The Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources

A few minutes ago I learned of a marvellous project to create the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources (DMNES).  This is under development, although a lot now exists, but a blog is available, and is itself a rather wonderful thing:

The dictionary aims to contain all given (fore, Christian) names recorded in European sources written between 600 and 1600, minus the names of historical/non-contemporary people, and names occurring only in fictional literature or poetry.

I came across the blog while attempting to translate BHL 6177, the Miracles of St Nicholas at Angers.  This contains the following paragraph:

4. Contigit igitur in una sollemnitatum, quam supra diximus, ad excubias sancti viri nonnullos decubare infirmos et debiles, inter quos puer unus erat, Brientius nomine, qui ab ipsa fere materna alvo contractus, a renibus videlicet infra membrorum omnium officio destitutus, a quodam Britanniae pago, qui Sanctus Briuntius dicitur, ortus, ad Andegavensem usque devectus fuerat urbem.

It happened, therefore, during one of the solemnities which we have mentioned above, that, at the vigils of the holy man some sick and feeble men were lying down, among whom was a boy, named Brientius, who was almost crippled in the womb by the mother herself, that is to say, deprived of the service of all his limbs by his kidneys, and, born in certain district in Britannia named Sanctus Briuntius, he had been carried as far as the city of Angers

Not being familiar with the period, I am relying heavily on Google to understand the names!

But who or what is “Brientius”?  It’s a name from Britannia, which is Britain, of course, although it’s strange that they do not say “England” (would it be “Anglia”?).  The lad comes from somewhere called “Sanctus Briuntius,” wherever that might be.  It all sounds a bit Welsh, or Cornish.

But a google search revealed this article from the DMNES on the blog.  The name turned out to be Breton!  The vernacular form is “Brient”, and this is turned into a French form “Briant,” which I seem to remember from King Arthur literature when I was little, from the 12th century onwards.

A look at the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources at Logeion reveals that indeed “Britannia” can mean Brittany!  Even better, the comments on the article were wonderfully learned and beautifully referenced.  This was incredibly useful, for I who knew none of them.  From this I learn that “Brient” is Old Breton, and might mean “free man.”

I’m still at a loss for the village or district, “Sanctus Briuntius”, but I’m far further forward than I was.

Truly we live in days of miracles and wonders.

Bibliotheque Nationale Francais, MS. lat. 12611, folio 73r: an excerpt showing our passage.

Is it a waste of time for us to make translations of ancient texts?

Earlier this evening I was working away on a translation of one of the medieval St Nicholas miracle stories, BHL 6177, the “Miracles at Angers”.  I was using Google translate on the Latin text, which was producing some very decent quality outputs.  Then I was checking and correcting it.  It did indeed need correcting, but it’s mostly right and far faster than sitting there doing it manually.

A little while later I had a play with Bard, Google’s AI product.  (It would have been ChatGPT but this demanded an alarming amount of personal information.)  I asked the prompt if it could translate ancient Greek, and it said that it could, including whole documents; but it might not be perfect just yet, but was improving.

So I tried it out with a chunk from the Greek Anthology, which it rendered into English; but I realised afterwards that this probably just retrieved a pre-existing translation.  Then I went to Ulrich Harsch’s useful site – which Google downvotes because he hasn’t implemented the latest https – and found a page on George of Pisidia here.  This began:

Γεώργιος Πισίδης, διάκονος καὶ ποιητὴς ἐν Κωνσταντινουπόλει, ἐγένετο περὶ τὸ ἔτος 580, ἐτελεύτησε περὶ τὸ ἔτος 634, εὑρετὴς τῶν στίχων δωδεκασυλλάβων.

So I put in “translate the following ancient greek into English:” and then the Greek.  The result was:

George of Pisidia, deacon and poet in Constantinople, was born around the year 580, died around the year 634, inventor of the twelve-syllable lines.

That’s very reasonable.  I then asked it a second time whether it could translate ancient Greek.  This time I got a rather different reply, and much more bullish:

Yes, I can translate ancient Greek. I have been trained on a massive dataset of text and code, including ancient Greek texts. I can translate ancient Greek into English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and many other languages. I can also translate ancient Greek into modern Greek.

