Some first impressions on ancient collections of canons

An inept Roman Catholic apologist today pronounced that the Catholic church decided the contents of the bible, and did so at the Council of Carthage in 397.  I can imagine Augustine raising an eyebrow at this, and quelling him where he stood.  But it made me realise that actually I have never read the acts of that council.  We often hear that the canon was closed at that time.  However it is wise, invariably, to look at the primary source.

This evening I attempted to do so.  I thought that I would record my first impressions, ignorant though I am, because they seemed interesting of themselves.

In my naivety, I supposed that the Acts were transmitted as a literary text, in various manuscripts of various dates, together with other texts or on their own.  What I actually found was a rats’ nest.

It seems that all these councils issued canons – rules for ecclesiastical conduct, mainly concerned with what bishop could do what, who could appeal to whom, and so on.  But these were often not even recorded.  If they were, they might be tidied up later.  Often they would be incorporated in later collections.

I quickly discovered that our main source for the canons of Carthage in 397 is in fact a collection of canons from 419, worked up by the 6th century writer Dionysius Exiguus, into which a large chunk of material supposedly from earlier councils was plainly interpolated by the editor.  An article from 1961 by F. L. Cross made clear how the intruded chunk simply did not fit.

And what was the council of 419 talking about?  Well the African bishops were arguing with some delegates from Rome, who had come equipped with a set of “canons of Nicaea” which said that the bishop of Rome could do this or that.  The Africans were suspicious, since their copies of these canons did not contain the relevant sections.  So they decided to write to the bishops in the East and get an authentic copy of the Nicene canons.  Nor were the Africans wrong: the Roman delegates had a copy interpolated with some material from the much less authoritative council of Serdica.

It’s pretty bad to discover that, less than a century after Nicaea, nobody knew for sure what it said.  So how can we, today, know what any given council said?

Well, we have editions of the material, such as Mansi.  This in turn is based on selections from medieval manuscript copies of collections of canons.

The canons of Nicaea are 20 in number, and all pretty trivial.  Nobody really feels bound by them, then or now.  They are instructions on points of church discipline, and not divinely inspired in any way.

Indeed this conclusion also comes out of the council of 419, which proceeds to say that it will reaffirm some – some – of the canons of earlier councils.  These are not Holy Writ, in capitals.  This is ecclesiastical law in the making – internal rules for the church community at a time when it was increasingly rich and influential.  If a rule worked, the next council might reaffirm it.  If it did not, it would forget it.

This means that the canon which listed the books of the bible was not The Word Of The Lord.  It was just a church regulation.  Our inept apologist earlier was indeed very wide of the mark.

These collections of canons were mutable things.  It was an ever changing thing, as circumstances altered.  Copies of canon law might be updated locally.

But there is more.  Can you say “forged decretals”?  Church law could be a weapon in political struggles, internal or otherwise.  People could and did invent such things.  How convenient it was, for Pope Zosimus and his unfortunate emissaries, that the copy of the Canons of Nicaea that they had happened to be interpolated.

Of course a great deal of scholarship has gone into addressing these kinds of problems, most of it in the 19th century.  On the other hand quite a bit of Catholic vs Protestant rivalry was also going on at the same time.  When I learn that many of the authors are Germans, belonging to that very period and definitely combatants in those disputes, it does not fill me with confidence.

The whole thing gives you the heebie-geebies, frankly.  Just how reliable is any of this stuff?

The only way to answer that is to educate oneself, and find out.  I shall keep reading.

A Portugese Christmas tree around 1400? – part two

A couple of days ago I started to track down a rather odd paragraph in the Wikipedia article on Christmas trees, and I wrote a blog post on it here.  The article reads:

At the end of the Middle Ages, an early predecessor [of the Christmas tree] appears referred in the Regiment of the Order of Cister around 1400, in Alcobaça, Portugal. The Regiment of the local high-Sacristans of the Cistercian Order refers to what may be considered the oldest references to the Christmas tree: “Note on how to put the Christmas branch, scilicet: On the Christmas eve, you will look for a large Branch of green laurel, and you shall reap many red oranges, and place them on the branches that come of the laurel, specifically as you have seen, and in every orange you shall put a candle, and hang the Branch by a rope in the pole, which shall be by the candle of the altar-mor.”[21]

21. Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (National Library of Portugal)—Codices Alcobacenses ([1] Archived 21 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine ); [BN: cod. alc. CLI / 64, Page. 330] Translated (“Nota de como has de poer o ramo de natal, scilicet: Em vespera de natal, buscarás huu grande Ramo de loureiro verde, e colherás muitas laranjas vermelhas e poer lhas has metidas pelos ramos que dele procedem specificadamente segundo já viste. E em cada hua laranja, poeras hua candea. E pendurarás o dicto Ramo per hua corda na polee que ha de star acerca da lampada do altar moor“)

This in fact refers to a  now lost manuscript that once belonged to the Cistercian monastery of Alcobaca in Portugal.  Those manuscripts are now in the Portugese national library, the Biblioteca Nacional.  This particular one was 32 pages long, and was one of a number which contained sacristy regulations for the monastery.  Originally numbered cod. alc. 151, the manuscript was renumbered as cod. alc. 64 some time during the 20th century.  Many of the Codices Alcobacenses are online;  but not this one, which was stolen from the library in 1948.  A couple of articles contain transcriptions of portions, but I was unable to obtain these.

Since then, a kind correspondent has sent me a copy of Gabriel Pereira, “Trechos portugueses dos séculos XIV e XV”, Boletim da segunda classe da Academia das Ciências, 5 (1911) 319-328, which I have uploaded and link to here.  It is full of interest.

Firstly, the manuscript was not in Latin, but written in Portugese!  This immediately raises questions about just how old the manuscript was.  Pereira does not offer much of a date: he notes that one entry refers to Dom Estavo da Guair, and a regulation by him from 1435.  So the document cannot predate this, but must be later.  He says that it was written in a 15th century hand.  He also states that the document clearly remained in use, because of marginalia in the writing of the 16th and 17th century.

Secondly, the mysterious reference in Wikipedia to “p.330” is explained!  For p.330 of Pereira is as follows:

This, then, is the source for the Wikipedia text, although the latter has plainly been copied and “improved” many times since Pereira in 1911.

Do Ramo que se ponha vespera de natal con candeas e tochas e ciryos.

Nota de como has de poer o ramo de natal. s[cilicet]. Em vespera de natal, buscarás huu grande Ramo de loureiro verde, e colherás muitas laranjas vermelhas e poer lhas has metidas pelos ramos que dele procedem specificadamente segundo já viste. E em cada hua laranja, poeras hua candea. E pendurarás o dicto Ramo per hua corda na polee que ha de star acerca da lampada do altar moor.  E as lo de acender: quando compecarem a missa do galo, e mais. xx. tochas e iii. cirios, e candeas que abastem, e todalas riliquias e plata da sancristia.

Using Google translate I get this:

Concerning the branch which is put up on Christmas Eve with candles, torches and cirios (?)

Note how the Christmas branch must be. i.e. On Christmas Eve, you must look for a large green laurel  branch, and you will pick many red oranges and put them in the branches that come from it specifically as you have seen.  And into each orange you will insert a candle.   And you will hang the aforesaid branch by its rope  on the pole which stands over the lamp on the main altar.  And light the lights: when the mass of the galo starts, and also 20 torches and 40 cirios.  And the candles that you bring (?), and all the relics and plate of the sacristy.

I don’t know any Portugese or Spanish – contributions welcome! – but that gives us some idea of what the sense is.

I also discovered a modern catalogue entry for the manuscript at Berkeley, here.  This contained the interesting information that a partial copy of the manuscript Alc. 64 exists, made in the 19th century, and today filed with other items in a manuscript in the Portugese national library:

Lisboa: Biblioteca Nacional, MSS. 203, n. 18. 1876? – 1920?.

It’s manuscript 203, although I believe it is not online, and item 18 within it.

So there we have the backstory.  It’s not a tree, not from 1400, not a precursor of the German invention of the Christmas tree, early in the 16th century – maybe around the same time as cod. Alc. 64 was written – but it is certainly an interesting parallel.

A Portugese Christmas tree around 1400?

