Where misty mountains rise and friendly fires burn

How quickly the past vanishes.  A few memories came back to me this evening.

Back in the 1980’s, I bought my first PC.  It was a plasticky Amstrad PC1640, with a hard drive on a card.  I bought it with a bank loan, and returned it very quickly for the screen was of poor quality and the colours faded in one corner.  I remember the feeling of bitter disappointment on the day, and the stress of the loan — perhaps £1,000, a month’s income in those days — and the following day I rang the vendor and asked to return it.  He, more aware than I of my legal rights, obfusticated only a little before accepting it.  It cost me £50 to return the hard drive, bought elsewhere.  I forget what the bank charged me to cancel the loan, but it was a large sum for only a week’s loan, and I never took out a bank loan again.  The relief when it was repaid was enormous.

Later I bought a PC with a proper metal box.  It had only a monochrome screen, but the lettering on this was actually yellow.  Everything about it was real, tho.  I bought a modem, again on a card, and  used it to dial up a bulletin-board system (BBS).  The telephone numbers for these were printed in PC magazines.  The high-pitched noise vanished as it connected, and the screeen gradually filled with blocky text and characters from the remote system.  It was the most exciting thing I had ever seen; and it was all going on before me on my PC.  There was no internet in those days, although usenet existed, if you were at a university and could access it.  It was a closed book to me.

Over time I visited quite a number of BBS.  I learned to post to the forums, which were syndicated across the Fidonet network that connected them together.  I settled on one BBS, which called itself “Rivendell”, and had the motto “Where misty mountains rise, and friendly fires burn”.  The motto was added to messages you sent. 

There were downloads too.  Pictures of asteroids and of earth, from NASA could be downloaded.  More dubious images also circulated; and I recall at least one BBS which was, in retrospect, clearly rather dodgy.  There was no search engine; most of the downloads were technical.

One element that was less welcome was the telephone bill that arrived at the end of the month.  There were no special arrangements in the UK at that date, and it was something like £40, a big sum in those days.  After that I was more cautious!  Rumours circulated of incredible bills run up by people using BBS’s.  In the US, we knew, enviously, that free local calls made BBS’s possible. 

The arrival of the internet in the UK was severely hampered by this sort of problem, until some bright soul thought of a solution.  He negotiated with British Telecom whereby he could charge a flat fee a month for access (about £18), and get an 0800 number which his subscribers could use.  A bulk discount and the fact that most people would surf at the low bandwidth available then for only a few hours a week meant that this could work; and ISP’s rapidly proliferated.  Today we all have broadband, but the price remains about the same.

I don’t know what became of the BBS’s.  I found that having a computer at home as well as at work was stressful, and in the end, ca. 1990, I disposed of mine with some relief.  I never had a computer at home again until I became a freelancer, and even then only bought a laptop that I could place in a drawer, out of sight, out of mind. 

Michael the Syrian quotes Theodosius of Edessa on James of Edessa

I’m looking at Michael the Syrian, and in the first volume of the French translation, I find the following:

Note by Theodosius of Edessa. — You should know that Eusebius, in the Chronography he wrote, began with Abraham the Canon of years and continued until the year 20 of Constantine. But James, of the city of Edessa, who transcribed the book from Greek into Syriac, added the dates and coordinated the  events not only from Adam to Abraham, but also from Constantine until his time, when there reigned over the Romans, Justinian, and over the Arabs, `Abdallah. He carefully reviewed all the Chronicle, both about the empires which Eusebius ignored, and because of other things that this venerable [Jacques] commemorates. And when he starts to dispose them by year, he ties the year 20 of Constantine to the year 21. — As for us, so that the computation is not disturbed after the Canons of Eusebius we put those that Jacques himself has made.

Like so much of what Michael quotes, the history of Theodosius is not extant.

Comparing the introduction to James, printed by Brooks in the CSCO text, with Michael’s quotes, it is clear that Brooks has more of James’ words than Michael the Syrian does.  There are a dozen pages of introduction, all interesting, but probably beyond me to translate at this time.

More Origen and James of Edessa

I’ve now finished skimming through James of Edessa, and straightening it out.  I did about half of it in the last couple of days, interestingly.  All those evenings in the hotel trying to do a page or two didn’t really achieve a lot.

The first draft of Origen’s 13th Homily on Ezekiel has arrived.  With luck I’ll be able to comment and return it this evening.

A knock on the door downstairs tells me that the blasted American custom of “trick or treat” on middle-class estates on Halloween has started.  It never happened when I was young; this is purely the effect of the mass media.  I don’t have a door-bell, so they won’t be sure I heard.  With luck I shan’t suffer any harm.

