Archive for the 'From my diary' Category

From my diary

I’m trying to push forward a couple of projects.  I’ve written to the translator for the Encomium on St Nicholas of Myra by Andrew of Crete, to see if the sample is available yet.

I have also changed my plans slightly for the translation of Methodius from Old Slavonic.  The lady who was to do the Greek fragments is overcommitted elsewhere, with the result that nothing ever appeared of the Severian translation that I set as a sample.  So I will ask Andrew Eastbourne to handle that side of the work.  Indeed I had always intended to use him in some capacity if I could, because of his vast philological knowledge.

In some ways this simplifies the grant application process, since I now know who I am dealing with.  I can also upload the Methodius De Lepra translation as part of the application, as evidence that I know what I am about.  But I need to replan.  Some kind correspondents have been supplying me with parallels and sources, which may well be useful.

Most of the grant bodies will only give around 50% of a project; so I shall try to find another source of funding for translations.  I suspect, rightly or wrongly, that this is merely bureaucrats trying to cover their own backsides.  After all, if it isn’t just them who gave the grant, then how can they be blamed?  But it is tiresome.  I also realise that I need to understand what the unstated rules of the game are.  So I need to telephone and talk to someone.

It all reminds me why I just pay for translations out of my own pocket.  There seems to be a whole industry that has grown up, merely to get funding.  It is a quite daunting process to the amateur.

I have been adding a few more photos to the Mithras site.  Most of these I encountered on Twitter, and wondered to what they related.  I’ve just seen one of a Vatican tauroctony, photographed by Carole Raddato, that is really quite good.  This is no small praise; the location of the monument in the museum makes photography almost impossible.  I’ve seen it myself, tried to get useful pictures, and failed!

Books lost, books retained

This evening I was chagrined to discover that I cannot find anywhere my copy of Blanchard’s translation of Eznik of Kolb, On God.  I have relatively few translations in paper form, but I certainly had that.  I remember a small green hardback.  It was quite useless to me, frankly, although finely made, and it just occupied space, and I never thought that I would need it again.  But I have a faint memory of taking it to Oxfam, or somewhere like that.  Now I could use it; and it is not here.

Perhaps tomorrow I shall go to the shop where I might – must – have donated it, and see if I can buy it back!!  It cannot have found many customers.

I am a fortunate man, tho.  This is only the third book that I have disposed of, and regretted later.

One of the others was the copy of The Four Loves by C.S.Lewis that I had at college.  I got rid of it, in favour of a newer copy, because it was not uniform with my other Lewisiana.  But memory is a funny thing, and I can still see the cover of the original in my mind.

The other book that I lost was a first edition of G.K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse, in the green cloth with gilt inlay.  It was probably a first impression, as I once saw a similar edition, but rather thinner.  I still have a smaller, later reprint; but I first read the work in the first edition and again, I miss the physical pages.  Why I got rid of it I do not know.

I have got rid of many books in my time, and we must all do this.  If you do not have a process to get rid of books, then you will find yourself living in a book warehouse, surrounded by books which you have no intention of ever reading again.  Meanwhile your few favourites are hard to find, lost somewhere amidst all the dreck.

Books can be disposed of for many reasons.  I get rid of books that I know that I will never read or use again.  Why store them?  These form the overwhelming majority, mostly novels.  I also get rid of books that I buy and then find that I dislike – more of a peril in these days of Amazon than it once was.  Finally I get rid of books that seem to me unwholesome, obscene, or otherwise liable to influence my mind in ways that are not positive, pure, or likely to make me happy.  It’s easy enough to get muck in your head; the difficulty is to get it out again.

Even with all this, I have more books than my bookshelves will comfortably hold.

And what do we do with “dead books”; books that once were the light of our lives, and which we read and reread?  Books that helped make us who were are; but which we have read too many times, and are now “dead” to us.  I’m thinking of overfamiliar works, perhaps childhood favourites, or books that we are attached to for what they once meant.  They all take up space, and only a fool would cut them off.  To lose them is to lose part of who you are and have been.  I have quite a number of these, and no answer.

Books … a blessed company and a curse when they become too numerous!

Cybele’s castration clamps – medical apparatus of the Magna Mater

A couple of years ago I mentioned the eunuch priests of Cybele here, together with a couple of illustrations of a set of ornate castration clamps, found in the River Thames in the 1840’s, and now, supposedly, in the British Museum.

