A high-quality 1865 photograph of the Meta Sudans, via Rome Ieri Oggi

The incredible Roma Ieri Oggi website continues to post old photographs on the web.  This one here is a view of the piazza of the Colosseum, but looking up the Sacred Way to the Arch of Titus.  It’s high quality, and can be zoomed in to an amazing extent.

I’ve snipped the portion showing the Meta Sudans, the now-demolished ancient fountain that once stood next to the Colosseum.  Only the core of the lower half remained by 1865, when Altobelli and Molins made this image.

1865 image of the Meta Sudans. Via Roma Ieri Oggi.


Ancient references to Jewish attitudes to abortion

There seem to be very few statements in ancient literature on Jewish attitudes to abortion.  Here is what I have been able to find.  I have not included material from the Mishnah or Talmud, which I may include in a separate post.

For reference, here’s the Masoretic text of Exodus 21:22-25 (RSV).

22 “When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

The Septuagint version (NETS) is slightly different:

22 Now if two men fight and strike a pregnant woman and her child comes forth not fully formed, he shall be punished with a fine. According as the husband of the woman might impose, he shall pay with judicial assessment. 23 But if it is fully formed, he shall pay life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Philo, The Special Laws, book 3, 108-9, 117-8 (online here):

(108) But if any one has a contest with a woman who is pregnant, and strike her a blow on her belly, and she miscarry, if the child which was conceived within her is still unfashioned and unformed, he shall be punished by a fine, both for the assault which he committed and also because he has prevented nature, who was fashioning and preparing that most excellent of all creatures, a human being, from bringing him into existence. But if the child which was conceived had assumed a distinct Shape in all its parts, having received all its proper connective and distinctive qualities, he shall die; (109) for such a creature as that is a man, whom he has slain while still in the workshop of nature, who had not thought it as yet a proper time to produce him to the light, but had kept him like a statue lying in a sculptor’s workshop, requiring nothing more than to be released and sent out into the world.

XX. (110) On account of this commandment he also adds another proposition of greater importance, in which the exposure of infants is forbidden, which has become a very ordinary piece of wickedness among other nations by reason of their natural inhumanity; (111) for if it is proper to provide for that which is not yet brought forth by reason of the definite periods of time requisite for such a process, so that even that may not suffer any injury by being plotted against, how can it be otherwise than more necessary to take similar care of the child when brought to perfection and born, and sent forth…

(117) Therefore, Moses has utterly prohibited the exposure of children, by a tacit prohibition, when he condemns to death, as I have said before, those who are the causes of a miscarriage to a woman whose child conceived within her is already formed. And yet those persons who have investigated the secrets of natural philosophy say that those children which are still within the belly, and while they are still contained in the womb, are a part of their mothers; and the most highly esteemed of the physicians who have examined into the formation of man, scrutinising both what is easily seen and what is kept concealed with great care, by means of anatomy, in order that, if there should be any need of their attention to any case, nothing may be disregarded through ignorance and so become the cause of serious mischief, agree with them and say the same thing. (118) But when the children are brought forth and are separated from that which is produced with them, and are set free and placed by themselves, they then become real living creatures, deficient in nothing which can contribute to the perfection of human nature, so that then, beyond all question, he who slays an infant is a homicide, and the law shows its indignation at such an action

Josephus, Antiquities book 4, 278 (at Lacus Curtius here, as chapter 8, 33):

He that kicks a woman with child, so that the woman miscarry, (29) let him pay a fine in money, as the judges shall determine: as having diminished the multitude by the destruction of what was in her womb: and let money also be given the woman’s husband by him that kicked her: but if she die of the stroke, let him also be put to death. The law judging it equitable that life should go for life.

Josephus, Against Apion book 2, 202 (Lacus Curtius here, ch. 25) (which begins with an interesting statement on homosexuality also):

The law moreover enjoins us to bring up all our offspring: and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten; or to destroy it afterward. And if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child; by destroying a living creature, and diminishing human kind.