There is a rather odd paragraph in the Wikipedia article on the Christmas Tree.  Today it reads as follows:

At the end of the Middle Ages, an early predecessor appears referred in the Regiment of the Order of Cister around 1400, in Alcobaça, Portugal. The Regiment of the local high-Sacristans of the Cistercian Order refers to what may be considered the oldest references to the Christmas tree: “Note on how to put the Christmas branch, scilicet: On the Christmas eve, you will look for a large Branch of green laurel, and you shall reap many red oranges, and place them on the branches that come of the laurel, specifically as you have seen, and in every orange you shall put a candle, and hang the Branch by a rope in the pole, which shall be by the candle of the altar-mor.”[21]

21. Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (National Library of Portugal)—Codices Alcobacenses ([1] Archived 21 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine ); [BN: cod. alc. CLI / 64, Page. 330] Translated (“Nota de como has de poer o ramo de natal, scilicet: Em vespera de natal, buscarás huu grande Ramo de loureiro verde, e colherás muitas laranjas vermelhas e poer lhas has metidas pelos ramos que dele procedem specificadamente segundo já viste. E em cada hua laranja, poeras hua candea. E pendurarás o dicto Ramo per hua corda na polee que ha de star acerca da lampada do altar moor“)

The links are all fake or unhelpful.  I looked at the Portugese version of the page, but this material was not present at all.

I then found a Facebook page that is probably the source, here:

N: Diz-me Manuel Joaquim Gandra que no seu ‘Portugal Sobrenatural’ (2007) trouxe um dado muito importante para o tema da Árvore de Natal, que para os frades de Alcobaça, no século XV, já seria prática corrente ! Cito com vénia: «Seja como for, já no quatrocentista Regimento dos Sacristãos-Mores da Ordem de Cister de Alcobaça [BN: cod. alc. CLI / 64, fl. 330] se alude ao que poderá considerar-se a mais antiga referência à árvore de Natal em Portugal: “Nota de como has de poer o ramo de natal, scilicet: Em vespera de natal, buscarás huu grande Ramo de loureiro verde, e colherás muitas laranjas vermelhas e poer lhas has metidas pelos ramos que dele procedem specificadamente segundo já viste. E em cada hua laranja, poeras hua candea. E pendurarás o dicto Ramo per hua corda na polee que ha de star acerca da lampada do altar moor”. Em Vilarinho da Castanheira (Carrazeda de Ansiães, Bragança) havia o costume de enfeitar com frutos, peças de caça, fumeiro, etc., a árvore de Natal que era feita no interior da igreja e depois arrematada em leilão».

A source is given: Manuel Joaquim Gandra, Portugal Sobrenatural (2007).  The author appears to be respectable, and the work appears to be a useful dictionary in several volumes, each thankfully quite cheap (10 euros).  Better still a preprint of volume 1 is online at Academia here, and on p.400 one reads:

ÁRVORE DE NATAL

Jorge Dias sustenta que é originária da Alemanha, onde terá aparecido por volta de 1500. Leite de Vasconcelos di-la introduzida em Portugal no último quartel do séc. XIX (Etnografia Portuguesa, v. 8, p. 522). Gustavo Barroso prefere apresentá-la como sobrevivência pagã da árvore de Maio. Seja como for, já no quatrocentista Regimento dos Sacristãos-Mores da Ordem de Cister de Alcobaça [BN: cod. alc. CLI / 64, fl. 330] se alude ao que poderá considerarse a mais antiga referência à árvore de Natal em Portugal: «Nota de como has de poer o ramo de natal, scilicet: Em vespera de natal, buscarás huu grande Ramo de loureiro verde, e colherás muitas laranjas vermelhas e poer lhas has metidas pelos ramos que dele procedem especificadamente segundo já viste. E em cada hua laranja, poeras hua candea. E pendurarás o dicto Ramo per hua corda na polee que ha de star acerca da lampada do altar moor». Em Vilarinho da Castanheira (Carrazeda de Ansiães, Bragança) havia o costume de enfeitar com frutos, peças de caça, fumeiro, etc., a árvore de Natal que era feita no interior da igreja e depois arrematada em leilão.

BIBLIOGRAFIA BARROS, J. C. Freitas, A Árvore de Natal (suas origens históricas), in Mensário das Casas do Povo, v. 8 (1953), p. 7; DIAS, A. Jorge, A Árvore de Natal, in Dois Distritos da Beira Litoral, v. 1 n. 36 (1953)

This in turn is doubtless derived from the other sources transmitted in Portugese, and it would probably be beyond those of us without access to Portugese libraries to trace this back to its origin.

