Archive for the 'Announcements' Category

That old bull again! – the recent international conference on Mithras in Italy

vulci_csaba_1I must have missed the announcement, but Csaba Szabo kindly drew my attention to his report on an international conference on Mithraic studies in Italy.  About 50 people attended.  Sadly the long-exploded Cumont theory was in evidence in some papers.  But it sounds as if it was an interesting event.

The main impression that I gained from Dr S.’s report, was that the sub-discipline is in limbo.  The field is too small to support as regular journal, as the ill-fated Journal of Mithraic Studies discovered.  Likewise those studying Mithras are invariably drawn to look at related cults.  It is troubling that at such a conference there was limited discussion of recent archaeology; for it is from archaeology that progress in understanding will be made.

vulci_csaba_13Dr S. also put on his blog some nice photos of the Mithraeum of Vulci.  I am deeply envious – it is impossible to get hold of any printed material about this place – all in Italian – and even a google search on the booklet he mentions, Vulci e i misteri di Mitra: Culti orientali in Etruria, will quickly reveal … no hits!  Oh well.  It’s good to see some interesting pots, tho.  It also clarified that the tauroctony in place in the Mithraeum is clearly a restored copy.  Pity they got the head wrong – Mithras always looks back over his shoulder!

Plaster copy and restoration of the tauroctony.  The head is wrong, tho.

Plaster copy and restoration of the tauroctony. The head is wrong, tho.

Qasr Bashir – A Roman fortlet in Jordan

Qasr_BashirI found this marvellous photograph of a Roman fortlet in the Jordanian desert on Twitter here.  The tweeter also added:

Great photos & interesting survey diagrams of Qasr Bashir done by Brunnow & Domaszewsky in 1897 here.

More useful to most of us is a nice blog post here, with many photographs and plans, to which I am indebted for the details that follow.

The walls stand up to 20 feet tall.  It was built at the start of the 4th century AD, as part of defensive works for a limes Arabicus, and held a cavalry unit of perhaps 120-150 men.  The building inscription survives:

Optimis maximisque principibus nostris Caio Aurelio
Valerio Diocletiano Pio Felici Invicto Augusto et
Marco Aurelio Valerio Maximiano Pio Felici Invicto Augusto et
Flavio Valerio Constantio et Galerio Valerio Maximiano
nobilissimis Caesaribus Castra Praetorii Mobeni fossamentis
Aurelius Asclepiades praeses provinciae Arabiae
perfici curavit .

Which tells us that the fort was called Mobene, and was constructed by the Praeses of the province of Arabia, a chap named Aurelius Asclepiades, in the reign of the tetrarchy, Diocletian and friends.

One question the blog leaves unclear is where exactly the fort is.  Funnily enough, Google Maps will tell us rather well!  Just search for Jordan, and the Qasr Bashir!


I’d never thought of Google as a tourist guide; but of course Jordan is a civilised country, and aerial photographs and much else are available.

I’d love to go and see it.

Scribes removing paganism from Galen’s “On my own opinions”?

In 2005 a bored PhD student, left hanging around the catalogue desk at the Vlatades Monastery in Thessalonika, looked through the catalogue and discovered a previously unknown Greek manuscript of the works of the 2nd century medical writer, Galen.  The Ms. Thessalonicensis Vlatadon 14 contained complete Greek texts of several works previously known only from fragments or translations into Arabic, as well as a new and important work, the Peri Alupias (On Grief), about which I have written elsewhere.

One of the works whose complete Greek text is now accessible is On my own opinions.  Immediately after the prologue, we find that Galen discusses his opinion of the gods, as I learn from an interesting article by A. Pietrobelli.[1]  The passages are also extant in Latin, translating an Arabic version now lost; and in Hebrew, also translating a different Arabic version, also now lost.

The Latin version, made from Arabic, is entitled De sententiis, made at Toledo in the school of Gerard of Cremona in the 12th century AD.  There are five manuscripts of this work, all mutilated at the end.  (Another Latin translation does exist, made from Greek; but it only covers the last two sections of the work, whereas our material is from the beginning.)

The Arabic version, from which the Latin was made, is lost.

Hunain Ibn Ishaq was a 9th century Nestorian Christian writer.  He was commissioned with others to translate Greek technical works into Arabic.  The method used was to translate the Greek texts into Syriac, as there were well-established procedures to do this.  Then the Syriac, a semitic language, could easily be translated on into Arabic.

