From my diary

It is a very long time since I have had to order a journal article through my local library.  The price of doing so became so enormous that it was impossible.  But a few weeks ago I realised that I really did need a copy of the following article:

P. Corsi, “La ‘‘Vita” di San Nicola e un codice della versione di Giovanni Diacono”, in: Nicolaus: Rivista di teologia ecumenico–patristica, VII/2 (1979), pp. 359-380.

Today an email advised me that it had arrived, and asked me to drive into town and collect it.  This I did.  These days the library staff are mainly volunteers, and they were excited at receiving something so unusual.  I didn’t even have to give my name, nor the details of the paper!

In reality there was no good reason why the article was printed off and sent on paper.  It could have been emailed as a PDF.  But the process is a legacy of the old system, that still existed in the late 90s, whereby journal articles could be ordered at any library.  Everything about the library service has worsened since, but at least this still exists.

Tomorrow I shall scan the article in, and begin working with it.  But not today.


From My Diary

My apologies for the silence.  My central heating died the final death last week, after 32 years, and I’ve been getting a new boiler installed.  Anything major like that takes over your life, really it does.  The new boiler is now up and running, I can heat my house and my hot water once more.  All that remains is to make the inevitable complaint about shoddy workmanship, which I have done.  Luckily I am quite good at making complaints to companies.  It is truly an art.  Meanwhile my study will remain piled high with household belongings.

As I can, I’m still working on the translation of John the Deacon.  A couple of very difficult passages are starting to resolve themselves.  I made use of a Latin form on Reddit to discuss one of them, and I think it was very helpful.

I’ve continued to hunt for manuscripts.  It’s actually tiring and time-consuming to do so.  I can only manage a couple each day.  But I have gathered a few of the oldest manuscripts.

In the process I have discovered a problem.  It seems that a chap called Usuard, a 9th century monk of St. Germains-des-Près about whom I know nothing, compiled a martyrology.  In it he included the opening bits of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas, although why I cannot tell.  What this means is that there are copious manuscripts of Usuard’s Martyrology out there, a whole separate branch of text transmission.  I know there are 150+ manuscripts of John.  I can’t seriously work on that many.

A kind correspondent draws my attention to a user-contributed collection of Syriac and East Orthodox books in various languages that has appeared at  It’s here:  This seems to be the personal library of George Kiraz, the genius behind online Syriac studies, who has done so much for Syriac.  It seems that he is retiring.

One exciting item in the collection is both volumes of the SEERI English translation of the Demonstrations of Aphrahat.  Grab yours now!

I remember the two volumes, although I no longer possess them in physical form.  I ordered them from SEERI in India.  The paper quality was very poor, but it was a delight to receive them!  They will reach many more people in PDF, tho.

The enormous pile of papers/junk on my dining room table also migrated into the study during the last few days.  While purging this, I came across a note to myself: “Remember to Live”.  It’s too easy for the rubbish stuff to crowd out everything that brings joy into our lives.  We have to schedule the good stuff; not just leave it until “all the rest is done”, for that will never happen.

Earlier this week I did write a lengthy blog post on IIIF, the API for accessing manuscripts online.  It’s a good article, although not quite complete, and I was going to do a second article with sample code.  I worked out what IIIF is, in practical terms, for  a programmer user.  But on reflection I think it might be premature to post it.  Nobody needs people running scripts against library websites.  Libraries are really not geared up yet to handle being API servers.  Such scripts will most likely crash the sites.  The easier you make it to use this facility, the more likely that libraries will simply not implement it.

In techie jargon, IIIF is actually a REST interface.  I spent the last few years of my career writing RESTful webservices – and clients – so it was all eerily familiar territory.  I did a great deal of work with financial webservices, which tended to call banking APIs.  These had to authenticate payments, so there was a pattern of doing things.  I imagine IIIF will have to evolve similar patterns in order to allow scholars to contribute annotations to manuscripts.

But access to manuscripts over an API is emphatically the right way forward.  We will see more of this over the next few years.

I do not regret retiring.  Yesterday I idly read over the recent news stories on a freelancing website, and the situation in the industry sounded horrific.  I am very glad to be out!

Back to John.



Finding and downloading medieval manuscripts online that you can print

In my last post, I realise that I did something that I always find infuriating – I assumed stuff.  I started up the ladder, but omitted the first step.  Here’s a quick post on stuff you have to do first, then.

