Eostre in a manuscript of Bede’s De ratione temporum in Berlin

Chapter 15 of Bede’s De ratione temporum, written in 723 AD, is headed “De mensibus Anglorum” – About the Months of the English – and contains fascinating details of the Old English months.  Most famous of these is April, known as Eosturmonath in Anglosaxon, and derived from an otherwise unknown goddess Eostre, which is the origin of our English-only word “Easter.”  Easter is called passover (pasch) in most languages, however, which seems to surprise many.  I have written about this passage before here.

Yesterday I learned via Twitter that a manuscript of this work has newly appeared online.  This one is in Berlin, in the Staats Bibliothek, and has the shelfmark “Ms. Phill. 1832.”  I think it must be 9th century. That shelfmark tells us that this is one of the vast and improbable collection amassed by the bibliomaniac Phillips at Cheltenham, some of which were bought at auction by the Germans.

I don’t tend to think of German manuscripts when I think of online manuscripts.  But this is really a very fine example of how to place a manuscript online.  Here’s the link to the page.  And you can download the whole thing as a PDF, at various resolutions.  Interestingly the online image zooms in to a higher resolution still, which is very helpful for marginal notes.  in fact the online browser is rather good.  You can maximise the image full-screen too.  It’s all fairly obvious and intuitive.

In fact I’m rather impressed by the “Digitalisierte Sammlungen der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.”  You go to the home page, and you can switch it into English very nicely.  The search box actually works.  I tried entering “Beda”, and got stuff; and then some very nice tabs on the right to restrict the results to manuscripts, and how many.  I tried again with “Vita Sanctorum” and likewise got good things.  I tried looking for the Life of St Nicholas that I knew was there, and found it.  I tried a partial shelfmark, and found it.  Really very good!  What I cannot see, tho, is any way to browse the collection.  It ought to have a list of collections (fonds), and a list by shelfmark of the mss within each.  In the way that the Wiglaf site does.  Another marvel – every page shows a yellow “feedback” tab on the right, so I’ve written and suggested it!

I’ve already downloaded a copy, and added a bookmark to the page that I want in case I need to come back to this later.  It’s folio 27r.  Here’s the start of the chapter:

Berlin MS Phill. 1832, fol. 27r: beginning of chapter 15 of Bede, de ratione temporum

On the next page we find the famous passage about Eostre:

Berlin MS Phill. 1832, fol. 27r: end of chapter 15 of Bede, de ratione temporum, with mention of Eosturmonath

Interestingly someone has written “April” over “Eusturmonath.”  As a reminder:

Eosturmonath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cujus nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquae observationis voca­bulo gaudia novae solemnitalis vocantes.

Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘‘Paschal month’’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by its name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.  (Faith Wallis translation with correction as here).

Note also that the name of the goddess is “Eostre.”  It is curious how often and how pompously it is given as “Ēostre” online, when no source adds any such marker.

It’s still simply wonderful to see these things appear online!


How did the works of Plato reach us? – The textual tradition of the dialogues

Plato’s works have reached us in medieval handwritten copies, the earliest written around 900 AD. The dialogues are arranged into nine groups of four dialogues, or “tetralogies.”[1] These give us the works in complete form, from direct copying down the centuries. But there are also surviving fragments of ancient copies on papyrus, found in rubbish dumps in Egypt where the climate is dry, which sometimes give a better reading in this passage or that, where the text has become corrupt in the centuries. Plato also is quoted at great length by other ancient authors, and sometimes these also have readings to contribute. Finally there are ancient translations of Plato into other languages.

The witnesses to the direct tradition, the medieval manuscript copies, are very numerous; more so than for any of the Greek classics other than Homer. One article suggests at least 250 manuscripts survive[2]; and a search of the Pinakes database gave 439.[3] Most are merely copies of other manuscripts, so it is important to identify the primary manuscripts.

The 19th century study of the transmission of the text proved to be unsound, and the whole task had to be started again just before WW1. In 1959 Dodds could write that critical work on the text is still in its early stages, and that, for the first 7 tetralogies, nobody could say how many of the manuscripts were primary – based on no other manuscript – or how they related to each other, or to the secondary manuscripts. And why? Because scholars lacked accurate collations of the manuscripts. Indeed the collations that were available proved to be full of errors.[4]

Key Medieval Manuscripts [5]

For the text of individual dialogues additional manuscripts are important, but these are the main ones for the tradition as a whole.

B – Oxford, Bodleian, E. D. Clarke 39 (= “Clarkianus”). The oldest extant witness. Written in 895 AD by “John the Calligrapher” for Arethas of Caesarea, according to a subscriptio. It contains the first 6 tetralogies, and never contained more. It was probably the first volume of a two-volume Plato. It was discovered in 1801, lying on the floor of the monastery of St John the Apostle on Patmos, and Clark purchased it. By looking at medieval catalogues of the monastery library, it seems that the monastery acquired it sometime between 1201 and 1355, and it remained largely unknown thereafter. It’s not clear that any other manuscript derives from it. B is online here: https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/f57d074b-cff1-4172-8236-797c7b8f0403/

The top of the first page of B – Bodleian MS E. D. Clarke 39, folio 1r.

A – Paris, BNF graecus 1807. Ca. 900 AD. Today contains only the 8th and 9th tetralogies, and the Spuria. Probably the second volume of a two-volume set. Not online. Online here.

