From my diary

No blogging in the last week.  On Monday 6th January I had a brand new and rather expensive Dell G5 Inspiron 5090 desktop delivered, with screen. I spent the week trying to set it up.  It’s time-consuming, isn’t it!  Sadly by the end of the week I had determined that there was a problem with it.  After three frustrating days of dealing with Dell, I have been promised a refund, and I have just finished boxing it up this evening for a return.  The nature of the problem makes clear that the unit was never tested or inspected at the factory.  It is a beautiful-looking machine.  But there is no getting around carelessness at the factory.  Nor is it possible to remedy matters when nobody at Dell speaks English as a first language.  I shall have to look for another machine; but I can’t face that for a week or two.

This week I have been working on the new Latin programme.  I feel that it  needs a kind of context-sensitive pop-up help.  The brief display of grammar is fine.  But sometimes you need examples, and a page or so of text.  The Eclipse, the editor used for Java software development, has such a feature in its intellisense, and I have patterned it on this.  It’s a devil to debug mouse movements, however!

As part of this, I have been taking Morwood’s Oxford Latin Grammar to bed with me, and absorbing some of the syntax.  It’s a remarkably concise guide, yet useful as well.  However it is too brief sometimes.  The old Allen and Greenough grammar still has much to offer, while being fuller, and I bought a copy of this in printed form, for bedside reading.

I also had a go at finding a printed Latin bible.  I thought that it might be nice to read some of the psalms, or the gospels, in Latin.  Your Latin always improves if you use it to read stuff.  But all I can find is complete copies of the Vulgate, and at a  massive price – $50 or more.  I had expected that there would be a glut of these, from Catholic churches.  But it seems not.  Maybe I should produce something myself!

But I leave the best for last.  This evening I have learned that Matthew R Crawford together with Aaron P. Johnson has completed a draft translation into English of the whole of what exists of Cyril of Alexandria’s Contra Julianum.  This was a point-by-point refutation, with verbatim quotation, of Julian the Apostate’s polemic Against the Galileans (i.e. the Christians – isn’t it odd how those opposed to Christians so often have to rewrite history?), in at least 20 books.  But only books 1-10 survive, plus a few fragments of later books.  It’s a fascinating work, and I hope that the translation is written in such a way that we can read it and follow Cyril’s thought, rather than use it as a “crib” for the Greek.  It will take them a couple more years to get it fit to publish, however.  Cyril’s Greek is diffuse and hard to render.  This was probably a useful characteristic in political terms – how do you criticise someone when you can’t understand? – but not great for us.  It’s a truly valuable thing to do.  It will kick-start a world of scholarship on the late 4th/early 5th century.

The text of De Solstitia et De aequinoctia (CPL 2277)

I’ve written a couple of posts already on this obscure late-antique text.  The text was first printed in 1530 as part of the works of Chrysostom – it is, indeed, transmitted in Latin as part of a collection of 38 sermons attributed to him.  The only other edition is that of Botte in 1932, printed as an appendix to Les origenes de la Noel et de l’Epiphanie.  This is not a critical edition, but rather is based on three early manuscripts, and the 1530 text – all that Botte had accessible to him.

I had I’m not going to have time to do more with this interesting text.  I had originally thought to prepare a translation, but in reality I am already overcommitted in that area.  But I thought that I would make available what I have prepared.  My first step is always to prepare an electronic Latin text: in this case I ended up with two.

Botte, 1932

  • Botte-Les_origines_de_la_noel_et_de_lepiphanie-1932-de_solstitia (PDF) – pages 88-105 of Botte’s book, containing the text and his comments upon it.  He mistakenly says that the Troyes 523 manuscript contains the name of Pontius Maximianus – we have already seen that it is Pontius Maximus.
  • De solstitia (.docx) – a transcription of Botte’s text, with a few modifications.  I have restored the capital letters for proper names, and also added into the text the commas from the 1530 edition.  These two tweaks make the text infinitely easier to read.
  • De solstitia (PDF) – the same file saved as a PDF, for those who can’t read a .docx.

Erasmus, 1530

I hope that these will be useful!  One day, perhaps, I may come back to these myself!

“OMG I’m So Hungover” – Ogham Annotations in a 9th century copy of Priscian

The Anglandicus blog has an amusing 2014 article on Massive Scribal Hangovers: One Ninth Century Confession.  The whole post is well worth a read on Irish marginal notes in manuscripts.

