Abandoning the transcription of al-Makin project

In any language group the first literature that we read is usually the histories of themselves, by themselves.  In Arabic Christian literature there are five such histories: Agapius, Euthychius, Al-Makin, Bar Hebraeus, and one other whose name I can never remember.

Of all of these, the 13th century history of al-Makin has attracted my attention for a while.  The first half has never been printed.  The second half was printed in the 17th century, but the editor died before finishing it.  The remainder of the second half was printed recently.  I felt that I would like to make it all more accessible, so I obtained – with difficulty – some PDF’s of microfilms of manuscripts.  I decided that the first thing to do was simply transcribe one of these, and create an electronic text.  This would make the text accessible, and it would be possible for non-Arabists like me to read it using Google Translate.  A transcriber in Syria was engaged, via a French lady, and off we went.

Unfortunately the project simply will not make progress.  I have so far spent $600, but I have nothing to show for it beyond chunks of text, pages in the wrong order, and so forth.  Small problems become large problems.  Trivial issues block all progress.  Things simply do not get sorted out – things that, in Roman script, would be the work of half an hour to remedy.

I have decided, reluctantly, to do something that I never do.  I am going to abandon the project.  Situated as I am, I have no power to make anything happen.  So I am simply eating my heart out in vain.

I will lose the money, of course.  But I will get my life back.

My life, in the end, is worth much more.

Why, precisely, it is impossible to work with people in the middle east, to do even the simplest tasks, I do not know.   I suppose that this is why those countries are poor, and will always remain poor.

I apologise to anyone who was hoping to see this.  But unless I actually learn Arabic myself and do the job myself, it seems that nothing will be done.


Is “Happy Birthday” an egregrious example of fraudulent claim of copyright?

Techdirt today have published an article making the extraordinary claim that one of the world’s leading music publishers has fraudulently collected hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties for the song, “Happy Birthday”, when – they say – it is in fact out of copyright:

Lawsuit Filed To Prove Happy Birthday Is In The Public Domain; Demands Warner Pay Back Millions Of License Fees

Happy Birthday remains the most profitable song ever. Every year, it is the song that earns the highest royalty rates, sent to Warner/Chappell Music (which makes millions per year from “licensing” the song).  However, as we’ve been pointing out for years, the song is almost certainly in the public domain. Robert Brauneis did some fantastic work a few years ago laying out why the song’s copyright clearly expired many years ago, even as Warner/Chappell pretends otherwise. …

The issue, as we’ve noted, is that it’s just not cost effective for anyone to actually stand up and challenge Warner Music, who has strong financial incentive to pretend the copyright is still valid. Well, apparently, someone is pissed off enough to try. The creatively named Good Morning to You Productions, a documentary film company planning a film about the song Happy Birthday, has now filed a lawsuit concerning the copyright of Happy Birthday and are seeking to force Warner/Chappell to return the millions of dollars it has collected over the years. That’s going to make this an interesting case.

I don’t pretend to know the rights and wrongs of the case.   The accusation, that Warner’s knew that the song was out of copyright, will take some proving.  What they may well achieve is to show that it is out of copyright.

The main impressions, that I take away from all of this, are two-fold.

Firstly, it is pretty plain that the law is infernally complicated.  How could such a lawsuit be possible, if the law were clear, simple and obvious?  How could there be any doubt, one way or the other?

Secondly, it is also plain that the time-limits on copyright have become absurdly extended.  All those involved in the production of this song are long dead.   I don’t suppose Jack Warner – himself dead – was born when the song was composed.  How is it in the public interest for the rights to exploit a 19th century song to be the property of an unrelated corporation  in the 21st century?

Copyright is not a moral right.  It did not exist for the majority of the history of mankind.  It was found to be in the interest of society that those who turned an idea into a physical product should be able to obtain monetary reward from it.  In consequence, in the 18th century, a copyright of a couple of decades was brought into existence.[1]  Nobody objects to this.  But a whole industry has grown up, subverting the principle in the interests of the publishing industry.

The case will be an interesting one.


John the Lydian on “July” – now online in English

For the last few months, each month we’ve had a chapter from a 6th century antiquarian on the festivals and days of the month.  Our translation of John the Lydian, De Mensibus book 4, has now reached July.

