An ancient handbook of short-hand: Tironian notes and the “Commentarii notarum Tironianarum”

A new article at the British Library Manuscripts blog, Emilia Henderson, “Note-worthy connections: antique shorthand in Carolingian books“,[1], discusses an obscure ancient text, the Commentarii notarum Tironianarum, or Lexicon Tironianum.  This is a handbook of short-hand, giving the symbols with the Latin word or phrase that they represent.

Bernard Bischoff wrote:

The name covers the many layers of material that we have in the Commentarii notarum tironianarum (CNT), a list of roughly 13,000 signs with their explanations, and in examples of their practical use as shorthand in many early medieval manuscripts and charters.

According to a credible statement by Isidore of Seville, M. Tullius Tiro, a freedman of Cicero’s, was the inventor of a basic corpus of signs that made writing from dictation easier for him. Other personalities of the first century BC and of the first century ad developed and expanded the system, amongst them Seneca (probably the philosopher). To the Commentarii that have been transmitted to us special lists of signs for names and concepts were added subsequently (among them Christian ones, which must belong to the latest additions, perhaps from the fourth century).[2]

There are something like 20 manuscripts of the Commentarii notarum Tironianarum, and a good number are online.  Here are some that I was able to locate.

  • British Library Additional 21164 – Here fol. 2v begins “De notis Militaribus”, and ends with “Incipiunt Notae Senecae”, before we get the title page on fol. 3r.:
BL. Add. 21164, folio 3r.
Fol. 1r.
Fol. 1v
Geneva Latin 85, fol. 1v.
BNF lat. 7493, folio 106r.
BNF latin 8777, fol. 1v
BNF latin 8779, fol. 15r.
Vatican latin 3799, fol. 1r
Wolfenbuttel 9-8-aug-4f

All these manuscripts are from the 9th century, I believe.  They show a common motif at the beginning, the dagger.  Some give a whole page, others abbreviate it; but perhaps it suggests that they derive from a common ancestor which was laid out like this.  I read somewhere that the tironian notae are used extensively in the post-Roman Merovingian period, becoming increasingly corrupt, but are then restored at the start of the Carolingian period by the discovery of a late-antique exemplar, from which these copies derive.  Unfortunately I do not have the reference for this claim.

There is an edition of the Commentarii notarum Tironianarum available, by W. Schmitz (1893),[4] and it may found downloaded from here.  P. Legendre, Etudes tironiennes, Paris. (IV. Les manuscrits tironiens), 1907, contains a list of 21 manuscripts of the work, and is also online at here.  R.M. Sheldon, Espionage in the Ancient World, 2015, p.90 (preview here) gives a bibliography and advises the reader to look at this work:

Herbert Boge, Griechische Tachygraphie und Tironische Noten: Ein Handbuch der antiken und mittelalterlichen Schnellschrift.  Boge begins with definitions of Tachygraphy (stenography) then goes on to discuss the examples found in the Greek world from the fourth century be including the Acropolis system, the consonant tables from Delphi, and examples from the second and first century BC. He then goes on to discuss Tironian notes and Roman shorthand writing. He includes an excellent bibliography.

It is, sadly, offline; and in German, so perhaps no loss.

The tironian notae may seem an old and obscure subject.  Yet they remain in use even today, in Southern Ireland.  The nota for “et”, , looking like a small numeral seven, is in unicode.  An Irish blogger, Stan Carey, posted this use on a street sign, as well as other examples in his post, “The Tironian et (⁊) in Galway, Ireland”.

How fascinating to see such a survival!

  1. [1]12th August, 2019.
  2. [2]Bernhard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages. p.80.  Preview here.
  3. [3]I did attempt to transcribe the prologue, probably not well: “Incipit de vulgaribus notis quomodo prius inventae sunt. Vulgares notas ennius primus mille & centum invenit notarum.  Usus erat repertus utquicquid procontentione aut iniudicus divisis incerse oartibus quod quisq: verba et quo ordine exciperet.  Romae primus Tullius tyro ciceronis libertus commentator est notas.  Sed tantum praepositio num; postcum tertius vipersammius philargius et aquila lib.tus mecenatis alius alias addiderunt.   Deine Seneca contractoque et aucto numero opus efficit in quique milia.  Notae autem dictae eo quod verba vel syllabas praefixis caracteribus notent, ut ad notitiam legentium revocent; quas qui didicerint. Propriae iam notarii appellantur.  Explicit prologus de vulgaribus notis.”
  4. [4]Commentarii notarum tironianarum cum prolegomenis adnotationibus criticis et exegeticis notarumque indice alphabetico : edidit Guilelmus Schmitz.

