Archive for June, 2009

Patristic Greek translation tips

On ScribD there is a downloadable PDF by Charles A. Sullivan full of very useful information about working with Patristic Greek, websites, tips, etc.  It’s here.

Thanks to Robert Bedrosian for pointing out that a search for “patristics” and “syriac” will produce results of considerable interest.  The same is true for “coptic”.

You have to register for a free account, and not all material is downloadable; but much is.  I suspect at least some of this is less than legitimate; other material; such as the PDF above, is undoubtedly legal.  I was amused to discover some material from my own websites appeared, reformatted, as well (which is all to the good, of course).

A rival translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel

Quite by accident I today learn of another projected translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel.  It’s due to appear in January 2010 as part of the Ancient Christian Writers series, and translated by Thomas Scheck, who has translated several other volumes of Origen’s homilies.  The Amazon advert is here.

Frankly this is a nuisance and a half.  We’ll probably beat that deadline; but who needs two competing translations?  More to the point, is it a sensible thing to do with my money?

Not sure what to do now.

UPDATE: I’ve written to Dr Scheck to ask the status of his work; but from his home page it appears to be complete.

I’ve done some calculations.  The whole lot is about 200 pages of Latin in the SC edition, at $10 per page is $2,000.  Of this, about a quarter is done and indeed paid for.  So we’re talking about a further $1,500.

Perhaps the answer is to go upmarket, and add a Latin text as well as a translation.

Origen, Homily 2 on Ezekiel

This homily now is translated and paid for, so we’re really making excellent progress.  12 more homilies to go!

Coptic monastic revival – Matta al-Maskeen

I’d very much like to know more about the astonishing revival of monasticism that has taken place among the Copts in modern Egypt.  A central figure is the mysterious Fr. Matta al-Maskeen (various spellings seem to be around).

Quite by chance I’ve stumbled across a digest of translated newspaper articles on him here.  Sadly you have to be a subscriber to access the articles, but the summaries alone are interesting.  The site itself says that

We publish Arab-West Report, an independent weekly electronic magazine. It is dedicated to fostering understanding of the Arab World. We do this partly through summary translations of Arabic newspaper articles into English…

Guys… you’ll foster understanding better if you make it possible for people other than specialists to read the articles!  You need free content, really you do. Make the current year and last year subscription only, and let everyone read before then.

Back to Fr. Matta.  I think there may be a book or two about this renewal by John H. Watson, but I haven’t seen any of them.

The search in Google on “matta al-maskeen monks” brings back such interesting results.  I find there is a Coptic forum here, where the merits (and otherwise) of Fr. Matta are hotly debated.

Agapius once more

Well that was a good day’s work; starting late morning, continuing this afternoon with a couple of breaks, and finishing now — I’ve translated the remainder of Agapius, some 38 pages.   The first draft of the whole work is done!  Frankly I am delighted.

Thankfully I had scanned the page images before I began, presumably whenever I scanned the last chunk.  Then I marked up the pages for scanning, corrected the OCR, and got a French text in an RTF file.  Then I ran it through a programme that split it into sentences.  I took the output and ran it through the machine translator.  Then input both the French and the English into another tool to interleave automatically the French and English sentences.  From there on, it was just a task of working through the file, making the English version correct, and removing the French as I did so.  I suppose it took, what, seven hours?  Hmm… that’s longer than I thought.

Not bad on a day when the outside temperature hit over 27C.

I’m done for today, now; the days when I could work to midnight on Friday and Saturday in order to work on the website are sadly behind me. 

The next stage, when I get some time, is to go through these files, add page numbers, correct awkwardnesses, check things, and so on.  That may be a couple of days work.  But we’re getting close to a free, online English version of Agapius! 

Agapius again

I have resumed work on turning the French translation of Agapius, published by A. Vasiliev in the Patrologia Orientalis, into English.  In fact I never totally halted on this, except when I was working at full speed on the Greek translator.  My work has no scholarly value, but there must be 2bn people who can read English and cannot read French, so I hope that making this freely available will promote interest in this text.

Long term readers will be aware that Agapius was a 10th century Arabic Christian writer, who has left us a world chronicle.  This is best known for supposedly containing a unique version of the so-called Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus; and also has a fragment of Papias not otherwise known.  His work is largely made up of material from earlier chroniclers, mostly Syriac and Byzantine.  The text was published in 600 pages of the PO, in four parts, all of which are now on  I have made a translation of parts 1, 3 and 4, and am halfway through part 2 at the moment *.  The current text is taken from legendary material about Alexander which circulated through the east.  In truth it is quite tedious, but I hope that easier access to this text will promote study of this material.

Here is a sample.  Alexander has just defeated the Indians by rolling red-hot brass elephants (with a coal furnace inside each) into the ranks of the enemy, who happen to be downhill.

The troops of Alexander pursued them in all directions and killed a very great number of them. After this the auxiliary troops of the king of China, agitated and drawn out, came to the king of India, with their tired beasts of burden. They halted in the camp of the Indians without movement or resources. Alexander, who was unaware of their situation, thought, after having seen their camp, that this was a trick on their part. So he gathered his philosophers and said to them: “You have already seen with which speed their reinforcements arrived and what a state of exhaustion we are in; [you see] that we have fewer resources than they do. Yesterday, at nightfall, we had massacred them and made them perish. But hardly has the day begun, and their army has returned more numerous than before. What is your opinion on this, our situation and our position?” While they were reflecting, the oldest of their philosophers said: “I believe that we must attack them and fight them next Tuesday.” However this opinion was pronounced on Wednesday, seven days before Tuesday.

