Archive for the 'From my diary' Category

Al-Aktal on “halal” food

While reading this post by Nassim Nicholas Taleb yesterday, I encountered the following interesting statement:

.. the 7th Century Christian Arab poet Al-Akhtal made a point to never eat halal meat, in his famous defiant poem boasting his Christianity: “I do not eat sacrificial flesh”

The article is talking about ways in which a minority can impose its values on a culture, and the context is the creeping way in which foodstuffs are made kosher or halal by manufacturers, simply for sales reasons.

But this is not important here. However I can quite imagine the quotation taking on a life of its own, and I’d like to track it down.

We do not tend to think of 7th century Arab poets who were a Christian.  I’d never heard of al-Akhtal.  So who was he?

Via a Google Books preview of an Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, I found this article by G.J.H. Van Gelder:[1]

al-Akhtal (c. 20- C. 92/ c.640-c.710)

Ghiyath ibn Ghawth al-Akhtal was one of the great poets of the Umayyad period. Although he was, like his tribe, Taghlib, a (monophysite) Christian, he was favoured by leading Umayyad statesmen such as Ziyad ibn Abihi and al-Hajjaj. and even became the most important court-poet of the caliph Abd al-Malik. He was probably born in Hira in Iraq. In his youth he was a close companion of caliph Yazid I, with whom he shared a taste for heavy drinking. The many passages on  wine and drinking in his poems make al-Akhtal an important early bacchic poet. His fame as a poet rests mainly on his panegyric and invective, which are often combined in his numerous poems supporting Umayyad policy and attacking its opponents – state politics being, to a large extent, tribal politics. His career is closely associated with that of his contemporaries al-Farazdaq and Jarir; siding with the former against the latter, he produced a series of flytings or naqa’id in which personal and tribal invective mix with politics. In his poetry, which serves as both political propaganda and literary entertainment, he builds on the diction, themes and forms of pre-Islamic poetry. The panegyric ode of al-Akhtal and his contemporaries acquired a classical status: it became a model for subsequent periods. Not yet affected by the characteristics of the ‘modern poets’ or muhdathun, its language and diction were accepted by philologists and critics as sources of ‘pure Arabic.’

Text editions

Naqa’id Jarir wa-al-Akhtal, Antun Salihani (ed.), Beirut (1922) (the recension incorrectly attributed to Abu Tammam).
Shi’r al-Akhtal, Antun Salihani (Salhani) (ed.), Beirut (1891); with supplement, Beirut (1909); Fakhr al-Din Qabawa (ed.), Beirut, (1979).

Further reading

Abbot, Nabia, Studies in Arabic literary papyri, III: language and literature, Chicago (1972). passim.
Jayyusi, Salma K., ‘Umayyad Poetry’, in CHALUP, 387-413.
Kratchkovsky, L, ‘Der Wein in al-Aktal’s Gedichten’, in Festschrift G. Jacob, Leipzig  (1932), 146-64.
Lammens, H., ‘Le chantre des Omiades. Notes biographiques et litteraires sur le poete arabe chretien Aktal’, Journal Asiatique 9, vol. 4 (1894), 94-176, 193-241, 381-459.  Online here.
Mattock, J., ‘A ba’iyya of al-Aktal in Praise of al-Walid b. ’Abd al-Malik’, Wagner Festschrift, 120-30.

Other materials can be found about Akhtal online, which repeat anecdotes of his role as a poet at the Damascus court of the Ummayad caliphs.  What I was unable to locate was any sign of English translations.  Nor was I able to find any source for the quotation (although I have tweeted an enquiry to the article author).

Let me end instead with an Academia article here by Suzanne Stetkevych which perhaps might illuminate the context in which Akhtal may have made his remark.[2]  The anecdote is by someone named al-Iṣbahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī:

Al-Akhṭal came before ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwān who asked him to recite for him. “My throat is dry,” responded the poet, “Order someone to bring me a drink.” “Bring him some water,” ordered the Caliph. “That’s for donkeys,” said al-Akhṭal, “and we have plenty of it.” “Then give him milk.” “I’ve long since been weaned!” “Then give him honey.” “That’s for the sick!” “Well, what do you want?” “Wine, O Commander of the Faithful!” “Have you ever known me to serve wine, you bastard?! If it weren’t for the inviolable bond between us, O what I would do to you!” So al-Akhṭal left and came upon one of ʿAbd al-Malik’s attendants. “Damn you,” he said to him, “the Commander of the Faithful ordered me to recite, but my voice was hoarse. Give me some wine!” So he did. Then al-Akhṭal said, “Match it with another!” So he did. “You have left the two of them fighting in my stomach, better give me a third!” So he did. “Now you’ve left me listing to one side, give me a fourth for balance.” The servant gave it to him, and al-Akhṭal went before ʿAbd al-Malik and recited:

Those that dwelt with you have left in haste
departing at evening or at dawn,
Alarmed and driven out by fate’s caprice
they head for distant lands.

