March 11th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
A correspondent has drawn my attention to the existence of an English translation of Origen’s nine surviving homilies on the psalms. It is to be found in a dissertation by Michael Heintz, The pedagogy of the soul: Origen’s “Homilies on the Psalms“, Notre Dame, 2008. It can be accessed via the commercial ProQuest database – some may have subscriptions at their university – as UMI Number: 3309539.
Of course this does not include the recent discovery of a whole mass of Origen’s homilies. These are those on Ps.36-38 (37-39 in the other numbering). The prologue by Rufinus, the translator (into Latin), is also included.
March 8th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
There are endless crank books about Mithras, usually with an anti-Christian twist. They go unnoticed by scholars, as a rule.
A correspondent drew my attention to some remarks made by Maarten Vermaseren on one of them. The title is Mithras: the fellow in the cap, by a certain Mrs Wynne-Tyson, back in 1958 (but reprinted since).
The title is a reference to a curious passage in St. Augustine, in his Tractatus in Joh. Evang. VII, 6. This reads, in the ANF translation, thus:
“And this is a great thing to see in the whole world, the lion vanquished by the blood of the Lamb: members of Christ delivered from the teeth of the lions, and joined to the body of Christ.
“Therefore some spirit or other contrived the counterfeit that His image should be bought for blood, because he knew that the human race was at some time to be redeemed by the precious blood.
“For evil spirits counterfeit certain shadows of honor to themselves, that they may deceive those who follow Christ. So much so, my brethren, that those who seduce by means of amulets, by incantations, by the devices of the enemy, mingle the name of Christ with their incantations: because they are not now able to seduce Christians, so as to give them poison they add some honey, that by means of the sweet the bitter may be concealed, and be drunk to ruin.
“So much so, that I know that the priest of that Pilleatus was sometimes in the habit of saying, ‘Pilleatus himself also is a Christian’. Why so, brethren, unless that they were not able otherwise to seduce Christians?”
The word “pilleatus” is of less than certain meaning – it means the “god wearing a mitre” or wearing a peaked cap. It could mean Mithras, but also Attis, and apparently a number of other gods accustomed to appear with a cap.
Mrs Wynne-Tyson has chosen to render “pilleatus” as “the fellow in the cap”, which is fair enough. But let us now see what professional Mithras scholar and archaeologist M. Vermaseren says, after himself referring to Mithras as “the fellow in the cap”. (I will split this footnote into sections for easier reading).
4. This is the dreadful title of a book by Mrs Wynne-Tyson published in 1972. The Times Literary Supplement said of this work : “The argument of this book, showing that the facts about Mithras reveal the basic pattern of Western civilisation and throw light into many of the darker comers of history, points disturbing conclusions for Christian orthodoxy”.
But reading the astonishing lines “To the Christian and others outside the Mithraic fold, Mithraism, with its bull-slaying God who was also identifiable as the Bull, in whose regenerative blood the Faithful bathed; with its animal masks of Lion and Bull, Horse, Eagle and Gryphon, and its eschatological teachings of metempsychosis, evidently seemed to be the worship of the Beast, even as Pure Christianity has always been the worship of the Perfect Man” etc., one would be tempted to think that Franz Cumont and his successors had all written in vain. I wonder what Stevie Smith in the Observer really meant when writing about this book “Most fascinating and apt to our times.”
Mithraism as the introduction to the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner is preached by Alfred Schütze, Mithras, Mysterien und Urchristentum, Stuttgart 1972(2). The petitio principii already is wrong.
The wildest opinions as well as unadulterated twaddle about the revealing excavations in the Mithraeum of Sa Prisca (M. J. Vermaseren – C. C. van Essen, The Excavations in the Mithraeum of the Church of Santa Prisca in Rome, Leiden 1965) can be found in the book by Father Geremia Sangiorgi O.S.A., S. Prisca e it suo Mitreo (Le Chiese di Roma illustrate 101), Roma 1968, which is now the official guide for visitors!
It becomes each year more necessary for scholars to waste their precious time in refuting the many pseudo-scholars = anti- scholars: read, for example, the exemplary review by Theodor Klauser in JAC 11/12, 1968/1969, 215-224 who rightly emphasizes:
“Wer die Wissenschaft wirklich fördern will, darf sich nicht damit begnügen, Einfälle und Lesefrüchte unkontrolliert zu einer verführerischen Synthese zu vereinigen und diese in gefälliger Form vorzutragen, die leiseste kritische Berührung bringt solche Konstruktionen zum Einsturz. Die bewährten Regeln der wissenschaftlichen Methode lassen sich nicht ungestraft ignorieren; auch der Begabteste kann langwierige Arbeitsprozesse, wenn sie nötig sind, nicht nach Belieben überspringen”.
