Anthony Alcock on Ptolemy and the LXX in Agapius

An interesting article from Anthony Alcock, translating the passage in the 10th century Arabic Christian historian Agapius which describes the creation of the Septuagint under Ptolemy.  It’s here:

Thank you, Dr Alcock!


Origen, Commentary on Matthew, book 16 now online and in English

A kind message informs me that David Gohl’s translation of the remaining books of Origen’s Commentary on Matthew (which I discussed here) has now reached book 16.  He has translated this, and uploaded it for comment to here.

Excellent news!  Grab your copy while it’s hot!


From my diary

The leaves are falling, the dark days are beginning, the pre-Christmas rush at work is underway, and winter colds are starting to appear.  I’ve been unable to progress any of my projects.  Indeed I am only able to blog today because of a cold which has prevented me working, and, of course, from doing much else.  So there is little news.

I have a new commission out there, for a translation of the Vita Compilata of St Nicholas of Myra.  I don’t know that it will be ready for Christmas, but we’ll see.  This is one of the early lives of the Saint, and probably dates to the 9-10th century, prior to the mass revision of Greek Lives undertaken by Simon Metaphrastes.

These documents are not all that interesting historically, but they are the earliest form of the legends of St Nicholas.  It seems extraordinary to me, in a world filled with universities and Greek language courses, that the materials for a figure like Santa should be left to little old me to translate.  But so it is.

I expect to get at least a couple of weeks off at Christmas, so I will be able to do more work on Eutychius then.

A small pile of books is growing on the side here, of books to be chopped up and fed through the scanner.  They are all volumes which will be of more use in electronic form than in paper form.  Converting them takes relatively little time; but this I have not had.

I’ve also been disposing of novels that I no longer feel any urge to reread.  My book collection is slimming down for the first time in years.  I read quite a lot of trashy fantasy/science fiction novels.  I have found that purchasing these on Kindle and reading them in the evening on my smartphone in the hotel works quite well.  It also reduces the amount of storage space.  There are quite a lot of kindle-only space operas, thankfully.  So I think that, if even I am doing it, probably there is a general shift going on, away from paper fiction.   That said, I find that I feel considerably less regard for a kindle book than I do for a volume in paper form.

We often hear that stuff put online never goes away.  This is not actually true, however.  Even do not preserve everything.  This weekend I discovered that an alumni magazine for York University had vanished, containing an article of considerable importance to me.  Fortunately I had kept a copy of the PDF; and I have today uploaded it to my own site.  It will be most interesting to see whether Google can find it there, and if so, how quickly.


St Nicholas of Myra in the Greek Synaxarium – now online in English

Christmas is coming, and, as it happens, I have a new translation for you.  This is another piece of the medieval St Nicholas of Myra material, all edited by G. Anrich in Hagios Nikolaos back in 1902.

In the Greek orthodox church, various days are marked as saints’ days, and a short life of the saint is included in the church service for that day.  These materials for each saints’ day are included in a 12-volume collection known as the Menaion, or the Synaxarium.

There are two versions of the Life of St Nicholas in the manuscripts, a longer one and a shorter one (itself in two versions).  Anrich printed them all as section VIII of his book.  These are translated below.  They are BHG 1349s.

These were translated by Fr Albert Iustinos.  This is the pen-name of a monk on Mount Athos.  I think that he has done a splendid job, and I am looking forward to a translation of the Vita Compilata (Anrich section IX) in due course.  Thank you very much!

As ever, these are public domain.  Do whatever you like with them, personal, educational or commercial.


A further reference to the “parabalani”?

As I wrote a week ago, there are only three ancient references to the “parabalani”.  These were a group of men under the control of the patriarch of Alexandria in the 5th century AD, first under Cyril of Alexandria, and then under his successor, Dioscorus.  They appear in 416 and 418 AD in the Theodosian legal code, as a bunch of men responsible for the care of the sick, but who are plainly engaged in thuggery and intimidation.  The other reference is in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when they are mentioned as intimidating the bishops at the robber-council of Ephesus in 449, under the direction of Dioscorus of Alexandria.  Aside from this they are unknown.

