An extant “sillybos” – parchment label – from an ancient roll

The British Library manuscripts blog has produced a rather marvellous article by Matthew Nicholls on Ancient Libraries.

But what made it special to me was an image of an item which I had never seen before.

As we all know, ancient books were written on rolls of papyrus.  The modern book form or “codex” belongs to late antiquity.  But the title of the work in each roll was written on a parchment slip known as the sillybos, which protruded from the end, allowing the reader to find out which roll he needed without unrolling any of them.

Cicero refers to such items in his letters to Atticus.  In book 4, letter 8, 2, we read:[1]

Postea vero quam Tyrannio mihi libros disposuit, mens addita videtur meis aedibus. Qua quidem in re mirifica opera Dionysi et Menophili tui fuit. Nihil venustius quam illa tua pegmata, postquam mi sillybis libros iIlustrarunt. Vale. Et scribas ad me velim de gladiatoribus, sed ita, bene si rem gerunt; non quaero, male si se gessere.

Since Tyrannio has arranged my books, the house seems to have acquired a soul: and your Dionysius and Menophilus were of extraordinary service. Nothing could be more charming than those bookcases of yours now that the books are adorned with title-slips. Farewell. Please let me know about the gladiators: but only if they are behaving well; if not, I don’t want to know.

 In book 4, letter 5.4 we read:[2]

Domum meam quod crebro invisis est mihi valde gratum. Viaticum Crassipes praeripit. Tu “de via recta in hortos.” Videtur commodius ad te: postridie scilicet; quid enim tua? Sed viderimus. Bibliothecam mihi tui pinxerunt constructione et sillybis. Eos velim laudes.

I am very grateful to you for going to see my house so often. Crassipes is swallowing all my travelling money. You say I must go straight to your country house. It seems to me more convenient to go to your town house, and on the next day. It can’t make any difference to you. But we shall see. Your men have beautified my library by binding the books and affixing title-slips. Please thank them.

A painting from Herculaneum shows an example of a roll with a sillybos dangling out of the end of the roll:

Matthew has posted here an image of one, attached to its original roll:

The slip has on it the name of “Bacchylides” – a poet of the 5th c. BC – with the title of the work, the Dithyramboi, underneath.  The bit of text attached is from the 17th dithyramb. The manuscript is BL papyrus 2056 (= P.Oxy. 1091), and is 2nd century AD in date.  It is, of course, from Oxyrhynchus, as is papyrus 733, the unique manuscript of Bacchylides’ poems.

It’s wonderful to see something like this.  It’s obvious how these could become detached, and a work could become anonymous and untitled.

Note that a number of other sillyboi may be seen at the Oxyrhynchus website here.

  1. [1]Loeb edition, vol. 1, p.292-3.
  2. [2]Loeb edition, vol. 1, p.284-5

The codex Aesinas of the minor works of Tacitus now online (?)

A correspondent advised me some time ago that the Codex Aesinas – the Iesi codex -, our sole remaining manuscript of the minor works of Tacitus, is now online in high-resolution images.

This is marvellous news, obviously.  The link is here:$1i

But … just at the moment the viewer did not seem to be working for me, I should add, either in IE or Chrome.  The viewer has a facility to send you a PDF of the pages.  I’m not sure if this is working either, although I have tried.

If anyone can get this to work, please let me know in the comments.

A new work by Apuleius!

This story passed me by completely, until the excellent J.-B. Piggin tweeted about it, as part of his lists of Vatican manuscripts coming online.  Justin Stover has more here.

In 1949, the historian of philosophy Raymond Klibansky made a dramatic announcement to the British Academy: a new Latin philosophical text dating from antiquity, a Summarium librorum Platonis, had been discovered in a manuscript of the Vatican (although he did not disclose its shelfmark). During the remaining fifty-six years of his life, until his death in 2005, his promised edition never appeared (Proceedings 1949).

The work was transmitted with the other works of Apuleius, where it was treated as book 3 of De Platone, hitherto presumed lost.

Piggin notes (after Justin Stover added a comment) that Klibansky did reveal the shelfmark in 1993, in his catalogue of the manuscripts of Apuleius’ philosophical works, with Frank Regen, Die Handschriften der philosophischen Werke des Apuleius.

The manuscript is in fact Vatican Reginensis Latinus 1572, online here, although only in a wretched digitised microfilm.  The online catalogue entry is here.  The Vatican catalogue describes this as a 14th century manuscript, but R.H.Rouse has identified it as one of the manuscripts of the 13th century French bibliophile, Richard de Fournival.[1] It contains works of Apuleius, plus notes.  Justin Stover has a paper online here discussing how the manuscript fits within the stemma of the philosophical works of Apuleius.[2]

The new work begins on folio 77r (frame 78), and here’s the opening portion.  The text starts with the Quod in the third column.

Piggin adds that

Stover’s edition, A New Work by Apuleius: The Lost Third Book of the De Platone, has since appeared with OUP. (HT to Pieter Buellens (@LatinAristotle).)

Furthermore, there is also a paper online here from Justin Stover and Yaron Winter, in which the proposed authorship of the work is assessed using computational linguistics.[3]

I think we all owe a debt to Justin Stover for his work on this one.

And if you don’t follow J.-B. Piggin’s blog, with its endless notices of Vatican manuscripts as they come online, you should.

UPDATE: My thanks to Pieter Bullens for correcting my mistake about the date of the manuscript on twitter.  I’ve updated the reference.

  1. [1]R.H. Rouse, “Manuscripts belonging to Richard de Fournival”, Revue d’histoire de textes 3 (1974), 253-269; p.266, where it is identified as number 85 in the Biblionomia of Richard de Fournival.  Online here.
  2. [2]J. A. Stover, “Apuleius and the Codex Reginensis”, Exemplaria Classica: Journal of Classical Philology 19 (2015), 131-154.
  3. [3]J.A.Stover & Y. Winter, “Computational Authorship Verification Method Attributes a New Work to a Major 2nd Century African Author”, Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 67, 2016, 239-242.

The manuscripts of Philostratus’ “Life of Apollonius of Tyana”

The Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus is a curious text with an evil history.  It was perhaps originally composed in the Severan period, quite innocently, as a mainly fictional work based partly on earlier sources about the pagan sage of the last first century AD.

