In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Scholia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Palaeographic Features and Layout Problems

Classics Scholia
Lara Pagani
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 November 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0343


The word σχόλιον (“scholion,” Lat. scholium), a diminutive of σχολή, means originally “short note” or “brief explanation.” Today “scholia” is a technical term designating the amalgam of various comments scattered in the margins of medieval manuscripts of ancient literary works. Their contents descend ultimately from ancient commentaries, treatises, lexica, glossaries, and other scholarly products, via a long process of excerpting, insertion, and recombination of materials of different origins. The scholiastic corpora thus represent the outcome of a compilation of heterogeneous sources, designed to be systematically arranged in the margin of the manuscript, alongside the literary work commented upon, in order to both supply a multifaceted reading aid and preserve the ancient learned heritage. A significant debate has arisen about the period to which the birth of the scholiography should be dated, whether in Late Antiquity or in the early Byzantine age. We possess a substantial number of Greek scholiastic corpora, especially to a certain number of poets of the Archaic and Classical ages and, to a progressively lesser extent, to the most prominent of the Hellenistic poets; to some didactic poets; and to prose-writers such as historians, rhetoricians, philosophers. The most plentiful and remarkable of the Greek scholiastic corpora is represented by the scholia to the Homeric poems, which convey the richest legacy of the philological and exegetical activity of the Hellenistic scholars. In the Latin field, Late Antique MSS bearing exegetical excerpta in their margins do survive, and we can sometime grasp a long-term process of “circular” tradition: from separate commentaries to the scholia, compiled from different sources and accompanying the literary text; from these ones again to the compilation of autonomous and organic commentaries; and from the last products in turn to a new extraction of materials designed for marginal annotation. The whole of this phenomenon is often called “scholiography,” in the wide meaning of “exegetical annotations” (sometimes applied also to the authorial work of a specific grammarian), though some scholars recognize the origin of scholiography (in the strict sense) to the Latin classical authors between the 8th and the 9th centuries CE. The most prominent remains of Latin scholiastic literature are the ancient commentaries to Virgil, Terence, and Horace, but interesting material related to Cicero, Ovid, Germanicus, Lucan, Statius, Persius, and Juvenal also survives.

General Overviews

An introductory summary to scholiography can be found in Gärtner 1973 and Reeve 2012. A theoretically comprehensive survey is represented by Gudeman 1921, but the Latin side is virtually absent. Dyck and Glock 2001 aims overtly at reporting the most important scientific developments in this field since Gudeman’s article and consists essentially of a critically annotated bibliography.

  • Dyck, Andrew, and Andreas Glock. 2001. Scholien. In Der neue Pauly: Enzyklopädie der Antike. Vol. 11. Edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider, 209–214. Stuttgart and Weimar, Germany: Verlag J. B. Metzler.

    Precise update of Gudeman 1921, with critical survey of the main developments in more recent research. It includes also a (brief) outline of the Latin Scholia.

  • Gärtner, Hans. 1973. Scholien. In Der kleine Pauly: Lexikon der Antike auf der Grundlage von Pauly’s Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Vol. 5. Edited by Konrat Ziegler and Walther Sontheimer, 24–25. Stuttgart: Druckenmüller.

    Very general and concise introduction to the topic, with a useful overview about the main features of the scholia, although the key role assigned to their characterization as marginal comments may be misleading.

  • Gudeman, Alfred. 1921. Scholien. In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Edited by G. Wissowa, Wilhelm Kroll, Karl Mittelhaus, and Konrat Ziegler, 2 A 1:625–705. Stuttgart: Verlag J. B. Metzler.

    Detailed, even if obsolete, extensive overview (updated in Dyck and Glock 2001): it includes a general introduction to the origin and characteristics of the scholiastic corpora, and individual accounts of the main scholia to Greek authors. The Latin scholia are explicitly excluded, with cross references to each item of the Latin commentators. The announcement of a supplementary item about the development of the scholia apparently has not been fulfilled.

  • Reeve, Michael D. 2012. Scholia. In Oxford classical dictionary. Edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, 1329–1330. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    General overview, taking into account both the Greek and the Latin side, with remarks on the main issues regarding the origin, form, and type of contents of the scholia.

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