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 Archive.org. It’s here: https://archive.org/details/bethmardutho. 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.