Archive for February, 2009

The Monte Carlo approach to borrowing books

Everyone knows that libraries lend books.  Some people know that you can borrow books not in the local library via an inter-library loan.  A few people know that you can borrow books from the national library this way, or get photocopies of journal articles.

Sometimes it’s worth pushing the envelope a bit.  Today I’ve rolled the dice to see what I can get.  I’ve placed an order for volume 1 of Abbeloos 1872 edition of Bar Hebraeus Chronicon Ecclesiasticum.  Will it arrive, I wonder?

The book itself is the most recent publication of this 13th century Syriac text, which has an entry on all the important figures of the Syriac church up to that time.  It comes with a Latin translation.  No translation into any modern language exists, yet it is the foundation of all our knowledge of Syriac literature.  It’s pretty old, now, and hard to get hold of.  It’s a prime candidate for reprinting and for

There are a few copies around; it isn’t that rare a book, although copies never seem to come up for sale online.  Abbeloos died in 1906, so the book is out of copyright everywhere.  But the problem is whether any library will allow anyone to take a book of that age home; whether any library that holds it will lend it.  I don’t know; but let’s see!

Usually I ask for books which I can borrow.  I don’t believe that anyone will lend me this book for use at home.  But possibly some liberal university will loan it “for use in library only”.  This isn’t helpful, of course, unless I can take my scanner into the library and do the necessary there.  I’ve asked for permission; we’ll see if that is forthcoming.

Why stick to the well-beaten path, after all?  Let’s go for the burn!

PS: See the comments; it turns out that volume 1 is on Google Books, albeit inaccessible outside the USA.

Uploading to

Like most people, I have become used to searching Google books and for out-of-copyright scholarly texts.  These are an enormous blessing to us all, where books normally hidden in University rare books rooms can be downloaded as a PDF. 

I’ve become aware that it is possible to upload books to, and have uploaded a couple of items which I have, and which were not in the archive. 

Of course the first step is to scan the book.  For this I use Abbyy Finereader 8.0, which drives a Plustek Opticbook 3600 scanner at 400 dpi.   This creates images of the pages, and all the pages in the book can be saved as a single PDF file from Finereader.  For optical character recognition, I use Finereader 9.0 (which can only drive the scanner at 300 dpi or 600 dpi, curiously) which has much improved accuracy over Finereader 8.

It is necessary to create an account on in order to upload.  Then you get a button ‘Upload’, and can use this to do an upload of a PDF.  This will work fine.  To add extra file formats, use the instructions in the FAQ; edit the item, use the item manager, checkout the item (no download is involved in checkout), and then use an FTP interface to add more files.  I was unable to get this to work in Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 3; but the CuteFTP programme worked fine once I disabled secure-FTP and used simple FTP. 

I added to each item a text file output, a Word document with all the formatting, and an HTML file with simple formatting only. 

I would like to encourage readers to look at their shelves and consider which texts might be usefully uploaded.  Every printed item prior to 1st January 1923 is out of copyright in the USA and so can go up.  Copyright laws in the EU and UK require knowledge of the biography of the author, as copyright there absurdly expires 70 years after the death of the author.  But union catalogues of research material like COPAC these days often indicate the birth and death date of authors, making it possible to determine status.

The pain of being Galen; plagiarism in the ancient world

I’ve been looking at P. N. Singer’s Galen: Selected Works, which contains English translations of several of his works.  Now most of us are not interested in ancient medicine, but two of the works are interesting to students of the transmission of texts.  I refer, of course, to On my own books and The order of my own books.  Perhaps an excerpt from the start might whet the appetite?

The validity of your advice regarding the cataloguing of my extant books, Bassus, has been proved by events. I was recently in the Sandalarium, the area of Rome with the largest concentration of booksellers, where I witnessed a dispute as to whether a certain book for sale was by me or someone else. The book bore the title: Galen the doctor. Someone had bought the book under the impression that it was one of mine; someone else—a man of letters—struck by the odd form of the title, desired to know the book’s subject. On reading the first two lines he immediately tore up the inscription, saying simply: ‘This is not Galen’s language—the title is false.’ Now, the man in question had been schooled in the fundamental early education which Greek children always used to be given by teachers of grammar and rhetoric. Many of those who embark on a career in medicine or philosophy these days cannot even read properly, yet they frequent lectures on the greatest and most beautiful field of human endeavour, that is, the knowledge provided by philosophy and medicine.

