Archive for September, 2010

Bergk (1872) on chapter titles and divisions in ancient writers

Bergk is the second author quoted as an authority on the history of scholarship in this area.  He writes so long ago that he uses “Capiteln” rather than “Kapiteln”!  But I think it is interesting to see what this foundational author on the subject actually says.

I have scanned and corrected his text.  Since I did not understand some of the German (and didn’t understand ‘Musterstürke’!), I will give that first, and then my English translation.  I have omitted the Greek text of Polybius quoted, purely because I cannot bring myself to type it in.

After a discussion of writers who give the number of lines of their works (Theopompus, Josephus), Bergk begins p.132 with the heading “Inhaltsangaben” (“Content information”) and proceeds as follows:

Später war es ganz gewöhnlich, einer  Schrift oder jedem einzelnen Buche eines grösseren Werkes eine summarische Uebersicht vorauszuschicken oder auch den Inhalt der einzelnen Abschnitte in Randbemerkungen oder Ueberschriften kurz zusammenzufassen und so für die Bequemlichkeit der Leser zu sorgen.  Polybius hatte dies im Anfange seines Geschichtswerkes regelmässig getan, später, weil er wahrnahm, dass die Abschreiber  diese Summarien geringschätzig behandelten und aus Bequemlichkeit meist wegliessen, zog er es vor, die einleitende Uebersicht mit der Darstellung selbst zu verbinden, um sie so gegen die Willkür der Schreiber zu schützen. [124] So hat auch Diodor solche Inhaltsangaben selbst hinzugefügt, die für die Kritik nicht unwichtig sind, wahrscheinlich auch Athenäus, während sie anderwärts von fremder Hand herrühren mögen; bei nachgelassenen Schriften mag der Herausgeber dafür Sorge getragen haben. [125] Wie gedankenlos und nachlässig die Abschreiber mit der Ueberlieferung verfuhren, erkennt man aus der kleinen, gewöhnlich dem Aristoteles zugeschriebenen Abhandlung über die Eleatischen Philosophen; hier war offenbar in der Ueberschrift jedes Abschnittes der Name des betreffenden Philosophen von dem Verfasser selbst hinzugefügt; diese Ueberschriften wurden später als entbehrlich weggelassen, und da der Verfasser die Gewohnheit hat, der Kürze halber im Texte selbst niemals den Namen des Philosophen, dessen System er kritisirt, zu nennen, entstand eine heillose Verwirrung, indem spätere Abschreiber nach Gutdünken die unentbehrlichen Ueberschriften ergänzten. Indem man den Inhalt der einzelnen Abschnitte kurz angab, bildete sich ganz von selbst die Eintheilung der Bücher in Capitel, [126] die wir besonders in gelehrten Arbeiten und Sammelwerken antreffen, wo die einzelnen Abschnitte lose an einander gereiht waren. Auch pflegte man wohl die Quellen, die man benutzt hatte, anzugeben, wie z. B. Parthenius in seinen erotischen Erzählungen, wo die neuere Kritik mit Unrecht Anstoss genommen hat, und Antoninus Liberalis in seinen Metamorphosen.

124. Vielleicht fügte er aber auch hier noch die prographai\ hinzu, denn die Worte des Polybius XI, I sind nicht ganz klar: … hin ist entweder ou) mo/non prographaj zu lesen, oder kai\ hinter a)lla\ zu tilgen. Dass die Sitte der prographai\ bei den Historikern vor Polybius allgemein üblich war, geht alls diesen Worten klar hervor; Polybius hatte dies Verfahren in den ersten fünf (zehn!) Büchern, wie er sagt, beobachtet, aber seine Klage über die Nachlässigkeit der Abschreiber ist nur zu begründet, es hat sich davon keine Spur erhalten. Die Neueren behandeln diese für das Verständniss sehr dienlichen Summarien und Randschriften meist zu geringschätzig, ja aus Hyperkritik hat man dieselben sogar da, wo sie handschriftlich erhalten sind, getilgt.

125. So rühren im Lucrez die Randschriften wahrscheinlich von Cicero her.

126. Denn kephalaion bedeutet ja eben die summarische Angabe des Inhaltes, welche am Rande vermerkt war. Kephalaia oder tmh/mata werden namentlich bei den Erklärern des Aristoteles sowie des Hippokrates (Schol. Hippocr. Dietz 11, 3), dann auch bei Photius in der Bibliothek erwähnt. Ebenso bei den Lateinern, Symmach. Ep. X, 27 citirt: Seneca lib. IV de benef. cap. XI. Cassiodor Arithm. I: Josephus in libro I antiquitatum titulo IX. In der alten c1assischen Zeit sind dagegen kephalaia Musterstürke, die man aus den classischen Schriftstellern auswählt, Plato Leg. VII, 810.

