Archive for June, 2012

The importance of verifying your quotations, part 94

In my last post, I quoted Ernest Renan on the depravities of the city of Antioch:

The sights were strange; there were some games in which bands of naked young girls took part in all the exercises, with a mere fillet around them[22]; at the celebrated festival of Naiouma troupes of courtesans swarmed in public in basins[23] filled with limpid water [24].

22. Malala, p. 287, 289.
23. John Chrysostom, Homily vii on Matt 5, 6 (vol vii, p.113); See O Müller, Antiquit. Antioch. p 33, note.
24. Libanius, Antiochichus, p. 355, 366.

But I suffer from endemic scepticism on references that I have not checked myself.  And I am always glad to look at Malalas.  So let’s verify these statements.  What do theses sources actually say? 

We’ll start with the first one.

Now Malalas is not online in English, and so his Chronicle tends to remain unknown.  (The page references in Renan are to Dindorf’s edition).  But I find that I have a PDF, and, with a bit of hunting around, I find that the passage is in book 12, chapter 10, covering the reign of Commodus:[1]

10. Young people of noble birth from every city and country district would come to the sacred contest of the Olympic festival to compete under a vow, and they matched themselves against each other. They conducted themselves chastely and with great moderation, and received no gain from any source. For they were rich and had their own slaves as attendants, (288) each according to his wealth. Many of them were girls. They used to bring much gold from their native city. But they competed because of their oath and their vow and in order to win glory in their own city. So they came in a competitive spirit and with a formidable reputation. Some wrestled, some ran, some played the trumpet, some took part in the pankration, others fought in boxing matches wearing box-wood finger-guards, others drove chariots with young horses, while others sang songs from tragedy. There were also virgin girls who practised philosophy and who were present under a vow of chastity, competing, wrestling in leggings, running, declaiming and reciting various Hellenic hymns. These women fought against women and the competition was fierce whether in the wrestling, the races or the recitation. Anyone among them, as they say, whether a woman or a young man, who was crowned as victor amid the acclamations of the holy populace would remain chaste till the end of his life, for immediately after the contest he would be ordained and become a priest. Equally the philosopher virgins who were crowned would become priestesses after the contest. Then they would all depart from there. Those who were owners of landed property did not pay taxes, but the victor’s property remained exempt from tax from the moment of his victory but only for his (289) lifetime. If he also owned workshops, the workshops that the competitor possessed remained immune from obligations for his lifetime only. So many came to compete that their numbers were unparalleled, but however many happened to arrive under a vow, whether young men or virgin girls, they were all allowed to take part in the spectacle. Sometimes a great number came, and at other times they did not, depending on the seasons and the sea winds.

Now this says many things; but it does NOT say what Renan says that it does.  We might speculate about what the young female athletes did in fact wear, or not wear; but fact is that the statements of Malalas do not tell of a debauched event.  Naughty Renan!

On to the next statement. 

Chrysostom’s homilies on Matthew are all online, and homily 7 is here in the NPNF translation.  The reference is to chapter 7.  After some effort, I have found that Renan’s reference to “tome VII, p.113″ can be found in Migne, PG57, col. 79 contains 113, in chapters 5-6 of the homily.  (I’ve modernised the Jacobean language of the translation).

And you … run down to the theatre, to see women swimming, and nature put to open dishonor, …?

But you … go your way to the fountain of the devil, to see a whore swim, and to suffer shipwreck of the soul. For that water is a sea of lust, which does not drown bodies, but works shipwreck of souls. And while she swims with naked body, you, watching, are sunk into the depths of lust. For such is the devil’s net …

But what is still more grievous is this, that they even call such utter destruction a delight, and they term the sea of perdition a channel for a pleasure voyage. …

For in the first place, through a whole night the devil preoccupies their souls with the expectation of it; then having shown them the expected object, he binds them at once, and makes them captives.

For don’t think, because you didn’t have sex with the harlot, that you’re clean from the sin; for in your heart you have done it all. …

However, rather than just find fault, let’s devise a mode of correction too. What then will the mode be? I would commit you to your own wives, that they may instruct you. …

If “he who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery,” he who is forced even to see her naked, how is he not become ten thousandfold a captive? The flood in the days of Noah did not so utterly destroy the race of men as these swimming women drown all that are there with great disgrace. …

And you, when there is a question of precedence, claim to take place of the whole word, forasmuch as our city first crowned itself with the name of Christian. But in the competition of chastity, you’re not ashamed to be behind the rudest cities.

Renan’s comment here is accurate.  And Chrysostom’s words in our porn-drenched age may make uncomfortable reading, and more so when read in full.

The third statement — that the water was clear — is referenced to the Antiochichus of Libanius.  Thankfully I find that I have access to this translation (also offline, drat it).  But the page number problem recurs, and I cannot relate Renan’s numeration to the numbers in the translation that I have to hand.  However some passage such as this is probably in mind[2]:

We, however, all have our fountains inside our houses, and the public ones are for show. (248) Besides, with regard to the purity of the water, you could make a fair test, if you were to fill a swimming pool and then check the water from entering. You would think it to be empty, for the floor of the bath stands out so clearly under the water. So I am not sure whether the sight would serve to inflame your thirst rather than to quench it, for it entices you to drink and gives such pleasure before even you begin to do so.

The peculiar clarity of the water gives point to the observation of Chrysostom.

We may award Renan 70%.  But really, he should have done better with his first point. 

  1. [1] Elizabeth Jeffreys &c, The Chronicle of John Malalas, Byzantina Australiensia 4, Melbourne, 1986, p.153.
  2. [2] A.F.Norman, Antioch as a centre of Hellenic culture as observed by Libanius, TTH34, Liverpool, 2000, p.58.  The Antiochichus is Oration 11 in the works of Libanius.

