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.
These images are interesting, but make me aware of the existence of a whole field of knowledge about which most of us know nothing.
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!
One such manuscript has a great number of these marginalia. Below is the upper portion of folio 204 in St. Gall 904 (or Codex Sangallensis 204, if we choose to be formal). This was written in Ireland in 851 AD. It contains a copy of Priscian’s Institutiones Grammaticae, a rather dry text. The manuscript is online here; folio 204 is here.
At the top, where I have drawn a red box, is an Ogham marginal note. This gives us a single word in Old Irish and reads simply “Latheirt“. The meaning of this is given to us by an old Irish dictionary, Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s glossary), itself perhaps composed in the 9th century. An English translation of this is online at Archive.org here, and our word is on page 102.
This tells us that Lait(h) = Ale, the stuff consumed copiously in Northern society at this season, plus Irt = killed. So Latheirt means “ale-killed”, ale has killed us. The rather unimaginative translator adds that the Latin meaning is crapula, or “drunkenness”.
In short, our scribe has a massive hangover. It is unlikely that this was assisting his perusal of Priscian.
The St Gall manuscript is interesting because of its many Old Irish marginalia. The website tells us that it contains “over 9,000 glosses, among them 3,478 in the Old Irish language. The basis for the reconstruction of the Old Irish language.”
The Anglandicus blog seems to be only occasionally updated, but is well worth looking at. The importance of the Irish monks to the dissemination of ancient texts in Europe can hardly be overestimated, and such marginal notes take us directly to their state of mind while doing so.
All Saints Day is celebrated on 1st November. But it was not always so. The first reference to this celebration on this date is a poem of 83 lines, in hexameter verse, preserved in the manuscripts under the title of “Martyrologium Bedae”, the Martyrology of Bede. It cannot in fact be by Bede, because it mentions events after his death. It may be an early work by Alcuin. Dom André Wilmart labelled it the “Metrical Calendar of York”, and this name has stuck. It is often abbreviated as MCY.
Few will be aware that there is in fact a critical edition, and English translation, hidden inside K. Karasawa, The Old English Metrical Calendar (Menologium), 2005, in appendix 2, p. 138-145. The author very wisely edited and translated a whole bunch of texts related to his subject, one of which was MCY. Since few will have access to this, and it is short, I thought that I would quote it here. The apparatus can be found in the excellent printed version. I have highlighted the couplet of interest to us.
Prima dies Iani est qua circumciditur agnus.
Octauas idus colitur theophania Christi.
Deserti quartas primus capit accola Paulus.
Sex decimas Antonius obtinet aeque kalendas.
Tres decimas Sebastianus tenuisse refertur.
Bis senas meritis mundo fulgentibus Agnes,
Martyrio undecimas et Anastasius memoratur.
Prima dies Februi est iam qua patitur Policarpus,
Et quartas nonas Christus templo offerebatur.
Nonarumque diem festum celebramus Agathae,
Atque Ualentini sedenis sorte kalendis.
Sic Iuliana et bis septenas ornat honore,
Ac senas merito Mathias uirtute dicabat.
Hinc idus Martis quartas Gregorius aurat.
Cuthbertus denas tenuit ternasque kalendas,
Bis senis sanctus post quem sequitur Benedictus.
Octauis merito gaudet conceptio Christi.
Atque Georgius hinc euectus ad astra uolauit
Carnifices nonis Maiae uincente kalendis.
Ecgberhtus digna uirtutum laude choruscus,
Astriferum octauis ueneranter scandit Olympum.
Quoque die praesul penetrauit Uilfridus alma
Angelico gaudens uectus trans culmina coetu.
Uilfridus et ternis superam penetrauit in aulam
Tempore posterior, morum non flore secundus.
Iacobus seruus domini pius atque Philippus
Mirifico Maias uenerantur honore kalendas.
Bis binis sequitur Pancratius idibus insons.
Ter quinis Marcus meruit pausare kalendis.
Iunius in nonis mundo miratur ademtam
Et summis Tatberhti animam trans sidera uectam.
Atque die uincens eadem Bonifatius hostes
Martyrio fortis bellator ad astra recessit.
Inque suis quadris Barnaban idibus aequat.
Geruasius denis patitur ternisque kalendis
Protasius simul in regnumque perenne uocati.
Estque Iohannes bis quadris baptista colendus
Natalis pulchre feste plaudente corona.
Martyrio et Paulus senis ouat atque Iohannes.
Doctores Petrus et Paulus ternis sociantur
Maxima quos palma clarat sibi lumina mundus.