When he finished the poem, ʿAbd al-Malik said to a servant boy, “Take him by the hand, boy, and help him out, heap robes of honor upon him, and reward him generously.” Then he proclaimed, “Every people has its poet, and the poet of the Banū Umayya is al-Akhṭal.”

The poem is in fact much longer than the single verse given, and endorses the Ummayads at length.  The “transgression” above is for asking the Muslim ruler for wine.  Indeed Akhtal was so visibly drunk by the end that he had to be helped out of the room!  But the importance  to an Arab ruler of being endorsed by an established poet was greater than any newly made-up rules about wine.

It is curious to note that there is no real interest in our society in making Arabic literature  accessible to us all.  A proper handbook of Arabic literature, like Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, but readable and brought up to date, would be a benison.  As it stands, who but specialists can even access this literature?

UPDATE: Well, well.  On p.116 of the Journal Asiatique article are the verses we seek.  The caliph Abd-al Malik was hardly very committed to Islam, but still made the effort.

One day, when Akhtal came to recite a brilliant panegyric, the prince asked, “Why don’t you become a Muslim?”

“I will,” said the poet, laughing, “so long as you grant me the use of wine and an exemption from Ramadan.”

Abd-al Malik, whose proposal was serious, took this ribaldry badly.  “Know,” he said, “that once you become a Muslim, if you neglect even one of the obligations of Islam, I’ll have you beheaded.”

Unfazed, Akhtal responded with these verses:

No! I will never observe the fast of Ramadan, nor eat the flesh of sacrifices.
Never will I drive a young and robust camel towards the valley of Mecca in the time of pilgrimage.
Never will I cry out like a donkey, “Come! To prayer!”
But I will continue to drink the blessed liquor, and to prostrate myself at daybreak.

“But,” said the Caliph, “what attraction has this wretched drink for you?”

“Sire,” replied Akhtal, “when I drink then I don’t worry about you any more than about the strap of my sandal.”

“Improvise some verses on this thought,” said the Caliph, decidedly in a bad mood, “or I will lift your head off from your shoulders!” The poet had to comply; but luckily in this matter he was not taken off-guard:

If my wish makes me take two goes to empty three cups of a generous vintage,
I get up, dragging the folds of my robe as if I was your master, O Master of the Faithful.[3]

The first reference given is “Divan 156 and 154”.  This appears to be a publication “Divan of Akhtal”, published by the Catholic press at Beirut “last year”.  This is probably an Arabic publication of some kind; at any rate, beyond my ability to locate.  Is it perhaps the “Shi’r al-Akhtal” listed above?

Still good news to find even this much.

  1. [1] Edited by Julie Scott Meisami, and Paul Starkey.  1998.  Vol. 1, p.67.  Impossibly expensive to buy, of course.
  2. [2] “Al-Akhtal at the Court of `Abd al-Malik: The Qasida and the Construction of Umayyad Authority”, in: Christians and Others in the Ummayad state, ed. A. Borrut &c., p.133.
  3. [3] Un jour que celui-ci venait de lui réciter un brillant panégyrique : « Pourquoi, lui dit le prince, ne te fais-tu pas musulman ? — J’accepte, répondit le poète en riant, si l’on m’accorde l’usage du vin et la dispense du Ramadan. » ‘Abdalmalik, dont la proposition avait été très sérieuse, prit mal la plaisanterie. «Sache-le bien, répliqua-t-il, une fois musulman , si tu négligeais une seule des obligations de l’islam, je te ferais trancher la tête ! » — Sans se laisser déconcerter, Ahtal répondit par ces vers :
    Non! jamais je n’observerai le jeune du Ramadan, ni ne
    mangerai la chair des victimes.
    Jamais je ne pousserai vers la vallée de la Mecque an temps
    du pèlerinage une jeune et robuste chamelle.
    Jamais je n’irai crier comme un âne : Allons ! à la prière !
    Mais je continuerai à boire la bienfaisante liqueur et me
    prosternerai au lever de l’aurore!
    «Mais, demanda le prince, quel attrait a donc pour toi cette maudite boisson? — Sire, répondit Ahtal, quand j’en ai bu, je ne me soucie pas plus de ta personne que des courroies de ma sandale. — Improvise des vers sur cette pensée, dit le calife décidément de mauvaise humeur, ou je te ferai sauter la tête des épaules! » Le poète dut s’exécuter; heureusement sur cette matière il n’était jamais pris
    au dépourvu : Si mon commensai me fait à deux reprises vider trois
    coupes d’un vin généreux, Je me lève, traînant les pans de ma robe, comme si j’étais ton maître, O maître des croyants.

