Archive for the 'From my diary' Category

An almost forgotten anti-Christian jibe by Golding, misquoting Richard Sission, “Answering Christianity’s most puzzling questions”

I’m purging my shelves at the moment, and I came across a volume which I bought only because of an online argument.  I can’t help feeling that I dealt with this online long ago, but if so I cannot find it.  So let me document here what was claimed, and the facts, and then I can clear another half-inch of shelf!

Here‘s an example of the claim:

Now let’s turn to a reference on page 18 and 19 of The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy by Dennis McKinsey (quoting from Schmuel Golding’s Biblical Polemics Newsletter): …

Golding adds–“In other words, men, rather than a god, composed the Bible. Many Christians, especially Protestants, have great difficulty with any assertion to the effect that men are responsible for the Bible coming into existence. On page 8 Answering Christianity’s Most Puzzling Questions, Vol. one, apologist Richard Sisson states (On page 19)–“In fact, after the death of Jesus a whole flood of books that claimed to be inspired appeared. Disputes over which ones were true were so intense that the debate continued for centuries. Finally, in the fourth century a group of church leaders called a council and took a vote. The 66 books that comprised our cherished Bible were declared to be Scripture by a vote of 568 to 563”. (Unquote)

The same quote used to appear sometimes online, in various places, but has thankfully been forgotten.  But did this “Sisson” really say this?

Well, I acquired a copy of Sisson’s book, and I now upload a few pages containing the relevant section:

To save us all time, here’s the actual passage:


Many charge that it took our contentious church fathers 350 years to agree on which books belong in the Scriptures. The Bible was written over many centuries. Every time a new book was written there were new questions. In fact, after the death of Jesus a whole flood of books that claimed to be inspired appeared. This argument claims that the dispute over which ones were true was so intense that the debate continued for centuries. Finally, in the fourth century a group of church leaders called a great council and took a vote. The sixty-six books that comprise our cherished Bible were declared to be Scripture by a vote of 568 to 563.

It is amazing to see how many people believe that argument. Actually, what really happened was not like that at all. …

In other words, as sometimes happens in hate literature, a convenient quote has been taken out of context.  The statement by Sisson is made in order to disagree with it.  His book, in fact, is a mass of “difficulties”, with his response, grouped into sections.

Such frauds were more common when the internet was young, and “argument by (offline) book” was a favourite ploy.  I see it less today, partly because more material is online, and mainly because the forums in which such arguments took place have vanished.

But in case this canard ever appears again, well … I’ve documented it here.

Did the Catholic church oppose street lights? Some notes on the Papal States in the 1830s

A couple of days ago, I happened to see a brand new anti-Catholic slur online on Instagram. Here’s the item:

It’s not spread that far as yet, but claims to be from – a US humour site.

The poster makes three claims:

The Catholic Church opposed street lights.

In 1831, Pope Gregory XVI even banned gas lighting in papal states.

The church argued that God very clearly established the delineation between night and day, and putting lights up after sundown flew in the face of God’s law.

Well that’s pretty plain.  The Catholic Church under Gregory XVI made it offical teaching that street lights were evil, and that even (note the emphasis) gas lighting was banned in “papal states” (by which most people will understand “Catholic countries”).

It’s obvious that this poster is intended to defame, to injure and to bring contempt on the Roman Catholic Church.  But it is interesting to find that the words in the poster are very recent indeed.  In fact I can only find a single near-match anywhere.  This is in a 2015 publication by Bruce H. Joffe, “My Name Is Heretic: Reforming the Church, from Guts to Glory”.[1]  The author appears in fact to be a homosexual activist.[2] The poster is clearly derived (with a couple of word changes) from this.

The claim that “The church argued that God very clearly established the delineation between night and day, and putting lights up after sundown flew in the face of God’s law” does not appear elsewhere, and in the absence of evidence and reference we may hypothesise that Joffe simply invented it.

The poster also gives a reference, to Desmond Bowen.[3]  But when we search for street lighting, we find only a single result:

Papal ceremonies assumed unprecedented magnificence, and audiences were conducted with more than royal protocol. The building programme of Leo XII was continued, more ancient churches and monuments were restored, new palaces were built, and the Vatican was further enriched with valuable collections of art. At the same time the people of Rome were denied street lighting, and the pope refused to allow the coming of the railway to the city. Gregory XVI was a thoroughgoing reactionary, but his policies were implemented only because of the presence of French and Austrian as well as papal troops.

The Google books preview indicates no other reference to street lighting in the book.

With every historical claim, our first step must be to discover whether the claim is in fact true, as stated.  If it is true, we must next discover whether it is a fair representation of the facts, or a distortion.

Our first source of information is none other than the great Charles Dickens, in Bentley’s Miscellany, vol. 24, 1848, p.305, where he is reviewing a book about Italy by a certain James Whiteside, of whom more in a minute.

The effete but jealous despotism of the ancient system [of Papal government before Pope Pius IX] is well illustrated by the following anecdote.

