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Is “those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad” a classical quotation?

Last night I was reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson, and came across the familiar quotation in a Latin form, Quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat – “those whom God wishes to destroy he first drives mad”.  Therein it was stated that the Latin quotation was on everyone’s lips, but its source was known to nobody.

A Google Books search on the English version gives no hits before the mid-19th century.  Before then, the tag was circulated in Latin, it seems, with various word-orders and slight variants.

I think we can suppose that the English “gods” replacing “Deus”, “God”, is just a feature of quotation.  These tags are not transmitted as gospel, and a speaker or writer will modify them as he thinks gives the best effect.

But where does the Latin text come from?  Is it ancient?  In fact it is not.  It originates, as best I can tell, in the 17th century.

A Google Books search found me an article in the Monthly Magazine or British Register, vol. 51 (1821), p.520, in which a correspondent writes as follows:

To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine


IN the following extract from Mr Boswell’s Life of Dr Johnson vol iv pp 196 and 7 your correspondent Poplicola in your Magazine for May will find his enquiry answered respecting the Latin line he quotes — “Quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat.”

With the following elucidation of the other saying:– “Quos Deus (it should rather be Quem Jupiter) vult perdere prius dementat,” Mr Boswell was furnished by Mr Richard Howe of Aspley in Bedfordshire, as communicated to that gentleman by his friend Mr John Pitts, late rector of Great Brickhill in Buckinghamshire.

Perhaps no scrap of Latin whatever has been more quoted than this. It occasionally falls even from those who are scrupulous even to pedantry in their latinity and will not admit a word into their compositions which has not the sanction of the first age. The word demento is of no authority either as a verb active or neuter. After a long search for the purpose of deciding a bet, some gentlemen of Cambridge found it amongst the fragments of Euripides, in what edition I do not recollect, where it is given as a translation of a Greek Iambick.

Ον Θιος ?̣ελει απολεσεις πρωτ̕ αποφρετας [I can barely read this]

The above scrap was found in the hand writing of a suicide of fashion.  Sir D.O. some years ago lying on the table of the room where he had destroyed himself.  The suicide was man of classical acquirements: he left no other paper behind him.

May 19th, 1821

This is interesting for several reasons.  Firstly, it gives a variant form, “Quem Jupiter”.  Secondly it refers to an early unspecified edition of Euripedes.

Which edition this is is revealed by another hit in the search, P. R. Reynolds, The Writing and Selling of Fiction, 139-140:

Joshua Barnes (or Barnesius, according to the custom of the time) edited the works of Euripides in 1694, Euripides quae extant omnia.  This including a collection of fragments of various tragedies, which appears in the work under the title Incertae Tragoediae.  The volume also includes three indexes, on unnumbered pages.  The first index is important to this story.

In this “index prior”, under the letter “D”, (Google books link), we find the following:


I.e. Deus quos vult perdere, dementat prius, as found in the “Incerta”, on verse or line 436.  For of course this is drama, and each line is numbered.

Now this is certainly our quotation from Johnson.  But what precisely is the entry in the body of the text?  Again, we are fortunate that the volume is online, for we can locate v.436 here, and it is thus:

The Greek of the fragments appears in the left column, and is more or less as follows:

ταν δαμων νδρ πορσν κακ,
τν νον βλαψε πρτον

Which has been rendered like this:

But when the daimon plots against a man,
He first inflicts some hurt upon his mind.

The word daimon does not here mean “demon”, but rather has the twin meanings of “divinity” and “fortune”.  In his translation, Barnes uses “Numen”, rather than “Deus”, with this in mind.  In fact our saying is not Barnes’ translation, but instead a summary of the content!

So the Latin is in fact a coinage by Dr Joshua Barnes, in 1694, summarising a saying that he believed was a fragment of Euripides.

The fragment is found in the second century AD Christian writer Athenagoras of Athens, in his Supplicatio pro Christianis (Plea for the Christians), chapter 26, as Barnes himself indicates in his marginal notes on the passage above.

But I learn from this site that in fact it is a note on Sophocles Antigone, l.620, by a scholiast.  The idea itself is present in Homer, Odyssey, IX, 492-3.

In the tragedy Antigone, of Sophocles, in verses 620-623,  it said something similar:

For cunningly of old was the celebrated saying revealed: evil sometimes seems good
to a man whose mind a god leads to destruction.

The ancient scholiast on these verses says:

When a god plans harm against a man, he first damages the mind of the man he is plotting against.

όταν  ό δαίμων άνδρΐ πορσύνῃ κακά,
τον νουν εβλαφε πρώτον ώ βουλεύεται.