I don’t think they like us, Batman!!!

At the Antiochepedia blog, a gorgeous quotation from Ernest Renan[1].  Here is the English translation[2].  The paragraphing is mine, and I have continued the quotation to  the end of Renan’s paragraph:

… Antioch, at the end of three centuries and a half of its existence, became one of the places in the world where race was most intermingled with race. The degradation of the people there was terrible. The peculiarity of these focuses of moral putrefaction is, to reduce all the races of mankind to the same level.

The degradation of certain Levantine cities, dominated by the spirit of intrigue, delivered up entirely to low cunning, can scarce give us a conception of the degree of corruption reached by the human race at Antioch.

It was an inconceivable medley of merry-andrews, quacks, buffoons,[14] magicians, miracle-mongers, sorcerers, priests, impostors; a city of races, games, dances, processions, fetes, debauches, of unbridled luxury, of all the follies of the East, of the most unhealthy superstitions, and of the fanaticism of the orgy.[15]

By turns servile and ungrateful, cowardly and insolent, the people of Antioch were the perfect model of those crowds devoted to Caesarism, without country, without nationality, without out family honor, without a name to keep.

The great Corso which traversed the city was like a theatre, where rolled, day after day, the waves of a trifling, light-headed, changeable, insurrection-loving[17] populace– a populace sometimes spirituel,[18] occupied with songs, parodies, squibs, impertinence of all sorts[19] The city was very literary [20], but literary only in the literature of rhetoricians.

The sights were strange; there were some games in which bands of naked young girls took part in all the exercises, with a mere fillet around them[22]; at the celebrated festival of Naiouma troupes of courtesans swarmed in public in basins[23] filled with limpid water [24]. This fete was like an intoxication, like a dream of Sardanapalus, where all the pleasures, all the debaucheries, not excluding some of a more delicate kind, were unrolled pell-mell.

This river of dirt, which, making its exit by the mouth of the Orontes, was about to invade Rome[25] had here its principal sources. 

Two hundred decurions were employed in regulating the religious ceremonies and celebrations [26]. The municipality possessed great public domains, the rents of which the decemvirs divided between the poor citizens[27]. Like all cities of pleasure, Antioch had a lowest section of the people, living on the public or on sordid gains.

14. Juvenal, Satires, iii, 62 et seq.; Stacc. Silves, i. vi. 72.
15. Tacitus, Annals ii. 69.
16. Malala, p 284, 287, et seq.; Libanius, De Angariis p 555 et seq.; De carcere vinctis, p 445 et seq.; ad Timocratem p 385; Antiochichus, 323; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, i.16; Lucian, De Saltatione 76; Diodorus Siculus, fragment of book xxxiv, No. 34 (p 358 ed Dindorf); John Chrysostom, Homily vii on Matt. 5 (vol vii p 113); lxxiii on Matt 3 (ibid. p 712); De consubst. contra Anom., 1 (vol i, p 501); De Anna, 1 (vol iv, p 730); De David et Saule, iii. 1 (vol iv, 768, 770); Julian, Misopogon p 343, 350, edit. Spanheim; Actes de Sainte Thecle attributed to Basil of Seleucia, published by P. Pantius (Auvers 1608) p 70.
17. Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, iii. 58; Ausonius, Clar. Urb. 2; Julius Capitolinus [=Augustan History], Verus 7; Marcus Aurelius 25; Herodian ii. 10; John of Antioch in the Excerpta Valesiana p 844; Suidas at the word Iobiano/s.
18. Julian, Misopogon p 344, 365, etc.; Eunapius, Lives of the Sophists, p 496 edit. Boissonade (Didot); Ammianus Marcellinus, xxii. 14.
19. John Chrysostom, De Lazaro ii. 11 (vol 1, p.722, 723).
20. Cicero, Pro Archia, 3, making allowance for the usual exaggeration of an advocate.
21. Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, iii. 58.
22. Malala, p 287, 289.
23. John Chrysostom, Homily vii on Matt 5, 6 (vol vii, p.113); See O Müller, Antiquit. Antioch. p 33, note.
24. Libanius, Antiochichus, p. 355, 366.
25. Juvenal, iii. 62 et seq. and Forcellini, in the word ambubaja, where he observes that the word ambuba is Syriac.
26. Libanius, Antioch. p.315; De carcere vinctis, p. 455; Julian, Misopogon, p. 367 edit. Spanheim.
27. Libanius, Pro rhetoribus, p 211.

(I have silently fixed or augmented one or two places in the references where it seems to me that most people would have difficulty).

In some places I feel that the translator has softened Renan’s prose.  The “avilissement des âmes” – the decay of souls — becomes the “degradation of the people”. 

Likewise why render “mimes” as “buffoons”?  We all know what the Roman mimes were!

It’s a vivid picture indeed, and one that almost perfectly describes … this evening’s viewing on television.

  1. [1] Ernest Renan, Les Apôtres, Paris, 1866, page 219, online here.)
  2. [2] Ernest Renan, The Apostles, New York, 1866, ch. 12, p.198, online here.

ICUR – Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae – online

The ICUR series of inscriptions is not one that I have been familiar with.  But Lanciani references an inscription set up by the 4th century Pope Damasus over the Archivum, engraved by the artist Furius Dionysius Philocalus.  A google search for the Latin text reveals that it was published in De Rossi, ICUR, ii. 151.  So I’ve been searching for the volumes since.

The Fourth Century site gives a list of volumes.  I’ve added such links as I could find using Google Books and Europeana; but the items really do not seem to be online, despite being pre-1923 and so out of copyright.

Oh well.  I shall have to go without my inscription, and the witty, modest, yet learned remarks (or otherwise) that I would have written upon it.

