“John the deacon” – just who was he?

There are several Italian authors of the Dark Ages known loosely as John the Deacon, and a google search will quickly find evidence that people get confused.  The text that I am working on, BHL 6104, is a Life of St Nicholas of Myra, in Latin, translated by “John the Deacon”.  I struggled with this, so I thought that these notes might help someone!

The first place to look is the Clavis Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Aevi Italiae (700-1000), or SCLMAI, edited by B. Valtorta and published by Sismel in Florence in 2006 in one volume.  This lists most of the following figures, all of whom left literary works, under the name of “John” or “Giovani”, some of whom are relevant, and I’ve added some notes under each.

  • Iohannes Aretinus, episcopus = Bishop John of Arezzo.

Bishop of Arezzo in the second half of the 9th century.  In 875 at the request of Pope John VIII he was part of a mission of Charles the Bald to invite him to Rome for consecration.  In July 877 he participated in a council in Ravenna called by the same pope.  He died in the summer of 900.  Author of a Latin translation of a Greek text on the ascension of Mary.

  • Iohannes Canaparius, monachus.

A monk in the monastery of Sts Boniface and Alexius on the Aventine in Rome and author of the Miracula s. Alexii.  Became abbot in 1002, and probably knew St Adalbert of Prague during his stay in Rome.  Died 1004.  Author of the Passio S. Adaberti martyris Christi.

  • Iohannes Casinensis, monachus = John of Montecassino = John the Monk (of Montecassino).  9th century.

The CSLMAI says that nothing is known of him, except that he lived at the end of the 10th c., and wrote a Passio S. Iohannis martyris.

Articles at Treccani say: John the Deacon (or John of Montecassino, or Giovanni Imonide, latin Iohannes Hymonides). – Monk of Montecassino, historian (b. ca. 852 – d. before 882). Influential at the curia of John VIII, friend of Anastasius Bibliothecarius, he composed from archival material one of the best lives of Gregory the Great. It is very likely that he was involved with the Liber pontificalis; more questionable is the attribution to him of other works, among which the so-called Cena Cypriani.  (This short note from Treccani; a much longer article with bibliography by Paolo Chiesa is here).

  • Iohannes Cluniacensis, monachus (Salernitanus) = John of Cluny, or John of Salerno = John the Monk (of Cluny / Salerno).  Also Iohannes Romanus; Iohannes Italus (!)

Born in Italy, probably in Rome, he met Odo of Cluny in 938 and became a monk.  Two years later he accompanied Odo to Rome, where he was later appointed prior of the monastery of St. Paul.  In 943 he moved to Salerno where he composed the Life of Odo, who had died in Nov. 18, 942.  Author of Sententiae Morales super Iob, and Vita S. Odonis Abbatis.

  • Iohannes Hymmonides Romanus, diaconus = John Hymmonides, or John Romanus = John the Deacon (of Rome).

The SCLMAI : Born around 825, a deacon of the church of Rome.  After the death of Pope Nicholas I (Nov. 867) he was exiled by the emperor Ludovicus II.  He became part of the entourage of Pope John VIII, and was connected to Anastasius Bibliothecarius and Gauderico di Velletri.  He planned (in vain) to continue the Historia Tripartita of Cassiodorus, and Anastasius Bibliothecarius trabslated a Greek Chronographia Tripartita to assist him.  He died around 880, certainly before 882.  He might be the author of the life of Pope Hadrian II contained in the Liber Pontificalis.  Author of the Cena Cypriani; Vita S. Clementis; Vita S. Gregorii Magni.

The confusion between this man and John of Montecassino is obvious.

  • Iohannes Mediolanensis, presbyter = John of Milan = John the Priest.

8-9th century, hagiographer.  Author of a single work on the Passio of the Virgin Mary.

  • Iohannes Neapolitanus, diaconus (and see also Guarimpotus Neapolitanus) = John of Naples = John the Deacon (of Naples).  9-10th century.  This is undoubtedly our author.

Hagiographer and translator, deacon on the church of S. Gennaro ad Diaconiam (=St Januarius) at Naples.  He was a pupil of the priest Auxilius, active in Naples ca. 896.  In 902 he took part in the translation of the relics of St Severinus to Naples, and in 906 in that of the relics of the martyr Sosius to the monastery of St Severinus of Naples.  His works are characterised in the Neapolitan school of translation from Greek by their extreme freedom and formal elegance.  He may be the same as Guarimpotus Neapolitanus, in which case Guarimpoto would have been his name before ordination.  The date of his death is unknown.  Author of: Acta XL Martyrum Sebastenorum; Acta S. Sosii; Gesta Episcoporum Neapolitanorum; Passio S. Maximi Cumanae; Translatio S. Severini Neapolim; Vita S. Euthymii Abbatis; Vita S. Nicolai.  The Life of St Nicholas was made at the age of 20 or 25 at the exhortation of the monk Athanasius, who may perhaps be identified with the Athanasiuis sent to Misenum with John to look for the relics of St. Sosius.  BHL 611-7 are epitomes of the work.  (SCLMAI; Long article with bibliography by Luigi Andrea Berto at Trecani here)

  • Iohannes Ravennas, archiepiscopus = Archbishop John of Ravenna. died. 929.  Author of 7 works.
  • Iohannes Venetus, diaconus = John the Deacon (of Venice). b. ca.940-945, d. after 1018.  Not in the SCLMAI.

