From my diary

Back in March I was working on making an English translation of the hagiographical Life of St Cuthman.  At the same time I was working on adding syntactical help to my QuickLatin tool.

But then by the mercy of God I was able to get a contract and earn a living, at a time when most people were unable to do so.  I was and am profoundly grateful.  All the same I was also glad to stop after six months of daily Zoom meetings, as the pressure at work began to increase.  The dynamics of a team that work from home, where most people have never met, can be peculiar.

This week I have started to work again on the Cuthman.  Thankfully I left it obvious where I was.  In fact the task is much more advanced than I had remembered.  I’ve now resolved all the issues in all 12 chapters of this little work.  But there is another task to do.

My translation is/was made from the 17th century Acta Sanctorum text.  After I had made the first draft, I learned that a critical edition does exist, made by John Blair and published in a local journal in 1997.[1]  So I have tonight started to go through the files and compare the text that I have with Blair’s edition.  The differences are not great, so far.

The old Bollandists worked from two now lost manuscripts, labelled A and B by Dr. Blair.  The modern Bollandist database tells us that two manuscripts exist today.  I had assumed that these were the same as those used for the Acta Sanctorum; but it turns out that this is not so.  The new manuscripts are labelled G and R by Blair.

I’m not entirely convinced by all of the choices in Blair’s edition, although it is a marvellous work of collation.  For instance at one point he conjectures that the author drops into the second-person singular – “you…”, without any manuscript evidence, and when the rest of the text is entirely third-person.  I have followed the Bollandists here.

But I daresay Dr B. knows much more Latin than I do.  So I have decided that I will follow his choices, except when I really feel that the Bollandist editors were right.  I will footnote where I deviate.  I’d like to hope that my work will be useful to others, and the best way to ensure that is to follow the edition that they will have to follow.

Of course I need some kind of excuse to myself, at least, for ignoring Blair at points.  Currently I am muttering to myself that, “of course the Bollandist editors of the 17th century knew far more Latin than any modern editor, especially ecclesiastical Latin.”  Let’s hope that I am right!

But I will include the text that I translate as an appendix.

On the other hand I’ve not yet got back to working on QuickLatin and reading grammars.  I’m very grateful for what I did in this area earlier in the year.  The syntax facilities are really helpful, even as far as I have gone.  But I will need more time to get back up to speed with this.  I have also changed PC, so not everything is ready to hand as yet.

It’s good to have a project to take me into the winter months.

  1. [1]John Blair, “Saint Cuthman, Steyning and Bosham”, in: Sussex Archaeological Collections 135 (1997), 173-92.

The first mention of St Austell, ca. 900 AD, in a Vatican manuscript

In the Vatican there is a Latin manuscript, shelfmark Vatican Reginensis Latinus 191, which contains a collection of texts assembled for the church in Reims in northern France.  The manuscript is online, and may be found here.

At some point before the 12th century, the manuscript was given some parchment guard-leaves on either end.  These are not blank.  They were taken from another volume and turned upside down to avoid distraction.  The pages contain part of ps.Seneca, De Moribus, followed by the notice of Jerome on Seneca from De viris illustribus.

Jerome finishes part way down what is now folio iir.  Then on the same line there is a list of 48 names, written in an larger insular book hand, and carrying on over the page.

Here is the first page, turned back the right way:

Vatican Reg. Lat. 191, f. iir.

And here is the verso:

Vatican reg. lat. 191, folio ii, verso.

On the verso, at the start of line 2, are two names: Austoll and Megunn.

A list of names is inscrutable, and the reader may well ask what he is looking at.

In a brilliant article in Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies,[1] B. L. Olson and O. J. Padel analyse the list and come out with some fascinating conclusions.

They show that these names are all in Old Cornish.  Of the 48, 21 are most certainly the patron saints of modern Cornish parishes.  St Just, for instance, is there.  Other names are very obscure, and it is possible that the parish patron saint has simply changed since to one better known.

Even more interestingly, they print a map of Cornwall, showing the location of each church.  This shows that the parishes cluster together.

These cannot be coincidences.  They conclude from this that this is a list of Cornish parishes, written down for some unknown purpose shortly after 900 AD, either in Cornwall or in Brittany.  As such this is testimony to the existence of some sort of parish system at this date, in the Anglo-Saxon period, a century before the Norman conquest.

Austoll is of course St Austell (see this previous post).  This scrap of waste parchment is the earliest mention of the saint; but since this is a list of parish saints, this is also the earliest witness to the church and village of St Austell.

