Caesar’s reform of the calendar – some ancient sources

Plutarch, Caesar 59:

59. 1. The adjustment of the calendar, however, and the correction of the irregularity in the computation of time, were not only studied scientifically by him, but also brought to completion, and proved to be of the highest utility.

2. For not only in very ancient times was the relation of the lunar to the solar year in great confusion among the Romans, so that the sacrificial feasts and festivals, diverging gradually, at last fell in opposite seasons of the year, 3. but also at this time people generally had no way of computing the actual solar year; the priests alone knew the proper time, and would suddenly and to everybody’s surprise insert the intercalary month called Mercedonius.

4. Numa the king is said to have been the first to intercalate this month, thus devising a slight and short-lived remedy for the error in regard to the sidereal and solar cycles, as I have told in his Life.

5. But Caesar laid the problem before the best philosophers and mathematicians, and out of the methods of correction which were already at hand compounded one of his own which was more accurate than any. This the Romans use down to the present time, and are thought to be less in error than other peoples as regards the inequality between the lunar and solar years.

6. However, even this furnished occasion for blame to those who envied Caesar and disliked his power. At any rate, Cicero the orator, we are told, when some one remarked that Lyra would rise on the morrow, said: “Yes, by decree,” implying that men were compelled to accept even this dispensation.

Macrobius, Saturnalia, bk 1, ch. 14:[1]

2. Subsequently, however, since there was thus inconsistency in the marking of the times and seasons but all was still vague and uncertain, Gaius Caesar introduced a clearly defined arrangement of the calendar, with the help of a clerk named Marcus Flavius, who provided the dictator with a list of the several days so arranged that their order could be easily found and, that order once found, the position of each day would remain constant.

3. Caesar therefore began the new arrangement of the calendar by using up all the days which could still have caused confusion, with the result that the last of the years of uncertainty was prolonged to one of four hundred and forty-three days. Then, copying the Egyptians – the only people who fully understood the principles of astronomy – he endeavored to arrange the year to conform to the duration of the course of the sun, which it takes three hundred and sixty-five days and a quarter to complete.

4. For just as the lunar cycle is the month, since the moon takes rather less than a month to make a circuit of the zodiac, so the solar cycle must be reckoned by the number of days which the sun takes to turn again to that sign of the zodiac from which it began its course. That is why the common year is styled the “turning” year and is held to be the “great” year (since the lunar cycle is thought of as the “short” year),  5. and Vergil has combined these two descriptions of the solar year in the line:

Meanwhile the sun completes the turning of the great year. [Aeneid 3. 284]

It is for this reason that Ateius Capito too thinks that the word “year” (annus) is to be explained as a circuit of time; namely, because of old an used to stand for “around,” as, for example, where Cato in his Origins writes: “Let the plough be driven around the boundary,” using an instead of circum; or when we say ambire
for circumire.

6. Julius Caesar therefore added ten days to the old arrangement of the calendar, in order that the year might consist of the three hundred and sixty-five days which the sun takes to pass through the zodiac; and, to allow for the remaining quarter of a day, he ordained that the priest in charge of the months and days should insert one day every fourth year in that month, and in that part of it, in which of old an intercalary month used to be inserted, that is to say, immediately before the last five days of February. This intercalary day he ordered to be called bissextus [as doubling the sixth day before the Kalends of March].

7. The arrangement to distribute the ten additional days to which I have referred was as follows: January, Sextilis, and December received two days each, and April, June, September, and November one each. No addition was made to the month of February, lest changes in connection with the worship of the gods below might result; and March, May, Quintilis, and October remained as they had been of old, because they already had the full complement of thirty-one days apiece.

8. And, since Caesar made no change in these four months, they also have the Nones on the seventh day, as laid down by Numa. But in January, Sextilis, and December, the months to which Caesar added two days apiece, although after his reforms each for the first time had thirty-one days, nevertheless the Nones come on the fifth day and the Kalends that follow return on the nineteenth day after the Ides, because Caesar would not insert the additional days before either the Nones or the Ides for fear that an unprecedented postponement by two days (which would be the result of such change) might interfere with religious ceremonies appointed to be held on a day fixed in relation to the Nones or Ides.

9. Nor yet would he insert the additional days immediately after the Ides for fear of disturbing appointed rest days, but a place was not made for them in any month until the celebration of the rest days held in that
month had been completed. Thus in January the allotted days to which we refer were the fourth and third days before the Kalends of February; in April, the sixth day before the Kalends of May; in June, the third day before the Kalends of July; in August, the fourth and third day before the Kalends of September; in September, the third day before the Kalends of October; in November, the third day before the Kalends of December; and in December, the fourth and third days before the Kalends of January.

10. Consequently, although, before this reform, in all the months to which days were added the Kalends of the following months returned on the seventeenth day after the Ides; afterward, as the result of the additions, the Kalends returned on the nineteenth day after the Ides in the months which received two days and on the eighteenth in the months which received one.

11. In each month, however, rest days kept their appointed places. For example, if the third day after the Ides was generally observed as a festival or a rest day and used formerly to be known as the sixteenth day before the following Kalends, even after the number of days in the month had been increased, the religious observance remained unchanged and the ceremony was still held on the third day after the Ides, although (in consequence of an increase in the number of days in the month) the day was no longer the sixteenth day before the following Kalends but the seventeenth, if one day had been added to the month, and the eighteenth, if two days had been added.

12. That is why Caesar inserted the new days, in each case, toward the end of the month, at a time when all the rest days in the month were found to be over. Moreover, he caused these additional days to be marked in the calendar as fasti, so as to make more time available for legal business; and he not only arranged that all these days should be such days of legal business but also that none should be a day on which an assembly might be held, his intention being that this increase in the number of the days should not add to a magistrate’s power to exercise undue influence.

13. Caesar’s regulation of the civil year to accord with this revised measurement was proclaimed publicly by edict, and the arrangement might have continued to stand had not the correction itself of the calendar led the priests to introduce a new error of their own; for they proceeded to insert the intercalary day, which represented the four quarter-days, at the beginning of each fourth year instead of at its end, although the intercalation ought to have been made at the end of each fourth year and before the beginning of the fifth.

14. This error continued for thirty-six years, by which time twelve intercalary days had been inserted instead of the number actually due, namely, nine. But, when this error was at length recognized, it too was corrected, by an order of Augustus that twelve years should be allowed to pass without an intercalary day, since a sequence of twelve such years would account for those three days too many which, in the course of the thirty-six years, had been introduced by the premature action of the priests.

