String ’em up! How middle managers destroy the value of institutional websites

Few things are quite as infuriating as an institutional website designed by somebody who will never ever have to use the service in question.  The designer is usually some group of bureaucrats, with a checklist of things that the service “must” contain.  Not infrequently a real user finds that the wasters have actually torpedoed any useful utility the site might have.

This reflection comes to me, courtesy of a site that shall be nameless, which has cost me the best part of two days useful work.  Around ten years ago, the institution discovered that it had access to a translation of a late Roman text in manuscript.  The translator was dead.  It decided – properly – to make this available online.

But you can see the fingers of the bureaucrats all over it.  Instead of creating a PDF with the book in it, they split it up into a PDF for every section.  It comes in 15 books.  Each book has around 60 or more sections.

This means that to consult the whole text involves opening NINE HUNDRED PDF files.  This in turn makes it impossible to use the translation, other than for odd references where you happen to know the exact reference.

No sane person would seek to make something accessible while making it inaccessible.  Only a committee could achieve this.  We can easily imagine how.

Chief Executive: “Do it!”

Sycophants: “Oh you are so forward-looking, Sir!”

(Later) Middle Manager: “Oh but what if people took copies and it appeared all over the web!!!!  Oh! Oh! Wouldn’t that be DREADFUL!!!!”

Junior sycophant: “How well you put that, ma’am!  So let’s make sure nobody can do that without spending a huge amount of effort.  We’ll divide it up into 900 pieces, accessible in a maze of menus.  That way it will inconvenience researchers, but not Chinese pirates with armies of cheap labour.”

And so it came to be, and the text remained online in theory but useless in practice.  Nobody ever cared about it much anyway; those who did were frustrated by the useless interface.

But that isn’t all.  Because a few years ago, another bureaucrat had his turn.  Someone revised the translation and produced a printed copy.

Another middle manager: “Now we’re selling a version of this, we might lose sales if we have the original online!!!  Woe!!  Woe!!”

Timid underling: “How much money are we talking about?”


Sycophant: “Clearly it must be taken offline to protect any profits.”

And it was so.

I have therefore wasted an enormous amount of time in locating an archived copy of the site, and downloading the files, with a great deal of manual intervention in order to circumvent the robots.txt file.  For I know better than to suppose that it will remain even at the archived site indefinitely.

Let’s keep our bureaucrats under control.  The best way to do so is to keep them as few as possible, and to watch the remainder like hawks.

Otherwise, one day, you too will have this experience!

When did Christmas Day become a public holiday?

In the legal code of Justinian, issued in 534 AD, we find the following entry, in book 3, title 12, law 6, Omnes dies:

3.12.6 (7). Emperors Valentinian, Theodosius and Arcadius to Albinus, City Prefect.  We order that all days shall be court days.

1.Only those days shall remain as days of vacation which each year, for a period of two months, indulgently gives to rest from labor, in order to mitigate the summer heat, and to gather the autumnal fruits.

2.  We also give over to leisure the usual days at the beginning of each year.

3. We add to these the natal days of the great cities of Rome and Constantinople, during which the legal proceedings, which own their origin to them, should be deferred. We also add the holy pascal days, seven preceding and seven succeeding Easter, also the natal day of Christ and the day of Epiphany and the time during which the suffering of the apostles, the teachers of all Christianity, is rightly commemorated; and these holy days shall not be open to shows.

4. Sundays, too, which the ancients rightly named the Lord’s days and which return at regular intervals, shall be put in this class.

5. An equal reverence shall be paid to the days which marked our birth and the beginning of our reign, and on these days no examination of disputes shall be made before referees, whether appointed by judges upon request or by the choice of the parties.

6. During the fifteen days of Easter, the exaction of all taxes in kind and of all public and private debts shall be deferred.

Given at Rome August 8 (389).  C. Th. 2.8.2.[1]

The law is copied from the Theodosian Code, and is apparently enacted in 389 under Valentinian.  Note that it is ordered that the Christian “holy days” do not have the games celebrated on them.

But comparison with the text of the Codex Theodosianus[2] shows that in fact Justinian, on reissuing it in 534 AD, has added some holidays; Christmas, Epiphany, and the festivals in commemoration of the apostles.  Sadly I don’t have the English translation in PDF, but the Latin can be followed easily enough.

CTh.2.8.19 [=brev.2.8.2]

Imppp. Valentinianus, Theodosius et Arcadius aaa. Albino pf. U. Omnes dies iubemus esse iuridicos. Illos tantum manere feriarum dies fas erit, quos geminis mensibus ad requiem laboris indulgentior annus accepit, aestivis fervoribus mitigandis et autumnis foetibus decerpendis.

1. Kalendarum quoque ianuariarum consuetos dies otio mancipamus.

2. His adiicimus natalitios dies urbium maximarum, Romae atque Constantinopolis, quibus debent iura deferre, quia et ab ipsis nata sunt.

