From my diary

Next Tuesday in Oxford there will be a study day, dedicated to the Codex Zacynthius of the bible.  Details may be found at the University of Birmingham website here.

Codex Zacynthius, the oldest copy of the New Testament to be accompanied by a commentary, was rubbed out and written over in the Byzantine period. Using new imaging techniques, it has been possible to restore much of the original content (part of Luke’s Gospel along with many excerpts from early Christian writers) in order to produce a complete electronic transcription which will be accompanied by studies of the manuscript.

In this seminar, kindly sponsored by the Centre for the Study of the Bible in the Humanities at Oxford and the AHRC, members of the project will report on the findings of the project so far and consult with a range of potential users regarding the features of the planned digital edition and the interpretation of the manuscript, along with its significance for biblical and early Christian studies.

You need to book in advance, but I expect that there are still places.  I had intended to go myself, in fact.  Unfortunately I have been unwell for the last six weeks with a minor but debilitating sinus problem of some kind.  I am slowly recovering naturally.  Better still, my current client is being very understanding.  But an eight-hour drive plus a day of lectures will be beyond me for a few weeks yet.

My thanks to all those who prayed about the storm of family-related problems that arrived on top of everything else about three weeks ago.  Everything is now going well, and I can only praise God.  Thank you.

At the moment I’m doing some more work on my Latin program.  I want to be able to add information for particular words, or phrases, so that it displays extra help about possible syntax when I find them.  This involves quite a bit of under-the-hood tinkering, in order to make this possible.

I will get back to blogging when I can.  At the moment I don’t feel any urge whatever!  My apologies.

I have been looking into the origins of halloween.  Interestingly it is only now being introduced to Australia, or so I gather from reading Twitter.


“Bread for slaves – 2” – An ancient shopping list from Pompeii

Two posts on twitter, here from @ahencyclopedia, and here, from the excellent Dr Sophie Hay, tell us of a list of provisions, bought or sold, over a number of days.  It lists three types of bread – “bread”, “coarse bread”, and “bread for a slave” (panem puero).

The text was scratched on a wall in Pompeii at a caupona, (plan and photos here). There is a photograph of it online which I give below.  The item is entered in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum as CIL IV 5380.  The list makes interesting reading.

CIL IV 5380, list of foodstuffs from Pompeii

The transcription:

And a translation:

Translation, from Alison E. Cooley, M.G.L. Cooley, “Pompeii: A Sourcebook”, chapter 8, “Commercial Life”, p.163. Extract here. Reprinted in their “Pompeii and Herculaneum” (2014) as H25, p.239. Online here.

Note that the typo: it is not “bread for slaves” but “bread for a slave”.  It looks very much as if someone is getting their daily groceries here!

The numbers are presumably in asses, although one case it is 1 denarius (=16 asses) and 8 asses for olives.[1]  The symbol for “denarius” appears against some items.

For those interested, there is a new reading of the text proposed in this item, Caruso, Paola & Solin, Heikki, “Memorandum sumptuarium pompeianum : per una nuova lettura del graffito CIL IV 5380”,  in: Vesuviana : an international journal of archaeological and historical studies on Pompeii and Herculaneum, 8, 2016, pp.105-127.  It’s in Italian, but not for ordinary mortals to read, as the publishers demand $40 for the privilege.  I thought that I should signal its existence, not least because the text of inscriptions is often less certain than it may appear when neatly printed in our journals and collected editions.

Juvenal (Satire 5) refers to the dinner guests given inferior bread to that placed before their host:

All your great houses are full of saucy slaves. See with what a grumble another of them has handed you a bit of hard bread that you can scarce break in two, or lumps of dough that have turned mouldy—-stuff that will exercise your grinders and into which no tooth can gain admittance.

For Virro himself a delicate loaf is reserved, white as snow, and kneaded of the finest flour. Be sure to keep your hands off it: take no liberties with the bread-basket!

