English translation of Coptic apocrypha, “The Investiture of the Archangel Michael” – by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has translated another Coptic apocryphon for us – the Investiture of Michael the Archangel.  It purports to be written by John the Evangelist, and narrates non-canonical discussion between Jesus and his disciples.    The complete text is preserved in a 9th century Sahidic codex, and fragments from a White Monastery parchment manuscript of the 9-12th century.[1]

The translation is here:

Thank you so much, Dr A.

  1. [1] These notes via here, H. Lundhaug &c, The monastic origins of the Nag Hammadi codices, 2015, p.156-7.

Publishing in the ancient world

A correspondent has written to me, asking an interesting question:

Let’s suppose I’m living down the street from Philo in Alexandria and I’ve just written my book.  How do I get published?  I.e., I’ve written for other people to read so I want other people to get hold of my book–by having a scribe copy it or whatever.

Do I go to the Library of Alexandria and give them a copy and then tell all my friends about it.  Does the library of Alexandria keep a catalogue of some kind?  Do I give a copy to a bookseller in Alexandria?  Are there booksellers in Alexandria at this time?

The question of course has to do with this:  We know that the Alexandrian Christians were the ones who esteemed and preserved Philo’s works.  How would they have found out about them?  We know that there was the Museon that functioned like a university.  Would the normal thing be for me to give lectures from my work at the Museon?  We surmise that Philo gave talks on the Sabbath concerning the Law at the Jewish religious schools.  Would word have gone out from there after he said, ‘O by the way, I’ve just finished my work on the Therapeutae?’

We have quite a bit of information about the Roman book trade in this period, thanks to statements in Cicero in the 1st century BC, in his letters; and also to Martial in his Epigrams.  But first a few ways in which books differed from today.

The first point to make is that an author did not make money from copies of his works.  There was no copyright.  An author made money by becoming famous, and attracting a patron who would give him money.  Consequently authors gave public readings of their works, with this in mind.  The readings could sometimes be grim affairs, if the accounts in the letters of Pliny the Younger are to be believed.  One bore, droning away, “You bid me, Priscus, …” had the misfortune to have a man named Priscus in the audience, who, bored, promptly remarked “Indeed I don’t!”  But if you had a patron, he might hire men to come along; and the number of people at your reading, and their status, tended to boost your reputation.  A poet with a high reputation could expect gifts.  The poet Martial flatters the emperor Domitian to an incredible extent; but how else could he live?  Martial, accosted by a stranger in the forum, and asked “Why do you have a bad cloak?”, replied, “Because I am a bad poet.”  He meant, of course, that he wasn’t a good enough poet to have the money to buy a better one.

Once you had a reputation, people might want your works.  They might want to read them – or rather, have them read – during dinner parties.  Martial is careful to direct his readers to the location of the shop in Rome where his books may be purchased; for then the bookseller might tell other customers about Martial, thereby increasing his value; customers who might be men of influence.  Galen tells us of scholarly customers sitting in the bookshop, examining books – a copy of Vergil from the poet’s own family… a copy of Fabius Pictor which was brown with age.  No doubt refreshments were served to the literary gentlemen after novelties or rarities.

In this period, a book was a scroll of papyrus; or, indeed, it might be more than one, if it was a long work.  The modern book form, or codex, does not take off until the 4th century AD.  But notebooks in codex form which consisted of a few sheets of papyrus or parchment folded over, start to appear in the 1st century AD, replacing wax tablets.  These are the ancestor of the modern book format.

Books were not read silently – Augustine records his astonishment at seeing Ambrose of Milan reading silently – but were read aloud, often by a trained slave.  Pliny the Younger, in his account in his Letters of his learned uncle, Pliny the Elder, recounts how the latter had a slave reading to him constantly, and made notes of what he heard.

Cicero’s works were “published” by his friend Atticus, who had teams of slaves who could make copies.  But Cicero was a public man.  He published by allowing copies to be made.  But he complains about the poor quality of the text  in many copies offered for sale in his time.  This seems to have improved into the first century AD.  No doubt the booksellers were sensitive to customer complaints.

In principle any literate man – and many slaves were literate – could produce a copy.  But the professional scriptorium, staffed again by slaves, or by monks in later periods, differed in that there was scope for correction and review.  At Oxyrhynchus, the papyri in the waste dump show that the copies were mostly amateur, and the text quality is low.  But the ancestors of our modern copies belong to the book trade, and feature corrections and commentary sometimes.  Libraries and museums no doubt featured in this process of correction.

We have spoken so far mainly about literary works; speeches, histories, collections of letters and so forth.  For publication of these, the steps are as follows:

  • Acquire reputation, such that people wish to hear what you have said
  • Conduct public readings
  • Get copies made by someone, such as a bookdealer
  • Get a patron, and so get a farm – as Martial did in the end
  • Repeat as necessary

If you belonged to literary circles, you could tell your aristocratic friends that you were going to write a history of the last war, of Sulla, or whatever – always avoiding contemporary events where payback might be rather vicious – and then conduct readings – depending on your friends! – and so on.