Hunain tells us, in his work on the translations of Galen,[2] that two Syriac translations of Galen’s On my own opinions existed at that time.  The first was made by “Job”, presumably Job of Edessa[3], the second by Hunain himself for his son Ishaq.  Thabit ibn Qurra then translated the latter version into Arabic.[4]  In addition a 13th century Hebrew translation exists, again made from someArabic version.

But the text has undergone some revision in transmission.  Let’s have a look at the different versions, and see how.  Pietrobelli gives the text and a French translation – I have rendered the latter into English so that we can see what is said.

Here’s the first passage:

Original Greek:

Whether the universe is uncreated or created, whether there is something after it or outside it or indeed nothing, because I say that I am in ignorance faced with such questions, I also do not know of course what is the nature of the creator of all things in the universe, if he is incorporeal or corporeal, and more, in what place he resides.[5]


So I say that I do not know whether the world is created, if there is something outside of it or not. And because I say I do not know these things, so it is clear that I do not know about the creator of all things in this world, whether he is corporeal or incorporeal, nor where he is located, namely the divinity, or rather the power of the divinity. This power is of him whose works are revealed in this world through acts that can only come from a creator. Thus these themselves demonstrate God.[6]


He said: I do not know if the world is created or not, and if there is something else outside of it, or nothing. And as I say that I am ignorant about these things, it is also clear that I do not know about the creator of all things in the world, whether he is a body or incorporeal, nor what is the place of his residence. As for God and the divine powers, that is to say the powers whose activities are manifested in the world, they can only come from the Creator, so they reveal Him and they are attributed to Him.[7]

In this case, the text has been augmented, somewhere along the line.  Somebody has added some extra explanatory text on the end.  Where Galen is ambivalent about the Creator, etc, the editor has firmly asserted the existence of a creator.

Here’s the second:


Is it only about the gods I also affirm that I am in uncertainty, as Protagoras said, or in fact that I say about them that I am ignorant of their essence, while recognizing their existence from their works? For the constitution of living beings is the work of the gods, and also all the warnings that they send, by omens, signs and dreams.[8]


And I will not speak like Pictagoras who denied having any knowledge about them, but I say that I have no knowledge of their essence; but that such powers exist, I know through their works because the organization of living beings is their doing, and they are revealed by divination and dreams.[9]


I do not say of them like Protagoras: “I do not know anything about them,” but I say I do not know what is their essence. That they exist, on the other hand, I know from their activities, and from their activities appear the composition of animals and that which is manifested through divination, omens, and the interpretation of dreams.[10]

These three are more similar – although the name Protagoras has turned into Pictagoras! All the same, the change is subtle.  A question that Galen leaves open becomes a positive statement.

Here’s the third passage adduced by Pietrobelli:


The god who is honoured at home in Pergamum has shown his power and providence on many other occasions but especially on the day he nursed me.

At sea, I experienced not only the providence, but also the power of the Dioscuri.

In fact, I do not think it is wrong for men to be ignorant of the essence of the gods, although I decided to honour them by following the ancient custom, in the manner of Socrates who advised people to obey the precepts of Pythios.

That is my position regarding the gods.[11]


Concerning the works of God in us … † †[12] they appeared by his power, because he nursed me once through an illness I had and because he manifests himself at sea in delivering those who are about to be wrecked thanks to the signs that they see and those who firmly believe in their salvation. That clearly indicates an admirable power that I have myself experienced. And I do not see what is harmful for men if they ignore the essence of divinity, and I see that I must accept and follow the law on this point and accept what Socrates prescribed who expressed himself quite strongly on this subject.

That’s what I have to say about the deity.[13]


And among the actions of God, blessed and praised be He, which reveal his power and his providence for his creatures, there is the fact that He healed me from an illness I had, and what can be seen at sea after the rescue of those who embark on the ships; after believing they will be shipwrecked and drowned, <they are saved> by the signs that they see and that they believe and by which they are saved. This gives a clear indication of a great power, and I do not think that does harm to people if they do not know what is the essence of the divine powers. That’s why I think I need to exalt and praise them, as religion ordains.[14]

The differences here are considerable.  Galen’s own text acknowledges the favour of Asclepius, the  god of Pergamum, Galen’s home city; of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, and the teachings of Apollo (Pythios).  All this pagan material has been removed, in favour of acknowledgement of the intervention of God.

