Preserving our efforts for the future – how can I safeguard my “literary legacy”?

Yesterday I asked what the future is likely to be for private websites, in a much more regulated internet dominated by corporations and their lawyers.  This led me to consider what will happen to my own literary legacy – rather too grand a term! – when the time comes.  The preservation strategies of yesterday – mirroring and free availability – are unlikely to work any more.

It’s hard to say how much of what I have written will still be of value in 20 years.  But one area that will definitely hold its value is the translations of ancient texts that I have published over the years.  Some were made and donated by others.  Some I commissioned.  Some I did myself.  A few were done as online collaborations.

In every case no translation existed in English when “mine” was made.  In some cases a translation has come along since, but mostly they remain the only English translation ever made.  There are advantages to being a pioneer!  So these things are likely to be useful for the foreseeable future.

When I die, my domain names will vanish and my websites will go offline.  The master copies exist locally on my hard disk and backup drives, but these will no doubt be erased by my executors.

It’s not easy to see what to do.  I’ve just done a couple of Google searches, but these have mainly produced rubbish.

Possibly one solution would be to compile all these scattered translations into a single PDF, which could then be made available on Archive, Academia, and to deposit libraries.  I could perhaps “publish it” formally, and give it an ISBN.  Indeed I could create print copies, and deposit them with legal deposit libraries.  That would be another avenue of preservation.

But it would be quite an undertaking to do this.  Like Dr Johnson, if more humbly, I do not even have a list of everything that I have done.  But I could do this.  The more recent material will be in PDF form already, on the blog.  Older material will be in HTML.  The most important of these is the translation Jerome’s Chronicle, which was in tabular form and very hairy to lay out in HTML, and will have its own special problems.

Perhaps the first step is simply to create a handlist of translations that I have created or published.  If St Augustine did this, in his Retractiones, then I need not be ashamed to do so.  Once a complete list exists – or reasonably complete – then the task of creating the preservation volume could begin.

I suppose that I could create that list as a page on this blog, in the first instance.  That might work.

The other bunch of material, of less importance, is the blog.  I wonder if there is a tool to export from WordPress to PDF!!  If not, maybe there should be!

Interesting thoughts, anyway.


What happens next to private internet sites?

Last night I noticed that one of my domains had renewed.  I marvelled at the price charged, for what is just a line in a database.  But I found a strange agreement of price from so many vendors.  It didn’t seem easy to find anywhere that was cheaper.  I then looked at the registry where most of my domains are hosted, and found – to my fury – that they had invented a fee to transfer domains elsewhere.  How kind.

These charges add up, if you have more than one or two domains.  I let go a while back, and  But what happens when I get older?  Will I want to spend any of my slender retirement income on inflated domain name fees?

This led me to reflect.  Does anybody create their own domain any more these days?  I can’t think of the last time that somebody created a site like this.  But if they do, these absurd charges await them.  Furthermore the same people have invented a requirement to use https, rather than http, and so created a need for a certificate for which – of course – they charge annually.  In fact this whole business is a racket.  It looks like a cartel, and it probably is one.

But it’s a racket aimed at companies and corporations.  The internet infrastructure is increasingly aimed at companies and corporations.  Google, our beloved search engine, is now aimed entirely at advertising, and so prefers websites which sell advertising – companies and corporations.

Private individuals hardly get a look in any more.  If they do, they will create blogs on, or a Facebook page or group, or something like that.  It is another matter whether they will ever be heard of.

The world-wide web was originally decentralised.  Anybody could take part, on equal terms.  But this is no longer the case.  Google favours monopolies, companies and corporations.  It privileges Wikipedia, for instance – a monolith – rather than treating sites equally.  And if Google privileges you, you are privileged indeed!  Google itself is a monopoly, or nearly so.

But Google is now a very bad search engine.  I did a search on myself, and got around 70 hits – the product of thousands of pages of ceaseless contribution to the web over a period of 23 years results in 70 hits.  A quick check on Bing revealed far better results.  But the reason is very obvious – Google is the one making money out of all this, and Google is slanted to monopolies and corporations.

As I thought about all of this, I started to wonder about the results of my labours.  What will become of the translations that I made, or commissioned, which are all of value?  In every case there is or was no other English translation.  Can anybody find them?

In the past I relied on the decentralised nature of the web.  I was and am very happy for anybody to mirror my content, or to upload it anywhere.  The more the merrier, I thought, and thereby preservation is ensured.

But can anybody find any of this stuff any more?  I wonder, sometimes.  And what happens to my sites, my content, when, in the passage of time, something happens to me?

In the past I never worried about this, because I knew that existed, and I felt that it would all get preserved somehow.  But is this true any more?  Are there measures that we should take, those of us working in specialised areas, to preserve our content?  If so, where?

