From My Diary

The other evening I realised with a shock that the project with the St Nicholas material is actually done.  My original intention was to make the oldest hagiographical material available in English translation, and this I have achieved.  With the translation of the “Life of St Nicholas” by Methodius (ad Theodorum), which originally drew me into this, the project is complete.  All that remains is to tidy up.

What remains?  Well, I have a couple more fragments of Latin miracle stories that I did.  But the original reason for doing these was to help with the translation of John the Deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas”, which often is interspersed with Latin miracle stories.  But all those are done.  The remainder are all later stuff, and really are out of scope.  So I will just release the last handful that I have done, and stop there.  That will be it.

Something that I did long ago was the first recension of the “Praxis de Stratelatis”, the story of the three generals.  This a kind colleage translated from the text printed by Anrich in “Agios Nikolaos”.  A couple of days ago, I started to OCR the second recension from Anrich, so that I could put this into an AI Translator.  I did the first page, and the results were very nice indeed.  The AI translators do a fine job.  The OCR wasn’t too bad either, except that Anrich used a strange version of “theta” (θ) where the loop is not closed, so Finereader OCR thinks that is an ampersand (&).  Likewise sigma was sometimes handled as beta.  The high-point was always recognised with an asterisk.  And so on.  The accentuation was a mess, of course; but the machine translators do not seem to care.  My new unicode Greek SPIonic-layout keyboard for Windows 11 worked fine.  But … correcting the OCR became tiresome.  And I found myself wondering why I was bothering.  I never intended to translate everything between the covers of Anrich’s two fat volumes.

Thankfully an academic team has now come along and will do professional work on all the St Nicholas texts.  That is as it should be, and I wish them all the best.  My own humble efforts have made the texts more accessible to everyman, and they never had any purpose beyond that.  If they have spurred renewed interest from scholars, then that is better still.

So… what now?

I was quite impressed with how well the modern Greek translations of St Nicholas material were handled by the AI translators, with a bit of sanity-checking from Google Translate.  I really have almost no translations of patristic material into modern Greek.  Indeed I wonder… now that we can work with modern Greek, it might be interesting to see just what already exists in translation in that language!

The only other text that I have in modern Greek translation is the mass of hardly-edited texts under the name of “Ephraem Graecus”.  I have the Phrantzolas edition of these, thanks to a correspondent.  In fact I find that the ancient/medieval Greek of these is in the elderly TLG disks, which most of us have, so I have access to that too.

I fired up Diogenes, which I use to work with that disk, and picked a text at random.  (In fact it was “Sermo unde magi in Hierosolymam ineunt.”)  I copied some of the text, and ran it through Bard AI.  Here’s the text:

Λόγος ὅτε οἱ μάγοι παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα

 Ὅταν ἀγαθοῦ τινος ὁδοιπόρος τύχῃ συνόδου, χαίρει τὸν πόνον τῆς μακρᾶς ὁδοιπορίας κλεπτόμενος ὁμιλίᾳ· ὡς ῥάβδῳ γὰρ ἐρειδόμενος λόγῳ ἀκονιστικῷ γλώττῃ, συμβαδίζειν κεκονισμένῳ δοκεῖ τῷ ποδὶ καὶ τῷ στόματι ἀκαμάτῳ· μεριζόμενος γόνασι κόπον, κουφίζει χείλεσι πολυβάδιστον βῆμα.  Οὕτω δὴ καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ γεννηθέντος, οἱ μάγοι τὸν ἀστέρα ἰδόντες καὶ τοῦτον λαβόντες συνοδοιπόρον, τὸν πολυπόρευτον κόπον ἔκλεπτον τῆς ὁδείας ἐρωτήσει κοπούμενοι, ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεὺς πυθόμενοι· ὡς κλέπτας τοῦ τεχθέντος ἠρεύνουν φωνῇ τοὺς Ἑβραίους.  Τοῖς δὲ ἐρωτῶσιν εἰκὸς Ἰουδαῖοι, τί δή, ξένοι, τολμᾶτε, τί φατε, ἄνδρες, φασί; Τί φέροντες ἐπικίνδυνον ἥκατε φήμην; Τί βασιλέα καινὸν βασιλευομένῃ σαλπίζετε πόλει; Τί πρὸς ἄωρον κυβιστεύετε τέλος; Τί κατ’ οἰκείων μαχαιροῦτε γλῶτταν τραχήλων; Τί τάφον ἐπιφέρεσθε στόματι, καθεύδοντα καθ’ ἑαυτῶν διυπνίζετε θάνατον; Ἠπόρει μνημάτων Περσίς, ἵνα ἔτι ζῶντος Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως ἄλλου πυνθάνεσθε; Πολλὴν ἀκούσας ὁμολογήσει χάριν ὑμῖν καὶ μεγάλοις ὑμᾶς ἀμείψειε δώροις.  Ἀλλ’ ἡ πρὸς ταῦτα τοῖς μάγοις ἀπόκρισις σύντομος· εἴδομεν αὐτοῦ, φασί, τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ. Οὐκ ἠρκέσθησαν ἐρωτῆσαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ προσκύνησιν φῆσαι· διὰ τῆσδε τῆς λέξεως Θεὸν εἶναι τὸν τεχθέντα δηλοῦντες.  Ὡς δὲ ἦλθε τῶν τοιούτων πρὸς Ἡρῴδην ἡ φήμη, τοὺς μάγους τέως ἀνείς, τοὺς σοφοὺς Ἰουδαίων καλεῖ λέγων· ποῦ ὁ Χριστὸς γεννᾶται; Οἱ δέ φασιν, ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας.  Ὢ τοῦ θαύματος! Τὸν τόπον ἐπίστανται, καὶ τὸν τόκον βδελύττονται· τὴν Βηθλεὲμ βοῶσι, καὶ τὴν οἰκονομίαν σιγῶσι· τὴν Ἰουδαίαν σημειοῦνται, καὶ τὴν δεσποτείαν ἀρνοῦνται. Εἰ οὕτω γέγραπται, διατί μὴ συντίθεσθε; Εἰ ἀνέγνωτε, διατί μὴ πιστεύετε; Εἰ ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τεχθήσεται, διατί μὴ παρ’ ὑμῶν προσκυνηθήσεται; Ὅθεν συνιεὶς ὁ Ἡρῴδης ὡς οὐχ ἁπλῶς ἥκεσαν ἐρωτῶντες οἱ μάγοι, λάθρα τούτους καλέσας ἐπυνθάνετο παρ’ αὐτῶν τὸν χρόνον τοῦ φαινομένου ἀστέρος, ἀκριβῶς, λέγων, τὸν τρόπον ὃν ἥκατε φάσκοντες, εἴπατε τὸ τῆς ὑμετέρας <ὁδείας>

And here is the output from Bard AI, unedited:

The Story of the Magi

When a traveler meets a good companion, he rejoices, stealing away the pain of the long journey with conversation. For as if leaning on a staff with a sharp-pointed tongue, he seems to walk with ease, his foot and his mouth tireless. Dividing the fatigue on his knees, he lightens his weary step with his lips.

So too, when Christ was born, the Magi, seeing the star and taking it as their companion, stole away the long journey of the road, inquiring and asking, “Where is the king?” They sought out the voice of the Hebrews, as thieves of the newborn.

It is likely that the Jews asked the questioners, “What do you mean, strangers? What are you saying, men? What dangerous rumor do you bring? Why do you trumpet a new king in a city that is already ruled? Why do you stir up trouble at an inopportune time? Why do you sharpen your tongues against your own necks? Why do you bring a tomb to your lips, awakening death against yourselves? Persia is full of tombs. Why do you ask about another king while Herod is still alive? He would hear your confession with great gratitude and reward you with great gifts.”

But the Magi’s answer to this was short: “We saw his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.” They were not satisfied with asking, but they also said that they would worship him. By this word they declared that the one who was born was God.

When word of this came to Herod, he dismissed the Magi for a time and called the wise men of the Jews, saying, “Where is the Christ born?” And they said, “In Bethlehem of Judea.”

Oh, the wonder! They know the place, and they abhor the birth. They cry out Bethlehem, and they are silent about the economy. They point to Judea, and they deny the lordship. If it is so written, why do you not agree? If you have read, why do you not believe? If he is to be born in Bethlehem, why will he not be worshiped by you? Therefore, Herod, realizing that the Magi had not come simply to ask questions, called them secretly and inquired of them the time of the appearance of the star, saying, “Tell me exactly the way you came, and tell me the time of your journey.”