August Nauck collected this couplet as one of the fragments of his Fragmenta Tragicorum Graecorum (Leipzig.Teubner 1889), namely exactly the number 455 of Adespota or anonymous and therefore without author:

The couplet is in the scholia to Sophocles, Antigone, l. 620 …

The scholion is then quoted by Athenagoras.  Why the early editors attributed the saying to Euripedes I do not know.

Barnes also mentions the sayings of Publilius Syrus, in the 1st century BC, and the same site tells us that the Sententiae 612 reads:

Stultum facit Fortuna quem vult perdere

Fortune makes stupid him who she wishes to destroy.

But there is more.  For what about this variant “Quos Jupiter”?  It turns out that Barnes himself was working from an older writer, James Duport.

In 1660 Duport published his collection of sayings from Homer, Homeri poetarum omnium seculorum facile principis gnomologia, better known as the Gnomologia Homerica.  On p.262 (Google Books) we find the following comment, note a, on the section of the Odyssey:

barnes_euripedes_text duport_homerAfter reviewing a couple of instances of the thought, Duport quotes a portion of Euripedes, and then, expressing the opposite thought (Contra) he quotes the same line and translates Quem Jupiter vult perdere, dementat prius.  This gives us our variant.

It would be interesting to see what might be found in earlier editions of Euripedes, or any Latin translations of that era.  Most Greek works appeared first in a Latin translation, after all.  Unfortunately at this time I do not have much knowledge of the transmission history of Euripedes, so that must wait for another time.

To summarise, the saying as we have it is a 19th century translation of an index entry, written by Joshua Barnes in 1694 in his edition of Euripedes.  The entry summarised rather than translated the content of a couple of lines of Greek.  The lines were originally by a scholiast on Sophocles, quoted in the 2nd century AD by Athenagoras, and supposed to be by Euripedes by early editors of that author.   Barnes in turn was almost quoting James Duport in his 1660 work on the ideas to be found in Homer.

We may suppose that “Deus” and “Jupiter” were altered by some unknown speaker into “gods” in 19th century English, from an entirely correct feeling that the saying was not consistent with the character of God, but rather more with the outlook of the pagan gods of ancient Greece who, to quote a more modern source, “were petty and cruel, and plagued mankind with suffering.”

UPDATE.  I had meant to mention also the French editor Boissonade, who later gave a commentary on Euripedes in his Poetarum graecorum sylloge tom. XIX.  Euripides tom. 4.  In the 1826 reprint, again in the index, on p.322, we find:

Jupiter quos vult perdere dementat … 300

And on p.300,  which is scholia on the Bacchae, line 840, we get the Greek and then “sic quos vult perdere Jupiter dementat.”

UPDATE: An email from Andrew Eastbourne draws my attention to an article, F.W.Householder, “Quem deus vult perdere dementat prius”, The Classical Weekly 29 (1936), 165-7 (JSTOR).  This suggests that the Latin tag does not originate with Duport, but that he was referencing some existing form of the saying.

From my diary

I apologise for the lack of blogging.  Ordinary life has been getting in the way, as it does for us all, and I am in the middle of changing job, which is always rather tedious.

I’ve not done anything further on applying for a grant for the Methodius translation.  I will; it is simply a matter of finding the time.

It looks very much as if I shall be uploading the Eusebius Gospel Problems and Solutions and Origen Homilies on Ezekiel volumes at Christmas time.  Sales for both have slowed to almost nothing; and the intention was always to make them available freely online.  A few months after that they will go out of print, as I cancel my deal with Lightning Source.  Again, only lack of time impedes this.

Nothing further has been done on translating Eutyches.  Nor have I heard any more about the translation that I commissioned of Andrew of Crete’s Encomium on Nicholas of Myra.  The sample was OK, and the reviewer sent positive comments; and then the translator went silent.

Today I’ve been working on a blog post on “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”  Maybe it will appear tomorrow!

I also need to change my Mithras pages to work on mobile devices, using responsive front-end technology.  Sometime.

I’d like to get away for a bit of holiday in the sun, once we get closer to Christmas.  But where to go?

I was thinking about Egypt, but the UK Foreign Office travel advice is now horrific.

It was always pretty awful, the way that Egyptians hassled you for money if you went anywhere by yourself.  I remember walking to the road at the end of the drive of my hotel, and, quite literally, being followed down the road by a group of Egyptians!  I also remember a pretty scary taxi ride back from Luxor to my hotel, in which the driver kept trying to detour.  But it seems to be much worse.

