What is Stichometry?
Stichos (στίχος, line) is the ancient standard measure of texts in prose:
- In Greek texts a stichos originally had a length of 15 syllables.
- In late antiquity 16 syllables are documented, as for the versus in Latin.
- Thus the stichos corresponds to the average length of a hexameter.
Stichometry („measuring of lines“) occurs at three places in ancient texts:
- in subscriptions at the end of a book, indicating the total of lines = total stichometry (148 kB);
- within the texts in bibliographical notes or lists of the canon (148 kB), also total of lines;
- to the left of the columns, numbers after every 100th stichos = marginal stichometry.
Oldest references of these three kinds of stichometry in ancient and in Biblical texts:
- Scrolls from Herculaneum (before 79 AD); Papyrus 46 concerning Paul’s letters (c. 200);
- Library catalogue of Callimachus (3rd cent. BC); early lists of the Biblical canon (148 kB) (4th cent.);
- Papyrus-fragments of Homer (3rd cent. BC); Codex B/Vaticanus in 1–4Rg; Jes (4th cent.).
Function regarding the edition of books (rediscovered since the end of the 19th cent.):
- in publishing: basis for the calculation of scribe wages and book prices;
- in libraries: indication of the original size of a book in the catalogues;
- in teaching: reading aid for locating particular references.
Ancient authors used the standard line of the stichos as well (as is proved clearly):
- In rhetoric instruction a certain amount of lines is recommended (Menander Rhetor), e.g. not more than 200–300 stichoi for a farewell address, 150 stichoi for a funeral speech.
- A wax tablet in the width of one stichos is a helpful tool for measuring the texts (Quintilian).
- The disposition of a book implies a decision on size and number of book scrolls (Josephus).
The authors also paid attention to the proportions of their works, in prose as well as in poetry:
- After Vitruvius Pythagoras and his followers disposed their poems on the basis of the versūs: they liked to use the cubic number 216 (= 6x6x6) and to define 3x216 as a maximum size.
- Horace disposed his Ars poetica by means of old approximate values of the golden ratio: of a total of 476 = 14x34 versūs, 294 = 14x21 deal with the poem, 182 = 14x13 with the poet.
- Comparable proportions are established also for Plato, Isocrates, Sallust or Lucian, so far, however, only on the basis of lines in modern editions, not by a counting of stichoi.
- Schreiben nach Maß. Zur Stichometrie in der antiken Literatur. (368 kB)
- Stichometry as a Useful Tool in Reconstructing the Original Dispositions. (9.6 MB)
- Menandros Rhetor (3rd cent. AD), Περὶ ἐπιδεικτικῶν 434.6–9 (ed. Russell/Wilson 1981, 200; own tr.):
(If you are the only speaker,) “you should prepare a farewell address in writing, with up to 200 stichoi or 300, if you want, and no well-meaning person will blame you” (… προάξεις τὴν συντακτικὴν συγγραφικῶς καὶ ἄχρι διακοσίων στίχων ἢ τριακοσίων, εἰ βουληθείης, καὶ οὐδείς σοι μέμψεται εὖ φρονῶν).
- Quintilianus (1st cent. AD), Institutio 10.3.32 (tr. H.E. Butler 1922):
“The wax tablets should not be unduly wide; for I have known a young and over-zealous student write his compositions at undue length, because he measured them by the number of lines (quia illos numero versuum metiebatur), a fault which persisted …, until his tablets were changed, when it disappeared”.
- Josephus(1st cent. AD), Antiquitates 20.267:
“With this I shall put an end to these Antiquities, which are published in twenty books, and in sixty thousand verses” (… τὴν ἀρχαιολογίαν βιβλίοις μὲν εἴκοσι περιειλημμένην, ἓξ δὲ μυριάσι στίχων).
- Vitruvius (1st cent. BC), Architectura 5.preface.3 (tr. M.H. Morgan 1914):
“Pythagoras and those who came after him in his school thought it proper to employ the principles of the cube in composing books on their doctrines (cybicis rationibus praecepta in voluminibus scribere), and, having determined that the cube consisted of 216 lines, held that there should be no more than three cubes in any one treatise” (constitueruntque cybum ccxvi versus eosque non plus tres in una conscriptione oportere esse putaverunt).