Apollodorus of Damascus (c. 100 AD), “On military engineering”

A tweet by Gareth Harney drew my attention to a collection of ancient works on siegecraft, transmitted together in the Byzantine period, with splendid illustrations.  As with all technical texts, they probably were altered somewhat along the way.

One of these is the Poliorcetica by Apollodorus of Damascus.  He was an important Roman engineer in Trajan’s campaigns in Dacia, and he was responsible for the great bridge over the Danube, as Procopius tells us.  He designed Trajan’s forum, and may be responsible for Trajan’s column and the Pantheon.  But Cassius Dio (69.4, online here) tells us that he was a practical, plain-spoken man; and that Hadrian first demoted and then executed him:

But he first banished and later put to death Apollodorus, the architect, who had built the various creations of Trajan in Rome — the forum, the odeum and the gymnasium. 2. The reason assigned was that he had been guilty of some misdemeanour; but the true reason was that once when Trajan was consulting him on some point about the buildings he had said to Hadrian, who had interrupted with some remark: “Be off, and draw your gourds. You don’t understand any of these matters.” (It chanced that Hadrian at the time was pluming himself upon some such drawing.)

3. When he became emperor, therefore, he remembered this slight and would not endure the man’s freedom of speech. He sent him the plan of the temple of Venus and Roma by way of showing him that a great work could be accomplished without his aid, and asked Apollodorus whether the proposed structure was satisfactory.

4. The architect in his reply stated, first, in regard to the temple, that it ought to have been built on high ground and that the earth should have been excavated beneath it, so that it might have stood out more conspicuously on the Sacred Way from its higher position, and might also have accommodated the machines in its basement, so that they could be put together unobserved and brought into the theatre without anyone’s being aware of them beforehand. Secondly, in regard to the statues, he said that they had been made too tall for the height of the cella. 5. “For now,” he said, “if the goddesses wish to get up and go out, they will be unable to do so.”

When he wrote this so bluntly to Hadrian, the emperor was both vexed and exceedingly grieved because he had fallen into a mistake that could not be righted, and he restrained neither his anger nor his grief, but slew the man.

The introductory letter of the Poliorceta is ascribed to Hadrian in the Bologne manuscript, but Whitehead has argued that the work was in fact dedicated to Trajan.

Here is a sample page from the work, depicting a seige tower.  It is taken (via Wikimedia) from MS. Paris BNF 2442 (siglum P), fol. 97v.

MS Paris BNF 2242, fol. 97v. Via Wikimedia

I thought a little bibliography might be helpful, as it look a little searching to find the basic stuff, like editions and translations.

The principal manuscripts (from Wescher) seem to be:

  • M = Paris BNF suppl. gr. 607 (10th c.), f.33r-45v, 59r-61v.  CatalogueDigitised Manuscript.  This manuscript originated at the monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos, and was brought to Europe by Minas Minoides in 1843.  The opening with the incipit is lost.
  • V = Vatican gr. 1164 (11th c.), folios 119r-136v; but the ms has been refoliated and so actually starts on f.118r.  Digitised Manuscript.
  • P = Paris BNF gr. 2442 (11th c.).  Curiously this does not seem to be online, nor any of the dozen copies of it.

Wescher states (p.137) that the fragment in the 16th century Bologne manuscript (“cod. graec. S. Salvatoris 587”), copied by Valerianus Albinus, apparently attributes the work to Hadrian.

The editions of the Greek text known to me are:

  • C. Wescher, Poliorcetique des Grecs: traités théoriques – récits historiques, Imprimerie impériale(1867).  This analyses the manuscripts.  Online here.  This seems to be the first critical edition, although the drawings of the images are curiously bad sometimes.
  • R. Schneider, Griechische Poliorketiker, t. I [Abhandl. der königlichen Gesellschaft der Wiss. zu Göttingen, philol.-hist. Klasse, n. s., 10, 1], Berlin (1908), pp. 8-50, l. 12, et pl. I-XIV).  No analysis of the manuscript tradition, but a German translation, and plates.  Online here (but only in the USA, thanks to predatory German publishers).