Which I render as:

Later, it was quite common to precede a text, or any single book of a larger work, with a summary overview, or also to summarise briefly the contents of each section in marginal notes or headings, and thus to provide for the convenience of the reader.  Polybius did this systematically at the beginning of his historical work, but later, because he perceived that the copyist of these summaries treated them with disdain and often omitted them for convenience, he preferred to link the introductory overview with the full text itself, thereby to protect against the whims of the transcriber. [124] So likewise Diodorus added himself such content information, which is not unimportant for critical studies, and probably Athenaeus also, although these may also derive from a alien hand; in posthumous works the editors may have taken on this task. [125] How thoughtlessly and carelessly the copyist proceeded with the transmission, is evident from the small treatise, usually attributed to Aristotle, on the Eleatic philosophers; here there was obviously in the heading of each section, the name of the philosopher, added by the author himself; these titles were later dropped as unnecessary, and since the author has the habit of brevity, half the time the name of the philosopher whose system he criticizes is not named, leaving a hopeless confusion, which was supplemented at will by later copyists with the indispensable headings. By indicating the contents of each section, the division of books into chapters arose automatically, [126] which we find especially in scholarly works and compilations, where the individual sections were loosely linked to one another. Also they were probably used to indicate the sources that had been used, as in e.g. Parthenius in his erotic stories, where more recent critical studies have wrongly objected to them, and Antoninus Liberalis in his Metamorphoses.

124.  Perhaps he also added the prographai, for the words of Polybius XI, 1, are not quite clear: … either we should read ou) mo/non prographaj or place kai\ behind a)lla\. That the custom of prographai was common among the historians before Polybius is clear from these words; Polybius had observed the custom in his first five (ten!) books, as he says, but his complaint about the negligence of the copyists is only too well founded, and his manuscripts retain no trace of them.  Modern writers mostly disdain these summaries and marginal notes, which are very important for understanding, indeed treated them with hypercriticism, even when they are preserved in the manuscripts.

125.  Thus the marginal notes in Lucretius are probably due to Cicero.

126.  Because kephalaion means equally the summary indication of contents, which were noted in the margin.  Kephalaia or tmh/mata were mentioned in the commentators on Aristotle and Hippocrates (Schol. Hippoc. ed. Dietz, 11, 3), and also by Photius in the Bibliotheca. Likewise among the Latin writers, Symmach.  Ep.  X, 27 cites:  Seneca lib.  IV  de benef. cap.  XI.  Cassiodorus  Arithm.  I:  Josephus in libro I  antiquitatum titulo IX.  In earlier classical times ‘Musterstürke’ (?) are against kephalaia, which are selected from classical writers, Plato Leg. VII, 810.

Bergk then goes on to discuss paragraphs as an aid to understanding.  And that is all he says about capituli.

The point about marginal headings to indicate content brought to mind the Medici manuscript of Tacitus’ Annals.  This I know contains one or two words in the margin against various bits.  Famously there is such a note against Annals 15:44, reading simply ‘Christianos’.  This would be a medieval example of an ancient practice.  I doubt that Tacitus composed that note, however!  But it could be ancient, if Bergk is right.

Cyril of Alexandria and chapter divisions in the “Glaphyra”

Matthew Crawford has kindly pointed out a passage by Cyril of Alexandria discussing chapter divisions.  This passage is new to me.  It may be found in his commentary on the Old Testament, in the preface to the Glaphyra in Genesim.  This is online in PG 69, col. 16.  I don’t know a lot of Greek, and find Migne’s Greek difficult to use.  But the Latin translation he supplies says:

Sciendum vero etiam hoc, quod cum De adoratione et cultu in spiritu et veritate XVII libros scripserimus, multamque in illis contemplationem copiam complexi simus, capita huic operi inserta certo consilio praetermisimus, et inexaminata reliquimus: tamenetsi interdum accidit ut alicuius eorum necessaria de causa meminerimus. 

My not very good stab at translating it (but better than nothing) is:

But also know this, that since we wrote 17 books On adoration and worship in spirit and in truth, and we included a great quantity of thinking in them, we deliberately omitted chapters inserted in this work, and left them unexamined: although sometimes it happens that we may refer to some of them out of necessity.

UPDATE: Matt wrote to me with his translation of these words, and I had misunderstood them as referring to chapter titles rather than chapters.  The point is that both the Glaphyra and the De adoratione are Old Testament commentaries, and Cyril was omitting discussion of those chapters he had already discussed.  The De adoratione is  in PG68, complete with chapter divisions.  He writes:

The chapter divisions Cyril is referring to are in his OT commentary called De Adoratione. However, in the preface to his other OT commentary called Glaphyra, he makes reference to the chapter divisions in De Adoratione. If you look at PG 68 you can see the chapter divisions there with their titles.