If you are presumptuous enough to take a piece, there will be someone to bid you put it down: “What, Sir Impudence? Will you please fill yourself from your proper tray, and learn the colour of your own bread?”

“What?” you ask, “was it for this that I would so often leave my wife’s side on a spring morning and hurry up the chilly Esquiline when the spring skies were rattling down the pitiless hail, and the rain was pouring in streams off my cloak? “

These, of course, were free men, the clients of a patron.  Slave bread must have been even worse.

It’s an interesting light on ancient society.

  1. [1]Melissa Bailey, “Roman Money and Numerical Practice”, Revue belge de Philologie et d’Histoire, 91, 2013, pp. 153-186. Online here.

All Saints Day: Alcuin in 800 AD exhorts his friend to celebrate it on 1st November

In Letter 193, to his friend Arno, Alcuin writes:[1]

Kalendis Novembris solemnitas omnium sanctorum. Ecce, venerande pater Arne, habes designatam solemnitatem omnium sanctorum, sicut diximus. Quam continue in mente retineas et semper anniversario tempore colere non desistas; adtendens illud et intente considerans, quoniam, si Helias, unus ex illis in vetere testamento, oratione sua, dum voluit, claudere caelum potuit praevaricatoribus et aperire conversis, quanto magis omnes sancti in novo testamento? ubi eis specialiter et patenter claves regni caelestis commissae sunt, et claudere caelum possunt incredulis et aperire credentibus, si intima dilectione honorificantur a fidelibus et coluntur glorificatione eis condigna. Quod ut fieri digne possit a nobis, lumen verum, quod inluminat omnem hominem, Christus Iesus inluminet corda nostra, et pax Dei, quae exsuperat omnem sensum, per intercessionem omnium sanctorum eius, custodiat ea usque in diem aeternitatis. Hanc solemnitatem sanctissimam tribus diebus ieiunando, orando, missas canendo, et elimosinas dando pro invicem sincera devotione precedamus.

On the kalends of November is the solemnity of all the saints.  See, venerable father Arno, you have marked the solemnity of all the saints, just as we said.  Keep that ever in mind and never cease to celebrate it on that annual date; attending to it and intently considering, seeing that, if Elijah, one of those in the Old Testament, with his prayer, as long as he wished, could shut the heavens to sinners, and open them to the converted, how much more can all the saints in the New Testament?  for to them specially and clearly the keys of the heavenly kingdom have been entrusted, and they can shut the heavens to the unbelievers and open them to believers, if they are honoured with inward devotion by the faithful and are worshipped with the glorification appropriate to them.  And, so that we may become worthy, In order that this may be done appropriately by us, may the true light, that illuminates every man, Christ Jesus, illuminate our hearts, and may the peace of God, which exceeds every sense, through the intercession of all his saints, guard them until the last day.  Let us precede this most holy solemnity by fasting for three days, praying, singing masses, and giving alms with sincere devotion for each other.

The letter is dated to 800, before March 19, in the MGH edition.  An older text is in the Patrologia Latina 100, col. 296.

I’m not absolutely sure that I have the meaning of the last two sentences quite right, by the way.  I am not clear what role in “Quod ut fieri digne possit a nobis” is played by Quod, except that clearly a comma is involved before ut; and indeed the clause seems rather odd to me.  Likewise “ea” later in the sentence must be the saints, and if so the prayer is for God’s saints who are still alive and on earth.

Update: many thanks indeed to Diego for correcting me!  In fact “ea” is neuter so must refer to “our hearts”.  The “Quod” references the last sentence and is the subject of “fieri possit”, and “fieri” needs to be “be done”, rather than “become” (both are possible).  Also added omitted clause.

  1. [1]P.321 of the MGH edition.  Online here.