Via Haas’ Alexandria in Late Antiquity[1], I learn of a further passage which may refer to the parabalani.  It is again in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, where a presbyter named Ischryion applies to have his complaint against Dioscorus heard.  Haas writes as follows (p.237):

Their twin functions as hospital attendants and as strong-armed supporters is implied by the denunciation of Dioscorus delivered by the Alexandrian deacon Ischyrion at the third session of the Council of Chalcedon in 451-a neglected text in modern discussions of the parabalani. Ischyrion complained to the assembled bishops that Dioscorus “sent against me a contingent of ecclesiastics [phallaga ekklesiastiken], or to tell the truth a band of thieves, along with the deacon Peter, Harpocration and the priest Menas, in order to kill me.” Failmg in this attempt, Dioscorus reputedly dispatched Harpocration and his band against Ischyrion a second time. The persecuted deacon relates:

“I was locked up in a hospital for cripples [xeneoni ton lelobemenon], without being responsible for any crime toward anyone, even though as I have said no accusation had been cast against me. But even in this hospital Dioscorus again sent individuals to kill me, as all those know who were residing there.. . And this illegal imprisonment did not abate until I had promised, in the physlcal dlstress which I found myself, to leave very great Alexandria and to do other things which were dear to [Dioscorus’s] heart.”

The complaint of Ischyrion is long and rambling, but is indeed found in the Acts of Chalcedon.The reference to a hospital being used as a place to imprison the political enemies of the patriarch makes sense only if the hospital was run by a bunch of physically fit men totally loyal to the patriarch.  This otherwise odd combination does fit the description of the parabalani very well.

Haas then goes on to the discuss the futile question – so dear to everyone who has mentioned the parabalani – of whether the parabalani were in clerical orders or not.

Why anybody cares is hard to understand.  There is no evidence that they were.

Monks were not usually in orders, but certainly were involved in violence in Pachomian Egypt.  In a modern Anglican church the sexton will not be a clergyman, but will be responsible for fixing stuff – and at one time, gravedigging – around the church.  Churches often have groups of laymen attached to them, engaged in some charitable or church-related activity.  No doubt it was the same in ancient Alexandria.

  1. [1]Christopher Haas, Alexandria in Late Antiquity, John Hopkins (1997), p.237.

Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Luke – now online in English

Alex Poulos of the Catholic University of America has kindly translated for us the text of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Commentary on Luke.  Here it is:

I have also added it to here.  As ever, I place these in the public domain.  Use them in any way you like.

The “work” itself is a wee bit bogus.  It was created by Angelo Mai by combining all the bits of Nicetas of Serrae’s Catena on Luke where the author is given as “Eusebius”.  It is most unlikely that all of these are Eusebius of Caesarea.  It is possible that none of them are.  All the same, the work is listed in the CPG as 4369, and so it is worth making available!


Online edition and Russian translation of Severian of Gabala, In illud: Secundum imaginem et similitudinem (Gen. 1, 26), CPG 4234

Russian scholar Sergey Kim has made a critical edition and Russian translation of Severian of Gabala’s In illud: Secundum imaginem et similitudinem (Gen. 1, 26), CPG 4234, “In the image and likeness (of God)”.  It’s a pity that this isn’t in a more mainstream language, but one can hardly complain that a Russian scholar writes in Russian!  Anyway I expect that Google Translate will help.

It’s here.  Grab it while it’s hot!

From the (English) abstract at the end:

Severianus Gabalensis. In illud: Secundum imaginem et similitudinem (Gen. 1, 26), CPG 4234 / Introduction, еditio princeps, Russian translation by S. S. Kim.

Readers are offered a first part of the study of the sermon “On the image and the likeness” of Severian, Bishop of Gabala (died after 408). In the introductory article the A. sets out a survey of previous studies, gives an overview of manuscripts and evidence of the indirect tradition.

There are solid arguments for atributing the homily to Severian of Gabala, which are divided into three groups — arguments of external, content and stylistic nature. The A. formulates a hypothesis about the reasons for the exclusion the sermon “On the image and the likeness” from the Severian’s cycle “In Hexaemeron.”

