From my diary

Not much is happening.  The mundane “business” of living has taken over my life.  I’ve barely been able to keep up with correspondence. I apologise to those who had to wait for replies.

I had intended to post the poems for June, from the Chronography of 354, at the start of the month.  I had a few moments today and put the post together.  In future I must remember NOT to post translations done in a hurry.  I’ve been caught before like this, making awful errors out of sheer inattention, just trying to keep up.

Better news is that a kind correspondent sent me the first English translation of a letter by Severus Sebokht, the 7th century Syriac scientific writer.  It looks very good.  I’ve offered a few editorial suggestions, and I hope to be able to post it here in a few weeks.  It is very interesting!

On the other hand I’ve been unable to do any of the items mentioned in my last post about John the Deacon, two weeks ago.  In fact I’m just grateful that I did make a TODO list then.  If I had not, I am sure that I would not remember them now.

Isn’t it frustrating, when you plan to work, but cannot?  But it seems to be the nature of life.  The academic finds himself bogged down in pointless but unavoidable administration.  The amateur is always being called away.  The novelist never gets that much time at the typewriter.  Adam’s curse operates relentlessly to blight what we think of as our real lives.  The time today that I might have spent usefully was instead spent supervising a plasterer.  Thus our lives vanish.

It was J.R.R. Tolkien in “Leaf by Niggle” who showed me how this might be intentional, and indeed providential.  In the story, Niggle is continually hampered in his attempts to paint a landscape by the calls of his needy neighbour, Mr Parish, which in the end bring about Niggle’s death.  After death, he finds his vision realised in a real landscape.  But to his surprise, he finds that the needs of Parish brought out his best work:

Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide.

“It’s a gift!” he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but-he was using the word quite literally.

He went on looking at the Tree. All the leaves he had ever laboured at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time. Nothing was written on them, they were just exquisite leaves, yet they were dated as clear as a calendar. Some of the most beautiful-and the most characteristic, the most perfect examples of the Niggle style-were seen to have been produced in collaboration with Mr. Parish: there was no other way of putting it.

May it be so for all of us, in whatever we do.


The June Poems in the Chronography of 354

Once again only a single manuscript of the Chronography contains an image for this month.  This is MS Vienna 3146, which never contains the text of the poems, only the pictures. So for the poems, once again we are reliant on other, unillustrated, manuscripts, or the indirect tradition.

Here is the 4-line poem (tetrastich):

Nudus membra dehinc solares respicit horas
Iunius ac Phoebum flectere monstrat iter.
Lampas maturas Cereris designat aristas
floralisque fugas lilia fusa docent.

June unclad then views the sundial’s time,
And shows that the sun is changing its course. Phoebus reveals that its path is changing.

The Lamp-festival marks Ceres’ ripe ears of corn,
And the scattered lily-petals show the fading of the flower.

“Phoebus” here means the sun. The reference to “Lampas”, a festival with torches on the solstice is also attested in the ps.Chrysostom, De solstitiis et aequinoctibus (translated elsewhere on this site), the “dies lampadarum” or “day of torches”, or, more briefly, “lampas”, “the torch”.

The 2-line verse (distich) is as follows:

Iunius ipse sui causam tibi nominis edit
praegravida attollens fertilitate sata.

June itself gives you the reason for its name,
Extolling having brought forth abundant fruitfulness.

Again the image is only preserved in the 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416, folio 25 (online here):

From Divjak and Wischmeyer, I learn that the depiction is of a naked youth carrying a torch, symbolising the solstice, a sundial on a pillar, and – indicating the harvest – a sickle, a basket of fruit, and a plant.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).


From my diary – thoughts about the text of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas

I have now scanned in the text of Corsi’s edition of John the Deacon, and found that – as he says – it is really a transcription of the Berlin manuscript, with better punctuation, plus a collation with the 1751 Falconius edition. He didn’t look at the Mombritius or Mai editions.

But that’s just fine.  It means that we can do an electronic comparison of Corsi’s text – the Berlin manuscript – with the other three editions – Falconius, Mai and Mombritius.

When I compare Falconius with Corsi, using dwdiff and dwdiff viewer that I wrote, the initial differences are small:

Small differences between Falconius and Corsi

But then when you look at chapter 12, and 13, the comparison goes nuts.  These are not the same text, basically:

Massive differences between the Falconius edition and Corsi's edition

In fact Corsi himself says the same: he didn’t bother to give an apparatus.

On the other hand if I compare the Mombritius (1498) edition with Corsi, at once we see that we’re dealing with the same text:

Small differences between Mombritius and Corsi in chapter 12

This is very useful, although a little bit annoying in that I have already translated chapters 12 and 13 from Falconius.  So there are now a few things to do, focusing on chapters 12 and 13:

  • Mark up the manuscript print-outs to indicate exactly where chapter 12 and 13 appear, and see which version of the text is contained in each.
  • Look at the two Vatican manuscripts that Falconius used, find chapters 12 and 13, and see if these reflect Falconius’ text, or Corsi’s.  I have an idea that they will in fact reflect that of Corsi.  Falconius used a lectionary from Naples, but the Naples manuscripts are not online.  There is clearly an article to be written on what exactly Falconius did, when he produced his edition, but not by me.

In the mean time I have been scanning the material in the Falconius edition which he himself states is not genuine (!) but from the Life of St Nicholas of Sion.  I’m correcting the OCR in Finereader 15 now, and he’s quite right – the chapters all refer explicitly to Sion monastery.

Once I have an electronic text of this, I can search it for words found elsewhere.  At least I will be able to identify *some* Nicholas of Sion material.

Of course this leads to the question of where the Life of St Nicholas of Sion might be found.  The Greek Life has been edited, and there is a 1984 translation into English by Sevcenko.  It might be worth my while to lay hands on this, although no copies are for sale.  But… what about the Latin Life?  Is there one?  Has any work been done on this?  Do I really want to find out?!

The original project was to produce a translation of the Life, as made by John the Deacon.  I don’t want to lose sight of this.  It is clear that Falconius has mixed in stuff which does not really belong to the Life of Nicholas of Myra.

Just to digress a moment, I was reflecting that all this is rather more serious than the “difficulties” of biblical critics, which seem to concentrate on a single word.  This is indeed what text criticism was devised for.

I’ve also been thinking about the dwdiff utility.  It seems merely to be a wrapper around something called wdiff, which itself is a wrapper around the standard tool diff, made by splitting the text into two files of words, and processing the output.  But unlike dwdiff, wdiff exists in a Windows version!  So I may go and investigate that.  It would be handy to avoid popping open a Ubuntu window every time I compare a text.

Lots to do.  I could use a few solid days on this, but, as ever, I can only do stuff in short bursts.  Still… lots to do!