Some information on the homilies of Severian of Gabala

Severian of Gabala, the enemy of John Chrysostom, has left around 60 homilies to us, some in Greek, preserved under his enemy’s name, and others in Armenian or other languages.  Much of this material is unpublished, and nearly all of it is untranslated.  Being rather obscure, it can be hard to get a handle on the material.

Today I found two articles by Robert E. Carter in JSTOR, which help quite a lot.  The first discusses the chronology of the homilies, and identifies 20 which can be dated to 400 or 401 A.D.[1]  This gives an overview of Severian’s life, and also a useful bibliography.  The reader is referred by Dr. Carter to an article by Sever Voicu for details of Severian’s life and works, and I wish it were accessible to me.[2]

But it also refers back to an earlier article, which sets out an index of scriptural references in Severian’s sermons.[3]  This also gives a list of Severian’s homilies on p.324-6, which is more up-to-date than the CPG list.  Some of the unpublished items listed in the CPG now seem to have appeared.

I’m not sure who without JSTOR access would find this list of raw texts useful, but perhaps a list of Severian’s works, modified for a more general readership, ought to appear online.

  1. [1]Robert E. Carter, The chronology of twenty homilies of Severian of Gabala, Traditio 55 (2000), p.1-17.  On JSTOR here.
  2. [2]Sever J. Voicu, “Severien de Gabala,” Dictionnaire de spiritualite 14 (Paris, 1990), 752-63.
  3. [3]Robert E. Carter, An index of scriptural references in the homilies of Severian of Gabala, Traditio 54 (1999), p.323-351.  On JSTOR here.

Free ancient Greek OCR – getting started with Tesseract

A correspondent draws my attention to Tesseract, a Google-hosted project to do Optical Character Recognition.  The Tesseract website is here.  Tesseract is a command-line tool, but there are front-ends available.

I am a long-term fan of Abbyy Finereader, and, let’s face it, have probably OCR’d more text than most.  So I thought that I would give Tesseract 3.02.02 a go.

First, getting the bits.  I work on Windows 7, so I downloaded:

I double-clicked on the tesseract installer.  This went smoothly.  It gave me the option to download and install extra languages (English is the default); among others I chose ancient Greek, and German, and German (fraktur).  The latter is the “gothic” style characters fashionable in Germany until 1945.  Curiously the list of languages is not in alphabetical order; French following German.

Next I clicked on the GImageReader installer.  This ran quickly, and warned that you need a copy of Tesseract installed. It did not create a desktop icon; you have to locate the program in the Start menu.  This would throw some users, I suspect.

I then started GImageReader.  It started with an error; that it was missing the “spellcheck dictionary for Dansk(Frak)”.  Why it looks for this I cannot imagine.  Not a good start, I fear.  I suspect that it expects Tesseract to be installed with all possible languages.

Next I browsed to a tif file containing part of the English translation of Cyril of Alexandria on John.  The file explorer is clunky and non-Windows standard.  The page displayed OK, although if you swap back to another window and then back again it seems to re-render the image.

At the top of the page is the recognition language – set by default to the mysterious Dansk (Frak).  I changed this to English.  I then hit “Recognize all”.  The recognition was quick.

So far, so good, then.  While unpolished, the interface is usable without a lot of stress.

The result of the OCR was not bad.  A window pops open on the right, with ASCII text in it.  It didn’t cope very well with layout issues, nor with small text.  But the basic recognition quality seemed good.

My next choice was a PDF with the text of Severian of Gabala, De pace, in Greek and Latin.  This opened fine! (rather to my surprise).  I held the cursor over the page, and it turned into a cross.  Holding down the left mouse button drew a rectangle around the text I wanted to recognise.  A quick language change to Ellenika and I hit “Recognise selection”.

The result was not bad at all.  Polytonic accents were recognised (although it did not like the two g’s in a)/ggeloi).

There were some UI issues here.  I could zoom the window being read – great!  But annoyingly I could not zoom the text window, nor copy and paste from it to Notepad.  But I could and did save it to a Unicode text file.  The result was this:

1. Οἱ ἄηε).οι τὸν οὐρἀνιον χο-
ρὸ·· συστησἀμενοι εὺηγγελίζοντο
τοῖς ποιμἑσι λἑγοντες· «εὐαγγε-
λιζόμεθα ὑμῖν σήμερον χαρὰ· με-
γάλην, ήτις ἔσται παντὶ τῷ λαῷ».
Παρ’ αὐτῶν τοίνυν τῶν ὰγίων ἐκεί-
νων ὰηέλων καὶ ῆμεῖς δανεισἀ-
μενοι φωνὴν οὐαηελιζόμεθα ὑμῖν
σήμερον, ὅτι σήμερον τὰ τῆς
ὲκπλησίας ἐν γαλή~›η καὶ τὰ τῶν
αἰρετικῶν ἐν ζάλη. Σἡμερον τὸ
οπιάφος τῆς ἑκκλησίας ἐν γαλήνη

Conclusions? I’ve used worse in the past.  I think it looks pretty good.  I suspect that, to use it, one would need to train it a bit more, but you can’t complain about the price!