The travel advice now suggests that going around, except in a group with a guide who can fend off the harassment, is unwise.  It never said this before.  Large areas of the country are clearly in the hands of bandits.

I don’t quite see how I can reasonably volunteer for all that.  Let us hope that this unhappy country recovers to where it was before.  How little good, and how much misery, has the “Arab Spring” brought to Arab countries.

One thing that I do want to see sometime is the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria.  This contains an interesting relief of the Lion-Headed god, from the cult of Mithras.  There was a Mithraeum near Memphis, probably connected with the Roman garrison there.  There is only one photograph of this relief, a bad one, which is reprinted.  I would hope to take another.  Unfortunately the museum is still closed “for restoration”.  I messaged Zahi Hawass on Twitter, and he confirmed this.

So … I don’t quite know where to go, that will give me sun and culture in December.  Jordan can be cold in early December; and the country is full of refugees and fighting men.

Another day, and perhaps it will seem clearer!

A diadem of Serapis and a Fayoum portrait

Two days ago the British Museum twitter account posted this item, which seemed to me worthy of wider circulation.  They posted a picture of an item in their collection, together with one of the Fayoum mummy portraits depicting it in actual use!

This mystery object is a diadem ornament worn by priests of the god Serapis in Roman Egypt

Gold diadem-ornament, from a diadem of the priests of Serapis.

Gold diadem-ornament, from a diadem of the priests of Serapis.  c.1-3 AD. 10mm high.

Portrait of bearded man (BM portrait 1994,0521.12)

Portrait of bearded man (BM portrait 1994,0521.12)

The juxtaposition is pure genius.

The link goes through to the British Musem site, where bibliography may be found.

Still more Pantoleon!

After writing my last post, I thought to check JSTOR.  And … I got a hit![1]  This discusses marginalia in an Old English manuscript, but the author wanders quite far afield, discussing devotion to St Michael the Archangel:

Greek devotion to St. Michael is well attested, but one writer in particular deserves attention in connection with the Corpus homily. In a sermon on the power of St. Michael, the deacon Pantoleon attributes a series of Old Testament miracles to the intervention of the Archangel.[108]

The sermon opens with a eulogistic passage which describes Michael by a string of epithets: he is “maxime et imprimis admirabilis Michael princeps Dei militiae” (the greatest and especially wonderful Michael chief of God’s troops), “benigne Michael” (kind-hearted Michael), “qui es fortissimus pugnator et propugnator ac defensor eorum qui Dominum diligunt” (who are the most powerful combatant and champion and defender of those who love the Lord).[109]

Of the miracles Pantoleon attributes to Michael, perhaps the most striking is the Archangel’s intervention at the sacrifice of Isaac: Michael stays the hand of Abraham as he is about to slay his son Isaac (§ XI). Michael is also said to be the angel who wrestles with Jacob (§ XI); who leads the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land (§ XIII); who contends with the Devil over the body of Moses (§ XIV); who aids Joshua in destroying Jericho (§ XV); who saves Sidrach, Misach, and Abednago from the flames of Nabuchodonosor’s furnace (§ XX); and who preserves Daniel in the lion’s den (§ XXI).

108. Pantoleonis, Diaconi et Chartophylacis magnae Ecclesiae: “Narratio miraculorum Archangeli Michaelis,” PG 140. 573-88.
109. Ibid., 574-75.

The reference to PG 140 means that Migne printed the Encomium a second time.

On visiting PG 140, the table of contents is at the back.  There are a couple of pages of introduction, which did not add much.

On col. 483 ff. is the Tractatus contra Graecorum Errores, clearly written after the schism between Greeks and Latins.  This is given in Latin, as printed by Stevartius.

On col. 573-591. is the Narratio, in Latin only.  Migne seems to be aware that he has already printed it; so presumably is just reprinting his source.

No other works of Pantoleon appear.

Further Google searching turns up a Laudatio S. Michaelis Archangeli, (BHG 1289) listed in manuscript by PinakesDe luminibus sanctis is mentioned at Pinakes as BHG 1945; the mysterious collection of homilies through the year appears in manuscripts listed here; and the Miracula S. Michaelis Archangeli is given as BHG 1285-1288e, 1288i-m, and appears in many mss listed here.

I probably ought to look at the BHG entries, but not tonight!

  1. [1] Richard F. Johnson, “Archangel in the margins: St Michael in the homilies of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 41”, Traditio 53, 1998, 63-91; p.89

I say Pantaleon, you say Pantoleon – more notes on this figure

Yesterday I collected what I could find about the mysterious writer Pantoleon or Pantaleon, a bunch of whose sermons appear in PG 98.  The data was rather a farrago, and a testimony to the obscurity of this medieval figure or figures.