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.


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

  • 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.

The late antique edition of Livy by the Nicomachean family

The vast history Ab urbe condita by Livy was so enormous – well over 100 books – that it was transmitted in collections of 10 books.  Most of these “decades” are lost.  We possess only the first, third, fourth, and half of the fifth decade.

In late antiquity the texts of the first century came back into fashion, and were once more copied and amended.  We learn from a letter by Q. Aurelius Symmachus, the opponent of St Ambrose, that “Munus totius Liviani operis quod spopondi etiam nunc diligentia emendationis moratur.” (Epist. 9.13: “The gift of the whole of the works of Livy which I have promised is also now delayed by the task of removing errors”.)  This letter seems to date to 401.[1]

What is remarkable is that this work of correction, undertaken by the interlinked Symmachan and Nicomachean families, is attested in the colophons of surviving manuscripts of the First Decade.  These are well-known to scholars.  But it is wonderful to find that we can see an example online at the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana in Florence, ms. Plutei 63.19, “M” to the editors.  This was written sometime before 968 at the Cathedral of Verona.  Tweeter GiorgiaV has extracted four pages with examples.

Here’s the end of book VI (fol.138):


Titi Livi Nicomachus VC III prefect urbs emendavi ab urbe cond Victorianus VC. Emendabam Domnis Symmachis Liber VI Explicit.

Nichomachus, 3 times urban prefect, I have corrected the “Ab urbe condita” of Titus Livy.  Victorianus, I corrected [it] for the noble Symmachi.  Book 6 ends.


And the end of book V:

TITI LIVI Nicomachus Dexter V.C. emendavi ad exemplum parentis mei Clementiani; ab urbe condit. Victorianus VC emendabam domnis simmachis.

Nicomachus Dexter, I corrected against the copy of my Clementian parents; the “Ab urbe condita” of Titus Livy. Victorianus, I corrected [it] for the noble Symmachi.


At the end of book 8:

Emendavi Nicomachus [F]lavianus Titi Livi ter praef. urb. apud hennam [i.e. terminam] ab urbe conditor.  Victorianus VIC [i.e. VC] emendabam domnis Symmachis. lib. VIII. explicit.

I, Nicomachus Flavianus, 3 times urban prefect, have corrected the “Ab urbe condita” of Titus Livy at the end.  Victorianus, I amended it for the noble Symmachi.  Book 8 ends.

Fol.172v has the colophon for book 8.

VC is vir clarissimus, a member of the aristocracy.  All these people engaged in textual criticism were very senior people indeed.  Victorianus is Tascius Victorianus.  He also worked with Nicomachus on a translation from Greek of Philostratus Life of Apollonius of Tyana, as we learn from Sidonius Apollinaris, letter 8.3.[2]  The publication in Latin of a life of this controversial figure, used then and now for anti-Christian purposes, reinforces the pagan background of the editorial team.

An old 1828 edition here provides a sometimes inaccurate transcription of these and other colophons.  Charles W. Hedrick’s volume History and Silence p.28 tells us about the three terms as urban prefect of Flavian Nicomachus, presumably ending in 408 AD.

The grammatical structure is sometimes a bit weird.  There is an article by J.E.G. Zetzel, “The Subscriptions in the Manuscripts of Livy and Fronto and the Meaning of Emendatio”, in Classical Philology 75 (1980), p.38-59.[3]  This offers an intriguing suggestion, that, particularly for book 7, we’re looking at the result of copying a colophon laid out like this:

emendaui Nicomachus Flauianus
uc ter praef. urbis apud Hennam
Victorianus uc emendabam domnis Symmachis

The Livy stuff is in capitals, the colophon info interspersed between it.  So one of the medieval copyists ran together what he found in the exemplar before him.

But the manuscript has yet another interesting feature for us, on fol.163v, in book 8, chapter 15:3, describing how a vestal virgin was buried alive.  Here we find a marginal note:

I am  unable to read this, but Zetzel informs us that it begins by paraphrasing the text and then reads:

miror autem, cum defossam indicat, omisisse illum ex libris Sibillinis hoc esse praeceptum, ut legisse me in ipsis apud Flegontem temporis istius uersibus recolo.

But I amazed, when he says that she was buried [alive], that he has omitted that this was commanded in the Sybilline books, as I recall that I read in them, in Phlegon in the poems of that time.