But it was then used, and perhaps re-edited, as a tool for anti-Christian propaganda during the Great Persecution under Diocletian, by Hierocles, the governor of Bithynia.  We learn from Eusebius how this unattractive man began his persecution first by putting out a series of forged texts.  Material designed to set Apollonius up as a “pagan Christ” – and a superior one – formed part of this campaign.  This PR campaign was designed to denormalise and to marginalise the Christians, whom he intended to murder, by first depicting them as deluded, irrational, unreasonably dogmatic and ignorant of the “real origins” of their faith. Having done this by way of preparation, he then felt able to begin the violence.

We know much of this from Eusebius, who wrote a refutation of the “Apollonius” material, under the title of Adversus Hieroclem. By chance this too has come down to us, and which has been printed together with the Life of Apollonius since the editio princeps of Aldus Manutius in 1502.[1]  Indeed the excellent N. G. Wilson has just published an edition and translation of the Aldine prefaces, including that on Philostratus and Eusebius, reviewed in BMCR.

First page of the Mediceo-Laurenziana Ms. 69:33.
First page of the Mediceo-Laurenziana Ms. 69:33.

The Life of Apollonius has come down to us in a number of Greek manuscripts.  But I find, absurdly, that the text has not been edited since the Teubner edition by C. L. Kayser of 1870![2]   Even that refers back to the edition by the same editor of 1844 for its critical work.[3]  The Loeb editions, which give us our English translations, simply work from Kayser.

Fortunately Dutch scholar Gerard Boter, who reviewed the most recent Loeb here, has come to our rescue, with an excellent article on the manuscripts, preparatory to a new edition.[4]  I imagine that few of us have a grasp on the manuscript tradition, so I thought that we would all be served by summarising it here.

The manuscripts are as follows, and doubtless more are online than I have seen.  The sigla are newly assigned by Boter, but all are mentioned by Kayser somewhere.[5]  I include Kayer’s sigla in brackets, as these are probably used in older literature, but Boter’s are clearly better-chosen.

  • B (-) = Berolinensis Phill. 1591 (gr. 315), 15th century [books I-IV only]  This is from the collection of Sir Thomas Phillips at Middlehill, where it was Middlehillianus 315.
  • E (e) = Escorialensis gr. 227 (Φ.III.8), 12th century.
  • S (s) = Florentinus Laurentianus CS 155, ca. 1400 [breaking off after
    332.16] = “Schellersheimianus” in Kayser.
  • G (fc) = Florentinus Laurentianus 69,26, 15th century.  The source for the Aldine edition.
  • H (fb) = Florentinus Laurentianus 69,27, 14th century.
  • F (f) = Florentinus Laurentianus 69,33, ca. 1000 AD. Online here.  The oldest member, and the source for all the mss of family β, according to Boter.
  • L (l) = Lugdunensis BPG 73D, 14th century.
  • P (p) = Parisinus gr. 1696, 14th century.
  • A (π) = Parisinus gr. 1801, 14th century.  The unique and “best manuscript”.
  • T (ρ) = Vaticanus gr. 956, 14th century [book 1, up to 26,1]
  • R = Vaticanus gr. 1016, 15th century.
  • Q (ψ) = Vaticanus Palatinus gr. 329, 14th century [starting at 144,27]
  • U (u) = Vaticanus Urbinas gr. 110, 15th century.
  • Y (μa) = Venetus Marcianus gr. 391 (coll. 856), 15th century.
  • Z (μb) = Venetus Marcianus gr. 392 (coll. 837), 15th century.
  • M (μ) = Venetus Marcianus gr. App. Cl. XI 29 (coll. 1376), 14th century.
  • V (v) = Vratislaviensis, BU, Rehd. 39, 15th century [lost in WW2].

After comparing them, Boter tells us that the manuscripts fall into two groups, A and the rest.  The rest all derive from a lost ancestor, α, which was a close cousin of A.  These children divide into two families: β, consisting of BEMPTU; and γ, being FGHLQRSVYZ.  Kayser considered the manuscripts of the β family generally had a better text, but that A was the most important manuscript.  (Identifying the “best manuscript” was very much the method of the time).

From all this, he draws the following stemma, of which manuscript is copied from which other manuscript:


There are also extracts from the text in other manuscripts.  Boter does not discuss these, but Kayser lists a few:

  • h = Vaticanus Palatinus gr. 129
  • d = Darmstadtinus.
  • φ = Laurentianus 74, 12.

The Boter article was in 2008.  That is now 8 years ago.  Let us hope that a new edition is being assiduously pushed forward!  It is certainly overdue.

I learn from Dr Boter’s home page of another article: “Studies in the Textual Tradiiton of Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana”, Revue d’histoire des textes (RHT) 9 (2014), which, according to this link, does discuss the manuscripts individually and also the excerpts.

I find that another article by him, “The title of Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana“, has appeared in the Journal of Hellenic Studies 135 (2015) 1-7.

I have no access to either article, but I was amused to see the JHS home page try to obtain “$37.50 to buy this article” or – desperately, since nobody on earth would pay that – “$5.99 to rent this article now for 24 hours”!  I rather think that actually Dutch taxpayers have already paid for the article.  But from such examples of tawdry greed let us avert our eyes.

Instead, let us welcome the prospect of a new and much more accurate edition of this interesting text.  It is not every late antique text that gets two Loeb editions, after all.

  1. [1]Some believe that the Against Hierocles is not by Eusebius of Caesarea, but by another Eusebius.
  2. [2]C. L. Kayser, Flavii Philostrati Opera, vol. 1, Teubner, 1870.
  3. [3]C. L. Kayser, Flavii Philostrati quae supersunt: Philostrati junioris Imagines, Callistrati Descriptiones. 1844
  4. [4]Gerard Boter, “Towards A New Critical Edition Of Philostratus Life Of Apollonius: The Affiliation Of The Manuscripts”, in  K. Demoen & D. Praet (eds.), Theios Sophistes (2009), 21-56.  Online in preview here.
  5. [5]Kayser lists the codices in the 1870 edition, p.xxv; and the Berlin ms in the Appendix, p.xxiv.

Scribes removing paganism from Galen’s “On my own opinions”?