Author of the Chronicon Venetum, the oldest Venetian history.  (Wikipedia article here).

We must also mention one further figure:

  • Guarimpotus Neapolitanus = Guarimpoto of Naples.  9-10th century.

Translator and hagiographer.  It is unclear whether he can be identified with “Guarimpotus Grammaticus”, author of the translation of the sermon of Cosmas Vestitor on the translation of relics of John Chrysostom; likewise with John the deacon of Naples, with whose works the author of the Passio Eustratii has strong stylistic affinities.  The name of Guarimpotus appears only in the prologue of the Passio Eustratii, so all his works are uncertain to some degree.  Author of: a lost Passio S. Blasii (possible remains in BHL 1380-1379, which may instead be by Bonitus Neapolitanus Subdiaconus); Passio S. Eustratii et IV sociorum in Armenia, BHG 646-646a, PG 116, 468-515, made at the request of Athanasius II, bishop of Naples in 875-898; Passio S. Febroniae; Passio S. Petri Alexandrini, BHL 6692-3; Vita S. Athanasii ep. Neapolitani; Translatio S. Athanasii ep. Neapolitani.

Out of these, three figures actually appear as “John the Deacon”; John Hymmonides, John of Naples, and in fact also John of Montecassino.  Following the links reveals that our boy is in fact John of Naples, translator of more than one hagiographical work from Greek.

I also found that searching for “Giovanni Diacono” produced a lot of information and some excellent bibliography.

What I had not realised was that Naples, in the 6th-9th century, was actually part of the Byzantine Empire, as the Duchy of Naples.  Its ruler held the titles of dux and magister militum.  Originally dependent on the exarchate of Ravenna, it transferred to the supervision of the Byzantine governor of Sicily after the fall of Ravenna.  But in practice it was rare for a Byzantine army to appear in Sicily, and Naples therefore remained largely independent.  It was vexed by constant Lombard raids, which devastated the countryside.  At other periods the Byzantine government sent Greek settlers to reinforce the Greek population.  The majority of the people were Latin speaking.  By around 840 the Byzantine rule had dissipated to nothing, and the Duchy ceased to feature the Byzantine emperor on its coins.  All the same, this was a bilingual environment, and there was a school of translations into Latin; including the text that we are concerned with here, the Life of St Nicholas.

Free! Database of manuscripts containing Latin Saint’s Lives – at the Bollandists

I’ve been looking for manuscripts of the “Life” of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  In the process I have just come across something very useful.

This is the “Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Online” (although it doesn’t contain the BHL info) or Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina manuscripta (BHLms) database.  And … it is free!  You have to enter your name and email address,but then you can do what you want.

It’s hosted at the Société des Bollandistes.  Look under “online resources“.  The direct URL is here.  Click on Recherche, enter your name and email address (why?) and then you are in.

I clicked on “Trouver un texte hagiographique d’après son numéro BHL“, and entered 6104, which is the BHL number for the first part of John the Deacon’s Life.  This led to a page on the text, and then

Liste des manuscrits transmettant ce texte, décrits dans les catalogues des Bollandistes: par fonds ou par siècle.

Clicking on “fonds” – i.e. the libraries that hold the manuscripts – gave me a list ordered by library.  “siècle” gave me an even more useful list, in date order, thereby allowing me to concentrate on the earliest mss.  What I got was this:

Screen grab of the oldest manuscripts of John the deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas”

Note the statement at the top: 121 manuscripts counted in the catalogues published by the Bollandists.  That too is useful information.

The links do not lead to online manuscripts.  So it’s Google time.

Googling for “Chartres manuscrits” led me to a web page.  From this I learned that the Americans bombed Chartres in the war and destroyed half of its manuscripts, and cooked the rest.  But some survive.  A full list is here.  It turned out that the Bollandist “Ms. 68” now has the shelfmark ms.27, and … appears in the list of destroyed manuscripts.  So no luck, then.  The link to the catalogue info for it is here.

