Paul of Aegina and his medical handbook

The technical literature of antiquity is generally hard for us to access.  Few would perhaps be able to venture much beyond Galen and Hippocrates for ancient medical writers.

This evening I learned of the existence of Paulus Aeginata, Paul of Aegina, a 7th century compiler of a medical encyclopedia.  An article by Vivian Nutton, From Galen to Alexander, mentioned a certain “Paul”, who was translated by Francis Adams in 1834.  Nutton (p.2) states:

The most obvious difference between the medicine of the second and that of the sixth century A.D. can be summed up in one word, Galenism, in both its positive and its pejorative meanings. Instead of the variety of great names that can be cited for the second century-Galen, Rufus, Soranus, Antyllus, maybe even Aretaeus-and the evidence from both literary and epigraphic texts for new interests and ideas on surgery, the fourthand later centuries present us with a dull and narrow range of authors-the summarizers, the encyclopaedists-who have been studied not for themselves but for the earlier sources they happen to encapsulate. Oribasius, Aetius, Alexander, Paul are the medical refrigerators of antiquity: we are concerned with their contents, not their mechanics or their design.

We are in a quandary also because our conception of how medicine works has changed drastically; and it is not surprising that the last major work of medico-historical value to be done on them was over a century ago by Francis Adams, whose third and final volume of his great translation of Paul appeared in 1847. The reason for this is simple: to Adams, Paul was transmitting a living medicine, one that could still be used in his daily practice in Scotland. and it was precisely for this reason that Adams, on the basis of his own experience as a doctor, could reach such a sound judgment on the merits of this compiler.

It is a useful, not to say frightening, reminder how far medical knowledge has advanced in 150 years.

This naturally led me to do a Google search.  I was able to find vol.2 (1846) and vol. 3 (1847), but not vol. 1.  This 1834 work may be the first volume, perhaps.

 However a browse suggests that the subject matter will not be of interest except to those interested in the history of medicine.  I had hoped for something on antiquity, but sadly not.  But perhaps the preface by Paulus himself will be of interest.  In the interests of readability I have paragraphed it.

It is not because the more ancient Writers have omitted any thing relative to the Art that I have composed this Work, but for the purpose of giving a compendious course of instruction. For, on the contrary, every thing is handled by them in a proper manner, and without any omissions, whereas the moderns have not only in the first place neglected the study of them, but have also blamed them for prolixity. Wherefore, I have undertaken the following Treatise, which, as is like, will serve as a Commentary to those who may choose to consult it, whilst it will prove an exercise to me.

For it appears wonderful that Lawyers should be possessed of compendious, and, as they call them, popular legal Synopses, in which are contained the heads of all the Laws, to serve for immediate use, whilst we neglect these things, although they have it generally in their power to put off the investigation of any point for a considerable time, whereas we can seldom or rarely do so; for in many cases necessity requires that we act promptly, and hence Hippocrates has properly said, “The season is brief.”

For their business is generally conducted in the midst of cities, where there is an abundant supply of books, whereas physicians have to act not only in cities, in the fields, and in desert places, but also at sea on board of ships, where such diseases sometimes suddenly break out as, in the event of procrastination, would occasion death, or at least incur the most imminent danger. But to remember all the rules of the healing art, and all the particular substances connected with it, is exceedingly difficult, if not altogether impossible.

On this account, I have collected this Epitome from the works of the ancients, and have set down little of my own, except a few things which I have seen and tried in the practice of the art. For being conversant with the most distinguished writers in the profession, and in particular wit Oribasius, who, in one work, gave a select view of every thing relating to health, (he being posterior to Galen, and one of the more modern authors,) I have collected what was best in them, and have endeavoured, if possible, not to pass by any one distemper.

For the work of Oribasius, comprehending 70 books, contains indeed an exposition of the whole art, but it is not easily to be procured on account of its bulk, whilst the epitome of it, addressed to his son, Eustathius, is deficient in some diseases altogether, and gives but an imperfect description of others, sometimes the causes and diagnosis being omitted, and sometimes the proper plan of treatment being forgotten, as well as other things which have occurred to my recollection.

Wherefore, the present work will contain the Description, Causes, and Cure of all diseases, whether situated in parts of uniform texture, in particular organs, or consisting of solutions of continuity, and that not merely in a summary way, but at as great length as possible. But in the first place, we will give an exposition of every thing that relates to Health and Regimen. The last book contains an account of simple and compound Medicines. 

I find a few more details by a Google Books search. 

Paul lived in Alexandria, and an iambic in some of the manuscripts says that he was “well-travelled”.  The work is extant in quite a number of Greek manuscripts, and was edited by J. L. Heiberg in the Corpus Medicorum Graecorum.  It seems that the Pragmateia — the Greek title — was translated into Syriac sometime in the 8th or 9th century, although only fragments of this survive, in quotation.  It was then translated into Arabic by Hunain ibn Ishaq in the 10th. 1

His surgical techniques include the methods of castration (book 6, chapter 68), which he states:

The object of our art being to restore those parts which are in a preternatural state to their natural, the operation of castration professes just the reverse. But since we are sometimes compelled against our will by persons of high rank to perform the operation, we shall briefly describe the mode of doing it.