Long ago someone at a university offered to provide a home to my content.  I declined, because I was young and thought nothing of it.  But I know that universities do not preserve websites.  The number of broken links that I encounter these days, from older content, is considerable.  In fact they don’t preserve paper content very well either – there are a number of books on my shelves which were originally donated to a university library and were then sold off by the heedless library.  Even if it continues to exist, web standards change, and old technologies become obsolete and things stop working.  The raw HTML page is perhaps the most enduring – a website generated from PHP will start giving errors in a decade.

Most of my stuff is probably at  But is that a safe place now?  I have my doubts.  The corporatisation of the internet means that corporations will gain ever greater power.  In Germany that means that the book publishing firms basically prevent anything much going online without their permission.  The publishing firms have sued in the past.  They have sued Google.  They don’t want any books online, because they want to make money selling that content.  As the corporations gain power, surely the future is with them?

The evolution of the internet into something centralised, composed mainly of a handful of websites has rendered that internet much more open to control by others, whose motives may be to exploit, not contribute.  I don’t want to delve into US politics, but what has happened in the last couple of weeks suggest to me that a radical change is about to overtake the world wide web.  We have seen the social media sites act as one as a cartel, banning a sitting US president and purging his supporters.  Although they must have acted under political pressure from the incoming party, it is possible that they have thereby fallen into a trap.  He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.  Nobody anywhere likes the idea of a handful of people like Mark Zuckerberg controlling the political environment.  They can hardly now plead freedom of speech, or claim impartiality.  They now have no allies.  They have probably acted illegally.  They have violated the trust of a huge number of people around the globe.  This leaves them at the mercy of the new administration.  If the latter chooses, they can use this as a reason to break them up, and reshape the web, with little opposition.  I have already seen articles on how unpopular Facebook is with the new administration.  This suggests to me that Facebook is toast.  How a future internet will work is unclear, but it will be much less free-wheeling and much more regulated.  I suspect that may die in the process.

So we face a period of change, and this will bring opportunities as well as problems.  What seems clear is that the internet which we all remember is dead.

What now?  And … how shall we preserve our content and transmit it to the future?


The Roman Martyrology – editions and origins

The Roman Martyrology or Martyrologium Romanum is one of the service books of the Roman Catholic church.  It contains a list of martyrs, organised by the date on which they are commemorated, with a short notice of their life and death.  In the daily church service, there is a point at which the martyr or martyrs for the day can be remembered, and the Roman Martyrology supplies the necessary text.[1]

The full title of the work is Martyrologium Romanum ad novam kalendarii rationem et ecclesiasticae historiae veritatem restitutum (Roman Martyrology, by the new reckoning of the calendar, and the truth of church history restored).  This was part of a programme of work on liturgical texts, headed by Cardinal Sirleto.  In 1580 Baronius and others on the commission drew up the list of martyrs to be included.[2]

According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia (here), this first printed edition appeared in 1583 – Romae : ex typographia Dominici Basae; excudebat Franciscus Zannettus, MDLXXXIII. It is dedicated to Pope Gregory XIII.  A second edition appeared, also at Rome in the same year, but I’m not sure how to distinguish it from the first.  One of these is online here.  The title page has only brief details:

But the colophon at the end gives us a little more, including the date of printing – the 26th May.

Other editions appeared at Venice and Lyons in the same year.

On 14 January 1584 Pope Gregory XIII issued a breve entitled “Emendato iam kalendario”, ordering the use of the revised edition.

In 1586 a further revised edition appeared, to which Baronius added a Tractatio de Martyrologio Romano.  (Online here), and Baronius himself revised it further in the Antwerp edition of 1589.

In 1630, Urban VIII produced a new edition.

Finally in 1748 there appeared the version of Benedict XIV, which remained the standard version until very recently (I couldn’t find this online, but a transcription of the Latin is here).  An English translation of this appeared in the USA at some date.  I was able to find editions from 1869 (online here), 1897 (online here), and 1916 (online here), although I do not know whether these are the same.

After Vatican 2, there was a need for a new edition, purged of legendary material.  This appeared in 2001, at the Vatican press – Martyrologium romanum: ex decreto sacrosancti œcumenici Concilii Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatum. Editio typica.

There is a useful article online about the Martyrologium Romanum – G. Marino, “Approaching the Martyrologium Romanum: A semiotic perspective”,  in: Lexia. Rivista di semiotica, 31–32 (2018), 175-275 (online here and here).

The material contained in the Roman Martyrology is derived from many sources, and grew organically over a period of a thousand years, in manuscript.  Much of this period was a time of ignorance and superstition.  The value of the information provided is of very questionable historical value.  Duplicate entries for martyrs abound.  There is a useful but very old article by E.C. Butler, “Achelis on the martyrologies: Die Martyrologien, ihre Geschichte und ihr Wert: untersucht von H. Achelis. 247 pp. (Berlin, 1900.)”, JTS os-2 (1901), 447-458, which summarises work on the text to that date.  More recent overviews must exist, but these are unknown to me.

