From my diary

In my last post I summarised as best I could the textual tradition of Plato, much of it from Pasquali’s Storia, written in 1934 (!).  After that, I returned to Pasquali, to see whether any other useful summaries of textual traditions lay hidden therein.  Sadly “hidden” is the right word.  The book is divided into sections, and the sections into chapters, and neither indicates the gold buried within.  The material about Plato was in one of those chapters.

The chapter itself was divided into 13 sub-sections, each headed only with a numeral.  One of these gave the tradition of Plato, but if I had not known that it was there, I should not have known.  Each sub-section was itself divided into sub-sub-sections, separated only by three asterisks.  In fact the sub-sub-sections formed a pattern; stuff in the manuscripts, stuff in commentaries, etc.  But no titles or marginalia indicated this.  This is very hard on a non-Italian speaker.

Worse yet, while each sub-section is indeed concerned with an author, such as Plato, or Homer, the reader must read almost a paragraph of piffle before any name is mentioned.  Three of these mention some other author first, just to confuse.

It is really important, when writing something intended for more than one language group, to provide an apparatus of headings and numberings allowing the reader to find what he is looking for!

Since then I have been reading into the textual transmission of Homer.  The sheer quantity of talk is extraordinary, and most of it inward-looking.

I was amused by some words of T. W. Allen, Homer: The Origins and the Transmission (1924), online here, whose edition of the text is still fundamental.  Page 6:

The removal of ‘literature’ and the neglect of the principles of investigation imposed upon us these hundred years has led with me to remarkable results, namely the discredit of contemporary method and the rehabilitation of tradition. With whatever refraction and inaccuracy classical and mediaeval mentality present to us the ancient world, the image produced by modern philological method is more distorted, and is in fact in most cases completely false. The reasoning applied to ancient records in the last hundred years is not only baseless, but it has cumbered the old world with lumber which makes the study of it a difficult and certainly most tedious matter. The repulsive jargon in which ancient history and literary criticism are conveyed, the narrow outlook, low vision and ignorance of human nature and the human mind—its working and possibilities— have turned classical philology into ridicule.

A century later, the same might be said again, I suspect.  Indeed another scholar writing a couple of decades ago suggested that there is no such thing as “Homer”, only a mass of oral material more or less edited ad hoc by persons unknown in antiquity.  From the lofty heights of his ivory tower, so far up in the clouds that the ground is no longer visible, he actually mocked a fellow scholar for expressing concern about whether we lose our Homer altogether in all this learned hairsplitting.  It did not seem to occur to this gentleman, in his privileged little world, that somebody has to pay for his ivory tower, and that this someone might rather object to paying for the privileged to study something that doesn’t actually exist.  The job of the text critic is to heal the text, not destroy it.

There is a persistent lack of reference to the primary facts about the tradition in much of what I have read so far.  This is not a good sign, in my experience.  Whatever we say about antiquity must be grounded in that data.


How did the works of Plato reach us? – The textual tradition of the dialogues

Plato’s works have reached us in medieval handwritten copies, the earliest written around 900 AD. The dialogues are arranged into nine groups of four dialogues, or “tetralogies.”[1] These give us the works in complete form, from direct copying down the centuries. But there are also surviving fragments of ancient copies on papyrus, found in rubbish dumps in Egypt where the climate is dry, which sometimes give a better reading in this passage or that, where the text has become corrupt in the centuries. Plato also is quoted at great length by other ancient authors, and sometimes these also have readings to contribute. Finally there are ancient translations of Plato into other languages.

The witnesses to the direct tradition, the medieval manuscript copies, are very numerous; more so than for any of the Greek classics other than Homer. One article suggests at least 250 manuscripts survive[2]; and a search of the Pinakes database gave 439.[3] Most are merely copies of other manuscripts, so it is important to identify the primary manuscripts.

The 19th century study of the transmission of the text proved to be unsound, and the whole task had to be started again just before WW1. In 1959 Dodds could write that critical work on the text is still in its early stages, and that, for the first 7 tetralogies, nobody could say how many of the manuscripts were primary – based on no other manuscript – or how they related to each other, or to the secondary manuscripts. And why? Because scholars lacked accurate collations of the manuscripts. Indeed the collations that were available proved to be full of errors.[4]

Key Medieval Manuscripts [5]

For the text of individual dialogues additional manuscripts are important, but these are the main ones for the tradition as a whole.

B – Oxford, Bodleian, E. D. Clarke 39 (= “Clarkianus”). The oldest extant witness. Written in 895 AD by “John the Calligrapher” for Arethas of Caesarea, according to a subscriptio. It contains the first 6 tetralogies, and never contained more. It was probably the first volume of a two-volume Plato. It was discovered in 1801, lying on the floor of the monastery of St John the Apostle on Patmos, and Clark purchased it. By looking at medieval catalogues of the monastery library, it seems that the monastery acquired it sometime between 1201 and 1355, and it remained largely unknown thereafter. It’s not clear that any other manuscript derives from it. B is online here:

The top of the first page of B – Bodleian MS E. D. Clarke 39, folio 1r.

A – Paris, BNF graecus 1807. Ca. 900 AD. Today contains only the 8th and 9th tetralogies, and the Spuria. Probably the second volume of a two-volume set. Not online. Online here.

T – Venice, Marcianus Append. Class. 4. 1. Copy of A. Written by Ephraim Monachus ca. 950.[6] It contains the first 7 tetralogies and part of the 8th, although this may be copied from elsewhere. At the end of the 7th tetralogy is a note indicated the “end of volume 1”; again it must be descended from a two volume medieval Plato. Probably copied from A when it was complete. B and T have some links, possibly because an ancestor of one was corrected from the other. T is online here:

W – Vienna suppl. phil. gr. 7. 12th century? Contains tetralogies 1-3, and then the dialogues of 4 to 7 in a jumbled order. It is independent of B and T. It was probably acquired in Greece or Sicily in the 14th century by Nerio Acciaiauoli, passed in 1478 to the Certose near Florence, and in 1725 to Vienna. W is online here:

D – Venetus 185 (Coll. 576). 12th century. Once belonged to Bessarion. Seems to be independent of A. For the first 4 tetralogies is closely related to B, but not derived from it.[7]

B, A/T, D, W form a family of closely related manuscripts. Manuscript F is from a very different family.