There are at least three translations:

  • David Whitehead, Apollodorus Mechanicus, Siege-matters (2010).  This I have not seen.
  • E. Lacoste, “Les Poliorcetiques d’ Apollodore de Damas composées pour l’Empereur Hadrien,” Revue des Études Grecs 3 (1890) 230-81.  Online at Persee here.
  • Schneider’s edition contains a facing German translation.

There is a very good article on the work:

  • P.H. Blyth, “Apollodorus of Damascus and the Poliorcetica”, GRBS 33 (1992), p.127 f..  Online here.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the opening portion of the text, in the Vatican gr. 1164, and in Wescher’s edition.  I had to look several times to be sure that this was the same text!

Vat. gr. 1164, fol. 118r. Beginning of Apollodorus, Poliorcetica.

And now Weschler:

Interesting to see Hadrian, or perhaps Trajan, addressed as “despota”!


From my diary

I’ve been away for a week.  I took a laptop, but blessedly never touched it.  Remarkably I had excellent weather nearly the whole time. Sightseeing, beaches, trips over the moors: all very different.  Even the 270 mile drives each way were not that great a problem.  Naturally I return to quite an inbox, but I think that I have replied to everyone.  I won’t do anything much more until next week, I think.


A letter by the gnostic Valentinus preserved among the letters of Basil of Caesarea?

I have received an email from Nathan Porter, who has an article due out in Vigiliae Christianae, “A Newly Identified Letter of Valentinus on Jesus’s Digestive System: Ps.-Basil of Caesarea’s ep. 366”.  Thankfully the article is available at Academia.edu here.

It seems that Basil of Caesarea’s Epistula 366 (De continentia) is verbally identical, in places, with portions of Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis  The latter contains a quotation from a lost letter of the gnostic heresiarch Valentinus to Agathopous.  This the author gives as:

Valentinus, in his letter to Agathopous, says, “Enduring everything, he was continent. Jesus worked divinity: he ate and drank in his own way, not expelling his food. For so great was the power of continence in him that his food did not corrupt in him, since he himself could not be corrupted.”

The Basil passage is:

For if death comes from corruption, and immortality comes from the absence of corruption, Jesus worked divinity, not mortality. He ate and drank in his own way, not expelling his food. So great a power was continence in him that his food did not corrupt in him, since he himself could not be corrupted.

The author suggests that De Continentia is in fact the very same as the lost letter of Valentinus.  The actual idea is indeed heretical, in a docetic way, because such a Christ is not fully man.

The article is very detailed, very well argued, and certainly deserves publication, and professional responses.   I can only give a hasty comment here on a couple of points.

My only concern is that the type of argumentation employed can produce false positives rather easily.  Two passages of text, of any real length, which appear in different works by different authors but which are worded identically, cannot possibly be independent.  We may not know what the connection is, but there must be a connection somehow.  In this case we are not dealing with a long passage of identical wording.  Instead we are dealing with a few words and an idea in a couple of sentences.  That’s risky territory. We’re all accustomed to parallelomania, where a “parallel” proves connection, indeed derivation, and any two things can be made to look the same if we squint hard enough.  We have no “control” search, in which we check whether the method produces demonstrably false results (or does not).  How indeed would we construct one?  But I recall an example, in a different context, of just such a failure which I discussed here.   The false positive is always a risk, with such small amounts of data.

To his credit, the author seems to be aware of this, and quite rightly tries to address this using other material from the two texts, arguing that it is unlikely that the relatively well-structured argument of De Continentia is produced by reading Clement’s Stromateis and reorganising it.  He makes a good case for this; but I do wonder whether it’s true.

