How ancient writers lost their books? A modern parallel!

Ancient writers often composed their works in many books.  Often, we find that not all of these books have reached us.  Some have; some have not.

This evening I had an illuminating experience.

Like many people, I have a directory on my hard disk, full of PDF’s of old Loeb editions.  Among these are nine volumes of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, obtained from long ago and seldom looked at.

This evening I wanted to consult a passage, referenced as being in book 36.  I looked for my Loeb PDF’s, and was troubled to discover that volume 9, in PDF, apparently ended with book 35.  Was it possible…?

Indeed it was.  It turned out that the Loeb edition was in TEN volumes; and the tenth volume is not to be met with online.

I had never noticed.  As far as I knew – until the pinch came – I had all of Pliny the Elder.

Why this should be is hard to say.  Possibly copyright, that bugbear of scholarship, is to blame.  But it doesn’t matter, for our purposes, just why the volume is absent.

The point is that Pliny is now circulating, and circulating very widely, in a mutilated form.  If some disaster intervened, and my hard disk was the sole transmitter of his work, those last book(s) would be gone for good.

It’s very like the situation that must have happened many times in antiquity.  A busy owner, a mass of books, seldom consulted, and one or more volumes quietly absent and unnoticed.

It is no surprise that we have missing volumes of ancient multi-volume works.  The marvel is that so much has survived!

In the mean time … does by chance anyone have a PDF of the 10th volume of the Loeb edition?

The manuscripts of Polybius

The Greek writer Polybius wrote a history in 40 books which recorded events from 264 BC down to the fall of Carthage in 146 BC.[1]  The work must still have existed in a complete form in the Byzantine era, when extracts were made from it, but has not come down to us intact.  However a great deal of it survives.

The remains can be classed as follows:

  • Books 1-5 survive complete.
  • Long extracts of books 6-18 are preserved in a collection known as the Excerpta Antiqua.  The oldest manuscript of this, F, in fact also contains excerpts of books 1-5, but later manuscripts omit these.
  • Shorter extracts from all the books are included in some of the massive historical compilations made at the command of the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (d. 959 AD).

A monograph with a detailed study of the manuscript tradition was published by J.M. Moore.[2]

Manuscripts of the full text

The following are the manuscripts:

  • A = Vaticanus graecus 124 (once 126). 10th c., probably AD 947.
  • B = London, British Library, Add. 11728. AD 1616.
  • B2 = Marcianus gr. VII, 4. 15th c.  Copy of B.
  • B3 = Florence, Mediceo-Laurentianus Plutei 69, 9. AD 1435, made for Filefo.
  • B4 = Marcianus gr. 371. Mid 15th c.  Once belonged to Bessarion.
  • B5 = Marcianus gr. 369. AD 1470. Copied for Bessarion.
  • C = Munich gr. 157. 14th c.  Polybius is on f.1-91v, the remainder containing Herodian and Heliodorus.  It came from Constantinople after 1453, as a note on f.169r states; then to the library of Matthias Corvinus , King of Hungary (d. 1490), then to Joachim Camerarius who presented it to Albrecht V of Bavaria (d. 1579), whose library forms the nucleus of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek today.
  • C2 = Vaticanus Urbinas gr. 101.  Written between 1455-1474.
  • Z = Vaticanus gr. 1005. 15th c.
  • Z2 = Constantinople, Top Kapu Serai, fonds Ahmet III, 25. 15th c.
  • D = Munich gr. 388 (also contains Excerpta Antiqua). 14th c.
  • E = Paris, BNF, graecus 1648. Once Medici Reg. 1859.  Late 14-early 15th c.
  • J = Vienna phil. gr. 59. 15th c.  A damaged and disarranged ms.
  • F = Vaticanus Urbinas gr. 102 (contains Excerpta Antiqua for books 1-18). 10-11th c.
  • C3 = Paris, BNF, gr. 1796 + Oxford Bodleian Laud. gr. 4. Mid. 16th c.
  • C4 = Paris, BNF, gr. 1649. AD 1547.
  • C5 = Paris, BNF, Coislin. 318. 16th c.

The following mss. contain only a single short excerpt from book 2.  They are all 15th c. except Z4 which is 16th c.