Furthermore, the Hebrew reveals yet more intervention  – “God, praised and blessed be He” has a  distinctly Islamic flavour.

What are we to make of all this?

The changes may have been made at any point in the transmission.  Without a general knowledge of changes of this kind in the Arabic translation movement, we cannot say if any of this reflects the Greek text before Hunain and Job; or is conventional, in Syriac translations; or is their own work, in adapting a medical textbook for the needs of a capricious Muslim despot; or is the work of later Arabic editors, or indeed of the Latin and Hebrew translators in Europe.  But somewhere along the line, someone got creative.

The changes, in fairness, are mild.  They adjust paganism to monotheism, and remove an irrelevant irritant for the reader.  They are probably no worse than some modern editors are doing to old but politically incorrect childrens’ classics like Biggles.

All the same, it does highlight that the transmission of texts is sometimes less than faithful, on ideological grounds.  It would be most interesting to see if there is any general pattern available in the data.  I suspect that there might be.

  1. [1] The material for this article is found in A. Pietrobelli, “Galien agnostique: un texte caviardé par la tradition,” Revue des Études Greques 126 (2013), 103-135.
  2. [2] Details here.  John Lamoreaux has since made an English translation, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq on His Galen Translations, BYU (2015).
  3. [3] Pietrobelli suggests alternatively a “Job le tacheté” of whom I can discover absolutely nothing – in Lamoreaux’s translation, Job is Job of Edessa.
  4. [4] Pietrobelli states that both Syriac versions were translated into Arabic, the first by Thabit ibn Qurra, the second by Isa ibn Yahya, a disciple of Hunain; Lamoreaux gives the passage as: “What He Believes by Way of Opinion [B113]  This book consists of a single volume. In it he describes what is known and what is not known. Job has translated it into Syriac. <I translated it into Syriac> for my son Ishaq. Thabit translated it into Arabic for Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Musa.” and “A adds: Isa Ibn Yahya translated it into Arabic, which Ishaq collated with the original and corrected, for Abd Allah Ibn Ishaq. “
  5. [5] Que l’univers soit incréé ou créé, qu’il y ait quelque chose après lui au dehors ou bien rien, parce que j’affirme être dans l’ignorance face à de telles questions, j’ignore aussi évidemment quelle est la nature du créateur de toutes choses dans l’univers, s’il est incorporel ou corporel, et bien davantage, en quel lieu il réside.
  6. [6] J’affirme donc ne pas savoir si le monde est créé, s’il existe quelque chose à l’extérieur de lui ou pas. Et parce que je dis que je ne sais pas ces choses, il est donc clair que je ne sais pas, à propos du créateur de toutes les choses qui sont dans ce monde, s’il est corporel ou incorporel ni où il est situé, à savoir la divinité, ou plutôt le pouvoir de la divinité. Ce pouvoir est de ceux dont les oeuvres sont révélées dans ce monde par les actes qui ne peuvent provenir que d’un créateur. Ainsi ils indiquent eux-mêmes Dieu.
  7. [7] Il dit : j’ignore si le monde est créé ou pas, et s’il y a quelque chose d’autre en dehors de lui ou rien. Et puisque je dis être ignorant sur ces choses, il est aussi évident que j’ignore, à propos du créateur de toutes les choses qui sont dans le monde, s’il est un corps ou incorporel  ni quel est le lieu de son séjour.  Quant à Dieu et aux pouvoirs divins, c’est-à-dire les pouvoirs dont les activités se manifestent dans le monde, ils ne peuvent que provenir du Créateur, c’est pourquoi ils Le révèlent et ils Lui sont attribuées. 
  8. [8] Est-ce donc qu’au sujet des dieux j’affirme également que je suis dans l’incertitude, comme Protagoras le disait, ou bien qu’à leur sujet j’affirme être ignorant de leur essence, tout en reconnaissant leur existence d’après leurs oeuvres?  Car c’est l’oeuvre des dieux que la constitution des êtres vivants, ainsi que tous les avertissements qu’ils envoient par des présages, des signes ou des songes.
  9. [9] Et je ne parlerai pas comme Pictagoras qui niait avoir une connaissance à leur sujet, mais j’affirme que je n’ai aucune connaissance de leur essence; mais que ces pouvoirs existent, je le sais à travers leurs oeuvres parce que l’organisation des êtres vivants est leur fait et qu’ils sont révélés par la divination et les rêves.
  10. [10] Je ne dis pas d’eux comme Protagoras : « Je ne sais rien du tout à leur sujet », mais je dis que j’ignore quelle est leur essence. Qu’ils existent en revanche, je le sais d’après leurs activités et à leurs activités appartiennent la composition des animaux et ce qui se manifeste à travers la divination, les augures et l’interprétation des rêves.
  11. [11] Le dieu qui est honoré chez moi à Pergame a montré sa puissance et sa providence en bien d’autres occasions mais particulièrement le jour où il me soigna. En mer, j’ai fait l’expérience non seulement de la providence, mais aussi de la puissance des Dioscures. Non vraiment, je ne pense pas que cela fasse du tort aux hommes d’être ignorants de l’essence des dieux, bien que je sois décidé à les honorer en suivant la coutume ancestrale, à la façon de Socrate qui conseillait d’obéir aux préceptes de Pythios. Voilà ma position en ce qui concerne les dieux.
  12. [12] Note 25. V. Nutton proposes to restore the text thus : “Concerning the workings of God in us +having come+ into deep trouble, +how much clearer+ have they appeared in their power!”
  13. [13] En ce qui concerne les oeuvres de Dieu en nous †…† elles sont apparues par son pouvoir, parce qu’il me soigna une fois d’une maladie que j’avais et parce qu’il se manifeste en mer en délivrant ceux qui sont sur le point de faire naufrage grâce à des signes qu’ils aperçoivent et qui leur font croire fermement à leur salut. Voilà qui indique manifestement un pouvoir admirable don’t j’ai moi-même fait l’expérience.  Et je ne vois pas ce qu’il y a de nuisible pour les hommes s’ils ignorent l’essence de la divinité et je vois que je dois revendiquer et suivre la loi sur ce point et accepter ce qu’a prescrit Socrate qui s’est exprimé assez fermement sur ce sujet. Voilà ce que j’ai à dire sur la divinité.
  14. [14] Et parmi les actions de Dieu, béni et loué soit-Il, qui révèlent son pouvoir et sa providence pour les créatures, il y a le fait qu’Il m’a guéri d’une maladie que j’avais et ce qui peut être vu en mer d’après le sauvetage de ceux qui s’embarquent dans des navires; après avoir cru faire naufrage et couler, <ils sont sauvés> par le signe qu’ils voient et auquel ils croient et par lequel ils sont sauvés. Cela donne une indication claire d’un pouvoir merveilleux, et je ne pense pas que cela fasse du tort aux gens s’ils ne savent pas quelle est l’essence des pouvoirs divins. C’est pourquoi je pense que je dois les exalter et les louer, comme l’ordonne la religion.

