From my diary: more on Ephraem Latinus, “De Beatitudine Animae”

Finding myself slightly at a loose end yesterday, I found myself thinking about Ephraem Latinus.  This is a small collection of sermons in Latin (the so-called “paruum corpus sermonum”), mostly translated from Ephraem Graecus in antiquity.  I thought about making a post on these; and then I discovered that I did just that in 2018, here.

The post suggested that making an electronic text might be a helpful thing to do, and so I thought that  I might give it a go.  I’ve written elsewhere about De beatitudine animae, and so that was the obvious candidate.  The ancient Latin translation is CPL 1143ii.

But where to find a text to transcribe?  These texts have never been edited critically.  The link on my original post suggested only two sources; an incunable by Piscator, and Assemani’s 18th century edition.  But the latter turned out to contain only a modern translation, not the ancient Latin translation.  The incunable certainly had the stuff, and there was a link to the Darmstadt university copy.  But then I found that the online copy was too low a resolution to read!  I dropped a note to Darmstadt – after all nobody can use what they had there – and I got a very quick reply and a zip file of .jpg files in a better resolution.  I was rather impressed with their professionalism.

Here’s the opening portion of the text (ugh!).  Note how “Ca.I” is 4 lines before the first words of the text, “Beatus qui odio”?

Ephrem Syrus, Sermones, ed. Kilianus Fischer (Piscator), Freiburg im Breisgau c. 1491, fol. 12-13v.

But meanwhile I had started to look at manuscripts.  These were mostly in Bavaria, at the BSB library.  Reluctantly I started to transcribe the text from one of them, with some difficulty.  Here’s another, BSB Clm 14364:

Thankfully then I learned of another edition, printed in 1563 by Menchusius.  This was not hard to find, and proved to have the text, in a form that could be OCR’d.  Unfortunately it also contained the long-s – why can’t OCR do this now? – but I could cope with that.  The text has a small amount of abbreviation, but probably not more than I could handle.

Jacobus Menchusius, Opuscula Quaedam Divini Beati Ephraem, Mayer (1563), f.10v f.

That’s a whole lot better to work with.  It did take a little while to OCR and create a basic text of De beatitudine animae.  I then started to compare it to the Piscator edition.  Immediately I saw that the text in Menchusius is divided into 7 chapters, with six unnumbered headings, while Piscator is divided rather confusingly into four.  The manuscripts accessible to me do not seem to have any system of divisions.

The Word document that I now have probably contains some OCR errors, and a few places where I have expanded the abbreviations wrongly or whatever.  So the next stage is to go through it. A spell-check seems indicated, for one thing.  We’ll see!


Letter 43 of the Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I, on translating Greek philosophy into Arabic

The newly discovered text of Porphyry, On Principles and Matter, (see yesterday) is actually mentioned in a letter written by the Nestorian patriarch Timothy I.  I find that an English translation of this exists, by Sebastian Brock, “Two letters of the Patriarch Timothy from the late eighth century on translations from Greek,” in: Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 9 (1999), 233-46, together with a detailed commentary.  The author consulted several manuscripts to correct the text.

We all know that “Greek science comes to us from the Arabs.”  Christians living in the conquered lands were the translators, so it is interesting to see a letter from one of them.  The “king” referred to below is the Abbasid caliph al-Mahdi.  Apparently Syriac texts of this period all use the term “king” for the caliph.


  1.  To the God-loving priest and teacher, Rabban Mar Pethion: Timothy the sinner greets you and hopes to see you.

2.  The royal command required of us to translate the Topika of the philosopher Aristotle from Syriac into the Arabic tongue. This was achieved, with God’s help, through the agency of the teacher Abū Nūh. A small part was done by us as far as the Syriac was concerned, whereas he did it in its entirety, both Syriac and Arabic; the work has already reached a conclusion and has been completed. And although there were some others who were translating this from Greek into Arabic – we have written to inform you how and in what way it happened that all this took place – nevertheless (the king) did not consider it worth even looking at the labours of those other people on the grounds that they were barbaric, not only in phraseology, but also in sense, whether because of the natural difficulty of the subject (hypothesis) – for you are aware of the style (eidos) of the Philosopher in matters of logic, and how and to what extent he infuses obscurity into the beauty of (his) meaning and sense -, or as a result of the lack of training of those who approached such things. For you know the extent and magnitude of the toils (agōnes) and labours such a task requires. But (the king) entirely approved of our labours, all the more so when from time to time he compared the versions with each other.

3.  Let your Eminence sagely ask and enquire whether there is some commentary or scholia by anyone, whether in Syriac or not, to this book, the Topika, or to the Refutation of the Sophists, or to the Rhetorika, or to the Poetika; and if there is, find out by whom and for whom (it was made), and where it is. Enquiries on this should be directed to the Monastery of Mar Mattai – but the enquiries should not be made too eagerly, lest the information, (the purpose of the enquiry) being perceived, be kept hidden, rather than disclosed.

4.  Job the Chalcedonian told me that he has seen a small (number) of scholia on the Topika, but only, he said, on certain chapters. But let your Chastity doubly enquire about scholia or a commentary on these books.

5.  Send us the other volume of Athanasius, so that we can copy it out. We have the first. I think the translation is by Paula, for on the title (kephalaion) of the book the following is inscribed: ‘First volume (pinakidion) of the holy God-clothed Gregory the Theologian, which the Abbas Mar Paula translated from Greek into Syriac in the island of Cyprus’. The revision, so it says, is by Athanasius. So much for this.

6.  Search out, too, for the treatises on the natural principles (lit. heads) of bodies, written by someone of the Platonic school (dogma); it begins: ‘Concerning the natural principle of bodies some have said…’. The first treatise gives the opinion of all the earlier philosophers and sets out the Ideas (ideai) and Platonic Forms. The second treatise begins by speaking of matter (hylē), species (eidos) and negation, following Aristotelian teaching (dogma). (The author) deals with it in five sections, but the treatise is incomplete. Search out to see if these treatises can be found – both what remains from the second treatise, and the rest of what follows on from these.