This week I came across a 1926 article discussing how the items were used.[1]  The details are somewhat eye-watering, but the key point is that the clamps were used to prevent blood loss, and the actual cutting was done by a knife.

The item is rather ornate.  The heads protruding are those of the deities presiding over the eight days of the Roman week, four on either side, followed by the head of a bull, and ending in a lion head; the heads at the top are perhaps Cybele and Attis, each on the head of a horse.

The item is perhaps 2-3rd century, and probably made in Rome or Italy.  One of the arms was broken and mended in antiquity, indicating hard usage.  Here are a number of images from the internet, none especially good.

Roman castration clamps

Roman castration clamps

Roman castration clamps. Cult of Cybele / Attis.

Roman castration clamps. Cult of Cybele / Attis.

Roman castration clamps - detail

Francis prints a restoration of the clamp, with hinge and screw:


And, interestingly, he is aware of another example, of a rather cruder kind, preserved in Switzerland, and gives this illustration:


The items were originally identified as “forceps”.  It would be interesting to know whether other examples, perhaps mislabelled, are preserved in the museums of the West?

It is a commonplace of our day that “all religions are the same”, an opinion more frequently met with than examined.  We may be grateful that this particular ancient practice is no longer present in the modern world.

  1. [1] Alred G. Francis, “On a Romano-British Castration Clamp used in the Rites of Cybele”, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 19 (Sect Hist Med),  1926: 95–110.  Online here.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 15 (part 2)

3. Bahram Gur reigned over the Persians, after his father Yazdagard, son of Bahram, for eighteen years.  This happened in the thirtieth year of the reign of Theodosius the Less, king of the Rum.  In the twenty-seventh year of the reign of Theodosius, king of Rum, Sixtus was made patriarch of Rome.  He held the office for eight years and died. In the thirty-fifth year of his reign Leo was made patriarch of Rome.  He held the office for twenty-one years and died.  In his ninth year of office there was the fourth council, in the city of Chalcedon.  In the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Theodosius Domnus was made patriarch of Antioch.  He held the office for twenty-one years and died.  In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Flavian was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for two years and died.  In the one [same] year the Jacobite Dioscorus was made Patriarch of Alexandria.  He held the office for six years, was excommunicated and banished.

4. There was in Constantinople a monastic physicians named Eutyches, who was saying that the body of Christ is different from our [bodies] in terms of its nature, and that Christ had two natures before the incarnation and after the incarnation one nature.  This is the doctrine of the Jacobites.  This monk Eutyches was the first to formulate such a doctrine.  Having heard of this, Eusebius, Bishop of Dorilea, went to him, argued with him, set forth his arguments and refuted the doctrine.  Then Eusebius went to Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, spoke of Eutyches, the falsity of his doctrine and of how he had sowed confusion in the doctrine of the population of Constantinople.  Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, sent for Eutyches, telling him to come to him, and he called a council in Constantinople (17) in which he disputed with him.  Eutyches said: “If we were to say that Christ has two natures, we would be supporting what Nestorius says.  We say instead that Christ has only one nature and one person, because he is the result of two natures that existed [as such] before the union.  But when he took a body, he has ceased the duality and became one nature and one person.”  Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, answered him, saying: “If, as you argue, the Christ had only one nature, then the nature existing from eternity was made again, and that the nature that always was would be the nature that was not.  But if it were possible that the nature that has always been is [also] made again, then he who is standing is also sitting, heat is cold, light is dark, and so we might say of other nonsense that can not coexist in a one part.”  He [= Eutyches] however, refused to withdraw from his doctrine and Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated him, but did not remove him from Constantinople, because he was a physician and people needed him.  King Theodosius heard the doctrine.  Eutyches spoke in his defense before the king Theodosius, saying that Flavian had unfairly excommunicated him, and he asked the king to write to all the patriarchs, [ordering them] to get together and to review his case.  The king then wrote to Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria, Domnus, Patriarch of Antioch, to Leo, patriarch of Rome and Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to present themselves together with their bishops in order to examine the case of Eutyches.  They gathered together in the city of Ephesus.

An anecdote on the perils of being “learned” in public; and some others

Another anecdote from the collection of E.H. Barker:[1]

7. Professor Porson.

We have seldom read a better story, to say the least of it, than the following. As to the facts of it, we can only say that the statement rests on the authority of the author of Lacon, whence it is extracted.