F – Vienna suppl. phil. gr. 39. 13th century. It contains the dialogues from tetralogy VI.3 (Gorgias) to IX.1 (Minos). From a different family to B, A/T and W. Its readings often agree with the quotations in Stobaeus and Eusebius, whether the reading is authentic or corrupt. Some of its errors are explicable if the scribe copied directly from a manuscript written in an uncial hand, i.e. an ancient manuscript, with no word division and limited punctuation. This is confirmed by the papyri which demonstrate that the F text-type goes back at least to the second century AD. This is unique among the mss of Plato. Dodds estimates from the probably dimensions of the exemplar that it may have been a “cheap papyrus code which was manufactured in quantity in and after the third century A.D.” and represents “the ‘commercial’ texts which circulated among the reading public rather than the more scholarly editions,” complete with vulgarisations.

The tradition of the ninth and final tetralogy is somewhat different from the others, and manuscripts of it are less common. All the manuscripts, including the 11th century Armenian translation of its first two dialogues (Minos and the Laws), derive from a manuscript equipped with variants, reproduced rather faithfully. This may be an ancient manuscript, or more likely a Byzantine transliteration of the 9th century.

The Papyri

No ancient copies of any work of Plato have reached us. But small fragments of such copies do survive: little scraps of papyrus found in the ancient rubbish dumps of deserted cities in Egypt. The database lists 95 papyrus fragments, although this is a mere handful compared to the number of papyri of Homer. The oldest four fragments date from the first part of the 3rd century BC: a scrap of the Phaedo, Laches, Sophist, and an epistle. But the vast majority date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, including a long section of the Symposium (P.Oxy. 843, 2nd c.), and the numerous and long fragments of the Phaedrus.

Pasquali wrote, “There was much discussion about the value of those papyri [the 3rd c. BC Phaedo and Laches] immediately after their discovery: now the general opinion is clear. They provide an apparently careless text: there are frequent spelling errors and negligent mistakes, such as arbitrary and impossible shifts of words, none of which is surprising in private copies; nor do they lack small lacunae. All this matters very little if a solid foundation can be glimpsed through the damaged surface. And for the most part they are like this: the Laches papyrus contains only 189d -192a, yet it greatly improves our text.”

The Indirect Tradition

The text of Plato is quoted in a number of ancient authors. These quotations are extensive; between a quarter and a half of some dialogues are quoted. The most important source is Stobaeus Anthology, and then Eusebius Praeparatio Evangelica. Other authors quoting more than a page of the Greek text are Iamblichus, Galen, Theodoret, Theon Smyrnaeus, Clement, Justin Martyr, John Philoponus, and Athenaeus. [8] The quotations are of the greatest value for the transmission of the text. In some cases they preserve the correct reading where the entire direct tradition has been corrupted.[9]

Commentaries on Plato

Another witness to the text is ancient commentaries, in which that text is quoted and discussed. The oldest commentaries on Plato are lost, but a great number of neoplatonist commentaries survive from the 5th century AD, including works by Hermias, Proclus, Olympiodorus and Damascius, together with a 6th century fragment of a commentary on the Parmenides preserved in a palimpsest from Bobbio. The commentaries are often little more than student notes, but each note is often preceded by a lemma, i.e. a word or extract from Plato. While in theory these might have been modified themselves from later copies of the text, it has been shown that the lemmata in Proclus’ Commentary on the Timaeus must be as Proclus saw them, because his comments rely upon them being as they are.

There is also a papyrus of the 2nd century AD containing a commentary on a long stretch of the Theatetus. The work was probably composed not long before.


Further remains of ancient commentaries survive in the scholia in the margins of manuscripts of the BWT family. There are two sets. The first were entered in B by the hand of Arethas of Caesarea, the “Arethae scholia”. These are most abundant for the Gorgias and the Theatetus. The other set of scholia were added later to B in another hand, and also appear in T, and often in W. These have been called “scholia vetera,” although there is no evidence that they are earlier than the others. Neither set is very useful for textual questions, except occasionally.


Plato wrote in Greek, but in antiquity and later translations were made into other languages.

Cicero made a Latin translation of the Timaeus, and elsewhere in his works he quotes and translates many other passages of Plato, often at some length. In the 4th century AD Chalcidius translated into Latin the first part of the Timaeus and commented upon it. He dedicated it to a certain “Osius” who may have been bishop Hosius of Cordova. This translation passed into medieval Latin libraries, and influenced Dante. Both translations are preserved in manuscripts of the 9th century and later.[10]

Translations from Greek were made into Coptic, Middle Persian and Armenian. A fragment of a Coptic translation of the Republic 588b1-589b3 is preserved in codex VI of the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic texts. The translation is of very poor quality, and initally went unrecognised. Agathias (Hist. II 29, 1-2) tells us that some Greek works were translated into Middle Persian for Chosroes I, and that he was especially interested in Plato and Aristotle, so probably Plato was among them. In Armenian translation the Timaeus, Euthyphro, Apology, Minos, and 12 books of the Laws have been preserved in a manuscript in the Mechitarist monastery in Venice. A translation of the Phaedo is lost. The translations may be the work of a Magister Gregorius (ca. 990-ca.1058), although others have argued for a 6th century date for the translation of the Timaeus. The translation is very literal, and seems to be based on a older text of the A-family.