This kind of laziness existed many years ago too, when I was a young man, but it had not yet reached the extreme state it has now. For this reason—and also because my books have been subject to all sorts of mutilations, whereby people in different countries publish different texts under their own names, with all sorts of cuts, additions, and alterations—I decided it would be best, first to explain the cause of these mutilations, and secondly to give an account of the content of each of my genuine works. Well, as for the fact of my books being published by many people under their own names, my dearest Bassus, you know the reason yourself: it is that they were given without inscription to friends or pupils, having been written with no thought for publication, but simply at the request of those individuals, who had desired a written record of lectures they had attended. When in the course of time some of these individuals died, their successors came into possession of the writings, liked them, and began to pass them off as their own. [...] Taking them from their owners, they returned to their own countries, and after a short space of time began to perform the demonstrations in them, each in some different way. All these were eventually caught, and many of those who then recovered the works affixed my name to them. They then discovered discrepancies between these and copies in the possession of other individuals, and so sent them to me with the request that I correct them.

Since, then, as I have stated above, they were written not for publication but to fit the particular attainments and needs of those who had requested them, it follows naturally that some of them are rather extended, while others are compressed; and their styles, and indeed the actual theoretical content, vary in their completeness. Those works which were written for the parties mentioned above would obviously be neither complete nor perfectly accurate in their teaching. That was not their requirement—nor would such individuals have been able to learn the whole subject-matter accurately until they had first reached a certain basic level. Some of my predecessors gave such works the title of Outlines, others Sketches, or Introductions, Synopses, or Guides. I simply gave them to my pupils without any such inscription, and it is for that reason that when they later fell into other hands, they were given a number of different titles by different persons. Those which were sent back to me for correction I decided to inscribe with the title ‘for beginners’; and it is with these works that I shall begin.

1. Works written during the first stay in Rome

I myself did not possess copies of all those works which I had dictated to young men at the beginning of their studies, or in some cases presented to friends at their request; but when I came to Rome for the second time they were, as I have mentioned, sent to me for correction, and at that point I affixed titles including the words ‘for beginners’—Sects for beginners, for example, which should be the first book to be read by students of the art of medicine. …

I give this opening section at more length than I might, because Singer’s readable translation is now out of print and thereby inaccessible.  It is commanding substantial prices second-hand, suggesting a reprint is overdue (come on, OUP!).  But I was able to borrow a copy easily enough — it was published in the “Oxford World’s Classics” series, which is in many general libraries. 

Singer’s preface itself is a valuable introduction to ancient medicine, and a valuable corrective to the ideas that we tend to have of a doctor and his social role, based on how things are today.  The need to earn a living, to impress, to gather paying students, to build a reputation — all these were part of the equipment of the successful philosopher, and a doctor was merely a specialised philosopher.

The way in which technical works were passed around is clearly different in some respects to the process whereby literary works circulated.  But even so, doesn’t it give an interesting picture of Roman life!

Early Islamic description of Antioch

I mentioned earlier that an early Islamic description of ancient Antioch was published by I. Guidi, ‘una descrizione araba di Antiocheia’, Rendiconti della R. Accademia dei Lincei, Cl. di scienze morali, storiche e filolgiche, ser. 5, vol 6, pp. 137-161 (1897).  It’s only 24 pages, half of which at least is an Italian translation.  I wistfully wondered what a translation from the Arabic might cost.

Christopher Ecclestone has been in touch.  It seems that an unpublished English translation exists, done by William Stinespring in 1932 as part of a PhD thesis!  He went on to be professor of Divinity at Duke University for years, but never published it.  I don’t know what the copyright position on it is, but I hope that someone has put it the web somewhere.

In addition I learn that one of Archbishop Laud’s manuscripts — isn’t it odd how scholarly bishops are often persecutors? — in the Bodleian Library in Oxford contains a different and longer recension of the same text.  A Syriac original is posited; but read for yourself!

An Armenian text is examined by Clara Ten Hacken, which draws on the same material, and there is also an article by Margoulioth about it.

An open letter to the Ambrosian Library in Milan

I have today written to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, as follows.

Dear Sir,

I believe that Notre Dame University in the USA have a set of microfilms of the manuscript collection of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana:

But they say that “Notre Dame is no longer able to supply microfilms or photographs from the Ambrosiana. Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, Prefect of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, has stipulated that all such requests be sent directly to the library.” (and in writing on paper).

Is this true?  If it is true, may I ask why?  It makes the library look bad.

I went to your website, which is in Italian only.  Few English-speakers know Italian well.  I was unable to find any way to order copies of manuscripts.  I was unable to find any manuscripts online.

This is the age of the internet.  Surely it is morally wrong to make it difficult for scholars to access manuscripts?

