A way to compare two early-modern editions of a Latin text

There are three early modern editions of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.  These are the Mombritius (1498), Falconius (1751) and Mai (1830-ish) editions.  I have already used Abbyy Finereader 15 to create a word document for each containing the electronic text.

But how to compare these?  I took a look at Juxta but did not like it, and this anyway is ceasing to be available.  For Collatex I have only been able to use the online version, and I find the output tiring.  But Collatex does allow you to compare more than two witnesses.

The basic problem is that most comparison tools operate on a line-by-line basis.  But in a printed edition the line-breaks are arbitrary.  We just don’t care about them.  I have not found a way to get the Unix diff utility to ignore line breaks.

Today I discovered the existence of dwdiff, available here.  This can do this quite effectively, as this article makes clear.  The downside is that dwdiff is not available for Windows; only for MacOS X, and for Ubuntu Linux.

Fortunately I installed the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) on my Windows 10 PC some time back, with Ubuntu as the Linux variant.    So all I had to do was hit the Start key, and type Ubuntu, then click the App that appeared.  Lo and behold, a Linux Bash-shell command line box appeared.

First, I needed to update Ubuntu; and then install dwdiff.  Finally I ran the man command for dwdiff, to check the installation had worked:

sudo apt-get update –y
sudo apt-get install -y dwdiff
man dwdiff

I then tested it out.  I created the text files in the article linked earlier.  Then I needed to copy them into the WSL area.  Because I have never really used the WSL, I was a bit unsure how to find the “home” directory.  But at the Bash shell, you just type this to get Windows Explorer, and then you can copy files using Windows drag and drop:

explorer.exe .

The space and dot are essential.  This opened an explorer window on “\\wsl$\Ubuntu-20.04\home\roger” (??), and I could get on.  I ran the command:

dwdiff draft1.txt draft2.txt

And got the output, which was a bit of tech gobbledegook:

[-To start with, you-]{+You+} may need to install Tomboy, since it's not yet part of the
stable GNOME release. Most recent distros should have Tomboy packages
available, though they may not be installed by default. On Ubuntu,
run apt-get install tomboy, which should pull down all the necessary [-dependencies ---]
{+dependencies,+} including Mono, if you don't have it installed already.

The [-…] stuff is the value in the first file; the {+…} is the different text in the second file.  Other text is common.

There were also some useful options:

  • dwdiff -c draft1.txt draft2.txt added colours to the output.
  • dwdiff –ignore-case file1 file2 made it treat both files as lower case.
  • dwdiff –no-common file1 file2 caused it to omit the common text.

So I thought I’d have a go.

First I went into word and saved each file as a .txt file.  I didn’t fiddle with any options.  This gave me a mombritius.txt, a falconius.txt and a mai.txt.

I copied these to the WSL “home”, and I ran dwdiff on the two of them like this:

dwdiff falconius.txt mombritius.txt --no-common -i > op.txt

The files are fairly big, so the output was piped to a new file, op.txt.  This I opened, in Windows, using the free programmer tool, Notepad++.

The results were interesting, but I found that there were too many useless matches.  A lot of these were punctuation.  In other cases it was as simple as “cujus” versus “cuius”.

So I opened my falconius.txt in Notepad++ and using Ctrl-H globally replaced the punctuation by a space: the full-stop (.), the colon (:), semi-colon(;), question-mark (?), and two different sorts of brackets – () and [].  Then I saved.

I also changed all the text to lower case (Edit | Convert Case to| lower).

I then changed all the “v” to a “u” and all the “j” to an “i”.

And then, most importantly, I saved the file!  I did the same with the Mombritius.txt file.

Then I ran the command again, and piped the results to a text file.  (I found that if I included the common text, it was far easier to work with.)

dwdiff falconius.txt mombritius.txt > myop2.txt

Then I opened myop2.txt in Notepad++.

This produced excellent results.  The only problem was that the result, in myop2.txt, was on very long lines.  But this could easily be fixed in Notepad++ with View | Word Wrap.