Some researchers have suggested that Hunain ibn Ishaq translated the Republic into Arabic.[11] Several Arabic authors tell us that the Timaeus and other dialogues were translated into Arabic in the 9-10th century. Knowledge of Plato in medieval Arabic authors seems to derive from summaries made in Arabic or translated into Arabic.[12]

Dodd’s stemma for the Gorgias.

Analysis of the Medieval Manuscripts

The medieval manuscripts share certain characteristics. All of them derive from the collection of tetralogies known in antiquity, and other orders of the text are all secondary. They also share some obvious, and mostly unfixable, corruptions: doubled readings, rare interpolations, even rarer lacunae. It is clear that they all derive from a common ancestor.

But how old was this common ancestor? It must predate the invention of minuscule bookhand ca. 900, because none of the shared errors arise from misreading a minuscule bookhand.

The 2nd century AD commentary on the Theatetus shares two obvious corruptions with the medieval manuscripts. These corruptions must be earlier than the 2nd century. But the commentary also has a better reading than the medieval manuscripts in at least five places. In general the lemmas in the commentary agree much more with manuscript W than with B and T. All of this suggests that the common ancestor of the medieval manuscripts, and the 2nd century commentary, must be earlier still, and divided into two branches before the 2nd century AD; one the ancestor of the medieval codices, the other of the text in the commentary.

The roughly contemporary papyri of the Phaedrus confirm this. P.Oxy.1017 has a number of readings superior to the medieval mss, just as the commentary does. It also contains marginal and interlinear variants in a second hand, which cannot be conjectures to improve the text because in fact they do the opposite. The papyrus differs from the medieval text in 29 places, but in 8 of these places, the medieval reading is given in the marginal variants. This means that our medieval text, and also its errors, already existed in the 2-3rd century AD. P.Oxy.1017 tends to agree more with T than B. In fact P.Oxy. 1016 has similar features, but it also has readings found in inferior medieval manuscripts. So does P.Oxy. 2102 (2nd c.).

From this we can conclude that the medieval tradition has its origins in an ancient exemplar, and that many of the divergences found in the medieval codices are also ancient. Some of the manuscripts seem to continue an ancient family of the text, and presumably derive from a different uncial exemplar to the others. This is certainly true for the text of the Timaeus in F, which also shares errors with Plutarch, Galen, Eusebius, Proclus, Stobaeus and Chalcidius. The same is true for the text of the Republic and the Gorgias.

Date of collection and ordering

At what date did the works of Plato come into the form of a collection of tetralogies, in which they now are? Most likely during the early Hellenistic period. Pasquali argues that the collection contains an authentic but unfinished dialogue, the Critias; a dialogue only complete in its externals, the Laws, and, as an appendix to the Laws, it contains a work by Plato’s secretary, Philip of Opuntus under Plato’s name. This must mean that the collection itself dates back to a circle that had Plato’s work at its disposal and that felt obliged to continue it, i.e. the Academy. It cannot have been compiled by Plato’s immediate successors, who would have known very well what he wrote, because it contains a lot of spuria. So it must have been compiled at least a few generations after his death. One of the spurious dialogues, the Alcibiades II, seems Hellenistic rather than Attic. So perhaps the collection dates to the Academy of Arcesilas and Lacydes, of the first half of the 3rd century BC, at which date corruptions and interpolations may already have crept in.

What about the ordering? Diogenes Laertius tells us (III, 61) that “some, including Aristophanes the Grammarian” of Byzantium (fl. ca. 200 BC) classified the dialogues into groups of three; comprising only 15 dialogues, followed by an unordered mass of single dialogues. He also explains at length (III, 65-6) the use of critical signs in ancient copies of Plato, some of which signs have been preserved in medieval copies. But Diogenes Laertius also tells us (III, 56) that it was Thrasyllus the court astrologer of Tiberius who divided the dialogues into tetralogies, which seems far too late. Albinus ca. 150 AD in his introduction to the works of Plato (6) tells us that an otherwise unknown Dercyllides also arranged them thus.[13] The issues are discussed by Philip.[14] Pasquali declines to decide which came first, and is inclined to believe that both arrangements reflect only a bibliographical list, rather than the arrangement of any physical copies.

  1. [1] How they reached us is summarised in quite a lot of detail in some twenty pages of G. Pasquali, Storia della tradizione e critica del testo, 2nd ed., Firenze (1934, repr. 1988), pp. 247-269, from which most of the following material is taken. Useful list of the tetralogies at Wikipedia:
  2. [2]R. Brumbaugh, R. Wells, “Completing Yale’s Plato Microfilm Project”, in: Yale University Library Gazette 64 (1989), 73-5. JSTOR:
  3. [3]Query for author: Plato philosophus, exported the results to CSV, imported this into Microsoft Access as a table “Pinakes”, renamed the first 5 columns, and ran an SQL query: “SELECT country, town, library, collection, shelfmark FROM pinakes AS query GROUP BY country, town, library, collection, shelfmark;”
  4. [4]E.R. Dodds, Gorgias: A revised text, OUP (1959), p.34.
  5. [5]This material mainly from Dodds, Gorgias.
  6. [6]M. Joyal, “The Textual Tradition of [Plato] Theages”, in: Revue d’histoire des textes, 28 (1998), 1-54, p.8, n.30. Persee:
  7. [7]Boter.
  8. [8]Boter, p.285.
  9. [9]G. Jonkers, The Textual Tradition of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, Brill (2017), p.387.
  10. [10]A list of manuscripts appears in the Wikipedia article,
  11. [11]Boter, The Textual Tradition of Plato’s Republic, Brill (1989), 279-80.
  12. [12]G. Jonkers, p.393-4.
  13. [13]Albinus, Eisagogue c. 6, online in English as “The introduction of Albinus to the Dialogues of Plato” here, p.315:
  14. [14]J. A. Philip, “The Platonic Corpus”, Phoenix 24 (1970), 296-308. JSTOR:

Bodleian Library manuscripts can now be downloaded as PDFs!!

