Online and downloadable: the 5th century Oxford manuscript of Jerome

We take for granted so much these days.  The web has transformed the life of the researcher.  But sometimes we see something and we just marvel; because we remember how things once were, only a few years ago.

Long ago, maybe almost twenty years ago, I led a collaborative project online to translate the Chronicle of Jerome.  The work ends with the disaster of Adrianople in 378, and was written a year later, when everything was still in confusion.

We worked from a printed Latin text, which I scanned and placed online in a custom editor.

But it became clear, during the project, that the original work was colour coded.  Headings and columns were put in red.  There seemed no reason for our online edition not to show those colours.  But the printed text did not report this information.

Even then, the possibilities of online access were clear to some.  The Bodleian Library had a few manuscripts online, which was very unusual.  So we had access to a 9th century manuscript at Merton College Oxford.  But this was four colour, while Jerome’s preface only mentioned two.

However, at Oxford, in the Bodleian Library, there is a manuscript written around 450 AD.  It was written within a couple of decades of Jerome’s death, which is quite amazing.  The shelfmark is Ms. Auct. T. 2. 26.  As it happens, I have a reader’s card for the Bodleian, thanks to my student days.  So without much hope, in much  fear and trembling, I wrote to them and asked if I might examine it.

A gracious reply was forthcoming.  So soon after, I printed out the draft translation on paper, took my pencils, and drove to Oxford.  There I was received kindly in Duke Humphries Library, and the volume was brought out.  The librarian actually said that they were glad of an opportunity to bring it out of the vault.  And there I sat, little old me, marking up the print-out with the colours from a manuscript that had known the days of imperial Rome.

I had already laid out the complicated text in HTML, and I had made mistakes along the way.  I was amused, as I worked through the manuscript, to discover that the scribe had evidently made some of the same mistakes.  You always tended to write the year numbers first; and sometimes you kept writing them too long.  His erasures made clear that he had done the same.

At the time I had no real idea of just how valuable this item was, or how decent the librarians were being in letting a random chap rock up and handle it.   It is probably priceless.  It is an actual ancient book, written when there was still a western Roman emperor on the throne in Rome.  The first hundred pages are modern, relatively – 15th century, replacing lost original pages.  But then the stiff old parchment appears of the old book.  The book also contains the only copy of the Chronicle of Marcellinus, which is a continuation of Jerome.

These memories came back to me today when I discovered that, at the Digital Bodleian site, the whole manuscript is online, and can be downloaded in full colour in PDF form.  The permalink to the manuscript is https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/71e1863f-9c42-4461-b948-393cd976765a/.  In fact I had a problem with the download, and the Digital Bodleian staff quickly fixed it (thanks Tim!).

Here is part of a random page (f.110v).  The left hand numbers are the years of the ruler “of the Romans”, the right hand “of the Jews”.  Tiberius appears, and the regnal years reset to 1.  The Olympiad is shown also.  The work is in columns on two pages, but this is the left side.

Bodleian Library MS. Auct. T.2.26, Jerome’s Chronicle, f110v (top)

I can say, from my own memory, just how amazing this is.  When I remember, less than twenty years ago, that access to this volume was basically impossible.  Nobody ever saw it.  But now… anybody can consult it, anywhere in the world.

It is hard to find words to say just how wonderful this is, and how overwhelming it feels, to see the PDF appear on my PC.  Unbelievable; and so very, very marvellous.

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Latin scribes getting Greek numerals wrong – authorial corrections in the text of Jerome’s Chronicle

Sometime before 325 AD, Eusebius of Caesarea compiled his Chronicle, in two books.  The second volume exploited the new, large-size, parchment codex, and consisted of page after page of tables of dates and events, synchronising events in different kingdoms, and laying the basis for all subsequent history.[1]  Around 380, Jerome came across a copy in Constantinople, and translated it into Latin.  A copy of his translation dated to 450 AD is held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, where I have seen it; and 10 copies exist dated before 1000 AD.  Eusebius’ original Greek, unfortunately, did not survive.

