Archive for May, 2010

More on the Alphabetum font

An email this morning from Juan-Jose Marcos, the developer of the Alphabetum font.  It seems that he keeps the font under development, for the email announces an upgrade.  Unicode 5.2 includes a couple more obscure Coptic characters, and since I registered the font, he’s sending me the upgrade.

He also points me to an improved Charmap utility, named Babelmap.  It’s freeware.  I haven’t tried it, but Charmap is quite underpowered.

Have asked Hercules to consider doing a swap

I’ve asked Hercules if he’d consider allowed me to clean the Augean stables, in return for cleaning up the word document containing the Coptic fragments of Eusebius Quaestiones.  At least, I would have done but I don’t have his mobile number.  And anyway, I think the big lunk would refuse. 

The file contains any number of points at which the translator has indicated two possible meanings rather than one.  This leaves me as the editor to decide which best fits the context.  But I shall choose the more English-like, and place the other in a footnote unless it is simply an identical idea in a different word.

Another problem is where the text changes from translation to commentary or general remarks, all placed inline and not distinctly marked off.  This ought to have been in footnotes, I think.

But I have now processed the translators pencilled comments into the file, and am reworking it now.  I think the translation — which is what it is all about in the end — really is good, and sound.  All the rest is less important.

The translator also went over the transcription, which I had not expected, but which was good.  In truth the transcriber made some mistakes.  But he didn’t do a bad job (aside from omitting one entire line, by the process known to all manuscript buffs), and probably there are only four or five typos.


UPDATE:17:41.  A very hard day’s work, but the Coptic is now in the same form as the rest of the book.  I’m awaiting the Syriac transcription, but otherwise the heavy lifting is all done.

The next stage is cross-referencing the Syriac, Coptic and Arabic fragments with the Greek.  I’m fairly tempted to use Lulu and print off a copy of the whole thing in a spiral binding, with nice wide margins, so I can scribble on it.  We’ll see.   I also need to go through and remove the TODO marks in various places.

One issue I have not resolved is whether to use the translation of the introduction to Lagarde’s catena.  Lagarde wrote in Latin, but I had it run into English for the Coptic group.  It’s quite interesting; but out of date, of course.  That reminds me; some kind friends sent me some PDF’s of material relating to it, which I need to read.

But I’ve done enough for today.    I might bunk off and go and play Microsoft Freelancer instead this evening!

Notes on unicode editing in Coptic

Here’s a couple of notes on how I’m editing unicode Coptic in Microsoft Word 2007.

I’m using Wazu Japan’s Comprehensive Unicode Test Page for Coptic a lot.  This allows me to identify characters and unicode character sets.

I find I can enter any character in word by just typing the four-character code, and hitting Alt-X.  So if I type 0307 after a Coptic character and hit Alt-X, I get a diacritical dot above the character.  Wazu’s page tells me what the codes are!  What I have actually done is to record a macro, so I move to the character and hit Alt-1, which runs a macro that types 0307 and hits alt-X.  It saves keystrokes.

OK; I’ve manually replaced unicode accents (code 0300) with dots on a couple of fragments, and I’m getting fed up.  Can I do a global replace?  I think so.  This microsoft page (I had to use the Google cache version, as Microsoft tried to divert me to some useless registration process) seems to tell you.  You can search for any unicode character using this:

 ^Unnnn where nnnn is the character code

Let’s try it: ^U0300 in the Find box… and it doesn’t work.  ^U is not allowed.  I try ^u, lower case, and that is allowed but finds nothing.  Rats.  It seems I am not the first to discover this.  Not merely must it be lower-case; it must be decimal, not the hexadecimal (base-16) codes supplied by charmap or the Wazu page. 

OK, let’s try.  A hex converter is here.  Hex 0300 is decimal 0768, it seems.  Let’s try ^u0768.  And … nope.  That doesn’t work either.

 Boy this wastes a lot of time!  Thanks Microsoft.

UPDATE: Persistence pays off.  Well, I have a workaround.  You cannot replace unicode combining characters like dots and accents.  But … you can replace the character and the dot together.  I have just copied an e+accent into Find What (it looks like garbage when it arrives – but no matter) and copied an e+dot into Replace, and it worked.  It replaced 462 instances, indeed.  So… I can do a lot of these that way.