In 2005 a bored PhD student, left hanging around the catalogue desk at the Vlatades Monastery in Thessalonika, looked through the catalogue and discovered a previously unknown Greek manuscript of the works of the 2nd century medical writer, Galen.  The Ms. Thessalonicensis Vlatadon 14 contained complete Greek texts of several works previously known only from fragments or translations into Arabic, as well as a new and important work, the Peri Alupias (On Grief), about which I have written elsewhere.

One of the works whose complete Greek text is now accessible is On my own opinions.  Immediately after the prologue, we find that Galen discusses his opinion of the gods, as I learn from an interesting article by A. Pietrobelli.[1]  The passages are also extant in Latin, translating an Arabic version now lost; and in Hebrew, also translating a different Arabic version, also now lost.

The Latin version, made from Arabic, is entitled De sententiis, made at Toledo in the school of Gerard of Cremona in the 12th century AD.  There are five manuscripts of this work, all mutilated at the end.  (Another Latin translation does exist, made from Greek; but it only covers the last two sections of the work, whereas our material is from the beginning.)

The Arabic version, from which the Latin was made, is lost.

Hunain Ibn Ishaq was a 9th century Nestorian Christian writer.  He was commissioned with others to translate Greek technical works into Arabic.  The method used was to translate the Greek texts into Syriac, as there were well-established procedures to do this.  Then the Syriac, a semitic language, could easily be translated on into Arabic.

Hunain tells us, in his work on the translations of Galen,[2] that two Syriac translations of Galen’s On my own opinions existed at that time.  The first was made by “Job”, presumably Job of Edessa[3], the second by Hunain himself for his son Ishaq.  Thabit ibn Qurra then translated the latter version into Arabic.[4]  In addition a 13th century Hebrew translation exists, again made from someArabic version.

But the text has undergone some revision in transmission.  Let’s have a look at the different versions, and see how.  Pietrobelli gives the text and a French translation – I have rendered the latter into English so that we can see what is said.

Here’s the first passage:

Original Greek:

Whether the universe is uncreated or created, whether there is something after it or outside it or indeed nothing, because I say that I am in ignorance faced with such questions, I also do not know of course what is the nature of the creator of all things in the universe, if he is incorporeal or corporeal, and more, in what place he resides.[5]


So I say that I do not know whether the world is created, if there is something outside of it or not. And because I say I do not know these things, so it is clear that I do not know about the creator of all things in this world, whether he is corporeal or incorporeal, nor where he is located, namely the divinity, or rather the power of the divinity. This power is of him whose works are revealed in this world through acts that can only come from a creator. Thus these themselves demonstrate God.[6]


He said: I do not know if the world is created or not, and if there is something else outside of it, or nothing. And as I say that I am ignorant about these things, it is also clear that I do not know about the creator of all things in the world, whether he is a body or incorporeal, nor what is the place of his residence. As for God and the divine powers, that is to say the powers whose activities are manifested in the world, they can only come from the Creator, so they reveal Him and they are attributed to Him.[7]

In this case, the text has been augmented, somewhere along the line.  Somebody has added some extra explanatory text on the end.  Where Galen is ambivalent about the Creator, etc, the editor has firmly asserted the existence of a creator.

Here’s the second:


Is it only about the gods I also affirm that I am in uncertainty, as Protagoras said, or in fact that I say about them that I am ignorant of their essence, while recognizing their existence from their works? For the constitution of living beings is the work of the gods, and also all the warnings that they send, by omens, signs and dreams.[8]


And I will not speak like Pictagoras who denied having any knowledge about them, but I say that I have no knowledge of their essence; but that such powers exist, I know through their works because the organization of living beings is their doing, and they are revealed by divination and dreams.[9]


I do not say of them like Protagoras: “I do not know anything about them,” but I say I do not know what is their essence. That they exist, on the other hand, I know from their activities, and from their activities appear the composition of animals and that which is manifested through divination, omens, and the interpretation of dreams.[10]

These three are more similar – although the name Protagoras has turned into Pictagoras! All the same, the change is subtle.  A question that Galen leaves open becomes a positive statement.

Here’s the third passage adduced by Pietrobelli:


The god who is honoured at home in Pergamum has shown his power and providence on many other occasions but especially on the day he nursed me.

At sea, I experienced not only the providence, but also the power of the Dioscuri.

In fact, I do not think it is wrong for men to be ignorant of the essence of the gods, although I decided to honour them by following the ancient custom, in the manner of Socrates who advised people to obey the precepts of Pythios.

That is my position regarding the gods.[11]


Concerning the works of God in us … † †[12] they appeared by his power, because he nursed me once through an illness I had and because he manifests himself at sea in delivering those who are about to be wrecked thanks to the signs that they see and those who firmly believe in their salvation. That clearly indicates an admirable power that I have myself experienced. And I do not see what is harmful for men if they ignore the essence of divinity, and I see that I must accept and follow the law on this point and accept what Socrates prescribed who expressed himself quite strongly on this subject.

That’s what I have to say about the deity.[13]


And among the actions of God, blessed and praised be He, which reveal his power and his providence for his creatures, there is the fact that He healed me from an illness I had, and what can be seen at sea after the rescue of those who embark on the ships; after believing they will be shipwrecked and drowned, <they are saved> by the signs that they see and that they believe and by which they are saved. This gives a clear indication of a great power, and I do not think that does harm to people if they do not know what is the essence of the divine powers. That’s why I think I need to exalt and praise them, as religion ordains.[14]

The differences here are considerable.  Galen’s own text acknowledges the favour of Asclepius, the  god of Pergamum, Galen’s home city; of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, and the teachings of Apollo (Pythios).  All this pagan material has been removed, in favour of acknowledgement of the intervention of God.

Furthermore, the Hebrew reveals yet more intervention  – “God, praised and blessed be He” has a  distinctly Islamic flavour.

What are we to make of all this?

The changes may have been made at any point in the transmission.  Without a general knowledge of changes of this kind in the Arabic translation movement, we cannot say if any of this reflects the Greek text before Hunain and Job; or is conventional, in Syriac translations; or is their own work, in adapting a medical textbook for the needs of a capricious Muslim despot; or is the work of later Arabic editors, or indeed of the Latin and Hebrew translators in Europe.  But somewhere along the line, someone got creative.

