Searching for Aphroditian

The archmage Aphroditian, the Persian judge who takes the Christian side in the fictitious 6th century Religious dialogue at the court of the Sassanids, is an unfamiliar name.  A google search produces much that is of interest to the curious reader, for precisely this reason.  Here are a few examples from “Aphroditian”, mostly in German.

 It seems that there was a 16th century Greek named Michael, who came to Russia where he was known as Maksim Grek.  His story can be found here, in Dimitris Cizevskij’s History of Russian Literature, as an author and a victim of political persecution.  On p.298, Cizevskij refers to “apocrypha … The Tale of Aphroditian, a bogomil writing, …”  It is clear that the author has never heard of the work, and knows only of its Slavonic transmission among the Bogomils.

On p.323 of Porphyrogenita by J. Chrysostomides &c, we find the following interesting statement, in the middle of a discussion of what the name of Sophocles would have meant to a middling-educated Byzantine:

And then at the very outermost edge of contact with culture we find Sophocles — and Euripides — sometimes turning up among the ‘Hellenes’ who are to be saved at the Second Coming — the ‘Seven Sages’ or ‘pagan philosophers’ to whom Apollo foretold the Incarnation.  The commonest names to be mentioned in these theosophical texts (and later to be represented in iconography) are Thucydides, Plato and Plutarch, but the poets sometimes get included, often in odd company, rubbing shoulders with bizarrely corrupted names (‘Dialed’, ‘Aphroditian’).  The jumbling of Greeks and foreigners, real and fictitious  persons, does not presuppose contact with any actual line by Sophocles; at most it implies that the name was vaguely familiar, as an eminent ancient worthy.

It does not seem that Aphroditian the Persian, a man who is certainly intended as a worthy, was familiar to this author.

A complete article on the text by C. Kaufmann is here, in Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique 2.  This queries whether the reference to Hera Pege vs Mary Pege in Hierapolis is evidence of the continuation of the cult of the Magna Mater into Christian times in this region.

Searching for “Aphroditianus” gives different results.

Stephen Gero, Apocryphal Gospels: a survey, ANRW (1988) 2.25, includes a brief mention of the work in his review of Infancy Gospel apocrypha here.  Page 3981 and n.63 tells us that there is an unedited Armenian version of the Religionsgesprach, referring to Bratke’s edition, p.128, which in turn refers to Brosset’s catalogue of the manuscripts in Edchmiadzin.  Gero believes that the birth narrative is “surely” taken from a source of the early 5th century, although he doesn’t say why.


Housekeeping on the Religionsgesprach

I’ve just been through my posts about this 6th century fictional dialogue at the court of the Sassanids, and added a new tag to them all “Aphroditianus”.  This is because the main character in the novel is the Persian magus Aphroditianus, and the first half of the work is his speech. 

Material about Aphroditianus forms part of the apocrypha, and I wanted to make sure that my posts about the Religionsgesprach are found by those searching for him.

I’ve been reading Bringel’s thesis, which gave us a new critical text (although this was ignored in Katherina Heyden’s 2009 book on the subject).  There seem to be 44 Greek manuscripts of the work in existence (plus Slavonic versions), although Bratke’s edition is the first critical text.  Apparently an extract of the work under the name of Julius Africanus is also in the Patrologia Graeca.  It was a popular text, it seems.


Did Hippolytus think Christmas should be on 25th December?

It’s that time of year again.  Over the next few weeks, legions of weenies will excitedly post online various stale old myths about how Christmas is really a pagan festival.  I have already seen one tell me that it must be copied from the Germanic “Yule” and the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, oblivious of the detail that first century Romans did not borrow concepts from 8th century Saxons.  The origins of Christmas will be discussed widely, if not usefully.

Irritating as such nonsense can be, we need to resist the urge to roast those posting it.  Often they are people who mean no harm, and merely repeat what they have been told.  As 19th century evangelist D. L. Moody used to say, “Keep sweet.  You can’t do any good unless you keep sweet.”  With charm and courtesy, and deference to their religious belief that Christianity cannot possibly be true, we may encourage people to take an interest in ancient history.  It’s worth a go.

But Tom Schmidt has been doing something rather more constructive.  After translating the Chronicon and the Commentary on Daniel of Hippolytus, he’s looking at what our 3rd century author has to say on this subject, and has written a useful post on it here,  summarising his own article in PDF form available here.  The latter is very detailed indeed.

