A new use for the parallel Latin translations in the Patrologia Graeca

Now that we have a very effective Latin translation in Google translate, it occurs to me that we can also use this to read a great deal of patristic Greek.  For as we all know, the Greek fathers were all translated into Latin at the renaissance and after, and were nearly always printed with parallel Latin translation, right the way down to the 19th century.

The obvious example of this is Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, our standard reference collection of texts.  It’s never been worth transcribing the Latin side.  But maybe now it is, just as a reading aid for those of us without fluent Greek?

This isn’t a new situation, in a way.  Indeed the reason why all these Latin translations even exist at all, is that knowledge of Greek was always rarer than fluency in Latin.  The translations are not always reliable; but something is better than nothing.

On the other hand it won’t be all that easy to OCR the Latin of Migne…

An excerpt from PG volume 78, column 226, a letter of Isidore of Pelusium in the Migne edition.

The low quality of Migne’s printing is something that we have all struggled with.

But there are workarounds.  The last time that I needed to OCR the Latin of Migne, I went and found the edition that he was reprinting on Google Books.  This, needless to say, was far better printed, and created many fewer errors in Finereader 15.

So it is possible, and it’s worth bearing in mind if we need to work with a large patristic text for which no modern translation exists.  Spend some time creating an electronic text of the Latin translation, and push it through Google Translate!

Update (5 Aug 2023): Note that it is actually possible to copy the OCR’d text from Google books itself, for both the Greek and Latin sides in the PG.  Go to the page in question.  Hit the cut-and-paste icon so it goes dark grey, then drag a rectangle over the area that you want to copy the text from. As you release the mouse, a dialogue will pop up, and the text is in the top box. It looks as if its monotonic for Greek. The results are quite respectable.


A new BHL-type database of Latin hagiographical texts and manuscripts at the IRHT?

It seems that something is going on at the IRHT (= L’Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes).  For those who do not know, the IRHT is the French manuscripts people.  They do all sorts of very useful things.  But there is no announcement, nor much online.  It’s a new database, designed to allow you to look up a particular Latin hagiographical text, and find what manuscripts it appears in.

We already have something of the sort.  A couple of decades ago, the Bollandist “BHL” index (= Bibliographica Hagiographica Latina) was turned into the BHLms database.  I use it intensely.  You look up a text by the BHL reference and it will tell you the libraries that have copies in manuscript, the manuscript reference number (= shelfmark), and the pages or folio numbers.  It’s great. But it is obviously old.

Last night I saw a job advert.  It’s for 6 months, starting in September.  It’s actually in various places, but I saw it here.  Excerpts (Google translate) –

Job offer – Study engineer (M/F). Feeding a database devoted to Latin hagiographic manuscripts

As part of the “Latin Legends” project – the result of a partnership between the IRHT, the Société des Bollandistes (Brussels) and the University of Namur – the IRHT offers a 6-month fixed-term contract to contribute to the data load of a new database dedicated to Latin hagiographic manuscripts.

This database, still in the process of being run in, is intended to list all the manuscript witnesses (medieval and modern) of Latin hagiographic texts identified by the “Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina” (“BHL”). Once published, it will work in conjunction with the other databases hosted by the IRHT (Medium, Pinakes, Biblissima).

Sounds interesting!

– he will contribute to integrating the data from the Bollandist files (approximately 9000 handwritten files, now digitized on the IRHT servers). If necessary, he will complete the information, and, in case of doubt, will verify its accuracy.  …

The recruited research engineer will work under the scientific direction of Cécile Lanéry-Ouvrard (IRHT Researcher), within the Latin section of the IRHT (Aubervilliers site). He will also be in contact with the other researchers and technicians involved in the “Latin Legendaries” project (in particular Cyril Masset, from the IT department of the IRHT, and Fernand Peloux, researcher at the CNRS in Toulouse). On occasion, he may be required to correspond with the Société des Bollandistes de Bruxelles, or with other researchers specializing in hagiography. 