“I became acquainted with a young, handsome, fashionable Count, who mixed largely in English society in Rome. During an evening’s conversation he remarked, he had never beheld the sea, and had a great desire to do so. I observed that was very easy, the sea was but a few miles distant, and if he preferred a sea-port, Civita Vecchia was not very far off. The Count  laughed. ‘I made an effort to accomplish it, but failed,’ he then said. ‘ You English who travel over the world do not know our system. I applied lately for a passport to visit the coast; they inquired in the office my age, and with whom I lived; I said with my mother. A certificate from my mother was demanded, verifying the truth of my statement. I brought it; the passport was still refused. I was asked who was my parish priest; having answered, a certificate from him was required, as to the propriety of my being allowed to leave Rome. I got the priest’s certificate ; they then told me in the office I was very persevering, that really they saw no necessity nor reason for my roaming about the country just then, and that it was better for me to remain at home with my mother.’ He then muttered. ‘The priests, the priests, what a government is theirs !’”

This passage sufficiently explains Pope Gregory’s hostility to railroads, but the cause of his hostility to gas-lights is less generally known, and must not be suppressed. When the chairman of a company formed for lighting Rome with gas, waited on the Pope to obtain the required permission, Gregory indignantly asked how he presumed to desire a thing so utterly subversive of religion! The astonished speculator humbly stated that he could not see the most remote connection between religion and carburetted hydrogen. “Yes, but there is, sir,” shouted the Pope, “my pious subjects are in the habit of vowing candles to be burned before the shrines of saints, the glimmering candles would soon be rendered ridiculous by the contrast of the glaring gas-lights, and thus a custom so essential to everlasting salvation would fall into general contempt, if not total disuse.” No reply could be made to this edifying argument. Silenced, if not convinced, the speculator withdrew; the votive candles still flicker, though not so numerously as heretofore, and they just render visible the dirt and darkness to which Rome is consigned at night.

We need not spend too long on this anecdote, which Dickens – no friend of the church – tells us that he heard from a failed salesman.  The aged and suspicious Pope doubtless had seen a series of such salesmen, and might well have said something sarcastic and irrefutable to get rid of a particularly irksome commercial gentleman.  But sadly the veracity of salesmen cannot always be relied on, even when the sale succeeds.

Much more interesting is Whiteside’s anecdote about the Roman prince denied a passport.  This gives an interesting picture of the Papal administration in the period – positively third-world.  It’s the sort of story that might come out of Egypt today, or some African slum state, where ordinary people are knotted up in pointless and destructive bureaucracy.

This gives us our first clues about this story.  We are not, in fact, dealing with “the Catholic Church”.  We are dealing with a now long-vanished petty Italian princedom, the Papal States, and its wretched and backward administration.

This is promptly confirmed when we consult Whiteside’s volume.[4]  Unlike Dickens, who knew without saying why the Papal government had banned railways, Whiteside actually does know:

Political fears deterred the government from sanctioning railways. When Gregory understood his loving subjects of Bologna might visit him in Rome en masse, he would not hear of the innovation. I remember the remark of a man of business on the subject: “Il Papa non ama le strode ferrate.” No reasons were given for the refusal to adopt the improvement, except that his Holiness hated railways.  Gregory reasoned as did an inveterate Tory of my acquaintance, who condemned railways because they were a vile Whig invention. Any improvements in agriculture which could be effected by agricultural societies were interdicted, all such noxious institutions repressed.

In fact if we read Whiteside’s pages, we see the familiar picture of a weak government, of the kind found everywhere in Africa today, suspicious of everything and willing to ban anything unless they see pecuniary advantage in it.

Around the same time, an Irishman named Mahoney published, under the pen-name of Don Jeremy Savonarola (!), a series of letters that he wrote from Italy.[5] These throw considerable light on attitudes in Rome at the time, not only among the government.

On p.24 Mahony describes the fate of an English sculptor who sought to warm his studio in Rome with a coal-fired stove:

But concerning the development of steam-power in this capital, and the prospect for its utterly idle people of the varied branches of industry to be created through that magic medium, I can hold out none but the faintest hopes. A straw thrown up may serve for an anemometer. One of our sculptors took a fancy to import from Liverpool an Arnott stove to warm his spacious studio this winter, and laid in his stock of Sabine coal with comfortable forethought; great was his glee at the genial glow it diffused through his workshop: but short are the moments of perfect enjoyment: in a few days a general outcry arose among the neighbours: the nasal organ at Rome, guide-books describe as peculiarly sensitive : a mob of women clamoured at the gate: they were all “suffocated by the horrid carbon fossile.” Phthisis is fearfully dreaded here: with uproarious lungs they denounced him as a promoter of pulmonary disease. Police came, remonstrance was useless. The artist’s lares were ruthlessly invaded, and his “household gods shivered around him.” The Arnott Altar of Vesta now lies prostrate in his lumber yard, quenched for ever!

On p.55 the subject of gas lighting appears:

There is much of quiet amusement not untinged with a dash of melancholy supplied perpetually to strangers here by the efforts of government to arrest the progress of those modem improvements which must obviously ultimately be adopted even in Rome. The mirth which borders on sadness is stated by metaphysicians to have peculiar fascinations… Some such feelings were apt to creep o’er the mind, in reading last week the newest edict of the local authorities affixed on the walls for the guidance of all shopkeepers and others; this hatti-sheriff, which it is impossible not duly to respect, denounces the modern innovation of gas light, made of our old acquaintance, the previously denounced “carbon fossile” and all private gasworks of this nature are suppressed. Hereby many an industrious and enterprising establishment has its pipe put out all of a sudden, while those which are suffered to remain are subjected to a thousand vexatory restrictions and domiciliary visits from officials, who, as usual, must be bribed to report favourably. They are further told that their private gas generators will be all confiscated at some indetermined period when it shall please the wisdom of authority to establish government gas works: a period far remote, to be sure, but sufficiently indefinite effectively to discourage the outlay of private capitalists on their private comforts or accommodation. Milan, Florence, Leghorn, Venice, Turin, and Naples are gas-lit long since.