A rough translation of Klauser’s words:
“Anyone who really wants to promote scholarship may not content themselves with uniting uncontrolled ideas and research into a seductive synthesis, written in an attractive form, for the slightest critical touch causes such constructs to collapse. The established rules of scholarly method cannot be ignored with impunity; even the most gifted may not skip over the necessarily lengthy process.”
I think perhaps those words sound more impressive in German!
March 5th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
I’m extremely busy at the moment adding material to the Mithras site. At the moment this is driven by a list of Mithraeums discovered since 1960. I am attempting to research each of these online, grab some text, some images, and create a page for it. This is, inevitably, a very time-consuming business.
Several things have struck me while doing this.
It’s often really hard to work out what is the formal publication of an excavation. You can search the web as much as you like; you will only find the printed sources most commonly referred to. In the case of an obscure site, you may not find this, and will have to be content with webpages.
It’s very hard to get even a site plan of the excavation.
It’s very hard to get a list of “finds”, never mind a list of minor finds which may be of critical importance.
It’s also very difficult to physically obtain publications, in many cases. The Vulci Mithraeum (il Mitreo di Vulci, for the benefit of the search engines, since nearly everything is in Italian) seems to be documented in an exhibition catalogue published by a certain Dr. Anna M. Moretti Sgubini. The exhibition was ephemeral, and no copies of it are present in any Anglophone country. I am considering writing to the author, on the off-chance that she has a PDF of her own work. More and more people do, these days, but it’s not satisfactory.
I have also found that material placed online, in the “Electronic Journal of Mithraic Studies”, in zip files, has gradually become corrupt over the last 10 years and will not open any more. Being in zip format, it isn’t archived anywhere.
All of this seems remarkably unsatisfactory. Archaeology is considered a scientific discipline; yet these are fundamental problems.
Of course it may be that the problem is with me. Perhaps all the archaeologists are “in the know”. Some may read this and say, “What? You mean you didn’t know that it’s all at www.xyz.edu? Haw haw!” Well, if so, I don’t know. Nor has such a resource come my way.
So I suspect that archaeologists need to consider how they use the web. Indexes, catalogues, ways to find data — these are what the web is for.
There’s room for improvement here, chaps!
March 1st, 2014 by Roger Pearse
I found the following quotation online (on a tee-shirt!), attributed to Libanius:
Men are neither suddenly rich, nor suddenly good.
As an aphorism it is rather like Libanius himself; a bit trite. But did he say it?
I find the saying attributed already in A handbook of proverbs by a certain John Ray, published by Bohn, in 1855, p.451. But of course there is no reference. It seems an uncommon quote, judging from a Google search.
In 1831 a Moral Encyclopaedia, Or, Varlé’s Self-instructor appears, which has the same saying on p.199, attributed to “Laborius” (!).
In 1824 Thomas Fielding’s Select proverbs of all Nations p.207 has it by “Laberius”. This is, presumably, D. Laberius, the Roman knight and writer of mimes who was famously forced to appear on the stage by Julius Caesar in a contest with the actor Publilius Syrus. This seems a more probable source; but how to access his fragments? He is quoted, I believe, by Aulus Gellius; and that is probably the place to start.
February 25th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
Time for a public appeal! I’m trying to get hold of an exhibition catalogue, for an exhibition held at the town hall in Viterbo on 21 June 1997-10th January 1998, title: Il Mitreo di Vulci : Montalto di Castro, Palazzo del Comune, 21 giugno 1997-10 gennaio 1998, which is 43 p. and was written by a certain A.M. Sgubini Moretti (although the name may not be obvious, I think).
Copies exist in various Italian libraries: in Florence, in what might be Rome, and so on – a Google search on the title will bring up some OPACs.
But how on earth can I get hold of a copy? And especially the colour illustrations?
Suggestions, however off the wall, very welcome!
February 25th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
I spend a very busy morning attempting to locate the publication of the Mithraeum in Vulci, in Etruria. My search was rewarded, after around 3 hours persistence, by discovering that it was online! It was certainly impossible to buy, probably because it seems to have been an exhibition catalogue.
The site that made this possible is new to me, and seems to be an official “Italian digital internet” site:
I searched on “mitreo” and there it was.
I’m not entirely clear what the remit of the site is. But nevertheless, it seems to contain some very hard to find material!
UPDATE: Oh good grief … the PDF contains … only the cover and its reverse. No content whatever! Drat.
February 22nd, 2014 by Roger Pearse
I’m mainly busy with the Mithras site at the moment.