UPDATE: I have added another link to vol.1 sent in by a correspondent: thank you!  He also points out that Damasus’ epigrams and inscriptions were all published by Ihm in 1895.  Archive.org have the book: http://archive.org/details/damasiepigrammat00damauoft.  Apparently the inscription I have in mind is on p.58, #57.  Sadly I have no time to look now.

The things not stated, and opaque to later readers

In the Journals of John Wesley, we find a couple of descriptive passages which must leave a careful non-English reader scratching his head in confusion.

The first of these, from 2nd July, 1745, reads as follows:

I was reading my text when a man came, raging as if just broke out of the tombs; and riding into the thickest of the people seized three or four one after another, none lifting up a hand against him A second (gentleman so called) soon came after, if possible more furious than he, and ordered his men to seize on some others, Mr Shepherd in particular. Most of the people however stood still as they were before and began singing an hymn. Upon this Mr B. lost all patience and cried out with all his might, “Seize him, seize him. I say, Seize the Preacher for his Majesty’s service.” But no one stirring he rode up and struck several of his attendants, cursing them bitterly for not doing as they were bid. Perceiving still that they would not move, he leaped off his horse, swore he would do it himself, and caught hold of my cassock, crying “I take you to serve his Majesty.” A servant taking his horse, he took me by the arm and we walked arm in arm for about three quarters of a mile. He entertained me all the time with the wickedness of the fellows belonging to the Society. When he was taking breath I said, “Sir, be they what they will, I apprehend it will not justify you in seizing me in this manner, and violently carrying me away, as you said, to serve his Majesty.” He replied, “I seize you! And violently carry you away” No, Sir, no. Nothing like it. I asked you to go with me to my house and you said you was willing; and if so you are welcome, and if not, you are welcome to go where you please.” I answered, “Sir, I know not if it would be safe for me to go back through this rabble.” “Sir, (said he) “I will go with you myself.” He then called for his horse, and another for me, and rode back with me to the place from whence he took me.

There is no indication in the text as to why Mr Borlase suddenly changed his tune.  He grabbed Wesley by the arm and frog-marched him away from the scene, ranting all the while; and then, when Wesley finally managed to say something, suddenly Borlase denied doing any such thing.

Another similar passage here:

As soon as I came within sight of Tolcarn, (in Wendron parish,) where I was to preach in the evening, I was met by many, running as it were for their lives, and begging me to go no further. I asked “Why not?” They said, “The churchwardens and constables, and all the heads of the parish, are waiting for you at the top of the hill, and are resolved to have you: they have a special warrant from the justices met at Helstone, who will stay there till you are brought. I rode directly up the hill, and observing four or five horsemen, well dressed, went straight to them and said, “Gentlemen has any of you any thing to say to me? – I am John Wesley.” One of them appeared extremely angry at this, that I should presume to say I was Mr John Wesley. And I know not how I might have fared for advancing so bold an assertion, but that Mr Collins the minister of Redruth, (accidentally as he said,) came by. Upon his accosting me and saying he knew me at Oxford, my first antagonist was silent, and a dispute of another kind began: whether this preaching had done any good.  I appealed to matter of fact. He allowed, (after many words), “People are the better for the present,” but added, “To be sure, by and by, they will be as bad if not worse than ever.”

Again we see the sudden change in attitude.  A group of the local gentry have assembled, determined to arrest John Wesley and convey him to the magistrates, who are waiting for his arrival – doubtless to treat him as innocent until proven guilty.  And what happens?  Wesley speaks a few words, and suddenly the mood has changed.

To anyone unfamiliar with English society, this material must seem very abrupt.  It is easy — perhaps too easy — to imagine some dull source-critical academic, of the kind that is laughed at today, pronouncing these passages fictional; or interpolated; and using the awkwardness of the narrative as a reason.

But anyone who has been in England for five minutes knows the explanation.  In England, social status is reflected in the accent of the speaker.  The nobility and the labourer may speak the same language, but each will recognise the other simply by the way they speak.

We cannot hear the voice of John Wesley.  But we need not doubt that he spoke as a gentleman, in an Oxford accent, indeed. 

As soon as Mr Borlase heard him do so, and heard the educated words, he instantly realised that he was not dealing with a labourer, but with a man of property and standing who could, if he chose, prosecute him for assault and would be listened to by a judge.

Likewise the Cornish gentlemen had only to hear a few words, and observe his manner, to deduce instantly that their proposed actions were not possible or desirable to attempt on one of their own class, even before the identification by Mr Collins, the minister of Redruth.  It looks very much as if the luckless Collins had been brought along to identify their intended victim.  They had, perhaps, supposed that Wesley had been a poor bible scholar of Lincoln, rather than a gentleman.  A few words showed them otherwise.

It’s important to realise that all works are written in a kind of shorthand.  No literary text can explain every nuance to its readers, present and future.  There is an assumed commonality of understanding, impossible to avoid, between author and contemporary reader, which will not be the case a few centuries later.

Let us try to remember this, the next time some learned fool tries to argue from a presumed awkwardness in an ancient text.  The text may be interpolated.  But it may simply be that we don’t read it as a contemporary would have done.

Migne, Dictionnaire des apocryphes – online

Here’s something that I didn’t know.  Apparently there is a bunch of French translations of the apocrypha, published by J.-P. Migne.  They were printed under the title Dictionnaire des apocryphes: ou, Collection de tous les livres apocryphes relatifs à l’Ancien et au Nouveau Testament, in two volumes, vol. 1 (1855) and vol. 2 (1858).  They may be found on Google Books here and here.

“Yes, so what?” I hear you cry, stifling a yawn on this hot afternoon.