15. After that, one intercalary day, as ordered by Caesar, was to be inserted at the beginning of every fifth year, and the whole of this arrangement of the calendar was to be engraved on a bronze tablet, to ensure that it should always be observed.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, bk. 18:

56.  There follows the question postponed to this place, a question that needs very careful consideration – that of the proper date for sowing the crops; it is in a large degree connected with astronomy, and consequently we will begin by setting out the views of all authors in regard to it. …

57. First of all it is almost impossible to explain the system of the actual days of the year and that of the movement of the sun, because to the 365 days an intercalary year adds a quarter of a day and of a night, and consequently definite periods of the stars cannot be stated. In addition to this there is the admitted obscurity of the facts, as sometimes the specification of the seasons runs in advance, and by a considerable number of days … , whereas at other times it comesbehind … and in general the influence of the heavens falls down to the earth in one place more quickly and in another place more slowly; this is the cause of the remark we commonly hear on the return of fine weather, that a constellation has been completed.  Moreover although all these things depend on stars that are stationary and fixed in the sky, there intervene movements of stars and hailstorms and rain, these also having no inconsiderable effect, as we have shown, and they disturb the regularity of the expectation that has been conceived. …

Additional difficulty has also been caused by authors through their observations having been taken in different regions, and because in the next place they actually publish different results of observations made in the same regions. But there were three main schools, the Chaldaean, the Egyptian and the Greek; and to these a fourth system was added in our own country by Caesar during his dictatorship, who with the assistance of the learned astronomer Sosigenes brought the separate years back into conformity with the course of the sun – and this theory itself was afterwards corrected (when an error a had been found), so as to dispense with an intercalary day for a period of twelve successive years, for the reason that the year which had previously been getting in advance of the constellations had begun to lag behind in relation to them.

Both Sosigenes himself in his three treatises – though more careful in research than the other writers he nevertheless did not hesitate to introduce an element of doubt by correcting his own statements – and also other authors whose names we prefixed to this volume have published these theories, although it is seldom that the opinions of any two of them agree.

… the morning setting of the Pleiads is given by Hesiod – for there is extant an astronomical work that bears his name also – as taking place at the close of the autumnal eqninox, whereas Thales puts it on the 5th day after the equinox, Anaximander on the 30th, Euctemon on the 44th, and Eudoxus on the 48th.   We follow the observation of Caesar specially: this will be the formula for Italy; but we will also state the views of others, …

70.  From midwinter till the west wind blows the important stars that mark the dates, according to Caesar’s observations, are – the Dogstar setting at dawn on December 30, the day on which the Eagle is reported to set in the evening for Attica and the neighbouring regions; on January 4 according to Caesar’s observations the Dolphin rises at dawn and the next day the Lyre, the Arrow setting in the evening on the same day for Egypt …

75. Between the period of west wind and the spring equinox, February 16 for Caesar marks three days of changeable weather, as also does February 22 by the appearance of the swallow and on the next day the rising of Arcturus in the evening, and the same on March 5 – Caesar noticed that this bad weather took place at the rising of the Crab, but the majority of the authorities put it at the setting of the Vintager – on March 8 at the rising of the northern part of the Fish, and on the next day at the rising of Orion; in Attica it is noticed that the constellation Kite appears. Caesar also noted March 15 – the day that was fatal to him – as marked by the setting of the Scorpion, but stated that on March 18 the Kite becomes visible in Italy and on March 21 the Horse sets in the morning.  …

I’ve added a little more from Pliny than strictly necessary, as it indicates that Caesar’s calendar was not merely what we think of as the Julian calendar, but comprised a whole series of astronomical notations, for the purpose of crop management.  No doubt Sosigenes compiled these, but it is interesting to see them.

  1. [1]Translated by Percival Vaughan Davies, Columbia University Press, 1969.

Detlefsen on the “indices” of Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History”

Pliny the Elder states, at the end of his preface to his Natural History, that a list of contents of the work follows.  In our modern editions this forms book 1 of the work.  The indices to each book are also found sometimes at the start of the book to which they relate.  The text of the NH was established by German scholars of the 19th century such as Sillig, Jan, Mayhoff and Detlefsen, and the only article on the transmission of these indices that I could find dates from that period.[1]  Although the author plainly does not have all the information he needs, and sometimes is less than clear, it is still quite interesting.  I have translated a large portion of that article using Google Translate, and it seems useful to give that extract below.  I cannot guarantee exact accuracy, note.  (In p.711 the technical detail became too dense for my command of German, but also less relevant to my investigation, and I was obliged to omit from there up to the top of p.716.)

Readers may find my previous post on the manuscripts of Pliny the Elder helpful.  To summarise what it said, there are the remains of 5 ancient codices, and then a mass of medieval mss.  The medieval mss. are divided into two groups, the vetustiores (=older) and recentiores (=younger).  I have not yet found a stemma for any of this.

Let us hear what Detlefsen has to say.

*    *    *    *    *

[p.701] 38a. The indices of the Naturalis Historia of Pliny.

(See above p. 284).

In connection with the earlier report on Pliny studies (p.284-337), it may be appropriate to mention a special portion of the NH, which has recently and rightly been receiving special attention, the indices.  Long neglected by scholarship, and disfigured by incredible corruptions and interpolations, they have for the first time in our own day been published by Sillig in a form that could satisfy the demands of scholarship.  How important they are for Pliny studies was demonstrated by Brunn in his useful work, de auctorum indicibus Plinianis, Bonn 1856, which on the one hand, proved from the NH that the principles of the ordering of the lists of authors arose from use intended, and on the other hand sought to determine what sources these were with more precision. Much that has come out about the results obtained so far has not been researched, although because of Jan’s edition and my own, as well as the recension of Urlich (Jahn’s Jahrb. bd. 71, 256 ff), questions raised by Jan (ibid., vol. 95, 858 f), and against Urlich’s recension of the text by Brunn (ibid., vol. 75, 336 ff) have produced better justification and new light on the subject. But work in this area is far from complete.

For us the work of Pliny is a treasure trove of notes of all kinds, of course depending on the sources of very different value, collected “ex exquisitis auctoribus centum” “lectione voluminum circiter II” (Plin. praef. 17); if we count the authors referenced by him, [p.702] the result is actually 146 Roman and 327 foreign authors. The ultimate goal of the necessary investigation must be to document in detail, what Pliny owes to each of these writers, to deconstruct his mosaic-like text into its component pieces, a process which, on the one hand, by looking at extant writers directly, can work out what has been borrowed, and on the other hand, where this is not possible, can only reach a conclusion through careful analysis.  In this connection, Brunn’s greatest service was to first make scholarly use of the indices auctorum; but I believe that the principles established by him require some modification.