For the first time the ancient Greek text of the sermon (editio princeps) and its Russian translation are published. The publication and translation are accompanied by indications to parallels from other authentic works of Severian of Gabala, devoted to the theme of the creation of the world.

Keywords: Severian of Gabala, on the creation of the world, homiletics, edition of texts, patrology.


“Parabalani” – an early order of male nurses? or Cyril’s “goon squad”?

The Watts book, City and School in late antique Athens and Alexandria, continues to offer interesting passages.  It’s a book to be read for the text, rather than the footnotes, although there are plenty of these.

We take up the story in Alexandria, after the murder of Hypatia in 415 by a gang of thugs acting under the direction of Cyril of Alexandria.  Orestes is the prefect.

From page 200:

The events immediately following Hypatia’s death are not clear. Orestes and the city councilors who had been working with Hypatia were obviously shocked by the murder. Lacking the lynch pin that held their party together, their opposition seems to have fallen apart. It has been suggested by C. Haas that Orestes had himself transferred after the attack. [187] This may be right. At any rate, he is not heard from again. It seems, however, that the Alexandrian council had become alarmed enough at the bishop’s conduct to send an embassy to Constantinople. This embassy apparently led to the passage of a law placing the parabalani, Cyril’s notorious goon squad, under the control of the prefect.[188] But it was only two years before this law was overturned and Cyril regained control of their ranks.[189] By the early 420s, Cyril had come to dominate the Alexandrian council completely. And the murder of Hypatia represented the turning point that led to this victory.

Although the killing of Hypatia had eliminated any effective opposition to Cyril’s regime, the brutality of the act soiled Cyril’s reputation for a long time. …

188. For this law see C. Th. 16.2.42.
189. Haas, Alexandria in Late Antiquity, 314-15.

But who or what are the parabalani?

We find out from a law preserved in the Theodosian code 16.2.43:

Parabolani, qui ad curanda debilium aegra corpora deputantur...

The parabolani, who are deputed to care for the suffering bodies of the sick…

There are in fact only three mentions of this group in antiquity.  Everything we know about them must be derived from this slender data base.  Fortunately we can quote them all here.

The first two are both in the Theodosian Code.  In fact there are two laws,16.2.42 and 43.  Here is the Pharr translation of both:

42. The same Augustuses to Monaxius, Praetorian Prefect.

Whereas, among other useless claims of the Alexandrian delegation,[122] this request also was written in their decrees, that the Most Reverend bishop should not allow certain persons [123] to depart from the City of Alexandria, and this claim was inserted in the petition of the delegation because of the terror of those who are called attendants of the sick,[124] (Quia inter cetera Alexandrinae legationis inutilia hoc etiam decretis scribtum est, ut reverentissimus episcopus de Alexandrina civitate aliquas . .. non exire, quod quidem terrore eorum, qui parabalani nuncupantur, legationi insertum est) it is the pleasure of Our Clemency that clerics shall have nothing to do with public affairs and with matters pertaining to the municipal council.

1. We further direct that the number of those who are called attendants of the sick[124] shall not be more than five hundred. Moreover, the wealthy and those who would purchase this office shall not be appointed, but the poor from the guilds, in proportion to the population of Alexandria, after their names have been submitted, of course, to the Respectable Augustal Prefect and through him referred to Your Magnificence.

2. We do not grant to the aforesaid attendants of the sick[124] liberty to attend any public spectacle whatever or to enter the meeting place of a municipal council, or a courtroom, unless, perchance, they should appeal to a judge separately in connection with their own cases and interests, when they sue someone in litigation or when they are themselves sued by another, or when they are syndics[125] appointed in a cause common to the entire group. The condition shall be observed that if anyone of them should violate the foregoing provisions, he shall be removed from the registers of the attendants of the sick and shall be subjected to due punishment, and he shall never return to the same office.

3. Furthermore, We grant to the Respectable Augustal Prefect the power to appoint successors to the deceased attendants of the sick, under the condition that is designated above.