And here, for comparison, is the Google Translate text, again unedited:

Reason when the magicians were brought to Jerusalem

It was a fellowship of the Synod, he enjoys the pain of the long -standing manner of the mackerel; ITON VIMA.   Even so, when Christ was born, the magicians, seeing the star and receiving this as a companion, asked the rich laborer, the thief of the covenant, when they were cut down, where the king was; they sought out the Jews by voice as the thief of what had been done.   And they will ask them if they are Jews, what do you say, foreigners, you dare, what do you eat, men, fasi?  What dangerous fame have you come? What city do you trumpet the king’s new reign? What do you end up turning against the hour? Why do you stab the throats of necks? Persis, the treasurer of monuments, why should you marry Herod’s living king? He heard many confessions for your sake and rewarded you with great gifts.  But the answer to this to the magicians was short: we saw the star in the east, and we came to worship him. It was not enough to ask, but also to worship; through this word God is declaring what has been done.   And when the rumor of these came to Herod, he called the magicians of old, the wise men of the Jews, saying: Where is Christ born? They said, in Bethlehem of Judea.   Ὢ of the miracle! The place they visit, and the interest they detest; Bethlehem loudly, and the economy quietly; Judea they mark, and despotia they deny. If it is written like this, why do you not compose it? If you read it, why do you not believe? If it is made in Bethlehem, why does it not worship before you? How did Herod know that the magicians did not simply come inquiring, and you secretly called them a priest for them at the time of the vision? stay star, exactly, saying, the way you came, you said that of the mother <Odeia>

Google Translate is now out-dated, but because it uses a different technology – NMT – it acts as a useful check on AI.  For instance the first sentence is paraphrased by AI, rather than translated.  At least one can count the sentences and get an idea if it’s all there!

Likewise Diogenes allows you to click on individual words and get the L&S result for each, which  helps in checking.

But all the same, the AI translation looks wonderful.  Basically we can now make use of it for ancient and medieval Greek.  So long as we proceed with caution!

I’m not sure whether I want to start working on Ephraem Graecus tho.  What is there in this mass of texts that is going to be interesting?  At the moment I don’t know.

There is another issue with the Ephraem Graecus material.  The edition was made by Assemani, in the 18th century.  He just printed in a heap whatever he found in the manuscripts.  What this means is that some short “texts” are actually just abstracts of other texts.

But which ones?  There ought to be a list, but if so, it has not reached me.

I wonder whether we could get AI to work out the relationships?  After all, the task is basically one of text comparison.  We have all the Greek in electronic form, thanks to the wonder that is the TLG.  So… can we get AI to look through it and tell us?

I think it might be possible.  But there’s only one way to find out, which is to try.  When I get a break, I might experiment a bit!


Methodius ad Theodorum (BHG 1352y) – now online in English

Here is the final version of the “Life of St Nicholas” by Methodius “ad Theodorum” – to Theodore.

The files are also on here.  As usual, this material is public domain.  Make whatever use of it you like, personal, educational or commercial.


How does “AI translation” work? Some high-level thoughts

The computer world is a high-bullshit industry.   Every computer system consists of nothing more than silicon chips running streams of ones (1) and zeros (0), however grandly this may be dressed-up.  The unwary blindly accept and repeat the words and pictures offered by salesmen with something to sell.  These are repeated by journalists who need something to write about.  Indeed the IT industry is the victim of repeated fads.  These are always hugely oversold, and they come, reach a crescendo, and then wither away.  But anybody doing serious work needs to understand what is going on under the hood.  If you cannot express it in your own words, you don’t understand it, and you will make bad decisions.

“AI” is the latest nonsense term being pumped by the media.  “Are the machines going to take over?!” scream the journalists.  “Your system needs AI,” murmur the salesmen.  It’s all bunk, marketing fluff for the less majestic-sounding “large language models (LLM) with a chatbot on the front.”

This area is the preserve of computer science people, who are often a bit strange, and are always rather mathematical.  But it would seem useful to share my current understanding as to what is going on, culled from a number of articles online.   I guarantee none of this; this is just what I have read.