The result looked as follows:

Output from dwdiff
Falconius edition vs Mombritius edition

The “-[]” stuff was Falconius only, the “+{}” was Mombritius.  (I have no idea why chapter 2 is indented).

That, I think, is rather useful.  It’s not desperately easy to read – it really needs a GUI interface, that colours the two kinds of text.  But that would be fairly easy to knock up in Visual Basic, I think.  I might try doing that.

Something not visible in the screen shot was in chapter 13, where the text really gets different.  Also not visible in the screen grab – but very visible in the file – is the end, where there is a long chunk of additional (but spurious) text at the end of the Mombritius.

Here by the way is the “no-common” output from the same exercise (with my note on lines 1-2)

dwdiff no-common output

This is quite useful as far as it goes.  There are some things about this which are less than ideal:

  • Using Linux.  Nobody but geeks has Linux.
  • Using an oddball command like dwdiff, instead of a standard utility.  What happens if this ceases to be supported?
  • The output does not display the input.  Rather it displays the text, all lower case, no “j” and “v”, no punctuation.  This makes it harder to relate to the original text.
  • It’s all very techy stuff.  No normal person uses command-line tools and Notepad++.
  • The output is still hard to read – a GUI is needed.
  • Because it relies on both Linux and Windows tools, it’s rather ugly.

Surely a windows tool with a GUI that does it all could be produced?

The source code for dwdiff is available, but my urge to attempt to port a linux C++ command line utility to windows is zero.  If there was a Windows version, that would help a lot.

Maybe this afternoon I will have a play with Visual Basic and see if I can get that output file to display in colour?

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Fragment of unknown work by Apuleius discovered in Verona

Via Ugo Mondini on Twitter I learn of an exciting find yesterday (May 9) at the Biblioteca Capitolare – the Chapter Library – in Verona.  It seems that an American team – the “Lazarus Project” – using Multi-Spectral Imaging have discovered a lost text by Apuleius.

Via Rainews.it:

Quarantasette scatti per ciascuna pagina effettuati con una fotocamera da 150 megapixel. Diversi filtri di luce, dall’infrarosso all’ultravioletto. Poi il computer elabora le immagini. È nata così la scoperta fatta il 9 maggio. In un palinsesto, un testo antico riscritto più volte, lo strato più basso nascondeva un frammento di un testo di Apuleio andato perduto: un commento alla Repubblica di Platone.

Il merito è degli studiosi del “Lazarus Project”, una squadra internazionale dell’università americana di Rochester, per la prima volta alla Biblioteca Capitolare, alla ricerca di segreti tra le pagine.

Google Translate:

Forty-seven shots per page taken with a 150 megapixel camera. Different light filters, from infrared to ultraviolet. Then the computer processes the images. Thus was born the discovery made on May 9th. In a palimpsest, an ancient text rewritten several times, the lower layer hid a fragment of a lost text by Apuleius: a commentary on Plato’s Republic.

The credit goes to the scholars of the “Lazarus Project”, an international team from the American University of Rochester, for the first time at the Chapter Library, in search of secrets among the pages.

There is a video in Italian at the news site – if anyone has the spoken Italian, perhaps they could advise whether it has extra details?

There is stuff out there, people!  It really is worth going and looking!

 

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How to find a specific manuscript by shelfmark at the Bibliothèque Nationale Français website

The French National Library has a great mass of medieval manuscripts online at its Gallica site.  Finding them, however, can be very tricky.

Some time back, a genius drew a chart of how to do this.  It does work – my rather Covid-addled memory tells me only that I did work through it. I probably wrote something about it here, but I can no longer locate it.

Today I found a copy of the picture on my desktop.  Unfortunately I don’t know who drew this (if you do, please shout!) and I thought I’d pass it on.  Magic.

How to find a specific manuscript call number BNF

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Rutilius Namatianus, the Jews, and some notes on the fate of the unique manuscript

In 1493 a manuscript of the 7-8th century was discovered at the Irish monastery of St. Columbanus at Bobbio in north Italy, which contained some previously unknown ancient works.  One of these was a poem, De reditu suo – On his return – by Rutilius Namatianus, who was Urban Prefect in Rome in 414 AD.  The poem describes his return to Gaul by sea around 416 AD.  It is incomplete, but it lambasts the policy of Stilicho that brought the Goths over the Alps.