7.  Search out for a work by a certain philosopher called Nemesius, on the structure of man, which begins: ‘Man is excellently constructed as a rational soul and body…’. He brings the subject to an end in roughly five sections; at the end he promises to deal with the soul, but this second part is missing.

8.  Please search out and copy for us Dionysius in the translation of Athanasius or that of Phokas.

9.  Peace to you and to all the brethren.

The reference to the Porphyry text is in section 6, and this was of course opaque to Dr B. back in 1999.  He tells us that “Job the Chalcedonian” was the Melkite patriarch Job.  “Athanasius” is not the famous bishop of Alexandria but Athanasius II of Balad, the monophysite patriarch who revised an existing translation by Paul of Edessa (“Paula”) into Syriac of the homilies of Gregory Nazianzen (“Gregory the Theologian”).  The same Athanasius and also translated ps.Dionysius the Areopagite, whose translation was itself revised by Phocas of Edessa.  The latter version is still preserved in a number of Syriac manuscripts.  The Nemesius text is De natura hominis (CPG 3550), but only fragments of the Syriac version survive.  The still famous monastery of Mar Mattai near Mosul was then and still is a monophysite monastery.  It was evidently well-stocked with books.  Timothy, as patriarch of the the rival Nestorians, had to conceal that he was the originator of the enquiry.

The letters of Timothy I have all been edited with German translation in the magnificent CSCO series by M. Heimgartner (list of volumes).  The relevant volume is M. Heimgartner, Die Briefe 42 – 58 des Ostsyrischen Patriarchen Timotheos I, CSCO 644 and 645, Peeters (2012).  Sadly I was unable to access this volume, however, but no doubt a PDF exists somewhere.


A lost Greek philosophical text rediscovered in Syriac: Porphyry’s “On Principles and Matter”

The discovery of a lost text from ancient times is not something that happens every day.  Obviously it’s exciting when it does!  Strangely a recent discovery seems to have passed mostly unnoticed.

The text in question is On Principles and Matter, a text written by none other than the famous Porphyry, the late 3rd century neoplatonist philosopher.  He was a disciple of Plotinus, whose Isagoge (Introduction to Logic) was translated into every ancient language.  He is also known as the author of a lost text against the Christians.

The original Greek remains lost, but the work was discovered in a Syriac translation by researcher Yuri Arzhanov of the University of Salzburg.  It then turned out that the Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I (778-820 AD) references the work in his Letter 43.

The manuscript was discovered at Deir al-Surian (= “Monastery of the Syrians”), the famous monastery in the Nitrian desert that preserved an enornous haul of Syriac literature, brought to England in 1842 by Archdeacon Tattam.  In recent years there has been a Polish mission at work at the monastery, sponsored by the Levantine Foundation (website seems to be down).  A catalogue of the 48 manuscripts (mostly a single quire) and fragments (some 200+) was published in 2014 by Sebastian Brock and Lucas Van Rompay.[1]  This was inaccessible to me, but thankfully Syriacist Grigory Kessel published a review which is accessible on his Academia page here.  This review tells us quite a bit:

Regrettably, the authors do not give any further information on the history of the remaining Syriac manuscripts. According to Murad Kamil, the manuscripts in fact were found during restoration works (“a few years ago Anba Tawfilus, the bishop of the monastery, when he was repairing a wall, found a case with a number of Syriac mss”). …

Frgm. 27 belongs to the famous codex BL Add. 12150, the oldest dated Syriac manuscript (411); Frgm. 9 comes from the Codex Curetonianus (BL Add. 14451), one of the two known manuscripts of the Old Syriac Gospels; and Frgm. 8 belongs to BL Add. 14528, an early list of biblical lessons. As far as the Patristic texts are concerned, Frgm. 4 belongs to BL Add. 14552, a unique witness of the Homilies on Luke by Cyril of Alexandria. Frgm. 7 once formed a part of BL Add. 12159, which contains the Cathedral Homilies of Severus of Antioch. Two flyleaves attached to the manuscripts Syr. 1, Syr. 9 and Syr. 31 turn out to derive from BL Add. 17270, our only witness of a commentary on the works of Mark the Solitary presumably written by Babai the Great (the text remains unedited).

Murad Kamil was a Coptic scholar who visited the monastery in 1951, and drew up a list of the manuscripts there, but never published it.

The Porphyry text is found in MS. Deir al-Surian Syr. 27, which contains a number of other texts. Our text is given there without author or title.  However the author calls himself a disciple of Longinus and Plotinus, and comparison with extant fragments of Porphyry leaves no doubt as to the author.  The title is modern.  At least one scholar has wondered whether it is, in fact, not a separate work, but a portion of Porphyry’s lost commentary on Plato’s Timaeus.

A scribal note at the bottom of f.111r indicates that the manuscript was given to the monastery by Abraham b. Zur`a, when he was Coptic patriarch between 975-8 AD.   The patriarch must have brought a number of Syriac manuscripts with him to Egypt.

Dr Arzhanov published the Syriac text with an English translation: Yury Arzhanov, Porphyry, ‘On Principles and Matter’: A Syriac Version of a Lost Greek Text with an English Translation, Introduction, and Glossaries, DeGruyter (2021).  Series: Scientia Graeco-Arabica 34.  It is currently accessible on here.

Dr A. also edited a volume of papers about the discovery: Yury Arzhanove (ed.), Porphyry in Syriac: The Treatise ‘On Principles and Matter’ and its place in the Greek, Latin, and Syriac philosophical traditions, DeGruyter (2024).  From the introduction:

In 2021, a previously unknown work by Porphyry of Tyre (d. 301/305 AD) preserved in a Syriac translation was made available to historians of philosophy (Arzhanov 2021). The treatise, which has come down to us without any title, was published as On Principles and Matter (abbreviated as PM). This text not only enlarges our knowledge of the legacy of the most prominent disciple of Plotinus but also serves as an important witness to Platonist discussions of first principles and of Plato’s concept of prime matter in the Timaeus, since it contains extensive quotations from Middle Platonist philosophers (e.g., Atticus and Severus).

