Archive for April, 2010

From my diary

The carmen adversus paganos is a late 4th century poem which is one of only four texts that record the Taurobolium.  This ritual was when a bull was slaughtered over a grill, with people standing underneath to get bathed in the bull’s blood.  So I asked someone to do a translation.  Unfortunately it looks as if an English translation may already exist.  It’s hard to bring myself to pay for translating stuff that exists already in English, although inaccessible, when there is so much for which no translation exists.

I’ve finished the first stage of translating the first sermon of Severian of Gabala on the creation.  I need to look at a few difficult passages, and make sure they’re right, and then I will put it online.  Interestingly Severian is preaching to a hostile audience, or so it seems.

I’m still going through volume 3 of Quasten’s Patrology.  There are quite a few interesting-sounding texts that ought to be translated.  I just wish I had more money!  I’m thinking again about Cyril of Alexandria’s Contra Julianum, against the work of the emperor Julian the Apostate attacking the Christians.  This is only about 500 columns, so might be possible.

The translation of Severian’s De pace, preached when he reconciled with John Chrysostom, has been requested.  But I suspect I will not be able to reach terms with the translator.  He seems to know his Greek; unfortunately he does not have the native-speaker level command of English which a translator needs.  This means I will have to hire someone else to fix that, which means I can’t offer him much.  So … probably a bust.  I’m also wondering what to do about the Armenian sermons of Severian.

A work of Athanasius extant in English, possibly out of copyright

I was reading Quasten’s Patrology vol. 3, looking for interesting untranslated texts, when I came across (p.57-8) mention of a work of Athanasius on the Holy Spirit, consisting of four letters to bishop Serapion of Thmuis.  Quasten lists an English translation: C. R. B. Shapland, trans., The Letters of Saint Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, Ad Serapion (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1951).

The subject is probably dull, but a US publication of that date may be out of copyright, unless the copyright was renewed after 28 years.  So I thought it was worth checking.  And … I can find no evidence of a copyright renewal.  “Shapland” is quite an unusual name, after all.  “Athanasius” is going to get a limited number of hits in any database.

By contrast the Tertullian / Minucius Felix in the “Fathers of the Church” series (1950) turns up as renewed in 1978 in this database.

A look in COPAC reveals that “Shapland” was Cuthbert Richard Bowden Shapland, but no dates for his life.  (The copyright system outside the US demands that we know the biography of the author, absurdly enough). The book is 204 pages, and Shapland’s last date of publication was a volume of sermons in 1957 – but this was edited by someone else, and was probably posthumous.

A search for the name on reveals a man of that name born 1907, died 1952.  There is a picture of a young clergyman there.  This is likely to be the same man, and the dates are right.  If so, his books goes out of copyright outside the US in 2022 (1952+70).

What a performance, just to find out the status of a long defunct book!

So … are any copies available for sale?  Not that I can find.  Hum! 

Well, I’ve placed an ILL for it instead.

Parker library on the web… or rather, not

A BBC News item caught my eye.

One of the most important collections of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts – for centuries kept at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge – has been entirely digitised, and is now available on the internet.

The college’s Parker Library holds more than 550 documents – including the 6th Century St Augustine Gospels, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the earliest history written in English.

Sounds exciting, hey?

Well, it isn’t.  True, the manuscripts have been photographed.  True the images are web-connected.  But no, you can’t see them.  All you can see is low-resoltution images where the text is too fuzzy to read.  All the indexes, list of contents, are all locked.

Why not?  Well, just guess.  That’s right — money money money.  They want to be paid.

Corpus Christi College consumes substantial quantities of public money each year.  It is, in theory, a private institution.  In practice it is almost entirely reliant on the tax payer.  There is something a little distasteful about a body so hugely privileged for centuries, indeed from the time of Henry VIII on, engaged in trying to charge the man in the street for access. 

Whether what they are doing is immoral I do not know.  But it does compare very unfavourably with Google books, Google streetview, Google mail, with the GPS satellite navigation… the list of US-based generosity could go on indefinitely.  If those items had been UK-based, they would all be charging for access.

I don’t want to pillory those involved.  But I feel sadness all the same.  It feels so small-minded, so ignoble, to prevent the ordinary man from reading the pages.  It’s not as if anyone but institutions will ever subscribe anyway.

The gentlemen of Corpus of a previous generation would have considered such money-grabbing ungentlemanly.  It is a pity that Corpus today, for whatever reason, does not feel the same.