I am still under development, but I am able to translate ancient Greek with a high degree of accuracy. I can translate simple sentences, as well as more complex passages. I can also translate ancient Greek poetry and literature.

If you have an ancient Greek text that you would like me to translate, please feel free to share it with me. I will do my best to provide you with an accurate and informative translation.

But …. I just pasted in a chunk from Arethas of Caesarea on Romans here – I’m pretty sure that there’s no English translation of that! – and it just echoed the text.  So… in fact it’s not there yet.  But it’s food for thought.

But how many of us even understand what these things are doing?   A web search was clear enough – just collect URL’s and make a list of words and topics.

But AI?  Well, as I understand it, these “generative AI” products are basically a chat-bot on the front of a “large language model” (LLM).  An LLM is a “next word predictive engine”, apparently.  So basically some code for pattern recognition on the front of a search engine; indeed pre-loaded with a lot of text to search from the web.  The AI generative image makers do much the same, apparently.

The amount of hype and exaggeration around “AI” is staggering, as it is with every new fad, but it is not magic.  In IT “it” is never magic.  If you think “it” is magic, then you don’t understand “it”.  Everything is ones and zeros and lumps of metal and silicon.  The rest is attempts to sell stuff.

Now I don’t fully understand it.  But it did set me to wondering about whether I am wasting my time.  For it wouldn’t be the first time that technology has rendered my work useless.

When I came online originally, I was scanning existing English translations of ancient texts and putting these online.  Bandwidth was low, and text-only pages were the only way to get stuff online.  I did so for some years, until the technology rendered it pointless.   Bandwidth became enormous, so file size didn’t matter.  The PDF arrived, with exact images of the book pages.  OCR improved, so the PDF was searchable.  Google Books came along, with every book under the sun prior to 1923, all freely downloadable.  I haven’t done any more since then.  There’s no point.  I don’t regret doing it, but … in a way it was wasted effort.

Since then I’ve concentrated on texts for which no translation exists.  At one time I commissioned these.  Now that I am retired, I sit here and make my own.

But again the technology is taking this away.  Is there any point in an amateur like myself labouring over a Latin text, with my limited Latin, to produce an awkward translation if Google Translate can do it in an instant, and be pretty nearly “good enough”?

Prior to January 2022, the question was academic.  Google Translate was rubbish for Latin.  And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.  In fact it could make sense of sentences better than I could.  I can polish the result, and correct minor errors, and do something worthwhile; but basically it is doing the job.  Furthermore, it is quite likely to improve further.

So I’m getting this feeling of dejà vu.  Is there any point?  I’m not sure, and I’m not going to stop right now, if only because I’m still enjoying it.  But it is food for thought.

The world-wide web is a very different place from what it was.  One horrible aspect of the new craze for “AI” is that, for the first time, the products are commercial.  You have to pay to use them.

This is a novelty, and an unwelcome one.  It marks a big shift from the free, open internet that we have had until now.  Bye-bye the internet to which I contributed, where it was expected to be free.  No longer.  Worse yet, those who contributed freely find their work turned against them.

I saw this evening a report that StackOverflow, the computer programmers’ forum site, has lost 50% of its traffic.  The bots hoovered up all the replies to technical questions, shared freely by ordinary people, out of the kindness of their hearts, and embedded them in new tools like GitHub Copilot.  This, needless to say, is a commercial product.  And it’s killing the original site.

Will the internet change, until we have to pay for everything, via a million subscriptions?  It is beginning to look like it.

The new AI is also biased in various directions, probably for commercial reasons, certainly in line with horrible American politics, but also simply in selecting what some corporation wants us to see.  That corporation wants us to see “important stuff”.  They decide what is important.

For instance, if you type into Google search “Who is Roger Pearse”, you get some rubbish at the top about some “Roger Pearce”, selected by Google; but then you get stuff from my blog, and material by me.  My name is not common, and I write on a specialised subject, and have done so for 24 years.  In a fair and level internet, I would naturally appear.