A new translation of Agapius into Italian, plus the publication of two more pages of the text

A correspondent has drawn our attention to a rarity – a new translation of the Arabic Christian writer, Agapius of Hierapolis (or Mahbub ibn Qustantin, in the graceless phrase of that language).  It is a translation into Italian, by Bartolomeo Pirone, who translated Eutychius back in the 80s.  Here’s the front cover:

pirone_agapius

Bartolomeo Pirone, Agapio di Gerapoli: Storia universale, Edizioni Terra Santa (2013), series: Monographiae vol. 21.  Links: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and the Italian site of the publishers.  The ISBN is 978-88-6240-164-7, it is 494 pages long, and available for around $50, which is quite a lot.

For anyone interested in Arabic Christian studies who knows Italian, this is probably a must-buy.  The histories that a language group write about themselves are always the first items to read.

It is now a few years since I converted the old French translation of Agapius into English, and placed it online.  The second half of the work exists in only a single, water-damaged manuscript in Florence, Ms. Laurenziana Or. 323.  A few years ago Robert Hoyland went to look at the manuscript, and discovered that it had been conserved, and two pages, previously stuck together, were now readable!  He published them with an English translation; and has now uploaded that to Academia.edu here.  Which is rather marvellous, really!

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 1 (part 1)

In the name of God, One, Pre-Eternal, Everlasting, without beginning or end, to whom we resort.

1. Let us begin, with the help of the Most High God and the goodness of His assistance, to write the Book of History, compiled critically and with verification, the work of Patriarch Eutychius, called Sa‘īd ibn Batrīq.

God, powerful and exalted, created the world, with everything in it, and Adam and Eve, in six days.  The creation of Adam took place on the sixth day.  God blessed the seventh day, because on it He completed the work of creation, and led Adam and Eve into Paradise.  He ordered that they could eat of all the trees except for the tree of knowledge, of which He forbade them to eat.  The devil tempted Eve, and Eve disobeyed the order of the Most High God by eating the fruit picked from the tree and making Adam eat it.  Because they disobeyed their Lord, [God] drove them from the garden, in the ninth hour of Friday, and exiled them to a mountain in India.  He made them live on the earth and commanded them to reproduce so that they would multiply and fill the earth.  Adam lay then with Eve who became pregnant and gave birth to a boy and a girl.  Adam called the boy Cain and the girl Azrūn.  Eve conceived again, and gave birth to a boy and a girl, and the boy Adam called Abel and the girl he called Uwayn, which in Greek means “Lafūra”.[1]  When the two boys grew up, Adam said to Eve: “Let Cain take Uwayn, who was delivered along with Abel, and Abel take Azrūn, who was delivered along with Cain.”  Cain then said to Eve, his mother, “I will take my sister; let Abel take his”, because Azrūn was more beautiful than Uwayn.  On hearing these words, Adam was very distressed and said: “It is against the commandment to take the sister who was brought forth with you”.  Cain worked the land, and Abel was a keeper of sheep.  Adam said to them: “Take the fruit of the land and some kids, go up on top of this holy mountain and offer your sacrifice.  Then you may take your wives.”  Cain brought the fruit of his land as a good and pure sacrifice to God, and Abel took the firstborn of his flock as a good and pure sacrifice to God.  While they were intent on getting to the top of the mountain, the devil entered into the heart of Cain and incited him to kill his brother Abel because of his sister Azrūn.  So God did not accept the sacrifice of Cain.  For when they offered their sacrifices, God accepted Abel’s offering but disdained that of Cain.  Great was the anger and great was the hatred of Cain against Abel and he envied his brother.  As they were descending the mountain, Cain attacked Abel and struck him on the head with a stone and killed him.  Adam and Eve were very distressed and mourned the death of Abel for a hundred years.  God cursed Cain and his descendants.  Cain was in fear and terror, and wandered all the days of his life.  God sent him forth, still unmarried, to Nūd.[2]  Cain took with him his sister Azrūn and lived there.  Then Adam lay with Eve, who conceived – Adam was then already two hundred and thirty years old – and gave birth to a boy and [Adam] called him Shīt.[3]  Shīt was pleasant faced, a giant, with a perfect complexion like his father, and was the father of the giants who lived before the flood.  Adam gave to Shīt in marriage the sister of Cain, Uwayn, who bore him Anush.  To Anush was born Qinan.  Adam had many more children later.  Feeling close to death, Adam called to him his son Shīt, Anush, son of Shīt, Qinan, the son of Anush, son of Shīt, and Mahlali’il, son of Qinan, and gave them instructions saying: “This command will apply to all your children.  When I die, embalm my body with myrrh, frankincense and cinnamon and lay me down in the Cave of Treasures.  When your children leave the area near paradise, let them take with them my body and bury me at the centre of the earth, because there will be my salvation and the salvation of my descendants”.[4]  Adam lived in total nine hundred and thirty years.  He died on Friday, the fourteenth month, 6th Nisan, i.e. Barmūdah, in the ninth hour, in the same hour in which he had been cast out of paradise.  When Adam died, his son Shīt embalmed him, as he had commanded him to do, he brought the body to the top of the mountain, as he had said, and hid him in the Cave of Treasures.  They wept over him for one hundred and forty days.