In the Sentences of pseudo-Phocylides, verses 184-5 (via Walter T. Wilson, The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides, de Gruyter (2005) p.187):

184 A woman should not destroy an unborn babe in the womb, 185 nor after bearing it should she cast it out as prey for dogs and vultures.

The Sybilline Oracles, book 2 (via Sacred Texts here, Milton S. Terry, 1899):

315 … and the godless furthermore
Shall to all ages perish, all who did
Evils aforetime, and …

345 And all who loosed the girdle of the maid
For secret intercourse, and all who caused
Abortions, and all who their offspring cast
Unlawfully away; and sorcerers
And sorceresses with them, and these wrath
350 Of the heavenly and immortal God shall drive
Against a pillar where shall all around
In a circle flow a restless stream of fire;

There are further quotations on when an unborn child gains a soul, or is legally considered a separate person, but I have not included these here.  A number of these are listed in Gorman, The Early Church and Abortion, IVP (1982), repr. Wpif & Stock (1998).


From my diary

My last post, on an attempt by greedy Italian officials to charge for every photograph uploaded to the web, reminded me of a story about another curious foreign custom, told to me by my father, a retired serviceman, some years ago.

In the 1950s my father was a young man in military service.  He was posted for a time to Turkey, mainly working in Istanbul.  It was quite an exotic posting for a young man who had grown up on a farm in a rural area.  At that time Turkey was not the tourist destination that it now is.  Indeed the country was emerging from a rather strained transformation from a medieval Islamic state into a modern(ish) nation that was part of NATO.  It was a strange time and place to be there.

On arrival, he and the other servicemen received a very strict briefing.  In the event that any of them found themselves in an altercation – as young servicemen sometimes do -, the Turkish police would simply arrest *everyone* without bothering about who was at fault.  The police would then leave them in prison indefinitely.  Any questions of what to do, who was innocent or otherwise, would be delayed for months or years.  In practice the locals would simply bribe the officials and be released, but foreigners would stay there until they rotted.  So, they were told, that if this should occur, they should NOT wait around for the police.  Instead they should travel as fast as possible to the airport, where a plane was on standby to take them out of the country to some nearby safe place.

I have no idea whether this is still true, for this is now nearly seventy years ago.  But the principle holds.  We live in an age of massive homogenisation, brought about by US influence and media.  But we must always remember that things are done differently overseas, in different lands with a different history and culture.  If you go there, you are not in Kansas any more.

Here the summer is coming to an end.  The evenings are drawing in fast.  It’s hard to blog much in the summer, when it’s hot.  To hunch over a screen seems unnatural.  So I’ve not done very much.

However I still want to finish off the translation work that I did in the spring on the councils of Hippo and Carthage.  I have files connected with that process spattered all over my desktop, some containing translations of one bit or another.  So when things cool down, I shall try to restart that process and finish it up.

I see that abortion is once more a live issue in US politics, and I have been avoiding all the shouting as best I can.  I have noticed for some time that over the last few years various groups with control of the media have started to use the “big lie” technique as a way to get what they want.  They simply create a lie, and then drown out everyone else with endless repetition.  And it works, as Dr Goebbels knew.  If people only hear one thing, then many people will simply accept it.  One group of activists have started what seems to be a coordinated campaign asserting that the bible does not condemn homosexuality: a claim that would have astonished every reader of the Old Testament and the New whose native language was Hebrew or Greek, and every subsequent reader until a handful of years ago. I don’t feel the need to write about that.

But I have also seen posts of a similarly coordinated kind asserting that in antiquity the Jews did not object to abortion, or even claiming it as a part of Jewish religion.  So I think that it would be interesting  and useful to collect together the passages from ancient authors that discuss the Jewish attitude.  There seem to be very few indeed, as is often the case on any subject on which we consult the primary sources of antiquity.  I have drafted a post, but I have some more reading to do.  None of it endorses the claim made, of course.