Also, I translated the passage from the preface to Glaphyra a bit different than you did, though I could be mistaken! Cyril’s Greek is tough and I often find myself struggling. If it wasn’t for the Latin translation in PG, I would be completely lost on a number of passages. Nonetheless, here’s what I got:

‘And one should see that since we have composed 17 books in De adoratione et cultu in spiritu et veritate and gathered together much fullness of thoughts in them, we have intentionally passed over those chapters in the present writing, and we have kept what is unexamined.’

So as I read it, Cyril is saying that he is not including in the Glaphyra those topics he covered in the De Adoratione. But as I said, I could be mistaken. Please let me know what you think.

Early opinions on chapter divisions

I have been reading an article about the history of scholarship on the subject of chapter titles, from 1962-3, by Diana Albino.(1)  It begins with some interesting remarks.

In modern printed editions the surviving works of the Graeco-Latin civilization are published divided into books and in chapters.  But the scholar who wants to restore the original reading and that therefore examines the manuscript tradition, finds that in the codices few works are distributed in chapters, differing among themselves in various ways and very rarely supplied with titles and numeration. The problem arises therefore as to whether the ancients used the system of division into chapters and whether, therefore, they cited literary works in the way we are accustomed to for modern works, or whether instead such a method was introduced only in a more recent age.

The first scholars who addressed themselves to this issue (1) asserted that the distribution into chapters of literary works was unknown to the ancients, that they would have only known the use of summaries, and they attributed them to later editing; above all to the librari of the Middle Ages. In fact they were of the opinion that the division documented for some works from manuscripts and incunabuli also need not  necessarily be thought to be derived from the author.  This was because many were often clearly in contrast to the general design of the work or quite were made in an awkward and approximate way; that the titles of the chapters, they found, did not perform the function of indicating the content with sufficient clarity and precision.

(1) V.I. Matthaeus GESNER: Scriptores rei rusticae veteres Latini, Biponti, 1787, vol. 1°, pp. 48-53.

Interesting stuff.  But in these blessed days, we can wonder whether Gesner’s book is online.  And thanks to the generosity of the Americans, who have placed their libraries online and made them freely available to those of us living in less liberal lands, we find that it is!  In fact I find that Albino got the page number wrong.  It is, in fact, p.xlviii-liii!

 The remarks of Gesner quote various authors.  It is too late tonight for me to work on this much, but I see at a glance on p.xlix a discussion of indexes or summaries.

XXI. Sed exortum tamen mature est genus quoddam, unde gradus ad capitum, quae vocant divisiones factus est. Nimirum qui de rebus diversis scriberent, quas non omnes omnis palati esse praeviderent, ii solebant indices quosdam, lemmata, summaria (his enim utuntur unius ejusdemque rei nominibus auctores idonei) apponere libris suis, sed non partibus eorum, quas ita distrahere & lacerare nolebant, verum uno in loco sub conspectum legentis ponebant uniuscujusque argumentum libri. Hoc Valerius Soranus fecerat, cujus se exemplum secutum ait Plinius in ipso praefationis fine, cui indicem illum subjungit, quo liber totus primus impletur. Hoc Gellius, hoc Solinus fecit, de quorum summariis plenissime, ut solet, disputat in praefatione ad opus magnum Claudius Salmasius. Quod vero ait, ab initio tantum operis, & post praefationem positos id genus indices, oblitus est credo Columellae nostri, qui diserte docet in ipso fine libri, qui undecimus nobis est, se illo loco “omnium librorum suorum argumenta subjecisse, ut, cum res exegisset, facile reperiri possit, quid in quoque quaerendum, & qualiter quidque faciendum sit.” & habet in eo ipso loco lemmata Lipsiensis Codex & Goesianus, nec ipsa tamen multum editis meliora, aut talia, qualia a Columella scripta jure putes. Quin Martialis quibusdam epigrammatibus, v. g. Xeniis, nisi tamen aenigmata voluit scribere, plerisque, apposita lemmata fuisse, nec aliter potuisse, res ipsa loquitur. Alia quaestio est, utrum ea, quae habemus, sint Martialis, quod de toto hoc genere merito negat Sanctius Minervae 3, 14, p. 507. Sed illud plane diversum scriptionis genus est, & a nostro proposito alienum.

