From my diary

I’m still working on Ibn Abi Usaibia.  Yesterday I started going through the .htm files exported from Abbyy Finereader, to rejoin paragraphs and add in page numbers.  I’ve so far found two pages which are out of order in the manuscript — the numerals at the bottom in pencil were clearly added after the pages became disarranged.

I’ve also been experimenting with producing a version of the images of the pages which might be uploadable to, by converting them to black and white using ImageMagick as I was doing yesterday.  This sort of works, but requires quite a bit of manual intervention, so I have parked it for now.

This morning I went to the library and obtained a copy of Maarten Vermaseren’s Mithras: De geheimzinnige God, the original version of Mithras: the secret God, which has caused so much misinformation to circulate.  It’s physically a tiny book — indeed the title page calls it an “Elsevier pocket book”, evidently one of a series — printed on very cheap paper which has yellowed and perished, and bound so tightly that the pages are almost impossible to open, and the printed text is so close to the binding that making a photocopy is almost impossible.  The perished paper tends to tear if you simply open the book!  I suspect that if I want an electronic copy of this, I shall have to buy a copy and destroy it, by cutting the spine off, in order to scan it.  Most vexing.

But the important bit so far is that this isn’t a scholarly work at all!  It’s just a bit of popularisation, probably undertaken at the behest of a publisher, who decided the format etc.

Meanwhile the postman brought me the 2010 translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel by Thomas Scheck.  Regular readers will remember that I commissioned a translation of this work — then untranslated — back in 2009, and that it was projected as volume 2 of Ancient Texts in Translation.  Nothing much has happened on this for over a year now, as it has been awaiting some revision work.  I think I shall have to draw up a plan whereby I can get it out of the door, and so I have purchased a copy of Scheck with this in mind.  I’ll work on this in January, perhaps.


Converting a page photograph into black and white

The typescript of Ibn Abi Usaibia reached  me in the form of digital photos of the pages.  These were evidently taken under fluorescent light, since the images are huge, green, and weirdly coloured.  They’re so large, in fact, that they are hard to manipulate.

But I needed something a bit more normal.  So I was tinkering with the image and, quite by chance, got what I needed.  This tip may be of general use, where we have black text on white paper in funny-coloured photos, so I add it here.

  • Export the selected page from FR10 as an image.  Mine was a png, and came out as 32mb in size!  Here’s a snippet.  Note particularly the “see through” text to the left of the diagram.

  • Open with 3.5.10.  Trim to right size.
  • Adjustments | Black and White, to convert to greyscale.

  • Adjustments | Brightness contrast, to turn the background white.  So increase the brightness as far as you can without losing text.   The idea is to lose as much of the background as possible, and in particular any see-through text.  The text will be very grey.

  • Then you can also increase the contrast if you like.  Juggling the two should give a pale image.  Mine were brightness=100, contrast=20.
  • Then do Adjustments | Auto-level.  This will turn the pale grey text black again.  (If you didn’t get rid of enough background artefacts,  these will promptly appear as smudges, so you may have to go back a stage, and increase the contrast – that’s what disposes of a lot of them.)  The larger the image, the better the result when converted — this image is a little small, and the text ends up a bit fuzzy.

  • You can then do minor cleanup manually of dots etc.

As someone who is quite useless at image manipulation, I thought I would pass this on.

Ideally one would save the end product as black and white, but I haven’t worked out how to do that.

UPDATE: For some reason you can’t do it in Paint.Net.  But you can in the Windows accessory Paint, which comes free with Windows7.  Just do File | Properties, change the image to black and white and save.  The file size drops from 45k to 12k.  Here’s the sample:

Note that true 1-bit black and white doesn’t resize well — hence the jaggedness in the thumbnail above — but the full size version is fine.


Ibn Abi Usaibia update

I’ve got 26 .htm files now, which contain the output from the OCR process.  My task now is to go through each, rejoin separated lines, make sure that paragraphs appear at the right places, and add page numbers.  I’ve done the first two — some 60 pages.   It will be slow.


I wish I were a German

Well, maybe I don’t.