One such manuscript has a great number of these marginalia.  Below is the upper portion of folio 204 in St. Gall 904 (or Codex Sangallensis 204, if we choose to be formal).  This was written in Ireland in 851 AD.  It contains a copy of Priscian’s Institutiones Grammaticae, a rather dry text.  The manuscript is online here; folio 204 is here.

Ogham note in top margin of St Gall 904, f.204 – “Latheirt” (= ale-killed)

At the top, where I have drawn a red box, is an Ogham marginal note.  This gives us a single word in Old Irish and reads simply “Latheirt“.  The meaning of this is given to us by an old Irish dictionary, Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s glossary), itself perhaps composed in the 9th century.  An English translation of this is online at here, and our word is on page 102.

This tells us that Lait(h) = Ale, the stuff consumed copiously in Northern society at this season, plus Irt = killed.  So Latheirt means “ale-killed”, ale has killed us.  The rather unimaginative translator adds that the Latin meaning is crapula, or “drunkenness”.

In short, our scribe has a massive hangover.  It is unlikely that this was assisting his perusal of Priscian.

The St Gall manuscript is interesting because of its many Old Irish marginalia.  The website tells us that it contains “over 9,000 glosses, among them 3,478 in the Old Irish language. The basis for the reconstruction of the Old Irish language.”

The Anglandicus blog seems to be only occasionally updated, but is well worth looking at.  The importance of the Irish monks to the dissemination of ancient texts in Europe can hardly be overestimated, and such marginal notes take us directly to their state of mind while doing so.

From my diary

Happy New Year, everyone.

I’ve created an electronic Latin text of the De solstitia et aequinoctia from the 1530 Froben edition.  This probably has some OCR errors in it, as I have already spotted one.  I’m waiting for a more modern edition to appear by inter-library loan.  I understand that the modern edition s not a critical edition:  it was just printed as an appendix to a book on something else, and based on three older manuscripts.  But I will know more when I have seen it.  Of course the 1530 edition was probably printed from a random late manuscript that Froben happened to have on hand.

I’ve looked a little at some of the online manuscripts, and already observed an interesting difference to the 1530 text.  This reads at one point:

cum praecepta eius servaverimus

But I find that the Laud misc. 452, f.79, and the St Gall 103, both 9th century, read instead:

cum praecepta eius observaverimus

which is much more comprehensible.  It will be most interesting to see the modern edition.

I did start to think about translating De solstitia et aequinoctia, but I realised that I already have two Latin translations in flight – an early Life of St George, and the short Life of St Cuthman.  I decided to leave De solstitia for now.  I will upload the electronic text when I am ready anyway.

In the meantime I have returned to St Cuthman.  I’m working on it, while adding extra information to my QuickLatin Latin parser.  I added some material explaining the Supine, for instance.  I’m also finding errors.  I discovered today a problem with pronoun handling, which will have to be fixed.  So the translation and the Latin coding are moving forward together, albeit both slowly.  At some point I must package up the new version of QuickLatin and release it.  There is so much to do.

I also want to get back to work once my illness has completely faded away; that is, if my client still wants my services.  I suspect that I’ll be ready in about three weeks, and there is some six weeks of paid work there.  It will be good to finish that up.  Meanwhile I can get back into working, if only at my home computer!

Order my books before they go out of print!

Long term readers will remember that I commissioned two texts and translations in printed form: Eusebius, Gospel Problems and Solutions (2011), and Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel (2014).  The first is the only version of this text; the second is the best version of the work.  Both contain catena fragments, the original text, and a facing translation.  The hardbacks are very splendid; and the paperback is a solid item too.

But all good things must come to an end, and these will go out of print in the next month or two.  So … if you or your library want copies, order them now from Amazon!

I know these are pricey, but once they are gone, they are gone.

Amazon don’t keep a lot of stock, naturally, but you can order any of these as all are in print.  Lead time is probably about a week when “out of stock”.

Thank you, everybody who supported this project!

Some notes on “De solstitiis et aequinoctis” (CPL 2277)

There are very few sources for a Roman festival of the sun on 25th December.  The main one is the entry in the Chronography of 354, in the Philocalian Calendar, labelling the day as “Natalis Invicti”, the birthday of Sol Invictus, the state sun-god.[1]  Next to it is a 13th century scholiast on Dionysius bar-Salibi.  But the third is an obscure homily generally referred to as De solstitiis et aequinoctiis, (or De solstitia et aequinoctia) which contains, towards the end, the following aside:

Sed et dominus noster nascitur mense decembris . . . VIII Kal. Ian. . . . Sed et invicti natalem apellant.  Quis utique tam invictus nisi dominus noster qui mortem subactam devicit?  Vel quod dicant solis esse natalem, ipse est sol iustitiae de quo malachias propheta dixit: “orietur vobis timentibus nomen ipsius sol iustitiae et sanitas est in pennis eius.”