This evening I venture a little further into the mine!

Migne prints the following items.  I have supplemented his statements from the the Clavis Patrum Graecorum:

  • 1. In sacra lumine or De luminibus sacris, about Christ and St John the Baptist.  (PG 98, 1243-1247)
  • 2. In transfigurationem Jesu Christi (1247-1253)
  • 3. A second sermon, In transfigurationem Jesu Christi (1253-1259).  This is CPG 5207.2º, which attributes it to “Pantaleon Constantinopolitanus diaconus”.

The CPG says that this is a sermon usually attributed to Cyril of Alexandria.  Cyril’s Commentary on Luke, is made up of a series of homilies.  Most of these are extant only in Syriac.  Homily 51 (BHGa 1994) is extant in Greek, and printed in PG 77, 1009-1016; and again as PG 98, 1248-1254.

A note in the CPG adds that this homily is attributed sometimes in the manuscripts to Proclus of Constantinople, to Pantaleon (spelled thus), and to Theophilus of Alexandria.

Migne states that some manuscripts attribute this to Cyril of Alexandria, as Homily 51 of the Commentary on Luke.

  • 4. Pantaleon, deacon and chartophylax of the great church, Narratio (or Encomium) de miraculis sancti Michaelis. (1259-1265)
  • 5.  In exaltationem crucis. (1265-1269) Edited by Gretser from 3 manuscripts, but Migne lists a bunch of them. Savile’s edition of Chrysostom also prints it, vol. 7, p.661-663.  This is CPG 7915, which attributes it to “Pantoleon Byzantinus presbyter”, and says that it is BHG 430.

A Syriac version of this work is mentioned by Baumstark in Geschichte, p.262; and J.-M. Sauget, in Ecclesia Orans 3 (1986), p. 132-133.

An Old Slavonic version is mentioned in Makarij, Velikija Minei Cetii sobrannyja vserossijskim mitropolitom Makariem, Sanktpeterburg, 1868 ff, Sept. (14-24), col. 718-721.  Manuscripts of the Old Slavonic are mentioned in Chr. Hannick, Maximos Holobolos in der kirchenslavischen homiletischen Literatur (Wiener byzantinistische Studien XIV), Wien , 1981, p. 98 sq., n. 20.

  • Orationes sive homiliae panegyricae per totum annum, but vaguely, and prints nothing.

The Clavis Patrum Graecorum adds a little to this.  In volume 5, the index volume, three authors are listed:

  • PANTALEON Constantinopolitanus diaconus 5207.2º
  • PANTALEON 9411
  • PANTOLEON Byzantinus presbyter 7915-7918, and supplementary vol. p.455.

This gives us a couple more works:

  • 7.  CPG 9411 is a letter of Pope Martin to a “Pantaleon” (CPL 1733 for Latin version), sent after the Lateran Council, on 31 Oct. 649 AD.  It is printed in PG 87, 169-174, and Mansi, volume X, 819-824, in both Greek and Latin.

References are given in CPG to Jaffe-Loewenfeld, Regesta pontificum Romanorum ab condita ecclesia …, 2 vols, Leipzig, 1885-1888, 2nd ed, n. 2068; and P. Conte, Chiesa e primato, p.448, n.152.

  • 8. Homilia de exaltatione crucis (BHG 427p).  This is CPG 7918, an unpublished homily, also attributed to “Pantoleon Byzantinus presbyter”.  Information about manuscripts can be found in BHG 427p.

The Patrologia Graeca also has some interesting information on the author, from older sources.  In volume 98, we find in the table of contents the following:

PANTALEON DIACONUS CP. Orationes, ex Frontonis Ducae.  Supplemento ad Bibliothecam Patrum.  Col. 1243-1273.

[Pantaleon the Deacon of Constantinople, Orations, from Fronto de Duc, with supplement to the Library of the Fathers]

The introduction for the author, starting on column 1243, begins with “Date disputed”.  The material given mainly comes from Fabricius, Bibliotheca Graeca, ed. Harles. volume 11, p.445.

We are told that “Pantaleon Graecus”, both deacon and chartophylax of the great church of Constantinople, whom Fabricius says was a Dominican, and dates him to 1252 – for this is the period of the Latin occupation of Constantinople – wrote a work De Graecorum erroribus, on the errors of the Greeks, which was translated into Latin by Petrus Stevartius using the library of Bavaria (i.e. Munich), and printed by him, without the name of its author, in Ingolstadt in 1616, vol. 4, p.553; and reprinted in vol. 26 of the Patrum Lugd. (aren’t abbreviations annoying?) p. 467-471.  That Pantaleon was the author was stated by Combefis in his preface on new publications.

