A marvellous collection of photographs – Following Hadrian, by Carole Raddato

Over the last couple of months, I have become aware of another individual who, quietly, and without any fanfare, is making a real difference to ancient history online.  Her name is Carole Raddato, and she writes the Following Hadrian blog.

What she is doing is travelling all over the Roman Empire, and photographing its material remains.  The results appear on Flickr here.

She’s going into museums, and photographing exhibits, and placing them online.  In quantity:  there are over 14,000 photographs in that Flickr collection.  And at very high quality: far, far better than anything we see in published literature.

I became aware of her work, while working on the Mithras site.  Again and again I found that a striking, clear, good quality image would be … by Carole Raddato.  It might be in Wikimedia Commons (a site that takes a pretty casual attitude to copyrights of others); more usually on her own Flickr feed.

Again and again I would look for some artefact in some museum and then find … Miss Raddato had visited that museum and made a collection of photographs, all now freely online.

The path she is following – that of the Emperor Hadrian in his travels about the empire – is taking her to the major sites and repositories of the ancient and modern world.  The result is this marvellous collection of material.

A lot of people put holiday photos online.  They are of variable quality.  But I don’t know of anybody else who is undertaking such a herculean task, and doing so in a way that is of permanent value.

We are all in your debt, Madam.  May your camera flash never grow dim!

Copyright and critical editions – a French court says the text is not copyright

Today I learned via  of a fascinating court case in France, here, (in French).  The question is whether editing a critical text of an ancient author creates a copyright.

The dispute is between two companies, Droz and Garnier.  Garnier placed online the text (without apparatus or commentary) of certain medieval texts, using the text published by Droz.  Droz sued.

The court ruled:

Therefore it appears that the company Libraire Droz has not provided proof that the raw texts used by the society Classiques GN are protected by copyright.  Thus its cases, which are solely based on infringement, must be rejected.

It is worth reading the page, even as translated into English in the Google Translate version, because the points made are interesting and generally relevant.  A work is protected if it is fixed in form (i.e. an idea is not protected) and it is original in character, reflecting the personality of its author.  But the court stated:

However, it should be noted that the law of intellectual property is not meant to include all intellectual or scientific work, but only that based on a creative contribution which arise

This indicates the direction of the court’s thinking.  They are plainly familiar with the fact that one critical edition may differ only slightly from another, and argue that the process of textual criticism, since Lachmann, is largely mechanical.  Specifically copyright does not apply to someone doing a lot of tedious work; only to creative work.

This demonstrates enormous common sense on the part of the court.  Nobody, nobody, when the copyright laws were invented, imagined that stuff like a critical edition of an ancient text was involved.  They were thinking of novels, belles-lettres, poetry, composed by modern figures and sold for money.  They were quite right.

The practical effect, if we say that the raw text of an ancient author, as given in a critical edition, is the copyright of the editor, is to make the text of that ancient author into the property of this or that modern publishing house.   That, frankly, is ridiculous.

Of course the plaintiffs are appealing.  The case has considerable importance.  But I hope that we will get a clear ruling on this.

The commentary in a critical edition may reasonably be copyright.  The apparatus, largely compiled by mechanical methods, seems doubtful to me.  But the raw text … surely the whole point of the edition is NOT to create an original work, but rather to give us Homer, or Origen, or Martial, or Juvenal?

Let’s think of a modern example.  I do not believe that someone should acquire a copyright over my work, enough to allow him to bar access to others, simply because they did some work on my spelling, or fixed some errors from a corrupted hard disk file!  That would be the modern equivalent.  It’s palpably fraudulent.  So why should it be different, simply because the author lived long ago?

Let us raise a glass to the common sense of the French court, and hope that the higher courts are not pressured or bribed by publishing interests.

Proof-reading help wanted

The edition and translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel that I commissioned is now in its final stages.  I need someone to check that the latest bunch of changes were applied correctly, and also to go through the footnotes in one (long 150 page) section and check that the numerals are in the right places, and match up with the text at the bottom of the page.  It’s a bit tedious, and will probably take a few hours, and I haven’t the time to do it.  Unfortunately the proof-reader is otherwise engaged.

Would anyone like to volunteer to assist?  I can’t pay a lot, but I can pay something.  If you’d be interested, please contact me.

Chariot-racing at Leptis Magna in a mosaic

The circus of the Roman city of Leptis Magna in Libya was plundered for stone by a rascally Frenchman a couple of centuries ago.  However we can get a good idea of what it looked like from a mosaic at the Villa Selene, nearby.  Unfortunately it’s not that easy to make out.  Here’s my 2006 photograph, taken from one end.

