Tuesday, 21 May 2019
Jeremiah Coogan: What To Do With a Late Antique Table of Contents? The Cases of Porphyry and Eusebius
Interest in Roman tables of contents has recently flourished, especially focused on Pliny’s Natural Historyand Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights. Yet despite the what S. F. Johnson has called a Late Antique “archival aesthetic,” tables of contents in Late Antiquity have not received comparable scrutiny. Addressing this lacuna in scholarship, my paper explores how Late Antique tables of contents served to both structure and disrupt knowledge. By extending Gérard Genette’s influential theorization of the paratext, I situate the Late Antique table of contents as a technology for organizing knowledge. This function is especially visible in the editorial construction of anthologies and other composite texts. I focus on two examples from the early fourth century: Porphyry of Tyre’s outline of the Enneads in his Life of Plotinus and Eusebius of Caesarea’s gospel canons.I argue that both Porphyry and Eusebius use tables of contents to rewrite their respective anthologies. The table of contents constitutes a creative intervention which generates and constrains possibilities of reading—sometimes in ways which run against the grain of the anthologized material. What the table of contents gives with one hand, however, it takes with the other. Although a table of contents structures a text in particular ways, it also invites readers to refuse this structure. Both Porphyry and Eusebius consciously engage this subversive possibility; by inviting certain sorts of creative (especially disordered) reading, they harness the counter-possibilities of the table of contents in the service of their own editorial projects.