I was looking at the online copy of the Bodleian manuscript of Plato, the “Clarkianus” 39 (here), when I discovered something wonderful.  We can now download the whole thing as a PDF!

This is just so amazing!  It also means that any cyber-attack can only do so much damage, if you have offline copies.

Here’s the screen grabs of what to do:

  1.  Go to the manuscript online:

2.  Click on the “Download” icon and you get this.

3.  Click on the download for the whole item.

Note that if you select a page range, it has to assemble that offline and email you, so it takes longer.

That’s it!  It’s actually the best user interface for downloads that I’ve yet seen.  Nice!

The only downside is resolution.  The download of this manuscript (871 pages) is a pretty massive 800mb.  If you look at folio 1r, the scholia are a bit fuzzy.  So for these you still need to use the website.  It would be good to have an “ultra-high res, kiss your disk space goodbye” option.  But it’s still a huge step forward.


The “Collectanea” of Pseudo-Bede

There is a famous prophecy about the Colosseum, given in variable forms such as this:

As long as the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand.
When the Colosseum falls, Rome will fall.
But when Rome falls, the world will fall.

The source for this is the “Collectanea” of pseudo-Bede.

This is not a text that many will be familiar with.  It is listed in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum as CPL 1129, “Collectanea (Excerptiones Patrum: Flores ex diversis)”, i.e. Miscellaneous (Excerpts from the Fathers, sayings from various).  The incipit is “Dic mihi, quaeso, quae est illa mulier”.  It’s a collection of excerpts of various sorts.

The Latin text is available in PL 94, cols. 539-560.  This, I learn, reprints the Basel edition of 1563, from the Opera Bedae Venerabilis presbyteri Anglosaxonis of Johann Herwagen, 8 vols in 4, vol 3, pp.647-74.  Apparently there is no manuscript, only that solitary edition. This is reprinted in the modern text and translation by Martha Bayless & Michael Lapidge, Collectanea Pseudo-Bedae, Dublin (1998), although this was not accessible to me.[1]

The start of the 1563 edition, our only source for the text.

It is often said that, in the 16th century, printing houses, who received grubby old manuscripts and created nice new clean printed editions, were in the habit of chopping up the now surplus manuscripts in order to use the parchment to bind books.  I don’t know on what that is based.  It was often supposed that this fate befell the sole manuscript of Velleius Paterculus at Basel, until an 18th letter recording the sale of the manuscript two centuries later came to light.  A paper in the Bayless edition apparently offers this as the likely fate of the manuscript.

The Latin text quoted online varies, but here is the 1563 text:

Quamdiu stat Colysaeus, stat & Roma;
Quando cadet Colysaeus, cadet & Roma;
Quando cadet Roma, cadet & mundus.

The CPL tells us that the text is apparently 8th century, because it does not include any source later than that date.  But opinions vary, it seems.

  1. [1]First page of review accessible at

From my diary

I came across someone online who professed that the transmission of texts from antiquity was so full of mistakes that the modern copies are not reliable sources of information about the past.  I demurred, and the response was:

We might say that Plato was right all along, what we see is but shadows projected on to the wall of the cave.

Naturally I pointed out that our source for these words of Plato is itself a literary text transmitted in the manner which he had just dismissed.

But it lead me to the question: just how is Plato’s Republic transmitted?  How do we get our text of Plato?

For Latin texts we have the marvellous volume by L.D.Reynolds, Texts and Transmissions, which presents an overview of the question for each Latin author in turn, compiled by a team of classical scholars including Michael Reeve.

Sadly I never knew L. D. Reynolds.  But I did meet Michael Reeve, who very kindly took me to lunch at high table, and bore my questions and my ignorance with admirable patience.  He was, indeed, grieving for Reynolds who had just died, so it was a very bad time for him.  He told me that all of the contributors got a bound copy of the book, with blank sheets bound into it on alternate pages to add notes and updates.  He wondered where Reynolds’ copy now was, as might we all.  Dr Reeve still stands in my memory as an example of what a classical scholar should be.

But no such volume exists for Greek classical texts.  Anybody who wishes to know how we get the texts before us must sift through masses of material in critical editions.  Most of this material is both over-detailed and over-narrow in scope for the newcomer to the field.  If the last critical edition is old, then it may well be out of date also.  The writer may also simply omit material about which he does not know.

I have spent a bit of time yesterday and today doing exactly this, with the aid of pirate book sites, and I think the effort involved would deter most people.  This is why a group of professionals really do need to produce a summary volume!

So far I have learned that the dialogues were gathered into groups of four (“tetralogies”) during the reign of Tiberius; that the earliest manuscripts are 9th century; that papyri do exist, but bring nothing new to the discussion; that the Coptic translation of portions of the Republic, found at Nag Hammadi, was really incompetent and is useless for establishing the text; and that Eusebius in his Praeparatio Evangelica is an indirect witness useful for the text, and is also the actual source of quotations in later sources like the Suda, rather than the original text.  I have also learned that the main edition, the Oxford Classical Text, edited by Burnet, is 120 years old, and relies on collations of manuscripts which are really unreliable; and that Lachmann’s method of analysing manuscript traditions is really really important when studying Plato’s manuscripts.

I will try to produce a short article containing the key points!


More sections of Philodemus’ history of the philosophers discovered, more info on Plato

An Italian team has revealed that they have managed to read some more of a Herculaneum papyrus, with fascinating results.  They have found literary evidence that Plato was sold into slavery by the Spartans, perhaps in 399 BC, and also the location of his tomb, previously unrecorded.

The literary text in question is the Σύνταξις τῶν φιλοσόφων, (“Treatise on the Philosophers”) of Philodemus, of which long sections had already been revealed.  There is a translation of it at Andrew Smith’s Attalus Project here.  Via Google Translate from an article in Italian:

The project, in addition to investigating the state of conservation of these artefacts, has the aim of publishing an updated edition – thanks to the application of imaging techniques and philological methods – of Philodemus’ Review of the Philosophers , the oldest history of Greek philosophy in our possession. The History of the Academy is part of it , which contains much exclusive information about Plato and the development of the Academy under his successors.