Well, it seems that they sometimes contain translations of stuff not found in Schneemelcher’s massive collection of English translations!  And, if you can manage a little French, that can be helpful.  Of course they are very elderly now, but so what?  They’re free.

I learned this while looking for material about the Martyrium beati Petri Apostoli attributed to ps.-Linus in J. K. Elliot’s Apocryphal New Testament.  The latter is not nearly so extensive as Schneemelcher, but has other virtues, one of which is its bibliographies.  The relevant section is on p.427, and lists translations of the work.  The French translation is said to be in Migne, vol. 2, cols. 459-70; and so it is, right here!

Likewise on p.388 of Elliot I learn that the corresponding Martyrium beati Pauli Apostoli by pseudo-Linus is in Migne, ii, cols. 665-74.  And so it is, here.

I’m not sure what else may be in these two thick volumes, but clearly they deserve investigation.

The different grades of papyrus in use in antiquity, according to Pliny and Isidore

Pliny, Natural History, book 13, ch, 23:

23. Paper is made from the papyrus, by splitting it with a needle into very thin leaves, due care being taken that they should be as broad as possible.

That of the first quality is taken from the centre of the plant, and so in regular succession, according to the order of division. “Hieratica”1 was the name that was anciently given to it, from the circumstance that it was entirely reserved for the religious books. In later times, through a spirit of adulation, it received the name of “Augusta,” just as that of second quality was called “Liviana,” from his wife, Livia; the consequence of which was, that the name “hieratica” came to designate that of only third-rate quality.

The paper of the next quality was called “amphitheatrica,” from the locality2 of its manufacture. The skilful manufactory that was established by Fannius3 at Rome, was in the habit of receiving this last kind, and there, by a very careful process of insertion, it was rendered much finer; so much so, that from being a common sort, he made it a paper of first-rate quality, and gave his own4 name to it: while that which was not subjected to this additional process retained its original name of “amphitheatrica.”

Next to this is the Saitic paper, so called from the city of that name,5 where it is manufactured in very large quantities, though of cuttings of inferior6 quality.

The Taeniotic paper, so called from a place in the vicinity,7 is manufactured from the materials that lie nearer to the outside skin; it is sold, not according to its quality, but by weight only.

As to the paper that is known as “emporetica,”8 it is quite useless for writing upon, and is only employed for wrapping up other paper, and as a covering for various articles of merchandize, whence its name, as being used by dealers.

After this comes the bark of the papyrus, the outer skin of which bears a strong resemblance to the bulrush, and is solely used for making ropes, and then only for those which have to go into the water.9

All these various kinds of paper are made upon a table, moistened with Nile water; a liquid which, when in a muddy state, has the peculiar qualities of glue.10 This table being first inclined,11 the leaves of papyrus are laid upon it lengthwise, as long, indeed, as the papyrus will admit of, the jagged edges being cut off at either end; after which a cross layer is placed over it, the same way, in fact, that hurdles are made. When this is done, the leaves are pressed close together, and then dried in the sun; after which they are united to one another, the best sheets being always taken first, and the inferior ones added afterwards. There are never more than twenty of these sheets to a roll.12

1 Or “holy” paper. The priests would not allow it to be sold, lest it might be used for profane writing; but after it was once written upon, it was easily procurable. The Romans were in the habit of purchasing it largely in the latter state, and then washing off the writing, and using it as paper of the finest quality. Hence it received the name of “Augustus,” as representing in Latin its Greek name “hieraticus,” or “sacred.” In length of time it became the common impression, as here mentioned, that this name was given to it in honour of Augusus Caesar.
2 Near the amphitheatre, probably, of Alexandria.
3 He alludes to Q. Remmius Fannius Palaemon, a famous grammarian of Rome, though originally a slave. Being mantumitted, he opened a school at Rome, which was resorted to by great numbers of pupils, notwithstanding his notoriously bad character he appears to have established, also, a manufactory for paper at Rome. Suetonius, in his treatise on Illustrious Grammarians, gives a long account of him. He is supposed to have been the preceptor of Quintilian.
4 Fanniana.
5 In Lower Egypt.
6 Ex vilioribus ramentis.
7 Of Alexandria, probably.
8 “Shop-paper,” or “paper of commerce.”
9 Otherwise, probably, the rope would not long hold together.
10 Fée remarks, that this is by no means the fact. With M. Poiret, he questions the accuracy of Pliny’s account of preparing the papyrus, and is of opinion that it refers more probably to the treatment of some other vegetable substance from which paper was made.
11 Primo supinâ tabule schedâ.
12 “Scapus.” This was, properly, the cylinder on which the paper was rolled.

24. There is a great difference in the breadth of the various kinds of paper. That of best quality1 is thirteen fingers wide, while the hieratica is two fingers less. The Fanniana is ten fingers wide, and that known as “amphitheatrica,” one less. The Saitic is of still smaller breadth, indeed it is not so wide as the mallet with which the paper is beaten; and the emporetica is particularly narrow, being not more than six fingers in breadth.

In addition to the above particulars, paper is esteemed according to its fineness, its stoutness, its whiteness, and its smoothness. Claudius Caesar effected a change in that which till then had been looked upon as being of the first quality: for the Augustan paper had been found to be so remarkably fine, as to offer no resistance to the pressure of the pen; in addition to which, as it allowed the writing upon it to run through, it was continually causing apprehensions of its being blotted and blurred by the writing on the other side; the remarkable transparency, too, of the paper was very unsightly to the eye. To obviate these inconveniences, a groundwork of paper was made with leaves of the second quality, over which was laid a woof, as it were, formed of leaves of the first. He increased the width also of paper; the width [of the common sort] being made a foot, and that of the size known as “macrocollum,”2 a cubit; though one inconvenience was soon detected in it, for, upon a single leaf3 being torn in the press, more pages were apt to be spoilt than before.4 In consequence of the advantages above-mentioned, the Claudian has come to be preferred to all other kinds of paper, though the Augustan is still used for the purposes of epistolary correspondence. The Livian, which had nothing in common with that of first quality, but was entirely of a secondary rank, still holds its former place.