3. Sacros quoque paschae dies, qui septeno vel praecedunt numero vel sequuntur, in eadem observatione numeramus, nec non et dies solis, qui repetito in se calculo revolvuntur.

4. Parem necesse est haberi reverentiam nostris etiam diebus, qui vel lucis auspicia vel ortus imperii protulerunt. Dat. vii. id. aug. Roma, Timasio et Promoto coss.

While the sacred days of Easter (Sacros paschae dies) plus seven days before and after are part of the Codex Theodosianus, the words “also the natal day of Christ” onwards were added later than the Theodosian code, itself published in 438 AD.

This interesting snippet came to me via a very old volume, E. V. Neale’s Feasts and Fasts from 1845, p.23.[3]

So it looks as if we may reasonably attribute the creation of Christmas as a public holiday, rather than merely a church festival, to Justinian.

  1. [1]Translation by F.H.Blume, via the Annotated Justinian Website, 2005.
  2. [2]Online in Latin here.
  3. [3]Online here.

A “gentleman’s translation” by H.S. Boyd of Ps.Basil’s homily on Paradise

A couple of weeks ago, Ted Janiszewski wrote to tell me about another volume of “gentleman’s translations” that he had found.  I see no purpose in paraphrasing his fascinating email, which is practically a blog post in itself!

I’ve come across another gentleman’s translation of patristic writings: The Fathers not Papists: Or, Six Discourses by the Most Eloquent Fathers of the Church: With Numerous Extracts from Their Writings (London: Bagster, 1834). The author is Hugh Stuart Boyd, who is principally famous as Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Greek tutor. Remarkably, he was also as blind as Homer. The book has 48 pages of preface and 447 (!) of translation from the Greek Fathers, peppered with Boyd’s often-delightfully polemical footnotes. (N.B.: Boyd had published another book of translations some years before. This book contains all of those and many more besides.)

If this review in the The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review, and Ecclesiastical Record is to be trusted, they aren’t very good translations:

… we thought him a scholar,—which he is,—but which, on the whole, the specimens of the Fathers in these Six Discourses are not sufficient to prove…. his pages are soiled with very many defects, his translations are inaccurate, his style turgid and verbose, and his annotations foisted in, and childish….

Still, even if the reviewer is right, a lousy translation of a Greek text is better than no translation at all.

I read through the first few entries in the table of contents to see if there’s anything of value in here, and it appears that there is:

  1. Chrysostom’s first oration on Eutropius;
  2. Basil’s homily on the forty martyrs of Sebaste;
  3. Basil’s homily on Gordius the martyr;
  4. the pseudo-Basilian homily on paradise;
  5. Basil’s homily on faith;
  6. Gregory Nazianzen’s oration on the Nativity.

After this come a whole host of lengthy extracts from various and sundry writings, followed by a great deal of translated poetry.

Some of these works are also translated in NPNF: 1. is here and 6. here. Basil’s homilies on the forty martyrs and Gordius were again translated in 2005 by Pauline Allen in “Let Us Die That We May Live”: Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria (c. AD 350–AD 450). I believe Basil’s homily on faith is in Mark DelCogliano’s volume in Popular Patristics, On Christian Doctrine and Practice (2013). I don’t know that another translation of the pseudo-Basilian homily on paradise exists at all.

It’s really worth looking at these older translations, because they do sometimes contain materials not otherwise available.  The sniffiness of the reviewer – who admits that the translator is capable – is probably political.

Ps.Basil, De Paradiso (CPG 3217, where it is listed among the spuria for Gregory of Nyssa) appears in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca 30, cols. 61-72, which I would imagine is reprinted from the Benedictine edition.  But Boyd translates from the 1551 Basle edition, which he states is rather different.[1]

Of course Boyd’s book is online and may be consulted by those so inclined.  But I thought that I’d run it through my scanner, and give a slightly modernised version.  Boyd was clearly something of a poet, and it shows in his translation.

    *    *    *    *


“God planted Paradise in Eden, in the orients; and placed there the man whom he had formed.” (Gen. 2:8)

Can we doubt that the garden which the Lord implanted was worthy of him; was correspondent to the divine perception of beauty; the perception of an Artificer so great? In a former part of the narration it is said, “Let the earth bring forth the herb, and the fruitful tree; yielding seed and bearing fruit.” If Paradise were composed of the common trees, it is manifest that it was comprehended in the primary creation of plants; and that the trees which were now planted by the hand of God himself, could have required no subsequent, no especial implantation. But that the plants which now were called into existence, the innumerous trees, so sapiently designed and so elaborately formed by the Deity himself, were different from his primary productions, is evident from the words of scripture.