The eye-watering details may be omitted.

1. Peter E. Pormann, The oriental tradition of Paul of Aegina’s Pragmateia, Brill (2004).


Books, libraries, codices and punctuation in Rome in Galen’s “Peri Alupias”

Galen’s Peri Alupias, (On the Avoidance of Grief), contains many interesting statements about the destruction of libraries in the fire.  The following excerpts are from the translation by Clare K. Rothschild and Trevor W. Thompson 1, of the fire and its aftermath.

6. Likewise, it is no (longer possible to have) the books – corrected versions, copies by my hand (of the works) of ancient men, and those (works) composed by me …

12b. In fact, the most terrible thing – in addition to the destruction of the books – has escaped you: hope of recovery no longer remains because all the libraries on the Palatine burned on that day.

13. It is, therefore, neither possible to find any of the rare books and the ones ‘nowhere else kept’, nor (possible to find) the common ones sought out for the accuracy of the text, the Callinia, Atticiana, Pedoucinia and certainly the Aristarcheia, which include two Homeric works, the Plato of Panaetius, and many other such works, since those writings – which, in the case of each book, the men after whom the books were named either wrote them or had them copied – were preserved inside (the libraries). And, in fact, copies of books from many ancient grammarians were kept (there), also those of rhetoricians, physicians and philosophers.

14. In addition to these (books) so important and so numerous, I then lost on the same day all the books that, after correction, had been written by me onto a pure text, books with unclear and errant readings throughout the texts – planning to produce my own edition. The writings were worked to (the point of) accuracy so that neither was something added nor words taken away, not even a paragraphos – single or double, or a coronis – appropriately placed between books. What is there to say about the period or comma? As you know, they are very valuable in unclear books, so that one who pays attention to them does not need an interpreter.

15 Such items included the books of Theophrastus, Aristotle, Eudemus, Clitomachus, Phanias, most of Chrysippus’ and all of the old physicians’.

16. Further, these things will especially distress you; I found outside (the libraries on the Palatine) books recorded in the so-called catalogs – some in the libraries on the Palatine and some, on the contrary, which clearly do not belong to the author to whom they are ascribed [i.e., in the catalogs] – neither with respect to style nor thought similar to him [i.e., the author]. I also found [books] of Theophrastus, in particular those on scientific matters.

17. – there are also his books on plants expounded in two extended treatises – everyone has them. And, there was the tractate in precise agreement with Aristotle, that I discovered and copied, which is now lost. In the same way, both (the books) of Theophrastus and of some other men of old were not reported in the catalogues, some although recorded in them, are no longer extant. I found, then, many of these in the libraries on the Palatine, but some, on the contrary, I prepared.

18.  In fact, those on the Palatine were destroyed on the same day as mine; the fire not only destroyed the storehouses on the Sacred Way, but also, before them, the (libraries) by the Temple of Peace, and afterwards, both those on the Palatine and the so-called “Tiberian House” in which there was also a library full of many other books; but some, on the contrary – on account of the negligence of those continually robbing (them) …… – at the time I first went up to Rome, were on the verge of destruction.

19. These (books), then, did not cause me a small pain when copying them. As it is, the papyri are completely useless, not even able to be unrolled because they have been glued together by decomposition, since the region is both marshy and low-lying, and, during the summer, it is stifling.

20. The treatise on Attic nouns [i.e., a dictionary] will also probably distress you, especially all the common terms and nouns. There are two parts, as you know, one from the Old Comedy and the other from the prose writers. But, luckily, some copies of the latter had been brought to Campania. If, in fact, those at Rome had burned two months later, the copies of all of my works would then have arrived in Campania.

21. For all (of my works) intended for publication were already transcribed in duplicate, not counting those that were to remain in Rome. On the one hand, my friends at home [i.e., Pergamum] were requesting that all of the works composed by me be sent to them in order that they may place (them) in a public library – just as, in fact, some other (friends) already placed many of my works in other cities – and, on the other hand, I was planning to have copies of everything in Campania.

22.  For this reason, then, there were duplicates of all of my (works), excluding those that were to remain in Rome, as I said.

23a.  So, the fire broke out at the end of winter. I planned, at the beginning of summer, to transport to Campania both those (works) that were meant to remain there [i.e., at Campania] and those that were to be sent to Asia when the Etesian winds blow.

23b–24a. Fortune, then, ambushed me by taking away many others of my books, and, above all, the treatise on nouns [i.e., a dictionary] that I excerpted from the whole of Old Comedy, from which, as you know, Didymus (Chalcenterus) had previously explained both the common and all the rare (terms) in fifty books, from which I prepared an epitome in six thousand lines. …

29–30 None of these things, then – although there were many (books) both useful and difficult-to-find – troubled me, not even the destruction of my commentaries, being of two types. Some were adapted so as to be useful also to others. Some were for me alone, although having the same provision for memory. Then there were many summaries, synopses of a great number of medical and philosophical books. But not even these things distressed me.

