Keep christian literature out of the classics!

Today I saw a series of tweets which started with Tertullian’s Ad Nationes – a work rich in quotations from Varro – and then read as follows:

@hashtagoras: Tertullian v neglected by classicists, methinks.

@b_hawk: I’ve a feeling Tertullian is often relegated to religious studies, & often used more for contextual info.

@hashtagoras: By virtue of our training and the constitution of our canon, most classicists contrive to avoid christian stuff

He’s right, of course; they do.  But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Considering the sheer mass of Christian Latin and Greek literature, such a policy by classicists is simply a survival strategy.

If classicists “broadened” their canon, they would cease to be classicists.  Each would muddy the stream with some element of patristic or medieval material – interesting, certainly, but not classical in literary or linguistic terms – and we would lose touch with the pure classical world.  Nobody would know what was really classical any more.  Nobody would study pure classics any more.  In the process, the special qualities of classical studies would dissolve in the stream of all ancient literature.

The classics, as a discipline, is the study of the finest products, the highest point, the “classic” version of the literature of each language.  To focus on that is to identify it, and to study it.  To mix in other things is to cease to be a classicist.

Let us not forget that our society was brought into existence by the rediscovery of the classics.

Boundaries are important things.  We ring-fence things that are important to study, and exclude others from that fenced area.  We exclude other things, not because they don’t matter, but because the practical effect of admitting them is to dilute, to confuse, to muddle, and to dissolve the separate identity of the item we intend to study.

It occurs to me that current proposals in the USA to mingle Patristics and New Testament studies are equally liable to the same objection.  The reason that we study the NT by itself is because otherwise the slender volume of biblical literature will drown in the mass of patristic commentary upon it.  Anybody writing on Romans will instead end up referring 90% of the time to Origen; or Augustine.

In fact, when we start thinking of Augustine, and the mass of material of that date, subsuming the pure New Testament, then aren’t we at once face-ot-face with Catholicism?

I wonder (ignorantly) whether New Testament studies exists as a distinct discipline for exactly this reason.  Did protestants in the early modern world grow tired of patristic wrangling matches with catholics about texts which the former did not consider authoritative?  I can see that it might happen.  I can see that they wanted to study the New Testament for itself, without the long shadow of later anachronistic interpretation.  Medieval bible study is what you get if you combine the two.  It would be ironic if the efforts of atheists like Bart Ehrman, to invade Patristics, resulted instead in New Testament studies disappearing into a Catholic-style discipline.

Let us preserve the distinctions.  If we want something studied, keep a firm hand on the edges.  I know that patristics and late antique studies have benefited greatly from the work of Roman historians like T.D.Barnes, who made the journey over the boundary.  But if we want to keep benefiting, let’s keep classics healthy.

Which means no Tertullian in the classics schools, please.


Cicero at Oxyrhynchus

I wonder how many people know that 10 papyrus fragments of Cicero exist from Oxyrhynchus, etc, the earliest dating from the start of the 1st century AD and the latest from the 6th? I certainly didn’t!

I owe this knowledge to CEDOPAL, the online database of 7,000 papyri.  A look at the drop-down list of authors is interesting by itself.  Julius Africanus is represented.  Three fragments of the lost works of the 2nd century jurist  Ulpian are there.  A few bits of Galen; surprisingly few, really, considering that his works amount of 10% of the now-surviving Greek literature before AD 300.  A fragment of Juvenal Satire 7 from ca. 500 AD from Arsinoe is a poignant relic, considering that he ended his days in exile in Egypt.

Only two snippets of Libanius were found, one from his Monody for Julian the Apostate.  A fragment of an epitome by Manetho exists from the 5th century.  Another 2nd century fragment is from the Chronicle of Phlegon of Tralles; and Hippolytus gives us a fragment of his own Chronicle, 6-7th century.  Polybius is present in a 1st century AD fragment.  And so the list goes on.

I was glad to see that links are starting in CEDOPAL to appear to online images of some of the papyri.  This must come, I think, and will put an end to the absurd concealment of these things behind barriers of money and privilege.  But much remains to be done.