T – Venice, Marcianus Append. Class. 4. 1. Copy of A. Written by Ephraim Monachus ca. 950.[6] It contains the first 7 tetralogies and part of the 8th, although this may be copied from elsewhere. At the end of the 7th tetralogy is a note indicated the “end of volume 1”; again it must be descended from a two volume medieval Plato. Probably copied from A when it was complete. B and T have some links, possibly because an ancestor of one was corrected from the other. T is online here: https://www.internetculturale.it/jmms/iccuviewer/iccu.jsp?id=oai%3A193.206.197.121%3A18%3AVE0049%3ACSTOR.241.10700&mode=all&teca=marciana

W – Vienna suppl. phil. gr. 7. 12th century? Contains tetralogies 1-3, and then the dialogues of 4 to 7 in a jumbled order. It is independent of B and T. It was probably acquired in Greece or Sicily in the 14th century by Nerio Acciaiauoli, passed in 1478 to the Certose near Florence, and in 1725 to Vienna. W is online here: https://digital.onb.ac.at/RepViewer/viewer.faces?doc=DTL_6393878&order=1&view=SINGLE

D – Venetus 185 (Coll. 576). 12th century. Once belonged to Bessarion. Seems to be independent of A. For the first 4 tetralogies is closely related to B, but not derived from it.[7]

B, A/T, D, W form a family of closely related manuscripts. Manuscript F is from a very different family.

F – Vienna suppl. phil. gr. 39. 13th century. It contains the dialogues from tetralogy VI.3 (Gorgias) to IX.1 (Minos). From a different family to B, A/T and W. Its readings often agree with the quotations in Stobaeus and Eusebius, whether the reading is authentic or corrupt. Some of its errors are explicable if the scribe copied directly from a manuscript written in an uncial hand, i.e. an ancient manuscript, with no word division and limited punctuation. This is confirmed by the papyri which demonstrate that the F text-type goes back at least to the second century AD. This is unique among the mss of Plato. Dodds estimates from the probably dimensions of the exemplar that it may have been a “cheap papyrus code which was manufactured in quantity in and after the third century A.D.” and represents “the ‘commercial’ texts which circulated among the reading public rather than the more scholarly editions,” complete with vulgarisations.

The tradition of the ninth and final tetralogy is somewhat different from the others, and manuscripts of it are less common. All the manuscripts, including the 11th century Armenian translation of its first two dialogues (Minos and the Laws), derive from a manuscript equipped with variants, reproduced rather faithfully. This may be an ancient manuscript, or more likely a Byzantine transliteration of the 9th century.

The Papyri

No ancient copies of any work of Plato have reached us. But small fragments of such copies do survive: little scraps of papyrus found in the ancient rubbish dumps of deserted cities in Egypt. The Papyri.info database lists 95 papyrus fragments, although this is a mere handful compared to the number of papyri of Homer. The oldest four fragments date from the first part of the 3rd century BC: a scrap of the Phaedo, Laches, Sophist, and an epistle. But the vast majority date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, including a long section of the Symposium (P.Oxy. 843, 2nd c.), and the numerous and long fragments of the Phaedrus.

Pasquali wrote, “There was much discussion about the value of those papyri [the 3rd c. BC Phaedo and Laches] immediately after their discovery: now the general opinion is clear. They provide an apparently careless text: there are frequent spelling errors and negligent mistakes, such as arbitrary and impossible shifts of words, none of which is surprising in private copies; nor do they lack small lacunae. All this matters very little if a solid foundation can be glimpsed through the damaged surface. And for the most part they are like this: the Laches papyrus contains only 189d -192a, yet it greatly improves our text.”

The Indirect Tradition

The text of Plato is quoted in a number of ancient authors. These quotations are extensive; between a quarter and a half of some dialogues are quoted. The most important source is Stobaeus Anthology, and then Eusebius Praeparatio Evangelica. Other authors quoting more than a page of the Greek text are Iamblichus, Galen, Theodoret, Theon Smyrnaeus, Clement, Justin Martyr, John Philoponus, and Athenaeus. [8] The quotations are of the greatest value for the transmission of the text. In some cases they preserve the correct reading where the entire direct tradition has been corrupted.[9]

Commentaries on Plato

Another witness to the text is ancient commentaries, in which that text is quoted and discussed. The oldest commentaries on Plato are lost, but a great number of neoplatonist commentaries survive from the 5th century AD, including works by Hermias, Proclus, Olympiodorus and Damascius, together with a 6th century fragment of a commentary on the Parmenides preserved in a palimpsest from Bobbio. The commentaries are often little more than student notes, but each note is often preceded by a lemma, i.e. a word or extract from Plato. While in theory these might have been modified themselves from later copies of the text, it has been shown that the lemmata in Proclus’ Commentary on the Timaeus must be as Proclus saw them, because his comments rely upon them being as they are.

There is also a papyrus of the 2nd century AD containing a commentary on a long stretch of the Theatetus. The work was probably composed not long before.


Further remains of ancient commentaries survive in the scholia in the margins of manuscripts of the BWT family. There are two sets. The first were entered in B by the hand of Arethas of Caesarea, the “Arethae scholia”. These are most abundant for the Gorgias and the Theatetus. The other set of scholia were added later to B in another hand, and also appear in T, and often in W. These have been called “scholia vetera,” although there is no evidence that they are earlier than the others. Neither set is very useful for textual questions, except occasionally.


Plato wrote in Greek, but in antiquity and later translations were made into other languages.