Iulius in quadris bis gaudet ferre kalendis
Iacobum fratremque Iohannis more colendum.
Sanctificant Abdo et Sennis ternos uenerando.
Augustus Xystum octauis tenet idibus aptum.
Bis binis uictor superat Laurentius hostes.
Sancta Dei genetrix senas ter constat adire
Angelicos uecta inter coetus uirgo kalendas.
Octonos sanctus sortitur Bartholomeus.
Bis binis passus colitur baptista Iohannes.
Idus Septembris senas dedicabat honore
Quis meruit nasci felix iam uirgo Maria.
Octauas decimas Cornelius inde kalendas
Consecrauit et Cyprianus ordine digno.
Eufemia ac sex decimas tenet intemerata.
Undecimas capit et Matheus doctor amoenus,
Mauricius decimas tenet martyr cum milibus una.
Quintanas sortitur Cosmas sibi cum Damiano.
Michahelis ternas templi dedicatio sacrat.
At bonus pridias micat interpres Hieronymus.
Sextas Octembris nonas Bosa optat habere
Sollemnes terris summo qui gaudet Olympo.
At gemini quinis Haeuualdi sorte coluntur.
Paulinus senas metet idus iure magister.
Doctor ter quinis Lucas succurrere kalendis.
Simonis quinis et Iudas uota feramus. Multiplici rutilet gemma ceu in fronte Nouember Cunctorum fulget sanctorum laude decorus.
Martinus ternis scandit super idibus astra.
Quindecimis uitam finiuit Tecla kalendis.
Caecilia astra merito decimis cum laude migrauit.
Clementis laeti ueneramur festa nouenis.
Octauis Crysogonus ouat uitalibus armis.
Andreas pridias iuste ueneratur ab orbe.
Tres decimas adiit iam Ignatius aeque kalendis.
Bis senis caelum coepit conscendere Thomas.
Octauis Dominus natus de Uirgine casta.
Martyrio Stephanus septenis alma petiuit.
Bis ternis euangelicus scriptor penetrauit
Angelico uectus tutamine uirgo Iohannes.
Martyrio tenera prostrantur milia quinis.
Siluestrem pridias celebramus ab orbe uerendum.
(1 Jan) The first day of January is when the Lamb was circumcised.
(6) The sixth is worshipped because of the theophany of Christ.
(10) Paul, the first inhabitant of the desert, occupies the 10th.
(17) Similarly, Anthony obtains the 17th.
(20) Sebastian is said to have obtained the 20th.
(21) Because of merits conspicuous to the world, Agnes is commemorated on 21st,
(22) and through martyrdom Anastasius is commemorated on the 22nd.
(1 Feb) The first day of February is just when Polycarp suffered.
(2) A nd Christ was offered to the temple on the 2nd.
(5) We celebrate Agatha’s feast day on the 5th,
(14) and also Valentine’s is assigned to the 14th.
(16) And then Juliana decorates the 16th with honour,
(24) and also, Mathias deservedly made the 24th a holy day by his virtue.
(12 Mar) Here Gregory gilds the 12th of March.
(20) Cuthbert obtained the 20th,
(21) after whom St Benedict follows on the 21st.
(25) Christ’s conception rightly enjoys the 25th.
(23 Apr) And George was taken from hence and flew to the stars,
by overcoming executioners, on the 23rd.
(24) Ecgberht, shining with due praise for his virtue,
dutifully ascended starry Olympus on the 24th.
(24) On the same day, Wilfrid the Bishop reached heaven,
rejoicing in being borne by the angelic host through the delightful heights.
(29) And Wilfrid, on the 29th, went into the heavenly court,
following him in time, but second to none in the flower of his virtues.
(1 May) James, the pious servant of the Lord, and also Philip
are worshipped with great honour on the first of May.
(12) The innocent Pancras followed on the 12th.
(18) On the 18th, Mark deserved to rest.
(5 Jun) June, on its fifth day, worships Tatberht’s soul
taken away from the world and carried through the heavens.
(5) And on this same day, Boniface the mighty warrior,
victorious over his enemies, departed to heaven through martyrdom.
(10) (June) treats Barnabas in the same way on the 10th.
(19) Gervasius suffered on the 19th,
(19) as did Protasius, and both were summoned to the eternal kingdom.
(24) And John the Baptist is to be revered on the 24th,
on this feast of his beautiful birth, in the glory of his crown.
(26) And through martyrdom, Paul rejoices on the 26th, and so does John.