But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eighth before the calends of January [25 December] . . . But they also call it the “Birthday of the invincible one” (Invictus). But who then is as invincible as our lord who defeated the death he suffered?  Or if they say that this is the birthday of the sun, well He Himself is the Sun of Justice of whom the prophet Malachi said (4:2), “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health is in his wings.”[2]

The implication of this is that Christ as Sol Justitiae is a deliberate replacement for the pagan Sol Invictus.  It is a key piece of evidence in the “Calculation” theory of the origins of Dec. 25 as Christmas.[3]

So it’s an interesting passage.  Yet there is a remarkable vagueness in most articles which reference this text, as to what it is and where it may be found.

In the article quoted above, the author tells us that the full title of the work is De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis Domini Nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae (“On the solstice and equinox of the conception and birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist”).

The work is in fact listed in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum as CPL 2277.   The date of composition is  uncertain.  The bible citations suggest an African origin, but there are also two terms which are Syriac.[4]

It is actually part of a collection of 38 sermons in Latin, all attributed to John Chrysostom, whose existence was documented for the first time by Dom André Wilmart in 1918.[5]  It is the 17th item in that collection.  Wilmart gives the following details:

Title: Iterum de natiuitate domini et Iohannis Baptistae et conceptionis de solistitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et natiuitatis domini nostri Iesu Christi et Johannis Baptistae.
Opening words: Nescio an quisquam ausus sit arcanum, fratres, ante Christi natiuitatem intellegere uel terminasse cursum horarum dierum ac noctium per quos solistitia et aequinoctia cognoscere possit.
Closing words:  ….Migrauerat enim gratia et ueritas a Iudaeis quia “lex per Moysen data est, nam gratia et ueritas per Iesum Christum facta est”. In Christo Iesu domino nostro qui uiuit et regnat cum patre et spiritu sancto per immortalia saecula saeculorum amen

Wilmart (p.306) gives a list of 25 copies of this collection of homilies, all with the same content in the same order, beginning in the 9th century.  Among the 9th century copies is Saint-Gall 103, which is online here.  Our text is pp. 176-191.  It begins on p. 176:

St Gall 103, p.176.

Note how the title is singular, but has been corrected to plural by another hand.  Our passage is on page 190, and the work ends on page 191:

St Gall 103, p.191

There are still other copies in existence.  One of these, transmitted independently, attributes the work to an otherwise unknown author – Pontius Maximus. This is  given in a 12th century manuscript, today Troyes 523, fol.205v-210v, originally from Clairvaux as the colophon on fol. 210v makes clear.  It is online here.  The text is the last work in the manuscript, which also contains 15 treatises in Latin by Eusebius of Emesa , followed by 5 by Tertullian.

Ms. Troyes 523, folio 205v. Incipit of De Solstitia.

The red text tells us that, after the explicit for Tertullian, de paenitentia, the author is Pontius Maximus, and the title is de solstitiis et aequinoctiis…, i.e. plural.  I have also found an article that claims the work is “sometimes attributed to one Pontius Maximus or Pontius Maximianus, conjectured to be an African, but thought by others to be of anonymous Syrian origin.”[6]

There are only two editions of the text.

It was first printed in Divi Ioannis Chrysostomi Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani opera, quae hactenus versa sunt, omnia, ed. Desiderius Erasmus (Vol. 2). Basel: Frobenius (1530), p. 336-342. (Online at Google Books).  No doubt this was printed from whatever manuscript happened to come to hand.  There are reprints of this, including a 1547 (col. 1285-1294) and a 1588 edition.  I’m not sure how late this was reprinted.

The only other edition is B. Botte, Les origines de la noël et de l’épiphanie (Series: Textes et études liturgiques 1). Louvain: Abbaye du Mont César (1932) who appended a version of the text on p. 93-105.  Hijmans states that this is not a critical edition, but is based on a collation of  a few manuscripts – somewhere I read that this was just three of the oldest.  The Botte edition text was also reprinted in the Patrologiae Latinae Supplementum vol. 1 (1959), pp.557-567.

I’ve tried to OCR the 1530 text, but it involves correcting every word!  So I’ve placed an interlibrary loan for the 1932 book, and I hope that we can at least get the Latin text online.

This is the sort of exercise that reminds us how much there is to do!