As ever Mischa Hooker has done a super job on it, with copious footnotes.  This month contains a bunch of stuff about Julius Caesar; and a collection of accounts of the origins of the Nile.  I learn from the footnotes that part of this is based on the remains of Seneca’s account, but continues where our manuscripts break off, probably from a more complete text.

Here it is:

As usual, this is public domain.  Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.


From my diary

It’s hotter than hell in the office in which I work, which is not helping me get anything done!  However I’m also close to Cambridge University Library, and I’ve made two trips there in the evening this week, in search of books and articles.

I’m still thinking about Severian of Gabala.  I’ve now obtained a copy of Sever J. Voicu, “Severien de Gabala,” Dictionnaire de spiritualite 14 (Paris, 1990), 752-63.  This article is essential for anyone interested in Severian.  It lists all his works and adds notes on each, over and above what is found in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum.   I must go through this and revise my own list of works accordingly.

My colleague Albocicade, who is collecting French translations of Severian, and OCR’d the Voicu article, has noticed that the Voicu article notes the existence of an unpublished French thesis, J. Kecskeméti, Sévérien de Gabala. Homélie inédite sur le Saint-Esprit, Paris, 1978 (Worldcat and IdRef), on CPG 4947.  It might be possible for a Frenchman like himself to access this.  Here’s hoping.

Bryson Sewell has sent me a couple of pages of his upcoming translation of Severian’s De Spiritu Sancto.  I think this is liable to contain theology: everybody hide now!  So far he’s started to talk about the difference between the Son being “begotten of the Father”, while the Spirit “proceeds from the Father”.  Good news that this is well underway.

My main other activity in the last couple of days has been obtaining some materials for the Mithras temples at Santa Prisca in Rome (quite amazing, this one), on the island of Ponza, and the one at Santa Capua Vetere.  A commenter on my Mithras website asked about the date of the Santa Prisca Mithraeum.  It seems to have been setup in the wine-cellar of an imperial property, which had once been the private house of Trajan before he became emperor.  The wine cellar even had a little water supply of its own, for cleaning the amphorae.  Somewhere else in the cellars is, perhaps, the origins of the church of Santa Prisca.  But I haven’t come across anything about that yet.


Severian bibliography updated

A couple of tweaks to my Severian  bibliography.  As ever, this is not an academic bibliography but just something for my own use from which to commission translations.

  • Severian of Gabala – works (PDF)
  • Severian of Gabala – works (.docx)

UPDATE: Forgot to add notes from Homiliæ Pseudo-Chrysostomicæ.

UPDATE: Newer versions here.


Unpublished homilies by Severian of Gabala which are not listed in the CPG?

I’m preparing to commission an English translation of CPG 4188, Severian of Gabala’s De Spiritu Sancto (=PG 52. 813-826).  While searching the web for any indication of an existing translation – for I wouldn’t want to duplicate – I came across an article by Danish scholar Holger Villadsen here.  Then, blessedly, I came across a draft of it here, OCR’d, thereby allowing me to use Google Translate to follow the text.

Villadsen was going to edit some of Severian’s homilies for a new volume in the GCS series, but was obliged to withdraw.  So he has some familiarity with the manuscripts, unlike myself.

He lists a couple of interesting-sounding homilies, which are not listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum, and have never been printed.

  • Contra Ioudaeos et Graecos.  Supposedly R.F. Regtuit of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam 1987, included the text of this in his dissertation.  Incipit=πάλιν Ιουδαϊκή κακία.  But Villadsen does not list Regtuit’s 1992 publication of an edition and translation of CPG 4204, In incarnationem domini.  I have this, and it is plainly a thesis.  So I wonder whether there is confusion here.  Unfortunately Regtuit’s book is not to hand.
  • Ad imaginem.  This apparently exists in manuscript cod. Paris. gr. 758, ff. 45-52v.  Incipit=Πρώην ἡμῖν ὁ λόγο.

Note that the original draft contained the incipit for both, which I give; but the (unspecified) font was pre-unicode and the text is gibberish.  If anyone reading this recognises the encoding, or can work out what the words must be, please add a note in the comments.

UPDATE: Fixed incipits – thank you (I presume “logo” should be “logos”!)



