The lighthouse at Leptis Magna

The harbour at Leptis Magna is a bay between two headlands, as this map from the web shows (click on the images for full-size). 

Map of Leptis Magna

It is silted up now, and a sandy beach runs between the two:

Lighthouse at Leptis Magna

On the far headland stands the lighthouse, or what now remains of it.  It is falling into the sea, and another century will see it gone.  The Italians would, of course, have done something about this, but the Libyans never have.

I climbed up the headland, and took this closer photograph, looking north-east, where it seems relatively complete:

The Lighthouse at Leptis Magna, looking North-East

I then walked round to the left and took another, which makes the sea’s closeness clearer. 

The lighthouse of Leptis Magna from the rear

The sea has demolished the left hand wall, as can be seen if you climb up close.  The interior is now a shell, with the sea tossing at the bottom.

I don’t think many people will be going to Libya this year, but we should remember how much there is there which is well worth our seeing.


Dreaming of Rome

For the last few days I have been dipping into a general tourist guide to Rome at odd points during the day.  It’s been very pleasant, imagining myself there, thinking of the Piazza Navona or the Spanish Steps, or the little shop not far from the Pantheon where one can buy bread and cheese and other essentials.

But today I found myself reading a section about the Appian Way, running south-west from the city.  The Baths of Caracalla I have seen; but beyond these the road runs out through the Aurelian walls of Rome, and down past various catacombs to the tomb of Cecilia Metella (reconstruction image left from here).  The circus of Maxentius is nearby, and the guidebook vaguely refers to the ruins of an “imperial palace” nearby.

I’d like to see these.  But I realise that I have no real idea how to do so.  In central Rome I walk, or I take the metro.  But I would like to be able to get a bit further.  I’d like to be able to hire a car and driver and go to Ostia, or to the ruins of Hadrian’s villa.

What does one do?  Has anyone any tales to tell?

I mistrust taxis in Rome.  I well remember picking up a taxi at Termini to go to my hotel — which was almost walking distance away — and noticing with surprise that the meter started, not at zero, but at 20 euros.  That was a pricey trip; and when the time came to return I walked back.

I must go to Rome again.  Only … my last visit was by myself, to photograph a manuscript.  It was cheap enough to do, and to take a flight by Easyjet — was it Easyjet? — to Rome and an Easyjet minibus as far as Termini.  But it was a lonely trip, really.  I remember feeling lonely while I was there.  My other trips have been as part of tours, with people to talk to if I wanted.  Perhaps I need to find a Rome tour that will do much of this with me.  But where, I wonder?


Mithras in the Greek Magical Papyri

A chance query led me to Betz’ English translation of the Greek magical papyri.  This is a collection of magical texts in multiple volumes discovered at Thebes in the early 19th century.  The best known of these is the so-called Mithras liturgy, which is in reality just a spell like the rest.  The reason it is called the Mithras liturgy is that it contains a mention of “Helios Mithras”.

Anyway, I got the PDF of Betz’ translations and did a search on “Mithr”.  To my astonishment, I started getting results in some of the other magical texts in the collection.  Here are some excerpts from the spells:

From PGM III, 1-164; lines 71-85:

“I conjure you, the powerful and mighty angel of this animal in this place; rouse yourself for me, and perform the NN [deed] both on this very day and in every hour and day; rouse yourself for me against my enemies, NN, and perform NN deed” (add the usual), “for I conjure you by IAO SABAOTH ADONAI ABRASAX, and by the great god, IAEO” (formula), “AEEIOYW WYOIEEA CHABRAX PHNESKER PHIKO PHNYRO PHWCHW BWCH / ABLANATHANALBA ARRAMMACHAMARI SESENGENBARPHARANGES MITHRA NAMAZAR ANAMARIA DAMNAMENEU CHEU CHTHO[NIE] THORTOEI, holy king, the Sailor, [who steers] the tiller of the lord god, rouse [yourself] for me, great cat-faced one, steerer of the tiller [of God], perform the NN deed (add the usual), from this very day, immediately, immediately; quickly, quickly. …

The footnote indicates that the portion that I have placed in italics, which is repeated on line 100, may be garbled Greek for Damnameneu, Zeu cthonie, identifying Helios-Mithras with Hades.  Note the Jewish names of power somewhat earlier, and the invocation of the Greek vowels, first in one direction, then the other.

And lines 99-104 of the same:

“Halt, halt the sacred boat,” steersman of the sacred boat! Even you, Meliouchos, / I will bind to your moorings, until I hold converse with sacred Helios. Yea, greatest Mithra, NAMAZAR ANAMARIA DAMNAMENEU CHEU CHTHONIE THONTOEI, holy king, the sailor, he who controls the tiller of the lord god,”

In PGM III, 424-466, a spell for knowledge, on line 439 we find the following interesting remark, mentioning the historian Manetho who helped create the Serapis cult:

[For] the lord [god] speaks. A procedure greater than this one does not exist. It has been tested by Manetho, [who] received [it] as a gift from god Osiris the greatest. Perform it, perform it successfully and silently.

Followed by:

pray to him. But . . I . but a swallow of this comes . . . this your formula repeat seven times . . . formula, which you say: “Hail, Helios, Mithras. . . .”

Then there is the passage in PGM IV 475-829:

… for an only child I request immortality, O initiates of this our power (furthermore, it is necessary for you, O daughter, to take / the juices of herbs and spices, which will [be made known] to you at the end of my holy treatise), which the great god Helios Mithras ordered to be revealed to me by his archangel, so that I alone may ascend into heaven as an inquirer / and behold the universe.

Again, this is surely a spell, not a liturgy?

PGM V. 1-53 begins:

“Oracle of Sarapis, [by means of] a boy, by means of a lamp, saucer and bench: “I call upon you, Zeus, Helios, Mithra, Sarapis, / unconquered one, Meliouchos, Melikertes, Meligenetor, ABRAAL BACHAMBECHI BAIBEIZOTH (EBAI BEBOTH)…

Finally in the glossary on pp.336-7 I found this note:

Mithras: The Persian god is mentioned only a few times in PGM (note III. 100, 462; IV. 482) and each time as being identical with Helios or with Zeus-Helios-Sarapis (see PGM V. 4). See Nilsson, GGR II,668-72; Dieterich, Mithrasliturgie 67ff. Vermaseren,”Mithras in der Romerzeit,” in M. J. Vermaseren, ed., Die orientalischen Religionen in Romerreich, EPRO 93 (Leiden: Brill, 1981) 96-120, with bibliography.

It’s permissible to wonder why Mithras appears at all, except that plainly it was a “name of power”, just like the others with which the texts are studded.   This led me to a review of Betz, The Mithras Liturgy: Text, Translation and Commentary (2003), by John Gee in the RBL here.  Gee points out that the papyri are all often in the same hand, an Egyptian who writes both Greek and Demotic, and evidently is part of a temple.  He adds:


Egyptian deities, whether under Greek or Egyptian names, appear sixteen times more frequently in the text than deities from any other pantheon. It is probably significant that the only mention of Mithras is of Helios-Mithras, where Mithras is syncretized with the Egyptian deity Re under the Greek name Helios. Betz himself notes that usually Mithras was identified with Saturn rather than the sun (p. 137). If we consider that there is evidence of the Egyptian co-opting Iao as early as the Persian period, then we have the strange situation where all the deities mentioned in the so-called “Mithras Liturgy” are Egyptian.

Interesting indeed.  The references to Iao and Adonai and Sabaoth are also telling.

I suspect that the “Mithras liturgy” is about as much a Mithraic liturgy as it is a Psalm of David.

UPDATE: I also went through Preisendanz’ two volume collection of all the texts with German translation.  I didn’t find any more instances, except for an ostracon at the end of vol. 2, which had a series of names such as Baal, Mithreu, Mithra, etc.


A letter of James of Edessa on various issues

Here is a translation (from the French of Francois Nau in ROC) of a letter of James of Edessa, to John the Stylite.  The headings in italics are by Nau.


To our spiritual and beloved brother, to the religious and pious priest Mar John, (from) James the humble, peace in the Lord.

1. Exordium.  

I would like your pious Fraternity to judge the feelings of my Humility as you would judge a woman who has given birth and nourishes (her child) and as you would judge a merciful mother: although she complains a little against her son and prevents him  suckling, she does not, however, repulse him for long; similarly, if my Humility sometimes complains a little because of the insults and bitterness that have come upon me for my sins, I will not accept and will not support, however, repulsing your Fraternity, or another of the disciples of the Messiah, who submits his difficulties on a passage from the sacred books or on any other topic relevant to the soul. And I’m not doing this solely because of the order of the Master who commands me to do so, but also because I find it easy and enjoyable, as it has also been said that I should make seeds grow and increase, and that I should bring to the table, along with the talents that make up the principal, the interest commensurate with my abilities [1]. Do not be afraid to ask me the things that bother you, because, even though I may complain a little verbally at the time, thereafter at least I shall force myself, and give myself the trouble of sending and accomplishing what has been asked and requested of me by the charity of the brethren. 

2. The number of books attributed to Solomon

Your Fraternity has asked me one thing that bothers me as well as you. So what can I say, and how can I answer your fraternity who asks me about a variety of the words of this Holy, Apostolic and Learned Spirit, who is all-knowing and sees even the deep things of God, except that I hesitate just as you do, and I admire the hidden wisdom of the Spirit. It is indeed true that St. Clement, a disciple of the Apostle Peter, wrote in the Eighth Constitution (διάταξις) regarding the canons [2], as your Fraternity has written, that there are five books of Solomon, but he does not distinguish and name clearly which those books are; while there are only three according to the holy doctors that you have mentioned: Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, Amphilochius, and, before them, Eusebius of Caesarea, with many others who followed them. Your Fraternity has done well to hesitate, and to study this subject, which is extremely good and very commendable, however, we should not be surprised by variations by analogy in the words of the Spirit because the Spirit has spoken them in His wisdom through the mouths of men and for men, and as he saw fit. 

These words embarrassed and surprised you, so you now ask me — although I am as embarrassed and as surprised as you — why Clement said five, while the Doctors said three, a fact which is true and absolutely true, but which I do not understand and do not promise to explain. I only write what I think is correct, which at least has a semblance of truth.  So I hasten to say that Clement counted five books of Solomon because he assigned to him also the Wisdom, that admirable book, and because he divided the book of Proverbs into two books, because some also share the idea that these are two books that were collected and placed together, starting at the place [3] where are mentioned the Proverbs written by “friends” [4] of Hezekiah, until the end. That’s what I think that I can say about the text of Clement. As to the text of the doctors who mentions only three books (of Solomon), I say they do have three, because they speak only of the books defined canonically by the Church as proto-canonical books, and because they make only one book and not two of the whole book of Proverbs. All these ideas derive from my limited and humble opinion; as for the real truth, we leave that to be learned from the Spirit, the writer of the (holy) books; however, for your Fraternity’s tranquillity and comfort, I thought that I would send you with this a copy of a small treatise that I wrote about the Wisdom, this book so admirable that many attribute it to Solomon, from the time when I was applying myself with love of work to revise this book with the others [5]. That’s all for the first question in your Fraternity’s letter.

3. The deuterocanonical books

Let’s look at the second question: Why are these books not counted among the canonical books of the Church? I speak of the great Wisdom and of Jesus son of Sirach, and of many others which are rejected, like Tobit and those of the  women Esther and Judith, and the three (books) on the Maccabees [6]. I will answer again, that the truth is exactly known to the prophetic, apostolic and learned Spirit. I also would like to tell you the opinion of my feeble intelligence: it is that they are not entirely composed of words revealed by the (Holy) Spirit or of prophecies from God, but that they contain either words of human wisdom written by pious men, or stories about holy and pious men themselves, which is why  they were separated from the number of the canonical books of the Church, and were placed for special reading outside of the (books) for regular use in the correction and correcting of morals, actions and deeds, for those who are of a very teachable spirit, and want to hear some useful and loving advice for word and deed and for the knowledge of good conduct.

4. On the computus of the Alexandrians

 As for your third question, on the year, which the Alexandrians count higher than us, as I have told you already [7], it would require many words to resolve it so as to satisfy you. Listen at least to the few words I can give you from the strength and time (available) to me. Know that the year of the revolution of the sun on the circle of the sky is made up of three hundred sixty-five days, so we get fifty-two weeks plus one day left over. It is therefore obvious that every year, there will be one fixed and pre-determined day which will be the start and end day of the year. It follows that, if the first year begins and ends with a Sunday — and that day will be fixed and determined to mark the beginning and the end — the second year will begin and end on a Monday, the third on a Tuesday, the fourth will begin with a Wednesday, and — because of the extra day which is added during the year (the leap year; every four years — we find that it ends on a Thursday. So it is obvious, from what I have just said, that the fifth year will be a Friday, i.e. the fifth day, fixed, particular and pre-determined. 

What I have just told you about these five years will show you that all those who are engaging in these calculations are trying to find out which day of the week ends the year; i.e. that which neighbours (which follows) it in the next year, in this period of seven days, which is the crown of all the time in this world, and which you usually call the “foundation” of the following year [8]. This “foundation” of which you speak is worked out from what the current year used, not from that which the year which is going to start will use. It follows therefore that you should take the Alexandrian year, counting one more than you do, when you want to calculate the beginning of your year and learn which day of the week belonged to the current year and not to the coming year, which has not yet begun and therefore is not ‘neighbouring’. You won’t calculate it correctly using the years as they unroll.  Because, when you first put aside this year, and only count 5,180 instead of 5,181, you are accustomed to calculate, instead from this (foundation), that from the coming year which is not yet under way, because you do not know the reason for this term “foundation”.

Learn from this and work out in your mind as much as you can, until you have got what you are asking; knowing that the number 5180 that you give is not the truth, any more than that of the Alexandrians, because the number of years of the world is not known and cannot be known by anyone. These are some suggestions; let everyone begin by forming their ideas based on reason, to be used as (a starting point) to calculate then whatever he wants. 

That’s what I have found out to answer the questions and requests in the letter of your Fraternity.

5. Personal question.

As for the request that ends your letter, I will tell your Fraternity that it is not about the fault committed against me by this man and because of which he believes that I am avenging myself; but he has sinned against himself and against God’s law. He has sinned more gravely because he was warned and exhorted before his fault. Many have shouted at him, and I also have said to him: “Take care not to throw yourself into this pit and die there”. — He did not listen and did not obey. And now what should I do for him? He asked no less of me than to violate the divine law for him, to make me as guilty as he is, to make acceptance of no-one and to break the law of God. He believes that it is I who have cut him off from the Church, but he cut himself off, and it was not I (who did it). Tell him to weep over what he did, and to think that it is better for him to be removed from the church than to violate its rule. When he comes here, I’ll deal with him to the degree that he repents. 

Farewell in the Lord, and pray also for my Humility.

(1) See Mt. 25:26-30.
(2) This is the Octateuch of Clement whose eighth book consists of the Apostolic Canons. In the edition of Lagarde, Reliquiae juris ant. syr., Leipzig, 1836, p.60, line 2, we find indeed, “of Solomon, five books: while the Greek text of the last canon of the apostles only assigns three books to Solomon, cf. Mansi. Concilia, I. 17. 
(3) Prov. xxv.
(4) The Greek and Peschito have oi( fi/loi, the Hebrew and the Vulgate: viri.
(5) In 701-705 AD.
(6) Most of Esther is protocanonical: the third book of Maccabees, although referred to as canonical in the last of the apostolic canons, is apocryphal; the Catholic Church attributes to the deuterocanonical books the same authority as to the others. 
(7) Cf. ROC, 1900, p. 290 and p.10 of reprint. Lettres de Jacques d’Edessa, Paris, 1906.
(8) The “foundation of the year” is the last day of the Syrian year, i.e. the day of the week on which September 30 falls. Also 5180 and 5181 represent, according to the Alexandrian era from the creation, the year of the birth of Christ. James seems to mean that the author of a paschal computation, for example for 1910, seeks, not the day of the week which corresponds to September 30, 1910 (in which case he would use 5180), but for one which corresponds to September 30, 1909 which is the “foundation” for the following year, and so in this case, in order to calculate 1910, he would use the number 5181.



Hunain ibn Ishaq from the Encyclopedia of Islam

Yesterday I mentioned that the PDF’s of the Encyclopedia of Islam 2nd edition had appeared online.  I downloaded them last night, and then went to look at the article on Hunayn ibn Ishaq, the 9th century Christian who translated the Greek scientific works into Arabic.  It was rather good; so much so, in fact, that I will post it here. 

HUNAYN B. ISHAK AL-`IBADI, the most important mediator of ancient Greek science to the Arabs. It was mainly due to his reliable and clearly written translations of Hippocrates [see BUKRAT, in Suppl.] and Galen [see DJALINUS], that the Arab physicians of the Middle Ages became worthy successors of the Greek. 

Life: Hunayn was born in 192/808 in al-Hira [q.v.], where his father was a pharmacist. The nisba indicates that he was a descendant of the so-called `ibad, i.e. Arab tribesmen who had once embraced Christianity and who after the rise of Islam remained faithful to the Syrian Nestorian church, refusing to adopt the new religion. Hunayn may be assumed to have been bilingual from his youth, for Arabic was the vernacular of his native town, and Syriac was the language of the liturgy and of higher Christian education. Later in life, when settled in  Baghdad, he translated far more books into Syriac than into Arabic, in accordance with the wishes of his clients. He himself showed a certain predilection for the Syriac language at the expense of Arabic, which he blamed for its lack of an adequate nomenclature as compared with either Syriac or Greek or Persian (see a fragment of his Kitdb al-Nukap, ed. L. Cheikho, in Mashrik, xx (1922), 373). But in their Arabic translations he and his school avoided mere transcriptions as far as possible, and thus helped to forge the Arabic scientific terminology. He was also at pains to acquire a sound knowledge of Arabic grammar; he is even said to have studied it at Basra and to have brought from there al-Khalili’s Kitab al-`Ayn. That he had the advantage of meeting the famous grammarian personally, as Ibn Djuldjul and others point out, is impossible for chronological reasons (see M. Plessner, in RSO, xxxi (1956), 244 f.). The Arab bibliographers unanimously attest that Hunayn was fasih.

How Hunayn acquired his astonishing knowledge of Greek is told by the eyewitness report of a certain Yusuf b. Ibrahim (see Ibn Abi Usaybi`a, ed. Müller, i, 185 f.), which does indeed sound very trustworthy. It relates that Hunayn began his study of medicine at Baghdad under Yuhanna b. Masawayh, the famous court-physician and director of the bayt al-hikma [q.v.]. But as Hunayn used to ask too many troublesome questions, he incurred the anger of his master, who eventually ordered him to leave his school. Hunayn then disappeared from the capital for more than two years. The narrator himself is silent upon his whereabouts, but some sources contend that he went to Alexandria, others that he was staying in bilad al-Rum. When he came back, he was so thoroughly versed in the Greek language that he could even recite from Homer. Afterwards he was reconciled with Ibn Masawayh, who also encouraged him further to translate from the Greek (cf. Les axiomes medicaux de Yohanna Ben Massawaih, ed. P. Sbath, Cairo 1934, 8, 33 f.).

Under the caliph al-Mutawakkil Hunayn was appointed chief physician to the court, but he had to suffer great hardships through the capricious behaviour of this Commander of the Faithful. One day he fell a victim to an intrigue of his Christian colleagues. As he was an enemy of image-worship, they induced him to spit on an icon during an audience. This provoked the indignation not only of the Nestorian katholikos, but also of the caliph. Hunayn was flogged, put in jail and deprived of his whole estate, including his library (for the historicity of this account see B. Hemmerdinger, in Actes du XIIe Congr. Int. d’Etud. Byzant., ii, Belgrade 1964, 467-9, and G. Strohmaier, in Klio, xliii-v (1965), 525-33). After six months he was set free and reinstated in his office, which he held until his death in 260/873. He had two sons, Dawud and Ishak [q.v.]. Both of them became medical practitioners; the latter, following in his father’s footsteps, excelled in translating from the Greek, but concentrated more on philosophical works.

Translations: Hunayn is credited with an immense number of translations, ranging from medicine, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics to magic and oneiromancy. His Arabic translation of the Old Testament [see TAWRAT], made after the Septuagint, was regarded as the best among other renderings (see al-Mas`udi, al-Tanbih, 112). So far as his versions are conserved, they can help in establishing the Greek text, for Hunayn had Greek manuscripts at his disposal which were several centuries older than ours. They also represent a valuable substitute for some writings that are otherwise lost.

Thanks to the important edition of Hunayn’s Risala . . . ila `Ali b. Yahya fi dhikr ma turdjima min kutub Djalinus bi-`ilmih wa-ba`d ma lam yutardjam by G. Bergstrasser (Hunain Ibn Ishaq über die syrischen und arabischen Galen-Übersetzungen, Leipzig 1925, Abh. K. M. xvii/2), we possess a detailed report on the various translations of Galen that were available at his time. There exists a different recension of this Risala, which was found some time later (see G. Bergstrasser, Neue Materialien zu Hunain Ibn Ishaq’s Galen-Bibliographie, Leipzig 1932, Abh.K.M. xix/2). Hunayn enumerates 129 titles, of which he himself translated about 100 into Syriac or Arabic or into both. The list is not exhaustive, however, for al-Razi [q.v.] wrote a special treatise Fi ‘stidrak ma bakiya min kutub Djalinus mimma lam yadhkurhu Hunayn wa-la Djalinus fi Fihristih (see Fihrist, i, 300, cf. P. Kraus, Epitre de Beruni, Paris 1936, no. 175). One must bear in mind that Hunayn wrote the Risala after the complete loss of his library (see above), a fact to which he repeatedly refers in it (p. 1.11 f., 3.5-10, no. 95, cf. nos. 42 and 118). In the Risala as well as in another tract Fi dhikr at-kutub allati lam yadhkurha Djalinus fi Fihrist kutubih (ed. G. Bergstrasser, in Neue Materialien, 84-98) he makes some statements about the spuriousness of several writings ascribed to Galen, and it is remarkable to see how his judgement coincides with the results of modern scholarship (see M. Meyerhof, in SBPr. Ak. W., phil.-hist. Kl., 1928, 531-48 and F. Kudlien, in Rheinisches Museum, cviii (1965), 295-9). Only the question of the commentary on the Hippocratic oath remains doubtful: Hunayn regarded it as genuine, but we have nowadays to rely on a few Arabic fragments (collected by F. Rosen that, in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, xxx (1956), 52-87), whereas Hunayn had the full text before him.

In the Risala he also gives some occasional remarks on his philological methods. They are not different from ours: he used to collect as many Greek manuscripts as possible and to collate them in order to get a sound textual basis for the translation (cf. nos. 3, 20, 74, 84). In search of manuscripts he travelled to Syria, Palestine and even to Egypt (cf. no. 115). But in one respect his philological principles deviate from the modern. Like other Christian translators he felt the obligation to eliminate all traces of paganism from the works of the ancients, e.g., to replace the pagan gods by the one God and His angels, etc. Usually this did not impair the scientific value of his translations, but it did some harm to the rich mythological material found in the dream-book of Artemidorus (see G. Strohmaier, in F. Altheim and R. Stiehl, Die Araber in der Alten Welt, v, Berlin, forthcoming).

The Risala also contains valuable data on the translations of Galen made by Hunayn’s predecessors and contemporaries. He does not spare them harsh criticism, if necessary, and he often had to revise their Syriac or Arabic versions. He himself translated either into Syriac for his Christian colleagues or into Arabic for the Muslim sponsors of his work [see BANU MUSA]. It is remarkable that there is no word about the famous bayt al-hikma; the whole activity seems to have been based on a kind of private enterprise. He engaged two members of his family, his son Ishak, his nephew Hubaysh b. al-Hasan al-A`sam, and another pupil, `Isa b. Yahya, who also took part in translating Galen. Since Hubaysh and `Isa did not

understand Greek well enough, they made Syriac translations after Hunayn’s Arabic (nos. 36, 38, 119) or, much more often, Arabic translations after Hunayn’s Syriac. This could lead to some deterioration (cf. Galeni Compendium Timaei Platonis, ed. P. Kraus and R. Walzer, London 1951, 22-4), if Hunayn or Ishak did not have the opportunity to compare these new versions with the Greek original (cf. nos. 20,49,69,86,113,126). Usually the colophons in the manuscripts of these second-hand versions mention Hunayn as the only translator, a fact which is already stated in the Fihrist (i, 128 and 289). The reason for this is not clear. Perhaps it is due to the modesty of the pupils themselves, or else they wanted to conceal the circumstance of the double translation, as Muslim intellectuals had been well aware of its shortcomings.

Unfortunately, there exists no corresponding risala for the non-Galenic writings, and it remains to be proved by an analysis of the language and by possible mistakes resulting from ambiguities of Syriac words, whether the present Arabic versions were made by Hunayn directly from the Greek or by someone else after his Syriac translation. Nearly all of these Syriac versions are now lost (for the possible ascription of some fragments to Hunayn see G. Furlani, in ZS, iii (1924), 28 and J. Schleifer, in RSO, xviii (1940), 348).

Hunayn’s own works: Besides his translations Hunayn composed numerous original works, mainly on medical, but also on philosophical, geophysical, meteorological, zoological, linguistic, and religious subjects. He is even credited with a history of the world from Adam down to al-Mutawakkil. His medical treatises are mainly epitomes and rearrangements of classical material. Many of them are written in the form of questions and answers, this curious kind of literature being very common also in the biblical exegesis of the Nestorian church at this time (cf. E. G. Clarke, The selected questions of Isho bar Nun on the Pentateuch, Leiden 1962, 10-3). His main work in this field is al-Masa’il fi ‘l-tibb (numerous mss.), later translated into Hebrew and Latin. There also exists a so-called Isagoge Johannitii ad parvam artem Galeni (many Latin mss. and early printed texts). According to M. Steinschneider (Die hebräischen Übersetzungen, 710) this is another recension of the same work.—The following titles show Hunayn’s special interest in ophthalmology: al-`Ashr makalat fi ‘l-`ayn (ed. M. Meyerhof, The book of the ten treatises on the eye ascribed to Hunain ibn Ishaq, Cairo 1928). This work appears in two different Latin versions, as the Liber de oculis Constantini Africani and Galeni de oculis liber a Demetrio translatus (see J. Hirschberg, in SBPr. Ak. W., 1903, 1080-94).—For his sons Dawud and Ishak he wrote al-Masa’il fi ‘l-`ayn (ed. P. Sbath and M. Meyerhof, Le livre des questions sur l’œil de Honain ibn Ishaq, Cairo 1938, MIE 36). —A little tract about the incorporeal nature of light Fi ‘l-daw’ wa-hakikatih shows Aristotle as his main authority in the field of physics (ed. L. Cheikho, in Mashrik, ii (1899), 1105-13 and with French translation in Actes du XIe Congr. Int. des Orient., Paris 1897, IIIe sect., Paris 1899, 125-42, German translation by C. Prüfer and M. Meyerhof, in Isl., ii (1911), 117-28). 

The often quoted Nawadir al-falasifa are extant in later Arabic extracts, a mediaeval Hebrew translation of which has been edited by A. Loewenthal (Sefer Musre ha-Pilosofim, Frankfurt a.M. 1896, German translation by the same, Berlin 1896). The Arabic text remains to be edited (see K. Merkle, Die Sittensprüche der Philosophen “Kitab adab al-falasifa” von Honein ibn Ishaq in der Überarbeitung des Muhammed ibn `Ali al-Ansari, Leipzig 1921; M. Plessner, in Tarbiz, xxiv (1954-5), 60-72, VI f.; J. Kraemer, in ZDMG, cvi (1956), 292-302). The book is mainly a collection of stories, letters, and sayings ascribed to the ancient Greek philosophers, mingled with Hunayn’s own reflections. It is based on similar Byzantine florilegia and contains very old material (see G. Strohmaier, in Hermes, xcv (1967)). Part 3 deals with the death of Alexander the Great: its connexion with the Alexander Romance remains to be investigated.—A little apologetic tract Fi kayfiyyat idrak hakikat al-diyana is conserved in an abridged form (ed. L Cheikho, in Nöldeke-Festschrift, i, Giessen 1906, 283-91, and P. Sbath, in Vingt traite”s philosophiques et apologetiques, Cairo 1929, 181-5). Some points in this treatise may be understood as an intelligent and cautious polemic against Islam.—Hunayn’s bibliographical Risala to `Ali b. Yahya has been mentioned above; there also exists a short letter to his sponsor Salmawayh b. Bunan as an introduction to the translation of Galen’s De consuetudinibus (German translation by F. Pfaff, Corpus Medicorum Graecorum Suppl. iii, p. XLI f.) [see AFLATUN].

Bibliography: in addition to the works mentioned in the text: Fihrist, i, 294 f.; Ibn Djuldjul, Tabakdt al-atibba’ wa’l-hukama’, ed. F. Sayyid, Cairo 1955, 68-72; Ibn Sa`id al-Andalusi, Kitab Tabakat al-umam, ed. L. Cheikho, Beirut 1912, 36 f., French translation by R. Blachere, Paris 1935, 80 f.; `Ali b. Zayd al-Bayhaki, Tatimma siwan al-hikma, ed. M. Shafic, Lahore 1935, i, 3 f.; Ibn al-Kifti, Ta’rikh al-hukama’, ed. J. Lippert, Leipzig 1903, 171-7; Ibn Abi Usaybi`a, `Uyun al-anba’ fi tabakat al-atibba’, ed. A. Müller, Cairo 1882, i, 184-200; Ibn Khallikan, no. 208; Barhebraeus, Chronicon ecclesiasticum, ed. J. B. Abbeloos and Th. J. Lamy, Louvain 1872-7, iii 197-200; idem, Chronicon syriacum, ed. P. Bedjan, Paris 1890, 162 f., Latin translation by P. J. Bruns and G. Kirsch, Leipzig 1789, i, 173f.; idem, Ta’rikh mukhtasar al-duwal, ed. A. Salihani, Beirut 1890, 250-3; J. S. Assemanus, Bibliotheca  orientalis, iii/i, Rome 1725, 164 f.; F. Wüstenfeld, Geschichte der arabischen Arzte und Naturforscherr Gottingen 1840 (repr. Hildesheim 1963), 26-9; L. Leclerc, Histoire de la medecine arabe i, Paris 1876 (repr. New York n.d.), 139-52 (uncritical); M. Steinschneider, Die hebraischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters, Berlin 1893 (repr. Graz 1956), 1055 (index); idem, Die arabischen Übersetzungen aus dem Griechischen, in ZDMG, 1 (1896) (repr. Graz 1960), 390 (index); Suter, 21-3; J. Hirschberg, Geschichte der Augenheilkunde, ii/2, Leipzig 1905, 34-7; M. Steinschneider, Die europaischen Übersetzungen aus dem Arabischen, in SBAk. Wien, phil.-hist. kl., 1905 (repr. Graz 1956), 98 (index); G. Bergstrasser, Hunain Ibn Ishak und seine Schule, Leiden 1913 (still important); A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur, Bonn 1922, 227-30; G. Gabrieli, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq, in Isis, vi (1924), 282-92; M. Meyerhof, New light on Hunain Ibn Ishaq and his period, in Isis, viii (1926), 685-724; idem, Les versions syriaques et arabes des écrits galeniques, in Byzantion, iii (1926), 33-51; G. Sarton, Introduction to the history of science, i, Baltimore 1927 (repr. 1950), 611-3; J. Tkatsch, Die arabische Übersetzung der Poetik des Aristoteles, i, Vienna 1928, 80-4; H. Ritter and R. Walzer, Arabische Übersetzungen griechischer Arzte in Stambuler Bibliotheken, in SBPr. Ak. W., phil.-hist. kl., 1934, 801-46; Lutfi M. Sa’di, A biobibliographical study of Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-Ibadi, in Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, ii (1934), 409-46 (useful, but uncritical); Brockelmann, I, 224-7, S I, 366-9; F. Rosenthal, Die arabische Autobiographie, in Studia Arabica, i (1937),  15-19; idem, review of Galen: On medical experience, ed. R. Walzer, in Isis, xxxvi (1945-6), 253 f.; idem, The technique and approach of Muslim scholarship, Rome 1947, passim; G.  Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, ii, Vatican City 1947 (Studi e testi 133), 122-9 (important); Salah al-Din al-Munadjdjid, Masadir djadida `an ta’rikh al-tibb `inda ‘l-`arab, in Revue de l’institut des Manuscrits Arabes, v (1959), 229-348; Ibrahim Shabbuh, Fihris al-makhtutat al-musawwara, iii/2: al-tibb, Cairo 1959.

Translations: Artemidorus: Artemidore d’Éphèse, Le livre des songes traduit du grec en arabe par Hunayn b. Ishaq, ed. T. Fahd, Damascus 1964. Galen [see DJALINUS]: P. Bachmann, Galens Abhandlung darüber, dass der vorzügliche Arzt Philosoph sein muss, in Nachrichten der Akad. d. Wissensch. in Gottingen, phil.-hist. kl., 1965, no. 1; Galen, On the parts of medicine, On cohesive causes,On regimen in acute diseases in accordance with the theories of Hippocrates, ed. M. C. Lyons (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, Suppl. Orient, ii), Berlin (forthcoming); Galen, Über die Verschiedenheit der homoiomeren Korperteile, ed. G. Strohmaier (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, Suppl. Orient, iii) (in preparation). Hippocrates: The aphorisms of Hippocrates, translated into Arabic by Honain Ben Ischak, ed. J. Tytler, Calcutta 1832; Prognosticon, in M. Klamroth, Uber die Auszüge aus griechischen Schriftstellern bei al-Ja`qubi, in ZDMG, xl (1886), 204-33, for new collations see B. Alexanderson, Die hippokratische Schrift Prognostikon, Göteborg 1963, 156-73; De diaeta in morbis acutis, ed. M. C. Lyons, Cambridge 1966. Proclus: a fragment of the commentary on the Timaeus, in Galeni De consuetudinibus, ed. J. M. Schmutte and F. Pfaff, Leipzig, Berlin 1941 (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, Suppl. iii), 55-60 (German translation).



Brill’s Encyclopedia of Islam (2nd Ed) online at

An amazing report at AWOL from Charles Jones:

Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition (1986-2004) Leiden, E.J.Brill

at the Internet Archive

Vol. 1
Vol. 2
Vol. 3
Vol. 4
Vol. 5
Vol. 6
Vol. 7
Vol. 8
Vol. 9
Vol. 10
Vol. 11
Vol. 12

Wow.  And I say again, wow!

I don’t know why this is up there, but I am glad it is.

UPDATE: I discover that Brill are now marketing the 3rd edition as an “entirely new” work.  This means that the 2nd is now obsolete, although the historical content will, of course, be pretty much as good as ever.

I wonder … are Brill being fiendishly clever here?

Think about it.  Take a sample online person.  Take me, for instance.  I’ve never read a page of the Encyclopedia of Islam.  I’ve never opened a copy.  I doubt I’ve ever seen a copy.  Yet here I am, tonight, at 00:34 hrs, downloading the PDF’s.  I’m pretty much certain to at least look at a couple of articles.

The Encyclopedia Iranica gets read, precisely because its articles are online.  Is this the idea?  To build market share by making an old version freely available?  To get people who would never pick up a copy interested?  To get students, who have no money, but will become academics and librarians with budgets, accustomed to  using it, to treating it as the last word, as the authoritative resource?

Let’s face it — if they are intending this, it’s working!  It’s working on me right now, drat them.

UPDATE (29th April): A commenter notes that most of the links now don’t work, and bring up a message that there are “issues with content”.  I believe this is their phrase for “may be in copyright”.  Sadly it wasn’t the dawn of a new day — just an uploader who didn’t check the copyright status properly.  Pity.


Eusebius update

The revised cover has now been uploaded to Lightning Source and a proof ordered.  If that is OK, then we are go!

This is the hardback cover, of course.  Nick the designer has spotted a glitch with the paperback cover.  I’ve asked him to come up with a slightly smaller bitmap for the cover, which I shall send to Ben the editor once it’s available.


Mithras: list of literary testimonia

When I encounter twaddle about the ancient world online, I always find it  useful to gather all the relevant ancient sources.  Long ago I did this with Mithras.  I have just revised my collection and expanded it, and included also the references to Persian Mitra in Greek and Roman literature.  The result is here.


More on early French travellers to Libya

A year ago I posted a photo of the circus at Leptis Magna, and queried whether the circus — now reduced to foundations — really was standing to some height back when the first explorers arrived in the 17th century.

A commenter has directed me to an article with a figure from Durand’s article, from Le Mercure Galant of 1694.  I think it is worth seeing.  The top is his plan of the harbour; the bottom of the circus.

I’d still like to see the whole article, tho.

How much has changed in a year.  I doubt that I shall be going back to Leptis Magna soon.  How I wish that I had been able to go to Syria last year, as I had planned!  A travel company is using the following song for an advert at the moment.

You’re gonna take that ocean trip
No matter come what may.
You got your reservations
But you just can’t get away.
Next year, for sure, you’ll see the world,
You’ll really get around;
But how far can you travel
When you’re six feet underground?

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by, as quickly a as wink.
Enjoy yourself, Enjoy yourself
It’s later than you think.

True advice, I fear.


The harrowing of hell, or the clearing of the inboxes?

On Easter Saturday, some of my readers are rather busy.

I can tell that they are busy from my inbox.  It’s stonkingly hot out there today — it reached well over 80F today, or 27C in our devalued French measures.  But too many of you were sat in front of your computers for my comfort, when I finally got home from visiting my family today.  I think I’ve replied to you all, tho.

There are some snippets of good news, tho, in between the death threats (just joking), and the demands for money from incompetent Oxford Patristics Conference organisers who haven’t noticed that I paid them a month ago (sadly not).  Oh yes there are.

Firstly, we have a treasure incoming.  Some time back I asked Andrew Eastbourne to translate the section on the month of March from John the Lydian’s De Mensibus (On the Months) book 4.  The first draft of this has arrived, and made me feel somewhat guilty.  Of course I had no real idea of what was in the chapter.  It turns out, tho, that it is full of philosophical and astrological  and mythological stuff, as well as calendar events.  It’s actually much more interesting than I had expected.  Look forward to this one, chaps – it’s good stuff.  I had only a few comments on the flow of the English, so it should be available in final form soonish.

Next, I have received some more letters of Isidore of Pelusium in English from Clive Sweeting.  I’ve not opened the files yet — too late and too tired these evening –, but these too will appear online soon.

Finally I have had an interesting email about the possibility of my publishing a translation that someone has already completed of a rather interesting Syriac text.  This may come to nothing; or it might mean a third volume in Ancient Texts in Translation, the series title for the books like the Eusebius which I am publishing.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday.  As ever on Sunday, I shall have my laptop turned off and in the cupboard.  I recommend the practice to all my readers, and I wish you all a happy Easter.