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Latin Literature from its origins to the Renaissance.
Those who are interested in the writers, texts and manuscripts of Antiquity and the Middle Ages know how difficult it is to identify a particular work encountered by chance in a manuscript, or, when studying or publishing a particular text, to make an inventory of all the manuscripts in which it appears. These difficulties arise primarily from the manner in which literary works circulated prior to the invention of printing. Before Gutenberg, the text had a life of its own, independent of its author, and was modified from copy to copy. It is not only the text that changed; titles might vary and authorial attributions could shift. There was a tendency to lend only to the rich, and Ovid, Saint Augustine and Saint Bernard found themselves credited with a host of apocrypha. The incipit or first words of a work thus remain the surest means of designating it unambiguously. In a sense, the incipit, by virtue of its invariability, is the identity card of the text. Standing apart from the diversity of attributions and titles, the incipit guarantees the presence of a particular text.
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