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Re: tc-list Article in Nature

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  • James R. Covey
    ... from the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_159000/159352.stm ... James R. Covey WWW Systems Developer Cochran Interactive Inc.
    Message 1 of 4 , Sep 1, 1998
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      re missive of 31/08/98 09:26 PM signed -Steven Carr- :

      >Apparently there is an article in Nature (vol 394, p 839) giving details
      >of a new text critical program which was applied to Canterbury Tales.
      >
      >It seems this new program is based on methods used to find common
      >ancestors of DNA strings.

      from the BBC:

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_159000/159352.stm

      >Thursday, August 27, 1998 Published at 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
      >
      >Sci/Tech
      >
      >Computer judges Wife of Bath to be chaste
      >
      >Chaucer's Canterbury Tales may not be as racy as scholars
      >thought
      >
      >Students of Chaucer may have to rethink their theories about
      >one of the most notorious woman in early English literature,
      >the Wife of Bath.
      >
      >Using evolutionary biology, scientists have been able to
      >debunk the long-held theory that the sexually voracious Wife
      >of Bath was actually so outrageous.
      >
      >Biologists at Cambridge University have used a system
      >developed for tracing the origin of the species through
      >their DNA to work out which of the 58 surviving versions of
      >The Canterbury Tales are closest to the original, which no
      >longer exists.
      >
      >DNA tests show the Wife of Bath to be more demureSome depict
      >the wife as coarse and with an indiscriminate sexual
      >appetite, but researchers say they can now restore her to
      >the personality they believe Chaucer intended.
      >
      >The most authentic manuscripts still paint her as
      >outrageous, but with hankerings after respectability.
      >
      >The infamous passage about her appetite for all men "were he
      >short or long or black or white", no matter "how poore" or
      >of "what degree", was probably excised by Chaucer and
      >replaced by scholars later, the scientists have discovered.
      >
      >The results of the research - published in the scientific
      >journal Nature - found evidence for believing that Chaucer's
      >own copy was not a completed single text but a working
      >draft.
      >
      >The researchers, led by Dr Christopher Howe, wrote: "In
      >time, this may lead editors to produce a radically different
      >text of The Canterbury Tales."
      >
      >Dr Christopher Howe and DR Peter Robinson explain how they
      >made the breakthroughSpeaking on Radio 4's Today programme,
      >one of the literary experts who worked on the project, Dr
      >Peter Robinson, said the research made the Wife of Bath a
      >different person.
      >
      >"It stresses her desire for social and economic dominance
      >rather than her sexual aggression," he said.
      >
      >Dr Howe's team worked with manuscript experts from De
      >Montfort University in Leicester who are investigating the
      >origins of Chaucer's works.
      >
      >They used the latest computerised techniques normally used
      >by biologists to reconstruct the evolutionary trees of
      >different species from their DNA.
      >
      >Early hand-copied manuscripts often contain duplicated
      >mistakes and variations.
      >
      >By comparing the similarities and differences of a number of
      >texts, scientists are able to reach conclusions about what
      >an original copy was like, even if it has been lost.
      >
      >Family trees
      >
      >Until now, the technique, known as 'stemmatics', has been a
      >laborious manual process only feasible for a few short
      >manuscripts.
      >
      >But Dr Howe realised it had much in common with the
      >techniques used by evolutionary biologists to track
      >different species' family trees.
      >
      >He and his team concentrated on The Wife of Bath's Prologue
      >to produce a computer-generated family tree showing the
      >relationships between the 58 different 15th century versions
      >of the story.
      >
      >A number of manuscripts formed groups which could be traced
      >back to distinct common ancestors.
      >
      >One particular group appeared to go back further than the
      >others to a point probably close to the missing original.
      >
      >Yet these manuscripts had mostly been ignored by scholars.
      >
      >Dr Robinson added that the work had given the team a
      >"radically more efficient" way of discovering the early
      >history of the Tales.
      >
      >"It has already suggested vital new approaches to
      >long-unsolved problems, which will bring us much closer to
      >understanding what Chaucer left behind him at his death."


      -------------------------
      James R. Covey
      WWW Systems Developer
      Cochran Interactive Inc.
      http://www.cochran.com
      direct ph. # 902.422.8915
      office fax # 902.425.8659
      jrcovey@...
    • Robert B. Waltz
      On Tue, 1 Sep 1998, James R. Covey wrote: [ ... ] ... Thanks for posting this. I think I/we still need to look up the article in
      Message 2 of 4 , Sep 1, 1998
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        On Tue, 1 Sep 1998, "James R. Covey" <jrcovey@...> wrote:

        [ ... ]

        >from the BBC:

        Thanks for posting this. I think I/we still need to look up
        the article in _Nature_, but now we can at least come up
        with preliminary responses.