“Compared to previous editions, there is now an almost radically changed text…. The increase in text roughly corresponds to the discovery of ten new medium-sized papyrus fragments. The new readings often draw on new and concrete facts about Plato’s Academy, Hellenistic literature, Philodemus of Gadara and ancient history in general,” adds Kilian Fleischer, the editor of this precious papyrus as part of the Greek Schools project.

Among the most important news, we read that Plato was buried in the garden reserved for him (a private area intended for the Platonic school) of the Academy in Athens, near the so-called Museion or sacellum sacred to the Muses . Until now it was only known that he was buried somewhere in the Academy.

Again regarding the same philosopher, it emerges that he was sold as a slave on the island of Aegina perhaps already in 404 BC, when the Spartans conquered the island or, alternatively in 399 BC, immediately after the death of Socrates. Until now it had been believed that Plato had been sold into slavery in 387 BC during his stay in Sicily at the court of Dionysius I of Syracuse. In another passage, in a dialogue between characters, Plato expresses himself contemptuously about the musical and rhythmic abilities of a barbarian musician originally from Thrace.

“The GreekSchools project also aims to develop methods of investigation of manuscripts by applying the most advanced diagnostic imaging techniques available today (infrared and ultraviolet optical imaging, molecular and elemental imaging, thermal imaging, tomography, optical microscopy digital, etc.)”, specifies Costanza Miliani of the CNR-ISPC. Staff … using mobile instruments from the Molab platform belonging to the European research infrastructure on Heritage Science E-RIHS, apply non-invasive techniques to opisthograph and stratified papyrus order to read text inaccessible on the reverse or hidden within multiple layers.

The work is being undertaken as part of the “Greek Schools project” at the University of Pisa, led by Graziano Ranocchia.  There is a good article from the Daily Mail with many pictures here, although it brings in “AI” for no obvious reason.

Ranocchia and his team have uncovered 30 percent more text within the Herculaneum papyri than in the previous 1991 edition.

The new analysis also revealed that Plato may have been sold into slavery in 399 BC following Socrates’ passing or in 404 BC during the Spartan conquest of Aegina.

‘Until now it had been believed that Plato had been sold into slavery in 387 BC during his stay in Sicily at the court of Dionysius I of Syracuse,’ said Ranocchia.

‘In another passage, in a dialogue between characters, Plato expresses himself contemptuously about the musical and rhythmic abilities of a barbarian musician originally from Thrace.’

Ranocchia and his team set up a laboratory years ago in the Italian National Library in Naples, allowing easier access to Herculaneum scrolls stored at the facility.

Using a camera, they took hundreds of photos of the charred document that were analyzed by an algorithm.

The researchers used infrared imaging, which allowed them to ‘see’ through the front side of the papyrus to the writing on the back, according to

This is amazing stuff.  There is a definite tendency to dismiss the Herculaneum library as only containing dull Epicurean works by Philodemus, but clearly there is still gold to be found!


The medieval book lists of Rochester Priory

There are few more charming relics of the middle ages than the contemporary lists of the books owned by this abbey or that priory.  Usually written on a couple of leaves of some other volume, they give a wonderful picture of monastic libraries.  G. Becker’s Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui (1885), online here, prints a great number of these.  It is quite a joy to look through the lists, looking for books.  In the process you gain a deep sense of what sort of books were commonly available.  You need almost no Latin, because the entries are formulaic: only a willingness to try.

The Benedictine Priory of Rochester, dedicated to St Andrew, has at least two surviving book lists.  The first is from 1122 and contains 93 volumes.  A second list from 1202 contains 241 volumes.  I had never come across either.  Neither is in Becker, although he does give a reference to the existence of the second one on p.286.  The priory was dissolved in 1540, the monks pensioned off, and the landed property passed briefly into the hands of King Henry VIII and, from him, and more permanently, into the hands of the landed gentry.  The books were scattered.  A good number ended up in the royal collection, now held in the British Library.

There is a research project at Rochester cathedral itself, led by Dr Christopher Monk.  A great deal of primary material from this is online at the Cathedral website.

The first list of the books of Rochester, from 1122, is preserved in the “Textus Roffensis”, a medieval manuscript belonging to Rochester Cathedral.    It seems to have no other shelfmark, curiously.  It is a miscellaneous volume of monastic papers.  The catalogue is on folios 224r-230r.  The manuscript itself is online at Manchester University here.  Unfortunately the pages are not labelled with the folio number, but it is page 457 in the online manuscript.  Rochester Cathedral has an index of the manuscript online here.

Here is the top of the first surviving page.  It is clear that other pages came before it, since it begins “Expositione eiusdem super psalterium in iii vol.” (exposition of the same on the psalms in 3 vols”.  The reference is to a work of St Augustine, as the next entry makes clear: “Librum ipsius de civitate dei in i vol.” (book of his on the City of God in 1 volume.):

Textus Roffensis, folio 224r: start of the book list of 1122, with books of St Augustine.

References online to the printed version of this are often confused.  The correct reference is:

R.P.Coates, “Catalogue of the Library of the Priory of St. Andrew, Rochester, from the Textus Roffensis,” in: Archaeologia Cantiana 6 (1866), pp.120-128.

This ought to be online.  The Kent Archaeological Society have much of the Archaeologia Cantiana material online and downloadable.  Unfortunately their website is going through some sort of migration.  In the meantime a PDF of the Coates article can be found in the Wayback When Machine at here.

The Coates article also identifies surviving volumes preserved in the British Museum Catalogue (BMC), now the British Library, indicating the catalogue number.  The “nempe…manu” is just about visible in the picture above.  Coates states that the blank area at the top of the leaf shows traces that it was rubricated – written in red ink -, and the ink has disappeared thanks to damp.