  1. [1]My apologies to Roman Catholic readers who will know all this and more.  But protestants have very little idea about the manuals used by the Roman Catholic Church.
  2. [2]Katherine Van Liere &c (ed), Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World, 2012, p.55.  Link to Preview.  See also

Did Gregory say that the four councils should have the same importance as the four gospels?

An interesting tweet online here, which reflects a common understanding on some Roman Catholic sites:

As Catholics, what weightage ought we to give sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition?

“I confess that I accept and venerate the four councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon) in the same way as I do the four books of the holy Gospel.” – Pope Gregory I, 381 AD

That’s quite a quote, supposed to put the councils on a level with scripture.  But what did Gregory actually say, and in what context?

The quote is not directly from Gregory.  It comes from an English translation of a old German work by Reinhold Seeberg, his Lehrbuch des Dogmengeschicte, (online here) given the curious English title of Textbook of the History of Doctrines and printed in 1905 from the revised 1904 German edition.  In volume 2 (online at here), page 18, discussing the theology of Pope Gregory I, we find the following:

Gregory knows himself to be upon these points in harmony with the doctrine of the church councils. He is orthodox, he holds, who accepts what sanctae quatuor universales synodi accepted, and rejects what they rejected (ep. vi. 66; opp. ii., p. 843). “I confess that I receive and venerate four councils, just as I receive and venerate four books of the holy gospel” (ep. i. 25, p. 515; also iii. 10; v. 51, 54; iv. 38). Thus the authority of the church is recognized as on a par with that of the Holy Scriptures. Gregory, indeed, sustained by the strictest theory of inspiration, sees in the Holy Scriptures the “foundation of divine authority” (divinae auctoritatis fundamentum, mor. xviii. 26. 39). …

That is our source for the quote, as we can see from the word “venerate”.  So let’s look up the reference in Gregory’s Letters.

The letters of Pope Gregory are collected in the Registrum Epistolarum, in 14 books.  This was printed in the Patrologia Latina vol. 77.  But Seeberg used the Monumenta Germanica Historia edition, in two volumes: vol 1 is here, vol 2 is here.

The first reference is in error: it is actually to book 1, letter 24, written to John, Patriarch of Constantinople and the other patriarchs.  (The reference given in Seeberg is “i.25 (p.515)”, which in fact is not referring to the MGH edition at all, but to the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translation of selected letters, in which the letter is wrongly numbered as 25).  Here is the MGH text, and the NPNF translation from here.

Praeterea quia ‘corde creditur ad iustitiam, ore autem confessio fit ad salutem’, sicut sancti evangelii quattuor libros, sic quattuor concilia suscipere et venerari me fateor. Nicenum scilicet, in quo perversum Arrii dogma destruitur, Constantinopolitanum quoque, in quo Eunomii et Macedonii error convincitur, Efesenum etiam primum, in quo Nestorii impietas iudicatur, Chalcedonense” vero, in quo Euthychis’ Dioscorique pravitas reprobatur, tota devotione complector, integerrima approbatione custodio, quia in his velut in quadrato lapide, sanctae fidei structura consurgit, et cuiuslibet vitae atque actionis existat, quisquis eorum soliditatem non tenet, etiam si lapis esse cernitur, tamen extra aedificium iacet. Quintum quoque concilium pariter veneror, in quo epistola, quae Ibaey dicitur, erroris plena, reprobatur’, Theodorus personam mediatoris Dei et hominum in duabus subsistentiis separans ad impietatis perfidiam cecidisse convincitur, scripta quoque Theodoriti, per quaeb beati Cyrilli fides reprehenditur, ausu dementiae prolata refutantur. …

Besides, since ‘with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’ (Rom.10.10), I confess that I receive and revere, as the four books of the Gospel so also the four Councils: to wit, the Nicene, in which the perverse doctrine of Arius is overthrown; the Constantinopolitan also, in which the error of Eunomius and Macedonius is refuted; further, the first Ephesine, in which the impiety of Nestorius is condemned; and the Chalcedonian, in which the pravity of Eutyches and Dioscorus is reprobated. These with full devotion I embrace, and adhere to with most entire approval; since on them, as on a four-square stone, rises the structure of the holy faith; and whosoever, of whatever life and behaviour he may be, holds not fast to their solidity, even though he is seen to be a stone, yet he lies outside the building. The fifth council also I equally venerate, in which the epistle which is called that of Ibas, full of error, is reprobated; Theodorus, who divides the Mediator between God and men into two subsistences, is convicted of having fallen into the perfidy of impiety; and the writings of Theodoritus, in which the faith of the blessed Cyril is impugned, are refuted as having been published with the daring of madness.

The next passage gives the same idea.  It comes from book 3, 10 – the letter to the subdeacon Savinus.  The NPNF translation is here.  The footnote states that the subject is the condemnation of the Three Chapters by the Fifth Council.


