From my diary

My house is still being painted.  My books are still in 70 plastic crates in the garage.  But this weekend I’ve managed to sneak my laptop back into the house.  I’ve brought in the router and got my internet working again!

It is such a relief to be able to get online at home.  I can get online at work at my current client, but since I know that their office network is subject to repeated virus outbreaks, I don’t connect to my email there.

Here I am still surrounded by painter’s gear, and nearly everything still is packed up in boxes in my garage.  The smell of paint is everywhere.  The carpets are being taken up, and there is dust and dirt in all sorts of places.  Living in a building site is challenging, particularly when you have to wipe the paint off your taps, or your vacuum cleaner, where the painter has carelessly handled them.  It has become part of my routine every evening when I get home.

Also I’m finding that one thing leads to another.  What was originally just a job painting all the walls and ceilings and white woodwork is now going to involve replacing all the carpets.  Pulling up the carpets reveals damaged floorboards.  I’m trying to get a carpenter in, and deal with this.  My, these people are difficult to contact!

Tacking down a damaged floorboard was enough to stick a nail through a pipe, which meant a plumber, which meant lots of air into the radiators.  I’m still bleeding the radiators at intervals.

Meanwhile I decided that my original choice of replacement carpet colour – beige – would be depressing when it’s dark or raining, i.e. for 9 months of the year.  So I’m spending all my spare moments traipsing around carpet shops.  I would just buy the same type as I currently have;  but they do not make it any more.  You can only buy what they sell.

This leads me to wonder … will future archaeologists date our dwellings, not by types of non-existent pottery, but by types of polyester carpet?

So there’s no time for Thoughts on Antiquity.  But then, I am lucky.  If I was married, I’d have no time to do anything.

The most interesting thing today is a 1954 aerial photograph of the London Mithraeum, which was here.  Sadly it’s not that clear which bit is the temple.


Not very exciting, perhaps… but as good as it gets!

I’ve been thinking again about ways to manage my books.  One item that I could happily dispense with is Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and Counterforgery, a big fat worthless book of which I reviewed bits some time back.   I wish someone would make a PDF of it; I’m  not sure that a Kindle download is quite as useful for reference purposes.

I’d also like to see the back of my Ancient Christian Writers series volumes.  I don’t have many, but they’d be far more useful in eBook form, and they would take up less space.  But I couldn’t see any sign that you can buy eBooks of them.

Basically if it is a translation of an ancient text, in the majority of cases, I don’t want it in paper form.

The exception, of course, is translations that one can read for pleasure.  My copy of the Penguin translation by Betty Radice of Pliny’s Letters is one such example.  It can be read for pleasure, and I have done so, many times.

The four volumes of Cicero’s letters to Atticus, and to his friends are another – and I have no idea at all how to get an eBook of these, long out of print, volumes.  I’m not quite sure whether I will read through these again.  At the moment I am not in the mood; but I have done so several times in the past.

Maybe the answer is to find some young man with time on his hands who would sit in front of the scanner for a few hours, and create eBooks of some of my crucial books.  But where do I find this person?

Somehow, I must regain control of my book collection.

I’ve also been reading Lindsey Davis’ “Flavia Albia” books on my smartphone, via Kindle.  Davis is famous for the “Falco” series of Roman detective novels, set in the Flavian period.  The “Flavia Albia” series are “Son of Falco”; or rather, “Daughter of Falco”.  I bought the first three volumes on Kindle and read them, and they slipped down easily enough.

Recently volume 4 of this series appeared, and I bought it on paper; but in fact I would have been just as happy or happier with it on Kindle.  I don’t know that I shall read it again, so the paperback will go out to a charity shop.

Maybe one-time or two-time novels should be read electronically, rather than on paper?  But … what about our eyes?  Eyestrain is such a problem for smartphone users.

Today I broke off from my house-related chores, and took a restorative walk by the sea.  While doing so, I saw that a new information board had appeared there.  This referred to a building on the sea front, which was recently – within a year or two? – demolished, and was called the “long shelter”.  I always felt that it was an attractive building, and that it should have been repaired rather than demolished.

Well, the information board told me that the demolition took place in 2008!  Was it really 8 years ago?  How fast the years now fall, like leaves in autumn after the first frost.