Migne’s footnote to this is a mess of abbreviations.  But I learn from it that Bandini, in his catalogue of the manuscripts of the Mediceo-Laurentiana library in Florence, vol. 1, p.503, mentions Codex. Laurentianus 9, Plutei II, as written at the start of the 11th century.  This manuscript is said to contain the Narration, the miracles of St Michael the Archangel. A. Mingarelli references[1] a 9th century “Nanios manuscript 38” which contains part of the In exaltatione crucis.  (Apparently a couple of Venetian noblemen were named “Nano” but I can discover nothing about them; the manuscripts are now in Venice and form part of the Marciana collection.)  In his index he refers to Pantaleon as “priest of the monastery of the Byzantines”, as being so called in ms. Nan. 73, n.13; ms. Nan. 154 (?) n. 54 and elsewhere; and as “deacon”, based on ms. Nan. 63, 30 and others.

However Margarin de la Bigne (not “Margaret” as I first thought!) refers Pantaleon to the 8th century.  We are given no more on this.

There is also mention of a further Pantaleon Ligarides or Ligaridus, also a Greek, whose letter to Allatius is cited by Nic. Comnenus.  Another Pantaleon the Logothete is known, to whom Theodore the Studite addressed some letters.  A Pantaleon of Nicomedia, and Martyr, is also known.

Are we further forward?  I think not.  My correspondent has said that he intends to translate at least some of these, and make them publically available.  Let us hope that he does!

  1. [1] A. Mingarelli, Graeci Codices Manu Scripti Apud Nanios Patricios Venetos Asservati, 1784, p.47.  Google Books

Who *was* that masked man?! The mysterious Pantoleon

A correspondent writes:

Do you know anything about Pantaleon the Deacon? It looks like we have 5 sermons of his, in the PG 98 columns 1244-1269, though sermon 4 (apparently an encomium on Michael the archangel) is only given in Latin. … I was curious if you know if his works existed in English yet.

This is indeed an obscure author.  A google search revealed little, beyond a Spanish translation of the Encomium on Michael, published in Strasbourg in 2014.[1]

Fortunately the indispensable “fifth volume” of Quasten, ed. Angelo di Berardino, reveals a “Pantoleon”, which is the form of the name in the CPG:


Pantoleon was a priest-monk of the monastery “of the Byzantines”, probably near Jerusalem. There survives a homily attributed to him on the Exaltation of the Cross (BHG 430) which also exists in a Syriac version of the 8th or 9th century, making it certain that Pantoleon is no later than the 8th century. Honigmann has sought to narrow this down still further to 650-750, by supplementing the evidence of the Syriac version with his theory about the introduction of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross into Palestine. If this is correct, then Pantoleon may be the same as the Pantoleon to whom Pope Martin I addressed a letter of reproach after the Lateran Council in 649. Another homily on the Exaltation of the Cross (BHG 427p), as yet unedited, has also been ascribed to Pantoleon.

Editions: CPG 7915, 7918; PG 98, 1265-1269.

Studies: E. Honigmann, “La date de l’homelie du pretre Pantoleon sur la fete de l’Exaltation de la Croix (VIIe s.) et l’origine des collections homiliaires”, Bulletin de l’Academie royale de Belgique 36 (1950) 547-559; A. Labate: EEC 2 (1992) 640.

The CPG entries are:

  • 7915: Homilia in exaltationem crucis (BHG 430), PG 1265-1269, plus a Syriac translation;
  • 7918: Homilia de exaltatione crucis (BHG 427p), unpublished, but labelled DUBIA.

I find this entry in the CERL thesaurus here:

Pantaleon <Constantinopolitanus>

Biographical Dates: 7. bzw. 9. Jh. (früher: 13. Jh.)

General Notes:  CPG 5207,2: Sermo de luminibus sanctis; Sermones in transfigurationem Domini; vielleicht Verf. von “Contra Graecos”; Identität mit Pantaleon <Presbyter Byzantinus> (CPG 7915-7918) wahrscheinlich.

Which identifies “Pantaleon Presbyter Byzantinus” “probably” with “Pantaleon Constantinopolitanus”.

Searching for “Pantoleon Byzantinus” tells me here that there is a publication, Pantoleon Diaconus, Miracula sancti Michaelis edited by F. Halkin in Inedits byzantins d’Ochrida, Candie et Moscou, Brussels, 1963.

