Roman pranks: Glueing a coin to the pavement, in Horace and Persius

While reading Horace at the weekend in the old Loeb edition, my eye fell upon a passage in Epistles I, XVI 63:[1]

Qui melior servo, qui liberior sit avarus, in triviis fixum cum se demittit ob assem, non video; nam qui cupiet, metuet quoque ; porro, qui metuens vivet, liber mihi non erit umquam.

How the miser is better than a slave, or is more free, when he stoops at the crossroads to pick up the copper fastened there,[a] I do not see: for he who covets will also have fears; further, he who lives in fear, will never, to my mind, be free.

The footnote indicated:

a. We are told that Roman boys would solder a coin to the pavement and then ridicule those who tried to pick it up (so scholiast on Persius, v. 111).

Persius imitates the lines from Horace in Satire 5, line 111.  So looking at Jahn’s 1843 edition of Persius and the scholia,[2] which is most likely the edition referenced, I find the scholion as follows:

111. Inque luto fixum, id est: Sordidum lucrum spernis; aut certe visum in luto nummum praetermittis, quia solent pueri, ut ridendi causam habeant, assem in silice plumbatum infigere, ut qui viderint, se ad colligendum inclinesit, nec tamen possint avellere, quo facto pueri etiam acclamare solent.

That is:

You spurn filthy cash; or at least, seeing a penny lying in the mud, you pass by, because boys, thinking it grounds for a laugh, used to fasten a coin on the stone with solder, so that when someone saw it and bent down to pick it up, and was unable to pull it of, when this happened, the boys commonly shout “[try] again”![3]

Human nature remains the same, even over a period of two thousand years.  For I remember this prank being practised a couple of decades ago on a television show that relied on this kind of embarrassment for its “humour”.  I have seen a coin affixed to the  ground in just this manner.

  1. [1]Tr. Rushton Fairclough, 1961. P.355-6 in the Loeb, volume 2.
  2. [2]Otto Jahn, Auli Persii Flacci Satirarum liber, 1843. Online at, here.  The page is 332, which is p.546 in the PDF, the scholia on Satire V.
  3. [3]Translation mine: corrected from comment by Alexander MacAulay – thank you!

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.

The Townley Homer at the British Library

A very welcome addition to the British Library collection of digital manuscripts is announced on their blog today.  In an excellent article by Julian Harrison, Hooray for Homer!, we learn that BL. Burney 86, a 10th century manuscript with copious scholia, is now accessible here.

The article itself is really useful, giving the history of the Ms. in modern times, links to other Homer mss. at the British Library, and a bibliography.  It would be impossible and unnecessary to do this for every manuscript placed online; but it is nice to see, once in a while.

It is also very nice to see an appreciation of a manuscript that is of textual interest, rather than the “pretty pretty picture” type manuscript that tends too often to attract digitisation.

Scholia are remarkably hard to get access to, and only Eleanor Dickey’s handbook Greek scholarship is available to guide those interested.  So it is nice to see pictures in the blog article of the text, and some explanation (with translation) of what these have to offer.

Well done.

From my diary

Back at work after two weeks illness, and I find myself suffering from the tiredness that goes with being less than fully fit after illness.  But I’m still busy with this and that.

I’ve been reading a little red hardback Loeb edition of Horace, and enjoying it more than I thought that I might.  I’ve read it through before, of course, but it wasn’t very interesting to me then.  This time it has been very good to read.  The editor refers to the scholiasts on Horace; Porphyrio and the like.  Their explanatory passages tell us who were some of the now-mysterious personages referred to in the text.  Isn’t it funny that we don’t have translations of these?  I know that the old scholia on Juvenal are really quite short; and I wish these existed in English.  Perhaps I should seek out the scholia on Horace also.

The Horace has been on my shelves for ages.  It wasn’t new when I bought it for five pounds at some unremembered second-hand shop.  It was reprinted in 1961, and so I must infer was the property of another.  His heirs disposed of his books for a song, no doubt, and so it comes to me.  There is no book-plate – do men use book-plates any more? – nor note of name.  One day it will pass on from me also.  I hope the next owner enjoys it too.