Part of the work may be carried out remotely, with this restriction, however, that he has permanent access to the tools necessary for the proper performance of his activities (access to IRHT servers, access to bibliographic tools, etc.)

The list of skills is formidable, but this isn’t really an IT role, as one bit amusingly makes plain:

some skills or previous experience in the field of databases and their operation would be welcome, to facilitate exchanges with the IT department of the IRHT, responsible for maintaining the database.

So it basically requires manuscripts skills, rather than hard-core SQL.  I wonder what the database actually is.

A bit of googling reveals another worker on the project, Antoine Charrié-Benoist, who is listed as doing data load for the BHLms database, and gave a paper about the project.

It would be good to know more.  But clearly whatever database is planned will be immensely useful.  Excellent news.


Getting a manuscript offline from the Forschungsbibliothek Gotha

The Gotha collection of manuscripts is less well-known than it should be, except to specialists.  But anybody doing anything with English and Cornish and Welsh saints’ lives is aware of a semi-mythical manuscript in that collection, with the shelfmark “Gotha Forschungsbibliothek Membr. I 81”.  These lives are mainly accessed in an abbreviated recension made by John of Tynemouth and printed as “Nova Legenda Anglie”.  What makes the Gotha manuscript special is that it contains unabbreviated versions of some of this same material.

We live in a period of transition, where archives know that manuscript material ought to be accessible online.  But at the moment most archives have limited IT resources, both of infrastructure and people skills.  It’s important for extremely online people to remember this.  There may well be just one person at the other end.

A lot of Gotha manuscripts are online.  Unfortunately the website was clearly designed by a non-manuscript person – not at all uncommon, this! -, and it makes it hard to find what is online.  You can’t search by shelfmark.  If they would just put up a single page with all the manuscripts on, listed by shelfmark, and with a link to each ms, that would solve it.

Last Tuesday, a mere 6 days ago, I decided to write to the library and ask.  From the list of contacts I selected a certain Dr Henrikje Carius, and enquired.  I didn’t get a reply, but the following day I had an email instead from Dr Monika Müller:

Memb. I 81 has been digitized, however, the digital copy has not yet been put online due to the lack of a sufficient catalogue entry. It is provided to put the digital copy online in a project planned for next year. In general, the Research library sells already existing digital scans which not are accessible online for 8 Euro. Please, inform me about how you would like to proceed.

Here we see evidence of a library that is in the transitional period; because it’s hard to see why you would do all the hard work of photography and then not put it on the web, just because of cataloguing.  That’s an old trap that librarians sometimes fall into, because cataloguing is never finished.  All the same this was a very helpful reply.  But clearly we were going to get a version of the old-fashioned labour-intensive manual process that used to happen.

I was wary of the 8 euro charge, trivial as it was.  Accounting for money takes loads of manual labour, more than such a charge would justify.  Anyway I agreed to it, mainly out of curiosity.  The next step was that I was sent a long form in PDF format which was an “estimate”, and asked to complete it.  But also:

My apologies, that I have overlooked one aspect: As the manuscript has 230 folios and therefore the scan 460 images, it takes a lot of time to upload the scan. The library charges fees for this service, i.e. 25 Euro for the scans of Memb. I 81.

I didn’t know it then, but the zip file in question was 10Gb, so it did take a while.  I don’t think I’ve ever been charged for this before, however.  On the other hand, it was not so long ago that a CD would be sent out by post.

The paperwork duly caused problems.  Thankfully this was emailed to me – once, this would have been by post.  That is a step forward.  Unfortunately I was away from home and reading the PDF form on a phone.  I could see no way to enter text.  Emails to and fro.  When I returned home, two days later, I found that the PDF was indeed read-only!   So I printed it off, hand-scribbled my agreement, and scanned it back in and sent it in.  I would guess that I should have been sent a Word .docx file instead.  All transitional stuff.  They need a form online that you can enter the data into.

