Having the right tools

It is wonderful what a difference it makes to have the right tools.

Years ago I obtained a thesis from the US, for which I was charged like a wounded bull.  It was printed double-sided, and I had no sheet-feeder able to handle that.  Today I found two very old Finereader projects on disk, neither comprising more than 70 pages, and both clearly scanned by doing a bunch, first one side, then the other.  It must have been very labour-intensive, for I never proceeded further.

Anyway a correspondent caused me to look for it again.  Thankfully I was able to find the paper copy.  But these days I have a Futijsu Scansnap which is designed to turn bunches of papers into PDFs.  It made short work of the whole document.  Then I numbered the pages in Adobe Acrobat, which revealed one case where two pages had gone through.  I also found that a few pages had acquired a vertical line; these I rescanned.

At the moment Adobe is OCRing the PDF for me.  When it is done, I shall have a nice, compact, 400 dpi copy of the whole thing.

I hardly ever consult the thing; but at least, if I so wish, I can do so easily.

That little document reader was a splendid investment.  When I think of the pain I endure with things which won’t go into it, I am deeply impressed.

There are other advances also.  At my current workplace they have one of these combined scanner-printer-photocopier.  It has a sheet-feeder for copies, and outputs scans to PDF.  I have used it to scan a load of paper articles early one morning into PDF.  But … if you look closely … it will scan A3 as well, through the same A4-looking sheetfeeder.  Which means that even bulky old A3 copies – and who hasn’t got at least some of these? – can be turned into PDFs and the paper discarded!

Worth looking out for at your work.  After all, it doesn’t use consumables, and is way faster than any home device.  Just make sure nobody is likely to object.


Going a-Rome-ing in August

Readers of twitter will be aware that I went to Rome last Friday, coming back Monday afternoon.  I booked only a couple of weeks earlier, so I had to pay a large sum to the airline.  But the hotel was cheap, relatively.  Even so, the money seemed to vanish!

Going to Rome in August was a bit different.  The traffic is much reduced.  But the sun was truly brutal.  It was 32C in the shade every day – although on Sunday night there was rain and a thunderstorm – which made it impossible to do much outdoors.

Sites close, also.  I walked to the Trevi fountain on my first evening there, only to find it drained and empty.  I had hoped to go and see the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca, which is open at 4pm on the 4th Sunday of the month; but it was closed because it is August.

I stayed at the Hotel Nerva, which is behind the ruins of the temple of Mars Ultor, and right on the imperial forums.  I was shown to my garret – rooms in Rome always seem very small – but fortunately the aircon was on, if not as cool as I would have liked.  I asked for, and  got, a desktop fan as well, which helped quite a bit.

The staff ordered a number of items for me in advance, and also, at my request, asked for the ticket for Santa Prisca.  This is useful if you don’t speak Italian.  They ordered me a “Roma” pass which gave me free use of the underground (trains also airconditioned; stations not), as well as the train to Ostia.  Interestingly I found that you can buy this pass in the arrivals hall at Ciampino, while waiting for your luggage.  They also got me a ticket for the Vatican museums for 10:30 on Monday, although I could have bought this online and printed it off myself.


On Saturday I spent most of the morning at the Museo Nazionale in the Baths of Diocletian, opposite Termini railway station.  It was air-conditioned, it had toilets – although not toilet seats, curiously -, a vending machine for bottled water and sweeties, and … practically no visitors.  This made it ideal for photographing some of the exhibits.  It was also very interesting to find that some exhibits which had been absent last year had returned, and vice versa.  I took quite a collection of photos of the Mithras exhibits using the 10mp camera on my mobile phone.  I’ve not yet done more than copy the photos to my hard disk, however.

Some of the finds from the Mithraeum of S. Stefano Rotondo
Some of the finds from the Mithraeum of S. Stefano Rotondo

For lunch I ventured out to one of the tourist bar-restaurants nearby, and was duly scalped for poor quality food.  Avoid “steak” – I have twice been offered some mass of stringy fat with bits of meat interspersed in it. The bread was nice, but the waiter whisked it away before I could eat much of it!