Firstly, it seems to me that a careful examination of the NH. itself can show joins in the text not considered by Brunn, which may be exploited to uncover the history of the origins of the text, and which likewise may shed new light on the composition of the indices. But any investigation in this direction requires a sound basis of diplomatic corrected texts of the indices; and this correction must not refer solely to the individual words of the indices, but also on the sequence of lemmata. In that area, I confess that in my own edition I often just followed the statements of Sillig and Jan; it was difficult, almost impossible, to accurately give the many strange and rarely occurring names, particularly of plants, before the same were corrected in the text of the books from the relevant manuscripts.  However, I have tried to establish the order of the lemmata from the manuscripts more accurately than my predecessors, and you will often perceive deviations from the latter in my edition. For they had arbitrarily ordered some lemmata so that they exactly corresponded to the order in the text of the relevant books, while the manuscripts gave an entirely different order. In such cases, I have definitely followed the latter, although in some cases I do not know whether carelessness by the copyists, or by Pliny himself, or some other cause should be blamed for the inconsistency.  A repeated examination of the manuscript sources led me to ask the following questions.

For the last book of the NH., a special investigation was required to get clarity about its text tradition, different from that of the remainder of the book (see Jahn’s Jahrb. 95, 77 ff).  Likewise the data on the tradition of the first book offers special difficulties. Just like the last book, [p.703] it is either not found in most of the older manuscripts, or only partially.  It is well-known that the first and last leaves of manuscripts are particularly exposed to the rigours of time, but there is yet a further problem, that critically editing book I is one of the most difficult parts of the task of editing the NH.

However I now have far richer materials than before, provided by Sillig’s edition, and although it is now possible for me to determine the basic features of the transmission, I do not conceal from myself that further study on the manuscript tradition is desirable. From Sillig’s preface, and from his notes on book I, an insight into the outline of the tradition can only be obtained with effort.  In many places he obscured or misreported the truth, and only after lengthy collating of the manuscripts have I succeeded in discovering the key points in this part of the NH to which attention should be directed.  But very often the opportunity was lacking, and there was not enough time to examine the manuscripts a second time more precisely.  However I believe that the most important thing is to make known the preliminary results of my work, because the details are of some importance for the understanding of the transmission of the text and for the correction of it.

Sillig states in his first note on book 1 that, until the Hardouin edition of 1685, the indices as printed were simply erroneous, interpolated and spurious; and that Hardouin’s edition also suffered from careless distortions, which have caused confusion ever since.  He himself says, “Hinc neque Dalecampii neque Harduini vel Broterii editionibus in hoc indice respectis ego editionem eius, si ita dicere licet, principem feci, cuius haec ratio fuit, ut singulorum librorum indices e codi­cibus, qui eos continent et quorum sigla cuique libro apposui, ede­rem.

From this anyone without a personal knowledge of the manuscripts of Pliny would suppose that the problem is fixed.  It cannot be denied that Sillig’s edition of the indices marks a very significant degree of progress over all previous editions.  But as remarked, he has overlooked some serious problems.  He further states:  “In universum vero tenendum est in aliis codd. (Tbd = cod. Tolet. e d of my edition) hunc indicem suo loco legi et proinde primum naturalis historiae esse, in aliis (BVAp; the latter = O of my edition) ipsis libris, in aliis (Ra = RE in my ed.) et hoc loco omnibus libris et rursus singulis praemitti, ut bis in iis exstet, unde suspicio oritur paulo post Plinium exstitisse li­brarium, qui in lectorum suorum commodum indicem Plinianum [p.704] bis scriberet, semel suo loco, tunc in initio singulorum librorum.”

The three classes of manuscripts, which Sillig puts forward here are correctly distinguished, but not all the manuscripts that he cites have been classified correctly, as we shall soon see.

This study will concentrate on those manuscripts which I, in my edition, and in the article on p.284 f., on the mss. of Pliny, have named the “younger” manuscripts.  The main manuscripts of this group are the most complete that have come down to us, and the details of the transmission of the indices can be seen most clearly in them.  There is no doubt that in their archetype, X, the indices were not only united into a book which preceded the others, but also that each individual book had its respective index placed at the front of it.  This is what we find in mss. RF, and substantially in E, where book I is at least partially preserved, and we may presume that the same was originally true in D+V+G, where book I is now absent while the respective indices stand before the individual books, and the books themselves are numbered from 2-37.  (I should add that what I will show here is occasionally in conflict with my statement above, p.288 ff, that F is a direct copy of the single manuscript D+V+G, now divided into three pieces.  I have now received full collations of F and V from Leiden University, thanks to the kindness of Prof. Pluygers and Dr. du Rieu). Some significant exceptions should be noted, however.

In EF, the index for book II is not repeated at the start of the book, and no doubt it will have been the same in D and the other cited mss., where the start of book II is not preserved. The omission of this was no doubt because it had seemed superfluous to the scribe, who had already copied this index at the beginning of book I, to repeat it again before he had written even a word from the actual text of the NH.  No doubt in the archetypus X the same situation was to be seen.  But the index to book III is also missing in ED and its copy F, perhaps because here the repetition still seemed superfluous; whether it is absent in R, I have not noted, and Sillig gives no information on this. R agrees with ED, so this omission must have been found in X. Of the other peculiar omissions, in E, we will talk after we have discussed the other two classes of manuscript given by Sillig.

In both families, in the one in whose manuscripts the indices are purely collected in book I, as well as the one whose members  [p.705] completely omitted book I and where the indices are given only in the individual books, are, compared to the other younger codices, only relatively later.  To the scribes of these mss., it seemed a pointless effort to write each index twice, and they therefore soon left out the duplicate, and soon the first book.

The indices are only contained in book I, in the following descendants of E (see above p 299 ff.):  Vat. 1954, Borbon. V. A. I  and V. A. 2, Angelicus or Passionaeus, Paris. 6798, 6800, 6802, 6803, Taurin. CDLXv/vi, Luxemburg.; — in the following, probably associated with the archetype X3 (see p 303):  Borbon. V. A. 4 and Leopoldo-Laurent. CLXV; — in the following derived from F (or D+G+V) (see p. 289 ff.): Tolet., Paris. 6797, 6799, Vat. 1953, Vindob. CCXXXV; — in those probably related to R: Vat.-Palat. 1559 (see p. 295); — finally in the following manuscripts of uncertain lineage: Vat. 1951, 1952, 1955, 1956/7, 3533, Vat.-Ottob. 1593/4, Chigianus, Barberin. 758, 2303, Laurent.-S. Crucis XX sin. 1, Parmensis H. H. 1. 62, Ambros. E. 24 inf.

By contrast, in the following the indices are found only in the individual books: in the closely related to E: Vindob. a (= w in Sillig), which we will discuss in more detail below, and Vat.-Urb. 245 (see p.302 f.); — in the offspring of F (see p. 289 ff.): Laurent.-Slaglosianus, Laurent. LXXXII, 3 und 4; — and in the manuscripts of uncertain origin: Vat. 1950, Barberin. 2503, Borbon. VA. 3, Marcianus CCLXVI,
(see Sillig’s praef. p. XXI, Jan, observ. p. 11).