References in Latin to Phlegon are rare and late; found only in the Historia Augusta, and in Jerome.  It’s not likely that a medieval annotator could write such a thing, so it looks as if at least some of the marginalia also belong to antiquity, and quite possibly the Nicomachean editors.

It’s wonderful what you find in old books.

  1. [1]Zetzel, p.38.
  2. [2]S. Stucchi &c, Apollonius of Tyana in Legend and History, p.170.
  3. [3]JSTOR

The medieval catalogue of the abbey of Lorsch now online!

I discovered yesterday that there is a project to reconstitute online the scattered volumes of the library of the abbey of Lorsch in Germany, and that some of the books are now online.  This includes the lengthy 9th century list of books then in the library.

Lorsch was founded during the Dark Ages, as part of the revival of learning spearheaded by Charlemagne.  A whole series of monasteries were founded, running eastwards, including Lorsch.  The holdings of these libraries remained intact until the Renaissance.  The 15th century manuscript hunter Poggio Bracciolini took advantage of his attendance at the Council of Constance (as a papal sidekick) to visit many of them, in search of the lost works of classical antiquity.

Unfortunately they all suffered badly during the Thirty Years’ War, when the Swedish army campaigned in Southern Germany and destroyed all of them.  Unique items went to line the leak boots of Swedish bombardiers.  The loot of Lorsch was taken to the Palatinate, to Heidelberg, and the disposal of the books formed part of the settlement of the Thirty Years War.  The Lorsch books mostly went to the Vatican, to form the “Palatinus Latinus” collection.

Here’s the page for the Lorsch catalogue, today Ms. Vatican. Pal. Lat. 57.  The catalogue is folios 1-7.  (Note that you can’t use IE for this; use Chrome.)

The first page (folio 1r) is mostly bible books.  Here’s the top of folio 1v:


Chronica Eusebii. Hieronymi & Bedae. In uno codice.

Tripertita historia libri xii. Socratis, Zozomeni [i.e. Sozomen], Theodoriti. In uno codice.

Gesta pontificorum romanorum. In uno codice.

A little further down is the epitome of Pompeius Trogus in 44 books, in a single volume.

After a few leaves of Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, etc, at the top of a leaf we find Tertullian:


Liber Tertulliani presbyteri   (Book of Tertullian the presbyter)
Item alius lib. Tertulliani.  (Likewise another book of Tertullian).

This was almost certainly a copy of the two volume Corpus Cluniacensis of the works of Tertullian.  Sadly it has not come down to us.

The catalogue was printed long ago in G. Becker, Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui, Bonnae 1885.

Looking at these images makes me nostalgic for the 90s, when I had just started the Tertullian Project, and learned of the lost Tertullian of Lorsch.  There was no Google Books then.  So I travelled to Cambridge University Library to consult “Becker”.

This was held in the awe-inspiring Rare Books Room, where you weren’t allowed to photocopy.  Of course it was impossible to do more than skim the book, and I ended up buying a reprint online.  (These days Becker is freely available for download at, etc.)  It is by my elbow as I write, a very early purchase in my work online.  I read it, poring over the crabbed Latin, and reread it.  First I looked for Tertullian’s; but gradually it became so much more.

To read those library lists is to enter the literary history of the middle ages.  The book is a massive compendium of lists of the works that really filled up monastic libraries.  The bible at the front, then the fathers, then miscellania, then classical stuff at the back.  The lists are full of works never read today, but everywhere in the middle ages.  We read Tacitus and Suetonius; they read Dares Phrygius and Justinus.  It is a vision of a different world.

I never hoped that the manuscripts themselves would be online.  But so they are.

These are truly days of miracles and wonders.

Fragments of a 4th century manuscript of Cyprian’s Letters

A tweet from the British Library medieval manuscripts account drew my attention to five damaged leaves in a British Library manuscript, Additional 40165 A.  They are portions of Cyprian’s Letters, letters 55, 74 and 79.  This is CLA II 178.

What makes them exciting is the early date – 4th century, according to the BL twitter account (the online page does not give a date) – and the location, which is North Africa.  The Trismegistos site gives the date as 375-400 AD, and location as Europe or North Africa.

The manuscript was the subject of an article by no less than Cyprian scholar Maurice Bévenot in the Journal of Theological Studies[1]  Sadly this is not accessible to me.  (My access to JSTOR is provided by Oxford University alumni, so it is curious that an Oxford University Press journal is not included.)


Three fragments from St Cyprian’s epistles:.

