A redaction (from Lat. redāctus, past part. of redigĕre 'to bring back', in the middle ages also 'to draw up, pen' (Niermeyer, s.v.)) is a different version of the same work which originated during the process of transmission. Since a redaction is characterised by a conspicuous number of both formal and content variants, it deserves an autonomous treatment from the editorial point of view (Stussi 2006, p. 17).

The application of the reconstructive method implies that the text to be restored, though “corrupted” by scribal interventions, is substantially unitary. Yet, there may be texts that “live in variants”, in that they are reshaped either by the authors themselves or by copyists who act as co-authors and editors (cf. also the distinction between “active” and “quiescent” tradition proposed by Alberto Vàrvaro (2004) from 1970).

The presence of different redactions is particularly evident in many vernacular mediaeval textual traditions: the cases of Spanish romances (see, among the first to focus on this topic, Menéndez Pidal 1953), French fabliaux (Rychner 1960), Italian Cantari (De Robertis 1961), and some Middle German poetic texts (see e.g. the Akkon-Sprüche recently edited in two versions, a long and a short one, by Cammarota 2011) are typical. Another paradigmatic example is the Old English homily Sermo Lupi ad Anglos by Archbishop Wulfstan transmitted in five witnesses (I, E, C, B, H) that can be traced back to three different redactional versions (B/H, C, I/E). These versions can probably be ascribed to the author himself who carried on working on the text after the first redaction (B/H) was released, therefore producing a second (C) and finally a third (I/E) redaction of the Sermo (see Luiselli Fadda 1994, pp. 213–217).

In Old Norse philology, redactions are most commonly used about the major variants of law texts, such as the Gulaþing and the Frostaþing redactions of the landslǫg of King Magnús Lagabǿtir (1274). In this field, a redaction is a version of the text with a specific, legal status, and thus of a more substantial kind than those produced by individual scribes.

Different terms are used, almost interchangeably, to indicate the results of a (intentional) process of revision: redaction, recension and version. It would be useful to work out a typology of those intentional changes, and to define more accurately the different possible results (for an attempt, see recension). Obviously, the revisions may occur at different levels: a linguistic revision of the text may induce normalisation or vulgarisaton of it, an adaptation of the contents may go as far as to changing names, add recent events, or, in the case of technical works, adapt to personal needs etc.; a transformation of the rhetorical form, from verse to prose for example, is also possible, or a radical shortening, either by omission of a substantial part of the work or by contraction of its contents, etc. A complete change of language, i.e. a translation of a work, might sometimes be called a version of this work, but it is probably better to consider that a translation of a work belongs to its indirect and not to its direct tradition. Quotations or insertions of parts of the work within another one are also normally considered as part of the indirect tradition. 

Other usages

1. The term redaction can also designate the process of putting source material into a definite, esp. written, form, as well as the process of revising and/or editing texts, esp. in preparation for publication (see Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. ‘redaction’, 1a and 1b).

2. Redaction criticism (after German Redaktionsgeschichte, 19th cent.) is essentially a literary discipline dealing with the study of the editorial formation of biblical literature (cf. Perrin 1969). The textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible and of the New Testament tends to use the terms ‘redaction’ and ‘redaction history’ in opposition to earlier stages of oral and written transmission. In some cases such “redactional” activity may amount to rewriting, remixing or directly authoring portions of texts.


– Cammarota, Maria Grazia, ed. 2011. Freidank. L’indignazione di un poeta-crociato. I versi gnomici su Acri. Roma: Carocci.
– De Robertis, Domenico. 1961. “Problemi di metodo nell’edizione dei Cantari (1961).” Studi e problemi di critica testuale 119–138. Bologna: La Commissione per i Testi di Lingua. Also in: Domenico De Robertis, Editi e rari, pp. 91–109. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1978.
– Luiselli Fadda, Anna M. 1994. Tradizioni manoscritte e critica del testo nel Medioevo germanico. Roma: Laterza 
– Menéndez Pidal, Ramón. 1953. Romancero hispánico: Teoría e historia. Madrid: Espansa-Calpe.
– Perrin, Norman 1969. What is redaction criticism? Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
– Rychner, Jean. 1960. Contribution à l’étude des Faliaux. 2 vols. Genève: Droz.
– Stussi, Alfredo. 2006. Fondamenti di critica testuale. Bologna: il Mulino.
– Vàrvaro, Alberto. 2004. “Critica dei testi classica e romanza: Problemi comuni ed esperienze diverse.” In Alberto Vàrvaro, Identità linguistiche e letterarie nell’Europa romanza, 567–612. Roma: Salerno editrice.

In other languages

DE: Redaktion
FR: rédaction
IT: redazione


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