The name “Megunn” is undoubtedly Megwin, i.e. St Mewan, or S. Méén, so important in Brittany.  There is still a village of St Mewan near St Austell, and we learn from the medieval life of St Mewan that St Austell was a deacon who was the disciple of St Mewan.  The two stand together in the list, as on the ground.

There is almost nothing left of Old Cornish, or so the authors tell us.  The history of the land has perished.  Cornwall began to be assimilated into English even before the conquest.

So this is a precious peek into a land which became Christian in the Roman or sub-Roman period, but about which nothing is really now known.  Thus it is only from archaeology that we know of Byzantine ships visiting north Cornwall during this period, off-loading  goods from far away, and doubtless taking on a cargo of tin.  What did the sophisticated Greek merchants see, on the hills above the landing, in this rude land?  Simple churches dedicated to Celtic saints, it would seem.

  1. [1]B. Lynette Olson & O. J. Padel, “A tenth-century list of Cornish parochial saints”, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 12 (1986), 33-72, with plates.

A portrait of Julian the Apostate and his wife Helena – or is it?

There’s an image which circulates online, purporting to be a depiction of Julian the Apostate and his empress, Helena.  Here it is:

The item is from Wikipedia (where else?), and adorns the page dedicated to Helena.  From there it has spread to many sites, book covers, etc.

But is it genuine?  Indeed what is it?  Where is it held?

The Wikimedia page (where I have corrected the description) tells us that it was uploaded in 2011, and gives as a source.  That website still exists, but the url is dead.  Nor does a Google Images search reveal much.

Luckily for me, I searched using Google Lens, on my Android phone.  This led me to a fascinating article by Prof. Sir John Boardman, “A pursuit of art in miniature: The Fourth Duke of Marlborough’s collection of gems”, in: Apollo – The International Magazine for Collectors (2008), 57-61, online at the Beazley Archive in Oxford here.  On page 60, we find a real colour photograph, given as figure 16:

With the legend:

16. Two Divine or Imperial Heads, electrotype copy of Figure 15, showing its now lost 16th-century silver-gilt mount. Beazley Archive, University of Oxford.

The text tells us that this is a reproduction, a cast, made using the electrotype process, of a genuinely ancient item, a gem, specifically a cameo, which was once in the collection of the Duke of Marlborough and is now in the British Museum.  Figure 15 gives a photograph, with the legend:

15. Two Divine or Imperial Heads, sardonyx cameo, 1st century AD. 22 x 15 cm. British Museum, London.

Dr. B. explains:

The gems are often the better for their elaborate mounts, renaissance or later in date. Not all museums have retained them unless they are as interested in jewellery as in engraving. … The mounts themselves can sometimes be as historically important as their contents. The great cameo in the British Museum (Fig. 15) with two divine or imperial heads boasted a metal mount of some complexity, of 16th-century date. I show it also in Story-Maskelyne’s electrotype (Fig. 16) because the original gilt silver had been replaced with a copy by the time it reached the museum, and it had lost the two inscriptions in the wreaths. A metal back had been added in the 18th century recording its possession by a mysterious ‘Marquis de Fuentes’ – this also survives only in a cast.

Few will know what electrotype casts were.  This is a way of getting a metal cast of an object, invented in the 19th century.  Here’s how it works.

You take an impression of the object using soft material, such as clay, and then suspend the impression in a solution of a copper electrolyte.  Passing a current through the solution causes copper to be deposited on the clay mould, thereby creating a copper copy of the original.  The process was used for printing drawings engraved on metal well into the twentieth century.

The electrotype cast exists because the 7th Duke of Marlborough arranged for Prof. Nevile Story-Maskelyne to catalogue his collection of ancient gems.  Dr S.-M. made electrotype casts of all the cameos, and these now reside in the Beazley Archive at the university of Oxford.  No doubt the image used in the Apollo article comes from there.

Our image, then, is not a real colour photograph at all. It looks like a black-and-white image, perhaps from a book, which has been given a fake colour.  The colourist was unaware of the real colours of the object.

We learn from Dr Boardman that the original cameo itself today is in the British Museum.  And so it is, inventory number 1899,0722.1, and – how wonderful is the British Museum – it is online with full description here.  The description reads:

Three-layered sardonyx cameo engraved with confronted portrait-busts of two members of the imperial family as Jupiter Ammon and Juno-Isis; the female resembles the princesses of the imperial house of Gaius (Caligula) or Claudius. 37-50 (circa) .

