The discovery of Manichaean literature at Medinat Madu

There is an excellent and delightful article on this here, which I thoroughly recommend.  I can’t wait for the next part, on the Turfan discoveries!

For those interested, I have some rather dry notes on the discovery of the Medinat Madu codices here.


British Library to digitise all its Greek manuscripts

An announcement on the British Library manuscripts blog here tells us:

Phase two of the British Library’s project to digitise all of its ca. 1,000 Greek manuscripts is now well under way. This phase — also generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation) — will digitise and make publicly available a further 250 manuscripts, adding to the 284 manuscripts digitised in phase one. We are currently about half way through this second phase and plan to publish the digitised manuscripts in batches during the rest of this year on our Digitised Manuscripts viewer.

A new batch of manuscripts has now been published online, and contains 24 manuscripts ranging in date from the tenth to the nineteenth centuries.

Most of us would rather have PDF’s, of course, than this awkward “viewer”.

But it is excellent news indeed that the BL has decided to digitise all its Greek manuscripts, and SNF deserve considerable thanks for making it possible.

There doesn’t seem to be a list of the new mss available, tho.

Another interesting announcement of the same kind is that medieval and early modern “scientific” mss will be digitised:

… the British Library has embarked on a project to digitise some of its most prestigious medieval and early modern scientific manuscripts. Funded by a generous private donation, the project will supply complete coverage of selected items from the Harley collection, augmented by revised catalogue records for the books in question.

Medieval and early modern manuscripts are vital for transmitting ancient scientific thought to the modern world.

Evidently not by the same donor, but this too is welcome.  For many ancient technical works remain unpublished and inaccessible.  This may help quite a bit.


R.J.Hoffmann on “Movement humanism”, while Mary Beard writes against attempt to limit smut for kiddies

Two interesting posts came in via my RSS feed.

The first, via eChurch blog, is by atheist R.J.Hoffmann, and entitled Movement Humanism.  What he describes is what most of us experience, when we encounter atheists or atheist writing:

While often claiming the protective cloak of science and reason as their aegis for intellectual rectitude, movement humanism was really all about creating straw-men, stereotypes and bogeymen and unfortunately came to believe in its own anti-religion discourse. …

To be blunt, movement humanism with its straw men and reductive techniques, its stereotyping and bogeymen, is not just stuck in the past but stuck in a religious past of its own making. It is a past that an authentic and fully inclusive humanism would want to reject. It is a past that many religious thinkers have already rejected.

That many of these headbanger atheists are precisely this kind of animal — the religious bigot — is what some of us have observed for some time.  The main religious hate one will encounter online is from atheists. 

This can come as a shock to those of us whose encounter with older atheism was in the form of J. S. Mill.  Such a realisation from a modern atheist like Hoffmann can only be welcome.

Less welcome is an article from classicist Mary Beard, who writes for the Times.  In Young minds … and the dirty bits (in Aristophanes), we get the following observations.

Of course, you will object, sexualised clothing and sexualised images near schools are not the same thing as the naughty bits in an ancient Greek dramatist. In some ways they are not — and in some ways they are. Both of them, in their different ways, are a nice illustration of the “BAN IT” culture that we have come to accept. If you dont like something, if you think — even more –that its presence could harm young minds and bodies, then BAN IT — as if that was effective, and the only strategy of change that there was.

Isn’t this cute?  Doesn’t it remind you of the hippy age?  Haven’t we all heard this kind of things for decades, as an excuse for filth?

The arguments all seem rather empty, to me.  We live in the age of the “Human Rights Commission”.  We know of writers like Ezra Levant dragged through legal proceedings for expressing an opinion.  We know of Christian street preachers lured by gay agents provocateurs to condemn unnatural vice and then denounced to the police.  Every week brings a new report of some family whose breadwinner has lost his job because he accidently expressed a non-politically correct opinion.  We live in an age of Stalinist-style repression of free speech.  But none of this features in the post.

Those who write like this — I don’t know about Dr. B personally — are almost never opposed to a BAN IT culture.  They’re in favour of it, so long as it is under their control, and will happily defend the most outrageous Gestapo-like tactics.  They object to the ban on filth because it is not a ban that they have advanced and feel comfortable that they control.

Heaven forbid, it might lead to condemnation of themselves.


How long were ancient manuscripts used?

An interesting but unsatisfying post at Ben Witherington, actually by Larry Hurtado: How long were ancient manuscripts used?

George W. Houston, “Papyrological Evidence for Book Collections and Libraries in the Roman Empire,” in Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, ed. William A. Johnson and Holt N. Parker (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 233-67.

One matter Houston addresses is how long manuscripts appear to have been in use.   On the basis of manuscripts from Oxyrhynchus and from Herculaneum in particular, Houston notes numerous examples of manuscripts discarded when they were ca. 2-3 centuries old.  Overall, he judges that the evidence indicates “a useful life of between one hundred and two hundred years for a majority of the volumes, with a significant minority lasting two hundred years or more” (p. 251).  And, as he notes, the evidence from Qumran leads to a similar view.

This would tally with the sort of evidence we get in Aulus Gellius, of manuscripts of the time of Cicero or Vergil being available.  A set of literary testimonia would be useful, I think.

I’ve found the book, and the article appears to be a very useful one, packed full of data and intelligently analysed.

H/t Jim Davila at Paleojudaica.


An article on the life and works of the Coptic saint Pisentios

Dioscorus Boles has written an excellent article on one of the Coptic Fathers: An aid to the study of St. Pisentios, bishop of Coptos: his life and two famous letters.  Even the most detailed patrologies give little information about this 7th century Father, but his life and letters are important among the Coptic Fathers. 