However there is a manuscript reference in there: to the national library of Portugal, collection “Codices Alcobacenses” – the mss from the monastery of Alcobaca – shelfmark “cod. alc. CLI / 64”, and a “page number”.

I had never heard of the Alcobaca manuscripts, but in fact a great number of them are online here, and downloadable in PDF.  They are medieval manuscripts, mostly of medieval writers, although there are bibles and some patristic texts in there.  Some are Latin, others are in old Portugese.

I was unable to locate “CLI”, but an enquiry to the library brought a swift and gracious response that “CLI” was an old catalogue number, and since 1920 that manuscript was cod. alc. 64.  Unhappily, the story continued, the manuscript was one of a number stolen from the BNP in 1948.  She wrote:

The present shelfmark corresponds now only to the Arabic numbering, the Latin numbering was part of a referencing system prior to the 20th century.

These are Portuguese Sacristry regulations, concerning mass and other liturgical ceremonies at Alcobaça, a 15th century parchment manuscript of 32 folio. Unfortunately, this manuscript has been missing since 1948, when a serious theft occurred at the National Library of Lisbon. I can provide you with a more complete description of this codex, as we have some information in the old catalogs.

This is bad news.  What we want, of course, is the original text and some context.  If the manuscript was only 32 folios, this also suggests that the “page 330” relates to something else.

Another article on Academia here informs us that a partial 19th century copy exists of the manuscript (p.436, n.27).  But the author does not identify where this “copy” might be found.

I was then lucky enough to locate some more information about the manuscript online, in an article: C. F. Barreira, “Do benzimento das monjas. A profissão monástica feminina nos códices de Alcobaça”, in Lusitania Sacra, 37 (2018) 189-213, discussing how the monks gave support to nuns:

De acordo com o Alc. 64, Regimento dos Sacristães-Mores, redigido no abaciado de D. Estevão de Aguiar (1431 – 1446), hoje desaparecido da Biblioteca Nacional, mas conhecido por transcrições de Gabriel Pereira90 e Saul A. Gomes91, as freiras…

According to Alc. 64, Sacristy Regulations, written in the abbacy of D. Estevão de Aguiar (1431-46), today no longer in the Biblioteca Nacional, but known through transcriptions by Gabriel Pereira [90] and Saul A. Gomes [91], the nuns….

90. Gabriel Pereira, “Trechos portugueses dos séculos XIV e XV”, Boletim da segunda classe da Academia das Ciências, 5 (1911) 319-328.
91. Saul A. Gomes, “A vida litúrgica entre os monges de Alcobaça”…, p. 423-448 and Idem, “Uma paisagem para a oração”…, p. 19-56.

The Pereira article is old, but does not seem to be online as far as I could tell, unless it is at HathiTrust here.  Dr Gomes has a very extensive Academia page here, thankfully, but neither article seems to be listed.  The first seems to be Gomes, Saul António,  “A vida litúrgica entre os monges de Alcobaca em meados de Quatrocentos: o Regimentó dos Sacristaes-Mores” in: A. Carreiras (ed), Mosteiros cistercienses. História, Arte, Espiritualidade e Património. Actas do Congresso realizado em Alcobaça, nos dias 14 a 17 de Junho de 2012 (Vol. 1-3), Pt. 2 (2013) p. 423-448; the other is Gomes, Saúl, “Uma paisagem para a orasáo: o Mosteiro de Alcobaca em Quatrocentos”, in Iria Goncalves (ed.), Paisagens rurais e urbanas: fontes, metodologías, problemáticas. Atas das Terceiras Jornadas. Lisboa: Centro de Estudos Históricos, (2007) 19-56.  Neither book seems to be accessible, and British libraries contain no copy of either, strangely.

That’s as far as we can go for now.

Clearly this obscure custom has nothing to do with, and did not lead to, the modern Christmas tree, which originates in Alsace, in Selestat, in 1521 and is about as German an artefact as one can imagine.  Decorating greenery is not of itself a mark of the Christmas tree, but a commonplace of humanity.

But it is most interesting all the same.

Update: More information has come to hand, and I have written another post here.

More thoughts on the scholia vetustiora of Juvenal

Earlier today I discussed the appearance of the word “gladiatrix” in the oldest scholia on Juvenal.  I had hoped to find the passage in an online manuscript, but I didn’t have any good source for the manuscripts of the scholia.

Soon afterwards a kind gentleman then sent me a copy of Wessner’s 1931 edition of the Scholia in Iuvenalem Vetustiora.  Before I looked at the manuscripts, I started to read the ancient biography of Juvenal at the front.  Then at the start of the first scholion, on the very first words of Satire 1, I noted the use of “eo quod”, so familiar in the Vulgate for “because”:

Semper ego… Iuvenalem aliqui Gallum propter corporis magnitudinem, aliqui Aquinatem dicunt. ea tempora Domitiani tyranni, quibus etiam ipse vixit, eo quod in aula ipsius plus histriones quam bonae vitae homines possent, graviter carpsit.

Some say that Juvenal was a Gaul, on account of the size of his body, others a native of Aquino.  In the time of the tyrant Domitian, in which also he lived, he was a violent satirist, because in his palace actors were of more influence than men of good life.[1]

No wonder the scholia have been attributed to the same period as the Vulgate!

Then I looked at the table of manuscripts.

Wessner indicates various sources in the manuscripts for the scholia.  One of these he simply describes, uselessly, as:

Fragmenta Aroviensia (Q), quae nunc in archio urbis Aroviae (‘Aarau’) asservantur, oIim pertinebant ad codicem Iuvenalis s. X scriptum….

Q is in fact his main source for the portion of the scholia which mentions “gladiatrix”.  I wondered if it was online.  Wessner’s description is not helpful.  But Aarau turns out to be a German-speaking Swiss town.  In Braund &c, A Companion to Persius and Juvenal, here, we find a list of principal  manuscripts of Juvenal.  “Arou. (Q in Wessner) is the library given as “Aarau, Stadtarchiv I, Nr. 0”.  It is described as “Fragmenta Aroviensia” and consists of 5 leaves reused for bindings, one of which happens to be a section of the 6th Satire.

But sadly it does not appear to be online.  Nor was the Montpellier manuscript, once the property of Pierre Pithou, and originally from Lorsch, which also is important.

However the St Gall, Sangallensis 870, is indeed online here at the magnificent e-Codices site.  The scholia start on “page 40”, here, with the very words we discussed above.

Nice to know that we are in the right place!  On page 53, we see the heading of satire 2, De philosophis obscenis, On foul philosophers.

Our reference to “gladiatrix” is to be found on page 134, on line 6:

Also interesting to see the Greek transcribed at the end!

Some may ask how I located the passage in the manuscript.  What I did was to have Wessner’s edition open, in a searchable PDF.  I then picked a random page, looked for a word that wasn’t “est” or something trivial, and searched for it in the PDF.  A few clicks soon indicated where in the text I was.  The word itself would not be unique; but looking at the word after would help.  Once I knew where I was, I could move forward or back in the online manuscript, as seemed desirable; and repeat.  I ended up aiming for halfway through – Satire 6 is about halfway through – and then moving back.

Nice to see “gladiatrix” in a manuscript written in the 900s AD!

  1. [1]Reading “carpsit” as “he was a satirist”, because of the sense of tearing at reputation; and  “multum/plus posse”, “to have much/more influence”.

Is “gladiatrix” a modern term?

On various sites you can find the claim that the Latin word “gladiatrix”, meaning a female gladiator, is a modern word, unknown in antiquity.  For instance this article:

The term gladiatrix was never used in ancient times; it is a modern word first applied to female gladiators in the 1800’s CE.

This in turn seems to be based on a line in this very useful page: by James Grout at Encylopaedia Romana:

There is no specific Latin word for a female gladiator nor was there a feminine form, gladiatrix being a modern construction, first used in a translation of Juvenal in 1802. The closest term to identify the female gladiator is ludia (from ludus, “stage performer”) but even that word tends to refer to the wife or lover of a gladiator.

But is this true?  It seems that it is not, and that there is a late antique usage for the word.  What it is not is classical.