But I’m still OCR’ing the annotations to Ibn Abi Usaibia — page 32 of the 62.  Those annotations mention translations of various Arabic works.  And, you guessed it, they were translated into German.

In fact they were translated into German yonks ago.   Back in the 19th century, to be specific.  Just imagine the quantity of useful stuff you could put online?

Alternatively, I wish I could read German easily.  At least I could then use these translations.

Mind you, they say that the best way to learn a language is to have a girlfriend of that nationality.  I could probably cope with a German girlfriend.  So long as she looked something like this, perhaps?


The notes to Lothar Kopf’s translation of Ibn Abi Usaibia

I’ve completed the OCR of a dozen pages of the notes.  It is becoming clear to me that the notes are not by the translator, Lothar Kopf.

There has always been rather a mystery about the history of the typescript manuscript of the translation.  It was completed in 1956 by Lothar Kopf, as it says on the front page, under a US government programme which commissioned the translation from Israeli scholars.  The reason why the US government should do this is nowhere recorded, and it vanished from notice decades ago.

But the US Library of Medicine, where it currently resides, only accessioned it about 15 years later.  So where was it in the meantime?

The notes are typed on a different machine — explaining why Abbyy Finereader is handling them rather differently than all the preceding pages.  They are written by someone who is not very fluent in English.  At points the syntax breaks down altogether.  On the other hand the author displays considerable erudition in Arabic literature and the Western literature about it, mainly that published in German.  At the head of each page is a title in Hebrew.

But I have come across two entries so far, which are conclusive.

On p. 7 of the annotations is this entry:

2) On the medieval translations into European languages of this famous book see F. Rosenthal, Oriens, XIII-XIV, 1961, pp. 132 ff., with a list of the many quotations in our book, pp. 145-147.

While on p.10 we read:

Neither the Arabic text nor any translation was available in Jerusalem.

It would seem that the manuscript was originally completed without any serious annotation, and that someone based in Jerusalem, several years later, began to add his own notes to it.  He broke off after 60 pages, having only annotated a portion of the text.

At least some of the notes are well worth retaining, so I shall plod on with it.


Ibn Abi Usaibia update

I’ve just finished proofing the OCR for page 900.  I think there is only another 50 pages to go.  There may be some pages of footnotes after that, but not very many.

UPDATE: Page 946 complete, which is the end of the main text, although it ends suddenly and without any colophon which makes me suspicious that we don’t have it all.  There are 62 pages of notes to follow, which seem to annotate the first 100 pages of the text.  I’ll start in on these.

UPDATE: The notes pages are proving very difficult to proof.  Not sure why.  Drat!

UPDATE: I think I’ve got it, by setting the text box zoom size in Abbyy Finereader 10 to rather smaller than I was using before, and the text font size somewhat larger.  Why I should need to do this, for what is essentially the same images, I don’t know.

I’ve done a couple of pages.  Let’s hope it will be possible to tie these notes back to the main text.  Interestingly it looks as if Kopf, the translator, made pencil alterations to quite a few of the notes.  Unfortunately they are almost entirely illegible.


Known colloquially as “Biff” or “Sunny”

In Ibn Abi Usaibia, one Egyptian practitioner is introduced as follows:

Al-Shaikh al-Sadīd ibn Abī ‘l-Bayān. Sadīd al-Dīn Abū ‘l-Fadl Dā`ud ibn Abī ‘l-Bayan Sulaimān ibn Abī ‘l-Faraj Isrā`īl ibn Abī ‘l-Tayyib Sulaimān ibn Mubārak, was a Karaite Israelite.

Cough, yes, well, say no more.

Apparently — judging from a comment a bit further on — he was actually known as “Ibn Bayan”.