1 Augustan.
2 Or “long glued” paper: the breadth probably consisted of that of two or more sheets glued or pasted at the edges, the seam running down the roll.
3 Scheda. One of the leaves of the papyrus, of which the roll of twenty, joined side by side, was formed.
4 This passage is difficult to be understood, and various attempts have been made to explain it. It is not unlikely that his meaning is that the breadth being doubled, the tearing of one leaf or half breadth entailed of necessity the spoiling of another, making the corresponding half breadth.

I include the notes as useful to us all.

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies book 6, ch. 10, writes as follows[1]:

x. Papyrus sheets (De cartis)

1. Egypt first provided the use of papyrus sheets, initially in the city of Memphis. Memphis is the Egyptian city where the use of papyrus sheets was first discovered, as Lucan says (Civil War 4.136):

“The sheet of Memphis is made from the bibulous papyrus. “

He called papyrus bibulous (bibulus) because it drinks (bibere) liquid. 2. A ‘papyrus sheet’ (carta) is so called because the stripped rind of papyrus is glued together ‘piece by piece’ (carptim).

There are several kinds of such sheets. First and foremost is the Royal Augustan, of rather large size, named in honor of Octavian Augustus. 3. Second, the Libyan, in honor of the province of Libya. Third the Hieratic, so called because it was selected for sacred books (cf. hieros, “sacred”) – like the Augustan, but tinted. 4. Fourth the Taeneotic, named for the place in Alexandria where it was made, which is so called. Fifth the Saitic, fromthe town of Sais. 5. Sixth the Cornelian, first produced by Cornelius Gallus, prefect of Egypt.  Seventh the commercial, because merchandise is wrapped in this type, since it is less suitable for writing.

Isidore then goes on to discuss parchment.

Isidore’s account is similar, but not quite the same as that of Pliny, which means that it is not simply copied from it but involves some other source.

Again this material is often mentioned in passing in articles about ancient book manufacture, so it is interesting to go to the source.

  1. [1] Stephen A. Barney, The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, CUP 2006, p.141

Priscilla Throop and the two translations of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies

The Etymologies of the last writer of antiquity (in the west), the 7th century Isidore of Seville, seem really rather interesting.  I’ve been browsing through book 6 at Lacus Curtius, and it has brief but useful notes on all sorts of things.  So I began wondering if I could get hold of a translation.  It’s much easier to skim read for interesting stuff in English, after all!

Rather to my surprise I find not one but two translations.

First, there is Priscilla Throop’s two volume hardcover version (at Amazon, vol. 1, vol.2,  at Amazon.co.uk: vol.1vol.2), from January 2006, at $28 per volume.  It turns out that Mrs Throop self-publishes her translations through Lulu.com, and she has made quite a number of translations of medieval texts, as may be seen on Lulu.  There is an Amazon preview of the Isidore, and the opening pages all look very good and professional.

Then there is the single volume by Stephen A. Barney plus a team of translators (Amazon here, at Amazon.co.uk here), published in hardcover by Cambridge University Press for the enormous price of $205 in June 2006, and published in paperback at 20% of the hardcover price — just below the combined price of the two Throop volumes, which is rather mean of CUP —  in 2010.  It also has an Amazon preview, also looks good.  Curiously it advertises itself as the first English translation in the preface.  Did the translators not know of the Throop version?  Did CUP not know?

There is a Google Books preview of the CUP version here.   BMCR seem only to have reviewed the CUP version, here.

Naturally one feels for the underdog, the little guy up against the mighty combine and marketing machine of CUP.  But which to choose?  If one or the other had offered a download version, I might go for that.  But neither does, as far as I could tell, although possibly an electronic version of the CUP one exists through one of their university-online book access schemes.

The Non Defixi blog comments on the two here, and Way of the Fathers also has a post on it.  Sadly the CUP version is likely to be quoted by other scholars.

I suspect that the Throop version has been rather more widely purchased by real people spending their own money.  Let’s hear it for the little guy!

Pliny the Elder and others on the first ancient library in Rome, that of Asinius Pollio

Every book that mentions ancient libraries tells us that Asinius Pollio was the first to organise a public library at Rome.  It’s always interesting to see what the source for the claim is.  When we look, sometimes we find other interesting details as well.  Here’s what I have found.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, book 35, chapter 2 (from Perseus):

There is a new invention too, which we must not omit to notice. Not only do we consecrate in our libraries, in gold or silver, or at all events, in bronze, those whose immortal spirits hold converse with us in those places, but we even go so far as to reproduce the ideal of features, all remembrance of which has ceased to exist; and our regrets give existence to likenesses that have not been transmitted to us, as in the case of Homer, for example. And indeed, it is my opinion, that nothing can be a greater proof of having achieved success in life, than a lasting desire on the part of one’s fellow-men, to know what one’s features were.

This practice of grouping portraits was first introduced at Rome by Asinius Pollio, who was also the first to establish a public library, and so make the works of genius the property of the public. Whether the kings of Alexandria and of Pergamus, who had so energetically rivalled each other in forming libraries, had previously introduced this practice, I cannot so easily say.

That a strong passion for portraits formerly existed, is attested both by Atticus, the friend of Cicero, who wrote a work on this subject, and by M. Varro, who conceived the very liberal idea of inserting, by some means or other, in his numerous volumes, the portraits of seven hundred individuals; as he could not bear the idea that all traces of their features should be lost, or that the lapse of centuries should get the better of mankind.