(29) The teachers Peter and Paul are associated (with each other) on the 29th,
illustrious men whom the world illuminates with the greatest honour.
(25 Jul) On July 25th, a happy day,
James, the brother of John, is celebrated in the usual way.
(30) Abdon and Sennen consecrate the 30th by venerating it.
(6 Aug) Appropriately, August has its sixth day as the feast of Sixtus.
(10) On the 10th, the victor Laurence overcomes enemies.
(15) The holy Mother of God, it is agreed, has her feast on the 15th,
the day on which the Virgin was carried to the angelic hosts.
(25) St Bartholomew is put on the 25th.
(29) On the 29th, the martyr, John the Baptist, is worshipped.
(8 Sept) The Blessed Virgin Mary gave honour to the 8th of September,
the day on which she was born.
(14) Cornelius then made the 14th holy,
(14) and did Cyprian in the appropriate order.
(16) The chaste Eufemia obtains the 16th.
(21) And the delightful teacher Matthew occupies the 21st.
(22) Maurice the martyr together with thousands (of others) obtains the 22nd.
(27) Cosmas is put on the 27th, along with Damian.
(29) The dedication of the Temple of Michael makes the 29th holy.
(30) And the good translator Jerome sparkles on the day before (the 1st of Oct).
(2 Oct) Bosa, who is venerated on earth, as he rejoices on the heights of Olympus,
wishes to have the 2nd of October solemn.
(3) And it falls to the twin Ewalds to be worshipped on the 3rd.
(10) The master Paulinus rightly marks out the 10th.
(18) Luke the teacher is to be remembered on the 18th.
(28) Let us pay reverence to Simon and Jude on the 28th. (1 Nov) As a jewel worn on the brow sparkles time and again, so November at its beginning is resplendent with the praise given to all the saints.
(11) Martin ascended above the stars on the 11th.
(17) Thecla finished her life on the 17th.
(22) Cecilia deservedly left for heaven with praise on the 22nd.
(23) We happily venerate Clement’s feast on the 23rd.
(24) Chrysogonus in his mighty armour rejoices on the 24th.
(30) Andrew is properly venerated round the world the day before (the 1st of Dec).
(20 Dec) On the 20th (of Dec), similarly, Ignatius departed.
(21) Thomas began to ascend to heaven on the 21st.
(25) The Lord was born from the immaculate Virgin on the 25th.
(26) Through martyrdom, Stephen sought his reward on the 26th.
(27) On the 27th, the evangelist reached heaven,
the innocent John, borne by the protection of the angels.
(28) Through martyrdom, thousands of infants were overthrown on the 28th.
(31) We celebrate the Reverend Silvester, who is to be honoured throughout the
world on the day before (the 1st of Jan).
The best introduction to the Metrical Calendar of York is undoubtedly by Michael Lapidge, “A tenth-century metrical calendar from Ramsey”, in: Revue Benedictine 94 (1984), 326-369, esp. 327-332. The original text from York is extant in two manuscripts. The text then crossed the channel and spread widely on the continent, losing references to local anglo-saxon saints, and acquiring new lines for saints in the new location. There are many continental witnesses, all somewhat modified. Unusually a version of the text then came back to England, and had further descendants here.
The various metrical calendars are a field of study of their own, and too much for a blog post. But we can certainly look a little at the history of the text.
The original text is preserved in two manuscripts. The first of these is British Library, Cotton Vespasian B. vi. (=V) It dates a little after 800 AD, and was written in Mercia. Our text is on folios 104r-v. This is in a group of 3 bifolia which were for some reason extracted from the main manuscript and are bound separately as B.VI/1. They are online here. This is the top of f.104r.
Unhappily the manuscript is defective at the start, beginning only on line 16 with “Bis senis sanctus….”. (To the right of the text is a list of Roman and Greek numerals – nothing to do with our text).
The other manuscript is Trinity College Cambridge, O.2.24, fol. 87v-89r, (=Tr.) from the start of the 12th century. It is not a copy of V, and it is complete. It is online here, although I found that the manuscript images did not display on my Android phone. But blessedly you can download a page that you are interested in:
In actual fact our text starts, without an incipit, on fol. 88r. Each month has an initial. The manuscript is far more handsome than the rough Dark Ages manuscript above. It ends on fol. 89r, without any explicit.
Both manuscripts contain our verse. They have, however, no mention of a verse commemorating John of Beverley which is preserved only in continental manuscripts, but is probably original.