I was reminded yesterday of “Thoughts on Antiquity”.  This was the blog, at, on which I started blogging.  It was the blog of Chris Weimer, who invited me to write a few posts.  These I copied here long ago; and just as well, for his blog has pretty much vanished.  Looking at, I see the last post was 24 May 2010.  The last snapshot to show it was on September 26, 2010, and the next snapshot, December 17 2010, shows only an HTTP 301 code.  I wonder what happened to it?  Indeed I wonder what happened to him?  I see that I have an email address … I must write and ask.

I’ve had a series of minor health problems for most of the year, although I don’t believe anything is really wrong.  On Tuesday I go into hospital as an outpatient for a somewhat unpleasant examination.  Wish me luck!

From my diary

I have lived at my current address for nearly 20 years.  When I took possession, on 10th February 1998, I was staying in a hotel with my property in storage.  So I arranged for the place to be painted throughout before I moved in, on the 20th.  I have never been able to arrange for a painter to work without moving out again, so the house decoration has gradually grown rather tired.  It is not bad, but it won’t do for another 20 years.  I must repaint now.

This summer I was finally able to find a painter who was able and willing to do the deed.  He arrives on Monday 17th October, 2016, in fact, if all goes well – for these gentry are notoriously unreliable.  He will move large chunks of furniture around, in order to paint.

But there is one important exception.  Nobody can move bookcases which are full of books.  So this requires me to empty my book cases, which are mostly in my study bedroom.  This I have been doing, for over a week now.  The cartons I have placed in my garage; 24 of them so far.

It is difficult to find cartons suitable for books.  I have been driven to buying 32 litre shallow “underbed” plastic boxes with lids, available at £3 each, from Wilkinsons.  This evening I collected a further 30.

The process of packing is itself a painful one. Without a copious supply of boxes, it is even more stressful.  You find yourself agonising over how to fit stuff into the boxes.  With enough boxes, you don’t worry.  Buy lots of boxes.  It reduces the stress.

Tonight I have at last emptied every visible shelf in my study.  However there still remain many shelves in the large cupboard, including a stack of academic books.  Even these I have started, and may hope to complete tomorrow night.  This is well; for I have little space remaining in my garage.  It has been a heavy task for a man no longer young.  Will I ever have the strength to do it again?

In a way, this makes me think.  Should I really own so many books that I can’t manage them?  I say that I own many; but it is little more than 3,000, I would guess.  How many of these books will I never look at again?  It is all very well to retain books, especially academic books.  But I do wish that I had almost all the academic books in PDF, rather than in paper.  Will I have another purge, I wonder?

Clearing my shelves is like a journey into my own past.  I come across offprints, send unsolicited by a kindly academic.  Vast amounts of old hard disks litter my cupboard.  There are endless dictionaries of ancient Greek, from the days when I hoped to write a Greek translation tool.  Should I dispose of these?  Probably I should … for I no longer have the energy that I did.  In other cases I come across books that I know I will never reread, for I have read them out over the years.  Yet they are part of me, and made me who I am.  What to do?

Men of my age commonly deceive themselves that they will have more time when they retire.  If any of my generation can ever afford to retire, they may find different.

I spent two months at home this summer, in indifferent health.  Five days ago I went back to work, and found the first two days very awful.  I then had some very stressful and tiring days.  Yet … I find myself more alert, fitter, and in better health, now that I am working.  The “curse of Adam”, that all of us must work, turns out to be a blessing.  With “retirement” often comes a vegetable state.

As eBooks become more common, possibly it will be possible for me to buy or otherwise acquire eBooks of some of the academic stuff.  I must invest the money, I think; and buy back control of my shelves!

Thinking about Methodius, De resurrectione and De autexusio

This evening I combined the English translation of the Old Slavonic text of De Lepra with the translation of the Greek fragments of the same work.  The latter were considerably fuller, where I had both, and sometimes with startling differences.  However I hope to have this completed before too long.

This will complete the four short works of Methodius, leaving some Greek fragments, but also two large works: the De resurrectione and the De autexusio (On Free will).  The latter has a French translation by Vaillant.

I’ve worked out the price of translating both, and it is far beyond my means.  If it is to be done, it must be done by a grant.  Fortunately I have such a body in mind, so this evening I have been doing some calculations.

It is relatively straightforward to work out a price for the Old Slavonic of both works, based on the page count of the manuscript.  That said, Vaillant did edit the Old Slavonic text, so in this case we do have an edition to work from.

But working out a price for the Greek is much harder.  It turns out that there is an awful lot of Greek extant for these works.  The total for the Greek is 50% of the total for the Old Slavonic!

