Archive for July, 2006

Unpublished translation of the “Bazaar of Heracleides”, and copyrights

It’s late here, but my mind is still ticking over, and I’ve remembered something that I had half forgotten, and started investigating.  I read somewhere that Norman McLean, then lecturer in Aramaic at Cambridge University, made a translation of the apology of Nestorius, which was discovered in a Syriac manuscript about 800 years old in the early 20th century under the title of the “Bazaar of Heracleides”.  (The Syriac translator had misunderstood “Dialogue” and rendered it “Bazaar”!)  This manuscript “was discovered in the library of the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East in the 1890′s” (so an internet site) and an edition by Paul Bedjan (“Liber Heraclidis”, Paris, 1910)  and a translation into French by Francois Nau (1910) appeared.  I wish I knew something about the Ms.  

I’ve emailed CU library to ask if they have McLean’s papers, to see if his translation still exists. SPCK did advertise his translation, but it never appeared.  A translation was made somewhat later (in 1925) and published by Oxford University Press.  This was done by G.R.Driver and Leonard Hodgson, and has been reprinted by Wipf and Stock and is available from Amazon. 

I’ve always thought that the copyright status of the OUP version was questionable. It must still be in copyright in the UK and EU, since Driver and Hodgson have been dead less than 70 years.  Thus the existence of a McLean translation is of interest, or so I thought until this very night. 

But writing this piece has caused me to dig out my photocopy of Drivers &c.  I had always thought that it was published in the UK, not in the US, which would give it 95 years protection.  But looking, I see that OUP advertise their offices in London, New York and other places — which means that it was published in the US.  If there was a copyright notice, this would mean that it was in the public domain now unless that right had been renewed in 1952-54.  Only 15% were renewed, so the chances would be good.  But in fact there is no copyright notice, which puts it in the public domain, so explaining the appearance of editions from Wipf and Stock and indeed another publisher.

So anyone who wants to scan this work and put it online may do so.  Someone should.  I’m tempted!

Postscript: CUL report that they have only a few of his letters, and certainly not this translation.

Porphyry Against the Christians

I’ve been reading Robert M. Berchman’s translation of the fragments of Porphyry’s attack on the Christians.  It’s good to have this book, because those fragments were not really accessible to English-speaking readers.  

Half of it is full of introductory stuff, with lots of philosophical jargon.  This isn’t nearly as useful as T.D.Barnes article in the JTS from 1973 on Porphyry; to read that is a liberal education!  But it’s not bad. 

Berchman does refer to the translation of R.J.Hoffmann, which I reviewed on my site, unlike l’Année Philologique who ignore it.  The translations aren’t as readable as Hoffmann, but are probably more accurate.  Berchman seems aware that his intended audience is undergraduates — although how many American undergraduates know the meaning of terms like “hylic” might be queried!  But at $130, few will buy it.  My guess is that  it will get extensively photocopied.  It’s a good, solidly useful thing to have, and I’m glad that Brill recognised the need for such a book.

On my own site is a page which starts out to do the same thing, but is incomplete.  I intend to go through the Patrologia Graeca and add in more.  Berchman’s book means that at least I can check my translations!

Syriac Studies

At the moment I’m doing things with Syriac. Since this is obscure, perhaps a few words of introduction would be appropriate.

The Syriac language is a late dialect of Aramaic originating in the city of Edessa. It became the common tongue throughout the ancient near-east and literature exists written in Syriac from the 2nd to 13th centuries AD. Even today the language is understood in the mountains of Kurdistan, and also in Kerala in India, where Syriac-speaking Christians brought it. The same missionaries also travelled the Silk Road to China, although the only trace of their presence is an inscription, some texts, and the fact that modern Mongolian is still written in Syriac characters.

Why is Syriac interesting? — Because a lot of Greek literature was translated into it, and often a Syriac translation will exist where the original is lost. This is how the Arabs came into possession of Greek science, and so it was transmitted to us. The entire works of Aristotle were translated into Syriac, not once but twice (by different factions) so that Syriac-speakers could take part in the theological arguments which dominated the eastern Roman empire and were all phrased in Aristotelean dialectic.

Sebastian Brock’s Introduction to Syriac Studies is a relatively short overview of the subject.

In the 1900′s, the then Chaldean Archbishop of Seert, Addai Scher, toured around the monasteries of his region and published brief catalogues of the contents of their libraries, often as articles in the Journal Asiatique. This is now online at Gallica. So I have PDF’s of these catalogues of Notre-Dame des Semences at Alqos, the Borgia collection in Rome, and the Jerusalem Patriarchate, and each has a list of names in an index at the back.

I have been attempting to track down information about Syriac authors and their works. Last night I made a rather surprising discovery. I was compiling some information about John bar Penkaye. I could only find information on one of his works, the Rish Melle or Historical Summary. Book 15 of this is a contemporary record of events after the Arab invasion, including the death of Mohammed’s grandson Hassan. But I knew other works existed.

In the indices, I found works listed! I then repeated this for others that I am interested in — the 7th century astronomer Severus Sebokht, and the obscure Thomas of Edessa of the 6th century. In both cases there were manuscripts of works whose existence was quite unknown to me.

Of course I have only a few catalogues here. The catalogue of Seert itself was published as a book of ca. 100 pages, of which I will try to obtain a photocopy (only 2 copies here in the UK!).

I fear that the catalogue of the library at Seert will make mournful reading — it was burned by the Turks in 1915, and Addai Scher himself was martyred. It contained the only copy in the world of Theodore of Mopsuestia De incarnatione. Scher had discovered it in 1905 — only fragments were known before then — and brought it to Seert for safekeeping. But it was never published, and no man living now knows what that work said.