Fragment of unknown work by Apuleius discovered in Verona

Via Ugo Mondini on Twitter I learn of an exciting find yesterday (May 9) at the Biblioteca Capitolare – the Chapter Library – in Verona.  It seems that an American team – the “Lazarus Project” – using Multi-Spectral Imaging have discovered a lost text by Apuleius.


Quarantasette scatti per ciascuna pagina effettuati con una fotocamera da 150 megapixel. Diversi filtri di luce, dall’infrarosso all’ultravioletto. Poi il computer elabora le immagini. È nata così la scoperta fatta il 9 maggio. In un palinsesto, un testo antico riscritto più volte, lo strato più basso nascondeva un frammento di un testo di Apuleio andato perduto: un commento alla Repubblica di Platone.

Il merito è degli studiosi del “Lazarus Project”, una squadra internazionale dell’università americana di Rochester, per la prima volta alla Biblioteca Capitolare, alla ricerca di segreti tra le pagine.

Google Translate:

Forty-seven shots per page taken with a 150 megapixel camera. Different light filters, from infrared to ultraviolet. Then the computer processes the images. Thus was born the discovery made on May 9th. In a palimpsest, an ancient text rewritten several times, the lower layer hid a fragment of a lost text by Apuleius: a commentary on Plato’s Republic.

The credit goes to the scholars of the “Lazarus Project”, an international team from the American University of Rochester, for the first time at the Chapter Library, in search of secrets among the pages.

There is a video in Italian at the news site – if anyone has the spoken Italian, perhaps they could advise whether it has extra details?

There is stuff out there, people!  It really is worth going and looking!



The May Poems in the Chronography of 354

As with April, only a single manuscript of the Chronography contains an image for the month of May.  This is MS Vienna 3146, which never contains the poems. So again we are reliant on other unillustrated manuscripts, or the indirect tradition, for the poems.

Here is the 4-line poem (tetrastich):

Cunctas veris opes et picta rosaria gemmis
liniger in calathis, aspice, Maius habet.
Mensis Atlantigenae dictus cognomine Maiae
quem merito multum diligit Uranie.

All the treasures of spring, and the roses coloured like gems,
Behold! May has them, wrapped in linen in a basket.
The month is named after Maia, the daughter of Atlas,
Which Urania rightly loves most.

The 2-line verse (distich) is as follows:

Hos sequitur laetus toto iam corpore Maius
…Mercurio et Maia quem tribuisse Jovem.

Blessed May in now follows these (months) with all its strength,
Which (it is said) Jove has assigned to Mercury, son of Maia.

Housman noted that the second line was clearly corrupt and suggested that Mercurio is a gloss.  To me the obvious accusative and infinitive Jovemtribuisse indicate reported speech, and therefore that the missing text must have a sense something like “it is said”.  Divjak and Wischmeyer thought the same in their German version.

Again the image is only preserved in the 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416, folio 23 (online here):

The depiction is of a figure holding something to his nose, together with a peacock and flowers in a kalathos.  From the first two lines of the tetrastich, the vessel is perhaps full of roses; and the figure is holding a rose in his right hand.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).


From my diary

I have now run all the way through John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas and made a first pass at translating it.  However I find that I will have to redo the first two chapters, which I attempted last year, as they are no good.  This is rather disconcerting, considering the sheer hard graft that I put into them, but there’s no doubt about it at all.  Fortunately I can reuse some little notes I made on difficult words.

It’s interesting that, when translating, you truly know when it is right.  If it is easy, it is usually right.  When you are struggling, ten to one but you are producing rubbish.

I have looked into collating some of the manuscripts.  I am slightly shocked at the meagre results of a search for software to assist in collation.  Considering the sheer number of people engaged in the study of texts, this is quite a surprise.  I can only suppose that this is caused by the inability to program of the majority of those engaged in the humanities.  I don’t think this is something that I will try to fix!

What has become clear is that collation is a time-consuming task outside my objective here.  I probably won’t do more on this.


Working with pre-critical Latin texts

Which comes first?  The text or the translation?  The question is not as simple as it seems.

There is no finer way to come to grips with a text than by preparing an exact translation of it into another language.  This forces the translator to look at every case ending, every -ae and -um; every verb tense and mood and voice.  It highlights, very rapidly, areas of the text that have some kind of awkwardness about them.