The same query in Bard AI produces “I’m designed solely to process and generate text, so I’m unable to assist you with that.”  Which is not too bad, except that, if I repeat this for public figures, like “Joe Biden”, I get an article back.  A source is given, which is – of course – Wikipedia.

Indeed if I ask “Who was Petrus Crabbe”, a very obscure figure, it begins with the text mainly from the Wikipedia article.  I myself wrote this article, in a moment of madness, so I know just what is on the web about him.  Bard AI is using Wikipedia plus one other source linked from it.  No doubt ChatGPT is doing the same.  But I don’t think that ChatGPT intends to send any money to me in return for my generous efforts.

So AI is only returning “important people”.  In this case it is defined as people for whom there is a Wikipedia article.  I do not have an article about me in that toxic hell-site, nor do I wish to.  Of course if you asked someone in the national television industry who Roger Pearse is, they would have no idea.  But… the practical effect of the coding around AI is to reduce the information, to only “approved sources”, to only “important people”.

Yet originally the web was a levelling phenomenon.  That was part of the charm.  Anybody could start a website.  Anyone could start a search engine.  You rose or fell on merit.

And now?  Well, what we see in AI is what someone in a major corporation chooses that we should see.  Little people don’t matter.

I don’t see any reason immediately to change what I am doing.  But it is, as I said, food for thought.


The date and authenticity of the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” of Pseudo-Methodius

The literature of antiquity is transmitted to us mainly in handwritten medieval books.  These are often more like loose-leaf binders than modern books, and can contain all sort of things.  A great number of ancient and medieval sermons appear in these volumes.  This is quite natural, since the volumes were copied exclusively by monks for almost a thousand years.  The author of the sermon is not always given, and when it is, the name may be ambiguous or wrong.  Part of what scholars do is to establish who wrote these texts.  I’ve been collecting some snippets of scholarship about one of these, which I thought I would share.

The surviving works in Greek of the patristic writer Methodius of Olympus (d. ca. 311 AD) were translated into English in the 19th century, and are included in the Ante-Nicene Fathers collection, volume 6.  The translator also included a translation of a sermon (online here), the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” (Sermo de Symeone et Anna, = CPG 1827 = BHG 1961 (vol. 3, p.241)). This is of interest because it contains clear evidence of the veneration of Mary.  Indeed if it were authentic, it would be some of the earliest evidence for the cultus of Mary.

The BHG tells us that the text  of the Sermo de Symeone et Anna was first edited by P. Pantinus, Homiliae IIII SS. patrum (Antverpiae, 1598), pp.18-154 (online here); reprinted by F. Combefis, Amphilochii opera (1644), pp.396-430 (online here); who is reprinted again in Migne, PG 18, cols.348-381; and finally edited by A. Jahn, S.P.N.Methodii opera omnia (1865), 105-113 (online here).

This sermon bears the name of Methodius in the manuscripts.  But according to R. Laurentin[1], the work is found in collections of sermons (“homiliaries”) of the 7th century, so this cannot refer to the later Methodius who was patriarch of Constantinople from 842-846 AD.  Likewise a portion of the text (PG 18, 360C) is quoted word for word by John Damascene (7-8th c.) in the Libellus Contra Jacobitas (PG 94, col.1489)

There is a list of manuscripts at Pinakes here.  Some are online.  This for instance is the beginning in Codex Vaticanus Ottobonianus graecus 85 (online here), on folio 76v, with a few words and then “Πάλαι ἱκανῶς, ὡς οἷον τε, διὰ βραχέων…” 

Here’s another from BNF gr. Coislin 274, f.158v:

Both have some introductory words, although my ignorance of Greek paleography doesn’t allow me to read either.  But I can pick out the name of Methodius alright.

The question of the authenticity of the sermon was discussed by V. Buchheit, Studien zu Methodios von Olympos, TU 69 (1958), p.133-140.  Methodius of Olympus died around 311 AD.  Now the work begins:

Although I have before, as briefly as possible, in my dialogue on chastity, sufficiently laid the foundations, as it were, for a discourse on virginity, yet to-day the season has brought forward the entire subject of the glory of virginity…… We keep festival, not according to the vain customs of the Greek mythology; we keep a feast which brings with it no ridiculous or frenzied banqueting of the gods, but which teaches us the wondrous condescension to us men of the awful glory of Him who is God over all.