Ever since Google Translate, machine translation is done by having a large volume of texts in, say, Latin, a similarly large volume in English, and a large amount of human-written translations of Latin into English.  The “translator” takes a Latin sentence input by a human, searches for a text containing those words in the mass of Latin texts, looks up the existing English translation of the same text, and spits back the corresponding English sentence.  Of course they don’t just have sentences; they have words, and clauses, all indexed in the same way.  There is much more to this, particularly in how material from one language is mapped to material in the other, but that’s the basic principle.  This was known as – jargon alert – “Neural Machine Translation” (NMT).

This process, using existing translations, is why the English translations produced by Google Translate would sometimes drop into Jacobean English for a sentence, or part of it.

The “AI translation” done using an LLM is a further step along the same road, but with added bullshit at each stage.  The jargon word for this technology seems to be “Generative AI”.

A “large language model” (LLM) is a file.  You can download them from GitHub.  It is a file containing numbers, one after another.  Each number represents a word, or part of a word.  The numbers are not random either – they are carefully crafted and generated to tell you how that word fits into the language.  Words relating to similar subjects have numbers which are “closer together”.  So in a sentence “John went skiing in the snow,” both “snow” and “skiing” relate to the same subject, and will have numbers closer together than the same number for “John.”

Again you need a very large amount of text in that language on both sides.  For each language, these texts are then processed into this mass of numbers.  The numbers tell you whether the word is a verb or a noun, or is a name, or is often found with these words, or never found with those.  The mass of numbers is a “language model”, because it contains vast amounts of information about how the language actually works.  The same English word may have more than one number; “right” in “that’s right” is a different concept to the one in “the politicians of the right.”  The more text you have, the more you can analyse, and the better your model of the language will be.  How many sentences contain both “ski” and “snow”?  And so on.  The model of how words, sentences, and so on are actually used, in real language texts, becomes better, the more data you put in.  The analysis of the texts starts with human-written code that generates connections; but as you continue to process the data, the process will generate yet more connections.

The end result is these models, which describe the use of the language.  You also end up with a mass of data connecting the two together.  The same number in one side of the language pair will also appear in the other model, pointing to the equivalent word or concept.  So 11050 may mean “love” in English but “am-” in Latin.

As before, there are a lot of steps to this process, which I have jumped over.  Nor is it just a matter of individual words; far from it.

The term used by the AI salesmen for this process is “training the model.”  They use this word to mislead, because it gives to the reader the false impression of a man being trained.  I prefer to say “populating” the model, because it’s just storing numbers in a file.

When we enter a piece of Latin text in an AI Translator, this is encoded in the same way.  The AI system works out what the appropriate number for each token – word or part-word – in our text is.  This takes quite a bit of time, which is why AI systems hesitate on-screen.  The resulting stream of encoded numbers are then fed into the LLM, which sends back the corresponding English text for those numbers, or numbers which are mathematically “similar”.  Plus a lot of tweaking, no doubt.

But here’s the interesting bit.  The piece of Latin that we put in, and the analysis of it, is not discarded.  This is more raw data for the model.  It is stored in the model itself.

This has two interesting consequences.

The first consequence is that running the same piece of text through the LLM twice will always give different results, and not necessarily better ones.  Because you can never run the same text through the same LLM twice; the LLM is different now, changed to include your text.

The second consequence is even more interesting: you can poison a model by feeding it malicious data, designed to make it give wrong results.  It’s all data, at the end of the day.  The model is just a file.  It doesn’t know anything.  All it is doing is generating the next word, dumbly.  And what happens if the input is itself AI-generated, but is wrong?

In order to create a model of the language and how it is used, you need as much data as possible.  Long ago Google digitised all the books in the world, and turned them into searchable text, even though 80% of them are in copyright.  Google Books merely gives a window on this database.

AI providers need lots of data.  But one reason why they have tried to conceal what they are doing is, in part, because the data input is nearly all in copyright.  One incautious AI provider did list the sources for its data in an article, and these included a massive pirate archive of books.   But they had to get their data from somewhere.  Similarly this is why there are free tiers to all the AI websites – they want your input.

So… there is no magic.  There is no sinister machine intelligence sitting there.  There is a file full of numbers, and processes.

The output is not perfect.  Even Google Translate could do some odd things.  But AI Translate can produce random results – “hallucinations”.

Further reading


Translations of St Nicholas of Myra material on this website

I’ve just created a page on this blog with links to every post that contains a translation of one or the other of the medieval texts containing St Nicholas material.  It’s here.