The text and English translation of the poem may be found at Bill Thayer’s site Lacus Curtius here, which is now back online.  The text is out of date, tho, as we shall see in a moment.

The poem also contains a passage recounting how Rutilius and his company were harassed by a Jew when they put in to land.  Rutilius does not hold back his feelings about the man and his race.

This I learned of thanks to a link back from an article at a fringe blog named History Reviewed, here.  Here’s the text, overparagraphed by me.

The neighbouring Faleria​ checks our weary course, though Phoebus scarce had reached his mid career. That day it happened merry village-bands along the country cross-roads soothed their jaded hearts with festal observances; it was in truth the day when, after long time restored, Osiris wakes the happy seeds to yield fresh produce. Landing, we seek lodging,​ and stroll within a wood; we like the ponds which charm with their shallow enclosed basin. The spacious waters of the imprisoned flood permit the playful fish to sport inside these preserves.

But we were made to pay dear for the repose of this delightful halting-place by a lessee who was harsher than Antiphates as host!​ For a crabbed Jew was in charge of the spot — a creature that quarrels with sound human food.​ He charges in our bill for damaging his bushes and hitting the seaweed, and bawls about his enormous loss in water we had sipped.

We pay the abuse due to the filthy race that infamously practises circumcision: a root of silliness they are: chill Sabbaths are after their own heart, yet their heart is chillier than their creed. Each seventh day is condemned to ignoble sloth, as ’twere an effeminate picture of a god fatigued.​ The other wild ravings from their lying bazaar methinks not even a child in his sleep could believe.

And would that Judaea had never been subdued by Pompey’s wars and Titus’ military power. The infection of this plague, though excised, still creeps abroad the more: and ’tis their own conquerors that a conquered race keeps down.

Against us rises a North wind; but we too strive with oars to rise, while daylight shrouds the stars. Close at hand Populonia opens up her safe coast, where she draws her natural bay well inland. …

Readers of Horatius, in Lord Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome will be reminded of Lars Porsenna gathering his Etruscans,

From lordly Volaterræ,
Where scowls the far-famed hold
Piled by the hands of giants
For godlike kings of old;
From seagirt Populonia,
Whose sentinels descry
Sardinia’s snowy mountain-tops
Fringing the southern sky;

Rutilius’ unnamed Jew is an unattractive figure.  It is interesting that a man who had held such a high office, and must have travelled with his clients, could be abused like this.  The Urban Prefect was the emperor’s strong-arm boy in the City, after all.  Possibly this suggests that the episode is a literary fiction; or else it testifies to the disturbed state of Italy, only a few years after the Gothic sack of Rome.

But it does provide a vehicle to criticise the Christians, now fully in the saddle in the Roman empire.  The ruinous effects of the rise of superstition and dogma, of heresy trials and smelling-out of dissenters, upon that fragile state, were obvious to anybody.  It is telling that so senior an aristocrat feels quite powerless to do anything about any of these disasters.  A little later he says:

As we advance at sea, Capraria now rears itself — an ill-kept isle full of men who shun the light. Their own name​ for themselves is a Greek one, “monachoi” (monks), because they wish to dwell alone with none to see. They fear Fortune’s boons, as they dread her outrages: would anyone, to escape misery, live of his own choice in misery? What silly fanaticism of a distorted brain is it to be unable to endure even blessings because of your terror of ills? Whether they are like prisoners​ who demand the appropriate penalties for their deeds, or whether their melancholy hearts are swollen with black bile, it was even so that Homer assigned the ailment of excessive bile as cause of Bellerophon’s troubled soul;​ for it was after the wounds of a cruel sorrow that men say the stricken youth conceived his loathing for human kind.

The monks of the late fourth century could be a very rubbishy crew.  In Egypt they were gangs of illiterates, used as muscle by bishops like Theophilus of Alexandria, in their struggles with their personal enemies.  Rutilius has no respect for them.