  • Z3 = Paris, BNF, gr. 1739.
  • Z4 = Paris, BNF, gr. 462.
  • Z5 = Paris, BNF, gr. 2376.
  • Z6 = Milan, Ambrosianus, gr. F88 sup.
  • Z7 = Leiden Scal. gr. 51.

All the mss. above derive from a copy in which there are certain common errors.  In book 4, 20:7 some words preserved by Athenaeus are lost, for instance.

A is the best ms.  From it derive B and its children and C4.

An independent manuscript which contained at least books 1-18 is the origin of the remaining mss.  From this ms. was made the Excerpta Antiqua, preserved in Ms. F.  and also another ms, from which the other mss descend; C, Z, D, E and J.

C3, C4 and C5 are copies of the editio princeps, which was printed from C.

The Excerpta Antiqua

There are two pages of mss. containing portions of these.  The principal mss. are:

  • F = Vaticanus Urb. gr. 102, as above.
  • F2 = Vaticanus gr. 1647. 15th c.
  • F3 = Florence, Mediceo-Laurentianus plutei 69, 21. 16th c.
  • D = Munich gr. 388, as above.
  • D2 = Vaticanus gr. 125. 16th c.
  • D3 = Oxford, Bodleian, Archbishop Selden B 18. 16th c.  Once belonged to Casaubon.
  • G = Florence, Mediceo-Laurentianus Plut. 69, 9. Ms. B3 above is also in the same physical volume. 16th c.
  • K = Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale Francais, gr. 2967. 15th c.

F is unique in two ways.  Firstly it contains excerpts from books 1-5.  Since the full text of these was available elsewhere, these did not get copied.  Secondly it not only contains the lengthy extracts, but in the margin it contains a large number of short passages from the sections not included in the main excerpts.  Most of these are also in F2, but not in the other mss (with 3 exceptions).

F, K, G and D are independent of each other.

The Constantinian Excerpts

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus ordered the creation of a number of compilations of excerpts from earlier texts.  Most are now lost.

The extracts from books 1-5 in these compilations derive from a manuscript which is independent of the tradition we have.  The lacunae in all the mss. of the full text are not found in these excerpts.

  • P = Turonensis 980 (once 955) (Tours, Bibliotheque Municipale). 10th c. Contains the Excerpta de virtutibus et vitiis.  Two folios at the beginning praising Constantine VII were printed, but are now lost.
  • M = Vatican gr. 73 (once 91).  10-11th c.  Contains the Excerpta de sententiis.  A palimpsest, discovered by Angelo Mai with the use of chemicals, but now many pages are entirely black and unreadable.  Only ms. for this compilation.
  • Q = Scorialensis Ω 1 11 (once 1K3, 1Z2). 16th c. Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo el Real, El Escorial.  Contains the Excerpta de insidiis.
  • T = Paris, BNF, Suppl. gr. 607. 10th c. Contains the Excerpta de strategematis.

There are also extracts from Polybius in the Excerpta de legationibus, extant in a number of 16th c. manuscripts, all derived from a manuscript lost in the fire at the Escorial in 1671.

  1. [1]This from the introduction to the 1922 Loeb edition.
  2. [2]J.M. Moore, The manuscript tradition of Polybius, Cambridge (1965).  This post is derived mainly from this source.

The manuscripts of Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History”

Pliny the Elder, who died in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, has left us only a single work out of his vast literary activity.  This is the Historia Naturalis, a compendium of information about natural phenomena of various sort.  The work consists of a prefatory letter, addressed to his friend, the emperor Vespasian, followed by 37 books.  The first book is composed entirely of a list of contents for each book from book 2 onwards.  At the end of each list is a list of the authors used to compile it.

Ancient manuscripts

Pliny’s work was read continuously and epitomised throughout antiquity; indeed the Collectanea of C. Iulius Solinus is largely derived from Pliny and can be used for the establishment of the text.   Unusually, therefore, the remains of no less than 5 ancient codices have come down to us.