Severian of Gabala – On repentance and compunction – now online in English

Bryson Sewell has now translated for us Severian of Gabala’s sermon on repentance, De paenitentia et compunctione (CPG 4186).  This is another rather splendid ancient sermon, as most of those attributed to Severian seem to be (so far!).  Whether they are really by Severian may reasonably be doubted a lot of the time, I admit.

Anyway here it is.  It’s also at Archive.org.  As ever, these are public domain.  Use them however you like.


Notes on Walter Bauer’s “Orthodoxy and Heresy” – part 5. Afterthoughts

It is now a year since I wrote four posts examining the first chapter of Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy, and others on points of detail.   All the posts may be found here.

I had intended to write a further post, summing up what I had found.  But in the end I never did.  Because by that point I had already lost confidence in Bauer; and the labour involved in dealing with his book was greater than a blogger like myself can spare from real life.

Rather than let the series dribble out, I would like to summarise the lasting impression that this chapter of his book left upon me.

Bauer constructed a weird picture of events in which the Marcionites were the original Christians in the Syriac-speaking region centred on Edessa, and remained so until the 4th century.

The ancient sources do not say this, so he debunked sources selectively – not without ad hominem arguments.  One particularly unpleasing element was that he started with the Abgar literature, accepted by all as unreliable, in order to cast doubt by association upon the accepted sequence of events.  At the same time he stated his aversion to actually collecting the data at all.   While casting doubt upon every source that told the standard story, he expressed no such doubts about any element within them that could be used for his novel narrative.

Now this is bad scholarship, but of course may merely indicate incompetence.  We should never presume that a writer is dishonest, merely because he talks nonsense.  It is tedious when people do this, isn’t it?

Bauer’s thesis is contradicted by a list of bishops preserved in Eusebius’ Church History (5.23.4) indicating explicitly the presence of a bishop in Edessa – Osrhoene – in the 200’s.  Bauer points out that the Latin translation of Eusebius omits this bishop, and suggests that because the Greek manuscripts are later, then the Latin is more reliable.  How much later he does not say.

This is the key nexus for understanding Bauer’s work.

How did Bauer know what the Latin and Greek said?  Undoubtedly as a German scholar he consulted the standard GCS text by Schwartz, the Berlin series, which contains both.  We can do the same, and more readily in these days of the internet.  It is rather misleading not to tell the reader that the Latin manuscripts are 7-8th, and the Greek a mere 9-10th.  That is not a great gap.  The text implies a considerable gap.

But what Bauer does not tell us is that the GCS edition records the existence of a very ancient Syriac translation.  Copies of it must have existed in whatever library Bauer used.  Syriac scholars are legion in Germany.  So how could Bauer not have looked at this?  It requires almost no effort to discover that the manuscripts of this are 5th century; or that it, like the Greek, contains the name of the bishop in question.  How could Bauer have honestly not looked at this?   Had it too supported his claim, this would have been damning indeed.  But, as it does not, this ends the whole argument there and then.

For, if we use Bauer’s own argument, in his own terms, the Syriac translation disproves his claim that Eusebius is interpolated; if Eusebius is not interpolated then there was a Christian bishop at Edessa in communion with Christians elsewhere in the 200’s; and his best evidence for Marcionites is a century later.  The argument is over.  Bauer is wrong.

So … how could Bauer not know this?  How could he not mention it?

Many will remember Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, a novel that turns upon the disgrace and death of an academic for concealing evidence when writing his PhD thesis – evidence that he knew disproved it.  Sayers’ novel is not that remote in time from Bauer.

It was this discovery that sickened me of Bauer.  I can find little joy in reading work by an author whom I know that I can’t trust to be honest with me.  Does anyone?

Other points, not themselves final, then crowded in.  The manipulative-seeming presentation of the data takes on a sinister status after this.

Worse yet, Bauer wrote in 1934.  He was employed by the Third Reich.  The state church was eagerly subservient to the contemptuous Nazis.  Promoting the Marcionites as the original Christians was very congenial to the fetid attempts in the period to rewrite history, produce an Aryan Jesus, get rid of the Old Testament and remake the church subservient to the swastika.

I have not picked up Bauer since.  It isn’t worth my time.  Nor yours.