Yours sincerely,

Roger Pearse

It would be unfair to criticise a library without giving them the chance to respond, of course.  It will be interesting to see if I get a reply. 

Michael the Syrian: preface to his history

The largest medieval Syriac Chronicle is that of Michael the Syrian, published with a French translation early in the 20th century by J. B. Chabot.  A single volume of this is online here.

The preface  survives only in an Armenian translation, also with French translation.  My memory is probably playing tricks on me, but I  have an uncomfortable feeling that I have translated this before.  But here it is (again?), from the French, which is online here.

Devoted and studious brothers, when I was considering the facts which it is important to know, in the great number of Chronicles, I refrained from going into detail about those which can be learned from the great number of existing accounts, and I have compiled, in the process, from ecclesiastical and profane writers what was useful and appropriate; so as to reveal this way the mortal laziness of many, and to enlighten the shadows of ignorance, lifting the sight towards the reward of my efforts.  I shall leave this treasure to the church, and to the Teachers of the children of the new Zion, so that it will survive after my time.

In first place we must place the first of all mankind, Adam, so that we start at the beginning.  This will be useful to those who speak and those who listen.  But first we must give the names of the historians from whom we propose to take the material of our edifice.

[Julius] Africanus, Jesus, Hegesippus, Jews, covered up to the coming of Christ.  Annianus, a monk of Alexandria, covered from Adam until the emperor Constantine.

Eusebius Pamphili composed his book with the help of their writings and called it Church History.

Zosimus, Socrates and Theodoret the heretic began their writings with Constantine and [went down] to Theodosius the Younger.

John of Antioch and of Djebel, Theodore Lector, of Constantinople and Zacharias, bishop of Melitene, covered from Theodosius to Justinian the Elder.

John of Asia covered from Anastasius to Maurice.

Gouria covered from Justinian to Heraclius, and on the invasion of the Arabs into the lands of the Syrians, which took place in the time of Heraclius.

Saint James of Edessa made an abridgement of them all.

Dionysius the patriarch covered from Maurice to Theophilus, emperor of the Greeks, and Haroun, emir of the Arabs.

Ignatius, bishop of Melitene, Saliba the Elder, of Melitene, John of Kaisoum and Dionysius (of Alexandria), Bar-Salibi, made several chronicles from Adam to their own times.

Now we have enumerated the chroniclers who, considering the studious disposition of listeners in their own times, wrote with rich colours, we who live in a lesser age, seeing our indolence, [will write] briefly passing rapidly over each of their accounts.

But studious men should not consume their energies in working out greater or lesser numbers in the computation of dates, because of the truth of the saying of the Saviour, “The Father has kept for himself the knowledge of times and dates.” In fact there seems a great deal of difference between the version of the Septuagint and that which the Syrians possess, that which king Abgar had translated, and which James of Edessa revised by using the artifice of a pretended conversion to Judaism, so that the Jews wouldn’t hide their information from him.

Why all journal articles should be composed in Latin

In the 19th century it was unremarkable for a scholar to publish his thesis or book in Latin.  Many did so.  After all, to obtain admittance to a university every student had to demonstrate competence in Latin.  So every scholar should be able to read and write in Latin as easily as his native language. 

Let us compare this with the situation today.  On the one hand, most students couldn’t compose a verse in Latin to save their lives.  On the other hand, academics are forced to learn several other languages in order to study the academic literature.  Every respectable modern academic must have a good reading knowledge of English, French, German and Italian. 

The standard of too many anglophone PhD theses suggests to me that most of the students writing know only one language, and that English.  No doubt when they collect their PhD certificate and obtain a teaching post their command of languages improves instantly.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to learn Latin really well? 

E. W. Brooks and the Chronicle of James of Edessa

Chronica Minora III (CSCO 6, AD 1906) contains Latin translations of a number of Syriac historical texts, each with an introduction.  I thought that I would give the introduction to the Chronicle of James of Edessa here in English, since this text is an important one for the early history of Islam.  Notes by me are in square brackets.

The text was around 340 words of Latin, and took me about 45 minutes, although I read over it last night first, and only had to look up about 3 words. 

II. Chronicle of James of Edessa, translated by E. W. Brooks.

Fragments of this chronicle are preserved in British Museum manuscript Additional 14,685, which according to Wright [the cataloguer of the BM Syriac mss] was written in the 10th or 11th century.  The author given as is James Philoponus, or “lover of work”, who is the same as James of Edessa, in Wright’s opinion, because excerpts from the work of James of Edessa are quoted by Michael the Syrian.  The canon-table itself, which begins on folio 10r, is a continuation of the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea; to it a preface is prefixed in which the work of Eusebius is corrected and supplemented.