Mr Porter also seems aware of the context in Basil’s writings, and he discusses how De Continentia would fit into the patristic world for which it was written.  This is well done indeed.  However I don’t think that there is any need to suppose that someone intended to transmit a letter of Valentinus to the future by hiding it under Basil’s name, as we know that the Apollinarists were forced to do.  No gnostic felt bound by the teachings of his master, and the disciples of Valentinus each embroidered their own system.  By the fourth century AD, did the name of Valentinus mean much, even to the remaining Valentinians?  In manuscript collections of material, chance plays a large part.  Possibly somebody just liked the line of argument, oblivious of its origin, or it was scholia in the margin, or whatever.

All the same, it’s a fine article.  Worth a read!


The fragrant underwear of St Nicholas

The medieval miracle stories of St Nicholas are unsophisticated.  One of these, BHL 6168, contains the following episode, which provoked a few unintentional chuckles.

…the blessed and chosen archbishop of our Lord Jesus Christ, Nicholas, when he was about to pass away from this light to the Lord in a wonderful way, and had completed a wonderful life, he gave back his soul to his most holy creator by an evident miracle. …. Then, having washed the most holy body of a holy man according to the custom, they [the clergy] strove reverently to preserve the linens [linteamina] which the living man had used, as being of use to many in posterity.

2.  Now there happened to be a certain man, Jethro by name, who had come from a far country to consult the holy and most wise man. Here, when he found deceased the man whom he had been looking for alive, he began with great sorrow to beg the same priests and clerics, that even something of the holy man’s clothes [vestimentis] might be given to him out of compassion. …

Then the priests and the clerics, considering these things, and valuing such a request and the longing of the man, gave him one of the linens of the most holy man. Then, when Jethro had received the garment of the blessed Nicholas, with great longing he put it back in a new bag, which had not previously been used by anyone for any actual purpose.

I recall that in Boswell’s Life of Johnson, he remarks Johnson admitted that he had “no passion” for clean linen; that is, clean underwear.    Just which “linen” did Jethro receive, one wonders?

It is worrying that there is no mention of washing the clothing.

And he went away happily saying: “I thank you, Lord, because I am carrying the relics of your most holy confessor.” I beseech you, Lord, to give me a son from my loins through these relics of the blessed Nicholas, for your honor and my joy, and public satisfaction.”

3.   Now when Jethro returned to his city, which is called Excoranda, …. he began to build a church, outside the gates of the city on the east side about two stadia away. As soon as this had been completed, Apollonius, the bishop of the same city, dedicated it in honour and memory of St. Nicholas, storing in it that clothing with solemn veneration.

That is, Jethro wisely placed the church, and the reliquary containing the holy underwear, a good couple of furlongs down wind.  For, as we read:

But when the relics of the holy man were placed in a suitable place, they began to emit such a smell [tantum odorem] from themselves that the fragrance [fragrantia] of such an over-strong smell [odoris nimii] extended for two full stadia.

Various miracles then took place at the church, restoring sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, etc.  One can only hope that nobody sought a cure for a loss of the sense of smell.  The odour of sanctity, it seems, is strong.  Possibly St Nicholas should have sponsored a soap powder?

To conclude on an even more frivolous note, readers in the United Kingdom may wonder just what brand of underwear was preferred by St Nicholas.  Perhaps he wore “Saint Michael” underwear?

Update (4 Feb 2023): For some real information about the Latin for underwear, rather than my persiflage, please see this excellent post by Michael Gilleland at his blog Laudator Temporum Acti here.


Some primary sources for the later legends of St Hilda

The Anglo-Saxon Saint Hilda of Whitby is known to us, not from legendary material, but from a first-rate historical source, Bede’s History of the English Church and People.   The ruined medieval abbey still stands on the cliff-top above the town, and there is still an Anglican order of nuns with a priory in the town, the Order of the Holy Paraclete.  The modern name of Whitby is Danish; the Anglo-Saxon name was Streneshalc, or some variant thereof.  There is a useful article in the Tablet here, if one can get past all the advertising popups.

But what about later miracle stories?  Surely these must exist?  What is out there?

For hagiographical texts for any saint, one would naturally consult the Acta Sanctorum.  Unfortunately the editors  of that series, the Bollandist monks, have yet to get that far.  Volume 67 only takes us to November 10.  St Hilda is commemorated on November 17 in the Roman Catholic Church, so we get nothing from that source.

