Byzantine science – Zoology

Timotheus of Gaza.  A grammarian who lived in the reign of Anastasius at the end of the 5th century.  He was a student of the Egyptian philosopher Horapollo (so the Cyrillus Lexicon).  Tzetzes (Historiae 4.166- 69) remarks that Timotheos, along with Aelian and Oppian, represents the best zoology.  The Suda (T 621) describes him thus:

Of Gaza. Grammarian. He lived under the emperor Anastasius, for whom he wrote a tragedy on the public tax known as the chrysargyros. He also wrote in epic verse On the four-footed animals in India, Arabia and Egypt, and the creatures of Libya; also on unusual foreign birds and snakes in 4 books.

The 4 books in epic verse on animals (De animalibus, peri zoon) seem to be entirely lost.  But a manuscript from Augsburg (now in Munich) preserves an 11th century prose paraphrase of the work, but without indicating the author.  The date of this paraphrase is clear from the section recording the arrival of a giraffe in the time of Anastasius, and the same “in our own time” under Constantine Monomachus.  The creation of a prose paraphrase indicates the popularity of the work.  The editio princeps was printed by Matthaei in Moscow in 1811, but most of the edition was destroyed by Napoleon’s attack on the city. Portions of the text in an Oxford manuscript were published by Cramer, and these give the name of the author.  Older catalogues suggest that an incomplete copy of this work – or perhaps even of the original – may be found on Mount Athos, in the library of the Great Laura.

In addition some fragments of grammatical work Peri Syntaxeos were published by Cramer from a Paris manuscript (Coislin 387).  The “tragedy” – probably, at this date, merely a speech or dramatization, was perhaps written at the request of his fellow townsmen as a petition against the hated chrysargyron tax.  Seitz’s suggestion that the catalogue published by K.N.Satha indicates an “incomplete” copy of the tragedy on Mount Athos probably in fact refers to a copy of the De animalibus, as the title is only “to the emperor Anastasius; incomplete”.

Editions: F.C.Matthaei, Breuis historia animalium scriptoris anonymi qui seculo XI, Moscow (1811). Online here. J.A.Cramer, Anecdota Graeca Oxoniensis IV, p.263. Online here. M. Haupt, “Excerpta ex Timothei Gazaei libris de animalibus,” Hermes 3 (1869), 1-30+174 (online here).  J.A. Cramer, Anecdota Graeca e codd. manuscriptis Bibliothecae regiae parisienses, IV (1843), p.239-244.  Online here.
Translation: F.S. Bodenheimer, A. Rabinowitz, Timotheus of Gaza: On Animals. (Peri Zoon): Fragments of a Byzantine Paraphrase…, Paris/Leiden, 1949.
Studies: Seitz, Die Schule von Gaza, (1892). Online here. P.30 quotes Codex Vallicellianus E 11, a manuscript of the Cyrillus gloss/lexicon for Horapollo; On this see also P. Egenolff, Die Orthographischen Stücke der byzantinischen Litteratur … zu dem Programm des Gr. Gymnasiums Heidelberg für das Schuljahr 1887/88. Online here; R. Kruk, “Timotheus of Gaza’s On Animals in the Arabic Tradition”, in: Museon 114 (2001), 355-387. Online here.  Alain Touwaide, A census of Greek medical manuscripts, 2016, here, discusses the possible Athos manuscript of De animalibus.  G.-A. Costomiris, «Etudes sur les écrits inédits des anciens médecins grecs. Troisième série : Alexandre, Timothée, Léon le philosophe, Théophane, Nonnos, les Ephodes », Revue des etudes grecques 4 [1891], p.99, here, says the work Πρὸς τὸν αὐτοκράτορα Ἀναστάσιον περ Ζώων is “incomplete”.  K. N. Satha, Mesaionike Bibliotheke, vol. 1 (1872), p.271 has the entry “Τιμοθέου Γραμματικοῦ, πρὸς τὸν αὐτοκράτορα Ἀναστάσιον· ἀτελές”.  Online here.

Cosmas Indicopleustes. The mad monk who sailed to India in the 6th century and left us a weird book on the layout of the world. Book 9 contains descriptions of the animals of Ethiopia, India and Sri Lanka.