1. Epistle LV, p. 645, 1. 11, “facit daemoniis” – p. 647, 1. 16, “inuenerint iudica[bit].” (f. 1r);

2. Epistle LXXIV: ‘[re]tro nusquam'(p. 801, 1. 12), to ‘effectus/m est.’ (p. 808,11. 9, 10) (ff. 2r-4r);

3. Epistle LXIX: ‘aepiscopo legitima’ (p. 752, 1. 11) – ‘episco[po] alium sibi’ (p. 754, 1. 17) (f. 5r).(References [to pages.lines] in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Vol 3, Part 2).

The manuscript of which these fragments formed part, appears to have been the archetype, (at least in these three letters) of the English group of manuscripts (classed by von Soden, 1904) as ‘n’, which includes Royal MS 6 B XV, Oxford, Bodley Latin MS 210, New College MS 130, and Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 25. Decoration: Biblical quotations in red.

ff. 1-5: Origin: North Africa (Carthage?). ?Theodore of Tarsus and Hadrian, perhaps brought to England by them in the 7th century. In England by the 8th century: insular letter forms, e.g. ‘vr’ written over uncial ‘UR’ (f. 2v) (see Schipper 2004, p. 160). ff: 6-7:

Origin: England, S. W.?

Provenance of all parts : Used as flyleaves for a 12th-century Latin manuscript, now Additional 40165B: a table of contents of this manuscript in a hand of the 13th century covers an erased portion of the text (f. 3r).Bernard Howard, 12th Duke of Norfolk (b. 1765, d.1842): his bookplate in Additional 40165B.Purchased by the British Museum (with Additional 40165B) in the anonymous sale of manuscripts at Sotheby’s on 20th December 1921, lot 504, for £40.

Purchased by the British Museum (with Additional 40165B) in the anonymous sale of manuscripts at Sotheby’s on 20th December 1921, lot 504, for £40.

Here’s the twitter image:

The pages were cut-down and used as fly-leaves in the binding of a 12th century manuscript, which is how they survive.

Here’s the full leaf (3v), the bible stuff is the middle column.

The page is also of interest for indicating a means of citation – indenting one or two letters, and text in red.  This may be seen lower down, where the bible quote ends, and the original text resumes, outdenting by two letters[2]

It is unclear whether we can see paleographical evidence for origins in Roman North Africa.[3]  The pages have been trimmed, but Bévenot states that the original pages were written in four thin columns; very unusual, and a hang-over from the usage in the papyrus roll.

Very interesting to see!

  1. [1]M. Bévenot, “The oldest surviving manuscript of St. Cyprian now in the British Library”, in: Journal of Theological Studies (new series) 31, 1980, 368-377.  JSTOR.
  2. [2]See Patrick McGurk, “Citation marks in early Latin manuscripts. (With a list of citation marks in manuscripts earlier than A. D. 800 in English and Irish libraries)”, in: Scriptorium 14, 1961, 3-13.  Online here.
  3. [3]R. Rouse, “North African literary activity : a Cyprian fragment, the stichometric lists and a Donatist compendium”, Revue de histoire de textes 30, 2001, 189-238.

Does Victor of Vita quote from the Three Heavenly Witnesses?

Victor of Vita lived in Roman Africa after its conquest by the Vandals.  The Vandals were Arians, and their kings persecuted the Catholic clergy.  In 484 Victor wrote an account of the persecutions, which has come down to us in a number of manuscripts.  These I list from C. Halms 1878 edition in the Monumenta Germanica Historiae, series: Auctores Antiq., vol. 3.1. Online here.  There is also the CSEL 7 edition by Petschenig (1881).

  • A = Laon, Codex Laudunensis 113 (9th c.)  Contains only book 2, and a list of Catholic bishops at the synod of 484, which alone is preserved in this copy.  Another used by an early editor no longer seems to exist.
  • B = Bamberg, Codex Bambergensis signatus E, 3, 4. (9th c.)
  • C = Upper Austria, Codex monasterii Cremifanensis, sign. 36 (12th c.)
  • L = Berlin, Codex Berolinensis lat. quart. 1. (12th c.)
  • M = Munich, Codex Monacensis 2545 (previously cod. Alderspacensis) (12th c.)
  • P = Paris latinus 2015 (once Colbertinus 905)(10th c.)
  • R = Brussels, Codex Bruxellensis 1794. (10th c.)
  • V = Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 583 (previously “Univ. 239”)(10th c.)
  • W = Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 408 (formerly Admontensis from the abbey of Admont) (11th c.).  Contains some crude interpolations.  Derived from V.
  • a = Codex Abrincensis 162 (12th c.) Both mutilated and interpolated.
  • b = Berne, Codex Bernensis 48. (Once Floriacensis)(11th c.)  Similar to R but inferior.
  • s = Admont, Codex Admontensis 739 (12th c.).  Derived from V.