Once  I had emailed the PDF in then things moved swiftly.  Another document in PDF appeared, which luckily I did not have to do anything with.  Then I had to find out just how to send money.  International bank transfer was the sole option.  This is common in the EU, but rarely done outside.  Banks tend to charge 10 euros just for the trouble.  But I was fortunate: since the last time I did this, the banks have introduced ways to do it, and the money went over swiftly.  This morning I received a link to the download – the monster 10 Gb file!  This I shall stash on 3 external drives.

Inside the zip were all the pages in TIFF format, each about 30 mb.  I was relieved to find that they were all excellent quality colour photographs.  I opened one in MS Paint and saved it as PNG, and the size dropped to 20mb.  I then saved it as JPG and the size dropped to… 3mb.  That’s about the size I would expect.

What I want, of course, is a PDF.  I have the tools to create it, and then I can add bookmarks for the various sections of the manuscript.  So the PDF needs to be a reasonable size.

There are about 460 images in the folder, so I’m not doing that conversion manually.  Instead I used ImageMagick.  Looking at my collection of installers, I’ve not done this since about 2011!  But it all worked fine.  I right-clicked on the folder and opened it in Terminal, and then ran:

mogrify -format jpeg *.tif

This ran extremely fast and, in less than a minute, it had merrily converted every .tif image into a brand new .jpeg file in the same directory.  Whatever the image conversion defaults were – some loss of quality, of course -, the jpg file size was 3mb each time, and the images looked just as readable for my purposes.  I then fired up Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 – very elderly now, but still working – and combined all the .jpgs (ignoring endleaves etc) into a PDF.  This itself is a mighty 1.18 Gb, but it will serve my purposes very well.

The next step is to use an online set of contents, and create bookmarks.

Thank you, Dr Müller, and the Forschungsbibliothek staff, for what was a far more efficient process than in the past.


Searching for BHL 6173 (part 2)

In my last post, I started searching online for a manuscript copy of BHL 6173, a miracle story about St Nicholas, which has never been printed.  Two French manuscripts were supposed to contain a copy; neither did.  But two Austrian manuscripts were also listed by the Bollandists in their BHLms database:

  • Heiligenkreuz SB 14
  • Melk SB C.12

Both of these abbeys are in Austria.  This has a union site, which is a good idea.  All the fully digitised manuscripts they have can be located here, and then you drill down.  So far, so good.

There are 93 fully digitised mss of Melk online!  That’s great news.  I find that “C 12” is the old shelfmark – the site in fact lists a concordance of Melk shelfmarks here, but it is useless unless you know which catalogue your source was working from – unlikely with an old reference.  But it’s a fine idea in principle.

In fact “Melk C 12” is now Melk 546, online here.  It’s a 15th century manuscript, so very late.  But we don’t care about that.

Unfortunately the manuscripta.at site has been changed since I last looked at it.  It was frankly rather clunky, but it was entirely usable.  It is now rather quicker to find the actual digitised manuscript.  But otherwise the changes are a disaster.  No researcher can work with this.  Negative changes include:

  • Disabled downloads – at least for the public – and instead tried to force you to use their online browser.
  • Set up that browser menu so that Google Translate can’t translate their pop-up menus.  Non-German speakers are not welcome.
  • Made sure the menu options cannot even be copied, in case you tried to use Google Translate that way.
  • Clicking on “fol. 40 r” instead displays f.36r.
  • There’s no way to download the page that I want.  Links point to the wrong pages.

Somebody has really set out to make the researcher’s job impossible.  There are good, solid reasons why researchers hate librarians. Stuff like this, that makes your life harder, is the reason why.  This has cost me an hour of pain, and in reality the manuscript will now be omitted from my list of witnesses.

The only part of all this that is actually an improvement is that the “Scroll” option in the browser – which, weirdly, is horizontal – is quick.  You can skim through the pages.  On fol. 40r I do find “Quidam praepotens vir“.  Not that I can download the page, of course.

Luckily for me the amount of text that I want is small, and can be screen grabbed.  Here’s the text of BHL 6173.