The changes, in fairness, are mild.  They adjust paganism to monotheism, and remove an irrelevant irritant for the reader.  They are probably no worse than some modern editors are doing to old but politically incorrect childrens’ classics like Biggles.

All the same, it does highlight that the transmission of texts is sometimes less than faithful, on ideological grounds.  It would be most interesting to see if there is any general pattern available in the data.  I suspect that there might be.

  1. [1]The material for this article is found in A. Pietrobelli, “Galien agnostique: un texte caviardé par la tradition,” Revue des Études Greques 126 (2013), 103-135.
  2. [2]Details here.  John Lamoreaux has since made an English translation, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq on His Galen Translations, BYU (2015).
  3. [3]Pietrobelli suggests alternatively a “Job le tacheté” of whom I can discover absolutely nothing – in Lamoreaux’s translation, Job is Job of Edessa.
  4. [4]Pietrobelli states that both Syriac versions were translated into Arabic, the first by Thabit ibn Qurra, the second by Isa ibn Yahya, a disciple of Hunain; Lamoreaux gives the passage as: “What He Believes by Way of Opinion [B113]  This book consists of a single volume. In it he describes what is known and what is not known. Job has translated it into Syriac. <I translated it into Syriac> for my son Ishaq. Thabit translated it into Arabic for Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Musa.” and “A adds: Isa Ibn Yahya translated it into Arabic, which Ishaq collated with the original and corrected, for Abd Allah Ibn Ishaq. “
  5. [5]Que l’univers soit incréé ou créé, qu’il y ait quelque chose après lui au dehors ou bien rien, parce que j’affirme être dans l’ignorance face à de telles questions, j’ignore aussi évidemment quelle est la nature du créateur de toutes choses dans l’univers, s’il est incorporel ou corporel, et bien davantage, en quel lieu il réside.
  6. [6]J’affirme donc ne pas savoir si le monde est créé, s’il existe quelque chose à l’extérieur de lui ou pas. Et parce que je dis que je ne sais pas ces choses, il est donc clair que je ne sais pas, à propos du créateur de toutes les choses qui sont dans ce monde, s’il est corporel ou incorporel ni où il est situé, à savoir la divinité, ou plutôt le pouvoir de la divinité. Ce pouvoir est de ceux dont les oeuvres sont révélées dans ce monde par les actes qui ne peuvent provenir que d’un créateur. Ainsi ils indiquent eux-mêmes Dieu.
  7. [7]Il dit : j’ignore si le monde est créé ou pas, et s’il y a quelque chose d’autre en dehors de lui ou rien. Et puisque je dis être ignorant sur ces choses, il est aussi évident que j’ignore, à propos du créateur de toutes les choses qui sont dans le monde, s’il est un corps ou incorporel  ni quel est le lieu de son séjour.  Quant à Dieu et aux pouvoirs divins, c’est-à-dire les pouvoirs dont les activités se manifestent dans le monde, ils ne peuvent que provenir du Créateur, c’est pourquoi ils Le révèlent et ils Lui sont attribuées. 
  8. [8]Est-ce donc qu’au sujet des dieux j’affirme également que je suis dans l’incertitude, comme Protagoras le disait, ou bien qu’à leur sujet j’affirme être ignorant de leur essence, tout en reconnaissant leur existence d’après leurs oeuvres?  Car c’est l’oeuvre des dieux que la constitution des êtres vivants, ainsi que tous les avertissements qu’ils envoient par des présages, des signes ou des songes.
  9. [9]Et je ne parlerai pas comme Pictagoras qui niait avoir une connaissance à leur sujet, mais j’affirme que je n’ai aucune connaissance de leur essence; mais que ces pouvoirs existent, je le sais à travers leurs oeuvres parce que l’organisation des êtres vivants est leur fait et qu’ils sont révélés par la divination et les rêves.
  10. [10]Je ne dis pas d’eux comme Protagoras : « Je ne sais rien du tout à leur sujet », mais je dis que j’ignore quelle est leur essence. Qu’ils existent en revanche, je le sais d’après leurs activités et à leurs activités appartiennent la composition des animaux et ce qui se manifeste à travers la divination, les augures et l’interprétation des rêves.
  11. [11]Le dieu qui est honoré chez moi à Pergame a montré sa puissance et sa providence en bien d’autres occasions mais particulièrement le jour où il me soigna. En mer, j’ai fait l’expérience non seulement de la providence, mais aussi de la puissance des Dioscures. Non vraiment, je ne pense pas que cela fasse du tort aux hommes d’être ignorants de l’essence des dieux, bien que je sois décidé à les honorer en suivant la coutume ancestrale, à la façon de Socrate qui conseillait d’obéir aux préceptes de Pythios. Voilà ma position en ce qui concerne les dieux.
  12. [12]Note 25. V. Nutton proposes to restore the text thus : “Concerning the workings of God in us +having come+ into deep trouble, +how much clearer+ have they appeared in their power!”
  13. [13]En ce qui concerne les oeuvres de Dieu en nous †…† elles sont apparues par son pouvoir, parce qu’il me soigna une fois d’une maladie que j’avais et parce qu’il se manifeste en mer en délivrant ceux qui sont sur le point de faire naufrage grâce à des signes qu’ils aperçoivent et qui leur font croire fermement à leur salut. Voilà qui indique manifestement un pouvoir admirable don’t j’ai moi-même fait l’expérience.  Et je ne vois pas ce qu’il y a de nuisible pour les hommes s’ils ignorent l’essence de la divinité et je vois que je dois revendiquer et suivre la loi sur ce point et accepter ce qu’a prescrit Socrate qui s’est exprimé assez fermement sur ce sujet. Voilà ce que j’ai à dire sur la divinité.
  14. [14]Et parmi les actions de Dieu, béni et loué soit-Il, qui révèlent son pouvoir et sa providence pour les créatures, il y a le fait qu’Il m’a guéri d’une maladie que j’avais et ce qui peut être vu en mer d’après le sauvetage de ceux qui s’embarquent dans des navires; après avoir cru faire naufrage et couler, <ils sont sauvés> par le signe qu’ils voient et auquel ils croient et par lequel ils sont sauvés. Cela donne une indication claire d’un pouvoir merveilleux, et je ne pense pas que cela fasse du tort aux gens s’ils ne savent pas quelle est l’essence des pouvoirs divins. C’est pourquoi je pense que je dois les exalter et les louer, comme l’ordonne la religion.

