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Freaky Fables: The Career of Richard the Lionheart – according to Handelsman!

Those of a bookish disposition have a tendency, in middle age, to go in search of the books that they read in their formative years.  I will not disclaim any such tendency.  Rather, I have just come across an item that I read when I was very much younger, which I thought that I might share with you.

By some process unknown to me – for I do not think my parents were subscribers – I often saw copies of Punch magazine in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  This often contained a full-page cartoon by “Handelsman”, headed “Freaky Fables”.  The cartoon retold some fairy-tale, or traditional or biblical story, much in the manner that we find in 1066 and all that; and none the worse for it.  Many of these have remained in my mind, and probably informed me subtly in various ways.

One of these was a cartoon on the career of Richard the Lionheart (do modern schoolboys even know who he was?).  It was memorable for Handelsman’s version of the song of Blondel:

Paul the apostle
Possessed an epistle
So very colossal
It made the girls whistle.

(I imagine that a few people remember this, which is why I give it where Google can find it!)

Of course there was a certain coarseness to much of the material in Punch – sometimes it could be dreadfully louche.  Another problem is that humour is one of the things that dates most quickly; and what was sharp in 1980 often seems flabby in 2015.

J.B. Handelsman did publish a couple of collections of this well-remembered material, and a copy of one of them came into my hands last week.[1]  To my delight it contained the Richard the Lionheart cartoon.  I post it here for your amusement (or not!).  (Click to get a larger version, and save locally if using IE which doesn’t display mono .png’s very well)

Freaky Fables: Richard the Lionheart. By "Handelsman".

Freaky Fables: Richard the Lionheart. By “Handelsman”.

  1. [1] J.B. Handelsman, Freaky Fables, Methuen, 1984. ISBN 0-413-55980-7.  Foreword by John Cleese. 64p.

Some notes on Musonius Rufus

C. Musonius Rufus (c. 30-100 AD) was a Stoic philosopher of the reign of Vespasian.[1]  He belongs to the group of four Roman Stoics which comprises Seneca, Epictetus (who was a pupil of Musonius Rufus), and Marcus Aurelius.[2]  He has been referred to as “the Roman Socrates”.[3] Naturally he spent time in gaol under Nero, and was exiled under Vespasian.

It is not clear whether he actually composed any works of his own, and none have come down to us directly.  Philostratus tells us that a biography existed, of doubtful quality.[4]

However a collection of lectures, written down by his pupil Lucius (as we learn from Lecture 5), certainly existed.  For in the Anthology of Stobaeus – itself not perfectly preserved, but attested in a number of manuscripts – we find long extracts, some twenty-one lectures, given under the name of Musonius Rufus, in books 2, 3 and 4.  This material was first gathered only in 1822 by the Dutch scholar, I. V. Peerlkamp.  An English translation can be found partially online at here.

In addition some thirty-two sayings, anecdotes and precepts is preserved in Stobaeus, Epictetus, Aulus Gellius, and Aelius Aristides.  Some of this material may come from a collection of reminiscences of Musonius Rufus, listed in the Suda under the name of the Augustan writer Asinus Pollio (and so wrong; but perhaps his contemporary Annius Pollio, or the Hadrianic Valerius Pollio was the original name).  An example:

On the assassination of Galba someone said to Rufus, “Can you now hold that the world is ruled by divine Providence?” To which he replied, “Did I ever for a moment build my argument, that the world is ruled by a divine Providence, upon Galba?”

There is also an exchange of letters, quoted by Philostratus, which does not seem to be authentic; and a letter to Pancratides, first translated by Cynthia King, which may be a writing exercise.  I noticee that it takes a different line to the Lectures on the question of whether to have many children.

How accurately the ideas of Musonius Rufus are transmitted we cannot know.  Since the Lectures appear only in extracts in an anthology from Christian times, it is entirely possible that only the more Christian ideas appear.  After all, any sensible author, however keen on the writer he is quoting, would naturally omit ideas that were entirely offensive to the reader unless he proposed to combat them as such.  So we must read these extracts with caution.

I came to read about Musonius Rufus after discovering online a short article by professional atheist Dr Richard Carrier on the subject here, and to whom I am grateful for causing me to look into the matter.

Of course he has his constituency to address.  Thus he asserts that Musonius Rufus was, in his opinion, the moral superior of Jesus Christ.  It does not seem to have attracted much attention from his intended audience, probably because, although one sees occasional attempts, the ploy of claiming superior morality to Christians is not much in vogue in an age so dedicated to vice and debauchery as our own.  But let people think what they will: if it causes even one person to read so obscure an author as Musonius Rufus, then that is a good thing.