  1. [1] Eutychius is drawing upon material from the Arabic text of The Cave of Treasures, but this gives different names to the daughters of Adam.  Josephus, Antiquities book 1, chapter 2, states that Adam had three daughters, but does not name them.  Pirone does not explain “lafura”.
  2. [2] Gen.4:16.  The Cave of Treasures calls the place al-Aksūriyā.  Josephus I 2:2 says Cain founded a city called Nud and lived there.
  3. [3] I.e. Seth.  Much of what follows is from The Cave of Treasures or a related source, which is trying to align the events of Adam’s life to prefigure those of Christ.
  4. [4] I.e. at Jerusalem, where Christ will be crucified.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – preface

The Arabic Christian historians are very little known.  But they preserve Byzantine historian material, and indeed materials from elsewhere also.  No English translations exist of their works; indeed some have not even been printed in the original language.  The first two are Agapius and Eutychius.  I don’t know Arabic, but a few years ago I made a translation of Agapius from an old French translation, mainly using Google Translate.  I have been working on Eutychius for a while, based on an Italian translation which almost nobody has access to.

I thought that I would go back to the start of Eutychius, and translate the opening prefatory section.  Bits of the Italian are really beyond me, so I have just done my best. 

Note that you can’t rely on this translation to give you more than the general sense; and if that is not enough for your purposes, then please make arrangements to get a better one made!  I have rather hurried through general theological stuff, and concentrated on the historical statements.  The purpose of all this, otherwise useless labour, is simply to get people reading and using Eutychius, and, with luck, to kick-start the process of making a real translation.

FIRST PART – FROM ADAM TO HERACLIUS

In the name of God, One, Pre-Eternal, Everlasting, without beginning or end, to whom we turn.

Book of History, compiled with verification and checking.  The work of Patriarch Eutychius, called Sa’id ibn Batriq, written down by his brother `Isa, concerning the knowledge of universal history from the time of Adam to the years of the Islamic Hegira.

May God inspire you, my brother, with the best and most useful blessings, and of those things which are distressing and sad, may you receive the least serious and dangerous; may He cover you all over with the veil of His protection and keep you always in greater strength. May He cause you to achieve, in this as in the other world, success, and also your share in this life and the next.  May He make you understand everything that pleases Him and may you never be distracted from whatever about Him that could turn you away.

May you understand what you have asked me to write for you – may you render to God blessings of virtue and preserve you from the sordid world of vices! – regarding all knowledge of universal history from the time of Adam to the years of the Islamic Hegira, and I have presented this in the months, the years and the centuries, should you need it, so that you can respond to questions by anyone, scholar or layman.  May you trace – May God make you the widest practicable path to happiness and make you know at any moment the most profound science and the highest usefulness! – a representation and a certain example in succinct and profitable form, and in the manner deemed appropriate by me up to your noble soul, adhering acumen of your high and sublime intelligence, quoting and extracting whatever I could find from the Torah and from the Gospel, as well as from other old and new books, then including all these in my book, so as to render it as good as possible, and as accurate as possible with this method.  So I have completed a result that can both satisfy those with intellect, and satisfy those who have understanding.  I have explained this to you, as well as to your brothers, so that it can be, both from us and to you, a prize and a blessing.