  • M = St. Paul in Carinthia, Stiftsbibliothek 3.1 (25.2.36; xxv.a.3) (CLA x.1455) (=codex Moneus), 5th century.  Discovered at the Austrian monastery where it still resides in 1853 by F. Mone, hence the name.   The manuscript contains Jerome’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes, written around 700 AD in Luxeuil minuscule on reused parchment.  It also contains a 15th c. ex-libris for Reichenau.  But the book is a palimpsest.  The lower text consists of large sections of books 11-15, partly visible, in a 5th century uncial hand.  The manuscript has been treated with chemicals to try to bring out more of the ancient text. The text is of high quality. A description of the ms. and a complete transcript is available as most of vol. 6 of Sillig’s edition (Gotha, 1855).  The codex is also online here, although hard to use.
  • N = Rome, Bibl. Naz. Sessor. 55 (CLA iv.421), 5th century, uncial.  Also a palimpsest, containing patristic texts and written in the second half of the 6th century, the lower text consists of a few passages from books 23 and 25.  Both texts were written in Italy.
  • O = Vienna 1a (CLA x.1470), first half of 5th century, uncial.  Probably written in the south of Italy, it consists of fragments of 7 leaves, reused for bindings.  It contains part of books 33 and 34.
  • P = Paris lat. 9378, folio 26 (CLA v.575).  A single folio, seemingly of Italian origin, written at the end of the 6th century and containing part of book 18.  It was found, apparently, in the binding of a manuscript from St. Amand in France.
  • Pal. Chat. = Autun 24 + Paris 1629 (CLA vi.725), 5th century, uncial, containing a few sections of books 8 and 9.  Presumably from Italy, it was overwritten in the late 6th century with Cassian’s Institutions, probably in Southern France.

It is telling that 3 ancient manuscripts, M, P and Pal.Chat, found their way to France but were turned into clean parchment before they could generate a tradition in that region.

The medieval manuscripts have been divided by editors into two classes, the older or vetustiores, and the newer or recentiores.  Unfortunately the dates of the mss. have been so confused that the division is not as clean as it should be.

Medieval manuscripts – vetustiores

  • Q = Paris lat. 10318 (CLA v.593), written in central Italy ca. 800 AD, in uncial.  This contains the Latin Anthology, and includes medical excerpts from books 19-20.  The source manuscript used for this was of high quality.
  • A = Leiden, Voss. Lat. F.4 (CLA x.1578), first third of the 8th century, insular, written in the north of England.  Contains books 2-6, with large gaps.  Other books may have been known to Bede, and Pliny is listed in Alcuin’s list of books present in York.  Not as good as M or Q, but better than most continental mss.
  • B = Bamberg, Class. 42 (M.v.10), first third of the 9th century, in the palace scriptorium of Louis the Pious.  It contains books 32-37, and is the only one to preserve the ending of the work.  Of excellent quality, and clearly copied carefully from an ancient codex whose notae it carefully preserves.  Online here.

There are also a number of collections of excerpts made in this period which preserve portions of the text.  They seem to be associated with the court of Charlemagne and the scholars who communicated with it.

Medieval manuscripts – recentiores

The vetustiores do not give us anything like a complete text, unfortunately.  For most of the work we are dependent on the inferior recentiores.  These contain small lacunae, but give a more or less complete text.

The main mss., which all descend from a common parent, are:

  • D+G+V = Vatican lat. 3861 + Paris lat. 6796, ff. 52-3 + Leiden, Voss. Lat. F. 61 (CLA x.1580 + Suppl. p.28), written ca. 800 AD in north-east France, perhaps in the Corbie area.  This manuscript was later divided into three.  It contains most of the work.
  • Ch = New York, Pierpont Morgan Library M.871 (formerly Phillipps 8297), first half of 9th century, written apparently at Lorsch by a scribe using the style of St. Vaast.  Contains books 1-17.
  • F = Leiden, Lipsius 7, written first half of the 9th century, by a scribe from Luxeuil collaborating with one from Murbach, possibly at Murbach.  Contains books 1-37.   Possibly copied from D+G+V before it was corrected.
  • R = Florence, Bibl. Ricc. 488, second half of the 9th century, perhaps at Auxerre.  Contains books 1-34.
  • E = Paris lat. 6795, 9-10th century, France.  Contains books 1-32.

All five mss. are related; their ancestor suffered a dislocation, where leaves from book 2-3 were swapped with some from 4-5.   Attempts were made to fix this in D and E, in a botched way.

E was prone to accident; leaves were lost in the ms. from which it was copied, and then in E itself.  Unfortunately it was E that dominated all later copies.  However some of them were clearly corrected from otherwise unknown copies of the older and better tradition, in D2, F2, R2,  and E2.