Villa Selene nr Leptis Magna - chariot racing (original)

Villa Selene nr Leptis Magna – chariot racing (original)

However I discovered a funny thing this evening.  I loaded that image into Paint.Net this evening and, idly, hit the menu option to “auto-level”.  This never does anything useful; but it’s the top option on effects, so I often try it.  And … there is always a first time, and this is what I got! –

Villa Selene, chariot racers - autoleveled

Villa Selene, chariot racers – autoleveled

Suddenly we can see!  The gates at one end, the spina, even the colours, all become possible.

Digital photography … it is such a gift!

A postit note

The task is done; the peace is signed,
Fearful tensions now unwind,
Peace in our time! the foolish cry,
The wise will keep their powder dry.
– Bob Harrison, Ashford, Kent, 27 Feb. 98, on BBC Ceefax.

It’s a new financial year, which means a new set of accounts here in the UK where I currently am staying.  I threw out a bunch of papers from 2008, and then went through my filing cabinet throwing out a bunch of old bills.

But attached to one of them was a stray postit note.  On it were the lines above.  I thought them worthy of record back then; I think them worthy of it now.

I don’t recall the crisis that must have provoked that dry comment.  The BBC’s teletext service, Ceefax, only just exists now, and its letters page is a memory, gone with the analogue TV service.

We forget, perhaps, that the majority of human thought and communication passes away, unrecorded.  Not all of it deserves to.

Digitising ancient texts – the future that did not happen

This morning I saw the following announcement:

We’re really proud to announce that EpiDoc XML versions of all 99 volumes of the monumental Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) are now being added to the Open Greek and Latin Project‘s GitHub repository!

What it means, for non-techno junkies, is that someone has scanned the 99 volumes of the CSEL, turned them into text, encoded that within the XML format, and uploaded them to a standard open-access repository.  The point of the XML is to preserve the footnotes and other weird formatting.  It will take some kind of viewer to make this useful.

In a way this is good news.  Only half the CSEL has been online, in page images scanned by Google and Archive.org and others.

And yet … haven’t we been here before?

How is this different, in many ways, to what I was doing back in 1998?  I was taking printed Latin texts (by Tertullian), and creating an electronic text.  Mine was in HTML, rather than XML.  I didn’t always bother with apparatus – but then, there was only one of me doing it.

But essentially … isn’t this the same activity?

I was inspired by Harry Plantinga of the CCEL.  Even earlier than me – was it in 1995? – he had got Logos to digitise the 38 volumes of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, footnotes and all, and posted them online in text files.

Back then, we knew that the future was bright.  We knew that in ten years time, there would be a sea of texts online.

So what happened?  Because, unless I miss my calculation, it’s now sixteen years later.  And we’re only now getting something like this done, in much the same way as a solitary individual – myself – was doing it all those years ago.

The classical texts have mainly been the work of Bill Thayer at Lacus Curtius.  He’s been hacking away all these years.  Why isn’t his work long superceded?

The patristic texts have mainly been me.  Again, why hasn’t my site been overtaken by massive digitisation efforts?

What’s changed in the interval?  Yes, Google Books has scanned trillions of page images.  That has been great.  Microsoft started to do the same and then abandoned it.  Not so great.  Archive.org has flown the flag in its place, in a much lower budget way – well done, but not what we anticipated.  Publishers have, on the whole, been mainly concerned to ensure that Google Books would only educate Americans and people not living in Europe.  And nobody has cared.

In many ways the world is a far different place than it was in 1998, 16 years ago.  And yet, as we learn today, most of the ambitions of people like myself, like Harry, like Bill, and indeed others who have laboured in the same fields[1], have not been fulfilled.

Which is a bit sobering, really.

We are getting, gradually, the mass digitisations of manuscripts.  But … I was doing this back in 2000.  Undoubtedly I was ahead of my time, and I gave up after doing a handful.  But … with all the technical advances, surely in fourteen years we should be further down the line?

In other ways we are losing ground.  James Tauber created the electronic Greek New Testament in the MorphGNT text file, lemmatized and ready for processing by anybody.  The German bible society threatened litigation, on the basis that the Greek New Testament belongs to THEM, and not to some funny blokes named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and offline it went.  Nothing replaced it.  Nobody cared.

What I take from this is that we really must not simply assume that stuff will come online any time soon.  It isn’t happening.  There are any number of initiatives, and all these are welcome.  We’re in a much better place, in some ways.  And yet … compared to the progress of technology, the content has hardly moved forward.

Will the classical internet ever truly come to be?  Or the patristic internet?  In our life-times?