From this list we learn that the copyists already, from saec. XII onwards, regularly omitted one or the other copy of the indices which were duplicated in the older codices.  Certainly by far the majority of the younger manuscripts not mentioned belong to one of these two classes.  The youngest manuscript that I have recorded which provides the indices in both places is F, the eleventh century copy of D + G + V.

Let us return to the study of codex E by comparing it with the transmission of its nearest relative, Vindob. a.  We have already remarked that in E, book I was present; but the first and last leaves have been ruined with damp, are very old, and only partially readable.  Sillig makes the same observation in his editorial note.

Instead let us look at Paris. 6796 A (e in my edition), the oldest direct copy of E.  In this, the duplicate indices are missing from before books II and III, as already stated.  That before book IV is present, those before books V and VI are missing again, the one before book VII is present, although [p.706] the first half has fallen out together with the close of book VI, and been replaced by parts of the second volume added from a codex belonging to one of the vetustiores manuscript group (see. p.298). The indices are again missing before books VIII-XIII, that before book XIV is present, they are missing before books XV-XIX, and there is none before book XX either, but it is present before book XXI, and is there introduced with the following words: Libro XXI continentur; but it is not the index which belongs to this book, but rather the one for book XX.  The beginning of book XXII is now missing in E, and with it most likely its index.  That before book XXIII is present.  That before book XXIV is missing together with the start of the book.  Finally all are present for books XXV-XXXII, and the remaining books, whether they had indices or not, are no longer present in the manuscript.  (Sillig’s description of the codex is so very poor).  Apparently the presence of absence of an index before the individual books of E is random.  This naturally leads to the supposition that the original intention of he who laid out the manuscript was to write the indices only in book I, but that some of the copyists who succeeded him in the work added, here and there, an index to individual books because they found it in the original; so that for book XXII would not have been present, as originally intended.  Of course the arrival of the index for book XXI [in front of book XXII] must have happened in some other way.

Let us compare this with the tradition in codex a, the next nearest relation to E, which likewise is descended from archetype X3, but is not descended from E itself (see p.303, and Rhein. Mus. 15, 380 ff.).  From this relationship it follows that peculiarities in the tradition of the indices which are found in both must be attributed to that archetype.  One such feature is that, although the scribe of a completely omitted the indices in book I, he still often numbered the other books from 1-36, although not consistently.  Likewise in a before book XXI is found the index corresponding to book XX.  This is also found in E, but is then followed by a second index, really belonging to book XXI, but not the same one found in book I, but another, probably compiled by the copyist himself, or copied here from elsewhere.  It seems to be compiled from the text, like the chapter titles found in many other manuscripts which do not agree in wording with the lemmata of the genuine indices.  The peculiar displacement of the index of book XX must certainly be traced back to the archetype, X3.  Moreover a has the correct index before every book, except that it has the index to book XX twice and that of book XXI not at all in the manuscript.  Furthermore, for books XXII, XXVII, XXX, and XXXI, [p.707] after the genuine indices there are shorter items of the same type, like that for book XXI, and finally before book XXXII only the front half of the genuine index is present, followed by a shorter one of the same type, at the end of which is placed the list of authors used for the book, absent from the other shorter indices.

This relationship of E and a to one another, and to the other manuscripts and to the editions, is instructive in many ways for the history of the transmission of the indices.  From it we may conclude the following.

The matching testimony of all the older manuscripts of the younger group shows, that in their common archetype, X1, the indices were found both as book I, and before the individual books, except before book II and probably book III.  This arrangement persisted in archetype X2, a descendant of X1 and its older descendants D+G+V and R.

In contrast, the second descendant of X1, archetypus X3, from which E and a are descended, was different.  Book I remained in its place, but already a number of the indices before individual books had perhaps been omitted, and the index for book XX was placed before book XXI.  More of these indices fell out in E.

In contrast, the writer of a followed a different principle, left out book I, and placed indices once more before the individual books, although he was unable to provide the proper index before b. XXI. For this purpose he placed new indices before some books, and these are probably the ones which then gradually displaced the real ones, and finally until Hardouin’s edition even took their place in book I. Unfortunately, I can find no manuscripts other than a in which they may be found.  More information about such, and in particular the tradition of the indices in the manuscripts more closely related to E and a (see p. 298 ff.) would certainly allow a clearer insight into these complex relationships.

Let us now consider the tradition in the manuscripts belonging to the older group (see p. 306 ff.).

Very little can be said with certainty or probability, because from all of them we have only fragments, but none of them contain book I of the NH.  That Pliny himself prefixed the indices as book I to the following books is certain from his own words in the dedicatory letter to Titus 33, and the running count of the other books from II-XXXVII in all the older manuscripts demonstrates that this arrangement is authentic. One might therefore consider it certain that likewise in AMOB, the fragments of which have a similar numeration, that book I was originally present. [p.708] This is probably correct for the others, but for A it can be shown with certainty that book I was always missing.

Codex A is composed of thirty sequentially ordered pages:

(“quaternionzeichen = “quaternion numbers”; “gezeichnet” = “labelled”)

The quaternion marks, which are written in the original hand, show that only two quaternions are missing from the beginning of the manuscript.  If we calculate what these contained, based on what survives, it follows that the manuscript must have begun with book 2, and did not contain book 1, nor probably even the letter to Titus.  By contrast the index for book 2 probably was present, just like the indices for books 3-5, and the same arrangement can be assumed for the following, now missing, books.  Can this arrangement of the codex be attributed to the emendator, Junius Laurentius?  Note that we cannot suppose that this led to the similar arrangement in codex a and the other younger mss, since there is no other trace of a connection between the two.

In the following manuscripts of the older group, other than A, indices are preserved before the individual books.  In M they are preserved in fragmentary form before books XI-XV.  In O (p in Sillig), the same is true before book XXXIV.  In B they are preserved before the last six books.

Finally, it seems that some of the variants in book I, and in the indices before individual books, derive, as already noted, from a second hand in the [p.709] codex underlying ERD+G+VF (see p.306 f.), and in E the first half of the index to book VII comes entirely from this source.  In respect of the tradition of the indices in book I, however, we remain mostly in the dark for this large group of manuscripts.