Manuscript online: Vatican gr. 699.
Edition: E.O. Winstedt, The Christian Topography. 1909. Online here.
Translation: J.W. McCrindle, Christian Topography, 1897.  Online here.

The zoological handbook of Constantine VII Porpyrogenitus (Excerpta Constantini de natura animalium) is perhaps one of the most important Byzantine zoological works.  It included excerpts from Timotheus of Gaza, Aristotle, Aelian and others, based mainly on the epitome of Aristophanes of Byzantium.  Two books (out of four) survive under the title Συλλογὴ τῆς περὶ ζῴων ἱστορίας, χερσαίων πτηνῶν τε και θαλαττίων.

Edition: S. Lambros “Excerptorum Constantini de natura animalium libri duo. Aristophanis historiae animalium epitome subjunctis Aeliani Timothei aliorumque eclogis”, Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca (Supplementum Aristotelicum, 1/1, Berlin, 1885). Online here.
Studies: Hunger, p.429f.  A. Zucker, “L’encyclopédie zoologique de Constantin VII vel Epitomé d’Aristophane de Byzance”, Rursus 7 (2012).  Online here.

Geoponica.  The 10th century farming handbook in 20 books contains a lot on animals.  It is compiled from earlier sources, named at the head of each book.

Edition: H. Bechk, Geoponica sive Cassiani Bassi scholastici de re rustica eclogae, Leipzig 1895. Online here.
Translation: A. Dalby, Geoponika: Farm Work. Totnes, 2011.

Michael of Ephesus.  12th century, in the circle of Anna Comnena.  He wrote commentaries on the works of Aristotle, including the zoological ones.

Edition: On Parts of Animals, Movement of Animals, Progression of Animals: Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca XXII.2
Translation: Aristotle and Michael of Ephesus on the Movement and Progression of Animals, trans. Anthony Preus, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1981.

Manuel Philes.  Byzantine poet.  Around 1320 he wrote a poem on the characteristics of animals De animalium proprietate, based on Aelian; also one on the elephant, De elephantis, and De plantis.

Edition: F.S. Lehrs & F. Duebner (edd.), Poetae bucolici et didactici, Paris: Didot series, 1862.  Greek w/ Latin translation. Online here.

Demetrius Pepagomenus.  Fl. Early 15th century. He wrote treatises on hunting dogs and falconry, and medical works in autograph in Codex Paris gr. 2256; also Ms. 60 of the Medical Society of London.  Also a work, De podagra; 3 works on hawks and hounds, misattributed to one Demetrius of Constantinople since 1545.

Edition: R. Hercher, Claudii Aeliani varia historia etc, Leipzig: Teubner 1866. Contains 4 opuscula on p.333-599, Greek only.
Translation: (Lat.) P. Gilles, Aeliani de historia animalium, Lyons, 1562. P.527-668. Earlier translations exist.
Study: A. Diller, Byzantion 48 (1978) p.35-42. Online.

Anonymous.  A handbook on falcons has been published with German translation based on a manuscript from Vienna.  The publication was of three such works from various sources.  The title of the little text is Ἱ ερακοσόφιν εἰς ιἀ τρείαν ορ0 νέων και  εις κοπας και  χρωμᾶ οιὁ ν ζαγάνων, φαλκονίων, πετριτῶν, ἱερακίων, τζουρακίων καὶ ὀξυπτερύγων.

Edition/Translation: J. Hammer-Purgstall, Falkner-Klee, bestehend in drey ungedruckten Werken über die Falknerey, Pesth (1840). Online here.

Anonymous.  There are other treatises on birds. I was unable to locate any details however.

Hippiatrica. The ancient Greek veterinary treatises were compiled in four different recensions, the most ancient of the 9-10th century.  Two of the manuscripts are illustrated.

Translation: A. McCabe, A Byzantine Encyclopaedia of Horse Medicine: The Sources, Compilation, and Transmission of the Hippiatrica. Oxford, 2007.

From Manuel Philes, De animalium proprietate, BL Burney Ms. 97.  Here.

Byzantine science: where to start and where to look

Where do we start, if we want to know about Byzantine science?  Well, you start here!