Analysis of the readings means that the manuscripts fall into two families, both derived from O, the original now manuscript (manuscripts in Greek letters are lost ancestor manuscripts of one family or another).  The tree of which manuscript was copied from what (the stemma) looks like this:

The editio princeps, the first edition is actually “Parisiis ab Iano Parvo (=Jehan Petit) Ludovico XII. regnante impressa”.  This undated edition was unknown to editors who generally thought that this was the edition of Beatus Rhenanus at Basle in 1535.

There is a modern English translation in the Liverpool University Press series: Victor of Vita: History of the Vandal Persecution, tr. John Moorhead, Liverpool (1992); series: Translated Texts for Historians 10.

The passage that refers to the Comma Johanneum, the interpolated passage in 1 John 5:7 which discusses the Trinity, is in book 2, chapter 11 (section 82; p.34 of the edition).  Halms’ edition (which Moorhead translated) reads:

82. Vnde nullus ambiguitatis relinquitur locus, quin clareat spiritum sanctum et deum esse et suae voluntatis auctorem, qui cuncta operari et secundum propriae voluntatis arbitrium divinae dispensationis dona largiri apertissime demonstratur, quia ubi voluntaria gratiarum distributio praedicatur, non potest videri condicio servitutis: in creatura enim servitus intellegenda est, in trinitate vero dominatio ac libertas. Et ut adhuc luce clarius unius divinitatis esse cum patre et filio spiritum sanctum doceamus, Iohannis evangelistae testimonio conprobatur.  Ait namque: tres sunt qui testimonium perhibent in caelo, pater, verbum et spiritus sanctus, et hi tres unum sunt. Numquid ait: tres in differenti aequalitate seiuneti aut quibuslibet diversitatum gradibus longo separationis intervallo divisi? sed, tres, inquit, unum sunt.

The CSEL text is the same, and the apparatus contains only trivial variants.

This is rendered by Moorhead (p.56):

82 And so, no occasion for uncertainty is left. It is clear that the Holy Spirit is also God and the author of his own will, he who is most clearly shown to be at work in all things and to bestow the gifts of the divine dispensation according to the judgment of his own will, because where it is proclaimed that he distributes graces where he wills, servile condition cannot exist, for servitude is to be understood in what is created, but power and freedom in the Trinity. And so that we may teach the Holy Spirit to be of one divinity with the Father and the Son still more clearly than the light, here is proof from the testimony of John the evangelist. For he says: ‘There are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.’ Surely he does he not say ‘three separated by a difference in quality’ or ‘divided by grades which differentiate, so that there is a great distance between them?’ No, he says that the ‘three are one.’

That’s that, pretty much; this 5th century Latin text definitely mentions the Three Heavenly Witnesses as part of the text of 1 John.

Moorhead adds a comment on the text of scripture used by Victor (p.xix ff.):

To avoid a multiplication of footnotes I have supplied references to biblical quotations and allusions in parentheses, without troubling to register minor ways, whether due to the text which Victor or the authors of the Book of the catholic faith were familiar with, faulty memory, or some other cause, in which they differ from modern printed versions of the Bible. The chapter and verse numbers of the psalms are those of the Vulgate, but the names of books of the Bible are those by which they are generally known in English. Where ‘Vulg’ is added, the text Victor cites is similar to the Vulgate and differs significantly from the modem translations readers may have at their disposal; where ‘cf’ is added, Victor’s text is significantly different from both the Vulgate and modem versions.[23]

The footnote:

23. It must be said that some of the variants which occur in the Book of the catholic faith constitute amendments in a Trinitarian direction.

It is perhaps inevitable in the circumstances, if undesirable, that the most useful reading was preferred.

Manuscripts of the Suda / Suidas

I recently had reason to consult manuscripts of the 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia known as the Suda, and known in the past under the misleading title of “Suidas”.  This I did, but I realised that I did not actually know what the main mss of the Suda might be.  Some 80 manuscripts are listed at Pinakes, containing all or part of the text. The following notes are from Adler’s edition, vol. 1, p.218 f.