Googling for “Orleans manuscrits”, the next item, brought up a website alright: the “Aurelia – Bibliotheque numerique d’Orleans“.  I entered “342” in the search, and, among other cruft, got a picture of a manuscript cover and “Views de saints et Sermons”, 342, Xe, XIe, et XII siecles”.  That looked OK, so I clicked on it and got … catalogue stuff.  A bit more experimenting and I found you have to click on the *image* itself.  There are facilities to download the manuscript, but unfortunately someone – a paperpusher, one fears – has limited it to 4 pages at a time.

The Life is supposedly at the start, but the very first page that one sees is damaged.  There are several references to St Nicholas tho.  It looks as if the cover was removed at some point, and the parchment is worn by being coverless for some period.  Turning the page reveals pen trials; turning again reveals a modern list of contents, and then the first page of the text (click to enlarge):

Orleans – manuscript 342, folio 6r. Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon (BHL 6104)

The note at the top of the page – “Monasterii sancti Benedicti Floriacensi” – tells us that prior to the French revolution the ms. belonged to the Benedictine abbey of Fleury.  So here is yet another manuscript online, although it took a fair bit of clicking to get it.

The Bollandist list of mnuscripts is inevitably incomplete.  I know of other manuscripts of this particular Latin text, thanks to the entry in the Clavis Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Aevi: Italiae volume, which has an entry for John the Deacon / John of Naples, and which was the source that led me to the BHL Online.  But it’s still an invaluable resource.

Recommended.

Looking for manuscripts of John the Deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas” (BHL 6104 etc)

When using Google, it really helps if you have the BHL (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina) number for the text that you are interested in.  You can find interesting things!

My next project is to translate the “Life” of St. Nicholas, written in Latin by John the Deacon.  I shall use the Falconius text of 1751, which appears to be the most recent.

While working on the start of this, I saw that Falconius identified two manuscripts as the basis for his edition (as well as the older Mombritius edition).  One was from Naples, and basically unidentifiable.  But the other was one of the Queen of Sweden’s manuscripts in the Vatican, which he identified as Ms. Vaticanus latinus 5696.  He also commented about a heading in that manuscript.  So I thought that it might be fun to go and see if it was online.

There’s no trouble in finding the manuscript – it’s here.  Unfortunately it’s 300+ pages, and in a low-quality microfilm scan.  I couldn’t even find the right portion of the manuscript.  But I wondered whether perhaps Google might help, might give me the page, or rather folio number.

To my surprise, I found something like a Vatican manuscript catalogue online.  My first hit was for another manuscript, Vat. lat. 1197, here.  Clicking on the book icon leads you to the manuscript; but clicking on the “Autore” link for “Iohannes Diaconus Neapolitanus, sec. X-XI” led me to a remarkable list of manuscripts and folio numbers!  (The link is here, but hardly looks very permanent.)

The page lists 8 manuscripts, 5 of them online.

The “Life” is divided into several parts by the BHL, and seems to be transmitted in sections.  I would imagine that this is because portions of it formed readings in church on the saint’s day, December 6th.

So from this I could find the start of the work.  Here are a couple of pages from Vat. lat. 1197, folios 13v and 14r, facing pages.  The individual pages are downloadable, so here are the first two (click for larger versions):

Ms. Vat. lat. 1197, folio 13v.
Ms. Vat. lat. 1197, folio 14r.

But this was not all.  I also found Fribourg/Freiburg, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire/Kantons- und Universitätsbibliothek, Ms. L 5, (13th c., second third, after 1235) online here., and starting at fol. 53v.  Here too the first page is downloadable:

Freiburg L. 5, Fol. 53v.

This also told me about an article: “Pasquale Corsi, «La “Vita” di san Nicola e un codice della versione di Giovanni diacono», dans: Nicolaus. Rivista di teologia ecumenico-patristica 7 (1979), p. 361-380 (seulement BHL 6104-6106).”

A catalogue page informed me of Durham Cathedral Library Ms. B.IV.14, (early 12th c.) but there was no link to the online manuscript.  I had to google to find the online book itself, here.  This contains three items of interest:

(h)     f.170-181  – Vita S. Nicholai,
Author: John, the Deacon of Rome, approximately 824-approximately 882
Edited: BHL 6104, 6105,6106

(i)     f.181-189  – Miracula S. Nicholai
Edited: BHL 6150, 6151, 6152, 6153, 6154, 6160, 6161, 6164, 6167, 6172

(j)     f.190-200v – Translatio S. Nicholai Barium A.D. 1087, cum miraculis,
Author: Johannes Barensis
“Post beati Nicholai gloriosum ab hac vita” (incl. verses “Tempore quid miseris”, quoted Ordericus Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica 3,VII,ix
Edited: BHL 6104, 6105, 6106

Here the page could not be downloaded, only viewed through the rubbishy viewer:

Durham Ms. B.IV.14, fol. 170r.

