Archive for the 'From my diary' Category

Mithras, the church of Santa Prisca, and the perils of the imagination

The Mithraeum of Santa Prisca in Rome is of great importance to Mithraic studies because it contains striking wall paintings, with text against the images.  The scenes depict a procession of the seven grades of initiate, and other interesting items.  Among the verses is a statement that “you have saved us after the shedding of the eternal blood”, which has attracted attention.  The mithraeum will be open to visitors at 4pm on Sunday 24th August, and I intend to be in Rome and go and see it.  Apparently it stands on the Aventine Hill, just south of the Circus Maximus.

A long view of the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca

A long view of the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca

This week I have been collecting the literature about the place.  I have visited Cambridge University Library and stood over their photocopiers, not once but twice!

One item gave me especial difficulty: Krautheimer’s Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae.  This contains an English-language article on the church of Santa Prisca, and a fine piece of work it is too.  But, quite unnecessarily, the series has been printed in double-size volumes, nearly impossible to handle or photocopy.  Each page requires an A3 photocopy; although, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I was able to photocopy it down onto A4.  It’s worth being aware of this series, if you want solid scholarly material, oriented on primary data and with copious bibliography, on the churches of Rome.

The church stands 3 metres above ground level, because it stands atop a platform of Roman brick walls and arches.  This is, in fact, the basement level of a Roman house of imposing dimensions, dated by brick stamps to 95 AD.  It was possibly the private house of Trajan, but perhaps more likely that of his close friend L. Licinius Sura, whose baths stand immediately to the north of the church (as a fragment of the ancient map of Rome shows) and whose house was adjacent to this.  The mithraeum was erected ca. 190 AD in one of the cellars, and destroyed some time at the end of the 4th century (supposedly – it is hard to know exactly when).

I was going to photocopy the archaeological report also, which runs to 520+ pages, with more than a 100 plates, until I realised that this would cost me around $80!  Fortunately an interlibrary loan is promised, and my little scanner at home will do the deed.

One reason why I read Krautheimer was that I wanted to know about supposed Christian archaeology in the area.  There is a tremendous amount of false information on this point in circulation.  Web-pages confidently assert that an early Christian church was also based in the cellars!   Others say that a small building next door was “church-like”.  All these claims go unreferenced, of course.   Apparently the excavation report has a couple of pages making some claim of this sort, but I don’t know on what basis.  One writer, in a review of the archaeological report in 1965, went so far as to say:

Why, as stated by the authors, is the same physical proximity between Christians and devotees of Mithras found under San Clemente and at least once in Ostia? How or why did they live side by side rather peacefully for nearly 150 years? Are the similarities between the two cults in the early third century strong enough to postulate that the masculine worshipers of Mithras someway encouraged the female members of their families to attend the neighboring Christian mysteries? These questions might be partially answered if further excavations could be carried out under Santa Prisca

This perhaps tells us rather more about the cultural assumptions of an American man in the 1960′s, that churchgoing was “womens’ stuff”, than anything about the history of the site or the cult of Mithras.  Here, as ever, Mithraic studies is bedevilled by too much sheer imagination.

Krautheimer makes clear that there is pretty much no evidence of any Christian activity on the site before the erection of the church in the 5th century in the ruins of the house.  The construction of churches in Rome in this period is related to the devastation caused by the Goth and Vandal sacking of Rome, making use of high-status locations now conveniently vacant.  Perhaps the house of Sura was one such?  An oratory in the garden was discovered in the 18th century, with depictions of apostles, and dated by the finders to the 4th century; but this has since been demolished, and Krautheimer makes the point that frescos of the apostles are generally a medieval decorative feature.  The first literary reference is in a synod of 499 AD, to a single priest of the church – suggesting that it was a small and unimportant one.  And that seems to be all the data.  If there is more data, I have yet to see it.

I must say that I am unimpressed by the scholarly articles, on the whole.  Not that I can complain – at least the excavations were published!  But there is a vagueness about them, which is quite infuriating, when you want specifics.

What I did was go and find the reports of the original discovery in the 1930′s.  These, thankfully, have diagrams that make it MUCH clearer what is where!

It will be interesting to see what can be seen on the ground!