Porson was once travelling in a stagecoach, when a young Oxonian, fresh from College, was amusing the ladies with a variety of talk, and amongst other things, with a quotation, as he said, from Sophocles. A Greek quotation, and in a coach too, roused our slumbering Professor from a kind of dog-sleep, in a snug corner of the vehicle. Shaking his ears, and rubbing his eyes, ‘I think, young gentleman,’ said he, ‘you favored us just now with a quotation from Sophocles; I do not happen to recollect it there. ‘ ‘Oh, Sir/ replied our tyro, ‘the quotation is word for word as I have repeated it, and in Sophocles too; but T suspect, Sir, that it is some time since you were at College. ‘ The Professor applying his hand to his great-coat, and taking out a small pocket-edition of Sophocles, quietly asked him if he would be kind enough to shew him the passage in question in that little book. After rummaging the leaves for some time, he replied, ‘On second thoughts, I now recollect that the passage is in Euripides.’ ‘Then perhaps, Sir,’ said the Professor, putting his hand again into his pocket, and handing him a similar edition of Euripides, ‘You will be so good as to find it for me in that little book. ‘ The young Oxonian returned to his task, but with no better success. The tittering of the ladies informed him that he had got into a hobble. At last, ‘Bless me, Sir,’ said he ‘how dull I am! I recollect now, yes, I perfectly remember that the passage is in Aeschylus.’ The inexorable Professor returned again to his inexhaustible pocket, and was in the act of handing him an Aeschylus, when our astonished freshman vociferated,— ‘Stop the coach, holloah, coachman, let me out I say, instantly — let me out! there’s a fellow here, has got the whole Bodleian Library in his pocket.’

I’m not quite sure where our sympathies should lie, mind you.  Do we sympathise more with the old scholar who finds himself rudely insulted by the impudence of a young snot who presumes everyone else is as ignorant as himself; or with the young man who was trying to impress the young ladies, and then was suddenly attacked for no good reason by a stranger?

The second volume of Barker’s Anecdotes is mainly devoted to rather dull stories about Porson, and so is of little interest.  I found only one other anecdote that is worth repeating:

22. Roman inscription.

In the ruins of a Roman building near the Baiae in Italy, the following Inscription was found on a large piece of marble, which has probably been the portal of a bath, or some apartment of pleasure:

    Balnea, vina, Venus, corrumpunt corpora nostras;
Sed vitam faciunt balnea, vina, Venus:

    Baths, women, wine, our health destroy,
And cut life’s scanty line;
But what has life or health of joy,
Without baths, women, wine?”

Proofs of the Enquiry into Homer’s Life and Writings, translated into English, London, 1748, 8vo. p. 41. Refer to the Enquiry itself, p. 109 or 110.[2]

If the inscription is genuine, it shows the limitations of pagan society.  For if wine, women and (Roman) baths are all that there is to life, then we are little better off than animals.

  1. [1] E.H. Barker, Literary reminiscences, vol. 2, 1852, p.4.
  2. [2] P.15.

Some 4th century pagan festivals in Libanius

Reading through the Literary Reminiscences of the ill-fated E.H. Barker, I find a short list of the works of Thomas Taylor, the 18th century translator known as the “English Platonist”.  Snobbery forbade his recognition in England, but his work was rated higher on the continent.  The list begins with some biographical details, for Barker knew him.

It is a mighty list, here, but also a useful one.  For instance Barker mentions that in his 2 volumes translation of 41 dissertations by Maximus of Tyre, there is material from Libanius about pagan festivals.  Since there is no index, this means Barker must have read this.  The material is in vol. 2, p.267, and belongs to the Descriptions, part of the Progymnasmata.[1]

Solemn festivals when approaching produce desire in the human race, when present they are attended with pleasure, and when past with recollection : for remembrance places men very near the transactions themselves. The recollection also possesses a certain advantage. For in speaking of solemn festivals it is also necessary to speak concerning the gods in whose honour they are instituted. Men prepare themselves for these festivals when they approach with joy. The multitude, indeed, procure such things as may furnish them with a splendid entertainment, but the worthy those things by which they may reverence the gods. Cattle and wine, and whatever else is the produce of the fields, are brought from the country. Garments also are purified ; and every one is anxious to celebrate the festival in perfection. Those that are in want of garments are permitted to borrow such as are requisite to adorn themselves on this occasion from those that have abundance. When the appointed day arrives the priests open the temples, pay diligent attention to the statues; and nothing is neglected which contributes to the public convenience. The cities too are crowded with a conflux of the neighbouring inhabitants, assembled to celebrate the festival; some coming on foot, and others in ships.