So we have determined the scope and nature of the sources from which the text of the indices is to be taken.  This leaves the difficult question of how to use them, what their value is, compared to each other.  In this area Sillig and von Jan have gone completely in the wrong direction. The latter says only in his praefatio to vol. 1, p. iv: “In emendando libro I, qui continet ceterorum indicem, ut Silligius nihil fere re­cepi quin inveniretur in exemplaribus manuscriptis, sed e codicibus qui hunc librum continent ille magis secutus est Riccardianum (R) et Parisiensem primum (E), ego Toletanum et Parisiensem secun­dum (d), ut qui magis consentirent cum ipsis ceterorum librorum verbis.”  Both lack insight based on an in-depth investigation into the relationship of these manuscripts to one another and to the other sources.  The questions to be asked are as follows: if the indices are found twice in the base manuscripts of the younger group, what is the relationship between the two transmissions?  Are there interpolations or lacunae in one or the other of the divergent traditions? And how do they relate to the text of the older group?  For the sake of brevity, I shall refer in what follows, when discussing the text of the indices which are placed before the individual books, using the bracketed siglum of the codex.  E.g. I shall use R to refer to the text of the index in book I, and (R) for the text of the index repeated at the start of the relevant book.

First let us identify some key features of the text that will make it possible for us to learn about these questions. The most important of them are the following. The lemmata at the conclusion of book XXXIII from 52 quando repositoriis on, together with the index auctorum missing in one tradition;  instead of these are the lemmata of book XXXIII §.19 nobilitates ex aere, together with the index for this book, repeated, except for the words on p.65, 33 of my edition, CCLVII. Ex iis ad canis morsuus until p. 66, 1 contra lymphationes. Summa: res.  This is found in ERF (see Sillig’s praef. p. xiii; ind. 33 n. 53; 34 n. 15) and so it was, no doubt, in D, the original of F; the defect must also have been present in the archetype X. (What Sillig gives in the index auctorum on book XXXIII for FR is only a demonstration of his carelessness (see especially n. 71); it refers entirely to the wrongly repeated index for book XXXIV, [p.710] and in this area is the cause of a significant interpolation in index XXXIII, which we will discuss below).  From Sillig’s notes we learn further, that this alteration is not found in (B) (V) d and Toletanus; nor is it found in (F), the copy of (V), nor in (a).  We cannot say anything about the situation in (E), because the manuscript today ends at book XXXII, 135; but an investigation of manuscripts derived from it (see p.299 ff.) would perhaps permit conclusions about the original tradition.  In (R), however, the situation is as in (B)(V), although Sillig says nothing about it, as this source is first used from the index to book XXXIV (see Sillig ind. 34 n. 15).

—  So this change is found only in the text of book I in the younger group of manuscripts, except not in B in the index before book XXXIII.  The origin of this seems to be explicable in the following way.  The lemma at book XXXIII, 52, quando lances immodicae factae, must have been at the end of a leaf or a page in an archetype prior to X.  The copyist of the latter must have skipped a leaf or a page, and continued with the next leaf which began with nobilitates ex aere, and continued happily until the directory of authors at the end of book XXXIV.  Since he believed that he had copied the index of book XXXIII, he began with the beginning of index 34, and carried on, without ever detecting and correcting the error made earlier, so that the latter half of index 33 is missing, and that of index 34 is duplicate.  The size of the supposed leaf or page is 34 lines of Jan’s edition, so it is difficult to draw any other conclusion.  It remains only to suppose that the origin of the error was in the same codex in which the materials in books II-V were first switched (see p.288 and Rhein. Mus. 15, p.369), however the evidence for this is difficult to produce, because the indices were probably written intermittently and at longer intervals than the rest of the text, so this and that must be calculated according to different methods.

It should be noted that the change is not found in D and Toletanus (see Sillig’s notes), nor from my information in Vindob. CCXXXV. These three manuscripts derive, as I think I have probably said (see p. 289 ff.), from F (and I would very much like to know whether they too have the features of F described there), so we must assume that the copyist, who took the deviant arrangement from F, only gave the text of the indices in book I (see above), either compiled from those standing at the front of the individual books, [p.711] related to the originals, or else at least corrected the error in book I from the existing index before book XXXIII.  We will refer below to other similar cases, from which we may obtain some clarity.

Now we must discuss the interpolation of the index auctorum of book XXXIII mentioned earlier.  In book I of our best manuscripts, as noted, it is not present, so we are dependent on the tradition of (B)(V)(a) alone, and maybe also d Toletanus; because Sillig’s citation of RE has already been shown to be incorrect.

[snip technical details pp.711-716]

Let us briefly put together the general results of this investigation.  It has been found that the principal basis for the text of the indices is found in the manuscripts of the younger group, which are only present in the older group in rare cases.  In the archetype of these, as well as in book I, every index, with the exception of book II and sometimes even book III, was repeated in front of the book to which it related.  This arrangement must be very old, because individual errors in their archetype, X1, show that they were present in an even older manuscript, or possibly even be derived from Pliny himself and his publication of the NH.   The value of both texts is about equal; they complement and correct each other.  Little can be said here about the manuscripts of the older group.  Even the copyist of codex A omitted book I completely.  In this group the indices before b. XXXIV and XXXVI have been interpolated, and that interpolation is already present in book I in the oldest archetype of the younger group.  In the archetype X3, derived from X1, the arrangement was changed so that the individual indices before each book were omitted.  This  approach was followed both in E,  which was descended from X3, and in many more recent mss, while in a, and some others, book I was omitted instead, as in A.  To these belong d and Toletanus, whose text of book I, from combining the duplicate texts of their originals, …. Their value is, compared to other sources, only secondary and often doubtful.

D. Detlefsen.

  1. [1]D. Detlefsen, The indices of the Naturalis Historia of Pliny, Philologus 28, 1869, p.701-716 High res. PDF here.

The manuscripts of Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History”

Pliny the Elder, who died in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, has left us only a single work out of his vast literary activity.  This is the Historia Naturalis, a compendium of information about natural phenomena of various sort.  The work consists of a prefatory letter, addressed to his friend, the emperor Vespasian, followed by 37 books.  The first book is composed entirely of a list of contents for each book from book 2 onwards.  At the end of each list is a list of the authors used to compile it.

Ancient manuscripts

Pliny’s work was read continuously and epitomised throughout antiquity; indeed the Collectanea of C. Iulius Solinus is largely derived from Pliny and can be used for the establishment of the text.   Unusually, therefore, the remains of no less than 5 ancient codices have come down to us.