I’ve been working through a list of new finds since 1960 made by John W. Brandt, together with a list by Szabo Csaba. In each case I do a web search for pictures or sites. I did the Riegel Mithraeum on Friday night. It’s slow, but useful.
I wish I could find a picture of the curious sword found at Riegel. This had a semi-circle in the middle of the blade, as wide as a man’s neck. If put on, it would look as if a sword had been driven through the neck. Undoubtedly it featured in some initiation ceremony.
Today I collected a curious volume from the library – Al. N. Oikonomides, Mithraic art: a search for unpublished and unidentified monuments. It’s only a little book, with monochrome photos of a few such. But it’s still very interesting, if not very scholarly. It’s basically a set of random notes typed up.
I’ve also been working on the site infrastructure. This relies on a borrowed perl script, buried deep within, to handle references; and I have never liked it, or indeed fully understood it. On Friday I started to rewrite the thing in Java, rather cautiously – for website providers rarely support Java, or don’t support it very well. Indeed mine has the “Diablo Java 1.6″ runtime, of which I had never heard, but which turns out to be the BSD port of Oracle’s JRE, licensed in some strange way. After several hours labour, the results were in, and it worked and was satisfactory; much more so than the original perl script. I shall now move a lot of the code to Java, and take the opportunity to rethink some design decisions.
The Origen volume has come back from the typesetter with the latest set of corrections, and I have now produced a proof copy for the translator, and another for me. I think that I will allow one set of corrections from this, and then go to print. Somewhere there has to be an end to this task. The typesetter, Simon Hartshorne, has been very good about this indeed, but I am embarassed to trespass on his generosity much more.
I’m probably doing some other things as well: just can’t think of them tonight!
February 19th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
I’ve been back working on the Mithras site in the evenings, and in particular looking at Mithraea found in recent years. I’ve created a page for these, and I’m going through them.
Last night I was searching for material about the Hawarte Mithraeum in Syria. The site was a 5th century church, excavated in the 1970′s. The floor of the church was bowed near the altar, where a mosaic was removed. Some time in the mid-90′s, the floor collapsed revealing a painted chamber underneath. Robbers were quickly on the scene, and their attempts to sell fragments of painting came to the attention of the authorities. Michal Gowlokowski happened to see photos of some of the paintings and realised that the chamber must be a Mithraeum. He the Polish Archaeological Mission reached an agreement with the Syrian authorities, and excavated the site. Pleasingly, all their annual reports are online in English here!
The paintings are 4th century, which makes them some of the latest Mithraic monuments. They are also rather spectacular, as this blog (in Polish – but try using Google Translate on it) indicates! A sample image:
Mithras, his horse, and a chained demon.
Here’s another image, of a fresco restored by the Polish conservation team. The image seems to have been digitally enhanced for sale, but in the process has revealed additional data, especially the face of Luna at top left:
Here’s a picture of the inside of the Mithraeum from the conservators blog here:
I’m collecting images and data, and I need to write all this up. But notice on the left of this image a city wall, surmounted by the heads of demons, each being struck by rays (of light?). The detail at Hawarte is better than this photo may indicate. It adds something to our knowledge of the myth of Mithras. At Hawarte, it begins with the war of Zeus against the Giants, followed by the birth of Mithras and the usual story, and ending with a depiction of the city of demons and the demons being killed by the light of the (unconquered) sun.
More interestingly still, Dr Gowlikowski has managed to demonstrate a connection between Mithras and the winter solstice, the 25 December. For it seems that the chamber was so arranged that a ray of light would shine on Mithras’ face a couple of hours before sunset on that day. However I need to read into this with some care, and make sure that I understand the argument!
One can only praise the Polish team for their exemplary work in preserving and restoring the site. The paintings are today at the museum in Hama. Let us hope that they are safe!
February 15th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
A tweet drew my attention to a monument by a certain Tiberius Claudius Babillus which mentions the library of Alexandria. There is a Wikipedia article about him here, asserting that he died in 59 AD (we will all be wary of anything in this source I am sure). An image is online at Wikimedia Commons here:
The page gives the following source information:
Source: “Forschungen in Ephesos”, Vol. III, Vienna 1923, p.128.
References: IK-17-01, 03042 = AE 1924, 00078 = AE 1927, +00156 = AE 1933, +00251b = AE 1934, +00001
From which I infer that the inscription is from Ephesus. The extremely formulaic nature of Roman inscriptions means that the image fills in some of the missing chunks, where these are routine. There is a clear mention of “(Alexandri)na Bybliothece”
It would be nice to know more about this monument.
February 14th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
A correspondant tells me of a website which lists the volumes of the ACW series, and, better, has links to some which are online at Archive.org! The link is here.
Ah, those were the days, before century-long copyrights!!