Once you decide to edit a text which has never received a critical edition, then you need to find some manuscripts that you can start work with.  You may have a list of manuscripts, but probably you don’t.

I’m working on the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  This is a Latin hagiographical text, so it has an entry in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina (=BHL), which you can download from  This will give you the BHL number for your text, and its opening and closing words (= incipit and explicit).

In my case, there are three sections to the text, with numbers BHL 6104, 6105 and 6106.  There is also a mess of other Nicholas stuff, which might be mixed up with what I want.  So I have used Adobe Acrobat Pro and extracted the relevant pages from the BHL, and I will print this as a “guide to Latin Nicholas texts”, to keep by my elbow while looking at the manuscripts.

The next stop is the Bollandists site.  This has the “Bibliographica Hagiographica Latina Online” database.  Hit “recherche”, tell them your name and email – nothing bad will happen – and you get the main search page.  I hit the “Trouver un texte hagiographique d’après son numéro BHL” link, which asks me for the BHL number.  When you put it in, you can get a list of manuscripts, ordered by century, or “fond” – i.e. library.  It looks like this:

BHLO search for BHL 6104

Then begins the deeply nasty task of discovering which of these are online, if any.  I won’t cover that here.  You have to find library sites and go and look.  But the list does tell you the folio numbers, which is a great help, since often library catalogues do not bother.

In order to print out a manuscript, you need to have it on your disk.  Some libraries allow you to download a PDF of the whole manuscript.  Many more are afraid, and restrict you to looking at images through their useless online viewer.  But some of these do allow download of an individual page.  So you can do something, although very slowly and painfully.

The best source of manuscripts to download is the Bibliothèque Nationale Français, the French National Library in Paris.  These guys are streets ahead.  On the other hand, you have to search their site and find them manuscripts.  The Vatican give you a single page with all the manuscripts available for the “Barberini” collection, and you click on the link.  But you can’t download any, so they’re useless for our purpose.

There are downloadable manuscripts at the BNF, but also there are a good number of downloadable mss at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, the BSB.

The BNF make you search.  A trick someone told me – if the number is reasonably long – 18303, for instance – just type it in the search box at, and hit search.  Down the left, you can restrict the hits to “Manucripts”, language = Latin, and before 1500, and you find two hits.

Above we have manuscript 989. Using this technique does find BNF lat. 989.  You have to sift through 16 Latin results, although for some reason they don’t show the shelfmark (!).  You spy “Vitae sanctorum”, and le voila!  The shelfmark is hidden in some of the catalogue information.  And then you can download it to disk.

Then back to the Bollandist list, and go and find f.54r, which is online PDF page 121.  Again I found Adobe Acrobat Pro useful, so I could bookmark the start and end of the text.  Once I had done this, I used Acrobat Pro to export the pages I wanted, and so I ended up with a much smaller PDF containing only the text that I intended to print.

So far I have 10 manuscripts on disk.  I’ve extracted the text from a couple.  The third manuscript was entirely St Nicholas, so I didn’t need to.

Downloaded MSS in Windows Explorer

I’m doing the printing by trial and error.  One manuscript had text in huge letters on small pages.  So I printed the images 4 to a page.  One manuscript from the BSB was a scan of a microfilm.  Interestingly that printed really well – better than the colour manuscripts.

The other factor?  Make sure you have enough ink in your printer.  Part way through I ran out.  Luckily I was able to get more from a shop around the corner!


Printing out medieval manuscripts in preparation for editing

At the start of my working life, fresh out of university, I was trained as a computer programmer and then assigned to a maintenance project.  This involved doing bug-fixes and small enhancements to an already rather elderly system, written in a near-obsolete language, and running on an IBM mainframe.  If I tell you that the annual run required the creation of a punched card, to be fed into a card-reader, you will see how obsolete it was.  I can still remember my first boss creating the card using a magnificent Hollerith brass card-punch.  It was, by then, a museum piece.

From this I learned a very great deal about the right way – and the wrong way – to work on a large software project.  I did quite a few contracts, later in my career, which involved similar situations, and it helped a lot at interview that I had that experience.  Some of the lessons learned were still of use to me, right at the end of my career.