This really makes things clear.  There is no Papal opposition to gas as such, because government gasworks are proposed.  The concerns are about air-quality, and the proliferation of smog in the city from all these private burners and get-rich-quick companies.  These are not illegitimate concerns, as anyone who has experienced the aroma from a neighbour’s barbeque on a swelteringly hot day can testify.

Later, on p.171, we learn that the new Pope, Pius IX, dismissed the city prefect, Marini, “an implacable foe” of “every amelioration”.

The letters, in fact, are well worth the reading, for the picture which they give of a  minor Italian state, on the cusp of modern improvements in the early 19th century.  Clearly the government – the Pope, if you like – did ban gas lighting, and railways, and all sorts of other modern improvements, from the papal state.  This policy was reversed by Pius IX, this successor.  But there is no theological question here – only politics.

It would be really interesting to see the text of the Edicts in question, actually.  But I could only find one online, which was for setting up a Chamber of Commerce, here.

Papal Rome is a country which is now far away in time and space.  We forget it ever existed – but it did.  It was a country which had its own laws, its own army, and its own political factions.  Like every Italian statelet it was perpetually concerned about foreign nations, and the threat of the Austrian army, or the French army.  It is, therefore, quite a mistake to treat the political initiatives of the government of that state as if they were theological directives by a modern Pope.

Let’s return to where we started.  The poster is very misleading indeed, therefore.

The first claim is mainly false.  The Catholic Church did NOT oppose street lighting.  The elderly ruler of the papal states in 1830s opposed gas lighting as projected by a foreign company, probably reflecting the ignorance and squalid suspicions of his people and worries about air quality.  His successor ruled differently.

The second claim is mainly true, but it is entirely misleading because the reader will think of Pope Gregory as like Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XV.  That Pope was not a modern Pope, issuing statements of faith and morals, but the autocratic ruler of a third-world state with a low-grade and corrupt administration, obstructing progress out of fear and obscurantism.

The third claim appears to be utterly unevidenced before 2015.

Thus are legends started; and, with luck, that one ends here.

All the same, I hope that you have enjoyed our visit to Papal Rome.  There are indeed guidebooks online in English for visitors, which might well repay the curious reader.  It may have been a backward place, but it had the charm that Rome has always had, whatever the faults of its rulers.

  1. [1] ISBN 978-1-5144-2756-9.  Preview here: “[Jesus] healed (worked) on the Sabbath and ate food consecrated to God, demonstrating the importance and power of the Spirit over the letter of the law. Back in 1831, Pope Gregory XVI opposed street lamps and banned gas lighting in Papal States. The church argued that God very clearly had established the delineation between night and day, and putting lights up after sundown flew in the face of God’s law. Still, we search the scriptures for words that would cause God to curse instead of bless us. And vice-versa. But, when did we decide to forget about God’s grace? The Church has lost much of the idealism and faith upon which it was formed and is based, replacing them instead with creeds and beliefs.” The argument is a standard among campaigners for vice.  It is to be observed that such campaigners act without mercy to those who dare express any disagreement, once they have obtained power themselves.
  2. [2] So I learn from the Google search result from  Bruce H. Joffe, A Hint of Homosexuality?: ‘Gay’ and Homoerotic Imagery In American Print Advertising, 2007: “Author royalties from this book will benefit the Commercial Closet Association, a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization working to influence the world of advertising to understand, respect and include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender…”
  3. [3] Desmond Bowen, Paul Cardinal Cullen and the Shaping of Modern Irish Catholicism, Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1983.  Preview here.
  4. [4] James Whiteside, “Italy in the nineteenth century”, (1848) vol 2, p.288.
  5. [5] I owe my knowledge of this to Katarina Gephardt, The Idea of Europe in British Travel Narratives, 1789-1914, Routledge, 2016, p.112.

Anthony Alcock: translation Wansleben’s1671 account of Coptic church

Anthony Alcock has translated a curiosity for us: an account of the state of the Coptic church in Egypt made by a certain Johann Michael Wansleben, and published in 1671.[1]  Wansleben was a Lutheran traveller who hoped to reach Ethiopia.  His book is an account of Egypt as it then was.

Here is Dr Alcock’s translation of Wansleben’s account:

Such an early account must be of great interest.  Indeed it would be nice to have all of Wansleben in English.  Thank you, Dr. A., for translating this section.

Here’s a taster from the end, which is interesting in its own right for how Coptic books tended to be alienated from their holders, and why so many Coptic churches were in a disgraceful state when the British arrived in the 19th century:

The Turks genuinely allow each person a free conscience, not only in Egypt but in all their countries, provided it does not affect them. Nonetheless they often deprived Christians of their best churches and monasteries. Some years ago the Monastery of the Raven in Manfalut was turned into a mosque.