All Saints: the edict of Louis in 835 establishing the date as 1st November

The commemoration of All Saints was first made universal in 835 AD  by the Emperor Louis the Pious, in the 21st year of his reign, at the suggestion of Pope Gregory IV.  This information reaches us through the 12th century Chronographia or Chronicle of Sigebert of Gembloux, who records the following entry for the year:[1]

835. / 21 / 5.  Monente Gregorio papa et omnibus episcopis assentientibus, Ludowicus imperator statuit, ut in Gallia et Germania festivitas omnium Sanctorum in Kalendis Novembris celebraretur, quam Romani ex instituto Bonefacii papae celebrabant.  Hoc tempore reliquiae Viti martyris a Parisius ad Corbeiam Saxoniae transferuntur; unde ipsi Franci testati sunt,  quod ab illo tempore gloria Francorum ad Saxones translata sit. Ebbo Remorum archiepiscopus deponitur; aliique  inulti, qui cum eo in deiectionem Ludowici imperatoris conspiraverant, damnantur et exiliantur.

At the suggestion of Pope Gregory and with the agreement of all the bishops, the emperor Ludovicus ordered that in Gaul and Germany the festivity of the all the Saints would be celebrated on the Kalends of November, which the Romans were celebrating by the institution of Pope Boniface.  At this time the relics of Vitus the martyr are transported from Paris to Corbie in Saxony; because of which the Franks themselves bore witness that from that time the glory of the Franks was transferred to the Saxons.  Ebbo, archbishop of Riems is deposed; and others unpunished, who had conspired with him to depose the emperor Ludovicus, are condemned and exiled.

This made it official throughout the Holy Roman Empire.  No doubt the modern celebration results from this edict.

The reference to Boniface IV is slightly misleading.  The Romans were not celebrating on 1 November.  The reference is to the Liber Pontificalis and the year 607, when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon to St Mary Ever-Virgin and All the Martyrs.  This dedication took place and is commemorated, not on November 1, but on May 13, according to the old Roman martyrology.[2]  But that is another post!

  1. [1]L. C. Bethmann, MGH SS., 6, 1844, pp. 300-374. Online here.  Other information about the text here.
  2. [2]Smith and Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, vol. 1, 1875, p.57.

The Martyrologium Poeticum of ps.Bede, a.k.a. The Metrical Calendar of York

All Saints Day is celebrated on 1st November.  But it was not always so.  The first reference to this celebration on this date is a poem of 83 lines, in hexameter verse, preserved in the manuscripts under the title of “Martyrologium Bedae”, the Martyrology of Bede.  It cannot in fact be by Bede, because it mentions events after his death.  It may be an early work by Alcuin.  Dom André Wilmart labelled it the “Metrical Calendar of York”, and this name has stuck.  It is often abbreviated as MCY.

Few will be aware that there is in fact a critical edition, and English translation, hidden inside K. Karasawa, The Old English Metrical Calendar (Menologium), 2005, in appendix 2, p. 138-145.  The author very wisely edited and translated a whole bunch of texts related to his subject, one of which was MCY.  Since few will have access to this, and it is short, I thought that I would quote it here.  The apparatus can be found in the excellent printed version.  I have highlighted the couplet of interest to us.