From this, it seems that the sermon was delivered, it seems, on the feast day of the presentation of Jesus at the temple, the Feast of the Hypapante (Feb. 2nd), and the BHG lists it among the sermons on that date (vol. 3, p.241, BHG 1961).  But Buchheit states that this festival is not referenced by any source prior to 385 AD.  So this is a problem, if the sermon was composed by the Methodius who died ca. 311 AD.

The first line does refer to a quite genuine work by Methodius of Olympus.  But this sermon ends with a version of the Nicene Creed, including the keyword term “homoousios”, not used in this way before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  Again, this is a problem of the same kind.

Buchheit also conducts a linguistic analysis, which I am not competent to comment upon.  He references the Byzantine use of prepositions and “clauses” which does not agree with the usage in genuine works of Methodius.

Based upon this, Buchheit concludes that the work has to be dated between 325 and the 7th century, and that the first sentence is merely a deliberate deception by the author:

Der unbekannte Verfasser oder ein Abschreiber hat diese Rede durch eine geschickte Fäl­schung in der Einleitung dem Methodios unterschoben. Bei dem Verfasser handeltessich umeinen geistig zweifellos hochstehenden und rhetorisch vorzüglich gebildeten Mann. Sein Stil war asianisch; die byzantinische Satzklausel hat er nicht angewendet.

The unknown author or a copyist has foisted this speech on Methodios through a clever forgery in the introduction. The author is undoubtedly a man of high intellectual stature and excellent rhetoric. His style was Asian; he did not apply the Byzantine propositional clause.  (Google translation)

Further work was done upon the sermon by Roberto Caro, in his 1965 thesis, La homiletica griega.  Unfortunately I have no access to this.  Parts of this were published as R. Caro, La homilética mariana griega en el siglo V (= Greek Marian Homilies in the 5th Century), Dayton, Ohio, 2 vols (1971-2), where the CPG says that the discussion is in vol.2, pp. 610-617.  Again I have no access to this at the moment, but apparently he concludes that the text is 5-6th century.

  1. [1]R. Laurentin, Bulletin Sur La Vierge Marie, Revue des Sciences philosophiques et théologiques, 52 (1968), pp. 479-551, esp. 539-40, JSTOR.

Working out the manuscript affinities from a collation

Yesterday I finally finished collating the 4 editions and a selected 12 manuscripts of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.  This gives me a Word .docx file with every line of the text, the collation beneath it, and my translation under that.  In the left margin, it gives me a list of significant-looking variants:

I’ve had to recollate the early chapters, because I got better at this as I went on, and the earlier stuff needed to be redone, extra manuscripts added etc.

The text still contains a lot of working notes.  I have already found that it is a mistake to remove these too early.  Keep them to the last, and then remove them all as a specific activity, rather than along the way.

But then the question arises: how do I analyse this data in order to get a stemma out of it?  It’s too big, and I can’t get my head around it.

After some thought, I decided to create an Excel spreadsheet and process the supposedly significant variants into it.  This morning I did so.  I found that this required some intervention.  Actually I had to “simplify” some of the variants as I put them in.  Because unique variants are most likely errors, or mistakes, of no special meaning.  It’s the stuff in common that you need.  So where 3 manuscripts have “meritis” and the 4th has “et meritis”, and the 5th was “procul”, I entered the first 4 all up as “meritis”.

I also ignored variants that were merely endings.  The truth is that all the ending variants probably arise from scribes misreading abbreviations.  There’s just so many!

I then put a column for each manuscript, and put them in.  In the end I only had 19 locations where the text gave clear divergence into families.  On each row I coloured one set of readings in red, and another set in black, just so I could see the groupings (because you just try skim-reading “vocitatur” and “vocaretur”!).  Where a manuscript didn’t have that part of the text, I indicated with hatching.

The result looked a bit like this, except that M was originally on the left and C on the right.