Similarly the late Pasha Ibrahim, three years ago, built a mosque in the village of Matariya outside Cairo five miles away where the was a small chapel; behind it a porphyry appeared to foreigners, on top of which the Virgin used to stretch out the clothes of the baby Jesus to dry them after washing. Nearby is the spring that miraculously started to dispense water, thanks to the omnipotence of Jesus, when on His arrival in Egypt he was suffering from great thirst. To this day it still dispenses water so sweet that surpasses in goodness all other waters, whether from the fountains of Cairo or the Nile itself. The Pashas themselves, notwithstanding the distance from their castle or being enemies of Christians and their things, used this water in their refectories. Past the chapel the way leads down to a garden with the fig tree behind which, according to an ancient tradition, Our Lord hid during the persecution by Herod. Opening in the trunk by itself, the fig wove spiders’ webs so thick and old in appearance that they concealed Our Lord from his enemies as they went by and did not look for him. Today no Frank is allowed to visit these places since it is now a mosque.

The Turks also took the Church of Anastasius in Alexandria from the Copts and turned it into a mosque. They make no effort to restore churches fallen into ruin as a result of penalties. Indeed, the Christians are not keen on removing the spiders’ webs for fear that Turks find them attractive.

Moreover, the Turks tax the churches and monasteries heavily, as happened with the Abyssinians in Cairo fourteen years ago. The Pasha of that time, out of a certain apprehension he felt towards them, threatened to take away their churches if they did not pay a certain large sum of money. They were forced to sell the property of the church and their manuscript books to pay this tax, These books, about forty of them, had been sent by Father Eleazar, a Capuchin, to Mgr Pierre Seguier the Great Chancellor of France, in whose house I saw them. That is also the reason why I was able to find almost no Ethiopic book in Cairo, except for four in the possession of the Father, which I copied. These taxes gradually began to annoy the Christians so much that they were no longer able to resist. The number of Coptic churches is constantly being reduced, and I have no doubt that the Turks will soon confiscate the remainder. The Franks are in a better situation than the Copts, because the Turks not only allow them to attend church services without harassing them, but they also have more respect for the missionary Capuchins and Franciscans, who both have their chapels behind their place of residence, each wearing the dress suitable to their order.

All of this harassment and discrimination was normal in Egypt, then as now, as we find from accounts in the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandrai.  It was intended as a means to induce the Copts to convert to Islam.  It is remarkable, if we consider that they have suffered thirteen centuries of it, that the Copts have managed to remain in existence.

  1. [1] J. M. Wansleben, Relazione dell Stato presente dell’Egitto. 1671.  Online here; PDF via here.

A note on the authenticity of Eusebius of Caesarea’s “Commentary on the Psalms”

In Rondeau’s account of ancient Christian commentaries on the psalms,[1] there is naturally a section on the commentary by Eusebius of Caesarea.  It contains an interesting footnote on the authenticity of the text.  But first, a few words about this little known item.

Eusebius is a writer whom we do not usually associate with exegesis.  But his extensive Commentary on Isaiah was rediscovered 60 years ago, and an English translation published in the last decade.  His Commentary on the Psalms has been less fortunate.  The portion devoted to Psalms 51-95, 3 has reached us, in a single manuscript, BNF Paris Coislin 44, which was edited by Montfaucon in the 17th century.[2]  The section on Psalm 37 was transmitted among the works of Basil of Caesarea.[3]

The remainder, however, is known only from extracts preserved in the medieval Greek bible commentaries.  These were composed of chains (catenae) of extracts linked together, with the author’s initial against each extract (but this initial was often corrupted).  Eusebius figures largely in the catenas and so there is a lot of material extant, if somewhat dubious.

Nobody has undertaken a critical edition of any of this material, and the portions derived from catenas are unreliable.  There is no translation of any of it, to the best of my knowledge, other than a translation of the section on psalm 51 made for this site by Andrew Eastbourne.

Now I’ve always had a soft spot for this huge but neglected work, and so I’ve started looking at Rondeau’s description, from which the above is mainly taken.  One of his footnotes caught my eye at once.

Dans la notice Eusèbe de Césarée de certaines encyclopédies, il est insinué que le texte du Coislin. 44 est non de l’Eusèbe authentique et pur, mais de l’Eusèbe caténal, interpolé ou remanié (E. Preuschen, dans Realencyclopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 5, 1898, p. 615; E. Schwartz, dans PW 6, 1907, col 1435; J. Moreau, dans DHGE 15, 1963, col. 1446, et dans RAC 6, 1965, col. 1064). Notre expérience de l’ensemble de l’exégèse antique du Psautier ne confirme pas cette méfiance.

In the article Eusebius of Caesarea in some encyclopedias, it is insinuated that the text of Coislin. 44 is not direct from Eusebius himself, but rather the “Eusebius” of the catenas, i.e. interpolated or reworked. (E. Preuschen, in Realencyclopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 5, 1898, p. 615; E. Schwartz, in PW 6, 1907, col 1435; J. Moreau, in DHGE 15, 1963, col. 1446, and in RAC 6, 1965, col. 1064). Our experience of the entire collection of ancient exegesis of the psalter does not confirm this suspicion.[4]

It is good to hear this.  To cast suspicion on the authenticity of a text is easy; to remove it hard.  The need for an edition and translation of this text is not helped by such suspicions.

UPDATE (17/8/16): There is a critical edition in progress of this work, at the BBAW, headed by Christoph Markschies.  This has been in progress for a while, but I enquired and he kindly wrote back and told me: “The project is still active and the three colleagues mentioned at the website (Bandt, Risch and Villani) are still working hard to produce the first volume (that will be a multi-volume edition …) the next year.”

Which is excellent news, of course.  Now all we need is a team of translators.