Thus was he the inventor of a benefit to his fellow-men, that might have been envied by the gods themselves; for not only did he confer upon them immortality, but he transmitted them, too, to all parts of the earth; so that everywhere it might be possible for them to be present, and for each to occupy his niche. This service, too, Varro conferred upon persons who were no members of his own family.

So Varro recorded the facial likeness of his contemporaries in pictures in copies of his works.  Isn’t that interesting?  It is a great pity that only two out of the list of Varro’s works recorded by Jerome in letter 33 have survived, and those works — On the Latin Language and On Rural Affairs – are those unlikely to contain such portraits.

The habit of inserting busts of authors into libraries is one that has survived to our own day.  The difficulty today is more likely to be to find a  library with room for such.

Another witness to Asinius Pollio’s efforts is Isidore of Seville (ca. 630 AD), in his Etymologies book 6, chapter 52.  An English translation does exist, but sadly I have no access to it.  From the Latin at Lacus Curtius:

5. De eo qui primum Romam libros advexit.  Romae primus librorum copiam advexit Aemilius Paulus, Perse Macedonum rege devicto; deinde Lucullus e Pontica praeda. Post hos Caesar dedit Marco Varroni negotium quam maximae bibliothecae construendae. Primum autem Romae bibliothecas publicavit Pollio Graecas simul atque Latinas, additis auctorum imaginibus, in atrio quod de manubiis magnificentissimum instruxerat.

5. On those who first brought books to Rome.  Aemilius Paulus first brought a mass of books to Rome, after defeating Perseus, King of Macedon; then Lucullus brought them as loot from Pontus.  After these Caesar gave Marcus Varro the duty of constructing huge libraries. But Pollio was the first to make libraries at Rome, both Greek and Latin, which were public property, and after adding images of authors, he magnificently set [them] up in the Atrium [= the Atrium Libertatis] from his manubia  (= the general’s share of the loot).

Suetonius, Augustus, ch. 29:

More than that, he [Augustus] often urged other prominent men to adorn the city with new monuments or to restore and embellish old ones, each according to his means. And many such works were built at that time by many men; for example, the temple of Hercules and the Muses by Marcius Philippus, the temple of Diana by Lucius Cornificius, the Hall of Liberty by Asinius Pollio, the temple of Saturn by Munatius Plancus, a theatre by Cornelius Balbus, an amphitheatre by Statilius Taurus, and by Marcus Agrippa in particular many magnificent structures.

But returning to Pliny, in book 7, chapter 31, as well as a mention of Asinius Pollio’s work, we get more interesting and little known snippets on ancient life and books:

The elder Africanus ordered that the statue of Ennius should be placed in his tomb, and that the illustrious surname, which he had acquired, I may say, as his share of the spoil on the conquest of the third part of the world, should be read over his ashes, along with the name of the poet.

The Emperor Augustus, now deified, forbade the works of Virgil to be burnt, in opposition to the modest directions to that effect, which the poet had left in his will: a prohibition which was a greater compliment paid to his merit, than if he himself had recommended his works.

M. Varro is the only person, who, during his lifetime, saw his own statue erected. This was placed in the first public library that was ever built, and which was formed by Asinius Pollio with the spoils of our enemies.

I cannot resist adding a remark of Caesar on Cicero and his oratory from the same passage:

Great father, you, of eloquence and of Latin literature! as the Dictator Caesar, once your enemy, wrote in testimony of you, you required a laurel superior to every triumph! How far greater and more glorious to have enlarged so immeasurably the boundaries of the Roman genius, than those of its sway!

Learning about the ancient libraries of Rome

Yesterday I started looking at Lanciani’s Ancient Rome.  Chapter 7 of this deals with the ancient libraries of Rome.

It’s quite fascinating stuff, if you’re interested in books.  (I think it is a reasonable assumption that anyone reading this blog is so interested!)  But it is also frustrating.  Some of the statements are ones that you see repeated endlessly, but never referenced:

The first public library in Rome was built and opened, about A.U.C. 717, by Asinius Pollio, the brilliant and spirited writer, so much admired by Horace and Catullus. The library was organized in the Atrium Libertatis on the Aventine, one wing being set apart for Greek, one for Latin, literature. Four years later, Augustus determined to carry into execution the project of Julius Caesar and of his literary counsel, Terentius Varro, to make of public libraries a state institution. He named Pomponius Macer director of the department, and put at his disposal large sums of money collected during the Dalmatian war. The first state public library, opened according to the new programme, was the Bibliotheca Octaviae, so called in honor of Augustus’s sister, Octavia; and the first librarian was C. Melissus, of Spoletum. Than followed the Bibliotheca Palatina Apollinis, organized by the librarian C. Julius Hyginus, of which library I have already spoken in the chapter on the palace of the Caesars. Tiberius gave up a wing of his own palace for a third institution of the kind, which, although called by Gellius and Vopiscus Bibliotheca Tiberiana, seems to have contained state papers and documents, rather than books.

The fifth imperial library was established by Vespasian in his Forum Pacis; the sixth by Trajan in his own forum. This last, the richest and most magnificent in the metropolis, and famous for its collection of libri elephantini (books with leaves of ivory), was removed, at the end of the third century, by Diocletian, from Trajan’s forum to his own thermae on the Quirinal.

Yes, but how do we know all this? Well, I’ve been trying to find out.

I started, inevitably, with this Asinius Pollio chappie.  Equally inevitably I found myself at Lacus Curtius, looking at Platner‘s Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, complete with detailed references to the ancient sources on each of the libraries.  For Asinius Pollio, Pliny the Elder is our main source.  But a passage in Isidore of Seville is also referenced by Lanciani, in the course of a discussion on the images of authors in libraries.