WARNING!!! Fragments of Euripides “Palamedes” NOT rediscovered in Jerusalem

On June 21 2016 I wrote a post here to the effect that fragments of the lost play, “Palamedes”, by Euripides had been found in a manuscript in Jerusalem by Dr Felix Albrecht.  This I based on other internet reports, in German, which themselves seem to misunderstand the sitiuation.[1]

But after communicating with Dr Albrecht, I find that this is NOT the case.  No fragments of unknown plays have been found.  But the actual find is itself very exciting, and the technology used is a clear advance.

What are the facts? The manuscript is Cod. Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36, which was written in the 13th century, and contains 556 leaves, on which may be found the text of the Minor Prophets from the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint).  But the manuscript was written on reused parchment.  With the aid of a new multi-spectral imaging system, called “Revelator” (for which see below), some extraordinary results can be achieved!

Some of the parchment came from a now destroyed 11th century copy of The Phoenician Women by Euripides, made as a school copy with explanatory marginalia.  That makes it very old, compared to most of our Greek manuscripts, and it is the most important witness to the text.   This itself is an important discovery.  And there are others, as we shall see.

The manuscript has been known for a century, but it was rediscovered by Felix Albrecht, as part of his work to produce a critical edition of the Greek Old Testament.  He has set up “Project Palamedes” to support this work, and he has also published an article on the subject, which he has kindly sent to me.[2]

The manuscript is located in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and comes from the library of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

I found an image of a page of the palimpsest here, from the Euripides section.  It shows clearly the marvellous results of this new multi-spectral imaging technique:


Among the under-texts are also portions of Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke, from a manuscript of the 8th century.  This is lost in the Greek original, and preserved only in Syriac.  (I remember scanning the English translation of this, years ago, and placing it online!)  This too is a valuable find.

Other finds are pages from: a 7th century copy of Basil of Caesarea’s Asceticon Magna, CPG 2875; 8th century copy of Maximus the Confessor, Capita de Caritate, CPG 7693; an unknown text in 8th century uncial; a 10th c. copy of Gregory Nazianzen’s Carmina Moralia, CPG 3035; a 10th century copy of Isaiah; and some pages in 7th century hand, of unknown content, reused  in the 11th century to contain a school copy of Euripides.

One quaternion of the manuscript managed to end up in St Petersburg.

Nor is this all.  The project is also working on another palimpsest, Codex Parisinus Graecus 1330 from the library of Colbert.  The upper text is a colourful nomocanon, but it reused pages from a majuscule manuscript ca. 500 AD containing a previously unknown ancient commentary on the works of Aristotle.  There are also ancient diagrams of the highest quality.  Any discovery gives us something, although this one will perhaps be more for the students of philosophy.

I also found a bibliography for Felix Albrecht, here, which suggested other finds of unknown material that ought to be better known.

UPDATE:  Dr Albrecht wrote to me as follows:

Concerning Euripides, we did not find any unknown Euripides texts, unfortunately.

However, the Jerusalem palimpsest contains four new discovered pages of known Euripides text with scholia, which seem to be very interesting, because:

  1. The Jerusalem palimpsest is the most important witness to Euripides.
  2. Many folios of the Jerusalem palimpsest, and so the new discovered pages, are re-written twice, i.e. bis rescriptus.

From a scientific point of view, the decipherment of these double palimpsested (bis rescriptus) folios, using a special multispectral imaging system is the most important result of our work.

The multispectral imaging system is called “Revelator” (cf. The system, which is definitely amazing, allows the user to make images in the full spectrum of light from UV to IR;  it collects the data in a way that the results can be processed in 3D, cf. the following example.

A prototype of that system, invented by Jonathan Albrecht, has been used for the PALAMEDES project.

PALAMEDES volume 1 will be published in 2017: “Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Holy Sepulchre Ms 36. A Semi-diplomatic Edition of the Euripides Fragments by Felix Albrecht and Agamemnon Tselikas” (PALAMEDES 1), Athens 2017.

Since few will click through, I do want to say that the “example” included this quite amazing image of a page moving and showing both texts. It is very clear that a considerable technical advance has taken place!


  1. [1]E.g. this one here (translation mine): ‘The “Codex Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36” is located in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The manuscript comprises 556 pages and dates from the 13th century; among other things, it contains new, completely unknown texts of Euripides, one of the three great Greek tragedians of antiquity. Of the original over ninety tragedies of Euripides one fifth only has surviveded. The Jerusalem manuscript is one of the main text witnesses of the tradition of Euripides. Although it has long been known, hitherto it has not been explored in its entirety. An analysis of the palimsest revealed that it contains more texts of Euripides by far than previously thought. In addition, the newly discovered passages provide not only material already known, but also unknown material from the pen of Euripides. Moreover, this manuscript contains six patristic or biblical texts, mainly in majuscule, and in the course of processing, it will be decided whether an edition seems sensible.’
  2. [2]Felix Albrecht, “Ein Novum Supplementum Euripideum? Die unbekannten Seiten des Euripides-Palimpsestes Codex Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36”, Aevum 86 (2012), p. 3-27. 

The manuscript tradition of the works of John the Lydian

John the Lydian was an antiquarian writer of the 6th century AD, whose career flourished under Justinian.  His three works, De magistratibus Romanis, De Ostentis, and De Mensibus, all are full of information about Roman origins.  John wrote in Greek but knew Latin, and sought to transmit to the future information that was already fading in his own day.

The work of John the Lydian, like most other texts from antiquity, has reached us through the medium of a single copy.  This is referred to in the editions as the Codex Caseolinus, and is today in the French National library under the shelfmark Ms. Paris supplementi graeci 257.  It dates around 900 AD.  It has currently 100 folia, but various leaves have been lost, and the whole codex was disarranged before Hase sorted out the order of the leaves for the first time, in order to use it.  It was written on thin, good quality parchment.

