Searching for BHL 6173

I’ve gathered nearly 50 miracle stories of St Nicholas, using the wonderful Bibliographica Hagiographica Latina (BHL) index.  BHL 6173 (beginning “Quidam praepotens vir, accersito aurifice…“; “A certain powerful man, an accomplished goldsmith…”) is an epitome of BHL 6172, so the Bollandists did not trouble to print the text.  So I need to look at the manuscripts of BHL 6173.

Fortunately the online database, BHLms, does give four results for this text:

  • Paris BNF lat. 11570
  • Paris BNF lat. 11576
  • Heiligenkreuz SB 14
  • Melk SB C.12

The last two institutions mean nothing to me as yet, but the BNF in Paris has loads of it mss online.  Indeed I already have a download of 11570 in PDF form on my disk.  I quickly acquire 11576.  But… as I look at it, it becomes clear that the entry in BHLms for this manuscript is garbage.  Something has gone wrong, although I have no idea who to report this to.  For this is an unlisted copy of John the Deacon, BHL 6104-8, not BHL 6173.

BNF 11570 lists 4 miracle texts right at the end, on folios 253r-260r.  The last of these is BHL 6173.  But when I look at folio 253r, I find instead a copy of the Transitus of St Nicholas.  It’s supposed to be BHL 6151, “Rursus autem alio tempore altera mulier de vico Neapoleos…”.

Paris BNF lat 11750, fol. 253r.

Instead that text appears under a numeral “II” on the last line of the page.  The “transitus” appears to be a version of BHL 6154.  So the two texts, as listed in BHLms, are reversed.  This is not good news – it means that the catalogue is not reliable.

A casual search reveals that the numerals disappear, and the text becomes continuous.  Thankfully the start of each sentence is capitalised.  At fol. 260r there is nothing starting “Quidam”.  Working back, no sentence starts thus.  The text is simply not there.

The other two institutions are Austrian abbeys.  I can’t recall how to locate these for the moment. I will go off and find out!


The Alcobaca manuscripts – catalogue located, and lots online at Lisbon!

In my last post, I referred to a manuscript of the Alcobaca monastery in Portugal, number 113.  Afterwards I started to search for information.  I discovered that the modern catalogue in three volumes by Thomas L. Amos, The Fundo Alcobaça of the Biblioteca Nacional, Lisbon (1988), is online at!

  • Vol. 1 –
  • Vol. 2 –
  • Vol. 3 –

This was excellent news, and I naturally looked for manuscript 113 in volume 1.  But it wasn’t there!  The manuscripts had two numbers – a Roman number, and a modern Arabic number. The monastery was suppressed long ago and its holdings ended up in the Biblioteca Nacional, and the Arabic number is what they use.

Doing Ctrl-F in the file – ah, the excellence of searchable PDFs – revealed that my manuscript was CXIII, now 414.  So off I went to volume 3, and there it was, on page 178.  It was volume 3 of a set of homilies.

But this did not refer to St Nicholas!  So I did another Ctrl-F, and found an incipit at the back, on – by coincidence – page 414:

[Text] Nicholaus itaque ex illustri prosapia ortus …. 414: 141a-.

Fortunate for me that I had forgotten to search for “Nicolaus”, and had used “Nicho”!  And this told me that the folio was 141a.  (By now all these 1’s and 4’s were starting to get confusing!)

I then wondered whether any of these Alcobaca manuscripts were online.  There is a website:

But it is very hard to use.  It doesn’t allow you to enter shelfmark, only author, title, etc.  I searched for “V”, for Vita, and got nothing.  Then for H, for Homilies; and on the third click, I found MS 414 here.  Blessedly it has a 108Mb download and a monster 2.4Gb download!  So useful!!!  Thank you!  It is supposed to have an IIIF manifest too, but the link took me elsewhere.

[Homiliário / copiado por João Pecador]. – [Alcobaça, 1201-1300]. – [1] f., [2] f. papel, [254], [1] f. (2 colunas, 27 linhas) : pergaminho, il. color. ; 412×290 mm

But a link here was provided to the full catalogue.  Not that this said anything about Nicholas!

I downloaded the PDF and went to page 282 (i.e. folio 141 x 2), and then down a bit, and there it was!  BHL 6104, the start of John the Deacon.

Alcobaca 414, start of John the Deacon

Even better, it started Sic omnis materia, rather than the much more common materies, and someone had written in a correction.

The PDF also comes with some useful bookmarks.

But then disaster!  I tried to add a bookmark of my own and I could not!  The blessed PDF was “secured”, drat it.  Even though everything was marked “public domain”.  I can’t mark it up.