Fragments of Euripides “Palamedes” rediscovered in Jerusalem

Today I learn (via a collection of manuscript finds at J.B. Piggin) of a manuscript discovery that seems to have slipped under the radar.  This is nothing less than pages from a now destroyed manuscript of the Palamedes of Euripides.  This is a lost play.  The pages were reused and are contained in Cod. Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36, a manuscript that is located in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.  There is some kind of project being run to work with the palimpsest, a “Project Palamedes“, led by Felix Albrecht, who has also published an article on the subject, sadly inaccessible to me.[1]

A number of webpages, all in German, give scanty details of the palimpsest find.  The first source that I found is as follows (translation mine):

The “Codex Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36” is located in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The manuscript comprises 556 pages and dates from the 13th century; among other things, it contains new, completely unknown texts of Euripides, one of the three great Greek tragedians of antiquity. Of the original over ninety tragedies of Euripides one fifth only has surviveded. The Jerusalem manuscript is one of the main text witnesses of the tradition of Euripides. Although it has long been known, hitherto it has not been explored in its entirety. An analysis of the palimsest revealed that it contains more texts of Euripides by far than previously thought. In addition, the newly discovered passages provide not only material already known, but also unknown material from the pen of Euripides. Moreover, this manuscript contains six patristic or biblical texts, mainly in majuscule, and in the course of processing, it will be decided whether an edition seems sensible.