Prima dies Iani est qua circumciditur agnus.
Octauas idus colitur theophania Christi.
Deserti quartas primus capit accola Paulus.
Sex decimas Antonius obtinet aeque kalendas.
Tres decimas Sebastianus tenuisse refertur.
Bis senas meritis mundo fulgentibus Agnes,
Martyrio undecimas et Anastasius memoratur.
Prima dies Februi est iam qua patitur Policarpus,
Et quartas nonas Christus templo offerebatur.
Nonarumque diem festum celebramus Agathae,
Atque Ualentini sedenis sorte kalendis.
Sic Iuliana et bis septenas ornat honore,
Ac senas merito Mathias uirtute dicabat.
Hinc idus Martis quartas Gregorius aurat.
Cuthbertus denas tenuit ternasque kalendas,
Bis senis sanctus post quem sequitur Benedictus.
Octauis merito gaudet conceptio Christi.
Atque Georgius hinc euectus ad astra uolauit
Carnifices nonis Maiae uincente kalendis.
Ecgberhtus digna uirtutum laude choruscus,
Astriferum octauis ueneranter scandit Olympum.
Quoque die praesul penetrauit Uilfridus alma
Angelico gaudens uectus trans culmina coetu.
Uilfridus et ternis superam penetrauit in aulam
Tempore posterior, morum non flore secundus.
Iacobus seruus domini pius atque Philippus
Mirifico Maias uenerantur honore kalendas.
Bis binis sequitur Pancratius idibus insons.
Ter quinis Marcus meruit pausare kalendis.
Iunius in nonis mundo miratur ademtam
Et summis Tatberhti animam trans sidera uectam.
Atque die uincens eadem Bonifatius hostes
Martyrio fortis bellator ad astra recessit.
Inque suis quadris Barnaban idibus aequat.
Geruasius denis patitur ternisque kalendis
Protasius simul in regnumque perenne uocati.
Estque Iohannes bis quadris baptista colendus
Natalis pulchre feste plaudente corona.
Martyrio et Paulus senis ouat atque Iohannes.
Doctores Petrus et Paulus ternis sociantur
Maxima quos palma clarat sibi lumina mundus.
Iulius in quadris bis gaudet ferre kalendis
Iacobum fratremque Iohannis more colendum.
Sanctificant Abdo et Sennis ternos uenerando.
Augustus Xystum octauis tenet idibus aptum.
Bis binis uictor superat Laurentius hostes.
Sancta Dei genetrix senas ter constat adire
Angelicos uecta inter coetus uirgo kalendas.
Octonos sanctus sortitur Bartholomeus.
Bis binis passus colitur baptista Iohannes.
Idus Septembris senas dedicabat honore
Quis meruit nasci felix iam uirgo Maria.
Octauas decimas Cornelius inde kalendas
Consecrauit et Cyprianus ordine digno.
Eufemia ac sex decimas tenet intemerata.
Undecimas capit et Matheus doctor amoenus,
Mauricius decimas tenet martyr cum milibus una.
Quintanas sortitur Cosmas sibi cum Damiano.
Michahelis ternas templi dedicatio sacrat.
At bonus pridias micat interpres Hieronymus.
Sextas Octembris nonas Bosa optat habere
Sollemnes terris summo qui gaudet Olympo.
At gemini quinis Haeuualdi sorte coluntur.
Paulinus senas metet idus iure magister.
Doctor ter quinis Lucas succurrere kalendis.
Simonis quinis et Iudas uota feramus.
Multiplici rutilet gemma ceu in fronte Nouember
Cunctorum fulget sanctorum laude decorus.
Martinus ternis scandit super idibus astra.
Quindecimis uitam finiuit Tecla kalendis.
Caecilia astra merito decimis cum laude migrauit.
Clementis laeti ueneramur festa nouenis.
Octauis Crysogonus ouat uitalibus armis.
Andreas pridias iuste ueneratur ab orbe.
Tres decimas adiit iam Ignatius aeque kalendis.
Bis senis caelum coepit conscendere Thomas.
Octauis Dominus natus de Uirgine casta.
Martyrio Stephanus septenis alma petiuit.
Bis ternis euangelicus scriptor penetrauit
Angelico uectus tutamine uirgo Iohannes.
Martyrio tenera prostrantur milia quinis.
Siluestrem pridias celebramus ab orbe uerendum.