Given on the third day before the kalends of October at Constantinople in the year of the seventh consulship of Theodosius Augustus and the consulship of Palladius. [September 29 (October 5), 416.][126]

122. Embodied in their petition to the Emperor, as stated in the decrees of their municipal council, 12, 12, n. 3.
123. M. suggests a lacuna; his emended text would read: should not allow from the City of Alexandria any . . . not to depart. As to the claim that was inserted in the petition of the delegation, because of the terror of those who are called attendants of the sick it is the pleasure of Our Clemency.
124. parabalani. See Du Cange, s.v. parabolani. Because of the nature of their work these clerics were possessed of a reckless disregard for personal danger. They were often religious fanatics and espoused the cause of the poor and oppressed. Thus they were potential sources of sedition, and the provisions of this law were designed to restrain them, 9, 40, 16; 16, 3, 1, n. 2.
125.  Legal representatives, official advocates.
126. 12, 12, 15.

The next law, from 418, two years later, also relates to the parabalani:

43. The same Augustuses to Monaxius, Praetorian Prefect.

We formerly directed that there should be five hundred attendants of the sick, who are assigned to care for the suffering bodies of the sick. But since We have learned that this number is insufficient at present, We command that six hundred instead of five hundred shall be established as the number. Thus, according to the judgment of the Most Reverend Bishop of the City of Alexandria, there shall be chosen for such responsibility six hundred attendants of the sick from among those who had been attendants formerly and who are experienced in the practice of healing, excluding, of course, dignitaries and decurions. Moreover, if anyone of the aforesaid attendants should be removed by the common lot of man, another shall be chosen in his place, according to the will of the aforesaid priest, excluding dignitaries and decurions. Thus, these six hundred men shall be subservient to the commands and regulations of the most reverend priest and shall continue under his supervision. The rest of the provisions included in the general rule of the law formerly issued with respect to the aforesaid attendants of the sick and their attendance at public spectacles and courts and all other matters, shall be observed, as has already been decreed.

Given on the third day before the nones of February at Constantinople in the year of the twelfth consulship of Honorius Augustus and the eighth consulship of Theodosius Augustus. [February 3, 418.]

We should note that both laws also appear in the legal Code of Justinian (529 AD), book 1, title 3 (de episcop.); 17, which is an abbreviated version of the first, and 18, which is the second.  Both are online here.  May we perhaps infer that the group still existed at that date?[1]

The third reference is in the minutes of the Council of Chalcedon, in 451 AD.  The minutes are discussing events at the “robber council” of 449 in Ephesus.  Cyril had been succeeded by Dioscorus as bishop of Alexandria.  As often happens, a wily and unscrupulous man who knew how to use violence for political ends was followed by a disciple of less political acuteness, and even greater violence.  Dioscorus intimidated the  bishops, and got what he wanted.  But within a year the emperor Theodosius II was dead; his successor Marcian was hostile; and at Chalcedon retribution was in the air. Here is the Liverpool University translation of the passage in the Acts, p.269.[2]

851. While this was being read, Basil the most devout bishop of Seleucia in Isauria said: ‘I do not need other witnesses. Through the blessed Bishop John, I asked my declaration to be corrected, because I feared you, most devout Dioscorus; for you then applied great pressure on us, partly external and partly in what you said. Armed soldiers burst into the church, and there were arrayed Barsaumas and his monks, parabalani, and a great miscellaneous mob. Let everyone testify on oath, let the Egyptian bishop Auxonius testify on oath, let Athanasius testify on oath, if I did not say, “No, lord, do not destroy the good repute of the whole world.”’

852. Dioscorus the most devout bishop of Alexandria said: ‘Did I coerce you?’

853. Basil the most devout bishop of Seleucia in Isauria said: ‘Yes, you drove us to such a murderous crime by means of the threats of the mob after the deposition of the blessed Flavian. From the way he is now disrupting the whole council you can guess what force he applied then, when he had control of everything, including the sentence. Six of them[312] are left, and yet he can throw us all into disarray.’

854. Dioscorus the most devout bishop of Alexandria said: ‘My notary Demetrianus is ready to prove that you asked him secretly to alter your statement.’