One such lesson was that, when faced with a big piece of code, hundreds or thousands of lines in length, it was best to print it out.  This was easier with the massive high-speed printers attached to the IBM mainframes, although it could take hours before the print was brought up by the operators.  Once you had this before you, a selection of coloured ballpoint pens were your friend.  You could draw all over it.  You could underline and highlight bits.  You could see, for the first time, the structure of the whole monster.

You cannot master a serious size document on a computer screen that gives you 80 lines of text at most.  The human mind will not take it in.

I still used this technique occasionally in my later years.  I seem to remember sitting in an office in Cambridge, printing out code using Word and a laser printer, while my colleagues looked on in bemusement or embarrassment.  This faded once they saw the results.  They had brought me in to solve an impossible performance problem.  I fixed it in a week.

Medieval manuscripts are long wodges of text.  It is really quite hard to see them as a whole.  This makes them rather similar to software modules.  So… let’s try the same technique!

This evening I have printed off three manuscripts on my slow home Canon inkjet printer.  I also printed the text of the Falconius edition which I am using as a reference.

The next step will be to mark up the chapters in each.  Then, I hope, it will be possible to work with them!

Wish me luck!


Getting Started With Collatex Standalone

Collatex seems to be the standard collation tool.  Unfortunately I don’t much care for it.  Also interestingly, the web site does not actually tell you how to run it locally!  So here’s a quick note.

Collatext is a Java program, so you must have a Java Runtime Environment (JRE) installed, for version 8 or higher.  I think Windows 10 comes with a JRE anyway, but I can’t tell because long ago I set up a Java development environment which overrides such things.

You download the .jar file for Collatex from here.  Download it somewhere convenient, such as your home directory c:\users\Yourname.

Then hit the Start key, type cmd.exe, and open a command window.  By default this will start in that same directory.

Then run the following command in the command window.

java -jar collatex/collatex-tools-1.8-SNAPSHOT.jar -S

This starts a web server, on port 7369, with error messages to that command window.  (If you just want to start the server and close the window, do “start java …”).

You can then access the GUI interface in your browser on localhost:7369.  This is the same interface as the “Demo” link on the Collatex website.  You can load witnesses, and see the graphical results.

I think it’s best for collating a few sentences.  It’s not very friendly for large quantities of text.

UPDATE: 20 Dec 2022.  Apparently this is just a standalone thing, and is NOT how you use Collatex for real.  It’s actually done by writing little scripts in python.  A couple of links:




A way to compare two early-modern editions of a Latin text

There are three early modern editions of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.  These are the Mombritius (1498), Falconius (1751) and Mai (1830-ish) editions.  I have already used Abbyy Finereader 15 to create a word document for each containing the electronic text.

But how to compare these?  I took a look at Juxta but did not like it, and this anyway is ceasing to be available.  For Collatex I have only been able to use the online version, and I find the output tiring.  But Collatex does allow you to compare more than two witnesses.

The basic problem is that most comparison tools operate on a line-by-line basis.  But in a printed edition the line-breaks are arbitrary.  We just don’t care about them.  I have not found a way to get the Unix diff utility to ignore line breaks.

Today I discovered the existence of dwdiff, available here.  This can do this quite effectively, as this article makes clear.  The downside is that dwdiff is not available for Windows; only for MacOS X, and for Ubuntu Linux.

Fortunately I installed the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) on my Windows 10 PC some time back, with Ubuntu as the Linux variant.    So all I had to do was hit the Start key, and type Ubuntu, then click the App that appeared.  Lo and behold, a Linux Bash-shell command line box appeared.

First, I needed to update Ubuntu; and then install dwdiff.  Finally I ran the man command for dwdiff, to check the installation had worked:

sudo apt-get update –y
sudo apt-get install -y dwdiff
man dwdiff

I then tested it out.  I created the text files in the article linked earlier.  Then I needed to copy them into the WSL area.  Because I have never really used the WSL, I was a bit unsure how to find the “home” directory.  But at the Bash shell, you just type this to get Windows Explorer, and then you can copy files using Windows drag and drop:

explorer.exe .