Cicero made a Latin translation of the Timaeus, and elsewhere in his works he quotes and translates many other passages of Plato, often at some length. In the 4th century AD Chalcidius translated into Latin the first part of the Timaeus and commented upon it. He dedicated it to a certain “Osius” who may have been bishop Hosius of Cordova. This translation passed into medieval Latin libraries, and influenced Dante. Both translations are preserved in manuscripts of the 9th century and later.[10]

Translations from Greek were made into Coptic, Middle Persian and Armenian. A fragment of a Coptic translation of the Republic 588b1-589b3 is preserved in codex VI of the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic texts. The translation is of very poor quality, and initally went unrecognised. Agathias (Hist. II 29, 1-2) tells us that some Greek works were translated into Middle Persian for Chosroes I, and that he was especially interested in Plato and Aristotle, so probably Plato was among them. In Armenian translation the Timaeus, Euthyphro, Apology, Minos, and 12 books of the Laws have been preserved in a manuscript in the Mechitarist monastery in Venice. A translation of the Phaedo is lost. The translations may be the work of a Magister Gregorius (ca. 990-ca.1058), although others have argued for a 6th century date for the translation of the Timaeus. The translation is very literal, and seems to be based on a older text of the A-family.

Some researchers have suggested that Hunain ibn Ishaq translated the Republic into Arabic.[11] Several Arabic authors tell us that the Timaeus and other dialogues were translated into Arabic in the 9-10th century. Knowledge of Plato in medieval Arabic authors seems to derive from summaries made in Arabic or translated into Arabic.[12]

Dodd’s stemma for the Gorgias.

Analysis of the Medieval Manuscripts

The medieval manuscripts share certain characteristics. All of them derive from the collection of tetralogies known in antiquity, and other orders of the text are all secondary. They also share some obvious, and mostly unfixable, corruptions: doubled readings, rare interpolations, even rarer lacunae. It is clear that they all derive from a common ancestor.

But how old was this common ancestor? It must predate the invention of minuscule bookhand ca. 900, because none of the shared errors arise from misreading a minuscule bookhand.

The 2nd century AD commentary on the Theatetus shares two obvious corruptions with the medieval manuscripts. These corruptions must be earlier than the 2nd century. But the commentary also has a better reading than the medieval manuscripts in at least five places. In general the lemmas in the commentary agree much more with manuscript W than with B and T. All of this suggests that the common ancestor of the medieval manuscripts, and the 2nd century commentary, must be earlier still, and divided into two branches before the 2nd century AD; one the ancestor of the medieval codices, the other of the text in the commentary.

The roughly contemporary papyri of the Phaedrus confirm this. P.Oxy.1017 has a number of readings superior to the medieval mss, just as the commentary does. It also contains marginal and interlinear variants in a second hand, which cannot be conjectures to improve the text because in fact they do the opposite. The papyrus differs from the medieval text in 29 places, but in 8 of these places, the medieval reading is given in the marginal variants. This means that our medieval text, and also its errors, already existed in the 2-3rd century AD. P.Oxy.1017 tends to agree more with T than B. In fact P.Oxy. 1016 has similar features, but it also has readings found in inferior medieval manuscripts. So does P.Oxy. 2102 (2nd c.).

From this we can conclude that the medieval tradition has its origins in an ancient exemplar, and that many of the divergences found in the medieval codices are also ancient. Some of the manuscripts seem to continue an ancient family of the text, and presumably derive from a different uncial exemplar to the others. This is certainly true for the text of the Timaeus in F, which also shares errors with Plutarch, Galen, Eusebius, Proclus, Stobaeus and Chalcidius. The same is true for the text of the Republic and the Gorgias.

Date of collection and ordering

At what date did the works of Plato come into the form of a collection of tetralogies, in which they now are? Most likely during the early Hellenistic period. Pasquali argues that the collection contains an authentic but unfinished dialogue, the Critias; a dialogue only complete in its externals, the Laws, and, as an appendix to the Laws, it contains a work by Plato’s secretary, Philip of Opuntus under Plato’s name. This must mean that the collection itself dates back to a circle that had Plato’s work at its disposal and that felt obliged to continue it, i.e. the Academy. It cannot have been compiled by Plato’s immediate successors, who would have known very well what he wrote, because it contains a lot of spuria. So it must have been compiled at least a few generations after his death. One of the spurious dialogues, the Alcibiades II, seems Hellenistic rather than Attic. So perhaps the collection dates to the Academy of Arcesilas and Lacydes, of the first half of the 3rd century BC, at which date corruptions and interpolations may already have crept in.

What about the ordering? Diogenes Laertius tells us (III, 61) that “some, including Aristophanes the Grammarian” of Byzantium (fl. ca. 200 BC) classified the dialogues into groups of three; comprising only 15 dialogues, followed by an unordered mass of single dialogues. He also explains at length (III, 65-6) the use of critical signs in ancient copies of Plato, some of which signs have been preserved in medieval copies. But Diogenes Laertius also tells us (III, 56) that it was Thrasyllus the court astrologer of Tiberius who divided the dialogues into tetralogies, which seems far too late. Albinus ca. 150 AD in his introduction to the works of Plato (6) tells us that an otherwise unknown Dercyllides also arranged them thus.[13] The issues are discussed by Philip.[14] Pasquali declines to decide which came first, and is inclined to believe that both arrangements reflect only a bibliographical list, rather than the arrangement of any physical copies.