855. Basil the most devout bishop of Seleucia in Isauria said: ‘I ask your magnificence that each of the metropolitan bishops, those of Lycaonia, Phrygia, Perge and the others, come here and affirm on the gospels if, after the deposition of the blessed Flavian, when we were all downcast, some of us not daring to raise our voices and others slipping away, he did not rise up and stand on high, while he declared, “Look! If anyone refuses to sign, he has me to reckon with.” Let the lord Eusebius [of Ancyra] testify on oath if he did not run the risk of being deposed because he delayed his sentence for a short time.’

312. The reference appears to be to six attendants in Dioscorus’ suite.

The delicious description of the brutal Dioscorus as “most devout” is a mere piece of ecclesiasticism, like the use of words like “venerable”, and “reverend”, applied to clergy who are not necessarily either.

What do we learn from these three passages?

We learn that the parabalani were established to care for the sick. The first law (416 AD) shows that it was a designated “office”, which some might consider worth purchasing (so presumably in receipt of money or other benefits); but that in fact they were creating a “terror”, by invading theatres, councils and court-rooms.  It places them under the control of the city prefect, and limits their numbers. The second law (418 AD) places them back completely under the control of the bishop; namely good old, bad old Cyril of Alexandria.  The third account (449 AD) shows them being used for intimidation of council proceedings at the direction of the new bishop of Alexandria.

“Goon squad” seems an apposite name for the band.

Let’s finish with a few other bits of data, themselves not very indicative of anything.

The Greek word used in the Acts of Chalcedon is παραβαλανεῖς, which literally means bath-attendants. Sometimes it is given as παραβολᾶνοι, those who disregard their lives, as in attending those with communicable diseases.[3]

Joseph Bingham in Origenes Ecclesiasticae, 1834, reads the law 42 above as suggesting that the parabalani were clergy; because of the ban on clergy meddling in city administration.  However this is not necessarily the case.  The ban may refer to Cyril, not to the parabalani.

There is an article on the subject in the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 2, p.1582.  This references two modern articles, both accessible online if you have JSTOR access.  But neither adds very much.[4]

It is really hard to like Cyril of Alexandria.  The mystery is why anybody would consider such a man a saint.

  1. [1]Wikipedia claims that a further law is found in the Code of Justinian, 1.2.4, but this is in error.  The title reads: The Same, to Nicenus, Praetorian Prefect. Let no more than nine hundred and fifty canons be appointed for the Church of this great City, and let no one have the power to add to their number, or to change it, or to substitute others for those who may die; and let none of those of this body who exceed the abovementioned number and have been appointed through patronage, and have been denied the right of innovation, claim those things which have been bestowed upon the Holy Church by way of honor, or as necessary privileges. Given at Eudoxiopolis, on the seventh of the Kalends of September, during the Consulate of Honorius, Consul for the eighth time, and Theodosius Junior, Consul for the third time, 409.
  2. [2]Joseph Bingham in Origenes Ecclesiasticae, Or, The Antiquities of the Christian Church, 1834, vol.. 1, p.302, gives the reference as “Con. Chalced. Act. i. tom. iv. p.252”.  Translation from The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, vol. 1, translated by Richard Price and Michael Gaddis, 2005.  Translated Texts for Historians 45.
  3. [3]Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 2, p.1582, where the former is preferred.
  4. [4]A. Philipsborn, “La compagnie d’ambulanciers ‘parabalani’ d’Alexandrie”, Byzantion 20 (1950), 185-90. JSTOR.  W. Schubart, “Parabalani”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 40 (1954), 97-101.  JSTOR.

Hello Windows 7 my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again

Yesterday I wrote about my frustration with Windows 10.  Twice in the last few weeks, I have brought my laptop to my hotel room, in order to do a few items for an hour; and then been prevented from doing so, by an unwanted and unstoppable “upgrade” which locked out the machine all evening.  I update very regularly, so these events are deeply intrusive.

I’ve taken the plunge and rolled my travelling laptop back to Windows 7.  It’s not easy, but it is doable.