(1 Jan) The first day of January is when the Lamb was circumcised.
(6) The sixth is worshipped because of the theophany of Christ.
(10) Paul, the first inhabitant of the desert, occupies the 10th.
(17) Similarly, Anthony obtains the 17th.
(20) Sebastian is said to have obtained the 20th.
(21) Because of merits conspicuous to the world, Agnes is commemorated on 21st,
(22) and through martyrdom Anastasius is commemorated on the 22nd.
(1 Feb) The first day of February is just when Polycarp suffered.
(2) A nd Christ was offered to the temple on the 2nd.
(5) We celebrate Agatha’s feast day on the 5th,
(14) and also Valentine’s is assigned to the 14th.
(16) And then Juliana decorates the 16th with honour,
(24) and also, Mathias deservedly made the 24th a holy day by his virtue.
(12 Mar) Here Gregory gilds the 12th of March.
(20) Cuthbert obtained the 20th,
(21) after whom St Benedict follows on the 21st.
(25) Christ’s conception rightly enjoys the 25th.
(23 Apr) And George was taken from hence and flew to the stars,
by overcoming executioners, on the 23rd.
(24) Ecgberht, shining with due praise for his virtue,
dutifully ascended starry Olympus on the 24th.
(24) On the same day, Wilfrid the Bishop reached heaven,
rejoicing in being borne by the angelic host through the delightful heights.
(29) And Wilfrid, on the 29th, went into the heavenly court,
following him in time, but second to none in the flower of his virtues.
(1 May) James, the pious servant of the Lord, and also Philip
are worshipped with great honour on the first of May.
(12) The innocent Pancras followed on the 12th.
(18) On the 18th, Mark deserved to rest.
(5 Jun) June, on its fifth day, worships Tatberht’s soul
taken away from the world and carried through the heavens.
(5) And on this same day, Boniface the mighty warrior,
victorious over his enemies, departed to heaven through martyrdom.
(10) (June) treats Barnabas in the same way on the 10th.
(19) Gervasius suffered on the 19th,
(19) as did Protasius, and both were summoned to the eternal kingdom.
(24) And John the Baptist is to be revered on the 24th,
on this feast of his beautiful birth, in the glory of his crown.
(26) And through martyrdom, Paul rejoices on the 26th, and so does John.
(29) The teachers Peter and Paul are associated (with each other) on the 29th,
illustrious men whom the world illuminates with the greatest honour.
(25 Jul) On July 25th, a happy day,
James, the brother of John, is celebrated in the usual way.
(30) Abdon and Sennen consecrate the 30th by venerating it.
(6 Aug) Appropriately, August has its sixth day as the feast of Sixtus.
(10) On the 10th, the victor Laurence overcomes enemies.
(15) The holy Mother of God, it is agreed, has her feast on the 15th,
the day on which the Virgin was carried to the angelic hosts.
(25) St Bartholomew is put on the 25th.
(29) On the 29th, the martyr, John the Baptist, is worshipped.
(8 Sept) The Blessed Virgin Mary gave honour to the 8th of September,
the day on which she was born.
(14) Cornelius then made the 14th holy,
(14) and did Cyprian in the appropriate order.
(16) The chaste Eufemia obtains the 16th.
(21) And the delightful teacher Matthew occupies the 21st.
(22) Maurice the martyr together with thousands (of others) obtains the 22nd.
(27) Cosmas is put on the 27th, along with Damian.
(29) The dedication of the Temple of Michael makes the 29th holy.
(30) And the good translator Jerome sparkles on the day before (the 1st of Oct).
(2 Oct) Bosa, who is venerated on earth, as he rejoices on the heights of Olympus,
wishes to have the 2nd of October solemn.
(3) And it falls to the twin Ewalds to be worshipped on the 3rd.
(10) The master Paulinus rightly marks out the 10th.
(18) Luke the teacher is to be remembered on the 18th.
(28) Let us pay reverence to Simon and Jude on the 28th.
(1 Nov) As a jewel worn on the brow sparkles time and again, so November
at its beginning is resplendent with the praise given to all the saints.
(11) Martin ascended above the stars on the 11th.
(17) Thecla finished her life on the 17th.
(22) Cecilia deservedly left for heaven with praise on the 22nd.
(23) We happily venerate Clement’s feast on the 23rd.
(24) Chrysogonus in his mighty armour rejoices on the 24th.
(30) Andrew is properly venerated round the world the day before (the 1st of Dec).
(20 Dec) On the 20th (of Dec), similarly, Ignatius departed.
(21) Thomas began to ascend to heaven on the 21st.
(25) The Lord was born from the immaculate Virgin on the 25th.
(26) Through martyrdom, Stephen sought his reward on the 26th.
(27) On the 27th, the evangelist reached heaven,
the innocent John, borne by the protection of the angels.
(28) Through martyrdom, thousands of infants were overthrown on the 28th.
(31) We celebrate the Reverend Silvester, who is to be honoured throughout the
world on the day before (the 1st of Jan).