For as it pleased him that man should be his peculiar workmanship above all other animals, so he deemed it suitable, that the habitation of man should be his especial work. A place pre-eminent above all creation, the Lord selected; a place admirable in beauty, conspicuous afar; by reason of its peerless elevation, overshadowed not with gloom; illumined by the rising of all the stars, and on every side irradiate; blest by an harmonious union of the most different seasons, and glittering with an atmosphere of purest light. It was there that God planted Paradise. It was a spot where no tempest raged, where there was no confusion of seasons, no inclement hail, no desolating whirlwind, no baleful lightning, no destroying thunderbolt; where no wintry frost was known, no vernal moisture, no summer heat, no autumnal drought. But there, prevailed the most serene tranquillity: the conspiring seasons were blended in most harmonious accordance; for each was arrayed in its own garniture of beauty, and not one intruded on another. The flowers of the spring were uninjured by the too hasty approach of summer; and the fruits, both summer and autumnal were unwasted by a wintry age. Though all the seasons together danced around, yet each in deferential homage presented its peculiar tribute. There, were blended the amenity of spring, the fruitfulness of summer, the hilarity of autumn, and the repose of winter. Fertile and luxuriant was the soil, distilling milk, distilling honey. It was indeed adapted to the copious production of delicious fruit; irrigated with life-bestowing fountains, which gave it an inimitable charm. Their streams were pearly and translucent; delectable to the eye, but conferring benefits superior to the pleasure. When the hand of the Omnipotent raised up this glorious habitation, he so adorned and beautified it, that it became worthy of the trees planted by the Lord; and now he enriches it with trees of every soil and climate, at once affording a delightful spectacle, and an exquisite enjoyment.

But how shall I be able so clearly to depict your country, that you may seem to be recalled from exile? A meadow blooming, and variegated with flowers, is an object most beauteous in the contemplation; but if in your fancy you would picture paradise, you must delineate a scene of far transcending loveliness. Here will you find the rose in mournful companionship with the thorn; enveloping in its charms a latent mischief, and seeming, with its crimson lips, to address you thus: “Understand, O man, that in this terrestrial abode your cup of pleasure is mingled with affliction.” Indeed our experience testifies that no earthly blessing is unmixed, and that sorrow is ever engrafted upon joy. On marriage, is engrafted widowhood; on the rearing of children, anxiety; on a virtuous progeny, bereavement; on worldly honours, degradation; on prosperity, sad reverses; on luxury, repletion; and on health, disease.

Though lovely be the rose, and fragrant, yet when I gaze upon the flower, my heart is surcharged with sorrow; for I am reminded of my sin; of that transgression, through which the earth produces thorns and briers. Here, too, the vernal flowers are transient in duration, withering in the hand that still would cherish them. Yes, in the very moment they are gathered, their resplendent hues are fading. But the rose of Paradise did not beam with evanescent lustre; its delightfulness was ever-enduring; its countenance, ever lovely; its enjoyment, undeclining; its fragrance brought no satiety, and it flashed around the lightning of its charms. No ruthless winds desolated its beauty; it decayed not with the revolving months; it was unbent, and unchilled by frost; it was parched not by the fervid beam; but the softest, the most unruffled gales, gently visiting it in balmy respiration, preserved it unimpaired by time.

And Oh! the stateliness of the trees. They also were worthy of the God who made them, of the God who planted them. The lowly brushwood, and the plants that compose the thicket; the trees with naked stem, and those luxuriant in branches; those whose foliage is at the summit, and those with a spreading shade; those which cast off their leaves, and those which bloom throughout the year; those enriched with fruitage, and those devoid of fruit; those regarded for their utility, and those conducing to enjoyment; all pre-eminent in stature and beauty; all umbrageous, clothed in perennial verdure, and blooming with fruit immortal; all yielded the benefit and the delight peculiar unto each. Though abundant was the grace resident in each, the utility even surpassed the grace. How shall I convey an adequate idea of that primeval paradise? If I were to illustrate it by terrestrial objects, I should rather dishonour it with my words, than communicate a clear idea by the illustration. All the fruits were perfect, all mature, and not gradually ripened. For they did not attain the perfection of their bloom, from the slowly expanding blossom; but were increased by their native vigour, made perfect, not by human cultivation, but through their inherent nature. The birds also, of every region, were assembled there; and by the melody of their warblings, as well as the flower of their plumage, they added a wondrous enchantment to the already enchanted scene. Thus, for every sense of man, was the banquet spread. His eye was captivated; his ear was charmed; his touch was gratified; his smell, regaled with odours; and his taste, with delicacies. There too, he beheld the tribes of animals, all gentle in disposition, all of kindred natures, both uttering and hearing sounds, intelligible to all. The serpent then was not terrible, but mild and harmless; not yet gliding and rolling onward as the destructive billow, but walking upright upon his feet.

It was there, that God placed the man whom he had formed. In another part of the earth he formed him, and then translated him to paradise. As he made the luminaries of heaven, and then placed them in the firmament; so he formed man from collected particles of earth, and then placed him in paradise. Observe it is not said, “The man whom he had made,” but “The man whom he had formed.” When he made man, he made him after his own image. That is, his incorporeal nature: and what is incorporeal is uncircumscribed by place. For that which was made, followed that which had been formed. In other words, the creation of the soul was consequent on the formation of the body, and the union immediately took place. An abode is prepared previously to the formation of the body, and the soul is afterwards contained in a locality, by reason of the corporeal conjunction; for it cannot, from its intrinsic nature, be circumscribed in space.