Dioscorus has linked to the primary sources, in several languages, and English and French translations.  The first letter is an exhortation to his flock not to convert to Islam; the second belongs to Coptic apocalyptic literature. 

Very useful – thank you!


What did the Romans eat? – by N. S. Gill

The ancient history blog by N. S. Gill at is in my RSS reader, so I see the posts there.  For some time I have noticed that the posts have begun to be very useful indeed, and, better yet, well-referenced!  That is such an improvement on the posts that I saw in former times.  It may be, if you have got into the habit of skipping the posts there, that you might wish to revisit the site.

Today’s post is What did the Romans eat?  If you can avoid the adverts embedded on all sides, it actually is a splendid piece of work.  It consists of a series of references to ancient food writers, with a summary of what they have to say, and even links to online versions of the text.  It positively shoves the reader at the data.  And this, of course, is what every classical blogger should seek to do; to breed in his readers the habit of asking to see the raw data for any statement  made.

The article is very short, of course — they all are.  The secondary reference at the end will be sound, I have no doubt.

Some of the authors referenced are not online.  Galen, inevitably, is not.  Apicius is online in Latin, but no link is given to an English version, although I find that the excellent Bill Thayer has tracked one down and placed it online here.  There is no facility to add comments to the post at, or I would have linked it there too.

I don’t know that many of us would write an article on Roman food.  Well done, N.S.Gill, for doing so.


Cyber-attacks on Lacus Curtius

I learn from the New at LacusCurtius & Livius blog that there have been another round of attacks on the Lacus Curtius site, hosted at the University of Chicago.

For those who do not know it — and why on earth do you NOT know it? — it is the personal site of Bill Thayer, which contains a very great quantity of classical texts in the original and in translation, plus secondary material from encyclopedias, backed with notes of great learning by Bill himself, and diaries of his own journeys in Tuscany and Umbria.  It is, in short, one of the great treasures of the classical internet, and not nearly mentioned enough on this site or others.  The University of Chicago is to be commended to making it possible for this site to be there.

Bill writes:

Lacus has been down since about 2130 GMT. James [the sysadmin] tells me that the problems are getting worse and worse, constant attack from spoofed servers, usually traceable to China, but also to Russia and Brazil. We try to ban wide chunks of the world from getting to us, allowing access only to the civilized world, but decreasing success.

That also means you can’t reach me by e-mail, except those of you who have my GMail address. The immediate problem should be fixed tomorrow by around 1400 GMT; but it’s only a matter of time before we’ll have to shut down; with any luck, move to a server with more robust security measures.

I’m tired of terrorists, cyber and otherwise, whether Arabs or Chinese or whatever. Malevolent fools, who can’t produce anything, but can spoil things for the rest of us, like small puking children.

I have split the last paragraph so that I can comment on the last bit.  I entirely share his sentiments.  For no-one could possibly have a rational reason to attack so innocuous and so charming a site as Lacus Curtius, and it is hard to believe any civilised person would do so.  If they did, the laws of our land would deal with them.

I remember days when anonymity was merely an incidental effect of using charming “handles” chosen for amusement.  Too often, these days, anonymity is deliberate and intentional, and practised for the same reason that criminals prefer to be anonymous.

Too many people online are criminals, in truth.  They are criminals in every sense other than the technicality that a law prohibits it.  Some of them, indeed, have no compunction about illegality either.

The key element in a criminal is that he is someone who will do without hesitation whatever he thinks he can get away with.  The criminal acts without the slightest regard for whether someone else is injured thereby.  That is what makes a criminal, from the smallest vandal to the greatest banking fraudster in the world.  And they are on the increase in the world today.

I have myself been the victim of such people, determined to “get their way”, and indifferent to right and wrong.  Indeed I have been forced to give up editing Wikipedia because of several months of harassment by a pair of youths acting in just such a manner.  I believe those attacking me to be Pakistanis, looking at some of the articles they edited.  Their conduct was of precisely this kind.  Rules were there to be gamed, not followed.

But if so, we have to ask why Wikipedia is open to editing by the scum of the earth?  Why do people like ourselves have to fight to inform, in the face of those interested only in getting  their own way?  It is, in truth, because the borders of the civilised world have been opened too widely, and so people like Bill and I end up acting as border control policemen, but without the resources of the state.

It is an illusion, although a generous one, to suppose that “people are the same everywhere.”  Those who planted bombs on airliners on 9/11 showed this was false.  Many of the inhabitants of many countries are criminals, by the above definition; and if we give them access to our lands, our websites, our social networks, they will not contribute whatever they know.  Instead they will simply use them as opportunities for plunder and savagery.

Let us wish Bill and James well, and hope that they will soon be sorted out.


Montaigne’s tower and other delights

Just a quick note on a piece that I have found on Laudator Temporis Acti, Montaigne’s tower.  It is always good to find a blog which is a scrapbook of fascinating stuff.  After reading The foundation of all Greek scholarship, I found this, invoking the spirit of the French essayist Montaigne:

Geoffrey Grigson, Montaigne’s Tower:

Was it really here, in this tiled room
In this tower that Montaigne wrote?
I hope that it was so. Never was there
A place better for recalling, I would say —
For being benign and wise, for loving
In words. I see him back a chair
Across these tiles, and stand and stretch, and then
Descend this newel stair, and going
Slowly as if arthritically outside.
He looks down, with feeling he sees again
How exceedingly sweet is this meadowed
Small valley below and how half-reddening
Vines in such a light cast straight
Black bars of shadow in row after row.