  • A = Paris, BNF, gr. 2625 and 2626.  Both have an older and a younger section.  2625 older portion is not dated by Adler; the younger is 14th century.  The older part of 2626 is 12-13th century, the younger is 15th century.
  • R = Vatican 3-4, copied from A before 1449.
  • Marcianus 449 (today 558), 15th c.  Copied from A.
  • British Library Additional 11892-3. Copied from A in 1402 by George Baeophorus.
  • Vatican 2317 (= 2431).  AD 1463.  Copied from A.
  • F = Florence, Mediceo-Laurenziana 55, 1.  Copied from A in 1422.
  • V = Leiden, Vossianus, 12th century.  Written before 1204 when S was copied from it.  Adler gives no shelfmark, and it does not appear to be listed in Pinakes.  A google search suggests it is Leiden University Library, Vossianus gr. F 2.[1]
  • S = Cod. Vaticanus 1296.  AD 1204.  Copied from V. Currently divided in 3 volumes.
  • C = Oxford, Corpus Christi College 76-7.  End of 15th c.  Copied from V.
  • British Library, Harleianus 3100.  End of 15th c.  Copied from V.  Originally at Durham Cathedral; presented by the dean and chapter to Edward Harley in 1715; and sold to the British Museum with the other Harley mss in 1753.
  • G = Paris 2623.  Written before 1481 by Caesare Strategus.  Part of the mixed GIT family.
  • Holkham Hall 288 (now in Bodleian library), 1454 AD.   Related to G.
  • I = Codex Angelicus 75. 15th c.  Part of the mixed GIT family.
  • Escorial X I 1. 15th c.   Part of the mixed GIT family.
  • Paris suppl. 96.  15th c. Excerpts.  Part of the mixed GIT family.
  • T = Vatican 881.  AD 1434.  Part of the mixed GIT family.  Interpolated at the end.
  • U = Urbinas gr. 161.  AD 1461.  Related to T.
  • N = Marcianus XI, 8 ( today 991). 15th c.  Related to T.
  • B = Paris 2622. 13th c.  Part of the BLM family.
  • Madrid 4882. (O 89) 16th c.    Part of the BLM family.
  • Copenhagen Gl. Kgl. Saml. 413.  1465 AD.    Part of the BLM family.
  • Marcianus X 21-22, (today 1197-8). ca. 1475.    Part of the BLM family.
  • E = Brussels 11281. AD 1476.    Part of the BLM family.
  • L = Codex Sinaiticus, St Petersburg 125. 14th c.    Part of the BLM family.
  • D = Bodleian Misc. Gr. 289. (= Auct. V 52). 15th c.    Part of the BLM family.
  • H = Paris gr. 2624. 15th c.   Part of the BLM family.
  • Milan, Ambrosianus 494 (L 108 Sup.) 15th c.    Part of the BLM family.
  • M = Marcianus 448 (1047). 13th c.   Part of the BLM family.
  • Oxford, Bodleian Misc. 290 (Auct. V 53) 15th c. Copied from M.

There are also excerpts preserved.

Sadly no stemma is given by Adler.

  1. [1]Tiziano Dorandi, “Liber qui vocatur suda: Translation of the Suda by Robert Grosseteste”, 2013. Via here: “Abstract: Robert Grosseteste (Bishop of Lincoln from 1235) translated in Latin some entries of the Byzantine Lexicon known as the Suda, a translation which is still unpublished. This paper investigates the textual transmission of Suda’s translation. In the first part Grosseteste’s learning and knowledge of Ancient Greek are briefly outlined. In the same section his other translations from Greek are also discussed. A description of the extant manuscripts of Suda’s translation is provided, as well as a catalogue of the items (pertaining to a separate textual tradition), which are found in Grosseteste’s notulae of his doctrinal, literary and scholarly works. Special attention is paid to the so-called Lexicon Arundelianum (a Greek-Latin Lexicon – but entirely written in Latin – Transmitted by MS London, College of Arms, Arundel 9). Grosseteste sometimes combines several Suda’s items and/or inserts in the original Lexicon text some entries of the Etymologicum Gudianum. Moreover Grosseteste’s translations are extremely literal (verbum de verbo). Finally, MS Leiden University Library, Vossianus gr. F 2 (12th cent.) is proved to be the Suda Greek manuscript used by Grosseteste for his translation.”

A manuscript of a regionary catalogue and a manuscript of the Notitia Dignitatum online!

Update: I misread the announcement of that it contained the Notitia Dignitatum.  It does not.  Post amended!

A few years ago I uploaded the Chronography of 354 AD to the web, and I included some of the regionary catalogues here as part 14, with notes by me; the lists of buildings, temples, etc in the 14 regions of ancient Rome.