As soon as I did this, I could see the PQO group, and the BGD group, which I was aware of anyway. I drew the vertical black lines to separate the groups.

Then I did some rearranging.  M, which I had thought isolated, I moved to be with W.  C, which I sort of thought was related to O, was now obviously part of the PQO group, so I moved that.

All the same some things do not jump out.  I’d already found that G is actually a copy of B in the first 6 chapters, but then switches to a copy of D!    Indeed the layout on the page is identical.  But that does not jump out from that table.  I’m fairly sure that I can eliminate G.

So … have I learned much?  A bit more than I knew before, perhaps.  But clearly I have a long way to go.


From My Diary

My last post on the “Praedestinatus” brought back a memory or two.  If my memory serves me correctly, this was the very text that caused me to seek out the Patrologia Latina for the first time, almost quarter of a century ago.  A reference in Quasten for the “Tertullianistae” was the prompt.  So I drove up to a research library, where I purchased a visitors’ ticket, and nervously explored the huge building.  At length I came to the reading room, then as now organised in a baffling manner.  Shyly asking the individual at the desk for help, I was curtly pointed to one end of the immense room.  And there were the volumes of the Patrologia Latina, bound, and faded, volume after volume – a whole wall of it.  I’d never seen anything like it.  I found the passage; and then wondered if I could get a photocopy.  Back to the desk, where I was told to take it to another room.  There, in turn, I was told that it was too fragile, and I would have to purchase a service photocopy and come back for it in a couple of days.  So of course I had to do so, and drive all that way again.  The copy was absurdly overpriced and not very good quality, and came on A3 sheets – hardly easy to use.  But at last it was mine!  I took it home, and pored over it with my nascent Latin – just a faint memory from schooldays – and tried to puzzle it out into English.

How things have changed.  The free availability of the PL online in PDF was unthought-of then.  Now we take it for granted.

I have continued collating a dozen manuscripts of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.   I’ve collated all the way through, but I am redoing chapters 2-5, because I didn’t do those as thoroughly, and I have since learned better.  I’m still correcting the text.

Originally I started with two early editions, and a couple of articles with extracts.  Now I am deep in the manuscripts.

The longer that I spend collating, the more that I start to get a “feel” for each manuscript.  In turn this means that certain relationships are starting to emerge, quite without effort.

I know that P and Q will be near-identical; but Q breaks off in chapter 6, so Q is a copy of P, not the other way around.

I know that O will give much the same variants as P and Q; except that it has some oddities of its own.  It is probably a descendant of P also.  I know that C is generally a mainstream manuscript, except that, once in a while, it has a reading which only O shares.  There’s some kind of influence from O.

I know that G and D are very similar.  So similar, in fact, that the layout of the words on the page is sometimes identical.  But G goes a bit weird sometimes.  So G is probably a copy of D, by a careless or imaginative scribe.

M is my oldest manuscript, just.  I know that it won’t tend to agree with the P, Q, O group.  It’s not that similar to G and D.  It usually agrees with W, but not always.  It’s a bit of a rogue.

The 12th century manuscript V is generally in agreement with W, and C.  Except that… sometimes it is the only manuscript to give the reading in the editio princeps, the Mombritius 1483 edition.

There’s no shortcut to this.  It just starts to imprint itself on your mind.  As I go along I am noting what I think may be significant points of variance.  But of course I won’t know until later.  I have to find out by doing.

The critical edition of the Praedestinatus also had a nice couple of pages in which the editor established the relationship of the 5 manuscripts and drew a stemma.  It’s a nice, concise, worked example of what I need to do.  I shall refer to it again.

All this is really quite good fun. I really do recommend it.  Text criticism is not real until you actually have to do it, in the wild, with a text that has never been critically edited, and ask: “just what did the author write?”  Once you do, you really feel that you are achieving something.


The “Praedestinatus” – an anonymous 5th century text on the “Predestinarian heresy”

In 1643 in Paris, Jacques Sirmond printed a previously unknown Latin text of the 5th century.  He had discovered it in the cathedral library at Reims.  His edition is online here.  The manuscript that he used is now Reims B.M. 70, 9th century (online here), and gives no title or indication of the author.  But Sirmond found that the title “Praedestinatus” – “The Predestined One” – was given by the author in a self-reference in book 3, 15, and so it has been known under that title since.