A further issue came to my attention when skimming through Vaillant’s preface.  It seems that the Old Slavonic translation is often almost unintelligible.

The reason for this, says Vaillant, is that the translator simply substituted for each Greek word the equivalent term in Old Slavonic, without bothering much about whether the resulting sentence made sense!  In fact he says that often the best thing to do is to reverse the process – to work out what Greek word lies behind each Slavonic word, and then see what the sentence actually originally meant in the Greek!

If we are to take this seriously – and translators are known to exaggerate the difficulty of their achievement sometimes, at the behest of their publishers – then this would mean that only a translator fluent in both Greek and Old Slavonic could make a translation of Methodius.  Only a native English speaker fluent in Greek and Old Slavonic could make an English translation.  Does anyone know of such a prodigy?

But I suspect that this is a tall tale.  Doubtless this may sometimes be the case; but I don’t think that I should abandon the effort of getting a translation made for such a reason.

It is late now, tho, so the application process will have to wait until another day.

One other point caught my eye.  Interestingly Vaillant refers to an unpublished French translation of an Armenian recension of De autexusio.  I wonder where that is now?

From my diary

At least I got Procopius done.  But I really feel he’s too late a writer for me to worry about, in the survey of early Christian writers who wrote about Matt. 27:25.  I don’t know about anybody else, but I am getting a little fed up of this particular story.  Perhaps it’s time to write about something else, even though we are not done yet.

Jonathan Armstrong’s translation of Eusebius’ Commentary on Isaiah arrived today, and interesting it is too.  At various points Eusebius signals where each book of Origen’s lost Commentary ceased.  It’s a reasonable assumption that there’s a relation between the texts, if Eusebius thought that worth doing.  He also refers to his Onomasticon in the work.

I really ought to start thinking about Methodius of Olympus, and getting a handle on the Old Slavic versions of his works again.

And Eutychius is still not done – it would be nice to do more of that.

Always so much to do.  But I think that’s enough for tonight!

From my diary

It’s the end of a long hard week, and I can’t face any more Procopius of Gaza tonight!  So I’ve instead been downloading a few volumes of the Patrologia Graeca from Google Books to my hard disk.  It’s always helpful to have these locally, as hotel Wifi is not to be relied on when you want to work.

I’ve also taken the time to tweak my copy of Google Chrome browser, so that it downloads the PDF rather than opening it in a browser window.  Unfortunately nothing I could do would have the same effect in IE!

A message from my local library informs me that the IVP Academic translation of Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Isaiah, is now sitting awaiting a visit from me.  Attending to this will probably take up much of Saturday.  Anybody who spends 6 days of his week in front of the screens is well advised to do the opposite on Sunday, and I certainly will.  So finishing off Procopius may have to wait until next week.

I’m beginning to wonder whether the finished post full of references should in fact be made into an external web page somewhere.  It’s really a bit long and unwieldy for a blog post.  But there is no need to do so yet.  I will continue to work on individual authors in individual blog posts.

From my diary

Oops.  I was just preparing the Italian text for the next chapter of Eutychius when I noticed that it was chapter 14; while my posts for the last five chunks were supposedly “chapter 12”.  They should, of course, have been headed “chapter 13”.  I have gone back and fixed the headings.

The mistake was easy, because the Italian translation does not contain running headings, so that, once in error, I had no reason to examine the chapter heading again.

I remember looking at British Library Additional manuscript 12150, which is a Syriac codex written in 411 AD.  This has running headings throughout, in the hand of the scribe.  It is a pity that the Franciscans of Cairo, who printed Eutychius, were unable to do the same.

I shall press on with Eutychius, although I feel rather ashamed of translating an Italian translation into English, and doing so badly since I don’t know Italian and rely on Google translate plus a smattering of knowledge acquired along the way.  But the result still makes Eutychius more available than it would be otherwise.  With luck someone qualified to do so will take the Arabic text and make a proper translation, and make it accessible online.

The next chunk of Eutychius looks rather theological to me.  It is concerned with something of the utmost importance to Eutychius and his fellow-Melkites, a minority in Egypt – the council of Chalcedon, at which the monophysites were condemned.  I hope that I can make sense of the text, even though I only have a sketchy idea of the theology.  If not, I hope that you will forgive me.