A poor man probably had limited hope of getting onto the escalator for literary fame.  Many obscure poets and authors were starving.  Martial mentions many friends who advised him not to bother with poetry, however good he might be, and instead to practice in the lawcourts as a way to earn a living and gain reputation.  Patronage was all.

The obvious exception to this was technical works, books of medicine, surveying, farm management, and so forth.  Even here the aristocrat had the advantage.  The physician Galen was concerned with the circulation of his works, and which were authentic, precisely because his income depended on his reputation, and fake works or bad copies might damage this.  He therefore gives a list On my own works.

But such works had a practical use, and also were often rather lower status than the high literary oration or history.  The transmission of these texts reflects both of these points.  The text is frequently amended in transmission, to add extra detail or omit misleading or outdated information.  Astrological texts undergo enormous modification.

Some works were important in a community.  The Christians formed their own society, and works that were of interest to them naturally circulated among them.  Whether a work could be read in church was therefore important.  We read in Eusebius about a 2nd century bishop, Serapion, who was asked to intervene in the congregation at Rhossus, where some wanted to read a forged “Gospel of Peter”.  His first reaction was to allow it to be read; but on further investigation, he found that it was in fact heretical.  The author in this case sought to promote his views to Christians, rather than make money.  Similarly gnostic and manichaean groups had their own books.  No doubt these were recommended by their clergy.  Obscure men might gain reputation via the congregation.

Once a man had a reputation, once there was a market for his works, then forgeries and fakes might be composed and sold by the booksellers.  This is still true today.  The “Archko Volume”, a fake collection of letters concerning the events of the time of Jesus, composed by a presbyterian pastor in the 19th century, is still sold by unscrupulous bookdealers and aimed at rural Christians, even today.  The pastor was defrocked; but the fake is still with us.  Galen complains of forged works in his name.  Martial complains of people inserting their own work in the middle of copies of his epigrams; and indeed, worse, seditious material put out under his name.  The latter was very dangerous to Martial himself, living as he did under the paranoid Domitian.  Tertullian complains that the second draft of his Adversus Marcionem was stolen by his scribe, who apostasised and circulated copies before Tertullian had had the chance to revise it.  This suggests that there was money in selling copies of Tertullian’s works in Carthage in the early 3rd century.

Stalls selling books in the market in Athens are recorded in the 5th century BC.  I have already mentioned the Roman booksellers, in the Sandalarius behind the forum.  Augustine tells us of bookstalls at the docks in Hippo, in his own times, where sometimes apocryphal gospels might be found offered for sale.  In the 5th century AD, the Apollinarists found that they could circulate their own banned works under the name of Cyprian and other approved authors.

I don’t know whether we have literary testimony about the book trade in Alexandria, but surely the seat of the famed Museon must have had sellers of scrolls?  The library certainly had its pinax, or catalogue of authors and works.  Whether it continued to collect omnivorously in Roman times, as it had when funded by the Ptolemies, I do not know.

Of course any author who has been rejected by a modern publisher will be familiar with the idea that the obscure man has limited chances of publication.  In some ways, this is still true!

Anyone interested in how the ancient book trade worked is advised first to consult Reynolds and Wilson’s Scribes and Scholars, now in its 4th edition (although I have only seen the third; Clarendon Press having declined to send me a review copy).  It is very readable, and everyone with any interest in how books got from their authors to ourselves should read it.

From my diary

My contract has finished, so I am notionally a gentleman of leisure.  In actual fact I am at home, trying to put things back together after the work of the painters and the carpet-layers.  Most of my stuff is still in the garage, including all my books.

As I gradually bring things back in, I am taking the opportunity to have a purge of unnecessary clutter.  I also want to redesign my study room somewhat.  Quite how I lugged 12 bookcases down the stairs I don’t know, mind you; but they all ought to come back.

Something that I have had in my living room for nearly 20 years is a grey four-drawer filing cabinet.  Back in 1997 this was a necessary evil.  The government require me to keep records of my business for six years; and these had to remain somewhere.  I also used it to hold the photocopies of journal articles from my Tertullian days.

But the articles all went to PDF some years ago.  This week my accountant informed me that I don’t have to keep the papers in paper format.  So today 5 years papers hit the bin, and an empty cabinet now stands, awaiting disposal.  It feels good; but it’s just part of what I have to do.

The technical books that I have for my business may also hit the skip.  Do I need a load of computer books?  Really need?  Or could I order them off the web if I needed them in a hurry?  They do take a lot of shelf-space.

Likewise, while I have a bunch of translations of obscure texts, do I really need these?  When did I last consult them?  I wish there was some easy way to convert these to PDF; but if I throw them out, at least I’d get my home back.

I am enjoying the uncluttered feel of a mostly empty house!

An order for a CDROM of the Fathers and Additional Fathers came in at the weekend – inevitably when I was at maximum disruption.  Yesterday I discovered that the Windows 10 upgrade made the CD files take up rather more space on a CDR than they ever used to; which meant that burning the CD was quite a challenge.

