Archive for September, 2008

New sermons of Augustine

Back in March at Thoughts on Antiquity I reported on a discovery of 6 sermons of Augustine previously thought lost.

Mike Aquilina at Way of the Fathers draws my attention to an update on this, which indicates that the sermons are authentic.

…in 1974, in France, Johannes Divjak found 29 unpublished letters; in 1990, in Mainz, François Dolbeau discovered 26 sermons. The latter discovery, however, is only a link in the chain of finds in Germany: during the past century about 60 sermons came to light in various German libraries which research has shown to be authentic. …

The parchment manuscript’s 264 pages are no bigger than 115 x 95 millimetres and contain about 60 sermons, most of which are already known. They are sermons by Caesarius and the Pseudo John Chrysostom, written for the Lenten Season and for several celebrations in the month of September, and an extraordinary collection of 28 sermons which can be attributed to Augustine.

Perseus on a PC?

I’ve just discovered that Tyndale House have a technical blog.  Among the many items of interest is the detail that you can download the Perseus code and data and run it on your own PC.  This is the Perseus Hopper project, apparently.  Naturally this would be far faster than using the main site.  But… apparently you need to know what you’re doing with Java.  Well, as a Java programmer, I suspect I’ll give it a go!

PS: I’ve just read that you can’t run it on Windows, as it generates file names that are illegal.  How very, very odd.

Raiding the shelves

It looks as if I may get an unscheduled day in Cambridge tomorrow, courtesy of the Centre for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts team who are there photographing.  With luck I’ll get to see what they’re doing and how they do it.  As someone who has photographed a few manuscripts in my time, I hope to learn a thing or two.

But I also hope to make a raid on the university library.  They must have a copy of the only real publication of Al-Makin, the Historia Saracenica of Erpenius, and it would be interested to see this, and perhaps order a photocopy.  I shall have to draw up a list of articles to photocopy, etc.

Perhaps I should try Riedel’s edition of Abu’l Barakat’s catalogue of Arabic Christian literature, since my ILL is taking forever!

Al-Makin in Wikipedia

I’ve been gathering information on Al-Makin, and updating the Wikipedia article, for lack of anywhere better to stuff the information.  A scholar has written to me about Al-Makin, who looks as if he would like to do a critical edition.  But with 80 mss, it’s fairly intimidating!

Montfaucon and the manuscripts

I’ve started to read the English translation of Montfaucon, and some of his remarks seem curiously relevant even now.

What a singular favour, and token of your extraordinary generosity was it, that you should cause that catalogue of manuscripts [of the Laurentian library] composed by men excellently learned with great care and industry, whereof there was but one copy, to be delivered into my hands, and permitted to be carried into France! — p.iv, dedication to Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany.

For you allow all natives and strangers that have attained the reputation of learning, and employ their labour and industry in the advancement of literature and service of men addicted to it, an easy access to that mighty collection, thinking it unreasonable that so many and such valuable volumes, brought together by your own and your ancestors’ care, at so vast an expense, should lie in obscurity eaten up with dust and kept from public use.  I could heartily wish that all those who have libraries of manuscripts were of the same mind; some of whom, led away by an incredible mistake, imagine that famous books become the more valuable by lying concealed and lose of their price by being exposed for public use; whereas, on the contrary, if they lie hid, they are of no use to themselves, their owners and the learned world; and if made public, they gain themselves and their owners renown, and are an improvement and a help to literature. — p.v.

Lynne Brindley and the directors of the British Library — this means YOU.

…in some places I cut short, and applied myself the less, lest I should be obstructed in my design by longer delays, forasmuch as those in whose power the libraries were had no inclination to see me upon that work.  — p.ii, discussing the detail of his lists of mss.

I had at first designed to visit not only the Roman, Milanese, Venetian and Florentine libraries, but also those of Calabria and Sicily.  For I have been informed… by the accounts of many creditable persons that there is a considerable number of Greek manuscripts in those parts.  For the Greek tongue having been not long since used in those countries; now that has worn out, there are still many Greek manuscripts neglected and unregarded in the libraries of churches and monasteries.  But unexpected business and occasions calling me away, I laid aside that design, and yet it were worthwhile to go make a search in those parts, for as I have been certainly informed, in the remoter parts of Calabria and places far from the Great Road, there are many manuscripts perishing, eaten up with worms and destroyed in filthy uses.  And during my stay in Venice… I was preparing to pass over to the coasts of Dalmatia and the Morea.  For not far from Ragula is a Grecian monastery full of Greek manuscripts, and in several parts of the Morea there are still manuscripts, which may be bought for a small matter from the Greeks now living in misery and ignorance. — preface, v.