  • M = St. Paul in Carinthia, Stiftsbibliothek 3.1 (25.2.36; xxv.a.3) (CLA x.1455) (=codex Moneus), 5th century.  Discovered at the Austrian monastery where it still resides in 1853 by F. Mone, hence the name.   The manuscript contains Jerome’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes, written around 700 AD in Luxeuil minuscule on reused parchment.  It also contains a 15th c. ex-libris for Reichenau.  But the book is a palimpsest.  The lower text consists of large sections of books 11-15, partly visible, in a 5th century uncial hand.  The manuscript has been treated with chemicals to try to bring out more of the ancient text. The text is of high quality. A description of the ms. and a complete transcript is available as most of vol. 6 of Sillig’s edition (Gotha, 1855).  The codex is also online here, although hard to use.
  • N = Rome, Bibl. Naz. Sessor. 55 (CLA iv.421), 5th century, uncial.  Also a palimpsest, containing patristic texts and written in the second half of the 6th century, the lower text consists of a few passages from books 23 and 25.  Both texts were written in Italy.
  • O = Vienna 1a (CLA x.1470), first half of 5th century, uncial.  Probably written in the south of Italy, it consists of fragments of 7 leaves, reused for bindings.  It contains part of books 33 and 34.
  • P = Paris lat. 9378, folio 26 (CLA v.575).  A single folio, seemingly of Italian origin, written at the end of the 6th century and containing part of book 18.  It was found, apparently, in the binding of a manuscript from St. Amand in France.
  • Pal. Chat. = Autun 24 + Paris 1629 (CLA vi.725), 5th century, uncial, containing a few sections of books 8 and 9.  Presumably from Italy, it was overwritten in the late 6th century with Cassian’s Institutions, probably in Southern France.

It is telling that 3 ancient manuscripts, M, P and Pal.Chat, found their way to France but were turned into clean parchment before they could generate a tradition in that region.

The medieval manuscripts have been divided by editors into two classes, the older or vetustiores, and the newer or recentiores.  Unfortunately the dates of the mss. have been so confused that the division is not as clean as it should be.

Medieval manuscripts – vetustiores

  • Q = Paris lat. 10318 (CLA v.593), written in central Italy ca. 800 AD, in uncial.  This contains the Latin Anthology, and includes medical excerpts from books 19-20.  The source manuscript used for this was of high quality.
  • A = Leiden, Voss. Lat. F.4 (CLA x.1578), first third of the 8th century, insular, written in the north of England.  Contains books 2-6, with large gaps.  Other books may have been known to Bede, and Pliny is listed in Alcuin’s list of books present in York.  Not as good as M or Q, but better than most continental mss.
  • B = Bamberg, Class. 42 (M.v.10), first third of the 9th century, in the palace scriptorium of Louis the Pious.  It contains books 32-37, and is the only one to preserve the ending of the work.  Of excellent quality, and clearly copied carefully from an ancient codex whose notae it carefully preserves.  Online here.

There are also a number of collections of excerpts made in this period which preserve portions of the text.  They seem to be associated with the court of Charlemagne and the scholars who communicated with it.

Medieval manuscripts – recentiores

The vetustiores do not give us anything like a complete text, unfortunately.  For most of the work we are dependent on the inferior recentiores.  These contain small lacunae, but give a more or less complete text.

The main mss., which all descend from a common parent, are:

  • D+G+V = Vatican lat. 3861 + Paris lat. 6796, ff. 52-3 + Leiden, Voss. Lat. F. 61 (CLA x.1580 + Suppl. p.28), written ca. 800 AD in north-east France, perhaps in the Corbie area.  This manuscript was later divided into three.  It contains most of the work.
  • Ch = New York, Pierpont Morgan Library M.871 (formerly Phillipps 8297), first half of 9th century, written apparently at Lorsch by a scribe using the style of St. Vaast.  Contains books 1-17.
  • F = Leiden, Lipsius 7, written first half of the 9th century, by a scribe from Luxeuil collaborating with one from Murbach, possibly at Murbach.  Contains books 1-37.   Possibly copied from D+G+V before it was corrected.
  • R = Florence, Bibl. Ricc. 488, second half of the 9th century, perhaps at Auxerre.  Contains books 1-34.
  • E = Paris lat. 6795, 9-10th century, France.  Contains books 1-32.

All five mss. are related; their ancestor suffered a dislocation, where leaves from book 2-3 were swapped with some from 4-5.   Attempts were made to fix this in D and E, in a botched way.

E was prone to accident; leaves were lost in the ms. from which it was copied, and then in E itself.  Unfortunately it was E that dominated all later copies.  However some of them were clearly corrected from otherwise unknown copies of the older and better tradition, in D2, F2, R2,  and E2.

Medieval manuscripts – later recentiores

  • h = Berlin (East), Hamilton 517, 11th c.
  • X = Luxembourg 138, 12th c., from the Abbaye d’Orval.
  • Leiden, Voss. Lat. Q.43, 12th c., from Orleans.
  • n = Montpellier 473, 12th c., from Clairvaux; mainly medical excerpts.
  • Co = Copenhagen Gl.Kgl.S.212 2°, ca. 1200 AD.

All these are derived from E.

  • Oxford, Bodl. Auct. T.1.27 + Paris lat. 6798, 12th c., Mosan region.
  • C = Le Mans 263, 12th c.  A beautiful book, apparently of English origin. (Image of one opening here).

These are very close to E, and may derive from it.

  • e = Paris lat. 6796A, 12th c.  A faithful copy of E.
  • a = Vienna 234, 12th c.  Not derived from E, but from its ancestor.
  • d = Paris lat. 6797, third quarter of 12th century, Northern France, probably St. Amand.  Contains a substantial amount of the older tradition.

There are many more manuscripts, many of which have not been explored for their textual value.  One which is online is Ms. British Library, Harley 2676, written in Florence in 1465-7.  The BL site adds, ” identifiable as the missing Pliny from the Badia of Fiesole (according to unpublished notes of A. C. de la Mare at the Bodleian Library, Oxford)”.

Critical editions

The text of the NHwas established by the work of German scholars in the 19th century; J. Sillig, D. Detlefsen, L. von Jan, and K. Rück.  This culminates in the second Teubner edition, that of L. Jan and C. Mayhoff (5 vols, 1892-1906).  Much of the fundamental work on the recension was done by Detlefsen, in a series of papers[1] and in his edition (5 vols, Berlin, 1866-73).  The 20th century has only produced the Budé edition, now in more than 30 volumes, containing limited and rather stale information.


I am indebted for all this information to L.D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmissions, Oxford, p.307-316.

UPDATE: My thanks to J.B. Piggin for extra links.

  1. [1]Rheinisches Museum 15 (1860), p.265-88 and 367-90; Philologus 28 (1869), p.284-337; Hermes 32 (1897), p. 321-40.

The different grades of papyrus in use in antiquity, according to Pliny and Isidore

Pliny, Natural History, book 13, ch, 23:

23. Paper is made from the papyrus, by splitting it with a needle into very thin leaves, due care being taken that they should be as broad as possible.

That of the first quality is taken from the centre of the plant, and so in regular succession, according to the order of division. “Hieratica”1 was the name that was anciently given to it, from the circumstance that it was entirely reserved for the religious books. In later times, through a spirit of adulation, it received the name of “Augusta,” just as that of second quality was called “Liviana,” from his wife, Livia; the consequence of which was, that the name “hieratica” came to designate that of only third-rate quality.