The best introduction to the Metrical Calendar of York is undoubtedly by Michael Lapidge, “A tenth-century metrical calendar from Ramsey”, in: Revue Benedictine 94 (1984), 326-369, esp. 327-332.  The original text from York is extant in two manuscripts.  The text then crossed the channel and spread widely on the continent, losing references to local anglo-saxon saints, and acquiring new lines for saints in the new location.  There are many continental witnesses, all somewhat modified.  Unusually a version of the text then came back to England, and had further descendants here.

The various metrical calendars are a field of study of their own, and too much for a blog post.  But we can certainly look a little at the history of the text.

The original text is preserved in two manuscripts.  The first of these is British Library, Cotton Vespasian B. vi. (=V)  It dates a  little after 800 AD, and was written in Mercia.  Our text is on folios 104r-v.  This is in a group of 3 bifolia which were for some reason extracted from the main manuscript and are bound separately as B.VI/1.  They are online here.  This is the top of f.104r.

British Library, Cotton Vespasian B VI/1, f.104r (top)

Unhappily the manuscript is defective at the start, beginning only on line 16 with “Bis senis sanctus….”.  (To the right of the text is a list of Roman and Greek numerals – nothing to do with our text).

The other manuscript is Trinity College Cambridge, O.2.24, fol. 87v-89r, (=Tr.) from the start of the 12th century.  It is not a copy of V, and it is complete.  It is online here, although I found that the manuscript images did not display on my Android phone.  But blessedly you can download a page that you are interested in:

Trinity College, Cambridge. Ms. O.2.24, fol.87v-88r.

In actual fact our text starts, without an incipit, on fol. 88r.  Each month has an initial.  The manuscript is far more handsome than the rough Dark Ages manuscript above.  It ends on fol. 89r, without any explicit.

Both manuscripts contain our verse.  They have, however, no mention of a verse commemorating John of Beverley which is preserved only in continental manuscripts, but is probably original.

The latest saint mentioned is Boniface, who was martyred by the pagan Friesians in 754.  The last bishop of York mentioned is Wilfrid II (d. 732), but not Ecgberht (d.766), which might suggest that he was still alive when the poem was written.  The manuscript V itself dates to soon after 800 AD.  Alcuin mentions All Saints Day on 1st November in a letter to Arno of Salzburg, dateable to early 800 AD,[1] suggesting that he was aware of such a date before he left for the continent in 782 AD.  These dates all suggest that the work was written between 754 and 766 AD.  Lapidge suggests that it may in fact be an early work by Alcuin himself.

The work is extant in various continental manuscripts, all interpolated.  For instance there is British Library Sloane 263, f. 22r, online here.  We can see that this has acquired an incipit: INCIPIT MARTYROLOGIUM BEDAE HEROICO CARMINE:

British Library, Sloane 263, f.22r.

It has also acquired some introductory verses as a prologue to January from somewhere.

The Martyrologium Poeticum / Metrical Calendar of York was printed first by Luc D’Achery in 1671 from a manuscript of Reims transcribed by Mabillon.  This too has the spurious prologue.  The edition is online here.

This is the text given by Migne in the Patrologia Latina 94, col. 603 (online here).

The authorship by Bede was first dismissed by Henri Quentin in Les martyrologes historiques du moyen ages, 1908, chapter 3, p.120 f., (online here) who also gave an edition of the text.