The latest saint mentioned is Boniface, who was martyred by the pagan Friesians in 754. The last bishop of York mentioned is Wilfrid II (d. 732), but not Ecgberht (d.766), which might suggest that he was still alive when the poem was written. The manuscript V itself dates to soon after 800 AD. Alcuin mentions All Saints Day on 1st November in a letter to Arno of Salzburg, dateable to early 800 AD, suggesting that he was aware of such a date before he left for the continent in 782 AD. These dates all suggest that the work was written between 754 and 766 AD. Lapidge suggests that it may in fact be an early work by Alcuin himself.
The work is extant in various continental manuscripts, all interpolated. For instance there is British Library Sloane 263, f. 22r, online here. We can see that this has acquired an incipit: INCIPIT MARTYROLOGIUM BEDAE HEROICO CARMINE:
It has also acquired some introductory verses as a prologue to January from somewhere.
The Martyrologium Poeticum / Metrical Calendar of York was printed first by Luc D’Achery in 1671 from a manuscript of Reims transcribed by Mabillon. This too has the spurious prologue. The edition is online here.
This is the text given by Migne in the Patrologia Latina 94, col. 603 (online here).
The authorship by Bede was first dismissed by Henri Quentin in Les martyrologes historiques du moyen ages, 1908, chapter 3, p.120 f., (online here) who also gave an edition of the text.
André Wilmart, “Un témoin anglo-saxon du calendrier métrique d’York”, Revue Bénédictine 46, 1934, p.41-69 established the English origin and gave an edition based on V. But we had to wait until 2005 and the edition of Karasawa for a proper edition and translation.
The importance of all this is that it establishes a date for the celebration of All Saints Day in the middle of the 8th century, nearly 50 years earlier than Alcuin. It also establishes that this date is likely to be of anglo-saxon origin.
I gave some examples in a previous post of the unpublished “notae”, symbols indicating what type of comment was involved, in the margin of Cassiodorus’ Expositio Psalmorum, his commentary on the Psalms. The notae are listed and explained at the top; and I gave some manuscript images.
After doing so, a few more online manuscripts came to hand. I got them by looking at Halporn’s 1981 article on the manuscripts (JSTOR), plus quite a bit of legwork!
First and best of these is in Munich, at the BSB, a manuscript of the 2nd quarter of the 9th century, with the shelfmark Clm 14077. It’s online here. This manuscript does not just give the notae and the meaning: it also gives an example after each. This is unusual, and must indicate creative work by the copyist. Here is folio 1r:
Nice, isn’t it? But it also demonstrates how these sorts of indices, meta-textual elements, are vulnerable to interference in transmission.
The next one is a more conventional manuscript, this time in Paris, at the BNF. The shelfmark is Paris latinus 2194. It’s 10th century, once belonged to Colbert, and is online here. Sadly we have only a monochrome image, but it is a very clear one!
Note at the top the shelfmark’s of past owners. It was “Cod. Colb. 447” – manuscript 447, when it was owned by Colbert. Then it was “Regius 3642”, that is manuscript 3642 in the Royal library. At the revolution the old royal library became the core of the new Bibliothèque Nationale Français, and “2194” was written lower down. Manuscripts move around like bumblebees sometimes, and they reflect the times through which they passed.
The “notae” appear, with the usual explanation, followed by the preface. But see how the microfilm hides the actual symbols in the margin for the most part!
Also available online here is BNF Paris lat. 2195, this time in colour. This manuscript was written in the first quarter of the 9th century, and was once the property of the abbey of St Martial at Limoges, according to the catalogue.
Here the “notae” are clearly photographed. In fact it is notable that modern digitisation projects make a far better job of it than the old microfilmers. Perhaps the reputation of the institution is on the line. A microfilm might be seen by one or two scholars, who had been overcharged for it, and nobody cared if the quality was any good. Indeed the BNF certainly tried to sell me some quite useless microfilms once; and I had to threaten to involve Visa before they refunded my money. But the world can see these digital copies; and there is national prestige at stake. The end result is good for everyone, however.
This leaf has clearly been damaged. I would guess that the manuscript had lost its cover, at some point during its history, and the top right got wet and rotted. But it is still with us!
Another example of damage is in Vatican Palatinus latinus 271:It’s not clear what has happened here, is it, but the notae are unreadable.
Something similar has happened in the manuscript from Reichenau, now Karlsruhe Aug. Perg. 155, online here:
On the other hand we get this in Bamberg Msc Bibl. 56 (online here):
The ink has faded, and made the symbols hard to read, and a subsequent hand has redrawn them!