31. What then, you will say, is even greater than all the things mentioned that might be able to cause distress? Well, I will tell you this: I was entrusted with the possession of the most remarkable medical recipes, …

33. These medical recipes were preserved, with the utmost care, in two parchment codices that a certain one of the heirs – himself most dear to me – gave to me of his own accord without being asked.

What an invaluable discovery this work is!  The translators tell us:

The letter-treatise, dated to 193, was discovered as codex images on a CD-ROM in January 2005 in Vlatadon Monastery Thessaloniki. The manuscript, Vlatadon 14, is of immense value to scholars of antiquity. As Vivian Nutton rightly observes, “The discovery in 2005 by a French research student of Vlatadon 14 in a monastic library in Thessalonica must rank with one of the most spectacular finds ever of ancient literature” … 

A footnote indicates:

According to private correspondence, the work of Jouanna, Boudon-Millot and Pietrobelli was performed without access to the manuscript, but from a CD-ROM copy of microfilm.

Nutton’s statement is undoubtedly true.  Even from the limited excerpts above, we can see how much this tells us about ancient Rome.  The description of the decaying library in the Domus Tiberiana, where the papyrus rolls were stuck together by damp, is precious all by itself.  Fronto, indeed, tells us 2 that the curator could be bribed:

… in the afternoon we came home. I to my books: so taking off my boots and doffing my dress I passed nearly two hours on my couch, reading Cato’s speech On the property of Pulchra, and another in which he impeached a tribune. “Ho,” you cry to your boy, “go as last as you can and fetch me those speeches from the libraries of Apollo!” It is no use your sending, for those volumes, among others, have followed me here.  So you must get round the librarian of Tiberius’s library: a little douceur will be necessary, in which he and I can go shares when I come back to town.

Note also the reference in Galen to codices, containing the receipes for various medicines.  We all know of Martial’s reference to the codex, but here we see it being used for technical works, and the material — parchment — specified.

Clare Rothschild and Trevor Thompson has done us all a favour by making this translation.  It highlights how important this work is.  If only it was online!

1. Rothschild, Clare K.; Thompson, Trevor W., Galen: “On the Avoidance of Grief”, “Early Christianity”, 2011, pp. 110-129 (20).
2. Ad M. Caesar. iv, 5 (Naber, p.68) Loeb Classical Library, vol. 1, p.179


Galen, “On my own books” — the translation of Hunain ibn Ishaq

The second century medical writer Galen left behind such a vast array of works that it has been estimated that around 20% of the surviving volume of ancient Greek was written by him!  I’m not sure where this estimate comes from, but it is a remarkable amount.

Ancient medical texts are a specialised interest.  Our interest here is more with what Galen has to say about ancient books, libraries, manuscripts, the book trade and the process of copying.  He does, in fact, have a great deal to say on these subjects.

One of the most revealing works is On my own works (De libris propriis).  I gave some extracts from this here

But today I gained access to a rather interesting volume: Vivian Nutton (ed.) The unknown Galen (2002) — a collection of papers from a colloquium on texts of Galen not in the massive 20 volume 19th century edition by Kuhn.  Nutton writes engagingly, and I shall have things to say about the book on Monday, I suspect.

But what I wanted to see was a paper by Veronique Boudon, Galen’s “On my own books”: new material from Meshed, Rida, tibb. 5223, on p.9-18.

De libris propriis reaches us only in a single Greek manuscript, Milan Ambrosianus graecus 659 (=A).  This is a paper manuscript of the 14th century, some 272 folios long.  It contains 14 works by Galen, and De libris propriis occupies f. 187r-197r.  An equally interesting work, bibliographically, follows: On the order of my own works, f.197r-200r.  But examination of the gatherings in the manuscript reveals that a bi-folium has been lost at some point.  The manuscript was written on quaternions.  The outermost bifolium of quaternion 24 is lost.  Quaternion 24 currently includes folios 193-198.  So there should be an extra folio before f.193, and another after 198.  In short, we have lost two pages from each of these useful works, or the equivalent of about 4 pages of Kuhn’s edition.

But it seems that the great translator of Galen into Arabic made a translation of De libris propriis.  He says so, indeed, in the Risala which Bergstrasser published (I uploaded this to and which John Lamoreaux has translated into English.

A single manuscript containing the translation exists.  It’s in what Boudon calls “a religious library in North-Eastern Iran, at Meshed”.   The manuscript has been unknown to science, and was first mentioned only in 1970 by F. Sezgin in Geschichte des arabischen Schriftums, III (Leiden, 1970), p.78, no.1.  The work is on f.22v to 40v of the manuscript.

