Following my last post on the letters of the 5th century writer Isidore of Pelusium, I have found that much of Pierre Evieux’s book Isidore de Peluse is online at Google books, and p.6 onwards discusses the text as we have it.
The letters are mostly extracts, and very brief. In Migne’s edition, we find these letters arranged in five books. But this is the result of chance, and does not reflect the manuscripts very well.
As might be expected, different manuscripts contain different material. Some contain more or less extensive sections of a numbered collection of letters. Others contain groups of letters in a different order. All derive from an ancient collection of 2,000 letters.
There is ancient evidence as well. A collection was consulted by Facundus of Hermianus ca. 548 (Pro defensione trium capitulorum 2, 4; PL 67, 571-4); the same by Rusticus in 564 AD, who encountered a collection in four books, each of 500 letters (translation of Synodicon Orientale, ACO I, 4, 4). In the same period, Severus of Antioch records that collections existed at many places, including Antioch, Caesarea, Alexandria, Pelusium; indeed that he went to Alexandria when doubts arose about the copy at Caesarea (Contra Impium Grammaticum, 6th book of Letters). Apparently some of the letters (to Cyril, Theodoret) may be bogus. Severus estimated that around 3,000 existed (the Suda says the same); the discovery of at least 40 unknown letter in Syriac indicates that some of these may still exist.
The early editors discovered manuscripts fairly randomly. Jacques de Billy (1585) published a bunch of letters from Parisinus gr. 832, which he arranged in three books; a fourth book was added by Conrad Rittershuys (1605) using a copy of Marcianus gr. 126, which was an anthology rather than a manuscript of the collection; a fifth in turn by Andre Schott (1623 and 1629) from Vatican manuscripts, and the whole reprinted by Migne with various other materials and collations.
Evieux decided to junk the division into books, and go back to the numbering in the manuscripts. This comprises 1,999 letters or fragments (no letter numbered 1378 has reached us). A Latin translation contains a selection which circulated at Constantinople; three Syriac manuscripts also contain a collection. One of these (BL Addit.14731) contains letters which did not survive in Greek.
This week I have been typing up the concordance between the numeric series and the numbers in Migne, which I will make available online. But what a mess the early editors made of it all!
Apparently C.H.Turner in JTS 6 (1905) p.70-86 had an article on the letters, which I will try to locate.
PS: I’ve found that volume on Google Books here, free to US readers. The Journal of Theological Studies does have a website, but demands money of the UK taxpayers (who fund the show) to allow them to see it. Greedy little bastards.