It’s not hugely readable, to a layman.  I’ll try transcribing it another time.

Blessedly the manuscript also contains BHL 6175, which I am also looking for.  This is only found in the Melk and Heiligenkreuz manuscripts, plus one in Belgium, KBR 07487-07491 (3182), somewhere between fol. 170v-185v, a 13th century manuscript.  But that isn’t online.

What about the Heiligenkreuz 14 manuscript?  Sadly not.  Some of the Heiligenkreuz manuscripts are indeed online, but not this one.  [Update, March 21: Heiligenkreuz 14 is indeed now online].

That’s our four manuscripts, and we have a single hit, which luckily contains both unpublished texts.

But although the Bollandists with their BHL, and BHLms database, are the essential reference, they are not the sole source of all truth.  Google searches can reveal things unknown to the excellent fathers.

Doing so led me to a massive monograph online here at Persee.fr, by Sarah Staats, “Le catalogue médiéval de l’abbaye cistercienne de Clairmarais et les manuscrits conservés” (2016).  And on page 64, we learn of a 12th manuscript, now Saint-Omer 701, which contains part of the Speculum Ecclesiae of Honorius Augustodunensis (who?).  This contains on fol. 121v-122r a “Sermo de sancto Nicolao” (BHL 6173 and 6175).  That manuscript is online and accessible through Mirador.  Here is part of the opening in question! 

Which is a nice bonus.  I think we can get a text together using those two witnesses, don’t you?

Have a good weekend, everyone.


From my diary

For some months a copy of Charles W. Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan has sat next to my computer, pestering me to read it.  Today I gave up and fed it to the sheet-feed scanner.  It is no more; just a PDF, floating in the void.  Even as I write, Adobe Acrobat Pro is OCRing it.

I did try.  I really did.  But although the book is full of erudition, it is just so annoying to read.  This is entirely the fault of the author, for departing from normal standards of scholarly writing, and introducing a literary conceit.

Jones pretends that the legend of St Nicholas is like a person, and so his chapters bear annoying and pointless titles such as “Boyhood”, “Maturity”, and so forth.  This neatly conceals the content in a quite amazing way.

But there is worse.  Jones refers to the legend as “N”.  He then writes, in his text, how “N” does this, or that, displays this or that human quality.  It is utterly, utterly wearisome, at least to me, and again obstructs the reader as he tries to work out exactly what is being said.  Jones displays formidable erudition.  But he also displays a tendency to make literary digressions.  Need I add that his footnotes are all banished to an appendix?  And the numbering restarts with each subsection of each chapter?  And that the table of contents does not list those subsections?  To a busy man seeking specific information, such casualness is a burden.

I did try to read through it twice, but gave up.  The last time I did so, I came across a short section which he had translated, so he said, from the Mombritius edition of John the Deacon.  I put a couple of bookmarks in the book, one in the text and one at the back in the notes.  Today I compared that translation with my own text and translation of John.  It was no translation at all, but rather a paraphrase.  No doubt all his translations are the same.  At that point I snapped, and decided that a searchable PDF would be of infinitely more use.  It is gone.

A couple of days ago, a kind correspondent wrote enquiring about the Gotha manuscript I. 81, containing versions of English and Cornish saints’ lives.  This manuscript is described as containing a rather better text than that of John of Tynemouth.  I found a website run by the Gotha collection at Erfurt University.  I was delighted to find that a good solid number of manuscripts were online.  But the website is clearly a first generation effort, constructed by people who never consulted a manuscript in their lives.  It seems to be impossible to find out whether or not a given manuscript is online.

So I wrote and asked if this manuscript was online.  It is not, and not scheduled to go online for a year.  But the photographs already existed; and, for money – seemingly to cover their time – I could have a copy.  I have since been trying to get hold of these.  I get the impression that the library staff are genuinely trying to help.  But the process is much more clunky than it needs to be.  I will probably write something about this, simply as a historical record of what researchers could have to go through in order to access a manuscript, even as late as 2023.