The text of Rutilius Namatianus reached us in a single manuscript at Bobbio.  Fortunately it was copied.  For in 1706 a French adventurer stole the ancient volume from the abbey.  His name was Comte Claude Alexandre de Bonnival, a successful French military man who had entered Austrian service that year, and was a Major-General in the service of Prince Eugene, campaigning near Turin.

This we learn from a handwritten note by Michel-Ange Carisio, Abbot of Bobbio in 1792, printed in M. Tulli Ciceronis, Orationum pro Scauro, pro Tullio, et in Clodium, fragmenta inedita, ed. Amedeus Peyron, 1824 (online here), p.xx:

Sadly the manuscript was never seen again.  In 1973 a reseacher found a fragment of a leaf of the manuscript, which had become separated from the rest, in a binding from Bobbio.  This restored the endings of a number of lines in book 2.

De Bonneval led a rackety life.  He was a very capable French army officer.  But he was his own worst enemy, and he could never stay out of trouble.  He quarreled with the war minister, the Duc de Vendôme, was condemned to death, after an exchange of insulting letters, in the pleasant manner of the time, and was therefore obliged to flee to Germany.  Prince Eugene took him on, and he was very effective in Austrian service, first against the French and then against the Ottoman Turks.  His reputation increased so much so that he became famous in France, and, his enemies being dead, was pardoned and allowed to return.  But he went back to Austrian service in Italy, where he became notorious for duelling, and then circulated insults about Prince Eugene, despite the warnings of his wife.  Prince Eugene sent him to the Low Countries where he got into more trouble and was condemned to death again, although in fact he only served a year in prison.  In disgrace in Vienna, he then “went Turk”, offered his services to the Ottoman empire, became a Muslim, joined their army and fought against the Austrians and the Russians with distinction.  He was made governor of Chios, but once again fell out with his employers and was banished to the Black Sea.  He died in Constantinople in 1747, apparently without having been condemned to death yet again.  I have read that his “Memoirs” are fakes, however.

If only he had stayed away from Bobbio!

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Forthcoming: The Oxford Guide to the Transmission of the Latin Classics, ed. Justin Stover

For anybody interested in how the Latin classics reached us – the manuscripts, the process of copying down the centuries – the standard work has been Texts and Transmissions by L. D. Reynolds.  Author by author, text by text, we are told whatever is known about how the work was copied.

Justin Stover of Edinburgh University has now edited a two-volume successor text, to be called The Oxford Guide to the Transmission of the Latin Classics.  It is to be published by Oxford University Press.  It will include all the secular Latin texts to about 500 AD, including technical texts for the first time.  The entries will be shorter, but the scope will be more comprehensive.

I’m not sure when the work is due to appear, but the entries have been written and the book is now in the works at OUP.

Dr Stover has also started a twitter account to promote the book, with daily pictures of manuscripts.  It can be found here.

Texts and Transmissions was always a favourite for bedside reading for me, so I am very much looking forward to this one.

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What is a critical edition, and how do I find one?

I have just been asked this basic question, on this post on the manuscripts of Pliny the Elder, and to my surprise a quick google does not give a satisfactory answer.  So … here goes!

Ancient literary texts were dictated or written by their authors more than 15 centuries ago.  They were then hand-copied for many centuries, initially in papyrus rolls, and then into the modern book format, the parchment codex.  During this time most ancient texts were lost, forever.  Only 1% of ancient literature is estimated to survive.

Those that do survive in medieval hand-written copies.  These are known as the “manuscripts” of ancient authors.  (For modern authors, we use the word “manuscript” differently, to mean the handwritten copy sent to the publisher by the author, but these almost never survive from antiquity).[1]  These copies are few.  Most ancient texts survive in copies no older than about A. D. 800, many of which descend from a single manuscript that had survived from Antiquity.  The only exceptions are texts that were used a lot during antiquity and after, such as the bible, and the works of the major church fathers.

Other losses of text happened.  Some texts survive in an incomplete form.  Sentences are missing.  Chapters are missing.  Whole books are missing.