  • The 9th century Oxford Laud Misc. 452, originally at Lorsch, is also online here.  Our text is on f.77r-83r.
  • The 9-10th century Paris BNF lat. 12140 is online here, although in monochrome.  Our homily is on f.87v-98r.
  1. [1]Natalis may also mean the date of the founding of a temple, and other deities than Sol Invictus were called “invictus”, but this probably does refer to Sol Invictus.
  2. [2]Steven Hijmans, “Sol Invictus, the winter solstice, and the origins of Christmas,” in: Mouseion III.3 (2003), 377-398, esp. 379-80; also the Catholic Encyclopedia version.
  3. [3]See S. K. Roll, Towards the Origins of Christmas, p.97.
  4. [4]S. K. Roll, Towards the Origins of Christmas, p.97. “The text is generally thought to date from after the earliest notation of Christmas on the calendar, but before a feast was widely celebrated on that date, probably the early fourth century. The Latin text betrays certain African turns of phrase, but also two specifically Syriac terms.[173]” and “173. Botte, Origines, 91, and Engberding, “Der 25. Dezember,” 36, both explore these in some detail.” – H. Engberding, “Der 25. Dezember als Tag der Feier der Geburt des Herrn,” Archiv fur Liturgiewissenschaft 2 (1952), 25-43.  Unfortunately neither is accessible to me.
  5. [5]A. Wilmart, “La collection des 38 homélies latines de saint Jean Chrysostome,” in: Journal of Theological Studies 19 (1918), 305-327.  There is also a study that I have not seen in German: W. Wenk, Zur Sammlung der 38 Homilien des Chrysostomus Latinus (mit Edition der Nr. 6, 8, 27, 32 und 33), Wiener Studien Beiheft 10, Wien 1988.
  6. [6]R. Love, “Bede and John Chrysostom”, Journal of Medieval Latin 17 (2007) 72-87, p.77, identifying a quote from our work in Bede.

Was there no festival of Sol on 25 December before 324 AD?

Most of us are aware that the 25th December is labelled as the “Natalis [solis] Invicti” in the Chronography of 354; specifically in the 6th part, which contains the so-called “Calendar of Philocalus” (online here), listing the state holidays.  Sol Invictus was introduced into Rome by Aurelian in 274 AD as a state cult, and it seems reasonable to suppose that this state holiday was introduced at the same time.   The Chronography also lists the saints’ days, in another calendar dating from 336 (online here), including Christmas on 25 December.  It is often supposed, therefore, that the date of Christmas was selected precisely to coincide with this solar holiday.  This theory was advanced by H. Usener in his book Das Weihnachstfest (1889, rep. 1911) with a follow-up in his posthumous article on Sol Invictus in 1905.[1]

However I have lately seen claims that, far from Christmas being located on the date of a pagan holiday, the truth is that Julian the Apostate (or someone) established a solar festival on the pre-existing date of Christmas!  These claims seem to derive from an interesting article by Steven Hijmans, “Usener’s Christmas”.[2]  Hijman is a revisionist, so it is necessary to be wary, but I thought that it might be useful to review some of the evidence.

In the Chronography of 354, in the “Filocalian calendar”, some holidays – all associated with emperors or gods – are marked by chariot races (circenses missus).  These are also in multiples of 12 races, with one exception.  The sole exception is the entry for 25 December:


Which is the natalis of Invictus (rather than Sol) and 30 races, rather than a multiple of 12.  It is, therefore, an anomalous entry.

Hijmans makes some very interesting points about this.

  • Firstly, he argues that celebrating festivals with chariot races rather than sacrifices was an innovation of Constantine, introduced after Constantine defeated Licinius in 324.  It’s not an ancient thing.  So all these chariot races were introduced then.
  • Secondly, since all the ancient festivals were multiples of 12, it is clear that no festival of Sol existed on 25 December at that time.  If it had, it too would be a multiple of 12.  Therefore it is a later addition; as the irregular naming also indicates.
  • Thirdly he speculates that this entry may not even have been present in the original copy made in 354, but added later.
  • This leaves the first definite mention of a solar festival on this date to Julian the Apostate’s Hymn to King Helios, in December 362.

This is an interesting argument indeed.  What do we make of it?

Hijmans does not detail his first point, merely referring to M. Wallraff, Christus Verus Sol (2001), p.132, “citing Eusebius”. Unfortunately the Wallraff volume is inaccessible to me.   So we have to leave this point unchecked.

The second point relies on the accurate transmission of numerals in copies of the Chronography.  I am not clear whether this is actually reliable, or whether the text printed by Mommsen – which is the basis for the online version – is a critical text or not.   The Dec. 25 date could really have read “XXXVI” for all we know.