The Bibliographia Hagiographica Latina vol. 1, p.583 has only a very short entry:

Hilda abb. Streanaeshalcensis, + 680. — Nov. 17.
Beda, Hist. eccl. iv. 21 (23) ; || Hist. SS. (Colon. 1483), f. 373d-74d (prima sententia post reliqua omnia reiecta est) ; || id. (Lovan. 1485), f. 198v-99v (item) ; || Capgravius, f. 179-80T (quibusdam omissis, quibusdam etiam ex Beda, iv. 22 (24) insertis).

The “Hist. SS.” is Hystorie plurimorum sanctorum noviter et laboriose ex diversis libris in unum collecte, Colon (1483).  This may be merely a version of the Golden Legend, but I was unable to locate a copy.  At all events the Bollandists do not assign any of this material a BHL number.  The Capgrave item we will discuss below.

However there are indeed later medieval texts containing a Life of St Hilda.  These naturally build on Bede, but contain new legendary material.  Here is what I was able to find, scattered across other publications.

The 14th century John of Tynemouth’s Sanctilogium (found in the badly damaged MS British Library Cotton Tiberius E.1) is accessible in a revised form in Capgrave’s Nova Legenda Angliae.  The 1901 reprint by C. Horstman contains a Life of St Hilda in volume 2, pages 29-33.  (Online at Archive.org here).

Another life of Hilda is preserved in the 14th century MS British Library Lansdowne 436, fols. 105v-7r.  This is independent of John of Tynemouth, but unfortunately is not accessible online.

A 15th century manuscript, Cambridge Trinity College O.9.38, contains on ff. 69r-76v a Latin poem written by a monk of Glastonbury, tells us that St. Hilda’s relics were taken to that abbey during the Viking raids.  This has been printed by A.G. Rigg, “A Latin Poem on St Hilda and Whitby Abbey”, Journal of Medieval Latin 6 (1996), 12-43 (JSTOR), to which I owe my knowledge of these other sources.  He also details the sources for the history of Whitby abbey.

In the 16th century John Leland, who called himself “the king’s antiquary”, made visits to all the soon-to-be-abolished English monasteries, and made notes of books in their libraries, plus other incidental information.  Although he never published anything, his tantalising handwritten notes survived, and they were published in the 18th century by Thomas Hearne: John Leland, De Rebus Britannicis Collectanea (1715), vol. 3, pp.39-40. (Online at Google Books here).   Page 39 begins his account of the Whitby area.  He gives extracts from a Life of St Bega, an Irish saint, who had a double monastery at Whitby of monks and nuns, according to Anglo-Saxon custom. There is mention of a “humilis” church of St Hilda at “Greveson”, standing on a prominence called “Sowter” locally, and, he thinks, perhaps once a cell of St Bega.  Then he gives excepts from a text, taken “ex vita S. Hildae”, “From a life of St Hilda”.  This text is otherwise lost.

Ex vita S. Hildae.

Monasterium S. Hildae apud Streneshalc penitus destructum fuit ab Inguaro et Hubba, Titusque Glesconiam cum reliquiis S. Hildae aufugit.

The monastery of St. Hilda at Streneshalc was completely destroyed by Inguar and Hubba, and Titus fled to Glastonbury with the remains of St. Hilda.

Restitutum fuit monasterium de Streneshalc tempore Henrici primum per Guelielmum Perse.

The monastery of Streneshalc was restored in the time of Henry I by William Percy.

Mira res est videre serpentes apud Streneshalc in orbes giratos et inclementia caeli vel, ut monachi ferunt, precibus D. Hildae in lapides concretos.

It is a wonderful thing to see serpents at Streneshalc turned into orbs, and by the judgement of heaven, or, as the monks say, by the prayers of Lady Hilda, into concrete stones.

Locus, ubi nunc coenobium est, videtur mihi esse arx inexpugnabilis.