 In the manuscript as we now have it, the fragments are wrongly ordered: fol. 12v must be read before fol. 12r, and fol. 18v before 18r [i.e. these pages have been bound in backwards], fol. 11 and 13 come from the same folio, and likewise fol. 19 and 20; and two fragments which contain fol. 19 are stuck together.

The fragments go no further than 942 A. S. [=the Seleucid era, or year of the Greeks], = 631 AD, but the canon, as we learn from Michael the Syrian, was continued to 1021 A.S.  Michael notes that James died two years before this, so that the last two years must be supposed to be the work of a pupil.  But Elias of Nisibis says that James composed the Chronicle in 1003 A.S. = 692 AD; and if this is true, then 18 years must be ascribed to the continuator.  The canon of years was copied by Michael, so portions now missing from the manuscript can easily be restored.  The same author quotes several places from the preface in a complete form which are now mutilated in our manuscript.  We have also edited from Elias of Nisibis material both from the preface, which he calls the Chronicle, and excerpts from the canon itself, to fill up the gaps.

Among the sources for the Chronicle the following must be included: Socrates, Theodoret, the Chronicle of Edessa, John of Ephesus, the history generally ascribed to Zacharias Rhetor, and perhaps lists of emperors, kings and bishops.  In the preface, besides Eusebius, James used certain Alexandrian chronographers, perhaps Anianus and Andronicus, and, as we see, a catalogue of kings of the Persians.

The beginning of the preface was translated [not so; edited] in the Catalogue by the excellent Wright; I myself edited the Canon in 1899 with an English translation and commentary: the complete text of the whole work is now translated for the first time [into Latin].  Many places which in the previous edition of the canon were left lacunose or wrongly filled up I have now restored from Michael and corrected. [Michael was published between 1899 and 1906] I have imitated the layout of the manuscript where possible in both text and translation; in the translation I have restored lacunas in the canon of years, but in the text it did not seem worthwhile to do so.

Bibliographical note:

You can read a description of the manuscript in Wright, Catalogue of Syriac MSS in the British Museum, p. 1062-1064  [online here, vol. 3; the PDF is p.1062 also.  This gives the text of the start of the work, not a translation].
Editions: W. Wright, op. cit., p. 1062, 1063, London, 1872.  Text of the start.
E. W. Brooks, The Chronological Canons of James of Edessa (Zeitschr. d. Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Bd. LIII, p. 261 ff and p. 550).  Canon with English translation. — Cf. also ibid. p. 534 ff (notes by Sigismund Fränkel) — See also F. Nau, Notice sur un nouveau ms. de l’Octoechus de Severe d’Antioche et sur l’auteur Jacques Philoponus (Journ. asiatique, ser. IX, tom. XI, p. 346 ff).

*      *     *

From Wright:

DCCCCXXI.  Paper, about 12 in. by 7, consisting of 23 leaves, all of which are more or less stained and torn.  There are from 36 to 40 lines in each page.  This volume is written in a good, regular hand of the 10th or 11th century and contains…

Microfilms of the Ambrosian library in the USA

Christopher Ecclestone has sent me this link which shows that a US university has microfilm copies of all the manuscripts in the Ambrosian library in Milan.  Good to know these exist; now what about getting them online where we can see them?

The holdings of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana (named after Ambrose of Milan, of course) are very rich, and include the manuscripts from the abbey of Bobbio.  These remained unknown through much of the renaissance, and were only discovered in 1493.  The abbey was founded in the early Dark Ages by the Irish monk St. Columbanus, and many of its books were made by reusing old parchment.  Consequently the books include many palimpsests of classical texts not known elsewhere.

PS: A sinister note.  Apparently the Ambrosian have banned this US library from making microfilms available.  All requests must go to the library itself.  The library has a site — only in Italian, of course — in which I was unable even to locate the microfilm-ordering service.  I think I will write and ask why they do such a thing.

New fragments of the Turin King-list

Our knowledge of the dynasties of the Pharaoh’s derives in the first place from Manetho, a Greek working for the Ptolemies. Actually that well-worn statement is misleading; Manetho is lost, and our knowledge of the contents of his work derives from quotations by Eusebius, mostly in the Chronicle.

In the 19th century Drovetti discovered a papyrus roll, dated to the 12th century BC, containing a list of kings so far.  This he sold to the Italians, and in the process of being passed around the nearly complete roll was reduced to a heap of fragments. 

From this article I understand that some mislaid fragments have been located, and that the British Museum will be trying to piece them into the remains.