Times have changed, and I learn from the Vatican digitisation project twitter feed that one of the manuscripts of a regionary catalogue has come online, ms. Vat. lat. 3394, late 15th c., belong to Pomponio Leto.  It’s here.  It’s a dull-looking manuscript, but full of hard data!  Here’s the start of region V.

Starts: “75 private bathhouses / 78 cisterns / 12 bakeries (pistrina)”  Interesting to see the differences to the printed version I uploaded.

But this is not all.

We also now have online here the Bodleian’s copy of the Notitia Dignitatum too, which contains lists of military posts.

Shelfmark is Ms. Canon. Misc. 378, written in 1436.  Image 312 (f.153v) is a picture, showing Britain and the forts of the Saxon Shore, while image 313 (f.154r) gives a list of the forces available to the Count of the Saxon Shore.

The manuscript is a “collection of texts on the late Roman Empire, many of which have been illustrated”.  I could wish that it was easier to find out just what the contents actually are!  The browser is as useless as usual, or I might flip through it.  In the end I found a list here.  It includes Polemius Silvius’ calendar, De Rebus Bellicis, Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti philosophi, Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae, and regionary stuff. All useful and interesting to have!

A few months of interesting links

For some months I’ve been collecting bits and pieces.  Mostly I have nothing much to add, but they shouldn’t be lost.

Cool 9th century manuscript online as PDF

Via Rick Brannan I learn that a downloadable PDF of the Greek-Latin St Gall 9th century manuscript of Paul’s letters is online and can be downloaded as a single PDF:

Note the link on this page where you can download a PDF of what appears to be the entire Codex Boernerianus. It is beautiful.

And so you can.  It’s at the SLUB in Dresden here, where it has the shelfmark A.145.b.  It also contains Sedulius Scottus, I gather.

Nice to see the interlinear, isn’t it?

Codex Trecensis of Tertullian online

A correspondent advised me that the Codex Trecensis of the works of Tertullian has appeared online in scanned microfilm form at the IRHT.  Rubbish quality, but far better than nothing.  The ms is here.  De Resurrectione Carnis begins on 157r and ends on 194r.  De Baptismo begins on folio 194r and ends on 200v.  De Paenitentia begins on folio 200v.

Saints lives = Christian novels?

A review at BMCR by Elisabeth Schiffer of Stratis Papaioannou, Christian Novels from the ‘Menologion’ of Symeon Metaphrastes. Dumbarton Oaks medieval library, 45. Harvard University Press, 2017, caught my eye.   This contains 6 lives from Metaphrastes collection.

Even though hagiographical texts are among the most frequently translated Byzantine sources, little effort has been made so far to translate parts of Symeon Metaphrastes’ Menologion. This is primarily due to the generally unfortunate editorial situation of these texts: They are transmitted relatively standardized, but in a vast number of liturgical manuscripts.

In addition to summarizing the status of research on Symeon’s rewriting enterprise, Papaioannou explains in his introduction why he calls the texts in focus “Christian novels.” It is not unproblematic to apply this modern term, as he himself states, but he decided to do so because of the fictionality of these narratives and because of their resemblances to the late antique Greek novel. When saying this, it is important to emphasize—as Papaioannou explicitly does—that these texts of novelistic character were not understood as such by their audience. On the contrary, the Byzantines regarded these texts as relating true stories, written for edification and liturgical purposes (see pp. xiv-xviii).

It’s an interesting review of a neglected area of scholarship where the tools for research – editions and translations – are not available.

Full-text of the Greek Sibylline Oracles online for free

Annette Y Reed broke the story on Twitter: it’s J. Geffcken, Die Oracula Sibyllina, Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1902, which has turned up at here.   A useful transcription, rather than the original book, is also online here.

All known mss in the Bodleian library – detailed in online catalogue

Ben Albritton on Twitter shares:

This is awesome – “This catalogue provides descriptions of all known Western medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, and of medieval manuscripts in selected Oxford colleges (currently Christ Church).” Sharing ICYMI too.

It also has direct links to the for Greek mss!

Where did the Byzantine text of the New Testament come from?

Peter Gurry at the ETC blog asks the question, and suggests that Westcott and Hort are no longer the authorities to consult.