A very hasty translation, mostly wrong in detail but getting the message over:

XXI. But we have entered prematurely on the subject of how chapters, which they call “divisions” were made.  Obviously anyone who writes on diverse subject, which not everyone has foreseen, will be accustomed to prefix to his books some indices, lemmata, summaria (both terms are used by competent authors), but not in bits, which they were unwilling to tear into chunks, but in one place as the argument of the book.  This Valerius Solanus did, whose example was followed by Pliny at the end of his preface, who added an index to it, filling the entirety of book 1.  This Gellius, this Solanus did, whose summaries Claudius Salmasius discusses very fully, as it is his custom, at the start of his great work.  …??… I think he forgot Columella, who eloquently teaches at the very end of the book which is our book 11, that in that place he “appended the arguments of all his books, so that, at need, it would be easy to discover what was also being sought, and to do so.”  And in that place the Lipsiensis and Goesianus manuscripts have lemmata, which …??… you may think written by Columella.  In fact Martial in some epigrams, i.e. the Xeniis (=’Gifts’) unless he was writing riddles, has added lemmata to many of them, which talk about the gift itself.  The other question is whether the ones we have are by Martial, which is denied by the most holy of Minerva (?), 3, 14, p.507.   But this is a different kind of writing and obviously alien to our subject. 

I’d like to get all those paragraphs of Gesner in English.  If this really is the start of all the thinking on the subject, it would be good to understand the argument clearly.

1. Diana Albino, La divisione in capitoli nelle opere delle antichi, Annali della facoltà di lettere e filosofia, Napoli, vol. 10 (1962-3) pp. 219-234

From my diary

Greetings to any Mertonians who are lured hither by the mention of this site in Postmaster.  Those who remember me may recall that even at college I was interested in the Church fathers!

My apologies for the limited blogging.  I have been interviewing for a new contract this week.  One that I had favoured, with IBM, has given me much anguish.  Who would believe that, under their non-negotiable contract, the contractor is expected to work 8 hours a day for a fixed sum, and for free for up to four more hours a day? Or that the luckless souls so entrapped were contractually unable to leave during the entire 6 month term? Or that if they did, if they got sick, or their children did, they forfeited a month’s salary and were the subject of legal action for up to ca. $10,000?  I cannot imagine making such demands of another human being who simply wants to earn some money from me.

Back in the world of real and important things, the Eusebius volume is still progressing.  I have been unable to work on the corrections for it as yet, tho.  But I had an email from the lady responsible for the Coptic, with some further details.

Yesterday I was talking about chapter titles.  In medieval manuscripts we often find ancient works divided into chapters, and these often labelled capituli or kephalaia.  There are often short pieces of text at the start of the chapter, in red, which we might think of as chapter titles.  But it is a real question whether these are authorial.  The research has not really been done.

Years ago I collected articles on this subject, all more or less poor or limited in scope.  Often these referred to the 1882 Das antike Buchwesen (The ancient book trade) by Birt; or the even more elderly 1872 volume Griechische Literaturgeschichte by Bergk.  The latter gives a short list of ancient authors who mention kephalaia; whatever that means to them at that date.  But it is plainly incomplete, since I myself know of an interesting quotation in the praefatio of Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John.  I know of this only because I scanned the translation to place it online.

 The subjoined subscription of the chapters, will shew the subjects over which our discourse extends, to which we have also annexed numbers, that what is sought may be readily found by the readers.

In other words, he has written a praefatio, then given a list of chapters, and numbered them (and presumably placed numbers in the text?) so that the readers can find them.

Do these words indicate that Cyril is doing something which is a novelty?  If it is not, why does he mention it?

I’ve long hankered to know, all the same, what Bergk and Birt say.  But I knew better than to borrow their books.  I don’t read German very well.  Trying to find whatever there was on chapter titles in these long texts would be fruitless, and hard on the eyes.  So I never did.  But that was then.

How times change!  Today you can download the two books as PDF’s.  This I have done, and OCR’d them.  So I now have searchable PDF’s.  I can do a search on “kapit” (short for kapiteln).  I can find all the passages where the word appears.  I can then select the text, paste it into Google translate, and get a very good idea of what is being said, right there! 

I may paste the text and translation of the relevant portions in this blog, if my job-hunting permits.  A list of ancient discussions of the subject, with verbatim quotation, would be a useful thing to do.

Of course the other question is whether a TLG search on “kephal” would produce more.  I might try that on the CDROM.

Some notes on chapter divisions in ancient books

I’ve always been interested in the question of when chapter divisions and chapter titles arrived in ancient books.  Various articles on the subject have passed through my hands in recent days as I converted photocopies to PDF’s, and again I found them interesting.  But in those days the German sources, Birt and Bergk, were inaccessible to me, being large books in large libraries, not to be borrowed and scarcely to be photocopied.  I wonder if they have made it onto the web?

Quite by chance I found this material online in V. H. Stanton’s The Gospels as Historical Documents, Cambridge, 1903, p.22f (here). 

THE FORM OF ANCIENT BOOKS AS AFFECTING HABITS OF QUOTATION.