Asinius Pollio primus Romae bibliothecas publicavit (graecam atque latinam) additis auctorum imaginibus in atrio.

Looking for this, I found a useful handout here by Matthew Nicholls headed Libraries in the classical world, with quotations.  And, in the end, I found C. E. Boyd, Public libraries and literary culture in ancient Rome (1915), which goes through the subject in detail.  Boyd, indeed, gives everything we might wish to know about the statements of Lanciani and others.  Of course he doesn’t know about Galen’s Peri Alupias, discovered a few years ago; but we need not worry about that.

Lanciani on the pagan revival of the fourth century

Quite by chance I found myself looking at a vivid description of the pagan revival of the late 4th century AD, in the elderly pages of Rudolpho Lanciani’s Ancient Rome in the light of recent discoveries (1888).  Lanciani was an Italian archaeologist who was digging in Rome, and unearthing all manner of ancient inscriptions.  His books seem designed to stir interest in this  very necessary work, by interweaving stories of his finds in a popular narrative of Roman history; and this they do very effectively.

The second half of the fourth century of our era was one of the most exciting periods in Roman history, on account of the stupendous fight between the Christian majority and the minority of those who still clung to polytheism in its decrepitude. Both parties were determined to put an end to a state of things which had become intolerable to each; both were determined to strike the final blow; and although the emperors themselves were disposed personally to gain the victory with time and persuasion, the impatience of the pagan leaders in Rome caused the catastrophe to be violent and marked by bloodshed.

It is rather difficult to describe the character, the feelings, the behavior, of those who distinguished themselves during the fight, because contemporary writers are not impartial; they judge of men and things from their own point of view, from the interest of their party. This discrepancy of appreciation is noticeable even in points of supreme importance, in events which had been seen and shared by thousands and thousands of witnesses. Christian writers; as a rule, attribute to their antagonists any amount of depravity, even in private life and affections; pagan writers reproach their opponents with conspiring to destroy the Empire, with being determined to open the gates of the Eternal City to the barbarians, provided the triumph of their new faith could be secured. The author of the libel against Virius Nicomachus Flavianus,[1] the leader of the pagan aristocracy in the Senate, describes him as being polluted by unmentionable vices; whereas Theodosius II and Valentinian III., in their official messages to the Senate, A. D. 431, proclaim him nominis illustris, et sanctissimce apud omnes recordationis, an illustrious name, a man whose character was as pure as gold. Another instance of this more or less sincere discrepancy of opinions is supplied by the well-known quarrel about the statue of Victory in the Curia or Senate-hall, which statue for centuries had been considered as the personification of the power and destinies of imperial Rome. This statue, formerly worshipped at Tarentum, had been placed by Augustus himself on the tribune of the Curia, and ornamented with the rarest kind of jewelry, which he had collected in Egypt. An altar stood before it, to receive the votive offerings of the patres conscripti. From the day of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity to the year 382, the statue and the altar had been left undisturbed. In 382, however, they gave rise to the memorable duel fought between S. Ambrose on the Christian and Symmachus on the pagan side before Valentinian II. and Theodosius. Symmachus accused his rivals of enmity, not toward the statue of Victory, but toward the symbol of the fortune of the Roman armies, just then engaged in trying to check the invasion of the barbarians. S. Ambrose, on the other hand, never mentions the statue, venerated by every one because of its glorious origin, wonderful beauty, and great age; he contends simply that the altar and the official worship of the goddess should no longer be imposed on the Christian senators, or offend their feelings and trouble their consciences.

The want of trustworthy contemporary documents is compensated to a certain extent by the admirable series of inscriptions collected in class five of the sixth volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, which refers to Roman patrician magistrates of the fourth century, from the time of Diocletian to the fall of the Empire. These inscriptions derive their importance from the fact that, in describing the political, religious, and military career of each statesman and senator, they reveal at the same time absolutely authentic particulars otherwise unknown and events and names concerning which contemporary writers have not spoken, or have spoken with passion and prejudice. These marbles tell us the names and the exploits of the last champions of polytheism in the Senate. They describe how, during the last outburst of fanaticism, the most absurd superstitions, the most mysterious and contemptible ceremonies, were revived, — those especially which bore a certain analogy with the ceremonies of Christian worship. They throw a new light also on the catastrophe which brought to an end the worship of Vesta, and the life, eleven centuries old, of the sisterhood of the Vestal Virgins.

The leaders of the pagan faction in the Curia were Clodius Hermogenianus, Caelius Hilarianus, Clodius Flavianus, Petronius Apollodorus, Sextilius Agesilaus, the two Rufii Ceionii, Nonius Victor, Aurelius Victor, and other representatives of the old aristocracy. But, alas! how miserably they represented the former conquerors of the world! The whole party was initiated into the mysteries of secret Eastern sects, and their religious fanaticism stood in contrast to the original purity and simplicity of Roman religion as did their civil and military virtues to the wisdom and valor of the statesmen and generals of the Republic, and also of the Empire, in its first three centuries of glorious life.

