From my diary

A dull Saturday morning, and I went into town and visited the local library, in search of my book order from Tuesday.  On entering my ears were assailed with music, from some device stationed on the enquiries desk, and there were stalls filling the main library area.  Apparently the library had been turned into a tatty-looking craft fair for the day.  Want to read and study?  Well, tough.

The book I ordered had arrived.  I’d ordered it online, and given my email address so that they could tell me if it had arrived, but I never got an email.  Possibly it arrived yesterday, and I simply didn’t know?

Back home with it, and I found that some spotty-faced youth had taken his pencil to it, and filled it with underlinings and marginal notes and symbols, evidently in preparation for some college essay.  But who wants their attention distracted by that when reading?  So I had to spend half an hour with the rubber.

The book, of course, is Vermaseren’s Mithras, the secret god, 1963.  It’s an interesting but infuriating book from so many points of view, because the great man didn’t feel the need for any footnotes.  Even the sources for illustrations of monuments are not identified.  The book starts as follows:

In Rome, about A.D. 400, a number of Christians, armed with axes, forced their way into a Mithraic temple on the Aventine, where they smashed the sculptures and cut gaping holes in the paintings. Once the persecuted, they were now the persecutors, and to their ever-growing numbers Mithras and his followers were regarded as deadly rivals.

What a vivid picture!

But there are no footnotes.  So … on what is this based?  Depressingly, this is fiction.  Vermaseren is talking about the Mithraeum of Santa Prica, which he excavated.  In the scholarly publication he identifies damage, and speculates that it might have been done at the fall of paganism by Christians.  Well, so indeed it might; but we have no actual evidence for this, and surely we should not state as fact that which is only a theory?  But in this popular version, the attack has become a fact.

Still, Vermaseren really did have all the data about Mithras at his fingertips, although the Cumontian theory blinded him as to its real impact.  So the book is bound to contain a great deal of hard data, interwoven with fancy like this.  I shall be reading it over the weekend, I think!

Meanwhile I still have a great deal to do.  I need to finish up a page on the works of Hero of Alexandria, and write another on the manuscript tradition of his artillery manuals.  Then I need to get back to Methodius and the Russian  version that I acquired yesterday, and translate some of that.

I’m becoming rather disappointed with progress on the translation from German of Methodius De lepra.  Since last week, only a handful of lines have been done, and those only after prompting.  Total time spent on those can only have been 10 minutes or so.  The translator is not re-reading what he writes, which means that some of the sentences are gibberish.  In some cases the gibberish reflects an Old Testament quotation, and becomes clear if you look it up in one of the online English translations of the bible.  The PDF that I gave the man signals biblical references at the foot of each page, but, although in difficulty, he doesn’t trouble to look them up — I have to do that.  When I do, and send back a file with comments, I get no response.   We’ll see.  But I think this is clearly going pear-shaped.  I’ve had to chase twice now, in a total of 6 pages, and I’m tired of it.

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