The text can be found in Migne, PL 53: 579-672, reprinted from Galland’s edition, Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum, t.10 (1774, online here).  In 1999 Franco Gori published a critical edition[1], and in 2000 his edition was reprinted in the Corpus Christianorum, as part of the works of Arnobius the Younger, to whom Sirmond assigned it, and to whom today it seems to be generally attributed[2]. Gori located five manuscripts:

  • A = Augiensis CIX (AD 820-842) – Karlsruhe, Bdische Landesbibl.  Copied by a scribe named Reginbert.
  • C = Casinensis 322 (10-11th century) – Montecassino, Bibl. della Badia.
  • L = Florentinus Laurentianus S. M. 945 (11th c.) – Florence, Bibl. Mediceo-Laurenziana, San Marco collection.
  • D = Dunensis, nunc Brugiensis 158 (12th c.) – Brugge, Stadstbibliothek.
  • R = Remensis 70 (9th century) –  Reims, Bibliothèque Municipale.

Finally – and admirably – an English translation by Guido Stucco, with the bare Latin text on the facing page for reference, appeared from Brepols in a useful new series in 2022.[3].  The Stucco volume also has a very useful introduction to the use of this work down the centuries, including by Archbishop Hincmar of Reims against his unfortunate opponent, the monk Gottschalk, whom the archbishop imprisoned in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.

In the Reims manuscript, the text itself begins with no heading and the first words of the praefatio: “Quotienscumque ad te, O amator Dei, verba doctorum attingunt, …” (“Dear lover of God, every time you hear the words of our wise teachers,…”).

MS. Reims Bibl. Mun. 70, folio 1r – the beginning of Praedestinatus.

The work is divided into three books.  The first book is a catalogue of ninety heresies, mainly derived from Augustine, De haeresibus, but with some interesting additions, especially for the entry on the “Tertullianistae”, which gives us information on Tertullian and his followers not otherwise recorded.  This is far and away the most useful portion of the book, historically.  From it, we learn that the work is indeed plainly 5th century, since the 89th heresy is Nestorianism, but no later heresy is given.  Heresy 90 is the “predestinationists”.  The book says:

These people claim that the election of good people and the rejection of evil ones is up to God’s decision and not human beings, whether they are diligent or negligent.  … They are used to say: “Anyone who has been predestined by God unto evil, even if they wanted to do what is good, they will not be able to reach it. On the other hand, anyone who has been predestined to good, even if they become negligent, they will be led to the good against their own will.” … They say that no one can come to faith in Christ unless they were drawn against their own will by the Father… (Book 1, heresy 90)

The second book is a pamphlet putting forward some heretical views on predestination, derived and expanded from some of Augustine’s statements; and the the third book is a point by point refutation of these.

There are some topics that attract daft people, such as speculation about Revelation; and predestination is definitely one of them.  So I think we can skip the theological discussion!

All the same it is useful to know that this curious little work is now much more readily accessible than it was.

  1. [1]F. Gori, Praedestinatus di Arnobio il Giovane, Pubblicazioni Agostiniane (1999), ISBN: 9788879610322.  Available here for a trivial price, although I have not seen this.
  2. [2]F. Gori, Arnobii Iunioris Praedestinatus qui dicitur, CCSL 23B (2000), ISBN 9782503002552
  3. [3]Arnobius Iunior, Praedestinatus, in: Brepols Library of Christian Sources / Patristic and Medieval Texts with English Translations 6, Brepols (2022), ISBN: 9782503596761

20th century annotations in the margins of a Darmstadt manuscript

This evening I was looking at a manuscript – specifically Darmstadt 344, written in the 3rd quarter of the 11th century (catalogue here, online here).  I have a PDF of the manuscript – sadly monochrome, but quite readable – and I started to look for what is “chapter 14” of the life of St Nicholas, which ought to be in here somewhere.  A few miracle stories appeared, and I started adding bookmarks for each.  And then…

… then I rubbed my eyes, and wondered.  For there were Arabic numbers against each miracle story!  Very familiar numbers!