It is really very remarkable to be able to compare something like this so easily from my study. We are so fortunate. These are days of wonders!
I wrote about my frustration in being unable to locate manuscripts online, despite having the shelfmarks. Of course I am not the only one to encounter this. A kind correspondent has made me aware of a list of links which helps enormously. Compiled by Albrecht Diem, at the Monastic Manuscript Project, it is here. I shall add it to the sidebar.
I have tested this out with the list of manuscripts of Wilhelm v. Boldensele, in this post. The result was that I located a couple more manuscripts online, which I have linked.
It was still back-breaking work. After a few libraries, I gave up. But it was definitely an improvement.
As part of this, I searched for manuscripts of von Boldensele’s work. I found a nice list, indicating the libraries that held the manuscripts. But what I wanted to know was whether the ms. was online, and if so where. A visit to the website of each library was an exercise in frustration. The websites has been designed by clerks who would never use them, and functioned simply as corporate advertising. I tried the first couple in the list, and was forced to give up. The stress was incredible.
I can only imagine that other scholars get just as annoyed. The best way to find manuscripts that I have encountered is simply a Google search for the shelfmark. Sometimes it works!
One manuscript was listed as belonging to the Phillipps collection. This was a massive collection of books assembled in the 19th century by a bibliomaniac, and which was still being sold twenty years ago. Many of the manuscripts are in Berlin, I knew. But I couldn’t find any of the Phillipps manuscripts on the useless Berlin library website. Going to google, it led me to a Worldcat entry that showed that the one I wanted was actually in the University of Minnesota! So far well and good; but again, the idea that a scholar might come to the university website to consult a manuscript had plainly occurred to nobody when that website was designed. Who on earth reads all the smooth empty verbiage on these sites? For what purpose would you ever read it?
I gave up in the end. Oh well. On to other things. It was only an idle thought.
Approximately 50,000 Greek manuscripts survive, containing a mass of literature from the ancient and medieval period. Among these is a curious little work, On the Seven Wonders of the World, De septem orbis miraculis, or peri ton hepta theamaton (Τῶν ἑπτὰ θεαμάτων ἑκάστου φήμῃ μέν). This is the first literary account of the seven wonders of the world. Unfortunately it is largely rhetorical, rather than descriptive.
There is an English translation of this work, which I will give at the end. However I wondered what the text was and how it reached us.
The transmission of our text has been discussed by Aubrey Diller. It survives in a single 9th century manuscript, Heidelberg 398 (= A), starting on folio 56v, where it is ascribed clearly to “Philo of Byzantium”.
Philo of Byzantium, or Philo Mechanicus, was a writer of the second century BC, author of some works on technology. However a study by von Rohden in 1875 showed that the attribution must be wrong. The text carefully avoids any use of “hiatus”. This is the technical term in rhetoric for the situation where a word or syllable ending in a vowel is followed by a word or syllable starting with a vowel. The word “hiatus” itself contains a hi-atus, for instance. Hiatus is a normal feature of Greek, but it was avoided by the rhetoricians, and most carefully so in late antiquity. Von Rohden therefore concluded that the author was a late antique rhetorician, and felt able to date the work even as late as the 5-6th centuries AD. The author is therefore sometimes referred to as pseudo-Philo of Byzantium.
The work is incomplete. There is an introduction, and there should be seven chapters. But the text breaks off in the 6th chapter at the bottom of a page without any colophon to mark the ending. Analysis of the binding has shown that the last page begins a new quire of leaves, but that the other leaves have all been removed. It seems that A originally contained the full text.
The marginalia mainly consist of chapter titles. These are in small uncials, and are probably from the renaissance Paris circle of Platonists.
A has had an exciting history. It comes from Constantinople. In the 1530s it was in the hands of the printer, Hieronymus Froben in Basle in Switzerland. Froben printed a couple of works from it, but then presented various manuscripts – presumably including this one – to Ottheinrich, Elector of the Palatinate (d. 1558) who founded the Palatine Library in Heidelberg. It remained there until the Thirty Years War. At the conclusion of the war, the manuscripts of Heidelberg were transferred to the Vatican. In 1623 the papal agent, Leo Allatius, removed all the covers from the Heidelberg manuscripts in order to do so. Books are heavy, and in this period were often shipped in barrels, which could be rolled. It was then rebound in the Vatican. There it was studied by Allatius who wrote a Latin translation, a copy of which is also in the Vatican. A remained in the Vatican until 1798, when it was looted by the revolutionary French and transferred to Paris. After the Napoleonic wars were over, in 1816 it returned to Heidelberg where it is today, and has recently appeared online.
