Archive for January, 2009

Tebtunis temple library

This blog reports a publication (offline – these papyrologists really don’t get it, do they?) of some narrative texts from the temple in ancient Tebtunis in Egypt.  Look at the contents!

The book presents ten narrative texts written in the demotic script and preserved in papyri from the Tebtunis temple library (1st/2nd century AD).

Eight of the texts are historical narratives which focus on the first millennium BC. Four concern prince Inaros, who rebelled against the Assyrian domination of Egypt in the 7th century, and his clan. One is about Inaros himself, while the other three take place after his death. Two other narratives mention Necho I and II of the Saite Period. The story about Necho II is particularly noteworthy, since it refers to the king as Nechepsos and for the first time provides us with the identity behind this name. Nechepsos is well attested as a sage king in Greek literary tradition, above all in relation to astrology. Of the two final historical narratives, one belongs to the cycle of stories about the Heliopolitan priesthood and the other concerns the Persian occupation of Egypt in the 5th or 4th century. The volume further includes a prophecy that forms the continuation of Nectanebo’s Dream, known from the Greek translation by Apollonios, and a new version of the mythological Contendings of Horus and Seth. Apart from a translation of the prophecy, none of the papyri have previously been published.

How to do history

Campus Mawrtius highlights this concise but clear passage from Thomas Corsten’s BMCR review of the Choix d’écrits of Louis Robert (2007):

In sum, this book–like each individual publication by Robert–shows clearly the method every epigraphist or, rather, every historian should follow, i.e., to start from the evidence (not from theories), that is from all available sorts of evidence, in this case inscriptions, coins and literature, and from there to move to drawing conclusions. … Robert’s Choix d’écrits as well as everything he has written should be compulsory reading for every student and scholar of antiquity–and especially for the many in our times who are busy destroying the foundation on which all serious research is based: the study of ancient documents.

 It is extraordinary to me that any other method could even be contemplated.

The tomb of Alexander the Great

You know how it is.  You’re slumped in front of the TV, and you turn it on and there’s something about Egypt.  In my case it was Secrets of Egypt: Alexander’s Tomb

Like everyone else, I knew that Alexander’s tomb was in Alexandria, and that it disappears in the confusion in the 3rd-4th centuries AD.  John Chrysostom can ask ca. 390 who knows where the tomb is.

I watched for a while, and then turned it off in disgust.  There was some crank being presented as a novel idea; his novel idea was that Alexander was buried near Cairo.  Naturally I wondered what ancient data demanded this, and how he could ignore the unanimous testimony of antiquity.  The programme makers simply ignored both issues.  Consequently they gave almost no ancient information on the subject at all.

This led me to wonder just what the collected ancient data amounts to.  I’ve been assembling a little dossier, and looking for links.  A reasonable list is here, although not comprehensive.  I may compile a little page of data myself.  What a pity, tho, that we know so little!

Second UK Patristics Conference

Alan Brent has sent out invites for a UK-based patristics conference in Cambridge in the summer.  Details here.

Those not based in Cambridge may want to avoid it, tho.

New issue of Shroro online

Shroro: the Syriac Orthodox Christian digest is an online magazine which I had not come across before, and looks very nice.  Among recent articles is one on Hunain ibn Ishaq.

Britain to criminalise internet use?

A report in the Financial Times indicates that British politicians are having a real go at asserting control over the internet, at least as far as hapless UK citizens are concerned..

Internet piracy regulations planned for UK.
By Ben Fenton and Tim Bradshaw

Ministers intend to pass regulations on internet piracy requiring service providers to tell customers they suspect of illegally downloading films and music that they are breaking the law, says the draft report by Lord Carter. It would also make them collect data on serious and repeated infringers of copyright law, which would then be made available to music companies or other rights-holders who can produce a court order for them to be handed over.

Note the new element: it becomes an offence to download content that the government doesn’t want you to.  Kim Jong Il will be nodding in approval. 