Over the summer I’ve been collecting various topics about which I might write something.  Maybe I will actually go and look at these at some point, and do something about them!

Meanwhile, let us enjoy the last of the summer as we can.


Italian government: “You took some photographs of ancient art!? PAY ME!”

Among the monuments of Mithras is CIMRM 584, a relief showing the tauroctony, Mithras killing the bull.  It was probably found in Rome, but is today in Venice, as part of the Zulian bequest.  I came across a photograph online, and added it to the catalogue of Mithraic monuments.

CIMRM 584, tauroctony of Mithras from the museo archeologico at Venice.

While googling, I found another photograph at Wikimedia commons here, taken by some visitor to the museum.  But on the page was this extraordinary claim:

With this claim:

This image reproduces a property belonging to the Italian cultural heritage as entrusted to the Italian government. Such images are regulated by Articles 106 et seq. of the Italian Code of Cultural Heritage and Landscape under Legislative Decree No. 42, dated January 22, 2004, and its subsequent amendments. These regulations, unrelated to copyright regulations, establish a system for the protection of Italy’s historic and artistic heritage and its standards of dignity. Among other things, these regulations provide for the payment of a concession fee by those who intend to benefit economically from reproductions of property belonging to the Italian cultural heritage. Reproduction of this image is permitted for personal use or study. A further authorization by the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Culture is required for reproduction for any other purpose, and particularly for commercial use. Such commercial use includes, but is not limited to, use in (a) any form of advertising, and (b) any company name, logo, trademark, image, activity, or product.

It is quite extraordinary stuff.  An ancient Roman carves a relief; a modern man takes a snap of it with a digital camera; and somehow the officialdom of the modern Italian state (created 1870) must receive a fee?  How nice for them.

In practice, I am sure, this is largely ignored.  One feature of corrupt states is that they pass endless oppressive laws that are only enforced when some powerful or greedy individual chooses.  In this way the police can always find an excuse to arrest someone, because everyone is per force guilty of something.  In practice it impoverishes everyone.

So the next time you go to Italy and take a photograph of the forum, remember this curious edict.  Whether you abide by it, of course, is another matter.


Two pages of lost ancient text the “Orphic Rhapsodies” found in Sinai palimpsest

I learned today via the Austrian Academy of Sciences (@oeaw) of a very exciting discovery indeed at the monastery of Mount Sinai in Egypt.  There is a rather good article about it at the OEAW site here, with photographs.

A previously lost Greek classical text in hexameters has been found in a palimpsest, as the under-text on two sheets.   The material is about the childhood of the god Dionysus.  The discoverer believes that it is a portion of the Sacred Discourses in 24 Rhapsodies.

This work will be familiar to few.  The Hieroi Logoi was a compilation of Orphic poems known in late antiquity.  It gave a theogony: an account of the origin of the gods, especially Dionysus.  The neo-platonist Damascius is the first to mention these ῥαψῳδίαι Ὀρφικαί in his work De principiis 123, where he describes the book as συνήθης Ὀρφική θεολογία, i.e. “the standard orphic theogony” (Job) or “the current [form of] the Orphic theology” (Ahbel-Rappe).[1]  The work is hard to date.  It has been dated to the Hellenistic period (2nd c. BC – 1st c. AD), which seems to be the mainstream opinion.  But it has also been dated to the 4-5th c. AD, on the basis that the myth of the dismemberment of Dionysus was then added to existing Orphic material under the influence of Christian theology.[2]

The work was previously known entirely from quotations in later writers, either neo-Platonist or Christian.  These were collected and published by Otto Kern as Orphicorum fragmenta, Berlin (1922) (online here).  James R. Van Kollenburg has a neopagan website, hellenicgods.org, and usefully he has gathered or provided English translations of many of the fragments here.

The new discovery gives for the first time a substantial chunk of the original text.

