Catherine Nixey, “The darkening age” is back – and annoying scholars in five languages

A couple of years ago I came across a strange volume, designed to smear the ancient Christians.  It was authored by a recent arts graduate named Catherine Nixey, and titled “The Darkening Age”.  Her publisher had arranged some fawning reviews in the mainstream press, which was unfortunate as her facts were often in error.  One of the reviewers, I recall, clearly knew that it was nonsense, but equally clearly had been told to give it a good review!   It was really striking how heavily it was promoted.

Ignorant of all this, I found the author tweeting smugly on twitter, and giving a supposed “quote” from Chrysostom.  The unfortunate results – for her – appeared on my blog in this article, Hunting the wild misquotation again.  The book never seemed to get much traction online, and I confess that I filed it away and forgot about it.

Today I came across a thread in Dutch on twitter which revealed that her publisher has arranged for the book to be translated into five languages (!)  The thread also contained evidence of good reviews over there too!

The only reason that all these favourable reviews can appear, that I can think of, is money.  I assume that the publishers of the newspapers are taking money from the publisher in order to commission these reviews.  The book itself is just malicious tat, and anybody with a bit of education will know it.  It isn’t worth reviewing.  Such books are ten-a-penny.  But … it gets reviewed, and widely, and favourably.  Why?

It would be most interesting to know the sales figures.  Is this book really making money?  There’s something very dubious about all this, to my eye.  I have heard of publishe

The thread contains a review by Dr Roland Kany from the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung:

Title: “So just read how evil they are!”

I ran the review through OCR, and created a Word .docx file, which I’ll put here in case you’d like to use Google Translate.

There are gems in the review.

Apparently Miss Nixey thinks that damage to the frescos in the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca in Rome is clear evidence of the use of an axe by the early Christians.  Dr K. blandly suggests that perhaps she missed the work of Bryan Ward-Perkins in 2004, showing that the damage was caused by a failed conservation attempt in 1953.

Likewise Miss N. believes that no work of Porphyry has reached us: something that is news to those of us who have read his life of Plotinus, his four books on vegetarianism, and his introduction to Aristotle, a standard textbook in the middle ages.

And so it goes on.  After four columns, Dr. K. finishes:

Und so weiter . Man muss in Nixeys Buch mühsam nach Abschnitten suchen, die einer Überprüfung ohne Einschränkung standhalten. Wer sich zu Nixeys Themen seriös informieren will, sollte zu anderen Büchern greifen: Johannes Hahn über Gewalt von Christen und Heiden in der Spätantike, Wolfgang Speyer über Büchervernichtung und Zensur, Egert Pöhlmann zur Überlieferung von Texten und Peter Gemeinhardt über antikes Christentum und Bildung. Sie bieten, was Nixeys mittlerweile in fünf Sprachen übersetztem und von vielen Journalisten gefeiertem Buch abgeht: Fachkompetenz, Augenmaß, Bemühen um sachgerechte Darstellung und Kontextualisierung. Nixey dagegen lässt fort, was ihr nicht in den Kram passt, und fügt wahre, halbwahre und unzutreffende Behauptungen zu einem Konstrukt zusammen, dem nicht nur Einseitigkeit, sondern ein Übermaß an Falschheit vorzuwerfen ist.

In Nixey’s book, one has to laboriously search for sections that can withstand a review without qualification. Those who want to inform themselves on Nixey’s topics seriously, should resort to other books: Johannes Hahn on violence by Christians and Gentiles in late antiquity, Wolfgang Speyer on book destruction and censorship, Egert Pöhlmann for the transmission of texts and Peter Gemeinhardt on ancient Christianity and education. They offer what Nixey’s book, now translated into five languages ​​and celebrated by many journalists, lacks: factual competence, a sense of proportion, an effort for appropriate representation and contextualization. Nixey, on the other hand, ignores what does not fit into the junk, putting together true, half-true, and false claims into a construct that is not just one-sided, but an excessive falsehood.