The place where the convent now stands seems to me to be an impregnable stronghold.

Pictura vitrea, quae est in Streneshalc, monstrat, Scotos, qui prope fines Anglorum habitabant, fuisse vel ad Gulielmi Nothi tempora antropophagos, et hanc immanitatem a Gulielmianis gladio fuisse punitam.

A glass painting, which is in Streneshalc, shows that the Scots, who lived near the borders of the English, were cannibals even in the time of William Noth, and that this savagery was punished by the sword of William.

Eska flumen oritur in Eskdale, defluitque per Danbeium nemus, et tandem apid Streneshalc in mare se exonerat.

The river Eska rises in Eskdale, flows through the forest of Danby [Dalby], and finally empties itself into the sea at Streneshalc.

The “orbs” and “concrete stones” seem to be a reference to fossil ammonites, still to be found on the beaches north of Whitby.  I do not know who William Noth was, unfortunately.

An 18th century extract from John of Tynemouth’s Sanctilogium exists in MS British Library, Stowe 305, on fols. 316-7, which includes the story about the serpents, but also a note about the medicinal properties of the ammonites.  This does not seem to be online, and indeed is an odd collection of mainly early modern items.  Their rather useless catalogue lists this as the last item in the collection, an 18th century paper manuscript:

10. Account of the foundation of Whitby Abbey by Hilda, afterwards 1st Abbess. Lat. f. 316. Paper; ff. 325. xviith-xviiith centt. Folio.

The early 17th century English text follows John of Tynemouth directly, and may be found in C. Horstman, The Lives of Women Saints of Our Contrie of England, (1886) pp.56-58 (Online at Archive.org here)

A.G. Rigg tells us that St Hilda was a popular saint, at least if dedications of churches and colleges are anything to go by.  If so, the above material seems like rather a meagre harvest of material.  Surely there must be more out there somewhere?


How did he get *that* reading?? (Again) – Recensio 7

From one of the miracle stories of St Nicholas (BHL 6164), appended to John the Deacon.  The story so far.  St Nicholas has sneaked up on a gang of robbers who have looted a customs-house, which was left under the saint’s protection.

Tunc dixit ad eos Sanctus Nicolaus, “O infelices et miseri, quid agitis? Numquid ignoratis, quoniam ego ipse ibidem eram, quando hoc malum perpetrastis? Nam oculi mei conspexerunt, quando has et illas res abstulistis.” Quantitatem et numerum etiam cunctarum rerum, quae de theloneo abstulerunt, singillatim eis exponens, addidit dicens, …

Then Saint Nicholas said to them, “O unfortunate and wretched ones, what are you doing? Do you not know that I myself was there when you committed this evil? For my eyes saw when you took away these things and those things.” Then he gave the quantity, and also the number of all the things which they had taken from the toll-house, listing one by one to them, saying, , …

He tells them, “All is known!” and they panic and take the stuff back. The Latin text here is what I now think the author wrote.

But I was working from the Falconius edition (1751) here, and when I got to this bit, I was a bit puzzled.  Here it is:

Latin text of the passage in the edition of Falconius.

Which is a bit weird.  How is “quanti autem” the accusative for “exponens”?

Well I happened to have a manuscript open (BNF lat. 989, 10th c.), and I saw this:

Latin text of the passage in manuscript BNF lat. 989.

That made more sense.  “Quantitatem” rather than “Quanti”.  The etiam has moved up, so we end up with “etiam &”, a phrase not  uncommon in John the Deacon.  But the “etiam”‘s do move around in the manuscripts.  It’s probably just a copyist error in this particular manuscript.

Next I looked at the Mombritius, the first edition, published before 1480, and I got this:

Latin text of the passage in the edition of Mombritius.

This confirmed the “quantitatem”, but left the “etiam” alone.  Only “numerum” has now become “munerum”, “the quantity and value also of all the stuff…”.  Nobody else has “munerum”, so this suggests to me that the Mombritius edition was based on a manuscript in Gothic hand, where such slips can be rather easy…

Cartoon showing Gothic book hand and its unreadability

I do love that cartoon!