There is also a 13th century copy of A, most of which is at Vatopedi on Mount Athos in Greece: Vatopedi 655. The portion of the Vatopedi manuscript that concerns us is contained in 21 leaves which were stolen by none other than Constantine Simonides. After attempting and failing to sell bogus manuscripts to the British Museum, he sold some genuine ones, including these leaves. They are today in the British Library, where they are Additional Manuscript 19391. (= B). This too is online here. That it is no more than a copy of A may readily be seen, because it breaks off at exactly the same point as A. There are also some renaissance copies, of no value. One of these that is online is Vat. Barb. gr. 69.
The text has been printed a number of times, usually as an appendage to other works. The editio princeps was in Rome in 1640, by Leo Allatius, with parallel Latin translation. The standard edition seems to be that of Hercher (1858), from which, I find, the translation was in fact made.
The translation I found as an appendix in a popular paperback, translated by a certain “Jean Blackwood” whom I hae been unable to identify. I give it in full, with the introductory remarks. There are no footnotes.
* * * *
ON THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD
by Philon of Byzantium
The following is a free translation by Jean Blackwood of the text of De Septem Orbis Spectaculis as it appears in Aelianus Praenestinus compiled by Rudolf Hercher and published in 1858.
Everyone knows of the renowned Seven Wonders of the World, but few have set eyes on them, for, in order to do so you have to arrange a long journey to the land of the Persians on the far side of the Euphrates; you have to visit Egypt; you must then change direction and go to Elis in Greece. Then you must see Halikarnassos, a city-state in Caria, and Ephesos in Ionia, and you have to sail to Rhodes, so that, being exhausted by lengthy wanderings over the Earth’s surface, and growing tired from the effort of these journeys, you finally fulfil your heart’s desire only when life is ebbing away, leaving you weak through the weight of years.
Thus, learning is a quality which is truly to be admired and to be treasured as a great gift because, at the same time as it gives their minds insight, it may show men, freed from the burden of travelling, the most remarkable of sights which are to be seen at home, and it designates the sight that is worthy of admiration. For the traveller who reaches these places sees them once, and as soon as he leaves, he forgets, because he has not firmly grasped the delicate beauty of the works he has gazed upon, and the individual details escape his memory. Whereas he, who by selective reading has become acquainted with a worthy sight knows the details of its form and has thus set eyes upon a complete work of art, and, because these sights have been seen in his mind’s eye they remain, imprinted on his mind, each single image, never to be destroyed.
I must add something else that in no way departs from the truth. Where I have managed to describe the Seven Wonders of the World as accurately as possible, my words, surveying the scene, are associated by the listener in such a way that it may seem to him that he has looked upon them with his own eyes. For these wonders are the only things which diminish the worth and reputation of other distinguished sights, for, truly, ordinary men may see them in the same way as other sights, but they do not marvel at other sights in the same way. For beauty, like the sun, dazzles by its own brilliance and does not allow one to see the others.
The garden which is called the Hanging Garden suspends its plants in the air, having shoots which are supported away from the ground. The tree roots which hang above the ground, assuredly cover the earth and take the place of a floor. Here is a description of this work. First of all stone columns are supported on a general foundation and made firm. This is done in such a way that the engraved bases of the columns cover the whole area given over to the garden.
Then beams made from palm trees are set down in different places, separated from one another by only a small space. For palm is absolutely the only kind of wood which does not rot. It is moistened so that it will bend back after being pressed upwards by weights. Moreover it feeds the fibres and tendrils of the roots which mix with the matter in its own cells and sinews.
A vast and deep mass of earth is poured over the beams; trees are planted with their broad leaves nearly touching to help foster the Garden. There are all kinds of varieties of flowers, and, so that it will be enjoyed by all, whatever is the most delightful, agreeable and pleasant to the eyes is there. The whole of the place is ploughed like a normal field and it is no less fertile than other ground. Yet it is done in such a way that the land can be ploughed above the heads of those walking amongst the supporting columns.
Whilst the upper layer of soil is trodden on underfoot, in places the deep, lower layers remain untouched, and that which lies at the bottom remains virgin ground. The waters gush forth from lofty fountains and sink right down through the ground and are then forced up high in twists and spirals, rushing and swirling through the circuits of the pipes of certain mechanical devices. And so the water having been collected on high in numerous ample containers irrigates the whole garden and, with its bountiful moisture, it bathes the roots of the trees which are pressed into the top layer of the ground and thus keeps the soil perpetually moist.