The history of science in the Byzantine empire is a neglected field of investigation, even more so than the same subject in the ancient world. It has suffered because few scholars with the language skills also possess an understanding of the scientific area. In addition Byzantine studies was neglected until recently because the subject matter was considered as merely derivative of ancient work. But this was always an over-simplification, not least because only 5% of Byzantine scientific works extant in manuscript have been published.

Byzantine science may be defined as the study of the history of knowledge of subjects which today mainly form part of the science faculties, in the period from 500 AD to 1453. This consists mainly of working with authors and sources transmitted in manuscripts, as few scientific instruments have been preserved from the period. The sources consist both of practical handbooks of “how to do stuff”, and also more theoretical treatises.

Introductory articles

  • Karl Vogel, “Byzantine Science”, in: The Cambridge Medieval History, volume 4, part 2 (revised ed. J. Hussey), 1967, p.264-305.  Online here (PDF, 11mb).[1]  This is 40 pages, and gives a massive overview of the main Byzantine scientists and their work.  Unfortunately it was written in a period when Byzantine studies as a whole tended to be dismissed as derivative and of no special interest.  But the material presented by Vogel actually contradicts the received wisdom of his day, as may easily be seen.  Not a lot of bibliography tho.
  • H. Hunger, Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner. 2 vols., Series: Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft, XII.5 (Munich, 1978). Volume 2 is the one of interest to us.  It contains chapters on mathematics and astronomy (astrology), natural sciences (zoology, botany, lapidaries, alchemy), and medicine, and gives a bibliography for each.  Unfortunately this is in German.  But I find that it can be understood OK with Google Translate.
  • Anne Tihon, “Numeracy and Science”, In: Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, 2009, p.803-819. Brief introduction. Includes a useful bibliography.
  • Anne Tihon, “Science in the Byzantine Empire”, in: Lindberg D.C., Shank M.H. (eds.), The Cambridge History of Science, Vol. 2: Medieval Science, Cambridge University Press (2013), p.190-206.  Brief introduction.
  •  M. Mavroudi, “Science, Byzantine”, in: Roger Bagnall &c (eds), The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, Blackwell (2013), pp. 6063-6065.  Brief two-page overview of current views on the field, plus useful bibliography.

Let’s finish by quoting Anne Tihon from her Cambridge History of Science article:

In the field of Byzantine science, so many texts remain unedited or simply ignored that one cannot claim to give a complete account of Byzantine scientific achievements. Nevertheless, we can say that the scientific efforts of Byzantium have often been underestimated by modern historians of science. Although Byzantine scholars were deeply concerned with the preservation of the priceless scientific inheritance from antiquity, they were also receptive to the progress made by their nearest neighbors, especially Arabic, Persian, or Hebrew scientists. The European Renaissance owes to the efforts of the Byzantine scholars the preservation of major scientific texts from antiquity. But they did much more than just copying the ancient inheritance in many manuscripts. They kept it alive, attempting to understand the texts exactly, making new editions, training themselves in mathematical procedures or geometrical demonstrations, and commenting on and explaining endlessly mathematical treatises, astronomical tables, and musical theories. This is especially true in astronomy.

A Byzantine sundial
  1. [1]The original Cambridge Medieval History volumes, edited by H. Gwatkin, are now public domain and appear online.  However volume 4 was reissued in two volumes in 1967, edited by J. Hussey.  These volumes are offline, as far as I know.  A new edition was issued more recently as The New Cambridge Medieval History, which is also freely accessible online.  However it contains no article on “Byzantine Science”.  The Vogel article therefore languishes in an obscure volume of a now superseded encyclopedia, and is not at all easy to obtain.  My thanks to the kind gentleman who tracked down a copy for me.

Byzantine science – Botany

Here are some notes on sources for Byzantine Science; in this case botany.

Botany was not a subject of real interest to the Byzantines.  The Byzantine interest in plants was entirely practical. As such they compiled lists of plants useful for medicine – materia medica -, or for magical use. They are also noted for the copying of ancient botanical texts such as Dioscurides, with its copious illustrations of plants and their properties. (An example appears at the foot of this post).

Studies: Hunger, Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner, Vol. 2, Series: Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft, XII.5 (Munich, 1978): pp.271-6.