It also caused me to look at the CD, and its contents.  I never wanted to sell the CD, so I priced it high to reduce demand.  It is just a copy of the website, plus some image files of pages from books that I scanned, as they were in 2004 before PDF really got going.   But I rather feel that I should produce a “version 2” CD.  The old one is looking a little tired, and out of date.

Rejuvenating my home is hard work, especially if you do it alone, as I do.  When I decided to replace the carpets, I just wanted pretty much the same as I had fitted 20 years ago.  But I soon discovered that this was impossible, by wearily traipsing around carpet showrooms for a couple of weeks.  I found, in fact, that I had to abandon my ideas, and go back to first principles: what sort of general colour tone – warm, cool, etc – did I want, what sort of materials, what type of carpet, and so forth; and then see what was available that matched these requirements.  Things got simpler once I stopped trying to match the old carpet.  The new one is much lighter than the old, which is less than ideal, but it is the best available and ticks the other boxes.

I shall have to do the same for other things, like carpets, lampshades and so forth.  I can’t just dream up what I want, and then go and find it.  Instead I need to draw up a non-specific list of requirements that the new lampshade (etc) must fit, and then see what is available that fits that specification.  To do otherwise is to wear oneself out.

So … busy.  But it had to be done.  The old paintwork was acceptable, but would not be so in another ten or twenty years.  And I certainly hope to live that long!

Bear with me, then, while I labour!

The Obelisk of Antinous in the renaissance

I have been reading about the obelisk of Antinous, which today stands on the Pincian Hill in Rome.  But it was not erected there in antiquity, but in some other location.

In the 16th century, the obelisk was discovered in the ruins of the Circus Varianus.  This monument may be unfamiliar to most people – indeed it was to me!  It stands in North East Rome, next to the ruins of the Sessorian Palace, and the Amphitheatrum Castrense.

Claudia Paterna’s article on the Circus Varianus tells us:[1]

The remains of the circus outside the walls, and the obelisk, knocked down and broken by Totila’s Goths in 547 AD, remained visible until at least the mid-sixteenth century, as evidenced by studies and reconstructive maps, and place names such as “Circus” (and Cierchio and Cerchio) “Vetere” and “the Girolo”, attested in this century and in the next[10]. In 1570, the Saccoccia brothers, owners of the vineyard where the obelisk lay, conceived a project to restore the monument, and set up a plaque that, since the project was never realized, was placed in 1589 on a pylon of the Aqueduct Felice, where it still is.

In the seventeenth century,[11] the remains of the circus and the fragments of the obelisk had been obliterated even in the area outside the walls, but the obelisk was recovered and purchased in 1633 by Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who had it transported to the courtyard of the Palazzo Barberini at Quattro Fontane, with the intention to erect it in the palace garden, originally designed by Bernini, then Carlo Fontana. The project was never realized, and the obelisk was donated in 1773 by Cornelia Barberini to Pope Clement XIV, who had it transferred in the courtyard of the Pine Cone in the Vatican, with the intention to have it erected on the base of the column of Antoninus Pius, also moved into the courtyard. …


I’d like to see the source that says that how the obelisk was discovered.  Sadly the referencing is not very useful for this.  But it does refer to 17th century writer F. Nardini, Roma antica, a cura di A. Nibby, Roma, 1818 (1st ed. Roma, 1666), tomo II, p. 18.  This is the Nibby re-edition, online here; for those looking at the 1st edition, it is book IV, chapter 2.

Here is what he says.  I had trouble with the Italian, but the key bits are clear enough.

So also says Donati and adds another authority, that of Lampridius ch. 14 “Inde itum est in hortos, ubi Varius invenitur certamen aurigandi parans”; and he argues that this demonstrates that the circus must be ?, not the gardens elsewhere, near the Porta Maggiore, where a circus has remained almost to our own times. Fulvio agrees, who gives notice of the same circus, and the obelisk, which, broken into two parts lying in the middle, he relates from Ligorio in his Book of Circuses, Amphitheatres and Theatres, showing the remains of much magnificence, and representing the obelisk as very nice and decorated with hieroglyphs. Today, only the site may be seen at the amphitheater Castrense in the narrow part of a little valley outside the city walls, … The obelisk lies broken in the couurtyard of the Palazzo Barberini at Quattro Fontane. Many say that this is the Circus of Aurelian; but this is merely guessing, or maybe, as Donati says, what Elagabalus made was taken over or adorned by Aurelian.

So this seems to clearly identify the find spot of the obelisk with what today is called the Circus Varianus.   I don’t think that Hadrian can have erected it there originally, though.  For a large lump of masonry, these obelisks don’t half move around.

Fulvio is presumably Fulvio Orsini, the illegitimate member of the great Orsini family who, becoming a scholar, is today perhaps better remembered by scholars than his legitimate kinsmen.

But I don’t know where to look for this in whatever works Orsini wrote.