The paper of the next quality was called “amphitheatrica,” from the locality2 of its manufacture. The skilful manufactory that was established by Fannius3 at Rome, was in the habit of receiving this last kind, and there, by a very careful process of insertion, it was rendered much finer; so much so, that from being a common sort, he made it a paper of first-rate quality, and gave his own4 name to it: while that which was not subjected to this additional process retained its original name of “amphitheatrica.”

Next to this is the Saitic paper, so called from the city of that name,5 where it is manufactured in very large quantities, though of cuttings of inferior6 quality.

The Taeniotic paper, so called from a place in the vicinity,7 is manufactured from the materials that lie nearer to the outside skin; it is sold, not according to its quality, but by weight only.

As to the paper that is known as “emporetica,”8 it is quite useless for writing upon, and is only employed for wrapping up other paper, and as a covering for various articles of merchandize, whence its name, as being used by dealers.

After this comes the bark of the papyrus, the outer skin of which bears a strong resemblance to the bulrush, and is solely used for making ropes, and then only for those which have to go into the water.9

All these various kinds of paper are made upon a table, moistened with Nile water; a liquid which, when in a muddy state, has the peculiar qualities of glue.10 This table being first inclined,11 the leaves of papyrus are laid upon it lengthwise, as long, indeed, as the papyrus will admit of, the jagged edges being cut off at either end; after which a cross layer is placed over it, the same way, in fact, that hurdles are made. When this is done, the leaves are pressed close together, and then dried in the sun; after which they are united to one another, the best sheets being always taken first, and the inferior ones added afterwards. There are never more than twenty of these sheets to a roll.12

1 Or “holy” paper. The priests would not allow it to be sold, lest it might be used for profane writing; but after it was once written upon, it was easily procurable. The Romans were in the habit of purchasing it largely in the latter state, and then washing off the writing, and using it as paper of the finest quality. Hence it received the name of “Augustus,” as representing in Latin its Greek name “hieraticus,” or “sacred.” In length of time it became the common impression, as here mentioned, that this name was given to it in honour of Augusus Caesar.
2 Near the amphitheatre, probably, of Alexandria.
3 He alludes to Q. Remmius Fannius Palaemon, a famous grammarian of Rome, though originally a slave. Being mantumitted, he opened a school at Rome, which was resorted to by great numbers of pupils, notwithstanding his notoriously bad character he appears to have established, also, a manufactory for paper at Rome. Suetonius, in his treatise on Illustrious Grammarians, gives a long account of him. He is supposed to have been the preceptor of Quintilian.
4 Fanniana.
5 In Lower Egypt.
6 Ex vilioribus ramentis.
7 Of Alexandria, probably.
8 “Shop-paper,” or “paper of commerce.”
9 Otherwise, probably, the rope would not long hold together.
10 Fée remarks, that this is by no means the fact. With M. Poiret, he questions the accuracy of Pliny’s account of preparing the papyrus, and is of opinion that it refers more probably to the treatment of some other vegetable substance from which paper was made.
11 Primo supinâ tabule schedâ.
12 “Scapus.” This was, properly, the cylinder on which the paper was rolled.

24. There is a great difference in the breadth of the various kinds of paper. That of best quality1 is thirteen fingers wide, while the hieratica is two fingers less. The Fanniana is ten fingers wide, and that known as “amphitheatrica,” one less. The Saitic is of still smaller breadth, indeed it is not so wide as the mallet with which the paper is beaten; and the emporetica is particularly narrow, being not more than six fingers in breadth.

In addition to the above particulars, paper is esteemed according to its fineness, its stoutness, its whiteness, and its smoothness. Claudius Caesar effected a change in that which till then had been looked upon as being of the first quality: for the Augustan paper had been found to be so remarkably fine, as to offer no resistance to the pressure of the pen; in addition to which, as it allowed the writing upon it to run through, it was continually causing apprehensions of its being blotted and blurred by the writing on the other side; the remarkable transparency, too, of the paper was very unsightly to the eye. To obviate these inconveniences, a groundwork of paper was made with leaves of the second quality, over which was laid a woof, as it were, formed of leaves of the first. He increased the width also of paper; the width [of the common sort] being made a foot, and that of the size known as “macrocollum,”2 a cubit; though one inconvenience was soon detected in it, for, upon a single leaf3 being torn in the press, more pages were apt to be spoilt than before.4 In consequence of the advantages above-mentioned, the Claudian has come to be preferred to all other kinds of paper, though the Augustan is still used for the purposes of epistolary correspondence. The Livian, which had nothing in common with that of first quality, but was entirely of a secondary rank, still holds its former place.

1 Augustan.
2 Or “long glued” paper: the breadth probably consisted of that of two or more sheets glued or pasted at the edges, the seam running down the roll.
3 Scheda. One of the leaves of the papyrus, of which the roll of twenty, joined side by side, was formed.
4 This passage is difficult to be understood, and various attempts have been made to explain it. It is not unlikely that his meaning is that the breadth being doubled, the tearing of one leaf or half breadth entailed of necessity the spoiling of another, making the corresponding half breadth.

I include the notes as useful to us all.

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies book 6, ch. 10, writes as follows[1]:

x. Papyrus sheets (De cartis)

1. Egypt first provided the use of papyrus sheets, initially in the city of Memphis. Memphis is the Egyptian city where the use of papyrus sheets was first discovered, as Lucan says (Civil War 4.136):

“The sheet of Memphis is made from the bibulous papyrus. “

He called papyrus bibulous (bibulus) because it drinks (bibere) liquid. 2. A ‘papyrus sheet’ (carta) is so called because the stripped rind of papyrus is glued together ‘piece by piece’ (carptim).

There are several kinds of such sheets. First and foremost is the Royal Augustan, of rather large size, named in honor of Octavian Augustus. 3. Second, the Libyan, in honor of the province of Libya. Third the Hieratic, so called because it was selected for sacred books (cf. hieros, “sacred”) – like the Augustan, but tinted. 4. Fourth the Taeneotic, named for the place in Alexandria where it was made, which is so called. Fifth the Saitic, fromthe town of Sais. 5. Sixth the Cornelian, first produced by Cornelius Gallus, prefect of Egypt.  Seventh the commercial, because merchandise is wrapped in this type, since it is less suitable for writing.

Isidore then goes on to discuss parchment.

Isidore’s account is similar, but not quite the same as that of Pliny, which means that it is not simply copied from it but involves some other source.

Again this material is often mentioned in passing in articles about ancient book manufacture, so it is interesting to go to the source.