The Pinakes has an entry for “Pantoleon Cpl. Diaconus” here which references both a Laudatio S. Michaelis Archangeli (BHG 1289) and Miracula S. Michaelis Archangeli (BHG 1285-1288e, 1288i-m), plus a Sermo de luminibus sanctis (BHG 1945) and Opera.  But of course Pinakes is a list of manuscript holdings.

Likewise I find this in the old Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology:

2. A Constantinopolitan deacon and chartophylax, who probably lived in the middle of the thirteenth century. Several works of his, principally sermons, have been published, both in the original Greek, and in Latin, for which consult Fabricius, Bibl. Graec. vol. x. pp. 199, 242, 247, 258, vol. xi. p. 455, and Cave, Hist. Lit. vol. ii. Diss. p. 15. [W. M. G.]

I don’t quite know what to make of all this: but that’s what I have.

  1. [1] Pantaléon (Diacre de Constantinople). Narración de los milagros del supremo arcángel Miguel; y Panegírico del supremo y glorioso Miguel príncipe de la milicia celeste. Pantaléon diácono,… ; traducción, introducción y notas de Guillermo Pons. Strasbourg: Trifolium, 2014.  In series Archivum Angelicum, vol. 25.  ISSN 1969-5659; 25.  ISBN : 978-2-35813-028-8.  Info via Sudoc.

The Jests of Hierocles, and a Greek rascal named Minoides Minas

While reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson this week, my eye fell on a note telling me that Johnson published an article with a free translation of the “Jests of Hierocles”.  Such a text was unknown to me, so I did a little research.  I find that it is very obscure, and seems to have attracted little recent attention.

It seems that there is a collection of witticisms, mostly of the “Irish joke” form, which is preserved in bits and pieces in some miscellaneous manuscripts.  It begins with a series of “pedant” or “absent professor” jokes – the Greek word is scholasticos.

A number of these jokes were widely known in the 19th century, because they appeared in a school textbook, and were welcomed “for having to many a youngster enlivened the dreary waste of the Analecta Minora.”[1]

The text, such as it is, was edited by Eberhard in 1869, in a volume containing merely 86 pages.[2]  This edition, with the introduction in Latin at the back, may be found on Google Books here.  The contents are attributed to Hierocles, possibly a sophist of the 5th century AD in Alexandria (but probably not) and Philagrius, a similarly doubtful figure of the same date.

A look at the list of manuscripts given by Eberhard is not encouraging:

  • A – “a copy of a Paris manuscript, I don’t know which, made by Minoides Minas”
  • M – Munich Greek 551, folios 284-288 (15th c.)
  • V – Vienna Greek 192, fol. 104-109 (15th c.)
  • e – editions of Rhoer and Boissonade.

An English translation of the work, made from that edition, does exist, made by the unfortunately named Charles Clinch Bubb.[3]  From this we learn that the translator often found the point obscure, and the Greek doubtful.  But he does reprint the Johnson article as an appendix.

JSTOR contains little.  There is a 1951 article by Rapp about the collection from 1950, which is mainly concerned to introduce the collection in general terms, but corrects some of the misapprehensions of Bubb.[4]  Thankfully this has much interesting information at the end:

The best and most recent edition of the collection was published in Berlin in 1869 by Alfred Eberhard (Philogelos, Hieroclis et Philagrii Facetiae, Berlin: Ebeling & Plahn). It consists of 264 jokes, a very few appearing twice. Eberhard’s work is based largely upon three manuscripts, known as A, M, and V.   V (Vindobonensis) is of the I 5th century, and contains 68 jokes. M (Monacensis) is also of the Isth century; it consists of 125 jokes. The largest collection, A, with 258 jokes, is not only the most complete but the most exasperating and elusive of Eberhard’s three major sources. It is an apograph made in the robber-baron days of scholarship by a man with the name of Minoides Minas. Of Minoides Minas, Eberhard has this to say: (p. 58)

“He was a Greek who was famous for the number of books he discovered, destroyed, stole, and concealed. He openly rifled the libraries of Greece and Asia, and copied off these jokes from some manuscript or other; whereupon he proceeded to hide all traces of what anybody would want to know about them.”

Boissonade, noted French classical scholar and contemporary of Minas, published an edition of this jokebook in Paris in 1848, using Minas’ apograph. Twenty years later Eberhard, who was hoping to put out a complete and scholarly edition, made every effort to see the apograph. But his repeated letters to two Parisian scholars got no reply; so he was forced to use Boissonade’s text for A. Basing his work largely on careful comparison of these sources, together with some early editions which stemmed from an independent source, Eberhard finally edited his Philogelos.