I. The only kind of division of the subject-matter which was ever common in Greek and Roman Literature even to the sixth century A.D. was “the book,” in the sense of a portion of a larger work. The book in this sense, as the names for it in Greek and Latin (bi/bloj and bi/blion, volumen, also later and more rarely to/moj) imply, corresponded originally and normally with the contents of a roll. (See Birt, Antike Buckwesen esp. chh. 3, 5 and 7, comparing Bergk, Griechische Literaturgeschichte I. p. 226 f.) For the most part works which could be comprised within a roll of moderate proportions — as for example most of Plato’s Dialogues and even the longer writings of the New Testament could be — had no divisions, and larger works no lesser ones.

Only in the case of works of a few authors do we hear of chapters or headings (kefa/laia, capita, also called ti/tloi) which served to break up the text into portions. The scholiasts and commentators upon Aristotle speak of such in his treatises. In the main this evidence belongs to the third and following centuries A.D.; but the divisions in question may, at least in some instances, have been early introduced and traditionally preserved.

Yet they do not seem to have been employed in all his works. The Constitution of Athens, in the recently recovered papyrus MS. of it, is without them (see Kenyon’s ed. p. xviii.). Moreover, so far as I have observed, the scholiasts and commentators themselves, though they mention chapters when discussing the question how a treatise should be analysed, rarely refer to statements, opinions or words as contained in such and such a chapter. Commonly they give only the philosopher’s name, or the treatise, or book of the treatise, with an indication sometimes that the passage will be found near the beginning, or the end, of a treatise, or book. In writers earlier than the fourth century A.D. this vague mode of reference is, I believe, universal.

Moreover, the works other than those of Aristotle, which were divided into chapters, seem to have been chiefly those which consisted of a series of articles, such as collections of marvellous stories, books on Natural History and Botany, medical, and probably also legal, books. Clement of Alexandria (circ. A.D. 200) also seems to have divided his Miscellanies into chapters. “Let this second Miscellany,” he writes at the close of the second book, “here terminate on account of the length and number of the chapters.”

The only instance of a reference to a numbered chapter appears to be that in Cassiodorus (Lib. Lit. ch. 3, Migne, voL LXX. col. 1204) to “the ninth chapter of the first book of the Antiquities of Josephus.” These numbers may have been inserted in the Latin translation which Cassiodorus himself caused to be made (Div. Lit. ch. 17, Migne, ib. col. 1133). [For the instances given, see Bergk, ib. p. 233, Birt, ib. p. 157.

To the examples of works with headings quoted by these writers, Dioscorides on Plants and Roots may be added, see Palaeographical Society’s Publications, I. plate 177. On the other hand, they are both, I believe, in error when they state that Symmachus’ copy of Seneca had chapters. The reference to Seneca by Migne (ap. Symm. Ep. x. 27), or some other editor, introduced within a bracket, has, it would seem, been mistaken for part of Symmachus’ text. Of the employment of any subdivisions of chapters there is no trace whatever. The word tmh~ma (section) is indeed used, but only as an equivalent for kefa/laion].

284 Greek manuscripts online at the British Library

I learn from here via here that Juan Garces, the go-ahead curator of Greek manuscripts at the British Library, has got 284 manuscripts online.  It’s well worth browsing the four pages of the list.  There’s a manuscript of Zosimus New History in there, for instance.  Despite pleas from Biblical people, it’s mostly classical or patristic or bits and pieces, which is all to the good.  Synesius is well-represented too.

Note that the short list in the browse is not everything.  If you click on one of the text links you get a break down of all that the manuscript contains.  Works in the TLG are given the TLG reference too.

Turning the pages is quick and easy, thankfully, unlike early and very clunky online interfaces.  This one is almost usable!

A second connection between al-Qifti and Bar Hebraeus

We all know that Bar Hebraeus described the destruction of the library of Alexandria by the Moslems, and we have seen a very similar story at somewhat greater length given by the Moslem writer al-Qifti translated for us yesterday.

Quite by accident I have come across a mention of an example where Bar Hebraeus displays knowledge of al-Qifti’s book On Learned Men.  It’s in Shlomo Pines An Arabic version of the Testimonium Flavianum (1971), which I came across while scanning and throwing out old articles and sat down to read a few minutes ago.  I had, in truth, forgotten how mind-numbingly dull that paper was, interesting tho the subject is.  But then I reached the appendix on p.73, Galen on Christians, according to Agapius.  This reads as follows (bits in [] are me):

In a portion of a book bearing the title Galen On Jews and Christians [Oxford, 1949, p.15-6, 57f., 87-98], Professor Walzer treats of a text attributed to Galen by some Oriental, Moslem, and Christian authors, which refers very favourably to the Christian way of life. All these authors but one state that the text occurred in Galen’s summary of Plato’s Republic. The single exception is Bar Hebraeus, who both in a Syriac and in an Arabic work tells us that the text is extracted from Galen’s summary of the Phaedo. …

[Walzer:] “… it is almost certain that the substitution of the Phaedo for the Republic is due to Bar Hebraeus’ notorious carelessness in such matters and of no significance whatever. In addition, Bar Hebraeus is by no means an ‘independent witness’, since his discussion of Galen’s life is nothing but an abridged copy taken from the History of Learned Men by Ibn al-Qifti (published after 1227 C.E.), who, again, attributes the statement to Galen’s summary of the Republic. Bar Hebraeus can therefore be eliminated from future discussions of this statement.”