Let us hope that Nixey’s book continues to be ignored by most people.

Finding online manuscripts

I wrote about my frustration in being unable to locate manuscripts online, despite having the shelfmarks.  Of course I am not the only one to encounter this.  A kind correspondent has made me aware of a list of links which helps enormously.  Compiled by Albrecht Diem, at the Monastic Manuscript Project, it is here.  I shall add it to the sidebar.

I have tested this out with the list of manuscripts of Wilhelm v. Boldensele, in this post.  The result was that I located a couple more manuscripts online, which I have linked.

It was still back-breaking work.  After a few libraries, I gave up.  But it was definitely an improvement.

Blog recommendation: Papyrus Stories, by Jenny Cromwell

It’s been a while since I saw a blog that I wanted to add to the sidebar, but this evening I found one.  It’s called Papyrus Stories, and it may be found here:

https://papyrus-stories.com/

There is also a linked Twitter account, @Papyrus_Stories.

The desert climate of Egypt has preserved enormous quantities of “waste paper”.  The rubbish dump of the Greek city of Oxyrhynchus in particular yielded so many in the excavations before 1914 that they are still being published a century later.

Most of these papyrus documents are things like personal letters, tax receipts, and the like.  So they shine a light into the lives of all sorts of people.

The blog posts consist of taking one such document, and telling the story that is found in it.  They are really very interesting and charming.

Recommended.

Where are the academic reviews of bible translations?

This evening something drew my attention to the New World Bible Translation, the English translation of the bible made by and for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I knew nothing much about it, except that it is generally derided as biased and edited to reflect the theological ideas of that group.

But I prefer not to rely on hearsay for such things, and I began to search for information.  I came across a great many webpages, all of them amateur.  I came across the Wikipedia page, full of supposed quotes by scholars.  But it was clear that the JW’s themselves have also edited it to include material advantageous to themselves.  None of the material, for or against, seemed particularly reliable to me.

At this point, I wanted to know more.  I’m not a Hebrew scholar of any description.  The Greek text is something I could read, but not as a specialist.  So what I want is the professional, unbiased opinion of someone specialising in the relevant language skills.  I want someone with no axe to grind.   In other words, I want a solid academic review.

Naturally I skipped off to JSTOR, which my university makes available to alumni, and typed in “New World Translation”.  And I came up with … nearly nothing.  One review, in fact, just over a page long, which did not seem to me to be of a high standard.

On a hunch, I repeated the search but for the “New International Version”.  Again I got nothing worth having.  I did the same for a couple of other versions, with the same result – nothing worth having.

Google searches revealed a single study, by a certain Robert H. Countess.  I have not seen this, but the information available to me did not suggest that Dr. Countess was the kind of language scholar that I was looking for.

I have begun to wonder if I am looking in the wrong place!  Some of those who read this must know.  Am I doing this wrong?  Are all the reviews of bible translations hidden away somewhere?

The taxpayer funds universities to make it possible for us to find studies of knowledge.  To make available objective information as to whether a translation of an ancient text is accurate or not – whatever the ancient text – is one of the fundamental duties of a scholar in the relevant discipline.  This is particularly true for a text like the Bible, or indeed the Koran, where an error may produce heavy social consequences.

The world is heavy with biblical scholars.  You can’t throw a brick without one popping up, it sometimes feels.  So where are the reviews?

In my ignorance, it is hard to believe that these things don’t exist.  Could that possibly be the case?

Answers in the comments, or using the Contact Me form please!

From my diary

A twitter discussion led me to update my post on an ancient Latin inscription, once visible on the casing stones of the Great Pyramid in Giza.  The inscription was recorded by a medieval pilgrim, Wilhelm von Boldensele.