At sun-rise they enter the temples in splendid garments, worshipping that divinity to whom the festival is sacred. Every master of a house, therefore, precedes bearing frankincense : a servant follows him carrying a victim ; and children walk by the side of their parents, some very young, and others of a more advanced age, already perceiving the strong influence of the gods. One having performed his sacrifice departs ; another approaches to perform it. Numerous prayers are everywhere poured forth, and words of good omen are mutually spoken. With respect to the women, some offer sacrifices in the temples, and others are satisfied with beholding the crowd of those that sacrifice. When such things as pertain to the divinities are properly accomplished, the tables follow, at which hymns are sung in praise of the god who is honoured in the festival. Social drinking succeeds, with songs, which are partly serious and partly jocose, according to the different dispositions of the company. Some, likewise, feast in the temples, and others at home; and citizens request strangers to partake with them of the banquet. In the course of drinking, ancient friendships are rendered more firm, and others receive their commencement. After they have feasted, rising from table, some take the strangers, and show them whatever is worthy to be seen in the city, and others sitting in the forum gaily converse. No one is sorrowful, but every countenance is relaxed with joy. The exaction of debts gives place to festivity, and whatever might cause affliction is deferred to another time. Accusations are silent, and the judge does not pass sentence ; but such things as produce pleasure alone flourish. The slave is not afraid of blows from his master, and pedagogues are mild to youth.

In the evening they sup splendidly, at which time there are so many torches that the city is full of light. There are also many revellers, and various flutes, and the sound of pipes is heard in the narrow streets, accompanied with sometimes the same, and sometimes different songs. Then to drink even to intoxication is not perfectly disgraceful ; for the occasion in a certain respect appears to take away the opprobrium. On the following day the divinity is not neglected ; but many of those that worshipped on the preceding day do not again come to the shows. Those that contend in the composition of verses attend on this, but those with whom the contest is in the scenes on the preceding day. The third day also is not far short of these; and pleasure and hilarity are extended with the time of the festival. When the solemnity ends, prayers are offered for futurity, that they, their children, and families, may again be spectators of it ; after which the strangers depart, and the citizens accompany them.

Taylor continues by saying “The same author, likewise, in his account of the Calends observes as follows:”

This festival is extended as far as the dominion of the Romans ; and such is the joy it occasions, that if it were possible time could be hastened for mortals, which, according to Homer, was effected by Juno respecting the sun, this festival also would be hastened by every nation, city, house, and individual of mankind. The festival flourishes on every  hill and mountain, and in every lake and navigable river. It also flourishes in the sea, if at that time it happens to be undisturbed by tempest : for then both ships and merchants cut through its waves and celebrate the festival. Joy and feasting everywhere abound. The earth is then full of honours, inconsequence of men honouring each other by gifts and hospitality. The foot-paths and the public roads are crowded with men, and four-footed animals bearing burdens subservient to the occasion ; and the ways in the city are covered, and the narrow streets are full. Some are equally delighted with giving and receiving; but others, though they do not receive any thing, are pleased with giving, merely because they are to give. And the spring by its flowers, indeed, renders the earth beautiful, but the festival by its gifts, which, pouring in from every place, are every where diffused. He, therefore, who asserts that this is the most pleasant part of the year will not err ; so that if the whole time of life could be passed in the same manner, the islands of the blest would not be so much celebrated by mankind as they are at present. The first appearance of the swallow is, indeed, pleasant, yet does not prevent labour ; but this festival thinks proper to remove from the days of its celebration everything laborious, and permits us to enjoy minds free from molestation. These days free the youth from twofold fears, one arising from their preceptors, the other from their pedagogues. They also make slaves as much as possible free, and exhibit their power even in those in chains, removing sorrow from their countenances, and exciting some of them to mirth. They can also persuade a father who expects the death of his son, and through sorrow is wasting away, and averse to nourishment, to be reconciled to his condition, to abandon darkness, lay aside his squalid appearance, and betake himself to the bath : and what the most skilful in persuasion are unable to accomplish, that the power of the festival effects. It also conciliates citizen with citizen, stranger with stranger, one boy with another, and woman with woman. It likewise instructs men not to be avaricious, but to bring forth their gold, and deposit it in the right-hands of others.