Still annoyed that Word doesn’t deal with it properly, tho.

Sympathy for Hercules

An Augean day today.  I’ve received an A4 envelope containing a print-off of the translation of the 18 Coptic fragments of Eusebius Gospel Problems and Solutions (Quaestiones ad Stephanum et Marinum) with pencil revisions in the margin, plus revisions of the Coptic transcription, plus notes on the translation of De Lagarde’s Latin preface.  Also an electronic file containing a new version of the translation.  All this has to be merged together, which would anyway be arduous and is hampered by a somewhat disorganised presentation.

De Lagarde benefited from the generosity of the then owner of the Coptic manuscript.  The latter was rather more generous than the British Library of our own day with its talk of copyrights on PDFs which has prevented me seeing it.

Now, since Robert Curzon, with that mindset whereby the British nobles are ever ready to help in every fine endeavour, had promised on 1 May 1866 (after I wrote to him from Schleusingen) to grant me free access to the very valuable books he had collected, in the year 1874 I asked Robert, Lord Zouche, the son of that most magnanimous man, who had meanwhile been summoned to heaven, to honour his father’s promise (I was intending to edit the Egyptian Psalter). 

He very kindly, with truly unheard-of benevolence, entrusted to my piety and learning both the most ancient fragments of the Egyptian Psalms and the codex of which I have just been speaking, sending them to Göttingen. 

This favour was all the more gratifying, the more certain it was that neither in my own Germany were such treasures possessed—for I was born after the riches of the globe had been distributed—nor in the whole of Europe was there to be found, apart from myself, a man who had both studied theology and had acquired some acquaintance with the Egyptian language, and was willing to expend toilsome and thankless effort—and to suffer a large enough financial loss—on the task of editing this catena.

Faced with such generosity, one might hope that De Lagarde would behave similarly.  Alas, at the end of the preface we read:

All those who wish to do so may use my volume, but only with the proviso that without my permission it is not permitted to reproduce what I have edited, nor to include it in the margin of an edition of either the Egyptian New Testament or of the Fathers.

I thank Robert, Lord Zouche, to the highest extent of my abilities for sending the manuscript to me in Göttingen to use.

De Lagarde’s failure to provide a translation was a more certain guarantee that his work would remain unused than this early claim of copyright.  It was successful; the catena remains unknown and unused by scholars.

Let us mourn the passing of the aristocratic spirit, in these days of small minded officialdom, and honour the shade of Robert, Lord Zouche.

More on Coptic unicode fonts

A few minutes ago I wrote about Alphabetum, the commercial Coptic font which uses the Bohairic typeface, and the way in which this limited people working with Coptic.  This led me to think about the idea of commissioning a free font. Of course really this is something that a grant body should make happen. 

A hunt around the web revealed that Keft, the free Coptic unicode font with the Sahidic typeface, was designed by Michael Everson of  It seems that it was commissioned by the International Association of Coptic Studies, whose website is rather out of date and does not say so.  I wonder what it cost?  It seems that Stephen Emmell was responsible, and it sounds like a long and arduous process was involved!

Both these fonts support unicode 5.1 which matters for things like dots over letters (diacritics).  Few of the other free fonts do.

I do wonder a bit about Coptic studies.  Syriac studies is pretty free-wheeling, everyone is friendly, everyone wants to encourage people, and everyone just pitches in.  In Coptic studies there seems to be a lot of stuffiness, a lot of “I’m far too important to reply” and general crustiness.  I got that feeling again reading the stuff about Keft.  Maybe that’s why I’ve never paid any attention to Coptic.

More on the Alphabetum font

My copy of the alphabetum font has arrived.  Unfortunately the email that supplied it added some extra conditions on use, not disclosed at time of purchase.  I bought the license that allows use in books, you see, for the Eusebius project.

First he wants purchasers who use it in a book to acknowledge the use of the font.  That’s just advertising, of course, and doesn’t really matter.

Much more serious is that he also wants a free copy of any book using the font.  Drat the man.  That’s an extra charge to use it for the purpose for which I bought it, and for which he advertised it.  In fact that must be illegal, I would have thought.  I’ve written to tell him so politely.  After all, I doubt he wants to annoy people. 

