Measuring Literary Influence at Scale with Tesserae’s Multitext Capability

By James O. Gawley and A. Caitlin Diddams


This paper details an approach to quantifying literary influence based on Tesserae’s multitext capability. Tesserae is an open source, web-based tool originally designed to locate allusions in Latin epic poetry. It accomplishes this by identifying language shared between two texts and sorting these intertexts according to formal features which have been shown to identify allusions.  Its multitext capability was designed to help researchers track phrases beyond the first instance of reuse. We use the multitext tool to eliminate possible alternative sources for shared language. This allows us to isolate the unique connection between texts. We normalize the number of unique connections according to an original formula so that the quantity of shared language in multiple searches can be meaningfully compared. In this paper we illustrate our method with an investigation that uses this technique to quantify the influence of Julius Caesar and Marcus Tullius Cicero on various authors of the Roman empire. The results of this study are in line with the assertions of philologists on the literary influence of these figures, and support the efficacy of our approach as a means of comparing relative authorial influence.

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