As part of this, I searched for manuscripts of von Boldensele’s work.  I found a nice list, indicating the libraries that held the manuscripts.  But what I wanted to know was whether the ms. was online, and if so where.  A visit to the website of each library was an exercise in frustration.  The websites has been designed by clerks who would never use them, and functioned simply as corporate advertising.  I tried the first couple in the list, and was forced to give up.  The stress was incredible.

I can only imagine that other scholars get just as annoyed.  The best way to find manuscripts that I have encountered is simply a Google search for the shelfmark.  Sometimes it works!

One manuscript was listed as belonging to the Phillipps collection.  This was a massive collection of books assembled in the 19th century by a bibliomaniac, and which was still being sold twenty years ago.  Many of the manuscripts are in Berlin, I knew.  But I couldn’t find any of the Phillipps manuscripts on the useless Berlin library website.  Going to google, it led me to a Worldcat entry that showed that the one I wanted was actually in the University of Minnesota!  So far well and good; but again, the idea that a scholar might come to the university website to consult a manuscript had plainly occurred to nobody when that website was designed.  Who on earth reads all the smooth empty verbiage on these sites?  For what purpose would you ever read it?

I gave up in the end.  Oh well.  On to other things.  It was only an idle thought.

Thinking about ways to display Latin syntax information in a translation tool

Most of us probably learned Latin at school.  Those lessons focused on grammar – amo, amas, amat – and also on rote learning of vocabulary.  All of this is essential, and I really wish that I could remember more of it than I can today.

But this focus means that questions of Latin syntax are often dealt with only superficially, or not at all.  I saw evidence of this, back in 2006 when I was running the project to translate Jerome’s Chronicle.  Anybody could contribute by doing an entry.  Often I would see people stumble on something like an ablative absolute, through sheer ignorance.

It occurs to me that some people reading this won’t know what that is, so I’d better try to explain as simply as I can.  Let’s look at this Latin sentence.

Urbe capta, cives fugaverunt.

???, the citizens fled.

Urbe is the ablative of the noun urbs, urbis, = city so would ordinarily mean “by/with/from the city”.  Gender is feminine.  It’s singular.

capta is also in the ablative, but is a perfect passive participle of the verb capio, capere, etc = “capture, seize”.  By itself it would mean “having been captured”.  It too is in the feminine gender, and also singular, so it agrees with Urbe in case, number and gender.

The combination is an ablative absolute – the word “absolute” is just noise – meaning “the city having been captured”, or, in better English “after the city had been captured”, and indicates time.  A noun and a participle in the ablative and agreeing with each other … start thinking “ablative absolute”.

This is a Latin construction.  The term “ablative absolute” is just a label for this Latin construction, where they put the words together to indicate something not found in the bare words individually.  It’s just one of the bits of know-how that you need for Latin, and it’s really really common.

There are many other such bits of trickery.  Students are taught how to recognise them.  This stuff is what you memorise.

Now we have quite a few tools on the web for handling Grammar.  There is my own QuickLatin, Whitaker’s Words, and probably many more that I haven’t come across.  A “lexical parser” is not that uncommon.

But none of these signal these kinds of structures.

For last week or so I’ve taken Morwood’s Oxford Latin Grammar to bed with me, and I’ve been reading through the descriptions of Latin clauses and structures which make up the second half of the book.  It is very clear, to be sure.  But tired brains do not absorb this sort of thing very well, and most readers of this blog will have jobs and other tasks to attend to.  And … do we need to rote learn these things?  Truly?

It’s a UI or UX problem, in a way – User Interface or User Experience.  How could this information be presented to somebody with a line of Latin text in front of them?  If we hover over the individual words, we can have the grammar laid out for us alright, like this:

But how do we signal to the reader that “urbe capta” is an ablative absolute, and pop up some kind of info about how to handle them?

There are two problems here.  The first is how to detect the presence of such a construction.  I suspect that those familiar with algorithms will have ideas in mind already, perhaps about “fuzzy logic” or “AI” or whatever.