The manuscript has suffered considerably from damp, which has given it purplish wine-coloured stains, sometimes to the point of illegibility.  The most recent editor, Anastasius Bandy, made use of infra-red light to read more of the text than his predecessors; but it seems likely that the use of multi-spectral imagining would recover more.

The “Caseolinus” name is thus not from a library, as one might suppose.  Instead it refers to M. Choiseul-Gouffier, French Ambassador to Constantinople in the late 18th century, whose ancestors bore the title “Comites de Caseolo”.

When Choiseul-Gouffier was sent on his embassy in 1784, he was accompanied by Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard d’Ansse de Villoison, a noted scholar whose instructions were to seek out manuscripts.   He had been sent by the French government to Venice in 1779, where he had discovered the Marcianus codex of Homer, and printed an Anecdota Graeca in Venice in 1781 based on other finds.  It was Villoison who located the manuscript in the house of a Greek named Konstantinos Slouziares, who possessed the remnants of the library of Nicholas Mavrokordatos.  The latter ruled Bucharest for the Sultan in 1722 and amassed a collection of codices from Greek monasteries in the East, especially Thessaly and Athos.  After much negotiating, Choiseul-Gouffier  was able to purchase the manuscript of John the Lydian.

The manuscript thus came into the hands of Choiseul-Gouffier in 1785, and he brought it back with him to Paris when he returned in 1791.  But in 1793 he was obliged to flee from the Revolution, and took the manuscript with him to Russia.  But it returned, and he still owned it in 1817, when his collection passed into the Bibliothèque Nationale, by agreement with his heirs. [1]

As well as the codex Caseolinus, another manuscript existed of De magistratibus.  This is the lost Codex Atheniensis, written at Trebizond at the start of July 1765.  In 1879 von Lingenthal went to stay with the owner, Georgios A. Rhalles, a Greek professor in Athens, and wrote that it contained book II of De Caeremoniis aulae Byzantinae and an incomplete copy of John the Lydian’s De magistratibus.  Unfortunately its present whereabouts are unknown.  It seems to have been last seen in 1909, and may have been destroyed in a fire in Thessalonika in 1917.  The text seems to have been inferior to that in the Caseolinus, and it is not clear whether it was a copy, or merely an inferior relation.  No proper collation seems to have been made.

  1. [1]I owe all of these details to the much more detailed introduction in the most recent text and translation, A. Bandy, Ioannes Lydus: On Powers, 1983, p.xxxix f.

A collection of 31 (?) rolls and codices found in a jar: the Bodmer / Chester Beatty “papyri”

Sometime in the 1940s, an Egyptian peasant found a large jar full of ancient gnostic books, at a place today known as Nag Hammadi.  The books passed into the art market, and caused a sensation, and various dealers made money on the find. The news made its way back to the region.  This stirred other peasants to go looking for more treasure of the same kind.

In late 1952, another peasant made a similar discovery not that far away.  A jar was found, which contained something like 31 (?) volumes in various formats, roll and codex, papyrus and parchment, Greek and Coptic, although scholars disagree on the list of what the find originally contained.  They passed into the hands of a village strongman named Riyad Jirgis Fam, who lived at Dishna.  The collection is therefore known in Egypt as the Dishna “papyri”.  Riyad sold material piece by piece to a Cairo dealer, a Cypriot Greek named Phocion John Tano, or locally as “Phoqué”.  Tano then smuggled the material out of Egypt using either the diplomatic bag of the Tunisian embassy, or by bribing customs officials.

A large part of the collection was bought by a wealthy Swiss collector named Martin Bodmer.  What Bodmer chose not to buy, as of inferior interest, was in the main purchased by another collector, Sir Chester Beatty and is today in Dublin.  But the story is far more complex than that, and parts of the collection were also sold to American buyers, and then sold on.  Also, on the death of Martin Bodmer his executors began to sell his collection, until a foundation was created and the sales stopped.

But what was in the collection?  In the main it was biblical materials, but also rolls of Homer, lost plays by Menander, lost patristic material such as Melito’s De pascha, and much else.  It includes a codex of John’s gospel, P66, dated to 200 AD, in Greek.  But the older Greek material was rebound in the 4th century in a way that made it impossible to read – the books had become relics.  Newer material was in Coptic.  And, in addition, there were Greek and Coptic versions of some of the letters of Pachomius, the founder of Egyptian monasticism, previous known only in Jerome’s Latin translation.  The collection, plainly, had come from a Pachomian monastery.  The latest material was 6th century, and the burial of it in a jar perhaps relates to Justinian’s “tidying up” exercise on heresies of all sorts.

I suspect that many of us have heard of the “Bodmer papyri” and the “Chester Beatty papyri”, without ever being clear that this is a single find, like that at Nag Hammadi, dispersed around the world.

All this I take from reading James M. Robinson’s fascinating account, The Story of the Bodmer Papyri: from the First Monastery’s library in Upper Egypt to Geneva and Dublin.  It is very cheap, so very worthwhile for anyone interested in the finds of books in the sands of Egypt.

Robinson also gives a list of what, as far as can be told, the collection contained!  This is worth giving here, simpy because the dispersion of the collection means that few today have any context on what it was.

The contents of the discovery, including the quite fragmentary items and those listed only with hesitation, are as follows (they are Greek papyrus codices, unless otherwise indicated):20

1. Homer, Iliad, Book 5 = P. Bodmer I, a roll on the verso of a roll of documentary papyri, = P. Bodmer L.

2. Homer, Iliad, Book 6 = P. Bodmer I, a roll on the verso of the same roll of documentary papyri, = P. Bodmer L.

3. Gospel of John = P. Bodmer II + a fragment from the Chester Beatty Library, ac. 2555, + P. Koln 214, = P66.

4. Gospel of John and Genesis 1:1—4:2 in Bohairic = P. Bodmer III.

5. Menander, Samia, Dyskolos, Aspis = P. Bodmer XXV, IV, XXVI + P. Bare. 45 + Cologne inv. 904 = P. Koln 3 + P. Rob. 38.

6. Nativity of Mary = Apocalypse of James (Protevangelium of James) -, Apocryphal Correspondence of Paul with the Corinthians; Odes of Solomon 11; the Epistle of Jude; Melito of Sardis On the Passover, a fragment of a liturgical hymn; the Apology of Phileas; Psalms 33-34; 1 and 2 Peter = P. Bodmer V; X; XI; VII; XIII; XII; XX (+ a fragment from the Chester Beatty Library, ac. 2555); IX; VIII.

