The mysterious marginalia

Among the archival and special collections of Pitts Theology Library are close to 130,000 rare books that are available as primary resources to Emory's faculty and students. Last summer, Emory student Ted Parker and classics professor Garth Tissol undertook a project with two special books from the library's Kessler Reformation Collection:

  • A 1540s edition of Isocrates' Orations, bound in pigskin with brass clasps, and
  • A 1570 edition of the Orations by German scholar Hieronymus Wolf.

Wolf owned the earlier copy and filled it with marginal notes, leading librarian Pat Graham to wonder if a connection existed between the two volumes.

With support from Emory's Scholarly Inquiry and Research program, Parker began to connect the dots between the marginalia and Wolf's editions. He first translated all of the marginal notes, recording all the possible interpretations. Tissol then compared those translations to online copies of Wolf's editions as well as the one at Pitts Library. Although many of the marginal notes were simply summaries, the two scholars were able to isolate some clues -- the omission of a word here, the changing of a participle there -- that led to the conclusion that Wolf relied heavily on these marginal notes to make his well-known editions and translations of the Orations.