A transcription and translation of this is at the Rochester Cathedral website here, or should be!  If not, an archived copy is here.

The collection is a straightforward Norman collection: the four big fathers, Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory, and then various other books.  It’s no older than the conquest, clearly.  The real interest is finding stray volumes like “Egesippus in 1 vol.”, i.e. the Latin translation of Josephus, a translation of Chrysostom into Latin, thankfully listing the works included.

The second list of books dates from 1202.  It is preserved in British Library Ms. Royal 5 B XII, on folios 2 and 3.  Some details of the manuscript are here.  The attack on the BL last year took its manuscripts offline, and strangely they are still unavailable.  But a low resolution (alas) image of the first page of the catalogue is online on a blog post here.

The printed text can be found in W. B. Rye, “Catalogue of the Library of the Priory of St. Andrew, Rochester, A.D. 1202,” in Archaeologia Cantiana 3 (1860), p.47-64.  This volume is online here.  The catalogue is on p.54 (p.127 of that PDF).  Here’s the beginning:

Further on (p.59), we find grammatical, rhetorical and arithmetical works, and then Priscian, Boethius, Virgil, Sallust, Terence, Arator, Persius, Lucan and other ancient authors.  A bit further on is Statius, then Suetonius and Ovid, belonging to “Master Hamon”.

These curious survivals are worth a look.  As we read the list, we seem to see in our imagination the volumes themselves, many long vanished, lying flat on the wooden shelves in the damp medieval library, illuminated by candles.

Thus was the knowledge of antiquity transmitted to us.


Did he really? Could any scholar…? Apparently he did. Angelo Mai and the Editio Princeps of the Vatican Mythographers

The “Vatican Mythographers” is a set of three ancient texts about pagan mythology, all originally published by Angelo Mai from Vatican manuscripts in 1831.[1]   His edition has been reprinted since, and translated into English and French, but no critical edition has ever appeared.

A paper appeared by Kathleen Elliot and J. P. Elder in 1947, in preparation for such an edition, which however never appeared.[2]  This contains the following curious remarks:

… his transcriptions are frequently incorrect, a fact which will surprise no one acquainted with this industrious prefect’s habits. His text is further vitiated we speak from at least scholastic purity – by his frequent euphemistic changes: “. . . illud non celabo, me videlicet complura mythographorum horum vocabula, quae, ut fit in ethnica mythologia, pudicis auribus ingratiora accidissent, euphemismis commutavisse . . .” (Mai, praef. xvi). Whether a “rem habuit” is actually less salacious than a “concubuit” or whether a “complexus” is more delicate than a “compressus” is doubtless a matter of secular taste.

This seems very odd behaviour.  So I retrieved Mai’s preface, and section IX is as follows.

IX.  Atque ego quidem in exscribendo, distin­guendo, plurimisque mendis purgando tam copiosos fabularum libros, non modicum laborem pertuli: scho­lia tamen mea nulla propemodum addidi, ne molem voluminis nimis augerem: cuius rei gratia minutis et­iam typis usus sum, quominus chartam innumeram lectoribus meis obiicerem: quos etiam illud non ce­labo, me videlicet complura mythographarum ho­rum vocabula, quae, ut fit in ethnica mytholo­gia, pudicis auribus ingratiora accidissent, euphemismis commutavisse “utcumque ferent ea fata mi­nores.” Auctorum apud hos mythographos appel­latorum syllabum scripsi: latinitatis tamen nova vo­cabula,quae sparsim videbam, philologis ac lexico­graphis colligenda permisi: a quibus etiam scholio­rum ad hos mythographos apparatum subinde con­cinnandum auguror. Interim laetari licet, quod his a me codicibus editis, tres insignes mythographos Hyginum, Placidum, et Leontium, adquisivisse videmur.

And indeed I endured not a little labour in copying, dividing, and cleaning up many errors such copious books of fables: but I added almost no notes, to avoid increasing too greatly the bulk of the volume: for the sake of which I also used small typefaces, to avoid throwing uncountable paper at my readers, from whom I will not conceal that, I have in fact exchanged for euphemisms many words of these mythographers which, as happens in pagan mythology, fall unpleasantly upon modest ears, “however those who come later may consider the deed.” (Aen. 6, 822). I have written an index of each author named in these mythographers; however I have left it to the philologists and lexicographers to collect the new words of Latin, which I saw occasionally: by whom I also predict that an apparatus of notes for these mythographers will be furnished hereafter. In the meantime, let us be happy that from these codices published by me, we seem to have acquired the three distinguished mythographers Hyginus, Placidus, and Leontius.

This is hard to credit.  A Latin text intended for schoolboys might be bowdlerised, but hardly a scholarly edition intended for research libraries!  What on earth was Mai thinking?  How extraordinary.  And his quotation from the Aeneid tells us that he knew that subsequent scholars would curse him.

Is it possible that he was ordered to do this?  That the Vatican press could not issue obscene works?  We can only guess.

Elliot does identify the manuscripts used by Mai, which the latter had left obscure.  For the first mythographer, this is Vat. reg. lat. 1401, online here.  So it would be possible to collate the two from home, and to discover precisely what Mai did to the text.

Here on folio 14v, the bottom of column 1 and the start of column 2, is the chunk that I quoted earlier today:

It’s interesting to compare this with Mai’s Latin text (p.34), and my translation:

89.  De ortu Panis. Post mortem Ulixis Mercurius cum uxore eius Penelope concubuit. Quae sibi juxta oppidum Tegeum peperit filium, Pan nomine.  Unde et Tegeeus dicitur.

89.  On the Origin of Pan. After the death of Ulysses, Hermes lay with his wife Penelope, who gave birth to a son near the town of Tegea, named Pan.  From which he is called “the Tegean”.