The University of Gottingen also gives some details:

PALAMEDES – PALimpsestorum Aetatis mediae Editiones Et Studia  …

The Codex Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36, from the library of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, includes 278 sheets.  The upper writing (scriptio superior) from the 13th century is a text of the sixteen prophets in the Septuagint version.  The manuscript shows several different scriptiones inferior in majuscule and minuscule book hands.  Among these is one of the most important examples of the work of Euripides, especially a codex of the 11th century, created as a teaching tool, with explanatory marginal and interlinear scholia.  This is written in parts on parchment that has been palimpsested several times.  Up to three text layers overlap, which must be deciphered by a method of three-dimensional multi- and full-spectral imaging.

I also found an image of a page of the palimpsest here.  It shows clearly the marvellous results of this multi-spectral imaging:


Nor is this all.  The project is also working on another palimpsest, Codex Parisinus Graecus 1330 from the library of Colbert.  The upper text is a colourful nomocanon, but it reused pages from a majuscule manuscript ca. 500 AD containing a previously unknown ancient commentary on the works of Aristotle.  There are also ancient diagrams of the highest quality.  Any discovery gives us something, although this one will perhaps be more for the students of philosophy.

I also found a bibliography for Felix Albrecht, here, which suggested other finds of unknown material that ought to be better known.

More information on this find and the work around it would be very welcome.

  1. [1] Felix Albrecht, “Ein Novum Supplementum Euripideum? Die unbekannten Seiten des Euripides-Palimpsestes Codex Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36”, Aevum 86 (2012), p. 3-27. 

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18c (part 3)

The reign of the Caliph Omar continues, with the seige of Damascus.  The Roman garrison defends the city against what is seen at the time as merely a large-scale raidBut in the end, after six months, the governor surrenders.

6. When the Muslims arrived at Damascus, Khalid ibn al-Walid camped near the “Bab ash-Sharqi”, Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah near the “Bāb al-Gābiyah”, Amr ibn al-As near the “Bāb Tuma”, and Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan near the the “Bāb as-Saghir (71)” and the “Bāb Kisan”.[1]  They besieged Damascus for six months less one day.  The Rum made raids against them every day, coming out now from one gate or another, keeping them engaged in combat.  Then the Muslims wrote to Omar ibn al-Khattab, informing him of the progress of affairs.  Omar ibn al-Khattab replied, sending a letter with which he removed the supreme command from Khalid ibn al-Walid and entrusted it to Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah.  The siege had now exhausted the inhabitants of Damascus, and Mansur, the prefect of Damascus, went up on the “Bāb ash-Sharqi” and spoke to Khalid ibn al-Walid, asking him to grant safety to him, to his family, to those who they were with him, and to the inhabitants of Damascus, with the exception of the Rum: in exchange for which he would open the gates of the city.  Khalid ibn al-Walid agreed to his request and wrote to him a covenant whose text read as follows:

“This is a statement by Khalid ibn al-Walid to the people of Damascus.  I will guarantee your lives, your homes, your property and your churches and I assure you that these will not be destroyed, nor your dwelling places and that you will be left alone.”

He handed over the parchment, and Mansur opened to Khalid ibn al-Walid the “Bāb ash-Sharqi”.  Khalid burst into the city shouting to his men: “Keep your swords in their sheaths.”  Once they entered the city, Khalid’s men shouted in chorus “Allahu Akbar” [=God is great].  Their shout came up to the Rum who were fighting at the [other] gates.  Realizing that Mansur had opened the door and had let the Arabs into the city, they gave up defending the gates and fled.  Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah came with a drawn sword from the “Bab al-Gabiyah”, and from “Bab as-Saghir” came Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan who was also with his sword drawn, and from the “Bab Tuma,” where there was still violent fighting, came in, always with a drawn sword, Amr ibn al-As.  Many men were killed at the “Bab Tuma” on both sides.  The Muslims were continuing to slaughter, and to take prisoners when Khalid ibn al-Walid, Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah, Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan and Amr ibn al-As met together in the place called “az-Zayyanin” where Mansur was with the [text] of the covenant in his hands.  Khalid ibn al-Walid made them aware of the guarantee which he had granted them.  Their opinions were divided.  Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan said: “We do not endorse the guarantee given to them,” while Abu Ubayda and Amr ibn al-As said: “We will recognize its validity” and cried out to their men, saying sheathe their swords.  Yazid instead shouted to his men not to put away their swords.  Then Amr ibn al-As said: “Come now, consider also that the city was taken based on our commitment of protection and there is peace between us.”  Thus they were all agreed.