The ancient manuscript of the Hieroi Logoi from which these sheets come was written in Egypt in the 5-6th century AD.  But in the 10th century it was recycled, the pages erased and turned into blank parchment.  A text of more use to the owners, an Arabic text of the lives of the Palestinian saints, was written on the pages at the monastery of Mar Saba.  (I have not seen any information on which text precisely this is).  The new volume was originally some 300 pages.  It migrated to Sinai, where it was reduced to fragments by the removal of leaves, sold to European libraries.  The remains now have the shelfmark Ms. Sin. ar. NF 66.  The relevant leaves are f. 2v + frg. 7v + frg. 8r, and presumably their reverse.

There is an obvious question here.  Do other pages of the Hieroi Logoi also exist, under the text of the other leaves of the Arabic volume, now in European libraries?  Does anybody know which leaves are where?  Is anybody going to shine a multi-spectral imaging scanner on them?

After all, if the monks got a pile of blank parchment from breaking up the old book, it is possible that more than two sheets got used to make the Arabic manuscript.

Returning to the discovery: here is an image from the OEAW site of part of the palimpsest, taken under multi-spectral imaging:

Multi-spectral imaging photo with false colour, showing the Arabic over-text and (in red) the Greek undertext of the Orphic Rhapsodies. Via the OEAW site.

The discovery has been published, although I have not seen the article: Giulia Rossetto, “Fragments from the Orphic Rhapsodies? Hitherto Unknown Hexameters in the Palimpsest Sin. ar. NF 66”, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 219 (2021), 34-60.  Dr Rossetto has an Academia.edu page here, which gives the following summary:

The palimpsest manuscript Sin. ar. NF 66 is one of the treasures of the Monastery of Saint Catherine located in the Sinai Peninsula. Nowadays it consists of a few fragmentary parchment sheets, but originally it was a larger codex of ca. 300 folia. Some of these leaves have been purloined from the Sinai and are now kept in Cambridge, Leipzig, and Saint Petersburg, while others have been lost. The codex contained the Lives of Palestinian monastic Saints in Arabic translation and was copied at the Monastery of Mar Saba near Jerusalem in the first quarter of the 10th century. It was later brought, under unknown circumstances, to the Sinai. All preserved folia are palimpsests, with scriptiones inferiores in Greek and Christian Palestinian Aramaic. This article focuses on one of the Greek erased texts – a previously unknown classical text in hexameters of mythological content – and offers its editio princeps. Based on an analysis of codicological and palaeographical features, combined with that of linguistic and stylistic elements, it will be suggested that the Sinai hexameters might originate from the Hieroi Logoi in 24 Rhapsodies, i.e. the longest lost Orphic poem we know of.

The find is part of the Sinai Palimpsests project (website here).  Let us hope they make many more splendid discoveries!

  1. [1]An English translation exists: Sara Ahbel-Rappe, Damascius’ Problems and Solutions Concerning First Principles, Oxford University Press (2010) ISBN: 978-0-19-515029-2.  This description is found on p.415, chapter 123.1.
  2. [2]Most of this information I take from Marek Job, “The rule of Dionysus in the light of the Orphic theogony (Hieroi Logoi in 24 Rhapsodies)”, in: Filip Doroszewski, Dariusz Karłowicz (eds), Dionysus and Politics: Constructing Authority in the Graeco-Roman World, London (2021), chapter 10, p. 161-176.

It was twenty years ago today: 20 years of Rob Bradshaw and “Theology on the Web”

A tweet by the excellent Rob Bradshaw alerts me to the fact that he has been plugging away and uploading scholarly material to the web for twenty years now, at a range of sites run by himself, including BiblicalStudies.org.uk, EarlyChurch.org.uk, and many others.  The hub site is https://theologyontheweb.org.uk/. The material available is now in excess of 45,000 articles and books.

His own email newsletter (here) gives a list of sites and subjects, too long to quote.  It includes all sorts of very useful material, including the isssues of Religion in Communist Lands published by Keston College during the Cold War, which most of us will never have seen.

It is something to have achieved this, by ceaseless labour.  Well done, Mr Bradshaw.  You are a hero!