Then, once we recognise that this is, or might be, such a construction, how do we signal it to the user?

I’m not sure of the answer to either of these questions, to be honest.  But I’m thinking about it.  This information could be, and should  be, captured and condensed.  It needs to be indexed in a way that allows you to find it from the sentence, rather than in the way that grammars tend to present it.

Ideas are welcome!

A little-known museum in Rome – the Case Romane del Celio.

There is a museum in Rome of which I had never heard until today.  It’s called the “Case Romane del Celio”, whch means the “Roman houses on the Caelian” hill.

The museum is underneath the basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo – St John and St Paul – on the Caelian hill.  This was built in 398 over a Roman house that the two saints had lived in.  In 1887 there were excavations, and a series of Roman houses were discovered, dating from the 1st-4th centuries AD.  There are remarkable frescoes to be seen, such as these.  I found the pictures on the Wanted in Rome website:

Access is not from inside the basilica, but from the Clivo di Scauro.  This is itself a Roman arched street, not far from the Colosseum. The museum is open every day, I believe, “except Tuesday and Wednesday and can be visited from 10.00-13.00 and 15.00-18.00.”  The museum website is here.  There’s also a lot of useful information for visitors at this commercial site.  Here’s the entrance.

It’s actually really close to the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus, as we can see from Google Maps:

I’ve just used Street View to walk down it, and, as a pedestrian, you can clearly walk straight across into it from the Palatine area, without bothering about that long dog-leg down to the Circus Maximus.  So you could start at the Arch of Constantine, walk down the street, and look out for the Clivo di Scauri on the left.

I’ve never been up on the Caelian hill.  But I can see that there is quite a bit of interesting stuff up there.  The next time that I am in Rome, I shall go and have a look!

Notae in the margins of Cassiodorus, “Expositio Psalmorum”

An  interesting volume has appeared this year, which unfortunately I have not seen, but that I learned about from Jesse Keskiaho on twitter.  The book is by Evina Steinová, based on her 2016 dissertation (online here, I now find), and now in a revised book form from Brepols here as Notam superponere studui : The Use of Annotation Symbols in the Early Middle Ages (2019).  I understand that it contains an interesting piece on a work by the 6th century statesman-turned-monk Cassiodorus.

Cassiodorus’ commentary on the Psalms, the Expositio Psalmorum (= Clavis Patrum Latinorum no. 900) is a long allegorical commentary based largely on Augustine.  So long a work was set forth in three manuscript volumes each containing the commentary on 50 psalms.  It was completed at the start of 548 and dedicated to Pope Vigilius; and then reworked between 560-70 with marginal “notae” or symbols, which indicate the type of content.[1]  He provided the key to these signs at the beginning of the work.

The Latin text is printed in the Patrologia Latina vol. 70.  A more modern edition by Adriaen was printed in the Corpus Christianorum 97-8 (1958), but Walsh states that it is merely a revision of the PL text, and full of mistakes.  There is an English translation by P.G. Walsh in the Ancient Christian Writers series (in three volumes 50, 51 and 52).  A new edition was intended by James W. Halporn, who published a list of the manuscripts in “The manuscripts of Cassiodorus’ ‘Expositio Psalmorum'” in Traditio 37 (1981), p.388-396.  I’m unclear that any edition ever appeared, and Halporn died in 2011.  Discussion of the tradition of the text is in Richard N. Bailey, “Bede’s text of Cassiodorus’ Commentary on the Psalms”, JTS 34 (1983), 189-193.

The Patrologia Latina text, infuriatingly, omits the notae, and the introductory list.  Here is the page on which the praefatio ends, and the commentary text begins:

Inevitably the translation by Walsh from this text also omits the notae.