7. Proverbs in Proto-Sahidic on parchment = P. Bodmer VI.

8. Gospels of Luke and John = P. Bodmer XIV-XV = P75.

9. Exodus 1:1—15:21 in Sahidic on parchment = P. Bodmer XVI. (P. Bodmer XVII is generally agreed not to come from the same discovery.)

10. Deuteronomy 1:1—10:7 in Sahidic = P. Bodmer XVIII.

11. Matthew 14:28—28:20 + Romans 1:1—2:3, both in Sahidic on parchment, = P. Bodmer XIX.

12. Joshua in Sahidic = P. Bodmer XXI + Chester Beatty ac. 1389.

13. Jeremiah 40:3—52:34; Lamentations; Epistle of Jeremy; Baruch 1:1— 5:5, all in Sahidic on parchment, = P. Bodmer XXII + Mississippi Coptic Codex II.

14. Isaiah 47:1—66:24 in Sahidic = P. Bodmer XXIII.

15. Psalms 17—118 = P. Bodmer XXIV.

16. Thucydides; Suzanna; Daniel; Moral Exhortations = P. Bodmer XXVII, XLV, XLVI, XLVII.

17. A satyr play on the confrontation of Heracles and Atlas, a papyrus roll, = P. Bodmer XXVIII.

18. Codex Visionum = P. Bodmer XXIX — XXXVIII. (For P. Bodmer XXXIX see the inventory of specifically Pachomian material below.)

19. Song of Songs in Sahidic on parchment = P. Bodmer XL.

20. The Acts of Paul, Ephesus Episode, in Subachmimic, = P. Bodmer XLI.

21. Fragments of the Iliad from a papyrus roll = P. Bodmer XLVIII.

22. Fragments of the Odyssey from a papyrus roll = P. Bodmer XLIX.

23. Mathematical exercises in Greek; John 10:7 —13:38 in Subachmimic = Chester Beatty ac. 1390.

24. The Apocalypse of Elijah in Sahidic = Chester Beatty ac. 1493 = P. Chester Beatty 2018.

25. A Greek grammar; a Graeco-Latin lexicon on Romans, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians = Chester Beatty ac. 1499.

26. Psalms 72:6—23, 25—76:1; 77:1—18, 20—81:7; 82:2—84:14; 85:2—88:20 = Chester Beatty ac. 1501 = P. Chester Beatty XIII = Rahlfs 2149.

27. Psalms 31:8-11; 26:1-6, 8-14; 2:1-8 = Chester Beatty ac. 1501 = P. Chester Beatty XIV = Rahlfs 2150.

28. Tax receipts of 339-47 A.D. from Panopolis (Achmim) in a largely uninscribed and unbound quire constructed from two papyrus rolls with correspondence of the Strategus of the Panopolitan nome of 298-300 A.D. = P. Beatty Panopolitanus = Chester Beatty ac. 2554.

29. Melito of Sardis On the Passover, 2 Maccabees 5:27—7:41; 1 Peter; Jonah; a homily or hymn, = The Crosby-Schoyen Codex = ms. 193 of The Schoyen Collection of Western Manuscripts.

30. Scholia to the Odyssey 1 from a papyrus roll = P. Rob. inv. 32 + P. Colon, inv. 906.

31. Achilles Tatius from a papyrus roll = P. Rob. inv. 35 + P. Colon, inv. 901.

32. Odyssey 3-4 from a papyrus roll = P. Rob. inv. 43 + P. Colon, inv. 902.

33. A piece of ethnography or a philosophical treatise from a papyrus roll = P. Rob. inv. 37 + P. Colon, inv. 903.

34. Cicero, In Catilinam; Psalmus Responsorius; Greek liturgical text; Alcestis, all in Latin except the Greek liturgical text, = Codex Miscellani = P. Barcinonenses inv. 149-61 + P. Duke in L 1 [ex P. Rob. inv. 201].

35. Gospels of Luke; John; Mark, all in Sahidic = P. Palau Ribes 181-83.

The total quantity of material would involve what remains of some 37 books. They consist of 9 Greek classical papyrus rolls (numbers 1, 2, 17, 23, 24, 32-35) and 28 codices (numbers 3-16,18-22, 25-31, 36, 37). The codices maybe subdivided as follows: 21 are on papyrus (numbers 3-6, 8, 10, 12, 14-16, 18, 20, 22, 25-31, 36, 37), 5 on parchment  (numbers 7, 9, 11, 13, 19), and of 1 the Bibliotheque Bodmer has not divulged the material (number 22). 10 are in Greek (numbers 3, 5, 6, 8, 15, 16, 18, 28-30), 2 in Greek and Latin (numbers 27, 36), and 1 in Greek and Subachmimic (number 25). 15 are in Coptic (numbers 4, 7, 9-14,19-22, 26, 31, 37), of which 10 are in Sahidic (numbers 9-14,19, 26, 31, 37), 1 in Bohairic (number 4), 1 in Proto-Sahidic (number 7), 1 in Subachmimic (number 20), and of 1 the Bibliotheque Bodmer has not divulged the dialect (number 22). 2 are non-Christian (numbers 5, 30), 21 Christian (numbers 3, 4, 6-15, 18-21, 26, 28, 29, 31, 37) and 4 partly each (numbers 16,25, 27, 36). 11 contain something from the Old Testament (numbers 7, 9, 10, 12-16, 19, 28, 29) and 6 something from the New Testament (numbers 3, 8,11, 21, 25, 37) and 3 something from each (numbers 4, 6, 31).