Here grow grasses which are perennially green, and trees whose leaves move in the breeze. The branches are made soft by constant moisture and so the leaves grow more densely. The roots, which are never removed, exude water continuously, and this circulates through the pores of the roots which are buried and pressed into the ground, keeping the trees naturally firm and thick. And so the cultivator, in his many ways, has created strength through nature; this certainly is a work of regal splendour giving much pleasure suspended above the heads of onlookers.
The construction of the Pyramids at Memphis is beyond the strength of men and their description is beyond belief, for they are mountains placed on top of mountains, and it is not easy for the mind to grasp how the huge masses of hewn stone could have been raised; and all have doubts concerning the huge force of the mechanical devices needed to bring the massive structures together.
After a quadrangular base had been laid down, those very stones needed to support the construction and keep it off the ground were interred, and, as the pyramid rises, the superstructure decreases proportionately in size and the whole work turns visibly into a pyramid, assuming a tapering shape. The whole of the work of joining the stones together has been so cleverly and elegantly accomplished that the whole monument seems to have sprung from one hewn stone. Different kinds of stone are joined together in turns, for here is pure marble whilst there is a black Ethiopian stone. The stone which they call blood-like is not present. The one that is brought from Arabia is there, changing colour, translucently fresh and green. Some take on a radiant glossy blue colour, and there are others which, like the apple tree, turn golden. Some are a purple colour, not dissimilar to those stained with the marine purple dye of sea-shells. For the rest, delight is enhanced by astonishment, excellence of artistic inspiration by admiration, and distinction by extravagance. Climbing to the top tires one as much as a real journey, and if anyone stands at the highest point and looks down, dizziness veils his sight. Regal wealth adds splendour to the very pleasing variety of the range of colours. Let fortune smile while she believes that she can touch the very stars by spending extravagantly. For by works of this kind, either men rise to the level of gods, or the gods come down to man.
As Kronos is Zeus’s father in heaven, so Phidias is his father in Elis. Immortal nature gave birth to the former, but the hands of Phidias, which alone have satisfied the gods, begat the latter. Blessed is Phidias who, alone, has seen the king of the world and has re-created his awesome presence for all to see. If it belittles Zeus to call him the son of Phidias, might we still not consider his mother to be Art, by which means Phidias created (Zeus’s) likeness. With this in mind Nature provided the elephant, and filled Africa with abundant herds so that Phidias might fashion their curved teeth. We honour the other Wonders of the World with our admiration, but this is the only one that we venerate. For however much a work of art is to be admired, the image of Zeus is sacrosanct. If labour is worthy of praise, then an immortal being must truly be worthy of reverence.
O to the Grecian Age which will abound in works dedicated to the honouring of gods for many centuries to come and which has had as the creator of immortality the artist whose like has not been seen again. You have been able to show mortals the features of the gods, and whoever has looked upon them will look more soberly at the works of others. For no other has been superior to Phidias in the way he laid Olympus at his feet. For as we know that evidence is preferable to opinion, and fact to fiction, so sight is superior to hearsay.
Out to sea lies the island of Rhodes which, long ago, was submerged in the deep and which the Sun raised up to the light and demanded it as his own from the gods. Here stands the Colossus, seventy cubits high, executed in the likeness of the Sun, for it is recognized to be an effigy of the god as it bears his own special features. The artist used so much bronze for the work that there was almost a shortage of metals, for all the earth’s mines were exploited in carrying out the project.
You will remember that Zeus deluged the Rhodians with great wealth so that they might devote it to honouring the Sun as they had undertaken to produce a statue of the god that would stretch right from the earth to the sky.
The workmen fortified the statue of the Colossus from the inside by hewn stones joined together by iron bolts, and the bars which are used on the stones to bring the joins together seem to have been fashioned by the hammers of the Cyclops. Whatever part of the work remains hidden is greater than that which can be seen; for the onlooker, transfixed in admiration, can only doubt that such vast masses of bronze could have been melted down and cast, wonder by what clamps they have been held, to what kind of blows they have been subjected and what strenuous exertions have brought them into being.
A pedestal of pure marble was laid down and on this, calculating the proportion, the artist first fixed the feet of the Colossus as far as the ankle, on to which the god was to be erected, seventy cubits high. At this (foot) level the base was already greater than other statues and it was not possible to lift the rest of the statue into place above; yet there were so many people helping that the whole rose up, in one continuous movement, like the temples of the gods, as if of its own accord.