The Suetonius we do not know

I doubt that many people reading this blog are unfamiliar with the master work of Q. Suetonius Tranquillus, Lives of the 12 Caesars (and if you are, go and buy the Penguin translation by Robert Graves NOW).  But how many of us have read the other surviving works: the Lives of the Grammarians, Poets, Rhetoricians?  I certainly never have.

This afternoon, sitting at the keyboard, for some reason I found myself reading the Wikipedia article, which linked to the Gutenberg translation which included these texts.  They deserve to be better known.

XIII. LABERIUS HIERA was bought by his master out of a slave-dealer’s cage, and obtained his freedom on account of his devotion to learning. It is reported that his disinterestedness was such, that he gave gratuitous instruction to the children of those who were proscribed in the time of Sulla.


More Zenobius

A query in CLASSICS-L has brought some more info on this obscure 2nd century AD compiler of proverbs.

Andrew Chugg writes:

It’s a bit questionable whether Zenobius is an author or merely a compiler, since according to the Suda (s.v. Zenobios) his Proverbia consists of the proverbs of Arius Didymus of Alexandria and Tarrhaeus (Lucillus of Tarrha in Crete). He himself seems to have taught rhetoric under Hadrian in Rome.

I don’t know of a modern English translation of the whole work, but he is often quoted on various matters, especially concerning Alexandria.

If you’re mainly interested in Proverbia 3.94, then you could try Fraser’s Ptolemaic Alexandria. If you are interested in the whole work, then scholars of Didymus may be able to help. Obviously, it is quite likely that 3.94 is actually Didymus.

Terrence Lockyer adds:

The TLG text (for “Zenobius Sophista” as it classifies him) is from:

 – E. L. von Leutsch and F. G. Schneidewin (edd.), Epitome collectionum Lucilli Tarrhaei et Didymi, Corpus paroemiographorum Graecorum, vol. 1 (Goettingen : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1839;  repr. Hildesheim : Georg Olms Verlag 1965)

which is in Google Books, whence it can be downloaded as a PDF, at

and thereby also in the Internet archive at

from which (following the “All files:  HTTP” link) one can download the book in PDF.

There is an apparent scanning issue on pp. 440-1 of the book / 501-2 of the PDF affecting the lower part of the notes, and again between pp. 513 and 514 of the book / 572 and 575 of the PDF, where, however, the affected pages seem to be duplicated, so nothing is lost), DJVU (which I’ve not checked), or the original scans, from the list of files at

The issues with a small number of pages (4 of 603, and two of them duplicates) do not appear when one reads the book on-line at Google Books, so presumably will not be visible in the PDF downloadable thence.

The (Google Books) PDF looks pretty decent, but there is an issue at the bottom left of p. 223 (280 of the PDF) where a mark visible in browsing the book via Google is much darker and obscures a bit of the note (one or two words on the left of the last three lines), and again on 233 (290 of the PDF, where the first half of the last three lines in the left column is affected), and on 258 (315 of the PDF, perhaps two words obscured);  while 247 (304 of the PDF) is wavy, there is a duplication of pp. 440-1 (on PDF pp. 501-2) with a hand in view on each duplicated page (as in the Internet Archive version, where I should have said that the pages are in fact also repeated, so nothing is actually lost), and pp. 491 (552) and 493 (554) have issues at bottom right.

P. 491 appears to be missing from the Internet Archive PDF.

In short, neither file is perfect, but the two together seem usable enough.

The text of Zenobius starts on p.55 of the Google books PDF, covering pp.1-177 of the edition.  There is no translation of any of it, sadly.  The pages contain only a limited amount of Greek; p.24 seems to contain 57 words, suggesting a total word count of ca. 11,000 words; about £500, at 5p a word, if I commissioned a translation.  Tempted…! 

The TLG tells me it’s actually 27,271, or about double that.  Still not a huge amount… but then there is the hassle of finding a translator and chasing him up, etc.  If I could pay the money and just get the translation, I probably would!