Copying books by hand is a tiresome activity. If your sole purpose in life is to copy what someone else wrote, there’s a big chance you’ll end up distracted and letting your mind rumble through uncertain places. In the process of copying, scribes would introduce small changes, either willingly (like a correction) or unwillingly (such as a spelling mistake).
From one generation of a book to the next, changes would accumulate. To trace its history, one can study different copies of the same book. For example, one transcription may include a spelling mistake that in turn is inherited by later versions. A diligent scribe may correct these mistakes, but the other version will still be around. Some changes could be improvements to the readability, replacing out-of-fashion words, or censoring ideas that fell outside of the moral of the time.
In this process of copying books over and over again, each one gained a unique history. A history that goes beyond the words themselves and tells the story of the book itself. It reveals its origins, its changes of hands. But it also reflects the history of the place where the book was. We can ask why one text was transcribed more often or why some passages are missing in certain copies. The story that the book tells can be as valuable as the story the book *contains*.
At some point, several generations of changes can make books almost unreadable, or they can completely change the original meaning. Librarians from the ancient city of Alexandria identified the problem[@vallejomoreu2019]. Scribes were tasked to correct the books and compile *definitive* editions. They became the absolute sources of truth, only to be subject to the unavoidable wheel of time a few decades later.