Another new year

Palm trees and coral sands
Palm trees and coral sands

Now is the time of year to see where we’re going.  After all, just like a sailing ship on the ocean, if we don’t check our course periodically, we will drift.  And this voyage is one we don’t get the chance to do again.

What I tend to do is look back over the last 12 months.  I look at what I can remember of that period, and ask what I did with it.  What do I actually remember?  Which bits of it will I still remember in a year’s time?  If nothing… did I use it wisely?

A dying old man is grateful for every sunrise he sees.  One more day is one more victory.  But all of us are in fact in the same position.  We feel rich, we feel that we have plenty of time.  Until, that is, we don’t. 

An awful lot of people work away steadily all their lives, doing what they’re told, earning a wage at an office.  One day they’re old.  They’re tired.  There’s a retirement party, and a gold watch.  “Good old Bill!” everyone says, “Have a happy retirement!”.  But they go home alone.  And the next morning, they wake up and … there’s nothing.  Their whole life is behind them.  “What do I do now?”  Suddenly life is empty.  But they’re too old now, too tired to start again, to make something of their lives, to fulfil ambitions.  “What’s on the box?”

This will surely happen to each and every one of us, unless we force our will upon our lives.  Drift is ghastly.  Drift is walking on the treadmill, earning money to pay the bills, getting home tired each night.

But we have only this time on earth, for whatever we want to do.  Each year gets shorter, as anyone in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s will tell us.  What are we doing with it?

The best guide to what we will do next year is what we did last year.  In my case, I worked for most of it.  I earned money.  But I come to the end of the year, and the money is mostly gone.  And so is another year of my life.  What was 2009, to me?  If I died tomorrow — unlikely — and someone wrote an obituary of me — unlikely — what would they say that I did in 2009?  What was memorable?  In what way did I warm both hands at the fire of life?  Or did I just plod on, doing the urgent things, the things that don’t matter once they’re done; and never getting to the important things, the things that warm our hearts and make life worth living.

We’re not ants.  We don’t live, just to live.  We are men and women, full of the fire of creation, capable of anything and nothing.

In 2010 I shall go to Syria and Lebanon.  That much, at least, I will mark on the pages of my life.  That much I shall remember when I am old and tired; that in 2010 I got onto an aircraft and flew out to the East. 

Indeed one of the few things I can recall from 2009 is that I made a day-trip to Edinburgh.  A small thing; but whatever became of the other 364 days!?!  I cannot well say.

Grab hold of life.  All of us have things we want to do.  I want to see the Northern Lights.  I want to see an iceberg.  I want to see a glacier calving.  I want to see an active volcano.  I want to go to Australia.  I want to go to the South Seas, and see coral beaches and palm trees on the Indian ocean, as I did when a child.  The beach along which I walked at the age of 5 may have long since been washed away, but in my mind I still stand under the palm tree and look at the lagoon and hear the roar of the surf and see the blue water, and baskets of red starfish by the roadside. 

These memories I store up in my heart, against the cold times.  I have been remiss this year, in filling the granaries of my heart.  Now is the time to plan, to book, to divide the year into sections and to make things happen.  They don’t have to be expensive things.  They just have to be things that we want to do, which are neither trivial nor tedious.   For remember; next year, we shall be just a little more tired again.  It gets harder, not easier.

In this way only may we reach year end with contentment. 


The perils of translating from old editions

I’m still working on editing the translation of the Gospel Problems and Solutions by Eusebius of Caesarea.  The fragments of catenas and the like are all printed by Angelo Mai in the early 19th century, or reprinted by him from yet earlier non-critical publication.  In other cases he is printing unpublished material.  This means that I need to check for subsequent publication.

Several extracts come from the Questions of Anastasius of Sinai.  A web search — thank heavens for Google — reveals that an edition appeared in 2006, by Marcel Ricard, in the Brepols Corpus Christianorum Series Graeca, vol. 59.  I need the text of questions 9, 148 and 153, so my translator can compare the text given by Mai with that of a critical text.  Sadly the libraries are all closed when I am at home, so a day off for a day trip to Cambridge will be necessary.

Another extract — not actually from the Gospel Problems is given “from unpublished chronicles by George Hamartolus and Johannes Siculus.”  A search reveals that the chronicle of George Hamartolus or George Monachus was edited badly in 1859 by a chap called Muralt, and reprinted by Migne in PG 110.  No sign of a fresher edition, so I’m not sure I need to do much more.

But “Johannes Siculus”… that could be anyone.  All it means is “John of Sicily”; every third Byzantine was called John, and thousands of them lived in Sicily.  A search in Google on “Johannes Siculus” was rather dispiriting!  Fortunately “John of Sicily” was better.  This led to H. Heinrich, Die Chronik des Johannes Sikeliota, Graz, 1892, edited from a Vienna manuscript. A book of that date ought to be online, but … it’s in German.  Das Reich ist immer offline.

