Disturbing the sacred dead

The BBC reports that an Italian professor of anthropology has violated the tombs of Pico della Mirandola and Angelo Politian, for some frivolous reason or other.  Both were leading figures in the recovery of ancient literature in the 15th century.  

I remember one day finding a letter from Politian bound into a manuscript that I was examining. It was to Tristano Chalci, about the works of Tertullian — what existed, what survived. At that date little had been printed. Politian went on a journey with Tristano Chalci through the Veneto in 1494, looking for manuscripts of classical and patristic works. Something of the sunshine of that civilised journey, in search of lost learning and civilisation, still trickles through his words to the reader, even today.  The letter to Chalci exists in handwritten copies bound into a number of humanist manuscripts of the works of Tertullian, and was printed often in the 16th century.  

Italy is largely a cultured land, aware of its past as the cradle of the Renaissance of ancient learning and the modern world.  It is melancholy to see such impiety.


Arabic words in the “History of the Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria”

I’m currently looking at an English translation of a later part of this long work in Arabic, which has transliterations of Arabic words in the middle of it.  Some Greek words also appear.

Some are interesting: “al kurban” is the offering of the mass, i.e. holy communion.

Another is “al-Ka‘k” – cakes!

I wish I could work out what Egyptian copyright is.  These were all published in Cairo, at a time when Egypt had no copyright law.  I suspect that legally these are either orphan or public domain works.


Harvard Houghton Library Syriac manuscripts

The excellent Syriacologist Steven Ring has discovered that a good catalogue of all the Syriac manuscripts at Harvard is online here.  Better yet, he’s going out there to take a look at them.

Among them I notice as Ms. 95 a copy of Nestorius, The Bazaar of Heracleides, on which I have written before.  Colophons in this suggest that it is not a direct copy of the only manuscript, the now lost Kotchanes manuscript, but via an intermediary. 

In Ms. 106 are extracts from the letters of Ignatius of Antioch.  Perhaps some might be from other letters than the 3 known to and published by Wm. Cureton?


Jacob of Edessa’s continuation of Eusebius’ Chronicle

One of the great questions about the Chronicle of Eusebius is whether the format of the tables as given in the Latin translation by Jerome (numbers of years at the margins, text down the middle of the page) is Eusebian, or whether the format in the Armenian translation (numbers in the middle, text in the margins) is authentic.  Mosshammer suggests the former, which is also reasonable on other grounds.

Jacob of Edessa made a continuation in Syriac in the 7th century.  The format of this in the CSCO edition is the same as the Armenian version; numerals in the middle. 

This suggests to me that a Greek text existed which had been rearranged but not continued, and which served as the basis for the two oriental versions.


UK National Archives – how to harness people power

I am deeply impressed with the National Archives.  I first came to hear of them when I learned that they allow their readers to bring in digital cameras, under reasonable conditions, and I was impressed.  After all, the only certain way to ensure the destruction of a document is to ensure no copies are made.

I did write to them and suggest that they keep copies of all these photographs — instant digital library! — but they couldn’t see how they could manage this administratively.  Still, they replied.

Today I learned by accident that they have decided to harness their readers’ interest and create a Wiki, Your Archives.  The idea is that their readers can supplement the archival listings which are professionally produced.  In this way, for free, readers will be able to contribute and improve the catalogues.

This is very intelligent thinking.  The internet wasn’t built by a central initiative, but by a million tiny hands.  Every sentence added to such a wiki is a gain.  And it really costs them nothing!  I see no downside.

If you use the National Archives, please contribute to this Wiki.  I have often criticised the British Library for ‘not getting it’.   Here is an example of a bunch who really have got the point of the internet, and can see what it can do for them, and for the world.


Journal Asiatique now online

It seems that all the volumes of the Journal Asiatique are now online at the Bibliotheque Nationale Gallica site, at this link here.  The journal contains many publications of interest to Syriac people, both text and translations.

I also have found a list of all the volumes of the Patrologia Orientalis available for download at the same site here.


CSCO and Peeters of Leuven

The massive series of Oriental authors, the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium is kept in print by the publishers, Peeters of Leuven.  This is a great blessing, and reflects great credit on them. 

A couple of weeks ago I decided that I really did need a copy of Jacob of Edessa’s continuation of the Chronicle of Eusebius.  The work was used by Michael the Syrian, and portions have survived in one of the manuscripts from the Nitrian desert now held in the British Library.  The text was published by E.W.Brooks in CSCO 5, Chronica Minora, and a Latin translation in CSCO 6, each for around 20 euros.  The volumes can be ordered online, and I did just that, via the link above.  Credit card details can be entered online, although unfortunately the site does not seem to be secure as the little key-lock does not appear.  However I took a (rare) chance and went ahead. The web site was painless enough otherwise.

The volumes arrived today.  Each is quite slim.  CSCO5 indeed seems to be the original 1905 imprint; CSCO6 a 1960 anastatic reprint.  No doubt more people are familiar with Latin than Syriac, and sales of each half must have reflected this.  The Syriac is printed in Estrangelo very clearly indeed.  The booklets are clearly intended to be handed to a binder for professional binding, as was the custom in the days when the series began.  Another custom of that time: the pages are uncut!  So each page has to be detached from that following.  Fortunately these are perforated, so it is easy enough.  But I think I may go in search of a guillotine pretty soon!

The continuation takes up most of this volume, and is a continuation to book 2 only.  There seems to be a preface by Jacob, discussing an error of 3 years in the calculation of years by Eusebius.  Then the tabular format of book 2 continues, starting at the vicennalia of Constantine and finishing with two columns of Byzantine and Arab rulers.   But a number of short pieces are also included, including a De familiis linguarum – a fragment of an epitome of some work of Eusebius.  When I can get the pages open, I will report further.

PS: I have just discovered from the prefaces in these books that Brooks, bless him, first published English translations of much of this material, in obscure German periodicals.  These I will attempt to obtain and put online.


Chunk 2 of Eusebius’ Chronicle now up and ready for translation!

I referred in a previous post to the idea of translating collaboratively book 1 of the Chronicle of Eusebius into English, and setting it up so that anyone could just contribute stuff — no approvals, passwords, etc.

I’ve now put online the entries for the second chunk, starting with more material from Alexander Polyhistor using Berossus.


I’ve made it editable so that anyone can enter stuff. Each sentence is separately editable. There’s no passwords or logons involved. Anyone can edit anything by just pressing the edit button.

If you know any Latin at all, or German, why not buzz over to this page and contribute a sentence or two?


Syriac books online

Syriacologist Steven Ring tells me that Brigham Young University and the Catholic University of America have scanned a bunch of Syriac publications and placed them online:


These are in google books-like form, although I haven’t worked out yet how to download any. They include the Syriac of Eusebius Theophania, the Bibliotheca Orientalis of Assemani, and much much more. The collection includes manuscript catalogues and publications like Inedita Syriaca, containing Syriac versions of pagan texts, which I have sought in vain. Very, very useful to have.