Botanical lexicons / glosses. The lexicon or glossary became the usual form of botanical knowledge transfer in late antiquity and Byzantium. These were usually only alphabetic to the extent of the first letter. The botanical glossaries preserved in Byzantine manuscripts often give the impression of private notes, made more or less ad hoc on blank pages of manuscripts. They are usually short, and anonymous, except for those of ps.Galen, Nikomedes, and Neophytos Prodromenos. The manuscripts are usually 15-16th century. It is rare that these texts can be assigned a date, or read without difficulty because of the careless handwriting, and the use of terms from Latin or Arabic.

Editions: A. Delatte, Anecdota Atheniensia 2, (1939), 273-454, includes 15 botanical glossaries, including ps.Galen, ps.Symeon Seth, Neophytos, Nikomedes, Nicholas Hieropais. (Review here) M. H. Thomson, Textes grecs inedits relatifs aux plantes, Paris 1955, Nr. 10, p. 139-168. With French translation.
Studies: A. Delatte, “Le Lexique de botanique du Parisinus Graecus 2419”, in: Serta Leodensia, Bibl. Fac. Philos. Lettr. Univ. Liege 44 (1930) 59-101; A. Delatte, Herbarius. Recherches sur le ceremonial usite chez les anciens pour la cueillette des simples et des plantes magiques, Liege-Paris 1936; J.Stannard, “Byzantine Botanical Lexicography”, Episteme 5 (1971), 168-87.

Neophytos Prodromenos. A 14th century monk and scribe of Albanian origin in the circle of Manuel II Paleologus. He wrote a compendium of Aristotelean logic, also on the 24 letters of the alphabet and on Indian numbers, as well as theological works, and works on medicine. He compiled a lexicon / botanical glossary probably for the needs of the hospital founded by the Serbian king Uros II Milutin in the monastery of Petra in Constantinople. He also did research on cancer and oral and teeth diseases, and proposed strengthening by binding the teeth with woolen thread.

Edition: V. Lundstrom, “Neophytos Prodromenos’ botaniska namnförteckning”, Eranos 5 (1903-04) 129-155. Info here.
Dental text: De dentibus: Neophytos Prodromenos, Πρόχειρος καὶ χρήσιμος σαφήνεια καὶ συλλογὴ κατὰ στοιχεῖον περὶ βοτανῶν καὶ ἄλλων παντοίων εἰδῶν θεραπευτικῶν, ed. A. Delatte, Anecdota Atheniensia et alia, Band 2, Textes grecs relatifs a l’histoire des sciences. Liege-Paris 279-302, 1939. Details here.
Studies: Hunger, p.272-3, p.308-9; Michel Cacouros, “Néophytes Prodromènos copiste et responsable (?) de l’édition quadrivium-corpus aristotelicum du 14e siècle”, Revue des études byzantines 56 (1998) pp. 193-212. Online here; E. Bollingier, Essai sur l’oeuvre de Neophytos Prodromenos. Thesis, 1966. Info here.

A 7th century Dioscurides. Bibl. Naz. Naples MS Suppl. gr. 28.

A forgotten scholar: the grammarian Peter Egenolff (1851-1901)

Bibliography is a perilous trade.  Let a man once follow a footnote, and he may find his hours and days consumed in searching for he knows not what – and wishes he did!

Today I made the acquaintance of a scholar who, as far as I can tell, is scarcely remembered.  I first encountered him in a terse 19th century footnote.

The occasion was that I started to read about Byzantine Zoology – the study of animals in that period.  The first author is a certain Timotheus of Gaza, who lived in the late 5th century, in the reign of the emperor Anastasius. The bibliographical source is Herbert Hunger’s Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner, vol. 2, p.265.  But I quickly discovered material online telling me that Timotheus was a pupil of the Egyptian philosopher, Horapollo.  Unfortunately the ancient source was not specified.