Ambrosiaster’s Dubia: Is there a translation of fragments of a commentary on Matthew?

I received an email this afternoon on a very obscure text, which led me to do a little bibliographical work.

I wonder if you might know whether anyone has published an English translation of the short fragment from a Latin Commentary on Matthew (on 24.19-44) published independently by Mercati (G. Mercati, Varia sacra: “Anonymi Chiliastae in Matthaeum 24 fragmenta”, (Studi e Testi 11), Roma 1903, 3-45) and Turner (C. H. Turner, “An Exegetical Fragment of the Third Century,” JTS 5 (1904) 218-241) and attributed variously to Victorinus (Turner) and Ambrosiaster (Souter).

This text is CPL 186, I find. I don’t know of any English translation, but of course one might exist somewhere. An Italian edition and translation by A. Pollastri appeared in 2014 (book dealer site here), available for a trim 40 euros:

Ambrosiaster, Frammenti esegetici su Matteo. Il Vangelo di Matteo (Mt 24,20-42). Le tre misure (Mt 13,33). L’apostolo Pietro (Mt 26,51-53-72-75), introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento a cura di A. Pollastri, (Biblioteca Patristica, 50) Bologna 2014.

An upcoming volume of uncertain contents from Brill Brepols is this (via here), which I thought contained Pollastri’s text, but which instead I learn contains information on the manuscripts and text tradition:

Ambrosiaster, Dubia, Commentarius in Matthaeum (CPL 186), De tribus mensuris (CPL 187), De Petro (CPL 188), cur. A. Pollastri, dans: E. Colombi, et al. (éds.), Traditio Patrum: Scriptores Italiae, Turnhout (à paraître).

It’s August.  Go and do summer things!



The “Sortes Astrampsychi” or “The lots of Astrampsychus” – an ancient fortune-telling manual

In the last few posts we’ve been looking at surviving 20-sided dice from antiquity.  From Pausanias we learn that dice, or knuckle-bones – astragalli – were used for oracles; throw the dice, pick the god’s answer from a list.  We do not have any testimony on how these particular dice, with 20-sides, were used, but it seems likely that they also were used for fortune-telling in this way.

Lists of questions and oracular answers were not always engraved in stone, although we’ve seen examples from Lycia that are.  Among the surviving texts from antiquity is a curious book, the “Sortes Astrampsychi” – the Lots of Astrampsychus – which was used for fortune-telling.

The book gives a list of questions, and then a set of 10 answers for each question.  The user chose his question.  He thought of a number between one and ten – or perhaps he used dice.  He then looked up that answer for that question.

In order to mystify the user, the answers have been mixed up together, and a look-up table prefixed.  The author also introduced a bunch of “answers” that match no question, again to confuse and mystify.

The preface explains how to use the book.  It begins:

From Astrampsychus the Egyptian to King Ptolemy concerning the foretelling of different questions.

And here are the questions.