Would that we could go and find those manuscripts now.

The next day, we went to the Ambrosian libray and embraced the renowed Antony Muratorius, one of the two chief library keepers, with whom I had been familiarly acquainted and conversant by letter.  He always made it his principal care to forward our designs… — ch.2, p.16.

Imagine meeting Muratori himself.  Then follows a list of authors and works, including

Emanuel Paleologus, the emperor, his disputes concerning the faith with a learned Persian. …

There were enough among the Greeks that applied themselves to the vain and dangerous study of judiciary astrology.  There are three authors of that sort in one volume, under false names, in all likelihood because perhaps it was not lawful openly to profess that art….

There is a much greate number of authors in a book of the art of making Gold, number 193.  modern and silk.  Stephanus Oecumenius de Physica consideratione.  An epistle to Theodorus; the abridgement of the holy art; instructions to the emperor Heraclius;…

The alchemical manuscripts that contain Stephanos of Alexandria are all collections of bits by various authors,  but this is clearly the lectures of Stephanos.

“Diarium Italicum” online, or why I love Google Books

Some years ago I photographed some early editions of Tertullian in Norwich Cathedral Library.  The library was a shed on the roof of the cloister; in fact a ruinous medieval room, which had been reroofed.  In it stood a perfect 18th century library, shelves and books, and leaded-glass windows.

It was the sort of place where you would see books which you only ever see in footnotes.  Great folios of 16th and 17th century writers, little octavos of long forgotten divines, and so forth.

Among the books there was the “Diarum Italicum” (1702) of Bernard de Montfaucon, one of the Maurist fathers.  He made a trip into Italy, listing books and antiquities of all kinds, and providing a mass of research material for all of us.  The book was translated twice into English, and the library had a copy of that also.

It’s all rather different today.  The library room has been turned into a ‘rare books’ room, and so made inaccessible to us, while a new room has been built in front of it to hold a modern theological library.  Doubtless the latter is more comfortable, but I mourn the old days, the charm of the old room and its shelves of old books.  I never did get to read Montfaucon’s book — I was always busy with something else, and Norwich isn’t as easy to get to as it might be.

But I had occasion to remember the book, and idly looked for it on Google Books.  And… THERE IT WAS!  I downloaded it instantly.  Then I recalled the English translation.  And… THAT WAS THERE TOO!

Let us reflect that we are among the most fortunate of men, and offer our thanks to God for Google Books.

Fr. Columba Stewart saves the world (or at least its literature)

PaleoJudaica led me to a rather nice article here on the tireless efforts of the director of the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Columba Stewart, to photograph manuscripts in dangerous places.  Those of us who have been worrying about Ethiopic mss can take comfort that Fr. Columba is on the case.  Good for him! 

Extant ancient writers who get omitted from the handbooks

I was musing last night about Stephen of Alexandria, the philosopher and alchemist at the court of Heraclius.  He was known to contemporaries as the “Universal Philosopher”.  But you will read through the Patrologies in vain to hear about him.  Indeed in what handbook of late antique literature would we find him?

We’re accustomed to the idea that all late Greek literature is ecclesiastical and therefore in the Patrologia Graeca.  But this is untrue.  Technical and scientific and medical works, in particular, are omitted.  There are whole rafts of works, therefore, which certainly never cross my mind and probably don’t feature in the minds of anyone else.  Nor is it a simple matter to translate works of that kind.  Unless you know alchemy, or medicine, how can you make a translation?

Yet how unrealistic this is!  Doesn’t this silence, this omission, give us a quite misleading idea of Greek literature in the period?  What can be done to recover these things from the specialist collections in which they lie, immured and forgotten?

In the 1930′s Sherwood Taylor, the editor of the journal Ambix, translated into English and printed 3 of the 9 lectures of the work of Stephen of Alexandria on alchemy in that journal.  I scanned these, then realised they were in copyright and had to remove them.  But I did compose a Wikipedia article from what I learned, as a sort of bucket in which to dump this info.  Likewise there was a translation of another alchemical work by Zosimos.