  1. [1] Paterna, Claudia. “Il circo Variano a Roma”. In: Mélanges de l’Ecole française de Rome. Antiquité, tome 108, no. 2. 1996. pp. 817-853.  p.820-1: I resti del circo esterni alle mura e l’obelisco, abbattuto e spezzato dai Goti di Totila nel 547 d.C, rimasero visibili almeno fino alla metà del XVI secolo, come testimoniato da studi e piante ricostruttive e da toponimi quali ‘Circo (ed anche Cierchio e Cerchio) Vetere’ e ‘Lo Girolo’, attestati in questo secolo ed in quello successivo 10. Nel 1570, i fratelli Saccoccia, proprietari della vigna dove giaceva l’obelisco, concepirono il progetto di reinnalzare il monumento e per la memoria di questa impresa fecero iscrivere una lapide che, poiché il progetto non fu realizzato, fu collocata nel 1589 su di un pilone dell’acquedotto Felice, dove è tuttora. Nel XVII secolo 11, i resti del circo ed i frammenti dell’obelisco erano stati obliterati anche nella parte fuori dalle mura, ma l’obelisco fu recuperato ed acquistato nel 1633 dal cardinale Francesco Barberini, che lo fece trasportare nel cortile del Palazzo Barberini alle Quattro Fontane, con l’intenzione di farlo erigere nel giardino del palazzo, inizialmente su progetto del Bernini, poi di Carlo Fontana. Il progetto non fu mai realizzato e l’obelisco fu donato nel 1773 da Cornelia Barberini al pontefice Clemente XIV, che lo fece trasferire nel cortile della Pigna in Vaticano, con l’intenzione di farlo erigere sul basamento della colonna di Antonino Pio, trasferito anche esso nel cortile. Nel 1783, il progetto cambiò a favore dell’erezione sulla torre di Porta Pia, ma neanche questo ebbe seguito.

Hugh Houghton on New Testament catenas

The late antique and medieval commentaries on scripture took the form of chains of quotations from ancient writers, including much lost early Christian commentary.  These are known today as the catena (=chain) commentaries, and their study is a rather specialised one.

Thankfully it is receiving some real attention today.  Hugh Houghton writes to say that a volume of papers edited by himself on the subject is now online. This contains a great number of papers that will interest most of us.

It begins with “An Introduction to Greek New Testament Commentaries with a Preliminary Checklist of New Testament Catena Manuscripts”!  Of course we’re discussing ancient Greek New Testament commentaries here.  This paper alone will be of use to many.

The volume is H.A. Houghton, Commentaries, Catenae and Biblical Tradition: Papers from the Ninth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, in association with the COMPAUL project. Gorgias Press (2016)

Those who remember my volume of Eusebius, Gospel Problems and Solutions, may know that it included Coptic fragments of the work.  Dr H’s volume includes an interesting paper, “An Overview of Research on Bohairic Catena Manuscripts on the Gospels” by Matthias Schulz – something that I would have killed to read back in 2011.

Of deep interest to many will be C. M. Kreinecker’s paper on Rufinus’ translation of Origen’s commentary on Romans.  It’s always interesting to wonder how accurate Rufinus is, considering that he is the only version of much of Origen, and also remembering a load of accusations by Jerome.  The rediscovery of the original Greek of the Commentary on Romans means that this particular work can now be investigated; and this paper examines the Latin biblical text involved.

Fortunately the work is online.  Dr H. writes:

The new Gorgias online repository is now available at https://www.gorgiaspress.com/gorgias-open-repository

 The book on catenae can be downloaded at: https://www.gorgiaspress.com/Content/files/GorgiasOpen/978-1-4632-0576-8.pdf

This is excellent news.  Add it to your library now.

Dr H. also added a note to my post on the lost – and now found! – gospel commentary of Fortunantianus, to advise that he is producing an English translation which will be available with the text in 2017.  But, better yet, the translation will be available online.  Which means, of course, that we can all read it.

It is really a great pleasure to see useful scholarship being made available to the whole world like this.  Well done, everyone involved, and especially Dr Houghton.

Postscript: I also see that Dr H.’s own website has a bunch of his papers which, inevitably, are also of wide interest.  Recommended.

Returning to Antinoupolis by satellite photo

Today I found myself looking at the splendid map of Antinoupolis in the Description de l’Egypte, made by Napoleon’s engineers.  When it was made, in the 1790’s, the Roman city still stood on the high ground – above the level of the Nile flood – to the east of a wretched village named Sheikh Abade.

On a whim I went to Google Maps.  The site is between Minya and Mellawi in middle Egypt.  I rotated the aerial photo as best I could (with ctrl-click+drag), to line it up with Jomard’s plan.  Then I screen grabbed them both.

Looking at Jomard requires the high-resolution scan available at Heidelberg, and you can zoom and zoom.  So this is just a low-res overview:


And here is a screen grab of the site today – for the inhabitants are busily bulldozing the monuments, so it may not be so tomorrow.  Link is here, so you can zoom for yourself!