Exeuntes maligni homines turbaverunt animos vestros, non intellegentes neque quae loquuntur, neque de quibus adfirmant, astruentes, quod aliquid de sancta Chalcedonensi synodo piae memoriae Iustiniani temporibus sit inminutum, quam omni fide omnique devotione veneramur. Et sic quattuor synodos sanctae universalis ecclesiae sicut quattuor libros sacrib evangelii recipimus. De personis vero, de quibus post terminum synodi aliquid actum fuerat, eiusdem piae memoriae Iustiniani temporibus est ventilatum; ita tamen, ut nec fides in aliquo violaretur, nec de eisdem personis aliquid aliud ageretur, quam apud eandem sanctam Chalcedonenscm synodum fuerat constitutum. Anathematizamus autem, si quis ex definitione fidei, quae in eadem synodo prolata est, aliquid inminuere praesumit, vel quasi corrigendo eius sensum mutare. Sed sicut illic prolata est per omnia custodimus.  Te ergo, fili karissime, decet ad unitatem sanctae ecclesiae remeare, ut finem tuum valeas in pace concludere, ne malignus spiritus, qui contra te per alia opera praevalere non potest, ex hac causa inveniat, unde tibi in dic exitus tui in aditum regni caelestis obsistat.

X. Gregory to Savinus, &c.

Bad men have gone forth and disturbed your minds, understanding neither what they say nor whereof they affirm, pretending that in the times of Justinian of pious memory something was detracted from the faith of the holy synod of Chalcedon, which with all faith and all devotion we venerate. And in like manner all the four synods of the holy universal Church we receive as we do the four books of the holy Gospel. But concerning the persons with respect to whom something had been done after the close of the synod, there was something ventilated in the times of Justinian of pious memory: yet so that neither was the faith in any respect violated, nor anything else done with regard to these same persons but what had been determined at the same holy synod of Chalcedon. Moreover, we anathematize any one who presumes to detract anything from the definition of the faith which was promulgated in the said synod, or, as though by amending it, to change its meaning: but, as it was there promulgate, so in all respects we guard it. Thee, therefore, most dear son, it becomes to return to the unity of Holy Church, that thou mayest end thy days in peace; lest the malignant spirit, who cannot prevail against thee through thy other works, may from this cause find a way at the day of thy departure of barring thy entrance into the heavenly Kingdom.

The next two references, V.51 and 54, seem to be about simony and irrelevant.

The final reference is to IV.33, to Queen Theodelinae.  The NPNF gives this as “IV, 38”.  The NPNF is here.  I’ll skip the Latin for the introductory stuff.

Nos enim veneramur sanctas quattuor sinodos: Nicenam, in qua Arrius; Constantinopolitanam, in qua Macedonius; Ephesinam primam, in qua Nestorius atque Dioscorus; Calcedonensem, in qua Eutyches dampnatus est. Profitentes, quia quisquis aliter sapit quam hae quattuor synodi, a fide veritatis alienus est. Damnamus autem quoscumque damnant et quoscumque absolvunt absolvimus, sub anathematis interpositione ferientes eum, qui carundem quattuor sinodorum, maxime autem Calcedonensis, de qua quibusdamm imperitis hominibus dubietas nata est fidei addere vel adimere praesumit.

It has come to our knowledge from the report of certain persons that your Glory has been led on by some bishops even to the offence against holy Church of suspending yourself from the communion of Catholic unanimity. Now the more we sincerely love you, the more seriously are we distressed about you, that you believe unskilled and foolish men, who not only do not know what they talk about, but can hardly understand what they have heard; who, while they neither read themselves, nor believe those who do, remain in the same error which they have themselves feigned to themselves concerning us.

For we venerate the four holy synods; the Nicene, in which Arius, the Constantinopolitan, in which Macedonius, the first Ephesine, in which Nestorius, and the Chalcedonians, in which Eutyches and Dioscorus, were condemned; declaring that whosoever thinks otherwise than these four synods did is alien from the true faith. We also condemn whomsoever they condemn, and absolve whomsoever they absolve, smiting, with interposition of anathema, any one who presumes to add to or take away from the faith of the same four synods, and especially that of Chalcedon, with respect to which doubt and occasion of superstition has arisen in the minds of certain unskilled men.

There’s clearly something odd with the references here.  We can see that the English translation has interfered with the references, so it might be interesting to see what Seeberg actually wrote.  But I was unable to trace this in the various online copies in different editions without more labour than I thought it was worth.

The first reference makes clear that Gregory did say these exact words:

sicut sancti evangelii quattuor libros, sic quattuor concilia suscipere et venerari me fateor. – I confess that I receive and revere, as the four books of the Gospel so also the four Councils.