Something about the last article made me suspect that he had perhaps translated more.  A visit to the Oxford Museum of Science in Broad Street allowed me to search through his papers, including multiple hand-written and type-written drafts of the first 3 lectures.  There I found a translation of the 4th lecture, unseen by anyone since Taylor’s death, not even by the archivist and tucked inside a packet bound with a pink ribbon.  It was hand-written, unrevised; and, to me, unreadable.  But I got a photocopy which I have at home.  Perhaps one day I’ll have another go at decyphering his handwriting!

Mss to go online at Manchester

A rather useless story at the BBC News Site.  Apparently the John Rylands Library — winner of this month’s Bloodsucker Award – are going to digitise some mss and place them online. 

Obviously any digitisation is welcome.  But only two cheers, unless they do the lot.  I will investigate as more news emerges.

Later: A better story at the Guardian.  Apparently they’re not going to do anything readers of this blog will care about; just 40 Middle English manuscripts; stuff like a medieval cookbook.  Rats!

The work, which will be carried out using a state-of-the-art high-definition camera, will begin next month and is due to be completed by late 2009.

Jan Wilkinson, the director of the John Rylands library, said: “The library’s Middle English manuscripts are a research resource of immense significance. Yet the manuscripts are inherently fragile, and until now access to them has been restricted by the lack of digital copies. Digitisation will make them available to everyone.

“For the first time it will be possible to compare our manuscripts directly with other versions of the texts in libraries located across the world, opening up opportunities for new areas of research. We hope that this will be the beginning of a wider digitisation programme, which will unlock the tremendous potential of our medieval manuscripts and printed books for the benefit of the academic community and the wider public.”

Well said, Jan.  Now if only you’d do something about your greedy photographic department…

Elmacin (Al-Makin) 1

I’m not sure where this will take me, but I’ve taken a first step to doing some work on the World Chronicle (al-Majmu` al-Mubarak) of George Elmacin (Jirgis Al-Makin, Ibn Amid); I’ve ordered a copy of the text. 

In fact I’ve ordered a reproduction from the British Library of their manuscript, Ms. Or. 7564 (218 folios).  The reproduction is a digital scan of a monochrome microfilm (don’t laugh); and unusually for the BL, is at a reasonable price of around £60 ($120).  What the quality is like I don’t yet know.  They want a month to produce it, which I can live with.

The work itself is in two halves; the first in 116 biographies of major figures from the Creation down to the 11th year of Heraclius; the second is the “Historia Saracenica” edited with a Latin translation by Erpenius back in the 17th century.  I don’t know if I can get hold of a copy of the latter, or whether I need to yet.  A Latin translation of the end of the first part and all of the second exists in manuscript, unpublished, in the Bodleian, but their current policies on reproductions mean that this is inaccessible to me.

Now I’d like to pay someone to make a transcription and translation of the lot.  At the moment I have no idea what that would cost, except that any text that comes on 436 pages won’t be cheap.  I also have to consider the credit crunch, and whether someone like myself who works as a freelance can afford to fund an expensive long-running project when I don’t have work guaranteed beyond Christmas.

So I’m not sure what will happen here.  But let’s travel hopefully, cautiously and see. 

I think the first desideratum is to get a list of the 116 figures for whom Elmacin gives a  biography.  That shouldn’t cost too much, surely.  One problem may be that these names will be rubricated in the manuscript, i.e. done in red ink, which won’t be visible on a monochrome microfilm (we may fairly curse those who in the age of the digital camera force us to work with this obsolete technology!).  It might be possible to get images on DVD of the two Beirut mss from the HMML site for a relatively small sum, and these might fill the gap.

The next item, I think, would be a translation of the life of Christ.  This is the bit that Shlomo Pines used for his text of the peculiar Testimonium Flavianum that he attributed to “Agapius”, so should be interesting, to get a feel for whether that biography really drew on Agapius.

That should take us up beyond Christmas, and give me a better idea about the text, the costs, and the economic situation.  In 2002-3 most freelancers like myself were out of work for a year.  I devoutly hope the same doesn’t happen this time.