  1. [1] Marie-Josephe Rondeau, Les commentaires patristiques du psautier, vol. 1, 1982.
  2. [2] Reprinted as the whole of Patrologia Graeca 23; material on psalms 119-150, edited by Mai, appears in PG 24, cols. 9-76.
  3. [3] Edition in PG 29, columns 194-6 and 202.
  4. [4] Rondeau, l.c., p.64, n.137.

From my diary

I’m now on holiday, and starting to feel vaguely normal again.  Our working lives may be a blessing from God, but they do take it out of us!

I’ve been working on the Mithras site, or trying to.  It is remarkable how technology has changed in a couple of years.  The front-end technology that I used for it is now as dated as the ark; because it doesn’t support hand-held phones and the like.  The demand to do so was unknown.

Sadly you can’t leave a development environment alone and expect to just pick it up.  It rots, even if not a single file changes.  Upgrading to Windows 10 probably did not help.  But at the moment I can’t get my site to even run locally!  It is something to do with a horrible perl script at the core of it, which I inherited, and which I have never had the week necessary to rewrite it.  Oh well. Ug!

I must try and spend some time outdoors away from screens of every sort!

The manuscripts of Philostratus’ “Life of Apollonius of Tyana”

The Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus is a curious text with an evil history.  It was perhaps originally composed in the Severan period, quite innocently, as a mainly fictional work based partly on earlier sources about the pagan sage of the last first century AD.

But it was then used, and perhaps re-edited, as a tool for anti-Christian propaganda during the Great Persecution under Diocletian, by Hierocles, the governor of Bithynia.  We learn from Eusebius how this unattractive man began his persecution first by putting out a series of forged texts.  Material designed to set Apollonius up as a “pagan Christ” – and a superior one – formed part of this campaign.  This PR campaign was designed to denormalise and to marginalise the Christians, whom he intended to murder, by first depicting them as deluded, irrational, unreasonably dogmatic and ignorant of the “real origins” of their faith. Having done this by way of preparation, he then felt able to begin the violence.

We know much of this from Eusebius, who wrote a refutation of the “Apollonius” material, under the title of Adversus Hieroclem. By chance this too has come down to us, and which has been printed together with the Life of Apollonius since the editio princeps of Aldus Manutius in 1502.[1]  Indeed the excellent N. G. Wilson has just published an edition and translation of the Aldine prefaces, including that on Philostratus and Eusebius, reviewed in BMCR.

First page of the Mediceo-Laurenziana Ms. 69:33.

First page of the Mediceo-Laurenziana Ms. 69:33.

The Life of Apollonius has come down to us in a number of Greek manuscripts.  But I find, absurdly, that the text has not been edited since the Teubner edition by C. L. Kayser of 1870![2]   Even that refers back to the edition by the same editor of 1844 for its critical work.[3]  The Loeb editions, which give us our English translations, simply work from Kayser.

Fortunately Dutch scholar Gerard Boter, who reviewed the most recent Loeb here, has come to our rescue, with an excellent article on the manuscripts, preparatory to a new edition.[4]  I imagine that few of us have a grasp on the manuscript tradition, so I thought that we would all be served by summarising it here.

The manuscripts are as follows, and doubtless more are online than I have seen.  The sigla are newly assigned by Boter, but all are mentioned by Kayser somewhere.[5]  I include Kayer’s sigla in brackets, as these are probably used in older literature, but Boter’s are clearly better-chosen.

  • B (-) = Berolinensis Phill. 1591 (gr. 315), 15th century [books I-IV only]  This is from the collection of Sir Thomas Phillips at Middlehill, where it was Middlehillianus 315.
  • E (e) = Escorialensis gr. 227 (Φ.III.8), 12th century.
  • S (s) = Florentinus Laurentianus CS 155, ca. 1400 [breaking off after
    332.16] = “Schellersheimianus” in Kayser.
  • G (fc) = Florentinus Laurentianus 69,26, 15th century.  The source for the Aldine edition.
  • H (fb) = Florentinus Laurentianus 69,27, 14th century.
  • F (f) = Florentinus Laurentianus 69,33, ca. 1000 AD. Online here.  The oldest member, and the source for all the mss of family β, according to Boter.
  • L (l) = Lugdunensis BPG 73D, 14th century.
  • P (p) = Parisinus gr. 1696, 14th century.
  • A (π) = Parisinus gr. 1801, 14th century.  The unique and “best manuscript”.
  • T (ρ) = Vaticanus gr. 956, 14th century [book 1, up to 26,1]
  • R = Vaticanus gr. 1016, 15th century.
  • Q (ψ) = Vaticanus Palatinus gr. 329, 14th century [starting at 144,27]
  • U (u) = Vaticanus Urbinas gr. 110, 15th century.
  • Y (μa) = Venetus Marcianus gr. 391 (coll. 856), 15th century.
  • Z (μb) = Venetus Marcianus gr. 392 (coll. 837), 15th century.
  • M (μ) = Venetus Marcianus gr. App. Cl. XI 29 (coll. 1376), 14th century.
  • V (v) = Vratislaviensis, BU, Rehd. 39, 15th century [lost in WW2].

After comparing them, Boter tells us that the manuscripts fall into two groups, A and the rest.  The rest all derive from a lost ancestor, α, which was a close cousin of A.  These children divide into two families: β, consisting of BEMPTU; and γ, being FGHLQRSVYZ.  Kayser considered the manuscripts of the β family generally had a better text, but that A was the most important manuscript.  (Identifying the “best manuscript” was very much the method of the time).