What all this brings home, tho, is how fortunate Syriac users are in having the Meltho unicode fonts.  Meltho are absolutely free, and indeed one of them even comes with Windows.  We all owe George Kiraz such a debt of gratitude for this.

By contrast Coptic users are crippled by lack of availability of a family of good quality unicode fonts, and are obliged to scurry around for whatever happens to exist.  Many of the fonts don’t handle dots and overscores very well — although Alphabetum does handle them exactly. 

A further problem is that you can’t pass around a Word document with material in Alphabetum; the recipient won’t be able to read it, unless they have a copy of the font.  You find yourself tangled up in a mess of problems that obstruct and hamper, for tiny amounts of money.

If I knew Coptic, I might fix all this by commissioning a font designer to make one.  But since I don’t know the alphabet, it’s out of the question.

I’m generally impressed with Alphabetum.  If you need a Bohairic Coptic font in Unicode, it will do the job.

Alphabetum – a more “Bohairic” coptic font? Plus notes on Coptic

I’ve had complaints from my translator that the Keft unicode font for Coptic isn’t that “Bohairic” in appearance.  Well, I could pass a Bohairic book in the street and not recognise one!  But I do recognise a difference in letter forms between Keft and what is used by De Lagarde in his 19th century printed text.

Quite by accident I have come across the Alphabetum font.  It’s not free, but not expensive.  Here’s a bitmap comparing the fonts; top one is De Lagarde; the middle one is Alphabetum; bottom one is Keft. 

Three Coptic Fonts; De Lagarde, Alphabetum and Keft

 The Keft font is apparently a “Sahidic” Coptic font.  The New Athena Unicode font is of the same type.

There’s some stuff on entering Coptic unicode here.  It looks as if I’m going to need to do it.  And I have just found these links by Christian Askeland, which look good.  These led me here, to some more fonts, of which only Arial Coptic seemed like De Lagarde, and the diacriticals didn’t seem right.  And this in turn gave this test page.

One difference I can see between De Lagarde and Alphabetum is the diacriticals.  It’s not that easy to find out about these, I find.  I wonder if the difference is important?

I need to find a basic grammar that is good on these things.

UPDATE: I have also found a wikipedia test page for Coptic in unicode 5.1, which lists a number of fonts as well-supported although is still vague on typefaces.  Quivira is listed, and is a VERY nice font; but Sahidic again.  Analecta is another new one to me.

From my diary

Very busy this week with work-related stuff; too much so, to do anything useful! 

The fragments of Philip of Side are coming along nicely. The translator is doing his usual excellent job and ferreting out a lot of useful related information buried in articles in languages none of us know.  The publication — which will be free and online — will be an excellent one.

One interesting issue arose concerning the text to translate of the fragments contained in the Religionsgesprach text — a 6th century fictional dialogue at the court of the Sassanids.  This was printed by Bratke, but a critical edition does exist, in a thesis form, by Pauline Bringel.  The two texts are rather different, even aside from the fact that Bringel identified two recensions of the text.  We’re going to use Bratke, tho, and footnote differences.  Bratke is accessible.  Bringel will not be publishing her thesis any time soon, I learn, although the Sources Chretiennes would publish it, because of pressure of teaching duties.  There would be little point in doing a translation from a text that none have access to.

This weekend is deadline time for contributors to the Eusebius project.  There is more that could be done to the Coptic materials — but there has to be a limit some time!  The translator is sending me hard-copy of proof-changes, which I hope will arrive tomorrow.  I’m afraid it looks as if I may have to learn the Coptic alphabet to do some work on it, which is a nuisance, but there we are.  However I shall do the minimum possible!  With luck I can put the Coptic fragments to bed this weekend.  I still need to resolve issues with fonts, tho.  I’m still awaiting the transcription of the Syriac fragments, but I am told this will be ready on time, but not before.  The Latin fragments I revised last night and are now — thankfully — done.  An index of fragments and publications that I commissioned is in Excel, and needs more work and to be turned into a Word document.

The translator of the Origen Homilies on Ezechiel has found some more materials that probably derive from Origen’s Scholia on Ezechiel; these will be added in.  I have admonished him to remember to take a summer holiday!