And now have I exhilarated your heart, by portraying the joys of paradise; or have I rather pained it, with the contrast of things that perish? For the mind of man, prone to meditation upon themes sublime and elevated, and soaring above the world; having its citizenship in heaven, and looking upward to the promised blessings, would like to hear something about that treasured good, which “the eye has not seen, nor the ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to imagine.” If the eye has not seen it, who can unfold its nature? If the ear has not heard it, how can your ear receive the narration? If it has not entered into the heart of man, how can my mind be large enough for the vast idea?

And now, shall we not reject whatever is corporeal, and seek after spiritual objects? As, under the law, many things were perceptible to sense, but were types of things intellectually discerned; so, we conceive of paradise corporeally, but allegorize it spiritually. “God planted paradise in Eden, in the orients.” The names of the plants are not recorded; but the name of the region in which they were planted has been transmitted. “God planted it,” says the historian, “in Eden,” that is, in enjoyment; for Eden signified enjoyment. Does he mean that enjoyment which through the medium of the mouth is conveyed to the stomach; and has he commemorated a sensual enjoyment? And is this the gift of God? What! to gratify the appetite? to pamper the body? The very mention of such a thing were impious. Sensual gratification is assuredly the instrument of lust, and insolence, and whatever is interdicted; tending to make gross the body, and to overwhelm the soul, submerging it in the gulf of sin. Wherefore, let us consider, that the enjoyment was worthy of the Deity to bestow; and we shall learn from thence, that the trees were of such a nature, as the celestial Husbandman would plant. But what enjoyment is commensurate to the capability of the saints? “Let your delight be in the Lord, and he will grant you the petitions of your heart.” Since then the beauty of virtue is unlimited, inasmuch as it emanates from a wisdom infinite in operation; we are informed that God planted paradise, not in the orient, but in the orients. For every plant which the Lord had planted, being beautified with native light, beamed out an inherent glory. There, were the fountains of that river “which makes glad the city of God.” It is elsewhere designated, the stream of enjoyment, which nurtures, and heightens the charms of those intellectual plants. It is subsequently called, the river which goes forth from Eden, to water paradise. In a former part of the narration, it is said, that having first consummated the work of creation, he conducted man into empire and sovereignty. But now, the contrary is effected. He forms man, and then implants paradise. The reason is this: in the former case, he finished creation’s work, that the palace might be prepared before the entrance of the monarch; lest man should be created in an indigent condition, and afterwards crowned with riches. In the present case having bestowed in part the blessings he was accomplishing, he creates him in another place, and afterwards establishes him in paradise; that having learnt the difference between an external life, and an abode in paradise, from the comparison of both, he may understand the surpassing excellency of the latter, and may dread his fall.

But that you may perceive that the planting spoken of was worthy of the hand divine, consider what our Lord said to his disciples: “You are the vine-branches, and my Father is the gardener.” It is manifest that they were planted by him. They “who are planted in the house of the Lord,” and they “who flourish in the courts of the Lord,” are of the same culture. And again, in the Prophet: “I have planted every true vine which bears fruit.” The noble imitator of Christ speaks boldly when he says, “We are fellow-labourers. You are the gardening of God. I have planted; Apollos has watered; God has given the increase.” And the righteous man is likened to “A tree, planted by the courses of the stream, which shall give forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf shall not fall away.”

It is also written, “The righteous man shall flourish like the palm:” and again, “You have transferred a vine from Egypt. You have cast out the nations, and have transplanted it.” Make it therefore your endeavour, from the instruction you hast received, to live in meditation on that happy region; that you may be illuminated by the splendours of the divine light, where the beam of knowledge rises; planted like paradise, in enjoyment. And if you should conceive that paradise is the habitation of the holy; where they who shine forth in deeds of righteousness enjoy the celestial grace, that true and spiritual beatitude; you would not go wrong in your imagination. There, rooted and engrafted, are the powers angelical, who minister to the saints; for man when begotten from above, is to them entrusted, as needing much of discipline in his march unto perfection. In that paradise, is the company of the righteous; in that paradise, are the orients of light; in that paradise, is the enjoyment of the soul. It is there that God places man!

Are you corporeal in your desires? You have the delineation of a paradise, adapted to your desires, and yielding a full enjoyment. Are your bent on the gratification of the senses? Go, and revel. There, everlasting pleasures are dispensed. Are you spiritual in your affections? Do your aspiring thoughts tower above corporeal delights? Ascend on intellectual wings, and contemplate the glory of the angels. Observe the fruits of righteousness, which bloom among them. Behold the river of God, which is full of streams, whose fountains make glad that city of which the artificer and architect is God. Through it the river of God flows. That is the river which has its origin in Eden, which irrigates paradise. All these things consider, and having considered, glorify the Lord; for unto him is rightly ascribed all glory; to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, throughout the eternal ages. Amen.