Next I opened another manuscript, Wien ONB 416 (12th c.), which belongs to a separate family from the other manuscripts:

Latin text of the passage in the manuscript Wien ONB 416.

Here again we have “Quantitatem & numerum etiam”, rather abbreviated.

Then I looked at the Lippoman edition (1515), and all became clear.

Latin text of the passage in the edition of Lippomanus.

Here is our “Quanti”, as Falconius gives it!  And here also is his “autem”, or rather “tatem”!!  The silly fool was copying Lippomanus, clearly in a great hurry, and didn’t notice the hyphen.  So he gave two words, “Quanti autem”, where the nice clear printed copy before him read “Quantitatem”.

It’s hard to believe that Falconius did this, so I would tend to think that his compositor/typesetter did it.  Which means that when Falconius sent his edition to the press, he sent a marked-up copy of Lippomanus to the press, rather than writing out his own copy first.

We get an awful lot of information here about these early editions.

  • The editio princeps, Mombritius, ca. 1480, was printed from a manuscript in Gothic hand, and misread.
  • The second edition, of Lippomanus, ca. 1515, may have used Mombritius but certainly did not copy it.  Instead it gives the manuscript reading.
  • The third edition, of Falconius, 1751, was done carelessly and quite possibly by writing changes into a copy of the Lippomanus edition.  There was no change at this point, but the typesetter misread the exemplar before him and got it wrong.

That’s rather nice, really.  I’ve learned a lot from a little.  Once again, I’ve learned not to rely on Falconius.


From my diary

An email arrived late yesterday from the library, advising me that a book had arrived, and apologising in case someone else had notified me already.  This was not the case, so I infer that my book had been sat there at the library for some time.  This morning I went in and collected it, and paid the interlibrary loan fee.  I walked down the street in a thin rain to a cafe, and sat there, with a scone and a diet coke, and examined the treasure.

The book is a monograph by Elaine Treharne, The Old English Life of St Nicholas with the Old English Life of St Giles, Leeds University (1997).  Google Books had alerted me that it contained interesting things, but I was unable to locate a PDF.

A google search on the author suggests that Dr Treharne must have been about the age of twelve when she wrote it, because she seems to be a young scholar even now.

To my delight, in an appendix it contains a Latin text of John the Deacon, while not actually saying so.  This is a transcription from a Cotton manuscript which is not online.  I have already scanned those pages and made a machine comparison with the Mombritius edition which has become my reference text.

The monograph is a very dry volume, as most are, and quite rightly.  I’ve seen two reviews, which merely highlight how useful it is to have a text and translation.  There is also a rather acid review by Bengt Lindström, highlighting a load of errors in the translation and suggesting that the book should not have been accepted for publication.  I cannot comment on any of that, knowing no Anglo-Saxon, but I do know from experience that anybody can improve a translation, and find errors.   It’s very easy.  Actually making the first translation is the hard bit.  However what is indeed useful in the Lindström review is the very many corrections.  It also highlights that many reviewers are not really doing their job.  Improving the book is what a review should do.

Working with the Nicholas literature is hard, because we lack proper critical editions of the texts.  So all that anybody can do is to take small steps forward.  Publishing the Old English text and translation is a very useful thing to do, therefore.  I noticed that in some ways Dr T. was in the same position as I am.  I can’t do a proper job on the Latin text, because the Greek on which it is based has never been translated and is very hard to work with.  So I ignore it as best I can.  Dr T is working on the Old English, so has to bodge her way a bit with what she says about the Latin, because this too has not been studied properly.  This is what everybody will have to do.

I’m doing bits and pieces at the moment.  Meisen’s Nikolauskult volume has reached me, and I have OCR’d, but no more.  I will need to look through it.  I’ve been creating a file with the Latin miracle stories in it, that infest the manuscripts of John the Deacon, and a draft translation of each.  Currently it contains about 30 episodes.  I hope to do a few more, and then I will post it online purely as a tool, for others and for myself, to aid with working with the Latin Nicholas literature.  Then I need to get back to the text of John the Deacon.


