Scribal Labor, Ancient Edition

I recently started the lucid, engaging, careful and exciting Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire by William Johnson (Oxford UP, 2010). While the body chapters will be of most interest to those specifically engaged with particular authors, antiquity and papyrology, I think the introduction stands on its own as a succinct and compelling account of reading as a social practice which could be usefully read by a range of people interested in the history of reading and how the history of reading has been approached.

For the present, I want to record the reference on the prices for hiring scribes for various writing (from the Edict of Diocletion (301)):*

To a scribe for best writing, 25 denarii per 100 lines; for second quality writing, 20 denarii per 100 lines; to a notary for writing a petition or legal document, 10 denarii per 100 lines.

Johnson’s discussion highlights the extent to which the ancient bookroll was an elite product “intended in its stark beauty and difficulty of access to instantiate what is is to be educated” (21). It seems possible, if one were so inclined, to draw this out a bit as an incipient precedent for Petrucci’s idea of writing ‘as an end to itself’ (mentioned here). But if overstated the writing as ‘end’ leaves out ‘reading’ broadly defined, that is whether the book itself was meant to be read or not, its contents must have been ‘read’, that is discussed and interpreted, for the writing to acquire any status. Perhaps I misreading Petrucci on this and taking that misreading too far.

Johnson’s book deals elegantly with the sociocultural system of reading in the Trajanic period and under the Antonines (I can confidently say only 80 pages into it 😛 …).

* Johnson 2010, 21 (who refers to the translation and discussion in Turner and Parsons, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World, 2nd ed, BICS supplement 46 (London, 1987), pp. 1-4)

Edit: I failed to notice that the Diocletian edict was the historical economic hot-topic of the week (Brad DeLong via the Economic History Blog)! Serendipity…

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