André Wilmart, “Un témoin anglo-saxon du calendrier métrique d’York”, Revue Bénédictine 46, 1934, p.41-69 established the English origin and gave an edition based on V.  But we had to wait until 2005 and the edition of Karasawa for a proper edition and translation.

The importance of all this is that it establishes a date for the celebration of All Saints Day in the middle of the 8th century, nearly 50 years earlier than Alcuin.  It also establishes that this date is likely to be of anglo-saxon origin.

  1. [1]Ed. E. Dümmler, MGH, Epistolae Karolini Aevi II (Berlin 1895), p. 321.

From my diary

I have spent a few days, researching the Martyrologium Poeticum of pseudo-Bede.

This work would ordinarily be a bit late for us.  Bede himself appears in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum, but the editors declined to include his dubia and spuria, doubtless realising that this would take them centuries into the middle ages.

The text is the first witness to All Saints’ Days – All Hallows Day – being celebrated on 1st November.  So it gets quoted in the literature.  I’ve been trying to find out about it, with this in mind.

However I noticed a funny thing, when I was looking through the papers.  There was nothing at all under this name for more than 50 years.  There were a cluster of papers by John Hennig in the 1920s and 30s, and a couple of French papers of the same era, and then nothing.  This made me suspicious.  Generally texts do not cease to be worked on entirely, after attracting interest for centuries.

But I have seen this before.  This evening my suspicion was confirmed – that the text is today known under a different title.  No longer do we study the Martyrologium Poeticum; instead it is the Metrical Calendar of York, or even simply MCY!

The text with an English translation has been edited by Kazutomo Karasawa in The Old English Metrical Calendar (Menologium), Cambridge, 2015, in Appendix 2 (p.138), as one of a number of related texts that Dr. K. included in his edition.

It’s very bad practice to do something like this, without better reason than I have yet to see.  I nearly wrote an article, entirely based on the older literature.  I am not the only one to be misled.

I shall have to write something with a bibliography about all this, and I do need to read the articles by Michael Lapidge that list the manuscripts.  But that can wait to another time.


From my diary – thinking about All Saints Day

Halloween is nearly upon us, and with it comes the incessant smug chanting that “Halloween is simply Samhain renamed”, and other cries of a similar kind.

Folklore is often a bit rubbish.  All sorts of claims are made, of the wildest kind, and those who make them often take offence if you ask what evidence there might be for them.  The truth is that a good many customs are of very recent coinage.  I can personally attest that in England the custom of “trick and treat” was unknown in the 1960s and 70s.  I first encountered it in the mid-1980s, and it was evidently borrowed from American TV shows.

But a claim that “Halloween is Samhain renamed” raises all sorts of questions.  Who renamed it, if so?  When?  In what country?

Of course these questions are never asked, and the answers never supplied.  This alone should make us very suspicious that an urban myth is involved.

Thinking about this led me to ask when All Saint’s Day is first attested.  After all, Halloween can hardly predate it.  This in turn led me into deep waters.  One of these was the Wikipedia page, which contained the following remarkable claim:

I was much more interested in the “references” than in the text, of course, and these were also interesting:

“Hutton” proved to be  Ronald Hutton, Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford, 1996.  Three chapters were devoted to Samhain and Halloween, concluding that in the British Isles it was All Saints Day that had replaced whatever might have been done at Samhain, and that Halloween only develops after the Reformation.  The author had plainly tried to get to the primary evidence for everything; and the sheer effort involved can only attract one’s admiration.  Unfortunately the footnoting is rather more meagre than one would wish.