Work on the Mithras site continues, and consists at the moment of adding entries from Vermaseren’s Corpus Inscriptionum et Monumentum Religionis Mithriacae to the site.  I try to find a photograph in every case, although clearly more work will be needed.  Gratifyingly, it is attracting some traffic.  I haven’t really worked on the text pages on the site much.  Once I have identified all the inscriptions and monuments that reference “Arimanius”, then I shall rework that page.  That would seem to be a good way forward.  In the mean time, I can do best by adding data.

Most recently I’ve been looking at some of the entries in the CIMRM for the Carrawburgh Mithraeum.  These mainly consist of quotations from the Illustrated London News, as the temple had only just been discovered in the 50’s.  Irritatingly the ILN is not online.  There is a gushy story in the Guardian about it “going online”, but in reality all that has happened is that a commercial company has digitised it and made access available for money to well-heeled institutions.  I shall need to consult it, and that means a 40 mile journey.  I could wish that our government put a stop to this kind of extortion racket, which, after all, is funded by taxpayers money.

But this has led me to draw up a list of things to do, places to go, and photos to take.  I have also started to look around to find out how I can discover what monuments, items, inscriptions about Mithras have been published in the last 50 years.  At some point I shall have to start searching these, draw up a table of monuments and add them to the site.  It will be rather fun to do some field trips!  But … I shall probably have to seek the cooperation of the curators.  And petty bureaucrats can be a pain.  Likewise I need to get good photographs, yet I am a rotten photographer.  So a little planning and thought seems called for.

Some notes on the Von der Goltz codex of Acts, Paul’s letters, and the catholic letters

Codex 184.B.64 of the monastery of the Laura on Mt. Athos was one of the manuscripts examined by von Soden and von der Goltz in a trip to the mountain in the winter of 1898.  The presence of subscriptios to the letters of Paul, and scholia, caught the attention of the latter, who published an article about it in TU 17.4 in 1899.  He was able to collate the ms. and to copy the old scholia.

The manuscript itself is 10th century, and bound between two boards, with brown leather covers.  It contains 102 parchment leaves, each 23 x 17.5 cms in size.  The written area is 17 x 11 cm, and has 35 lines.  The ms. contains Acts, Paul’s letters, and the catholic letters.  Each quire is of 8 leaves.  The first sheet is a later replacement, and two quires are missing from the beginning, which perhaps contained some form of introductory matter.  Originally a copy of Revelation followed.  The text is written in an early minuscule, and the scholia in a careful semi-uncial.  The chapters are numbered.

The manuscript was thoroughly revised by a later hand which also erased to some extent the majority of the ancient scholia and marginalia, and added the Euthalian chapter numbers.  But there are also traces of large red letters under the “original” text, suggesting that it too is a palimpsest.

Von der Goltz does publish the scholia, without translation.


A scholion on Lucian about Mithras, and a translation of Theodoret

Here’s a couple of stray thoughts, relating to previous posts.

Firstly, I can confirm that there is a translation into English of Theodoret’s Fabularum Haereticorum Compendium in the 1990 these by Glenn Melvin Cope, An analysis of the heresiological method of Theodoret of Cyrus in the “Haereticarum fabularum compendium”.  I got hold of a copy today, and all five books are translated.

Secondly … Andrew Eastbourne very kindly translated a scholion on Lucian, which related to Mithras.  I extracted it from Cumont’s Textes et Monumentes and asked him to do the honours.  Here’s what he says:

Cumont cites two scholia on Lucian which discuss Mithra(s), from the edition of Jacobitz.  For a more recent edition, see Rabe, Scholia in Lucianum (1906).[1]

Scholion on Lucian, Zeus Rants / Jupiter tragoedus 8 [cf. Rabe, p. 60]:

This Bendis…[2]  Bendis is a Thracian goddess, and Anubis is an Egyptian [god], whom the theologoi[3] call “dog-faced.”  Mithras is Persian, and Men is Phrygian.  This Mithras is the same as Hephaestus, but others say [he is the same as] Helios.  So then, because the barbarians would take pride[4] in wealth, they naturally also outfitted their own gods most expensively.  And Attis is revered by the Phrygians…

 Scholion on Lucian, The Parliament of the Gods / Deorum concilium 9 [cf. Rabe, p. 212] 

Mithrês [Mithras]…  Mithras is the sun [Helios], among the Persians.[5]

[1] I have noted points where Rabe’s edition differs in substance from the text printed by Cumont.  Rabe’s edition is available online at
[2] Lucian’s text here mentions Bendis, Anubis, Attis, Mithrês [Mithras], and Mên.
[3] The Greek term normally refers to poets who wrote about the gods, like Hesiod or Orpheus.  Note that this is an emendation; the mss. read logoi (“words / discourses / accounts”), which Rabe adopts in his edition.
[4] Gk. ekômôn; lit., “wore their hair long / let their hair grow long.”
[5] Rabe’s text:  “Mithras is the same as Helios, among the Persians.”

 I will add this material to my collection of Mithras literary references.

The manuscripts of Juvenal

L. D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmissions: A survey of the Latin classics, Oxford 1983, is the first port of call for any enquiry into the transmission of any of the Latin classics.  On p.200-3 is the article by R. J. Tarrant on Juvenal.

Juvenal went through a period of obscurity after his own times.  Not cited by Donatus, or Jerome, he is referenced more than 70 times in the commentaries on Virgil by Servius.  Some of the manuscripts include subscriptions which suggest Servius may have been connected to their rediscovery: ms. K, for instance, contains Lego ego Niceus apud M. Serbium Romae et emendavi — I, Nicaeus, read this at the house of M. Servius in Rome and corrected it, and ms. L a version of the same.

More than 500 manuscripts later than the 9th century exist.  Unfortunately, by the 4th century, a considerable number of spurious lines  had already found their way into many copies of the text.  Difficult language was sometimes replaced by simpler expressions.  The vast majority of the medieval manuscripts derive from such corrupted copies. 

As a rule we tend to find that medieval manuscripts go back to a single Dark Ages exemplar, or perhaps a few.  In the case of Juvenal, however, we can clearly see that two ancient families of manuscripts both gave rise to medieval children.  For in addition to the majority, we have a few manuscripts which preserve a more correct and less interpolated text, although the text itself is often rather more corrupt than in the interpolated copies.

The better mss. are:

  • P:   Montpellier 125, first quarter of the 9th century, from Lorsch.  Once owned by Pierre Pithou, who used it for his edition of 1585.  The Pithoeanus is the best and most important manuscript of Juvenal.  It also contains Persius.
  • Arou.:  The fragmenta Arouiensia.  These are five leaves from a destroyed manuscript of the 10th century, written in Germany, and broken up to use in bindings.  They are now in the Kantonsbibliothek in Aarau.  It also contains scholia, which are important for several reasons.  Firstly each scholion is introduced by a quotation of a few words from the text.  These headwords or lemmata are themselves valuable for the authentic text.  Secondly the scholion itself sometimes reflects a different version of those same words, showing that the two were put together at different times.
  • Sang.:  St. Gall ms. 870, second quarter of the 9th century.  This is a florilegium — an anthology — which contains 280 lines of Juvenal.  Pp.40-326 contain the ancient scholia.
  • R:  Paris latin. 8072, from the end of the 10th century, probably French, containing long sections of the text.
  • V:  Vienna 107, end of the 9th century, containing book 1, line 1 – book 2, l.59 and book 3.107-5.96.

P, Arou. and Sang. are very closely related.  The first two are almost identical, with the text even laid out in the same manner on the page.  R and V are less reliable, and V has been much influenced by the other family.

The remaining manuscripts — hundreds of them — are hard to classify.  No stemma can be constructed because cross-contamination is so general, and even geographical groupings are pretty blurred.  This will not surprise any manuscript enthusiast.  For heavy lumps of wood and parchment, manuscripts travel about just as much as rock groups on tour, or so it seems sometimes.