Because these are the BHL numbers for each miracle story – the identification number in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina.  This was published in 1900.  So these are modern.

It’s not a surprise to find medieval or early modern marginalia.  But who on earth in 1900 thought that it was appropriate to write on the manuscript itself?!  Some scholarly twit or other, evidently.


Eusebius of Emesa, “De Poenitentia” / “On Penitence” / “On Repentance” – now online in English

Eusebius of Emesa flourished in the 340s AD, and was identified with the anti-Nicene party.  Only one of his works has survived in the original Greek, a short homily on penitence.  The rest of his works existed only in fragments until Eligius Buytaert located 29 homilies in antique Latin translations in two manuscripts in France.

The Greek text of the Homilia de paenitentia (CPG 3530) is preserved in manuscript Paris BNF Coislin 913, online here.  Our text begins on folio 89:

There are also ancient versions in Armenian and Georgian.

The Greek text was edited by E. M. Buytaert, “L’heritage litteraire d’ Eusebe d’ Emese”, Louvain (1949) , p.16*-29* (i.e. in the second half of the book).  This book can be borrowed from here.  There is a useful article on the text on p.150.

Prior to the work of Buytaert, the Greek text was attributed to Basil of Caesarea, and appeared in editions of his works.  It may be found in the Patrologia Graeca 31, columns 1476-1488, online here.  The quality of the text is atrocious, however.

The only complete edition of the works of Basil in the original Greek with parallel Latin translation is that prepared by the Maurist fathers, Julien Garnier and Prudentius Maran, “Sancti Patris Nostri Basili Caesareae Cappacdociae … Opera Omnia“, 3 volumes (Paris, 1721–1730), reprinted in J.-P. Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, vols. 29–32 (Paris, 1857, 1886).  The volumes are here:

A correspondent asked me whether there was any English or French translation of De Paenitentia.  There does not seem to be. So, on a whim, I have scanned in the 1722 Latin translation, and passed it through Google translate, and the results (with a little intervention) are appended.  It has no scholarly value, but should help the interested find their way around the text.  I’ve appended my scan of the Latin.  As usual, I make this file and its contents public domain.  Do whatever you like with them!

I have also placed them at here.

The text is not of great interest.  Eusebius argues against some who say that sins are only forgiven through baptism, and sins after baptism cannot be forgiven.  This strange idea – to our eye – was common in the fourth century, and resulted in the common practice of death-bed baptism.

During the Great Persecution under Diocletian, many had apostasised.  Afterwards the question arose on what to do with those who had lapsed. Some of these were bishops; or ordained by them.  Fanatics demanded that they were expelled. Others saw no problem in the ordination of rank traditores, or traitors.

This in turn led to many undesirable consequences.   As we see in our own day, demands for ideological purity – whatever the ideology – where power and money are involved mean that those who are considered most “pure” have most authority.  This in turn creates a ratchet, as politicians race to take ever more extreme positions, to prove their “purity” and so gain power.  Dissenters are tracked down and purged, to keep the pressure on.  Any who fail to keep up with the very latest dogmas are marginalised.

It is a recipe for fanatics, and a very happy place for dishonest men.   The truly honest are repelled, while the cynical find that they can lie their way to power and profit.

This process appears again and again in Byzantine history, as new “heresies” are discovered, and new groups thrown into the darkness.  It had nothing whatever to do with Christianity.

Nor was this purely a Byzantine activity.  During the Commonwealth after the English Civil War, all sorts of awful things took place of this kind.  Some of the “preachers” proved to be utterly vile men.  Charles II’s minister, Lord Arlington, once a preaching presbyterian chaplain to a New Model Army regiment, when times changed became the mastermind of the vicious persecution of the Scottish presbyterians recorded by Bishop Burnet.

Probably something like this is the background to Eusebius of Emesa’s mild rebuttal.