For instance, the start of Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars is not known to us, although it still existed in the 6th century AD, as a stray quote tells us.  Many ancient histories were written in tens of “books”, each originally a single scroll.  Livy’s Roman History is an example, written in at least 140 books.  The groups of 10 books travelled down the centuries separately.  Of Livy, all that survives is books 1-10 – one unit; books 21-30; books 31-40; and a single damaged manuscript which originally contained books 41-50 but the back is lost, and today it includes only books 41-45 and the first page of book 46.

Also, in the process of copying, scribes made mistakes.  Sometimes they went back and fixed them.  Sometimes a later copyist fixed it.  Sometimes a later copyist guessed wrong!  Also changes to the type of handwriting used for books – “book hand” is the jargon phrase – meant that later scribes could get confused.

Printing arrives in 1450.  The first printed editions of ancient texts arrive then.

But these were not “critical editions”.  Instead the publisher found a manuscript – often a late manuscript -, and simply printed whatever text was in it.  He might include some corrections, or not.  If it was a Greek text, he would often supply a translation into Latin.

These “pre-critical editions” were printed, and reprinted, for centuries.  Sometimes a work would be printed; and then a later publisher would find another manuscript, which contained parts of the work that the first one had not.  But often it was just a case of different punctuation, typeface, and notes.  (The text that “everybody” knew is sometimes called the “textus receptus”).

Imagine that you are an editor.  You have more than one manuscript.  They differ, in small ways.  What text do you print?  Well, the early editors bodged along, guessing at the correct text.

But in the early 19th century, scholars in Germany began to evolve some rules to decide how to handle this problem.  The rules are not scientific; they merely make common sense explicit.  The creation of these rules marked the creation of “textual criticism” as a discipline, dedicated to making it possible to restore a text to something like what the author wrote, and remove scribal errors.

The editions that arise from this process are known as “critical editions”.  They try to assemble all the manuscripts, where possible.  They try to compare them all.  They apply the rules of textual criticism to decide which versions of the text are original, and which are derived from the process of copying the work down the centuries.

Sometimes the “obvious” text is not right.  Greek texts in the 4th century BC were written in Attic Greek.  Later Hellenistic texts from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD were in a later form.  But from the 2nd century AD onwards, there was a revival of Attic Greek, which persisted as late as 1453.  Consequently Hellenistic texts could be “corrected” by an Atticising copyist.  The same process happens in Latin, where a difficult or unorthodox author can be “corrected”.  Some early editors certainly did the same, falsely correcting the author, rather than the manuscript.

Modern academic editions of ancient texts, in the original language, are always critical editions.  So to find a critical edition of any ancient author, you can use a library catalogue like the Library of Congress, or COPAC, and sort by date, most recent first.

Some critical editions become the “standard” edition.  The only way to find out which edition this might be is to read around the subject, read reviews of the editions, and see which edition is referenced.  Other critical editions of the same author will normally indicate if one edition is widely used.

Some critical editions are still not very good.  Most ancient literary texts do not even have a critical edition at all; the only editions are pre-critical.  The vast majority of ancient texts are of the church fathers, and modern scholars have preferred to edit classical texts instead.

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  1. [1]My thanks to MDR for pointing out that such an original has survived, of the epigrams of the 6th century author Dioscorus of Aphrodito has survived, plus some other corrections – thank you.

Zoom meeting – A paper on fragments of medieval Latin manuscripts originating in Transylvania, by Adrian Paphagi

On March 26 at 3pm GMT / UTC (1100 EDT) Dr Adrian Papahagi will present a paper via Zoom with the title Evidence Preserved by Destruction: Recycling Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Transylvania during the (Counter)Reformation.  You can register for it here.  (H/T @FragmentariumMS on Twitter here.)  I may listen in myself.

Like most of us, I was quite unaware that there were Latin manuscripts written in medieval Translyvania.  But indeed there were.  There were Benedictine Abbeys, and Franciscan Friaries in the region.  The area was only transferred to Romania in modern times.