Then Mansur said to them: “Promise me in the name of Allah”, and did write in the text “There swore in the name of Allah: Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah, Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan, Amr ibn al-As and Sarhabil ibn Hasana”.  Mansur took with him the text.  The Byzantine soldiers who had found safety reached King Heraclius at Antioch.

When King Heraclius understood that Damascus had been occupied he exclaimed:  “Peace to you, O Syria,” or “Peace to you, O Damascus of Syria”, and went on his journey till he came to Constantinople, in the third year of the caliphate of Omar ibn al-Khattab.  As for Mansur, prefect of Damascus, for his cowardly behaviour and for what he had done to the Rum, getting them killed, and for the help given to the Muslims against them, all the patriarchs and bishops of the whole earth cursed him.

Seven days later, a messenger announced to Omar ibn al-Khattab the fall of Damascus.

  1. [1] I.e. outside each of the gates (“bab”) of the city.

The owner of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” papyrus unmasked!

Back in 2012 a Harvard “religious studies” academic named Karen King announced the discovery of a papyrus fragment containing a Coptic text which referred to Jesus having a wife.  It takes little knowledge of the methods of commercial forgers to see why someone would forge such a thing.  Nor is it hard to see why a US leftist academic with a background in “Womens’ studies” would promote it.  I was certainly sceptical.  More learned people pointed to the small problem that the text reproduced a typographical error from an online edition.  At that point pretty much everyone – aside from Dr King – felt the story was over.  It was never clear just where the thing had come from, or who owned it; Dr. K. professed that she was sworn to secrecy.

Via Alin Suciu, today, I learn that in this month’s issue of The Atlantic magazine contains a monster piece of investigative journalism that unmasks the owner, and probably the forger, of the papyrus.

The article is written by Ariel Sabar, who dedicated months of investigation to tracking down the background of this dubious item.  He discovered the owner was a silver-tongued salesman named Walter Fritz, and eventually got an admission out of him that he was indeed the owner of the papyrus.  Fritz had studied Coptic, had a grudge against scholars, and is, seemingly, a bullshitter extraordinaire.  He is also an admirer of – guess what – the Da Vinci Code, and all the stuff about Mary Magdalene being Jesus’ Wife.  He was also in financial trouble at the time when he produced the thing.

I will not attempt to summarise the article here.  It is, necessarily, a story of the process of discovery, and inevitably reads like what it is, a magazine article.  We need not agree with every opinion expressed in it, though, to see that a great deal of real hard information has emerged here.  Read it.

The conclusion seems convincing to me: the papyrus was forged by Fritz.  In fact Fritz has not admitted to composing it, but he has the skills, multiple motives, and the opportunity.  Few, I suspect, will now doubt that he did so.

Karen King does not come out very well from the article, and perhaps does not deserve to.  But let us be fair, and treat her as we would wish to be treated in such a case.  A bit of careful reading of Sabar’s narrative suggests that she was just a dupe – duped by Fritz.  In fact, Sabar suggests that she was chosen by him as a “mark”, precisely because he believed that she would be predisposed for ideological reasons to believe his nonsense.  He was probably right.  We can hardly blame Dr King for being persuaded by a man who, like all salesmen, was a professional persuader.  It could happen to most of us, I suspect.

It is a warning to all of us, always to be suspicious of what seems convenient to us.  “This is a benefit … it may be a bribe” is always a good thing to remember, in scholarship as in life.

This is one of the rare pieces of journalism that justifies all the claims that are made for the importance of a free press.  Few academics could have done this piece of investigation.  Well done, Mr Sabar.  You have done us all a favour.

Roman statue used for “alien relic” in album cover

We forget, sometimes, how extraordinary the remains of antiquity really are, when seen for the first time.

Look at this:


An album by progressive rock group Magellan, it depicts a fantasy scene.  But the head will be familiar to many of us, because it is a real monument… the head of the monster statue of Constantine the Great, preserved in the Capitoline museum in Rome (via here):


It’s good to be reminded, sometimes, how extraordinary are the things we have seen perhaps too many times.

Text and translation of three Coptic stelae – by Anthony Alcock

We don’t do a lot with inscriptions here.  But I wonder if people realise that there are inscriptions in Coptic?  I certainly never thought about this; but there are.