        [ ... ]

        >>Chaucer's Canterbury Tales may not be as racy as scholars
        >>thought
        >>
        >>Students of Chaucer may have to rethink their theories about
        >>one of the most notorious woman in early English literature,
        >>the Wife of Bath.
        >>
        >>Using evolutionary biology,

        I don't believe it! Somebody else is actually using an idea
        I've been preaching for years. :-)

        Note: I am not claiming credit for this. They did the work;
        I merely discussed the idea with people informally. But the
        link to biology, genealogy, etc. is one I have been talking
        about for years -- they are all evolutionary processes.

        >>scientists have been able to
        >>debunk the long-held theory that the sexually voracious Wife
        >>of Bath was actually so outrageous.
        >>
        >>Biologists at Cambridge University have used a system
        >>developed for tracing the origin of the species through
        >>their DNA to work out which of the 58 surviving versions of
        >>The Canterbury Tales are closest to the original, which no
        >>longer exists.

        This statement, if accurate, strikes me as disturbing. It implies
        that the scholars are looking for an original *manuscript*,
        not an original text.

        Now I know that people on this list vary in the degree and
        form of their eclecticism (is that the correct spelling?
        My spellchecker offers "eclecticsm"!). But I think we would
        all agree -- even the supporters of the Byzantine Text --
        that no single manuscript should be followed

        [ ... ]

        >>The results of the research - published in the scientific
        >>journal Nature - found evidence for believing that Chaucer's
        >>own copy was not a completed single text but a working
        >>draft.

        This is to be expected, actually. The _Tales_ were never
        finished.

        [ ... ]

        >>Family trees
        >>
        >>Until now, the technique, known as 'stemmatics', has been a
        >>laborious manual process only feasible for a few short
        >>manuscripts.
        >>
        >>But Dr Howe realised it had much in common with the
        >>techniques used by evolutionary biologists to track
        >>different species' family trees.
        >>
        >>He and his team concentrated on The Wife of Bath's Prologue
        >>to produce a computer-generated family tree showing the
        >>relationships between the 58 different 15th century versions
        >>of the story.
        >>
        >>A number of manuscripts formed groups which could be traced
        >>back to distinct common ancestors.

        There is nothing new here. It should be noted that, compared
        to the New Testament, the data for Chaucer is limited, recent,
        and tightly grouped.

        Applying the same system to New Testament manuscripts is
        far harder. It can certainly be done (the Claremont
        Profile Method or the Munster "Thousand Readings" shows
        that databases can be constructed to cover all manuscripts).
        And we would doubtless discover many kinship groups not
        presently known (even in the Gospels, since the Claremont
        method is not properly controlled). But I strongly suspect
        we will not be able to get true genealogy.

        This is, of course, conventional wisdom. But it's also
        *true*, in my experience. We can and have reconstructed
        "family" texts (e.g. the subgroups of Family 13). We can
        make good progress on sub-text-types (e.g. P75-B-T,
        family 1739). But text-types probably cannot be reconstructed,
        and we will almost certainly not be able to go beyond that.

        >>One particular group appeared to go back further than the
        >>others to a point probably close to the missing original.
        >>
        >>Yet these manuscripts had mostly been ignored by scholars.

        This is interesting and perhaps informative. It also has
        analogies in New Testament criticism, where some interesting
        and important families of minuscules barely make it into
        our apparatuses (examples include Family 2138, Family 330,
        Family 2127, even Family 1739, which gets attention but not
        as much as it should).

        >>Dr Robinson added that the work had given the team a
        >>"radically more efficient" way of discovering the early
        >>history of the Tales.
        >>
        >>"It has already suggested vital new approaches to
        >>long-unsolved problems, which will bring us much closer to
        >>understanding what Chaucer left behind him at his death."

        I do think we need to be cautious about this. (Too bad we
        can't get an article in TC about the software. :-) I think
        there is great potential to sort out families and groups.
        I'm not sure it will help us in the greater problem of
        reconstructing the original text -- especially if the
        basic method continues to be reasoned eclecticism. (Personally,
        I'd be willing to trust a computer to reconstruct a text --
        as long as I controlled the algorithms. :-) But I wonder how
        many others here would?)

        Still, I want to know more, and hope to learn more.

        -*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

        Robert B. Waltz
        waltzmn@...

        Want more loudmouthed opinions about textual criticism?
        Try my web page: http://www.skypoint.com/~waltzmn
        (A site inspired by the Encyclopedia of NT Textual Criticism)
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