12 Will I sail safely?
13 Is it a time to consult the oracle?
14 Will I serve in the army?
15 Will I have a share in the business?
16 Will I advance in office?
17 Will I go out of town?
18 Is it to my advantage to enter into an agreement?
19 Will I be successful?
20 Will I purchase what is offered?
21 Will I marry and will it be to my advantage?
22 Can I be harmed in the business affair?
23 Will I move from this place?
24 Is my wife having a baby?
25 Will I be able to borrow money?
26 Will I pay back what I owe?
27 Will the traveler return?
28 Will I soon give an accounting?
29 Am I safe from prosecution?
30 Will I rear the baby?
31 Will I be harmed in the business affair?
32 Will I be freed from servitude?
33 Will I inherit from my father?
34 Will I inherit from my mother?
35 Will I be an official in this matter?
36 Will I find the fugitive?
37 Will I have a good end?
38 Will I inherit from a friend?
39 Will I be an agoranomos?1
40 Will I find what I have lost?
41 Will I be a teacher?
41 Will I survive the sickness?
43 Will I open a workshop?
44 Will I have a long life?
45 Will I obtain the petition?
46 Will I come to terms with my masters?
47 Will I beget children?
48 Will I inherit from my parents?
49 Will I get the dowry?
50 Will I retain possession of my property?
51 Will I argue my case?
52 Will I inherit from my wife?
53 Will I be safe if informed against?
54 Will the one who is sick survive?
55 Will I get the woman I desire?
56 Will I be released from detention?
57 Will I sell my cargo?
58 If I lend money will I not lose it?
59 Is my wife going to miscarry?
60 Will I be an oikonomos?
61 Will I take a lease and will it benefit me?
62 Will I have an inheritance from someone?
63 Will I defeat my opponent in the trial?
64 Am I going to see a death?
65 Will I be a general?
66 Will I be made a cleric?
67 Will I get the call to office?
68 Will I have hope of trust?
69 Will I win if I put down a deposit for an appeal?
70 Am I going to marry my girlfriend?
71 Will I get my deposit back?
72 Will I get provisions?
73 Will I remain where I’m going?
74 Am I going to be sold?
75 Will I get some benefit from my friend?
76 Is it granted to me to have dealings with another?
77 Will I be restored to my place?
78 Will I get an escort?
79 Will I get the money?
80 Is the traveler alive?
81 Will I profit from the undertaking?
82 Are my belongings going to be sold at auction?
83 Will I find a way to sell?
84 Will I buy the thing I have in mind?
85 Will I be prosperous?
86 Will I be banished?
87 Will I be an ambassador?
88 Will I be a senator?
89 Will the fugitive escape my detection?
90 Will I be estranged from my wife?
91 Have I been poisoned?
92 Will I get a bequest?
93 Will I finish what I undertake?
94 Will I be able to see my homeland?
95 Will I become a decemvir?3
96 Will I get free from my lot?
97 Will my wife stay with me?
98 Will I remain an elder?
99 Will I buy land or a house?
100 Will I be caught as an adulterer presently?
101 Will I become a bishop?
102 Will I be estranged from my girlfriend?
103 Will the one who is detained be set free?

And here are the first 10 answers:

1 You won’t have hope of trust.
2 You won’t get the call to office just now.
3 You’ll be made a cleric, but late.
4 You’ll be a general, you’ll thrive, and you’ll be distinguished.
5 You’re going to see a death and to rejoice presently.
6 You’ll have satisfaction. You’ll win. Do battle.
7 You’ll have an inheritance with another trial.
8 If you take a lease, you’ll suffer a great loss.
9 You’ll be an oikonomos and you’ll be envied by someone.
10 She’ll miscarry with peril, but she’ll be safe.

The numbers are in the original.  The preface makes clear that some numbers are in black, and some in red.

The Sortes Astrampsychi as it reached us has been Christianised.  The text contains references to clergy and bishops.  This is what we would expect, as tastes changed in late antiquity.  The vendors of these kinds of books found it expedient to modify their wares for their changed audience.  Suggestions that the customer ask some pagan deity were turned into “Ask Noah” or “Ask Gabriel”, etc.  More explicit material was omitted also.

The work is in truth anonymous.  The name “Astrampsychus” is bogus, as is the dedication to Ptolemy, and an attribution to Pythagoras and use by Alexander the Great.  The name is a nod to the reputation of the Egyptians as magicians, and is used for other anonymous magical works as well.  The text perhaps originates in the 2nd century AD.

In fact the Sortes might be called a “folk book”.  Like jokes, that pass down the years and mutate and change, the basic concept travels down the years and is modified for use in many circumstances.  Other fortune-telling books draw on it, and so we have a trail of material which appears in various forms in very many languages right down to compilations made in the present day.