The space and dot are essential.  This opened an explorer window on “\\wsl$\Ubuntu-20.04\home\roger” (??), and I could get on.  I ran the command:

dwdiff draft1.txt draft2.txt

And got the output, which was a bit of tech gobbledegook:

[-To start with, you-]{+You+} may need to install Tomboy, since it's not yet part of the
stable GNOME release. Most recent distros should have Tomboy packages
available, though they may not be installed by default. On Ubuntu,
run apt-get install tomboy, which should pull down all the necessary [-dependencies ---]
{+dependencies,+} including Mono, if you don't have it installed already.

The [-…] stuff is the value in the first file; the {+…} is the different text in the second file.  Other text is common.

There were also some useful options:

  • dwdiff -c draft1.txt draft2.txt added colours to the output.
  • dwdiff –ignore-case file1 file2 made it treat both files as lower case.
  • dwdiff –no-common file1 file2 caused it to omit the common text.

So I thought I’d have a go.

First I went into word and saved each file as a .txt file.  I didn’t fiddle with any options.  This gave me a mombritius.txt, a falconius.txt and a mai.txt.

I copied these to the WSL “home”, and I ran dwdiff on the two of them like this:

dwdiff falconius.txt mombritius.txt --no-common -i > op.txt

The files are fairly big, so the output was piped to a new file, op.txt.  This I opened, in Windows, using the free programmer tool, Notepad++.

The results were interesting, but I found that there were too many useless matches.  A lot of these were punctuation.  In other cases it was as simple as “cujus” versus “cuius”.

So I opened my falconius.txt in Notepad++ and using Ctrl-H globally replaced the punctuation by a space: the full-stop (.), the colon (:), semi-colon(;), question-mark (?), and two different sorts of brackets – () and [].  Then I saved.

I also changed all the text to lower case (Edit | Convert Case to| lower).

I then changed all the “v” to a “u” and all the “j” to an “i”.

And then, most importantly, I saved the file!  I did the same with the Mombritius.txt file.

Then I ran the command again, and piped the results to a text file.  (I found that if I included the common text, it was far easier to work with.)

dwdiff falconius.txt mombritius.txt > myop2.txt

Then I opened myop2.txt in Notepad++.

This produced excellent results.  The only problem was that the result, in myop2.txt, was on very long lines.  But this could easily be fixed in Notepad++ with View | Word Wrap.

The result looked as follows:

Output from dwdiff
Falconius edition vs Mombritius edition

The “-[]” stuff was Falconius only, the “+{}” was Mombritius.  (I have no idea why chapter 2 is indented).

That, I think, is rather useful.  It’s not desperately easy to read – it really needs a GUI interface, that colours the two kinds of text.  But that would be fairly easy to knock up in Visual Basic, I think.  I might try doing that.

Something not visible in the screen shot was in chapter 13, where the text really gets different.  Also not visible in the screen grab – but very visible in the file – is the end, where there is a long chunk of additional (but spurious) text at the end of the Mombritius.

Here by the way is the “no-common” output from the same exercise (with my note on lines 1-2)

dwdiff no-common output

This is quite useful as far as it goes.  There are some things about this which are less than ideal:

  • Using Linux.  Nobody but geeks has Linux.
  • Using an oddball command like dwdiff, instead of a standard utility.  What happens if this ceases to be supported?
  • The output does not display the input.  Rather it displays the text, all lower case, no “j” and “v”, no punctuation.  This makes it harder to relate to the original text.
  • It’s all very techy stuff.  No normal person uses command-line tools and Notepad++.
  • The output is still hard to read – a GUI is needed.
  • Because it relies on both Linux and Windows tools, it’s rather ugly.

Surely a windows tool with a GUI that does it all could be produced?

The source code for dwdiff is available, but my urge to attempt to port a linux C++ command line utility to windows is zero.  If there was a Windows version, that would help a lot.

Maybe this afternoon I will have a play with Visual Basic and see if I can get that output file to display in colour?


From my diary

Back to John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.

I’ve now completely retranslated chapter 1, the prologue, which I made an attempt at last year.  I’ve been comparing the text of the Falconius (1751) edition, which I am translating, with the Mombritius (1498) and the Mai (1820-ish) editions, and finding small differences, and noting them.

Over the last week I started downloading copies of manuscripts from the Bibliotheque Nationale Francais site, Gallica.  I’ve been bookmarking the start of John the Deacon, and looking at two places, one at the start and one at the end of the chapter.  I’m seeing variation alright.  But many of these manuscripts are probably all closely related.  I now have 9 manuscripts on disk, 2 of which do not contain chapter 1.

I’ve got three different lists of manuscripts.  The Bollandists list 121, and there are clearly more.  I don’t know how many are online – possibly around 20, I would guess.

Just finding online manuscripts by shelfmark is hard.  I have discovered the Biblissima site, and am using this.

It’s very helpful that the BNF allow downloads.  Less helpful are sites like the Vatican that force you to use a crummy viewer.

Ideally I could collect manuscripts using my mobile phone while lying on the sofa.  In actual practice it is quite hard work just to collect them, even using the PC.  But I am learning all the time.



The Anti-Scholar

This afternoon I found myself debating with a Muslim polemicist online who was rubbishing the bible, and suggesting that we don’t even have the words of Jesus.  The polemicist dealt with my replies by ignoring them and simply making further claims, so our debate did not last long.  But in the process I was treated to a quotation, which struck me as quite extraordinary:

A good number of the books of the Bible are pseudonymous (for example, written in the name of an apostle by someone else), that in fact we don’t have the original copies of any of the biblical books but only copies made centuries later, all of which have been altered.

This daft claim, I was told, was by a certain Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), Harper Collins (2010).

Of course one would never trust a polemic, so I went and looked.  To my astonishment the quotation, slightly abbreviated, was accurate, and may be found on pages 14-15 of the book.  A somewhat longer quoted is here.  The book itself is not a scholarly volume – so much must be allowed for -, but is an anti-Christian – and especially anti-bible – hit piece, complete with claims of “I was one of you once but then I learned better”.

It is always curious to hear claims that the transmitted authorship of “a good number” of the New Testament texts is now “known” to be false.  Such claims are invariably uttered with the utmost certainty.  But our knowledge of the authorship derives from precisely two sources, in exactly the same way as with every other ancient literary text.  The first source is the attributions in the manuscripts; in their tituli or colophons.  The other is the testimony of other ancient texts.  Neither justifies the claim made.  In reality this claim seems to be the product of something very like the “assured conclusions of modern scholarship”, or something of that sort.

But scholarship is not science.  There are few mechanisms to control partisan distortions.  On matters of controversy, of politics or religion, the consensus of scholarship in a time and place naturally tends to reflect the consensus of the non-scholars who control university appointments.

Anybody who delves into past controversies, long dead, can think of examples of this.  In patristics we have the arguments of the 19th century between “protestant” and “catholic” scholars, each in their university fortresses, over whether the longer or shorter forms of the treatises and letters of Cyprian should be accepted as genuine.  Today I think we would most accept that both are genuine, and the longer form was revised by the author in order to give support to Pope Stephen in his difficulties with the Novatianists.

An occurence of the same problem was demonstrated by N. Holzberg in his essay “Lucian and the Germans”, in A.C.Dionisotti, The Uses of Greek and Latin: Historical Essays, Strasbourg (1988), 199-209.  In Germany before 1945, Lucian was regarded as a second-rate Jewish author.  This consensus, Holzberg showed, derived from a single seminal article, which was verbally identical in passages with a non-scholarly rant, published in an anti-semitic magazine some months earlier, by Houston Stewart Chamberlain.  No doubt examples could be multiplied indefinitely.

None of this means that scholarship is not worth our time.  But it does mean that we need to exercise a critical intelligence towards claims which have a significant political or religious utility to the author or those who pay him.  This is true when we disagree with them and even more so when we do agree with them.  The greatest barrier to understanding the past is anachronism, and the greatest source of anachronism is our own opinions.

Biblical studies will never be anything other than a politicised discipline.  I suppose most of us know that the biblical scholars of the early 20th century were certain that John’s Gospel – which they elaborately called “The Fourth Gospel” – was composed around 170.  There was never any evidence for this at all, and all the evidence was against it.  In 1936 they were put right by the discovery of a papyrus fragment, dated before then.  But this was quite accidental.  They should never have got to that place in the first place.  Yet I see that some scholars still yearn for those days.

We need not spend any time on the claim that some of the NT texts are not by the transmitted author.  The data to support such a claim does not exist, the claim is useful to those who control the appointments of scholars in the USA, and the methods used seem entirely too reminiscent of the “Fourth Gospel” school of writing.

But Dr E. is supposed to be a professional textual critic, a man who earns his living by being paid to do textual criticism.  Does he actually mean what he says, when he tells his audience that “we don’t have the original copies of any of the biblical books but only copies made centuries later, all of which have been altered”, knowing that they will understand this to mean that we don’t actually have the text?

What is textual criticism about?  Let us have the words with which Paul Maas opens his handbook, Textual Criticism, Oxford (1958):

1. We have no autograph manuscripts of the Greek and Roman classical writers and no copies which have been collated with the originals; the manuscripts we possess derive from the originals through an unknown number of intermediate copies, and are consequently of questionable trustworthiness.

The business of textual criticism is to produce a text as close as possible to the original (constitutio textus).

An admirably economical and precise definition.

Textual criticism arises from the rediscovery of the classics during the renaissance, and the need to fix damage – mainly copyist errors.  It arose from love: love of the texts studied, of a desire to have them, to read them, to learn from them.  If I recall correctly, Petrarch was so excited when he discovered the letters of Cicero at Verona that he sat down and wrote a letter to Cicero, telling him how much they meant to him.

What, I wonder, would Petrarch have thought of a man who said,

we don’t have the original copies of any of the biblical classical books but only copies made centuries later, all of which have been altered.

I suspect that he would have called him an ignoramus; or rather, he would have called him something very much worse.  He lived in a time when insult was an art.  E. is paid to do what Petrarch did, to make the texts transmitted to us free of errors.  He is not paid – at least in principle – to invent reasons to suppose those texts not worth the reading.  Poisoning the well is no trade for a scholar.  Yet here we are.

It is absurd to suggest that “all the copies have been altered”, of the 5,000 manuscripts of the Greek NT.  Nobody knows that, least of all Dr. E., who, like most people, has probably never looked at more than a handful.  It could more reasonably be said that all contain copyist errors, but of course this is merely saying that we live in an imperfect world.  Every book in the world is imperfect, in one respect or another.  No printed edition reflects the author’s manuscript, even without corrections in proof.  For how many books that we have on our shelves is the autograph preserved?

It is absurd to say that we have “only copies made centuries later”, when we have the Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes, extant only in a posthumous printed edition of 1876.  The unwary reader will naturally infer from the claim that the copies are so late that the text is unreliable; when in fact the bible text is far and away the best preserved text of its period, and one with the earliest witnesses, to within a couple of decades in some cases.

But for E., we only have “copies… all of which have been altered.”  Hardly worth our time, unless paid to do so – certainly not worth our trust.  Far better to trust whatever the man on TV says this week; that is what the reader is intended to hear.

There’s nothing much to be done about Dr E., and those who pay him to write this stuff.  It’s not scholarship.  It’s polemic, intended to demoralise his religious enemies. There are very many worse things recorded of academics down the years.  Especially by their enemies!

But it’s still annoying to those of us trying to get people to read old books.  That should be all of us, and especially it should be every text critic and every scholar.


From my diary

I’ve had no time to do anything useful for a week, but I’m still gathering materials on John the Deacon as a sideline.  Thanks to the kindness of Fr. Gerardo Cioffari at the St Nicholas Centre in Bari (= Centro Studi Nicolaiani) – himself a considerable scholar -, I now have access to Pasquale Corsi’s translation of John the Deacon.

I don’t dare look at Corsi’s translation until I’m rather more advanced with my own translation than I currently am!   Of course Dr Corsi worked on the text for years, rather than my dabbling, and knows far more about it.  Dr Cioffari also sent me a booklet with critical text of an important work on the translation of the relics of St Nicholas to Bari, which may be very useful in time.

The translation is contained in P. Corsi, La traslazione di San Nicola: Le fonti, Bari (1987), p.87-109.  His introduction is also useful, as this extract shows (plus google translate):

A tal fine, viene qui proposta una traduzione della Vita di san Nicola dal testo latino di Giovanni, diacono della Chiesa napoletana, il quale verso l’880 aveva tradotto precedenti fonti greche6. L’edizione seguita è quella da me stesso pubblicata di recente7, però con alcune modifiche sug­erite da ulteriori letture e da qualche ripensamento; naturalmente ho provveduto anche ad eliminare alcuni errori materiali di stampa. Per quanto riguarda la traduzione, ho cercato di mantenere un giusto equili­brio tra la fedeltà al testo latino e le strutture linguistiche dell’italiano mo­derno, allo scopo di non sacrificare né lo stile del nostro agiografo né la scorrevolezza della versione moderna. Ovviamente, non posso essere certo di essere riuscito nell’intento. Mi auguro comunqe di aver conservato per il lettore le principali caratteristiche dell’opera di Giovanni, senza per que­sto rendere difficoltosa la comprensione dei concetti e delle espressioni.