Soon after the edition of the PM, Alexandra Michalewski published a review of it in the journal Etudes platoniciennes (Michalewski 2022), stressing the importance of the newly discovered text both for our understanding of Porphyry’s views and for our knowledge of the Middle Platonist interpretation of Plato’s Timaeus. In addition, the French scholar pointed out the similarity between some portions of the PM and the final part (De Silua) of the commentary on the Timaeus composed in Latin in the fourth century AD by Calcidius (see Michalewski 2022, §§19–21). The close proximity between the published Syriac treatise and the Latin text of Calcidius has been established independently by Michael Chase (see his chapter in the present volume).

Parallels between the treatise preserved in Syriac translation and the Latin text of Calcidius turn out to be one of the most important keys to our interpretation of the PM. These parallels further strengthen the attribution of the original Greek text that underlies the PM to Porphyry, since scholars long assumed that the section De Silua in Calcidius’ commentary depended on a work of Plotinus’ disciple. In addition, a number of publications which appeared after the edition of 2021 made apparent the value of the quotations from other philosophers (which mostly belong to the period of Middle Platonism) preserved in the PM (Ge 2022).

The work itself is philosophy, which will appeal mainly to specialists.  But all the same, it is wonderful to have a bit more of antiquity.

  1. [1]Brock, Sebastian, and Lucas Van Rompay, Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts and Fragments in the Library of Deir al-Surian, Wadi al-Natrun (Egypt), Peeters (2014).

Moses the Black: A Fake Quote?

The following quotation has begun to spread online through “quotation” websites:

You fast, but Satan does not eat. You labor fervently, but Satan never sleeps. The only dimension with which you can outperform Satan is by acquiring humility, for Satan has no humility. – Saint Moses the Black.

Indeed this was posted on Twitter yesterday, with the comment: “An absolute banger of a quote from Moses the Black.”  The source is the OurChurchSpeaks site, also on Instagram.

But is it genuine?

Moses the Black, also known as Moses the Robber, is one of the Desert Fathers who appears in the various collections of sayings and lives.

The Apothegmata Patrum collection exists in two versions, the “alphabetical” collection, and the “systematic” collection (there is a third version, of anonymous sayings, known as the “anonymous” collection).  The “alphabetical” collection was translated by Sr Benedicta Ward, “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers – The Alphabetical Collection” (1984), and Moses the Black is on p.138-143.  But this contains nothing like our quotation.

The “Systematic” collection was translated by John Wortley, The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Systematic Collection, (2012).  This contains a number of sayings by Moses the Black, but not ours.

The “Anonymous” collection was also translated by John Wortley, The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Cambridge (2013).  The section on humility does not contain our saying.

The “Lausiac History” of Palladius also devotes a section to Moses the Black, here known as Moses the Ethiopian.  The ACW 34 (1965) translation gives this on pp.67-70.  But this too contains nothing like our quotation.

This raises questions about whether the saying is authentic.

A search in Google Books produces no results.  This is surprising, because books of sayings and quotations are in there.  It tends to suggest that this is a very recent coinage, and from an online source.

A Google search using a custom date range produced decent results only from 2022 onwards.  There were a few hits before then, but these seemed in fact to date later or otherwise be illusory.

In the absence of definite evidence, I would recommend caution.  But it looks like a fake quote.

Update: My thanks to Dr Sever Voicu who points out in the comments that this is indeed a saying of the desert fathers, although not attributed to Moses the Black.  It can be found in the “Systematic Collection”, chapter 17, paragraph 32, and is translated by John Wortley thus:

32. The fathers used to say, “The devil can imitate everything. As for fasting, he never ate; as for watching, he never slept. But humble-mindedness and love he cannot imitate. So let there be a great effort on our part to have love within us and to hate pride, through which the devil fell out of heaven.” – John Wortley, p.308.

So the saying is authentic – obviously paraphrased slightly – but the attribution is not.

Thank you, Dr V.!

I had forgotten, but I found that in 2018 I wrote a bibliographical post on the various collections of sayings.  It’s here.


From My Diary

It’s almost midsummer, and the weather is definitely settling into hotter weather.  The brightness, the intensity of the sun, gives energy and we all start rushing about.  I’ve been in my garage, pulling stuff out on to the driveway, and throwing things away, donating others, and repacking.  There is little urge to sit in front of a screen.  This morning I walked along the promenade by the sea in my shirt, with no coat.  It’s important to get away from the web.

I have a couple of folders on my desktop seeking attention.  The first is a folder on Homer.  I’ve been trying to get a feel for the text tradition.  It is remarkable how some obvious questions do not seem to be answered, despite the voluminous literature.  I’d like to know when the first quotation from Homer is recorded in some other writer.  A simple question; but I have yet to discover the answer.  Surely there are lists of testimonia?

The second is a folder on the Easter Bunny, started in April, it seems.  I think it can wait.

The third is a link to my Eutychius working directory, with the materials to revise my translation of that Arabic Christian author.  At the moment I do not feel drawn to it.

I did look at Bar Hebraeus, Book of the Dynasties.  There is an 18th century German translation, printed in the Fraktur typeface.  But if you go to Google Books and display text rather than the page, Google Chrome will automatically turn the result into quite passable English.  I don’t know that the world needs me to labour through this stuff.

I have a folder in my email with ideas for blog posts; and another for material connected to Mithras, for upload.  Neither appeals at the moment.

So I do nothing, and instead I fritter my time away.  But it is summer, so maybe that’s allowed.  I feel a bit stale, and it’s probably time for a holiday.

In fact I hope to go away for a week in a month or so, which should provide a much-needed break.  I’m also mulling over a short trip – perhaps a couple of days – that I would like to do by myself to look at a medieval site.

A link tells me about a city-tour of Istanbul in September.  That would be nice to do, although the prices are rather frightful, and I am not quite sure that my other half is fit enough to do it.  It is generally best to visit such exotic places with a tour, however.  You get much the best rooms, rather than the worst. This knowledge brings back a few memories for me, indeed.