Boudon adds an interesting note for the rest of us: that it was unknown to M. Steinschneider, Die arabischen Ubersetzungen aus dem griechischen (Leipzig, 1897) (online here) and M. Ullmann, Die Medizin in Islam (Leiden, Cologne 1970), which are “the standard repertories of information on such manuscripts.”  The former should be out of copyright and worth a bit of investigation!  But back to the Meshed ms.

Boudon was able to get a set of “photocopies”, evidently monochrome, by means of a “complex series of exchange deals”.  These revealed that the folios had become disarranged.  The script suggests an 11th century AD date.  It is so very similar to another Meshed ms, Rida, tibb. 5214/1 which contains On the order of my own books and gives Hunain ibn Ishaq as the translator, that the two were probably once part of the same ms.  Once the folios are rearranged, we find that the opening leaf of De libris propriis is lost.

But the translation gives us much.  The lacunose Greek neverthless has chapter titles.  The Arabic agrees, and restores three more from points where there are lacunas in the Greek.  Still more, it gives us a massive extra chunk of text from chapter 3, where Galen is summarising the contents of 20 books of anatomy written by one Marinus, who wrote ca. 129 AD.  Boudon gives a translation, also.  Nothing in it relates specially to our interests, however, but it is very good to have. 

The translation by Hunain also corrects various numerals appearing in the text, for the numbers of books in particular works.  Naturally at some points this leaves a question as to what the right number is — the Greek or the Arabic both giving a different number!

I had never heard of the library at Meshed, or its contents.  But if such libraries can give us back portions of ancient literature, we need to know more of them.

UPDATE: Please note the comments on this article by Maureen which contain a vast amount of information about the Meshed site.  Thank you so much for that!


A newly discovered text by Galen

David Wilmshurst has drawn my attention to a find.  It seems that a French scholar discovered a lost work by Galen in a monastery in Thessalonika, not long ago!  Apparently there was a Times Literary Supplement article which mentioned it, and I found this word document — apparently abstracts from a 2007 Classical Association of South Africa conference — which contained the following item.  It seems that Veronique Boudon-Millot is the discoverer:

Véronique Boudon-Millot (Paris IV) 


The Galenic treatise Peri alupias (On the avoidance of pain) was regarded as entirely lost, as well in Greek as in Arabic or Latin. The recent discovery of this treatise in an unknown manuscript of Thessaloniki furnishes some new and important material about the workshop and the library of a Greek scholar in Rome in the 2nd century. The aim of this paper is to present the different aspects of the activity of Galen as scholar, physician and surgeon as well as philosopher and to give some details about his main centres of interest.

In other words, this is not merely a new text, but one that is of wide interest to people like ourselves who are interested in how the ancient world of books worked!

I need to find out more about this.  There ought to be papers on this, I would think.  More later.

UPDATE: There is also an article in PDF here about Galen’s Library by the same scholar, who clearly is the discoverer.  She refers to:

a new manuscript of Galen’s works, Vlatadon 14, which was recently discovered in the Vlatades monastery in Thessaloniki, … it is a 281-folio5 manuscript, measuring 305 x 220 mm, dating from the 15th century and probably coming from Constantinople. Written by a number of copyists, it contains about thirty Galenic or pseudo-Galenic treatises. Apart from Peri alupias which can be found in folios 10v to 14v …

4. See V. Boudon-Millot, ‘Un traité perdu de Galien miraculeusement retrouvé, le Sur l’inutilité de se chagriner: texte grec et traduction française’, in V. Boudon-Millot, A. Guardasole & C. Magdelaine (edd.), La science médicale antique. Nouveaux regards. Etudes réunies en l’honneur de J. Jouanna (Paris 2007) 72-123.

The article contains English versions of much of the interesting material. 

UPDATE: It seems that Veronique Boudon is a very busy Galen scholar indeed!  Her home page here lists many articles, including these two:

« Galen’s On my own Books : New Material from Meshed, Rida, Tibb. 5223 », in The Unknown Galen, Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Unknown Galen : Galen beyond Kühn (Thursday & Friday 25-26 November 1999), London, Institute of Classical Studies, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, Supplement 77, 2002, p. 9-18 [NF4 P520.b.87.68]

« Deux manuscrits médicaux arabes de Meshed (Rida tibb 5223 et 80) : nouvelles découvertes sur le texte de Galien », CRAI 2001, fasc. II (avril-juin), p. 1197-1222.  (Perhaps this is Comptes rendus de l’Academie des Inscriptions et Belles- Lettres?)

This is some Arabic new discovery on the most interesting of Galen’s works, On my own books (a work which she has edited and translated into French).  Mmmm.  I so want to read all this material!  Isn’t it daft, tho, that it’s all offline?

Then there are these:

« Un nouveau témoin pour l’histoire du texte de l’Ars medica de Galien : le Vlatadon 14 », in L’Ars medica (Tegni) de Galien : lectures antiques et médiévales, textes réunis et édités par N. Palmieri, Publications de l’Université de Saint-Etienne, Centre Jean Palerne, Mémoires XXXIII, 2008, p. 11-29. 