  1. [2]
  2. [1]Divi Basilii Magni opera graeca quae ad nos extant omnia.  The publisher is Froben.  De Paradiso is on p.643-5.  Online at the BSB here./ref]  Apparently there is a more modern edition: H. Hörner, Gregorii Nysseni Opera Supplementum, Leiden, 1972, 74-84.[2]“Auctorum Incertorum Vulgo Basilii Vel Gregorii Nysseni Sermones De Creatione Hominis – Sermo De Paradiso (Gregorii Nysseni Opera , Supplement 1) (Greek and Latin Edition)”, Brill Academic Publishers (1997 reprint) ISBN 10: 9004034722 ⁄ISBN 13: 9789004034723.
  3. [3]Boyd writes: The learned Benedictine Editor thinks that this homily is spurious, and states his reasons. He begins by telling us, that Combefisius may think this homily genuine, if be likes it; but that the man who is a little more sagacious, will readily perceive that its style is different from the style of Basil. He then adduces five passages, some expressions of which, he says, were never employed by Basil. Now, his edition differs very materially, as to this homily, from the Paris ed. of 1618, and the Bas. ed. of 1551, in which it first made its appearance. In all these five cases, the reading in those editions is different from his. It follows, that the authenticity of this beautiful discourse, like the rose which it describes, remains uninjured and unaffected. It is curious that he is mistaken in what he says of ακροατης, the very first word against which he directs his battery. He thinks that it was not only unemployed by Basil, but also that it was never used by any Greek Fathers of that age. Besides meeting with it in Chrysostom, I have noticed it in Basil himself. It twice occurs in the exord. of his 6th hom. on the Hexaem. It is a remarkable thing, that the text of this hom. is more beautiful in the old ed. than in the ed. Bened. My translation of this, as well as the two preceding homilies, has been made from the ed. Bas. which gives the Greek text without any comment, note, or version. I have a strong partiality for those editions of Greek books, which are printed without version, or comment, even although they be not the best editions.

Let’s not shout at the Vatican library for digitising microfilms

The Vatican library digitisation has made a bit of a left turn lately, and I’ve certainly complained about it, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Instead of the high quality brand new full colour photographs, they’ve started to digitise vast numbers of rather rubbish quality microfilms.

Today a correspondent from the library gently took me to task for this, and I admit that I accept the reproof.

It’s easy for us to forget that the Vatican state has no tax base.  The whole enterprise relies upon the generosity of people who do not live there.  We are accustomed to thinking of the mighty Roman Catholic Church as a rich institution, and so it is; but mostly in things like the roof of the Sistine chapel, which are actually a responsibility and a drain on resources, rather than a source of profit.

Among this, the digitisation of the Vatican manuscripts is a mighty expense.  It has been paid for by donations, notably from the Polonsky Foundation, to whom the world now owes a huge debt.  But the digitisation can only go forward with the support of donations.

What the Vatican library has chosen to do, in the meantime, is to make as much of its manuscript collection available as possible.  They may not be able to afford to rephotograph everything just yet.  But they can afford to scan the microfilms, for which they used to charge a pretty sum – so they are being generous here – and make these available online for free to us all.

To their credit, this is what they have chosen to do.  I think we should applaud, not criticise.  Would that other libraries, like the British Library, or the Bodleian, would do the same.  It does give us some access to the manuscripts right now.

Well done, the Vatican Library.  They have lost a revenue stream, in order to benefit us all.  We should be grateful.

If you, reading this, are a wealthy man, please consider whether you could do anything so easily beneficial to scholarship as to sponsor the digitisation of the Vatican library.  If you are an ordinary mortal, like myself, please consider donating at the link here.

A close up of the Meta Sudans from 1910

The invaluable Roma Ieri Oggi site continues to upload photographs of old Rome, including photographs of vanished sites like the ancient fountain, the Meta Sudans.  A new one appeared a couple of days ago here.  It’s a close-up of the Meta Sudans, although I had to disable my anti-virus software (Kaspersky) in order to view it.  It seems that the site owner is very keen to monetise his site, and I suppose we cannot blame him for that.

Here’s the image anyway:

Meta Sudans, ca. 1910. Via Roma Ieri Oggi.

I wondered if we adjusted the light levels, whether we might get a little more; but sadly darkness is darkness.  Worth a try tho:

Wonderful to see these old photographs, tho. More! Note to non-Italian readers: remember that you can always view the Roma Ieri Oggi site using the Chrome browser, with built-in translation as you click. Google’s translator works really very well for Italian to English. So don’t be shy about visiting Roma Ieri Oggi.

A new work by Apuleius!

This story passed me by completely, until the excellent J.-B. Piggin tweeted about it, as part of his lists of Vatican manuscripts coming online.  Justin Stover has more here.

In 1949, the historian of philosophy Raymond Klibansky made a dramatic announcement to the British Academy: a new Latin philosophical text dating from antiquity, a Summarium librorum Platonis, had been discovered in a manuscript of the Vatican (although he did not disclose its shelfmark). During the remaining fifty-six years of his life, until his death in 2005, his promised edition never appeared (Proceedings 1949).