I once knew a Swedish scholar who was tasked with preparing a critical edition of one of the works of Tertullian – I no longer remember which one.  He began by translating an existing edition into English (!), very literally.  This gave him a word-by-word knowledge of the text, which is why he did it.

My own efforts to translate John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas have reminded me of this forcefully.  Some portions of the text are very much harder to translate than others.

In some cases the text itself – the Falconius edition of 1751 – seems suspect.  When this happens, I increasingly find myself consulting the Mombritius edition of 1478, and the Mai edition of 1840.  I have, indeed, come to mistrust the Falconius text.  But along the way, I find that interesting things emerge.

I have found that the Mai edition often simply omits a “difficult” sentence altogether.  The first three chapters of the text are particularly difficult, and I see that Mai simply omits most of it.  Clearly the scribe of whatever manuscript lies behind the Mai edition felt exactly as I did about the text; and didn’t propose to strain his brain with it.  Omitted sentences include all those which simply transcribe a Greek word.  These are a source of difficulty to the Mai scribe.  I do understand, indeed.  At one point John uses the word “heroes” with the meaning “bishops”!  I wonder what a Greek dictionary would show?

For John was translating an awful Greek text, the “Methodius ad Theodorum”, which is beyond my abilities.  I suspect that the two – Methodius and John – need to be edited together.  But my long years of corporate experience make me well aware of “scope creep”, as a risk to any project, and I refuse to be side-tracked.  My translation will be of John, and John only.

It would also be possible to start doing some text critical work on the text.  After all, a small number of manuscripts are already online.  The Bollandist website lists a good many.

I have already OCR’d the texts of Falconius, Mombritius and Mai, and created Word documents of them.  What I might do is to run a text comparison on these, and see what comes out.  It would be purely for fun, of course, but it might be interesting.

If only one could OCR the manuscripts.  But that said, today I found in one sentence of Falconius three OCR errors.  This did delay me rather.

As with everything I do, I believe that whatever I do will be useful to others; and whatever I leave undone, well, the world is no worse off in this than it was before.

But clearly it would be possible for me to continue this, and produce some form of critical text.  It might not be very good, depending on how much time and effort I devoted to it.  But in this case, the translation would be the father of the text.  Yet here again, to produce a proper critical edition of John the Deacon would certainly require knowledge of the Greek.  It would not be a simple task.

I shall not go down this route.  As I usually do, I will include the text that I have translated.  This will be a somewhat modified version of Falconius.  But I won’t go further than that.


A small personal amendment to the Lord’s prayer

A few weeks ago I was asked to attend a memorial service for someone that I never met in my life.  Such are family commitments.  The service was for a child, and was every bit as sentimental and content-free as I had feared.

I have never suffered from any urge whatsoever to be “religious”.  As I endured the empty words, inevitably the temptation emerged to, shall we say, modify them slightly.

This got me into trouble when we reached and recited the Lord’s Prayer:

And forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.  The bastards.

I did not realise that I had said this aloud, but the lady sitting next to me tugged at my sleeve and firmly instructed me to be quiet!

But actually, isn’t that exactly what Our Lord is asking us to do?  To forgive the bastards who did us an injury.  To forgive those we think of in such terms?

All the same, I don’t think that I will be asked along to another such endurance test soon.  Thankfully!


A bit of web searching for BHL 6106 = chapter 12 of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas

Alright, I got tempted.  I did a google search on BHL 6106, the chapter of John of the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas that I am currently translating, or rather prevaricating about translating!

Almost instantly I came up with two manuscripts at the French National Library.  The first is 12th century, Ms. BNF Paris Latin 5573.  The splendid catalogue – which came up with the match – is here.  At the bottom is a link to a full digital manuscript, fully downloadable.    The catalogue tells me which folio to look on.  Magic.

The next was BNF Paris Latin 18303, 11th century, and really rather attractive!  Catalogue is here.  I downloaded it and scrolled to fol. 37, and there is the start of my text:

BNF Paris Latin 18303 fol. 37r.

Magic.  This sort of thing is so easy.  Everyone should do it!

Well done the BNF for getting this stuff up there and out there.


From my diary

I’ve settled back down to translating the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  The new and improved Google Translate for Latin has made it a far easier task.  The word order was exotic, and I had to crawl through each sentence, one by one, decrypting each word.  This was tedious and time-consuming.  Now at least I have a very decent guide to each sentence, and can concentrate on individual points.