Medieval manuscripts – later recentiores

  • h = Berlin (East), Hamilton 517, 11th c.
  • X = Luxembourg 138, 12th c., from the Abbaye d’Orval.
  • Leiden, Voss. Lat. Q.43, 12th c., from Orleans.
  • n = Montpellier 473, 12th c., from Clairvaux; mainly medical excerpts.
  • Co = Copenhagen Gl.Kgl.S.212 2°, ca. 1200 AD.

All these are derived from E.

  • Oxford, Bodl. Auct. T.1.27 + Paris lat. 6798, 12th c., Mosan region.
  • C = Le Mans 263, 12th c.  A beautiful book, apparently of English origin. (Image of one opening here).

These are very close to E, and may derive from it.

  • e = Paris lat. 6796A, 12th c.  A faithful copy of E.
  • a = Vienna 234, 12th c.  Not derived from E, but from its ancestor.
  • d = Paris lat. 6797, third quarter of 12th century, Northern France, probably St. Amand.  Contains a substantial amount of the older tradition.

There are many more manuscripts, many of which have not been explored for their textual value.  One which is online is Ms. British Library, Harley 2676, written in Florence in 1465-7.  The BL site adds, ” identifiable as the missing Pliny from the Badia of Fiesole (according to unpublished notes of A. C. de la Mare at the Bodleian Library, Oxford)”.

Critical editions

The text of the NHwas established by the work of German scholars in the 19th century; J. Sillig, D. Detlefsen, L. von Jan, and K. Rück.  This culminates in the second Teubner edition, that of L. Jan and C. Mayhoff (5 vols, 1892-1906).  Much of the fundamental work on the recension was done by Detlefsen, in a series of papers[1] and in his edition (5 vols, Berlin, 1866-73).  The 20th century has only produced the Budé edition, now in more than 30 volumes, containing limited and rather stale information.


I am indebted for all this information to L.D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmissions, Oxford, p.307-316.

UPDATE: My thanks to J.B. Piggin for extra links.

  1. [1]Rheinisches Museum 15 (1860), p.265-88 and 367-90; Philologus 28 (1869), p.284-337; Hermes 32 (1897), p. 321-40.

From my diary

Via AWOL I learn that an edition and translation of Bar Hebraeus’ scholia on the Old Testament is now available in PDF form online from the University of Chicago.  The PDF is here (linked on that page under the red down-arrow next to the text “Terms of Use”.

In addition, an interesting volume, The Early Text of the New Testament, ed. Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, Oxford, has appeared and is discussed by Larry Hurtado here.  It has wider interest than merely biblical scholars:

There are cogent discussions of wider issues, including in particular Harry Gamble, “The Book Trade in the Roman Empire” (pp. 23-36), and Kruger (a former PhD student), “Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts” (pp. 63-80).  …

Charles Hill (“‘In These Very Words’:  Methods and Standards of Literary Brorowing in the Second Century,” pp. 261-81) provides a valuable study showing that pagan and Christian authors followed a different set of conventions in citing texts than used by copyists of texts.  …

This volume (though expensive!) is now probably the most up to date analysis of earliest evidence about the state and transmission of NT writings in the second century CE.  Given the limitations of our evidence, scholars are required to make the best inferences they can.  This volume provides essential resources in doing so, and largely shows that we can with some confidence posit that the NT writings, essentially as we know them, were copied for both ecclesial and private reading.

Which is what we would tend to expect, surely, of any ancient literary text not belonging to the corpus of astrological handbooks or similarly fluid literature?

Michael Kruger adds a note here.

I’d very much like to read this volume: it seems likely to be relevant to classical and patristic scholars.  It’s about $175, tho, which is a bit above my budget!

UPDATE: A corrrespondent writes to point out that I have confused two books in the above.  I referred to The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis. Second Edition (eds M.W. Holmes & B.D. Ehrman; NTTSD 42; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2012), which appeared at a ridiculous price ($314).  But the book that I was discussing was actually the Charles Hill volume!  Many thanks for the correction.  Friday night tiredness, I’m afraid, is responsible.