The marginal notae may be seen, however, in a 9th century manuscript now in the Bibliothèque Nationale Français in Paris, shelfmark BNF lat. 14491, originally in the abbey of Saint-Victor in Paris.  This is online here in an exceedingly clear microfilm copy (the download, sadly, is low resolution).  On folio 10, following the “praefatio”, there is a list of the symbols used and their meaning:

Isn’t this gorgeous?  RA = ‘rithmetic.  Mc = music… and a little star, an asterisk = astronomy.  This section appears between the “veniamus” at the end of the praefatio and the heading of the first section of the commentary.  Transcribing as best I can:

Diversas notas more maiorum certis locis aestimabimus effigiendas.  Has cum explanationibus suis subter adiuncximus.  Ut quicquid lector voluerit inquirere per similitudines earum, sine aliqua difficultate debeat invenire.  (We will find that various symbols need to be marked in certain places, according to the custom of the ancients.  We’ve added these with their explanations below.  If any reader wishes to search by using their appearance, they ought to find them without difficulty.)

Hoc in idiomatis. Id est propriis locutionibus legis divinae.   (idioms. i.e. the correct way of speaking of the divine law)
Hoc in dogmatibus. valde necessariis.  (doctrines.  Very necessary)
Hoc in diffinitionibus.  (definitions)
Hoc in schematibus.  (figures)
Hoc in ethimologiis.  (etymologies)
Hoc in interpraetatione nominum.  (the interpretation of names)
Hoc in arte rethorica. (the art of rhetoric)
Hoc in topicis.  (topics)
Hoc in syllogismis.  (syllogisms)
Hoc in arithmetica.  (arithmetic)
Hoc in geometrica. (geometry)
Hoc in musica. (music)
Hoc in astronomia. (astronomy)

Examples of the use of these notae/symbols appear in the same manuscript, starting on the page facing the list of symbols.

In the 10th century Bamburg manuscript, Staatsbibliothek Bamberg Msc.Bibl.56 (online here) we have the first page with this:

I would have made this larger, but I could see no way to download the image; only warnings about the (non-existent) copyright claimed by the German state on the image.

The 9th century Karlsruhe manuscript, Aug. perg. 155, sadly has suffered damage:

Also online is British Library Additional 16962, also 9th century, which is indeed a volume of the work, but of the third volumes: psalms 101-150.

It’s very interesting to see such a scholarly help, I must say.

  1. [1]Halporn, “Mss”, p.388.

“Let the flamen dialis shave only with a razor of bronze!”

An interesting query on Twitter read:

Apparently, Roman priests were not allowed to use iron razors or scissors…  Anyone know why?

Roman razor with bronze handle and iron blade, sold at auction here.

A little searching turned up some sources.  I had hoped to find more in the old Realencyclopädie, but Bd. VI.2, col. 2489 gave only the same few.  All are very late indeed.

My earliest source is from the 4th c. AD.  It is Servius, Scholia on Vergil’s Aeneid, i, 448.

First the passage being commented on: Vergil, Aeneid, book 1, line.446-49:

446. Hīc templum Iūnōnī ingēns Sīdōnia Dīdō
condēbat, dōnīs opulentum et nūmine dīvae,
aerea cui gradibus surgēbant līmina nexaeque
aere trabēs, foribus cardō strīdēbat aēnīs.

Here Sidonian Dido was founding to Juno a mighty temple, rich in gifts and the presence of the goddess. Brazen was its threshold uprising on steps; bronze plates were its lintel beams, on doors of bronze creaked the hinges.  (Loeb)

Servius comments:

48. AEREA vel quod aes magis veteres in usu habebant, vel quod religioni apta est haec materies, denique flamen Dialis aereis cultris tondebatur: [aut quia vocalius ceteris metallis, aut quia medici aere quaedam vulnera curant, aut dicit quia veteres magis aere usi sunt] aut certe aerea saecula significantur: nam ut Hesiodus dicit, tempore quo haec gesta sunt aereum saeculum fuit.      NEXAEQVE AERE TRABES multi ‘nixae’ legunt, non ‘nexae’, iuxta Varronem qui ait, Trisulcae fores, pessulis libratae, dehiscunt, graves atque in nixae in cardinum tardos turbines. Quidam trabes aeneas putant ipsum templum χαλκίοικον significari. Versus sane ipse hypermetros est.[1]