In Agapius, Alexander is always hanging around after battles, and asking his philosophers what he should do next.  Of course the Arabic word using is probably hakeem; usually translated “doctor”, but often “philosopher”, and in any case a learned man of some sort, of the kind that might be met with in the Arabian nights in the Bazaar.  The word might even mean “magician” or “sorceror”, as Sinbad the Sailor found to his cost.  There is an Arabic correspondance of Alexander and Aristotle, in which the former seeks ways to defeat the Persians, and the latter advises him on spells and incantations to do so!

In a sense all this is tedious.  Yet in another sense it is salutary to be reminded that the rise of superstition in the west during the Dark Ages was paralleled also in the East, even without the barbarian invasions.

* Postscript: I was translating away and suddenly found myself at the end of the chunk.  I divided each part of Agapius into three chunks, you see, each of 50 pages.  So I have in fact completed two-thirds of part 2.  Only another 38 pages to go!

Abu’l Barakat’s catalogue of Arabic Christian literature

Abu’l Barakat was a medieval Arabic Christian.  In one of his works, he devoted a chapter to listing Arabic Christian literature.  Of course this catalogue of what exists or existed is an invaluable guide to someone who is starting to explore patristic material surviving in that language.  Riedel published it long ago, with a German translation * , and a kind friend sent me a copy in PDF form today.  It urgently needs to go online.  If he’s OK with it, I’ll upload the PDF to

But we also need an English translation.  It’s about 154 words per page and 36 pages, in the German translation; if the Arabic is similar, that makes 5,544 words, or about $500 at my usual 10c per word.  I can afford that, I think.  I need to find a translator!

* Wilhelm Riedel, Der Katalog der christlichen Schriften in arabischer Sprache von Abu’l-Barakat, in Nachrichten der K. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Philologisch-Hist. Klasse, 1902 (Heft 5), pp. 636-706.

Thank you for buying my CDROM

Most readers will be aware that I sell a CDROM of the collection of the Fathers that I have online.  Quite a few copies have been sold lately.  So I’d like to thank all those readers who have recently bought one.  These sales are helping directly to pay for the translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezechiel, never previously translated into English.  These will go online in the end; and your money is helping this along enormously. 

I don’t know most of you, but I appreciate your support more than I can say.  Thank you.

Divus and Deus in Varro and Servius

Hans Dampf has made a series of very interesting and learned comments on a post of mine about an inscription calling Julius Caesar god.  If you haven’t seen these, you probably want to.

In particular he has tracked down and translated two statements by Servius, the 5th century commentator on Vergil, which illuminate the way in which the Latin terms deus (god) and divus (divinity) diverged in meaning as emperors were deified. 

I won’t repost all of Hans’ comments, which can be read there.  But I will repost what he gives from Servius, discussing “deus/dii” against “divus/divi”, as I think it will be of general interest.  The works by Varro etc are lost.

(1) Servius, Ad Ad Aeneidem 12.139 (= Varro, De Lingua Latina fragment 2, edition Goetz-Schoell)

Deus autem vel dea generale nomen est omnibus: nam quod graece δέος, latine timor vocatur, inde deus dictus est, quod omnis religio sit timoris. Varro ad Ciceronem tertio: “ita respondeant cur dicant deos, cum [de] omnibus antiqui dixerint divos”.

Translation: “Deus or dea is the general term for all [gods]. […] Varro to Cicero in the third book [of De lingua Latina]: ‘That is the reply they would give as to why they say dii, when the ancients said divi about them all.’”

(2) Serv. Ad Aen. 5.45 (= Varro fr. 424, Grammaticae Romanae fragmenta, ed. Funaioli)

divum et deorum indifferenter plerumque ponit poeta, quamquam sit discretio, ut deos perpetuos dicamus, divos ex hominibus factos, quasi qui diem obierint; unde divos etiam imperatores vocamus. Sed Varro et Ateius contra sentiunt, dicentes divos perpetuos deos qui propter sui consecrationem timentur, ut sunt dii manes.

Translation: “The poet [Virgil] usually employs ‘of the divi‘ [divum] and ‘of the dii‘ [deorum] indifferently, although there should be a distinction in that we call the immortals dii, whereas divi are created from men, inasmuch as they have ended their days; from which we likewise call [dead] emperors divi. But Varro and Ateius hold the opposite opinion, claiming that divi are eternal, whereas dii are such as are held in honour because they have been deified, such as is the case with the dii manes.

Magnetic images at Caistor St. Edmunds

Nottingham University have done a geophysical survey of the Roman town of Caistor St. Edmunds.  The images are splendid, and confirm the town plan.

The town lies outside modern Norwich, in a large field grazed by sheep.  The Roman walls rise around it, battered but still impressive.  A church stands in one corner.  The site is visible from the A140 Ipswich to Norwich road, and is well worth a visit.  There are no tourist amenities there, no tickets to buy.  I always walk a circuit around the Roman walls — it isn’t that far!