This means anyone who accesses a web page containing material which is legal in the US but not in the UK — easy to do, since UK copyright is so oppressive — will be committing an offence.  Anyone who (gasp) digitises a text which turns out to be in copyright will presumably be hauled before a court.  Not that many people in the UK do such digitisation — the copyright law sees to that — but those who do will take their liberty in their hands when they do.  Very, very nasty.

The public has not been consulted on whether it wants this, of course.  The plan has been drawn up by the government, in consultation with industry, for the benefit of both.  Industry gains the opportunity to criminalise people; government gets more control over what the people are allowed to see.

It does make you wonder, tho, why anyone lives in Britain, with its innumerable laws and speed-cameras, and its lack of any guarantee of free speech.  A less free society in the West it would be hard to envisage.

An interesting discussion in the BYZANS-L list on attitudes to Homer in Byzantium has produced the following fascinating comment from J. J. van Ginkel:

A very interesting reference to Homer can be found in a `pseudo-byzantine’ source. In a Syrian Orthodox Chronicle (written in a ecclesiastic context, in the Syriac language) there is a summary of the Iliad running for more than 10 pages of the text edition. Intriguing is that according to this Chronicle the Iliad was to be found in books 43 to 51 of the Chronography of Homer … 

See J.-B. Chabot, Anonymi Auctoris Chronicon ad Annum Christi 1234 Pertinens I (CSCO 108 (text), 109(latin translation)), Paris 1916, 1920, pp. 66-78 (txt); 50-59 (tr)

British Library – taking, not giving

A story at Slash.dot tells us that the British Library chief, Lynne Brindley, is worried about how websites vanish.   In an article in the left-wing bible, the Guardian, she says that she wants to keep copies of all websites in the .uk domain, so that they don’t disappear forever.

There are several aspects to this story that ought to be more clearly stated. 

Firstly, there is nothing to say that this archive will be available to us.  The last time I looked, it was purely for the benefit of BL staff, and perhaps those few who live close to the building.  Anyone else could take a hike.  “Copyright” was the excuse; but some time back Mrs Brindley got an Act of Parliament passed to enable her to do whatever she wanted in this area.  If she didn’t arrange for a provision for public access to an archive of publically accessible websites, it’s because she didn’t want to.  I’d want to see an explicit commitment to access before I applauded.

Secondly, rather than collecting the material that others put online, when will Brindley actually make the British Library’s holdings available online?  This is especially the case for the medieval manuscripts, which almost no-one can handle and are resolutely kept offline and unphotographed.

As ever, it seems that the British library management is interested only in serving themselves, and not the national interest or the public who pay for them.

Hunain ibn Ishaq, on text criticism

Hunain ibn Ishaq was a Nestorian Christian who was responsible for much of the translation of Greek works into Arabic, usually via a Syriac intermediate translation.   I find that a long letter of his, on the subject of the works of Galen and how he went about his task, exists.  It was published by G. Bergstrasser, Hunain ibn Ishaq. Uber der syrischen und arabischen Galen-Übersetzungen (1925), and is about 40 pages long.  I’m considering having it translated into English, if I can get hold of a copy.  The only copy for sale online is £67, which is rather a lot!  Anyone got any ideas on how to find a copy?

Interestingly it seems that Dimitri Gutas has published a book about the whole “Translation movement” of turning Greek literature into Arabic.  It’s here.  But apparently it’s big on “why” rather than “what” – the social reasons why translation was a good idea, rather than what was translated.  Drat.

Online journals for non-subscribers

Here’s a German site with some free-access older articles, especially from Hermes.

http://www.digizeitschriften.de/no_cache/en/home/open-access/nach-zeitschriftentiteln/

It seems to be mainly intended as a rival for JSTOR, but does have some free content.  A similar French site is here, supposedly but I couldn’t get it to display:

http://www.persee.fr/web/guest/home/



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