Eusebius “Quaestiones” progress 10

Mr. A, who is translating this work of Eusebius on the differences between the gospels and their solutions, writes to tell me that the 16th and final question to Stephanus is now done.  This is gratifying news; the first complete translation into English is progressing nicely.  We’re now trying to decide whether to press on into the four questions to Marinus; or pause and do a revision process on all of Stephanus.

I’ve also been trying to determine whether a critical edition exists of the Catena on Luke of Nicetas, which contains fragments of this work.  No luck so far.


Ancient obscenity and the world-wide web

The epigrams of Martial provide a vivid immersion into life in Rome in the reign of Domitian, the smells and sights and sounds of a man living in that environment.  As such they are of the highest value as a source, not least for what they tell us about the Roman publishing industry.

One feature of each book is the introduction of obscene epigrams part way through.  This must have been to increase ratings, as with some modern films; indeed Martial at one point jeers at a reader who has got so far, presumably on the look-out for smut.  Sodomy, paedophilia, and the crudest vice are included to tickle the reader’s fancy (and sell books).

What do we do about this stuff?  I don’t want this sort of stuff in a book myself, and I can’t think of many cases where I need to know about (e.g.) the five vices of one epigram.  Yes, I would like to walk along the streets of ancient Rome, but does that mean that I want to drown my soul in its sewers?  Do I have to visit the red-light district if I go on holiday to Bangkok?  If not, do I have to do the same when I take a trip to ancient Rome?

The Bohn translation, which I am scanning, takes a sensible approach.  It softens the stuff where it can be softened and still leave most of the meaning, adding a footnote in Latin where misunderstanding might occur.  But some epigrams are just pure filth, and these it leaves in the original Latin.  Nothing is omitted, but the reader is protected.  Of course this practise provided an incentive for generations of schoolboys to look up “Naughty Words”, but that is neither here nor there.  Since scanning Latin is hard work, I’ve so far mostly simply omitted these with a note.

But what should we do with this stuff?  To whom is it of value?


Eusebius “Quaestiones” progress 9

Over the last couple of weeks translations of the Greek text of Q12 and Q13 have arrived from Mr. A.  In the process he points out that the first edition by Mai of Q13 contains rather less text than the second edition, and queries whether we need a proper text.  Of course we do.

I’ve heard nothing from Mr. C (the Syriac translator) for ages, and have started enquiring again about someone else to help out.  It is curious how difficult it is to find people to translate from Syriac.  It is a simple language, when all is said and done.

PS: 10th April.  Mr. A. has now completed QSt14 as well.  Only two more ‘questions’ to Stephanus to do; then it’s onto the 4 questions to Marinus, and then the fragments of the complete text from catenae.

PS: 15th April.  Mr. A. has now completed QSt15, a goodly chunk.  In addition I wrote to Dr. E, my Syriac checker, and it looks as if I’ll get another Syriac translator, with E. checking their work.  So good news.


Cyril of Alexandria, “Commentary on Luke”, completed and online

With great thankfulness I have now completed scanning the English translation of the “Commentary on Luke” by Cyril of Alexandria, comprising 156 sermons.  The files can be found here.

The files and their contents, including my preface, are all in the public domain — please use them in any way you please.

The text did not survive in Greek. But a very literal translation into Syriac was discovered in 1842 among the manuscripts from the Syrian monastery in the Nitrian desert in Egypt which had been brought back to the UK by Archdeacon Tattam. Long fragments also existed in the catena-commentaries published by Cramer, and by Angelo Mai. Robert Payne Smith edited the text and produced the translation. The process made clear to him the need for a proper Syriac dictionary, and his name is associated with Syriac studies forever because he produced the definitive one.

The Nitrian manuscript was in two volumes. It had become mutilated during the centuries, and the final few leaves were missing, as well as odd other ones.


Scanning books, and the way forward

Times change, and, as always, we must change with them. 

I no longer recall certainly when I first took down from the shelves the two volumes of Payne Smith’s translation of the Commentary on Luke by Cyril of Alexandria.  Perhaps it was in 2005.  The volumes stood on the open shelves at Cambridge university library.  I had noticed them several times, while looking for out-of-copyright translations of the Fathers to scan for my website.  But I had always been put off by the size of the books.  Still more had I been deterred by the two column footnotes and the marginal notes, so characteristic of Victorian translations, so time-consuming for one scanning a text to correct, format and link to the text.

But times change. That day I took them down, and walked the long corridor to the photocopying room where, for seven pence per A4 sheet, I reduced them to a thick pile of photocopies over a period of a couple of hours.  I took them home, and placed them on a filing cabinet, where there is still a pile of material of a similar nature today.  That at least has not changed!

I see from the timestamp on the directory that it was on 1st February 2006, at 22:18 hrs, that I began to scan those copies. Using my HP6350C scanner with a 25-sheet feeder, I created 13 directories of around 60 pages each, and began to OCR the less-than-perfect images.  Slowly I laboured through most of the first volume; and then I  halted.

Because times had changed, while I was at work on this text.  When I started my site, access to the internet was by 56 kilobit/second dial up.  At that speed the only way for texts to appear online was by manual scanning to create files of texts in ASCII or HTML.  Now we all had broadband ADSL, at 2 megabits/second or more; and PDF’s of the page images were suddenly a possibility.  Google books had begun. had begun.  And, that day, I discovered that my labour was useless; the first volume of Payne Smith’s translation was available, complete, as a download in PDF form.

I halted for a long while. Like most people, I am averse to useless effort. However I did receive the occasional enquiry as to when I was going to finish. I also hate unfinished tasks.