From my diary: the evanescent internet

Today, at work, I cast around for a web-based form to point a computer program at, for testing purposes.  I recalled my own feedback form, at Tertullian.org, and decided to use that.  I was having one of those days, you know, when everything goes wrong.  But at least my own website wouldn’t let me down, right?

Wrong.  The form didn’t work.

Clearly it hadn’t worked, for quite some time.  Yet I couldn’t see why.  It was a very simple piece of software, and hadn’t changed in, well, probably a decade.

But of course it wasn’t running on the hardware-software platform of 2004 any more.  Somewhere, sometime, my website provider had upgraded.  It happens all the time.

Some software upgrade had broken it, silently.  The form is written in PHP, and clearly one or the other of the PHP upgrades had silently removed features on which it depends.  It emails me in a distinctive format, and, now I come to think of it, I haven’t seen one in quite some time.  A year?  Two?  How time flies…

I spent a less than pleasant hour this evening, rewriting the way it captures variables.  The new version is considerably more baroque than the old.  It’s longer.  It might be more secure, I don’t know.  But it’s not the same form any more.

Of course this makes me wonder what other PHP scripts are lying around on my website, long forgotten.  I can’t even face looking.

This is how the internet dies.  We all know that it is less than permanent.  What we forget is that software less than a decade old, designed to run and be accessible by the world, is probably only sporadically working.

All those eager-beavers, upgrading and improving constantly, are … leaving a trail of wrecked websites behind them.

I wonder how many of us are actually hosting deadware – scripts that once worked and no longer do?

“Septimus Severus” or “Septimius Severus”? A false trail

Today I came across an image by Sophie Hay, of the British School of Rome, of an inscription lying near the west gate of Leptis Magna in Libya.  She kindly sent me a hi-res copy, which I have sharpened (click on it to see the full size image):

Libya_2008_Inscription_near_west_gate - sharp

Looking at a section of the lower line, it quite clearly refers to “SEPTIMIO SEVERO”!

septimius_severus_leptis_inscription

I was very excited by this!

But … a look at the freely available and very useful Clauss-Slaby database (which has moved, I note, to here) gives us these details:

Publication: LBIRNA 00257 = AE 1967, 00536         EDCS-ID: EDCS-09800351
Province: Africa proconsularis         Place: Al-Khums / Lebdah / Labdah / Lepcis Magna

Imp(eratori) Caes(ari) M(arco) Aurelio Antonino Aug(usto) Arm(eniaco) Med(ico) Par(thico) Ger(manico) p(ontifici) m(aximo) tr(ibunicia) pot(estate) XXVIII imp(eratori) co(n)s(uli) p(atri) p(atriae) arcus ex HS CXX m(ilibus) n(ummum) ab Avilio Casto in eum et statuas legatis / praeter HS quae de publico adiecta sunt dedicatus C(aio) Septimio Severo procons(ule) L(ucio) Septimio Severo leg(ato) pr(o) pr(aetore)

Which reveals that in fact we are not dealing with a monument erected at Leptis by Septimus Severus, the emperor – whose home town this was, and whose praenomen was Lucius -, but with an earlier monument of the time of Marcus Aurelius, when C. Septimius Severus was proconsul and L. Septimius Severus was propraetor.

Fortunately a search of Clauss-Slaby for “septimio severo” quickly reveals any number of inscriptions which ARE imperial, and do show that spelling.  They also give him the cognomen “Pertinax”, adopted as part of his bid for  imperial power.  No inscriptions with “septimo severo” are found.  So that’s that.

In fact the Leptis monument does testify to the gens of “Septimii Severi” at Leptis, listing both the emperor-to-be and his older cousin, Gaius.

From my diary

The sales figures for the books have come in.  The Eusebius is still selling, although not in great numbers; the Origen has yet to really get underway, although it may do better once the reviews appear.

I’ve continued to work on the Mithras website.  For the most part this is reactive; e.g. somebody posts an image online somewhere that comes to my attention, and I research the monument and create a web page for it.    I haven’t done any more on the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca this week, but I will resume work on this.  One area that I want to include is whatever is known about the early Christian remains in the same area.  I had intended to go across to Cambridge University Library this week and obtain some articles, but this has not been possible, thanks to some of the “stuff that happens while you are making plans to do other things”.