The website is here, for all the use it is.

The ruins of Salamis in Cyprus

When I was a boy I lived in Cyprus for two years.  This was before the division of the island after the Greek attempt at annexation in 1974.  I remember holidays in the east of the island, especially around the ruined Roman city of Salamis.

It was possible to camp in the ruins, to kick a ball against an ancient column.  The site was mostly unexcavated and stood on the sea.  An earthquake in antiquity had pushed much of the city under the waves, and so I recall shallow blue seas full of tumbled masonry.

The experience gave me a life-long appreciation of the reality of the ancient world.  Many people really don’t believe the ancient world is real; not really, not like modern times.  It was something far away and relatively unimportant, about which nothing can truly be known, so they feel.  I am one of the privileged few who have never thought this.

All this came back to me when I stumbled across a picture of Salamis today on a tour company website (Cyprus44).  It doesn’t seem to have changed a bit!


Salamis was originally a Greek city.  Cicero records in one of his letters how Republican tax-gatherers wanted a commission in the cavalry, and how one of them had beseiged the senate of Salamis in their own senate house, in pursuit of a debt (owed to Brutus) for so long that some had starved to death!  The ruins visible today are mainly Roman.

The city was wrecked in the 4th century by an earthquake, and the rebuilt city was renamed Constantia.  Epiphanius, author of the Panarion, was its bishop late in the century.  The city declined in the Byzantine period, and was abandoned after the Moslem conquest.  When a new city arose, at Famagusta, it was sited some miles to the south.

Chrysostom sermons that exist

It looks as if some of the sermons by Chrysostom that I was thinking of getting translated already exist in English.  The sermon on his return according to this is said to be included in W. Mayer and P. Allen, John Chrysostom (The Early Church Fathers), London: Routledge, 2000.  A look at the table of contents confirms this. I certainly don’t want to spend money on texts already translated.

De ligno vitae – The Tree of Life

There are a number of short poems which appear in the manuscripts and older editions of the works of Tertullian and Cyprian.  In truth their authorship is unknown, but they seem to belong to the end of the 4th century.

One of these is De ligno vitae, The tree of life.  I was considering commissioning a translation, but then I came across this lovely translation in Early Christian Latin Poets by Carolinne White in Google books.  The text itself is clearly a gem!

There is a place, we believe, at the centre of the world,
Called Golgotha by the Jews in their native tongue.
Here was planted a tree cut from a barren stump:
This tree, I remember hearing, produced wholesome fruits,
But it did not bear these fruits for those who had settled there:
It was foreigners who picked these lovely fruits.
This is what the tree looked like: it rose from a single stem
And then extended its arms into two branches
Just like the heavy yardarms on which billowing sails are stretched
Or like the yoke beneath which two oxen are put to the plough.
The shoot that sprung from the first ripe seed
Germinated in the earth and then, miraculously,
On the third day it produced a branch once more,
Terrifying to the earth and to those above, but rich in life-giving fruit.
But over the next forty days it increased in strength,
Growing into a huge tree which touched the heavens
With its topmost branches and then hid its saccred head on high.
In the meantime it produced twelve branches of enormous
Weight and stretched forth, spreading them over the whole world:
They were to bring nourishment and eternal life to all
The nations and to teach them that death can die.
And then after a further fifty days had passed
From its top the tree caused a draught of divine nectar
To flow into its branches, a breeze of the heavenly spirit.
All over the tree the leaves were dripping with sweet dew.
And look! Beneath the branches shady cover
There was a spring, with waters bright and clear
For there was nothing there to disturb the calm. Around it in the grass
A variety of flowers shone forth in bright colours.
Around this spring countless races and peoples gathered,
Of different stock, sex, age and rank,
Married and unmarried, widows, young married women,
Babies, children and men, both young and old.
When they saw the branches here bending down, under the weight
Of many sorts of fruit, they gleefully reached out with greedy hands
To touch the fruits dripping with heavenly nectar.
But they could not pick them with their eager hands
Until they had wiped off the dirt and filthy traces
Of their former life, washing their bodies in the holy spring.
And so they strolled around on the soft grass for some time
And looked up at the fruits hanging from the tall tree.
If they ate the shells that fell from those branches
And the sweet greenery dripping with plenty of nectar,
Then they were overcome with a desire to pick the real fruit.
And when their mouths first experienced the heavenly taste,
Their minds were transformed and their greedy impulses
Began to disappear; by the sweet taste they knew the man.
We have seen that an unusual taste or the poison of gall
Mixed with honey causes annoyance in many:
They rejected what tasted good because they were confused
And did not like what they had eagerly grabbed at,
Finally spitting out the taste of what they had for long drunk unwisely.
But it often happens that many, once their thoughts are set to rights,
Find their sick minds restored and achieve what they denied
Was possible and so obtain the fruits of their labours.
Many, too, having dared to touch the sacred waters,
Have suddenly departed, slipping back again
To roll around in the same mixture of mud and filth.
But others, faithfully carrying the truth within them, receive it
With their whole soul and store it deep in their hearts.
And so the seventh day sets those who can approach
The sacred spring beside the waters they longed for,
And they dip their bodies that have been fasting.
Only so do they rid themselves of the filth of their thoughts
And the stains of their former life, bringing back from death
Souls that are pure and shining, destined for heaven’s light.