From all this, he draws the following stemma, of which manuscript is copied from which other manuscript:


There are also extracts from the text in other manuscripts.  Boter does not discuss these, but Kayser lists a few:

  • h = Vaticanus Palatinus gr. 129
  • d = Darmstadtinus.
  • φ = Laurentianus 74, 12.

The Boter article was in 2008.  That is now 8 years ago.  Let us hope that a new edition is being assiduously pushed forward!  It is certainly overdue.

I learn from Dr Boter’s home page of another article: “Studies in the Textual Tradiiton of Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana”, Revue d’histoire des textes (RHT) 9 (2014), which, according to this link, does discuss the manuscripts individually and also the excerpts.

I find that another article by him, “The title of Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana“, has appeared in the Journal of Hellenic Studies 135 (2015) 1-7.

I have no access to either article, but I was amused to see the JHS home page try to obtain “$37.50 to buy this article” or – desperately, since nobody on earth would pay that – “$5.99 to rent this article now for 24 hours”!  I rather think that actually Dutch taxpayers have already paid for the article.  But from such examples of tawdry greed let us avert our eyes.

Instead, let us welcome the prospect of a new and much more accurate edition of this interesting text.  It is not every late antique text that gets two Loeb editions, after all.

  1. [1] Some believe that the Against Hierocles is not by Eusebius of Caesarea, but by another Eusebius.
  2. [2] C. L. Kayser, Flavii Philostrati Opera, vol. 1, Teubner, 1870.
  3. [3] C. L. Kayser, Flavii Philostrati quae supersunt: Philostrati junioris Imagines, Callistrati Descriptiones. 1844
  4. [4] Gerard Boter, “Towards A New Critical Edition Of Philostratus Life Of Apollonius: The Affiliation Of The Manuscripts”, in  K. Demoen & D. Praet (eds.), Theios Sophistes (2009), 21-56.  Online in preview here.
  5. [5] Kayser lists the codices in the 1870 edition, p.xxv; and the Berlin ms in the Appendix, p.xxiv.

Catenas on the Psalms – two important French works now online!

Great news!  A correspondent writes to say that two important French works on commentaries and catenae on the Psalms are now available online in full:

1) M.-J. Rondeau, Les Commentaires patristiques du Psautier (IIIe-Ve siècles), 2 vols, OCA 219-220, Roma 1982, 1985.

2) G. Dorival, Les chaînes exégétiques grecques sur les Psaumes: contribution à l’étude d’une forme littéraire, 4 vols, Leuven 1986, 1989, 1992, 1995.

These are tremendously useful, and one can only congratulate the publishers, Peeters, and the Pontifical Institute in Rome, respectively.  These highly specialist tomes now stand a chance of being read!

The new Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea is out

Those interested in the Latin fathers prior to Nicaea will be aware of the annual list of publications, the Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea, published each year in the Revue des études Augustiniennes (et Patristiques) by the Institut d’études augustiniennes in Paris.  This invaluable resource has appeared each year since 1974, initially covering just Tertullian, and then broadened to Latin patristics to 325 AD.  Very kindly the editors have sent me a copy for many years.  The issue dedicated to publications in 2014 has now appeared.

Most of the content will be for specialists.  I see that Claudio Moreschini has continued his great work of editing and translating Tertullian into Italian, and the end of the task is now in sight.  Some other items are, for the first time, reviewed in Italian, which is not a language I read easily.

Less welcome is an allusion in the introduction to “la situation difficile que traverse actuellement l’Institut d’études augustiniennes” which is consuming the energies of the contributors.  I do not know what this situation is.  It is certainly the case that the humanities in general are under threat of reduced funding, and probably this is a factor here too.

In this light, one item reviewed will raise eyebrows in the intelligent reader.  It seems that the excellent Markus Vinzent has brought out a book devoted to proving that Marcion wrote the original gospel, and that the canonical gospels are later compositions.  This he does, I understand, by proposing that Marcion invented the literary form of a gospel, and revised it in written or verbal form; that the four gospels were written in response to this, and then Marcion produced a final written form.  Since Tertullian in Adversus Marcionem tells us that Marcion produced his gospel by mutilating the gospel of Luke, at some length, Dr V refers to this; and so this discussion falls within the area of interest of the CTC.

The CTC is a scholarly publication.  Scholarship involves knowing what you know about, and what you do not.  So the reviewer quite properly states that “I cannot take a position on the general thesis of the author”.  He does discuss the discussion of Tertullian, and points out that the interpretation involves misreading Marc. IV, 11:12 by silently omitting a “nec”, and ignoring the consensus of editors that a full-stop should be read after “nova”.

Le lecteur est d’abord étonné par un tel renversement de perspective et se demande s’il n’a jamais rien compris au Contre Marcion. L’impression s’atténue lorsqu’on se reporte aux textes. Pour prouver que Marcion aurait créé la forme de l’évangile, l’argumentation de l’auteur se fonde beaucoup sur Marc IV, 11, 12, où il lit : forma sermonis in Christo nova, cum similitudines obicit, cum quaestiones refutat ; or le texte est ici déformé sur deux points, sans que M. V. en dise rien : la négation nec, en tête de phrase, est omise, et les éditeurs sont unanimes pour placer un point après nova. Tertullien ne dit donc pas que Marcion a introduit une nouvelle forme littéraire, mais que le discours du Christ est comme un écho des paroles de l’Ancien Testament : ce déplacement d’accent, que l’A. semble s’autoriser au nom de son renversement de perspective, nous paraît un vice rédhibitoire de l’étude. En fait, l’analyse part moins des textes qu’elle ne cherche, chez Tertullien, des indices d’une reconstruction préalablement élaborée, méthode qui, à nos yeux, fragilise d’emblée la demonstration.

