On actually reading texts

Duane Smith of Abnormal Interests usefully highlights on his blog a post by John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry:

Scholars are known to succumb to a grave and debilitating disease: that of spending all their days reading each other rather than the texts and other artifacts that are supposed to be the objects of their research. …

There is a pressing need for original-language editions of ancient texts with translation and commentary. Vast corpora of texts are out of reach of all but a few specialists. There are enormous quantities of texts in a dozen ancient languages which deserve to be presented to a larger public with the goal of allowing them to assume their rightful place within a larger corpus of ancient texts of interest to anyone who wishes to grasp the history of ideas and the course of human history over the long duration.

Well put indeed.

The focus of the remarks is concerned with Akkadian; yet the point about translation is true for Greek and Latin too.


From my diary

I’ve tried to use Xoom.com to send money to the St. Ephrem Ecumenical Institute (SEERI) in India, for the copies of the English translation of Aphrahat’s Demonstrations that they sent me.  The last time I used this, I could fund it from Paypal.  This no longer seems to be available, and only US bank accounts or credit cards can be used.  Oh well.

Fortunately I have a bank account with an international bank.  They’ll probably charge me an arm and a leg for a bank transfer.  But let’s see.

Meanwhile the story about the Keston College archives thickens.  Keston, you remember, is the group that monitored the Church in the old USSR.  The archives are now held at Baylor University.  Apparently the people at Keston would like them to appear online.  But the word that I am getting is that they are kept offline, supposedly because of Baylor’s lawyers’ concerns over copyright.  That this also means that this precious resource is exclusive to Baylor is, I hope, coincidental. 

Fortunately Michael Bourdeaux has told me to make the book that I scanned — Risen Indeed — available online as widely as possible, and I will do my best, as soon as I get any time.

It’s been a thin week.  Lots of people are away, and the pressure at work has left little energy in the evenings.  This is why it is so important, if you want to do research work in the ancient world, to obtain a PhD and a research post at a university — even if combined with teaching.  Because those who have to spend their days at meaningless tasks, done for hire, can only devote a fraction of their time to the things that excite us all. 


From my diary

The leaflets promoting the Eusebius book arrived, and I went up to the DHL office, opened the box and inspected them.  They’re OK — the design is good — but I’d hoped for  a higher-gloss finish.  Too late now, so I crossed DHL’s moist palm with silver, and the leaflets should be at the Patristics Conference tomorrow.  One more task done.

It looks as if the Michael Bourdeaux book that I scanned will be going online at the Keston College archive site at Baylor university.  I shall have to find out where that is!

UPDATE: The Baylor archive of materials at Keston is for Baylor people only, amazingly enough.  That means that the book won’t be visible to anyone much.

This is not good news — I didn’t spend my evenings hunched over the scanner for the benefit of Baylor University.   I’ve written back to Michael Bourdeaux and asked if the book can appear somewhere that the rest of us can see it.  In the mean time I shan’t scan any more of his stuff until I know whether I am wasting my time.


From my diary

A parcel arrived today, containing the German reference book which I laboriously scanned, turned into a PDF, and had printed as a book by Lulu.com.  It’s the same general standard as all books printed there — rather too thick paper, rather too thin cover — but it’s entirely serviceable and I shall feel no hesitation in scribbling in it.  Much better than a pile of photocopies, certainly.

A card from DHL lay on the mat when I got home.  That must be the leaflets to promote the Eusebius book.  DHL are difficult to deal with — I shall have to ring them tomorrow, and then probably go and get the boxes at lunchtime.  Once I have inspected them, I shall rewrap the parcel and despatch it to the conference.

Still sunshine and showers here.  I get a bit of holiday next week — I must find nice things to do with it, and get away from the daily routine.  Of course once you book holiday, you find an enormous number of things have to be done before you can go away!  Isn’t that a funny thing?  I would like to go to Pompeii, but unless you book 6 weeks in advance you get charged huge sums.

I’ve been rereading Tuckwell’s Reminiscences of Oxford, about life in the university in the 1830’s.  On p.95 we find the following notice of Solomon Caesar Malan, who translated from Armenian the homily of Eusebius of Emesa that I have online.

Contemporary with these was a genius perhaps more remarkable, certainly more unusual, than any of them. In 1833 Solomon Caesar Malan matriculated at St. Edmund’s Hall, a young man with a young wife, son to a Swiss Pastor, speaking as yet broken English, but fiuent Latin, Romaic, French, Spanish, Italian, German; and a proficient at twenty-two years old in Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit. He won the Boden and the Kennicott Scholarships, took a Second Class, missing his First through the imperfection of his English, was ordained, became Professor in Calcutta, gathered up Chinese, Japanese, the various Indian, Malay, Persian tongues, came home to the valuable living of Broadwinsor, where be lived, when not travelling, through forty years, amassing a library in more than seventy languages, the majority of which he spoke with freedom, read familiarly, wrote with a clearness and beauty rivalling the best native caligraphy. In his frequent Eastern rambles he was able, say his fellow-travellers, to chat in market and bazaar with everyone whom he met. On a visit to the Bishop of Innereth he preached a Georgian sermon in the Cathedral. He published twenty – six translations of English theological works, in Chinese and Japanese, Arabic and Syriac, Armenian, Russian, Ethiopic, Coptic. Five-fold outnumbering the fecundity of his royal namesake, he left behind him a collection of 16,000 Proverbs, taken from original Oriental texts, each written in its native character and translated. So unique was the variety of his Pentecostal attainments that experts could not be found even to catalogue the four thousand books which he presented, multa gemens, with pathetic lamentation over their surrender, to the Indian Institute at Oxford.

I encountered him at three periods of his life. First as a young man at the evening parties of John Hill, Vice-Principal of St. Edmund’s Hall, where prevailed tea and coffee, pietistic Low Church talk, prayer and hymnody of portentous length, yet palliated by the chance of sharing Bible or hymn-book with one of the host’s four charming daughters. Twenty years later I recall him as a guest in Oxford Common Rooms, laying down the law on questions of Scriptural interpretation, his abysmal fund of learning and his dogmatic insistency floated by the rollicking fun of his illustrations and their delightful touches of travelled personal experience. Finally, in his old age I spent a long summer day with him in the Broadwinsor home, enjoying his library, aviary, workshop, drawings; his hospitality stimulated by the discovery that in some of his favourite pursuits I was, longo intervallo, an enthusiast like himself. He was a benevolently autocratic vicar, controlling his parish with patriarchally imperious rule, original, racy, trenchant, in Sunday School and sermons. It was his wont to take into the pulpit his college cap: into it he had pasted words of Scripture which he always read to himself before preaching. They were taken from the story of Balaam : “And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said–” He died at eighty-two, to have been admitted, let us hope, in the unknown land to comradeship of no ordinary brotherhood by spirits of every nation, kindred, tongue; to have found there, ranged upon celestial shelves, the Platonic archetypes of the priceless books which it tore his mortal heart to leave.

Tuckwell, as a secularising late 19th century clergyman, had little understanding of the gospel and tied his fate firmly to the aspirations of the Victorian age.  But his book remains a charming picture into past days, although one that can make us all rather too conscious of our own mortality!


Philip of Macedon on those who spoke ill of him

A quotation from Paley’s collection of Greek Wit, p.42:

Philip, King of Macedon, thanked the Athenian demagogues for their abuse, and said that his morals were much improved by it, for his constant endeavour was both by his words and his deeds to prove them liars.

—  Plutarch, Philip c. 7.


Did the Romans eat strawberries?

Summer is upon us.  I can’t really be bothered to sit at the computer.  Mild air, soft rains, hot sun and dusty blue skies … the time for indoor activities is the winter. 

All I can think of, this evening, is that I intend to go out tomorrow to a farm near my home, and purchase some strawberries.   Let us, then, think of strawberries.

Did the Greeks and the Romans eat strawberries?  It seems that they did.

Wild strawberries

In Kevin M. Folta, Genetics and genomics of rosaceae, p.422, I find a discussion of the strawberry in the ancient world, telling us that Greek authors do not mention it, nor the authors of Egypt or the Bible, in which lands, of course, it does not grow.

But it does grow wild in Italy, and there are, apparently, a number of references in classical literature to it.  The Latin word for the strawberry is ‘fragum, -i‘, plural ‘fraga‘. 

Virgil mentions the strawberry as ‘humi nascentia fraga’, the ‘children of the earth’, in his third eclogue, and adds a warning to children picking the wild fruit — he says nothing of cultivated strawberries in his day — to beware of serpents:

“You, picking flowers and strawberries that grow
So near the ground, fly hence, boys, get you gone!
There’s a cold adder lurking in the grass.”

Ovid, in the Metamorphoses I, v. 104, tells that they gathered ‘arbuteos fructus montanaque fraga‘, arbutus berries and mountain strawberries, as food for the golden age.  (The arbutus is the so-called ‘strawberry tree’) 

 The teeming Earth, yet guiltless of the plough,
And unprovok’d, did fruitful stores allow:
Content with food, which Nature freely bred,
On wildings and on strawberries they fed;
Cornels and bramble-berries gave the rest,
And falling acorns furnish’d out a feast.

In his 13th book he refers again to ‘mollia fraga‘.

My garden fill’d with fruits you may behold,
And grapes in clusters, imitating gold;
Some blushing bunches of a purple hue:
And these, and those, are all reserv’d for you.
Red strawberries, in shades, expecting stand,
Proud to be gather’d by so white a hand.

Pliny the Elder, book 15, c. 28, distinguishes the ‘terrestribus fragis‘ or ground strawberry from the arbutus tree:

XXVIII. The flesh of the ground strawberry is different from that of the strawberry-tree which is related to it, the strawberry being the only fruit that grows at the same time on a bush and on the ground. The tree itself is a sort of shrub; the fruit takes a year to mature, and the following crop flowers side by side with the earlier crop when it is ripening. Authorities disagree as to whether it is the male plant or the female that is unproductive. The fruit is held in no esteem, the reason for its name being that a person will eat only one! Nevertheless the Greeks call it by the two names of comaron and memaecylon, which shows that there are two varieties of the plant; and with ourselves it has another name, the arbutus. Juba states that in Arabia the strawberry tree grows to a height of 75 feet. 

We are also told that Cato the Elder mentions medical uses for the fruit; but no reference is given, which is always grounds to suspect that the author has not verified the claim himself.  A search of De agricultura reveals nothing.  A wild claim that Cato was addicted to strawberries seems to circulate in gardening manuals, such as this:

The Censor was always anxious beyond measure for the welfare of his strawberry beds, and took dire vengeance on any of his gardeners who ventured to neglect them.

There is a mysterious reference “D.B. 1880” in this, but I can’t see enough to work out what it is.

Likewise pseudo-Apuleius, the 4th century author of a ‘Herbarium‘ or ‘De herbarum virtutibus‘ — apparently a 6th century copy exists at Leiden, according to French Wikipedia, is said to mention the fruit.  The author seems to be called Apuleius Barbarus also.  Editions are hard to find!  Unfortunately, because herbals are illustrated, people seem to print copies of particular manuscripts.  A German edition of an early Middle English version exists at Archive.org.  I’m afraid that I cannot, therefore, check this reference.

On the following page, however, Dr. Folta tells us that

The ancient Romans originally cultivated it in gardens, …

Unfortunately he gives no reference for this.

UPDATE:  Nearly all the references to the classical history of the strawberry, including those of Dr. Folta, clearly go back — the wording is so similar — to U.P.Hedrick, Sturtevant’s notes on edible plants (1919).  This may be found here.  Another link reveals this.

I should note that the various manuals of cultivation also state that the modern strawberry is derived, not from these small fruits, but from a hybrid of two American varieties of considerably larger size.  The Romans had no access to what we today would call a strawberry.


From my diary

Grey, drizzling, with bursts of heavy rain.  Must be summer!  Hard to wake up today, although the arrival of a postman with the hardback of the Eusebius book at 7:50 am did force me out of bed somewhat sooner.  Fortunately I was semi-awake, and I know the knock on the door.  The postie had tried to get the book through the letterbox and had wedged it halfway.  He told me that he knocked, because he didn’t want to leave it in the rain. And then scarpered, leaving me stood there in rather less than was decent.  As I stood there, a parcel van arrived with a box.  Fortunately the parcel chap was braver, and managed to free the book.  The packaging protected the book OK.  The box contained a couple of acrylic plastic stands for books — which I shall use at the patristics conference.

Into town to return Brockelmann’s Geschichte vol. 1 to the library.  No sign of my other interlibrary loans, despite the fact that some were ordered earlier.  Summer is in everyone’s mind.  Even I shall be going away for a few days in the not too distant future.

I vaguely intended to scan another of Michael Bourdeaux’s books, but I didn’t.  Instead I am working with Finereader on this German textbook.  More tweaking, and I think the scans are as good as they’re going to get.  Time to start proofing.

I did toy with running a German spell-checker in Word.  I bought the Office 2000 proofing tools many years ago, but I’m not sure these are compatible with Word 2010.  Microsoft want quite a bit of money per language, it seems, to buy new ones.  I found a site on the web with some bootleg ones — but I don’t quite know about that.  It seems to me that pirate items like these might well be booby trapped.


From my diary

I spent this evening turning Michael Bourdeaux, Risen Indeed: Lessons in faith from the USSR (1983) into PDF form, with the consent of the author-copyright holder.  In a way it was just like old times, when I spent many a happy evening on a Friday night, after the week’s work was ended, hunched over the scanner.   I’ve just emailed him the PDF, and, with luck, we can get it online.

Today I learned that major UK media industry figures have been meeting secretly with the government to get a “copyright firewall” installed in the UK.  Let us hope this attempt to create a protected market for information is stifled. 

Time for a bath, and perhaps a film, and then back to the OCR software.  I need to experiment some more with combining Arabic transliteration characters with German language in Finereader, so that I can scan Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur with a minimum of proof corrections.  Once I can get some text, I can start using Google translate on it, and so can get some idea of what lies therein. 

It still seems remarkable to me that no English translation of Brockelmann exists.  Mind you, it seems to me that Georg Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Litteratur is a better book.  It’s better organised, more detailed, and generally superior.

I’ve also requested a printed copy of the PDF from Lulu.com, because, in truth, I can’t read a book of that kind on-screen.  The second edition is available to buy in printed form — but only for those who will not miss $1,000!  I think I’ll manage without, thanks.


More on “human rights” for Christians in Britain

Following the announcement by the Orwellian-sounding “Equalities and Human Rights Commission that it regrets some of the harassment of Christians in the UK which it funded, on which I posted earlier, “eChurch blog has helpfully listed the resources and online responses

They make interesting reading indeed.  Four victims have brought test cases to the European court, and this is causing flutters of concern among the guilty men.

What I had not realised, however, is that the trigger for this is that the EHRC have applied to intervene in four test cases now before the European court.  They profess:

‘Our intervention in these cases would encourage judges to interpret the law more broadly and more clearly to the benefit of people who are religious and those who are not’.

Long experience in corporate politics leads me to look below the surface.  This is an organisation that has funded harassment of Christians.  Why would they change tack, suddenly?  The leopard does not change his spots, and there is no change of personnel.  On the contrary, the man responsible is John Wadham, a lawyer who has spent his life in gaming the legal system to promote left-wing causes.  This is, therefore, a considered tactic.

Once we sidestep the fluffy language, it becomes obvious that the EHRC hope to get something from this. 

If the EHRC were not involved, then the case will come before the court as one of persecution, and, given the large numbers of Catholics in the EU, it is possible — even probable — that the Euro-court would limit their activities considerably. 

But by being “part of the process”, they can play themselves back into the game.  They might even be able to obtain a judicial position over the Christians.  If they lie and spin hard enough, then they might be able to convince the Euro-judges to appoint the EHRC themselves as “protectors of religion”. 

Fanciful?  Well, if we go back to the sinister Trevor Phillips article of less than a month ago, we see that this is precisely what he was talking about.

The EHRC, therefore, should not be allowed to intervene.

The EHRC takes it upon themselves to define what is “religion”.  Furthermore, as Phillips made plain, they propose to game this, so that those who refuse to conform will be stripped of their charitable status and forced to pay crushing and discriminatory taxes.

Sadly, therefore, this is not “good news”.