Looking back, I started taking an interest in 2013.  The first translations of the legends appeared in 2015.  The most recent was earlier today.

That’s a long, long time.  And how things have changed.  Back in 2015, I was commissioning translations from the Greek of various short pieces.  In 2020, Google Translate suddenly became usable, at least for Latin.  And this year, we have the new AI Translators.  It’s possible to do stuff, even if you don’t have much knowledge of the languages.  It’s rather marvellous really!


Methodius ad Theodorum (BHG 1352y) Part 4 – A Draft Translation using AI

Sometimes the only way forward is to plunge in, and see what happens.  So I have taken the modern Greek translation of Methodius ad Theodorum by Ch. Stergioulis, and machine-translated it into English.  The results are attached, together with Stergioulis original, which has the ancient Greek facing the modern Greek, and footnotes at the end.

The ancient Greek original is preserved in a single Vatican manuscript, which gave the editor, G. Anrich, a lot of problems – so much so that he printed it in volume 1 of his Agios Nikolaos, and then printed a transcription of the manuscript in vol. 2, with corrections.  Some of his footnotes in vol. 1 betray bafflement; and so do some of Stergioulis’ footnotes!  Words otherwise unknown, I gather.  It’s clear that the text is corrupt.

I scanned Stergioulis’ translation into a Word document (attached).  Then for each chapter I did the following:

  1. Run the Greek through Google Translate and paste it into a Word document.
  2. Send a request to Bard AI, “please translate this from modern Greek into English, with notes”, followed by the Greek.  The notes were usually useless, but sometimes not.
  3. Send a request to ChatGPT 3.5, “please translate this from modern Greek into English” (this wouldn’t give notes), followed by the Greek.
  4. Manually modify the Google Translate output in the Word document using the output from the two AI websites.  Where all three agreed, this was no problem, and it was just a case of choosing the most pleasant version.  Where one disagreed, I looked a bit harder at it.  Where all three disagreed, I started looking up some key words in Greek dictionaries, and looked at the footnotes.  There was  in fact only one sentence, in chapter 10, where the meaning of a clause -“και φοβούμενος το λιχνιστήρι34 αυτής της ανθρωπαρέσκειας για την απόκτηση αγαθών – was completely unclear, and I got there in the end.

This was usually straightforward, not least because the chapters were small.

For a couple of chapters Bard AI threw a wobbly.  Instead of outputting a translation, it started to spew a message in Greek, basically saying “I am an AI model, I don’t know how to do that.”  It seems that it was ignoring the English part of my request string, thought that I was writing in Greek, and so it treated the Greek passage as itself a request to do something, not as something to translate.  I found that replying with “Could you translate that request from modern Greek into English?” did the trick, and caused it to translate instead.

Anyway, here is the output from this process.

The translation is readable enough.  I’m not sure how accurate it is – any comments, anyone?

UPDATE: final version here.


Memory and the Internet: Dales Week, Montague Goodman, Ian Balfour, and Me

Yesterday, on a whim, I went to Google and searched for “Dales Week”.  Few today will remember what this was.  The Dales Bible Week was a Christian festival held at Harrogate in the late 70s and early 80s.  It was very influential.  Tapes of the worship were in the hands of many of my friends.  Indeed I myself was converted there.  I still have the music book for “Songs of Victory.”

But Google returned almost nothing.  The top result was a post by myself (!), which only mentioned Dales Week incidentally.  Another two were to, where a volunteer has rescued copies of the tapes and converted them to digital format.  A very worthwhile exercise; yet how little this is, compared to the thousands that attended, and the immense effect upon lives.  A mighty movement… has left little trace online.  Those three results were about all that there was.

In a way, this is not unexpected.  The work that God did in the 60s and 70s went almost unnoticed in the wider world.  Newspaper coverage of the time could be absurdly ignorant.  I remember that the Daily Telegraph had no idea at all, and wrote as if there were only two groups within the Church of England – the old-style Conservative prayer-book, and the trendy leftist unbelieving vicar, often depicted as “into” contemporary worship.  Both existed, but the Christians fell into neither category.  Neither of the others mattered at all, or left much trace behind.