From My Diary

When the sun is suddenly very hot and the sky is now a blinding blue, it’s hard to go into the study and work on the PC.  It seems rather a waste!  So I have been busy with other things.  The last day or so was spent in buying and setting up a mobile air-conditioning unit for a member of my family.  I shall spend this Friday driving around the countryside and the roads, taking a friend to see my mother.  We’ve meant to do this for years.  In this sort of weather it is good to be in the air-conditioned car with the open road ahead.

I do need to return to collating the text of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas, but not today.  I have three early editions and nine manuscripts open, in PDF, in Acrobat.  Each one is positioned at my current location.  I have bookmarked each chapter as I reach it.  But I’m becoming a little frustrated at the way that Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 tends to simply crash if left open for long enough.  For of course, when Acrobat crashes, I have to reopen them all, and then tediously find the exact position again.  To avoid doing this, I tend to put the PC to sleep at night, rather than shutting down.  But after a day or three I tend to find that Acrobat has mysteriously vanished.  It’s usable, but could be better.  But all this really feels like a winter task.

Meanwhile I’m getting a fair bit of email correspondence, and doing my best to keep current.  Some of it relates to rather old posts, or material that I put online more  than twenty years ago!  It’s good to see that it still has value.

A little while ago I ordered a cheap second-hand copy of Paula Skreslet’s The Literature of Islam: A Guide to the Primary Sources In English Translation.  This has resided on my breakfast table since, and I am slowly working through it.  It is really a very good guide to early Islamic literature and where to find it in English.  Indeed it comes down to modern times also, complete with Muslim Brotherhood material, although that lies outside my interests.  It also gives useful information about Islam itself.  I had not realised that the Koran is only part of the source material for Islamic doctrine.  The life of Mohammed himself is, apparently, an example to be followed, as recorded in all sorts of sources, and transmitted from one identified person to another.  It is frustrating that such a useful source is not online.  Fortunately it is in print, for $38 for a paperback – although $64 for kindle (!!!).

Trying to read this at breakfast led to the unwelcome discovery that I badly needed new reading glasses.   Like most of us, I have worn glasses since the age of ten.  While working as a computer programmer I used to have two or three screens side by side.  This arrangement makes varifocals useless.  It was far better to get a very cheap pair of prescription computer glasses, for a few dollars, and just leave them by my terminal.  Indeed I got half a dozen and scattered them around the house, in my car, and in my suitcase.  They have served me well.  But sadly they are done; and I bought the first new set – again cheaply – last week.  I wear them as I type.  I shall order more.

Another second-hand book that I ordered, for a shamefully small sum, was a biography of Ritchie Blackmore, the Deep Purple guitarist.  I thought this might be interesting to read once, after seeing a quotation from it, and a hardback was cheaper, by a fluke, than a kindle download.  This was advertised with free postage, and even a small complimentary box of decaffeinated tea!  I’ve not read it yet, so it too sits on my table at breakfast, until I have finished with Skreslet’s book.

I saw online yesterday a claim that academics never read books; they only read the opening portion, and the conclusion.  I wonder if that is true?


Tertullian, De Baptismo – new text and Italian translation available online

Francesco Pieri kindly writes to let me know of a new edition and Italian translation of one of the works of Tertullian:

I have just edited a slightly revised edition of De Baptismo: it is fully available on line and free for download:

Looking at the site, I find this useful notice (I’ve tweaked the English version slightly).

Francesco Pieri , QSF Tertulliani De baptismo liber (Bologna 2023)

After an extensive historical-literary presentation of Tertullian’s treatise De baptismo, against the background of the main divergent doctrinal positions taken into account by the Latin apologist, the study provides a textual revision of the work, based on the readings of the two manuscripts, the Agobardinus (9th century) and Trecensis 523 (12th century), as well as on a certain number of the most significant ancient editions and all the proposals of modern editors. Compared to the most recent reference edition by Bruno Luiselli (1960), the text offered here presents a dozen correction proposals.

These cheap Italian editions are quite frankly a marvel.  You can find them anywhere in Rome, even in Termini, the railway station.  I am always utterly envious of the mass access to patristic texts that publishers like this make possible.  And in this case, they’ve even made it available in free PDF!

This is how it should be done.  Download it, and buy it in paper form!