Walton Castle must have looked much like this in the 1600’s

The Roman fort at Felixstowe in Suffolk stood on a sandy cliff.  It went into the sea between 1700 and 1750, and there are still remains of it on the sea bed, a few metres off-shore.  I collected some old drawings of the fort here, known as Walton Castle.

Today I saw on twitter here an aerial photograph of its sister fort in Norfolk, Burgh Castle.  This has partly fallen into the river, and reminded me extremely strongly of those old drawings.

Here’s the aerial photo:

And here is the old plan of the vanished Roman fort at Walton Castle:

Plan of the Roman “Saxon Shore” fort of Felixstowe in 1623.

The walls of Burgh Castle still stand, and look like this:

And the drawing of the walls of Walton is here:

Note that this is taken from the landward side.  The similarities are obvious.

If I had a drone, and could take an aerial photograph of the area where Walton Castle stood, it might be possible to “drop in” the image of Burgh, and recreate the appearance of the vanished fort.  Maybe some day I will.

Regular readers will know that I have been attempting to locate a diving report from 1969 – the “Errington Report” -, which surveyed the ruins on the sea bed.  I have been trying to locate this for a year.  It is supposed to be at Suffolk Record Office.  Sadly I have been unable to examine the relevant files so far.

Lost ancient text found in Armenia: Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Hebrews

Excellent news today via Matthew R Crawford.  It seems that Cyril of Alexandria’s lost Commentary on Hebrews has been discovered.  It is preserved in three Armenian manuscripts held in the Matenadaran library in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.  An edition has been prepared, and is for sale here at BooksFromArmenia.com, for the modest sum of around $30.

Apparently it’s about 43,000 words in length, filling 220 pages.  So this is not a small work.  The editor of the critical text is Hacob Keosyan.  ISBN 978-9939-850-44-3.  At that price, I think they may sell quite a few copies.  I’m tempted myself.

The fragments of the Commentary on Hebrews are listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum under CPG 5209 (3).  It’s in vol. 3, page 8.  They were edited by Philip Pusey in an appendix to his edition of the Commentary on John, and also appear in the PG 74, cols. 953-1006.  There are Greek, Latin, Syriac and Armenian fragments.

Last year Joel Elowsky produced a translation of Cyril, entitled “Commentaries on Romans, Corinthians, and Hebrews” through IVP, so he has been unfortunate in his timing.

There is an article: Parvis, “The Commentary on Hebrews and the Contra Theodorum of Cyril of Alexandria”, JTS 26 (1975), 415-9.  From this I learn that Cyril’s commentary is, inevitably, directed against one of his political-religious foes.  In this case it is Theodore of Mopsuestia.  It is referred to by one of his opponents, and so must have been written before autumn 432.  It must have been written after his feud with Nestorius began in 428.

It is always good to recover a text from the night.  Let us hope that someone can produce an English translation of it soon.

The other point that comes to mind is that we need a new and fuller catalogue of the Matenadaran in Yerevan.  What else is there, one might wonder?

UPDATE: I have found another article on the web here, in Russian, by “Priest Maksim Nikulin”.  The English abstract reads:

In the present article the author studies one of the exegetical works of St. Cyril of Alexandria, his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. This work has been preserved only in fragments contained in catenae, florilegia, and quotations by other authors. The author identifies the texts that have survived to our day and the testimonies of later authors, who confirm that St. Cyril had written a Commentary on Hebrews. The author then provides an overview of the existing publications of this work with an indication of the manuscripts used by scholars of each edition. The author provides the opinions of different scholars about the dating of the work, all of which date it to the anti-Nestorian period of St. Cyril’s life, afer 428 AD. The author comments on the valuable insight by P. M. Parvis, who found in this work a fragment of St. Cyril’s polemics against the Antiochian exegesis and Christology of Teodore of Mopsuestia. The author also considers the hypothesis of P. E. Pusey, who believed that two works of different genres were composed by St. Cyril commenting on Hebrews, as well as the opinions of other scholars about this hypothesis. The author comments on the Armenian fragments of this work studied by J. Lebon. Finally, the author provides a hypothesis about the structure of the work.

I imagine that Dr Nikulin will be excited by the new discovery!

An old list of abbreviations used in Latin inscriptions

Today I saw an inscription on Twitter (posted by Gareth Harney), and part of it left me baffled.  Here it is:

T. Flavius Athenaeus, funerary altar. Uffizi galleries, Florence. Early 2nd century.

This funerary altar was erected to the memory of T. Flavius Athenaeus, by his freedman Nicostratus, and records that he lived for 22 years, 3 months, 5 days and 3 hours:

Memoriae T. Flavi. T. F. Fab. Athenaei vixit annis XXII menses III dies V horas III Nicostratus. lib.

To the memory of T. Flavius Athenaeus, he lived for 22 years, 3 months, 5 days, 3 hours.  Nicostratus (his) freedman (libertus) (set this up).

But one bit gave me pause: “T.F.Fab.”?  Obviously it is a genetive, positioned before the noun “Athenaei” as is normal.