How to respond to politically motivated persecution

Since the election of President Trump I have noted on Twitter a new form of anti-Christian posting.  There has been an endless stream of anti-Christian jeering online, demanding “how dare you support Trump”?  It is surreal to see how people who hate Christians suddenly have become expert theologians on what Jesus would do.  Thankfully a certain Kurt Schlichter writes *Sigh* No, Being A Christian Does Not Require You Meekly Submit To Leftist Tyranny:

Everyone seems to want to tell Christians that they are obligated to give in. There’s always some IPA-loving hipster who writes video game reviews when he’s not sobbing alone in the dark because no one loves him tweeting “Oh, that’s real Christian!” whenever a conservative fights back. I know that when I need theological clarification, I seek out the militant atheist who thinks Christ was a socialist and believes that the Golden Rule is that Christians are never allowed to never offend anyone.

It’s a good article, and sadly necessary in these horribly politicised times.  It’s worth remembering that, were times different, rightists would most certainly adopt the same lofty lecturing tone.

A quote for pastors from St Augustine

Timothy P. Jones posted on twitter:

“If I fail to show concern for the sheep that strays, the sheep who are strong will think it’s nothing but a joke to stray and to become lost. I do desire outward gains–but I’m more concerned with inward losses” (Augustine of Hippo).

Queried as to the source, he wrote:

It’s from Sermon 46 by Augustine–the entire message is an outstanding exposition of what it means to be a shepherd of God’s people…. I translated the above from thisHere’s a good English translation as well.

Artificial Intelligence in the Vatican Archives

I knew it.  It’s alive!!!

Well, not quite.  This is a piece in the Atlantic, Artificial Intelligence Is Cracking Open the Vatican’s Secret Archives: A new project untangles the handwritten texts in one of the world’s largest historical collections:

That said, the VSA [Vatican Secret Archives] isn’t much use to modern scholars, because it’s so inaccessible. Of those 53 miles, just a few millimeters’ worth of pages have been scanned and made available online. Even fewer pages have been transcribed into computer text and made searchable. If you want to peruse anything else, you have to apply for special access, schlep all the way to Rome, and go through every page by hand.

But a new project could change all that. Known as In Codice Ratio, it uses a combination of artificial intelligence and optical-character-recognition (OCR) software to scour these neglected texts and make their transcripts available for the very first time.

They’ve found a way around the limitations of OCR by using stroke recognition instead of letter recognition.  They open-sourced the manpower by getting students (who didn’t know Latin) to input sample data, and started getting results.

All early days, but … just imagine if we could really read the contents of our archives!

Kazakhstan abandons Cyrillic for Latin-based alphabet

Via SlashDot I read:

The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is changing its alphabet from Cyrillic script to the Latin-based style favored by the West. The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant — and it elicited a big response. The government signed off on a new alphabet, based on a Latin script instead of Kazakhstan’s current use of Cyrillic, in October. But it has faced vocal criticism from the population — a rare occurrence in this nominally democratic country ruled by Nazarbayev’s iron fist for almost three decades. In this first version of the new alphabet, apostrophes were used to depict sounds specific to the Kazakh tongue, prompting critics to call it “ugly.” The second variation, which Kaipiyev liked better, makes use of acute accents above the extra letters. So, for example, the Republic of Kazakhstan, which would in the first version have been Qazaqstan Respy’bli’kasy, is now Qazaqstan Respyblikasy, removing the apostrophes.

The article at SlashDot instinctively opposed a change, which can only benefit every single Kazakhstani, by making a world of literature accessible.  Ataturk did the same, and for the same reason.

Tell Google that a book is in the public domain

Sometimes Google misclassifies books.  But there is a way to tell it that actually the book is public domain.  The Google link is here.  From It’s surprisingly easy to make government records public on Google Books:

While working on a recent story about hate speech spread by telephone in the ’60s and ’70s, I came across an interesting book that had been digitized by Google Books. Unfortunately, while it was a transcript of a Congressional hearing, and therefore should be in the public domain and not subject to copyright, it wasn’t fully accessible through Google’s archive….

But, as it turns out, Google provides a form where anyone can ask that a book scanned as part of Google Books be reviewed to determine if it’s in the public domain. And, despite internet companies sometimes earning a mediocre-at-best reputation for responding to user inquiries about free services, I’m happy to report that Google let me know within a week after filling out the form that the book would now be available for reading and download.

What does it mean to speak of an authorial/original/initial form of a Scriptural writing when faced with tremendous complexity in the actual data itself?

Back at ETC blog, Peter Gurry discusses this with Greg Lanier here.

Some of the difficulty, one senses, is because the interaction of the divine with an imperfect world is always inherently beyond our ability to understand.  It requires revelation, which is not supplied in this case.

And with that, I think I’ve dealt with a bunch of interesting stories which didn’t deserve a separate post.  Onward!