  1. [1] How they reached us is summarised in quite a lot of detail in some twenty pages of G. Pasquali, Storia della tradizione e critica del testo, 2nd ed., Firenze (1934, repr. 1988), pp. 247-269, from which most of the following material is taken. Useful list of the tetralogies at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_manuscripts_of_Plato%27s_dialogues
  2. [2]R. Brumbaugh, R. Wells, “Completing Yale’s Plato Microfilm Project”, in: Yale University Library Gazette 64 (1989), 73-5. JSTOR: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40858970
  3. [3]Query for author: Plato philosophus, exported the results to CSV, imported this into Microsoft Access as a table “Pinakes”, renamed the first 5 columns, and ran an SQL query: “SELECT country, town, library, collection, shelfmark FROM pinakes AS query GROUP BY country, town, library, collection, shelfmark;”
  4. [4]E.R. Dodds, Gorgias: A revised text, OUP (1959), p.34.
  5. [5]This material mainly from Dodds, Gorgias.
  6. [6]M. Joyal, “The Textual Tradition of [Plato] Theages”, in: Revue d’histoire des textes, 28 (1998), 1-54, p.8, n.30. Persee: https://www.persee.fr/doc/rht_0373-6075_1999_num_28_1998_1464
  7. [7]Boter.
  8. [8]Boter, p.285.
  9. [9]G. Jonkers, The Textual Tradition of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, Brill (2017), p.387.
  10. [10]A list of manuscripts appears in the Wikipedia article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcidius
  11. [11]Boter, The Textual Tradition of Plato’s Republic, Brill (1989), 279-80.
  12. [12]G. Jonkers, p.393-4.
  13. [13]Albinus, Eisagogue c. 6, online in English as “The introduction of Albinus to the Dialogues of Plato” here, p.315: https://archive.org/details/WorksOfPlatoV6.
  14. [14]J. A. Philip, “The Platonic Corpus”, Phoenix 24 (1970), 296-308. JSTOR: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1087736

Bodleian Library manuscripts can now be downloaded as PDFs!!

I was looking at the online copy of the Bodleian manuscript of Plato, the “Clarkianus” 39 (here), when I discovered something wonderful.  We can now download the whole thing as a PDF!

This is just so amazing!  It also means that any cyber-attack can only do so much damage, if you have offline copies.

Here’s the screen grabs of what to do:

  1.  Go to the manuscript online:

2.  Click on the “Download” icon and you get this.

3.  Click on the download for the whole item.

Note that if you select a page range, it has to assemble that offline and email you, so it takes longer.

That’s it!  It’s actually the best user interface for downloads that I’ve yet seen.  Nice!

The only downside is resolution.  The download of this manuscript (871 pages) is a pretty massive 800mb.  If you look at folio 1r, the scholia are a bit fuzzy.  So for these you still need to use the website.  It would be good to have an “ultra-high res, kiss your disk space goodbye” option.  But it’s still a huge step forward.


Latin translations of the Greek fathers in Dark Ages monastic manuscript inventories

How widely known were the Greek fathers in the Latin world during the Dark Ages?  How accessible were they?

One possible source of information is the surviving inventories of medieval libraries.  A collection of these was printed by G. Becker in 1885 as Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui, and it makes interesting reading indeed.  In fact if you want to get an idea of what a medieval library looked like, this is the best thing you can read.  Catalogue after catalogue, monastery after monastery.

If we do a search on “Origen”, we start finding results almost at once.  The seventh catalogue, from Fontanelle, ca. 823-33 AD, has four volumes of his homilies as entries 78-81.  The next catalogue (8), from Reichenau, at much the same time, is better still:

Homilies of Chrysostom on Matthew; Origen on Genesis, on Romans; and books from the Clementine Recognitions.  All of these are, of course, Latin translations.  It raises the question of just what the Latin world of that period had access to.

Back in 2021 an interesting article appeared in the Downside Review by Scott G. Bruce: “Veterum vestigia patrum: The Greek Patriarchs in the Manuscript Culture of Early Medieval Europe”.[1]  The abstract is worth quoting:

This article draws attention to the availability of Latin translations of Greek patristic literature in western reading communities before the year 800 through a survey of the contents of hundreds of surviving manuscripts from the Merovingian and Carolingian periods. An examination of the presence of the translated works of eastern church fathers in the 8th-century florilegium known as The Book of Sparks (Liber scintillarum) and monastic library catalogs from the early 9th century corroborates the impression left by the manuscript evidence. Taken together, these sources allow us to gauge the popularity of particular eastern authors among Latin readers in early medieval Europe and to weigh the influence and importance of Greek patristics in the western monastic tradition.

But the abstract is too modest: the author has surveyed nearly 1,800 Latin manuscripts created before 800 AD – a massive task.  His conclusion:

In conclusion, the legacy of the ancient fathers, in particular those of Greek origin, was an important aspect of the intellectual history of early medieval monasticism that has received little attention in modern scholarship. This article has laid the foundation for the study of the reception of the Greek fathers in the medieval Latin tradition. Its survey of the nearly 1800 Latin manuscripts created before or around the year 800 has shown that doctrinal, devotional, and historical works attributed to eastern Christian authors survived in relative abundance in western monastic libraries. Latin reading communities favored especially the biblical commentaries of Origen, the salvation history of Eusebius, and the homilies and sermons of John Chrysostom, but other Christian Greek authors like Basil of Caesarea, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Ephrem the Syrian, and Gregory of Nazianzos informed their thinking as well. An examination of the early 8th-century Book of Sparks and Carolingian book inventories from the first decades of the 9th century corroborated the evidence of the manuscripts, and also uncovered the presence of lesser known works of Eastern origin that attracted a western audience, including a spiritual guide by Evagrius of Pontus. … The Christological controversies of the late 8th century raised the currency of the Greek fathers even higher among Latin readers like Alcuin, who looked back to the 5th-century east for a language of authority with which to defend traditional Christian doctrine against the misguided interpretation of Christ’s nature put forward by the Adoptionists.

The article is very readable, and is recommended.