However I was fortunate enough to come upon a preview of the Brill Companion to Ancient Greek Scholarship vol. 2, p.249, a volume hitherto unknown to me, giving a reference:

329. See Seitz [1892] 30 with n.3; cf. also Reitzenstein [1897] 312.

A bit of searching in the preview revealed that “Seitz” was Die Schule von Gaza, which was online here.  This in turn had a nice note on p.30 which referred to Dr Egenolff, in gnomic terms:

The statement is plain enough; the claim is made in a manuscript, the “Codex Vallicellianus E 11”.  Which is … what?  Well, I thought that I would look up “Egenolff, Progr. Heidelberg, 1888.”

This apparently simple task has consumed much of the afternoon.

“Egenolff” is in fact Dr. Peter Egenolff, born in Limburg-Offheim in 1851, and who died young in Heidelberg in 1901.  He seems to have spent his life in Heidelberg.  There is an online entry for him at the German national library here, which points to a book entry, online in bitmap here, with a couple of pages on his life.  Unfortunately the text was printed in Fraktur; and as neither German language nor Fraktur typeface is something I read with ease, the result is that I learned no more.

Somewhere there is Fraktur OCR, developed by Abbyy; but it was funded by public money in such a way that it was not made available to anyone.  So … unless some German gentleman cares to transcribe it, the entry will remain unreadable.

Searching for Egenolff’s work produces a series of pamphlets online, all rather obscure.  He seems to have specialised in philology, and in Greek grammatical and accentuation studies.  For instance he published two volumes of Anonymi Grammaticae Epitoma, in different places: volume 1 appeared in 1878; volume 2 in 1889.  These are extracts from manuscripts, with Latin preface and no translation.  For a while I thought that our snippet must be in these; and I wished that I had more time to devote to reading them.  He also published a Prolegomena in anonymi grammaticae epitomam; but this was in 1876 (online here).

Eventually I struck lucky: the volume is in fact Die Orthographischen Stücke der byzantinischen Litteratur / von P. Egenolff. … zu dem Programm des Gr. Gymnasiums Heidelberg für das Schuljahr 1887/88. (Online here). I think that Seitz could perhaps have picked a better abbreviation than “Progr.”.  And on the last page of the booklet – all these items are less than 50 pages – we find the material that I was looking for.  But that’s another story.

And I have still to look at “Reitzenstein”!

Why have less than 5% of Byzantine scientific works been published?

A few days ago, I noted that only 5% of all Byzantine scientific works have managed to make it out of the medieval manuscripts and into a printed edition of some sort.  For translations the figure is worse still.  The figure is an estimate by Byzantinist Maria Mavroudi, who works with the subject and certainly would know.

But why is this?  I wrote to Dr Mavroudi and enquired as follows:

As a member of the public, I wonder if I might ask … why is this the case?  Is it simply fewness of hands, or lack of an audience?  Or lack of funding?

She very kindly replied at once, with this interesting answer:

The reasons are everything that you mention: lack of interest on the part of modern scholars, based on the conviction that there is anything worth the while there (the “good” stuff is ancient science, while its Byzantine counterpart is a pale imitation lacking in “original” contributions). Fewness of hands is also a serious problem (there are very few people able and interested in editing texts on ancient science which is admittedly more mainstream, although not exactly mainstream). Editing technical texts requires not only knowing the language and editorial techniques, but also understanding the content of what one edits. Too many skills, all time consuming to acquire, are required of one and the same person. Funding can be a problem, but it is last in the priority list, and can manifest itself in various ways (e.g. scholars on an academic salary do not need to be paid for the specific work of editing; but publishing is expensive, the editions of such technical texts will never be best sellers, and frequently publishers shy away from producing such editions because they project little or no financial reward).

I attach an encyclopedia essay that outlines some reasons for the lack of interest in Byzantine science.

The attached article was M. Mavroudi, “Science, Byzantine”, in: Roger Bagnall &c (ed), The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, Blackwell (2013), pp. 6063-6065.  The volume is not easily accessible to normal people unfortunately, although if the articles are all of this quality, then that really is a nuisance.  The article is mainly about asserting that Byzantine science is worth studying for itself, and has been distinctly undervalued:

In summary, what is currently known about Byzantine science is significantly less than what remains to be uncovered. In order to be properly appreciated, Byzantine science must be understood as a coherent system of thought taken in its own terms. Modern divisions separating scientific disciplines were not perceived by the Byzantines in the same way (Mavroudi 2006), though they have been applied to the Byzantine material in valuable scholarly surveys (e.g., mathematics and astronomy as categories distinct from astrology in Hunger 1978, 1994; “high” and “low” science in Pingree 1991).