My parents once visited Rome independently.  On arrival they were put into a terrible room at their pricey hotel.  My mother was reduced to tears.  The reason for this poor room was that a tour had co-opted all the best rooms.  But the tour departed the following morning.  Thankfully the management took pity on the old couple and moved them to a good room with a view of St Peters.  That brightened their mood greatly; and then they walked down into the ancient centre, and walked, and walked all the way from the Borghese Gardens to the Vatican.  Such was the charm of the city upon my generally frail mother, that she wore out my father in walking.  In the end they had an excellent time, and they remembered their visit to Rome all their lives.  They always intended to return, but sadly never did.  But they fell into this trap which awaits the independent traveller.

The same practice of preferring tour guests to everyone else also applies in other countries.  I stayed away from home a lot during my working life.  In one hotel in Cambridge, where I was staying for several months on  business, I witnessed the same phenomenon.  All the best rooms – the ones you could get some sleep in – were on the fifth floor.  Needless to say, I had arranged with the staff to stay in the same room each week upon that floor.  But if a tour party came in, I sometimes had to hustle a bit to get my room!  Tours are big money.  But I made sure that the staff were on my side.

There’s no point wishing that things was otherwise.  The hotel business must work like this.  After all, the hotel staff see the tour representative every week, and although the tour members may be strangers, they know that the tour rep has real spending power.  A solo traveller or couple arriving for a one-off couple of nights may be treated as they please.  This fact explains some of the worst hotel reviews on TripAdvisor.

I always found that it was advisable to make friends with the hotel reception staff.  I always used to go and chat to them a little, and make sure that I wasn’t just another face.  They are, after all, the people upon whom you will rely if anything goes wrong.  And sometimes it does go wrong.  I remember checking into a hotel once and discovering that my booking for that week had vanished.  And not just my booking: all the bookings for that week had miscarried, and so other people had been booked in!  But I had arrived early on the Monday, before anyone else – always a good idea -, and I was there every week, and the staff knew me.  With a wink they gave me my usual room, and they booted someone else, some unknown stranger who had been assigned my room and was yet to arrive.  A little later I came down to reception where there was a huge queue of tired and frustrated businessmen, all with the same problem.  I came back to the hotel a couple of hours later and the queue was still there.  But I, their friendly regular visitor, whom they saw every week, had got my room.

Likewise it’s worth staying in better hotels, especially in the Middle East.  Things go wrong, even in the best hotels.  But the staff are embarrassed, and they will try to fix things and help you out.  Just don’t shout, and keep smiling, and they will keep trying.  In lesser hotels your query will be met with a shrug and a look of “what do you expect in a dump like this?”

There is something to be said for a tour where you only stay in a hotel for a night or two, and are then off to some other point of interest.  Even if something goes wrong, you only must endure it for a night or two.

I suppose all this is the musings of a man who spent twenty years on the road from Monday to Friday, and learned how to manage.  Most hotels are awful.  Coming home can be the nicest part of the holiday!


Eostre in a manuscript of Bede’s De ratione temporum in Berlin

Chapter 15 of Bede’s De ratione temporum, written in 723 AD, is headed “De mensibus Anglorum” – About the Months of the English – and contains fascinating details of the Old English months.  Most famous of these is April, known as Eosturmonath in Anglosaxon, and derived from an otherwise unknown goddess Eostre, which is the origin of our English-only word “Easter.”  Easter is called passover (pasch) in most languages, however, which seems to surprise many.  I have written about this passage before here.

Yesterday I learned via Twitter that a manuscript of this work has newly appeared online.  This one is in Berlin, in the Staats Bibliothek, and has the shelfmark “Ms. Phill. 1832.”  I think it must be 9th century. That shelfmark tells us that this is one of the vast and improbable collection amassed by the bibliomaniac Phillips at Cheltenham, some of which were bought at auction by the Germans.

I don’t tend to think of German manuscripts when I think of online manuscripts.  But this is really a very fine example of how to place a manuscript online.  Here’s the link to the page.  And you can download the whole thing as a PDF, at various resolutions.  Interestingly the online image zooms in to a higher resolution still, which is very helpful for marginal notes.  in fact the online browser is rather good.  You can maximise the image full-screen too.  It’s all fairly obvious and intuitive.

In fact I’m rather impressed by the “Digitalisierte Sammlungen der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.”  You go to the home page, and you can switch it into English very nicely.  The search box actually works.  I tried entering “Beda”, and got stuff; and then some very nice tabs on the right to restrict the results to manuscripts, and how many.  I tried again with “Vita Sanctorum” and likewise got good things.  I tried looking for the Life of St Nicholas that I knew was there, and found it.  I tried a partial shelfmark, and found it.  Really very good!  What I cannot see, tho, is any way to browse the collection.  It ought to have a list of collections (fonds), and a list by shelfmark of the mss within each.  In the way that the Wiglaf site does.  Another marvel – every page shows a yellow “feedback” tab on the right, so I’ve written and suggested it!

I’ve already downloaded a copy, and added a bookmark to the page that I want in case I need to come back to this later.  It’s folio 27r.  Here’s the start of the chapter:

Berlin MS Phill. 1832, fol. 27r: beginning of chapter 15 of Bede, de ratione temporum

On the next page we find the famous passage about Eostre:

Berlin MS Phill. 1832, fol. 27r: end of chapter 15 of Bede, de ratione temporum, with mention of Eosturmonath

Interestingly someone has written “April” over “Eusturmonath.”  As a reminder:

Eosturmonath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cujus nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquae observationis voca­bulo gaudia novae solemnitalis vocantes.

Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘‘Paschal month’’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by its name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.  (Faith Wallis translation with correction as here).

Note also that the name of the goddess is “Eostre.”  It is curious how often and how pompously it is given as “Ēostre” online, when no source adds any such marker.

It’s still simply wonderful to see these things appear online!


St Petroc: the hagiographical sources

Tuesday 4th June was the day on which the Catholic church commemorates the Celtic saint, St Petroc; or “Saint Petroc’s Day,” as we say in English.  He belongs to the 6th century, and churches dedicated to St Petroc appear in Cornwall, Devon, and into Somerset, the area of the sub-Roman kingdom of Dumnonia.