Anthony Alcock has made a text and English translation of three stone stelae, which have Coptic inscriptions.  These are from various locations around Egypt.


(I’ve asked Dr A. for the reference for the original publication – will add it later).

UPDATE: The source publication is Claudius Labib, Stèles Coptes Inédites, Cairo: Ain Shams Press, 1909. 32p.  This I found online! – labib-steles-copte-inedited-1909, PDF, from the Coptist blog.

The editor, Claudius Labib, was a Copt who sought to revive Coptic as a spoken language in his country, and with much success.  His publication is in Arabic and French.  The Coptist blog has a bibliography, with links to many of his works.

The manuscript tradition of the works of John the Lydian

John the Lydian was an antiquarian writer of the 6th century AD, whose career flourished under Justinian.  His three works, De magistratibus Romanis, De Ostentis, and De Mensibus, all are full of information about Roman origins.  John wrote in Greek but knew Latin, and sought to transmit to the future information that was already fading in his own day.

The work of John the Lydian, like most other texts from antiquity, has reached us through the medium of a single copy.  This is referred to in the editions as the Codex Caseolinus, and is today in the French National library under the shelfmark Ms. Paris supplementi graeci 257.  It dates around 900 AD.  It has currently 100 folia, but various leaves have been lost, and the whole codex was disarranged before Hase sorted out the order of the leaves for the first time, in order to use it.  It was written on thin, good quality parchment.

The manuscript has suffered considerably from damp, which has given it purplish wine-coloured stains, sometimes to the point of illegibility.  The most recent editor, Anastasius Bandy, made use of infra-red light to read more of the text than his predecessors; but it seems likely that the use of multi-spectral imagining would recover more.

The “Caseolinus” name is thus not from a library, as one might suppose.  Instead it refers to M. Choiseul-Gouffier, French Ambassador to Constantinople in the late 18th century, whose ancestors bore the title “Comites de Caseolo”.

When Choiseul-Gouffier was sent on his embassy in 1784, he was accompanied by Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard d’Ansse de Villoison, a noted scholar whose instructions were to seek out manuscripts.   He had been sent by the French government to Venice in 1779, where he had discovered the Marcianus codex of Homer, and printed an Anecdota Graeca in Venice in 1781 based on other finds.  It was Villoison who located the manuscript in the house of a Greek named Konstantinos Slouziares, who possessed the remnants of the library of Nicholas Mavrokordatos.  The latter ruled Bucharest for the Sultan in 1722 and amassed a collection of codices from Greek monasteries in the East, especially Thessaly and Athos.  After much negotiating, Choiseul-Gouffier  was able to purchase the manuscript of John the Lydian.

The manuscript thus came into the hands of Choiseul-Gouffier in 1785, and he brought it back with him to Paris when he returned in 1791.  But in 1793 he was obliged to flee from the Revolution, and took the manuscript with him to Russia.  But it returned, and he still owned it in 1817, when his collection passed into the Bibliothèque Nationale, by agreement with his heirs. [1]

As well as the codex Caseolinus, another manuscript existed of De magistratibus.  This is the lost Codex Atheniensis, written at Trebizond at the start of July 1765.  In 1879 von Lingenthal went to stay with the owner, Georgios A. Rhalles, a Greek professor in Athens, and wrote that it contained book II of De Caeremoniis aulae Byzantinae and an incomplete copy of John the Lydian’s De magistratibus.  Unfortunately its present whereabouts are unknown.  It seems to have been last seen in 1909, and may have been destroyed in a fire in Thessalonika in 1917.  The text seems to have been inferior to that in the Caseolinus, and it is not clear whether it was a copy, or merely an inferior relation.  No proper collation seems to have been made.

  1. [1] I owe all of these details to the much more detailed introduction in the most recent text and translation, A. Bandy, Ioannes Lydus: On Powers, 1983, p.xxxix f.

Euthymius Zigabenus, Commentary on the Psalms – edition and translation completed!

A few months ago I heard from John Raffan, who was industriously working on a translation of the immense Commentary on the Psalms by the 12th century Byzantine writer, Euthymius Zigabenus (or Zigadenus).  He had posted on his page a draft of the commentary for Psalms 1-75.