The Holmes volume, however, is also likely to be interesting, as may be seen from the list of chapters given by Peter Head here.  But at $341 is way out of reach.  However I suspect it will be quickly pirated in PDF form, unless students have become wealthy in the last few weeks!

Aurispa and his 238 Greek manuscripts

We owe the preservation of a considerable portion of the Greek classics to the actions of a single man.  The Italian Giovanni Aurispa made a trip to Constantinople in the early fifteenth century.  On his return, in the winter of 1423, he came back with 238 Greek manuscripts.  Many of these are the only, the oldest or the best source that we have for the text they contain.

I’ve always been curious to know more of Aurispa, but the sources tend to be in Italian.  This is not one of my better languages.

Today however I learn of the source of the numeral “238”, which is often mentioned but never referenced:

In his famous letter to Traversari, dated 27 August (1424), Aurispa says he has 238 volumes of pagan Greek authors and gives the names of many of them, including the following: “Aristarchum super Iliade in duobus voluminibus, opus quoddam spatiosum et pretiosissimum; aliud commentum super Iliade, cuius eundem auctorem esse puto et illius quod ex me Nicolaus noster habuit super Ulixiade.”

Traversari seems to have requested the Aristarchus, for on 23 February (1425) Aurispa says he cannot send it because it is in Venice with the others (he was in Bologna then).[1]

I had no idea that Aurispa’s letters exist!  It would be most interesting to see the list of authors in that letter.  But how?

Diller gives the following reference: R. Sabbadini, Carteggio di Giovanni Aurispa, Rome, 1931, pp.11f., 24, 159f.  But surely there must be an earlier publication?

If so, I was unable to locate it.

  1. [1]Aubrey Diller, Aurispa and Aristarchus, Classical Philology 55 (1960), p.35-36.

Arrian’s lost work on “After Alexander” and what survives of it

The second century writer Arrian is our best source for the life of Alexander the Great, using impeccable sources then extant but now lost.  A number of his other works are extant, and indeed his work On hunting even exists in English, and can be found on 

But equally interesting to us is his Τα μετὰ Αλέξανδρον, After Alexander.  This work in ten books is lost, but we know of it from Photius, who, in his Bibliotheca, also gives us a long summary of its contents.  This 9th century epitome, made casually as part of this enormous work, is one of our major sources for the early years of the Succcessor period, from the death of Alexander in 323 to the summer of 319.  The work clearly existed in a complete form when Photius read it, which makes it a pity that it did not survive the next few centuries. 

However I learn that we do have a little more.  For it seems that some leaves from one or more copies were reused, and these palimpsest leaves have reached us. 

The first of these is a Vatican palimpsest, ms. Vaticanus 495, which contains two leaves — a single bifolium — which appear as folios 230, and 235.  This was discovered in 1886 by Reitzenstein, and published in 1888.(1)  The leaves seem to be 10th century.  The pages contain a portion of the account of the doomed Egyptian campaign of Perdiccas, which ended in his death, the destruction of the central authority, and the foundation of the power and prestige of the Ptolemaic dynasty.  The editor believed the extract to be from book 7 of the work. 

The second survival was discovered much more recently by Jacques Noret in 1977 at Göteborg, ms. Graecus 1, folios 72 and 73, and was published by him with diplomatic transcription,  a “normal” text, and a French translation.(2)  This has a portion of book 10.  A discussion with images of the pages was published by B. Dreyer in 1999, and I think this is online.(3) The manuscript contains Dionysius Periegetes (f. 1-40) and then the commentary of Eustathius upon it (f. 48-142).  The first was written in the 14th century, the commentary 14-15th c.

 There is also a papyrus of the 2nd century, so very close to the date of composition, published by V. Bartoletti in 1951, which contains a portion of the struggle between Eumenes, Craterus and Neoptolemus. 

So it looks as if at least one 10th century manuscript existed down to the renaissance, when it was dismembered for use as raw materials!

1. Reitzenstein, Arriani τῶν μετὰ Αλέξανδρον libri septimi fragmenta e codice Vaticano rescripto nuper iteratis curis lecto, Breslauer philologische Abhandlungen Bd. 3, H. 3, Breslau 1888, S. 1–36.
2. Noret, Analecta Bollandia 95, 1977, 269–73. Noret, Ant. Class. 52, 1982, 235–242.
3. Boris Dreyer, Zum ersten Diadochenkrieg: Der Göteborger Arrian-Palimpsest (ms Graec 1), Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 125 (1999) 39–60. This contains colour images of the Göteborg leaves and monochrome ones — rather poor — of the Vatican leaves.

