More on Old St Peters in Rome

This morning I found some more material of interest about Old St Peters in Rome.

Firstly, I found a rather good line-drawing of the appearance of the church here.[1]

oldstpetersdiagramThis is really helpful in trying to visualise Constantine’s basilica.

The “atrium” at the front looked like this (drawing by G. Grimaldi), although normally it must have been full of people.  The murals on the wall of the church were medieval.old_st_peters_grimaldi

A partial map is here:

old_st_peters_alfarano_mapBut I learn that a detailed set of drawings and plans was made by Martino Ferrabosco, just before the demolition of the old church.  His very detailed and labelled plan is here (warning: the zoomable online reader caused my eyes to malfunction for 10 minutes with flickering zigzag lines):


And the following image is a detail from an image in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493):oldstpeters_1493

I wonder where the Ferrabosco dossier is?

UPDATE: It seems that Martino Ferrabosco published Libro de l’Architettura di San Pietro in 1620.  An article (in Spanish) about it is here.

  1. [1]The source URL given on that page has vanished, so I don’t know the source of it.

De’Cavalieri’s image of the Septizonium.

Well!  The British Museum seems to have quite a few engravings by Giovanni Battista De’Cavalieri online.  Browsing them here, I quickly see that some come from a 1569 book entitled, promisingly, Urbis Romae aedificiorum illustrium quae supersunt reliquiae, i.e. Remains of famous buildings of the city of Rome.  It contains some fascinating images.

Here’s the one of the Septizonium:



Another image of old St Peters in Rome

Old St Peters in Rome was not demolished until the end of the 16th century, so there ought to be quite a number of engravings and artists’ depictions of it.  I confess, tho, that I know little about early engravers, and so don’t know where to look.

The following item, from 1575, is by Giovanni Battista De’Cavalieri, and shows the drum of the new basilica rising behind the old portico.  Thankfully the British Museum make it available online here, with the explanation “The ceremony of the opening of the Porta Santa for the Jubilee of 1575, with crowds of pilgrims standing in the Piazza San Pietro with the new cathedral rising behind the old one.”

old_st_peters_portico_1575What I don’t know is how this engraving was originally issued.  Was it really a free-standing item?  Or part of a book?

It’s very interesting to see, all the same.  That portico at the front is conspicuous in all the engravings.

UPDATE: Joseph Yarbrough has sent me a link to De Cavalieri’s book Urbis Romae aedificorum illustriumque on here.  This has marvellous images of the Roman monuments in his day (although not this print).


An evening in Cambridge, a strange phrase in a book, and a man who ran away

Staying in a hotel with nothing to read is not a pleasant experience.  So I decided to drive into Cambridge town centre after work today.

Those familiar with the city will know that such a decision is not idly taken.  The hopeless congestion, caused by two decades of mingled spite and negligence on the part of the city council, means that a traveller risks being stuck in gridlock for an hour.  However I was more fortunate, and 20 minutes later managed to park in the Park Street car park.

It seems that Cambridge does not stop in the evening.  My first port of call was Heffers bookshop, which I was gratified to learn was open until 6pm.  Surely they could sell me a book?

A look in the detective fiction aisle produced nothing.  John Maddox Roberts appears to have ceased producing his “SPQR” novels – the only series on my shelves where I have thrown away the first two volumes but bought all the rest.  Lindsay Davis may still produce her “Falco” novels, but sadly she forgot how to write some years ago now, so they aren’t worth reading.  Stephen Saylor’s “Gordianus the Finder” are too low-life for my taste.

The sci-fi/fantasy aisle was no more productive.  What happened to the books full of vision and aspiration, of struggles that were not wholly vain?  The category has merged with horror, and I have no desire to read the results.

Perhaps something classical will do?  A search in the basement led me to the Loebs, and on display next to them was a curious volume: Robert Knapp’s Invisible Romans, about the lives of ordinary people in ancient Rome.

On the face of it, this was interesting, so I opened the book at random and found myself – inevitably – reading about the woes of a slave’s life.  My eye fell on a familiar quotation, given slightly differently from how I recall it:

Unchastity is a disgrace for the freeborn, a necessity in a slave, and a duty for the freedman.

This was presented as evidence of normal practice; but of course it isn’t.  Seneca (properly referenced, thankfully) gives it as an example of exaggeration, of over-statement to the point of producing mirth among the hearer.

Well, it’s a minor point, and I carried on.  But then (p.137) I read a paragraph describing the routine rape of slaves by their owners which contained the extraordinary sentence:

Nothing in the New Testament speaks out against this sexual abuse.

My first thought was that it must be some time since Mr Knapp has read the New Testament.   But on closer examination I realised that this was awfully like a lawyer’s phrase: something that leaves the reader with the idea that the NT endorses such evil, while providing deniability, to any accusation that this is a lie, by carefully using the words “speak out” instead of “endorse”.   I’d rather not read books that engage in that sort of thing, and so back on the shelf it went.

But while I was attempting to look at the book, another chap wandered up into the same little bay.  After a little while, getting silently in each others’ way, in that embarassed way you do, I murmured apologetically, “Rather small, these bays.”

“Yes they are.  Right, got my three books,” he snapped, and almost ran away, so quickly did he leave!  Poor chap.  Perhaps it isn’t done to speak to strangers in Heffers.