Today I heard from a correspondent, asking me about the online translations of John Chrysostom’s Against the Jews; or Discourses against Judaizing Christians, as the Catholic University of America Press somewhat presumptuously calls them in the Fathers of the Church vol. 68 translation by Harkins.  Of course I directed him to that volume.  I believe that a critical edition of the text is in progress, in Germany – the discoverer of most of sermon 2, Wendy Pradels, is involved – and when this is complete then a fresh translation will be called for.  Considering the importance of the text, one can only hope that efforts will be made to make that new translation available online.  There really is no purpose in publishing such things offline any more.

It’s been a while since I myself have commissioned any translations of ancient texts.  At the moment I am at home, waiting for another contract.  It would be unwise to agree any fresh outgoings until the money tap is turned on again.  Wish me luck!  Once someone agrees to employ me, then I will simultaneously have less time and more money.

It looks as if the general election in the UK is interfering with the UK contract market, just as it did in 2010.  I suppose, logically, that few corporations would commence an expensive project now, when they could wait a month and know what kind of regulatory environment they will face.  So they do not recruit, or sign contracts with small businesses.  So the delay is something of a test of patience.

In the meantime, I can do a few projects myself!

Negotiating the use of another translation – the Vita Per Michaelem of Nicholas of Myra

The earliest full-dress hagiographical “life” of St Nicholas of Myra, a.k.a. Santa Claus, is the Vita per Michaelem by Michael the Archimandrite, dating from the 9th century.  The first 11 chapters of this were translated by John Quinn of Hope College, Holland, Michigan, but he died in 2008 while out jogging without completing the work.  His version has been online at the St Nicholas Center website here, marked as their copyright.

A little while ago I commissioned Bryson Sewell to translate the remaining chapters, and his excellent translation has come through today.  I have donated a copy to the St Nicholas Center for their use, which should allow them to complete their page.  But of course I would like to circulate a complete text too!  So I have written to them to see whether they will make their chapters into something that can circulate, perhaps Creative Commons or something.

We’ll see.  In the mean time I shall look over the other St Nicholas material, with an eye to seeing what else ought to be translated.  There is, of course, loads of stuff; but it is the earliest and most important that matters here.

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!

From my diary – scanning my own past

You do it.  I do it.  We all do it.  Yes, I’m talking about photocopies!  All those journal articles… all those books that we couldn’t get hold of in any other way.

At least, that’s what we used to do.  I suspect that university libraries are allowing copying direct to PDF these days.  But certainly fifteen years ago, if I wanted a copy of a book, or an article, it was photocopying or nothing.

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In consequence, over time, I amassed a great quantity of the things.  The first ones I neatly filed in hanging folders in a filing cabinet.  But this quickly became impossible.  I noted that the paper used in photocopiers came in nice-sized boxes, and appropriated these.  Inside them, I stored my articles, separated by wrapping a piece of paper around them.

Over time I ended up with nine of these boxes.  Big, heavy, and so solid that, as I had 6 of them piled next to my desk, I tended to use them as furniture and rest coffee cups, notes, pens, etc on top of them.

Only one is left now.  This evening I finished the last-but-one.  Its contents are now PDFs on my hard disk.

I imagine that I stopped keeping photocopies around 3-4 years ago, and just automatically scanned them to PDF.  But looking in the boxes is like looking into my own past.  Today, for instance, I have found a load of books and articles relating to the Chronicle of St. Jerome, which I (and a gang of volunteers) translated into English.  I’m told that was 10 years ago.  My, how the time has flown.

In those days I uploaded the result to HTML.  Should I have produced a PDF version?  It seems more clear each day that I should have done so.  But I doubt that I have the energy any more.  Let others do it, if they will: I have given them the materials.

At least I can now see the carpet next to my desk.  For the first time in over a decade!

From my diary

A new job at the start of November, so I have been rather preoccupied.  But a little progress has been made.

I’ve commissioned a translation of the fragments of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis.  The main part of this was published by Sachau from the Syriac, but there are also Greek fragments.  The tendency towards a  non-allegorical approach in the Antiochene writers means that what he has to say should be of interest even today.

I hope to get some translations made of some of the medieval Greek legendary hagiographical material about St Nicholas of Myra – also known as Santa Claus.  It is remarkable that no English translation exists of almost all this material, regardless of its evident lack of historical value.

It was my intention to do some work on a translation of the 10th century Arabic Christian writer Eutychius.  No time so far!

A little work has been done on the Mithras site – uploading a couple more monuments, as photographs became available – but nothing significant.

I’m not clear how much time I shall get at home at Christmas and New Year, but there will be more activity if I get the chance!