Obviously speculation, as in the third point, is not evidence.  I would suggest that we should not infer interpolation without need.

All the same this is a very interesting point.  Is it really possible that this was the case?

  1. [1]H. Usener, “Sol Invictus”, RhM 60 (1905) pp. 465-491.
  2. [2]Steven Hijmans, “Usener’s Christmas: A contribution to the modern construct of late antique solar syncretism”, in: M. Espagne & P. Rabault-Feuerhahn (edd.), Hermann Usener und die Metamorphosen der Philologie. Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 2011. 139-152.  Online here, although the online version appears to be a draft.  However Hijmans’ full thesis, with extensive plates, is online here.

The first mention of Yule: the Gothic liturgical calendar in the Codex Argenteus

The first mention of “Yule” is to be found in a palimpsest manuscript, perhaps of the the 6th century AD.  A number of Gothic bibles were reused for their parchment at the northern Italian monastery of Bobbio, and one of these contains a fragment of a Gothic calendar of saints’ days as the last but one leaf.  Curiously the literature seems to refer to this as the Codex Ambrosianus A, without ever specifying the shelf-mark at the Ambrosian Library in Milan more precisely.[1]

The calendar was first printed, with Latin translation, by the inevitable Angelo Mai, then prefect of the Ambrosian Library.[2]

An old edition of the calendar may be found at here, [3]

Fragment of an ancient Gothic calendar from Codex Ambrosianus A

The actual meaning of these ancient words in a little known language is much debated even today, but for our purposes a quick-and-dirty version of Angelo Mai’s Latin will help us get an idea of what we are looking at.

23.  The sufferings of the martyrs and Fritharic among the Gothic people.

29.  The commemoration of the martyrs who, with Werekan the presbyter and Batwin the minister of the Catholic church were burned among the Gothic people.

… beginning of July .30.

3.  Of King Constantine.

6.  Of Bishop Dorotheus.

15.  Of Philip the Apostle of Hierapolis.

19.  Of the venerable nuns of Beroea, 40 in all.

But Ebbinghaus rendered the second entry as perhaps, “The memory of the martyrs who were with Wereka the priest and Batwins—all that is left of a church full of people—burnt in Gothia”[4].

Likewise “July” is not what subsequent readers have understood.  The “Naubaimbar” or “November” above wasn’t even visible to Mai.  Recently David Laudau has restudied images of the palimpsest and has shown that the word is not there.

I’ve been trying to find out more details, but it is remarkably hard to find your way into the literature.  I can’t find the shelfmarks for the manuscripts.  The key article on the calendar appears to be E. A. Ebbinghaus, “The Gothic Calendar”, General Linguistics 15 (1975); but I can find no evidence of the journal.

David Landau seems to have done a lot of work on this, and especially on the word “jiuleis”.  His home page is here, and includes many PDFs of his articles.  In “The Source of the Gothic Month Name jiuleis and its Cognates”,   Namenkundliche Informationen 95-6 (2009), pp. 239-248, he argues that it cannot mean “Jul” or “Yule”, because no such pre-Christian feast existed.  His source for this is given as Gustav Bilfinger, Untersuchungen iiber die Zeitrechnung der alten Germanen. Vol.2: Das Germanische Julfest, Stuttgart 1901.  The value of this statement is not known to me.  Instead he argues that it derives from “jubilee”.

It would be interesting to know more about this obscure text in an obscure language.

  1. [1]D. Gary Miller, The Oxford Gothic Grammar, Oxford (2019), p.9.  Preview here.
  2. [2]Vlphilae partium ineditarum in Ambrosianis palimpsestis ab Angelo Maio, 1819.  Online here, p.26 f.
  3. [3]W. Streitberg, Die gotische Bibel, 1908.  The calendar is on p.472-4.
  4. [4]Ernst A. Ebbinghaus, “The Second Entry of the Gothic Calendar”, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 77 (1978), 183-7. JSTOR

From my diary

I’ve been updating the Mithras site with images that people have sent me over the last year.  These go into the catalogue of monuments and inscriptions that I maintain, as and when I feel like it.  I’ve added an entry for the “new” Mithraeum at Ostia, which has been dubbed the “Mithraeum of the coloured marbles.”  I think that I have dealt with the backlog.

The actual publications about the new Mithraeum are thankfully online at  While going through the Academia page, I noticed increased signs that the owners intend to monetise the site – containing content, remember, that they did not create.  I fear that the greed of the owners will kill the site.  But I imagine that people will just migrate to another.

I must now try to return to adding syntactical information to QuickLatin.