If we know that Bar Hebraeus was excerpting material from al-Qifti, then we may reasonably suppose that the passage about the library of Alexandria has a similar provenance, surely? 

Al-Qifti on the destruction of the library of Alexandria

Emily Cottrell has made a translation into English of the relevant passage from al-Qifti, based on Lippert’s edition, and kindly allowed it to appear here.  Here it is.  I am not absolutely sure that WordPress will allow some of the characters used — if it all  gets corrupt, I shall simplify it.

Ibn al-Qifṭī p. 354-357[1]

Yaḥyā al-Naḥwī[2] the Egyptian, the Alexandrian, disciple of Severus[3]. He was a bishop in the church of Alexandria in Egypt and he advocated the Jacobite way of the Christians[4], but later on he rejected what was believed by the Christians about the Trinity after having read philosophical books, and it became impossible for him [to believe] that the One had become Three and that the Three would be One. When it was discovered by the bishops of Egypt that he had rejected [his faith] they were furious, and they gathered to discuss his case and organized with him a dispute. They refuted him and his view was declared wrong. His incapacity pleased them and they sought to reconciled with him, displaying a friendly attitude and asking him to retract his view and to stop saying what he had wanted to prove and establish to them. But he did not, and they dismissed him from his position, after some public discourses.[5] He lived until the conquest of Egypt and Alexandria by ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ. And he came to visit ʿAmr, who knew his reputation in knowledge and his position [on the Trinity] and what had happened to him with the Christians. ʿAmr honoured him and gave him a position. He listened to his speech about the impossibility of the Trinity and he was pleased with it, and he also listened to his speech about the cessation of the world[6] and he was amazed by it; although he was using logical proofs. He listened to his philosophical expressions with sympathy although the Arabs did not know them [before] and he became fond of him. And ʿAmr  was sensible, a good listener and thinker; so he took Yaḥyā [into his company] and did not like to depart from him.

Then one day Yaḥyā said to ʿAmr, “You have control of everything in Alexandria, and have seized all sorts of things in it.” “Anything which is of use to you I will not object to, but anything which is not useful to you we have a priority over you,” said ʿAmr to him, (adding) “What do you want of them?” (Yaḥyā) said, “The books of wisdom which are in the royal stores; they have fallen under your responsibility, but you don’t have any use for them, while we do need them.” (ʿAmr) said to him: “Who gathered[7] these books, and what is (so) important about them?” and Yaḥyā answered him: “Ptolemy Philadelphus, one of the kings of Alexandria; in his reign, science and the people of science were in esteem, and he searched for the books of knowledge and ordered them to be collected, and he dedicated a special store-houses to them. They were assembled, and he entrusted the responsibility to a man named Zamira[8]; and he supported him in order that he could collect them, [after] searching for them and buying them and inciting sellers to bring them and he did so. And in a short time he had assembled 54,120 books.

When the king was informed of the [successful] collect and verified this number he told Zamīra: “Do you think that there is a book remaining in the world that we don’t have?” And Zamīra said: There are still in the world a great mass [of books], as in Sind, and in India and in Persia and in Jurjan [ancient Hyrcania] and in Armenia and Babylonia and Mosul and among the Byzantines[9]. And the king was pleased with this and he told him: “Continue in pursuing [your duty]; and so he did until the death of the king. And these books are until today kept and preserved as the responsibility of the governors working for the kings and their successors. And ‘Amr started to wish [to have] for himself what he was hearing from Yaḥyā and he was impressed with it, but he told him: “I cannot make any order without first asking the permission of the Prince of the believers[10] ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb; and he wrote to ‘Umar, informing him of Yaḥyā’s speech as we have reported it and asking for his instructions about what to do. And he received a letter from ‘Umar telling him [what follows]: “As for the books you mention, if there is in it what complies with the Book of God, then it is already there and is not needed and if what is in these books contradict the Book of God there is no need for it. And you can then proceed in destroying them.” ‘Amr ibn al-‘Āṣ then ordered by law[11] that they should be dispersed in the public baths and to burn them in the bath’s heaters. And I was told that at that time several public baths used [the books] for heating, bringing some fame to new public baths which later on were forgotten afterwards and it is said that they had enough heating for six months. One who listens to what has happened can only be amazed !