The complex relation between tradition and innovation in the transmission and creation of new knowledge was neither experienced nor articulated by the Byzantines in our modern terms. Byzantine philosophical, cosmological, and scientific thought developed in dialogue with Christian theology and sometimes influenced the articulation of Christian doctrine (Magdalino 2006).

It is interesting to learn that funding is not the worst problem facing the discipline.  I understand that domain knowledge can be acquired by intensive short courses, e.g. in alchemy.  The cost of publishing may cease to be an issue with online publishing.  The link to patristic studies particularly catches the eye.

Perhaps some of the PhD students now frantically casting around for a teaching post should consider whether there is a career in Byzantine science?  Hardly anything has been done.  The challenge may seem daunting, but surely it is far better to use your Greek and patristics knowledge, than go and sell insurance?

I have been collecting materials, and I will write a post on the bibliography of Byzantine science next.

Less than 5% of Byzantine scientific texts have been published?

Today I came across a statistic which really shocked me.  It seems that less than 5% of Byzantine “scientific texts” have been printed, never mind translated.

The phrase “scientific texts” would include technical texts which give practical instruction, but also the philosophical texts that discuss what would today be scientific theories.  It would be interesting to know how the ancients, and indeed the Byzantines, related the two.  We are often told of the gap between philosophy and technology in antiquity; yet we have writers like Hero of Alexandria doing both.

The statistic is by Maria Mavroudi, who writes:

The treatment of Byzantine science has fared equally poorly in modern scholarship… It is much more important to investigate the pertinent primary sources. In the case of Byzantium, this would require a major editorial effort because less than 5 percent of its surviving scientific and philosophical production has been published.[43]

43. There is no “official” statistic on this; 5 percent represents my estimate through acquaintance with important manuscript catalogs and published texts (surveyed in Mavroudi, “Occult Science and Society in Byzantium,” 39–46) as well as Byzantine manuscripts. It would be possible to recover Byzantine philosophy and science (as well as their Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew counterparts) by publishing not only treatises composed during the Byzantine period but also the marginal annotations made by Byzantine readers in important manuscripts of ancient philosophical and scientific texts.[1]

Obviously the figure of 5% is an estimate only.  But I’m sure Dr M. knows better than most people.

Why is the figure so low?  I would guess that there is a lack of scholars capable of doing the work – it requires getting familiar with the scientific area of knowledge, and specialist vocabulary, as well as having excellent Byzantine Greek.  But I am told that it is possible to cram in such information in a few sessions.[2]  If so, it is a pity that our universities do not encourage students to do so, rather than fruitlessly retranslating the same few Greek texts.

Regular readers will be aware that I have written a little about ancient alchemical texts, like those by Stephen of Alexandria.  Apparently Matteo Martelli, Gerasmios Marianos, Olivier Dufault, and Michèle Mertens are the scholars doing good work on Byzantine alchemy these days.  It is good that work is being done.  But limited access to primary sources must mean limited work.

All this sort of material could, in principle, give us more knowledge of antiquity – although I found that astrological texts seldom did so, when I obtained a few translations.

But … it is part of the heritage of mankind.  Our first duty to the future is to transmit what we have received.  Can’t someone find a rich Greek shipowner to fund the printing of all this stuff?  How much could it cost, to type it up and put it online?  It is, after all, Greek heritage.  Would the excellent Stavros Niarchos be interested?

  1. [1]Maria Mavroudi, “Translations from Greek into Latin and Arabic during the Middle Ages: Searching for the Classical Tradition”, Speculum 90 (2015), 38.  The whole article deserves attention.
  2. [2]I owe my knowledge of the Mavroudi paper, and indeed much else in this post, to tweets this evening by a rather unstable female PhD student studying Byzantine alchemy.  Sadly I was only able to obtain a very limited amount of information from her.  This was rather a pity, for I was very interested in this niche of academia, and how the problem of accessing technical literature might be overcome.  It is best that I do not name her, of course.  She also told me that existing editions and translations are not very good.