I shall poke around some more.  I might write them a polite note.  I shall try to find the IIIF manifest.

Update: The Biblissima page here gave the IIIF manifest, thankfully, even though the website did not.


It’s starting to work! – Recensio part 4

This afternoon I went to my draft text and translation, and, as per my last post, starting from the top, looked for a place in the text where the editions differed in meaning.  I did not have to go far before I found this place, on “in vocem” or “in clamationem“.

Latin and English text, working notes

To those wondering how I got this, remember that I started my task by creating an electronic text of the Falconius edition, and then translating the whole thing, one sentence at a time.  But when I had finished, I decided that the Mombritius edition text was better.  So I created an electronic text of that, and then I compared the two texts electronically (using dwdiff – but it could have been several tools).  This got me a list of differences.  Then I revised my translation to follow Mombritius.  As I went through the difference list, in order to do so, I noted down the differences that seemed significant to me.  That is, I ignored typos, spelling differences, etc., and only took those where a difference of meaning was apparent.  I noted the meaning as well!  The result was this document, which I am using to work on the text.

Verum, quia scio me penes literatissimos magistros inefficacis esse sermonis, ideo deprecor omnes, qui hujus operis studiosi lectores accesserint, ut non facillimam prorumpant inclamationem,** et me indoctum meque** judicare inertem incipiant.

Until today, I had the Mombritius text, “in vocem” here.

So, just as I did earlier, I opened up my directory of manuscripts, and I started to work my way down the files.

Screen grab of directory in Windows Explorer

Note that I’ve found it endlessly useful to include the century in the file name.

Of course each time I go looking for a passage in the PDF of the manuscripts, I add bookmarks and sticky notes to where I found it.  This does make navigation easier.  I have not attempted to mark up everything in one pass in advance.  Rather I am doing what I need to do as I need it.  After all, I can always come back!

Here is the current state of BNF lat. 2627:

Bookmarks and sticky notes in a manuscript PDF

Apologies for the size.

I found book marks by just picking up on red initials.  So in that picture, I didn’t bother to bookmark Mane itaque – because it’s not one of the main divisions in the text like Pontificalis or Praeterea.  But I could have done.

On my first pass, I added a sticky note for where I was looking at Nacta / Nactus / Notata.  Three lines down, there is “O novi iacob stropha”, from this morning.  I only add a sticky for that where there is an omission, because I always know that it’s just below the Nacta text.

Notice that the sentences in this 11th century manuscript all begin with a small capital.  The big red capitals allow you to find big places in the text.  Once you’re on the right page, the small capitals allow you to find the sentence you want.  When I was looking for these two places, I found myself looking for “Rumpe”!  Because that was a line or two above.

These little tricks all allow you to speed things up.

But back to what am doing right now.  Well, I clicked on every one of those manuscripts.  And I noted down the reading.

I started, of course, with:

** Mom. “in vocem”; Fal. “in clamationem”, crying out against; Corsi: “in cachinnationem”, in immoderate laughter.

Initially I added the manuscripts after the editions.  But actually it’s better to turn it around, and give the text, with the edition against it, and then add manuscripts on the end.

So I ended up with this:

  • “in vocem” – Mom., Lipp. Means nothing.
  • “in clamationem” or “inclamationem”, crying out against, criticism, abuse – Fal., Angers BM 802 (11th ), Balliol 216 (13th), Harley 3097 (1124), BNF lat. 196 (12th), BNF lat. 5284 (13th), BNF lat. 5308 (12th), BNF lat. 5346 (13th), BNF lat. 5624 (13th), BNF lat. 989 (10th), BNF lat. 1864 (14th), BNF lat. 2627 (11th), BNF lat. 18303 (before 968), Bruges BP 402 (13th), Cambridge CCC 9 (11th), Durham B.IV.14 (12th), Fribourg L 5 (13th), Milan P113supp (10th), Munich Clm 3711 (11th early), Orleans BM 342 (10th), Vat. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro A.5 (11th), Vat. lat. 1197 (11th), Vat. lat. 9668 (12th), Vat. reg. lat. 477 (12th), Vat. reg. lat. 496 (11th), Wien ONB 12831 (15th),

“in cachinnationem”, jeering, immoderate laughter – Corsi, Berlin theol. lat. qu.140 (11th), Linz 473 (13th), Munich Clm 12642 (14th),

Because I did this immediately after the last post, some of the manuscripts started to sound familiar!  That group at the bottom had an eccentric reading for the “O novi Iacob stropha” search too.  It’s a group, a family of manuscripts that share common errors.  This is precisely what we are looking for: a way to group manuscripts in order to get a stemma if we can.