Bode corrected “Tegeum” to “Tegeam”, correctly.  But there’s nothing amiss here at least.

Searching for the “rem habuit” referred to by Elliot, it appears to be in chapter 94,

94. Neptuni et Erycis. Cum animadvertisset Neptunus Venerem spatiantem in litore siculi maris, cum ea rem habuit: ex quo gravida facta filium peperit, quem nominavit Erycem.

94.  Of Neptune and Eryx.  When Neptune had noticed Venus walking on the beach of the Sicilian sea, he had an affair with her: and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom she named Eryx.

Here’s the manuscript image, from folio 15r:

The “sicula maris” is clear enough, but the next two words are very abbreviated.  The horizontal stroke above the “a” of “ea” is clearly “eam”.  The backwards “c” is “con” or “com”, the “p” with a squiggle above it is “prae”. So I think they read “eam conpresset,” “he lay with her.”  Not what Mai printed.

It’s very strange.  Someone needs to do this work here, and compare the text and the manuscripts, line by line.

But not me!

Update (20 April 2024):  Apparently it has been done!  A kind commenter tells me of the existence of two critical editions:

Anyway, there are at least two modern editions of the first text that comply with current critical standards:
– P. Kulcsár, Mythographi Vaticani I et II (1987, Corpus Christianorum SL 91C)
– N. Zorzetti & J. Berlioz, Premier Mythographe du Vatican (1995, Les Belles Lettres #328)
Both read “eam compressit” (pp. 40 and 57 respectively).

Thank you!

Update 22 April 2024: A kind commenter pointed out that “spatiantem” should be “walking” – fixed! Thank you.

  1. [1]Angelo Mai, Classicorum auctorum e Vaticanis codicibus editorum Tomus III. Rome, 1831.  Online here.
  2. [2]Kathleen Elliot and J. P. Elder, “A Critical Edition of the Vatican Mythographers,” in: Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 78 (1947), pp. 189-207. JSTOR.

The unfaithful Penelope – two variants in Greek myth

Greek mythology was not static.  The stories contained within it could be modified by any poet at their pleasure.  Most of the legends exist in various forms, some of which turn it inside out altogether.  The source of this profusion is probably the need of entertainers to earn a living combined with the Greek fondness for novelty.

In the Odyssey, Penelope is faithful to Odysseus despite being pestered by countless suitors for ten years.  She is a type of chastity.  Yet even this legend has been  ruthlessly tampered with.  I thought that it might be interesting to see how it developed

A couple of sources suggest that Penelope was seduced by one or another of the suitors.  According to Pausanias (book 8, 12.5), her grave was shown in Mantinea, and the locals claimed that Odysseus banished her for infidelity after his return.  In ps.Apollodorus’ epitome (7, 38) we get the names of two of the suitors, and also a version in which she gave birth to Pan, the goat-headed god, at Mantinea.

Pausanias, book 8, 12.5: … and on the right of the road is a high mound of earth. It is said to be the grave of Penelope, but the account of her in the poem called Thesprotis is not in agreement with this saying.  For in it the poet says that when Odysseus returned from Troy he had a son Ptoliporthes by Penelope. But the Mantinean story about Penelope says that Odysseus convicted her of bringing paramours to his home, and being cast out by him she went away at first to Lacedaemon, but afterwards she removed from Sparta to Mantineia, where she died.

Apollodorus, Epitome 7.38:  …. When Telegonus learned from Circe that he was a son of Ulysses, he sailed in search of him. And having come to the island of Ithaca, he drove away some of the cattle, and when Ulysses defended them, Telegonus wounded him with the spear he had in his hands, which was barbed with the spine of a sting-ray, and Ulysses died of the wound. But when Telegonus recognized him, he bitterly lamented, and conveyed the corpse and Penelope to Circe, and there he married Penelope. And Circe sent them both away to the Islands of the Blest.  But some say that Penelope was seduced by Antinous and sent away by Ulysses to her father Icarius, and that when she came to Mantinea in Arcadia she bore Pan to Hermes.  However others say that she met her end at the hands of Ulysses himself on account of Amphinomus, for they allege that she was seduced by him.

The legend about Mantinea perhaps derives from the presence of a grave of Penelope there, recorded by Pausanias in the 2nd century AD.  Visitors would naturally enquire how it comes to be here, and the legend was perhaps manufactured to account for it.

On the other hand the legend that makes Penelope the mother of Pan by Hermes is recorded in Herodotus as common knowledge.  Indeed some rather scrappy bits of scholia suggest that it was probably present already in Pindar, in a hymn to Pan of which the relevant portion is now lost.[1]  After Herodotus it appears in quite a number of sources.[2]  Here are a few:

Herodotus 2.145.4:  Now the Dionysus who was called the son of Semele, daughter of Cadmus, was about sixteen hundred years before my time, and Heracles son of Alcmene about nine hundred years; and Pan the son of Penelope (for according to the Greeks Penelope and Hermes were the parents of Pan) was about eight hundred years before me, and thus of a later date than the Trojan war.

Theocritus, Palatine Anthology book 15, 21.1-2[3]:  21.  The Pipe of Theocritus.  The bed-fellow of nobody and mother of the farfighter [Telemachus] gave birth to the swift director of the nurse [Pan] of him whose place a stone took [Zeus]….

Cicero, De natura deorum 3.56[4]:  The first Mercury has the Sky for father and the Day for mother; he is represented in a state of sexual excitation traditionally said to be due to passion inspired by the sight of Proserpine. Another is the son of Valens and Phoronis; this is the subterranean Mercury identified with Trophonius. The third, the son of the third Jove and of Maia, the legends make the father of Pan by Penelope. The fourth has Nile for father; the Egyptians deem it sinful to pronounce his name. The fifth, worshipped by the people of Pheneus, is said to have killed Argus and consequently to have fled in exile to Egypt, where he gave the Egyptians their laws and letters. His Egyptian name is Theuth, which is also the name in the Egyptian calendar for the first month of year.