I learn from Anna McCullough, “Female Gladiators in the Roman Empire”, in: Budin & Turfa (eds), Women in Antiquity: Real Women across the Ancient World, Routledge (2016), p.958 (preview) that:

Despite its usage by modern scholars and in popular culture, the word gladiatrix is unknown in classical Latin. To my knowledge, it only appears once in late Latin, in a gloss from a fourth-century AD commentary on Juvenal (Scholia in Iuvenalem Vetustiora).

In Satire 6, Juvenal mocks a woman who trains as a gladiator in a ludus, asking if she prepares merely for the Floralia, or si quid in illo/pectore plus agitat veraeque paratur harenae? (“if she plans something more in that mind, and is preparing for the real arena?” 6.250–251).

The commentary provides a gloss on line 251, offering the following explanation: nam vere vult esse gladiatrix quae meretrix (“for truly she wants to be a gladiatrix who is a prostitute”).

This is a nice bit of research, doubtless courtesy of one of those databases inaccessible to the general public.  But it is no less valuable for that.

The standard edition of the Scholia appears to be Paul Wessner, Scholia in Iuvenalem Vetustiora, in the Teubner series in 1931.  This is not accessible online, even though Wessner died in 1933 and it must now be public domain, even in the benighted lands of the “European Union”.  Does anybody have a PDF, I wonder?

But Wessner’s volume seems to be unique.  I suspect the scholia were previously printed as an appendix to Juvenal: and indeed an old post of my own from 2011 confirms this – an 1839 edition has them on page 153.  Our passage is on p.214:

The editor tells us that he has placed an asterisk after some entries, which appear differently in more recent manuscripts.  I found his account of the manuscripts to be both vague and unhelpful, but learned that there are scholia in a St Gall manuscript.  This turns out to be Codex Sangallensis 871, 11th century, which is online at the amazing e-codices site here.  However the scholia were only copied for the first few pages.  Here is the starting page:

Later pages have space left for the scholia, which is not there.  The beginning of satire 6 is on p.46:

I don’t think that I have looked at the scholia themselves – last time it was the biography that interested me.  It is interesting to see them.

 

More old photographs of the Meta Sudans

There are many, many old photographs of the Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum, and the now-vanished Meta Sudans, the fountain that stood outside it and was demolished by Mussolini.  A few more have come my way this week.  For most of them I am indebted to the amazing Roma Ieri Oggi site and its twitter feed @romaierioggi.

The first is from 1930, and shows an unusual view:

(I do wish he would not vandalise the photo with a watermark).

Helpfully he has zoomed in on the Meta Sudans:

Another item is from some amazing aerial photographs from ca 1926 by Walter Mittelholzer.  These may be found here.  This one shows the area that we are interested in, although sadly the Meta Sudans is but a bump:

Another photograph via @PhotoVintageFr depicts the Meta Sudans from the opposite side:

While this one shows it peeking through the Arch of Constantine:

Finally there is this one, from here.  It’s from 1850, and taken from high up in the Colosseum:

Really somebody ought to make a 3-D model of the structure as it was at this time!

St George and the Crusaders

Today is St George’s Day. April 23rd is the feast day of the Patron Saint of England, adopted as such during the crusader period.  So I thought that I would collect a few early sources connecting the crusaders and St George.  This is not comprehensive: merely whatever comes to hand.

In the Latin Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolymytanorum, ch.15, written 1100-1101, St George is accompanied by St Demetrius and St Mercurius:[1]

The squadrons began to go forth from both sides and to surround our men on all sides, hurling, shooting, and wounding them. There came out from the mountains, also, countless armies with white horses, whose standards were all white. And so, when our leaders saw this army, they were entirely ignorant as to what it was, and who they were, until they recognized the aid of Christ, whose leaders were St. George, Mercurius, and Demetrius. This is to be believed, for many of our men saw it. However, when the Turks who were stationed on the side toward the sea saw that that they could hold out no longer, they set fire to the grass, so that, upon seeing it, those who were in the tents might flee.

There was celebrated Pentecost on the third day of outgoing May. Then we came to Ramlah, which through fear of the Franks the Saracens had left empty. Near it was the famous church in which rested the most precious body of St. George, since for the name of Christ he there happily received martyrdom from the treacherous pagans. There our leaders held a council to choose a bishop who should have charge of this place and erect a church.