« Un traité perdu de Galien miraculeusement retrouvé, le Sur l’inutilité de se chagriner : texte grec et traduction française », in La science médicale antique : nouveaux regards, Etudes réunies par V. Boudon-Millot, A. Guardasole et C. Magdelaine en l’honneur de J. Jouanna, Paris, Beauchesne, 2007, p. 72-123.

« The Library and the Workshop of a Greek Scholar in the Roman Empire: New Testimony from the recently discovered Galen’s treatise Peri alupias », in Asklepios. Studies on Ancient Medicine, Acta Classica Supplementum II, edited by Louise Cilliers, 2008, p. 7-18.

« A Recently Discovered Consolation: Galen’s On the Futility of Grieving », in H. Baltussen (ed.), Acts of Consolation: Approaches to Loss and Sorrow from Sophocles to Shakespeare, A collection of papers presented at the International Colloquium (London, 14-15 December 2007), Cambridge University Press.

I suspect the Asklepios article is the one I found online.  Again, I want to read them all.  And I can’t even access them!


On the lives of the philosophers

It is a salutary experience to read through Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the eminent philosophers.  I have just completed volume 1, and in the process have gained quite an insight into the running of the Greek states, just from the way in which they interacted with various individuals.  The wills of some of them are given by Laertius as well.  As a guide to daily living, it is revealing.

Unfortunately it is also somewhat disgusting.  Few of the philosophers are men whom any of us would respect.  The majority are addicted to money and vice.  From the way in which the Greek states tended to deal with them, it seems clear that these people rarely enjoyed a very good reputation.  The charge against Socrates, of corrupting the young, is amply evidenced in other cases.

Among the most obvious rogues is Aristippus, and you can read the Life here.

Having come forward as a lecturer or sophist, as Phanias of Eresus, the Peripatetic, informs us, he was the first of the followers of Socrates to charge fees and to send money to his master. … He was capable of adapting himself to place, time and person, and of playing his part appropriately under whatever circumstances. Hence he found more favour than anybody else with Dionysius, because he could always turn the situation to good account. He derived pleasure from what was present, and did not toil to procure the enjoyment of something not present. Hence Diogenes called him the king’s poodle. Timon, too, sneered at him for luxury …

He is said to have ordered a partridge to be bought at a cost of fifty drachmae, and, when someone censured him, he inquired, “Would not you have given an obol for it?” and, being answered in the affirmative, rejoined, “Fifty drachmae are no more to me.” And when Dionysius gave him his choice of three courtesans, he carried off all three, saying, “Paris paid dearly for giving the preference to one out of three.” And when he had brought them as far as the porch, he let them go. To such lengths did he go both in choosing and in disdaining. …  He bore with Dionysius when he spat on him, and to one who took him to task he replied, “If the fishermen let themselves be drenched with sea-water in order to catch a gudgeon, ought I not to endure to be wetted with negus in order to take a blenny?”

… Being reproached for his extravagance, he said, “If it were wrong to be extravagant, it would not be in vogue at the festivals of the gods.” … When he was reproached by Plato for his extravagance, he inquired, “Do you think Dionysius a good man?” and the reply being in the affirmative, “And yet,” said he, “he lives more extravagantly than I do. So that there is nothing to hinder a man living extravagantly and well.” … One day, as he entered the house of a courtesan, one of the lads with him blushed, whereupon he remarked, “It is not going in that is dangerous, but being unable to go out.”

It happened once that he set sail for Corinth and, being overtaken by a storm, he was in great consternation. Some one said, “We plain men are not alarmed, and are you philosophers turned cowards?” To this he replied, “The lives at stake in the two cases are not comparable.” …

To one who accused him of living with a courtesan, he put the question, “Why, is there any difference between taking a house in which many people have lived before and taking one in which nobody has ever lived?” The answer being “No,” he continued, “Or again, between sailing in a ship in which ten thousand persons have sailed before and in one in which nobody has ever sailed?” “There is no difference.” “Then it makes no difference,” said he, “whether the woman you live with has lived with many or with nobody.” …

He enjoyed the favours of Laïs, as Sotion states in the second book of his Successions of Philosophers. To those who censured him his defence was, “I have Lais, not she me; and it is not abstinence from pleasures that is best, but mastery over them without ever being worsted.” to one who reproached him with extravagance in catering, he replied, “Wouldn’t you have bought this if you could have got it for three obols?” The answer being in the affirmative, “Very well, then,” said Aristippus, “I am no longer a lover of pleasure, it is you who are a lover of money.” …

When Charondas (or, as others say, Phaedo) inquired, “Who is this who reeks with unguents?” he replied, “It is I, unlucky wight, and the still more unlucky Persian king. … Confound the effeminates who spoil for us the use of good perfume.” … Polyxenus the sophist once paid him a visit and, after having seen ladies present and expensive entertainment, reproached him with it later.

One day Dionysius over the wine commanded everybody to put on purple and dance. Plato declined … Aristippus, however, put on the dress and, as he was about to dance, was ready with the repartee …

He was once staying in Asia and was taken prisoner by Artaphernes, the satrap. “Can you be cheerful under these circumstances?” some one asked. “Yes, you simpleton,” was the reply, “for when should I be more cheerful than now that I am about to converse with Artaphernes?” …

 A courtesan having told him that she was with child by him, he replied, “You are no more sure of this than if, after running through coarse rushes, you were to say you had been pricked by one in particular.” Someone accused him of exposing his son as if it was not his offspring. Whereupon he replied, “Phlegm, too, and vermin we know to be of our own begetting, but for all that, because they are useless, we cast them as far from us as possible.”

He received a sum of money from Dionysius at the same time that Plato carried off a book and, when he was twitted with this, his reply was,, “Well, I want money, Plato wants books.” …

He said the world was his country. Theft, adultery, and sacrilege would be allowable upon occasion, since none of these acts is by nature base, if once you have removed the prejudice against them, which is kept up in order to hold the foolish multitude together. The wise man would indulge his passions openly without the least regard to circumstances.

A conman with a line of blarney would behave just so.  The majority of them seem no better. 

Our image of a philosopher is perhaps that of the Roman period, of a man dedicated to virtue.  But it is telling that the Romans passed edicts expelling the philosophers from the city from time to time — indeed the Athenians did so, even in the classical period — and with this as our example, it is easy to see why.

I confess to being a little disappointed.  I do not think I shall purchase volume 2.


Greek text critical marks as described by Diogenes Laertius

I’m reading through the first volume of Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers.  In book 3, devoted to Plato, we find the following interesting excursus, which I copy from a version present on Wikisource here.

65. The right interpretation of his dialogues includes three things: first, the meaning of every statement must be explained; next, its purpose, whether it is made for a primary reason or by way of illustration, and whether to establish his own doctrines or to refute his interlocutor; in the third place it remains to examine its truth.

And since certain critical marks are affixed to his works let us now say a word about these. The cross × is taken to indicate peculiar expressions and figures of speech, and generally any idiom of Platonic usage; the diple[65] (>) calls attention to doctrines and opinions characteristic of Plato; 66. the dotted cross (⨰) denotes select passages and beauties of style; the dotted diple (⋗) editors’ corrections of the text; the dotted obelus (÷) passages suspected without reason; the dotted antisigma (Ꜿ) repetitions and proposals for transpositions; the ceraunium the philosophical school; the asterisk (∗) an agreement of doctrine; the obelus (−) a spurious passage.

So much for the critical marks and his writings in general. As Antigonus of Carystus says in his Life of Zeno, when the writings were first edited with critical marks, their possessors charged a certain fee to anyone who wished to consult them.

65. A wedge-shaped mark >, used in early papyri to denote a fresh paragraph.

It is always good to see the actual basis for some of the remarks that get made in text critical handbooks.  Here at least, we have an explicit statement of what marks indicate what.


Pythagoras is full of beans!

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights, book 4, chapter 11, we find this curious tale about Pythagoras, the philosopher well-known for his vegetarianism and opposition to eating beans.  It is, perhaps, from an anti-Pythagoras source.

11. The nature of the information which Aristoxenus has handed down about Pythagoras on the ground that it was more authoritative; and also what Plutarch wrote in the same vein about that same Pythagoras.

An erroneous belief of long standing has established itself and become current, that the philosopher Pythagoras did not eat of animals: also that he abstained from the bean, which the Greeks call κύαμος. In accordance with that belief the poet Callimachus wrote:

I tell you too, as did Pythagoras,
Withhold your hands from beans, a hurtful food.

Also, as the result of the same belief, Marcus Cicero wrote these words in the first book of his work On Divination:  “Plato therefore bids us go to our sleep in such bodily condition that there may be nothing to cause delusion and disturbance in our minds. It is thought to be for that reason too that the Pythagoreans were forbidden to eat beans, a food that produces great flatulency, which is disturbing to those who seek mental calm.”

So then Cicero. But Aristoxenus the musician, a man thoroughly versed in early literature, a pupil of the philosopher Aristotle, in the book On Pythagoras which he has left us, says that Pythagoras used no vegetable more often than beans, since that food gently loosened the bowels and relieved them. I add Aristoxenus’ own words:  “Pythagoras among vegetables especially recommended the bean, saying that it was both digestible and loosening; and therefore he most frequently made use of it.”

Aristoxenus also relates that Pythagoras ate very young pigs and tender kids. This fact he seems to have learned from his intimate friend Xenophilus the Pythagorean and from some other older men, who lived not long after the time of Pythagoras. And the same information about animal food is given by the poet Alexis, in the comedy entitled “The Pythagorean Bluestocking.”  Furthermore, the reason for the mistaken idea about abstaining from beans seems to be, that in a poem of Empedocles, who was a follower of Pythagoras, this line is found:

O wretches, utter wretches, from beans withhold your hands.