In  honour of the day, I thought that it might be useful to give a list of the literary sources for his “Life”.  They tell us nothing about 6th century conditions, but rather about the cult of Petroc in the medieval period.

The Vita S. Petroci exists in two basic versions, known as the “first life” and the “second life.”   While these originated in England, the destruction of the monasteries under Henry VIII resulted in a vast loss of manuscripts relating to Cornish history, including all copies of the Life of St Petroc.  The surviving manuscripts all come from Brittany, although St Petroc was really not much venerated there.

The first life is listed in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, which lists two versions of it.

  • Vita S. Petroci (1) = BHL 6639.  This was probably composed at Bodmin in the 11th century.  The Latin text is found complete in MS Paris lat. 9889 (online catalogue here, but not itself online), on folios 142r-150r.  This is a 16th century manuscript from the abbey of Saint-Méen in Brittany, and in incomplete form in 3 other manuscripts from the same area.  The Latin text was printed for the first time in 1959 by Paul Grosjean, who gave a critical edition of it in Analecta Bollandiana.[1]  A loose English translation was made twenty years earlier by Gilbert Doble in a pamphlet in his Cornish Saints series, and this in turn was translated into French.
  • BHL 6640.  This is an abbreviation of BHL 6639, made by John of Tynmouth from a now lost manuscript in England, and printed in Capgrave’s Nova Legenda Angliae, (ed. Horstmann, vol. 2, 317-20).  This was reprinted by the Bollandists in the Acta Sanctorum for June, vol. 1, p.400-401 (393-3 in rev. ed.)

The “second life” only became known in the 20th century.  It seems to be a longer version of the first life, probably composed in the 12th century.  It is preserved in a single manuscript about which I have written before, Gotha Memb. I 81, together with three other texts.  Grosjean printed a critical edition of them all[2], and Doble gave a translation of some important passages from the second life where it differs from the first life.  The Gotha manuscript was briefly online, but does not seem to be there now.  Here are the items contained in it:

  • Vita S. Petroci (2), on fols. 136v-143; Grosjean edition pp.145-165.
  • Vita Metrica S. Petroci, on fol. 143-4; Grosjean pp.166-171.
  • Miracula S. Petroci, on fols. 144-5; Grosjean p.171-174.
  • De reliquarum furto (on the theft of the relics), on fols. 144v-148; Grosjean p.174-188.  This is the interesting story of how a disaffected monk stole the relics from Bodmin and took them to the abbey of Saint-Méen in Brittany.  The monks of Bodmin appealed to King Henry II, who ensured their return to Cornwall.
  • Genealogiae, the genealogy of the saint, on fol. 148; Grosjean p.188.
Gotha Ms, folio 136v, the beginning of the Vita Petroci (2)

Interestingly on p.317 of Capgrave there is a note “abbreviated from the Life quoted by Leland Itinerary viii 52,” suggesting that Leland had seen a manuscript of the second Life.  I must look at this sometime.

  1. [1]P. Grosjean, “Vies et miracles de S. Petroc II: le dossier de Saint-Méen,” in: Analecta Bollandiana 74 (1956), p.470-96.
  2. [2]P. Grosjean, “Vies et miracles de S. Petroc I: le dossier de manuscript de Gotha,” in: Analecta Bollandiana 74 (1956), p.131-88.

“Where is Bede? Why is he not here?” – A saying of Bede recorded by Alcuin

May 25 is the feast day of the Venerable Bede, the Anglosaxon scholar monk of the early 8th century, who lived and died at the double monastery of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow in Northumberland.  I happened to see a quotation in a tweet by Fr. Luke Childs here, taken from the new St. Bernard Breviary, although the original source was not given:

I know that angels visit the canonical hours and the congregations of the brethren.  What if they do not find me among the brethren?  May they not say, Where is Bede?

It’s obviously an attractive volume.  But where do these words come from?

It’s not hard to discover that the speaker is Alcuin, say from this page at the CCEL.  But this also gives no reference.  A somewhat longer quotation appears in the Liverpool University Press Bede: A Biblical Miscellany (1999), p.xix.

It is said that our master and your patron, the blessed Bede, said, “I know that angels visit the canonical hours and the meetings of the brethren. What if they should not find me there among them? Will they not say, “Where is Bede? Why does he not come to the devotions prescribed for the brethren?”

The source is listed as an Epistola sanctissimis in Sancti Petri ecclesia fratribus, which tells the novice nothing. Curiously this is referenced, not to an edition of the works of Alcuin, but instead to A.W. Haddan and W. Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 3, Oxford (1871), p.470-1 (online here).  This in turn gives the Latin text, and references it as:

[Alcuin, Epistt., ed. Froben, no. 219; MS. Harl. 208, fo. 30]

Which is a frankly terrifying reference, suggesting a 16th century edition and a manuscript.  The footnotes are more useful, suggesting that the letter was addressed to the church of St Peter at Wearmouth.  It also notes that the letter contains a reference to the sack of Lindisfarne in 793.  This probably dates the letter to that year, since Wearmouth was itself destroyed by the Vikings the following year.

I have given this useless and frustrating paper-chase in full, because it seems clear that neither editor knew how to locate the letters of Alcuin and give a proper reference.  Possibly a future researcher, googling, may find these useless “references” here, and find relief.

Abandoning this approach, instead I took these few words of the Latin, “Scio angelos visitare canonicas horas,” from the Latin text given by Haddan and Stubbs, and started google searching, and at  once found useful material.

It seems that the letters of Alcuin were actually given a critical edition long ago.  There is no need to locate whatever 16th century Froben edition is referred to. Indeed I was quite unable to do so myself.

The letters may be found in Migne, in the Patrologia Latina 100, “epistolae”, beginning on column 133.  Migne reprints Froben’s preface, in fact.  In Migne our letter is epistola 16, to be found in cols. 167-8.  A transcription of the text is online at Wikisource here.

Fertur enim magistrum nostrum et vestrum patronum beatum dixisse Bedam: «Scio angelos visitare canonicas horas et congregationes fraternas; quid si ibi me non inveniunt inter fratres? Nonne dicere habent, ubi est Beda? Quare non venit ad adorationes statutas cum fratribus?»