The reader is first surprised by such a reversal of perspective and wonders if he has never understood anything about the Against Marcion. The impression fades when referring to the texts. To prove that Marcion created the [literary] form of the gospel, the argumentation of the author relies heavily on Marc. IV, 11, 12, where he reads: nova forma sermonis in Christo, cum similitudines obicit, cum quaestiones refutat; but the text is distorted by two points, about which M.V. says nothing: the negation nec, at the head of the phrase, is omitted, and editors are unanimous in placing a full-stop after nova. Tertullian therefore does not say that Marcion introduced a new literary form, but that the speech of Christ is like an echo of the Old Testament words: this shift of emphasis, that the author seems to allow in the name of his reversal of perspective, seems a fatal flaw of the study. In fact, the analysis only looks at the texts she seeks, in Tertullian, for traces of a previously elaborated reconstruction, a method which, in our eyes, immediately weakens the demonstration.[1]

I don’t suppose Dr V.’s career will suffer from this thesis at all, which is doubtless entirely acceptable to the people who control university funding.  These people seem to be all at least mildly anti-Christian, and were very much in favour of EU membership in the recent UK referendum.  Whether this will continue to be so, I do not know.  We live in changing times.  The elite lost that referendum.  The US may well elect a mountebank as president, precisely because he is not one of the elite.  There is a smell of revolution in the air.  But that remains to be seen.

However the only reason why poor taxpayers should fund the study of the humanities is that it serves some useful, scientific, purpose.  If it does not, why fund it?  And it brings the humanities into disrepute, when the facts are turned upside down like this.

Nobody is fooled.  We all know that this kind of claim is tripe.  We’ve met the revisionists many times.  We know the tricks – selection, misrepresentation and omission.

But these  games serve to reinforce the impression – held by most scientists, and not a few of the general public – that those who hold teaching posts in the humanities are not engaged in any kind of scientific or objective activity, but are in reality just well-paid servitors of the political establishment, producing propaganda.  I myself held precisely such a view for many years, after encountering some wretchedly poor “biblical scholarship” while reading for a hard science degree at Oxford.  It’s not the case that the humanities is worthless establishment propaganda.  The vast majority really does contribute to the sum of human knowledge.  And I’m quite sure few academics can be described as “well-paid”!

All the same, it is irresponsible to encourage the impression.  I hope that the difficulties of the Institut are not caused, in any respect, by a belief among politicians that academics are just hacks for hire.

  1. [1] Translation is mine; I’m really not quite certain of the translation of the last sentence, tho.

A curious bibliography: Angelo Uggeri and his “Journées pittoresques”, “Ichnografia”, “Icnografia degli Edifizj” etc

The most accessible early account, of the discovery of an ancient house in the grounds of the Villa Negroni in Rome, is by Camillo Massimo in 1836.  But for his source, Massimo refers to a mysterious volume which is online, but nearly impossible to find.

Massimo writes:

Una esatta descrizione di quattro delle suddette Camere, coi colori di tutt’ i loro ornamenti , e cen i menomi lor dettagli minutamente indicati si trova inserita nel 3. Volume dell’ Icnografia degli Edifizi di Roma antica, pag. 55. e aeg. opera dell’ Abb. Uggeri, il quale nelle Tavole XIV . XV , XVl, e XVII, diede pure le incisioni a contorno delle Pitture di quelle quattro Stanze; e nel Volume II. Tav. XXIV. fig, 1, riprodusse in piccolo la pianta dell’ intero Palazzina con le sue dimensioni, e con l‘ indice delle pitture in esso rimanenti, la descrizione delle quali si  trova anche nel citato Manifesto stampato in quell’occasione in un foglietto volante divenuto assai raro, e nella seconda Edizione della Roma antica di Ridolfino Venuti coll’ aggiunte di Stefano Piale Par. 1. cap. V, pag. 125.

Search as you will: you will not locate this volume.  You may think “icnografia” is an odd word, and make it “iconografia” but you will be no further forward.  As I remarked a couple of days ago, Lanciani quotes the title as “Iconografia degli Edifizi di Roma antica“, but this too does not help.

After a great deal of searching into the night, I have finally solved the mystery.

It seems that Angelo Uggeri was, to be frank, a complete idiot.  He self-published his works.  And he decided that giving them title pages was unnecessary.  Yes, that’s right.  You can find a volume online, and look through it, and still have no idea what the thing is titled.  Sometimes he shyly had a page which indicated his authorship – in a cursive, hard-to-read handwriting, not printed.

The volumes that I have found, all of them, belong to a series:

Journées pittoresques des édifices de Rome ancienne / Giornate pittoresche degli edifizi antiche de circondari di Roma

The text in these is in two columns, one French, one Italian.  A search for “Journées pittoresques” will return results.  But Uggeri’s maddening habit of leaving out titles means that you will not be that sure of what you have found.  A search in the French National Library site, Gallica, will return only three titles.

Curiously it was the Europeana portal that saved me.  This search gives a list of 10 volumes, all at the BNF, with no distinction of volume number or title.  They all have the same cover.  Many have the same endpapers.  You actually have to look through them to find out what’s in there.