Sa`īd ibn Batrīq, the physician, spoke as follows: “Before anything else, let us begin by giving praise to our Lord, our Benefactor, to our Creator and the One who gives us life – Exalted be his praise! – and praise – Hallowed be His name! -, and it is the right way to begin every book and treatise. From him – Powerful and Almighty God – we ask help in what we are going to do, according to his usual benevolence.  It is right to praise God, who is the Lord and the Creator, and Who expects the thanks of His worshipers.  Indeed, he established the first things that they were created and governs them; He has made a way of truth to follow out of mercy and justice, and out of corruption and injustice a way of falsity which it is forbidden to undertake.  He has not imposed on his worshipers deeds beyond their ability, or prescribed things to his creatures which are outside their powers.  But He has made them arbiters of their actions, moderators of their works and responsible for themselves.  He has provided help to them in this, by virtue of judgment, discernment, the subtle reflection and [His] assistance, thanks to the intellect which He has awarded them, making it a final judgment of reason against their mistakes and a way that can be a guide to them, for the sake of their good and out of compassion for them.  Praise be made therefore to God, One alone.  He – Powerful and Almighty – in His eternal essence, in His eternal wisdom and in His life without beginning or end, is worthy of praise and celebration and worthy of glory and exaltation.  Nothing has He ever left ambiguous in His law that could give rise to doubt and nothing has he left uncertain in his Precepts that could cause dissention; but He has laid out everything in a clear and obvious way to the people, despite their diversity of origin and place, and given a clear understanding to all nations, despite their different languages and dialects, through the revelation made to his Prophets and Apostles, and by means of miracles and terrible signs [given by him].  Thus He has invited us to embrace his religion, promising the blessed vision to those who will believe in Him and a horrible end to those who turn their backs and deny Him.  Let us praise Him, then, because that attracts to us most of His good pleasure, and get us closer to Him.  I invoke Him and to Him I turn, to make sincere our intentions of welcoming what is acceptable, and so unfold our innermost desires towards that which promotes devotion to Him, and dedicate this to Him by His mercy.[1]

Anyone who, without knowledge of the foundation of any science, intends to discourse, in order to produce something, and who knows only one branch of that science without possessing a foundation to refer to, will only produce dull and rambling discourse, and the fatigue and the effort made by him in doing so will be almost completely a waste and a sham.  The Lord and Saviour in His holy gospel offered a simile of this, saying: “He who bumptiously builds his house upon the sand, a wind and a storm will pass over it, and soon heavy rains that overwhelm will destroy it; but he who builds his house on the rock, the winds and heavy rains will not destroy it”[Mt. 7:24-27].  Let’s take this as an example and lesson for those who can.  Anyone who speaks of any science without a foundation which to refer and to rest, will soon experience his own impotence, and will have to stop in a hurry, like the one who builds his house upon the sand.  With those who discourse of any science, knowing the foundation, sensible, bright, clear and balanced will be the discourse, because he has spoken with a foundation on which to rest and to refer to, like the one who builds his house on rock.  Indeed Plato and Aristotle have already spoken in books of logic and in other books on the principles of science, and their definitions, as well as on the principles and definitions of arithmetic, showing what is the way that the learned man must follow, if he intends to acquire knowledge of any science which he wants, explaining and setting forth everything at full length.  There is no need to repeat here what they have exhibited in an exemplary way, so that we don’t make our book too long.

Now since I stated earlier, at the beginning of my book, that anyone who wants to talk about the knowledge of a science, must know the foundation, it is necessary for me to give a foundation to refer to and on which to base ourselves.  Men, you know, have taken different and conflicting positions about history.  Whatever I thought right to excerpt from the Torah and other reliable books, after long consideration and much effort, I will set out in a comprehensive and clear way, and as succinct and concise information, so that my book is in itself sufficient, and it is not so necessary to resort to any other sources, in order to know more of the story.  And I shall start with the moment when God created Adam, and carry on up to the present day, so that you will have a clear understanding.  In God, our helper in achieving what is being asked, is our support, power and strength, and in Him is we can achieve the things useful to us if we obey Him and we make what is to his liking.  For He is in fact Almighty.

  1. [1] I’m pretty doubtful about this sentence, but it’s clearly devotional.

Two postcards of the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus (and the Meta Sudans)

I found two 19th century postcards, taken from the Palatine, looking towards the Colosseum, at this site, which also includes many other interesting images.

Note how the Basilica of Maxentius is enclosed in some now demolished building!

colosseum_npg_76__790x500_

And this:

colosseum_richter_30__811x500_

From my diary

It’s been a little while since I posted an update.  Of course it is summer, here at Pearse Towers, and I spend my days frolicking in the sunshine, away from the laptop.  Or perhaps not.

In truth the weather has discouraged indoor pursuits until this week.  Such time as I can spare from lazing around is spent on some tedious but necessary chores.

There are no translations in flight at the moment.  However a lady has offered to work on Eusebius’ Commentary on Luke, half of which was translated last year.  I do not know whether this will come to anything.

I shall have to return to work soon.  But while I am job-hunting, and as the weather worsens, I daresay that I shall return to turning Eutychius in Italian into not-very-good English.  Somebody has to, as a first stage in getting Eutychius better known, and evidently it falls to me.

While searching for the source of the prospect of the Colosseum in the last post, I stumbled across Goethe’s Journey into Italy.  Apparently this is a classic, although I had never heard of it.  But travelogues to Italy are always welcome.  Thanks to the power of Amazon, a copy of the Penguin translation should reach me tomorrow; and I hope to travel, with Goethe as my guide, across the Alps into the Italy of the late 18th century.