The surveyors did make some mistakes.  The massive brick wall that surrounded the late antique city is not a rectangle, but tapers toward the top.

But it is amazing to see that the main two streets can clearly be seen, even at this resolution.

In fact I started to mark up a few sites:


In the southern section of the city, to the right, the grid of the streets seems almost visible to me, running north of the street “with Doric columns” marked by Jomard.  The “amphitheatre” must be a theatre, I suppose.

I was looking for the site of the magnificent west gate, labelled a triumphal arch.  On the plan it is thus:


The gate is marked clearly, with two avenues of granite columns before it.  Notice the point B marked on it – this is the place from which the drawing below was made.

Zooming in on the modern image, nothing is to be seen.  The road from the north is plainly the Roman road, however.


It is amusing to note that Jomard marks palm trees in the area; and palm trees are still visible, their hard black shadows plain on the aerial photo.

Hadrian’s monumental stone arch is gone; but the palm trees that once stood nearby remain.

Jomard gives us this impression of what it looked like, looking from Antinoupolis west towards the village and the Nile.


I would surmise that the side facing the village had suffered more losses of stone.

Jomard also gives detailed measurements and drawings of elements of the arch.

In his “explication des planches” in the same volume, he gives the following description of the scene.

This monument is the best preserved in the whole city.  Nothing is missing from the edifice that would make its restoration at all doubtful.  In front of the little Corinthian pilasters, there were granite columns, which are all missing; only the pedestals remain, and these are very ruinous, as may be seen in the engraving.  In front of the triumphal arch, the village of Sheikh Abade may be seen; between the houses and the monument are the columns of granite that still exist (see the explanations of plate 58 and 53).  The date palms, which are very numerous around the building, contribute to render this view one of the most picturesques of the ruins of Antinoe.  here and there some villagers can be seen, attentively watching the French engineers and artists engaged in recording the triumphal arch.

Plate 58 consists of plans and elevations of the arch, and the “explication” of measurements.

The note for plate 53 mentions that the engraver has drawn too small the streets in the village of Sheikh Abade.

I do wish that it was possible to safely visit the site today.  Doubtless an archaeologist with local contacts could do so; a lone tourist might risk abduction.

18th century Egypt and a travelling Frenchman

In C. S. Sonini de Manoncourt, “Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt”, vol. 3, (1807), p.292, I find this anecdote.  The Reis is the captain of the boat on which de Manoncourt is travelling up the Nile, and he is in the region of Antinoupolis.

Among those persons whom the Reis had put on board, there were four soldier’s servants who had run away from the army. Well pleased at escaping from the toils of war, their insolence had no bounds. Having been informed that we were Europeans, their insults and impertinence were particularly pointed at us. I had determined to chastise them at the first town where we should stop; but having arrived at Mellawi in the night, I was obliged still to restrain myself. The four unruly gentlemen continued their invectives the following day. They carried their audacity so far as to strike two of my companions; the latter were not long in returning the blow; the engagement, began, and guessing from the noise what had happened, I hastened to the spot with my sabre in my hand, and applied a few strokes to the shoulders of the aggressors with the flat side. They immediately quitted their hold; but an exclamation was heard over all the boat. An infidel to strike a Mussulman!  It was an offence unpardonable, and which threatened me with instant death. They were talking of throwing me overboard. The Reis, instead of appeasing the tumult, as great a fanatic as the rest, cried louder than any of them. I retired with my companions into the chamber which we occupied, and we entrenched ourselves as well as we could, fully expecting to be attacked. The fire-arms, however, with which we were supplied, appeared to the desperadoes who surrounded us, formidable enough to prevent their approach, and they contented themselves with murmuring and concerting plans of revenge.

Through the lattice of my chamber, I perceived at Scheick Abade, the ruins of Antinoe, and on the same eastern coast, Benihassan, a village at the foot of a mountain of rock, rising perpendicularly, in which the ancients have hollowed out sepulchral caverns. A little tower and a forest of palm-trees form a beautiful contrast with the rugged aspect of the rocks which border this bank of the Nile. The village of Savouadi succeeds to this. There the ruins of several ancient buildings are perceptible. The rock has been carved and hollowed in various places ; the entrances of a vast quantity of catacombs are arranged over the front of the mountain, and near them I observed hieroglyphics and symbolical figures.