For most men thought that κυάμους meant the vegetable, according to the common use of the word. But those who have studied the poems of Empedocles with greater care and knowledge say that here κυάμους refers to the testicles, and that after the Pythagorean manner they were called in a covert and symbolic way κύαμοι, because they are the cause of pregnancy and furnish the power for human generation: and that therefore Empedocles in that verse desired to keep men, not from eating beans, but from excess in venery.

Plutarch too, a man of weight in scientific matters, in the first book of his work On Homer wrote that Aristotle gave the same account of the Pythagoreans: namely, that except for a few parts of the flesh they did not abstain from eating animals. Since the statement is contrary to the general belief, I have appended Plutarch’s own words:  “Aristotle says that the Pythagoreans abstained from the matrix, the heart, the ἀκαλήφη and some other such things, but used all other animal food.” Now the ἀκαλήφη is a marine creature which is called the sea-nettle. But Plutarch in his Table Talk says that the Pythagoreans also abstained from mullets.

But as to Pythagoras himself, while it is well known that he declared that he had come into the world as Euphorbus, what Cleanthes and Dicaearchus have recorded is less familiar—that he was afterwards Pyrrhus Pyranthius, then Aethalides, and then a beautiful courtesan, whose name was Alco.


For sale: two slave girls. Slightly used.

In the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, in book 4, chapter 2, there is an interesting passage on the buying and selling of slaves.  Here it is:

2. On the difference between a disease and a defect, and the force of those terms in the aediles’ edict; also whether eunuchs and barren women can be returned, and the various views as to that question.

The edict of the curule aediles, in the section containing stipulations about the purchase of slaves, reads as follows: “See to it that the sale ticket of each slave be so written that it can be known exactly what disease or defect each one has, which one is a runaway or a vagabond, or is still under condemnation for some offence.”

Therefore the jurists of old raised the question of the proper meaning of a “diseased slave” and one that was “defective,” and to what degree a disease differed from a defect.  Caelius Sabinus, in the book which he wrote On the Edict of the Curule Aediles, quotes Labeo, as defining a disease in these terms: “Disease is an unnatural condition of any body, which impairs its usefulness.”  But he adds that disease affects sometimes the whole body and at other times a part of the body. That a disease of the whole body is, for example, consumption or fever, but of a part of the body anything like blindness or lameness.  “But,” he continues, “one who stutters or stammers is defective rather than diseased, and a horse which bites or kicks has faults rather than a disease. But one who has a disease is also at the same time defective. However, the converse is not also true; for one may have defects and yet not be diseased. Therefore in the case of a man who is diseased,” says he, “it will be just and fair to state to what extent ‘the price will be less on account of that defect.’ “

With regard to a eunuch in particular it has been inquired whether he would seem to have been sold contrary to the aediles’ edict, if the purchaser did not know that he was a eunuch.  They say that Labeo ruled that he could be returned as diseased; and that Labeo also wrote that if sows were sterile and had been sold, action could be brought on the basis of the edict of the aediles.  But in the case of a barren woman, if the barrenness were congenital they say that Trebatius gave a ruling opposed to that of Labeo.  For while Labeo thought that she could be returned as unsound, they quote Trebatius as declaring that no action could be taken on the basis of the edict, if the woman had been born barren. But if her health had failed, and in consequence such a defect had resulted that she could not conceive, in that case she appeared to be unsound and there was ground for returning her.

With regard to a short-sighted person too, one whom we call in Latin luscitiosus, there is disagreement; for some maintain that such a person should be returned in all cases, while others on the contrary hold that he can be returned only if that defect was the result of disease.

Servius indeed ruled that one who lacked a tooth could be returned, but Labeo said that such a defect was not sufficient ground for a return: “For,” says he, “many men lack some one tooth, and most of them are no more diseased on that account, and it would be altogether absurd to say that men are not born sound, because infants come into the world unprovided with teeth.”

I must not omit to say that this also is stated in the works of the early jurists, that the difference between a disease and a defect is that the latter is lasting, while the former comes and goes.  But if this be so, contrary to the opinion of Labeo, which I quoted above, neither a blind man nor a eunuch is diseased.

I have added a passage from the second book of Masurius Sabinus On Civil Law: “A madman or a mute, or one who has a broken or crippled limb, or any defect which impairs his usefulness, is diseased. But one who is by nature near-sighted is as sound as one who runs more slowly than others.”

The works referred to here are all lost, of course.

There is something rather humorous in all this, as if the buyer might complain to the local council that he had been swindled by a rogue trader.

The slaves of the Roman world had two sources.  The first sort of slave was one who had been abandoned as an infant by its parents, under the custom of “exposing” unwanted children.  The second sort was a prisoner taken in war.

The first sort could well be a Roman by birth, of good health and even of noble blood sometimes.  What sort of slave turned up in the second class would depend on the origin of the prisoner.  Cicero complains in one of his letters that slaves from Britain are not likely to be much good for anything except hard labour, and certainly not skilled in various professions like Greek slaves.  In another letter, written while after a battle in Asia Minor, he remarks that the prisoners are being sold as he writes and that there are so many thousand sesterces on the block.  Their fates are unknown.