But it seems to me that Seeberg misleads us.  Gregory is not discussing the inspiration of scripture, and whether the councils should be considered on a par with it.  He is talking about the councils, at a time when their authority was very much under attack.  Everyone that he writes to accepts that the bible is inspired.  But he is addressing people who have very great doubts about the councils, whether they should be accepted at all!  His point is that he accepts them, just as he accepts the gospels.  The degree to which he accepts each is not discussed, nor in anybody’s mind.  It’s essentially a rhetorical flourish.

We ought to remember the times in which Gregory wrote.  The Roman state in the west had collapsed.  The partial reconquest of Italy under Justinian was also falling apart.  Gregory was trying to build whatever sources of authority he could, finding whatever common ground he could with the east.  At the same time the Eastern empire was engaged in its endless sickening theological witchhunts, ever creating new doctrinal quibbles in order to demonise and exclude others.  In this environment Gregory was mainly concerned to show his loyalty, and to keep things going somehow.  It is not fair to him to back-project onto him the counter-reformation attempts to put the church on a par with the bible.


The Roman Fort at Ain el-Lebekha

Here’s a photograph for a snowy winter morning!  It’s the Roman fort at Ain el-Lebekha, a micro-oasis near Kharga Oasis in the western desert in Egypt.  It’s like something straight out of Beau-Geste.

I had never heard of this place, so I did some googling.  I found that, as ever with Arabic names, the name is spelled several ways: Labakha, and Qasr Labakha, etc.

The North Kharga Oasis Survey site, here tells us more. “The most unexpected and startling of the remains in Kharga are the forts of the Roman period, mentioned in passing by early travellers and geologists, and never properly investigated.” There are several spectacular forts.

The area of Ain el-Lebekha is 40-50km north of Kharga.  It is only accessible by 4×4.  The old caravan route that the fort commands is no longer used.  Apparently there are enterprising gentlemen in Kharga happy to arrange a day trip, for a mere $150.

There are some very useful photographs at Wikimedia Commons here.  Here’s one, by Roland Unger:

There is a paper by C. Rossi and G. Magli, “Wind, Sand and Water. The Orientation of the Late Roman Forts in the Kharga Oasis”, in: G. Magli (ed.), Archaeoastronomy in the Roman World (2019), p. 153-166 (online here; also the references are in HTML here), which serves as an introduction to the literature on the subject.

But all that is for another day.  Today I think we can just gaze at the pictures, and think of the dry air and heat of Egypt.

(h/t RKM images)


A “beautiful allusion” to palimpsests in John Chrysostom, and the less beautiful task of verifying it

In 1866 a lecture was given by a certain Dr Charles William Russell (d.1880), President of Maynooth College, with the title, “Cardinal Mai and the Palimpsests”.  This contained the following statement, which has been repeated in some form now for 160 years.

The practice [of palimpsesting] continued, in a greater or less degree, under the later emperors ; and there is a beautiful allusion to it in one of St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies,+ in which he compares the mind upon which evil impressions had once been made to a palimpsest parchment in which, however carefully the old characters and lines are sure to appear peeping the new writing.

It appears from the introduction of the editor that the text of the lecture was discovered, unpublished, among the papers of the author.  So it was printed in the Irish Monthly 38 (1910), p.301-315, more than forty years after it was delivered.

These words have had a literary afterlife quite disproportional to their origin.  When the claim is quoted, a reference is given to the homilies on Matthew, if at all.  But there is no sign that the reference has been verified.  Indeed a correspondent, Prof. Johnnie Gratton, formerly of Trinity College Dublin, wrote to me a week ago and raised the question, which drew my attention to the matter.

Our first port of call is the original article, which is in JSTOR here.  This gives a footnote, which reads, in its entirety, “Matth. xxvi. 4.”  But there is no homily of Chrysostom on that verse; indeed Chrysostom only refers to the verse once, according to the Biblindex database, and that in his 15th homily on Romans.

I then came across a possible answer, in a Ukrainian paper, of all possible sources.  The article has an English abstract and is Daria Morozova, “The school of Antioch and its pedagogical metaphors”,  in: Мultiversum: Philosophical almanac 1 (2020),188-201 (online here).   Thankfully Google Translate handles this well. Dr. Morozova begins:

In Antiochian authors, as in all Byzantine patristic in general, several pedagogical metaphors of ancient origin compete, which in very different ways – and in diametrically opposite ways – represent the nature of the educator’s influence on the child. Perhaps the most common pedagogical metaphor until now is the image of a blank sheet (tabula rasa), on which he outlines his meanings …  If the metaphor of a blank sheet comes from the materialist psychology of Aristotle (De anima, III, 4, 429b – 430a), …

Then on p.191 we find this:

Tabula rasa or palimpsest?