The Philogelos, as we have it, is really not one joke book, but two. It seems to have been compiled from previous collections made by two different men: Hierocles and Philagrius. Codex A and M mention both names. V mentions only Hierocles; but it is possible that Philagrius’ name dropped out of V, as Eberhard suggests, because Hierocles’ appeared first and because most of the jokes were his. Further evidence that we have here two joke books, not one, lies in the fact that some of the jokes appear twice, in slightly different wording; and yet never more than twice. From two separate joke books then, those of Hierocles and Philagrius, somebody appears to have made a new collection. Who he was we do not know; nor do we know what other sources he may have used, nor the titles of the two original joke books. This anonymous compiler probably provided the title Philogelos.

Before the discovery of codices A, M, and V, 28 of these jokes were known to exist. They were found appended to a 10th century manuscript of Hierocles’ work, the “Commentary on the Golden Words of Pythagoras.” The ascription of the jokes to the philosopher Hierocles was at first not seriously questioned, and in 16o5 Marquard Freher edited both works together. For the next one hundred and fifty years, these 28 jokes achieved a wide popularity; so that Johann Adam Schier, whose edition appeared in 1750, was able to list an Index of Principal Editions which had appeared before him. Schier lists seven leading ones, implying there were many others. By this time, this collection of “asteia,”or “facetiae,” was being printed separately and for its own sake for the light-minded; and at the same time kept appearing as a reluctant and bizarre appendages to the Golden Words of Pythagoras. In view of the subject matter of these jokes there is a delicate, though purely accidental, irony involved. Needham, for example, who rejected the ascription of the asteia to the Hierocles of the Commentary, nevertheless printed the jokes as a sort of appendix, after apologizing as follows: (Peter Needham, Hieroclis Philosophi Alexandrini Commentarius in Aurea Carmina. Cambridge, Eng.: A. & J. Churchill, 1709, p. 459)

“Since there happened to be a few empty pages, and so that nothing might be omitted from my edition, nothing which bore the name of Hierocles, I decided to add these facetiae, as they are called; even though their frivolous themes, and an occasional expression only found in later Greek, lead us to assume that they should not be ascribed to Hierocles, the Alexandrian.”

In the Gentleman’s Magazine for September 1741 (xi. 477-9), when Samuel Johnson was a contributor, there appears an interesting article entitled “The Jests of Hierocles.” A footnote to the caption reads: “The author of the celebrated Comment on Pythagoras.” The article opens with an apology directed to the editor:

“… if you should be censured for inserting any Thing of so little Importance, you may allege, that they have been thought worthy to be preserv’d for many Ages; [and] that they were ascribed to no meaner an Author than Hierocles ….”

Twenty,one of the 28 facetiae are then given in broad English adaptation, a version which is generously padded, and which often takes the surprise out of the “punch line.” The omissions are no doubt due to textual and moral difficulties.

So, for over 1o5 years these 28 asteia circulated about Europe. Not until 1768 was the number enlarged, when Rhoer published 66 jokes based on the 68 which had been discovered in Codex V. Shortly afterwards, the existence of the Augustan Codex (later called Monacensis), with 212 jokes, was noted by Pontanus; who proceeded to publish 109 of them with Latin translations.

That was all, until Minoides Minas ransacked the libraries of Greece and Asia, and became “famous for the number of books he discovered, destroyed, stole, and concealed;” among which was presumably Codex A with 258 facetiae, which Boissonade proceeded to publish in 1848. The Philogelos, as we said, seems to be a merger of two separate joke books, those of Hierocles and Philagrius

The identities of the “Hierocles” and “Philagrius” are completely obscure, and the attributions may be accidental.  Rapp remarks that jokes lend themselves to adaptation in transmission, and although many are clearly pagan, the current dress of them is 9-10th century.

He finishes by adding that the interest in these items collapsed shortly after Eberhard’s publication.  Nothing was then done, it seems, beyond Bubb’s translation.  A JSTOR search reveals very little.

It would be good if someone would grab hold of this and identify the “Paris manuscript”, at the very least.  These pieces of vulgar literature reveal something very meaningful about ancient society, and are well worth preserving and transmitting.

It would be wrong not to quote one or two of the items, so here are a couple that struck my eye:

5o.  A pedant who was a money lender told a sailor, one of his debtors, to furnish him with a cinerary urn and also for his eight year old boys two slave girls of the right size with allowance for growth.