Another manuscript, Paris lat. 17625, is online here as a dreadful microfilm, but properly online bound in two volumes here and here. It was written before 968 AD, but all it has is a few pages at the end, on f. 258v-261v.

BNF lat. 17625 f. 258v

Another, Paris. lat. 18303, written between 1076-1100, is here, again as a microfilm, but also as a properly digitised ms, f.3r-59r, BHL 6104, 6105 and 6106.  The whole ms can be downloaded as PDF, which is really useful.  Here’s the first page of our work:

BNF Latin 18303, f.3r

Nor was it just online manuscripts.  Another page at the IRHT informed us that “Johannes Neapolitanus diaconus (0860?-0910?)” was responsible for BHL 6104-6113, and that:

Dated between : 875-885
Number of Manuscripts According to Bibliography : 608
Bibliography:

  • BHL 6104 : Prologue de la Vita sancti Nicolai, plus de 120 mss
  • BHL 6105 : plus de 150 mss.
  • BHL 6107 : plus de 70 mss
  • BHL 6108 : plus de 170 mss
  • BHL 6110 : 2 mss.
  • Clavis Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Aevi, Auctores Italiae, 700-1000, 157-158.

All of which is jolly useful. (I don’t have access to that Clavis, but clearly I need to do so!)

But note the developing confusion about John the Deacon, and the various dates assigned to him.  Durham indeed thinks he comes from Rome – the prologue to the Vita says that he actually is a “servant of St. Januarius” in Naples – and links to a John Hymmonides (825-882?), who is clearly who they have in mind, but is not the same person.  I shall have to look further into who this John may be.  Surely there is a list somewhere?

This brief search, undertaken at work during lunchtime, is not likely to be all that is available.  Yet it is already far more than Falconius had at his disposal to edit the text!

We are indeed very fortunate to live in such times.

More on Mombritius, and John the Deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas”

The first collection to be printed of the lives of the saints was issued in Milan in 1477 by Mombritius in two large folio volumes.  These featured forms of the text which differed from subsequent collectors such as Lipomani, Surius and of course the Bollandists.  But the volumes became so rare that two monks of the Solesmenses monastery in 1910 found it worthwhile to produce a fresh edition of it.[1]

In fact the original volumes are now online, here (vol.1) and here (vol.2) thanks to the Bavarian State Library (=Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, BSB).  The latter resource is becoming really invaluable for high-quality PDFs of early books and manuscripts.

Over the last couple of days I have been OCRing the text of the life of St Nicholas found in the 1910 reprint, which I obtained from Archive.org a few days ago.  This I finished this afternoon.  It was interesting to look through it, word by word.  The monks reproduced even the printer’s mistakes – “qni” for “qui”! – although they did mark these with a little superscript “+”.  Likewise they indicated the end of the column and end of the page with “|” and “||” respectively.  I was obliged to read the Latin introduction with some care to determine the meaning of both these codes.

Once I had produced a Word document, I was distracted.  Word complained about the number of spelling errors, and this led me to wonder if there was a Latin language spell-checker for Word.  Indeed there is!   It’s called COL, and may be downloaded for free from here.  It’s not perfect, but it does catch a lot.

But the longer I looked at the Mombritius text, the less I liked it.  The punctuation is weird, the spelling is eccentric, and so forth.  So it looks as if I shall be using  the Falconius edition of 1751 instead, as the base for my translation, but consulting Mombritius.

This is a familar feeling.  We had this with the Life of St Valentine of Terni.  It’s not just a matter of translating a text.  First find your text; and then you find that you must actually make your text yourself, from such pre-critical texts as are around.  For St Valentine I felt obliged to include the text that I had made in order to translate it.  It looks as if I shall be obliged to do the same here for John the Deacon.

This is annoying.  I do not want or need to start editing texts.  That is a quite separate enterprise.  So my texts are not critical texts.  They are simply what I could find, edited to remove annoying errors of spelling and punctuation, to produce a readable Latin text.

At this point I found myself wondering just why the texts of such major saints are not available in modern critical editions.  The St Valentine was only available in the Bollandist edition of 1658 (!) and in a modern critical edition with very odd spelling.

For John the Deacon we are less lucky, as the Bollandists have not managed to produce an edition of his work, despite four centuries of work.  But then four centuries pass easily if you don’t do much in them.  The Bollandists last printed a volume of the Acta Sanctorum in 1940.  That is nearly 80 years ago.  Since then they have only produced a couple of ancillary volumes.  Producing critical texts of the Lives of the Saints is what the Bollandists exist to do.  So what the heck are they doing with their time?  It seems to me that they need a kick up the backside.

  1. [1]These details I owe to a brief review by H. Omont, found in Persee.fr here.