Mario De Nonno
Our knowledge of Latin literature and, more generally, of any text of a non-documentary nature written in Latin after the First Punic War, depends as a rule on an unbroken process of conservation, transformation, and loss that developed from antiquity to the modern age and moved through subsequent phases of aggregation and disgregation, recovery and dispersion. Prior to the invention of the printing press, texts destined for circulation were disseminated through a succession of individual handwritten copies, which were chronologically discontinuous and more or less faithful to the exemplar. Such circumstances of textual transmission require that the text's surviving copies, which often contain widely differing readings, undergo a comparative evaluation – a judgement or criticism which goes by the name of ‘textual criticism’. A necessary outcome of the historical and cultural conditions of textual transmission is that a great many Latin works have reached us through a tradition originating in a single archetype.