Petronius’ Satyrica and Text-Criticism in an Open Accessible World

Thomas Koentges
Open Philology Project
University of Leipzig

Abstract: The Fragments of Petronius’ work, commonly known as the Satyrica (or Satyricon libri) have been transmitted in at least sixty manuscripts. Yet, in the text-critical editions of the last three centuries, fewer than thirty have been used to produce the critical apparatus. The reason for this now seemingly insufficient basis for the text production is not the carelessness of editors of older editions, rather, the reason is the inaccessibility of those manuscripts: neither location nor existence of some of the neglected manuscripts have been known, while it is only recently that many manuscript catalogues of smaller collections have been digitised and thereby made searchable for scholars. 

According to Paul Maas, Karl Lachmann, and Martin West, traditional text-criticism is based on recensio, examinatio, and optional divinatio or emendatio. The mandatory first step is the recensio, that is, the sighting, collating, and categorising of the manuscripts and witnesses. This is the most mathematical step of the process and so it is not surprising that computational methods can help. These methods and tools range from finding aids, digitisation tools, and open data methods, to classification algorithms. In this talk I will present a fully-reworked catalogue of Petronian manuscripts and showcase a new workflow for editing Petronius’ Satyrica by highlighting the computational methods and tools used. I shall further elaborate on the use of the data-mining software and machine-learning environment Weka3 to classify manuscripts. In addition, I hope to present the results of the work completed by students in the digital editing class in Leipzig, whom I am currently guiding through working on images of the manuscripts of Petronius digitised by European manuscript collections and the Open Greek and Latin Project.

Although the talk focuses on Petronius’ Satyrica, the workflow I showcase may be helpful for the reconstruction of other classical texts. Special emphasis will be on a machine-readable text digitisation, on the computer-supported classification of individual manuscripts, and on manuscript transcription and correction workflows.

Thomas Koentges is a trained classical philologist and lecturer in computer science at the University of Leipzig. From May 2015 he will take up an Assistant Professor position (Akademischer Assistent) in the Department of Digital Humanities at the University of Leipzig. He is currently in New Zealand researching machine learning methods to classify manuscripts and is also working with Dr. Shep at Victoria University Wellington, as Digital Humanities Advisor to the Marsden Project “Personal geographies and global networks: William Colenso and the Victorian Republic of Letters.”

1. West, M. L. (1973). Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique. B.G. Teubner. Stuttgart. 
2. Maas, P. (1960). Textkritik. B.G. Teubner. Stuttgart.
3. Koentges, T. (2014). Petronius’ Satyrica: A Commentary on its Transmission, Pre-Plot Fragments, and Chapters 1–15 (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from
4. Witten, Ian et al. (2014), Weka 3: Data Mining Software in Java. University of Waikato. Retrieved from

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