On a quite different subject, I had to rebuild the installer of QuickLatin, the tool that I sell ($29) to help people with Latin.  My local anti-virus wailed about “unsigned code”, and I have been trying to work out how to sign a .exe file.  Apparently no-one wants to make it too easy, although why anyone would want to make a security measure hard to implement I can’t imagine.  I tried to f ind out this afternoon and failed.  Oh well.  It can go unsigned a while longer. 

I’m still thinking about going to the UK patristics conference at Durham in September.  I may yet go.  But I’ll wait until July at least, because I don’t quite know what will happen to me in my current freelance job.  I may need to find a new contract in a month, although I suspect that I shall end up with time off this summer!  And I shall take some time off too. 

I’ve also had a lot of correspondance this week, much of it very interesting.  One chap who is interested in Coptic turns out to have a PDF of the British Library manuscript containing De Lagarde’s catena.  This is the catena which I am publishing the Coptic from.  He declined to give me a copy of it, because of fears about copyright — not entirely unreasonable, considering that today there was an announcement about more enforcement measures by the regulator, OFCOM.  But he did let me see a  page with the first Eusebius entry on it.  The Coptic text was extremely clear, and interestingly there was a difference from De Lagarde’s printed version.  De Lagarde runs the text together, and the names of the authors of each bit appear inline.  But in the ms. the “Eusebius” was actually on a separate line!  I’d show you, but apparently the British Library don’t want you to see it unless we pay them money. 

It did leave me wondering what the point of running a public collection of manuscripts is, when circulation of images is prohibited!  But I think I’ve asked that question before.

A quotation from Seneca the Elder

Portions of this post are written under the UK government legislation controlling criticism of homosexuality

I came across this appalling quotation recently while looking for legal materials online, quoted by Seneca the Elder in his Declamations.  In the Controversiae IV, pr. 10 and made by the orator Quintus Haterius, who lived in the days of Tiberius:

impudicitia in ingenuo crimen est, in servo necessitas, in liberto officium.

Unchastity is a disgrace for the freeborn, a necessity in a slave, and a duty for the freedman.

Few of us will be tempted to idealise Roman times.  But it is worth remembering that systematic abuse of human beings was a structural feature of that world, and no household — or very few — went without it.

I was unable to find either a text or a translation of these works of the elder Seneca, which I had never run across before.  It’s a reminder of how much is still offline.

Carmen ad Senatorem quendam

Another little poem from the dying days of paganism is the Carmen ad senatorem quendam.  This turns up on old editions of Cyprian, and sometimes Tertullian, but its author is in fact unknown.  Long ago I scanned the Latin text, which is here.

I mentioned recently that Brian Croke and Jill Harries in their excellent (and cheap!) Religious Conflict in Fourth Century Rome had translated a number of these short verses.  The Carmen ad Senatorem is among them, and what follows is their translation.

It’s always an interesting question, with ancient verse, whether to attempt to translate it into English verse.  Most translators wisely eschew doing so, aware of their own limitations.  John Wilson in his Parsi Religion (1843) gave a translation by a friend of the medieval text, the Zartusht-Nama on p.477-522, online here.   This the translator began in verse.  After a few pages, however, the text reverts to prose with the pained footnote:

 It was the intention of my friend to have translated the whole of the Zartusht-Namah into verse. Its gross absurdity, however, and the almost total want in it of poetical conception forced him at this stage to resort to plain prose. — W.

Some English verse translations are excellent.  On my shelves stands the World’s Classics translation of Ovid: the love poems by A. D. Melville.  The virtues of the translation may be appreciated from these opening lines (which should be read aloud, as with all verse):

We who once were Ovid’s five slim volumes
Are three; he thought it better to compress
Though reading us may still give you no pleasure
With two removed, at least the pain is less.

I’ve not read Pope’s Homer, but doubtless that fluent versifier made an excellent job of the task.  But surely the excellences, whatever they are, of the translation will be those of the translator, not the original?

Another issue with every short translation, is that all of us feel tempted to “improve” it, to smooth a word here or there, to introduce our own ideas.  I have strenuously resisted doing so with Dr Croke’s translation!  Of course suggestions as to improvements are very welcome in the comments.  If you prefer verse, feel free to contribute!

Anyway, let’s enjoy this translation of this late Roman poem, written by a Christian aristocrat to a friend, a senator who had abandoned a nominal Christianity for the old cult of the Magna Mater — Cybele — and that of Isis.