BRONZE, or rather what was used as money by the ancients, or what was appropriate for religion, and then the Flamen Dialias was trimmed with a bronze knife: [or because more tuneful than other metals, or because doctors cured some wounds with bronze, or he says (this) because the ancients were more used to bronze] or at least the ages of bronze are signified: for, as Hesiod says, the time that this happened was the age of bronze.       AND ITS ROOF-BEAMS WERE LINKED WITH BRONZE. Many read “heavy”, not “linked”, according to Varro who said, “The three-fold doors, from bolts released, they open, and in pushing on the hinge the slow heavy rotation.”[2] Which beam Aeneas thought meant the temple itself was that “made of bronze” (i.e. of Athena).  The verse obviously is in hypermeter.

Update (13/09/19): A kind commenter points out that I made rather a mess of this.  His much better translation from here is:

AEREA, either because the ancients used bronze more widely, or because this material is appropriate for religious purposes; thus the hair of the Flamen Dialis was cut with bronze knives [or because it was more sonorous than other metals, or because doctors tended certain wounds with bronze, or he says that the ancients made more use of bronze] or at any rate the Bronze Ages are denoted: for, as Hesiod says, the time at which these events occurred was the Age of Bronze. NEXAEQVE AERE TRABES: Many read “resting upon” [nixae], not “plated with” [nexae], with Varro, who said, “The triple doors, released by bolts, open wide, heavy and resting upon slowly revolving pivots”. Some think that the “bronze lintel” means that the temple itself was a “shrine of bronze”. The line is obviously hypermetric.

In the 5th c. we have Macrobius, Saturnalia book 5, chapter 19, section 13:

Certainly there is much to show that it was commonly the custom to use instruments of bronze for sacred ceremonies, and especially in connection with rites whose purpose it was to entice or curse a person or, indeed, to drive out diseases. [12] I shall not comment on that line of Plautus:

“My chinking disease has its remedy-the chink of bronze,”

nor on Vergil’s reference elsewhere to:

“The ringing noise and sounding bronze of the Curetes” [Georgics 4. 15 I]

[ 13] but I shall quote the words of Carminius, a learned man and a most careful scholar, who says in the second Book of his work on Italy: “And so I find both that the Etruscans, in their sacred rites of Tages, were wont formerly to use a plowshare of bronze when they were founding a city, and that among the Sabines the priests used to cut their beards with rawrs of bronze.” [14] It would be tedious to seek to follow up these words of Carminius with a review of the many passages in which the most ancient of the Greeks habitually made use of the sound of bronze as being particularly efficacious. Let it be enough for the matter in hand to have shown that in introducing a reference to bronze sickles Vergil was following the example of a Greek author.

A note in the translation suggests that “Carminius” might in be a corruption for “Granius”.  Macrobius is interesting, because, immediately before this passage, he discusses Sophocles and a similar Greek prohibition.

Finally in the 6th century we have John the Lydian, De Mensibus, i, 31, (tr. Mischa Hooker):

35. Under Numa, and before him, the priests of old times would have their hair cut with bronze scissors, but not with iron [scissors].[90] For iron, according to the Pythagoreans, is dedicated to matter: It too is dark and therefore nearly without form, wrought with much toil and useful for much, but not impassive.[91]

The translator, Mischa Hooker, adds some valuable information in the footnotes:

90. Cf. Servius on Aeneid 1.448, with reference to the flamen Dialis; Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.19.11 (citing Carminius) mentions that Sabine priests had their hair cut with bronze. Iron has been the subject of taboos in various societies including Greek and Roman—see J. G. Frazer, Golden Bough, 3rd ed., 3: 225-36 (“Iron Tabooed”); for Greek religion more specifically, see the evidence collected by T. Wächter, Reinheitsvorschriften im griechischen Kult (Gießen, 1910), pp. 115-18; for Roman religion, note also Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People (London, 1922), pp. 32-35, 191, 214.

91. For iron as “dark” (melas), cf. Hesiod, Works and Days 151; “wrought with much toil” (polykmêtos) is a Homeric epithet for iron (e.g., Iliad 6.48). Proclus, while commenting on Hesiod’s “iron race,” explores the symbolism of iron as indicating earthliness, intractability, lack of rationality, and subjection to passions (Commentary on Plato’s Republic, 2: 77 Kroll). … further useful discussion of Greek religious restrictions on metals and rings appears in C. Le Roy, “Un règlement religieux au Létôon de Xanthos,” Revue Archéologique n.s. 2 (1986), pp. 286-9.

None of our three sources seem actually to know why there is a prohibition on the use of anything but bronze to cut hair.  It is a defensible hypothesis that this was copied from the Greeks; or, equally possibly, that it arises spontaneously in these early prehistoric mediterranean populations, in reaction to the advent of iron.  It would be possible to speculate endlessly.

  1. [1]p.146, lines 12-21.
  2. [2]I really couldn’t construe this correctly.

From my diary

I’m busy earning a living at the moment, so there is little to report.  However I happened to see a post on twitter recently about St Cuthman, an anglo-saxon saint, which sparked my interest.  All that is known about him is contained in the Acta Sanctorum volume for February (vol. 2), under February 8th, published in 1656, by coincidence during the only period of history when England was not a monarchy.  There’s a single Life in there (with the reference code BHL 2305), quite short, which I have begun to translate into English in my scanty spare moments.

Googling about St Cuthman revealed a lot of low-grade material.  There seems to be only a single article.  This is present in JSTOR, but for some reason inaccessible to me.  I’m starting to get the feeling that my JSTOR alumni access through my old university is being downgraded.  Increasingly articles are not accessible.  Luckily a friend had a copy.  This referred to endless “summaries” of the contents of the Acta Sanctorum text, but no translation.  I could wish that these busy gentlemen had translated rather than skimming and summarising.  For instance the article author seemed to think that the Acta Sanctorum contained two Lives, rather than one.  The one text was derived from two manuscripts; that was the source of his misreading.

The text in the Acta Sanctorum was signed “I.B.”.  This can only be Jean Bolland himself, the originator of the whole 350-year-long (so far!) Acta Sanctorum project.  He had access to these two manuscripts.  Looking at the modern Bollandist site, I find that they have knowledge of only two manuscripts today.  Probably these are the same two manuscripts.  One is still in the region of Rouen, as it was in Bolland’s day.  The other has migrated to Germany, to Gotha.  Neither is online unfortunately.

Now I find that translating anything is easier if I have an electronic text to hand.  It allows me to use electronic tools and lexica.  The complete Acta Sanctorum is online in electronic form at the Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon site.  Nothing on the home page suggests this, but a Google search reveals it here.  Even so it is not indexed properly – you have to click on each month, and volume, and page through it.  But it is a blessing to have!  I wish I knew more about how this text was created.  There are a tiny number of typos in it, as well as the abbreviations and ligatures present in the original printing.  But it is invaluable.  Indeed I have purchased their keystick with a copy of the site on it, in case it should ever vanish.

Websites do vanish, as does material on it.  This week somebody asked me about a passage in Photius’ Bibliotheca.  I recalled that  the translation by Rene Henry was online at remacle.org, so off I trotted.  But I found that it was no longer there!  Instead the material was subdivided much, but only part of it was still there.  This is quite a loss, and I wish that I had archived it.  I found, annoyingly, that Archive.org had NOT archived the site.