The work was transmitted with the other works of Apuleius, where it was treated as book 3 of De Platone, hitherto presumed lost.

Piggin notes (after Justin Stover added a comment) that Klibansky did reveal the shelfmark in 1993, in his catalogue of the manuscripts of Apuleius’ philosophical works, with Frank Regen, Die Handschriften der philosophischen Werke des Apuleius.

The manuscript is in fact Vatican Reginensis Latinus 1572, online here, although only in a wretched digitised microfilm.  The online catalogue entry is here.  The Vatican catalogue describes this as a 14th century manuscript, but R.H.Rouse has identified it as one of the manuscripts of the 13th century French bibliophile, Richard de Fournival.[1] It contains works of Apuleius, plus notes.  Justin Stover has a paper online here discussing how the manuscript fits within the stemma of the philosophical works of Apuleius.[2]

The new work begins on folio 77r (frame 78), and here’s the opening portion.  The text starts with the Quod in the third column.

Piggin adds that

Stover’s edition, A New Work by Apuleius: The Lost Third Book of the De Platone, has since appeared with OUP. (HT to Pieter Buellens (@LatinAristotle).)

Furthermore, there is also a paper online here from Justin Stover and Yaron Winter, in which the proposed authorship of the work is assessed using computational linguistics.[3]

I think we all owe a debt to Justin Stover for his work on this one.

And if you don’t follow J.-B. Piggin’s blog, with its endless notices of Vatican manuscripts as they come online, you should.

UPDATE: My thanks to Pieter Bullens for correcting my mistake about the date of the manuscript on twitter.  I’ve updated the reference.

  1. [1]R.H. Rouse, “Manuscripts belonging to Richard de Fournival”, Revue d’histoire de textes 3 (1974), 253-269; p.266, where it is identified as number 85 in the Biblionomia of Richard de Fournival.  Online here.
  2. [2]J. A. Stover, “Apuleius and the Codex Reginensis”, Exemplaria Classica: Journal of Classical Philology 19 (2015), 131-154.
  3. [3]J.A.Stover & Y. Winter, “Computational Authorship Verification Method Attributes a New Work to a Major 2nd Century African Author”, Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 67, 2016, 239-242.

Piranesi’s engraving of the Arco di Portogallo

The “Arco di Portogallo” or “Arch of Portugal”, so called because it was located in the Corso in Rome near the residence of the Portugese ambassador, was demolished in 1662.  I had never heard of it, I confess, until Anna Blennow tweeted an engraving by Piranesi.  It stood near the Palazzo Fiano.  It seems to have been a late edifice, perhaps of the time of Marcus Aurelius, perhaps later.

Let’s enjoy this image of another bit of vanished Rome.

From my diary

It’s been a busy few days.  I have a few blog posts backed up, which I shall now be able to get to.   The last few days have been taken up with life stuff, and also with thinking about the post by Richard Carrier that I responded to earlier.

Reading polemic is a tedious business, and responding to it more so.  I’m going to have to get back into the habit of declining to be involved.  None of us must spend much time on it, or it will rot our souls.  Nobody wants to hear why other people are wrong anyway.  We want to hear about enthusiasms, not hatreds.

A friend to whom I mentioned this reminded me that, as Christians, we are called to love those who hate us.  That does apply to atheists too, tempting as it is to respond in kind.

Once I clear the backlog, I shall return to Eutychius.

More on the sestertius of Titus showing the Meta Sudans

A correspondent kindly drew my attention to the following piece in the Daily Express.

Rare Roman coin featuring early depiction of the Colosseum sells for £372,000

AN INCREDIBLE rare Roman coin featuring one of the earliest depictions of the Colosseum has sold for £372,000 – nearly five times its estimate.

The bronze Sestertius coin that dates back to AD81 is believed to be only one of 10 that exist today.

Seven are in museums around the world while the other three are in private hands.

This one, appearing in public for the first time in almost 80 years, was acquired by a wealthy British connoisseur of Roman bronze coins in 1939.

It had remained in the late collector’s family ever since but was today sold to a European private collector through London coin dealers Dix Noonan Webb.

A packed auction room watched on in amazement as the relic far exceeded its £80,000 estimate.

One side of the coin features an image of the famous Colosseum in Rome, which had only just been built.

It’s very interesting to learn that his coin is so rare.  In case they vanish from the web, I’d like to place here copies of the marvellous large photographs of the coin.  Note the depiction of the fountain, the Meta Sudans, to the left of the Colosseum, and some kind of long-vanished portico to the right.

Words, Words, Words: A response to Richard Carrier on Feldman and Eusebius

It’s always nice when my blog posts attract attention. I learned last week that an old post of mine, from 2013, has attracted a response from a professional atheist polemicist named Richard Carrier. In a rather excitable post here on his own blog he roundly denounces my casual remarks, and indeed myself (!), and offers a new theory of his own. A correspondent drew my attention to this, and asked me to comment.