Note the presence of Ephraim the Syrian?  This is CPG 4080 = CPL 1143, De die judicii, on the Day of Judgement, found in the catalogue of St Riquier (Becker 11, p.27).  There’s an English translation online here.

Looking in Becker, I find mention of a Discourses to Monks in Whitby ca. 1180 (Becker 109, p.226), but all is not as it seems.  for Becker gives his source:

Edwards. Memoirs of libraries. (London 1859.) p. 109-111 excerpsit ex Young History of Whitby and Streoneshald Abbey {1817} p.918-920.

and the latter is accessible online.  On p.919 here we find that the entry is merely “Effrem” – the rest is speculation by the 19th century editor.  The work supposed here is CPG 3942 Exhortation to the Monks of Egypt (Sermones paraenetici ad monachos Aegypti), the first ten of which are online in English here.  (The translation site has gone, and is now preserved only at Archive.org.)

Later in Becker there is yet another “liber, qui vocatur Ephrem” – a book which is called ‘Ephrem’ – as entry 37 of Stederburg (Becker 124, p.253, 12th c.).

It’s very useful to know just what was available in Dark Ages Europe.

  1. [1]Vol. 139, p.6-23.  DOI: 10.1177/0012580621994704

Some thoughts about interpolation in patristic texts

The term “Theotokos” (“Mother of God”) becomes the subject of fierce controversy in the 5th century AD.  The dispute was perhaps more political than religious – Constantinople versus Alexandria – but was fought with great ferocity, and lavish bribery, and ended in the victory of Cyril of Alexandria and the exile of Nestorius and indeed a great number of others.  Failure to use the term for Mary was a sign of Nestorianism, which could be fatally bad for you.  The use of the term is still held with passion by  Eastern Orthodox even today.

Therefore, when searching the TLG for the earliest usages of this word, it was something of a surprise to find it in Greek patristic texts from 300 onwards.  It appears in Athanasius, but also before.  Of course there is no reason why the word might not be used, and it need not imply any of the doctrines associated with it in the 5th century.  But all the same it seems odd.

Could these usages be later interpolations?  How could we tell?

I am very much opposed to alleging interpolation as a way to dispose of inconvenient evidence.  In general the texts that have reached us from antiquity do so in a very reasonable state, as far as we can tell.  The main reason for this is, of course, the prosaic one.  Anybody who put himself to the considerable trouble of copying a literary text did so precisely because he wanted a copy of that text.

But once politics and bigotry appear, then the incentive to forgery appears.  Cyril of Alexandria himself refers, in letters 39 and 40, to tampering with a letter of Athanasius:

8.  But when some of those accustomed “to pervert what is right” turn my words aside into what seems best to them, let your holiness not wonder at this, knowing that those involved in every heresy collect from the divinely inspired Scripture as pretexts of their own deviation whatever was spoken truly through the Holy Spirit, corrupting it by their own evil ideas, and pouring unquenchable fire upon their very own heads. But since we have learned that some have published a corrupt text of the letter of our all-glorious father, Athanasius, to the blessed Epictetus, a letter which is itself orthodox, so that many are done harm from it, thinking that for this reason it would be something useful and necessary for our brothers, we have sent to your holiness copies of it made from the ancient copy which is with us and is genuine. – Letter 39 (FOC 76 translation), p.152


25. … For the most God-fearing Bishop of Emesa, Paul, came to me and then, after a discussion had been started concerning the true and blameless faith, questioned me rather earnestly if I approved the letter from our thrice-blessed father of famous memory, Athanasius, to Epictetus, the Bishop of Corinth. I said that, “if the document is preserved with you incorrupt,” for many things in it have been falsified by the enemies of the truth, I would approve it by all means and in every way. But he said in answer to this that he himself had the letter and that he wished to be fully assured from the copies with us and to learn whether their copies have been corrupted or not. And taking the ancient copies and comparing them with those which he brought, he found that the latter have been corrupted; and he begged that we make copies of the texts with us and send them to the Church of Antioch. And this has been done. – Letter 40 (FOC 76 translation), p.166-7.

Much later, at the Council of Florence, the Greeks and the Latins arguing over the filioque found examples on both sides of interpolation.

This is human nature.  Once a behaviour is incentivised, through advantage or fear, then it will appear.

We know something of “forced speech” in these days.  If you look at a job advertisement from most official or academic sources, each and every one will include some reference to “diversity”.  The word is pretty much meaningless of itself; but we all know that it is a code-word, indicating loyalty to a particular political agenda.  A job advertisement that did not contain it might be dangerous!  It might leave the clerks open to an accusation of failure to endorse this policy or that.  Far safer to murmur the code-words.

In the 5th century, failure to use “theotokos” might carry the same risks for any writer.  Once certain views are obligatory, and failure to conform is dangerous, then it becomes important to use the code-words.  “Theotokos” was most certainly a code-word.

A little while ago I was looking at the catena fragments which preserve bits of Origen.  These use the word “theotokos”, but I gather that scholars do not think this part of Origen’s text.  This is not unreasonable.  A catena is a literary work of itself, composed of chains of quotations from the fathers, adapted to form a continuous commentary on a passage of scripture.  I really do not see why a writer would not introduce “theotokos” when composing his catena.  It wouldn’t be wrong, or misrepresentation.  Rather it would be a case of adapting the older writer to contemporary needs.

Likewise a copyist of an integral work might add “theotokos” in the margin, as a note.  Because omissions were also written in the margins, this could easily be mistaken for a copyist omission, and become part of the text when next copied.