Finally there are some fragments of ancient books containing Juvenal.  Two pages of a 6th century volume exist in ms. Vatican lat. 5750, with scholia, and also a portion of Persius.  More pages from a different 6th century book exist in Milan in ms. Ambrosianus Cimelio 3.  Finally a parchment leaf from Antinoe, ca. 500 AD, contains 49 lines of book 7.  None of these fragments agrees consistently with either of the medieval groups, unfortunately.

By the last decade of the 4th century, Juvenal had been equipped with a substantial commentary, which is the source for our scholia vetera (there are also Carolingian scholia), found in the three mss. P, Arou. and Sang.  Mommsen discussed the date of the commentary in his Gesammelte Schriften 7 (1909), p.509-11: Zeitalter des Scholiasten Juvenals.  The scholia must post-date 352-3, since there is a reference in the scholion on Juvenal book 10, l.24 to a praefectus urbis named Cerealis.  But much of the material must be older, or so the footnote says.  It can hardly date later than the abolition of paganism — the scholiast shows little knowledge of Christianity, and resorts to quoting Tacitus.  It is difficult to believe that the compulsory state religion could be unknown in the 5th century, and indeed the writer says that the gods are still worshipped.  The festival of the Matronalia is a state festival, as it still is shown in the Chronography of 354, but not in that of 449.  Likewise the term used for the silver coinage is not the silliqua of the 5th century, but the older terms argenteolus or nummus

Mommsen concludes  that the commentary was composed ca. 400 AD, and that later, as is usual with ancient commentaries, it was pillaged for the materials to create the scholia in the margins of the new-fangled codex-style books.

The scholia on Juvenal

A few days ago I managed to find an edition of the “scholia vetera” on Juvenal, in an 1839 edition .  It starts on p.153, here.   It’s not a critical edition.  Indeed I believe the critical edition is that of 1937, but this is not accessible to me.  So … let’s make do with what we have.

The scholia begin with a vita.  Then the scholia begin, starting with some remarks on Semper ego…? (Why should I always…?)  I can’t help feeling that the scholia could usefully be translated.

Masses of scholia online at

Searching for “scholia” in Google or Google books is disappointing.  But try searching at!  This search,, gives a huge list!

Did anyone know there were scholia on Suetonius, Vitae Caesarum?  I certainly didn’t!

UPDATE: Oh bother.  The “scholia” on Suetonius is merely a modern set of comments in Latin, not ancient scholia!

Latin scholia

I was writing yesterday about scholia, mainly with reference to Greek scholia.  But then it occurred to me to wonder what there was by way of Latin scholia.

A search online quickly revealed that, as with ancient Greek literature, the scholia is mainly attached to poetry and drama.  Two exceptions I came across were Lucan’s Bellum civile and the Bobbio orations of Cicero.  But otherwise it was poets and dramatists all the way.

I found myself reading an interesting article on the scholia of Juvenal.  The author argued that the scholia cannot belong to the period immediately after Juvenal, since they make crashing mistakes, such as not recognising Corbulo as the famous general of Nero, but instead supposing it is a noun referring to fat people!  The logic is good, and the inference, therefore, is that they belong to the period in the 4th century when interest revived in the literature of the early empire.

This has important consequences.  We know very little about Juvenal himself.  Old biographies are attached to the scholia.  But it must be questioned whether these have any real historical value, and whether they are older than the scholia, or merely compilations of hearsay from the Constantinian period or later.

It is interesting that few of the scholia have been translated.  Many scholia are text-critical, and to understand them it is necessary to know Latin, or Greek, as the  case may be.  Naturally there seems little need to translate, what only those equipped with the language can follow.  But others are historical, and have no such need.  We could usefully have more translations, I think.

All the same, the expansion of Google books makes it possible, for anyone with a little Latin, to explore a field that few could access.  One of my favourite books is the old Loeb edition of Juvenal.  This discusses the scholia in the introduction, but I never dreamed that people like me might have access to these.  As of today, I know better.