November 15, 2005
Literature and Literacy in Ancient Greece II: Caging the Muses
Davison, J.A. “Literature and Literacy in Ancient Greece II: Caging the Muses.” Phoenix 16.4 (Winter 1962). 219-233.
In this subsequent essay, Davison traces the rise of bookselling and collecting. He finds the earliest reference to a bookselling quarter in Aristophanes’ Birds from 414, and notes that bookselling became an export industry by the end of that century (219). Of course, private book collectors also began to develop their personal libraries around this time, and the libraries of Euripedes, Euthydemus, and Eucleides were apparently notable. A predictable second-hand book trade also existed, as did dealers in rare books (221).
In the fourth century, books became more commonplace, and so did the literary critic. Multiple editions of works abounded, produced with the cooperations of rhapsodes. Discrepancies were rife between the editions (most notably those of Homer), and it wasn't until much later that the critics managed to wrangle them into something approaching a definitive edition. By the middle of the second century BC, Greeks had begun to develop a true literary culture, one sufficient to be passed on to the Romans.
Most importantly for my larger project, Davison briefly examines the implications that the rise of the book had for intellectual property and publication. While our ideas of “publication” don’t map onto the sort of publication that was possible then, we do begin to see page layout begin to be considered, as well as basic usability. Authors were still not conscious of the need to create works of standard length, but the physical producers of work were beginning to standardize their trade (232). The author says “there is no suggestion that I can find of any idea that an author might have had any property in his writings or of anything like a law of copyright,“ and he doubts that they would have accepted money for their works either, given Plato’s admonitions against accepting money for teaching (232).