In the early 5th century, Cyril of Alexandria found it necessary to write a large apologetic work. The book was in response to Julian the Apostate’s anti-Christian work Against the Galileans. This was written some 50 years earlier by the then emperor, but must have continued to circulate. Cyril made a series of extensive quotations from the work, reorganised them into a logical sequence (as he tells us at the start of book 2), and wrote his own reply to each. No doubt secretaries performed much of the manual labour, and Cyril dictated replies.
10 books of Contra Julianum have reached us, and a handful of fragments of the next 10 books also. The work is little known in English, since no translation has been made into that language. Indeed no complete translation has ever been made into any modern language. The Sources Chretiennes began an edition, with a splendid French translation, but only a single volume, containing books 1 and 2, ever appeared. No modern critical edition, even, existed. Readers have been forced to rely on reprints of the 17th century Aubert edition.
For some years Christoph Riedweg and his team have been labouring at the task of making a critical edition of the text of this huge work. An email today advises me that the first volume, containing the text – no translation – of books 1-5, will very soon be available in the GCS series, and published by De Gruyter. The publisher’s information page is here. It informs us that the work will be published in November 2015, and priced at $168. De Gruyer kindly make a PDF available also, at precisely the same price.
Everyone should welcome this publication. Contra Julianum contains any amount of useful information about antiquity and Christian thinking. I look forward to the second volume also!
But … what a price! And … I say that I look forward to a second volume, but there is no chance that I will ever own a copy of either; or even be able to use it, unless I come across a pirate copy. It will, most likely, be most used in this manner. This seems wrong. But then, these books are not made for you or I.
Today there was an article in the Guardian on this very subject that every academic should read. Here are some extracts, but it is worth reading in full.
Academics are being hoodwinked into writing books nobody can buy
An editor called me up to ask me if I’d like to write a book. I smelled a rat, but I played along…
A few months ago, an editor from an academic publisher got in touch to ask if I was interested in writing a book for them. …
“How much would the book be sold for?” I inquired, aware this might not be his favourite question. “£80,” he replied in a low voice.
“So there won’t be a cheaper paperback edition?” I asked, pretending to sound disappointed.
“No, I’m afraid not,” he said, “we only really sell to libraries. But we do have great sales reps that get the books into universities all across the world.”
“So how many copies do you usually sell?” I inquired.
“For all your books?”
“Yes, unless you would assign your book on your own modules.”
I was growing fascinated by the numbers so I asked how many of these books they published each year.
“I have to…” he started (inadvertently revealing that this was a target that had been set) “…I have to publish around 75 of these.” … And he’s just one of their commissioning editors. …
Another colleague, on discovering his published book was getting widespread attention but was too expensive to buy, tried to get the publishers to rush out a cheaper paperback version. They ignored his request.
These may sound like stories of concern to academics alone. But the problem is this: much of the time that goes into writing these books is made possible through taxpayers’ money. And who buys these books? Well, university libraries – and they, too, are paid for by taxpayers. Meanwhile, the books are not available for taxpayers to read – unless they have a university library card.
So what are the alternatives? We could stop publishing these books altogether – which may be advisable in a time of hysterical mass publication. Or we publish only with decent publishers, who believe that books are meant to be read and not simply profited from. And if it’s only a matter of making research available, then of course there’s open source publishing, which most academics are aware of by now.
So why don’t academics simply stay away from the greedy publishers? The only answer I can think of is vanity.
Of course the last bit is rather unfair. An academic career requires publication in reputable format, and nobody can be blamed for doing what the system requires in order to feed their families. But it raises disturbing questions of integrity and sustainability.
An edition of Contra Julianum serves a real need. But the high prices and closed access compromise the entire system of academic publication.
All the same, let us congratulate Dr R. and his team. Well done! This was work of permanent value.