No doubt this silence was God’s providence.  The rise in Christianity was deeply unwelcome to those who held secular power, and they would undoubtedly have done more to frustrate it, had they been aware.  Instead it progressed unhindered, or hindered only by local and short-lived outbreaks of opposition.

It is often said that Britain was saved from the horrors of the French Revolution by the rise of Methodism during the preceding decades.  Whether or not this is so, it can hardly have harmed the nation that large numbers were devout, hard-working, and selfless people.

Likewise it may be that in times to come, historians will look back and discover that this unheralded Christian renewal was the key movement of our times, the thing that changed attitudes away from the “if it feels good, do it” mantra of the secular 60s.

That Britain today is under the judgement of God, designed to bring repentance, may be inferred from the failure of every element of modern society, right down to the endless potholes that go neglected.  A man may not repent when addressed by a Christian .  Yet he may start to feel that “something needs to be done” when the suspension on his car fails!  What will our century look like, in the eyes of eternity?  But this we cannot know.

Seeing this silence led me to google something else.  I searched for “Montague Goodman”.  The name will be completely unfamiliar, I am sure. He was the author of a series of six books for boys, the “Wantoknow Series,” set at a school in England, which appeared in the 30s and 40s.  One of these books, “The Third Curiosity Book for Boys,” came into my hands as an isolated teenager whose only friends were books.  It didn’t matter so much what it was, so long as it was cheap, and it was certainly second-hand in the 1970s.  The volume was an omnibus and contained two books, “The Curiosity Club” and “Solomon Goes To School.”  The publisher was Paternoster Press, and the book itself was a “Victory Million Edition”, produced just after the war, on wartime economy paper.  There was also a series for girls, written by a certain Dorothy Dennison.[1]

The book was, in fact, Christian fiction.  But I had never heard of Christianity, and knew “religion” only from school assemblies.  So I really did not understand the book at all.  Yet it spoke to me.  Together with the Narnia stories, it was a praeparatio evangelica for when the gospel came to me, some years later.  It stands on my shelf even now.  But who was he?

A Google search for Montague Goodman reveals very little about him, but more than when I last looked.  Another book in my possession tells me that he helped to organise the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) after the First World War.  The OICCU had existed before the war, but had partaken in the collapse of the Student Christian Movement and ceased to exist.  The OICCU link was another contact with my own life, for I was a member of the OICCU in my student days in Oxford.

More googling shows that he seems to have belonged to the Brethren in later life, and was involved with youthwork at that church.  Another site tells me that he was “the brother of George Goodman, one of the early Brethren,” although I don’t know anything about that.  A seventh book “Solomon builds a temple” came into my hands a few years ago, and is concerned – alas – with churchmanship, the snare into which the Brethren fell.   More helpfully, a Brethren Archive site has begun to put  material online. A photograph appears there, together with PDF’s of this “Wantoknow Series,” and a few other pamphlets.  It tells me he was born in 1875 and died in 1958.  The google search showed that his will provided a bursary for students at London Bible College.

Montague Goodman, 6 May 1875 – 31 October 1958

That’s not really very much about a man who plainly spent a busy and productive life.

Then I made another Google search.  This took me to the website of Ian Balfour, a Scottish lawyer (d. 2022) who developed an interest in Tertullian.  The site seems to be a memorial, and I had never seen it before.  I remember Ian.  Indeed we corresponded, and he mentioned the Tertullian Project in one of his academic articles.  In fact we actually met when he came to the Oxford Patristics Conference.  He was a very gentlemanly, very legal figure.  He was most certainly a Christian, but disinclined to discuss this with me then.  I had not known of his passing.

But it is a small world.  For on his site here (no. 13) was a photograph of one of his relatives, plainly from the 1950s, with two other elderly men. One of them was … Montague Goodman!

The internet is a bit fake, in a way.  All of us who are online tend to treat it as the world.  But in fact relatively few people are online, and contributing.  Most people live and die, and all the important things take place offline.  Twitter might be in an uproar, but nobody knows, or cares.  Maybe we all need to spend less time at the keyboard.