Olympiads in the 6th century AD

I’m still transcribing the Chronicle of James of Edessa, who wrote in the mid 7th century.  He starts with the reign of Constantine, continuing the Chronicle of Eusebius.  Naturally he has a new line for each new olympiad, just as Eusebius does.

I’m typing in the table of years.  Tiberius II becomes Eastern Roman emperor; and then Maurice ascends the throne.  But the chronicle continues to mark the olympiads.  Maurice becomes emperor in the second year of the 340th olympiad, according to James.  He continues to mark olympiads right down to olympiad 352 — the 20th year of Heraclius.  The chronicle then omits them.

There is something both beautiful and sad to see this writer of the 7th century continuing to use the ancient Greek reckoning, centuries after the abolition of the olympic games.  These vanished, presumably as part of the anti-pagan legislation of Theodosius I, before 394 AD. 

How the human mind holds on to things gone past!  How we seek to ensure continuity, especially in troublesome times, and build whatever framework we can against the chaos and the ruin that must in the end engulf all our endeavours, and indeed ourselves.  A man must be very comfortable and very complacent indeed not to feel the tug of antiquity and tradition, and to treat it as nothing!  James, at least, was not such a man.  Nisi dominus frustra.

Updates on Origen, and Stephanos of Alexandria

I’ve received a revised version of Origen’s 12th homily on Ezekiel, and paid for it, and apparently homily 13 is in an advanced state.  So very good news here. I need to review it and comment, which I will do in a day or so.

Meanwhile my alchemical friends have transcribed the unpublished English translation of the 4th lecture by the 7th century philosopher Stephanos of Alexandria.  They did a nice job.  I’ve sent a copy of it to the editor of Ambix; and also invited someone who tells me he knows Greek and is interested in alchemy to revise it.  Let’s see if he can!

I did a couple more pages of James of Edessa’s Chronicle today as well!

Back to James of Edessa

I’ve gone back to my occasional task of transcribing the 7th century Chronicle of James of Edessa, to put it on the web.  This is a continuation of the Chronicle of Eusebius, and is important for early Islamic history.  It is in tabular form, which is why it isn’t already online.  Let me tell you, formatting the dratted thing in HTML is NOT amusing.

The text survives in some badly damaged leaves in the British Library (from the Nitrian desert in Egypt) plus quotations in Michael the Syrian.  The publication was frankly bad; first E.W.Brooks published a first stab at it, in Syriac and English.  But he didn’t format the English in tabular form.  Then he tried again in CSCO 5/6, in Syriac and in Latin.  This time the Latin was in tabular form, but he still couldn’t read chunks of it.  And he supplemented it, rightly or wrongly, from Michael.

Still, after a very stressful couple of weeks it is quite soothing to do!  At the moment I h ave reached the reign of Theodosius II, ca. 450;  Olympiad 307, according  to James.

GCS electronic texts for free download

Stephen C. Carlson kindly points out here that some of the GCS Greek texts have been transcribed and are available for free download here.  I’ve translated the German:

Starting with vol. 7 NF (= Daniel-Kommentar des Hippolyt)  a selection of reading texts from the editions in the GCS series is available for free download.

Release of the material is generally carried out at the same time as the release of the volume. Some other types of documents are also here, which are otherwise not available and complement our selection.

To read the file (PDF format) on your screen or print them, you need “Acrobat Reader” which can be found on the Internet free of charge.

Suggestions would be gratefully received.

Anonyme Kirchengeschichte (Gelasius Cyzicenus) = 1,1 MB (PDF)

Daniel-Kommentar Hippolyts = 501 KB (PDF)

Handschriften-Register zu Albert Ehrhard = 768 KB (PDF)

Martyrium Clementis = 1,35 MB (PDF)

Miraculum Clementis – Codex Parisinus graecus 1510 (D) = 44 KB (PDF)

This is truly excellent news, and the GCS are to be commended very highly indeed.  Nor is this all; for there is more about the Hippolytus material here.

For an online presentation of the GCS the Daniel commentary of Hippolytus (GCS NF 7) was chosen and partly indexed.

The data processing of the Greek text and the translation from the Church Slavonic, each with their own apparatus, has been conducted by Arnd Rattmann (GCS). He was also responsible for decyphering the difficult manuscript originals of Marcel Richard († 1976), which led to the new edition of the text of Bonwetsch.

We would like to thank the publisher Walter de Gruyter for permission to place the works fully on the Internet. We should point out that the book may be ordered from the publisher. This contains the detailed indexes and other valuable information for usage of the text.

We should emphasize that we are dealing in this project of the month with a trial. We are grateful for suggestions and comments and positive feedback.

We should definitely give them feedback and encouragement!  But … anyone got any ideas how?

UPDATE: I’ve found some email addresses here.  The transcriber, Arnd Rattmann, is one of them.  There’s a whole section for the GCS.  I have buzzed an email at three people.