  1. [1] A list would be invidious – I’m just pulling a couple of names here, without disrespect to others.

Where have all the photos (of archaeology) gone? Gone to recycle bins, every one.

Amphitheatre, Leptis Magna.

Amphitheatre, Leptis Magna.

There’s no getting away from it: the Roman city of Leptis Magna in Libya is gorgeous.  It’s situated by the sea, the surrounding area is very underdeveloped, thanks to Gaddafi’s tyranny, and it gives you such a great idea of what a Roman city looked like.  I’ve been twice, and would gladly go again.  Even the approach to the amphitheatre (left) is like something out of a movie.

This thought was prompted by looking through some photographs of the city online.  At the moment there is no package tourism to Libya.  Nor will there be, until some kind of government arises once more.

Meanwhile, we do have photographs.  Everyone who did go made copious photographs, and a lot of them appear online.  Which is rather fortunate, really.

A couple of days ago I was searching vainly for photographs of Graeco-Roman objects from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  I found one site which presented as many photos of the Egyptian objects as it could find, with the note that photography was “no longer allowed” in the museum.  That particular policy seems very short-sighted now, considering the attempts to loot the museum during the revolution.  But at least some are online.

What I was looking for was the Mithraic monuments.  For some time now I’ve been collecting photographs of all sorts of Mithraic monuments for the Mithras site, to create a reference.  Even now I can tell that some interesting photos were once online, and no longer are.  But once offline, they are gone.

Sites like Archive.org, which retain copies of sites, often omit photographs from the pages that they archive.  Other sites misguidedly block archiving, which is sad when they then vanish in their turn.

We really do need a proper archive of photos uploaded to the web.  It is a shame to lose what has been made and has been uploaded, when we need not.  All that is required is will, disk-space, and some copyright-friendly location.

Archaeologists are particularly in need of a photographic archive.  Their trade is one of physical monuments.  You might think these are permanent enough, yet it seems remarkably hard even to locate them sometimes.  I have been unable to discover the whereabouts of the finds from the Carnarvon / Caernarfon mithraeum, since the closure of the museum.  Photographs would be invaluable… but of course I can’t make them if I can’t find the objects.  Again and again in Vermaseren’s Corpus Inscriptionum et Monumentum Religionis Mithriacae I find statements that such and such an altar is “lost”.  And, let’s face it … archaeologists are notoriously bad at publishing excavation reports.

While working on the Egyptian monuments in the CIMRM, I noticed that at least two photographs included in it seem to be reproduced (without credit) from earlier publications.  I don’t disapprove – on the contrary, such a catalogue of monuments might validly do just this.   I have often gone to older publications myself and found photographs of items, where the item is included in CIMRM but no photo is given.  But it shows that getting hold of images of monuments has long been a bottleneck.  All the same, I bet some tourist photos of them exist, uncatalogued and forgotten.

There’s a lot of room for improvement.  But it might start by taking rather more seriously the issue of archiving photographs that have been taken, that do exist, and could be of use.

The inopportune polemicist in my email inbox

I get a lot of email, either directly or through the form on this site.  Most of it is very interesting.  Some of it makes work for me.  And sometimes I get an email which makes me rub my eyes and wonder what – or if – the author was thinking.

A couple of days ago, I had a query from someone about a page on the site.  As a postscript it asked me to explain what I thought about the catholic claims of the apostolic succession, and why we should hold to the bible, and what I thought about the period before the New Testament canon had been closed.

Now this was a bit of a nuisance.  Who is this person to me, that I should stop what I am doing in order to scribble something on these subjects? We’re all busy people.

Like most people who are not themselves Catholics – and probably like a good many who are – I don’t spend any time thinking about peculiarly Roman Catholic claims.  It’s a terrible waste of my time to do so.  They don’t impact on my world in any way.  They’re not ancient in origin, mostly arising during the medieval period, so they don’t come within my field of interest.  And, in truth, I am far more interested in history than theology.  It was a proud moment when I finally worked out what the issue was in the Nestorian dispute!  It took me a long time!

Anyway, I responded to the first query, and added a demurrer on the second.  I mildly commented that writing intra-Christian polemics was a waste of both our time in a world so bitterly hostile to Christians, and especially to the Catholic church.

If I had written a couple of days later I might have referenced the appalling episode, reported here (but not, I suspect, where anyone can see it), where a Christian street preacher in England named John Craven was approached by two boys who demanded he tell them what he thought about homosexuality.  He read the bible passage to them, and told them that God hates sin but loves the sinner.  They promptly insulted him, and denounced him to the nearest policeman.  The old man was arrested and held for 15 hours without food or water, and only released a couple of hours after that.  The courts had just awarded damages against the police.  That is the environment in which we live.  Why bother with in-fighting?