Wikipedia has this splendid photograph of it here:

That is a really lovely object.  It can be seen in room G70, apparently, so do look out for it if you can visit.  But there is no connection to Julian the Apostate.

Looking for an article in the Cambridge/Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies journal

The plague rages among us, or so we are assured by the mass media.  My local library has closed after a librarian had a close encounter with someone later found to be infected.  There’s no question of visiting a research collection.  So … what you are about to do, do it online!

A kind correspondent sent me a couple of articles relating to St Austell.  There is a Tenth-century list of Cornish saints’ names in a Vatican manuscript, it turns out.  In fact the manuscript is online!  But the publication of it is in an obscure journal: the Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies series, volume 12 (1986).  Another correspondent believes that he has access, so it may appear that way.

But the journal turns out to be very obscure indeed.  It is abbreviated CMCS, and there is a website here.  The journal has now become the Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies series, and is now based, not in Cambridge, but in Aberystwyth.  It’s clearly a fine journal, in an obscure, difficult-to-work-with, area which is not really being supported that well by the academic community.

Thankfully copies of the journal are not expensive, and I have simply ordered issue 12 to be sent to me.  Let’s see if anything turns up!

Who was St Austell?

Who was “St Austell”.  There is a town of that name in Cornwall, in the UK.

I am no expert on saints, and I would imagine that there are shoals of local saints in the Celtic regions of Britain.  But I did find a source.  Apparently the book to go to is Nicholas Orme, The Saints of Cornwall, Oxford (2000). Fortunately there is a Google Books preview, and it had an entry on page 67 for this St Austell.

Let’s see what we can make of this entry.  These sorts of handbooks are often stuffed full of abbreviations, so it can be hard.

Austell (Austoll)

(a) Austoll 10th (Olson and Padel: 59).
(b) St Austell: ecclesiam de Austol 1155 x c.1160 (Barlow: no. 74); sanctuarium de Sancto Austolo 1169 (1235) (PRO, C 53/28: m. 10); ecclesie Sancti Austol 1259 (Chanter 1: f. 6 V); ecclesias . . . Sancti Austoli 1281 (Oliver 1846: 43); de Sancto Austolo 1291 (Tax.); ecclesie… Sancti Austoli 1446 (Chanter X: f. 200r); S. Austelles (place) c.1540 (Leland 1907- 10: i. 201-2); Austel 1733 (Willis: 169); Austell 1742 (Ecton: 176); Austle 1782 (Jones: 98); Austolus 1846 (Oliver 1846:437), 1925 (Henderson 1925a: 23).

The 11th-century Life of Mewan, written in Brittany, claims that Austell was a priest and godson of Mewan who lived with him in his monastery at Saint-Meen (I.-et-V.), attended his deathbed, and died on 28 June (his subsequent feast-day), exactly one week after his master (Plaine 1884: 155-6; Doble 1939c: 4-11). Both saints were honoured at Saint-Meen. In Cornwall the parishes of St Austell and St Mewan adjoin one another, and have probably done so since at least the 10th century when the two saints occur together in the early list of saints (Olson and Padel: 34, 59). Austell’s Cornish parish, however, was much larger than Mewan’s, reversing their status in Brittany.

St Austell church is first mentioned distinctly in a document of the mid-12th century (above). Nothing is known about Austell’s cult there until the early 17th, when Nicholas Roscarrock wrote that local people believed that he and Mewan were great friends who lived together in the parishes named after them. Roscarrock refers to a statue of a bishop or abbot in a wall of St Austell church, which he supposed to commemorate Austell, and states that the saint’s feast was held on the Thursday after Whitsunday (Pentecost) (Orme 1992a: 56). This was perhaps to associate it with the holiday season of Whitsuntide. Since the mid-i9th century St Austell church has been regarded as dedicated to the Trinity, because the parish feast was then held on Trinity Sunday, but in medieval times the dedication was always to Austell (Orme 1996a: 69).

In 1173 Tywardreath Priory near St Austell was said to be dedicated to Andrew and Austell, implying that the priory had acquired the latter’s relics (Oliver 1846: 38). In Wales Llanawstl in Machen parish (Mon.) appears to mean ‘church-site of Austell’, but no church is recorded there and none is known to have been dedicated to him in Brittany (Loth 1910:12). See also Doble 1939c.

The main text is clear enough, but the opening material in smaller text looks like references to primary documents.  I can’t make much of this, except that “PRO” is clearly “Public Records Office”.  “Leland” is John Leland, the antiquarian of King Henry VIII.  He travelled all over England at the time of the Reformation, and his journal – he never published his finds – clearly was printed in a 1907 edition.  If I had the complete book, possibly these entries would make more sense.