A book describing the ceiling of the vanished Septizonium in Rome

A couple of weeks ago Ste. Trombetti posted on Twitter another couple of finds about the Septizonium.  This was a facade in front of the Palatine hill in Rome, erected at the end of the Appian Way as a kind of formal entrance to the palaces, by Septimius Severus.  It was pulled down in the 16th century, at which time only one end was still standing, and the materials used for various building projects.

The first of these is a guidebook to the wonders of Rome, Francesco Albertini (1469-1530?), Mirabilia Romae, 1520.[1]

albertini_mirabilia_romaeA rough translation: “About the Septizonium, and some epitaphs.  The Septizonium is between the palace and the church of St. Gregory, of which there are standing three orders of columns high, not far from the Circus Maximus.  Near this they say is the place of the tomb of the emperor Severus the African: concerning whom see Julius Capitolinus writes in the life …. (?) … Spartianus says the same” (not sure about the rest).

Another item by Sebastiano Serlio, “Il Terzo Libro delle Antichità di Roma”, 1544, p.82.[2]  This has a diagram of the vaulted inside of the roof of the Septizonium, and measurements of the extent of the building then standing, made by the author, so is very valuable indeed.  The south end is at the top:

serlio_terzo_libroFinally – and nothing to do with the Septizonium – here on Twitter is a drawing of the Meta Sudans fountain, also now vanished, by  Giacomo Lauro, “Splendore dell’antica e moderna Roma”, 1641:

giacomo_lauro_meta_sudans_1641I think we may all be grateful to Mr. Trombetti for the time spent in these online archives, locating these.

  1. [1]Online as a scan of a microfilm at the BNF here, and as a properly scanned book at the BSB here.
  2. [2]Online at BNF here.

Notes on the manuscript tradition of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”

A slim undated hardback of an old English translation of the “meditations” of the emperor Marcus Aurelius came into my hands last week for a couple of pounds in a seaside second-hand bookshop.  The long preface by the unnamed translator  -who proves to be George Long, a 19th c. scholar – was a bit odd, but contained some definite gems such as the following:

A man’s greatness lies not in wealth and station, as the vulgar believe, not yet in his intellectual capacity, which is often associated with the meanest moral character, the most abject servility to those in high places and arrogance to the poor and lowly; but a man’s true greatness lies in the consciousness of an honest purpose in life, founded on a just estimate of himself and everything else, on frequent self-examination, and a steady obedience to the rule which he knows to be right, without troubling himself, as the emperor says he should not, about what others may think or say, or whether they do or do not do that which he thinks and says and does.

Is this not well said?

But it left me wondering, as I always do, how the often-translated thoughts of Marcus Aurelius in 12 books came down to us.  A search for an edition proving fruitless, I eventually found a JSTOR article that enlightened me.[1]

The manuscripts are:

  • A – Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1950, 14th century.  This is the only complete text.
  • T – A now lost manuscript (labelled P by Farquharson) used by Xylander for the editio princeps of Zurich, 1559.  This too was complete, although Xylander describes it as mutilated.[2]
  • D – Cod. Darmstadtinus 1773, 14th century.  This contains extracts from books 1-9.  The text is very close to that found in A.
  • M – Cod. Monacensis 323, 16th century.  This contains short excerpts from books 2-4, and also 7.50.
  • C – Excerpts in several manuscripts from books 1-4.20.
  • W – Excerpts in several manuscripts; 4.33, and excerpts from books 4.33, 6, 7, 8, and 11.
  • X – Excerpts in several manuscripts; 4.49 and excerpts from books 5-12.
  • The ‘Folium Treverense’ containing 5.6.6-5.12.3.
  • There are also quotations from books 2 and 4-12 in Bryennius, a 15th century Byzantine scholar, who presumably had access to a complete manuscript.

An edition is referred to as well – that of J. Dalfen, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus: Ad se ipsum libri XII, Teubner: Leipzig, 1979; 2nd revised ed. 1987.  But of course this is not online.  An earlier edition of I.H. Leopold, 1908, ought to be accessible online somewhere?

  1. [1]D.A. Rees, Joseph Bryennius and the text of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”, Classical Quarterly, N.S. 50 (2000), 584-596.  JSTOR
  2. [2]M. Antonini Imperatoris Romani, Et Philosophi De seipso seu vita sua Libri XII.   Xylander is online here at the BSB.