As happens sometimes, I have ended up translating the chapters – or readings, for I think these are probably readings for church services – in reverse order.  I have done chapters 15, 14 and 13, and am now wading through chapter 12.

The later chapters are of dubious authenticity.  Chapter 12 is the first – starting from the end – to have transliterations of Greek words in it, for proper names.  This reflects the fact that the Life was translated from the Greek Methodius ad Theodorum, in Naples in the 9th century.

The text is the 1751 edition of Falconius, which is fairly dodgy.  At points I think it must be corrupt.  Curiously this does not bother Google Translate at all, which laughs at spelling mistakes etc.  One word didn’t feature in any dictionary that I have, but it did not stop Google.  I would guess that Falconius has printed some odd medieval spelling.

Once I have a complete draft translation, I think that I shall have to look at manuscripts.  It is really curious that no critical edition exists.  I believe that several manuscripts are online, and it might be useful to look at these.

I also need to follow up whatever bibliographical hints I can get from the Bibliographia Hagiographica Latina.  Simply googling the BHL references will probably lead me to a few sources.

I think there is a full Italian translation of the text by Pasquale Corsi in La traslazione di San Nicola: le fonti, Bari: Biblioteca di San Nicola: Centro Studi Nicolaiani (1987) Series: Studi e testi / Centro Studi Nicolaiani 8.  But much Italian scholarship is ridiculously hard to access here, and little of it is online, or has attracted the attention of the PDF pirates.   However I gather that book might be available from the Centro Studi Nicolaiana, so I have just popped them an email to enquire.

Now back to John the Deacon!


The April Poems in the Chronography of 354

Only a single manuscript of the Chronography contains an image for the month of April.  This is MS Vienna 3146, which never contains the poems.  (I am told that the same image reappears in the Leiden MS Voss.Lat.Q 79, a manuscript of the Aratea!  But this I have not seen)  So we are reliant on other unillustrated manuscripts, or the indirect tradition, for the poems.  Here is the 4-line poem (tetrastich):

Contectam myrto Venerem veneratur Aprilis,
lumen veris habet, quo nitet alma Thetis
cereus et dextra flammas diffundit odoras;
balsama nec desunt, quis redolet Paphie.

April worships a Venus robed with myrtle,
He has the light of spring, in which nurturing Thetis blooms,
And the waxen candle on the right diffuses the scents of flame;
Nor is balsam wanting, of which the Paphian (Venus) is redolent.

The 2-line verse (distich), preserved in the St Gall unillustrated manuscript, is as follows:

Caesareae Veneris mensis, quo floribus arva
prompta virent, avibus quo sonat omne nemus.

This is the month of Caesar’s Venus, in which the fields are green,
resplendent with flowers, in which every wood resounds with birdsong.

Divjak and Wischmeyer add an interesting comment, that the tetrastich verse is about the relationship of Venus to April.  The picture shows an older man dancing with castanets in front of a male cult statue.  The man is perhaps a Gallus named “April”, dancing before a statue of Attis, the “Venus” of the Magna Mater cult.

The 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416 (online here) gives us the image:

Vienna 3146, f. 5v – April

The figure is treating on what look like a set of pipes, perhaps belonging to an organ.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).


An Indian delegate at the First Council of Nicaea

I heard an interesting story yesterday.

Also recently discovered that the Indian Christian tradition was so well established by AD 325 that the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea had at least 1 delegate from the Indian Church.   … “India” was a more nebulous entity than the modern nation, so it may not have been within the confines of modern India, but “John the Persian, of all Persia and great India” is recorded at Nicea. Other interactions with “India” are described, like Pantaenus in 180.

The Pantaenus is from Eusebius.  But who is “John the Persian, of all Persia and great India”?

I quickly found an article by A. Mingana, “The Early Spread of Christianity in India”, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 10 (1926), 435-514 (online here), which on p.495 reads:

The second bishop of which history makes mention is John, who in the Council of Nicaea of 325 signs himself “ bishop of the Great India and Persia.”[2] If historical this John must have presumably been the bishop of a town in North India, close to the frontiers of Persia proper.