  1. [1]“DENNISON, DOROTHY. Author. (Mrs G Golden); b 1900, d ? She is probably to be identified with the author of several books for teenage girls in the 1930s and 40s, parallel to Montague Goodman’s series for boys. These were partly for Christian teaching and encouragement, part evangelistic, often in narrative form. Others were general school stories in the Enid Blyton genre, such as Mystery at St Mawe’s, Corrie and Co.(1948) and The Rebellion of the Upper Fifth (1949). The one hymn for which she is known, and for which she gave Scripture Union free permission to use, appeared in Golden Bells (1925 edn) and Hymns of Faith (1964), both with the name ‘Dennison’. Mr E F Golden of Maidenhead was one of the leaders of the 40-strong class of Maidenhead Crusaders in the 1950s. No.205.”

On the typing of Greek

I remember when the pre-unicode SPIonic font was the best way to enter polytonic Greek text.  You typed in a series of characters – “qeo/j”, changed the font, and the same letters now displayed as θεός.  It related very well to the betacode way of doing things, and I think we all got on well with it.  All the same, unicode was definitely a better way of doing things, where the Greekness of the text was encoded in the very characters themselves, and not in their formatting.

Unfortunately typing up unicode is a pain.  It’s so much of a pain that I have a little routine in my elderly HTML editor (MS Frontpage 2003) that takes text entered in the SPIonic way and automatically converts it to unicode.  I’ve probably used this for over a decade.  Indeed I just used it to enter θεός just now.

But what do you do, if you need to OCR polytonic Greek?  Say in Finereader?  You will need to correct the characters within the editor, with the image text right there.  You can’t really use that trick to do it.  You need to be able to enter the characters properly.

In Windows 11 there is a polytonic Greek keyboard.  You have to install the Greek language, which will give you a modern Greek keyboard, and you can also install the polytonic alternative.

But the key mappings are a bit mad.  To me, at least, they feel deeply unnatural.  If I press “w”, I expect to get omega, ω.  Instead I get final sigma.  If I type u, I expect to get υ not θ.  And so on it goes.

A bit of googling reveals that you can change these things.  There’s a microsoft download called MSKLC, Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator 1.4.  You can start with the standard layout, save it out as a “source file” to some name of your choice, and alter all the mappings.  With considerable labour, of course.  Although the labour gets less if you realise that the “.klc” file produced is just a text file, and you can use Notepad++ to move stuff around.  Then you compile it up, and you can install your new layout.  Apparently uninstalling can be tricky tho: I’m told the trick is to use the same installer to uninstall, rather than the standard Windows Add/Remove process.  But I have yet to try.

I’ve been playing with this, and googling.  It’s a very old utility, and frankly rather outdated and clumsy.  One sign of this is that the characters on the page are teeny-tiny, and the accents are worse!  But it is still perfectly usable.  So far I’ve moved a few keys to where, as an old SPIonic user, I think they should be:

But the next stage is the accents and breathings.  How best to do this?

The MSKLC defines “dead keys” – keys that, when you press them, don’t seem to do anything, until you press another key.  So you press a key to give you an acute accent, and nothing happens; then you press alpha, and lo! You have a single unicode character, an alpha with an acute accent.

Here again the default mapping seems a bit mad.  In SPIonic, you did the breathings using round brackets.  “(” was the rough breathing, “)” was the smooth breathing.  It helped that at least they looked a bit like the breathing.  You did the accent with the forward slash “/” and backslash “\”.  Not so in the default polytonic keyboard.

I think what I will do is to remap the keys so that this happens.

Of course that gives you a problem.  What do you do when you need brackets in your Greek text?  But this is an unavoidable problem.

There are legions of weird characters for Greek accents. I’m going to ignore nearly all of them.  If I get something weird, I can pull it out of charmap or something.

Once I have this keyboard, then at least I will be able to correct polytonic Greek text in my OCR tool.  If I get that far, I’ll upload it to GitHub or somewhere.

UPDATE (3 Feb 2024): It’s on GitHub here.


St Valentine and the Martyrologium Hieronymianum

Wikipedia is a fertile source of fake history.  Reading the article about St Valentine, I came across the following claim:

However, there is a reference to his feast day on 14 February in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum,[19] which was compiled between 460 and 544 from earlier local sources.

This appears around the web, as evidence that the feast day of St Valentine is attested as 14 February in the late 5th century.  That in turn then feeds into the huge, crude falsehood that Pope Gelasius I abolished the Lupercalia in 496, substituting St Valentine’s Day instead. In fact nothing of the sort is recorded in any ancient source.  In an older post I went through all the early sources for St Valentine here.