The translation of Severian of Gabala’s De Spiritu Sancto is progressing.  Interestingly it begins by surveying what the bible says about the Holy Spirit, or so I understand.

My attention has otherwise been distracted by some nuisance at home; this too is part of life, although I endure less of it than most people.

Abandoning the transcription of al-Makin project

In any language group the first literature that we read is usually the histories of themselves, by themselves.  In Arabic Christian literature there are five such histories: Agapius, Euthychius, Al-Makin, Bar Hebraeus, and one other whose name I can never remember.

Of all of these, the 13th century history of al-Makin has attracted my attention for a while.  The first half has never been printed.  The second half was printed in the 17th century, but the editor died before finishing it.  The remainder of the second half was printed recently.  I felt that I would like to make it all more accessible, so I obtained – with difficulty – some PDF’s of microfilms of manuscripts.  I decided that the first thing to do was simply transcribe one of these, and create an electronic text.  This would make the text accessible, and it would be possible for non-Arabists like me to read it using Google Translate.  A transcriber in Syria was engaged, via a French lady, and off we went.

Unfortunately the project simply will not make progress.  I have so far spent $600, but I have nothing to show for it beyond chunks of text, pages in the wrong order, and so forth.  Small problems become large problems.  Trivial issues block all progress.  Things simply do not get sorted out – things that, in Roman script, would be the work of half an hour to remedy.

I have decided, reluctantly, to do something that I never do.  I am going to abandon the project.  Situated as I am, I have no power to make anything happen.  So I am simply eating my heart out in vain.

I will lose the money, of course.  But I will get my life back.

My life, in the end, is worth much more.

Why, precisely, it is impossible to work with people in the middle east, to do even the simplest tasks, I do not know.   I suppose that this is why those countries are poor, and will always remain poor.

I apologise to anyone who was hoping to see this.  But unless I actually learn Arabic myself and do the job myself, it seems that nothing will be done.

Is “Happy Birthday” an egregrious example of fraudulent claim of copyright?

Techdirt today have published an article making the extraordinary claim that one of the world’s leading music publishers has fraudulently collected hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties for the song, “Happy Birthday”, when – they say – it is in fact out of copyright:

Lawsuit Filed To Prove Happy Birthday Is In The Public Domain; Demands Warner Pay Back Millions Of License Fees

Happy Birthday remains the most profitable song ever. Every year, it is the song that earns the highest royalty rates, sent to Warner/Chappell Music (which makes millions per year from “licensing” the song).  However, as we’ve been pointing out for years, the song is almost certainly in the public domain. Robert Brauneis did some fantastic work a few years ago laying out why the song’s copyright clearly expired many years ago, even as Warner/Chappell pretends otherwise. …

The issue, as we’ve noted, is that it’s just not cost effective for anyone to actually stand up and challenge Warner Music, who has strong financial incentive to pretend the copyright is still valid. Well, apparently, someone is pissed off enough to try. The creatively named Good Morning to You Productions, a documentary film company planning a film about the song Happy Birthday, has now filed a lawsuit concerning the copyright of Happy Birthday and are seeking to force Warner/Chappell to return the millions of dollars it has collected over the years. That’s going to make this an interesting case.

I don’t pretend to know the rights and wrongs of the case.   The accusation, that Warner’s knew that the song was out of copyright, will take some proving.  What they may well achieve is to show that it is out of copyright.

The main impressions, that I take away from all of this, are two-fold.

Firstly, it is pretty plain that the law is infernally complicated.  How could such a lawsuit be possible, if the law were clear, simple and obvious?  How could there be any doubt, one way or the other?

Secondly, it is also plain that the time-limits on copyright have become absurdly extended.  All those involved in the production of this song are long dead.   I don’t suppose Jack Warner – himself dead – was born when the song was composed.  How is it in the public interest for the rights to exploit a 19th century song to be the property of an unrelated corporation  in the 21st century?

Copyright is not a moral right.  It did not exist for the majority of the history of mankind.  It was found to be in the interest of society that those who turned an idea into a physical product should be able to obtain monetary reward from it.  In consequence, in the 18th century, a copyright of a couple of decades was brought into existence.[1]  Nobody objects to this.  But a whole industry has grown up, subverting the principle in the interests of the publishing industry.

The case will be an interesting one.

