History of literature and philology have been the main relevant branches of Ethiopian studies that have been paid a continuous attention. Important text editions – from the books of the Bible to recent historiographic collections – have been made available, even if not all according to the standards accepted in philologies of other textual traditions. Little has been done in the past decades towards a general comprehensive history of Ethiopic literature, the last critical overviews having been offered in the 1960s. None of the available overviews see literary developments in connection with the changes in language and style of narration, and none has taken into account the complexities of the manuscript transmission phenomena in their relationship to text history. On the one hand, format, size, script, palaeography of the manuscript medium actively determines the perception and the concrete essence (in terms of volume and capacity) of a ‘text’ either as a ‘work’ or as a ‘piece’ (that is, as an ‘embedded and embodied discrete component’). At the same time, the mere definition of a singular text often depends on the actual circumstances of its material transmission. A related challenge is the definition of a text by its genre or title: in the case of Ethiopian literature we frequently deal with traditional labels that have been conventionally used in scholarship but in reality may be assigned to different texts (or parts of texts) at the same time and finally are the result of a long and complicated process that should be a matter of research in itself.
While for other important written traditions, systematic repertories exist, primarily in the form of ‘Claves’, nothing comparable has been attempted for the Ethiopian textual heritage. The only work that according to unanimous consensus has most and best contributed in recent years to our understanding of the Ethiopic literature by providing up-to-date and richly referenced entries, that is the ‘Encyclopaedia Aethiopica’, does not attempt to furnish any comprehensive register; it only has encyclopedic entries for the most important ‘works’ and ‘genres’. Thus, a systematic comprehensive study of Ethiopic literature is fully missing; the TraCES project will be closing this lacuna by offering a new integral approach to this field of study.
A sub-task within the project is integrating multi-layered metadata concerning the encoded texts and those in direct relationship to those. The resulting databases will include structured information on the known antecedents, parallel versions and recensions, labels and titles of texts or their parts and respective manuscript witnesses. Geographic data on the place of composition of the originals, assumed place of translation of Ethiopic versions and places where the manuscript emerged and was kept will be integrated, alongside the available personal information on the authors and copyists involved in the creation of texts.
This information will be crucial for proper evaluation of language forms present in the texts and at the same time will serve as the basis of the first-ever structured repertory of Ethiopian texts – a Clavis of Ethiopian literature, in itself a long-felt desideratum in Ethiopian studies. The digital structured nature of information will allow various search and visualization modes and thus greatly facilitate the analysis resulting in a new view of the history of Ethiopian literature in its relationship to the literatures of the Christian Orient and the Near East.
The CLAVIS is being developed in cooperation with the project Beta masaheft and is now available online at http://betamasaheft.eu/works/list.