I will look more at the volume.  It looks as if Dr. White has done something that should have been done a century ago, and addressed all these Latin poets who are largely neglected.

Sermons of Chrysostom after his first exile

John Chrysostom made a lot of enemies very quickly in Constantinople after he became patriarch, especially among the more corrupt clergy and court officials who objected to his campaign for higher standards of behaviour. They quickly arranged for him to be deposed and exiled.  But when the Constantinople mob found out, a riot was threatened and he was quickly recalled.

After his return, attempts were made to patch things up, especially with Severian of Gabala who had been insulted pretty seriously by John’s deacons. 

I find in Migne three sermons; De Regressu Sancti Joannis (PG52, col. 421), De Recipiendo Severiano (col. 423), and Severian’s reply De Pace (col. 425).  All three are given in Latin, and seem far too short to be full versions.  I don’t know if there are more sermons than these three.

The full Greek text of Severian’s reply exists, and indeed it turns out to be online.  But what about the Chrysostom sermons?  Are there Greek versions of these, and if so where?

Quick! Fetch the doctor!

A useful resource, via Adrian Murdoch, Corpus Medicorum Graecorum/Latinorum Online: a bunch of ancient medical texts online here:

Anianus of Celeda and Chrysostom’s sermons in the West

The sermons of John Chrysostom became known to fathers such as Augustine at a very early date.  Apparently a bunch of them were translated by the deacon Anianus of Celeda in the early 5th century.  Emilio Bonfiglio has written a dissertation on the translations of Anianus, although I have not seen this, and it may be in Italian anyway.

Quasten’s Patrology gives Anianus as the translator of some of the sermons on Matthew, and the encomiums on St. Paul; but also of other works.  It would be very interesting to learn more about this activity.  We’re all familiar with the Latin translations that appear in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca opposite the Greek; but what proportion of these are in fact ancient translations, rather than renaissance?

I’ve managed to find online a paper about Anianus of Celeda, given by Kate Cooper and published in the papers of the Oxford Patristic Conference here.  This tells us that he wrote a prefatory letter to each of those two translations (PG50, 472-3, to Evangelius before the Paul texts and PG58 975-6 to Orontius for the homilies).  A new and rather different version of the letter to Orontius was uncovered in 1972 by Adolf Primmer (Die Originalfassung von Anianus’ epistula ad Orontium, in Antidosis: Festschrift für Walther Kraus, ed. R. Hanslik, A. Lesky, and H. Schwabl, 278–89. Vienna, 1982).  It would certainly be worth getting an English version of these.

More on Chrysostom and Bareille

A correspondant whose return email address was invalid — preventing a reply! — wrote to me:

Just a quick message to inform you that Bareille’s french translations have a reputation of not being accurate.

There’s a much better translation (and a new edition of the greek) of Chrysostom first sermon in Sources Chrétiennes 272 as an appendix to  his Dialogue sur le Sacerdoce (Sur le sacerdoce [Texte imprimé] : dialogue et homélie / Jean Chrysostome ; introduction, texte critique, traduction et notes par Anne-Marie Malingrey).

I can’t write more now, but I want to thank you for all what you do : making all these patristic texts available.

The good wishes are much appreciated. 

It is always a question how good some of these older translations are.  We have to be a little wary about what subsequent translators say as well — they do have a vested interested in asserting that their own translation was worth doing, after all!

But I don’t think I will go back and revise the work with the SC text in mind, tho; it’s good enough for most purposes.