Eusebius update

Bad news — the chap who was to help with the editorial cleanup, indexing, cross-referencing of the Eusebius Gospel Problems and Solutions is over-committed and has had to withdraw. 

I need to find someone with plenty of time and an appetite for sorting out the dull but necessary stuff.  I’m paying, of course.  Anyone any suggestions as to how I find such a person?

Early French travellers to Libya

One end of the Circus at Leptis Magna

A brief note in one of the guidebooks I brought back from Libya tells me that in the 17th century a French traveller named Durand found the circus at Leptis Magna in considerably better repair than it is now.  In particular the starting boxes — now vanished — were visible at the straight end of the course.

Unfortunately no reference is given, and I can find nothing online except a mention that his visit was in 1694.  Does anyone know who this Durand was, or the title of his book?

UPDATE: This link to Cagnat, Inscriptionum Africae Proconsularis, p.2289 quotes Durand on inscriptions and the reference is Le Mercure Galant of 1694.  This seems to be a periodical; the 1703 issue is here.  But links like this suggest to me that nobody has seen the original articles; rather that everyone is in fact using Cagnat, Les ruines de Leptis a la fin du XVIIe siecle (1901).  I’ve not located this yet online.

UPDATE: The Cagnat item Les ruines appears to be an article, not a book, in Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de France, vol. 60.  Still can’t find the right volume, tho.  1901 is year of publication; 1899 is the year of reports.

From my diary

A very hot weekend, very suddenly.  Headaches all round, I suspect.  But it reminded me of a verse current among British servicemen in Libya in the 50’s.  There was no air-conditioning in those days, and it could get pretty unpleasant in the summer.

Welcome to El Adem where the heat is like a curse,
And each day’s like the last one,
But somehow slightly worse.

Fortunately this is England, and not the burning desert of North Africa!

The book is doomed, and the dataset is coming!

Books are dead.  Yes, I know they still exist and are produced in great numbers, but they are dead, and will start to vanish in the next 10 years.  Within our lifetimes we will see days when the book as we now know it is hardly remembered.

I’m thinking, of course, of academic books.  These contain information.  We are accustomed to seeing that information as a “book”.  But a book — a codex, in technical terms — is merely a form of presentation.  In the computer programming world it is old news that presentation and content (or “business logic” as it is called) are and must be kept as separate things, and that several different presentation layers can be bolted onto the front of content.

When an academic produces a book, the format and layout are part of what he considers.  The indexing, the table of contents, the divisions.  And yet… none of these are essential to what he has to say.  They are merely features of the paper-and-binding output method that he has in mind.  The composition these days will be entirely electronic; and only after that will a stage of turning it into a book be undertaken.

Imagine a world in which the internet has progressed yet further.  People pass around what we might call “datasets” — indeterminate chunks of information.  These are electronic.  But associated with them will be one or more output methods.

Now I can’t read vast quantities of information on-screen, and that will still be true.  But what stops us taking a dataset and sending it to a laser printer?  Not much, except that a bound book is more convenient to handle.  OK; imagine that firms exist that will just take the dataset and turn it into a codex, more or less automatically.  Such firms already exist; but imagine the principle extending.

A dataset pops into my inbox.  I look at it — it’s a video-clip.  It has an output method to screen on my PC; and another output method to DVD.  I press the button on my email, enter my credit card details, and off the dataset goes, to a firm that will turn it into a DVD and post it to me, to hit my doormat tomorrow morning.  (Of course in an ideal society we would have multiple postal deliveries a day; and why shouldn’t we?  They did in Victorian times)

Another dataset arrives.  It’s Dr Matthews dataset on inscriptions in North Africa.  Yes I could open it on screen, but I can see that it is bulky and has multiple sections — what we used to call chapters.  I do a word search, and can see it has many interesting items.  I need to read this.  Fine; I hit the button and select from the list of automatic output methods.  One of these is “codex”;  I pay, and tomorrow the bound book arrives.

What need, then, for the highly expensive utility that we call a “publisher”?  What need for printing presses, when the process is a button on a screen?  Dataset publishers will exist, and grow, and flourish, earning their revenues from selling content, not format.  This will become practical in the not too distant future, I think.  Likewise datasets will acquire trust — or otherwise — in some means.   This is an essential stage in the transformation, but it will come.  Because the dataset is vastly more convenient in every way, including price, to everyone from consumer to supplier to author, than the modern academic printed book.

At the moment publishers really only sell online versions of offline content, and are still thinking in physical terms.  But this will change.  Why limit oneself to a format now obsolete?

We are accustomed to treating a book with reverence, an artefact, a thing produced only by a special magic.  But in truth it is nothing more than a piece of paper with ambition. 

And this is why the book — the academic book, anyway — is dead.

From my diary

Portions of this post are written under the UK government legislation controlling criticism of homosexuality.

Summer has suddenly arrived, with massive heat and glaring sun.  I’ve had to go and lie down with a headache!  Not used to the bright light, I’m afraid.  I have some interesting emails to deal with, but they’ll have to wait until Monday.

Something made me search around the web last night for information on the Lex Scantiniana, which prohibited unnatural vice.  I found quite a lot of politically-motivated rubbish, pretending that in fact it did not prohibit homosexuality. If Juvenal wasn’t one of my favourite authors, and his second satire not more or less engraved on my mind verbatim, I might have been more impressed.  Yet those writing were evidently academics.  It reminded me of just why I always held the humanities in contempt in the 80’s, as merely a bunch of people decorating their politics and prejudices with the aid of handbooks. 

But it caused me to look again at Juvenal, who indeed says what I remembered him saying.  Ramsay’s translation omits the grosser elements of the translation, and quite properly — who wants to know such things?  But it leaves little doubt that homosexuality was prohibited by the Scantinian law; indeed the remarks made would have no point otherwise.

Apparently the text of the Scantinian Law is lost, and all we have are references, starting with Cicero ca. 50 BC.  It would probably be good to compile all the data on a page.  But not while I can’t see straight!  And anyway… who really wants to chase down the facts about a vice and its practice and regulation?  Let’s think of things about which we can be enthusiastic.  The squalid elements of human society have always been with us; it is the other side that makes mankind noble and worthwhile, and the study of his history a delight. 

On, then, to other things.

A copy of Shapland’s translation of the Letters to Serapion by Athanasius arrived yesterday.  Bless Glasgow University library, who once again came to my rescue with a loan of an obscure book.  I owe more than I can say to the staff at that institution, which I have never visited.  Down the years they have been prepared to lend me all sorts of things. 

I scanned the text in Finereader 10, which I detest more and more.  Attempts to export the result as a PDF failed; or rather, the PDF was complete rubbish.  I thought I would just pick up the raw TIFF files and combine them using Adobe Acrobat; but in FR10 they have decided to hide the image files inside some kind of proprietary format.  FR10 also fought me when I wanted to split images and when I wanted to export the scanned text to a Word document.  It just isn’t designed for book scanning these days, I think.

A note back from the translator of the Coptic portions of Eusebius Gospel Problems and Solutions; apparently the transcription of the Coptic isn’t that good, with lines missing.  This is a blow.  Also the font used — Keft — is really for Sahidic.  I had not known that the different dialects of Coptic used different fonts, but it seems to be so.  I wonder if a Bohairic font exists anywhere?

Another email tells me that the translation of Chrysostom’s sermon In Kalendas is still progressing, which is good news.

The Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry

I mentioned some time back that I came across the works of the philosopher Stephanos of Alexandria.  In particular I discovered that he delivered nine discourses on alchemy, the last before the emperor Heraclius in the early 7th century.

Three of these discourses were translated into English before WW2 by a chap called Sherwood Taylor, who published them in Ambix, the journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry.  I suspected that more might exist in manuscript, so I located Taylor’s papers, and found a fourth discourse in draft among them.  This I sent to Peter Morris, editor of Ambix, with the suggestion that it might make a nice anniversary item.  He agreed but deputised it to someone called Jenny Rampling.  This was October 2009, since when I heard nothing.  I thought I’d prompt him, so emailed again this evening.

But this all prompted me to go and look at their website.  And … it’s like a glance into the 1980’s.  Every activity seems to be offline.  They look so much like a small band of people, with a very restricted interest, as fan groups  tend to be.  So every such group had to be, before 1995.  It’s not clear that they have moved on that much, tho.  The website is good, but everything points people offline.  They’ve digitised all the back-issues of Ambix — good, although probably not that hard to do — but made sure no-one can see them unless they pay.

I hope they start to reach out.  While I am not very interested in the history of chemistry, it is a pity that the ancient texts embedded in Ambix are not accessible more widely.

Philip of Side update

The first two fragments of the translation of the Christian History of Philip of Side have arrived!  And they look very good indeed.  The footnotes are very enlightening.

The translator has also volunteered to write an introduction, bringing together an explanation of the various Byzantine epitomes from which the fragments are drawn.  This will be of no small help to people like myself with little German!

(Something very odd happened just now when I tried to post this — my first draft vanished and I got an error.  I hope this does not mean something nasty is about to happen to this blog!)

Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis

I have started another little project and written to someone to translate a bit of Syriac into English.  It’s fragments of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis.  I found a PDF of Sachau’s 1869 edition, and uploaded it here.

The Latin translation starts on p.14 of that PDF; the Syriac text on p.94 of the PDF file.  There may be some Greek fragments extant of this work also; not sure how these relate to the Syriac.  The remains cover most of the first three chapters of Genesis.

I think it’s about 4,000 words (based on 7.8 words / line, 25 lines / page, so 200 words per page, 21 pages, two of them half pages) in length.  I’d be prepared to pay 10c a word for a translation (no transcription this time), say $400.

It will be interesting to see if it flies.  I’d give this one away as well, I think.