Another snippet from Agapius

Agapius continues to make interesting statements.  There’s this one:

Starting from this period, among the Greeks, Josephus (Yousifous), i.e. Aesop (Yousfâs) the fabulist began to be illustrious.

Well, no wonder names get mangled!  Who would have thought Aesop = Josephus?

Just before that, I’ve seen a discussion of why rulers speak in the plural; “We order that…” rather than “I order that.”  According to Agapius, Romulus is responsible (the founder of Rome, O Star-Trek viewer!).  After the murder of Remus (whom for some reason I imagine as being short), Rome was shaken by perpetual earthquakes and the inhabitants kept knifing each other in the forum.  Romulus then prayed to the gods, who told him that his fratricide was responsible.  But if he put Remus on the throne beside him, all would be well.  Romulus then prepared a gold statue of Remus, which he placed on the throne and then issued his commands as “We order…” (i.e. Romulus and Remus order).

I wonder what the real reason is?

Agapius progresses

I’ve translated three-quarters of Agapius.  Today I completed the first fifty pages of the remaining portion.  Each portion is around 150 pages, so still some way to go here.  I will prepare the next chunk of 50 pages at the weekend and carry on.

Mind you, I got to the end of this chunk with relief!  Agapius is unbelievably verbose.  He talked about one event of biblical history — the reign of Athaliah — FOUR TIMES, saying the same thing in different words again and again.  By the fourth time, I was ready to scream.

I now understand why so many historical works from Byzantine times onwards are published only in a truncated form, omitting the earlier legendary or biblical material that appears endlessly in them all.  Who could face wading through this tripe?

Back to Agapius

I know that various people are interested in the translation of Agapius, so they may be pleased to learn that I am still working on this.  In fact I did some more this afternoon.  What a pleasant change it was, after fighting with Firmicus Maternus. 

There must be something wrong with the text of the latter, I think.  Comparing my own effort to that of Clarence Forbes, the ACW translator, I noticed a distinct tendency to paraphrase at points.  He had to fight with the text to get some sense out of it at various points.

But I’ve ordered the French edition of Turcan, and with luck that will address some of the textual issues.  In the mean time, it is nice to work on a translation that doesn’t involve squeezing your mind or feel like chopping wood; where you can just translate like breathing.

Agapius has an interesting comment on the book of Ruth:

In year 5 of the same [=Samson], the story of Ruth the Moabite took place, i.e. originating from the tribe of Moab. Boaz married her and fathered by her Obed, grandfather of the prophet David. The story of Ruth contains 246 verses; her book is so beautiful, that it was translated from Greek into Arabic.

Agapius is one of the earliest Christian Arabic writers, so it seems that Ruth was translated earlier still.  Note that the translation was from the Septuagint.

Agapius – three quarters done

I have now translated 75% of the 10th century Arabic Christian historian Agapius, from the French of A. A. Vasiliev.  Of course the translation has no scholarly value — more in the way of research notes.  But there are a considerable number of people who do not read French easily, if at all, and so to make this version has utility.  I hope also to trigger a “virtuous circle”: the existence of this translation may inspire someone to make an English translation direct from the published Arabic.  This in turn would lead someone to get an ultra-violet photograph of the Florence manuscript, fill the lacunae, and make a full scholarly critical edition and translation.

I’m typing this while scanning the page images of the remaining part; scan, turn page, scan, etc.  Each quarter is around 150 pages of the Patrologia Orientalis.  I’m working on a chunk of no more than 50 pages at a time.  Any more than that, and I get oppressed by the size of the task before me, and depressed.

So far I have done part 3, part 4 and part 1.  Now to begin part 2.

Agapius can be tedious

I hope no-one ever tries to translate Agapius from Arabic by starting at the beginning.  I started my translation from French at the time of Jesus, mid-way.  That’s not too bad, and the material to the end is moderately interesting.

But the first quarter of it… yuk!

I expected it to be largely based on embellished versions of biblical narratives.  But I had not expected it to go round and round, repeating calculations of the years from the creation to the time of Christ again and again.  I’ve now seen the same material come round three times, and my patience is beginning to fray.  And in each case, he attacks the Jews for forging their Old Testament, in comparison to the “genuine” Torah of the Septuagint. 