It is worth remembering the casual inhumanity of the ancient world; an inhumanity that ceased to exist in the western world with the fall of the Roman empire, even though serfdom then arose.  The exploitation of the Africans was an abberation, driven by profit.  But the ancient world took slavery for granted, and the consequences thereof.

Probably in most western cities a woman or two will be raped most weekends.  In ancient cities thousands of women were degraded thus every night.  It was Constantine who prohibited this evil custom, although, like nearly all edicts of late emperors, we may presume that the edict was largely not put into effect.  But in that single comparison we may see one part of what Christ did for the world, even for those who did not know Him.

Postscript.  After writing that post, somewhat naively I sought to find an image online to illustrate “two slave-girls for sale”.   I will not trouble readers with any of the improbable images that I found.


Casaubon and the exposure of the Hermetic corpus

Today I learned from a post by Jim Davila that Isaac Casaubon, the celebrated 17th century philologist, determined that the works transmitted from antiquity under the name of Hermes Trismegistus were not the ancient items that they professed, but rather belonged to the Hellenistic era.  I knew that the “Hermetic corpus” was bogus, but not why.  This has lead me to investigate.

Rather pleasingly, I find online here a PDF of an article by the ever-readable Anthony Grafton: Protestant versus Prophet: Isaac Casaubon on Hermes Trismegistus, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 46 (1983), pp. 78-93.  I was interested, indeed, to learn from a footnote that the best work on Casaubon’s life and thought remains that of Mark Pattison, the Dean of Oriel in the 19th century, whom we meet as a character in the essays of Augustine Birrell, and whose curious and rather sad life is given in Tuckwell’s gossipy Remniscences of Oxford.

Grafton’s discussion of how Casaubon went about examining the text, and how he saw, as he read it, that it used language quite different from that of the real archaic Greeks, and terminology more like that of Dionysius the Areopagite, is well worth a read and I will not spoil the story. 

One paragraph did catch my eye, tho.  At one point, the text pretends that it was originally written in Egyptian, in a manner that makes plain that this is merely for effect.  Casaubon commented on this, and Grafton summarises:

Here the Corpus Hermeticum was firmly set into its real context, as part of the pullulating mass of pseudo-ancient, pseudo-Eastern literature that does such discredit to the minds of its Hellenistic Greek authors and readers. No one has since managed to remove it from that unpleasant position. 

We think at once of the Greek Zoroaster literature; but likewise of Greek magical papyri, gnostic texts, alchemical texts, and indeed cults like the Roman cult of Mithras, unconnected with Zoroastrianism but quite happy to use the Greek names “Mithras” and “Areimanios” (which had meant the Zoroastrian figures Mithra and Ahriman) and attach them to freshly made up non-dualist stories of their own imagination.  Indeed I think we may confidently say that if the author of the cult had called his deity “Ostanes” rather than “Mithras”, then no-one would have associated his cult with Persian Mitra at all.  Such is the power of borrowed names.

The problems with Hermes had been apparent before Casaubon, of course.

Indeed, even in late antiquity some readers evidently found it hard to believe that the Hermetica were genuine translations from the Egyptian. Jamblichus wrote defensively in De mysteriis VIII. 4 that ‘The works that circulate under the name of Hermes contain Hermetic views, even if they often use the language of the philosophers; for they were translated from the Egyptian language by men who had some knowledge of philosophy’.


Light on Peregrinus Proteus

The second century philosopher Peregrinus Proteus is best known to us because of a rather vicious satire directed at him by Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus.  The satire has achieved a wide readership because it is one of the early texts which mention the Christians.

But a far more kindly, and probably more accurate, portrait appears in Aulus Gellius, book 12, ch. 11.  It is much less well-known, and I give it here from the Loeb text:

11.  That those are deceived who sin in the confident hope of being undetected, since there is no permanent concealment of wrongdoing; and on that subject a discourse of the philosopher Peregrinus and a saying of the poet Sophocles.

When I was at Athens, I met a philosopher named Peregrinus, who was later surnamed Proteus, a man of dignity and fortitude, living in a hut outside the city. And visiting him frequently, I heard him say many things that were in truth helpful and noble. Among these I particularly recall the following:He used to say that a wise man would not commit a sin, even if he knew that neither gods nor men would know it; for he thought that one ought to refrain from sin, not through fear of punishment or disgrace, but from love of justice and honesty and from a sense of duty. If, however, there were any who were neither so endowed by nature nor so well disciplined that they could easily keep themselves from sinning by their own will power, he thought that such men would all be more inclined to sin whenever they thought that their guilt could be concealed and when they had hope of impunity because of such concealment. “But,” said he, “if men know that nothing at all can be hidden for very long, they will sin more reluctantly and more secretly.” Therefore he said that one should have on his lips these verses of Sophocles, the wisest of poets:

See to it lest you try aught to conceal;
Time sees and hears all, and will all reveal.

Another one of the old poets, whose name has escaped my memory at present, called Truth the daughter of Time.