A few weeks ago I decided to resume, in the interests of completeness. But I now made some changes. There seemed no point in worrying much about the footnotes and marginalia. These were all available online elsewhere, after all. I also decided to modernise the text slightly — to change the mock-Jacobean Thou’s and Thee’s into You’s. This reduced the value to scholars; but of course scholars could use the full text from elsewhere. It did mean that anyone reading the text didn’t have to mentally translate it into modern English before they could hear what Cyril had to say.

I have now almost completed this; only two more of those thirteen directories remain to do. But times have changed again. Yesterday I went to Cambridge, and found that the volumes had vanished, into the rare books room. I wonder if anyone will ever see them again. After all, we can access the page images from our homes; we can print a copy of them in book form at, if we wanted a printed version, for less than photocopying cost me.

All these things mean that the way forward for sites like my own is less than clear. I cannot hope to compete with Google Books, or Nor can I hope to compete with the bibliography of l’Annee Philologique, even if it is hidden behind subscription walls. Perhaps the answer is to shift to new work; to producing revised versions of old translations, and making new ones, either myself or soliciting them from others, perhaps for money. I do not know.

But times change, and we must change with them.


More snippets from Cyril of Alexandria

“How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And I say unto you, that it is easier for a camel to enter in through the eye of a needle, than a rich man into the kingdom of God.” Now by a camel He means not the animal of that name, but a thick cable rather: for it is the custom of those well versed in navigation to call the thicker cables “camels.”

Observe however, that He does not altogether cut away the hope of the rich, but reserves for them a place and way of salvation. For He did not say that it is impossible for a rich man to enter in, but that he does so with difficulty.

… He has reserved therefore for those who possess wealth the possibility of being counted worthy, if they will, of the kingdom of God: for even though they refuse entirely to abandon what they have, yet it is possible for them in another way to attain unto honour. And the Saviour has Himself showed us how and in what way this can happen, saying, “Make to yourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon: that when it has failed, they may receive you into eternal tabernacles.” For there is nothing to prevent the rich, if they will, from making the poor partakers and sharers of the abundance which they possess.

What hinders him who has plentiful possessions from being affable of address, and ready to communicate to others, easily prevailed upon to give, and compassionate, and full of that generous pity which is well-pleasing to God. Not unrewarded, nor unprofitable shall we find carefulness in this respect; for “mercy boasts over judgment,” as it is written.

Commentary on Luke, Sermon 123


Political expenses, then and now

I was browsing the Fathers of the Church translation of Cyril of Alexandria’s Letters.  None of these are personal; rather the whole collection is concerned with the events before and after the Council of Ephesus in 433, and the dispute with Nestorius about the theotokos.  Possibly the collection is a dossier of evidence, assembled for some now forgotten purpose?

But I was astonished to find, as ‘letter’ 96, a list of ‘presents’ to be given to various court personages in Constantinople.  The FoC editor simply describes these as bribes, and, since they indicate that the purpose of the gifts is to purchase favour or disarm opponents, so they must indeed be!

Today I read on the news that the Irish Prime Minister has resigned after being found with trousers full of other people’s money.  I read that the Speaker of the UK parliament has been found to be using taxpayers money ($8,000) to hire taxis so that his wife could go shopping.  I’ve been reading a volume of journalism by the late Auberon Waugh from the 1970’s, which suggests that the Labour government of Harold Wilson was fantastically corrupt.  Little changes, it seems.  Do we suppose that at least some of our current lot of politicians are not touting for bribes too, to betray our interests?

It is hard for anglophone readers to like Cyril.  He was a Byzantine politician, as well as a churchman — the two roles, indeed, being typically combined in that unhappy realm — and the political necessities of his role as the political leader of the Alexandrian mob mean that we perhaps condemn the churchman for doing what we would regard as less damnable in a mere politician.

Or are these just excuses?


Some words from Cyril of Alexandria

But those who love a voluptuous course of life, imagine probably that they are gaining their soul by living in pleasure and effeminacy: whereas certainly they lose it. “For he that sows, it says, to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption.”  (Commentary on Luke, Sermon 118)


New work on the “Apocriticus” of Macarius Magnes, Porphyry “Contra Christianos”

The “Apocriticus” of Macarius Magnes is a 4th century dialogue with a pagan, in five books.  The work nearly did not survive; a manuscript known in Venice in the 16th century which contained book 5 was never printed; a damaged manuscript located in Greece in the late 19th century vanished from the Greek National Library, some years after being printed, but did not contain book 5.  The statements of the pagan seem to be drawn from Porphyry’s lost Contra Christianos.

A welcome email from John Cook has drew my attention to further work in this area, since I last looked at it some years ago.  First a new edition of the text, in two volumes with French translation, has appeared by R. Goulet.  A review of this in BMCR is here.

This is very helpful, not least since the sole version previously was very hard to obtain.  Indeed the copy that arrived at Ipswich library was proudly marked “for use in library only”.  Luckily the assistant didn’t spot this, and issued it to me, whereupon I went straight down to the local copy shop and photocopied the lot!  An English translation of this by Crafer is available online, while the ‘Porphyry’ passages were retranslated by R.J.Hoffmann more recently.

In addition Goulet has written a lengthy article which rebuts some recent ideas about the nature of the Contra Christianos:  “Hypothèses récentes sur le traité de Porphyre Contre les Chrétiens.” in: Hellénisme et christianisme, Mythes, Imaginaires, Religions, ed. M. Narcy and É. Rebillard, 61-109, Villeneuve d’Ascq 2004.

John also mentions his own work, The Interpretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism, which addresses some of the same issues raised in Macarius Magnes.

Apparently the complete translation of all the fragments of Porphyry by R. Berchman has not received a very favourable response.  P. W. van der Horst seems to have reviewed it positively in Vigiliae Christianae 60 (2006):  239-241.  I must admit that Berchman was hard to read, since it arose from his work as a philosopher.

Some more reading here for me, I think!