He outlines how the scholars have mostly followed the witness of one manuscript of the Commentary on Daniel, plus a quotation in “George of Arabia”.  I don’t know whether the latter is the Syriac author, George, bishop of the Arab tribes, but a reference would be good.  I’d also like to know what the manuscripts’ shelf-marks are.

Unfortunately comments seem to have been disabled on his article – which is unfortunate.


The Chronicle of Zuqnin continues

The next installment makes clear how the Moslems even of this period behaved largely as bandits rather than rulers.

In the year 1062 (749-750), the Arabs of Maipherkat spread themselves across the region and began to do much harm to the inhabitants of the mountain and to all the country.  Qore (Korah) Ibn Thabit went up to the canton of Qoulab, seized its notables and killed them in September.  When their brothers, the residents of the township of Phis, knew what had happened, they stood on their guard for fear of being treated worse.  However, there was a brave man, loyal and God fearing, named John Bar Dadai, originally from the village of Phis, who gathered together all the inhabitants of the township of Phis, and spoke as follows: “Today, you know, there is no king to avenge our blood on their hands.  If we let them, they will gather against us and take us from here as captives, we and all that is ours.”  They listened to him eagerly, followed him and made him their leader.  He led them into the holy temple, and made them swear by the divine mysteries, that they would listen to all he commanded, that they would not act against his orders and would not deceive him in any way.  This man, strongly encouraged, making God his leader, took his troops and appointed generals and officers who commanded each group of one thousand, one hundred, fifty and ten men.  He established guards [53] at the entrance to all the passages that gave access to the mountain.  However, there came a man named Suda, who promised all the Arabs of Maipherkat to provide them with the severed heads of all the great men of the mountain, and to throw the others in chains.  After making such promises, he brought with him a strong army and advanced towards them, as if to ask for peace.These, being aware of his deceitful ruse, fell upon him unawares and killed many of his men; the others fled and escaped, thanks to the horses on which they were mounted; they returned to the city.  Since that time, great miseries have happened to them. 

The Arabs and the Christians wanted, by mutual agreement, to bring down the governor, who for two years, was established in the fortress of Qoulab.  They refused to obey him and rebelled against him. The Arabs wanted to bring him down lest he joined the inhabitants of the mountain; the Syrians also sought his departure for fear that he would betray them. He, resisting both parties, remained solidly in the fortress: he gathered together wicked men of whom he became the leader and went down at the head of his troops to ravage the villages and took the loot into the fortress. He fell suddenly on Elul and Pashpashat, where he and his army committed all sorts of atrocities.  He threw the people in chains and took everything they owned. While these men were inflicting these ills on the villagers, they secretly sent to John: “Hasten to our aid, so that we are not taken into captivity.” John, on learning of the oppression of his brothers, hurried to move his army quickly and to go down to them.  At night, he surrounded the village in which [their enemies] were and said to them: “Leave [54] the village, and go in peace.” But the governor would not. He put himself at the head of his troops and they came out in arms to fight.  John fell on him, and he perished with his army. The Lord turned his head against the evil that he had done; he threw him down in the presence of (John) and he died. 

There was also in the mountain one of the notables, named Stephen, son of Paul, a criminal and deceitful man who, trampling on the oath that he swore to John on the divine mysteries, held himself continually ready for an ambush.  He intended to deliver it to the Arabs. He therefore treacherously sent a message to the Arab army, and `Aouph came to find him, with a considerable body of men, in the village called Hazro (1).  He secretly agreed with them that he would bring John in order to deliver him into their hands.  He acted, in fact, thus in order to carry out his plans, but God did not allow the criminal to accomplish his desire. The project they had brought against the innocent man fell on their own heads and they filled with their own bodies the pit that they had dug.  So [Stephen] brought `Aouph, with two of his companions, into his house and hid them in a bedroom.  He agreed with them that, when he brought John, he would lead him into the house and then they would come out of hiding and kill him.  He also put the army in ambush at the village of Hazro and immediately sent someone to tell John this lie: “Come quickly to see what we must do, because the army surrounds us everywhere.” John, who was loyal, promptly ran like a lamb to the slaughter, knowing nothing. As he was about to enter the house where the ambush was waiting for him, he found there, as if by divine will, a faithful and God-fearing man, who had learned [55] of their plot, and made the betrayal known to him.  He promptly went back, and while they were awaiting his arrival in order to carry out their project, he sent an army which, before the troops they had with them were aware of it, surrounded them on all sides.  None of them escaped, but all of them perished by blows of the lance.  The matter was as yet unknown to Stephen, or to `Aouph, chief of the army. 

When they learned what had happened to their companions, they got on  the fast horses they had with them and thought of escape, but they were not saved in this way, because some swift men began to pursue them. They caught up to `Aouph and his companions and killed them by the sword.  As for Stephen, when he saw that his fraud and that of Satan, his father, was known, he fled, reached the city and so did not perish. After that, terrified, he never returned to the mountain. 

Since that time, evils have been added to evils.  The mountain people and the Arabs attacked and killed each other continuously.  The highlanders captured the passes and no Arabs live any more in the mountains.  

But another thorn pricked them from within.  A certain Ourtaean (2), named Gregory, advanced against them with a large army and attacked the inhabitants of the banks of the river Hara. He killed many; he cut off the hands of some, and the members of others: from some the ears, some the nose; from still others, he put out their eyes with fire. The inhabitants of Mount Cahya (3) stood on their guard and confided the matter to John. 

In the East, Boraika joined the sect of the Harourites. 

In the region of Edessa, `Ibn Oubeidallah Boktari(1) also revolted and did much harm to many men, especially in Beit Ma`adi, [56] where he captured the principal residents and had them roasted in the fire like fish.  In order to seize their gold, he killed, took captive or slew many persons. He devastated all the monasteries in the region of Edessa, Harran and Tela, took all their belongings and killed their Superiors, roasted with fire.  Here are the monasteries which he ruined, together with a large number of villages: the monastery of Coube, the monastery of Resmat at Tispa, the monastery of Qatara, the great monastery of Hesmi, the monastery of Mar Lazarus, Beit Ma`adi, the monastery of Mar Habil, the monastery of Mar Miles (4), the monastery of Sanin (5) and many villages. This impious one directed all his anger against the monasteries.  Satan also excited him against churches, and he continually threatened the convents of the East and North, in order to satisfy the hate of the devil his father.  

1. The name is here added in the margin of the manuscript — This village is located west and about 20 miles from Maipherkat on the Amida road.
2. The Syriac “Ourtaia”, which is often translated as “Iberian”, means properly the inhabitants of the district of Anzitene. Cf. Joshua the Stylite, ed. Wright. 33.9 (trans., 23, n.).
3. I.e. Mount Aratus. Proper name of a place near the town of Balat on the Tigris. Cf. Bibl. or., I, 249; II. ij.lxciv, cj, 127, 218. — The name also referred generally to the part south of Taurus which is the territories of Arzoun, of Maipherkat, Amida, of Hanazit, and of Samosata.
4. The text reads “Migas” is the text, but the confusion of the letters lomad and gomal is so common among inexperienced scribes that we may correct it to Miles, the name of a martyr much honoured among the Syrians.
5. Probably the monastery also called Sanouna. — Cf. Bibl. or. II, 19, 38. Cat. Bibl. Vatican., III. 217; Cat. of syriac mss. of the British Muséum, 649, 706. 



Continuing the Chronicle of Zuqnin

The unknown 9th century chronicler from the abbey of Zuqnin in Mesopotamia, known to us as pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, is continuing his tale of events after the Persians overthrew the Arabic Ummayad dynasty of Caliphs.

Of the pastors of the Church who flourished at that time.

After holy Athanasius, holy Mar John was patriarch of Antioch. At Edessa flourished the holy bishop Constantine; at Harran, holy Mar Simeon, of the holy monastery [46] of Qartamin; at Samosata, another Constantine; at Maipherkat, holy Mar Athanasius nicknamed Sandalia, who subsequently became patriarch.

At Amida, holy Mar Cosmas was succeeded by Mar Sabas, of the holy Monastery of Zuqnin, located within the jurisdiction of this city. He died after twenty years, and Severus, of the same monastery, succeeded him. He died after about a year during the epidemic, while he was visiting in his diocese. In his place was put another Severus, of the same monastery.

At this same time, a certain disturbance took place in the Church, about Mar John, to whom not all would submit.

The  movement of the royal treasury from the West into Mesopotamia.

Marwan, knowing the treachery of the West towards him, tried to bring the royal treasury to Mesopotamia. The westerners then rose up violently and began to turn against him.  Knowing that they would not yield anything up to him without a fight, he deceived them and said: “I do not want to take it to Mesopotamia, but to Damascus, because that is where the seat of royalty is established.” 

When he had done this, they allowed him to take it to Damascus.  They themselves accompanied it and led it into the city. After a few days, he sent them back to their homes, and after two or three months had elapsed, when the westerners were paying no attention, he secretly removed the treasure and took it to Harran, where he came himself to live. After that there was unceasing war throughout his kingdom. [47]

In the year 1058 (746-747) Dahaq, associating himself with the sect of the Harourites, invaded Mesopotamia.  Marwan in coming to Mesopotamia had still not found rest from his misfortunes: there emerged against him from this land of Mesopotamia a cruel thorn.  At that time the tyrant Dahaq, from Mount Izala, and with him Yakoub Haibara and Saqsaqi, came to fight many battles with Marwan and killed many of his soldiers.  After numerous engagements taking place everywhere, a violent and bloody battle took place at Tell Mashrita, which Dahaq perished with his whole army, which was cut to pieces. Those who remained fled.

In the year 1059 (747-748) there was a great and violent earthquake in the western region. “By shaking the earth will be shaken, by the staggering the earth will stagger, and it will sway like a hut.” These things, and similar things, and worse yet, were caused by the iniquities, sins, the wickedness that we commit every day.  Where can we find the cause of these earthquakes, except in the sins of men? Will the earth fall apart? When it trembles and is shaken, does it invoke the craftsman so that he shall come to fix it? I do not think so. But when it trembles, it protests against the iniquities that are performed on its face, as once was made clearly seen by the following fact: There was a commotion during the night, and we heard it from afar like the voice of a roaring bull. The next morning, the bishop ordered, under pain of excommunication, that everyone should assemble in prayer, because, he said, this happens because of sin.  All thus came to prayer, and went in procession to a shrine dedicated to the Mother of God, which was outside the city, that is to say Mabug, [48] in the western region. These people were Chalcedonians (1).

The bishop himself walked at their head.  When they had arrived at the church and they had all gone in like goats in a shed, while they were saying prayers together, there was suddenly an earthquake, the building collapsed on top of them and crushed them all with their bishop.  They all perished, and no one escaped alive. They suddenly became a mass of perdition and misfortune: the righteous perished there with the wicked.

In the year 1060 (748-749), the people of Persia (2) invaded the land of Syria, conquered the Arabs and ruled in their place.  It is in fact in Khorasan and eastern Persia that the Abbasids made the first attempts to revolt against the Ummyads and where they recruited their troops.  Isaiah prophesied about these things in saying: “Behold Asshur! He is the rod of my anger; in his hand is the stick with which I strike. I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and give him orders against the people of my wrath.” He also said: “It will happen in that day that the Lord will whistle to [call] the flies which are on the rivers of Egypt and the bees which are in the land of Ashur. They will rest in the desolate valleys and in the hollows of the rocks.” In truth, these are the rod of anger, and the staff which strikes is in their hands, as the prophet says, because they carry sticks in their hands, at the end of each of which were iron nails, as if they were coming to kill dogs. He also called them, “flies and bees”, and rightly so: for even as flies buzz, rising everywhere, and produce a foul odor, so also they were magicians, thieves, adulterers, murderers, wherever they went, causing evil, discord and disorder.  They came out from their land and marched in large numbers, like a swarm of bees which appears despicable, but never turns [49] back. They gathered together to invade the earth. An Arab army came down against them near Akoula (3); but it could not stand up to them: they destroyed it, and the survivors fled and dispersed. They seized weapons, horses and great wealth, because previously all of them went on foot and had nothing more than the sticks they carried in their hands. Joel spoke of them when he said: “As the dawn spreads over the mountains, and a numerous and strong people will spread; there was nothing like it since the beginning, and after it there will be nothing during the years of many generations. Before their face a devouring fire and behind them a burning flame. Before them the earth is like a paradise of Eden: and behind them, like the solitude of the desert. There is no one who escapes them.  Like the appearance of horses is their appearance; they shall run like horsemen.” The prophet was right to call them “horse-like” because, just as a horse has a mane on its head and neck, they had long hair, like the mane of a horse. Also he said again: “They run like horsemen, imitating the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains, the roar of the flames of a fire that consumes straw, like a strong people ready to fight. Before them all the peoples tremble, every face will become black like the soot from a pot. They run like giants; like men of war, they will scale the walls.” And again: “They go up into the cities, they run on the walls, they will ascend to the tops of houses and enter through the windows like thieves. At their face the earth shook, the heavens are shaken.” — Nahum also said: “Their appearance was like lamps of fire and they ran like lightning. They take possession of their masters, they speed in their marches, they will go up quickly onto the walls and appear at the niches.” And again: “Their face to all was like the black [50] of a pot.” Not only their faces were black, but all their clothes because their dress was that colour. For this reason they were called [in Arabic] Messouàdi, which means black [in Syriac].

When they had subdued the lower region, Marwan sent Ibn Houbeira again against them at Nisibis who, could not stand before them either and was also cut to pieces. Then `Abdullah Ibn Marwan came down and was also defeated. Marwan came himself, and after many battles in which many men were killed on both sides, they finally engaged in a great and terrible battle, and the earth was soaked with blood which they watered in abundance at Beit Zabé (2).

That is to say on the banks of the upper Zab, between Mosul and Arbrie: [Arabic] (Yakout, II, 904). This battle ended the domination of the Ummayads and assured the victory of the Abbasids. Merwan, cut to pieces, fled. His army was scattered; and he himself took refuge beyond the Euphrates. All the cities were closed to him, and the Westerners wanted to fight him. Then he disappeared and was seen no more, neither he nor any of his people. Part of the captives were killed, part were thrown in irons. The Persians, after beating Merwan, spread out over the earth, “like the wolves of evening or hungry eagles.” Habakkuk prophesied of them when he said:

“Here I raise up the Chaldeans, a bold and cruel nation that travels the breadth of the earth to seize tabernacles that are not theirs. It is great and terrible, it is by itself that his judgement goes forth,” — truly they have spread over the extent of the earth — “their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the wolves of evening. They will fly like an eagle hungry for its meal. Everything will be loot.” The prophet likens them justly to wolves in the evening. Wolves in fact [51] does not show themselves and can not be seen by men or dogs during the day. At night, they are hungry because they have not eaten all day. “From the rising of the sun they retire to their dens to sleep and the man leaves for his work and his labour until evening.  Just as they howl when they are hungry, so he was like them; they cry like the eagle that shrieks when hungry, and wherever they came, like wolves, they stole the property of men, just as it is said: “All the world became loot;” and elsewhere: “He will insult kings, turn princes into ridicule, make a mockery of all the fortifications.” Is not the prophecy right to say: “He will make a mockery of the fortifications,” since all the city walls were knocked down by their hands, and they destroyed everything that the wise and prudent kings had made at great cost to defend themselves against enemies. It said: “He will insult kings and turn princes into ridicule.” Does he not insult them, make a mockery of them, in destroying their buildings?

The first governor of Mesopotamia was `Aki, who made an edict requiring all Muslims to dress in black.

In the year 1054 (742-743), on Friday the first day of Kanoun II [January], stars fell from the sky and we saw them as balls of fire that ran in all directions. They presaged the calamities that later came upon the earth: the sword, plague and the Persian invasion.

In the year 1061 (749-750), the Arabs took the white  (4).  The Arabs, seeing the evils inflicted upon them by the Persians, who were constantly mercilessly killing them like sheep, and looting [52] their property, could not bear it any more and donned white. It is said: “He will laugh at kings and princes” and again: “The vile man will prevail over the great, and wretched men against those of honour.”

So the Arabs took the white, killed a large number [of Persians], put them to flight and went down into their country.  There was an interregnum of a year, during which disharmony arose and Boraïka embraced the sect of the Harourites.

1. I.e. supporters of the council of Chalcedon, which rejected the monophysites, and therefore heretical in the eyes of the author.
2. Dionysius refers to the Abbasids as the Persians. Theophanes, Chronograph., ad ann. m. 6240 calls them Χωρασανῖται and also Μαυροφόροι (dressers in black).
3. The former name of Kufa, on the west bank of the Euphrates to five days’ march from Baghdad. See Bar Hebraeus, Chron.eccl., II.111, n. 1.
4. I.e. revolted; or embraced the sect of the Harourites. See above p.27, n.2 Cf.History of Edessa, p.259, n.1.


From my diary

I had to telephone my business bank today, so it was a good opportunity to ask about getting my “Chieftain Publishing” trading name set up as a “trading as” name on the account, so I can take cheques and payments under that name.  All I have to do, I learn, is write a letter telling them, and that’s done.  One more box ticked.

Also Lightning Source have finally, after a dozen emails, three forms, and month of to- and fro-ing, opened my account.  So once the book is ready, it can be printed.

I haven’t started in on the Coptic corrections, but I have scanned the pages into a PDF.  At this time of year you have to allow for the fact that everyone is full of flu and colds, and feeling depressed and mildly jet-lagged as the days get shorter in a rush as we approach the shortest day.  So not a lot really gets done. 

Someone has written and asked me to translate some more of Dionysius of Tell-Mahre.  Maybe I will.  Or I might just curl up on the sofa.


From my diary

Looking out of the office window at 4 minutes to 4pm.  Thick fog is gathering outside. 

It’s getting dark.  It’s Friday evening.  It’s foggy.  Soon the lorry drivers will pour out of goods’ yards onto the motorways and jack-knife their lorries across the main commuter routes, as is traditional under these conditions. 

Such conditions must have been more romantic in Victorian times.  

What?  Do you mean that the sinister doctor and the mysterious chinaman have removed the body to the lonely house on the moor?!

These days, they’d simply get stuck in traffic.  Fu Manchu never had to cope with speed cameras I’m sure.


SBL Greek New Testament

A little behind the times, I admit, but I learn today that the Society of Biblical Literature is producing a new critical edition of the Greek New Testament.  Better news yet — it is not based on Nestlé-Aland and is being made freely available online in unicode form with the creation of derivative works encouraged and non-commercial use pretty much free.  A printed version is available also.  Michael W. Holmes has done the legwork, and details are available here at  Rick Brannan helped out here.  A review of the Galatians text by Stephen C. Carlson is here.

This can only be a very good thing.  We urgently need the critical text of the NT online, in unicode, usable by anyone who wants to.  Without such a text, the creation of tools to work on the text would be sabotaged by absurd claims of copyright on the text of the the Word of God.  The MorphGNT project was derailed by such copyright claims, or so I understand.  Now we are free to move forward.

The SBL text is, of course, a first stab at a text and no doubt many defects, major and minor, will be found.  But anything that makes a modern critical text available like this is to be welcomed.  It is also a useful reminder that the questions of variants are not finally finished, and should enable a new generation of scholars to contribute.  Let the fun commence!

The apparatus is the weakest part, reflecting four editions rather than the raw manuscript data.  But a few scholars should be able to put together an apparatus from the manuscripts ab initio without undue effort, and this may well be a valuable exercise in updating, all by itself.  After all, after 27 editions, you don’t quite know how much is rechecked and how much just carried forward on faith.  Let us hope that volunteers come forward to do this.  It’s an opportunity to start again, using  the best of what has been done in the past but with a new and fresh approach.

Michael Holmes announced the publication on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog here in October, and answers some questions here.  He has recognised that the NIV English translation is perhaps the standard modern translation, and the Greek text behind it is therefore of wide interest.  He has therefore made this text one of the inputs to his edition, and included it in the apparatus.  This shrewd decision should promote acceptance of the edition more than any other single factor.

Well done!


Memorable history

Devotees of 1066 and all that, the only reliable guide to English history, will enjoy this article by John Crace in the Guardian, parodying Radio 4’s History of the world in 100 objects.  It’s a joy!  A couple of extracts:

33 The Rosetta stone This seemingly ordinary stone tablet (196BC) was the key that unlocked Egyptian hieroglyphs. The text itself may appear a rather boring tax record, yet it reveals how Egyptian customs became the basis of international tax law. As George Osborne says: “It clearly shows that pharaohs are entitled to keep a £4m trust fund offshore while the rest of the country gets screwed.”

60 Kilwa pot shards It’s amazing what a few broken pots can tell us. These fragments (AD1400) found in Tanzania show us that people have always been clumsy and that if they took more care we would have a lot more artefacts. As Dr Jeremy Ceramics says, “I agree with everything Neil has just said.”

h/t Bread and Circuses, which I ought to read more often.


Not quite the way to do scholarship

One bit of The heresy of orthodoxy book which I commented on yesterday came back to me as I was reading Mutschmann’s engaging 1911 paper on chapter titles.  As quoted here, it said:

modern (supposed) truisms do not “function as good historical arguments, nor can they be substituted for such”.

An illustration of this struck me in Mutschmann.

The ever-growing number of papyrus finds have extremely enlarged our knowledge of the externals of the ancient book.  ut they also necessarily raise new problems, not least by focusing on certain features of our manuscripts that have been hardly noticed or inexplicable. … How did the practice of giving books tables of contents and chapter headings arise and progress? …

Useful things arise from necessity. But when was there such for an “argument”, or for a chapter heading? The literary work of art, whether poetry or prose, is almost on such reading supports. It seems self-evident, that we read from beginning to end. The content grows beyond the natural limit of a volume, so the result is a purely mechanical division into books. But even this natural advantage, equally desirable for the reader as for citation by the critics, was not used by authors in the classical period, as is apparent from the way that book divisions fluctuate in their works. …

But did this development of a division into books entirely satisfy the practical needs?  The unit of a “book” was too large to be comfortable, and although it was a great gain, if a quotation referred to the number of the specific book, still the whole volume had to be browsed to locate it, which was rather time-consuming. …

The desire to break these too-large entities into smaller parts had to prevail eventually in a period which was groaning under the weight of a too extensive literary tradition, where it was necessary to bring order out of chaos.  Such periods have a natural tendency to encyclopedism.  Large collections can be digested into handy compendia, containing an extract of all knowledge in a condensed form.  The result is a form of literature which is less read than consulted and looked up.  The result is a form of literature which is less read than consulted, and looked up. There the first requirement is convenience and comfort; literary aspirations have to defer to it.  In this period must arise the introduction of chapters, of the subdivision of larger volumes. The history of the chapter (caput, kephalaion) is still to be written (2) and I do not intend to give it here: it would be a whole book.  In any case, chapters and chapter titles are inextricably linked. The latter alone will be discussed here; and we remain with the same genre of literature, the historians.

Diodorus also wanted to be an author, and he sought to give his compilation a literary character and the appearance of uniformity. He applied the same technique as Polybius and facilitate an overview of the work in his prooemia by brief overviews and back references, a process which I would describe as “literary argument.” All this was an integral part of his work. But purely external tools are more convenient, and were used by Diodorus eagerly in the sage knowledge of the nature of his history as a reference, not a reading work. And so the system of arguments and kephalaia is already present in his work in full bloom. Strabo has spurned this approach in his geography, because the “arguments” for it are easily recognizable as products of the renaissance: this may be indicative of the character of the writer.

The reader will note the lack of footnotes in all this. 

The argument seems persuasive.  A compendium must surely indicate what each extract is.  We certainly know that authors like Martial placed titles over individual poems, compiled into volumes — the Xenia or ‘Gifts”, books 13-14 of the epigrams, sent with presents, contain them and alone explain what each little poem was sent with and therefore is about.

And yet… yet… do we actually know that this theory is true?  That chapter divisions and chapter titles really did arise from the creation of compendia?  If so, where is the ancient testimony that says so?  Where the data that demands it?  It is a truism that such are convenient… but…

modern (supposed) truisms do not “function as good historical arguments, nor can they be substituted for such”.

We must demur at Mutschmann’s confident statements.  Yes, it is possible that this is how things happened.  I do like the picture he paints!  But we must remember, always, that the ancient world was not like ours.  It is self-evident that punctuation must help the reader, yet we well know that this was used sporadically and indeed abandoned by the Romans during the second-third centuries under Greek influence.  It is self-evident, at least to us, that placing a space between words would help; yet ancient books like the majestic 4th century codices of Virgil prefer the pleasant appearance of continuous text.

Data first.  Theory afterwards.  And never confuse the two.  It’s the only way to do scholarship, and, if an amateur may be permitted to say so, failure to differentiate between data and deduction is at the root of nearly all bad scholarship.