Quantitative Criticism of Literary Relationships

J.P. Dexter, T. Katz, N. Tripuraneni, T. Dasgupta, A. Kannan, J.A. Brofos, J.A. Bonilla Lopez, L.A. Schroeder, A. Casarez, M. Rabinovich, A. Haimson Lushkov, P. Chaudhuri Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 114 2017-01-01

Authors often convey meaning by referring to or imitating prior works of literature, a process that creates complex networks of literary relationships ("intertextuality") and contributes to cultural evolution. In this paper, we use techniques from stylometry and machine learning to address subjective literary critical questions about Latin literature, a corpus marked by an extraordinary concentration of intertextuality. Our work, which we term "quantitative criticism," focuses on case studies involving two influential Roman authors, the playwright Seneca and the historian Livy. We find that four plays related to but distinct from Seneca’s main writings are differentiated from the rest of the corpus by subtle but important stylistic features. We offer literary interpretations of the significance of these anomalies, providing quantitative data in support of hypotheses about the use of unusual formal features and the interplay between sound and meaning. The second part of the paper describes a machine-learning approach to the identification and analysis of citational material that Livy loosely appropriated from earlier sources. We extend our approach to map the stylistic topography of Latin prose, identifying the writings of Caesar and his near-contemporary Livy as an inflection point in the development of Latin prose style. In total, our results reflect the integration of computational and humanistic methods to investigate a diverse range of literary questions.