So, in order to achieve this, the artist cast the rest of the statue beforehand, and it was reassembled piece by piece, One piece was fixed to the part already cast, and a third piece was added when this was finished, and then each further part, just as it had been fashioned, was completed with the same skill. For whole parts of bronze could not be moved from the place where they were cast.
Seeing that the pieces were joined correctly, the artist ensured that the joins and connecting rods were secured after the statue had been made even more firm by the stone laid in place to hold the work steady.
But the artist had to preserve the shape of the work in his mind for, as parts of the Colossus were finished he poured a huge quantity of earth about the base hiding that part already completed, so that he might finish the next parts from ground level. He gradually ascended to the very topmost point of his desire making a god-like image from 500 talents of bronze and 300 talents of iron, so freeing a great work of art from the bold mind of its creator; for in the world a second Sun stood face to face with the first.
Queen Semiramis created majesty and regal splendour with her immense wealth, for she paid no heed to jewels and treasure and so left behind a Wonder of the World. For she surrounded Babylon with walls, the foundations of which were 360 stadia in diameter so that running around the city exhausted the daily courier. But they are to be admired not only because of their size but also truly on account of the solidity of their construction and the width achieved with the materials, for the walls have been built out of baked brick and bitumen.
The height of the wall certainly exceeds fifty cubits, and truly the width of the course is such that four quadrigas can drive along them at the same time. There are numerous multi-storeyed towers stretching in an unbroken link of sufficient size to house within them a large army. For this reason the city-state is a fortress for the Persians and, generally speaking, the city seems more or less self-sufficient, so many people live within its walls. Truly other states scarcely till as much land as Babylon covers with dwellings alone, and only at that place can the inhabitants walk about inside the walls.
The unique Temple of Artemis at Ephesos is the abode of gods. Whoever has gazed upon it will believe that the heavenly world of the immortals has changed places with the earth. The Giants, or Aloidae, who undertook to conquer Olympus with mountains, have now built not a temple but a dwelling fit for gods. Just as work in progress surpasses its foundation, so art, by its boldness, surpasses the work in progress.
The artist, isolated from everyone because his work was known only to him, dug trenches to an immense depth and exhausted the mountain quarries in laying his extensive foundations. A supporting structure, solid and firm, was placed down with immense sculptured columns (Atlantes) to support the heavy superstructure; initially he constructed a base raised by ten steps placed outside to serve as a platform …
(Here the manuscript ends, and the remainder of this section, as well as that covering the Mausoleum, are missing.)
* * * *
It is useful to have this translation, and very interesting to see the history of this little work.
G. Sarton, Hellenistic Science and Culture in the Last Three Centuries B.C., 1993, p.26.↩
I happened to see on Twitter a splendid depiction of the Colossus of Rhodes. This led me to seek out the literary sources, and the Wikipedia article advised me of the existence of the translation. I purchased a copy of the paperback, which arrived this week.↩
A. Diller, The Tradition of the Minor Greek Geographers, 1952.↩
Hermann von Rohden, De mundi miraculis quaestiones selectae, Bonn 1875. Online here. Pp. 32-43 dates Philo in the fifth or sixth century because of his rigorous avoidance of hiatus.↩
These details all from Aubrey Diller’s fascinating monograph.↩
Seven leaves were stolen by a Greek adventurer, Minoides Mynas in September 1841 and ended up in Paris, as BNF supp. gr. 443A.↩
Rudolf Hercher (ed.), Aeliani De natura animalium, Varia historia, Epistolae et Fragmenta. Porphyrii Philosophi De abstinentia et De antro Nympharum. Philonis Byzantii De septem orbis spectaculis, 1858. Online here. Critical notes on p.lxx (p.80 of the PDF); the text is numbered strangely; Philo is labelled p.101-5. (p.728 of the PDF)↩
Michael Ashley, The Seven Wonders of the World, Glasgow: Fontana Paperbacks, 1980.↩
A new article at the British Library Manuscripts blog, Emilia Henderson, “Note-worthy connections: antique shorthand in Carolingian books“,, 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).
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.:
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), and it may found downloaded from Archive.org 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 Archive.org 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”.
Bernhard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages. p.80. Preview here.↩
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.”↩
Commentarii notarum tironianarum cum prolegomenis adnotationibus criticis et exegeticis notarumque indice alphabetico : edidit Guilelmus Schmitz.↩
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.
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:
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):
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.