After that, I headed downtown.  For I had discovered that my 11 euro ticket for the museum would also admit me to the museum site at the Crypta Balbi, where I knew that there was a Mithraeum.  This too was largely empty, and I was able to get myself onto an Italian-speaking tour of the basement areas, including the Mithraeum – rather disappointing, the latter.  The staff were very helpful.  But I must say that the printed materials were profoundly confusing, and it took quite some effort to get oriented!  Upstairs there were Mithraic artefacts!

Remains of a tauroctony in the museum of the Crypta Balbi.
Remains of a tauroctony in the museum of the Crypta Balbi.

Then I walked up to the Pantheon, and then back to the hotel to snooze for a very necessary hour.  Then in the evening I went out, bought a panini at a food shop, and then I sat in the shade next to the Colosseum, and watched the people go to and fro, until the sun went down.

On Sunday I used my Roma pass and took the tube to Pyramide, transferring from there to the train for Ostia Antica (also free).  I have never seen a sign indicating which train is for Ostia Antica; but if you look inside, the tube-train-like panels above the doors indicate the stations to be visited.  The train was airconditioned, which was nice.  On arrival at the station, I walked to the ruins, and became aware how hot it was.  It seemed an interminable walk from the ticket office to the cafeteria, which – and I recommend doing this – I visited first.  It was empty, but I got some food, bought and drank more water, bought a 2 euro site plan in the bookshop, and then I looked to see where the Mithraea were.

Then I ventured out to see if I could find a particular site.  It was bestially hot, and I quickly became aware that it was no fun at all.  I was unable to locate the Mithraeum, and I realised that all I wanted to do was go back to Rome.   So I did, getting back around noon.  It was very good to get back to my nice cool room!

Far too hot in Ostia.
Far too hot in Ostia.

But the room had not been made up!  So I ventured out, and ended up wandering up the backstreets, eventually emerging at Termini.  There is a large Spar supermarket on the far side of the station, which is worth being aware of.  Then back, and, after lying around a lot, out back to the Colosseum.  It was rather threatening with rain.  I walked down to where the Septizonium used to be, but couldn’t see much sign of it.  Then back.  I bought an umbrella from a street vendor, and sat near the Colosseum.  Then it rained!  Up went my umbrella, while everyone else ran for cover, except for a woman sitting not that far from me who got progressively drenched.  For some reason she didn’t have, or buy, an umbrella.  I felt a little sorry for her; but not enough to forgo my own umbrella!  Eventually I spoke to her, and she turned out to be a sports journalist from Plymouth.

On the Monday I went to the Vatican museum.  The pre-booked ticket meant that I could go through the entrance immediately without queuing; but the desks inside to exchange it for a ticket were a disaster.  I emerged feeling very stressed.  I went first to the Pio Christiano gallery, and found the statue of Hippolytus there.  Fortunately this gallery was empty, and indeed was closed later.  The bad news was that the statue was just a cast.  Then to the cafeteria!  Then I went in search of the Mithras monuments, which were in the “room of the animals”, but impossible to see from more than a distance.  There were also some monuments in the Chiaramonti gallery.  But on the whole the experience was awful – a great, sweaty crush of people in corridors too small for them, and no way out.  I felt quite claustrophobic at one point, and eventually ducked under a rope and escaped!!

After that, I went back to the hotel, and got a car to the airport.  I arrived 2 hours before hand, and it took an hour to get through baggage checkin and security.  After sitting on a chair for half an hour, I went through and they were just boarding the priority passengers.  So I had no real time to wait.

I don’t think that I would go to Rome in August again.  It is just too hot to stand in the sun.  But it was very interesting to see, all the same.

UPDATE: The Mithras tauroctonies in the Chiaramonti gallery are these.  Unfortunately none of my photos came out well.

Mithraic monuments in the Chiaramonti gallery in the Vatican museum
Mithraic monuments in the Chiaramonti gallery in the Vatican museum

Mithras, the church of Santa Prisca, and the perils of the imagination

The Mithraeum of Santa Prisca in Rome is of great importance to Mithraic studies because it contains striking wall paintings, with text against the images.  The scenes depict a procession of the seven grades of initiate, and other interesting items.  Among the verses is a statement that “you have saved us after the shedding of the eternal blood”, which has attracted attention.  The mithraeum will be open to visitors at 4pm on Sunday 24th August, and I intend to be in Rome and go and see it.  Apparently it stands on the Aventine Hill, just south of the Circus Maximus.

