From my diary

An email from my local library advises that a copy of K. Meisen’s Nikolauskult und Nikolausbrauch im Abendland (1928) has arrived.  Tomorrow I shall go and get it.  I can’t read German very well, so I will have to scan it into a PDF, so that I can use Google Translate on it.  So I think that’s going to take up tomorrow.  I imagine that, once I have done so, I will find that someone long since put a PDF on the web.  At least, that’s what happened the last time!

I read somewhere that Meisen’s book is the best study of the spread of the legends of St Nicholas, and publishes some of the texts.  But I also read that it was always a rare book, because most of the print run was destroyed before it could be sold.  Copies for sale online are indeed very pricey.

While I was working on analysing the medieval manuscripts of the Nicholas legends, I kept tripping over the various miracle stories tacked on the end.  Eventually I got fed up, and started creating a Word document with the Latin text of these, and the Bibliographia Hagiographia Latina number for each, simply so that I could find my way around this mass of stuff.  I’m still working on this file, and I’ve included a rough English translation of each as I go.  They’re mostly short, so this is not hard work.  The majority of the texts were printed by the Bollandists in the early 20th century in their catalogues of Brussels and Paris manuscripts.  They were made of stern stuff in those days.

But even so, they had their limits.  This evening I looked up BHL 6146, and found that they only printed the incipit and a brief description of contents.  So I will have to go and find a manuscript and transcribe it myself.  Luckily I have a PDF of the very manuscript from which they printed their stuff.  I’ll come back to that one, tho, as I am rather on the roll with the others.

A couple of days ago I saw an interesting tweet online by María Ithurria here, which I thought might be of interest to many of us: “This is how a physician ended up arranging the funding for a translation of Justinian’s Digest.”  She posted this portion of Alan Watson, “Aspects of Reception of Law”, in: The American Journal of Comparative Law, 44 (1996) 335-351 (JSTOR):

Many scholars, not just in law, discount chance. By chance I mean something that could not be predicted. Some even deny the existence of any such thing. But I have an example that is irrefutable.  Today (when I was writing — late 1994) Roman law is more prominent in South African decisions than it was a decade ago. Roman law, as received in Holland in the seventeenth century, has always been influential in South Africa, but why the upswing?

In 1977 on his way to the airport, Dr. Carleton Chapman bought in New York a copy of Alan Watson’s, Legal Transplants, without much examination. Dr. Chapman was a physician who was interested in law, and thought the book was about the law relating to medical transplants. Still, he had a life-long interest in legal history, and he enjoyed the book (I presume). He wrote to Watson asking why there was no English translation of Justinian’s Digest.  Watson first thought of not bothering to reply. But he had a visit from Colin Kolbert from Cambridge, who was on his way farther North, who told him to give a response. Watson wrote that there already existed a poor translation,[9] that a new translation would be an enormous task, and that the work involved would carry little prestige, would be unnecessary in the eyes of many, and would be very expensive to produce. Chapman replied that if Watson came up with a feasible scheme for translating he would arrange the funding. Chapman was then the President of The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation primarily concerned with medical research. The outcome was the publication in 1985 of a four volume translation (with facing text) of Justinian’s Digest. It is the existence of this translation that has made the Digest more accessible to South African lawyers, and accounts for the upswing in its use.

[9].  S.P. Scott, The Civil Law, 17 vols. (1932)

We discount the personal element at our peril!


2 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. An interesting article on this very question, the role of chance in scholarship, appears in the _ANS (American Numismatic Society) Magazine_ 21:4 (2022). McClellan III, James E., “French jetons and the accidental numismatist.”

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