To this end, a translation of the Life of St. Nicholas is published here from the Latin text of John, deacon of the Neapolitan Church, who had translated previous Greek sources towards 1880 (6). The edition followed is the one I published recently (7), but with some changes suggested by further reading and some rethinking; naturally I have also taken steps to eliminate some printing errors. As for the translation, I have tried to maintain a fair balance between fidelity to the Latin text and the linguistic structures of modern Italian, in order not to sacrifice either the style of our hagiographer or the fluency of the modern version. Obviously, I cannot be sure that I have succeeded in this intention. However, I hope to have kept the main characteristics of John’s work for the reader, without making it difficult to understand the concepts and expressions.

6 BHL 6104-6117, particol 6104-6106; cfr. BHG 1352y. Si veda, in proposito, anche l’introduzione al saggio qui appresso citato al n. 7.  (=On this, see the introduction to the article in note 7 below)

 7 P. CORSI, La ‘‘Vita” di San Nicola e un codice della versione di Giovanni Diacono, in “Nicolaus” VII/2 (1979), pp. 359-380, particol. pp. 361-380.

I’ve now placed an interlibrary request for the article in note 7, which should bring the Latin text, as edited from Ms. Berlin 741.

Interestingly a random Google search revealed an earlier translation by P. Corsi, in Autori Vari, Bibliografia agiografica italiana 1976-1999, p.23, item 254:

254. Corsi Pasquale, Giovanni Diacono: Vita di San Nicola, tradotta dal latino dal ms. Berolin. 741. Bari. Centro Studi Nicolaiani. 1982. 28 pp., ill.

The St Nicholas Centre publications are very nicely printed and illustrated, I should add.

But Corsi’s edition, although certainly an advance on any previous edition, is not the critical edition that we all need.  This I learn from a really useful database page, at Mirabileweb, here:

Non è disponibile un’edizione critica; un recente lavoro di P. Corsi non esaurisce i complessi rapporti tra i lemmi BHL e le edizioni antiche di Mombrizio, Falconio e A. Mai.

A critical edition is not available; a recent work by P. Corsi does not exhaust the complex relationships between the BHL lemmas and the ancient editions of Mombrizio, Falconio and A. Mai.

This is in line with my own understanding: the transmission of the text is very complicated.  Somebody needs to do a doctoral thesis on it!


Fragment of unknown work by Apuleius discovered in Verona

Via Ugo Mondini on Twitter I learn of an exciting find yesterday (May 9) at the Biblioteca Capitolare – the Chapter Library – in Verona.  It seems that an American team – the “Lazarus Project” – using Multi-Spectral Imaging have discovered a lost text by Apuleius.


Quarantasette scatti per ciascuna pagina effettuati con una fotocamera da 150 megapixel. Diversi filtri di luce, dall’infrarosso all’ultravioletto. Poi il computer elabora le immagini. È nata così la scoperta fatta il 9 maggio. In un palinsesto, un testo antico riscritto più volte, lo strato più basso nascondeva un frammento di un testo di Apuleio andato perduto: un commento alla Repubblica di Platone.

Il merito è degli studiosi del “Lazarus Project”, una squadra internazionale dell’università americana di Rochester, per la prima volta alla Biblioteca Capitolare, alla ricerca di segreti tra le pagine.

Google Translate:

Forty-seven shots per page taken with a 150 megapixel camera. Different light filters, from infrared to ultraviolet. Then the computer processes the images. Thus was born the discovery made on May 9th. In a palimpsest, an ancient text rewritten several times, the lower layer hid a fragment of a lost text by Apuleius: a commentary on Plato’s Republic.

The credit goes to the scholars of the “Lazarus Project”, an international team from the American University of Rochester, for the first time at the Chapter Library, in search of secrets among the pages.

There is a video in Italian at the news site – if anyone has the spoken Italian, perhaps they could advise whether it has extra details?

There is stuff out there, people!  It really is worth going and looking!