But all of this is speculation.  We need to ask whether there is any actual evidence that this did actually happen?  Did later copyists introduce “theotokos” into 4th century texts?  How can we tell?

One obvious way to assess this is to find copies of the patristic texts prior to 400 AD, and look.

This leads to the next question: do we have any copies of the writings of patristic writers like Athanasius prior to 400?  How could we find out?

I’m not sure that this is a very easy question to answer.  For Latin texts we have E.A.Lowe’s Codices Latini Antiquiores.  But to the best of my knowledge this is safely offline and inaccessible.  And anyway we need Greek.  There might be papyri.  These might be safely dated; or not.  But how do we find out?  A critical edition of a specific work ought to tell us at least something.  Probably that’s the way to go.

But I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we had no 4th century manuscripts of 4th century fathers.  Surviving 4th century manuscripts are few.

So how can we detect any such process of interpolation of “code-words” into patristic texts?

At the moment, I suspect, all we can do is be cautious in this area.


16 page lost section of ancient “Julian Romance” text discovered in Vatican manuscript

A pair of researchers have discovered and published a lost ancient text in the Vatican library.  It’s the long-lost opening portion of a text usually dated to the early 6th century, and known as the “Julian Romance.” This is a novelisation of the reign of Julian the Apostate, who reigned ca. 362 AD, and his persecution of the church.  The work was composed in Syriac, but widely translated in antiquity into other nearby languages including Greek.

The publication is Marianna Mazzola & Peter Van Nuffelen, “The Julian Romance: A Full Text and a New Date”, in: Journal of Late Antiquity 16 (2023) pp.324-377. (Paywalled here; first page here).  This prints the Syriac text, with an English translation, and a thorough study.

Here’s the abstract:

The Syriac Julian Romance, a tripartite fictional account of the reign of the Emperor Julian, was hitherto only partially known from two manuscripts. This article publishes the missing first section from Vat. Sir. 37, a section that narrates the death of Constantius II. The complete text allows us to demonstrate that the narrative was composed by a single author and that the tripartite structure does not reflect three older, separate texts. Further, we identify the Miscellaneous Chronicle of 640 as the source for most of the historical information in the Romance. This implies a new date in the first half of the seventh century, which is supported by other chronological indications in the Romance.

The majority of the text of the Julian Romance was already known, and can be found in British Library Additional MS 14,641.  But this copy was obviously missing a large chunk at the start.  A small part of the beginning was later found in Paris BNF Syr. 378.  But there was still, obviously, a large amount missing.

Marianna Mazzola was one of the scholars:

I was checking the historiographical excerpts contained in Syriac doctrinal florilegia for a project I have been collaborating with at Ghent University and stumbled on this text mistakenly cataloged by J. Assemani as an excerpt from Michael the Syrian’s Chronicle on the Death of Constantius II.

I did not remember such a passage in Michael’s Chronicle so I started to translate it and realised that the style was not at all the plain, dry style of Syriac chroniclers. Gradually, I realised that it could be the Romance of Julian and finally when on the last page my text overlapped with that of MS Add. 14641, I no longer had any doubts.

The article is written with Peter van Nuffelen in which we also propose a new date on the basis of the new textual evidences. Looking forward to hear any remarks! We are aware this is a much debated text that has always sparkled much scholarly discussion.

In response to a query, she added:

I worked on the on-line manuscript. Sadly, it was still COVID time when I worked on it, and it was impossible to travel to the Vatican Library. Certainly further study of the manuscript would be an important addition.

The manuscript is indeed online, and may be found at the Vatican site here.  The article lists the contents of the manuscript.  The new text is on folio 168v-173r.  Here’s the opening:

ܐܝܟܙ ܐܟܠܡ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ ܪܒ ܣܝܛܢܛܣܘܩܕ ܗܢܩܦܡ ܠܥܕ ܐܬܝܥܫܬ ܒܘܬ
.ܝܗ̈ܘܗܒܐ ܠܥ ܦܣܘܬܬܐܘ ܗܡܥ ܬܘܠ ܫܢܟܬܐܘ ܐܒܪ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩܕ ܗܬ̈ܡܘܝ ܘܡܠܫ ܕܟ ܠܥܒ ܝܗܘܬܝܐܕ ܗܪܟܘܒ ܢܝܕ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ .ܝܗ̈ܘܢܒ ܐܬܠܬ ܗܪܬܒ ܢܡ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ܘܕܚܐܘ ܐܬܘܝܘܐ ܐܕܚܒ ܢܘܗܬܢܝܒ ܐܘܗ ܬܝܐ ܐܡܠܫܘ .ܣܘܛܣܘܩܘ .ܣܝܛܢܛܣܘܩܘ .ܗܡܫ ܬܝܡ ܆ܬܠ̈ܬ ܢܝ̈ܢܫ ܟܝܐ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ܘܪܲܒܕ ܕܟܘ .ܢܘܗܬܘܢܪܒܕܡܒ ̇ܗܣܟܛܒ ܐܝܕܪܕ .ܐܬܢܝܫܡ ܣܘܛܣܘܩ ܒܘܬ ܕܟܘ .ܝܗ̈ܘܚܐ ܕܝܨ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ̇ܬܟܪܲܫܘ ܉ܐܫܝܫܩ ܢܘܗܘܚܐ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ̇ܗܠܟܒ ܪܚܬܫܐܘ .ܐܡܠܥ ܢܡ ܕܼܢܥ ܘܼ ܗ ܦܐ ܆ܢܝܬܪ̈ܬ ܢܝ̈ܢܫ ܐܬܘܟܠܡܒ ܕܼܒܥ ܛܠܲܬܫܐܘ ܐܝܡܘܪ̈ܕ ̇ܗܠܟ ܐܬܘܟܠܡܠ ܕܼܚܐܘ .ܢܘܗܘܚܐ ܣܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ ܼ ܘܗ ܐܬܘܢܪܒܕܡܘ .ܐܝܢ̈ܘܝܕ ܐܢܝܢܡܒ ܥܒܪ̈ܐܘ ܢܝܫܡܚܘ ܐܐ̈ܡܬܫ ܬܢܫܒ .ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ܝܗܘ̈ܕܝܐܒ ̇ܬܢܩܬܘ .ܢܘܗܝܠܥ

[168v] History of the death of Constantius, son of Constantine the victorious king.

