositories. I managed to move some files around and normalise filenames, but then I got stuck on a particular file: This, too, was very old. I last touched the file in late August 2013 – ten years ago. It’s a file I called “Quellen” (sources). It contains several phrases, sentences, poems, or concrete references from the Ethica to other texts and – where possible – their verification with contemporary sources or more modern scholarly editions of referenced texts. It’s an MS Word file; the formatting was horrific, and the document really hard to read. I converted the DOCX file into a plain text format like Markdown, using Pandoc. I hadn’t planned on working on the file’s content, only trying to tackle the layout and readability, but I got stuck on the references. Many contained links, and clicking on the first one already revealed a problem I had hoped not to have: link rot. So I spent the rest of the morning checking all links and references, which turned into checking many sources, adding them to the list, and ordering some older prints from the library to check references of not yet digitized material.
I really love this kind of detective work: trying to find the source of an odd-sounding phrase or a cryptic reference, verifying citations, and revealing the literary, theological, and philosophical foundation of this book on good manners and easy conversation. We can also see the frame of reference for a contemporary: what would they have known to use the book? Were they familiar with the works of Plato, the classic authors like Sallust, Horace and Cicero, early medieval philosophers like Boethius, the church fathers, and more contemporary writers like John Owen? Probably. Studying the intertextual references in the Ethica can help us re-create the target audience, perhaps even the model reader/user of the guidebook.
The overview of sources and references is not complete by far. My work many years ago was discontinued after chapter 2, most likely because I decided to prioritise another part of the scholarly edition. The original edition plan did not include a commentary, so this is ‘side work’, which I thought would be nice but not mandatory. But now I’m intrigued again! I want to dig deeper into it and learn more about the intertextual references and what they might tell us about the Ethica and its appeal. I have uploaded the revised document to the GitHub repository, so I can add things on the way – and have a public reference in case I will not finish this side-work and someone else wants to pick it up instead.
After a much-needed iced coffee break in the sun with my colleagues from the Digital Scholarship Center at the University of Oslo Library, I returned to my office to find one of the youngest prints of the Ethica Complementoria waiting for me on my desk! This second edition of the Danish translation was printed in Copenhagen in 1708. The book, together with the first Danish edition from 1678, was a gift from the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen to the newly founded University of Oslo in 1811. Together with 45.000 books from the Royal Library’s collection, it made the rootstock of the Univesity Library – and the National Library of Norway – today. An incredible feeling for a researcher interested in the Ethica: to have two rare editions “in-house”. I was unaware of this when I moved to Norway 11 years ago, so I guess we found each other at the right time and place.