But I am very tolerant of these babysteps by institutions.  The pace of change in their world is breathtaking.  They have limited resources, yet everyone expects everything all at once.  They all have to start somewhere.  Erfurt at least understand that they must move with the times, and are trying.  But the old habits of paperwork die hard!  Still, we have come so far since the days when I was pestering the British Library about these matters.  What I’ve been doing, from a mobile phone, over the last two days, would have been unthinkable a few years ago.


Please do plagiarize me, I don’t care: a blogger writes about #ReceptioGate

On Christmas Eve, a blogger named Peter Kidd launched an attack on Twitter on a Swiss academic named Carla Rossi and her RECEPTIO foundation, with a blog post headed “Nobody cares about your blog!” Dr Rossi had helped herself to some images and some of the research on the blog while doing her own research, and had not credited her source.  Unfortunately for her, in fact Dr Kidd was not “just a blogger”, but also a professional, working in the world of manuscripts for the Bodleian and Sothebys, and he took exception to what he saw as plagiarism.  His blog, Medieval Manuscripts Provenance,  contains much original research and supports his career. He wrote to Dr Rossi and complained.  What he got back was an insulting brush-off and a threat of litigation.  His blew the whistle: the business went viral, and a lynch mob formed.  It turned out that Dr R. had also created various shell organisations in order to apply for funding.  Other examples of the use of other people’s work appeared.  Dr Rossi’s reputation is severely damaged thereby.

But I have not followed every twist and turn.  I don’t unreservedly agree with either side.  I notice that Neville Morley at the Sphinx blog raises some of the same issues that I can see.  This business reveals much about the modern “Academia” business, and the pressures upon academics to publish, publish, publish.  I don’t think that using stuff off the web is wrong.  Copying stuff off the web is what everybody does.  All of us need inspiration from somewhere.  Creating one-man institutions in order to jump through the hoops for funding is how everything in academia starts.  Despite the hoo-hah, much of what Dr R. has done is venial at worst, and the beating that she has received is really disproportionate.  But I also think that people shouldn’t dump all over those from whom they borrow.  It will all blow over in a while, I am sure.

None of this is any of my business.  Unlike Dr. Kidd, I am indeed “just a blogger”.  I am not an academic.  I do not have a career.

All the same, I’d like to make clear my own attitude to the use of materials uploaded by me by others. This blog, and everything I do, is a labour of love, nothing more.  Plagiarize me as much as you like!  I do not care.  I am, indeed, gratified if you do.

I place online all sorts of stuff. I have done so for twenty-five years now.  I continue to do what we all did in the early days of the web; to contribute.  I borrow images from wherever, and I don’t credit where that is, quite often.  But I really do not think that it matters.  There is neither money nor prestige to be found here: only honest enthusiasm.

I am very happy for anybody to use anything that is mine, and I don’t expect credit or attribution.  I do not even care.  I don’t care whether the person using my stuff is an academic, or a member of the public.  Both are equal in my eyes.  Help yourselves.  I’ll do what I can for you.

My own purpose is to make the world a larger and better place.  I want people to read ancient texts, to learn, to have better lives and to know more.  Access to this stuff is difficult.  Even an amateur like me can do something.  So I do.  Doing all this stuff makes my life better, and gives me a purpose in life.

I don’t do any of this for recognition, and I don’t really want any either.  I do feel glad when I see evidence that what I do is having an effect.  In some cases I have uploaded some text or other, and found that, over the next few years, a series of academic publications have taken place upon that same text.  None of them mention me, of course, and perhaps it is a coincidence.  But I can hope that it is not.  Sometimes the project clearly  did arise because of my work, which is great.  And they often do right in not mentioning me, because academia is as snobbish as hell, and you can damage your own reputation by mentioning non-academic sources.  I understand.

I don’t want #ReceptioGate to stop people putting stuff online, or using stuff that they find online.  In the end it is just an academic spat.  But the culture of sharing and reuse benefits everybody.  Please… plagiarize me!