(1) When the days of Constantine the Great ended, he was gathered to his people and joined his fathers, and his three sons reigned after him: Constantine, his first-born who was named after him, Constantius, and Constans, and there was peace with one pacific consent between them, current in their government. After they had ruled for around three years, Constantine the oldest brother died, and the rule remained with his brothers. After Constans had reigned for two years, he also died, and Constantius, their brother, was left [in control of] the entire realm and the governance. He took the entire realm of the Romans and ruled over them. The realm was established under his control in the year 654 of the era of the Greeks…. (etc)

The new material is 16 pages in translation, so not a small discovery.  It renders obsolete much of the existing scholarship.  The authors discuss the date of the Julian Romance.  They make clear a word-for-word connection with the Miscellaneous Chronicle of 640, which therefore kicks the date of composition back from the early 6th century well into the 7th, and locates events around the reign of Heraclius.

It’s a fine article, and a wonderful discovery for 2023.  It goes to show that there is still stuff out there!  Never assume that even a well-studied and major collection has any idea about what is on their shelves.  The age of discovery is not over.  It just requires effort, and a bit of luck.

The discovery also shows the huge value of digitisation of manuscripts.  The Vatican have the best programme for mass digitisation known to me.  But isn’t it time that some other major manuscript libraries did the same?


Working out the manuscript affinities from a collation

Yesterday I finally finished collating the 4 editions and a selected 12 manuscripts of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.  This gives me a Word .docx file with every line of the text, the collation beneath it, and my translation under that.  In the left margin, it gives me a list of significant-looking variants:

I’ve had to recollate the early chapters, because I got better at this as I went on, and the earlier stuff needed to be redone, extra manuscripts added etc.

The text still contains a lot of working notes.  I have already found that it is a mistake to remove these too early.  Keep them to the last, and then remove them all as a specific activity, rather than along the way.

But then the question arises: how do I analyse this data in order to get a stemma out of it?  It’s too big, and I can’t get my head around it.

After some thought, I decided to create an Excel spreadsheet and process the supposedly significant variants into it.  This morning I did so.  I found that this required some intervention.  Actually I had to “simplify” some of the variants as I put them in.  Because unique variants are most likely errors, or mistakes, of no special meaning.  It’s the stuff in common that you need.  So where 3 manuscripts have “meritis” and the 4th has “et meritis”, and the 5th was “procul”, I entered the first 4 all up as “meritis”.

I also ignored variants that were merely endings.  The truth is that all the ending variants probably arise from scribes misreading abbreviations.  There’s just so many!

I then put a column for each manuscript, and put them in.  In the end I only had 19 locations where the text gave clear divergence into families.  On each row I coloured one set of readings in red, and another set in black, just so I could see the groupings (because you just try skim-reading “vocitatur” and “vocaretur”!).  Where a manuscript didn’t have that part of the text, I indicated with hatching.

The result looked a bit like this, except that M was originally on the left and C on the right.

As soon as I did this, I could see the PQO group, and the BGD group, which I was aware of anyway. I drew the vertical black lines to separate the groups.

Then I did some rearranging.  M, which I had thought isolated, I moved to be with W.  C, which I sort of thought was related to O, was now obviously part of the PQO group, so I moved that.

All the same some things do not jump out.  I’d already found that G is actually a copy of B in the first 6 chapters, but then switches to a copy of D!    Indeed the layout on the page is identical.  But that does not jump out from that table.  I’m fairly sure that I can eliminate G.

So … have I learned much?  A bit more than I knew before, perhaps.  But clearly I have a long way to go.


20th century annotations in the margins of a Darmstadt manuscript

This evening I was looking at a manuscript – specifically Darmstadt 344, written in the 3rd quarter of the 11th century (catalogue here, online here).  I have a PDF of the manuscript – sadly monochrome, but quite readable – and I started to look for what is “chapter 14” of the life of St Nicholas, which ought to be in here somewhere.  A few miracle stories appeared, and I started adding bookmarks for each.  And then…

… then I rubbed my eyes, and wondered.  For there were Arabic numbers against each miracle story!  Very familiar numbers!

Because these are the BHL numbers for each miracle story – the identification number in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina.  This was published in 1900.  So these are modern.

It’s not a surprise to find medieval or early modern marginalia.  But who on earth in 1900 thought that it was appropriate to write on the manuscript itself?!  Some scholarly twit or other, evidently.


Plutei manuscripts online at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, but … not useful

UPDATE: A comment below informs me that the address for the BML is currently the rather awkward https://tecabml.contentdm.oclc.org/.  If you use the search box at top right and enter Plut.20.2, you will get to the manuscript details, and there is an icon to view the images in Mirador.  The site does now feature an IIIF interface.

Quite by accident, while googling for a Latin incipit, my attention was drawn to MS. Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 20.2.  Not, of course, to the online manuscript itself, which remained resolutely hidden to my Google search.  But rather to the MirabileWeb page, here.