Carmen ad senatorem ex Christiana religione ad idolorum servitutem conversum
(Poem to a Senator converted from Christianity to the service of idols)

When I saw you paying homage once again to a variety of empty sacred objects and clinging to your former error, I was dumb¬founded. Because you always enjoyed poetry, I have hastened to write verses so that by replying in a poem I shall reproach you. For who may allow darkness to be preferred to light or that you should believe that the Great Mother could be said to be a goddess and think that she whose devotees are branded by scandalous infamy may be worshipped again? For indeed the priests in effeminate garb confess to their same private vice in public ritual, and think admissible that which is not. Whereupon they mince lightly through the city speaking in feminine voices and carry themselves with languishing hips and finger extended, and change their sex through a well publicized crime. And when they celebrate their rites they proclaim that on these days they are chaste.

Yet if only then are they, as they say, chaste, then what are they for the rest of the time? But because they are compelled to be pure at least once, they groan in spirit, disfigure their body and shed their blood. What holy rite indeed is it which goes by the name of blood? For I have now learnt that not age but your religion has made you bald, that your [Roman] boots are removed and your feet swathed in the soft papyrus of the Galli — an object quite astonishing and this could be thrown down from a great height. If any consul proceeds into the city from the rite of Isis he will be the laughing¬stock of the world: who, however, will not mock that you who were consul are now a minister of Isis? What is shameful in the first instance you are not ashamed to be in the second: to abuse your mind through vile hymns with the rabble responding to you and the senate censuring you; and, once depicted in your home with the fasces, now to bear a dog-like countenance with your rattle.[1] Is this humility? It is but a semblance of humility. Those monuments will always remain part of your house. And the general rumour abroad had reached our ears that you have said: ‘Goddess, I was mistaken, forgive me, I have returned’. Tell me, if you please, since you often made these requests and sought forgiveness, what words does she say to you? You, who follow those who are mindless, are truly deprived of your wits. Once again you seek out these things and do not realize that you are doing wrong. See what you deserve. Perhaps you would have been less notorious if you had known only this and persisted in this error. Yet, since you have crossed the threshold of the true Law and come to know God for a few years, why do you cling to what should be abandoned or why do you give up what should be retained? When you worship everything, you worship nothing. Nor do you reconsider in your heart how different is truth from falsehood, light from darkness. You only pretend to be a philosopher since opinion changes your mind. For if popular anger prompted your displeasure you would be both a Jew and be held to be uncertain of everything. Indulge yourself with words, lofty wisdom does not satisfy. All that is carried to excess, fails: heat and cold have the same effect, the former burns and so does the latter. So darkness brings light and the sun the opposite; the icy cold and the boiling hot bath are equally harmful. Food sustains the body, the body is corrupted by food and decreases its own strength, if too much is consumed. Lastly, if you sit it is a great rest from work: but if you sit for long it becomes a strain. For the poet Virgil described as a punishment: ‘Unfortunate Theseus sits and will sit forever’.[2] Length always harms something useful: lengthy banquets are harmful, long fasts are trying. Likewise, knowing too much makes you stupid.

‘The wicked sect, so the goddess taught me, said moderation was good.’

But you care for neither principle nor the guidance of the mean. However, a stable mind is not thrown off course by any turmoil and simplicity itself never contemplates any evil. Wherefore, sincere faith shall enjoy an eternal abode and wrongdoing on the other hand will be tortured in lasting fire. Choose what you wish in order to avoid deserved punishments. I say nevertheless that the creditor deserves this concession. If you do not wish to know the truth, the offence will be light. It will not be light if you abandon the truth already known. But perhaps mature old age will recall you,when you are sated with these errors, to correction and the better path. For time changes evil, time sets everything in order. Therefore, then, when age and experience have restored you, learn to keep faith with God, lest you happen to lapse the same way a second time, because it is truly said that he who has once tripped over a stone and is not aware of how to avoid it and carelessly hurts himself a second time must ascribe blame to himself, and not to other causes. Correct your sin with faith, straighten out your mind. It was sufficient to sin once. Leave off fearing. He who repents of what he previously was will not be held to account.

[1] The ritual masks of the rites of the Great Mother.    [2] Aeneid VI.617.