The vessel dropt anchor at Miniet. The Reis immediately disembarked with about twenty of the passengers, and made the best of his way to the Kiaschef, in order to prefer a complaint against me, for having had the audacity to strike a Mussulman. These wicked people took care to relate every fact, and to represent it in the worst light possible. The populace of Miniet thronged in crowds ; a flock of fanatical barbarians demanded the head of the dog who had abused a favourite of Mahomet. I had dispatched my two Egyptian servants after the Reis, in order to observe what might come to pass. They returned to acquaint me with the ferment which the accusation of the Reis had raised in the minds of the people; they had advanced into the court of the house of the Kiaschef, where an assembled mob were calling for vengeance, and they had heard it reported, that I was to undergo the punishment of the bastinado on the soles of the feet. I had not a moment to lose after this information. It was necessary, they said, either to conceal myself or to make my escape. I could not, with propriety, have chosen either of these alternatives : I took a resolution directly opposite. I determined to face the danger, and to present myself openly, in order to avert it. I quitted.the boat immediately with one of my attendants; my habit prevented me from being recognised. We passed through several streets. Every where the topic of conversation was the Franc who had beaten a Mussulman. I arrived at the house of the Kiaschef; I penetrated through the crowd, who little supposed that the person on whom their thoughts were employed was in the midst of them; at length I stood before the Kiaschef. An immense number of persons surrounded him. The Reis and my other accusers stood forward and pointed me out to the commandant. “Is it you, then,” said the Kiaschef to me in the most angry tone imaginable, “who was audacious enough to offer violence to a believing Mussulman?” “Give no heed,” I replied, in a determined tone, “to the vain clamour of these paltry fellahs, to whom, for the honour of a valiant Mameluc, you have already paid but too much attention. You are the slave of Mourat Bey; you know very well that I am his friend; I have some important intelligence to communicate to you from him; attend.” I immediately approached, and pretending to whisper in his ear, I slipped a few chequins into his hand, which I held ready in my own.

The Kiaschef, who had raised himself a little from his cushion to hear what I had to say, now took his seat again, and darted menacing glances at the Reis. “You know not,” said he to him, with anger feigned, or at least purchased, “what a Franc is.” He then pronounced a long and absurd encomium on the qualities and the power of the Francs, which he knew nothing at all about. The Reis wished to reply ; but the Kiaschef rose, and bestowed on him a hearty box on the ear, and then ordered him to receive several blows with a cane. In an instant this mob, ignorant and foolishly habituated to despotism, after having regarded me as the greatest criminal, dispersed, crying up the justice of the Kiaschef, and extolling, the excellent qualities of the Francs.

Corruption in men of exalted stations, which is an undeniable testimony of the depravity of manners, and a certain presage of the fall of empires, and the dissolution of the bonds of society, appeared among the despots of Egypt to be customary, and a system universally adopted. They were unanimous in opinion, that with the assistance of money every thing might be obtained.  Too great sacrifices, even in this respect, were not requisite to obtain the object desired. It is only in those countries, where they are continually speaking of virtue and of honour, and where, in fact, they do not exist, that the price of corruption is an effect of a considerable commerce to which few people can attain: but it is moderate in those places where honour not being in common use, it is unnecessary to distribute gold to purchase silence. I had just experienced a signal act of justice, which, considering the manners of the people of Egypt, and the circumstances under which I had obtained it, might have passed for injustice. A single minute had proved sufficient to appease the most furious anger, and to make its effects recoil on those who had provoked it; and, nevertheless, it had only cost me from seven to eight chequins.

The obelisk of Antinous – the text written upon it

Among the actions of Hadrian after the suspicious death of his “favourite” Antinous was the construction of an Egyptian-style obelisk in Rome, which still stands.  Each of the four faces has a text upon it in hieroglyphics.  It was constructed in Rome, where someone who knew how to write the ancient language wrote the text.

The first two faces read as follows.  I’ve made this from the rather splendid French translation of Jean-Claude Grenier, “L’Osiris Antinoos”, CENIM 1, Montpellier, 2008, which I found online here, and which comes with some very learned notes.  There are some dreadfully unreliable English versions online, I find.

Face 1 (South-facing)

Words said by the Osiris Antinous, [justified], “Come to the master of life.”  The blessed one who is in the afterlife and who lies in this sacred place which is found inside the gardens of the domain of the Prince in Rome.  He is known for becoming a god in the “abatons”[1] of Egypt, and shrines have been built for him (where) he is worshipped as a god by the prophets and priests of Upper and Lower Egypt and (by) the inhabitants of Egypt also.  A city is named after him; to it belongs a population of Greeks and sons of Horus and children of Seth, resident in the cities of Egypt; they have come from their cities, and valuable lands have been given to them, to enrich their lives greatly.  There is a temple there of this god – his name is “Osiris Antinous, justified” – built from fair white stone.  Sphinxes stand on its perimeter, and statues, numerous columns like those once made by the ancients, and also like those made by the Greeks.  All the gods and all the godesses give him there the breath of life, and he breathes in of it, having rediscovered his youth.

Face 2 (west-facing)

Next to an image of Antinous is a damaged inscription, which now reads only, “Words spoken by the Osiris Anti[nous]…”

Facing him is Thoth, with the legend, “Words spoken by Thoth, twice great, Lord of Khemenou (Hermopolis): ‘I make your heart alive for you every day.'”

