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Epigraphic Time Travel

A Systematic Analysis of Heinrich Dressel's Travel Notebooks and their Implementation in the edited Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum

In the spring of 2022, eight travel notebooks written by Heinrich Dressel came to light in the archives of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL), a unit of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. Dressel kept these notebooks during his travels south and southeast of Rome in the years 1874 to 1876 and 1878 on behalf of Theodor Mommsen, in order to contribute to his inscription volumes CIL IX (Inscriptiones Calabriae, Apuliae, Samnii, Sabinorum, Piceni Latinae) and X (Inscriptiones Bruttiorum, Lucaniae, Campaniae, Siciliae, Sardiniae Latinae), published in 1883. The notebooks record nearly 2,000 inscriptions on some 575 pages. The care and detail with which Dressel documented them is striking: he noted the types of stone, observed the cut of the letters, thus resolving cases of doubt between ancient and later inscriptions; he also made sketches of the stones, so that a comprehensive conception of the monuments emerges.

One can speak of "epigraphic time travel" in two ways: First, with the help of the notebooks, one travels with Dressel from place to place and follows him where he recorded inscriptions around Rome in the middle of the second half of the 19th century, or where he found nothing. Second, it is a journey into the zeitgeist of the history of knowledge at the beginning of the systematic study of Latin inscriptions. First comparisons between Dressel's notes and what was later printed show that many of his observations did not find their way into the volumes. As an example, it becomes clear that the edition focused on the texts of the inscriptions for a variety of technical, financial, but also quite deliberate time-related reasons. The CIL became the standard for all later editions of Latin inscriptions. To this day, it has had a decisive influence on the way in which inscriptions are edited and analyzed.

The exploration aims at "epigraphic time travel" through a systematic analysis of Dressel's travel notebooks and their comparison with the version of the inscriptions edited in the CIL.


Inscription CIL IX 2125 in the recording by Heinrich Dressel and the edition version.

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