I was reflecting today on how much literature there is in Italian which is quite unknown in the English-speaking world.  It is bad enough that much US scholarship is oblivious of anything not written in English.  This means that excellent French and German literature goes unnoticed.  But Italian is in a far worse state; the very existence of Italian studies is hard to verify, and books and pamphlets in that language – and there are very many of these – are quite difficult to obtain.

Really this is something for some Italian philanthropist, to create an Italian equivalent of Google Books and mass-digitise the riches of the Italian past.  We have the marvels of Google Translate.  All we need is way to find the literature.

An 18th century image of the Meta Sudans in a prospect of the Colosseum

I came across an image on Twitter which shows the Colosseum, but also the ruined fountain that used to stand next to it, the Meta Sudans.  Here it is (click to enlarge):

prospetto_dellanfiteatro

The tweeter had found it online “somewhere”.  Fortunately it is not too hard to locate: this is Prospetto dell’anfiteatro Flavio … detto volgarmente il Colosseo, 1703, by Alessandro Specchi (1668-1729).[1]  There is even a page about it here at the University of Munich, complete with an image, although, infuriatingly, a low-quality one.

I was unable to locate online any quality image, so this is about as good as it gets for the Meta Sudans (obtained by zooming my browser at this site):

meta_sudans_specchi

It clearly shows the Meta Sudans at twice the height that we see in photographs from the 19th century.  The upper section must have become very ruinous, and been demolished.  No doubt some Italian source could tell us when and why this happened; but such knowledge has not reached me.

Delightful to see another picture of this vanished monument, all the same.

  1. [1] So this art site.  This other site adds that is is an engraving, published by Domenico de Rossi, 1703. 48 x 67.5cm.

al-Masudi on Christian Arabic historical writings

The early Islamic historian al-Masudi has this passage in his Kitāb at-tanbīh wa’l-ishrāf:[1]

One of those who belong to the Maronite religion, known under the name of Qays [ = Nafis?] al-Maruni, wrote a good book about history:  starting from the Creation, and then all the [sacred] books, [the history] of the city, of the people, of the king of Rum and of others, with information relating to them, and he ends his work with the caliphate of al-Muktafī [908 AD]. Indeed, among the Maronites, I have so far not seen a book with a similar arrangement. Many Melkites, Nestorians and Jacobites have written various books on ancient and recent times. But the best books written by Melkites that I’ve ever seen, on the history of the kings, the prophets, the people, the countries and other things, are the one by Mahbūb ibn Qustantīn al-Manbigī and that by Sa‘īd ibn al-Batrīq, known as Ibn al-Farrāğ al-Misrī, Patriarch of the see of Mark at Alexandria, whom we have personally seen at Fustat-Misr; and  he ends his work with the caliphate of ar-Radi.

Mahbūb ibn Qustantīn al-Manbigī is, of course, Agapius son of Constantine from Mabbug / Hieropolis.  I created a crude English translation of his work from the French a couple of years back.

Sa‘īd ibn al-Batrīq is our friend Eutychius, Patriarch of Alexandria.

It’s a reminder that the process of doing the same with his work is worthwhile.

  1. [1] In the edition of De Goeje, p. 154.  However I got this from the preface of Bartolomeo Pirone to his Italian translation of Eutychius, Eutychio.

More old photographs of Rome

Quite by accident, via the Daily Mail, I find this 1846 photograph online, taken by the Rev. Calvert Richard Jones (click for a larger size):

colosseum_1846_jones

The circular area to the right is the basin for the Meta Sudans, the now vanished fountain outside the Colosseum.  The man in the top hat, and the woman in the dress of a vanished age, are sitting against … what?

I can’t quite tell from the angle of the shot.

Is that pile of masonry the equally vanished platform for the colossal statue of Nero, from which the Colosseum takes its name?  It was demolished by Mussolini, to make way for the Via di Foro Imperiali.

Or is it just some general ruins in the area?

The next photograph, sadly vandalised with a watermark, shows that magnificent road leading up to the Vatican … under construction!  Indeed it shows the man responsible.  Yes, Mussolini again!

mussolini_via_conciliazione_1937

In fact the source site has a cluster of photographs, all from the 8th October 1937, showing Mussolini and his colleagues walking along the new road.  This photograph from 1911 (via here) shows what was there before:

sanPietro1911

The view today is this!