Dr P. has published a paper “Lost Libraries and Surviving Manuscripts: The Case of Medieval Transylvania” in: Library & Information History 31 (2015), 35–53, in English, with the following abstract:

The medieval dioceses of Transylvania, Oradea, and Cenad were the easternmost ramparts of Western culture. Cathedrals, Benedictine and Cistercian abbeys, Franciscan and Dominican convents, parish churches, and urban communities owned books and libraries in the Middle Ages. Most of these were lost to fires and plunders. The Tartars’ invasion in 1241 and the Reformation were also major occasions for book destruction. Starting from surviving book lists and manuscripts preserved in Romania and abroad, the present article attempts to reconstruct the landscape of literacy in medieval Transylvania.

The paper discusses what collections now exist, and where the manuscripts are.  From this I learn that most of the manuscripts were destroyed, and only about 100 produced or owned before 1500 are extant.

I also found at Academia.edu a paper by Adinel C. Dinca, “The Medieval Book in Early Modern Transylvania Preliminary Assessments”, in: SUBB – Historia 62 (2017), 24-34, here.  This again is valuable to those who come to it new.

Alba Iulia – known to readers of this blog hitherto as the site of a Mithraeum – was the capital of Transylvania and today has the largest collection of medieval manuscripts, the Batthyaneum Library.  This was created only in the 1780s by Bishop Ignatius Batthyany, mainly by purchase from other areas of the Hapsburg domains, so it doesn’t contain much from medieval Transylvania.  Some of its manuscripts are online, according to this blog post at the Medieval Hungary blog.  I found that going to the search engine here – NOT the search on the main page – and entering “Batthyaneum”  gave 15 results, some of them incunables.  I saw nothing of great interest to us, tho.  Apparently the state seized the library from the church in 1949, after which “access became very limited”, and still is.

Always interesting to hear about something a bit wild!

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The first mention of St Austell, ca. 900 AD, in a Vatican manuscript

In the Vatican there is a Latin manuscript, shelfmark Vatican Reginensis Latinus 191, which contains a collection of texts assembled for the church in Reims in northern France.  The manuscript is online, and may be found here.

At some point before the 12th century, the manuscript was given some parchment guard-leaves on either end.  These are not blank.  They were taken from another volume and turned upside down to avoid distraction.  The pages contain part of ps.Seneca, De Moribus, followed by the notice of Jerome on Seneca from De viris illustribus.

Jerome finishes part way down what is now folio iir.  Then on the same line there is a list of 48 names, written in an larger insular book hand, and carrying on over the page.

Here is the first page, turned back the right way:

Vatican Reg. Lat. 191, f. iir.

And here is the verso:

Vatican reg. lat. 191, folio ii, verso.

On the verso, at the start of line 2, are two names: Austoll and Megunn.

A list of names is inscrutable, and the reader may well ask what he is looking at.

In a brilliant article in Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies,[1] B. L. Olson and O. J. Padel analyse the list and come out with some fascinating conclusions.

They show that these names are all in Old Cornish.  Of the 48, 21 are most certainly the patron saints of modern Cornish parishes.  St Just, for instance, is there.  Other names are very obscure, and it is possible that the parish patron saint has simply changed since to one better known.

Even more interestingly, they print a map of Cornwall, showing the location of each church.  This shows that the parishes cluster together.

These cannot be coincidences.  They conclude from this that this is a list of Cornish parishes, written down for some unknown purpose shortly after 900 AD, either in Cornwall or in Brittany.  As such this is testimony to the existence of some sort of parish system at this date, in the Anglo-Saxon period, a century before the Norman conquest.

Austoll is of course St Austell (see this previous post).  This scrap of waste parchment is the earliest mention of the saint; but since this is a list of parish saints, this is also the earliest witness to the church and village of St Austell.

The name “Megunn” is undoubtedly Megwin, i.e. St Mewan, or S. Méén, so important in Brittany.  There is still a village of St Mewan near St Austell, and we learn from the medieval life of St Mewan that St Austell was a deacon who was the disciple of St Mewan.  The two stand together in the list, as on the ground.

There is almost nothing left of Old Cornish, or so the authors tell us.  The history of the land has perished.  Cornwall began to be assimilated into English even before the conquest.

So this is a precious peek into a land which became Christian in the Roman or sub-Roman period, but about which nothing is really now known.  Thus it is only from archaeology that we know of Byzantine ships visiting north Cornwall during this period, off-loading  goods from far away, and doubtless taking on a cargo of tin.  What did the sophisticated Greek merchants see, on the hills above the landing, in this rude land?  Simple churches dedicated to Celtic saints, it would seem.

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  1. [1]B. Lynette Olson & O. J. Padel, “A tenth-century list of Cornish parochial saints”, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 12 (1986), 33-72, with plates.

Ottoman drawings of the monuments of Constantinople

Few of us know anything about Turkish literature or manuscripts, and I am certainly not among that number.  But I was interested to discover that some illuminated Ottoman manuscripts contain pictures of Byzantine monuments.  (Presumably they also contain text as well).  Here are a couple that I have found online recently.

Here is the first.  The source is given as “Terceme-i Cifrü’l-câmi”, or maybe Tercume-i Miftah-i Cifr ul-Cami, which apparently translates to “The Translation of the Key to Esoteric Knowledge”.  This is an illustrated manuscript in Turkish, apparently dating to ca. 1600.

Note the heads on the serpent column, now alas vanished.  The church is Hagia Sophia, so this is the Hippodrome.

The next one (h/t @ByzantineLegacy) is from the “Hunername”, ca. 1530, which is another Ottoman illustrated manuscript.  It shows acrobats in the Hippodrome.

The Hunername is one of the more famous Ottoman illustrated manuscripts, written in 1584-88.  There is an article on it in French Wikipedia here.  It is held in the Topkapi Palace library, where its shelfmark is H.1523-1524 (i.e. in two volumes).

A further illustration, supposedly also in the Hunername, from here, via Wikimedia Commons, shows Mehmet II and the serpent column:

The Wikipedia commons page has the description,

“The text of the Hünername, written in the 1580s, claims that Patriarch Gennadios visited Mehmed II to tell him that if he damaged the Serpent Column the city would be infested with snakes, and a miniature was painted showing the patriarch giving this warning as the sultan throws his mace at a jaw.” Miniature from the Hünername”

The Turkish page does not say that this is from the Hunername, and only says that the heads of the serpent column were broken off by being used as targets during drills for horsemen, and adduces this picture as evidence of the Sultan doing just that.

The Wikipedia text seems in fact to derive from a 2013 page by Paul Stephenson, “The Serpent Column” which gives these fuller details:

The magical properties of the column were widely known and may have saved the column on two occasions: in 1204, Constantinople was sacked by the forces of the Fourth Crusade and much bronze statuary was destroyed or transplanted. Niketas Choniates composed a threnody for the city’s lost works of art, which did not include the Serpent Column. A reason for its survival is suggested on a later occasion, when Mehmed II “The Conqueror” captured Constantinople. The text of the Hünername, written in the 1580s, claims that Patriarch Gennadios visited Mehmed to tell him that if he damaged the column the city would be infested with snakes, and a miniature was painted showing the patriarch giving this warning as the sultan throws his mace at a jaw. Following Mehmed’s attack on a serpent head, there was a plague of snails. Mehmed, duly chastened, is said to have cauterised the roots of a mulberry tree that was growing within the column and threatening its integrity. the column, therefore, survived to be painted many more times by Ottoman miniaturists, notably the team of artists which produced the Surname-i Hümayun(fig. 4), also a product of the 1580s.

The Serpent Column was regarded as a talisman against snakes long before the 1580s. A version of the legend is reported by Kemal Pashazade, writing before 1512:[“Constantine son of Helena] caused to be made that bronze statue in the hippodrome which is the representation of three serpents twined together, and by making and designing that talisman he stopped up the source of the mischief of snakes whose poison is fatal to life.” Indeed, the column’s apotropaic powers were known to Russian travellers to Constantinople between c. 1390 and c. 1430, three of whom reported that “serpent venom is enclosed in the column.” This is also reported in 1403-6, by the Spanish ambassador Clavijo.