My original post was written after I happened to see an article by the excellent Josephus scholar Louis Feldman. This tentatively endorsed the fringe idea that Eusebius of Caesarea (fl. early 4th century) may have composed the so-called Testimonium Flavianum (TF), the rather odd passage in Josephus Antiquities 18 which mentions Christ.[1] This claim is not one that anybody has previously had much time for, and I didn’t see any purpose in rebutting it. Feldman was only summarising work by others, I felt.

But then I saw something interesting. The article made the claim that, if you search the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database for a phrase towards the end of the TF, “And the tribe of Christians has not died out even to this day” (eis eti te nuneven/still to this day),[2] then it gives a bunch of hits in Eusebius’ works, and pretty much nowhere else.

I do computer searches. I’m interested in Eusebius. So I did the search for the phrase, but I got only a handful of results. Disappointed, I blogged about it, added some cautions on rushing to conclusions from these kinds of matches, and thought no more about it.

Last week I learned that, after four years, Richard Carrier has written a blog post in which he asserts rather over-enthusiastically that I simply did the search wrong – that instead I should have searched for eis eti nun; the te is just a particle, with the vague sense of “and”, and the two phrases are pretty much the same in meaning. Of course the two are indeed more or less identical in meaning.

Carrier’s search produces splendid results. It gets 94 matches.[3] Of these, 6 are later than Eusebius; one each in six authors. The other 88 are entirely in Eusebius. In other words, practically nobody in all Greek literature ever uses the phrase other than Eusebius, if we can trust this search.  It looks like the claim that Eusebius wrote the TF is proved!

But 88 out of 94 is not just a good result for the theory. It’s a fabulous result! In fact, it’s too good to be true. It’s like a Soviet election result with 99% voting for the official candidate. The number is supposed to produce confidence in the result, and does the opposite. It’s a sign that we need to sanity-check what we are doing.

Doing so produces instant discomfort. Surely “even to this day” is a trivial phrase? Are we really saying that Eusebius invented something as obvious as that? It seems unlikely. Imagine a Greek, complaining about his neighbour, as man has done since time immemorial. Would he not say, “How long has this been a problem?” “Oh it started when we landed, and it has continued even to this day.” How else would you express that idea?[4]

In fact, if we look at little further we find that the idea in rather similar words is indeed kicking around well before Eusebius, six centuries earlier, in the third century BC.   Apollonius Rhodius uses the idea in his Argonautica. He uses it to tie together past and present, in precisely the way that Eusebius does. [5]   The historian Polybius uses it, the poet Callimachus uses it. Nobody in our corpus uses it like Eusebius does; but then nobody is writing quite the kinds of works that Eusebius is.

So why didn’t these authors appear in the results, when we do the search? Because these rely on searching for versions of eiseti nun, which differs only by a word-division and means much the same thing.[6] We can omit te; we can replace it with the stronger equivalent kai; we can run eis and eti together, especially when we know that Greek manuscripts did not feature word division.  Any claim that depends on the presence of a space in the text is a pretty fragile one.

In fact there are quite a number of things we can do to twiddle the search, once we start thinking about it. Let’s just give the numbers from the TLG for a few versions of this search string, all of which mean much the same:

  • eis eti te nun – 4 hits. Josephus (1 hit), Eusebius (3 hits).
  • eiseti te nun – 7 hits. Eusebius (4), Sozomen (2), Oecumenius (1).
  • eis eti nun – 94 hits. 88 are from works of Eusebius, and the other 6 are later: Didymus the Blind (d.398) On Genesis, Procopius of Gaza (5th c.) Commentary on Isaiah, Stobaeus (6th c.), Chronicon Paschale (6th c.) and two 12th century Byzantine writers.
  • eiseti nun – 142 hits. Mostly pre-Eusebius; 7 hits in Apollonius Rhodius (3rd c. BC), Timaeus Historicus (3rd c. BC), Polybius (2nd c. BC), Philo (1st c. AD), Aelius Aristides (2nd c. AD), Lucian (2nd c.), Oppian (2nd c.), Clement of Alexandria (ca. 200), and others.  But Eusebius (63 hits) and Sozomen (41 hits) do appear.
  • eis eti kai nun – 23 hits. 2 hits from Porphyry (3rd c.) from different works. Some from Eusebius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, and then Byzantine writers.
  • eiseti kai nun – 110 hits. Callimachus (3rd c. BC), Herennius Philo (ca. 100 AD), Lucian, the Book of Jubilees (ca. 150 BC), Eusebius (56 hits) – especially in the commentaries on Isaiah and Psalms – Eutropius, Chrysostom, Palladius, and Byzantine writers.  Also an LXX variant reading for Isaiah 9:6 (given by Eusebius).

All of these do show significant use by Eusebius. Some of these show pre-Eusebian use; others don’t.