From this I learned much about this hitherto unknown (to me) manuscript.  I did not learn the date of the manuscript – who needs to know that, eh?! – but I did learn that the 6th item in the book – a legendary for the whole year -, on folios “9-16”, is none other than the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  It’s not even listed in the Bollandist BHLMs, but it’s a manuscript of our text alright, and a jolly nice one.

But is it online?  Well, who knows?  The digital library for the BML is at http://mss.bmlonline.it/, and it is as user-friendly as a cornered rat.  I selected manuscript, Plutei, asked for more shelfmarks, and was able to find Plut.20.2, displayed with an obviously temporary address, as a mass of unreadable thumbnails.  The site also told me that the manuscript is 11th century.  So it’s a (capital letters on) Manuscript Of Significant Interest to us.

What I actually needed was way simpler:  I needed http://mss.bmlonline.it/Catalogo.aspx?Shelfmark=Plut.20.2  Now that’s a great URL address!  It’s simple, and it’s obvious.  Someone at the BML site is on the ball!  But I didn’t find any indication that this was the url on the site itself.  I only discovered this trick accidentally while messing around with Google.

At least I now know how to find BML manuscripts online.

Now into the images.  There’s no IIIF interface that I could see, so we are reliant on whatever browser the library staff (who won’t be using it themselves) care to give us.

At first sight it’s not too bad.

That’s a very nice, clearly written manuscript – all good – and all we need now is to download the part of it that I want.

Which you can’t do.  No PDF download.

My next thought was whether I could get individual images – I only need a dozen pages – but no luck here either.  There is a “download” of individual pages, if you right-click on them, except that it doesn’t do anything useful.  All it gives you is a screen grab of whatever is on the screen – either a tiny image, or part of an image.  No dice.

So I can’t actually work effectively with this manuscript, or consult it unless I want RSI from all the dragging and squinting.  The BML ought to talk to the Austrians at manuscripta.at, if they want to force researchers to use their site.

In fairness this is clearly version 1.0 of the site.  It’s hardly usable, but it’s still better than nothing.  I can’t seriously work with the manuscript through that dreadful interface, nor can anybody else.  But no doubt things will change.


Searching for BHL 6173 and 6175 (Part 5) – the “Magnum Legendarium Austriacum”

Our two fragments of story of St Nicholas, BHL 6173 and 6175, originate from a early 12th century sermon on St Nicholas by Honorius of Augustodunensis.  But not directly.

In the late 12th century somebody created a massive 4-volume collection of material about the saints, in saint’s day order.  Each volume contained 3 months of the year.  The manuscripts that survive are all held in Austrian collections, and so it is known as the Magnum Legendarium Austriacum, or MLA for short.  There is in fact a substantial Austrian website devoted to this text, which may be found here.  It even has a page on each saint; Nicholas is here, and even links to an early edition for the Translatio text.

It looks as if Diarmuid O’Riain is the scholar currently at work on the MLA, and his very useful “New Investigation” paper is online at Academia here.  He also has a CV here, (with quite possibly the worst photograph I have ever seen on any academic CV ever!), and is clearly doing good work.  Sadly his 2020 article “Neue Erkenntnisse zur Entstehung und Überlieferung des Magnum Legendarium Austriacum” here, pinpointing the abbey of Admont as the probable origin of the collection, is hidden uselessly behind a firewall.

The Magnum Legendarium Austriacum collection was detailed by Albert Poncelet, “De Magno Legendario Austriaco,” Analecta Bollandiana 17 (1898) 24–96, and the contents of the St Nicholas material may be found in appendix XXII, p.204-9.  Fortunately I have access to this.  Item 32, “Miraculum de vase aureo” (Miracle of the golden vessel) and item 34, “De imagine S. Nicolai” (The image of St Nicholas) are what the Bollandists list as BHL 6173 and 6175.  These excerpts themselves then appear independently in other manuscripts, as we have seen.

But it follows that the manuscripts of the Magnum Legendarium Austriacum will also contain our text.

One of the witnesses to this collection is held at Heiligenkreuz, mss. 11-14.  St Nicholas’ Day is December 6th, so it is the last volume in which we are interested, Heiligenkreuz 14, online here.  The website has a nice set of links to literature about the manuscript.  The St. Nicholas material is on f.57r to f. 65v.

Using the left menu to find the St. Nicholas stuff takes you to folio 57r.  Then clicking on “Scroll” takes you into a scrollable viewer.  I’m rather taking to this, much as I hate viewers, because it is so very fast.  Most online viewers are like wading through treacle.  I wish I could zoom in and out using the mouse-wheel on my mouse tho.

A bit of moving and I find our texts on f.64v and f.65.  I still can’t see how to download the individual pages from scroll view, nor how to flip back to the standard view while staying on f.64v.

Heiligenkruez 14, f.64v-65r, BHL 6173 and 6175.

Fortunately there is no need for me to do so.  I now have a text of these two pieces, based on what the text and translation that I made for Honorius Augustodunensis in my last post, and that will do for my purposes.

All the same the resources do exist at manuscripta.at to collate the manuscripts of the MLA at this point, and had I known of them sooner, I would have used them.

We’re still in the early days of manuscript websites.  Nobody quite knows how best to do this stuff.  The problem is compounded by the fact that website developers mostly have no idea about how they should be used by reseachers.  One day someone will figure out how to do it, and then everyone will go “Oh!  So that’s how it’s done!” and do likewise.  But I am quite grateful for how much is online now.  None of this work would have been possible even 5 years ago.