In the signatures to the decrees of the Council of Nicaea, as reproduced by Cyzicenus,[3] the same entry is found : “Joannes Persa, Ecclesiis in tota Persia et Magna India.” In 1908 [4] I treated as a fable the presence in the Council of Nicaea of this John the Persian, and for Persia I substituted Perrhe, on the Upper Euphrates. Against this view may be urged the fact that Eusebius of Caesarea was present at the Council, and that in his De Vita Constantini,[5] he actually makes mention of a bishop of Persia as present in the Council: “Quidam etiam ex Perside episcopus Synodo interfuit.” The presence, therefore, in the Council of Nicaea of a bishop John, from one of the numerous sees of Persia of the beginning of the fourth century, preferably Riwardashir, is not altogether impossible. Michael the Syrian expressly states in his history [6] that this John the Persian attended the Council of Nicaea. We must admit, however, that in a passage of Michael the Syrian quoted above, the expression “Great India” is used of Ethiopia and Arabia Felix combined. Speaking of the Council of Nicaea, Barsalibi, another well-known West Syrian writer says : “Among the Fathers of the Council Jacob of Nisibin and Ephrem his pupil, Ithalaha of Edessa, Mara of Macedonopolis, and John of Persia, were Syrians.”[1]

2. Labbé’s Sacrosancta Concilia, ii. 235. …
3. Pat. Gr. lxxxv, 1342 sq.  The author, however, is not very reliable.

This is no doubt the origin of our story.

“Cyzicenus” is Gelasius of Cyzicus, History of the Council of Nicaea ( = CPG 6034).  A quick search on the web found volume 2 of Labbé, but this (in column 227) turned out merely to reproduce the text of Gelasius of Cyzicus, book 2, chapter 28 (link here).

Gelasius was given a critical edition for the first time by G. C. Hansen, Anonyme Kirchengeschichte (Gelasius Cyzicenus, CPG 6034), de Gruyter, Berlin-New York, 2002; GCS N. F. 9.  This, being a German publication, printed without translation, of an obscure text which the editor chose to suggest is anonymous, is naturally accessible to almost nobody.  (I saw a copy offered for sale online for nearly $200!)   Luckily a kind correspondent supplied me with the page (p.85).  The chapter is 28, rather than the 27 of Labbé.  The entry for John duly appears on line 22.

Dr Hansen suggests (p.xi) that the work was composed around 480 AD.  This date is no doubt based upon the contents which include discussion of ecclesiastical controversies of a period rather later than Nicaea.  He also suggests that the work is a compilation of earlier writers, including the lost Gelasius of Caesarea, Theodoret, Philip of Side, and so forth.

I’ve never looked at the ancient lists of delegates.  An article that might address this is E. Honigmann, “The Original Lists of the Members of the Council of Nicaea , the Robber Synod and the Council of Chalcedon”, Byzantion 16 (1942-1943), pp. 20-80, but this also is inaccessible to me, since my JSTOR access via my old university does not include it.


Google Translate Latin – how it was, and how it is

In 2019 I prepared to work on translating John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.  I created a separate file for each chapter.  In each file I had the full text of the chapter.  Beneath that, on alternate lines, interleaved, was a sentence of the Latin and then the Google Translate output.  It is interesting to rerun that Latin and compare the raw output.

Here’s the start of chapter 13:

Imperator autem audiens famam pacis et victoriae, repletus gaudio, obviam eis exiit, cum magna multitudine populorum, et Magistro militum, et omni coetu utriusque sexus, et gloriose quasi victores suscipiens;

Google Translate Latin 2019:

The Emperor, having heard of the fame of the victory of peace, and, filled with joy, that he went out to meet them, with the great host of peoples, and the captain of the guard, and to all the congregation of men and women, and of the glorious, as it were the victors, he took it;

Google Translate Latin 2022:

The emperor, on hearing the news of peace and victory, was filled with joy, and went out to meet them, with a large number of people, and with the captain of the soldiers, and with every assembly of both sexes, and receiving them with distinction as conquerors;


magnifici in Palatio eius fuerunt.

Google Translate Latin 2019:

There were magnificent in Palatine.

Google Translate Latin 2022:

There were magnificent men in his palace.


Coacti autem quidam, et invidia diaboli ducti, caeperunt nova consilia exquirere, quatenus illos morti traderent:

Google Translate Latin 2019:

And some were forced and led envy of the devil, began to seek out new plans, highlighting them to death;

Google Translate Latin 2022:

But some, being compelled, and led by the envy of the devil, began to seek out new counsels, that they might deliver them to death:

And so on.  I should add that this is the raw, unamended output in both cases.

We are very, very fortunate.