57.  A father advised a pedant who had a child born to him of a slave woman to do away with the child. He replied, “First bury your own children before you advise me to destroy mine.”

76.  The priest upon giving the suppliant’s olive branch to a pedant who was entering the temple of Serapis, said, “The god be propitious to you.” He replied, “The god be propitious to my little pig for I do not need it.”

149.  A witty fellow whilst in the bath was insulted by someone and he brought forward the attcndants as witnesses. The defendant objecting that they were not worthy of credence, he said, “If one were insulted in the wooden horse, he would bring as witnesses Menelaus, and Odyssus, and Diomedes; but the insult taking place in the bath, of necessity the attendants know the matter better.”

Such were the incidents of daily life in ancient Greece and Rome.

  1. [1] Eclectic Magazine 20, 1874, p.597.
  2. [2] A. Eberhard, Philogelos: Facetiae ex Hieroclis et Philagrii libellis excerptae, Berlin, 1869.
  3. [3] C.C. Bubb, The Jests of Hierocles and Philagrius, Cleveland, 1920.  Online here.
  4. [4] Albert Rapp, “A Greek ‘Joe Miller'”, Classical Journal 46, 1951, 286-290 + 318.  JSTOR.

New Mithraeum at Kempraten in Switzerland

A correspondent Csaba Szabó has kindly written to tell us about a new discovery of what seems likely to be a Mithraeum in Switzerland, at Kempraten near Zurich.  Interestingly the site is by a lake.  Somewhat ominously, the remains of three large lime kilns were also discovered nearby.

The newspaper article in Zurichsee Zeitung is here.  An exhibition of finds is planned for November here.

Neben den drei in den letzten Wochen auf einem privaten Areal bei Kempraten, direkt am See gefundenen Kalköfen, fanden die erstaunten Archäologinnen und Archäologen Mauerreste, die sich nach ersten Grabungen als Teile eines Kultraumes entpuppten. Hier wurde nach ersten, noch ungesicherten Erkenntnissen dem Gott Mithras im Rahmen einer Mysterienreligion gehuldigt. Der Raum, 7,5 Meter Mal 20 Meter gross, war nur für Männer bestimmt. Funde von Bergkristallen deuten auf den Gott Mithras hin. Als Bestätigung für die religiöse Bestimmung des Raumes gilt ein Sandsteinfragment, das ein Antlitz zeigt. Daneben wurden viele Knochen von Jungtieren gefunden, was auf kultische Opferungen hinweist.

Ein rekonstruiertes Bild zeigte eine vage Vorstellung dieses Kultraumes, der sich vom Fels zum Wasser hinzog. Eine Konstellation, die für die Kultausübung wichtig war. Noch ist Vieles nicht erforscht. Man weiss nur, dass in Martigny und Orbe ähnliche Bauten gefunden wurden.

My translation, which is probably a bit wonky:

In addition to three lime kilns, found right next to the lake in recent weeks on private land at Kempraten, the astonished archaeologists found the remains of walls, which on excavation turned out to be part of a temple. The first indications are that the god Mithras was worshiped here as part of a mystery religion. The room, 7.5 meters by 20 meters in size, was intended only for men. Finds of rock crystals indicate the god Mithras. A sandstone fragment showing a face is treated as confirmation of the religious use of the site. In addition, many bones of young animals were found, suggesting ritual sacrifices.

A picture of a reconstruction gives a general idea of this cult space, which ran from the waterside to the rock. There is a constellation, which was important for the cult myth. Most of the site is still unexcavated. It is only known that similar buildings were found in Martigny and Orbe.

I’ve added a page on this at the Mithras site here.  The details are very vague, and mainly concerned with the bunch of 100 dignitaries who were shown over the site.  But this may be a picture of the Mithraeum – the article leaves it unclear:

Kempraten - new Mithraeum?

Kempraten – new Mithraeum?

A curious software puzzle

A correspondent has sent me a link to a dissertation, which, he assures me, it is possible to download as a PDF.  Unfortunately his email was vague as to how, and I simply can’t work it out.

It’s presented in some obscure online viewer software, which, to my eye, simply doesn’t have a download option.

Can anyone work out how to download the blasted thing?  It’s here.

I am reminded of the curse in The Dying Earth, “May Kraan hold his living brain in acid”.  That summarises how I feel about all these pieces of useless “viewer” software.  I merely wish that the authors of such viewers be forced to use their own frustrating creations!

Another Coptic translation from Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has completed a new translation of a Coptic text on the 24 elders.  It’s here: