Isidore of Seville – on the Tironian notae

From Isidore of Seville, Etmologiae, book 1, chapter 22:


[1] Vulgares notas Ennius primus mille et centum invenit. Notarum usus erat ut, quidquid pro con[ten]tione aut [in] iudiciis diceretur, librarii scriberent conplures simul astantes, divisis inter se partibus, quot quisque verba et quo ordine exciperet. Romae primus Tullius Tiro Ciceronis libertus commentus est notas, sed tantum praepositionum.

[2] Post eum Vipsanius, Philargius, et Aquila libertus Maecenatis alius alias addiderunt. Deinde Seneca, contractu omnium digestoque et aucto numero, opus efficit in quinque milia. Notae autem dictae eo, quod verba vel syllabas praefixis characteribus notent et ad notitiam legentium revocent; quas qui didicerunt proprie iam notarii appellantur. [1]

xxii. Common shorthand signs (De notis vulgaribus)

1. Ennius first invented eleven hundred common signs. These signs were used in this way: several scribes standing by together would write down whatever was said in a trial or judgment, with the sections distributed among them so that each scribe would take down a certain number ofwords in turn. In Rome,TulliusTiro, a freedman of Cicero’s, first devised such signs, but only for prepositions.

2. After him, Vipsanius, Philargius, and Aquila, another freedman of Maecenas, added others. Then, after the total number of signs had been collected, set in order, and increased in number, Seneca produced a work with five thousand signs. They are called ‘signs’ (nota) because they would designate (notare) words and syllables by predetermined characters and recall them to the knowledge (notitia) of readers. Those who have learned these signs are properly called stenographers (notarius) today.[2]

Isidore in fact lists various sorts of notae, and some of the manuscripts of the Commentarii Notarium Tironianarum quote him on some or all of them, so it’s worth a quick list:

XXI. DE NOTIS SENTENTIARVM – Critical signs.  These are things like asterisks, the obolus, the cryphia, the diple, etc.  Things that ancient scribes put in the margins of manuscripts!

XXIII. DE NOTIS IVRIDICIS – Signs used in law.  Abbreviations used in ancient law books, like “SC” for senatus consultum, i.e. a decree of the senate.

XXIV. DE NOTIS MILITARIBVS – Military signs.  These were symbols placed on the lists or rosters of soldiers, like a T “tau” meaning “alive” or a Θ (theta, for thanatos), indicating that the soldier was killed.

XXV. DE NOTIS LITTERARVM – Epistolary signs.  Secret codes used by letter writers to indicate to each other information, while looking innocuous.

XXVI. DE NOTIS DIGITORVM – Finger signals.  Gestures of particular meaning.

This work of Isidore seems full of interesting snippets of antiquity.  It really needs to be read in paper form – trying to do so from a PDF is frustrating!

  1. [1]Via The Latin Library.  An old source, online, but still valuable.
  2. [2]S. Barney &c, The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, Cambridge, 2006, p.51.

An ancient handbook of short-hand: Tironian notes and the “Commentarii notarum Tironianarum”

A new article at the British Library Manuscripts blog, Emilia Henderson, “Note-worthy connections: antique shorthand in Carolingian books“,[1], discusses an obscure ancient text, the Commentarii notarum Tironianarum, or Lexicon Tironianum.  This is a handbook of short-hand, giving the symbols with the Latin word or phrase that they represent.

Bernard Bischoff wrote:

The name covers the many layers of material that we have in the Commentarii notarum tironianarum (CNT), a list of roughly 13,000 signs with their explanations, and in examples of their practical use as shorthand in many early medieval manuscripts and charters.

According to a credible statement by Isidore of Seville, M. Tullius Tiro, a freedman of Cicero’s, was the inventor of a basic corpus of signs that made writing from dictation easier for him. Other personalities of the first century BC and of the first century ad developed and expanded the system, amongst them Seneca (probably the philosopher). To the Commentarii that have been transmitted to us special lists of signs for names and concepts were added subsequently (among them Christian ones, which must belong to the latest additions, perhaps from the fourth century).[2]

There are something like 20 manuscripts of the Commentarii notarum Tironianarum, and a good number are online.  Here are some that I was able to locate.

  • British Library Additional 21164 – Here fol. 2v begins “De notis Militaribus”, and ends with “Incipiunt Notae Senecae”, before we get the title page on fol. 3r.:
BL. Add. 21164, folio 3r.
Fol. 1r.
Fol. 1v
Geneva Latin 85, fol. 1v.
BNF lat. 7493, folio 106r.
BNF latin 8777, fol. 1v
BNF latin 8779, fol. 15r.
Vatican latin 3799, fol. 1r
Wolfenbuttel 9-8-aug-4f

All these manuscripts are from the 9th century, I believe.  They show a common motif at the beginning, the dagger.  Some give a whole page, others abbreviate it; but perhaps it suggests that they derive from a common ancestor which was laid out like this.  I read somewhere that the tironian notae are used extensively in the post-Roman Merovingian period, becoming increasingly corrupt, but are then restored at the start of the Carolingian period by the discovery of a late-antique exemplar, from which these copies derive.  Unfortunately I do not have the reference for this claim.

There is an edition of the Commentarii notarum Tironianarum available, by W. Schmitz (1893),[4] and it may found downloaded from here.  P. Legendre, Etudes tironiennes, Paris. (IV. Les manuscrits tironiens), 1907, contains a list of 21 manuscripts of the work, and is also online at here.  R.M. Sheldon, Espionage in the Ancient World, 2015, p.90 (preview here) gives a bibliography and advises the reader to look at this work:

Herbert Boge, Griechische Tachygraphie und Tironische Noten: Ein Handbuch der antiken und mittelalterlichen Schnellschrift.  Boge begins with definitions of Tachygraphy (stenography) then goes on to discuss the examples found in the Greek world from the fourth century be including the Acropolis system, the consonant tables from Delphi, and examples from the second and first century BC. He then goes on to discuss Tironian notes and Roman shorthand writing. He includes an excellent bibliography.

It is, sadly, offline; and in German, so perhaps no loss.

The tironian notae may seem an old and obscure subject.  Yet they remain in use even today, in Southern Ireland.  The nota for “et”, , looking like a small numeral seven, is in unicode.  An Irish blogger, Stan Carey, posted this use on a street sign, as well as other examples in his post, “The Tironian et (⁊) in Galway, Ireland”.

How fascinating to see such a survival!

  1. [1]12th August, 2019.
  2. [2]Bernhard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages. p.80.  Preview here.
  3. [3]I did attempt to transcribe the prologue, probably not well: “Incipit de vulgaribus notis quomodo prius inventae sunt. Vulgares notas ennius primus mille & centum invenit notarum.  Usus erat repertus utquicquid procontentione aut iniudicus divisis incerse oartibus quod quisq: verba et quo ordine exciperet.  Romae primus Tullius tyro ciceronis libertus commentator est notas.  Sed tantum praepositio num; postcum tertius vipersammius philargius et aquila lib.tus mecenatis alius alias addiderunt.   Deine Seneca contractoque et aucto numero opus efficit in quique milia.  Notae autem dictae eo quod verba vel syllabas praefixis caracteribus notent, ut ad notitiam legentium revocent; quas qui didicerint. Propriae iam notarii appellantur.  Explicit prologus de vulgaribus notis.”
  4. [4]Commentarii notarum tironianarum cum prolegomenis adnotationibus criticis et exegeticis notarumque indice alphabetico : edidit Guilelmus Schmitz.

Drawings of Old St Peter’s in Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.A.64.ter

Another Vatican manuscript has come online, as I learn from @gundormr on Twitter here, and this one contains 16-17th century drawings of Old St Peter’s church in Rome. It has the rather awkward shelfmark of Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.A.64.ter, and may usually be found here, although I see tonight that the site is not working.

Here’s a small image in folio 10r, showing the courtyard outside the entrance, with annotations for the features.  A detailed list of contents is here.

On the right is the papal palace, in the middle is the fountain of the pine-cone, and ahead is the mosaic facade of the old church, behind a portico.

This is all well and good.  But the really spectacular part is if you download the image from folio 10r yourself.  The resulting .jpg file is huge – and this has an interesting effect, when you open it on your screen. You find yourself zooming in, effectively, on different parts of the courtyard.  Suddenly, we can see it!  It’s like being there:

We can see the entrance in the middle into the basilica.  That is not maximum resolution, by the way, either.

I can’t make out that much of the annotations, but it is simply wonderful to be able to do this.

Folio 12r is the inside of the basilica, and you can do exactly the same thing, and zoom in.

Well worth a look!

An unusual view of the Meta Sudans across the Piazza del Colosseo in 1930

The excellent Rome Ieri Oggi site has started posting again on Twitter, and today posted the following fascinating image from 1930:

Note the Meta Sudans in the middle.  By this date the brick stub of this ancient fountain had only a handful of years more in the world, before Mussolini demolished it.

Marvellous to see it!

From my diary

There is a certain very large text from late antiquity to which I have always wished to have access.  I don’t need to use it often, but when you do, you do.  There is indeed an English translation, itself a massive volume 18″ tall and 2 inches thick, some 650 pages.  But what I really wanted was a PDF.

A couple of months ago I decided to see if I could get an inter-library loan of the volume, with the idea of scanning it.  Such massive items tend to be treated as reference works, and hard to borrow.

But last week I got an email from my library that it was available.  I walked up to the library in the lunch hour, paid the $8 fee, and I lugged it back to the office, not without some effort.  After work I took it home.

I got my book scanner out, and began to scan it, page by page.  The page area just about fitted on the scanner.  Scanning is painful, because it is so heavy and so bulky.  Lift, turn, lower, hold… lift, turn it the other way, lower, support it while it scans…. This is hard physical work, believe me.

The effort was worse because the volume itself is cracking at the binding.  It has, quite clearly, been photocopied to death.  It was on loan from a university, and doubtless generations of students did what they had to do.  So the binding kept threatening to break, and the cover come off, with every turn of the page.  But I persisted.  Over the last three days I made progress.  This evening I completed 231 pages.

But then something made me check a certain pirate book site.  And there…. I found it.  Not once, but twice!  The first was a monochrome scan, much like my own.  This has been nicely OCR’d, bookmarked, and is simply perfect for my purposes.  The other consists of colour photographs of each opening, collected into two PDFs, clearly from some Turkish library.  Neither was there when I placed that book order.  I ought to have checked last week, before I started to scan.

My labour has been futile, it seems.  Oh well.  I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand it seems a shame to stop.  But on the other hand I will get back a week or so of evenings of my life.

I have found that there was also a price to pay for such activity, at the end of a working day when you need to rest but must instead drive yourself on.  The first evening, when I scanned a long chunk, I went to bed afterwards only to experience anxiety dreams.  I dreamed that I was back at university, and that it was the first day.  But I had nothing to write on, no day book.  We were being told all sorts of things – important, vital things – and everyone else was writing notes, but I could not.  I knew that their notes would omit stuff that I needed to remember.  I woke with some relief.  It was not like this when I was scanning books for the web a decade ago.  Now I do not need to have more stressful nights.

Another thought strikes me.  It is now Saturday evening.  It is very humid and sticky, and an inconsiderate neighbour has made it impossible to open the windows by lighting a fire just upwind of me.  Now I always dismantle my laptop and external monitor, keyboard and mouse, and put them in the cupboard, so that I will not see them on Sunday.  IT is a demanding profession, and downtime is essential.  Locking away my computer is an important piece of self-care.  But Finereader 14, the scanner package, tends to go a bit funny with my Opticbook 3600 scanner.  It took a number of restarts before it all worked.  So I had intended to leave it all set up, and working.  I no longer need to do this.

It also means that I can return to blogging!

I think that I ought to give thanks, that the Lord has lifted this burden from me.  I really felt that I needed access to a copy.  Now I have it; and others also.  Good news.

“John the deacon” – just who was he?

There are several Italian authors of the Dark Ages known loosely as John the Deacon, and a google search will quickly find evidence that people get confused.  The text that I am working on, BHL 6104, is a Life of St Nicholas of Myra, in Latin, translated by “John the Deacon”.  I struggled with this, so I thought that these notes might help someone!

The first place to look is the Clavis Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Aevi Italiae (700-1000), or SCLMAI, edited by B. Valtorta and published by Sismel in Florence in 2006 in one volume.  This lists most of the following figures, all of whom left literary works, under the name of “John” or “Giovani”, some of whom are relevant, and I’ve added some notes under each.

  • Iohannes Aretinus, episcopus = Bishop John of Arezzo.

Bishop of Arezzo in the second half of the 9th century.  In 875 at the request of Pope John VIII he was part of a mission of Charles the Bald to invite him to Rome for consecration.  In July 877 he participated in a council in Ravenna called by the same pope.  He died in the summer of 900.  Author of a Latin translation of a Greek text on the ascension of Mary.

  • Iohannes Canaparius, monachus.

A monk in the monastery of Sts Boniface and Alexius on the Aventine in Rome and author of the Miracula s. Alexii.  Became abbot in 1002, and probably knew St Adalbert of Prague during his stay in Rome.  Died 1004.  Author of the Passio S. Adaberti martyris Christi.

  • Iohannes Casinensis, monachus = John of Montecassino = John the Monk (of Montecassino).  9th century.

The CSLMAI says that nothing is known of him, except that he lived at the end of the 10th c., and wrote a Passio S. Iohannis martyris.