But the critical edition is that of E. L. Dümmler, Epistolae Karolini Aevi vol. ii, in: MGH Epp. 4, Berlin (1895). This may be found online here.  In this edition the letter is Epistola 284, which may be found on p.442-3.  The section we want is p.443 lines 7-10.

The varied numbers seem to be a feature of the editions.  Dümmler indeed gives a look-up table in his preface, indicating that his “284” was “274” in Jaffé’s edition (Monumenta Alcuiniana, 1873), and “219” in Froben’s.  I was unable to locate, in Dümmler’s less-than-organised preface, any date for the edition of Froben, without translating the lot!


From my diary

In my last post I summarised as best I could the textual tradition of Plato, much of it from Pasquali’s Storia, written in 1934 (!).  After that, I returned to Pasquali, to see whether any other useful summaries of textual traditions lay hidden therein.  Sadly “hidden” is the right word.  The book is divided into sections, and the sections into chapters, and neither indicates the gold buried within.  The material about Plato was in one of those chapters.

The chapter itself was divided into 13 sub-sections, each headed only with a numeral.  One of these gave the tradition of Plato, but if I had not known that it was there, I should not have known.  Each sub-section was itself divided into sub-sub-sections, separated only by three asterisks.  In fact the sub-sub-sections formed a pattern; stuff in the manuscripts, stuff in commentaries, etc.  But no titles or marginalia indicated this.  This is very hard on a non-Italian speaker.

Worse yet, while each sub-section is indeed concerned with an author, such as Plato, or Homer, the reader must read almost a paragraph of piffle before any name is mentioned.  Three of these mention some other author first, just to confuse.

It is really important, when writing something intended for more than one language group, to provide an apparatus of headings and numberings allowing the reader to find what he is looking for!

Since then I have been reading into the textual transmission of Homer.  The sheer quantity of talk is extraordinary, and most of it inward-looking.

I was amused by some words of T. W. Allen, Homer: The Origins and the Transmission (1924), online here, whose edition of the text is still fundamental.  Page 6:

The removal of ‘literature’ and the neglect of the principles of investigation imposed upon us these hundred years has led with me to remarkable results, namely the discredit of contemporary method and the rehabilitation of tradition. With whatever refraction and inaccuracy classical and mediaeval mentality present to us the ancient world, the image produced by modern philological method is more distorted, and is in fact in most cases completely false. The reasoning applied to ancient records in the last hundred years is not only baseless, but it has cumbered the old world with lumber which makes the study of it a difficult and certainly most tedious matter. The repulsive jargon in which ancient history and literary criticism are conveyed, the narrow outlook, low vision and ignorance of human nature and the human mind—its working and possibilities— have turned classical philology into ridicule.

A century later, the same might be said again, I suspect.  Indeed another scholar writing a couple of decades ago suggested that there is no such thing as “Homer”, only a mass of oral material more or less edited ad hoc by persons unknown in antiquity.  From the lofty heights of his ivory tower, so far up in the clouds that the ground is no longer visible, he actually mocked a fellow scholar for expressing concern about whether we lose our Homer altogether in all this learned hairsplitting.  It did not seem to occur to this gentleman, in his privileged little world, that somebody has to pay for his ivory tower, and that this someone might rather object to paying for the privileged to study something that doesn’t actually exist.  The job of the text critic is to heal the text, not destroy it.

There is a persistent lack of reference to the primary facts about the tradition in much of what I have read so far.  This is not a good sign, in my experience.  Whatever we say about antiquity must be grounded in that data.


How did the works of Plato reach us? – The textual tradition of the dialogues

Plato’s works have reached us in medieval handwritten copies, the earliest written around 900 AD. The dialogues are arranged into nine groups of four dialogues, or “tetralogies.”[1] These give us the works in complete form, from direct copying down the centuries. But there are also surviving fragments of ancient copies on papyrus, found in rubbish dumps in Egypt where the climate is dry, which sometimes give a better reading in this passage or that, where the text has become corrupt in the centuries. Plato also is quoted at great length by other ancient authors, and sometimes these also have readings to contribute. Finally there are ancient translations of Plato into other languages.

The witnesses to the direct tradition, the medieval manuscript copies, are very numerous; more so than for any of the Greek classics other than Homer. One article suggests at least 250 manuscripts survive[2]; and a search of the Pinakes database gave 439.[3] Most are merely copies of other manuscripts, so it is important to identify the primary manuscripts.

The 19th century study of the transmission of the text proved to be unsound, and the whole task had to be started again just before WW1. In 1959 Dodds could write that critical work on the text is still in its early stages, and that, for the first 7 tetralogies, nobody could say how many of the manuscripts were primary – based on no other manuscript – or how they related to each other, or to the secondary manuscripts. And why? Because scholars lacked accurate collations of the manuscripts. Indeed the collations that were available proved to be full of errors.[4]

Key Medieval Manuscripts [5]

For the text of individual dialogues additional manuscripts are important, but these are the main ones for the tradition as a whole.

B – Oxford, Bodleian, E. D. Clarke 39 (= “Clarkianus”). The oldest extant witness. Written in 895 AD by “John the Calligrapher” for Arethas of Caesarea, according to a subscriptio. It contains the first 6 tetralogies, and never contained more. It was probably the first volume of a two-volume Plato. It was discovered in 1801, lying on the floor of the monastery of St John the Apostle on Patmos, and Clark purchased it. By looking at medieval catalogues of the monastery library, it seems that the monastery acquired it sometime between 1201 and 1355, and it remained largely unknown thereafter. It’s not clear that any other manuscript derives from it. B is online here:

The top of the first page of B – Bodleian MS E. D. Clarke 39, folio 1r.

A – Paris, BNF graecus 1807. Ca. 900 AD. Today contains only the 8th and 9th tetralogies, and the Spuria. Probably the second volume of a two-volume set. Not online. Online here.