Chrysostom refers to the first paradigm – tabula rasa – very often, but it has a slightly more complex configuration. Instead of a “blank sheet”, John imagines a palimpsest with many layers of text, where each new recorded text hopelessly hides everything from sight. In one of the exegetical sermons (In Matt. 11.7), John rebukes his (adult) listeners for treating worship as a sad duty and not as a fascinating learning process in which the teachers are “prophets, apostles, patriarchs. and all are righteous. ” After singing a few psalms, they carry home “empty charters” (κενὰς… δέλτους), which, however, are not really empty. After all, at home the faithful allow passions and all the hustle and bustle of life to flood their hearts with “spam”, which makes them deaf to the divine lessons of the liturgy.

“That is why,” John complains, “when I take your charters (δέλτους), I cannot read them. I do not find the letters that we write down for you on Sundays (…), but I find others instead – meaningless (ἄσημα) and distorted. We, wiping them (ἐξαλείψαντες), write what is from the Spirit, and you, leaving here, surrender your hearts to the devil’s actions (διαβολικαῖς ἐνεργείαις), and again give him the opportunity to rewrite.” (In Matt. 7.7: PG 57, 200).

Therefore, Chrysostom asks his children: “Wipe away the letters or, more precisely, the imprints (χαράγματα) that the devil has engraved (ἐνετύπωσέ) in your soul, and bring me a heart free from all the confusion of life, so that I can write freely, to him that ho-chu”.

Spiritual education in this description resembles a certain information war, where opponents tirelessly rewrite texts on the tablets of hearts (“others against others”, ἕτερα ἀνθ ‘ἑτέρων). Thus, within the usual metaphor of a blank sheet, pedagogy is no longer presented as a one-time path from zero to 100% completeness, but as a virtually endless process of editing.

Note that I don’t know a letter of Ukrainian, nor even the Cyrillic alphabet, so all this is from Google Translate.  It’s remarkably good, isn’t it?

Here, I think, we have a modern researcher independently reading Chrysostom and concluding that a palimpsest is involved.  Better still, we have references!  Let’s see what they say.

The first reference is to “In Matt. 11.7”. But don’t be misled here – this is not about Matthew chapter 11, verse 7!  This refers to “Homilies on Matthew, homily 11, chapter 7”.   This can be found in the Patrologia Graeca text, PG 57, col. 200.  And “Homily 11 on Matthew” is commenting on Matthew 3:7.

The second reference is to “In Matt. 7.7: PG 57, 200”; but this is, again, in fact homily 11, chapter 7.  I assume “7:7” is a typo for “11:7”.  The material for both references seems to be from the same passage, as we shall see.

Luckily we have a complete translation of the Homilies on Matthew.  They were originally translated for the Oxford Movement Library of the Fathers of the Catholic Church series.  Sir George Prevost made the translation, and it was published as volumes 11 and 15 in 1843, and vol. 34 in 1851.  These were then pirated for the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series, and slightly revised to update the language, formatting and footnotes.  The translation was made from a different edition, in which the material is in chapter 9.  The LFC may be found here.  Here’s the NPNF:

And yet our teachers here are more in number and greater. For no less than prophets and apostles and patriarchs, and all righteous men, are by us set over you as teachers in every Church. And not even so is there any profit, but if you have joined in chanting two or three Psalms, and making the accustomed prayers at random and anyhow, are so dismissed, you think this enough for your salvation. Have ye not heard the prophet, saying (or rather God by the prophet), This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me?

Therefore, lest this be our case too, wipe out the letters, or rather the impressions, which the devil has engraven in your soul; and bring me a heart set free from worldly tumults, that without fear I may write on it what I will. Since now at least there is nothing else to discern, except his letters — rapines, covetings, envy, jealousy.  Wherefore of course, when I receive your tablets, I am not able so much as to read them. For I find not the letters, which we every Lord’s day inscribe on you, and so let you go; but others, instead of these, unintelligible and misshapen. Then, when we have blotted them out, and have written those which are of the Spirit, you departing, and giving up your hearts to the works of the devil, give him again power to substitute his own characters in you. What then will be the end of all this, even without any words of mine, each man’s own conscience knows. For I indeed will not cease to do my part, and to write in you the right letters. But if you mar our diligence, for our part our reward is unaltered, but your danger is not small….

The use of the word “impressions” confirms that we are dealing with the passage that Dr Russell had in mind.

The translator, Sir George Prevost, has rendered δέλτος as “tablet”, meaning a writing tablet.  Likewise the modern Latin translation in the PG edition renders it as “tabula”.  The wonderful Logeion site here confirms this understanding.

Here’s the PG text, bottom of col. 200.  I’ve highlighted the δέλτος:

My correspondent also drew my attention to a passage in the next chapter, where we have the phrase “the tablet of the mind”:

But in order that the same may not happen again — that you may not, having here admired what is said, go your way, and cast aside at random, wherever it may chance, the tablet of your mind, and so allow the devil to blot out these things — let each one, on returning home, call his own wife, and tell her these things, and take her to help him

The nearly unreadable PG in column 202, lines 19-20 gives δέλτον τῆς διανοίας ὑμῶν, rendered in the Latin as “mentis vestrae tabula”.