A distinctive part of this discovery consists of archival copies of official letters of Abbots of the Pachomian Monastic Order:

  1. Pachomius’ Letter 11b in Sahidic, a small parchment roll, = P. Bodmer XXXIX.
  2. Pachomius’ Letters 9a, 9b, 10,11 b, from a papyrus codex, in Sahidic = Chester Beatty Glass Container No. 54 = ac. 2556.
  3. Pachomius’ Letters 1-3, 7,10,11a in Greek, a small parchment roll in rotuli format, = Chester Beatty Ms. W. 145 + Cologne inv. 3288 = P. Koln 174 = three fragments from Letter 7.
  4. Theodore’s Letter 2 in Sahidic, a small parchment roll in rotuli format, = Chester Beatty Library ac. i486.
  5. A second copy of Theodore’s Letter 2, a small parchment roll in rotuli format in an unidentified private German collection, published by Martin Krause.
  6. Horsiesios’ Letter 3 in Sahidic, a small papyrus roll, = Chester Beatty Library ac. 1494.
  7. Horsiesios’ Letter 4 in Sahidic, a small papyrus roll, = Chester Beatty Library ac. 1495.
  8. Pachomius’ Letter 8 in Sahidic, a small parchment roll, = Cologne inv. 3286 = P. Colon. Copt. 2 = P. Koln agypt. 8.
  9. Pachomius’ Letters 10-11a in Sahidic, a small parchment roll, = Cologne inv. 3287 = P. Colon. Copt. 1 = P. Koln agypt. 9.

Dr R. also went to the trouble of going to the site and doing fieldwork among the villagers to find out what was found, when, by whom, and what happened to it.  This incredibly necessary task tends to be shirked, when a find has gone underground, and his statements will inevitably be primary source material ever afterwards.

UPDATE: A correspondent has asked me to clarify that both the Bodmer collection and the Chester Beatty collection include many other papyri, not part of this collection found near Dishna.  There is an article by Brent Nongbri here which discusses the classification problems in the second half.

19th century treatments of palimpsests with chemicals

The British Library assigns its Syriac manuscripts to the “Asian and African Studies” department.  The people there are far easier to deal with than the people in Western Manuscripts.  They also run a blog which from time to time contains frankly wonderful material.

One such post was made back in September 2013, and I have written about it before.  It’s titled Some Syriac Manichean Treasures in the British Library, by Ursula Sims-Williams, and includes a picture of a page from BL Additional 12150:

Final page of Titus of Bostra, Against the Manichaeans. BL Add.12150, f.156r. Ms made in 411 AD!
Final page of Titus of Bostra, Against the Manichaeans. BL Add.12150, f.156r. Ms made in 411 AD!

What caught my eye today was a postscript by Christina Duffy, which must have been added subsequently.  It concerns palimpsests, those manuscripts where, in ancient times, the text was washed off the parchment, and a new text written on top.  Sometimes the lower text was dimly visible, even so.

In the 19th century, scholars discovered that the under text could be made very clear by painting the page with “reagents” – chemicals, usually acids of one sort or another.  This allowed the under-text to be transcribed, but also frequently damaged the manuscript.  However what was done precisely, and why it worked, has never been clear to me.

Christina Duffy’s statement is the clearest explanation of the subject that I have ever seen, and I’m going to give it here, word for word.

Sadly the result of chemicals used to make indecipherable script legible is seen in many of our manuscripts here at the BL. While the treatments initially enhanced the faded text greatly it was only a matter of time before the entire passage was left in a much worse state!

In 1969 Restaurator reprinted a report of the St Gallen Conference on the Conservation of Manuscripts from 1898 which listed gallic acid, thiocyanate, ammonium sulphide, sodium sulphide, potassium ferrocyanide and tannin solution as chemicals used to recover text. Essentially the reagents were attempting to balance the ink formulation. By “reagent” we mean a substance or compound used to bring about a chemical reaction.

There is mention of the use of chemical reinforcements as early as the 17th century but it wasn’t until the 19th century when chemistry was more understood that lots of reactions were tried out. For iron-gall ink, a good stable black ink is formed by a black iron-gall ink complex. If the ink production for whatever reason is imperfect, ink can become illegible overtime i.e. fade. Imperfect ink is generally missing one of the essential compounds in the ink ingredient list (such as iron sulphide or gallic acid) so it makes sense that applying these missing chemicals will allow the reaction to take place and the text to become clear again! Which is what they did, but alas the aftermath was less pleasing!

The oldest known recipe for text recovery uses gallic acid. One article suggests making an extract of gall-nuts in white wine and wetting the missing text with a sponge to recover the text. However it isn’t mentioned that the gall-nut extract goes brown itself after a few years and wherever the liquid was applied turns dark brown so nothing is legible!

Other treatments include hepar suplhuris, toning letters blue by reacting iron ions with potassium hexacyanoferrates or placing the text briefly in hydrochloric acid. Some manuscripts treated in this way are now covered in blue dye and completely illegible…which is why using imaging techniques is a much better idea!

There is a good article explaining all this including the chemical formulas by Robert Fuchs, “The history of chemical reinforcement of texts in manuscripts – What should we do now?” in Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 7 (2003): 159–170.

I wonder if multi-spectral imaging would give us something, even now?

Manuscript of Eusebius’ Quaestiones ad Stephanum/Marinum now online!

Readers may remember that a few years ago I published a translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Gospel Problems and Solutions (Quaestiones ad Stephanum et Marinum).  Today I learn from a correspondent that the main manuscript, Vaticanus Palatinus Graecus 220, has been digitised and is now online at the Vatican website!  Folios 61-91 contain the work, which is itself an abbreviation of the original in 3 books, which discussed differences between the start and end of each gospel, and attempted to resolve them.

It is interesting to see that there are scholia on some leaves.  I include an image of one below.  Does anyone know what it says?

Here’s the opening of the work (f.61) (click on the images for a clearer image):


Here is an example of the start of a “question” (f.92):


Here is where it breaks of, without any colophon (f.96):


And here on folio 90v is a scholion:


I’ve zoomed in somewhat, and it would be interesting to know what it says.

Seeing this crystal-clear manuscript makes me wish we had had it available, back when David Miller was working on the translation.   As it is, we may be so grateful that this is now freely available online!

UPDATE: A correspondent in the comments has kindly translated the gloss for us – thank you!  It reads:

No! But the true mother of the Lord herself is said mother of Jacob and Jose, who are considered brothers of the Lord, being natural sons of Joseph, from his first wife, Salome. For Joseph had four sons: Jacob and Jose and Simon and Jude. And as the mother of the Lord was considered wife of Joseph, so she was considered mother of his sons.