The first collation I did took quite a while.  The one this afternoon was quicker.  This one took very little time.  Why?  Because I’m getting used to it, and developing my way of working.

Of course I am lucky to have four different early editions.  If I did not have this, if I only had one, then I would have to manually read through a manuscript PDF and manually compare it with my electronic text.  If I didn’t have an electronic text at all, I would have to transcribe one manuscript, and use that as my framework electronic text – not my final text – to translate, and on which to hang readings, in order to analyse the text.

I am rather enjoying this!  Maybe I’ll look for another passage next!


O novam Jacob stropham! – Recensio part 3

The earliest printed editions of a text are often merely a printed version of some manuscript that the editor had to hand; or are based on a prior edition, plus readings from such a manuscript.  In some cases all the manuscripts were destroyed afterwards, and we only have the printed edition.  This is the case with  Velleius Paterculus, and also with Tertullian’s De ieiunio.  So these editions are a “manuscript witness”.

I’ve scanned four such editions of John the Deacon to Microsoft Word, and carried out a machine comparison.  There are quite a few differences.  But in order to establish a “family tree” of manuscripts, which differences are significant?

At the moment I have two tentative guidelines.  They may be wrong, but it’s what I have.

  1.  The scribes do not care all that much whether they put down “at”, “et”, “ac” or “atque” – all of which mean “and” – regardless of which was actually in the text in front of them.  So “variants” which mean the same thing are not really useful to us.  What we need is a difference in the text which has a real difference in meaning.
  2.   Because the endings of so many words are abbreviated in medieval copies – “ū” for “um”, etc – these variants may not be significant either.  Let’s not spend a lot of time over “explicare” vs “explicarem”.

The next real variant is not much further down the text from the last one.  At the dead of night, St Nicholas has secretly visited the house of the poor man, tossed a bag of gold through the window, and secretly disappeared.  So now, time for a quick comparison with a biblical figure! The text continues:

O novi Jacob stropha!**  Ille commentatus est, qualiter Laban, mercedem non amitteret; hic autem, ut coelestibus non privaretur commodis.

O the trick of the new Jacob!**  The former devised it, with Laban, to avoid losing his wages; but the latter,  to avoid being deprived of heavenly rewards­.

The reference is to Genesis 30:32-3, where Laban agrees to pay Jacob for looking after his sheep by allowing him to keep any offspring that are striped; but, trickily, Laban gives him only monochrome sheep.  Jacob gets round this by putting branches of various colours in the drinking troughs, which cause the sheep to produce vari-coloured offspring.  By his trickery, Jacob gets the wages that he was promised.  St Nicholas, by his own strategem, gets the heavenly reward promised to those who do good in secret.  It’s not a great comparison, but there’s no doubt that this is what John is attempting to say.

The first three words of the text, however, vary in some interesting ways.  I only have 46 manuscripts at the moment, but here are the readings:

  • O novam Jacob stropham. — Mombritius (1477), Lippomano (1553)
  • O pueri Jacob stropham.  (what?!) — Falconius (1751)
  • O nova Jacob stropha. — Corsi, based on Berlin theol. lat. qu. 140 (11th c.), BNF lat. 5284 (13th c.), BNF lat. 5308 (12th), BNF lat. 5345 (13th), Vat. lat. 1271 (12th c.), Bruges BP 402.
  • O novi iacob stropha. — BNF lat. 2627 (11th c.), BNF lat. 18303 (=early 10th c), Angers BM 802 (11th c.)  Balliol 216 (13th c.), BNF lat 196 (12th c.), BNF lat. 1864 (14th c.), BNF lat. 3791 (12th c.), BNF lat. 3809A (15th c.), BNF lat. 5572 (11thc), BNF lat. 5573 (12th c.), Durham B.IV.14 (12th), Fribourg L 5 (13th c.),  Milan P113 supp. (10th c.), Munich Clm 3711 (11th), Orleans BM 342 (10th c.), Vatican Arch.Cap.S.Pietro A.5 (11th c.), Vat. lat. 9668 (12th), Vat. reg. lat. 477 (12th), Vat. reg. lat. 496 (11th c.), Vienna ONB 12831 (15th c.)
  • O novi iacob tropha — BNF lat. 1765 (13th c.)
  • Omitted: clamque discessit is followed directly by Mane itaque, omitting the whole digression. Vat. lat. 5696 (11th c.), Vat. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro A.3 (12th c.)
  • Omitted: clamque discessit is followed directly by Hic est magister bone, omitting two sentences, but retaining some of the digression, then Mane itaque.  Vienna ONB 416 (12th c.), Klosterneuburg 701 (14th), Linz 473  (13th c.) – The Linz manuscript is a contaminated text, however, containing material from BHL 6118.  Munich Clm 12642 (14th).
  • . Vat. lat. 5696 (11th c.), Vat. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro A.3 (12th c.)