Articles at Treccani say: John the Deacon (or John of Montecassino, or Giovanni Imonide, latin Iohannes Hymonides). – Monk of Montecassino, historian (b. ca. 852 – d. before 882). Influential at the curia of John VIII, friend of Anastasius Bibliothecarius, he composed from archival material one of the best lives of Gregory the Great. It is very likely that he was involved with the Liber pontificalis; more questionable is the attribution to him of other works, among which the so-called Cena Cypriani.  (This short note from Treccani; a much longer article with bibliography by Paolo Chiesa is here).

  • Iohannes Cluniacensis, monachus (Salernitanus) = John of Cluny, or John of Salerno = John the Monk (of Cluny / Salerno).  Also Iohannes Romanus; Iohannes Italus (!)

Born in Italy, probably in Rome, he met Odo of Cluny in 938 and became a monk.  Two years later he accompanied Odo to Rome, where he was later appointed prior of the monastery of St. Paul.  In 943 he moved to Salerno where he composed the Life of Odo, who had died in Nov. 18, 942.  Author of Sententiae Morales super Iob, and Vita S. Odonis Abbatis.

  • Iohannes Hymmonides Romanus, diaconus = John Hymmonides, or John Romanus = John the Deacon (of Rome).

The SCLMAI : Born around 825, a deacon of the church of Rome.  After the death of Pope Nicholas I (Nov. 867) he was exiled by the emperor Ludovicus II.  He became part of the entourage of Pope John VIII, and was connected to Anastasius Bibliothecarius and Gauderico di Velletri.  He planned (in vain) to continue the Historia Tripartita of Cassiodorus, and Anastasius Bibliothecarius trabslated a Greek Chronographia Tripartita to assist him.  He died around 880, certainly before 882.  He might be the author of the life of Pope Hadrian II contained in the Liber Pontificalis.  Author of the Cena Cypriani; Vita S. Clementis; Vita S. Gregorii Magni.

The confusion between this man and John of Montecassino is obvious.

  • Iohannes Mediolanensis, presbyter = John of Milan = John the Priest.

8-9th century, hagiographer.  Author of a single work on the Passio of the Virgin Mary.

  • Iohannes Neapolitanus, diaconus (and see also Guarimpotus Neapolitanus) = John of Naples = John the Deacon (of Naples).  9-10th century.  This is undoubtedly our author.

Hagiographer and translator, deacon on the church of S. Gennaro ad Diaconiam (=St Januarius) at Naples.  He was a pupil of the priest Auxilius, active in Naples ca. 896.  In 902 he took part in the translation of the relics of St Severinus to Naples, and in 906 in that of the relics of the martyr Sosius to the monastery of St Severinus of Naples.  His works are characterised in the Neapolitan school of translation from Greek by their extreme freedom and formal elegance.  He may be the same as Guarimpotus Neapolitanus, in which case Guarimpoto would have been his name before ordination.  The date of his death is unknown.  Author of: Acta XL Martyrum Sebastenorum; Acta S. Sosii; Gesta Episcoporum Neapolitanorum; Passio S. Maximi Cumanae; Translatio S. Severini Neapolim; Vita S. Euthymii Abbatis; Vita S. Nicolai.  The Life of St Nicholas was made at the age of 20 or 25 at the exhortation of the monk Athanasius, who may perhaps be identified with the Athanasiuis sent to Misenum with John to look for the relics of St. Sosius.  BHL 611-7 are epitomes of the work.  (SCLMAI; Long article with bibliography by Luigi Andrea Berto at Trecani here)

  • Iohannes Ravennas, archiepiscopus = Archbishop John of Ravenna. died. 929.  Author of 7 works.
  • Iohannes Venetus, diaconus = John the Deacon (of Venice). b. ca.940-945, d. after 1018.  Not in the SCLMAI.

Author of the Chronicon Venetum, the oldest Venetian history.  (Wikipedia article here).

We must also mention one further figure:

  • Guarimpotus Neapolitanus = Guarimpoto of Naples.  9-10th century.

Translator and hagiographer.  It is unclear whether he can be identified with “Guarimpotus Grammaticus”, author of the translation of the sermon of Cosmas Vestitor on the translation of relics of John Chrysostom; likewise with John the deacon of Naples, with whose works the author of the Passio Eustratii has strong stylistic affinities.  The name of Guarimpotus appears only in the prologue of the Passio Eustratii, so all his works are uncertain to some degree.  Author of: a lost Passio S. Blasii (possible remains in BHL 1380-1379, which may instead be by Bonitus Neapolitanus Subdiaconus); Passio S. Eustratii et IV sociorum in Armenia, BHG 646-646a, PG 116, 468-515, made at the request of Athanasius II, bishop of Naples in 875-898; Passio S. Febroniae; Passio S. Petri Alexandrini, BHL 6692-3; Vita S. Athanasii ep. Neapolitani; Translatio S. Athanasii ep. Neapolitani.

Out of these, three figures actually appear as “John the Deacon”; John Hymmonides, John of Naples, and in fact also John of Montecassino.  Following the links reveals that our boy is in fact John of Naples, translator of more than one hagiographical work from Greek.

I also found that searching for “Giovanni Diacono” produced a lot of information and some excellent bibliography.

What I had not realised was that Naples, in the 6th-9th century, was actually part of the Byzantine Empire, as the Duchy of Naples.  Its ruler held the titles of dux and magister militum.  Originally dependent on the exarchate of Ravenna, it transferred to the supervision of the Byzantine governor of Sicily after the fall of Ravenna.  But in practice it was rare for a Byzantine army to appear in Sicily, and Naples therefore remained largely independent.  It was vexed by constant Lombard raids, which devastated the countryside.  At other periods the Byzantine government sent Greek settlers to reinforce the Greek population.  The majority of the people were Latin speaking.  By around 840 the Byzantine rule had dissipated to nothing, and the Duchy ceased to feature the Byzantine emperor on its coins.  All the same, this was a bilingual environment, and there was a school of translations into Latin; including the text that we are concerned with here, the Life of St Nicholas.

Free! Database of manuscripts containing Latin Saint’s Lives – at the Bollandists

I’ve been looking for manuscripts of the “Life” of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  In the process I have just come across something very useful.

This is the “Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Online” (although it doesn’t contain the BHL info) or Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina manuscripta (BHLms) database.  And … it is free!  You have to enter your name and email address,but then you can do what you want.

It’s hosted at the Société des Bollandistes.  Look under “online resources“.  The direct URL is here.  Click on Recherche, enter your name and email address (why?) and then you are in.

I clicked on “Trouver un texte hagiographique d’après son numéro BHL“, and entered 6104, which is the BHL number for the first part of John the Deacon’s Life.  This led to a page on the text, and then

Liste des manuscrits transmettant ce texte, décrits dans les catalogues des Bollandistes: par fonds ou par siècle.

Clicking on “fonds” – i.e. the libraries that hold the manuscripts – gave me a list ordered by library.  “siècle” gave me an even more useful list, in date order, thereby allowing me to concentrate on the earliest mss.  What I got was this:

Screen grab of the oldest manuscripts of John the deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas”

Note the statement at the top: 121 manuscripts counted in the catalogues published by the Bollandists.  That too is useful information.

The links do not lead to online manuscripts.  So it’s Google time.

Googling for “Chartres manuscrits” led me to a web page.  From this I learned that the Americans bombed Chartres in the war and destroyed half of its manuscripts, and cooked the rest.  But some survive.  A full list is here.  It turned out that the Bollandist “Ms. 68” now has the shelfmark ms.27, and … appears in the list of destroyed manuscripts.  So no luck, then.  The link to the catalogue info for it is here.

Googling for “Orleans manuscrits”, the next item, brought up a website alright: the “Aurelia – Bibliotheque numerique d’Orleans“.  I entered “342” in the search, and, among other cruft, got a picture of a manuscript cover and “Views de saints et Sermons”, 342, Xe, XIe, et XII siecles”.  That looked OK, so I clicked on it and got … catalogue stuff.  A bit more experimenting and I found you have to click on the *image* itself.  There are facilities to download the manuscript, but unfortunately someone – a paperpusher, one fears – has limited it to 4 pages at a time.

The Life is supposedly at the start, but the very first page that one sees is damaged.  There are several references to St Nicholas tho.  It looks as if the cover was removed at some point, and the parchment is worn by being coverless for some period.  Turning the page reveals pen trials; turning again reveals a modern list of contents, and then the first page of the text (click to enlarge):

Orleans – manuscript 342, folio 6r. Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon (BHL 6104)

The note at the top of the page – “Monasterii sancti Benedicti Floriacensi” – tells us that prior to the French revolution the ms. belonged to the Benedictine abbey of Fleury.  So here is yet another manuscript online, although it took a fair bit of clicking to get it.

The Bollandist list of mnuscripts is inevitably incomplete.  I know of other manuscripts of this particular Latin text, thanks to the entry in the Clavis Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Aevi: Italiae volume, which has an entry for John the Deacon / John of Naples, and which was the source that led me to the BHL Online.  But it’s still an invaluable resource.


Looking for manuscripts of John the Deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas” (BHL 6104 etc)

When using Google, it really helps if you have the BHL (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina) number for the text that you are interested in.  You can find interesting things!

My next project is to translate the “Life” of St. Nicholas, written in Latin by John the Deacon.  I shall use the Falconius text of 1751, which appears to be the most recent.

While working on the start of this, I saw that Falconius identified two manuscripts as the basis for his edition (as well as the older Mombritius edition).  One was from Naples, and basically unidentifiable.  But the other was one of the Queen of Sweden’s manuscripts in the Vatican, which he identified as Ms. Vaticanus latinus 5696.  He also commented about a heading in that manuscript.  So I thought that it might be fun to go and see if it was online.

There’s no trouble in finding the manuscript – it’s here.  Unfortunately it’s 300+ pages, and in a low-quality microfilm scan.  I couldn’t even find the right portion of the manuscript.  But I wondered whether perhaps Google might help, might give me the page, or rather folio number.

To my surprise, I found something like a Vatican manuscript catalogue online.  My first hit was for another manuscript, Vat. lat. 1197, here.  Clicking on the book icon leads you to the manuscript; but clicking on the “Autore” link for “Iohannes Diaconus Neapolitanus, sec. X-XI” led me to a remarkable list of manuscripts and folio numbers!  (The link is here, but hardly looks very permanent.)

The page lists 8 manuscripts, 5 of them online.

The “Life” is divided into several parts by the BHL, and seems to be transmitted in sections.  I would imagine that this is because portions of it formed readings in church on the saint’s day, December 6th.

So from this I could find the start of the work.  Here are a couple of pages from Vat. lat. 1197, folios 13v and 14r, facing pages.  The individual pages are downloadable, so here are the first two (click for larger versions):

Ms. Vat. lat. 1197, folio 13v.
Ms. Vat. lat. 1197, folio 14r.

But this was not all.  I also found Fribourg/Freiburg, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire/Kantons- und Universitätsbibliothek, Ms. L 5, (13th c., second third, after 1235) online here., and starting at fol. 53v.  Here too the first page is downloadable:

Freiburg L. 5, Fol. 53v.

This also told me about an article: “Pasquale Corsi, «La “Vita” di san Nicola e un codice della versione di Giovanni diacono», dans: Nicolaus. Rivista di teologia ecumenico-patristica 7 (1979), p. 361-380 (seulement BHL 6104-6106).”

A catalogue page informed me of Durham Cathedral Library Ms. B.IV.14, (early 12th c.) but there was no link to the online manuscript.  I had to google to find the online book itself, here.  This contains three items of interest:

(h)     f.170-181  – Vita S. Nicholai,
Author: John, the Deacon of Rome, approximately 824-approximately 882
Edited: BHL 6104, 6105,6106

(i)     f.181-189  – Miracula S. Nicholai
Edited: BHL 6150, 6151, 6152, 6153, 6154, 6160, 6161, 6164, 6167, 6172

(j)     f.190-200v – Translatio S. Nicholai Barium A.D. 1087, cum miraculis,
Author: Johannes Barensis
“Post beati Nicholai gloriosum ab hac vita” (incl. verses “Tempore quid miseris”, quoted Ordericus Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica 3,VII,ix
Edited: BHL 6104, 6105, 6106

Here the page could not be downloaded, only viewed through the rubbishy viewer:

Durham Ms. B.IV.14, fol. 170r.

Another manuscript, Paris lat. 17625, is online here as a dreadful microfilm, but properly online bound in two volumes here and here. It was written before 968 AD, but all it has is a few pages at the end, on f. 258v-261v.

BNF lat. 17625 f. 258v

Another, Paris. lat. 18303, written between 1076-1100, is here, again as a microfilm, but also as a properly digitised ms, f.3r-59r, BHL 6104, 6105 and 6106.  The whole ms can be downloaded as PDF, which is really useful.  Here’s the first page of our work:

BNF Latin 18303, f.3r

Nor was it just online manuscripts.  Another page at the IRHT informed us that “Johannes Neapolitanus diaconus (0860?-0910?)” was responsible for BHL 6104-6113, and that:

Dated between : 875-885
Number of Manuscripts According to Bibliography : 608

  • BHL 6104 : Prologue de la Vita sancti Nicolai, plus de 120 mss
  • BHL 6105 : plus de 150 mss.
  • BHL 6107 : plus de 70 mss
  • BHL 6108 : plus de 170 mss
  • BHL 6110 : 2 mss.
  • Clavis Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Aevi, Auctores Italiae, 700-1000, 157-158.

All of which is jolly useful. (I don’t have access to that Clavis, but clearly I need to do so!)

But note the developing confusion about John the Deacon, and the various dates assigned to him.  Durham indeed thinks he comes from Rome – the prologue to the Vita says that he actually is a “servant of St. Januarius” in Naples – and links to a John Hymmonides (825-882?), who is clearly who they have in mind, but is not the same person.  I shall have to look further into who this John may be.  Surely there is a list somewhere?

This brief search, undertaken at work during lunchtime, is not likely to be all that is available.  Yet it is already far more than Falconius had at his disposal to edit the text!

We are indeed very fortunate to live in such times.

Of the wickedness of men

I apologise for the fact that there is currently no way to contact me through my website.

The contact form has been targeted by a professional spammer in the last week.  I wasted an hour of my life this evening, which I could ill afford, reworking the form to require human input.  The spam didn’t stop at all.  I can only infer that the spammer employs peasants in the third world to do his evil work.  So I had to take it down.

Then I discovered that the contact form on this blog is now out of action.  Some time ago I found that Contact Form 7, which I used, was “upgraded” to use a new version of Google’s “Recaptcha” service, which added spam to every page on the blog.  So I downgraded it.  Today I find that it is not functioning.  The greed of Google for advertising is to blame, without a doubt.

Between the two I see no way to have a contact form right now.  I will look into this more.  Comments on the blog are still working tho.

I must confess to some resentment.  I have so little time to spare.  I did a day’s work, and domestic chores, and I had an hour for me at the end of it.  And … some nameless swine has stolen it.

It is annoying that the political class has spent so much time on measures to implement censorship of opinion online, under the cynical label of “anti-hate”, yet has not bothered in the slightest about the endless avalanche of spam that everyone gets.

T. D. Barnes on Rodney Stark’s claim that only a “tiny number of Christians were ever martyred”

Some time ago, someone on social media started a campaign under the hashtag of “Black Lives Matter”.  Someone else soon started another in response under the hashtag of “All Lives Matter”.  The supporters of the former responded with extreme fury to what, on the face of it, was a neutral response.  They saw it as belittling them.  Of course they were right to think this, and such was indeed the intention.  On matters of controversy, playing down something is not a neutral stance, however it is presented.

A certain Rodney Stark, who I understand is a sociologist, in his The Rise of Christianity.  A Sociologist reconsiders History (Princeton, 1996), page 179 writes (I have highlighted the relevant passage):

But how could a rational person accept grotesque torture and death in exchange for risky, intangible religious rewards?

First of all , many early Christians probably could not have done so, and some are known have recanted when the situation arose . Eusebius reported that when the first group of bishops was seized, “some indeed, from excessive dread, broken down and overpowered by their terrors, sunk and gave way immediately at the first onset” (The Martyrs of Palestine l , 1850 ed.) . Second, persecutions rarely occurred, and only a tiny number of Christians ever were martyred–only “hundreds, not thousands” according to W.H.C. Frend (1965:413). Indeed, commenting on Tacitus’s claim that Nero had murdered “an immense multitude ” of Christians, Marta Sordi wrote that “a few hundred victims would justify the use of this term, given the horror of what happened” (1986:31) . The truth is that the Roman government seems to have cared very little about the “Christian menace. ” There was surprisingly Iittle effort to persecute Christians, and when a wave of persecution did occur, usually only bishops and other prominent figures were singled out. Thus for rank-and-file Christians the threat of persecution was so slight as to have counted for little among the potential sacrifices imposed on them.

The statement of W.H.C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church, Oxford, 1965, p.413 and p.435 is as follows:

How many victims were there? Porphyry believed that ‘thousands’ had died in the persecution of Decius and Valerian.163 The writers of the Ancient World, however, had only their personal experience and rumours to rely upon. Accurate statistics are the product of the needs of modern government. Dionysius of Alexandria states that ‘very many’ were killed in Egyptian towns and villages,164 but he only names seventeen victims. In Palestine and Syria the deaths only of Bishops Alexander and Babylas are recorded, though Origen was imprisoned. In Asia Minor hardly a dozen deaths are known, though others, like the famous Seven Sleepers of Ephesus said to have been immured in a cave outside the city, survived in legend. Rome could boast of its Bishop Fabian, and the Presbyter Moses.165 In Africa, where Cyprian’ s letters and other writings give a remarkably complete picture of the situation in Carthage in Decius’ reign, eighteen martyrs who died in various ways are recorded by name, and another seventeen as confessors.166 The numbers of the victims may have been considerably higher, however, for there is no knowing how many ‘companions’ accompanied their leaders, nor indeed, how many died in prison and were accepted by Cyprian as martyrs. 167 Deaths over the whole Empire may probably be numbered in hundreds rather than thousands, but they were enough to vindicate the martyr-spirit at the moment when it was in danger of foundering amid the outward prosperity of the Church.

[163] Porphyry, Frag. 36 (ed. A. Harnack) ABAW., 1916, 63 (citing Macarius Magnes, iv.4) ‘μύριοι τούτοις ὁμόδοξοι οἱ μὲν ἐκαύθησαν, οἱ δ̕ἄλλοι τιμωρίαν ἠ λώβην δξάμενοι διεφθάρησαν‘. The context suggests gross exaggeration!
[164] H.E., vi.42.1. See for a summary of the available evidence, Albert Ehrhard, Die Kirche der Märtyrer, München, 1932, 66-8.
[165] Liber Pontif., xxi (Duchesne; 148). Also mentions Maximus the presbyter and Nicostratus, a deacon, who were imprisoned.
[166] Cyprian, Ep.,,22.2-3 (CSEL., iii.1, 534-5).
[167] Ibid., Ep., 12.1.

Stark’s claim has been widely echoed, I believe.  So it was with some interest that I came across the remarks of T. D. Barnes, Early Christian Hagiography and Roman History, Mohr Siebeck, 2010, p.294-5, n.18 on the subject.  I have added paragraphs to what was in fact a footnote.

[18] Unfortunately, Dodwell’s work [on Lactantius] gave rise to a long and ultimately sterile controversy over the total number of early Christian martyrs.

On the one hand, it is absurd to imagine (with Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Gustav Mahler) how in heaven ‘Elftausend Jungfrauen / Zu tanzen sich trauen’ after being martyred at Cologne with Saint Ursula (BHL 8426-8451).

On the other hand, Edward Gibbon was being deliberately tendentious when he accepted Grotius’ high estimate of the number of Protestants executed in the Low Countries under the emperor Charles V in order to argue that ‘the number of Protestants who were executed in a single province and in a single reign far exceeded that of the primitive martyrs in the space of three centuries and of the Roman empire’ (Decline and Fall 1 [London, 1776], Chapter XVI [2.139 Bury = 1.580 Womersley]).

Some recent estimates carry the process of minimising the number of martyrs to absurd extremes. Thus R. Stark, The Rise of Christianity. A Sociologist reconsiders History (Princeton, 1996), 179, states that ‘only a tiny number of Christians ever were martyred.’ Stark estimates, apparently in all seriousness, that a total of fewer than one thousand Christians were ever executed by the Roman authorities over the course of nearly three hundred years. He justifies this impossibly low total by alleging that W. H.C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford, 1965), 413. estimated the total as ‘only “hundreds, nor thousands”.’

There are errors here on three levels. First, Stark seriously misreports Frend, who was talking solely about the number of Christians who were martyred under Decius and Valerian, that is, in 250-251 and 257-260. Second, Frend misreports the ancient source whom he took to be Porphyry and whom he accused of ‘gross exaggeration’ (435 n. 163): that source spoke not of ‘thousands,’ but of ‘countless’ (μύριοι) Christians who were burned alive or tortured and put to death in other ways (Macarius of Magnesia 4.4, whence Porphyry, Contra Christianos, frag. 36 Harnack. Third, while Macarius certainly derived material from Porphyry, he cannot legitimately be assumed to preserve Porphyry’s actual words: JTS, N.S. 24(1973), 428-430.

Which neatly disposes of Stark, and indeed of Frend.

It is always interesting to hear of the Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes, who preserves the words of a bitter late-antique anti-Christian source.  Porphyry was a contemporary of the persecutions of the late third century, so his testimony would have some value.  But Macarius Magnes was probably a century later.  What does he actually say?  Omitting the editorial titles, here is book 4, chapter 4, from the SPCK translation.  It is the pagan speaking:

Let us look at what was said to Paul, “The Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee” (Acts xviii. 9-10). And yet no sooner was he seized in Rome than this fine fellow, who said that we should judge angels, had his head cut off. And Peter again, who received authority to feed the lambs, was nailed to a cross and impaled on it. And countless others, who held opinions like theirs, were either burnt, or put to death by receiving some kind of punishment or maltreatment. This is not worthy of the will of God, nor even of a godly man, that a multitude of men should be cruelly punished through their relation to His own grace and faith, while the expected resurrection and coming remains unknown.

I was quite unclear why Frend claims that “The context suggests gross exaggeration!” Nothing suggests it to me.

On such shaky foundations were a world of belittling anti-Christian jeers founded.  But the lesson for us all is: verify your sources!