The blessed, the Osiris Antinous, justified!  He has become an ephebe with a beautiful face that makes the eyes rejoice, a strength […] and an intrepid heart like (man) with strong arms.  He received god’s decree of the time of his death.  All the rites of the “Hours of Osiris” were renewed for him, and all the operations of his mummification in secret, then his bandages were put on, and the whole earth was (then) in a just distress, fed by disagreements.[2]  Nothing of the kind was done for those of ancient times until today like (what was done for) his altars, temples, and titles, and, because he breathes in the breath of life, his glory grows in the hearts of men.  The one who is the Lord of Hermopolis, the master of the divine words, Thoth, regenerates his ba like […] in their time.  By night and day, at any and every instant, the love that he inspires is in the hearts of his faithful, the respect that he inspires [is in…] of all […] and the praise which he excites is widespread among the men who venerate him.  His rightful place is in the Court of the Justified and of the Perfect Lights which are in the following of Osiris within the sacred world of the Master of Eternity; and a triumph has been accorded to him; they (the justified &c) have established his renown on the earth and their heart delights in him.  (When) he goes to any place that he wishes, the doorkeepers of the Afterlife say to him “Praise be to you!”  They pull back the bolts and open the doors before him, and (this) every day for millions and millions of years (for) [this will be] the duration of his existence […] ? […]

That’s quite a series of statements about someone who had no known quality to deserve such praise, other than being the “favourite” of an emperor.

It is a pity that the meaning of the text is as uncertain as it is.  It is not certain, I learn, that the tomb of Antinous was in Rome, rather than in Antinoupolis.  It all depends on how you read the text.

The obelisk of Antinous on the Pincian Hill in Rome.  By Carole Raddato.
The obelisk of Antinous on the Pincian Hill in Rome. By Carole Raddato.
  1. [1] The shrines of Osiris in Egypt, each preserving a relic of the god.
  2. [2] This is Grenier’s reading of the glyphs; but apparently there is wide disagreement as to how they should be read.

“In this sign shall you conquer… No, not in that sign. In *this* sign!”

Among the remains of Latin antiquity to reach us is a volume known today as the Panegyrici Latini, or Latin Panegyrics.  These are twelve orations delivered to emperors, nearly all from the late empire, but also including the (unreadable) panegyric for Trajan by Pliny the Younger.  They are, in short, examples of flowery, professional-grade bum-sucking and arse-licking from the late empire.  But of course they inevitably have historical value, as the flatterer recounts the deeds of the emperor in question.

Then again, the account is inevitably sanitised.  Uncomfortable facts are glossed over.

The Latin text of the 1874 Teubner edition may be found at Archive.org here.  An English translation does exist, by C. E. V. Nixon &c, under the title of In Praise of Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini (1994), preview here.

Panegyric 6 was delivered before the emperor Constantine in 310 AD, or so it is believed, and consists of the usual flattery, ending in a plea for a building programme in the speaker’s home town of Autun, to construct a circus, basilica, and so on.

It is best known, however, for some remarks which the orator makes about a visit by Constantine to the temple of Apollo, somewhere in Gaul.  Let’s hear them:

For on the day after that news had been received and you had undertaken the labor of double stages on your journey, you learnt that all the waves had subsided, and that the all-pervading calm which you had left behind had been restored. Fortune herself so ordered this matter that the happy outcome of your affairs prompted you to convey to the immortal gods what you had vowed at the very spot where you had turned aside toward the most beautiful temple in the whole world, or rather, to the deity made manifest, as you saw. For you saw, I believe, O Constantine, your Apollo, accompanied by Victory, offering you laurel wreaths, each one of which carries a portent of thirty years. For this is the number of human ages which are owed to you without fail—beyond the old age of a Nestor. And—now why do I say “I believe”?—you saw, and recognized yourself in the likeness of him to whom the divine songs of the bards had prophesied that rule over the whole world was due. And this I think has now happened, since you are, O Emperor, like he, youthful, joyful, a bringer of health and very handsome. Rightly, therefore, have you honored those most venerable shrines with such great treasures that they do not miss their old ones, any longer. Now may all the temples be seen to beckon you to them, and particularly our Apollo, whose boiling waters punish perjuries—which ought to be especially hateful to you.

Immortal gods, when will you grant that day on which this most manifestly present god, with peace reigning everywhere, may visit those groves of Apollo as well, both sacred shrines and steaming mouths of springs? Their bubbling waters cloudy with gentle warmth seem to wish to smile, Constantine, at your gaze, and to insert themselves within your lips.

You will certainly marvel at that seat of your divinity too, and its waters warmed without any trace of soil on fire, which has no bitterness of taste or exhalation, but a purity of draught and smell such as you find in icy springs. And there you will grant favors, and establish privileges, and at last restore my native place because of your veneration of that very spot.[1]

Some suppose that this statement about seeing laurel wreaths at the temple of Apollo was a vision by Constantine, along the lines of the more famous In hoc signo vinces.  Recorded by Lactantius in De mortibus and Eusebius in the Vita Constantini, the latter records how Constantine saw a vision in the sky, of a Chi-Rho, the monogram of Christ, and marked the shields of his soldiers with that emblem before his battle with Maxentius.  The thinking is, therefore, that Constantine was a bit prone to visions!