Another article that I read this week observed that Google is no longer a good search engine.  This chimes with my own experience.  I have long noted that, of the vast quantities of material that I have shovelled onto the web over the last 20 years, very little is returned any more.  This week I had occasion to look for a passage from the “Arabic canons of Nicaea”.  I googled the text, and found it in the end, after a bit of searching, in … the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers!  Which I have  on my site, but did not appear in the results.  Which is on the CCEL.org site, that digitised it, and which did not appear in the results.  In fact not a single copy of the various digital copies appeared.  It looks very much as if the Google search engine prioritises heavily on creation date, and marginalises or ignores material from longer ago.  This is terrible for us all.  Google returns a picture of the web as it is now, like a news service.  It is much less good at finding material that is there but older.

This also leaves aside the increasing evidence that Google is operating a political censorship.  Today I saw an article claiming that their algorithm is basically much like the evil new Chinese system of “social credit”, and simply omits results from different political viewpoints.  I find it quite easy to believe this.  I myself was subjected to a 12-hour twitter ban this week.  Twitter shoves an endless stream of absurd political posturing into your face, which it is very hard to avoid.  Much of it is extreme, even by the standards of modern California, the fons et origo of so much that is wrong and nearly all that is absurd.  The platform is engineered to cause people to respond.  Your behaviour is manipulated to make you do so.   Thus I was unwise enough to respond to one of these, politely but dismissively, and to my astonishment was instantly banned by twitter for expressing a view that they did not like.  Likewise this week I have observed that a couple of “military humour” pages on Facebook are being routinely subjected to harassment by the Facebook “moderators”.  One had to abandon its efforts and restart a new page.  Another discovered that it was “shadow-banned” – that Facebook had decided not to relay posts to those who had asked to see them.  Neither page has ever posted anything really objectionable, or even a fraction as salty as a military barracks would ordinarily be.  Yet they face constant interference.

I do think that we need a better search engine.  We need that older material.  Searching the web has always been an art.  One person will find something; another nothing, just through luck of choosing the right terms.  That will probably always be so.  But the material should be there.

At the moment at night I am reading my way through the Diary of a Country Parson, in five volumes.  This is the diary of James Woodforde, who was rector of Weston Longville, nine miles west of Norwich, for thirty years, until he died in 1802 at the age of 62.  By then he was in health and attitude an extremely old man.  He often refers to going to Norwich and staying in the market place in an inn called the Kings Head.  The editor was unable to locate this, and I myself know the area well and don’t know it.  But it turns out that the east side of the market place in 1800 was very different from today, when it is entirely shops.  It contained four large commercial coaching inns, each with a gateway into a long yard behind.  Indeed the street behind this area, and parallel to the market, is still called “The Back of the Inns” today on Google maps.  The Kings Head was demolished in 1813 to create Davey’s Place, which is a narrow street running from the market towards the castle.  I was able to find an 1806 drawing of the area on Wikipedia, by James Cotman, looking south, here.

Sadly the resolution is too low to zoom in on the front of the properties on the left, but I can see two inn signs in it.  One must be the Angel Inn, which stood where the eerie and beautiful Royal Arcade now stands.

In many ways the frontage of the east side – the street there was known as Gentleman’s Walk – is rather more impressive than it is today.  The inns were big, bustling enterprises, and a coach went to London almost every day.  They travelled overnight, interestingly.  There were 4 or 6 places inside the coach, and 2 places “outside” in the basket, at half-price.  Parson Woodforde and his niece travelled inside at a £1 each, while their servant Briton travelled in the basket for 10 shillings.  It looks as if Parson Woodforde almost always stayed at the Kings Head precisely because it was busy and bustling and a complete change to his quiet isolated rectory at Weston.  He liked the excitement, it seems.

Pictures of the past are invaluable.  Too many are still held behind walls of copyright and greed, but perhaps this will change as time goes by.  Let us hope so!