But what is the Martyrologium Hieronymianum anyway?  (It has the reference number CPL 2031) Well, it is a Latin list of dates on which certain martyrs are commemorated, with a preface supposedly by St Jerome – in fact not so – and which exists in a number of copies of the 8th century, which differ considerably.  Unfortunately it is also one of those annoying “texts” that does not really exist as a single item.

This happens a fair bit with certain genres of non-literary text.  Lawbooks, and church service books, and manuals of agriculture are not really books.  They are not literary texts, admired for themselves.  They are tools.  They are sources of information, which are inevitably updated in every copy with local information.  Consequently any discussion of them becomes a discussion of specific manuscript copies which still exist.  No two of these are alike.  But they tend to be grouped as examples of such and such a text.

Martyrologies are books of precisely this kind, constantly amended and evolved.  So there is no “Martyrologium Hieronymianum” as such.  What we have is a number of physical copies of a martyrology, attributed to Jerome in its varying prefaces, containing often similar lists of saints and dates; and often different ones.  The edition by de Rossi in the Acta Sanctorum for November, vol. 2, part 1, resorts to parallel columns, each derived from one of three manuscripts.  Here is p.20, with the entry for 14 Feb.

There we have it.  Valentine appears in just one of the three manuscripts, the “codex Epternacensis” – from Echternach -, which De Rossi tells us has the modern shelfmark Paris. BNF lat. 10837.  I learn from Lapidge, The Roman Martyrs, p.649 n. 3 that it is from the start of the 8th century AD.  I learn from Delahaye’s Commentarius Perpetuus in the Acta Sanctorum for November 2.2, p.92, that

…martyrologii contextus miserum in modum corruptus est et perturbatus…

… the order of the martyrology has been miserably corrupted and disturbed…

Which pretty much sums up what we see on the page.

The Echternach manuscript is online, and may be found here.  On folio 6v is our entry:

All well and good, except… this is not a manuscript of the 5th century.  It’s an 8th century manuscript.  The other two are both 9th century.  All three contain long lists of Gaulish saints, from which scholars infer that the ancestor of them all was at least significantly revised in Gaul at the end of the 6th century, around 592.

It has been argued that the base text in fact derives from Northern Italy, between 430-450 AD, and is based on three sources, none of which mention St Valentine: the Depositio Martyrum in the Chronography of 354; a Greek martyrology extant in Syriac translation dating to 411 AD, and a supposed ancestor of the Kalendarium Carthaginense, written between 505-535.

The value of these arguments must be evaluated by others, but what matters here is that, even by the 8th century, when the cult of St Valentine of Interamna (=Terni) was well established, only a single manuscript mentions it, and that only as part of a series of martyrs.  It cannot sensibly be supposed that this martyr was in the “original” text, whenever that was written.  If it had been in the supposed Italian base text, or even in the Gallic revision of 592, it would certainly be present in all three witnesses.

So the Martyologium Hieronymianum is of no value as a guide to when the cult of St Valentine was first established.  It certainly does not show, as Wikipedia would have us believe, that this cult was known in the 5th century AD.


Nuisance “Discover more from” popup

I discovered yesterday that a nagging popup has started appearing when trying to comment:

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I didn’t do this, so I’m sorry for the nuisance.  It turns out to be something WordPress silently added.  Supposedly  turned off by Jetpack -> Settings -> Newsletter, but in my case it was somewhere else!  Which I can’t find again: but a menu option “Newsletter.”

WordPress is beginning to annoy me.  It’s not sending notifications of comments to me either.  It’s doing stuff that I don’t want done.  Ho hum.

Update: Dashboard -> Jetpack -> Settings, look for drop-down at the top and change from “Security” to “Newsletter”, then turn off popup.


The perils of AI translation

Rather excited by the discoveries that AI would translate medieval Greek, I thought I’d try another attempt at that Ge`ez text that I put into Google Translate some time back.  That is a homily on St Garima by a certain bishop John.  I found the text on my disk, and put a paragraph into Bard AI.  Nope.  It wouldn’t play.  Then I tried ChatGPT 3.5.  That churned out the Nicene Creed, as a supposed translation.

You can’t trust AI.  It can and will generate garbage.  You have to be able to check.