The shrine of St George was that at Lydda.

In the Chanson d’Antioche, to which I have no access, I gather that St George is also accompanied by St Maurice.[2]

The Golden Legend reads:[3]

We read in the History of Antioch that during the Crusades, when the Christian hosts were about to lay siege to Jerusalem, a passing fair young man appeared to a priest. He told him that he was St George, the captain of the Christian armies; and that if the crusaders carried his relics to Jerusalem, he would be with them. And when the Crusaders, during the siege of Jerusalem, feared to scale the walls because of the Saracens who were mounted thereon. Saint George appeared to them, accoutred in white armour adorned with the red cross. He signed to them to follow him without fear in the assault of the walls: and they, encouraged by his leadership, repulsed the Saracens and took the city.

In the history of Richard of Devizes,[4] we find many references to “St George” – i.e. Lydda – as a town, a mile from Ramleh, and Richard the Lionheart and his men basing themselves there.

It would be nice to see a proper collection of sources.  (I’m currently busy with a new job, so I can’t do anything at the moment!)

Happy St George’s Day!

  1. [1]https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/gesta-cde.asp#antioch6
  2. [2]See Susan B. Edgington, “Romance and Reality in the sources for the sieges of Antioch, 1097-8”, in:  Porphyrogenita: Essays on the History and Literature of Byzantium and the Latin East in Honour of Julian Chrysostomides, Ashgate (2003), p.37-8, 44.
  3. [3]Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, transl. and adapted from the Latin by Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (New York. 1969). pp. 237-8)
  4. [4]1848, p.253. Online here.

A colour fresco of Old St Peter’s, half-demolished but with the obelisk in position

A kind commenter drew my attention to this fascinating fresco of the appearance of Old St Peter’s.

It shows clearly the rather ramshackle old front of Constantine’s basilica – there was an atrium/courtyard behind, and then the main front.  The huge construction of New St Peter’s looms at the back, unfinished – as indeed it stood for some decades.

But the most interesting feature is the Egyptian obelisk, already moved from its medieval position to the left of the church, and standing where it stands today.

I’m not sure where this fresco is from.  I think it may be from the Papal palace, which still stands, to the right of the basilica in the above picture.  It is notable how the palace dwarfs the old basilica!

It’s also interesting to see the slope of the Vatican hill, to the left.  The circus of Calgula and Nero stood at the foot of the hill, and St Peter was executed on a cross on the spina or central spine of the race-track.  His grave or trophaion was in an existing cemetery further up the hill.

Constantine built his basilica over the grave.  His Roman architects had to underpin the left side of the church, to prevent it sliding down the hill.  In fact cracks developed over the succeeding millennium, and this was one reason why the old basilica was demolished.

It’s a marvellous depiction, and I wish I knew more about it.

Further thoughts on translating St Cuthman’s “Life”

While translating the Latin text of the Life of the anglo-saxon Saint Cuthman, I have taken to googling for fragments of the Latin, or even whole sentences.  The results are often interesting, and not infrequently important.

One reason that I do this is to identify biblical references.  Often a tortured phrase turns out to be an allusion.  Indeed I came across a reference to Tobit 10:4 half an hour ago.

Strangely Google does not prioritise the Latin bible in a search for Latin text, although it is hard to see why not.  What you DO get back is endless 16th and 17th century texts, most of which I have never heard of.  I don’t know why this should be so.  Occasionally these are useful; usually they are not.

One such search produced a snippet result in a journal called Sussex Archaeological Collections.  Looking at the handful of words, I gained the impression that whatever paper this was might be a modern edition of the Latin text.  So far I have been working with the Bollandist text of 1658.  I have, indeed, found some suspect text in the Latin text.  At one point there is reference to trabale unicum where I wonder whether it should be trabale iugum.  There is, otherwise, no noun in the sentence.  The reference would be to a ridge-beam.

Of course I was unable to see what the paper was, but it proved to  be John Blair, “Saint Cuthman, Steyning and Bosham” in SAC 135 (1997), 173-92.  I was unable to access this; but an offprint was for sale on Amazon, at a high price, but rather less than the cost of the petrol to get a copy; and this arrived today.