The perils of marrying an ignorant woman (however hot)

Ibn Abi Usaibia tells the story of an Egyptian physician and scholar, who evidently married a woman of no education, as some scholars have been led to do, down the centuries.  The consequences of this particular mistake have been pleasantly depicted by no less a hand than Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice.[1]  Here is what Ibn Abi Usaibia tells us of Ibn Fātik[2]:

Al-Mubashshir bin Fātik, i.e., the Emir Mahmūd al-Dawlah Abū ‘l Wafā’ al-Mubashshir ibn Fātik al-Amirī, was one of the most eminent emirs and most distinguished scholars of Egypt. He was always busily occupied, loved learning and was fond of meeting scholars, debating with them and putting to use what he imbibed from them. One of those with whom he associated and from whom he learnt a great deal about astronomy and mathematics was Abū `Alī Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haitham. He was also acquainted with Shaikh Abū ‘l-Husayn, known as al-Āmidī under whom he studied many philosophical disciplines. Moreover, he applied himself to medicine, keeping company with the physician Abū ‘l-Hasan Alī ibn Ridwān.

Al-Mubashshir ibn Fātik was the author of excellent works on logic and other philosophical disciplines, which have become renowned among specialists. He also engaged assiduously in copying books; I have seen numerous volumes in his handwriting, containing works by ancient authors. He acquired a huge number of books, many of which are still extant, but the color of their leaves has changed owing to immersion in water.

Shaikh Sadīd al-Dīn al-Mantiq told me in Cairo: “The Emir Ibn Fātik was eager to acquire knowledge and possessed a collection of books. On coming home, he spent most of his time with them, finding no better occupation than reading and writing and convinced that this was the most important pursuit. He had a wife of noble descent like him, of the family of one of the state dignitaries. After his death — may Allāh have mercy upon him — she betook herself with her maids to his library. She bore a grudge against the books, since her husband had devoted himself to them and neglected her. While bewailing him, she, together with her maids, threw the books into a large water basin in the center of the building. Later the books were retrieved and this is why the many books of Ibn Fātik which have been preserved are in such a state.”

I say: Among the pupils of al-Mubashshir ibn Fātik was Abū ‘l- Hair Salāma ibn Rahmūn.

Ibn Fātik wrote the following books:

1) “K. al-Wasāya wal-Amtāl wal-Mūgaz min Muhkam al-Aqwāl.”
2) “Choice Maxims and Best Sayings.”
3) “The Book of the Beginning,” on logic.
4) A book on medicine.

(After some thought I have refrained from posting an image of an “ignorant but hot” woman as an illustration.  I have a feeling it might give the wrong message).

  1. [1]Chapter 42: “Had Elizabeth’s opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing opinion of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. But Mr. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on, in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice. He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his principal enjoyments. To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted, than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement. This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.
  2. [2]Translated L. Kopf, p.705-6.

From my diary

In to town, to hand back Vermaseren’s Mithras: the secret god.  No sign yet of two British Library loans of other Mithras books.  I was relieved to discover that the local library was open, as I had feared that it might not be — there is a public sector workers strike today.

I am still reading Grant’s book on Greek and Roman authors, one entry at a time.  I am learning things from it, that’s for sure.

Not everything in such books is sound.  In the entry for Athanasius, for instance, he refers to the existence of a possible autograph letter of Athanasius to the monk Paphnutius.  It seems that this was published in 1924 by H. I. Bell in Jews and Christians in Egypt, and bears the shelfmark Papyrus London 1929.  But a Google search revealed that Tim Barnes, for instance, in his Constantius and Athanasius, considered that there was no evidence that the “Athanasius” of this letter was the same as the famous archbishop.  The letter was found together with others which suggested that Paphnutius may have been a Meletian.  It is slightly frustrating that I was unable to locate Bell’s work online.

A chance visit to Wikipedia yesterday revealed another poor soul there being bullied and harassed there by a gang of other users, and being treated with little respect or mercy.  (I didn’t agree with his edits, but I could see what was being done to him).  The ploy seemed to be to bully him until he left, and then, if he returned under another name, block him for “sock puppeting”.  I suspect that bullying is endemic in Wikipedia, in truth, and that it is concealed merely because Google doesn’t make it easily possible to search the endless pages in which it is taking place.  It’s not a safe place to visit, and it needs to be placed under proper management, and scrutiny.

Meanwhile the task of OCR’ing Ibn Abi Usaibia grinds on.  I’ve now passed page 700; only another 250 pages to go!  The low light conditions at this time of year, and the short days, leave me feeling very sleepy much of the time, and it’s not that easy to gather the energy to buckle down and do things.

So … what shall I do this afternoon?