The manuscripts split into two families, each based on a 5th century exemplar.  These are the group of 4 mss, SANP; and the group of 2, OM.  (A list, explaining each letter, can be found here).

In a fascinating paper which deserves to be better known,[2] Alden Mosshammer noticed that OM preserve errors of translation, which were corrected in SANP.   One of these requires access to the Greek.

Here’s the first example, (References are to Schoene’s 1956 edition, but you can find these in the online translation fairly easily).

P.217, line 24.

  • [Original] ἆθλα μ’ …  (nnn ran in the contest for the birthday of Rome …)
  • OM = athalamos natali romanae urbis cucurrit (currit M)  = “Athalamos ran in the contest…”
  • A = XL missus natali romanae urbis cucurrerunt = “40 ran in the contest…”
  • PN = quadraginta missus natali romanae urbis cucurrerunt = “40 ran in the contest…”

(I don’t know Greek numerals – what is the original number in Arabic numerals?)

It seems that Jerome dictated the numeral as a proper name, and the scribe wrote it down as one.  Somebody corrected it later, but OM preserve the dictation error.  Access to the Greek is required to spot this one.

The following example does not require consulting the Greek, and is in fact just a scribal correction:

P.83b, lines 21-23, is a heading.  It gives the name of Alcamenes, who was the 9th king of Sparta, and then the years of his reign follow below the heading.

  • [Original] = θἈλκαμένης  (i.e. “9. Alcamenes”).
  • O = thalcamenes
  • M = thalcamenis
  • A = VIIII menes
  • P = VIIII tarcamenes
  • N = VIIII tharcamenes

OM think the text reads “Thalcamenes”.  But the copyist SANP realised that the first letter was actually the number 9, although they still didn’t get the name right.  Possibly they realised this, because all the kings have numbers, so they inserted “VIIII” (i.e. “IX”) in front.

Here I have a little personal experience to contribute.

Scribes copied the names the first, and worked down the columns, rather than across.  When I transcribed the chronicle, I found that this was much the quickest and safest way.  The only problem was that you might write too many numerals, and suddenly realise that after year 9 there is a new king!  In the Bodleian ms (O), indeed, you see erasures of just this kind.  In HTML, luckily, I could just go back.

So the scribe will have quickly realised that a numeral was missing, and added it; although he could not determine the correct spelling of the name.  This correction could have occurred at any time, tho.

Mosshammer gives only these examples, and a couple of others which do not bear on this question.

Numerals in Greek are vulnerable things.  The first example proves that even St. Jerome could be foxed.  In this case, the lists of unfamiliar names, preceded by numerals, were a perfect occasion for error.

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  1. [1]The online translation may be found here (part 1).
  2. [2]Alden Mosshammer, “Luca Bibl. Capit. 490 and the manuscript tradition of Hieronymus’ (Eusebius’) Chronicle”, California Studies in Classical Antiquity 8 (1975), pp. 203-240.  Online at JSTOR here.

Cassiodorus “Chronicle” now online in English

Bouke Procee has kindly sent me a copy of his translation of this 6th century chronicle, and made it public domain so that we can all use it.  A text is also included.  Here it is:

Much of the material is reused from earlier Chronicles; the impact of Jerome’s Chronicle is obvious here, as in every subsequent chronicle.  But the most interesting material is from his own time – the account of the games given in Rome in 519 AD by Eutharic, and the statement that the audience were now quite unaccustomed to such shows.

It is excellent to have such texts accessible in English.  The task of translating most of the entries is a humdrum one, which is perhaps often shirked on the basis that most of those interested can just as well read it in Latin.  But it is far easier still for many people to skim down the text in a translation, and, of course, for Google to find it.  I think we can all be grateful to Mr Procee for taking this one on.  It just makes life easier.

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