Latin inscriptions are full of abbreviations, and I never know most of them.  But Google can surprise you sometimes, and I tried googling T. F. Fab.

What I got back did indeed surprise me.  My first result was to a “Collection of pamphlets on the Latin language, volume 10”, page 84 (link).  This seems to be some university library’s collection, and the item is actually an article by C. F. Liebtreu, “Onomastici Romani Specimen”, Neue Jahrbücher für Philologie und Pädagogik, Berlin (1843), p.20.

This showed that in T.F.Fab, we should understand “Fabia tribu”, “from the Fabian tribe”.  This was one of the thirty-five voting tribes into which the Roman people was divided.

My next result was more interesting still: to Robert Ainsworth, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Compendiarus.  At the back of this volume is a series of unnumbered pages containing… Latin inscription abbreviations!  (Link)

“Fab” was confirmed.  Naturally I scrolled down.  And … there was T.F. –

T.F. – meaning

In this context, obviously “Titi filius”, “son of Titus”.  So T. Flavii T.F.Fab. Athenaeii was in fact “of Titus Flavius Athenaeus, son of Titus, from the Fabian voting tribe”.

These few pages must be very useful.  In fact I was rather surprised, on doing a quick Google search, to draw blank for any modern web page.  This does not mean that one does not exist; only that I did not see it.  (Please add any suggestions in the comments)  I was not surprised.

Google is really becoming rather poor as a search engine, rather than a commercial portal.  This was driven home to me last night when I did a vanity search on my own name.  Over the last 23 years I have uploaded thousands of pages to the web which contain my name on them somewhere.  All Google gave me was 8 pages of results, and then finished!  Bing was somewhat better.  But the casual searcher will gain no real idea of the activity I have undertaken.  This is ridiculous.

But at least these older volumes are becoming searchable on Google.  That is indeed a blessing!

Augustine, De divinatione daemonorum / On the divination of demons – now online in English

How is it that demons are able to predict the future, and so support the pagan practices of oracles, soothsaying, and the like?  This question bothered some of those around St Augustine, and he wrote a short treatise to answer it.

It is very well worth reading.  But there is no freely available translation accessible online.  Today I heard from Mattias Gassman, who prepared his own translation of it while a British Academy post-doctoral fellow.  He has kindly made it available here, and also on his own new and interesting blog, Multa Legenda (https://multalegenda.wordpress.com/).  Here are the files:

Dr G. modestly adds that:

…the translation aims rather at literalism than style, though some concessions to ease of reading are inevitable. The target audience are people who want to know what Augustine said, and might be able at least to consult the Latin, even if they cannot really read it.

But it is a very decent bit of work.  Thank you very much!

Illiterate bishops decided the canon of the New Testament! Or did they?

It is often claimed that the canon lists given in the canons of the council of Hippo in 393, and the council of Carthage in 397, in some way created the canon of the New Testament.  This is not the case, and cannot be the case – the lists are merely for local use in deciding what books to read in church.

 But I was intrigued by some comments on the bishops, by none other than Henry Chadwick:[1]

The old bishop of Hippo who had ordained Augustine presbyter feared lest some other church might carry him off to be their bishop. He therefore persuaded the primate of Numidia to consecrate Augustine to be coadjutor bishop of Hippo. The appointment (irregular in canon law) became surrounded by some controversy. The combination of Augustine’s Manichee past and his extreme cleverness helped to make him distrusted. Hippo was not a city where people read books. Numidia was not a province where congregations expected to have a prodigy of intelligence on the episcopal bench. (Augustine noted that illiterate bishops were a favourite butt for the mockery of the half-educated: CR 13.) Augustine’s presence induced apprehension. He was known to be a terror for demolishing opponents in public disputations. Some did not quite believe in the sincerity of his conversion at Milan.

“CR 13” is chapter 13 of De catechizandis rudibus (on the need to instruct newcomers).  But a look at the old English translation online does not really support this, interesting tho it is:

13. There are also some who come from the commonest schools of the grammarians and professional speakers, whom you may not venture to reckon, either among the uneducated, or among those very learned classes whose minds have been exercised in questions of real magnitude.

When such persons, therefore, who appear to be superior to the rest of mankind, so far as the art of speaking is concerned, approach you with the view of becoming Christians, it will be your duty in your communications with them, in a higher degree than in your dealings with those other illiterate hearers, to make it plain that they are to be diligently admonished to clothe themselves with Christian humility, and learn not to despise individuals whom they may discover keeping themselves free from vices of conduct more carefully than from faults of language; and also that they ought not to presume so much as to compare with a pure heart the practised tongue which they were accustomed even to put in preference.

But above all, such persons should be taught to listen to the divine Scriptures, so that they may neither deem solid eloquence to be mean, merely because it is not inflated, nor suppose that the words or deeds of men, of which we read the accounts in those books, involved and covered as they are in carnal wrappings, are not to be drawn forth and unfolded with a view to an (adequate) understanding of them, but are to be taken merely according to the sound of the letter. And as to this same matter of the utility of the hidden meaning, the existence of which is the reason why they are called also mysteries, the power wielded by these intricacies of enigmatical utterances in the way of sharpening our love for the truth, and shaking off the torpor of weariness, is a thing which the persons in question must have made good to them by actual experience, when some subject which failed to move them when it was placed baldly before them, has its significance elicited by the detailed working out of an allegorical sense.