He begins as follows:

Since this man deserves far more publicity than he has ever gotten in the modern age, I have written this short essay. He exemplifies the sort of man who should have been venerated and made the founder of a world religion, but was not, yet he was the moral superior in my opinion to Jesus–not perfect, but admirable within the context of his own day.

The article seems fair enough as a guide to Musonius.  As a specimen of anti-Christian writing, however, it is not very good.  It is one of the “finger-print” characteristics of hate-writing that those attacked must have no redeeming quality whatever.  They must be all black, all vile.  And this is somewhere at the bottom of the attitudes expressed by Dr. C., for the article is designed to attack the idea of “Jesus the moral leader”.  The ploy of promoting some nobody as the rival of a well-known figure, purely in order to diminish the latter, is an old trick of polemic as we all know, and need not detain us.  We need not suppose that Dr C. actually intends to follow the precepts of Musonius Rufus himself!

But since Dr C. does not in fact take Musonius Rufus as his guide in life, whatever his claims for him, he has no scruple in writing the following passage:

Although many of his views are remarkably progressive for his time, being for example a strong advocate for the education and extension of equal rights to women (Discourses 3 and 4), he regarded homosexuality as unnatural and monstrous, and all forms of recreational sex of any kind as immoral (Discourse 12), and opposed abortion (Discourse 15).

Quite so.  Musonius is “morally superior” to Jesus; but how inferior, how sadly inferior, morally, to the campaigners of the Selfish Generation with their advocacy of fornication, unnatural vice and infanticide!  What value, then, does Dr C. place on Musonius Rufus and his supposed moral superiority?  Sadly not much, it would seem.

Yet Musonius Rufus could have told Dr C. a few things about morality to which he would have been well-advised to listen.  So could Jesus of Nazareth.  So, indeed, could very many of the ancient philosophers.  Few of them would have had much time for the values and ideas of our day, and the worthless people who advocate them.  But the core of Christian teaching is not in its moral precepts.  It is merely that, in our age, it is only the Christians who uphold morality when the influential open their mouths against it.

It is also a little surprising that Dr C. does not seem to know that the moral teachings of Jesus are not unique, and may be found among many authors who lived before the latter walked the earth.  Those who read about the Natural Law tell us that morality is not something invented, but something which is known to all men, in every age, even if they consistently fall short of it.  Cicero On Duties makes fine reading.  Of course carrying the advice out is rather more difficult.

Never mind.  From my own point of view, it was nice to discover another ancient writer.  Let’s have some more examples of what he has to say:

” Musonius,” Herodes said, “ordered a thousand sesterces to be given to a beggar of this sort who was pretending to be a philosopher, and when several people told him that the rascal was a bad and vicious fellow, deserving of nothing good, Musonius, they say, answered with a smile, ‘Well then he deserves money!'”

Anyone who has read Diogenes Laertius will recognise that philosophy was beset with charlatanry.

In this category belongs the man who has relations with his own slave-maid, a thing which some people consider quite without blame, since every master is held to have it in his power to use his slave as he wishes. In reply to this I have just one thing to say: if it seems neither shameful nor out of place for a master to have relations with his own slave, particularly if she happens to be unmarried, let him consider how he would like it if his wife had relations with a male slave. Would it not seem completely intolerable not only if the woman who had a lawful husband had relations with a slave, but even if a woman without a husband should have? And yet surely one will not expect men to be less moral than women, nor less capable of disciplining their desires, thereby revealing the stronger in judgment inferior to the weaker, the rulers to the ruled. In fact, it behooves men to be much better if they expect to be superior to women, for surely if they appear to be less self~controlled they will also be baser characters. What need is there to say that it is an act of licentiousness and nothing less for a master to have relations with a slave? Everyone knows that.

This would be an unusual opinion in antiquity, and the practice of abusing slaves was only criminalised with Constantine.  Indeed even freed slaves were generally thought to owe their masters such “services”, even if the unfortunate Quintus Haterius managed to overstate the case.

He said that he himself would never prosecute anyone for personal injury nor recommend it to anyone else who claimed to be a philosopher. For actually none of the things which people fancy they suffer as personal injuries are an injury or a disgrace to those who experience them, such as being reviled or struck or spit upon. Of these the hardest to bear are blows.

This too has much common sense.  Let me commend, then, the reading of Musonius Rufus.