Update: From the comments, I ought to make clear that I don’t in any way endorse academic plagiarism, or failure to cite sources.  But use my stuff as you like!


Petrus Crabbe and an online bibliography of Franciscan authors (13th-18th century)

The earliest author of a big collection of the canons of church councils was a Franciscan chap called Pierre Crabbé, or rather Petrus Crabbe, according to the pleasant custom of the time.  In 1532 he undertook a search of more than 500 libraries for texts of the councils, and in 1538 he published a massive two-volume collection at Cologne under the title Concilia Omnia tam Generalia quam Particularia.  This was hot stuff, where the disputes of the period were concerned, and both Catholic and Protestant made use of it.  It was revised in 3 vols (Cologne: Joannes Quentel, 1551) [including a provisional account of the early history and decisions of the Council of Trent], and revised in 4 vols, ed. Surius (Cologne, 1567).

Apparently the Pope put him up to it.  There was some sort of committee formed by the Vatican, and no doubt they were the real instigators.

How do I know this?  For this morning I knew nothing of Petrus Crabbe and his pioneering work, until a kind correspondent mentioned him.

Well, it turns out that there are a couple of chaps named Maarten van der Heijden and Bert Roest, who have been working away on a massive biography of Franciscan authors from the 13-18th century.  Better yet, it is online.  The site, “Franciscan Authors, 13th-18th century: A catalogue in progress“, is accessible here:


The site is old-fashioned in design, but not a bit the worse for that.  On the contrary, it is far more user-friendly than modern designs.  Recommended.


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.



Les Oeuvres complètes de Saint Augustin : évêque d’hippone – a 19th century translation

It seems that there is a 32 volume (plus a volume of indexes) French translation from the 1860s of all the works of St Augustine.  Four translators are listed on the title page – Peronne, Vincent, Ecalle and Charpentier.  It’s published in Paris by Louis Vives.  How good the translation is, I do not know.  But it is something to have it available, and I certainly had never heard of it.

Nearly all the volumes can be found at Archive.org here.  The only one that I did not see is volume 31, and that is available at the French National Library here.

Curiously there seems to be another series of similar translations, from around the same time, in 17 volumes translated under the direction of a certain M. Raulx, and printed at Bar-le-Duc by L. Guerin.  Volume 1 of that is here.  I do not know what the connection is, but I would expect that there is one!

In these days of Google Translate, such things are valuable.


Robert Bellarmine, Opera Omnia volumes at Google Books

Yesterday I needed to look up something in the works of counter-Reformation writer Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (a.k.a. Roberto Bellarmino), about whom I know nothing very much.  I found it very difficult to do so using a Google search.

It turns out that there is an Opera Omnia, which was reprinted in Paris by Louis Vivès in 1870-4, and the volumes are on Google Books.  So I thought that I would give some links here.  The description of contents comes from Worldcat.

Note that the Controversies volumes are divided up into sections covering individual topics, which are sometimes referred to without indicating that they form part of De Controversiis.  So I have linked the table of contents for these volumes.

I believe that there are also some old 17th century English translations of some of his works.  I don’t have information on what these might be, however.

I see, on the other hand, that an amazing gentleman named Ryan Grant is publishing a translation of the entirety of De Controversiis through Mediatrix Press.  Information about this is here.  I suggest that Catholic readers may wish to donate as he suggests on that page, in return for volumes, to help the project along.  Very worthwhile.

Note:  I find in Wikipedia here a list of the “controversies” covered in De Controversiis:

  1. The Word of God
  2. Christ
  3. The Pope
  4. Councils
  5. The Members of the Church
  6. The Church Suffering
  7. The Church Triumphant
  8. The Sacraments in General
  9. Baptism and Confirmation
  10. The Sacrament of Eucharist
  11. Penance
  12. Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony
  13. The Grace of the First Man
  14. The Loss of Grace
  15. Grace and Free Choice
  16. Justification
  17. Good Works