Well done, those who created the training dictionary.


From my diary

I’m afraid the sickliness of the current season has interfered quite a bit with my ability to do anything other than work and sneeze!

But I still have several projects going forward.  Eusebius’ Commentary on Luke is progressing – a third chunk arrived this week and I reviewed it yesterday.  Likewise the translation of a homily by Severian of Gabala is in progress.  I need to chase up the translation of another chunk of John the Lydian, tho, which should also be in-flight.

I have obtained a rather interesting dissertation via a correspondent.  This is an MA thesis by Kevin R. Cole, Ritual and belief in the mysteries of Mithras.[1]  It contains a discussion of some of the literary passages.  This includes one by Tertullian, from De praescriptione haereticorum.  Yet I recall that a paper casting doubt on the word “Mithras” in that exists.  It is infuriating not to be able to locate it!

  1. [1]Boise State University, 1998.

The man who discovered Egypt – a BBC TV programme on Flinders Petrie

Last night, quite by accident, I found myself watching The man who discovered Egypt, an hour-long documentary on the founder of modern archaeology (and Egyptology), Flinders Petrie.  For the first time in a long time I watched a TV programme all the way through.  It was excellent!

Ancient Egypt was vandalised by tomb raiders and treasure hunters until one Victorian adventurer took them on. Most of us have never heard of Flinders Petrie, but this maverick genius underook a scientific survey of the pyramids, discovered the oldest portraits in the world, unearthed Egypt’s prehistoric roots – and in the process invented modern field archaeology, giving meaning to a whole civilisation.

Among the material most interesting were bunches of the Fayuum mummy portraits, which Petrie unearthed at Hawara.  Most of these were unfamiliar to me.  It is worth remembering that we see the same few examples again and again; but there are a lot out there which we never see.

The Radio Times comments as well (ignore the political correctness; the film itself is pretty free of such nonsense).



Ancient Greek OCR – progress, perhaps!

A correspondent has sent me a very interesting message from a Bruce Robertson, taken from the Digital Classicists list, which I think might interest people here.

Federico and I have been working quite a bit on Greek OCR this past  year, and have made some advances since the publications below.  We now  have a process on Compute Canada servers using my Gamera-based  ‘Rigaudon’ code

This process undertakes OCR at multiple levels of darkness, uses a  weighted Levenshtein distance correction system that I’ve worked on, and when possible it combines Greek and Latin-script OCR to produce a good  mixed result, preserving information in the app. crit.

This group is probably most interested in looking over the results.

Here’s a typical volume in Teubner serif font, which took about 2h to  run on our 40 cores (all results are pure machine output, without  manual spellcheck or other human intervention):

Here’s a rather challenging papyrological text:

We also have Teubner sans font texts working:

And the more challenging Didot foundry:

And of course, Oxford:

If you’re into bleeding-edge experiments, here’s some Migne:

There are many more, along with some experiments (successful or otherwise) at:

I have set up a public spreadsheet for OCR requests from volumes, here:

and I’d be delighted if anyone on the list wanted to add a request, or just email me with a request. Output will be in standard HOCR or  plain text.

Currently, I’m working on a classifier for Migne, which is a very  challenging but potentially quite useful series of volumes. We’re also  working on implementing an idea Federico had quite a while ago, aligning the output of multiple engines or runs to improve the overall output. This would allow one to add the best of Nick White’s recent important work on Tesseract to the output of Rigaudon, for  instance.

The code is a script written in the Python language.  The code requires that you first install Gamera (also written in Python).  I believe Python can run on Windows as well as on Unix.

If I had any time, I’d be interested to find out how well this runs.  But a caveat: when I looked at the home page, I saw the dreaded words that it talked about “training” the code to recognise characters.  I suspect this stuff is not mature enough for normal people.

All the same, this is excellent work!


The dialogue of the Saint with the mummy of a Graeco-Egyptian: readings in the Life of St. Pisentius

Dioscorus Boles has sent me a couple of links from his Coptic Literature blog which I think will be of wide interest.  The posts are referenced copiously, and of a very high standard.

The first of these is an article on E. Wallis Budge, who published an immense amount of Coptic and ancient Egyptian material.  It includes a portrait picture – interesting to see! – as well as links to the five great collections of Coptic material that he produced.  These volumes are online, which is fortunate; for I remember how they disappeared off the shelves and into “rare books” rooms in our great libraries, shortly after the millennium.  Once in there, of course, they were effectively inaccessible.

The volumes were based on what he called the “Edfu codices”, after the region in which he obtained them.  They came from churches in the Edfu and Esna region.

He also sent me a link to a series of posts on death and the afterlife in Coptic literature.  I admit when I saw this, that I was not immediately enthralled!  But I clicked on a random post, and found treasure.

The fifth post in the series is on the encounter of St. Pisentius with a Hellene mummy, with whom he had a conversation on these subjects.  It is, of course, taken from the Vita or “saint’s life”.  The article begins by saying who St. Pisentius was — for which of us would know? He was,  in fact, a Coptic saint of the late 6th-early 7th century.  The article then continues by surveying the manuscript tradition for this work.  This also is very useful.  Myself, I always want to know how any text has reached us.  In the case of the Life of St. Pisentius, it has come down in Sahidic, Bohairic, and various Arabic versions.  Wallis Budge translated it.

Well, how interesting could a Coptic saint’s life be?  In this case, very interesting indeed.  The quotation is introduced as follows:

In the recesses of that mountain, Pisentius found a tomb in which he took refuge. It possessed “a large hall about 80 feet square, and its roof was supported by six pillars. This hall was made probably under one of the kings of the New Empire, and had been turned at a much later period, perhaps in one of the early centuries of the Christian era, into a common burial-place for the mummies of people of all classes. At all events, when John was taken there by his master the hall contained many mummified bodies, and the air was heavy with the odour of funerary spices.

Pisentius and his disciple opened some of the coffins, which were very large, with much decorated inner coffins. One mummy was swathed in silk, and must therefore have belonged to the third or fourth century of our era. As John was about to leave Pisentius he noticed on one of the pillars a small roll of parchment, and when Pisentius had opened it he read therein the names of all the people who had been buried in that tomb. The roll was probably written in demotic, and it is quite possible that the bishop could read this easily.”[21]

In that Pharaonic hall, used as little necropolis for some mummified dead from the Roman period, Pisentius had a curious encounter and intriguing conversation with a mummy, which was heard by John when he returned the following Saturday with water and food supply for the week, and later documented it in his book.

We know that the mummy belonged to a man from Erment;[22] and although we are not given his name, his parents’ names we are given as Agricolaos and Eustathia, and that they were Hellenes. Furthermore, we are told that the family worshipped Poseidon, the Greek God of the Sea. That encounter with that mummy reveals a great deal of what Copts of that age thought of death and afterlife.

Then follows the excerpt, and then a discussion of the content.  The post is everything that a scholarly post should be, and the text itself is fascinating!

I haven’t time today to look at the other posts.  But clearly the Coptic Literature blog has reached a high standard indeed.  Well done!


From my diary

A virus has left me stuck at home, and I am therefore in need of  the less taxing kind of literature to pass the time.  I have fallen back on Cicero’s Letters to his friends, in the two volume Penguin edition from 1978, translated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey.[1]

Letters are a strange form of literature to peruse, and require a certain state of mind to read with enjoyment.  They are usually short, which makes them slip down easily.  At the same time they are inevitably very “bitty”.  Each is a short piece of this, a short piece of that.  There is a correspondent whom we will not know and who needs to be identified by a brief well-considered footnote.  This may not be an end-note, under any circumstances, for the reader will die of flipping to and fro very quickly.  But it may be supplemented by a longer end-note for important personages now known only to specialists.

Cicero’s letters were collected in antiquity, probably by Tiro his secretary.  He kept copies of his letters — I have just read one where a correspondent had torn up a letter and then apologised for doing so, and Cicero replies that he need not worry, “I have it here”, and that a fresh copy can be sent.  Books of letters addressed to particular recipients circulated.  These included great men of the late Republic, like Cato and Julius Caesar, which have not come down to us.  But sixteen books of letters have reached us, so it makes for a lengthy correspondence even so.  Thankfully the Penguin translation reordered the letters into roughly chronological sequence.

In a separate volume are the great mass of letters to Cicero’s friend and publisher, Atticus.  I confess that I have always found this very hard to read, partly because Penguin issued it in a single monster volume, rather than splitting it into two.  I could wish that some publisher took the obvious step and combined the two sets of letters, producing a  set of four volumes in chronological order.

For the “story” of the book is the story of Cicero’s life.  That is what unites the letters, and makes it possible for the reader to read such a mass of short pieces.  In two separate series it is quite difficult to do.

The Roman attitudes expressed in these volumes can sometimes be quite alien.  In one case Cicero writes to ask a friend to hunt down an escaped library slave of his own named Dionysius and return him, evidently for punishment.  In a later letter Vatinius, then on campaign in Dalmatia, writes to say he has heard that the slave is hiding among a local tribe, and states his intention of ferretting him out, wherever he goes, in order to please Cicero.  The idea that Dionysius should be left alone occurs to neither.  Their own advantage is all.

