How long were ancient manuscripts used?

An interesting but unsatisfying post at Ben Witherington, actually by Larry Hurtado: How long were ancient manuscripts used?

George W. Houston, “Papyrological Evidence for Book Collections and Libraries in the Roman Empire,” in Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, ed. William A. Johnson and Holt N. Parker (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 233-67.

One matter Houston addresses is how long manuscripts appear to have been in use.   On the basis of manuscripts from Oxyrhynchus and from Herculaneum in particular, Houston notes numerous examples of manuscripts discarded when they were ca. 2-3 centuries old.  Overall, he judges that the evidence indicates “a useful life of between one hundred and two hundred years for a majority of the volumes, with a significant minority lasting two hundred years or more” (p. 251).  And, as he notes, the evidence from Qumran leads to a similar view.

This would tally with the sort of evidence we get in Aulus Gellius, of manuscripts of the time of Cicero or Vergil being available.  A set of literary testimonia would be useful, I think.

I’ve found the book, and the article appears to be a very useful one, packed full of data and intelligently analysed.

H/t Jim Davila at Paleojudaica.

An article on the life and works of the Coptic saint Pisentios

Dioscorus Boles has written an excellent article on one of the Coptic Fathers: An aid to the study of St. Pisentios, bishop of Coptos: his life and two famous letters.  Even the most detailed patrologies give little information about this 7th century Father, but his life and letters are important among the Coptic Fathers. 

Dioscorus has linked to the primary sources, in several languages, and English and French translations.  The first letter is an exhortation to his flock not to convert to Islam; the second belongs to Coptic apocalyptic literature. 

Very useful – thank you!

What did the Romans eat? – by N. S. Gill

The ancient history blog by N. S. Gill at is in my RSS reader, so I see the posts there.  For some time I have noticed that the posts have begun to be very useful indeed, and, better yet, well-referenced!  That is such an improvement on the posts that I saw in former times.  It may be, if you have got into the habit of skipping the posts there, that you might wish to revisit the site.

Today’s post is What did the Romans eat?  If you can avoid the adverts embedded on all sides, it actually is a splendid piece of work.  It consists of a series of references to ancient food writers, with a summary of what they have to say, and even links to online versions of the text.  It positively shoves the reader at the data.  And this, of course, is what every classical blogger should seek to do; to breed in his readers the habit of asking to see the raw data for any statement  made.

The article is very short, of course — they all are.  The secondary reference at the end will be sound, I have no doubt.

Some of the authors referenced are not online.  Galen, inevitably, is not.  Apicius is online in Latin, but no link is given to an English version, although I find that the excellent Bill Thayer has tracked one down and placed it online here.  There is no facility to add comments to the post at, or I would have linked it there too.

I don’t know that many of us would write an article on Roman food.  Well done, N.S.Gill, for doing so.

Cyber-attacks on Lacus Curtius

I learn from the New at LacusCurtius & Livius blog that there have been another round of attacks on the Lacus Curtius site, hosted at the University of Chicago.

For those who do not know it — and why on earth do you NOT know it? — it is the personal site of Bill Thayer, which contains a very great quantity of classical texts in the original and in translation, plus secondary material from encyclopedias, backed with notes of great learning by Bill himself, and diaries of his own journeys in Tuscany and Umbria.  It is, in short, one of the great treasures of the classical internet, and not nearly mentioned enough on this site or others.  The University of Chicago is to be commended to making it possible for this site to be there.

Bill writes:

Lacus has been down since about 2130 GMT. James [the sysadmin] tells me that the problems are getting worse and worse, constant attack from spoofed servers, usually traceable to China, but also to Russia and Brazil. We try to ban wide chunks of the world from getting to us, allowing access only to the civilized world, but decreasing success.

That also means you can’t reach me by e-mail, except those of you who have my GMail address. The immediate problem should be fixed tomorrow by around 1400 GMT; but it’s only a matter of time before we’ll have to shut down; with any luck, move to a server with more robust security measures.

I’m tired of terrorists, cyber and otherwise, whether Arabs or Chinese or whatever. Malevolent fools, who can’t produce anything, but can spoil things for the rest of us, like small puking children.

I have split the last paragraph so that I can comment on the last bit.  I entirely share his sentiments.  For no-one could possibly have a rational reason to attack so innocuous and so charming a site as Lacus Curtius, and it is hard to believe any civilised person would do so.  If they did, the laws of our land would deal with them.

I remember days when anonymity was merely an incidental effect of using charming “handles” chosen for amusement.  Too often, these days, anonymity is deliberate and intentional, and practised for the same reason that criminals prefer to be anonymous.

Too many people online are criminals, in truth.  They are criminals in every sense other than the technicality that a law prohibits it.  Some of them, indeed, have no compunction about illegality either. 

The key element in a criminal is that he is someone who will do without hesitation whatever he thinks he can get away with.  The criminal acts without the slightest regard for whether someone else is injured thereby.  That is what makes a criminal, from the smallest vandal to the greatest banking fraudster in the world.  And they are on the increase in the world today.

I have myself been the victim of such people, determined to “get their way”, and indifferent to right and wrong.  Indeed I have been forced to give up editing Wikipedia because of several months of harassment by a pair of youths acting in just such a manner.  I believe those attacking me to be Pakistanis, looking at some of the articles they edited.  Their conduct was of precisely this kind.  Rules were there to be gamed, not followed. 

But if so, we have to ask why Wikipedia is open to editing by the scum of the earth?  Why do people like ourselves have to fight to inform, in the face of those interested only in getting  their own way?  It is, in truth, because the borders of the civilised world have been opened too widely, and so people like Bill and I end up acting as border control policemen, but without the resources of the state.

It is an illusion, although a generous one, to suppose that “people are the same everywhere.”  Those who planted bombs on airliners on 9/11 showed this was false.  Many of the inhabitants of many countries are criminals, by the above definition; and if we give them access to our lands, our websites, our social networks, they will not contribute whatever they know.  Instead they will simply use them as opportunities for plunder and savagery.

Let us wish Bill and James well, and hope that they will soon be sorted out.

Montaigne’s tower and other delights

Just a quick note on a piece that I have found on Laudator Temporis Acti, Montaigne’s tower.  It is always good to find a blog which is a scrapbook of fascinating stuff.  After reading The foundation of all Greek scholarship, I found this, invoking the spirit of the French essayist Montaigne:

Geoffrey Grigson, Montaigne’s Tower:

Was it really here, in this tiled room
In this tower that Montaigne wrote?
I hope that it was so. Never was there
A place better for recalling, I would say —
For being benign and wise, for loving
In words. I see him back a chair
Across these tiles, and stand and stretch, and then
Descend this newel stair, and going
Slowly as if arthritically outside.
He looks down, with feeling he sees again
How exceedingly sweet is this meadowed
Small valley below and how half-reddening
Vines in such a light cast straight
Black bars of shadow in row after row.

A gospel manuscript that depicts the telegraph

Yes, there is indeed a gospel manuscript which has a picture of a set of telegraph poles, running from Constantinople to “Babylon” — i.e. Baghdad.  Adam McCollum has written a fascinating post on it at the HMML blog.  There doesn’t seem to be a way to link to specific articles, but it’s here.

The manuscript is a Syriac manuscript, written in 1867 in the Ottoman empire.  The picture labels all the bits — the poles, the wires, etc.  

Adam also outlines how the telegraph came to run through the Ottoman lands (because our people wanted to be able to telegraph to India, basically).

Read it.  You’ll love it.

New bibliography blog

John Carr has emailed me:

I am starting up a small web-log with no other aim than to collect bibliographies of English translations of the fathers, both in print and online.  I’m also linking either to your ‘Additional Fathers’ page or to google books if there is a free version online.  The URL is

Do you know of another website already existent that is doing the same thing?  I don’t want to needlessly repeat anyone’s labor.  I’m only getting started so there’s not much there yet, but I will add fathers as requests come and I have time.

The dry and dusty art of bibliography is one that we all shirk, but is always useful.  I wish John all the best with his site.