So off to COPAC to search for a copy offline.  Several searches later, I draw a blank.  Even a search by author=Heinrich, date=1892, draws a blank.  But I have played before, and am not dispirited.  I am reasonably sure that a copy exists in the UK.  So I wonder if this dratted thing is hidden in a serial?  Hmm.

Back to Google to look for clues, searching for “Johannes Sikeliota”.  And sure enough I find the book mentioned with an addendum, “In Reihe: Schulprogramm Graz / 1892”.  This gives the author as “Alfred Heinrich”.  Search COPAC for the series; nothing.  Ah, the joy of offline knowledge…

Then I remember that Google book search doesn’t work properly outside the US.  I retry via a US server.  The book at least appears now, albeit clearly not online, here.  I click the “Find in a library” link (to worldcat).  And it turns out to be a thesis, or dissertation, never published.  Boy that site is slow, tho.  It never actually finished displaying.

Does anyone know where I could get a copy?


Angelo Mai comments on a catena fragment of Eusebius

In the fragments of Eusebius, Mai added this note.  It was translated for me by the translator, but has no place in the book, so I give it here.

Another delightful thing has happened to me.   While I was translating from Greek into Latin all the passages of Eusebius in the MS of Nicetas’ Catena on Luke, I fortunately observed that the last passage of Eusebius, written on the two final pages of the MS, corresponded word-for-word with Theophania bk 4 chs.8 and 9, as read, in translation from Syriac, in the English edition of the Rev. Samuel Lee, top of p.224 – top of p.229.   The original Greek fragment discovered by us will now have to be placed in our own Greek edition of Theophania, between nos. 5 and 6 on p.121.  Furthermore, as I have already more than once said elsewhere, Nicetas was in the habit of reproducing portions of Theophania in his MS catena, sometimes with the actual title of the work, but sometimes just ascribed to Eusebius by name; hence, before finding out about the English or Syriac editions of the work, we could not ascribe them to the Theophania.  This we have now done, thanks to the English book; just as the English editor will, we think, be pleased in his turn to incorporate our Greek originals, when convenient, into his book.   To avoid repetition here, let us refer our readers to the discussions in the Observations on p.108 and pp 157-9 above, as well as in scattered remarks in the notes.  In any case, it is evident from this that another fragment of ours, cited by Rev. S. Lee in a note on p.224, cannot, as he would wish, be applied to this passage of Theophania.


More on “Greek without Tears”

I’ve been in correspondence with Dr Flynn, the author of the package Greek without tears.  This is essentially a keyboard for polytonic Greek, at a pretty cheap price.  My translator used it to enter the Greek text for Eusebius, so I have had to take an interest in it.

The software has been upgraded to work with unicode, and his proprietary font, GrkAcca, now has a unicode version GrkAccaU.  Even better, the new version of Greek without tears contains a conversion utility.  This means that the new code can easily be turned into some standard unicode font.  This will make my Eusebius translation rather easier to print, when it arrives.

I’ve also been going through Angelo Mai’s edition of the fragments of Eusebius Quaestiones, and the notes are actually quite interesting.  I’ve asked the translator if he fancies doing these as well, as I think quotation might be a good idea.


Pseudonymous emails

I received a delightful email today from someone calling themselves Pseudonymous.  I can’t ask his permission to post it, since he gave no valid email address.  But I would like to reply, and this seems to be the only way to do so.  The email began:

You commented that Lewis apparently was unaware of IVF: perhaps it was too Low Church for him to take seriously. I wonder whether he had any knowledge of J. I. Packer’s writings or the sermons of David Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

I wonder too.  But I don’t think that Lewis would worry about churchmanship. 

… as for the pseudonym, you seem to be several titles ahead of me in the game of “oh, that hasn’t been translated yet” and I’m rather cranky that you got there first 🙂

I’m not sure that I entirely understand.  I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage anyone wanting to translate stuff.  But there is no end of useful texts that have never been translated, and I would encourage anyone to take some on and get them translated!  The more the merrier!

This blog allows anonymous comments, and the email address supplied is not vetted.  So feel free to reply that way.


End of volume three

I have now reached the end of the monster, 2,000 page, volume three of the collected letters of C. S. Lewis.  I seem to have averaged around 300 letters a day.  It is quite a testimony to the charm of his literary style, even with stock letters, which many of these were, that I reach this point without burning eyes and a headache.

Most of the letters are perhaps of limited interest.  Nevertheless there are enough new ones which are interesting to make the task worthwhile.  I took to folding down corners on letters I might want to look at again, after about 900 pages.  I should probably do the same again.

These five days immersed in another man’s life have been a little surreal.  For that is precisely what so long a book, even skimmed as I did, involves.  I think a better sense of the ordinariness of it all comes out; what we might have felt if we had met Lewis professionally, or something.