English language review of Albocicade’s “Chrétiens en débat avec l’islam”

French blogger Albocicade, who writes at Les Cigales Eloquentes and also maintains a site of resources on Theodore Abu Qurrah writes to say that his book – Chrétiens en débat avec l’islam, VII°-XXI° siècle: Paul d’Antioche, Anba Jirji al-Semani, Théodore Abu Qurrah, Timothée I de Bagdad (2022), ISBN : 978-2-14-026799-4 – has been reviewed in English very kindly in a Czech publication.  He has details of the book publication and contents here.  It contains primary source material from less-than-familiar authors.

The review by Lukas de la Vega Nosek appears in Parresia 16 (2002), 269-272.  It may be read online here.  Dr Nosek strikes just the right note in reviewing the book, which can only serve to make the contents still more widely known and available.


Please do plagiarize me, I don’t care: a blogger writes about #ReceptioGate

On Christmas Eve, a blogger named Peter Kidd launched an attack on Twitter on a Swiss academic named Carla Rossi and her RECEPTIO foundation, with a blog post headed “Nobody cares about your blog!” Dr Rossi had helped herself to some images and some of the research on the blog while doing her own research, and had not credited her source.  Unfortunately for her, in fact Dr Kidd was not “just a blogger”, but also a professional, working in the world of manuscripts for the Bodleian and Sothebys, and he took exception to what he saw as plagiarism.  His blog, Medieval Manuscripts Provenance,  contains much original research and supports his career. He wrote to Dr Rossi and complained.  What he got back was an insulting brush-off and a threat of litigation.  His blew the whistle: the business went viral, and a lynch mob formed.  It turned out that Dr R. had also created various shell organisations in order to apply for funding.  Other examples of the use of other people’s work appeared.  Dr Rossi’s reputation is severely damaged thereby.

But I have not followed every twist and turn.  I don’t unreservedly agree with either side.  I notice that Neville Morley at the Sphinx blog raises some of the same issues that I can see.  This business reveals much about the modern “Academia” business, and the pressures upon academics to publish, publish, publish.  I don’t think that using stuff off the web is wrong.  Copying stuff off the web is what everybody does.  All of us need inspiration from somewhere.  Creating one-man institutions in order to jump through the hoops for funding is how everything in academia starts.  Despite the hoo-hah, much of what Dr R. has done is venial at worst, and the beating that she has received is really disproportionate.  But I also think that people shouldn’t dump all over those from whom they borrow.  It will all blow over in a while, I am sure.

None of this is any of my business.  Unlike Dr. Kidd, I am indeed “just a blogger”.  I am not an academic.  I do not have a career.

All the same, I’d like to make clear my own attitude to the use of materials uploaded by me by others. This blog, and everything I do, is a labour of love, nothing more.  Plagiarize me as much as you like!  I do not care.  I am, indeed, gratified if you do.

I place online all sorts of stuff. I have done so for twenty-five years now.  I continue to do what we all did in the early days of the web; to contribute.  I borrow images from wherever, and I don’t credit where that is, quite often.  But I really do not think that it matters.  There is neither money nor prestige to be found here: only honest enthusiasm.

I am very happy for anybody to use anything that is mine, and I don’t expect credit or attribution.  I do not even care.  I don’t care whether the person using my stuff is an academic, or a member of the public.  Both are equal in my eyes.  Help yourselves.  I’ll do what I can for you.

My own purpose is to make the world a larger and better place.  I want people to read ancient texts, to learn, to have better lives and to know more.  Access to this stuff is difficult.  Even an amateur like me can do something.  So I do.  Doing all this stuff makes my life better, and gives me a purpose in life.