For it is in the highest degree useful to such men to come to know how ideas are to be preferred to words, just as the soul is preferred to the body.

From this, too, it follows that they ought to have the desire to listen to discourses remarkable for their truth, rather than to those which are notable for their eloquence; just as they ought to be anxious to have friends distinguished for their wisdom, rather than those whose chief merit is their beauty.

They should also understand that there is no voice for the ears of God save the affection of the soul. For thus they will not act the mocker if they happen to observe any of the prelates and ministers of the Church either calling upon God in language marked by barbarisms and solecisms, or failing in understanding correctly the very words which they are pronouncing, and making confused pauses.

It is not meant, of course, that such faults are not to be corrected, so that the people may say ‘Amen’ to something which they plainly understand; but what is intended is, that such things should be piously borne with by those who have come to understand how, as in the forum it is in the sound, so in the church it is in the desire that the grace of speech resides. Therefore that of the forum may sometimes be called good speech, but never gracious speech.

Moreover, with respect to the sacrament which they are about to receive, it is enough for the more intelligent simply to hear what the thing signifies. But with those of slower intellect, it will be necessary to adopt a somewhat more detailed explanation, together with the use of similitudes, to prevent them from despising what they see.

This makes no reference to illiterate bishops.  Chadwick was a great scholar, but all of us can fall victim to printer errors.  So what did he have in mind?

The answer seems to be a passage in Monceaux, Histoire littéraire de l’Afrique chrétienne depuis les origines jusqu’à l’invasion arabe, (1901) vol. 4, p.423, here[2].

Des incidents de toute sorte mettent un peu de variété, ou même de gaieté, dans la monotonie des débats. Ce sont les scrupules bouffons des Donatistes, qui refusent de s’asseoir. Ce sont les scènes amusantes ou violentes, auxquelles donne lieu la vérification des signatures: confrontation des évêques d’une même localité, qui se regardent de travers et s’injurient ou s’accusent mutuellement … ou d’ailleurs; attitude piteuse de pauvres prélats qui n’ont pu signer eux-mêmes, ne sachant pas écrire[10]; fréquentes interventions et bavardage d’Aurelius de Macomades,

10) Collat. Carthag., I, 133 : « litteras nesciente ».

Incidents of all sorts brought variety or even gaiety in the monotony of the debates.  There were the idiotic scruples of the Donatists who refused to sit down.  There were amusing or violent scenes, caused by the verification of signatures: the confrontation of bishops belonging to the same place, who stared at each other and mutually insulted or accused…; the pitiful attitude of poor prelates who could not sign themselves, not knowing how to write[10]; the frequent interjections and jokes of Aurelius of Macomades…

This is undoubtedly our source; the reference given is to the Gesta Collationis Carthaginensis (CPL 724), the minutes of the miserable, rigged state-sponsored conference (collatio) of 411 AD between the Catholics, led by Aurelius and Augustine, and the Donatists.  As it happens, a new edition of this text has been published by the CSEL,[3] and a Google Books preview includes page 129, on which the relevant section appears:

Et recitavit: “Qui supra pro Paulino Zurensi praesente litteras nesciente coram viro clarissimo tribuno et notario Marcellino suprascripta mandavi et subscripsi Carthagini.” Quo recitato et accedente episcopo Paulino catholico idem dixit: “Catholica est.” Habetdeum diaconus Primiani episcopi dixit: “Presbyter est illic noster. Diocesis est nostra.”

As the bishops confirmed their signatures, one by one, the poor catholic bishop Paulinus of Zura had to listen to this as it was read out, litteras nesciente, not knowing his letters.

But I didn’t see any other examples.  Was this the only one?

The collatio is unusual because of the verbatim record of the proceedings.  But the same people were at other synods.  It is defensible that some of those attending were illiterate.  But at such proceedings, they must have been very rare indeed.

  1. [1]Augustine: A very short introduction, Oxford (1986) p.68
  2. [2]I owe this reference to Garry Wills, “Augustine’s Hippo: Power Relations (410-417)”, Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Third Series, Vol. 7 (1999), 98-119, JSTOR, p.103.
  3. [3]C. Weidmann (ed.), Collatio Carthaginensis anni 411: Gesta collationis Carthaginensis Augustinus, Breviculus collationis Augustinus, Ad Donatistas post collationem, De Gruyter, 2018.  The Gesta are printed in Serge Lancel, Actes de la Conference de Carthage en 411, 3 vols. (Sources chretiennes 194, 195, and 224) (Paris, 1972 and 1975), in Gesta Conlationis Carthaginensis Anno 411, volume 149A of Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, also edited by Lancel (Turnhout, Belgium, 1974); J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Latina 11.1257- 1418 (Paris, 1844-); and in J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 4.19-246 (Florence, 1739-1798; reprint and continuation: Paris, 1901-1927).

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.