At a time when the Ottoman court had abandoned Constantinople (Kostantiniyye/Istanbul) for Edirne, the Serpent Column lost its heads. Various tales emerged, including one blaming an errant Pole, a member of a Polish ambassadorial delegation. Yet the most likely story is that related in a contemporary Ottoman chronicle: the metal which had supported the overhanging serpent heads for more than two millennia fractured on the evening of 20 October 1700. A head discovered a century and half later, during excavation and restoration work at Hagia Sophia, suggests that the heads were spirited away that night, but perhaps not so very far away. A close examination of the remaining head, in fact only an upper jaw, shows signs of hacking with a sharp object (fig. 5), suggesting that those who heard the heads fall with an almighty crash quickly set about it with axes, sharing the spoils as once crusaders had distributed other ancient works in bronze.

Stephenson in fact has since published a monograph on the subject.[1]

These images are interesting, but make me aware of the existence of a whole field of knowledge about which most of us know nothing.

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  1. [1]Paul Stephenson, The Serpent Column: A Cultural Biography, Oxford University Press (2016).

Lost ancient text found in Armenia: Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Hebrews

Excellent news today via Matthew R Crawford.  It seems that Cyril of Alexandria’s lost Commentary on Hebrews has been discovered.  It is preserved in three Armenian manuscripts held in the Matenadaran library in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.  An edition has been prepared, and is for sale here at BooksFromArmenia.com, for the modest sum of around $30.

Apparently it’s about 43,000 words in length, filling 220 pages.  So this is not a small work.  The editor of the critical text is Hacob Keosyan.  ISBN 978-9939-850-44-3.  At that price, I think they may sell quite a few copies.  I’m tempted myself.

The fragments of the Commentary on Hebrews are listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum under CPG 5209 (3).  It’s in vol. 3, page 8.  They were edited by Philip Pusey in an appendix to his edition of the Commentary on John, and also appear in the PG 74, cols. 953-1006.  There are Greek, Latin, Syriac and Armenian fragments.

Last year Joel Elowsky produced a translation of Cyril, entitled “Commentaries on Romans, Corinthians, and Hebrews” through IVP, so he has been unfortunate in his timing.

There is an article: Parvis, “The Commentary on Hebrews and the Contra Theodorum of Cyril of Alexandria”, JTS 26 (1975), 415-9.  From this I learn that Cyril’s commentary is, inevitably, directed against one of his political-religious foes.  In this case it is Theodore of Mopsuestia.  It is referred to by one of his opponents, and so must have been written before autumn 432.  It must have been written after his feud with Nestorius began in 428.

It is always good to recover a text from the night.  Let us hope that someone can produce an English translation of it soon.

The other point that comes to mind is that we need a new and fuller catalogue of the Matenadaran in Yerevan.  What else is there, one might wonder?

UPDATE: I have found another article on the web here, in Russian, by “Priest Maksim Nikulin”.  The English abstract reads:

In the present article the author studies one of the exegetical works of St. Cyril of Alexandria, his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. This work has been preserved only in fragments contained in catenae, florilegia, and quotations by other authors. The author identifies the texts that have survived to our day and the testimonies of later authors, who confirm that St. Cyril had written a Commentary on Hebrews. The author then provides an overview of the existing publications of this work with an indication of the manuscripts used by scholars of each edition. The author provides the opinions of different scholars about the dating of the work, all of which date it to the anti-Nestorian period of St. Cyril’s life, afer 428 AD. The author comments on the valuable insight by P. M. Parvis, who found in this work a fragment of St. Cyril’s polemics against the Antiochian exegesis and Christology of Teodore of Mopsuestia. The author also considers the hypothesis of P. E. Pusey, who believed that two works of different genres were composed by St. Cyril commenting on Hebrews, as well as the opinions of other scholars about this hypothesis. The author comments on the Armenian fragments of this work studied by J. Lebon. Finally, the author provides a hypothesis about the structure of the work.

I imagine that Dr Nikulin will be excited by the new discovery!

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