A long view of the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca
A long view of the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca

This week I have been collecting the literature about the place.  I have visited Cambridge University Library and stood over their photocopiers, not once but twice!

One item gave me especial difficulty: Krautheimer’s Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae.  This contains an English-language article on the church of Santa Prisca, and a fine piece of work it is too.  But, quite unnecessarily, the series has been printed in double-size volumes, nearly impossible to handle or photocopy.  Each page requires an A3 photocopy; although, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I was able to photocopy it down onto A4.  It’s worth being aware of this series, if you want solid scholarly material, oriented on primary data and with copious bibliography, on the churches of Rome.

The church stands 3 metres above ground level, because it stands atop a platform of Roman brick walls and arches.  This is, in fact, the basement level of a Roman house of imposing dimensions, dated by brick stamps to 95 AD.  It was possibly the private house of Trajan, but perhaps more likely that of his close friend L. Licinius Sura, whose baths stand immediately to the north of the church (as a fragment of the ancient map of Rome shows) and whose house was adjacent to this.  The mithraeum was erected ca. 190 AD in one of the cellars, and destroyed some time at the end of the 4th century (supposedly – it is hard to know exactly when).

I was going to photocopy the archaeological report also, which runs to 520+ pages, with more than a 100 plates, until I realised that this would cost me around $80!  Fortunately an interlibrary loan is promised, and my little scanner at home will do the deed.

One reason why I read Krautheimer was that I wanted to know about supposed Christian archaeology in the area.  There is a tremendous amount of false information on this point in circulation.  Web-pages confidently assert that an early Christian church was also based in the cellars!   Others say that a small building next door was “church-like”.  All these claims go unreferenced, of course.   Apparently the excavation report has a couple of pages making some claim of this sort, but I don’t know on what basis.  One writer, in a review of the archaeological report in 1965, went so far as to say:

Why, as stated by the authors, is the same physical proximity between Christians and devotees of Mithras found under San Clemente and at least once in Ostia? How or why did they live side by side rather peacefully for nearly 150 years? Are the similarities between the two cults in the early third century strong enough to postulate that the masculine worshipers of Mithras someway encouraged the female members of their families to attend the neighboring Christian mysteries? These questions might be partially answered if further excavations could be carried out under Santa Prisca

This perhaps tells us rather more about the cultural assumptions of an American man in the 1960’s, that churchgoing was “womens’ stuff”, than anything about the history of the site or the cult of Mithras.  Here, as ever, Mithraic studies is bedevilled by too much sheer imagination.

Krautheimer makes clear that there is pretty much no evidence of any Christian activity on the site before the erection of the church in the 5th century in the ruins of the house.  The construction of churches in Rome in this period is related to the devastation caused by the Goth and Vandal sacking of Rome, making use of high-status locations now conveniently vacant.  Perhaps the house of Sura was one such?  An oratory in the garden was discovered in the 18th century, with depictions of apostles, and dated by the finders to the 4th century; but this has since been demolished, and Krautheimer makes the point that frescos of the apostles are generally a medieval decorative feature.  The first literary reference is in a synod of 499 AD, to a single priest of the church – suggesting that it was a small and unimportant one.  And that seems to be all the data.  If there is more data, I have yet to see it.

I must say that I am unimpressed by the scholarly articles, on the whole.  Not that I can complain – at least the excavations were published!  But there is a vagueness about them, which is quite infuriating, when you want specifics.

What I did was go and find the reports of the original discovery in the 1930’s.  These, thankfully, have diagrams that make it MUCH clearer what is where!

It will be interesting to see what can be seen on the ground!


From my diary: the evanescent internet

Today, at work, I cast around for a web-based form to point a computer program at, for testing purposes.  I recalled my own feedback form, at Tertullian.org, and decided to use that.  I was having one of those days, you know, when everything goes wrong.  But at least my own website wouldn’t let me down, right?

Wrong.  The form didn’t work.