Obviously it’s wrong in point of fact; but I could cope with that.  However I’m currently wading through a long fictitious story, told with obvious glee, about how Constantine consulted with the bishops and the Jews and “discovered” the truth.   It’s unbelievably tedious.

So advice for future translators; leave the first quarter until last, or you may never get further.

Agapius on a boat

I’m still translating the world history of the 10th century Arabic Christian writer Agapius.  I’ve just come across this:

This sea contains also on the coast of Persia a gulf which is called the Persian Gulf;  its length is 1,400 miles, its width at the beginning is 500 miles and its end is 150 miles.  Between these two gulfs is the country of Hedjaz and Yemen;  the distance between the gulf of Aylah and the Persian Gulf is 1,500 miles.

Today we encounter Arabs determined to rename the Persian gulf as “the Arabian sea.”  But here is evidence that in the Middle Ages they had no such qualms.

He also mentions Britain!

Agapius and the Syriac Old Testament

I’m still translating Agapius.  In part 1.1, while discussing the length of the lives of the Patriarchs, he performs a calculation based on the Septuagint.  He then gives the values from the Jewish Torah, commenting on how the Jews changed the text after Christianity came long.  He then says:

The Syriac Torah depends on the Torah (of the Jews), because it was translated from Hebrew after Christianity and the deterioration (of the text).

I’m not sure whether modern scholars are certain of when the Old Testament was translated into Syriac, which makes this testimony interesting.

Agapius 1.1 online at has several volumes of the Patrologia Orientalis, but not PO5 which contains the first part (of 4) of Agapius.  Today I uploaded the relevant fascicle of PO5 – the only bit I possess – to  It’s here.

I hadn’t realised that we could contribute scanned books.  I think that I will start doing so.

Eusebius, Agapius project news

Long term readers of this blog will know that I commissioned a translation into English of Eusebius of Caesarea’s book about differences between the gospels and their solutions (Quaestiones ad Stephanum/Marinum).

The Greek remains of this text are now almost entirely translated.  The last few fragments from catenas remain; but almost all of the mass of fragments in Migne (reprinted from Mai, which is what we are using) are done.

There is no progress on the Syriac or Coptic front, tho, which is disappointing.  I’m considering asking my Greek translator to do the other minor works of Eusebius — the epitomes of the Commentary on Luke, On Easter — while we wait.

Once the work is complete, the intention is still to publish it myself and sell copies to people to cover the translation costs; and, when that is done, to make it available online.

I think a book about problems in the gospels and how to overcome them ought to have a popular market as a paperback among Christians.  Not sure what to call the book, tho.  Maybe:

Eusebius of Caesarea
Commentary on the Gospels
A fourth century writer resolves differences between them

What do people think?

I’ve also begun to translate the first half of the world history of the 10th century Arabic Christian writer, Agapius.  This looks very likely to be of considerable interest.

It’s raining books!

A tap on the door, as I try to deal with the week’s post, and a neighbour bearing a parcel from Brepols.  Yes, it’s the remaining two fascicles of the Patrologia Orientalis of Agapius.  I wrote to them over the Christmas period, asking for them, and never heard back.  Prompt service indeed!

This brings to an end a week which has snowed books.  I mentioned Zamagni’s edition of Eusebius Gospel Questions yesterday; today it arrived — massively quick service that from — and looks excellent.  I decided last weekend that I needed to read Catullus and Tibulus, for what they say about the Roman book trade.  On Monday I ordered an out-of-copyright Loeb; a couple of days later it arrived at work.  Together with a mail-order pack of 20 100w lightbulbs (used in every house in Britain but now removed from every shop), no day has gone by without a delivery. 

It’s frankly overwhelming.  I’ve been trying to read N. G. Wilson’s Scholars of Byzantium, and being distracted.  Wilson deals with the survival of Greek classical literature in the Eastern Roman Empire, to 1453 — and does it magnificently.  It’s a truly splendid book.  To read it is a liberal education, and if I could give copies to my friends and know that they would read it, I would.  It’s been brought back into print via a print-on-demand service; go and buy it!

The two fascicles of the PO are interesting to see.  One is a shiny new anastatic reprint of 2003, but very good quality.  The other has uncut edges, and yellowing paper, and looks like an original printing — almost a century old!  Evidently not many people ever wanted to buy Agapius!  In a way, isn’t it a privilege to be able to get them?  Isn’t it a blessing that Brepols keep these in print?  Good for them!