Likewise there is a casual indifference to marriage and divorce.  The noble Romans of this period dumped their wives at their pleasure, while the abuse of their slaves in every household was taken for granted.  Meanwhile their cradles were empty and their lineages perished.  Their society was morally bankrupt.  Tyranny followed.

  1. [1]Pleasingly this is currently available from Oxford University Press repackaged into a single volume, here, ISBN13: 9781555402648, for a mere $32.  The translation is also in the current Loeb edition.

Press and web censorship to be introduced in Britain

It’s mildly unbelievable, but apparently it’s true.

The new regulation will cover “websites containing news-related material” apparently.  That means not only ones such as this, but the one run by your local parish council too.  And the one written by just about anyone with a blog.

We now live in a world in which millions of people publish things each day.  Yet the system of regulation being proposed seems a throwback to a time when only a few newspaper editors wrote “news-related material”.  What is your twitter feed, if not a stream of “news-related material”?

I grew up in a central African country run by various dictators who controlled the newspapers.  Perhaps that is why I find the idea of state regulation of the press in Britain so shocking.

A big part of me thinks that this is a disaster in the making.  A small part of me hopes these proposals go through so we can see the utter balls up that follows.

The measure is being called “regulation”.  Unfortunately it seems unlikely to be anything but censorship.

I do not see how it can avoid meaning that a committee of establishment types will censor the media to prevent the expression of any opinions that they object to.  Furthermore the honest reporting of any news that they do not wish reported honestly will be prevented.  This may surprise; but I remember how the mention that criminals were black, or Romanian, or whatever — and very frequently the culprits were immigrants — was banned, on the grounds that it was “inflammatory”.  So we must expect this same approach to become endemic.  Members of favoured groups who commit crimes will not be associated with that group; members of unfavoured groups, such as Catholics, will be used to smear the group in question.  Indeed this happens quite a lot already.  But now the websites that do report the facts will be shut down.

The “independent regulator” will be run by the same sorts of people who run the “independent” BBC.  The establishment already decide who runs the latter; who else will they choose for the former?  Yet the BBC news on teletext is already so grossly censored (courtesy of political correctness rather than threat of legal punishment) that some of the news items on it make very little sense as read.

We do need to name the guilty.  The pressure for this evil has come from the political left.  I would imagine that their motivation is to control the UK printed media (which, being purchased by the public, is mostly of the right).  The addition about blogs only came to notice in the last few days.

It does, of course, affect this blog too.  While I post as little as I can on political issues, I have felt obliged to post on free speech.  This act will affect what I can say.

Milton, thou should’st be living at this hour…[1]

  1. [1]

From my diary

I’ve been looking at some of the entries for Syria in the CIMRM, the collection of all Mithraic monuments and inscriptions.  In particular the two altars at Sia have drawn my attention.  One is easy enough to deal with — I have a photo from the original publication, plus another from the web.

But the other one is hard to deal with.  It hadn’t been published when the CIMRM came out in 1955.  All that existed was a note in Syria journal in 1952 (thankfully online at, promising publication together with other monuments from the Hauran by a certain Mr.  Sabeh, who was an official at the Damascus Museum at the time.  It’s really pretty hard to find a publication from that!

Google searching suggests that possibly any publication was in “Annales Archéologiques de Syrie”, whatever that is, and that the person was a Joseph Sabeh.

But of course in 1956 the Suez incident took place, at which the USA attacked its own allies, Britain and France, and gave support to its enemy Nasser.  The collapse of British and French power left a vaccuum in the region which has never been filled, and caused 50 years of constant violence and tyranny, so that was a very strange policy for the US government of the time to pursue.  But it also meant the collapse of westernising initiatives in all these countries, and it may be that Mr Sabeh ended up hanging from a lamppost, as savagery returned to the region, rather than publishing anything.

It is annoying to be unable to find material of this kind.  Interestingly all the later references to these altars suggest to me that nobody else has ever seen the publication either!

Worse yet, I have found a photograph of a smashed and reassembled tauroctony, apparently held in the Damascus Museum.  There is no indication anywhere as to its origins, and I do not find it in CIMRM.

It’s all a sobering reminder that, while the web has made much information more accessible, it has largely done so within the region of Christendom, of western Europe and the US.  Outside that pale, little is available.


From my diary

I have been collecting images of Mithraic monuments from the web and identifying them, and adding them to my Mithras site.  It’s fun; and there are more to do.

I’ve also written a short section in the site on Mithras and the Taurobolium.  Did the cultists of Mithras perform the taurobolium, a ceremony of being washed in bull’s blood?  No, they didn’t.  Or, if they did, no evidence records it.  It’s a ritual of Cybele, not Mithras.

Jolly useful to find that I had a PDF of Duthoy’s monograph on the taurobolium on disk when I needed it!