Clearly it hadn’t worked, for quite some time.  Yet I couldn’t see why.  It was a very simple piece of software, and hadn’t changed in, well, probably a decade.

But of course it wasn’t running on the hardware-software platform of 2004 any more.  Somewhere, sometime, my website provider had upgraded.  It happens all the time.

Some software upgrade had broken it, silently.  The form is written in PHP, and clearly one or the other of the PHP upgrades had silently removed features on which it depends.  It emails me in a distinctive format, and, now I come to think of it, I haven’t seen one in quite some time.  A year?  Two?  How time flies…

I spent a less than pleasant hour this evening, rewriting the way it captures variables.  The new version is considerably more baroque than the old.  It’s longer.  It might be more secure, I don’t know.  But it’s not the same form any more.

Of course this makes me wonder what other PHP scripts are lying around on my website, long forgotten.  I can’t even face looking.

This is how the internet dies.  We all know that it is less than permanent.  What we forget is that software less than a decade old, designed to run and be accessible by the world, is probably only sporadically working.

All those eager-beavers, upgrading and improving constantly, are … leaving a trail of wrecked websites behind them.

I wonder how many of us are actually hosting deadware – scripts that once worked and no longer do?


“Septimus Severus” or “Septimius Severus”? A false trail

Today I came across an image by Sophie Hay, of the British School of Rome, of an inscription lying near the west gate of Leptis Magna in Libya.  She kindly sent me a hi-res copy, which I have sharpened (click on it to see the full size image):

Libya_2008_Inscription_near_west_gate - sharp

Looking at a section of the lower line, it quite clearly refers to “SEPTIMIO SEVERO”!


I was very excited by this!

But … a look at the freely available and very useful Clauss-Slaby database (which has moved, I note, to here) gives us these details:

Publication: LBIRNA 00257 = AE 1967, 00536         EDCS-ID: EDCS-09800351
Province: Africa proconsularis         Place: Al-Khums / Lebdah / Labdah / Lepcis Magna

Imp(eratori) Caes(ari) M(arco) Aurelio Antonino Aug(usto) Arm(eniaco) Med(ico) Par(thico) Ger(manico) p(ontifici) m(aximo) tr(ibunicia) pot(estate) XXVIII imp(eratori) co(n)s(uli) p(atri) p(atriae) arcus ex HS CXX m(ilibus) n(ummum) ab Avilio Casto in eum et statuas legatis / praeter HS quae de publico adiecta sunt dedicatus C(aio) Septimio Severo procons(ule) L(ucio) Septimio Severo leg(ato) pr(o) pr(aetore)

Which reveals that in fact we are not dealing with a monument erected at Leptis by Septimus Severus, the emperor – whose home town this was, and whose praenomen was Lucius -, but with an earlier monument of the time of Marcus Aurelius, when C. Septimius Severus was proconsul and L. Septimius Severus was propraetor.

Fortunately a search of Clauss-Slaby for “septimio severo” quickly reveals any number of inscriptions which ARE imperial, and do show that spelling.  They also give him the cognomen “Pertinax”, adopted as part of his bid for  imperial power.  No inscriptions with “septimo severo” are found.  So that’s that.

In fact the Leptis monument does testify to the gens of “Septimii Severi” at Leptis, listing both the emperor-to-be and his older cousin, Gaius.


From my diary

The sales figures for the books have come in.  The Eusebius is still selling, although not in great numbers; the Origen has yet to really get underway, although it may do better once the reviews appear.

I’ve continued to work on the Mithras website.  For the most part this is reactive; e.g. somebody posts an image online somewhere that comes to my attention, and I research the monument and create a web page for it.    I haven’t done any more on the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca this week, but I will resume work on this.  One area that I want to include is whatever is known about the early Christian remains in the same area.  I had intended to go across to Cambridge University Library this week and obtain some articles, but this has not been possible, thanks to some of the “stuff that happens while you are making plans to do other things”.

The translation of Severian of Gabala’s De Spiritu Sancto is progressing.  Interestingly it begins by surveying what the bible says about the Holy Spirit, or so I understand.

My attention has otherwise been distracted by some nuisance at home; this too is part of life, although I endure less of it than most people.