John the Lydian on “July” – now online in English

For the last few months, each month we’ve had a chapter from a 6th century antiquarian on the festivals and days of the month.  Our translation of John the Lydian, De Mensibus book 4, has now reached July.

As ever Andrew Eastbourne has done a super job on it, with copious footnotes.  This month contains a bunch of stuff about Julius Caesar; and a collection of accounts of the origins of the Nile.  I learn from the footnotes that part of this is based on the remains of Seneca’s account, but continues where our manuscripts break off, probably from a more complete text.

Here it is:

As usual, this is public domain.  Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.

From my diary

It’s hotter than hell in the office in which I work, which is not helping me get anything done!  However I’m also close to Cambridge University Library, and I’ve made two trips there in the evening this week, in search of books and articles.

I’m still thinking about Severian of Gabala.  I’ve now obtained a copy of Sever J. Voicu, “Severien de Gabala,” Dictionnaire de spiritualite 14 (Paris, 1990), 752-63.  This article is essential for anyone interested in Severian.  It lists all his works and adds notes on each, over and above what is found in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum.   I must go through this and revise my own list of works accordingly.

My colleague Albocicade, who is collecting French translations of Severian, and OCR’d the Voicu article, has noticed that the Voicu article notes the existence of an unpublished French thesis, J. Kecskeméti, Sévérien de Gabala. Homélie inédite sur le Saint-Esprit, Paris, 1978 (Worldcat and IdRef), on CPG 4947.  It might be possible for a Frenchman like himself to access this.  Here’s hoping.

Bryson Sewell has sent me a couple of pages of his upcoming translation of Severian’s De Spiritu Sancto.  I think this is liable to contain theology: everybody hide now!  So far he’s started to talk about the difference between the Son being “begotten of the Father”, while the Spirit “proceeds from the Father”.  Good news that this is well underway.

My main other activity in the last couple of days has been obtaining some materials for the Mithras temples at Santa Prisca in Rome (quite amazing, this one), on the island of Ponza, and the one at Santa Capua Vetere.  A commenter on my Mithras website asked about the date of the Santa Prisca Mithraeum.  It seems to have been setup in the wine-cellar of an imperial property, which had once been the private house of Trajan before he became emperor.  The wine cellar even had a little water supply of its own, for cleaning the amphorae.  Somewhere else in the cellars is, perhaps, the origins of the church of Santa Prisca.  But I haven’t come across anything about that yet.

Severian bibliography updated

A couple of tweaks to my Severian  bibliography.  As ever, this is not an academic bibliography but just something for my own use from which to commission translations.

UPDATE: Forgot to add notes from Homiliæ Pseudo-Chrysostomicæ.

Unpublished homilies by Severian of Gabala which are not listed in the CPG?

I’m preparing to commission an English translation of CPG 4188, Severian of Gabala’s De Spiritu Sancto (=PG 52. 813-826).  While searching the web for any indication of an existing translation – for I wouldn’t want to duplicate – I came across an article by Danish scholar Holger Villadsen here.  Then, blessedly, I came across a draft of it here, OCR’d, thereby allowing me to use Google Translate to follow the text.

Villadsen was going to edit some of Severian’s homilies for a new volume in the GCS series, but was obliged to withdraw.  So he has some familiarity with the manuscripts, unlike myself.

He lists a couple of interesting-sounding homilies, which are not listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum, and have never been printed.

  • Contra Ioudaeos et Graecos.  Supposedly R.F. Regtuit of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam 1987, included the text of this in his dissertation.  Incipit=πάλιν Ιουδαϊκή κακία.  But Villadsen does not list Regtuit’s 1992 publication of an edition and translation of CPG 4204, In incarnationem domini.  I have this, and it is plainly a thesis.  So I wonder whether there is confusion here.  Unfortunately Regtuit’s book is not to hand.
  • Ad imaginem.  This apparently exists in manuscript cod. Paris. gr. 758, ff. 45-52v.  Incipit=Πρώην ἡμῖν ὁ λόγο.

Note that the original draft contained the incipit for both, which I give; but the (unspecified) font was pre-unicode and the text is gibberish.  If anyone reading this recognises the encoding, or can work out what the words must be, please add a note in the comments.

UPDATE: Fixed incipits – thank you (I presume “logo” should be “logos”!)

 



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