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At a time when the desire to see ancient life more vividly on every side from which it can illustrate our own is perhaps the strongest with which the classics are widely read, it seems possible that the Characters of Theophrastus may have some general interest. To Englishmen who do not read Greek they are probably best known through the French translation of La Bruyère. In an edition of the Characters published in 1852 the Rev. J. G. Sheppard mentions an English translation by Mr F. Howell (1824), and another by Mr H. Galley, of which he does not give the date. But he does not speak of either with approbation; and I have not been able to learn that there is any other. The first object of my book is to make these
lively pictures of old Greek manners better known to English readers. But some critical labour has been given to it, and I venture to hope that in certain points of view it may have interest for scholars.
A translator of the Characters is forced to become also an editor.
The text is corrupt, and has long been a field for the ingenuity of critics. It is thickly studded with passages on which hardly two commentators agree; and there is no edition with which I am acquainted in which the editor has not adopted several of his own conjectures. A student of the book who is capable of forming a judgment upon its difficulties is thus driven to make a text for himself. Where doctors differ so often and so utterly, it is absolutely necessary that he should be 'nullius addictus iurare in verba.' He must, in the disputed passages, first inquire what the mss. have, and whether sense can be made of it. If he concludes that it is nonsense, he has the conjectures of previous critics to choose from. If no one of these appears satisfactory, or if he has thought of something which seems to him more probable than any of them, he is justified in adopting his own emendation. A critic ordinarily competent to weigh the opinions of other critics has in every case a right to give so much of weight to his
In the case of the Characters this right is especially clear. Each chapter consists of a string of short sentences not necessarily connected in meaning: When, therefore, in any one of these the genuine reading has been lost, no sure clue for its recovery can be looked for from the context; for it is possible that the sentence, as written by the author, had no connexion with the sentences which precede and follow it. Every such passage must be treated as a separate riddle; and the limits within which the answer may lie are wide. Open competition in conjecture affords the best hope of the true answer being found. A paper by Dr O. Ribbeck in the Rheinisches Museum for January, 1870, entitled 'Critical Remarks on the Characters of Theophrastus,' illustrates the freedom with which German scholars are disposed to apply this principle.
In forming the text from which this translation has been made I have used the editions of (1) F. Ast, Leipzig, 1816: (2) J. G. Sheppard, London, 1852: (3) H. E. Foss, Leipzig, 1858: (4) E. Petersen, Leipzig, 1859: (5) J. L. Ussing, Hanover, 1868. The editions of Foss and Petersen give in full the readings of the three principal mss.,—viz. of Par. A. and B., from Herr Fr. Dübner's collation, and of the Vatican ms. from Mr Badham's; also the reading of several other mss. where they are important. The essential apparatus criticus is thus provided. The commentaries of Ast, Foss and Ussing give the conjectures of various other editors and commentators, and make the constant use of the older editions (as of Needham's) practically unnecessary for the purposes of textual criticism. A Critical Appendix at the end of the book contains the results of my work on the text as regards all important points. In a great number of cases it will be found that I have adhered more closely than previous editors to the mss. as reported by Foss and Petersen. In a few cases, where neither