But … I didn’t see any mention of a vision in the account, until it was drawn to my attention.  At first reading, I visualised the emperor seeing the statues of Apollo and Victory, each bearing laurels, put their by the priests, who acted out a little play, that the god was offering laurels to the victorious emperor.  Their  motive is obvious; to curry favour, as a certain sort of priest does.  The emperor is to be flattered that he looks like a god – easily understandable if a cult statue is involved.

I believe that there is an enormous literature on this “pagan vision”.  But … I am uncomfortably reminded that attacks on the Christianity of Constantine were made in profusion in the 1840’s, for political reasons.

Cameron and Hall, in their magnificent translation of Eusebius’ Vita Constantini, recount how those who sought to overthrow the Austrian and Russian emperors, made attacks on Constantine.  For these polities drew their ideological legitimacy from the concept of Christian empire, reaching back to Constantine.  If Constantine could be shown to be a pagan, that would help to overthrow the self-belief of the hated Hapsburg despotism.  Casting doubt on the accounts of Eusebius was part of this politics.

Knowing this, I feel wary.  I really don’t think that Constantine’s dedication to promoting Christianity is doubtful.  In the early years of his rule, and especially in the west, he had to humour the pagan establishment.  Surely this will be another example?  It is not, after all, Constantine or one of his circle who is making these claims.

But I have some doubts that anyone would describe this as a vision, were it not for the fame of In hoc signo vinces.

It is one of the curses of ancient history, that people project Christianised ideas onto ancient paganism.  Ancient paganism was not a form of Christianity-lite.  It was its own thing, and had its own nature, and approach.

I have yet to see any example where analogies with Christian history or practice illuminate any element of pagan history.  But I have seen many where it darkened, obscured, or confused the narrative.

The account of the panegyrist is certainly interesting.  But let’s be wary here.

  1. [1] Pan.Lat. VI, c.21, v.4, , Nixon, p.248-251.

There is nothing like a Dane… Frederic L. Norden at Antinoe in 1737

Another early traveller who voyaged up the Nile in 1737-8[1] was the Danish naval officer, Capt. Frederic L. Norden.  His Voyage d’Egypte et de Nubie, vol. 2, Copenhagen (1755) describes his trip, and mentions Antinoupolis during the account for Tuesday 26 November 1737.[2]  Sadly it does not give us much.

Here is an excerpt of plate 79, showing Antinoe.  Sadly this section of a river  map is all that Nordern gives us by way of illustration.

His written note, on p.131, gives us no more than Fr. Siccard did almost a century earlier.

On the other side of the river, with its mosque, stands the town of Sheikh Abadé, once Antinoé, capital of the Lesser Thebaid.  Various antiquities can be seen, which are not built of the enormous stones of which the buildings of the ancient Egyptians are composed; but rather with stones of moderate size, like those used to build the triumphal arches in Rome.  Among the ruins are three large gates, the first of which is adorned with fluted columns of the Corinthian order, the other two, which correspond to the first, have much less ornamentation.  These ruins of ancient Antinoé are at the foot of the mountains, and close to the Nile.  The walls of the houses were built of brick, which are still as red today as if they had been recently manufactured.  It looks as if the village of Rodda, mentioned a little earlier, was the Mokkias of Antinoé.[3]

Other than the remark about the bricks, we learn little that is new.  But I suspect that Mr Norden did not step off his boat; or not much.

The illustrations in general look as if they reproduce the sketches made on the spot.  Many are just  landscapes from the Nile, but the most interesting are from Luxor, and after.  Here is one of Luxor temple, as he saw it.

Frederic Norden, Luxor Temple, 1737
Frederic Norden, Luxor Temple, 1737

The statues were buried up to their breasts in debris at this time, of course.

An interesting book, but not of great value for our knowledge of Antinoupolis.

  1. [1] The date is from Wikipedia, so beware.
  2. [2] A 1757 English version is online here, but omits much.  Antinoe is vol.2, p.28.
  3. [3] “De l’autre côté du fleuve, s’élève avec sa mosquée la ville de SCHECH ABADE, autrefois Antinoé, capitale de la Basse-Thebaîde. On y apperçoit diverses antiquités, où l’on n’a pas employé de ces pierres énormes, dont les edifices des anciens Egyptiens font composes; mais des pierres d’une grandeur médiocre, & à peu près telles que celles dont on a fait usage pour bâtir les Arcs de triomphe â Rome. On remarque principalement, parmi lés ruines, trois grandes portes, dont la première est ornée de colonnes de l’ordre Corinthien, cannelées: les deux autres, qui répondent à la première, ont beaucoup moins d’ornemens. Ces ruines de l’ancienne Antinoé sont au pied des Montagnes, & voisines du Nil. Les murailles des maisons avoient été construites de briques, qui se trouvent encore aujourdhui aussi rouges, que si on ne faisait que de les fabriquer. Il y a grande apparence, que le village de Rodda, dont fai parlé un peu plus haut, était le Mokkias d’Antinoé.