A useful paper on Eutychius of Alexandria (Sa`id ibn Batriq); and some rueful reflections on why a useful tax-funded book has been made copyright of Brill

A little while ago I came across an article, online in PDF format, which contained much the most useful overview known to me of the life and works of the 10th century Melkite patriarch of Alexandria, Eutychius, known to the Arabs as Sa`id ibn Bitriq.  The author is Uriel Simonsohn, an Israeli academic, and the paper appears in Christian-Muslim Relations: A bibliographical history, ed. David Thomas &c, Brill, 2010, vol. 2 (900-1050), p.224.  This series of volumes gives details of the writers and their works, and is incredibly useful, or would be if anyone could access it (of which more anon).

Dr Simonsohn has, thankfully, made his article available, and from it we can judge the quality of the work done.  A couple of excerpts:

Little can be established with certainty about the life and career of Saʿīd ibn Batṛīq, a 10th-century Melkite patriarch of Alexandria. The earliest source to provide some detail is a 13th- or 14th-century copy of Ibn Batṛīq’s historiographical treatise, allegedly written by the patriarch himself (Ibn Batṛīq, Eutychii, ed. Cheikho, Carra de Vaux and Zayyat, ii, pp. 69-70, 86-87). It is here that we are informed for the first time that Ibn Batṛīq, the mutatạbbib, i.e. a practitioner of medicine, was born in Fustạ̄t ̣ in the eighth year of the caliphate of al-Muʿtamid (r. 870-92), i.e. 877, and was appointed in 933 as patriarch of Alexandria by the Caliph al-Qāhir (r. 932-34), whereupon he was named Eutychius; he died in 940.  …

The Arabic historiographical treatise known as the Annales, following its Latin translation by E. Pococke in 1658-59, is also known as Kitāb naẓm al-jawhar, ‘String of pearls’ and Kitāb al-taʾrīkh al-majmūʿ ʿalāl-taḥqīq wa-l-taṣdīq, ‘The book of history, compiled through investigation and verification’. Although the work has often been referred to as a Byzantine universal history, nothing in the composition suggests its classification within a particular category of historiographical works. Rather, the work reflects a mixture of diverse historiographical traditions, among which one can list Eusebian chronography, Sasanian and Muslim historiographies, Palestinian hagiography, and legendary tales of various sorts. It was completed, according to al-Antạ̄kī, in 938.

The oldest manuscript copy of the work, MS Sinai, Monastery of St Catherine – Ar. 582 (163 folios), represents the oldest known text of the Annales. Indeed, Michel Breydy, who has presented the most detailed study of the manuscript, has argued that the text is the autograph of Ibn Batṛīq himself. The manuscript has the dimensions of a notebook and consists of 163 folios. According to Breydy, it lacks roughly two parts of the beginning of the original work and six of its end. Furthermore, the part referring to the caliphs al-Qāhir (r. 932-34) and al-Rāḍī (r. 934-40), could not have been composed by Ibn Batṛīq himself. The original manuscript may have consisted of 242 folios, of which 23 are missing at the beginning and about 56 at the end. A comparison of the text of MS Sinai Ar. 582 with the texts conserved in later manuscripts, reveals evident traces of successive manipulations, as well as divergences of the later texts from the earliest (and possibly original) version.  …

 Finally, a particular work from which Ibn Batṛīq drew much of his narrative is the Arabic translation of the history of the Sasanid kings, prepared by the Muslim convert ʿAbdallāh ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (d. c. 756). A strikingly literal correspondence between the last section of MS Sinai Ar. 582 and Muslim sources that conserve a textual transmission that had originated with the Egyptian muḥaddith ʿUthmān ibn Ṣāliḥ (d. 834) regarding the conquest of Egypt, allows us to believe that Ibn Batṛīq had similarly transcribed extracts from other Muslim authors as well. …

The Annales are currently extant in some 30 manuscripts, copied both in the Near East and in the West. …

It’s all excellent stuff, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Eutychius or the works of Christian Arabic historiography.

But there is a snag.  Looking at the preview (p.iv), I see that “This project was supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council” – that sounds like taxpayers money -, which makes it all the more odd that the copyright has been given away to Brill, a commercial publisher, and the output is not open-access.  Shame on you, AHRC!

The volume has a couple of introductory papers, and then, starting on p.74, a series of entries on literary figures who wrote in Arabic on the subject of relations between Christians and Muslims, complete with bibliography.  This material is of the highest value, when we consider how difficult it is to access anything in English, and it is really a scandal that it is offline and inaccessible.

I see that eBooks of the volumes do exist – doubtless made available on subscription only to university libraries.  But what use is that to those of us who pay for them?

I have nothing against Brill; but if we paid for this, and it seems likely that we did, then it should not be the property of a commercial company, to be exploited by selling it back to the universities that produced it.

17 thoughts on “A useful paper on Eutychius of Alexandria (Sa`id ibn Batriq); and some rueful reflections on why a useful tax-funded book has been made copyright of Brill

  1. I disagree: I hold a lot of resentment against Brill (and Gorgias). I think they’re gougers. They charge too much (usually 100 USD+) for output of interest to the scholar. Given that it’s university students who are picking up the tab, I find this exploitative.

    Especially when Brill are charging that 100 USB+ for translations of freely-available German texts, like Noeldeke’s Geschichte des Qorans. I mean for heavens’ sake, we can just download that stuff and run it through Google-translate.

    And now I find I’m paying for Brill’s nonsense anyway, via taxes. THAT’s going to be a comfort in April.

  2. My pet peeve with this issue has been Epiphanius’ Panarion, translated by Frank Williams. This appears to be an important source on heresies and how they were viewed in the fourth century. The only English translation appears to be this Brill edition. The two volumes cost over $400 from Amazon.

    I’m all for publishers making money but when it’s an important source that, to me at least, would be of interest to a fairly large fraction of the population (those interested in Early Christianity) I certainly wish it was more affordable.

    I have no idea if any public funds were used to assist with the Panarion translation. As I haven’t read it yet I may be overstating its importance. And I am fortunate to have access to Brill online through my university. But my somewhat idealistic self still wishes source material such as this was more accessible.

  3. Williams’ Panarion translations seems to have been published without public funds. At least in my copy there is no statement in this respect. Btw: I doubt that Thomas’ book was completely funded publicly.

  4. @Curt: I certainly agree with you about the Panarion. I even bought the volumes, so I know what you mean. As a publisher I also know that the cost of printing is a fraction of that huge price; and I don’t suppose for a moment that Frank Williams gets much. It’s hard to like such behaviour.

    @Joss: Likewise I think that the grant wouldn’t cover all the costs. But the costs of printing etc are not really significant, as anyone who has used Lulu.com will know. It looks bad, whatever the detail.

  5. That being so, are there any other recent sources of detailed info about him in English, French, Italian or Latin ? Or even in Gernan ?

  6. Not that I know of; but my ignorance is no guide. There will be the entry in Georg Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Litteratur vol. 2, of course.

  7. Oh, well, that does explain their prices. Maybe. But how many libraries are as rich as Croesus these days ? Not many, one suspects. If Eisenbrauns – which is no less specialised – is kind to us plebs who are interested in what it publishes, I don’t know why Brilll can’t be.

  8. Another paper by Simonsohn, “The Biblical narrative in the Annales of Sa’id ibn Batriq and the question of medieval Byzantine-Orthodox identity”, may also be of interest. It can be found here:


    It is a survey of how Eutychius deals with Biblical and quasi-Biblical material in the earlier part of the Annales, with reference to Christianity in his own milieu. It should be of interest to anyone interested in mediaeval historiography and Muslim traditions about the past.

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