T – Venice, Marcianus Append. Class. 4. 1. Copy of A. Written by Ephraim Monachus ca. 950.[6] It contains the first 7 tetralogies and part of the 8th, although this may be copied from elsewhere. At the end of the 7th tetralogy is a note indicated the “end of volume 1”; again it must be descended from a two volume medieval Plato. Probably copied from A when it was complete. B and T have some links, possibly because an ancestor of one was corrected from the other. T is online here:

W – Vienna suppl. phil. gr. 7. 12th century? Contains tetralogies 1-3, and then the dialogues of 4 to 7 in a jumbled order. It is independent of B and T. It was probably acquired in Greece or Sicily in the 14th century by Nerio Acciaiauoli, passed in 1478 to the Certose near Florence, and in 1725 to Vienna. W is online here:

D – Venetus 185 (Coll. 576). 12th century. Once belonged to Bessarion. Seems to be independent of A. For the first 4 tetralogies is closely related to B, but not derived from it.[7]

B, A/T, D, W form a family of closely related manuscripts. Manuscript F is from a very different family.

F – Vienna suppl. phil. gr. 39. 13th century. It contains the dialogues from tetralogy VI.3 (Gorgias) to IX.1 (Minos). From a different family to B, A/T and W. Its readings often agree with the quotations in Stobaeus and Eusebius, whether the reading is authentic or corrupt. Some of its errors are explicable if the scribe copied directly from a manuscript written in an uncial hand, i.e. an ancient manuscript, with no word division and limited punctuation. This is confirmed by the papyri which demonstrate that the F text-type goes back at least to the second century AD. This is unique among the mss of Plato. Dodds estimates from the probably dimensions of the exemplar that it may have been a “cheap papyrus code which was manufactured in quantity in and after the third century A.D.” and represents “the ‘commercial’ texts which circulated among the reading public rather than the more scholarly editions,” complete with vulgarisations.

The tradition of the ninth and final tetralogy is somewhat different from the others, and manuscripts of it are less common. All the manuscripts, including the 11th century Armenian translation of its first two dialogues (Minos and the Laws), derive from a manuscript equipped with variants, reproduced rather faithfully. This may be an ancient manuscript, or more likely a Byzantine transliteration of the 9th century.

The Papyri

No ancient copies of any work of Plato have reached us. But small fragments of such copies do survive: little scraps of papyrus found in the ancient rubbish dumps of deserted cities in Egypt. The database lists 95 papyrus fragments, although this is a mere handful compared to the number of papyri of Homer. The oldest four fragments date from the first part of the 3rd century BC: a scrap of the Phaedo, Laches, Sophist, and an epistle. But the vast majority date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, including a long section of the Symposium (P.Oxy. 843, 2nd c.), and the numerous and long fragments of the Phaedrus.

Pasquali wrote, “There was much discussion about the value of those papyri [the 3rd c. BC Phaedo and Laches] immediately after their discovery: now the general opinion is clear. They provide an apparently careless text: there are frequent spelling errors and negligent mistakes, such as arbitrary and impossible shifts of words, none of which is surprising in private copies; nor do they lack small lacunae. All this matters very little if a solid foundation can be glimpsed through the damaged surface. And for the most part they are like this: the Laches papyrus contains only 189d -192a, yet it greatly improves our text.”

The Indirect Tradition

The text of Plato is quoted in a number of ancient authors. These quotations are extensive; between a quarter and a half of some dialogues are quoted. The most important source is Stobaeus Anthology, and then Eusebius Praeparatio Evangelica. Other authors quoting more than a page of the Greek text are Iamblichus, Galen, Theodoret, Theon Smyrnaeus, Clement, Justin Martyr, John Philoponus, and Athenaeus. [8] The quotations are of the greatest value for the transmission of the text. In some cases they preserve the correct reading where the entire direct tradition has been corrupted.[9]

Commentaries on Plato

Another witness to the text is ancient commentaries, in which that text is quoted and discussed. The oldest commentaries on Plato are lost, but a great number of neoplatonist commentaries survive from the 5th century AD, including works by Hermias, Proclus, Olympiodorus and Damascius, together with a 6th century fragment of a commentary on the Parmenides preserved in a palimpsest from Bobbio. The commentaries are often little more than student notes, but each note is often preceded by a lemma, i.e. a word or extract from Plato. While in theory these might have been modified themselves from later copies of the text, it has been shown that the lemmata in Proclus’ Commentary on the Timaeus must be as Proclus saw them, because his comments rely upon them being as they are.

There is also a papyrus of the 2nd century AD containing a commentary on a long stretch of the Theatetus. The work was probably composed not long before.


Further remains of ancient commentaries survive in the scholia in the margins of manuscripts of the BWT family. There are two sets. The first were entered in B by the hand of Arethas of Caesarea, the “Arethae scholia”. These are most abundant for the Gorgias and the Theatetus. The other set of scholia were added later to B in another hand, and also appear in T, and often in W. These have been called “scholia vetera,” although there is no evidence that they are earlier than the others. Neither set is very useful for textual questions, except occasionally.


Plato wrote in Greek, but in antiquity and later translations were made into other languages.

Cicero made a Latin translation of the Timaeus, and elsewhere in his works he quotes and translates many other passages of Plato, often at some length. In the 4th century AD Chalcidius translated into Latin the first part of the Timaeus and commented upon it. He dedicated it to a certain “Osius” who may have been bishop Hosius of Cordova. This translation passed into medieval Latin libraries, and influenced Dante. Both translations are preserved in manuscripts of the 9th century and later.[10]

Translations from Greek were made into Coptic, Middle Persian and Armenian. A fragment of a Coptic translation of the Republic 588b1-589b3 is preserved in codex VI of the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic texts. The translation is of very poor quality, and initally went unrecognised. Agathias (Hist. II 29, 1-2) tells us that some Greek works were translated into Middle Persian for Chosroes I, and that he was especially interested in Plato and Aristotle, so probably Plato was among them. In Armenian translation the Timaeus, Euthyphro, Apology, Minos, and 12 books of the Laws have been preserved in a manuscript in the Mechitarist monastery in Venice. A translation of the Phaedo is lost. The translations may be the work of a Magister Gregorius (ca. 990-ca.1058), although others have argued for a 6th century date for the translation of the Timaeus. The translation is very literal, and seems to be based on a older text of the A-family.