It’s clear that this is a very obscure saint indeed.  There is no “Saint’s Life” for him; only a mention in the Life of St Mewan.

But Google comes mightily to our aid.  A preview of what is plainly an important book, S. Boardman &c, Saint’s Cults in the Celtic World, p.114, reveals in a footnote that the Life of St Mewan or S. Meen, is “Vita S. Mevenni: abbatis et confessoris in Britannia armoricana”, ed. F. B. Plaine in Analecta Bollandiana 3 (1884), 141-58.

I was unable to locate a downloadable copy, but it is at Hathi here if you have access.  The mention of St Austell is at the end, cc.19-20, on pp.155-6, where he is introduced: “Quo viso Austulos quidam presbyter, ejus filiolis, qui ei in monasterio serviebat humiliter,…”, “Seeing this a certain presbyter Austolus, his godson, who humbly served him in the monastery…”.

The Boardman book goes on:

The Life also, in its account of Meén’s death, introduces a certain presbyter named Austolus, his godson (filiolus), who is comforted by Méen’s prediction that Austol will join him in death within seven days. This indeed happens, and when Austol is taken for burial beside Méen, the monks find that:

“the saint’s body, which diffused a fragrant odour instead of the odour of corruption, had moved and was lying on the right of the grave facing the vacant space on the left, as if waiting for his disciple. They believed that this had happened by God’s appointment, and they buried the blessed godson by his blessed godfather. And thus the dead bones of the two saints declared the love which had ever united them.[137]”

137. Vita S. Mevenni, § 20: ed. Plaine, 156. Doble, Saint Mewan, 11.

Elsewhere we seem to be in a world of little antiquarian scribblers.  Thus “Doble” is Rev. G . H . Doble , Saint Mewan and Saint Austol , 2nd edn (Long Compton , 1939), who turns out to be a deceased Cornish clergyman.  None of those kinds of sources are online; they lie, buried in rural archives and libraries.

More promising is Olson and Padel, which turns out to be B.L.Olson and O.J.Padel, “A tenth-century list of Cornish parochial saints”, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 12 (Winter, 1986): 33-71.  I didn’t try very hard, but this too seems offline.

The same sort of process would probably apply to anyone seeking information on a vast number of Celtic saints.  It reminds us that there is much still to do in getting the materials of scholarship online.

This information exists; but for how long, once libraries close down because “everything is online”?  There is work to do.

A 1711 painting showing the Meta Sudans

There is a painting in Turin, in the Galleria Sabauda, of a view of the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus, dating from 1711, and painted by Gaspar van Wittel (Vanvitteli).  But it also shows a taller Meta Sudans than we know from the 19th century.  Here it is:

The ruined old fountain stands outside the Arch of Constantine, on the right.

H/T @romamedieval.

From my diary

The spam filter is acting up again.  I found four different messages from the contact form in it this morning, which I have tried to deal with.  My apologies for the delay.  There was also a mass of messages which did indeed seem to be spam and them I just deleted.

Today I also came across a post where part of the text had simply disappeared, breaking off mid-sentence.  If you see any others, please do let me know (if you can!).

I don’t know if I will blog any more this week.  There will be no blogging next week, as I shall be tied up with other things.  But normal blogging should resume after that.

Over the last few months, I have come across various interesting things to write about.  Often I have sent myself an email as a reminder.  Often I have sent myself several emails on the same topic, with links and attachments, as I googled around the subject on my phone from wherever I happened to be.  I looked at that email folder a couple of nights ago and found 347 emails in it.  So it may take a little while to work through.

I haven’t yet got back to translating, or any other projects yet.  But I will.

More on the Homeromanteion

Yesterday I mentioned the Homeromanteion.  This work consists of an introduction, followed by a list of oracular extracts from Homer.  Using three 6-sided dice, you can get a random extract.

The work is extant in three papyri, P.Bon. 3, P.Oxy. 3831, and PGM VII.  One of these, P.London 1, 121 is a six foot long roll.  It is mentioned in this excellent British Library Manuscripts blog post post, by Federica Micucci, which also gives this image of the end of it.  The three numerals are at the start of each line.

The end of the translation given in Betz, Greek Magical Papyri, PGM VII, is as follows:

The left-most numbers are modern, as we can see.