Yaḥyā al-Naḥwī was a prolific writer and he wrote commentaries[12] on Aristotle, which we have mentioned earlier in the Aristotle entry at the beginning of our book. He also wrote a Refutation of Proclus[13] who had claimed the eternity[14], which is in sixteen volumes.[15] And a book on the fact that every body is finite and that its death[16] constitutes its end, in one volume. A book [called] Refutation of Aristotle, in six volumes; and a book of explanation[17] on book Lambda of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.[18] A book of Refutation against Nestorius; a book where he answers people who did not accept [faith][19], in two chapters; another book like this, in one chapter[20]. And his books of commentaries on Galen, which are mentioned in the chapter on Galen. Yaḥyā al-Naḥwī wrote [the following] in the fourth chapter of his explanation of the Physics of Aristotle, while commenting on time, where he brings an example where he says “as in our year, which is 343 of Diocletian the Copt.”[21]

The physician ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Jibrīl ibn ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Bakhtishū‘ said that the real name of Yaḥyā was Themistius.[22] And he says that he was good at grammar, at logic and in philosophy but did not attain the rank of these physicians, that is to say, the famous Alexandrians such as ANQYLAWS (for Antyllos?) and Stephanos and Gesius (JASYWS) and Marinus. And it is them who organized the books [i. e. Galen’s books]. Some people say NQLAWS (Nicolaus?) instead of ANQYLAWS. This is what he said. But if he meant Yaḥyā, indeed [Yaḥyā] commented on a good number of medical books, and because he was strong in philosophy he became considered a philosopher because he was one of the famous philosophers of his time. The reason he became strong in philosophy was that he was working on a boat which carried people. And because he loved knowledge, when people from the House of Knowledge and the schools[23] that were on the island of Alexandria were crossing with him, and were discussing the last lesson and the views exchanged, he would listen [to their conversation] and he started to love knowledge, and when his intention to study became stronger he thought by himself and said: “I have reached the age of forty-odd years and I have never started anything for myself, the only thing I know is seamanship, so how could I undertake anything in the field of sciences?” and as he was thinking, he saw an ant which had loaded [onto her back] the stone of a date and was carrying it, ascending her path with it, when it fell [from her back]. So she returned, took it up again, and continued in such a way until she had attained her goal and arrived where she was intending. When Yaḥyā al-Naḥwī saw that from her efforts she had reached her goal, he said, “if this weak animal can reach her goal by efforts and struggle, then of course, I would necessarily attain my goal by [putting in] some effort.” He went out and sold his boat and attended the House of Knowledge. And he started with grammar[24] and language[25] and logic, and he became excellent in these fields[26] because they were the first he learned and he adapted himself to them and he became famous in these and wrote a number of books on them, commentaries and others.

To discuss the translation, or if you want to reproduce it, please write to me at e.j.cottrell AT hum.leidenuniv.nl