The Blair paper does indeed contain an edition of the text – indeed a critical edition, with apparatus of the two extant manuscripts, plus the Bollandist edition.  It also contains what the author describes as a “paraphrase” translation.  This is nearly full length, and, had I known that it existed, I might not have troubled to make a translation myself.

Why paraphrase?  Well, it’s considerably easier to get the sense of the text than it is to identify each and every Latin construction and pin down precisely what that last word means.  It also avoids the risk of some snooty person critiquing your translation!   Since the precise wording is generally less important than the idea, these kinds of things are quite serviceable and they seem very common in modern versions of hagiographical literature.  But all the same, they are an abomination.  The reader should be given a proper translation.

I’ve been learning a great deal about Latin syntax from struggling with Cuthman.  I’ve been processing much of it into context-sensitive help-materials in QuickLatin 2, which is a double benefit: I learn the stuff, and there are reminders for the future.

I’ve worked harder on Cuthman than any Latin text that I have ever translated.  I’ve been proceeding as follows:

  1. Create an electronic text.
  2. Split it into chapters, each in a separate file.
  3. Split each chapter into sentences, translate this in Google Translate and interleave the two in the document.  The Google translation is generally useless, but it can sometimes highlight that the words are a set phrase of some sort, which you can therefore search for.  This is most obvious when the Google output drops into Jacobean English!
  4. Now skim-read the text in PDF, to get a sense of what the chapter says.  Ignore any difficult bits.  Speed is all.  At the head of the chapter, write down this skim-read synopsis.  This acts as a kind of guide when doing the detailed translation.
  5. First pass.  Now translate each sentence in the chapter, one by one, looking out for correlatives like vel… vel, etc.  Leave difficult bits.  Highlight in bold and red stuff of which you are uncertain.  Add a note of any Latin constructions that you recognise, and say why you chose those words.  Wherever the text feels “stiff”, then you need to document what you did.  Pay lots of attention to the verb tenses, etc.
  6. Go through the whole text until you have done the first pass.  Then copy this to a folder for later.
  7. Second pass.  Now go through the chapters again, making sure that you understand the Latin construction in every single case.  Google for them!  There’s a huge amount of information out there on syntax.  Fix whatever you can.  By the end of this, you should have satisfactory translations of the lot, with a huge amount of notes, quotes, links to external websites, and changes of mind marked with strike-out.  At this stage I tend to make most the notes grey, if I have finished with them, but want to be able to refer to them.  Then copy all these files to a new folder.

This is where I am at the moment.  The next stage will be:

  1. Third pass.  Go through the files again, removing the grey stuff, writing real footnotes; but also rechecking.  Harmonise common words.  Then save copies of this lot.
  2. Fourth pass.  Combine the sentences into groups, then into paragraphs.  Read the lot and see if it makes sense.  Sometimes you will realise that two sentences together each mean something rather different to what you thought.
  3. Create a single file with the whole translation in it.

It’s a lot of work; but it’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle.  It’s quite rewarding really!

How papyrus rolls lost their tops and bottoms – from Oxyrhynchus

A truly fascinating post at Papyrus Stories tells us what happened when an archive of papyrus rolls was neglected in the early 2nd century.

“The documents shown to me by the clerk Leonides (…) were in some cases deprived of their beginning, or damaged, or moth-eaten (…). Since the books have been hastily moved from one place to another repeatedly, lying on top of each other and unattached (…). Some were eaten away at the top because of the dry heat (…) and since they are being handled daily, and their material is brittle, it happened that some were destroyed in parts, others were without beginnings, and some had even fallen apart.”

This was only part of the story.  There was a position, Keeper of the Fayum archives, but by 107 AD Leonides was the man responsible for day to day care.  The rolls were already in a mess.  Over the next 50 years all those concerned were involved in endless bureaucratic argument and appeals to the prefect over whose fault this was and what should be done, and who should pay for it.

I recommend reading the whole article.  It is an interesting insight into the disfunction of the administration at that period, from the Prefect down.  But more, it explains how it is that we get so many texts which are missing the beginning.

For the last year I have myself been trying to obtain access to a document in an archive near me, where petty bureaucrats simply won’t solve the problems they themselves create.  I’ve had to give up, in fact.  So I have quite a bit of fellow-feeling for the poor souls caught up in this mess!