I should have liked to give the instructions at the start of the work, but these were only preserved in P.Oxy. 3831.  There is a translation apparently by P.J. Parsons, in the original publication in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 56 (1989), p.44-48, but this does not seem to be online.  The BL blog gives an extract:

First, you must know the days on which to use the Oracle; second, you must pray and speak the incantation of the god and pray inwardly for what you want; third, you must take the dice and throw it three times.

There is an excellent article by Raquel Martin-Hernandez – whose site contains a great deal of material about sortilege, the art of divining using dice – on using Homer for divination, with special reference to the Homeromanteion. It may be found here.

Similar methods could be used with biblical texts, of course; and so they duly were.  Both Augustine and Jerome refer to these, according to Martin-Hernandez, who gives two interesting footnotes:

[4] Augustine, Epist. 55.20.37. Jerome, Epistula ad Paulinum Nolanum 53, 7 (CSEL 54, 453). See Klingshirn 2002: 82-84.

[5] The use of the Bible for divination was not only conducted by secular people, but also by members of the clergy on the light of Canon 16 of the council of Vannes, dated to the 462 and 468 CE: aliquanti clerici student auguriis et sub nomine confictae religionis quas sanctorum sortes vocant…hoc quicumque clericus detectus fuerit vel consulere vel docere ab ecclesia habeatur extraneus. “Some clergy are devoted to the interpretation of signs, and under the label of what pretends to be religion, what they call Saints’ Lots…any cleric found either to have consulted or expounded this should be considered estranged from the church” (Concilia Galliae, A. 314-A. 506 [CCSL 148:156]). Text provided by Klingshirn 2005: 100. For the use of the Bible for divination see Klingshirn 2005.

In the decay of the church in the late 4th century, it is perhaps unsurprising that such superstitions should take hold.

They are not really very different from opening the bible at random; a practice not unknown even today.

A Roman rock-crystal icosahedron (20-sided dice) in the Louvre

Here’s a pretty image that floats around the web:

It’s ancient, and an icosahedron – a 20-sided dice.[1] The Musée du Louvre twitter account (@MuseeLouvre) posted further images of what is plainly the same item (click to enlarge).

The inventory number seems to be MNC882.[2]  It is a pity that the Louvre is not as advanced as the British Museum in placing its collections online.

The Louvre account tells us that it is 1cm high, rock crystal – “en cristal de roche” – and Roman empire period.

Each face has a Latin letter on it, and also the corresponding Roman numeral.  The ten lateral faces bear the letters A to K, and the numerals 1 to 10.  The upper five triangles bear the letters L to P and the numbers 11 to 15.  The lower five triangles bear the letters Q to V, and the numbers 16-20.[3]

The inscriptions on the Louvre rock-crystal icosahedron.

This item is by no means unique.  A considerable number of polyhedral dice have been recovered from all over the Roman empire.  The majority are inscribed with Greek or Latin numbers or letters.

One unique example was an icosahedron – 20 sided dice – found in Egypt, which had the name of a different Egyptian god on each side.[4]

What were these things used for?  Obviously they were intended to be thrown, and to give a random result.  But what then?

One often-heard explanation is that they were used in conjunction with divination handbooks.  There is a 2nd/3rd century Greek oracle book, the Homeromanteion, preserved in three papyri, which refers to throwing lots to obtain a number, which can be used to look up ready-prepared oracle questions and answers.[5]  It is amusing to discover a website that allows the reader to throw the three dice and looks up the answer!  It’s at

 Likewise an inscription at Olympus gives another such a set of prophecies, one per letter/number of the Greek alphabet.  (There is an online version of it here.)  The Metropolitan Museum in New York has an icosahedron from Egypt, either Ptolemaic or Roman, with Greek numbers (online here).

But of course we cannot know for sure precisely what our dice was used for.

For those who wish to know more about ancient dice, there is a wonderful bibliography in this forum thread “Random Facets from the History of Dice” at (!)

  1. [1]Strictly we should say “die”, plural “dice” in English, but I have never ever heard anybody refer to a single die as anything but “throw the dice”.
  2. [2]Listed at a website called Réunion des Musées Nationaux here, giving the date only as “Roman Empire”.  This seems to be the source of our original photograph.
  3. [3]This description and illustration from Minas-Nerpel; another transcription appears in F. N. David, Games, Gods, and Gambling: A History of Probability and Statistical Ideas, (1998) p.12.  Google Books Preview.
  4. [4]Martina Minas-Nerpel, “A demotic inscribed icosahedron from Dakleh oasis”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 93 (2007), 137-148.  Online at
  5. [5]More information here.