The Vlatadon library in Thessalonika

I have had an email back from Veronique Boudon-Millot today, giving the story of how the lost text by Galen, Peri Alupias (On consolation for grief) was found.  It’s very interesting, and I have asked for permission to translate it and place it here. 

She also mentions that Vlatadon 14, the manuscript that contained the new work, also contains the first complete copies of Galen’s On my own books and On the order of my own books, the two works most interesting to non-medical specialists, as evidence for the transmission of texts in the 2nd century AD.  The only previously known copy of the Greek was the Ambrosianus Q 3 sup. in Milan, which has many gaps in the text.  Those gaps previously had, perforce, to be filled from Hunain ibn Ishaq’s Arabic translation, itself extant only in a single forgotten manuscript in the obscure library of Mashhad in Iran.

A key factor in the discovery is that the Vlatadon collection catalogue is itself very obscure and little known.  It was published by S. Eustratiades in 1918.  There is no copy in the United Kingdom, but there is a copy in the French National Library in Paris.  It’s about 136 pages, but ms. 14 is the only medical text.  The remainder are patristic.  And that is exciting!  For if the collection is that little known, who knows what it might contain?!

Greek text critical marks as described by Diogenes Laertius

I’m reading through the first volume of Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers.  In book 3, devoted to Plato, we find the following interesting excursus, which I copy from a version present on Wikisource here.

65. The right interpretation of his dialogues includes three things: first, the meaning of every statement must be explained; next, its purpose, whether it is made for a primary reason or by way of illustration, and whether to establish his own doctrines or to refute his interlocutor; in the third place it remains to examine its truth.

And since certain critical marks are affixed to his works let us now say a word about these. The cross × is taken to indicate peculiar expressions and figures of speech, and generally any idiom of Platonic usage; the diple[65] (>) calls attention to doctrines and opinions characteristic of Plato; 66. the dotted cross (⨰) denotes select passages and beauties of style; the dotted diple (⋗) editors’ corrections of the text; the dotted obelus (÷) passages suspected without reason; the dotted antisigma (Ꜿ) repetitions and proposals for transpositions; the ceraunium the philosophical school; the asterisk (∗) an agreement of doctrine; the obelus (−) a spurious passage.

So much for the critical marks and his writings in general. As Antigonus of Carystus says in his Life of Zeno, when the writings were first edited with critical marks, their possessors charged a certain fee to anyone who wished to consult them.

65. A wedge-shaped mark >, used in early papyri to denote a fresh paragraph.

It is always good to see the actual basis for some of the remarks that get made in text critical handbooks.  Here at least, we have an explicit statement of what marks indicate what.

Did the plays of Menander survive to the renaissance

I was very tired last night, and in need of something gentle to read.  So I took Andrew Lang’s Books and Bookmen to bed with me.  The name of Andrew Lang is one that I knew when I was a lad, for Tolkien refers to him often in his essay on fantasy, as the author of the Blue Fairy Book and other collections of literary. 

The essay was published in Tree and Leaf, which, like many another Tolkien fan I bought and found somewhat uncomfortable.  The ‘leaf’ story, Leaf by Niggle, was charming, although I was oblivious to the deeper meaning that only time could bring.  But as for ‘tree’, the essay, it was a puzzle. I had never heard of literary criticism, when I read it; nor, indeed, of Andrew Lang, who is perhaps a forgotten author these days.

The copy of Books and Bookmen itself was a century old, on good paper, and a delight to read and handle.  Stamps at various places indicated that it had once belonged to Norwich public library, which had foolishly disposed of it.  So I read of the Elzevir editions, of the bibliophilia of France, of the famous Derome blue binding which fades so badly, and of other things of no real importance to a poor man like myself, but curiously soothing.

In the middle of the book was an essay on literary forgeries, itself of considerable interest and relevance today, when the so-called Jordan Lead Codices are being touted.  But one passage caught my eye:

After the Turks took Constantinople, when the learned Greeks were scattered all over Southern Europe, when many genuine classical manuscripts were recovered by the zeal of scholars, when the plays of Menander were seen once, and then lost for ever, it was natural that literary forgery should thrive.