Nowhere is the word “palimpsest” used, tho.  The text refers solidly to a youth’s tablet, used for writing, where the text can be erased and fresh text written.  The idea of half-erased impressions is definitely present – but refers to wax tablets, not to parchment erased and rewritten.

    *    *    *    *

Not every reader of this blog will be familiar with Roman wax tablets.  These are well known, and many resources for them exist online.

A thin wooden frame contained a central surface of wax.  The writer used a stylus with a pointed end to write.  The other end was flat, in order to erase it.  A depiction from 480 BC of just such a tablet in use is known to us: (h/t Michel Lara)

A modern reproduction looks like this:

With luck we can now put an end to the “Chrysostom talked about palimpsests” myth.


Reconstructions of Old St Peters’ from the “Altair 4” design house

An Italian computer graphics firm has created a 3-D model of Old St Peters‘, the 4th century basilica built by Constantine atop the ruins of the Circus of Gaius and Nero on the Vatican hill.  They have also created reconstructions of the site from the 1st century to our own day.  The material is all here.

1st century AD – Circus of Gaius and Nero on the Vatican Hill. Via
Late 2nd century AD – The circus lies in ruins, and a circular tomb has been built on the “spina”. Via
4th century AD – Old St Peter’s stands on the Vatican Hill. Two 3rd century tombs are on the south side. The obelisk stands on the spina of the old circus. Via
21st century AD – The modern view today. Via

Further images, videos and other media content can be obtained from the publisher, if you want something on Old St Peter’s.


H/t Twitter.


Some notes on another brief biography of Juvenal (Jahn III)

At the end of Jahn’s 1851 edition of the works of Juvenal, the editor helpfully gathered together various accounts of the life of Juvenal which are found in the medieval manuscripts that transmit to us the text of Juvenal’s Satires. The value of all of these biographies is very doubtful, but it is interesting to see them. An old Geocities website, existing now here, includes most of them and some other material, which spurred me to look at one of them.

Here’s Jahn’s Vita number III:

Iuvenalis iste Aquinatis fuit, id est ex Aquinio oppido, temporibus Neronis Claudii imperatoris. Prima aetate siluit, ad mediam fere aetatem declamavit, unde et quasi diu tacuit. Fecit quosdam versus in Paridem pantomimum, qui tunc temporis apud imperatorem plurimum poterat. Hac de causa venit in suspicionem, quasi istius imperatoris tempora notasset. Sic obtentu militiae pulsus urbe tandem Romam cum veniret et Martialem suum non videret, ita tristitia et angore periit anno aetatis suae altero et octuagesimo.

— O. Jahn, D. Iunii Iuvenalis Saturarum Libri V, 1851, p.388.

Translating this, I get something like this.

That Juvenal was an Aquinatan, i.e. from the town of Aquinium, in the time of the emperor Nero Claudius. In his early years he was quiet, until almost middle age he declaimed, from when again he was silent as if for a long time. He made some verses against Paris, a pantomime actor, who at that time had very great influence with the emperor. For this reason he came under suspicion, as if he had documented satirised[1] the time of that Emperor. So having been expelled from the city under the pretext of military service, when at last he came to Rome and did not see his friend Martial, then he perished from sadness and anguish, at the age of eighty-one.

I thought that I would share a few items that struck me as I looked at this.

The town is actually named Aquinum, modern Aquino, rather than Aquinium.

Since Juvenal was a contemporary of Martial, who flourished under Domitian, clearly Juvenal – who calls Domitian a “bald-headed Nero” did not himself live in the days of Nero.

“prima aetate”, from youth, in his early years. There are some interesting remarks in the various dictionaries at Logeion here on the variable meanings of “aetas”.

“quasi diu tacuit”, he fell silent as if for a long time. “quasi diu” misled me, and I resorted to an internet search. I often find that useful information for a translator comes out of this, especially for medieval Latin. Thus I found myself looking at an entry in the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville, book 5, chapter 25, v. 19:

Depositum est pignus commendatum ad tempus, quasi diu positum.

A ‘deposit’ (depositum) is a security entrusted for a set time, as though it were ‘set down for a long time’ (diu positum).

English translation by Stephen A Barney &c, Cambridge (2006), p.121.

“apud imperatorem plurimum poterat” – had very great influence with the emperor. This nice phrasing came out of Google translate, which can also be a source of a useful word or two; and perhaps more often, is also a source of complete gibberish.

“Romam cum veniret et Martialem suum non videret” – when he came to Rome and did not see his dear (suum) Martial. Both verbs are subjunctive and imperfect, following “cum”, so literally “when he was coming… and was not seeing”. The sense is of an ongoing action – but in English we do better to use “came… and did not see”, which conveys the same sense.