They had selected as the scene of their grand exploits, as a place for confidential meetings, two sanctuaries, both of recent construction, — the shrine of Cybele and Atys on the Vatican hill, and the grotto of Mithras in the Campus Martius. The shrine of Cybele is mentioned by ancient writers among the buildings of the fourteenth region, Transtiberim, under the name Phrygianum. Although there was no doubt that such a name belonged to a place of worship of the Phrygian goddess, and that such a place was in the neighborhood of the Vatican, still no positive notice of its history and exact situation was obtained until the reign of Pope Paul V., Borghese. In laying the foundations of the southeast corner of the new facade of S. Peter’s, between 1608 and 1609, at a depth of thirty feet below the level of the ground, several altars and pedestals were discovered, on which the history of the shrine was engraved. These marbles apparently had been hammered and split into fragments at some unknown period; perhaps after the great religious catastrophe of 394, of which I shall presently speak. The sacred grotto of Mithras, in the Campus Martius, was within the limits of the seventh region, on the east side of the Via Lata, between the modern Corso and the general post – office in the Piazza of S. Silvestro in Capite, and, more precisely, in the plot of ground which is now occupied by the Marignoli palace. It was discovered at the end of the fifteenth century, but no satisfactory account of the discovery has come down to us. Fra Giovanni Giocondo and Pietro Sabino, who seem to have witnessed the event, only copied the inscriptions of the sanctuary, without describing any details of its architecture and disposition. Both places, the Vatican Metroon and the Mithraeum Campense, as they were officially named, had been filled with numberless altars and pedestals, as was said above, to commemorate the initiation of eminent men, mostly senators of the Empire, into those horrid mysteries and into the various degrees of the sect. And do the records engraved upon these marbles enumerate according to the ancient custom, the civil, military, and diplomatic offices honorably discharged in the interest of their sovereigns and country? Not in the least. These men pride themselves upon titles and names which would have made their noble and gallant ancestors blush with shame and burst with indignation. They call themselves pater sacrorum, father of mysteries; hierocorax invicti Mithrae, sacred crow of Mithras the omnipotent; archibucolus dei Liberi, great shepherd of Bacchus; hierofantes Hecatarum, high-priest of Hecate, and so forth. And they make use of a peculiar kind of phraseology, unknown in classic times, and evidently copied in a ridiculous manner from Christian models. One speaks of the gods animae suae mentisque custodes; another proclaims himself delibutus sacratissimis mysteriis, or else in aeternum renatus, after the baptism of blood; all of them, likewise, testify with unbounded pride to having received this bloody baptism, under the form of criobolium or taurobolium, or to having renewed the ceremony after a lapse of twenty years, because it appears that the abominable sacrament was thought to lose its redeeming power after a certain time, like some of our cutaneous injections.

Two senators, Nonius Victor Olympius and Aurelius Victor Augentius, presided over the Mithraeum Campense, and were the grand-masters of this kind of Free-masonry. In the tablets discovered there nearly four centuries ago, we can follow step by step the career of many illustrious adepts. Between A. D. 357 and 377 Nonius and Aurelius administered right and left the degrees of corax (raven), cryphius (secret), miles (soldier), leo, Perses, Heliodromos, and pater. In 377, the practice was stopped, probably, by the prefect of the town, Gracchus, who attempted to destroy all the Mithraic grottoes in Rome.

The worship of Vesta was not forgotten in this last outbreak, in this last revival of pagan superstitions. We are glad to acknowledge, however, that our virgins did not contaminate the last days of their life by altering the ancient purity and simplicity of the institution; they fell nobly and gallantly, faithful to the rules of the order eleven centuries old, free from any suspicion, and respected even by their enemies, in whose diatribes we are happy to find a certain sense of kindness and respect every time the Vestals are mentioned. We are also glad to testify that their name is not profaned in the records of the Phrygian and Mithraic sects; the senators, who caused those records to be engraved on marble, only occasionally call themselves pontifices Vestae and pontifices Vestales.

The infidel majority in the Senate fought the last battles under two able and determined leaders: Virius Nicomachus Flavianus, the senior (with his relatives the Symmachi), and Vettius Agorius Praetextatus. Flavianus took little or no interest in the Vestals, perhaps because the simplicity of their worship did not sufficiently excite a soul vitiated by the violent mysteries of the Phrygian and Persian rites. The author of the libel discovered by Delille, and mentioned above, ridicules Flavianus for his performances of the Amburbalia, of the Isia, of the Megalesia, of the Floralia; but he never speaks of the Vestalia, of the perennial fire, or of the Palladium. Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, on the contrary, was intensely devoted to the Virgins, as was also his wife, Fabia Aconia Paullina. Their palace stood at the corner of the Via Merulana and the Via delle sette Sale, on the site of the new palazzo Brancaccio. It was surrounded by a garden, which extended as far as the present railway station. Many monuments concerning the history of their family have been discovered within these limits. I shall mention, however, one only, on account of its connection with the events which I am relating. When the house of Praetextatus was excavated for the first time in 1591, there were found a pedestal and a statue erected in honor of Caelia Concordia, the last (or next to the last) abbess of the Atrium Vestae. The pedestal bore the following dedication: “Fabia Aconia Paullina sets up (in her own palace) this portrait-statue of Caelia Concordia, the Abbess of the Vestals, not only as a testimonial to her virtues, her chastity and her devotion to the gods, but also as a token of gratitude for the honor conferred by the Vestals upon her husband Praetextatus, to whom they have dedicated a statue in their own convent.” By a remarkable chance, this last-named statue has been discovered in our excavations. Its head, at first missing, was found by accident two years later. It is represented in the accompanying illustration. There seems to be no doubt of its being the very one alluded to by Fabia Aconia Paullina. It represents a senator in the official robe of the fourth century, and it is the only male statue found in the Atrium Vestae; its presence there would have remained almost inexplicable, had we not heard of it before, from the above-quoted inscription.

 The work is easy to read, and contains material guaranteed to interest us all on many pages, even if sometimes we may wonder whether the matter is quite as simple as it is represented!

UPDATE: I find that I am by no means the only enthusiast for this work: Bill Thayer went so far as to retype the lot!  It’s very freely available on the web: but some things are best read in book form.

  1. [1] Lanciani refers here to the Carmen Contra Paganos, found on three leaves at the back of a 5th century manuscript of Prudentius.


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