I wrote: and thought no more of the matter.

Today I received a further email, brushing aside my demurrer and reiterating and enlarging the demand.

I belong to a generation that is polite.  Each time, I wondered if I should at least say something briefly.  I thought for a moment on the subject; and found myself irritated at these presumptuous conundra, carefully crafted, not to inform, but to cause people to change their beliefs.  I found myself on the verge of defining exactly why I am not a Roman Catholic.  And this I do not wish to do.

The focus of the hate of the establishment is directed at the Catholic  Church.  It is so directed, under various pretexts, by people who simply wish to undermine its moral authority in order to promote their favoured vices.  The rest is simply eyewash.

But these same wicked men have just as  much loathing for all of us.  It is not because the Catholic church is Catholic, that it is abused.  It is because it is Christian.  Mr Craven was not a Catholic, yet the policemen felt no hesitation in arresting him.

So I don’t want to go here.  On the important points of our time, the Catholic Church has stood like a beacon in the world.  With its defects I am not concerned, since none of them affect me.

Yet this polemicist managed to get me to the edge of writing polemic against it.

It’s a warning, when we write about Christian subjects to non-Christians who seem friendly.  Just because someone is not an overt enemy does not mean that they are receptive to our arguments.  They may just be polite, and unengaged.  Unless people see Christ in us, they will not become Christians, whatever we say.

I also get protestant cranks write to me, from time to time.  I suppose everyone has the lunatic fringe.

But it’s a warning to be careful.

From my diary

Lately I’ve been taking an interest in the monuments of Mithras in Egypt.  Apparently some are in the museum in Alexandria, while others come from Memphis and are in the Graeco-Roman room in the Cairo museum.  I haven’t been very fortunate in finding images from either online.  Is it possible that one or both of these museums discourages tourist photographs?

I’m quite tempted to fly out there and take some photos myself.  It’s telling that a monument of the lion-headed god appears in various publications in the very same, low-grade, monochrome image!  Clearly nobody has access to anything better.  On the other hand all the flights that I could see, with British Airways and Egyptair, all fly out at the end of the day, to arrive near midnight.  What’s that about, I wonder?

The hour changed last weekend, so everybody is jet-lagged (which is why I am writing this at 7:45 am; no sleep).  But I intend to go over to Cambridge University Library late this afternoon, and photocopy an article in Mithras in Egypt, as well as a page from the CIMRM that was accidentally omitted from the PDF that I have.

Last night I managed to do a fix to the code behind the Mithras website, which should make image handling rather easier.  Always so much to do!

A note arrived from the typesetter on the Origen volume.  He’s working away on fixes to the footnoting, which went awry a revision or two back.  Being a publisher is very hard work, let me tell you!

English translation of Michael the Syrian by Matti Moosa now available

A very large and unexpected parcel arrived today.  In it was … the first published English translation of the world history of Michael the Syrian, or Michael Rabo, to give him his proper name.  Matti Moosa, who has translated a number of important Syriac texts, is the translator, and he has kindly sent me a copy, since I learned of his work a couple of years ago.

moosa_michael_raboIt’s a monster volume, not far short of some lectern bibles in size, and 827 pages.  The quality of manufacture of the volume is very high.  Note that the hardback cover is actually black – the picture to the left doesn’t give the correct colour balance – and very, very impressive looking.  The Syrian Orthodox diocese of Antioch have published it, and made a very splendid job of it.

I’ve had no time to read through it.  It is, in the main, the translation, with limited but useful footnotes.

The publisher’s site is here.  You can purchase a copy online here.  The price is $75, and that is actually entirely reasonable for a volume of this size and quality.  (International buyers may need to pay some extra postage – obviously they’re not quite sure what this should be).

This is a very important work indeed.  For a long time scholars have been dependent on Chabot’s French translation, made from an illicit copy of the manuscript.

Michael the Syrian was the patriarch of the monophysite Syrian Orthodox in Syria at the time of the crusades.  His picture of the period is very interesting indeed.  One of the problems that Michael faced was treacherous intrigues by the Byzantines.  The crusader patriarch of Jerusalem had precisely the same problem.  In consequence the two got on extremely well.

But the work is even more valuable to patristics and Syriac scholars.  It begins with a Syriac translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea, then with the continuation by the scholar-bishop, James of Edessa.  It goes on to give verbatim accounts from any number of now lost Syriac histories.

I don’t suppose that the publishers have a lot of contacts with university libraries.  But this book should be in them.  If you do have such a contact, please ask your university library to obtain a copy.