Editions of classical literature often contain words in brackets and (less frequently) in italics. For example, let's open a Bibliotheca Teubneriana edition of Cicero: M. Tullii Ciceronis orationes in L. Catilinam quattuor, pro L. Murena. Recognocit C. F. W. Müller, Lipsiae MDCCCXCIII. This small book is not a critical edition, it was probably meant for pupils and contains no footnotes, and besides a short Argumentum before each speech basically only the plain text.

However, sometimes words are enclosed in square brackets, like so (Cat. 2, 13 (6)):

Cum ille homo audacissimus conscientia convictus primo reticuisset, patefeci cetera; quid ea nocte egisset, [ubi fuisset,] quid in proximam constituisset, quem ad modum esset ei ratio totius belli descripta, edocui. Cum haesitaret, cum teneretur, quaesivi, quid dubitaret proficisci eo, quo iam pridem pararet, cum arma, cum secures, cum fasces, cum tubas, cum signa militaria, cum aquilam illam argenteam, cui ille etiam sacrarium [scelerum] domi suae fecerat, scirem esse praemissam.

In other places, words are in italics, like here (Cat. 2, 21 (10)):

Qui homines quam primum, si stare non possunt, corruant, sed ita, ut non modo civitas, sed ne vicini quidem proximi sentiant.

(Bold font by me in both cases.)

What is the meaning of this markup? I understand that in critical editions, as explained here, square brackets usually indicate text that the editor considers not to be genuine, or in the wrong place. Is this also the case here?

1 Answer 1


I first came across an answer to this in the USB Greek New Testament, which uses brackets to "indicate that the enclosed word, words, or parts of words may be regarded as part of the text, but that in the present state of the New Testament textual scholarship this cannot be taken as completely certain" (7*). I later found, when reading the Alphios Browser Extension FAQ, the term "Leiden Conventions." The brackets could be indicating that the enclosed word is missing in that text.

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