A couple of oddities:

  • BNF lat. 989 (10th c.) is impossible to read, but the last word is stropha.
  • Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 9: O novi iacob stropha, but, above the “i” in novi there also appears an “a”.

Now by chance I got some help from a google search.  I wasn’t familiar with the word “stropha”, a strategem or trick.  Googling the words above produced a passage about this in Jerome’s “Hebrew Questions on Genesis”, (Quaest.Heb Ad Gen.30.32-3):

Itaque Iacob novam stropham commentus est, et contra naturam albi et nigri pecoris, naturali arte pugnavit.

Jacob therefore invented a new trick, and by natural art fought against the nature of the white and black cattle.

There’s an awful lot of the same words in there, isn’t there?  Although they’re doing different things.   This perhaps explains why we find all those accusatives like stropham in our text.  Quite possibly they are the result of the copyist being more familiar with Jerome than with John the Deacon. On seeing the unfamiliar text, the copyist “normalised” it.  Jerome has “Jacob” as a nominative, the subject of the verb in his sentence.  But it can’t be the same in John the Deacon.

“Iacob” is indeclinable, so we could read the genitive, sometimes as “Iacobi”, “of Jacob”.  The sense is that Nicholas is the new Jacob.  So “novi” and “Jacobi” would agree.  We end up with (in English word order) stropha novi Jacobi, “the strategem of the new Jacob”.

Of course I only have a selection of manuscripts.  But all the same, it’s clearly necessary to look at them.


From my diary

Another couple of manuscripts were located today, and the relevant portions downloaded.

Today I worked out how to download manuscripts from the Austrian National Library in Vienna, and indeed wrote a little post on how.  One of these is listed in the Bollandists website; the other is not, and contains only one part of the text, BHL 6105.  Indeed it seems as if the text has more or less dissolved into the mass of Nicholas material in circulation by that date.

The other two were both from Britain.  Curiously I found the details that I needed using Google searches, and located the IIIF manifests.  The first one I had seen before, but not known how to access the page images.  The second one I knew nothing of until today.

It’s really a case of hitting Google, hitting the websites, trying out different forms of the author’s name – today I tried “Jean le diacre” rather than “John the Deacon”, which gave me the second hit.  It’s really very random a lot of the time.



How to download a manuscript at the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

This is for all you non-German speakers out there.  Yes, it is indeed possible to download a PDF of manuscripts at the ONB in Vienna!

All the fully-digitised manuscripts for the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek are listed on a page here:  (The link doesn’t look very permanent, so you might have to search at  [Update: drill down from]

But it is very useful to have them all on one page!  Ctrl-F to find the manuscript you want by number.

Here’s a screen-grab of the top of the page:

Click on the manuscript you want.  I’ve highlighted ONB 6.  Here’s the next page:

What you want is the “Volldigitalisat” – “Fully digitised”.  Click on the “Quicksearch” link:

I had to use Chrome’s automatic translate facility to work out which, if any of this, was relevant.  It’s “Online-Zugriff”.  Click there.  That will take you down the page, to somewhere seemingly random:

Clicking on “Digitales Objeckt” will, at last, take you to the online manuscript.

Right-click on the image, and the menu above will appear.  This contains the exciting words “Objekt herunterladen” – “Download Object”.  If you click on this, you will be prompted to download a PDF of the “Gesamtes Objekt” – the whole thing.

Marvellous!  Well done the ONB.  Now I can mark up the PDF and do some work on the manuscript.

Update, 11 March 2023: the website has now changed, and none of this now works.  There is a download link on the manuscript itself, but this does not seem to work.  If anybody knows where they have hidden the link, please add a comment.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

explorer.exe .

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

dwdiff draft1.txt draft2.txt

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

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

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

There were also some useful options:

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

So I thought I’d have a go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dwdiff falconius.txt mombritius.txt > myop2.txt

Then I opened myop2.txt in Notepad++.

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

The result looked as follows:

Output from dwdiff
Falconius edition vs Mombritius edition

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

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

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

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

dwdiff no-common output

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

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

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

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

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


Fragment of unknown work by Apuleius discovered in Verona

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


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

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

Google Translate:

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

How to find a specific manuscript call number BNF.

Update: Nov. 2022.  The step 2 doesn’t work but the department de manuscrits page is here.

Update: August 2023:  The diagram comes from here and was made by “profdiberjones”, @diber.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only he had stayed away from Bobbio!