In fact Carrier is quite well aware of the pre-Eusebian results, which he proceeds to mention briefly in a paragraph that reads as if it was tacked on afterwards.   But it’s terrible stuff. Clement of Alexandria is just a Christian, so he doesn’t count (?!).  Polybius doesn’t count because no other historical writer after him uses this phrase.  In fact Carrier has changed his argument; from “only Eusebius uses this, so it proves that Eusebius forged the TF” – a defensible argument, if wrong – to “Eusebius uses this more than anyone, so that proves that he forged the TF”.  Which, of course, it does not.  Carrier has defeated himself.[7]

Here’s the rub; the success or failure of our search comes to depend on us, on our judgement, on our ingenuity, on our knowledge of Greek.   This subjectivity was precisely why, in my first blog post, I never proceeded beyond the exact match.

There are further possible issues with this method. Only 1% of Greek literature has survived. Much of that is biased towards technical, classical or ecclesiastical writings, those that were useful to copyists in the Dark Ages. The TLG contains only a portion of that 1%. Someone who knew more about computational linguistics than I do could easily point out more problems.

The database itself is not “clean”;[8] it is comprised of texts edited by many different editors, whose choices from the manuscript tradition will reflect their preferences. One example of this may be found in searching outside the TLG for eis eti nun. The TLG gives no hits before Eusebius. But I find that the 1831 R. Klotz edition of Clement of Alexandria, Protrepicus, has three hits for it.[9] In the TLG, based on the GCS edition, eis eti is replaced by eiseti. There is no indication in the apparatus as to why. The results of each database search are therefore a reflection of editorial choices.

Stylistic analysis, whether manual or automated, can be something of a trap. It’s terribly easy to forget how little we really know about the texts before us, the language which none of us speak as a native and which changes considerably over the thousand years before us, the vagaries of editors, the influence of ammanuenses and copyists, and of the non-literary spoken language, which surrounds the literary text like a warm bath at every instant but is almost invisible to us.

To sum up, we saw that a search for the exact phrase does not confirm Carrier’s claim. A search for revised phrases which mean the same does not confirm the claim either.  Attempts to dodge this simply destroy the argument.

*   *   *   *

Now let’s go back to where we started. The argument in Feldman’s article was that the use of this phrase proved that Eusebius wrote the TF.   We don’t want any implicit assumptions here, so let’s lay the argument out explicitly.

The claim is: (1) we have no evidence that eis eti te nun (etc) was used in Greek literature before Eusebius; (2) the search proves that Eusebius uses it extensively; therefore (3) any use of the term proves that Eusebius composed that bit of text; and (4) the TF as found in the Church History of Eusebius does contain it; so (5) Eusebius composed the TF.

The second point is correct. Eusebius does use the eis eti nun phrase extensively, once or twice in every book of the Church History, and elsewhere.

But the first point is dodgy, and so is the third. We have seen that in fact we do have evidence of its use for 6 centuries before Eusebius.

But let us suppose for a moment that the TLG searches did in fact show, as Carrier contended (before he discovered otherwise), that nobody used eis eti nun before Eusebius. The argument still is flawed. For this argument is an argument from silence – that we have no evidence that anyone else … so it must have been him. Arguments from silence are not valid.

The archaeologists never tire of telling us that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is the first thing that we must remember. And we’re searching only a subset of 1% of Greek literature, as we saw.  According to Carrier this means that we don’t have any evidence of use before Eusebius … very well. But even then we don’t have all the evidence. We have only a fraction of it.

In conclusion, the claim that examining the use of eis eti nun proves that Eusebius composed the TF is not correct. The claim itself seems to involve an argument from silence. And the silence itself can only be sustained by ignoring the exact matches, using a related search, and then finding reasons to ignore other related searches.

  1. [1]There is another brief mention in Ant. 20 which also does so.
  2. [2]I have transliterated the Greek so that general readers can follow along.
  3. [3]This from a search of the TLG-E disk; I am currently unable to access the online system.
  4. [4]In fact it would be rather interesting to know how this was expressed in the classical period, as eis eti nun does not seem to be classical.
  5. [5]M.P. Cuypers, “Apollonius of Rhodes”, In: Irene J. F. De Jong, René Nünlist, Angus M. Bowie, “Narrators, Narratees, and Narratives in Ancient Greek Literature: Studies in Ancient Greek Narrative”, vol. 1. Brill, 2004, p.56 and n.24.
  6. [6]My thanks to Ken Olson for pointing this out in a comment on my original post. Dr O. is clearly no bigot, for he did so despite this information working against the interest of his theory: clearly a gentleman and a scholar.
  7. [7]Full disclosure: I wrote the majority of this post without Carrier’s post before me, so I did not remember his change of mind at this point.
  8. [8]See further M. Eder, “Mind your corpus: systematic errors in authorship attribution”, Literary and Linguistic Computing 28, 2013, 603-14.
  9. [9]Page 9 line 29, p.12  l.17, p.18 l.16. The first of these reads “καταδουλοῦται καὶ αΐκίζεται εἰς ἔτι νῦν τοιὶς άνθρώπους,”