“Pseudo-Bede, Homiliae subditiae” turned out to be quite irrelevant, as well as incomplete.  The reference should in fact be Homiliae subditae 69, in the Patrologia Latina 114; but in actual fact this has nothing to do with the points made.  The mention of it is a digression by Hennig: that extracts from this (spurious) sermon are used in the readings for All Saints’ Day in some modern service book.  The Hennig article – in fact both of them – were grotesquely badly written and rambling horrors.  An example will suffice:

The Collect for the feast of All the Saints says that we celebrate on it the memory of all the Saints sub una. The Collect for the Votive Mass says that we rejoice in the intercession of all the Saints ubique. The Office seems to pay a tribute to the first martyrologist to record the name of this feast, by taking the lessons for the second Nocturn from what is described as Bede’s 18th Sermon on the Saints, the first of the two sermons for this feast listed by Migne as nos. lxix and lxx of Bede’s sermones subditae.[47]

47. PL 114.

By contrast the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church article was concise and to the point.

All Saints’ Day itself does not appear to have been established on November 1 until the mid-9th century.  An important witness to this is often given as “Bede’s Martyrology”, stating that all the saints are honoured at the start of November.  But in fact this text does NOT state this.  It is found instead in a metrical text, slightly later than Bede, and sometimes referred to as “Bede’s metrical martyrology”.

Working with all this scruffy material is a trial to anyone historically minded!


More manuscripts of the “notae” in the margins of Cassiodorus, “Expositio Psalmorum”

I gave some examples in a previous post of the unpublished “notae”, symbols indicating what type of comment was involved, in the margin of Cassiodorus’ Expositio Psalmorum, his commentary on the Psalms.  The notae are listed and explained at the top; and I gave some manuscript images.

After doing so, a few more online manuscripts came to hand.  I got them by looking at Halporn’s 1981 article on the manuscripts (JSTOR), plus quite a bit of legwork!

First and best of these is in Munich, at the BSB, a manuscript of the 2nd quarter of the 9th century, with the shelfmark Clm 14077.  It’s online here.  This manuscript does not just give the notae and the meaning: it also gives an example after each.  This is unusual, and must indicate creative work by the copyist.  Here is folio 1r:

Nice, isn’t it?  But it also demonstrates how these sorts of indices, meta-textual elements, are vulnerable to interference in transmission.

The next one is a more conventional manuscript, this time in Paris, at the BNF.  The shelfmark is Paris latinus 2194.  It’s 10th century, once belonged to Colbert, and is online here.  Sadly we have only a monochrome image, but it is a very clear one!

Note at the top the shelfmark’s of past owners.  It was “Cod. Colb. 447” – manuscript 447, when it was owned by Colbert.  Then it was “Regius 3642”, that is manuscript 3642 in the Royal library.  At the revolution the old royal library became the core of the new Bibliothèque Nationale Français, and “2194” was written lower down.  Manuscripts move around like bumblebees sometimes, and they reflect the times through which they passed.

The “notae” appear, with the usual explanation, followed by the preface.  But see how the microfilm hides the actual symbols in the margin for the most part!

Also available online here is BNF Paris lat. 2195, this time in colour.  This manuscript was written in the first quarter of the 9th century, and was once the property of the abbey of St Martial at Limoges, according to the catalogue.

Here the “notae” are clearly photographed.  In fact it is notable that modern digitisation projects make a far better job of it than the old microfilmers.  Perhaps the reputation of the institution is on the line.  A microfilm might be seen by one or two scholars, who had been overcharged for it, and nobody cared if the quality was any good.  Indeed the BNF certainly tried to sell me some quite useless microfilms once; and I had to threaten to involve Visa before they refunded my money.  But the world can see these digital copies; and there is national prestige at stake.  The end result is good for everyone, however.

This leaf has clearly been damaged.  I would guess that the manuscript had lost its cover, at some point during its history, and the top right got wet and rotted.  But it is still with us!

Another example of damage is in Vatican Palatinus latinus 271:It’s not clear what has happened here, is it, but the notae are unreadable.

Something similar has happened in the manuscript from Reichenau, now Karlsruhe Aug. Perg. 155, online here:

On the other hand we get this in Bamberg Msc Bibl. 56 (online here):

The ink has faded, and made the symbols hard to read, and a subsequent hand has redrawn them!

It is really very remarkable to be able to compare something like this so easily from my study.  We are so fortunate.  These are days of wonders!