Anyway, I left Heffers empty-handed.   In Waterstones I was luckier – a magazine and a volume of verse fit the bill.  Indeed Waterstones seemed to have better stock, while their unobtrusive air-conditioning was very welcome on what was becoming a very warm evening indeed.  A sandwich from a Subway and I was all set.

But I shall always wonder what that poor chap in Heffers thought I wanted!


Some early engravings of the Septizonium

I have blogged before about the Septizonium, a monumental facade constructed by Septimus Severus at the foot of the Palatine where it faced the end of the Appian Way.  It seems to have had no function other than to impress the visitor.  The last remains of it were demolished to provide materials for new St. Peters.

Here are three early 17th c. engravings of the monument, prior to demolition, which I found today on Flickr; by Du Perac, Sadeler, and Schenk.


Greek and Latin Epigraphy – an absolute beginners’ guide

A marvellous resource has appeared online here.  It’s by Onno van Nijf, and is named the “The Absolute Beginners’ Guide to Greek and Roman Epigraphy”.

Since I don’t know anything about this myself, it’s wonderful to find an orientation guide.




Struck by the Lightning Source … right in the Origen … ouch!

The Origen book – a text and translation of his works on Ezekiel, including masses of catena material – is complete!  This afternoon, after a mighty struggle with the crummy online interface that Lightning Source Inc provide their hapless customers, I managed to upload the files and order the full proofs, complete with covers and dust-jackets.  Yay!

Less pleasing was my opinion of the following screen, displayed by their system, which showed what percentage of the cover price I would receive, after allowing Amazon (etc) 20%, and deducting LSI’s own fees to manufacture the book.


Yes, that’s right: of a $45 cover price I get $25.   It doesn’t pay, this game.

Never mind.  We’ll sell a few copies of the thing, and then get it online.  But it should look very impressive in printed form.  Really I think it will!


A time to hold and a time to give – when to pass on old books

Today I made a decision to do something necessary, yet it was a wrench.  I decided to give away my copy of the 1608 Commelin edition of Tertullian’s works.

I bought it over the internet, years ago.  In those days we had no PDFs online.  The only way to get hold of the detailed apparatus, found in early editions, of the works of Tertullian was to venture onto the market and buy copies.

Indeed most Tertullian scholars have little collections of early editions; the 1539 of Rhenanus, the 1545 Paris edition, the 1550 of Gelenius – if they could find one – and the 1583 Pamelius edition, high-point of the counter-reformation scholarship.

My Commelin is a reprint of the Pamelius.  It is still bound in the original ornate white leather binding, a bit battered after the centuries but perfectly sound.  The book itself has clearly seen little use.

I got it from a German book dealer.  It arrived in a big yellow Deutsche Post box – for it is a folio volume, and some two inches thick.  And in that box it has remained; for, like most people, I live in a little house and I have no bookshelves suitable for folio-sized volumes.  There seemed no point in taking it out, merely to expose it to dust.

Also it would need to rest on its side.  I knew better than to stand it on end, thereby placing the whole weight of this heavy volume on its ancient stitching.  Where to put it?

This has been the question for many years.  I have seldom opened it.  Once it sat in a cupboard, inside its box.  For the last couple of years, or maybe more — how quickly the years pass these days, without my being aware of them — it has sat, big and obtrusive, atop a set of bookshelves that I constructed myself in younger days.

No more.  Today I decided that it was time for us to part.  I can’t sell it.  I don’t know the rare books market, and I don’t live near any dealers.  I could post it, and get it back, and do all that; but I do not care to, and I should certainly be taken advantage of.

Instead I have agreed with a fellow Tertullian scholar to donate it to him.  He will treasure it, I am sure.  Tomorrow I shall take it to the post office and send it on its way.

It has long been my policy not to keep a book unless I believe that I will read it again, or, in the case of reference books, have use of it in future.  This is particularly essential for novels, for which most of us have a tyrannous appetite.  Unless you have some similar policy, you will quickly find your book cases, and then your house, filled with books which you have no appetite to read.  I have a pile in the corner of one room, to which I assign books that I believe I will not read again; and, if after a suitable period, a book is still there then I dispose of it.  I took two bags full of books to a charity shop yesterday, in fact.

It is harder to know what to do with scholarly books that we no longer need.  Some have donated their books to libraries; yet I know too much about libraries and their practices to suppose that any such donation would be more than temporary.

Let us accept the fact that one day they must go on, and let us donate them freely to our fellow workers.  They will value them; and we need not grieve at their departure, knowing that they go to serve another as they have served us.

For one day all of our books will pass into the hands of others.  Rough hands will pull at our shelves and throw our treasures into boxes, most of which will perhaps end up in some second-hand shop.  The little paperbacks we bought at college, once fresh and bright as we ourselves then were, now foxed and yellowed, and which have accompanied us through life, and are almost friends to us, will end up in some second-hand shop.  If they are lucky they will pass into the hands of one whom we might have been pleased to call friend.

Sic transit gloria.  For the world and all that is in it are always passing away.

But the Christian has hopes of more than this from life!  He can thank God for Good Friday.  And so can all of us, if we sign up with them.

NOTE: Annoyingly WordPress deleted a large section of this post when I posted it.  I will try to recover it from memory.