Two versions of the text have reached us.  The first, known as the ecdosis prior is contained in only one manuscript from the 13th century, the Ambrosianus A 45 sup., ff. 59r, 64v-94v (known as “A”).  The other, the ecdosis altera, is found in at least 8 papyri from the 3rd to the 5th cent. (5 of them from Oxyrrhynchus) and 11 manuscripts from the 14th to 16th cent.  Both versions display christianising influence.

I was able to find online one of the papyri at Berlin: P. 21358 here, 3rd century AD, found in Luxor, and containing some of the “answers” material.

Berlin Papyrus 21358, recto. Sortes Astrampsychi.

Let me end with a little bibliography of this curious item.

The two versions have been edited by Gerald M. Browne and Randall Stewart for the Teubner series in two volumes (Bryn Mawr review here).  The old 1863 Hercher edition of the text is here.

There is also a useful article on the transmission of the text: Randall Stewart, “The textual transmission of the Sortes Astrampsychi“, in Illinois Classical Studies 20 (1995), 135-147 (JSTOR).  From this I learn that there is endless scholarship on this work, although it must be pretty much unknown other than to specialists.

There is a complete English translation by Randall Stewart and Kenneth Morrell in William Hansen, Anthology of Ancient Greek Popular Literature, Indiana University Press (1998), 285-326.  This is based on the second version, omitting some of the more obvious “Christian” interpolations.  A German translation also exists: Kai Brodersen, Astrampsychos: Das Pythagoras-Orakel, Darmstadt (2006).


A pair of Italian leaves of the 16-17th century, a prospect of Rome, and the Baths of Constantine

A correspondent writes to tell us all about an item sold at Sothebys on 12 April 2016, in its sale of the “European Decorative Arts From Caramoor Center For Music And The Arts”.  Lot 168 (online here) is “A pair of Italian leaves with scenes of Venus in her chariot and a sacrifice. 16/17th century.”  The right hand leaf gives a panorama of Rome.

I’ve added a couple of bits of text to allow people to orient themselves.

Lot 168. A PAIR OF ITALIAN LEAVES WITH SCENES OF VENUS IN HER CHARIOT AND A SACRIFICE 16th/17th century. Sothebys, 12 April 2016. European Decorative Arts From Caramoor Center For Music And The Arts.

At the top of the picture is Old St Peter’s basilica.  The road leads down to the Castell Sant Angelo.  The Colosseum and Pantheon are clearly visible.  On the left are two triumphal arches, rather out of place, which I suspect are intended for the forum.

Other items will be familiar to those who read my post, Early 16th century maps of Rome and the Baths of Constantine.  The two horses rearing are the Dioscuri, who still stand on the Quirinal hill, although today they face the Quirinal palace, rather than the city.  The reclining figure behind it is the river god now in the Capitoline Museum, thought to have come from the Baths of Constantine.

To the left are two rotundas.  These are mysterious, but as my other post showed, seem to have been in the area of the Baths of Constantine.  To the left of them is a roofless building with a ruined vault at the end, which resembles some of the depictions of the Baths of Constantine in my post.

Every depiction is useful, so it is nice to have another!


The Confession and Martyrdom of Cyprian of Antioch – translated by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock is continuing his series of translations of Coptic texts.  He has sent in a translation of a hagiographical text, the Confession and Martyrdom of Cyprian of Antioch, and provided a short introduction.  The text is translated from manuscript.

The story is known to 4th century authors but is purely fictional, and perhaps based on earlier pagan stories including Lucian.  The saint is also known as Cyprian the Magician, and he is described as a pagan magician who converts to Christ.  The Wikipedia article on Cyprian and Justina is here.  It has been suggested that the text may have inspired the modern legend of Faust, the man who sold his soul to the devil.  A blog article here gives some interesting information about the text and its transmission in Greek from L. Radermacher, Griechische Quellen Zur Faustsage. Der Zauberer Cyprianus. Die Erzählung Des Helladius. Theophilus. (Anthemius.), 1927.  Unfortunately I have no time to go into any of this now.

Here is the translation of the Coptic texts:

Thank you, Dr Alcock.