  1. [1] Text edited by Hense, Teubner, 1905, online at here.  English translation by Cora E. Lutz, Musonius Rufus: “The Roman Socrates”, Yale Classical Studies 10, 1947.  Partially online at here.  New English translation by Cynthia King, Musonius Rufus: Lectures & Sayings, Createspace 2011.
  2. [2] I owe this information to the BMCR review of Cynthia King’s translation, online here.
  3. [3] R. Hirzel, Der Dialog, Leipzig 1895, II, p.239; via Cora E. Lutz, p.4.
  4. [4] Apollonius of Tyana, V. 19.

A trip to Colchester Castle museum


The Roman site of Camulodunum lies beneath the modern British town of Colchester.  By a curious chance, it remains an army town, even today, almost 2,000 years later.

Today I drove there, with the intention of photographing the Roman items on display in the Castle, which serves as the town museum.  The Norman Colchester Castle itself is built on the massive plinth of the Roman temple of Claudius, and is consequently larger than it would otherwise be.

I carried out my intention, using the 13mp camera in my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone.  The museum had been dolled up in recent years, and very modern lighting added which often left items in semi-darkness.  But no doubt it functions well as something to interest children – a vital part of its role – although the very high price of admission demanded will ensure that only middle-class children ever visit it.

Interestingly I found that the camera in the smartphone adjusted better to the conditions than my own eyes did.  Many an item was far clearer on the screen, than it was to the naked eye.  The camera adjusted to the conditions, and sharpened automatically.

An example picture is above, showing some Roman glassware on display.  It must be admitted that those who designed the display did make it look impressive!

On the other hand, the camera has adjusted the colours also.  The real items are not nearly so vivid.  This was noticeable at the time with the green bowl, which in reality was a rather faded green.  On the other hand … it may be that this is precisely how these items looked when they were new.

I’ve uploaded the whole photoset to Flickr, so that people can make use of the images as they please.  I also photographed the museum labels, since an absence of these is infuriating in so many online images.

Some of the shots are blurry.  I am no photographer, and I grew incredibly physically weary taking these.  There are 298 photographs in the set!  They were taken over a period of something over an hour.  I tried to photograph every Roman object on display.  But for those on display there are, apparently, many more!

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 11 (part 6)

The story of the 4th century, as seen by a Christian Arabic writer of the 10th century, continues.  Thankfully we are now past the stuff about the finding of the True Cross.

15. In the twenty-first year of the reign of Constantine Athanasius was made patriarch of Alexandria (40). He was a Kātib.  He held the office for forty-six years. In the twenty-third year of his reign Ulāriyūs was made patriarch of Antioch (41).  He held the office for eleven years and died. He was an Arian.  In the twenty-ninth year of his reign Maqsimiyānūs was made bishop of Jerusalem (42).  He was a gentle man and had lost his right eye at the time of the sedition.  He held the office for twenty-three years and died.  In the twenty-second year of his reign died Metrophanes, patriarch of Constantinople, after having held the office for three years (43). After him Alexander was made patriarch of Constantinople (44).  He held the office for eight years and died.  To King Constantine went Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, and his companion whom the three hundred and eighteen had excommunicated along with Arius, and appealing to the king, they asked him to receive them [into the church] and remove the excommunication, saying that they themselves excommunicated Arius and supporters of his doctrine and professed the same belief of the three hundred and eighteen.  The king received them and removed their excommunication.  Then Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, was taken and made patriarch of Constantinople (45).  Helena, meanwhile, chose one of the generals and sent him to ar-Ruha to build the church.  After the building was complete, and in the meantime the churches of Jerusalem had been built, the king wanted them to be consecrated.  He sent therefore to say to Eusebius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to go to Jerusalem and there to convene a group of bishops to proceed to the consecration of the places.  King Constantine wrote to Athanasius (46), patriarch of Alexandria, to be also present at the consecration, ordering him to willingly accept his order and not to disobey him (47).  The king sent word to his sister’s son, named Dalmatinus, to attend the session and to be in the city of Tyre (48).  Once agreed on the conduct of the consecration, he traveled to Jerusalem and arrived in the city of Tyre.  There were present Maximus the one-eyed, bishop of Jerusalem, Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria, Ulāriyūs (49), Patriarch of Antioch, a multitude of bishops and many other people.  Among the defendants there was a man named Eumenius with a group of people who supported the doctrine of Arius.  Eusebius, patriarch of Constantinople, suggested to Eumenius that the latter put questions to Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria.  Eusebius, in fact, although he had represented himself to the king as being opposed to Arius, shared however the views of that man, and followed his doctrine.

Paulinus of Nola, and the “Liber Pontificalis”, on the courtyard outside Old St Peter’s

In early 396 AD Paulinus of Nola wrote a letter of consolation to his friend Pammachius which contains an interesting passage on the entrance courtyard at the front of Old St Peter’s.[1]

It is a pleasure even now to linger on the sight and the praise of such a great work. For we do not laud the works of a human being but the divine works accomplished through a human being. What a joyous spectacle did you [Pammachius], sacred producer, display for God and his holy angels from this—as the saying goes—rich provision of yours.

With what great pleasure did you exalt the apostle himself when you packed his whole basilica with dense crowds of needy people, where—under the height of its roof with ceiling panels in between—the spacious church lies wide open; and where, glittering from afar with the apostolic tomb, it binds the eyes and gladdens the hearts of those who enter.

Where, under the same massive roof, the church expands on both sides with double porticoes and where, with the church extended through a vestibule (vestibulum) in front, there is a bright atrium; where a cupola (tholus) topped with solid brass adorns and shades a cantharus, which belches forth streams of water serving our hands and faces.

Not without secret meaning does it surround the water spouts with four columns; such a decoration is proper for the entrance of the church in order that what is done inside by the mystery of salvation may be marked by the noteworthy work outside. For one single faith of the gospel also sustains the temple of our body with a fourfold support; and, since the grace by which we are reborn flows from it, and Christ, in whom we live, is revealed in it, surely a fountain of water springing to eternal life is born in that place for us on four columns of life; and it waters us within and boils in us, if only we should be able to say or deserve to feel that we have a burning heart on the road, which is kindled when Christ is walking with us. (Ep. 13:13)

That the basilica hall itself was filled by Pammachius with the needy, to whom he was giving charity, is itself interesting in 396 when, presumably, the sportula was still being distributed by the state.


The “cantharus” is some sort of fountain, and the 1575 image above shows the curious construction that stood there towards the end: a large canopy decorated with bronze peacocks, resting on eight porphyry columns, with the colossal bronze pine-cone inside it which spurted water from various apertures.

But this construction does not seem to be original.  Paulinus refers above to four columns, not eight.

Our earliest literary source for the fountain in the atrium outside Old St Peter’s is the Liber Pontificalis, which records under Pope Symmachus (498-514) that:[2]

He built the basilica of Saint Andrew, the apostle, near the basilica of the blessed Peter. [A list of gifts made to the shrines] Also he adorned with marbles the basilica of blessed Peter.  The fountain of blessed Peter with the square portico around it he beautified with marble work and with lambs and crosses and palms of mosaic. Likewise he enclosed the whole atrium; and he widened the steps before the doors of the basilica of Saint Peter, the apostle, and he made other steps of wood on the right and on the left. Also he built palaces in the same place on the right and on the left. Also, below the steps into the atrium, outside in the square, he set another fountain and an accommodation for human necessity. And he built other steps for ascent into the church of blessed Andrew and set up a fountain.

The “basilica” of Andrew is in fact the converted circular 3rd century tomb that stood on the south side of St Peter’s until the 18th century.

But the key phrase is translated differently by van den Hoek (p.21):

Ad cantharum beati Petri cum quadriporticum [42] ex opere marmoribus ornavit et ex musivo agnos et cruces et palmas ornavit

He embellished the area around the cantharus of Saint Peter with a quadruple porch made out of marble and he adorned it with lambs and crosses and palms made of mosaic.

42. For cum + acc., see Blaise-Chirat, s.v. “cum”.

Whether we should interpret this as meaning that the fountain already had a square portico around it, which Symmachus decorated with marble, or that he created the portico, is unimportant for our purposes.

G.A.Dosio, 1575 or shortly before, formerly Uffizi, Florence 2555.

G.A.Dosio, 1575 or shortly before, formerly Uffizi, Florence 2555.

Even after this, there were more changes.  The eight porphyry columns – which survive – did not arrive until Pope Stephen II (752-757 AD).  A mysterious piece of evidence is quoted by van den Hoek from a source which unfortunately I have no present access to:[3]

Renovavit in atrium ante fores beati Petri Apostoli qui quadriporticos dicitur, columnas marmoreas VIII, mirae pulchritudinis, sculptas, quae desuper quadris composuit et aereum desuper conlocavit tegumenum

In the atrium in front of the entrance (of the church) of the Blessed Apostle Peter, which is called the quadruple porch, he renovated [with] eight marble columns of amazing beauty, sculpted, which he placed over a square and he set up a bronze covering above

The reference for this is “Cited in R. Krautheimer, CBCR 5 (1977), 175″.  The CBCR is the Corpus basilicarum christianarum Romae, a series of huge and hard-to-photocopy volumes of impeccable scholarship.  (I see that some volumes are at the Hathi Trust here, if anyone would care to help me access this item).

Van den hoek suggests, probably rightly, that the bronze pine-cone was brought here and installed at this time.  It was certainly present in the 12th century, when Petrus Mallius mentions it in his Descriptio basilicae Vaticanae, chapter 41, p.100[4] (written between 1159-1181):

IIII funes extenduntur in festa S. Petri et octava eius in atrio eiusdem ecclesiae id est in paradiso, in modum crucis et ligantur de porticalibus ad pineam aeneam, quae est in paradiso; et in unoquoque fune X candelae suspenduntur.

I don’t quite know how to translate all of that – funes is “ropes”, apparently – but I see that “… in the atrium of the same church, i.e. in the ‘paradis’, in the shape of a cross, and they are tied from the porticos to the bronze pinecone, which is in the paradise”.  So the bronze pinecone was at Old St Peter’s by that time.

Where did it come from?  Well, that must be a story for another time.

NOTE: There are extensive 16th century descriptions and diagrams collected by C. Huelsen in his “Cantharus von Alt-St. Peter”, which I linked to in my last post.

UPDATE: See the comments for a translation of the rest of the Liber on Stephen, and an explanation of what it all means, courtesy of a regular reader!

  1. [1] CSEL 29, 94-95.  This material from A. van den Hoek &c, Potteries, Pavements and Paradise, p.11. Google Books Preview here.
  2. [2] Online at here.
  3. [3] Van den Hoek &c, p.46.
  4. [4] Huelsen gives the over-abbreviated reference De Rossi I. chr. I, 2, p.219; and no doubt he knew what he meant, even if everyone else before the arrival of Google had to scratch their heads.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 11 (part 5)

The next chunk of the 10th century Arabic Christian Annals of Sa`id ibn Bitriq / Eutychius begins with words that indicate that the text as we have it has been re-edited at a later time.  We’re still wading through dull twaddle about the Council of Nicaea.

12. Sa`id Ibn Batriq, the doctor, said: “I wanted to know on what day of the week Our Lord Jesus Christ was born, on what day was crucified, and in which months of the year these days took place (35). After careful research and having compared the years, I discovered that he was born on the twelfth of the solar cycle, in [9] of the number of the lunar cycle. The epact of the sun was one, and that of the moon [28]. Now December 1 was a Saturday, and the first of Kīhak was a Tuesday.  Thus our Lord Jesus Christ was born on December twenty-fifth, that is the twenty-ninth of Kīhak and the day of the glorious birth of Christ our Lord was a Tuesday.  The day he was baptized is then found in fourteen of the number of the cycle of the sun and in nineteen of the number of the cycle of the moon.  And the epact of the sun was three and a half and a quarter, while that of the moon was [11]. The first of January was then a Thursday, and the first of the month of Tūbah was a Saturday.  His glorious baptism took place on Tuesday, January 6th, therefore, i.e. on the eleventh of Tūbah.  The day of his saving crucifixion fell on nineteen of the number of the cycle of the sun and in fourteen of the number of the cycle of the moon. The epact of the sun was seven and a half, as the moon was [14]. The first of March was then a Thursday and the first of the month of Baramhāt a Sunday. The Passover of the Jews then happened on Thursday March 22nd, i.e. twenty-sixth of Baramhāt. This means that our Lord Jesus Christ ate the Passover with his disciples on Thursday, was crucified on Friday March 23rd, i.e. 27 Baramhāt, and rose again on Sunday March 25, i.e. the twenty-ninth of Baramhāt (36).  The Christians, however, as we have said, celebrated the feast of the Baptism, and began to fast from the end [of that feast-day] for the forty-day period after which they broke their fast, and celebrated their Passover when the Jews did, the day on which they stopped fasting.  After the three hundred and eighteen Fathers forbade them to do this, and arranged that Easter for Christians should be celebrated on the Sunday following that of the Jews, thus forbidding them to celebrate it together with them or before them, and taking care to celebrate it always after the Passover of the Jews.

They forbade bishops to have a wife. This is because from the time of the apostles to the council of three hundred and eighteen of them, they had wives, and if anyone of them was made bishop and was married, the wife was left with him and was not sent away, except for the patriarchs: as, in fact, those without a wife never elected as patriarch one that was married.”

13. As for Alexander, he deprived of the patriarchal dignity Ashīllā his companion, who had been patriarch of Alexandria before him, for he welcomed Arius and contravened what his master, the martyr Peter, patriarch of Alexandria, had told him to do.

As for the three hundred and eighteen, they each returned to their homes with great honour. King Constantine issued three edicts (37): in the first he required the tearing down of idols and putting to death all those who worshiped them; in the second he provided that rhetoric was limited to children of Christians and that only they might be designated as prefects and generals, and he ordered that the third Friday in Easter and after people should refrain from work and war. King Constantine commissioned Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, to search for the site of the tomb and the Cross and to build churches there (38).

14. Helena, mother of Constantine, said: “I made a vow to go to Jerusalem, to find the holy places and rebuild them”.  Constantine then gave her a lot of money and Helena, together with Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, went to Jerusalem with the intent to seek the Cross.  Finding the place, Helena collected a hundred men from among the Jews who lived in Jerusalem and Galilee, and she selected ten.  Of these she chose three, one of whom was called Judas. She asked them to indicate the [holy] places but they refused saying: “We do not know anything of this place.”  [Helena] had them thrown in a dry water well and left them there for seven days, without food or water.  The one of them who was called Judas told his companions that his father had shown him one day the places that the woman wanted to know from them, and which his father had learned from his grandfather. Then the two cried out from the well, were pulled out and told Helena that Judas had told them. Helena gave orders to whip him until he decided to confess his knowledge of the places.  They went out together and he led them to the place where they found the Sepulchre and the Cranion, now reduced to a great garbage dump. Then [Judas] prayed saying: “Lord God, if this is the place where is located the Sepulchre and the ground shakes violently, and fire comes out because of this, I shall believe.”  The ground shuddered, there came out a fragrant smoke and the man believed.  Helena then ordered area of earth that covered it to be removed, and there came to light the Sepulchre and Cranion and three crosses were found.  Helena said: “How will we know which of these three crosses was that of Christ the Lord?” There was, near there, a man suffering from a serious illness, of which he despaired that he could be healed. On him were laid the first and second crosses, but he was not cured and only when the third cross was laid on did the patient get up, completely healed (39). Helena realized then that this was the cross of Christ, our Lord, to be exposed to the veneration [of the faithful].  She enclosed it in a case of gold, and took it with her, along with everything that had been buried, and that had belonged to Christ our Lord, to bring everything to Constantine, her son.  She had built the Church of the Resurrection, built Golgotha, and the church of Constantine, and leaving, ordered Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, to build other churches. This happened in the twenty-second year of the reign of Constantine. From the birth of Christ, our Lord, to the finding of the Cross had passed three hundred years.

The fountain of the pine-cone outside Old St Peter’s in Rome

In the little courtyard or “atrium”, inside the portico but outside the main doors of Old St Peter’s (and you can follow the tag below for many images of the church), stood a little fountain.

pianta di Roma di Etienne Du Perac (1577), particolare del Vaticano.

pianta di Roma di Etienne Du Perac (1577), particolare del Vaticano.

It included a colossal pine-cone of bronze, which will be familiar to many who have visited the Vatican[1]:

The Vatican pinecone and peacocks today. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The Vatican pinecone and peacocks today. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I found online at Google Books[2] the following copy of a drawing of the fountain, itself taken from Huelsen[3]:

Water installation with bronze pine-cone in the atrium of Old St Peter's, Rome.  Drawing by Cronaca (1457-1505).  Uffizi, Florence, 1572.

Water installation with bronze pine-cone in the atrium of Old St Peter’s, Rome. Drawing by Cronaca (1457-1505). Uffizi, Florence, 1572.

The Huelsen article includes further drawings.


Andrea della Vaccaria, “Ornamenti di fabriche antichi e moderni dell’alma citta di Roma”, 1600, quarto.

Another image comes from a manuscript, Ms. Brussels 17872, fol. 56v, by Philipp de Winghe, and made around 1591-2.


Supposedly water would come out of the pinecone at various places, although how I don’t quite know.  The pinecone and two of the peacocks have survived, as may be seen above.

  1. [1] Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by Wknight94, April 2008.
  2. [2] A. van den Hoek & John H. Herrmann Jr, “Paulinus of Nola, courtyards and canthari: a second look”, In: A. van den Hoek &c, Pottery, Pavements, and Paradise: Iconographic and Textual Studies on Late Antiquity, Brill (2013), p.45, fig. 13.
  3. [3] C. Huelsen, “Der Cantharus von Alt-St. -Peter und die antiken Pignen-Brunnen,”, Romische Mitteilungen 19 (1904), 88-102. Plate 5a.  Online at here.

A drawing of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople?

When the Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453, one of their first actions was to tear down and demolish the Church of the Holy Apostles, the church to which the mausoleum of Constantine was attached, and to build on it the mosque of Mehmet the Conquerer.

I have never seen a drawing of the church until today.  But Ste Trombetti has kindly sent me a link to a digitised manuscript online, which contains an early map of the city of Constantinople!

The link is to a manuscript at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut.29.25, Christophori Ensenii descriptio cycladum et aliarum insularum.  It appears here, on p.74:

Constantinople 1420, Ensenius / Cristoforo Buondelmonti

Constantinople 1420, Ensenius / Cristoforo Buondelmonti

The image is not as high resolution as one might like, but I have zoomed in and got this, with the now vanished church in the very centre of field:


The building is labelled “s[an]ctorum apostolorum” (“of the holy apostles”), with abbreviations.  The Hippodrome is to the right – note the towers of fortification around it.  Left of that are two columns, the right hand one labelled “hic Justinianus in equito porphyia” (“here is Justinian on a porphyry horse”).  Above the Church of the Holy Apostles is another column, labelled “hic Constantinus …” with two words underneath which I cannot read, referencing Constantine, of course.

It looks as if most of the churches stand inside a walled enclosure – remember that most of the city was just fields by this date.  But this may not be so, as we shall see.

The depiction of Hagia Sophia does not fill one with confidence that the pictures are very accurate, it must be said.  But it is certainly better than nothing!

The image itself is not an original, but a copy of a drawing by Cristoforo Buondelmonti, an early traveller, from his Liber insularum archipelagi.  Another copy of the map is at Wikimedia commons here, from a Paris ms, apparently:


This is very low resolution, but seems to give a better and more believable image.

Yet another version of the map is owned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, from where someone has copied a bitmap to Wikimedia.


This is drawing gives us a much more likelike picture.  Hagia Sophia looks more accurate.  The churches no longer stand in courtyards but have high walls with domes atop them, which is probably correct.

But … this isn’t a perfect copy.  Note that Justinian on his horse is now perched atop the column.  It is just as well that the copy was put on Wikimedia, for the link to the Metropolitan Museum no longer works.  It is infuriating that curators do this, considering that locating images is very hit and miss anyway.

Thankfully libraries are getting more sensible, and a visit to the Gallica site at the French National Library can pay dividends.  Doing so reveals a volume containing Ptolemy’s Cosmographia which also contains plates by Buondelmonti, such as this one, Ms Latin 4802 (1552), on f.134r:


But this is a late copy, and various important bits have vanished.  Also the walls of the churches have turned into courtyard walls – perhaps this is a feature of later copies?  Here I was hoping for an early copy, but evidently this is not available yet.

A different image in many ways – and one in which the writer has just put stuff wherever he likes, seemingly, is here, a 1450 manuscript copy of the Liber insularum archipelagi sold in Chicago.


The copies of the map of Cristoforo Buondelmonti, from the Liber insularum archipelagi, vary greatly it seems.  What we need, I think, is some nice, high resolution images of all the copies that we can find.  The results could not fail to be interesting and informative.

UPDATE: Ste Trombetti has kindly sent me a bibliography on Ensenius/Buondelmonti.  This includes T. Thomov, “New information about Cristoforo Buondelmonti’s drawings of Constantinople”, Byzantion 66 (1996) 431-453, which seems to be sadly offline but is often referenced where these maps are concerned.  Also a link to another image, a copy of Buondelmonti’s “Liber insularum Archipelagi”, in MS Lat.X.123, at the Bib. Marciana:


This is clearly not an accurate copy.

I also found a bibliography on the Vatican website, giving Thomov’s article as a reference for the following Vatican manuscripts (which, presumably, must contain also copies of the Buondelmonti map): Chig.F.V.110, Ross.702, Ross.704,  Sadly none of these appear to have been digitised as yet.

Another find, an article by Michel Balard,[1] tells us more about the map:

Buondelmonti’s positive appreciation of the Turks can be perceived not only from the text of the Liber insularum Archipelagi, but also from the illustrated maps which complete his vision of the Aegean world. The most important are those of Constantinople, which can be found in 16 manuscripts of the Liber. Ian Manners has demonstrated how at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the cartographers changed their way of constructing their work.[19] In their bird’s eye views, they wanted to represent places and landscapes as they appeared to the travellers. For instance, when they drew the design of Pera, the Genoese colony on the north of the Golden Horn, they show the galleys waiting along the shore, the wooden piers, the walls, the churches and some specific building known by everyone at that time. The maps display the city “as known, as experienced, as remembered, as imagined by artists and cartographers”, with a growing realism and a tendency to accentuate and add particular facts of peculiar interest to themselves. In so far as the manuscripts and their drawings can be dated, the maps depict the transformation of Constantinople according to the main events of its history, and particularly according to the contrast between the last years of the Byzantine domination and the reconstruction by the Ottomans after 1453.

When he visited Constantinople in 1421-2, Buondelmonti received from Vitold of Lithuania, father-in-law of John VIII Palaiologos, a commission for a map of Constantinople, which perhaps could have been a model for the illustrations of Buondelmonti’s text on the city. The oldest maps, drawn between 1420 and 1450, depict a city quite ruined, with very few indications of monuments and places. The representation insists on the fortifications, sometimes with a single line of walls and towers, sometimes with a double line, similar to the reality. The city has a triangular shape, as is described by many chroniclers and travellers using a frequent topos and comparing the triangle-shaped city to a lateen sail.[20] Very few monuments are drawn inside the walled city: the imperial palace of the Blachernai, two monumental colums, and some churches, but no effort has been made to emphasize or even identify the great church of Hagia Sophia. Pera, described in the text as “Januensium pulcerrima civitas”, is shown on the opposite site of the Golden Horn as a very small suburb of Constantinople. The general impression is that of an open and empty city, with a few scattered buildings. Buondelmonti with his text and drawings wants to show the miserable condition of the city and of its inhabitants, whose hostility towards the Latins is underlined by reference to the Franks put to death by the Greeks who, during the crusades, offered them bread mixed with lime (a legend related by many chroniclers since the First Crusade).

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 changed the representation of the city in the copies of the Liber insularum of the second half of the fifteenth century. Buondelmonti died probably after 1431, but those who used his text and illustrated it shared partially his representation of Constantinople. The majority, especially the authors of the copies made in Chios, give many details about the city’s system of fortification: a moat, a double line of walls studded with strong towers, a single but mighty line for Pera. And, above all, inside the urban perimeter, a great number of churches, differentiated by their shape and denomination.  The more recent maps also show the Byzantine standard: a cross with the quadruple “b” of the Palaiologoi. It seems that the illustrators, longing for the city’s Christian past, wanted to enhance its Christian heritage. For them, Constantinople, which possessed so many relics and shrines, is still the New Jerusalem, a holy city with the benefit of divine favour. These copies are often linked with the writings of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, who, when he became pope, attempted to…

It is, then, clearly important to have a list of manuscripts, and to get the images from each.

The article is an interesting one, and it is a pity that it is offline.  It seems to give a biography of the Florentine priest, Christopher Buondelmonti, who knew Niccolo Niccoli, based himself at Rhodes and visited Constantinople twice, in 1420 and 1421-22, while hunting for Greek manuscripts.

  1. [1] Michel Balard, “Buondelmonti and the Holy War”, in: Ruthy GertwagenElizabeth Jeffreys, Shipping, Trade and Crusade in the Medieval Mediterranean: Studies in Honour of John Pryor, (2013), 414-424 (?). Google books preview here is rather odd and I can’t make out much about the pagination.

New English translation of Coptic “Prayer of Athanasius” now online

Anthony Alcock has very kindly sent me a new English translation that he has made of the Coptic Prayer of Athanasius.  It’s here:

The text used is E.A. Wallis Budge Miscellaneous Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (1915).  However he tells us that the downloaded copy of this accessible to him was tightly bound and the ends of the lines were hidden in the spine.

This is probably a feature of all the original copies.  I have myself seen a copy of this volume at Cambridge, and it was a small, very thick volume, so bound as to be nearly unusable.

Does anybody know of an electronic copy that does not suffer from this problem?  It may be that somebody needs to buy a copy and disbind it, to create a decent PDF.

A few more pictures from Heidelberg

The Digital Library at the University of Heidelberg is a little difficult to use at first.  But if you go to the search page and enter “romae”, you will get a list of books.  If you click on one of these, such as Montjosieu’s Romae Hospes (1585), you will get the “home page” for the book, with its link for downloading PDF’s.  Page down, and you will see a list of sections of the book, all clickable.  Choose one – any one – and click through.

This will give you a single page: but hit the “Vorschau” link at the top, and, le voila, you will get thumbnails of all pages!  This is incredibly useful, when looking for early prints.  It saves the necessity to download the PDF in most cases.

In this case we find another depiction of the Vatican obelisk and the Vatican rotunda to the south side of Old St Peter’s in Rome, on folio 10, here.  It doesn’t give us more than Dosio, but it does confirm it.


For me this settles it: the UB Heidelberg is now, officially, a really important site for anyone interested in ancient Rome.  If you don’t take the time to familiarise yourself with it, you are certainly missing out.