Forgers and Critics

While some of Grafton’s examples extend to nineteenth century texts, most of the material in FORGERS AND CRITICS draws from centuries of classical prose and medieval writing. He regards forgery as a kind of obverse side to scholarship. Several instances can, in fact, be traced directly to scholars themselves, men of such high repute as Erasmus.

Motives for forgery have varied with time and personality. Athenian patriots interpolated praise of Athens into Homer’s oral recountings, so as to emphasize the importance of their city. In a similar vein, emerging nations of the Middle Ages invented heroic pasts: Welsh for Britain, Troy for much of Europe.

Early Jews and Christians added unscrupulously to religious manuscripts in efforts to smooth away apparent inconsistencies or to support doctrinal positions. Some men forged for gain, others to consolidate their status; Catholic orders manufactured documents to prove the authenticity of their saints’ relics. The infamous PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION betrays another aspect of religious forgery.

As critics developed tools to expose fraud, forgers elaborated more sophisticated impostures of scholarship, even inventing languages and supporting authorities. Grafton notes how strategies of forgery passed into the conventions of literature with the popular device of the “lost” manuscript and similar contrivances.

The book’s fascinating overview of forgery is comfortably absent of academic jargon, although its abundance of classical references may put off the casual, nonspecialized reader.