Some researchers have suggested that Hunain ibn Ishaq translated the Republic into Arabic.[11] Several Arabic authors tell us that the Timaeus and other dialogues were translated into Arabic in the 9-10th century. Knowledge of Plato in medieval Arabic authors seems to derive from summaries made in Arabic or translated into Arabic.[12]

Dodd’s stemma for the Gorgias.

Analysis of the Medieval Manuscripts

The medieval manuscripts share certain characteristics. All of them derive from the collection of tetralogies known in antiquity, and other orders of the text are all secondary. They also share some obvious, and mostly unfixable, corruptions: doubled readings, rare interpolations, even rarer lacunae. It is clear that they all derive from a common ancestor.

But how old was this common ancestor? It must predate the invention of minuscule bookhand ca. 900, because none of the shared errors arise from misreading a minuscule bookhand.

The 2nd century AD commentary on the Theatetus shares two obvious corruptions with the medieval manuscripts. These corruptions must be earlier than the 2nd century. But the commentary also has a better reading than the medieval manuscripts in at least five places. In general the lemmas in the commentary agree much more with manuscript W than with B and T. All of this suggests that the common ancestor of the medieval manuscripts, and the 2nd century commentary, must be earlier still, and divided into two branches before the 2nd century AD; one the ancestor of the medieval codices, the other of the text in the commentary.

The roughly contemporary papyri of the Phaedrus confirm this. P.Oxy.1017 has a number of readings superior to the medieval mss, just as the commentary does. It also contains marginal and interlinear variants in a second hand, which cannot be conjectures to improve the text because in fact they do the opposite. The papyrus differs from the medieval text in 29 places, but in 8 of these places, the medieval reading is given in the marginal variants. This means that our medieval text, and also its errors, already existed in the 2-3rd century AD. P.Oxy.1017 tends to agree more with T than B. In fact P.Oxy. 1016 has similar features, but it also has readings found in inferior medieval manuscripts. So does P.Oxy. 2102 (2nd c.).

From this we can conclude that the medieval tradition has its origins in an ancient exemplar, and that many of the divergences found in the medieval codices are also ancient. Some of the manuscripts seem to continue an ancient family of the text, and presumably derive from a different uncial exemplar to the others. This is certainly true for the text of the Timaeus in F, which also shares errors with Plutarch, Galen, Eusebius, Proclus, Stobaeus and Chalcidius. The same is true for the text of the Republic and the Gorgias.

Date of collection and ordering

At what date did the works of Plato come into the form of a collection of tetralogies, in which they now are? Most likely during the early Hellenistic period. Pasquali argues that the collection contains an authentic but unfinished dialogue, the Critias; a dialogue only complete in its externals, the Laws, and, as an appendix to the Laws, it contains a work by Plato’s secretary, Philip of Opuntus under Plato’s name. This must mean that the collection itself dates back to a circle that had Plato’s work at its disposal and that felt obliged to continue it, i.e. the Academy. It cannot have been compiled by Plato’s immediate successors, who would have known very well what he wrote, because it contains a lot of spuria. So it must have been compiled at least a few generations after his death. One of the spurious dialogues, the Alcibiades II, seems Hellenistic rather than Attic. So perhaps the collection dates to the Academy of Arcesilas and Lacydes, of the first half of the 3rd century BC, at which date corruptions and interpolations may already have crept in.

What about the ordering? Diogenes Laertius tells us (III, 61) that “some, including Aristophanes the Grammarian” of Byzantium (fl. ca. 200 BC) classified the dialogues into groups of three; comprising only 15 dialogues, followed by an unordered mass of single dialogues. He also explains at length (III, 65-6) the use of critical signs in ancient copies of Plato, some of which signs have been preserved in medieval copies. But Diogenes Laertius also tells us (III, 56) that it was Thrasyllus the court astrologer of Tiberius who divided the dialogues into tetralogies, which seems far too late. Albinus ca. 150 AD in his introduction to the works of Plato (6) tells us that an otherwise unknown Dercyllides also arranged them thus.[13] The issues are discussed by Philip.[14] Pasquali declines to decide which came first, and is inclined to believe that both arrangements reflect only a bibliographical list, rather than the arrangement of any physical copies.

  1. [1] How they reached us is summarised in quite a lot of detail in some twenty pages of G. Pasquali, Storia della tradizione e critica del testo, 2nd ed., Firenze (1934, repr. 1988), pp. 247-269, from which most of the following material is taken. Useful list of the tetralogies at Wikipedia:
  2. [2]R. Brumbaugh, R. Wells, “Completing Yale’s Plato Microfilm Project”, in: Yale University Library Gazette 64 (1989), 73-5. JSTOR:
  3. [3]Query for author: Plato philosophus, exported the results to CSV, imported this into Microsoft Access as a table “Pinakes”, renamed the first 5 columns, and ran an SQL query: “SELECT country, town, library, collection, shelfmark FROM pinakes AS query GROUP BY country, town, library, collection, shelfmark;”
  4. [4]E.R. Dodds, Gorgias: A revised text, OUP (1959), p.34.
  5. [5]This material mainly from Dodds, Gorgias.
  6. [6]M. Joyal, “The Textual Tradition of [Plato] Theages”, in: Revue d’histoire des textes, 28 (1998), 1-54, p.8, n.30. Persee:
  7. [7]Boter.
  8. [8]Boter, p.285.
  9. [9]G. Jonkers, The Textual Tradition of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, Brill (2017), p.387.
  10. [10]A list of manuscripts appears in the Wikipedia article,
  11. [11]Boter, The Textual Tradition of Plato’s Republic, Brill (1989), 279-80.
  12. [12]G. Jonkers, p.393-4.
  13. [13]Albinus, Eisagogue c. 6, online in English as “The introduction of Albinus to the Dialogues of Plato” here, p.315:
  14. [14]J. A. Philip, “The Platonic Corpus”, Phoenix 24 (1970), 296-308. JSTOR: