Classics Ancient Classical Scholarship
David Butterfield
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0269


The term ancient classical scholarship denotes the close study of literary texts by critics active in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. It is the art of understanding, explaining, and restoring the written texts of the literary tradition. Given its focus on preserving and elucidating literature, classical scholarship developed in parallel with the formation and bolstering of the canons of classical literature in Greece and Rome. It is difficult to detect the existence of this precise kind of scholarship in the ancient world before the 3rd century BCE. Earlier analysis of literature—most especially Homer—had been fleeting and subjective. Even the discussions of Greek literature in Plato and Aristotle do not move beyond the aesthetic sphere of literary criticism. (For a bibliographical survey of this broader field, see the Oxford Bibliographies article Ancient Literary Criticism.) However, in the 3rd century BCE critical attention turned to the precise verbal analysis of classical texts. The center for this new, methodical approach was Ptolemaic Alexandria, where the celebrated library of Greek literature sought to produce authoritative texts of, and scholarly works about, the established classics. The principles founded in this period still underpin modern scholarly activity on classical literature. Although no work of Hellenistic classical scholarship survives complete, it is possible to reconstruct the critical practices of the period and to trace their several effects upon subsequent literary and scholarly traditions. Such text-focused activity did not perish with the Hellenistic world; instead, the baton was passed directly to the Romans in the 2nd century BCE. As the canon of classical Latin literature became increasingly prescriptive, the cultural significance of scholarly work on these texts increased. Our picture of Roman scholarship is equally obscured by a lack of evidence. However, in the person of Varro of Reate, the celebrated polymath and contemporary of Cicero, we find a scholar of the broadest interests. Although no complete work of classical scholarship survives before the 2nd century CE, from the centuries that follow several major works exist upon a diverse range of texts. Close analysis of the content and method of these works can shed important light on the previous stages of scholarly industry which, although now lost to us, shaped these latter phases of critical engagement. Because of the lacunose, fragmented and technical nature of the available evidence, ancient classical scholarship is an area that presents challenges to the researcher. This bibliography contains the items of modern scholarship that will facilitate navigation of the diverse and difficult texts of ancient scholarship printed in countless and disparate locations. Although solid foundations were laid in the late 19th century, ancient classical scholarship still requires considerable study. Important observations on the nature and development of ancient classical scholarship are still being made each year.

Greek Classical Scholarship

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