Is it so?  Were the plays of Menander then extant?

I don’t know what Lang’s source is for this remark, and I can’t find any leads.  If any reader does know, perhaps he would share his knowledge with us?

In the mean time, tonight, I shall continue to read Books and Bookmen.

Galen and his works

Who cares to read the works of an doctor of the 2nd century AD?  Well, it doesn’t matter anyway; you can’t!  Not unless you are fluent in Greek at least, anyway.  Do we care?

Those of us who have the “Indiana Jones” approach to lost texts and manuscripts cannot fail to find Galen interesting.  He’s almost a textbook case of how ancient Greek works reached us, via Arabic.  He also has much to say of interest about the way that ancient books were made and traded and forged.  Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars,1 refer to him frequently, and I’ve summarised a few of the bits.  This should whet your appetite!

Ptolemy I sought to fill the library at Alexandria.  He borrowed the official copies of the Attic tragedies from Athens, giving a massive deposit, and then chose to forfeit the deposit and keep the books.  This is recounted by Galen, 17(1).607. In their eagerness to buy all the books that existed, the librarians were frequently deceived into buying forgeries (Galen vol. 15, p. 105).

Galen attributes the confused state of one of the works of Hippocrates to marginal notes being incorporated into the main text by a copyist (vol. 15, p. 624); in vol. 17 (1) p. 634, he notes how a parallel from another writer had been written in a margin, and incorporated in the same manner.3

Galen also was very close to the text critical maxim that the more difficult reading is to be preferred (Corpus medicorum graecorum,p.178, 17-18) where he expresses a preference for old or antiquated words in the text and understands that they would have been changed into something easier if the text had been modified (ibid. 121.17-18).

The Arabic scholars investigated Galen closely, and recent research into Arabic versions has recovered a missing passage from one known text and, better still, proof that an incomprehensible passage in the Greek is because a leaf in an early copy was pulled out and reinserted backwards!  The Nestorian translator, Hunain ibn Ishaq, gives a long list of Galen’s works then extant and considers which had been translated into Syriac, which into Arabic, by whom, when, and where manuscripts of the Greek might be found.  His method of translation involves collating several manuscripts to deal with damage, a trick he learned in part from Galen himself.4

After the fall of Constantinople in 1204, William of Moerbecke became Latin archbishop of Corinth, and translated into Latin some works of Galen not now extant.

In the 19th century Minas Minoides discovered some lost essays of Galen on Mount Athos, which are today Mss. Paris. sup. gr. 634 and 635. 

Interested?  I admit that I am.  I’d like to see those passages of Galen in English.  Indeed I’d like to see that list by Hunain ibn Ishaq.

Sadly no-one has ever been interested in translating Galen.  Initially I could only find one work in translation.  Then John Wilkins of Exeter University in the UK kindly pointed out to me that some selected works were translated by Peter Singer for the Oxford World Classics series in 1997, but that’s it. 

Incidentally the little Oxford World Classics paperback is already out of print, and commanding prices from £31 upwards! This system of making minority-interest texts available in short print run book form with a fierce copyright of life+70 years seems pretty broken to me; the book may exist, but who can read it?  Luckily my local library bought it, so I should be able to get it on ILL, and will report back.

Let us hope that Galen will attract more attention, and more of it online. 

1. 3rd edition, Clarendon Press (1991).    
2.  The reference given in S&S — generally bad on references — is 17(1).607., which tells us little; which work of Galen is this?  Luckily I have the French translation of S&S, D’Homere a Erasme, translated by Pierre Petitmengin who inserted a good few and elucidates.  He gives the reference to the Kühn edition of Galen, Claudii Galeni opera omnia, 1821-33, 20 vols; the ref. is to vol. 17, 1, p.607; I have followed his lead on references above.   There is a review of Kühn’s edition in English here.  The edition is Greek with a Latin translation, and runs to over 20,000 pages!  Vol. 20 is here.
3.  S&S describes Galen as the greatest text-critical scholar of his time, and that W.G.Rutherford, A chapter in the history of annotation, London 1905, pp.47-57 is still worth reading.
4. See J.S.Wilkie, JHS 101 (1981), 145-8; S&S has further bibliography.