What I call my “travelling laptop” is not my main machine, the loss of which would be a serious blow.  Instead it is a very plastic, very cheap Acer Aspire 5552, which I bought for £200 quite a few years ago.  It was bought because I could afford to lose it.  But it turned out to be a little gem.  Some years ago I replaced the hard drive with a solid-state disk of the same capacity, copying the disk like-for-like.  This speeded it up, and it runs perfectly.

Like many laptops, it has a hidden partition, on which the factory supplied software hides.  So I knew that I could revert to the factory version.  This, of course, was Windows 7.

I must say that I am deeply impressed with Acer.  When I installed Windows 10, it wrote all over the MBR – the main boot record, which controls startup, and which Acer altered so that you could call up the recovery partition.  That was very cavalier of Microsoft.  But Acer had thought of this.  You could still revert to factory setting, using the Acer eRecovery software, still installed on the ordinary disk.  This is what I did.

First I copied the files that I wanted to an external drive.  There weren’t that many.  It’s not my main machine, after all.

Then I fired up eRecovery, and told it to erase the C: drive and restore to factory settings.  It rebooted fairly soon, and I could see at once that the MBR had been restored.  The option to hit F2 to enter the BIOS – erased by Windows 10 – had reappeared.  This was a good sign!

Quite a bit of groaning later, and Windows 7 reappeared.  I went through the initial config, and there it was!

But of course I wasn’t done.  Firstly I had to get rid of the awful MacAfee software which manufacturers burden us with.  I had to download the tool to get rid of it too – many an unwary person has run the “uninstall” – which doesn’t actually get rid of parts of it – and ended up running two anti-virus packages at the same time.  This reduces the speed to a crawl.

Secondly, I ran Windows Update.  This only brought up a few minor updates, to my surprise; until a box popped up, informing me that the version of Windows 7 was obsolete.  Of course – I needed to upgrade to Service Pack 1 (SP1).  A link was provided!

The Microsoft link took me … to a Microsoft page that barely functioned.  I was very unimpressed.  You would only visit this page if you had an ancient version of Windows with an ancient version of Internet Explorer (in my case version 8).  But the page didn’t work with that.  Attempting to install IE11 brought me the curt message that this wasn’t supported on Win7 without SP1.

In the end I gave up, and installed Chrome.  This installed beautifully, and didn’t mess me around.  Well done Google.

Then I got hold of the SP1 installer, not without trouble – rubbish website, Microsoft, rubbish website.  I ran it, it worked, I reran Windows Update and … I have 187 updates to install.  Um.

It’s rather late now, and it was a long day, so I shall do those in batches tomorrow.

But I really am impressed with Acer.  They saved my bacon.  I’m fairly impressed with Google Chrome, who didn’t cause me trouble.

It’s funny to see Windows 7 again.  It looks old-fashioned now.  Such is the power of fashion and design, that something that once looked very modern now looks out of date!

All the same, I am glad to see it again!


Raging against the … Windows?

This evening I’m in a hotel, as so often.  I turned on my travelling laptop.  I wanted to download Edward J. Watts, City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria, from, in order to OCR it and make the PDF searchable.

But something was wrong.  The machine kept stuttering.  Eventually I got the file; and set it to OCR.  And then, to my horror, a message appeared on-screen: Windows10 has silently and without my permission downloaded a huge “update” – now I understand the stuttering – and is now going to install it.

That was almost two hours ago now.  These precious minutes, in which I could have done things, all gone.  Microsoft decided their needs took precedence.  On my computer.

This is the second time in a few weeks that I have been locked out of my own computer by an arrogant US corporation.

I carry a laptop around with me so that I can work in the evening if need be.  This pattern of activity means that I can’t be sure that the laptop will be available to use.  Which defeats the whole purpose of having it.

I’ve had enough.  This is too much.  I am going to revert my travelling laptop to Windows 7, where at least I got a voice in whether downloads happened.  I gather the key is on a sticker on the underside of the machine, and media can be downloaded.  But it will cost me some hours of nuisance.

Infuriating. But it is intolerable to be prevented from using the machine.