Text edition as an independent scientific operation is necessary for texts whose original (autograph) is not available in print. The traditional standard case is provided by manuscripts and inscriptions.1 However, editing is also necessary for texts whose original is an audio or video recording.

There are two main types of text edition:

A diplomatic edition is the edition of a single source. It is executed whenever there are no competing traditions. The edition leaves the original completely unchanged; it contains no restorations or emendations. These may only be proposed separately, e.g. in footnotes. The purpose of a diplomatic edition may, in principle, also be fulfilled by a facsimile. However, the (printed) edition may be more easily legible.

A critical edition is an edition on the basis of several different versions which represent competing traditions, especially when the autograph has been lost. (A diplomatic edition is impossible in this situation.) The editor reconstructs the original text by collation, i.e. by comparing the different text versions and bringing all relevant information, e.g. from other texts, into the work. At the foot of every page there is a critical apparatus which represents the text of those versions which deviate from the version chosen for the edition.2

The discipline has a centuries-old tradition which uses a set of editing symbols in the reconstructed text in order to indicate recurrent problems in the textual tradition:

Text edition symbols
1[   ]gap caused by damage to the original
2[ . . . ]presumed number of missing letters in the gap
3〚   〛deletion by the writer
4{   }deletion by the editor
5‵abc´abc was added by a writer above the line
6< >addition or modification by the editor
7ạḅc̣ḍdamaged letters whose reading is uncertain
8. . . illegible rests of letters
9[ abc ]abc is not legible, but added
10⌈ abc ⌉abc is hardly legible; the remainder has been added
11space left blank by the writer
12( )resolved abbreviation



1 Guidelines for editions of such sources in the XML format are on the EpiDoc website.

2 The expression ‘critical’ in this context has little to do with the usual sense of this word. Instead, it goes back to the meaning of the Ancient Greek verb which underlies this adjective; this verb means ‘inspect, select, judge’.