One thing that I had never realised was that his final illness began not that long after the last volume of the Narnia stories was published.  This was in 1954. He fell ill in 1957 and was never well again, dying in 1963.   How much of his possible output we must have lost!   He died young, in other words, growing “old early” in his own phrase.  To become an invalid in your mid-50’s is a sad thing. 

Likewise I had never realised that Till We Have Faces was conceived under the influence of Joy Davidman.  I cannot say that I like this work, nor the later fragments in a similar vein.  The Lewis that we all loved in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, and in the Narnia stories, seems to disappear under this influence.

Another detail that comes out from this collection is that Lewis was not treated rightly, financially, by Geoffrey Bles, his publisher.  The details of the sums involved are not given, but one example that is given is the way that the US rights for Lewis’ books were dealt with.  Originally Bles arranged for US publication. The US publishers sent Lewis’ royalties to Bles, who deducted a ‘fee’ before passing on what remained.  On the retirement of Bles, he wisely took himself to a literary agent, which meant that the last two Narnia stories had a different publisher, but also that much greater sums were paid in royalties.

Again it is curious that Lewis had apparently never heard of the IVF (now UCCF), even though it was the largest student Christian movement in both Oxford and Cambridge at the time. 

Is this volume an essential purchase?  I could hardly say so.  On the contrary, this is barrel-scraping with a vengeance!  But even so, enough remains of the summer wine to be worth sampling.


Editing Eusebius

I’ve spent the day working on the Word documents that contain the new translation of Eusebius’ Tough Questions on the Gospels.

It’s been about turning the notes into Word footnotes, correcting the margins, fixing issues with the typefaces.

One curious feature is that my translator chose to use the specialised commercial non-unicode font GrkAcca.  This comes with a software package, Greek without tears.  I bought a copy of this, and learn that a new version is imminent.

The main issue to decide, however, is how to organise the collection of 45 fragments that I have had translated.  I’m moving towards the idea of replicating how Migne does things.  So for the quaestiones to Stephanus, you have the big chunk of materials from the catena of Nicetas.  Then you follow it up with the supplementa minora, better known as “other bits I found lying around.”

One problem is that Migne just copied the second edition published by Angelo Mai.  For some unaccountable reason, this did not include some perfectly worthy fragments published in the first edition. 

So I am toying with this structure:

  1. Supplementa – Major fragments, from Nicetas
  2. Supplementa minora – Minor fragments, from Mai’s 2nd edition
  3. Minor fragments, from Mai’s 1st edition
  4. Other fragments

We have fragments of the questions to Stephanus, about the differences at the start of the gospels; but also from the questions to Marinus, about problems at the end.  So I’d first have the fragments from Stephanus, in the above format; then the fragments from Marinus.

I also have Syriac fragments, all from the Stephanus questions.  These I thought I’d put at the end.  Mai also prints some Latin fragments, all from the Marinus questions.  I thought I’d put these after the Syriac.

My hopes of printing translations of the Coptic fragments are fading fast.  They were translated, to a high standard, by Carol Downer and her people; but nothing I can say seems to induce her to let me have more than the latter half.  Ah well…  We’ll have to manage without.


Back to Eusebius

The Tough Questions on the Gospel by Eusebius of Caesarea has been sitting on my hard disk for a few weeks now, awaiting some editing.  On Boxing Day I went out and bought a laser printer.  I can’t edit long documents on screen — I need something I can look at!  Today I went out and bought a printer cable — thank you, whoever decided to omit this from the box — and have printed off most of the materials.

Time for pencil and paper and red ink!


More on the Collected Letters of C.S.Lewis

I’ve been reading the massive 2,000 page third volume of the Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis (available here).  It must be one of the very few books of which I can say, “I’ve only read 700 pages so far”!  What an ass the publisher was, not to split it into three.

I’m not finding anything very special in the book.  It looks as if it is purely for completists.  The volume of letters with a memoir by Warnie is certainly more accessible, and frankly contains nearly all the interesting material.


C. S. Lewis, Collected Letters volume 3

The third and last volume of the Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis is out, and available here from  Santa brought me a copy of the UK edition (with rather nicer cover) for Christmas.

I’ve started reading it, and find to my astonishment that it is almost 2,000 pages long.  The paper is the sort you find in a bible — extra thin, to keep the volume size within bounds.  In fact it is nearly twice the page-count of my Gideons’ bible.  What can the publisher have been thinking?  Who can read such a monster without massive indigestion?

So far I have read the letters for 1950, which certainly accentuate the misery that Britons experienced after the war from the austerity measures of the Labour government, worsened by an untimely ideology.  The shortages of basic food and clothing are a constant theme. 

There are new letters here, and longer versions of those already familiar.  I’m certainly glad to have more Lewis than I did.  But I think that I would have been gladder if it had been split into two halves!