Taylor adds:

He concludes with observing, that the altars of the gods in his time did not possess all that they did formerly, this being forbidden by the law of the Christians ; but that before this prohibition much fire, blood, and fume of sacrifice ascended to heaven from every region, so that the banquets in honour of the gods were then splendid during the festival.”

The curious quotation mark is Taylor’s, leaving the reader to wonder whether he is again quoting Libanius!

  1. [1] For which see the new translation by Craig A. Gibson, Libanius: Progymnasmata, here.

An anecdote from 1827

XXXIX. The Negro and the Fish.

“A negro about to purchase a fish visited a shop, where several were exposed for sale; but suspecting that one, which he intended to buy, was not altogether as fresh as he could wish, he presumed either to dissipate or confirm his suspicions by applying it to his nose. The fishmonger, conscious that it would not bear much examination, and fearing that other customers might catch the scent, exclaimed in a surly tone.—‘How dare you to smell my fish?’ ‘Me no smell, me only talking to him, massa.’  ‘And what were you talking to him about?’ ‘ Me ask him, massa, what the best news at sea?’ ’ ‘And what reply did he make you?’ ‘ Oh, massa, he say he know no news, as he have not been there these 3 week.” — St. James Chronicle, Dec. 13, 1827.

I found this in the Literary Reminiscences of E.H. Barker, vol. 1.  The preface outlines the sad life of this classical scholar.  His scholarly efforts were wrecked by a malicious review, itself caused by his own imprudent avowal of liberal politics before his reputation was established.  He was then ruined by a lawsuit over an inheritance and sank into debt and misery.  The account is very sad, but worth reading.  I found it interesting, as someone prone to spend money on literary projects, to see that he did likewise; and was not prudent enough to make sure that he could afford them!

No more free speech

I have just updated the blog header, and also the About page, to remove the references to my interest in freedom of speech online.  Old posts on the subject will remain, but I have no plans to post more on this subject.

I grew up in times in which you could express pretty much any political or religious opinion that you pleased, so long as it wasn’t indecent or calculated to insult those who were with.  A man full of wine might express himself particularly strongly; and the worst he might hear would be “It’s a free country”.  When the internet came along, people like ourselves found ourselves able to say whatever we wished to people anywhere in the world.  There was much abuse; but nothing worse than trolling.

Those days are gone.  In the US the constitution still offers much protection from legal action, but extra-legal intimidation  is rampant, designed to deprive political opponents of the means to feed their families.  In the UK police forces boast how they scan social media for opinions, and the same US-style intimidation is also in effect here.  On the continent prosecutions for opinion have never ceased, as the political elite increasingly grow out of touch with their peoples.  These are sad times.

Increasingly I see a trend whereby the powerful deny free speech to their political opponents.  I see companies being advised to Google for job candidates, in case they are “unsafe”.  Those who still dare to protest are almost all of one political complexion, and that not the one in power.  To protest is increasingly presented, cynically, as a party statement.

Bluntly, free speech, of the kind that we all remember from 15 years ago, has vanished.  Prudent people must comport themselves accordingly.

Let us hope for better days.

From my diary

I’ve been reading the Walpoliana, anecdotes ca. 1800 from Horace Walpole.  I like books of anecdotes!  They are easy on the eye and the mind after a long day.  I did try to obtain a printed copy, but the “reprints” are just print-on-demand items, available in two weeks.  By that time I will have forgotten all about them!

The author is new to me, but I have found him strangely charmless.  It does not help that he is an atheist.  All his clerical anecdotes are sneering; his courtly anecdotes seem often devoted to the Royal mistresses.  His praise of Bishop Hoadly, one of the most loathed ecclesiastics of the period, reminded me mainly that we should fear the praise of wicked men.  Few of the remaining anecdotes are of great interest.  So … a bit of a bust.

I apologise to anybody who has been awaiting an email from me.  A cold is preventing me doing very much at present.  I’ve mainly been dealing with things outstanding for too long.

The Methodius project is now awaiting a sample translation from a potential translator with both Greek and Slavonic.  This should be started, but hardly more.  Once I have this, I can decide how to proceed.

Another image of the Meta Sudans

Via Twitter, I saw this photo of the Meta Sudans from 1885.  It’s always nice to see these old photographs.  I wonder who the lady was?  Somebody’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s grandmother.

Colosseum and Meta Sudans, 1885

Colosseum and Meta Sudans, 1885