Today I hear from him that he has now posted a text and translation of the complete commentary in the same place.  It is here.

This is an immensely worthwhile thing to do, which must have required real grit and determination.  Euthymius Zigabenus is a name that crops up in various places in discussion of biblical interpretation.  It is very useful indeed, therefore, to have an edition, and still more a freely available translation, of his work on the Psalms.  Thank you!

UPDATE: I had not known at the time of posting that in fact Dr Raffan has made the first complete edition of the Greek text.  He writes:

“I do not wish to make inflated claims for my edition of the Psalter Commentary, but I think it is more of a ‘first complete edition’ than a ‘fresh edition’. The edition reprinted in Migne 128 was incomplete (it did not include the commentary on the Biblical Canticles) and also thoroughly corrupt, being based on a single manuscript with lacunae and interpolations.

“My prime source for the edition is the 12th century ms. from the Moscow Synodal Library  (gr. 195), but this has been collated with a series of other  early manuscripts from Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale), London (British Library), Constantinople (Old Seraglio Library), Sinai (Saint Catherine’s Monastery Library), Florence (Laurenziana Library) and Munich (Bavarian State Library), many of which are now available on the internet in digital form. I have barely made any use of the Migne edition, which I found virtually unusable. On the top left corner of the Greek pages I have marked the folio numbers of the Moscow ms. and I also have marked the page breaks in the text. I will need to present all this information in an introduction, but I thought is would be helpful to make the text available even before I have completed writing the introduction.

“The mss. from Moscow, the British Library and Munich also contain the Dogmatic Anthology in varying states of incompleteness.”

Many thanks indeed for this – my mistake!

Euthymius is perhaps best known for his comment on the passage in John’s gospel, in his Commentary on the Four Gospels (PG129, col. 1280 C-D), about the woman taken in adultery, that it isn’t found in the best copies of his day, or is obelised.I discussed this myself in 2009 here. I posted a version of the translation into Wikipedia – it seems that I wrote the original version of that article – and this has circulated as follows:

But it is necessary to know that the things which are found from this place to that where it is said: Therefore Jesus again spoke of these things saying, I am the light of the world: in the more exact copies, these are either not found, or marked with an obelus, because they seem illegitimate and added. And the argument for this is because Chrysostom makes no mention anywhere of this; but for us we must also declare that this, because it is not without usefulness, is the chapter on the woman taken in adultery, which is placed between these.

I hope that we will get more of his works in English soon!  Dr Raffan has stated his intention to work on the Dogmatic Anthology next.  I asked about this, and he wrote:

The Dogmatic Anthology is not to be identified with the Dogmatic Panoply, which is indeed an anti-heretical work and perhaps the most widely-known of the works by Zigabenus, since it is one of the main sources for the Bogomil heresy. The Dogmatic Panoply was published in the early 18th century and reprinted as volume 130 of Migne’s Patrologia Graeca.

In the wake of the Bogomil debacle, Zigabenus was commanded by the Emperor Alexios Comnenos produce the Dogmatic Panoply to provide a compendium and refutation of all heresies. In her Alexiad, Anna Comnena states that Zigadenus was chosen by her father for this task because, in addition to his skill as a Grammarian and his prowess in Rhetoric, he ‘was unrivalled in his knowledge of doctrine’. His ‘grammatical’ and ‘rhetorical’ credentials are evidenced by his scriptural commentaries (on the Gospels, the Psalms and the Pauline Epistles), but the evidence for his unrivalled knowledge of doctrine has not hitherto been found.

A number of the mss. of the Psalter commentary, however, also include a Dogmatic Anthology, which has been described by cataloguers as ‘extracts from the Dogmatic Panoply’, and has never been published. I believe, however, that this Anthology predates the Dogmatic Panoply and explains Zigabenus’ reputation for doctrinal competence and hence his invitation to produce the larger work, which incorporates most of this earlier Anthology. The Dogmatic Anthology thus provides a link between the earlier tradition of Dogmatic Florilegia, as found in the well-known Doctrina Patrum, and the various ‘Panoplies’ that followed the work promoted by the Emperor Alexios. The Anthology displays Zigabenus’ skill in paraphrasing his beloved Chrysostomos and also later writers such as Photios.

Great to see new ground being broken!

NOTE: 11/6/16.  I have updated this post with additional information supplied by Dr Raffan, for which I am very grateful.