But, blessedly, pasted onto the endpapers of one, I found this slip:


There are two series, each with volume numbers.  In fact some of the “volumes” are also divided into two, one containing the plates, and the other with the text.  I had to download almost the entire collection to find what I wanted.  For my own sanity, and yours if you pass this way, here are the volumes that you need for the Villa Negroni.  I give the link to the BNF for the volume, and attach a PDF of the relevant pages.

The scans are not very high resolution, it must be said.  The volume 2 floor plan is too small to read the scale, for instance.  Let us hope that a German library like Arachne scan some volumes.

From all this we learn that the actual title of volume 2, insofar as there was one, was “Ichnografia”! But I suggest we always refer to Journées pittoresques and specify the series, Rome.

The other two sources given by Massimo deserve a mention, while we are discussing bibliographical mazes.

The “manifesto” is actually a printed flyer, by Camillo Buti, proposing the publication of the frescoes of the house, and including a couple of samples, and a floor plan.  This is the very earliest account.  It is indeed extremely rare, and, as far as I can tell, not online.  But I learn from an article by H. Joyce[1] that “Copies of the Buti Manifesto are in the British Library, Department of Manuscripts, Add. Ms 35378, fols. 316-17, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Paintings, Tatham Album, p. D. 1479 – ’98. /2”.  Doubtless other copies are around.

The “Roma antica of Ridolfino Venuti with the additions of Stefano Piale” is another vague title.  Volume 2 of the first edition is here at Arachne.  The actual title is “Accurata, e succinta descrizione topografica delle antichità di Roma”, printed in 1763 – too early.  Volume 1 of the third edition (1824) of the Stefano Piale re-edition is at Google Books here; volume 2 here.  The text referred to is in vol.1, chapter 5, p.169 f.  But it contains nothing of special interest.  (Update: 2nd ed., 1803, vol.1, p.125 is here).

One final item is mentioned by Joyce.  It too is not online, and indeed sounds very inaccessible:

The architect Camillo Buti was quickly called in to make a plan of the house. Buti published the plan in 1778, along with a brief description of the rooms, in his Manifesto announcing the publication of the first two in a series of engravings of the house’s paintings.(5) An early annotated version of the plan drawn by someone present in the early stages of the excavation (the excavation is shown and described as incomplete) is now in the Townley collection of “Drawings from Various Antiquities” in the British Museum.(6)

6.  Although the Townley plan is incomplete, it includes information about the house’s decoration not given in any published source. I am grateful to Donald Bailey of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities for locating this drawing and supplying me with a copy.

The invaluable Joyce article – which I obtained today – makes plain that the Townley plan is of the highest importance.  It alone tells us, for instance, that the entrance door to the villa had a window above the door.  The “blank wall” facing the door in fact had three niches for statues in it – “Ingresso principale nella casa dipinto con Architetture e nichie di relievo dipinte dentro.”  And so on.

Fortunately the Townley papers are in the British Museum, and a Google search shows that the museum has a research project to catalogue them and place them online.  Well done, the British Museum.

UPDATE: The etchings published in 1778 by Camillo Buti are actually online at Aradne here: A. Campanella, Pitture antiche della Villa Negroni, 1778.  The monochrome etchings look far more Roman than the coloured versions.

  1. [1] H. Joyce, “The Ancient Frescoes from the Villa Negroni and Their Influence in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”, The Art Bulletin 65 (1983), 423-440. JSTOR.

A visit to the ancient Roman house in the Villa Negroni – rooms A and B

Let’s return to 1777, and continue our visit to the ancient Roman house uncovered in the fields of the Villa Negroni.

We shall descend into the pit, ably drawn by our English friend Thomas Jones.  It’s rather damp down there!  Since we’ve not been here before, I attach at the end the floor plan.

We stand at the entrance to the house.  This consists of a porch supported by two columns.  Through the doorway is a plain painted room.  A doorway to the left shows a staircase.  We shall go through the door in the right-hand wall, into another room, painted, but with marvellous paintings.

The roof is vaulted, so the tops of the paintings are semi-circular.  It contains two paintings, in fact.  These are being recorded by an artist, a Mr Mengs, for printing.

The first is a picture of Adonis, preparing to go hunting.  Click on the picture to see the full size image.[1]

Villa Negroni: Adonis setting out on a hunt.

Plate 4: Villa Negroni: Adonis setting out on a hunt.

Also in the room is another picture of Adonis, this time dying in the arms of Venus.[2]

Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus

Plate 2: Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus

Sadly the ceiling is missing, but I am assured that the artist will try to represent the end of the barrel-vaulted room, and the curved panels on either side, accurately.

Another depiction may be found at Wikimedia Commons:[3]

Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus.

Plate 2: Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus.

Here is the 1836 map:

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

The printed volume of plates was uncoloured, with the intention that they should be hand-coloured.  The shades of the colours naturally vary in different copies, therefore.

  1. [1] This from the Wellcome Trust, via Wikimedia Commons.
  2. [2] Noemi Cinelli, “‘Restrained brightness and archaic purity”: Fascination from the antiquity in the age of enlightenment: Villa Negroni’s frescoes in Rome: models of good taste according to Mengs and Azara”, European Review of Artistic Studies 4 (2013), 42-61. Online here, printing a copy from Seville.  Note that the plate number, from the publication, is in the bottom left or bottom right.
  3. [3] Again from the Wellcome Trust.  There is another image here, from a commercial site.