  1. [1]Stephen A. Barney, The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, CUP 2006, p.141

Pliny the Elder and others on the first ancient library in Rome, that of Asinius Pollio

Every book that mentions ancient libraries tells us that Asinius Pollio was the first to organise a public library at Rome.  It’s always interesting to see what the source for the claim is.  When we look, sometimes we find other interesting details as well.  Here’s what I have found.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, book 35, chapter 2 (from Perseus):

There is a new invention too, which we must not omit to notice. Not only do we consecrate in our libraries, in gold or silver, or at all events, in bronze, those whose immortal spirits hold converse with us in those places, but we even go so far as to reproduce the ideal of features, all remembrance of which has ceased to exist; and our regrets give existence to likenesses that have not been transmitted to us, as in the case of Homer, for example. And indeed, it is my opinion, that nothing can be a greater proof of having achieved success in life, than a lasting desire on the part of one’s fellow-men, to know what one’s features were.

This practice of grouping portraits was first introduced at Rome by Asinius Pollio, who was also the first to establish a public library, and so make the works of genius the property of the public. Whether the kings of Alexandria and of Pergamus, who had so energetically rivalled each other in forming libraries, had previously introduced this practice, I cannot so easily say.

That a strong passion for portraits formerly existed, is attested both by Atticus, the friend of Cicero, who wrote a work on this subject, and by M. Varro, who conceived the very liberal idea of inserting, by some means or other, in his numerous volumes, the portraits of seven hundred individuals; as he could not bear the idea that all traces of their features should be lost, or that the lapse of centuries should get the better of mankind.

Thus was he the inventor of a benefit to his fellow-men, that might have been envied by the gods themselves; for not only did he confer upon them immortality, but he transmitted them, too, to all parts of the earth; so that everywhere it might be possible for them to be present, and for each to occupy his niche. This service, too, Varro conferred upon persons who were no members of his own family.

So Varro recorded the facial likeness of his contemporaries in pictures in copies of his works.  Isn’t that interesting?  It is a great pity that only two out of the list of Varro’s works recorded by Jerome in letter 33 have survived, and those works — On the Latin Language and On Rural Affairs — are those unlikely to contain such portraits.

The habit of inserting busts of authors into libraries is one that has survived to our own day.  The difficulty today is more likely to be to find a  library with room for such.

Another witness to Asinius Pollio’s efforts is Isidore of Seville (ca. 630 AD), in his Etymologies book 6, chapter 52.  An English translation does exist, but sadly I have no access to it.  From the Latin at Lacus Curtius:

5. De eo qui primum Romam libros advexit.  Romae primus librorum copiam advexit Aemilius Paulus, Perse Macedonum rege devicto; deinde Lucullus e Pontica praeda. Post hos Caesar dedit Marco Varroni negotium quam maximae bibliothecae construendae. Primum autem Romae bibliothecas publicavit Pollio Graecas simul atque Latinas, additis auctorum imaginibus, in atrio quod de manubiis magnificentissimum instruxerat.

5. On those who first brought books to Rome.  Aemilius Paulus first brought a mass of books to Rome, after defeating Perseus, King of Macedon; then Lucullus brought them as loot from Pontus.  After these Caesar gave Marcus Varro the duty of constructing huge libraries. But Pollio was the first to make libraries at Rome, both Greek and Latin, which were public property, and after adding images of authors, he magnificently set [them] up in the Atrium [= the Atrium Libertatis] from his manubia  (= the general’s share of the loot).

Suetonius, Augustus, ch. 29:

More than that, he [Augustus] often urged other prominent men to adorn the city with new monuments or to restore and embellish old ones, each according to his means. And many such works were built at that time by many men; for example, the temple of Hercules and the Muses by Marcius Philippus, the temple of Diana by Lucius Cornificius, the Hall of Liberty by Asinius Pollio, the temple of Saturn by Munatius Plancus, a theatre by Cornelius Balbus, an amphitheatre by Statilius Taurus, and by Marcus Agrippa in particular many magnificent structures.

But returning to Pliny, in book 7, chapter 31, as well as a mention of Asinius Pollio’s work, we get more interesting and little known snippets on ancient life and books:

The elder Africanus ordered that the statue of Ennius should be placed in his tomb, and that the illustrious surname, which he had acquired, I may say, as his share of the spoil on the conquest of the third part of the world, should be read over his ashes, along with the name of the poet.

The Emperor Augustus, now deified, forbade the works of Virgil to be burnt, in opposition to the modest directions to that effect, which the poet had left in his will: a prohibition which was a greater compliment paid to his merit, than if he himself had recommended his works.

M. Varro is the only person, who, during his lifetime, saw his own statue erected. This was placed in the first public library that was ever built, and which was formed by Asinius Pollio with the spoils of our enemies.

I cannot resist adding a remark of Caesar on Cicero and his oratory from the same passage:

Great father, you, of eloquence and of Latin literature! as the Dictator Caesar, once your enemy, wrote in testimony of you, you required a laurel superior to every triumph! How far greater and more glorious to have enlarged so immeasurably the boundaries of the Roman genius, than those of its sway!

Chapter titles in Pliny the Elder

With the new availability online of images of the British Library ms. Harley MS 2676 (Pliny the Elder, Historia naturalis,  Florence, 1465-1467), we can now investigate just how the chapter titles are presented in a manuscript.

Technical note: there seems to be no way to link directly from here to the pages in question.  Ideally I would link the images below direct to the full page, so that readers could scroll around and examine for themselves, but sadly this does not seem to be possible.

In this manuscript, there is first a list of books, with a numeral at the front.  Then there are the chapter titles, gathered by book, but … with no chapter numeral at the front of each title!  Here is a screen grab of folio 2r, where the titles for book 2 (book 1 is a preface) appear, and the numerals do not:

It is unlikely that a humanist copyist would have removed the numerals, so I think we may take it that they were not present in the ancestor copies either.

And how do the titles appear in book 2, in the body of the text?  They appear, naturally, without numerals either, as marginalia.  Here is folio 20v (there seems to be no way to link directly to the page):

But here is the rub: the “titles” are not the same.  In the contents, the first title is “de forma eius” — “concerning its form” — which references the preceding sentence that indicates the book is about the world.  The next title, “de motu”, is the same in both.

Each of these titles has an initial.  But the third title, lower down the page, does not.  There is no paragraph break either: 


It is left to the reader to determine where, if anywhere, the break should be.  The paragraph breaks, the initials, do not relate to the chapter titles, then.

But … were the marginal chapter titles even present in earlier manuscripts?  Or were these placed where they are by the humanist copyist?

In book 1, which has no chapter titles, we find what are plainly renaissance glosses, highlighting a mention of Cicero, for instance, written in the column to the side.  Similar notes seem to appear later: on f.22r there is a marginal note “pythagoras”, written as if it was a chapter title.

The answer to this must appear from looking at more, and older, manuscripts.

All the same, we do see that numbering chapter titles in the body of the text was not something that just happened naturally, since these have none.  They seem, indeed, more like “headings”, indicating content, than chapter divisions as we would have them.  And indeed, “capituli” is precisely that … “headings”!

Perhaps we should take the Latin more seriously, and modern habits of book making rather less so.