I don’t do any of this for recognition, and I don’t really want any either.  I do feel glad when I see evidence that what I do is having an effect.  In some cases I have uploaded some text or other, and found that, over the next few years, a series of academic publications have taken place upon that same text.  None of them mention me, of course, and perhaps it is a coincidence.  But I can hope that it is not.  Sometimes the project clearly  did arise because of my work, which is great.  And they often do right in not mentioning me, because academia is as snobbish as hell, and you can damage your own reputation by mentioning non-academic sources.  I understand.

I don’t want #ReceptioGate to stop people putting stuff online, or using stuff that they find online.  In the end it is just an academic spat.  But the culture of sharing and reuse benefits everybody.  Please… plagiarize me!

Update: From the comments, I ought to make clear that I don’t in any way endorse academic plagiarism, or failure to cite sources.  But use my stuff as you like!


From my diary

An email from my local library advises that a copy of K. Meisen’s Nikolauskult und Nikolausbrauch im Abendland (1928) has arrived.  Tomorrow I shall go and get it.  I can’t read German very well, so I will have to scan it into a PDF, so that I can use Google Translate on it.  So I think that’s going to take up tomorrow.  I imagine that, once I have done so, I will find that someone long since put a PDF on the web.  At least, that’s what happened the last time!

I read somewhere that Meisen’s book is the best study of the spread of the legends of St Nicholas, and publishes some of the texts.  But I also read that it was always a rare book, because most of the print run was destroyed before it could be sold.  Copies for sale online are indeed very pricey.

While I was working on analysing the medieval manuscripts of the Nicholas legends, I kept tripping over the various miracle stories tacked on the end.  Eventually I got fed up, and started creating a Word document with the Latin text of these, and the Bibliographia Hagiographia Latina number for each, simply so that I could find my way around this mass of stuff.  I’m still working on this file, and I’ve included a rough English translation of each as I go.  They’re mostly short, so this is not hard work.  The majority of the texts were printed by the Bollandists in the early 20th century in their catalogues of Brussels and Paris manuscripts.  They were made of stern stuff in those days.

But even so, they had their limits.  This evening I looked up BHL 6146, and found that they only printed the incipit and a brief description of contents.  So I will have to go and find a manuscript and transcribe it myself.  Luckily I have a PDF of the very manuscript from which they printed their stuff.  I’ll come back to that one, tho, as I am rather on the roll with the others.

A couple of days ago I saw an interesting tweet online by María Ithurria here, which I thought might be of interest to many of us: “This is how a physician ended up arranging the funding for a translation of Justinian’s Digest.”  She posted this portion of Alan Watson, “Aspects of Reception of Law”, in: The American Journal of Comparative Law, 44 (1996) 335-351 (JSTOR):

Many scholars, not just in law, discount chance. By chance I mean something that could not be predicted. Some even deny the existence of any such thing. But I have an example that is irrefutable.  Today (when I was writing — late 1994) Roman law is more prominent in South African decisions than it was a decade ago. Roman law, as received in Holland in the seventeenth century, has always been influential in South Africa, but why the upswing?

In 1977 on his way to the airport, Dr. Carleton Chapman bought in New York a copy of Alan Watson’s, Legal Transplants, without much examination. Dr. Chapman was a physician who was interested in law, and thought the book was about the law relating to medical transplants. Still, he had a life-long interest in legal history, and he enjoyed the book (I presume). He wrote to Watson asking why there was no English translation of Justinian’s Digest.  Watson first thought of not bothering to reply. But he had a visit from Colin Kolbert from Cambridge, who was on his way farther North, who told him to give a response. Watson wrote that there already existed a poor translation,[9] that a new translation would be an enormous task, and that the work involved would carry little prestige, would be unnecessary in the eyes of many, and would be very expensive to produce. Chapman replied that if Watson came up with a feasible scheme for translating he would arrange the funding. Chapman was then the President of The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation primarily concerned with medical research. The outcome was the publication in 1985 of a four volume translation (with facing text) of Justinian’s Digest. It is the existence of this translation that has made the Digest more accessible to South African lawyers, and accounts for the upswing in its use.

[9].  S.P. Scott, The Civil Law, 17 vols. (1932)

We discount the personal element at our peril!