|Ptolemy III Euergetes|
At the beginning of the 3rd C BCE Ptolemy I established the Library at
In modern money it would be 12,000 pounds so a deposit of 180,000 pounds was pretty substantial amount to leave with the Athenian Treasury. He must have thought it a steal since that is effectively what he did when he failed to return it and forfeited the deposit. This text was duly housed in the Alexandrian Library and became the next link in the chain, the basis for an edition of the text of Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-180 BCE). However, it is likely that even this ‘official’ version was probably already a modified text with the interpolations and amendments of the era in which it was transcribed (late 4th –early 3rd C BCE).
|The Great Library at Alexandria|
Greek (Hellenistic ) scholarship continued on in much the same way with copies of the plays as well as commentaries and compilations of previous scholars works until some point in the 3rd C AD, when the versions were whittled down to a selected canon of seven plays each of Aeschylus and Sophocles and ten of Euripides. The other texts and versions of plays start to become very rare after this date.
Byzantine scholarship seems to go through a dark age between the 7th and 9th Centuries CE and it is very probable that not much copying went on and the study of Sophocles petered out for a while. There is one exception; in the 9th C one manuscript of the seven plays was transcribed from the old uncial writing into the new-fangled (for the time!) miniscule script. There are about 200 medieval manuscripts and the majority of these contain only three plays of a later selection, Ajax, Electra and Oedipus Tyrannus. Only three of the manuscripts come from this first Byzantine period of scholarship which lasted from the 9th C until 1204 when the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade ‘liberated’ Constantinople.
|Manuscript in Greek Uncials|
Modern texts of the 7 plays of Sophocles are based upon the medieval manuscripts occasionally supplemented with details from papyrus fragments (e.g. P.Oxy.2180 from the 2nd C CE)
We finally move into the print age with an indifferent Aldine edition (Aldus Manutius) in 1502 but the first decent edition was that of Adrianus Turnebus (Paris 1552-3) who based his text on manuscript Paris Gr. 2711, containing a recension of the Byzantine scholar Demetrius Triclinius; not the most accurate version but a step in the right direction.
From this time on there are more and more impressions in Europe and the first English printed edition was that of Peter Elmsley in 1823 based on Laurentinian manuscript L. The latest scholarly edition based on the latest and most accurate research is the Oxford text 1990 by Hugh Lloyd Jones and N.G. Wilson.
I cannot help but speculate on what might have been had Ptolemy III Euergetes returned the manuscript to its rightful place in the Athens treasury instead of ‘permanently borrowing’ it. What if anything at all of Sophocles would we have been left with? A sobering thought indeed!