Rome-wallpaper-221-798x350

A supposed Mithraic mosaic, with zodiac, unearthed in Bursa / Prusa

A news report from the Turkish website, the Daily Sabah, on 19th August 2016, contains a photo and a curious story:

A Roman-era “Mithras Mosaic,” dating back nearly two millennia and depicting solar and astrological signs from the Roman zodiac has been discovered during archeological excavations in the Hisar region of the ancient province of Bursa.

bursa_zodiac

A statement by the Osmangazi Municipality says the excavations, initiated as a part of the “Hisar Archeopark Project” in an attempt to shed light on Bursa’s ancient history, resulted in the discovery of artifacts from the Roman, Byzantine and early Ottoman periods.

The mosaic is from the 2nd century and depicts zodiac signs indicating seasonal changes: the movement of the sun, known to the Mithras cult as the “Invincible Sun” (or “Sol Invictus” in Latin) through the 12 months or zodiacal houses of the solar calendar, as well as depicting the solstice and equinox. …

The archeologists encountered the remains of walls believed to be a part of either a public bath or marketplace. Osmangazi Municipality mayor Mustafa Dündar said they will enlarge the area being investigated as the excavations unearth further discoveries. Dündar emphasized that Hisar Archeopark will encourage the extension of the knowledge of the history of Bursa, adding: “We first discovered water pipes belonging to the Ottoman era, and then marbles belonging to the Byzantine Empire. Underneath them all, we unearthed Roman era mosaics.”

The location is in the modern Turkish town of Bursa, which stands atop ancient Prusa.  Osmangazi is the district of Bursa.  I have myself passed through Bursa, on a tourist coach, not that long ago.

But what is Mithraic about a mosaic of the zodiac?  The zodiac appears in depictions all across the ancient world.

Sadly there is only the one photograph.  No other information seems to be available, which is annoying.

One can only wish the town of Bursa success in their Archeopark Project and excavations – it is a worthy project.  But how irritating that so little information is available!

UPDATE: Commenter “suburbanbanshee” has located a couple more sources.

First there is a book out there, for which a table of contents and order details exists here (local copy AIEMAconferencevolume11 PDF).  I don’t know if the Bursa find is discussed, but the PDF contains an extra picture:

bursa_zodiac_2

There are some interesting pictures in a very nice little magazine/newspaper from March 2015, called “This Is Bursa.” Unfortunately it was uploaded in a horrible Adobe Flash viewer, which doesn’t work in IE, and won’t work at all in a few years (for Flash is doomed).  The authors would be well advised to repost it as a PDF.  I must admit that, for promotional material, it is really rather charming.  Perhaps the fact that few of us know anything about Bursa is a factor.

I’ll post the contents here, as best I can, in case it all vanishes.

On p.9 the following images appear:

bursa_zodiac_3

and

bursa_zodiac_4

The text reads:

Osmangazi municipality focuses on historical and cultural heritage of Bursa.

Hisar archeopark excavation project underway.

Mustafa Dundar. Mayor of Osmangazi Municipality has recently pointed out that a series of excavation and restoration works on  historical and cultural heritage and riches of Bursa are underway  within the framework of Hisar Archcopark archaeological project.

According to Mayor Mustafa Dundar, Hisar District of Osmangazi  possesses diverse range of historical riches dating back to 2700  years ago. Cooperating with Bursa Museum Directorate, the project includes an area of 7000 square meters.

The district has been shaped by several civilizations such as the  Bythinia, Rome, Byzantium, Seljuqians, and Ottomans. The first  marks of the Ottoman Empire exist within Osmangazi where it  extended from the foot of Uludag to the plain of Bursa. Within the  boundaries of Osmangazi, approximately 1800 registered historical  buildings exist.

Bursa was seized by Osman Bey in 1307 and conquered by Orhan  Bey, the son of Osman Bey, on 6 April 1335. The capital of the  empire was moved to Bursa in 1335 and new development movements were initiated. When Bursa was conquered, the city consisted of the inner castle, but Orhan Gazi had the Orhan Gazi Complex built out of the town. Public buildings such as mosques, baths,  soup houses, hospitals, madrasahs were built out of the walls,
where new settlements had been initiated, hence a new tradition  of settling area had been established.

As known, Osmangazi is the largest and central municipality of  Bursa Province. It also makes up a district of Bursa Province. On  its own, it would be the 8th largest city in Turkey.

Osmangazi, the center of social and economic relations for years,  is in the crossroad of roads to Izmir, Istanbul and Eskisehir.  Osmangazi is the biggest district of Bursa that is on the southwest  coast of Marmara Sea. Gokdere River on the cast, Nilufer River  and Mudanya Road on the west, Katirh Mountains on the north,  Uludag and Kirazh Plateau are the natural and artificial boundaries of the district.

There is also a rather nice photo of what I assume is the mayor and his colleagues visiting the site.

My sincere thanks to suburbanbanshee for ferreting this out!