Mythographici Vaticani 1, 89[5]: After the death of Ulysses, Hermes lay with his wife Penelope, who gave birth to a son near the town of Tegea, named Pan.  From which he is called “the Tegean”.

Berne Scholia on the Georgics, book 1[6], on verses 17-18:

v. 17. “Pan.” Pindar writes that Pan was born from Apollo and Penelope on Mount Lycaeus, others from Aether and Oenone. … Maenala: a mountain of Arcadia.

v. 18. “O Tegean”, comes from Tegea, a town in Arcadia, because after the death of Ulysses, Mercury lay with his wife Penelope, and she became pregnant, and on Mount Maenalus near the town of Tegea, she gave birth to Pan, and therefore he was called ‘Tegean’. ‘Tegeus’ = three-armed, ‘Tegeaeus’ = the first paean.

A still more extreme version of the story discards Hermes / Mercury, and says that Penelope slept with all the suitors (πᾶν), and Pan (Πάν) was the result.  This appears in two unconnected sources.

Lycophon, Alexandra, 722:  For he [Odysseus] shall come, he shall come to Rheithron’s sheltering haven and the cliffs of Neriton. And he shall behold all his house utterly overthrown from its foundation by lewd wife-stealers. And the vixen, primly coquetting, will make empty his halls, pouring forth the pour wight’s wealth in banqueting. And he himself, poor parasite, shall see trouble beyond what he endured at the Scaean gates; he shall endure to bear with submissive back sullen threats from his own slaves and to be punished with jeers; shall endure, too, to submit to buffeting of fists and hurling of potsherds.

John Tzetzes in his Scholia on Lycophron 722:  “Kassoreuousa” means prostituting. “Bassara” is the bacchant, the prostitute, and “koilanei” means to empty, to spend. “Bassara” primarily signifies the bacchant – from this, the contemptible and prostitute woman is called “bassara”. “Bassara” is the bulb, the swelling, a kind of fox, and the bacchant, now “bassara” is the prostitute. He is referring to Penelope.

772 “Semnos” is an adverb meaning disgracefully.

772 And Duris in his work about Agathokles says that Penelope was gluttonous and had intercourse with all the suitors and gave birth to the goat-legged Pan, whom they consider a god (FHG II 479 42). He speaks nonsense about Pan; for Pan is the son of Hermes and another Penelope. And another Pan is the son of Zeus and Hybris.

Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid book 2 v. 44[7]:   Homer made his wanderings after the Trojan war known to all. Another story is told about this too. For when he had returned to Ithaca after his wanderings, it is said that he found Pan in his house, who is said to have been born of Penelope and all her suitors, as the very name Pan seems to make clear: although others say that he was born of Mercury, who, changed into a goat, had lain with Penelope. But Ulysses, after seeing the misshapen boy, is said to have gone back to wandering.

The first of these attributes this story to Duris of Samos, who wrote a history ending in 281 BC, and was apparently noted for jazzing up his narrative rather than strict accuracy.

It’s a useful reminder that legendary material is not fixed.  No doubt every single reader of these variant versions knew full well that Penelope was the famously chaste wife of Odysseus.  The other versions are derivative, no doubt in the interest of seeking notoriety or commercial interest.

It is rather delightful to find that so much of this material is online, if you look, and available in English translation.  In particular who would have imagined that Tzetzes’ scholia on Lycophron would be online in English!  Truly we are fortunate.

  1. [1]J. A. Haldane, “Pindar and Pan: frs. 95–100 Snell,” Phoenix 22 (1968), 18–31.
  2. [2]Haldane note 20 gives a list.
  3. [3]Loeb ed., “Greek Anthology” vol.5, p.125.
  4. [4]Mercurius unus Caelo patre Die matre natus, cuius obscenius excitata natura traditur quod aspectu Proserpinae commotus sit, alter Valentis et Phoronidis filius is qui sub terris habetur idem Trophonius, tertius Iove tertio natus et Maia, ex quo et Penelopa Pana natum ferunt, quartus Nilo patre, quem Aegyptii nefas habent nominare, quintus quem colunt Pheneatae, qui Argum dicitur interemisse ob eamque causam Aegyptum profugisse atque Aegyptiis leges et litteras tradidisse: hunc Aegyptii Theyt appellant, eodemque nomine anni primus mensis apud eos vocatur.
  5. [5]George Bode, Scriptores Rerum Mythicarum Latini Tres Romae Nuper Reperti, 2 vols. (Celle, 1834), p.30: Post mortem Ulixis Mercurius cum uxore eius Penelope concubuit. quae sibi juxta oppidum Tegeam peperit filium, Pan nomine.  Unde et Tegeeus dicitur.
  6. [6]Translation by me. v. 17. Pan. Pana Pindarus ex Apolline et Penelopa in Lycaeo monte editum scribit, alii ex Aether et Oenone. Si, siquidem. Maenala, mons Arcadiae.  v. 18. O Tegeaee, dirivativum a Tegeo oppido Arcadiae, quia post mortem Ulixis Mercurius cum uxore eius concubuit Penelopa et gravidam fecit et in monte Maenalo iuxta oppidum Tegeum parturiit Pana ideoque dixit ‘Tegeaeum’.  ‘Tegeum’ tribrachus, ‘Tegeaeus’ paeon primus. 
  7. [7]Translation by me.  Huius post Iliense bellum errores Homerus notos omnibus fecit. De hoc quoque alia fabula narratur. Nam cum Ithacam post errores fuisset reversus, invenisse Pana fertur in penatibus suis, qui dicitur ex Penelope et procis omnibus natus, sicut ipsum nomen Pan videtur declarare: quamquam alii hunc de Mercurio, qui in hircum mutatus cum Penelope concubuerat, natum ferunt. Sed Ulixes posteaquam deformem puerum vidit, fugisse dicitur in errores.