But where does this text come from? Well, Jahn says:

exstat in cod. msc. Is. Vossii v. cl. auctoremque praefert Ael. Donatum, sed uidetur tamen potius ex superiori vita expressa per Cornutum aut Probum aut Asperum aut Euanthium aut similem compilatorem grammaticum.” Henninius.

This footnote is a quote from this “Henninius”, who turns out to be an early and very copious editor (Leyden, 1695). It’s probably quoted from the later Ruperti edition, tho. Uselessly it tells us only that it is found in a miscellaneous manuscript once belonging to Isaac Vossius – I’m not quite sure what he’s saying about Donatus.

But the webpage above adds:

Nach Stephan de Pithoeanis in Iuvenalem scholiis S. 9. A. steht dieselbe vita auch im codex Pithoeanus.

According to Stephan, Concerning the Pithou manuscript of the scholia of Juvenal, p.9, the same vita is present in the Pithou manuscript.

“Stephan” turns out to be an 1881 commentator. But the codex Pithoeanus is Montpellier H25, which is now online. And so indeed it is! It is the second vita on the page at the end, online here. Yes, it’s time for that image again! (I do like it)

This page is, however, a later addition to the 9th century manuscript.

There are all sorts of little bits of Latin around, and it would be nice to see more of them in translation.

  1. [1]Update: see comment for correction.

From my diary

Various snippets have come my way over the last few days. But rather than writing new blog posts, I’ve been updating some older posts that touched upon them.

Much of this related to Juvenal. All my old posts on him can be found here.

One old post here contained the text, together with a very old and not very good translation of the ancient “biography” of Juvenal that appears in some manuscripts. I came across a modern translation by Courtney and added that to it, and also included screen shots of the page in two manuscripts.

Other posts referred to the Aarau fragments of Juvenal. A kind correspondent had let me know the location of these, so I made sure the posts reflected this.

Another post here contained the first two sentences of the first scholion on Satire I, line 1. I added the other two, to round it out. Small stuff, I know, but all useful.

Soon after publishing my post here on photographs of the Meta Sudans held by the American Academy in Rome, I learned that the British School in Rome had also posted some photographs of the monument online. So I added these to the same post. They nicely filled in some gaps, giving nearly 360° views of the Meta Sudans.

All this is rather inconsequential, and I would not mention it ordinarily, were it not for the next update.

This blog is written using the free WordPress software, although I host my own copy of it on some rented webspace. A couple of years ago WordPress decided to introduce a new editor, the “block editor”. This I ignored, as I was perfectly happy with the “classic editor”.

But the inevitable has happened. The classic editor is starting to rot. It is developing bugs. It’s becoming unfit for purpose.

So this is my first post with the block editor, written mainly to test it out. Let’s see what happens.

I have already discovered one problem: that it doesn’t seem to support footnotes. A blog post here gives a quite impractical approach, and suggests that WordPress simply don’t care about it. I’ll have to look further into this.[1]

I do believe that WordPress have lost the plot. The original purpose of WordPress was to make blogging easy. These days everything seems to be about using it to develop websites. Blogging hardly seems to rate a mention.

This is the problem with using any free blogging tools like WordPress, rather than raw HTML. It makes many things easier, and certainly improves the presentation. But at the end of the day it means committing your content to strangers who have no obligation towards you. They can in principle withdraw their tools from you at any moment for any reason, leaving you in the lurch. You have no redress whatever.

It’s all a long way from the internet of 1997!

  1. [1]Looks like it still works as it did!

What do the scholia of Juvenal look like in the Montpellier manuscript?

David Ganz kindly drew my attention to the fact that the Montpellier H25 manuscript of Juvenal (Lorsch, 9th century), our best witness for the old scholia on Juvenal, is now online here.  If we go to the start of the Juvenal portion of the manuscript, here, we see this:

In the middle of the page is the text of Juvenal, starting here with the first satire; and in the margin is the commentary.  Although the manuscript is 9th century, the comments are thought to be 4th century.

The Wessner edition of the scholia[1] begins like this:

Each comment or “scholion” consists of a word or two from the text –  jargon alert: this is called the “lemma” – followed by whatever the comment is.

Wessner prints the lemma in italics, understandably.  So it is really interesting to see what the 9th century scribe actually put on the page!  I have highlighted those lemmas that I can see with a red box.  There are also scholia to the right of the text of Juvenal, such as the one on “Cordi”.

The first scholion, a comment on the very first words, consists of a little biography of Juvenal.  The others are much shorter.

I wonder to what extent this manuscript is laid out in the same way as a late 4th century original?  Probably very similarly.  Perhaps the brevity of most scholia relates to the limited space available?

  1. [1]Paul Wessner, Scholia in Iuvenalem Vetustiora, Teubner (1931).