UPDATE: @suburbanbanshee has been busy.  These notes from the comments.

Lee I. Levine, Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity, Yale (2012), in chapter 16 (p.317-336), “The zodiac and other Greco-Roman motifs in Jewish art”, a draft PDF of which is online here, on p.326, n.36 states:

In the summer of 2009, a full zodiac motif similar to Palestinian models was found in Bursa, Turkey, in a purportedly third-to-fourth century building that has not yet been identified…

The author in fact is discussing the appearance of zodiacs, with the seasons, in Jewish synagogues.  He states on p.316:

By far the most stunning Hellenistic-Roman depiction to appear in Jewish art of Late Antiquity is that of the zodiac signs, the figure of the sun god Helios, and the four seasons (all hereafter referred to as the zodiac motif ). Indeed, no single motif in all of ancient Jewish art has aroused more surprise and scholarly attention than that of the zodiac appearing in a number of synagogues from Byzantine Palestine; indeed, this interest is reflected in scores of books and articles on the subject.

The chapter is extremely interesting, and I recommend a read.  He lists with literature all the examples, and discusses the degree to which this is a “pagan” item, and whether in fact the pagan aspects had disappeared in a depiction of the son, the months and the seasons.  It does raise the question, then, of whether the Bursa discovery might be of a synagogue!

The two figures in the corners do appear to be the seasons.  The female with the wheat stalks on one side and a sickle on the other looks like Autumn.  This figure is portrayed with autumn and winter constellations (Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Capricorn).

 The other figure, in a hood with a pink colour is portrayed with spring constellations (Aries, Taurus, and Gemini):

So she could be Eiar or Thallo, but I don’t see much in the way of Spring wearing a hood. (Not that that means much, since it seems like the Seasons are depicted any way the artist fancies.) She is carrying a raised torch, I think now, and that can be associated with the return of light.

I guess they are hoping it’s Cautes [the follower of Mithras], because some material online says Cautes is associated with the beginning of Spring.

Ah… found something… Eirene (Peace) was often used as Spring (possibly because Spring was both planting season and the beginning of campaign season, and people were hoping to be able to plant before any fighting started).

And Eirene can be depicted carrying a torch. So it’s probably Eirene as Spring. She probably would have had something in her other hand, like Baby Plutus (wealth, because peace allows prosperity), a cornucopia horn (because peace allows abundant crops), or a rhyton for libations.

The figure in the hood is not Cautes, who is not depicted, as far as I am aware, in a hood.  But @suburbanbanshee is probably right to suggest that the combination of the sun at the centre (if it is), and a figure with an upraised object that could be a torch, is probably why someone suggested Mithras.

There is a rather confusing article here at Perseus, which makes clear how indistinct these figures were, although it is referenced to primary sources.  The Wikipedia article is no better and of course is not referenced.  Its statements appear in fact to derive from this wretched source.[1]  I could find no good discussion online of the Greek seasons.  I think we may leave it here, tho.

  1. [1] Patricia Della-Piana, Witch Days: a perennial pagan calendar, self-published, 2010, p.137.  Google books preview of page here: “Greece: Feast of the Horae: literally. Feast of the Hours, personifying the twelve hours, as tutelary goddesses of the times of day. The hours run from just before sunrise to just after sunset, thus winter hours are short, summer hours are long, and they include Auge, for first light; Anatole or Anatolia, for sunrise; Mousika or Musica, for the morning hour of music and study; Gymnastika, Gymnastica or Gymnasia, for the morning hour of gymnastics/exercise; Nymphe, for the morning hour of ablutions  (bathing, washing); Mescmbria. for noon; Sponde, for libations poured after lunch; Flete, for prayer, the first of the afternoon  work hours; Akte, Acte or Cypris, for eating and pleasure, the second of the afternoon work hours; Hesperis. for evening; Dysis, for sunset; and Arktos, for the night sky. constellation. There are also the Horae of Life, which are comprised of three generations. The first generation consisted of Thallo, Auxo, and Carpo, who were the goddesses of the seasons (the Greeks only recognized spring, summer and autumn). The second generation comprised Eunomia, Dike, and Eirene, who were law and order goddesses that maintained the stability of society. They were worshiped primarily in the cities of Athens. Argos and Olympia.  Some authors recognize a third set of Horae, in Pherusa (or Pherousa, goddess of substance and farm estates). Euporie (or Euporia. goddess of abundance), and Orthosie (goddess of prosperity). Also,  Nonnus in his Dionysiaca mentions a set of four Horae: Eiar, Theros, Cheimon and Phthinoporon, the Greek words for spring, summer, winter and autumn respectively.”  In view of the tendency of modern “pagans” to invent the stories they tell, one would be reluctant to rely on any of this.


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