[1] “Ibn al-Qifṭī,” or “al-Qifṭī,” although the latter applies rather to his father, who held from Qifṭ (ancient Gebtu) in Upper Egypt. As our author was a Muslim official who spent most of his life out of Egypt, and became the vizir in Aleppo of the Ayyubid ruler al-Malik al-‘Azīz, he cannot exactly be called “the one who held from Qifṭ” as in the Arabic usage of the kunya, or the nickname formed on the place of origin. Thus, although the use of al-Qifṭī or al-Nadīm instead of Ibn al-Qifṭī and Ibn al-Nadīm seem to be supported by some of the manuscripts carrying their names (and are adopted by an authority such as Ayman Fu’ād Sayyid in his latest edition of the Fihrist, under the title “The Fihrist of al-Nadīm” [London: al-Furqān, 2009]) I will refrain from doing so here and simply refer to the use of these two names (i. e.Ibn al-Qifṭī and Ibn al-Nadīm ) by Ibn Abī Uṣaybi’a in his Ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbā’ when quoting from their books.
[2] “al-Naḥwī” means “the Grammarian.”
[3] Severus is transliterated here as Shāwārī.
[4] “Madhhab al-naṣārā al-ya‘qūbiyya.”
[5] By Yaḥyā or by his opponents is not clear.
[6] The expression “inqiḍā’ al-dahr” literally means “end of time”. “Dahr” carries the meaning of fate and time, and for this reason probably it is used here rather than Arabic ‘ālam, “world” which may be restricted to a physical connotation. The discussion about the “eternity of the world” does not address eschatological questions, as a modern reader could wrongly understand it but rather the question  of time and eternity in relation to creation, whether creation came after a “big bang” or if time is eternal and cyclical. The Greek word translated as Lat.  “mundi” in the title of Proclus’ treatise De Aeternitate Mundi (which was refuted by John Philoponus) is “kosmos.” There was an ongoing discussion among Platonists on the cosmology of the Timaeus which was later on continued among Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
[7] The word “jama‘a” may also mean “to edit, to publish” in this context
[8]  Probably Demetrius of Phalerum.
[9]  al-Rūm
[10] Amīr al-mu’minīn.
[11]Shara‘a.
[12] Shurūḥ.
[13] “Radd” means refutation, or simply “answer.”
[14] “al-Dahr” – i. e. the eternity of the world.
[15]Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 179 ed. A. F. Sayyid, reads 18 books, which agree with what we know of the number of Proclus’ arguments.
[16]Ibn al-Qifṭī reads “mawtuhu” (his death) while both Ibn al-Nadīm and Bar Hebraeus read “quwwatuhu” (its ‘potentia’). John Philoponus was known to have written a commentary on the De Generatione and Corruptione (see Ibn al-Nadīm, s. v. Aristotle, transl. Dodge, p. 604).
[17] Tafsīr, i. e. commentary.
[18] I have emended the text which does not give any satisfactory meaning otherwise. Ibn al-Nadīm reads: “kitāb tafsīr mā bāl li-Arisṭāṭālīs al-‘āshir” [al-‘āshir, the tenth, may indicate here that Lambda was considered the tenth book, which remains a possibility if some books were missing, see A. Bertolacci, ‘On the Arabic translations of Aristotle’s Metaphysics,’ in Arabic sciences and Philosophy, 15.2, 2005, 241-275 (available here: homepage.sns.it/bertolacci/Art.16_2005.pdf)]. Ibn al-Qifṭī has “kitāb tafsīr mā bāl li-Arisṭāṭālīs,” which I emend as follows: “kitāb tafsīr mā ba‘d L li-Arisṭāṭālīs”. Bar Hebraeus does not mention a bibliography.
[19] I correct Ibn al-Qifṭī’s text with the help of Ibn al-Nadīm. Ibn al-Qifṭī reads “lā ya‘rifūn” where Ibn al-Nadīm reads “lā ya‘tarifūn.”
[20] Or “epistle, treatise” (maqāla).
[21]See B. Dodge (translation), The Fihrist of al-Nadīm, New York 1970, p. 613, n. 174: this is year 627 AD.
[22]It seems that here a marginal note mentioned Themistius as the actual author of a commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics Lambda, while John Philoponus is not credited with one in Ibn al-Nadīm’s entry on Aristotle’s commentators.
[23] Bayt al-‘ilm wa al-madāris.
[24] Naḥw, probably here for ‘rhetoric’.
[25] Lugha, came to designate linguistics but may here be used for grammar.
[26] Umūr.

From my diary

I’m going through my filing cabinets, turning paper articles into PDF’s using my trusty Fujistu S300 scanner.  In the process I am finding some gems.

I’ve just found a photocopy of a complete book on the History of Durham Cathedral Library, which I have uploaded to Archive.org.  The book was published in 1925, and I can find no evidence that H. D. Hughes ever wrote anything else.  His date of death must be unknown, therefore, but the chances are good that it was before 1940, and that the book is therefore in the public domain.

Another item was Shlomo Pines interesting booklet on the Arabic versions of the Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus.  So interesting, indeed, that after scanning it, I have put the photocopy to one side to peruse later on the sofa with a coke and some crisps.

Onwards, tho.  The pile of discarded photocopies and hanging folders grows taller on the floor.  Five more sit at my elbow, awaiting processing!

It’s a nice, gentle thing to do on a rainy afternoon.

Putting the RealEncyclopadie online

An article here tells us that people unspecified are beginning to create an electronic version of Paulys RealEncyclopadie at the German Wikipedia.  Some 3,957 articles have been turned into text.  Someone has noticed that the early volumes are all in the public domain (although the whole work was only completed in 1980).

Google books and Archive.org have led the way.  Sensibly the people on the project have created a page with a list of volumes accessible (here).  There’s a list of what is in the volumes here

But of course OCR’ing the text will make it searchable, and thereby increase markedly access to it.  It will show up in search engines, for instance.  And if part is online and part is not, when all German scholars start to use it — and why wouldn’t they? — sooner or later pressure will build to add the remainder.  Already there are pirate versions of the whole series circulating around the web. 

Here is the entry page for the digitisation project.  The index of articles (which is not very helpful, actually — they need to get this on one page) is here.

“But I don’t speak German!” I hear you cry.  No matter.  Google translate gives you the means to read this stuff.  Just find the article, then pop the URL into Google translate, and you’re away. 

Magic.  And well done to the Germans in the white hats.



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