The February Poems in the Chronography of 354

The month of February has a number of illustrations.  In the Vatican Barberini manuscript, the 4-line poem (tetrastich) appears written down the side.  Here it is:

At quem caeruleus nodo constringit amictus,
quique paludicolam prendere gaudet avem,
daedala quem iactu pluvio circumvenit Iris:
Romuleo ritu februa mensis habet.

And he whom the cerulean cloak wraps (ties up) with a knot,
And who delights to chase the marsh-dwelling fowl,
He whom the skilful Iris/Rainbow pelts with a rain shower;
This month by the Romulean ritual has the feast of purification.

The 2-line poem (= distich) is also present.  Each distich consists of a hexameter at the foot of the left-hand page, and a pentameter at the foot of the right-hand page.  Here it is:

Umbrarum est alter quo mense putatur honore
pervia terra dato manibus esse vagis.

The second is of the ghosts, in which month it is believed,
That, after sacrifice has been made, earth is accessible to wandering spirits

The images show a figure, hunting with an eagle, while a vessel pours down water onto an Ibis.

The 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416 (online here) gives us this, evidently redrawn, image:

Vienna 3146, f. 3v – February

The 17th century R1 manuscript, Vat. (online here) gives us this, with the tetrastich and the first line of the distich, so I’ve made the picture somewhat larger:

Vatican, Barberini lat. 2154B, f.17 – February

Divjak and Wischmeyer give us an image from the important (but offline) Brussels manuscript 7543-49:

Brussels MS 7543-7549, f.201 – February

The gender of the figure must have been somewhat hard to determine in the original – Vienna has treated it as female, Rome as male, while the Brussels manuscript shows one that could be either.  The kantharos  vessel pours down upon the crane, or possibly an ibis.  A fish and some squids appear to the right.  The figure holds an eagle.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).


The January Poems in the Chronography of 354

Each month in the Chronography of 354 consists of a two-page spread.  On the left there is an illustration of the month, on the right a calendar of days and festivals and anniversaries.

For the month of January the 4-line poem (= tetrastich) is preserved only in manuscripts of the Anthologia Latina.  Here it is:

Hic Iani mensis sacer est, en aspice ut aris
Tura micent, sumant ut pia tura Lares.
Annorum saeclique caput, natalis honorum
Purpureis fastis qui numerat proceres.

This month is sacred to Janus; Lo! See on the altars
How the incense glitters, how the Lares accept the pious incense.
It is the start of years and time, the birthday of the offices
Which the nobles enumerate in their purpled calendars.

The 2-line poem (= distich) is present, thankfully.  Each distich consists of a hexameter at the foot of the left-hand page, and a pentameter at the foot of the right-hand page.  Here it is:

Primus, Iane, tibi sacratur ut omnia mensis
Undique cui semper cuncta videre licet.

The first month is sacred to you, Janus, like everything;
From both sides it is possible for him always to see everything.

But there is a twist here: the first line is different in two of the manuscripts, R1 and R2.  Instead the first line reads:

Ianus adest bifrons primusque ingreditur annum…

Two-faced Janus is here, and first begins the year…

It seems to be taken for granted in the literature that the illustration and the hexameter in R1 and R2 are not genuine; but renaissance compositions.

The 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416 (online here) is the only one that has twelve images in it.   But these have clearly been redrawn by someone who fancied himself as an artist.  Here is the one for January (f.2v, image 15):

Vienna (Vindobonensis 3416, f.2v) – January

The 17th century R1 manuscript, Vat. (online here) image, f.16, seems more authentic in style, and is within the original border.

R1 (Vat. Barb. lat. 2154B, f.16r) – January

The only month illustration in R2 (available online in a scanned microfilm here) is as follows:

R2 (Vat. lat. 9135, f.224r, p.288 in the viewer) – January

R1 and R2 are the same image, copied at the same time.

The figures in V and R1 are both making a sacrifice with incense, but there the similarity ends.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).


An Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354

I’m going to do a little series of twelve posts, one per month, on the poems in an ancient text, the Chronography of 354.  Let me first say something about that book.

In 354 AD, perhaps as a gift for New Year’s Day, an otherwise unknown Roman nobleman named Valentinus received a  very splendid present.  It was a luxury book, containing a series of useful official-type documents: lists of consuls, months, a calendar, lists of church festivals and much more.  It is known today as the Chronography of 354.

These were all useful, but what made it special was the full-page illustrations that filled it.  These were made by a famous artist named Furius Dionysius Filocalus.  They included portraits of “our emperors” – a sour-looking Constantius dropping coins from his hand, and his nephew, the luckless Gallus, executed later that year.  Each month of the calendar had a facing picture depicting some aspect of the month or the seasonal activities.

The book itself seems to have survived to around 800 AD, when copies were made.  A mass of partial copies of these copies have reached us, all more or less unsatisfactory.  Some contain some of the images.  Some are text only.  Modern editions are all rather unsatisfactory too.  It is a hard text to edit, in fairness. It is curious that, even today, the only publication that gives the newcomer an idea of the work as a whole, in order, is the version that I compiled for my own website (here) in 2006.

Part VI of the work, the calendar, may be found here. For each month, on facing pages, there is an illustration, within an ornate frame – and then opposite, the various days and events of the month.  Here is the picture for February, from a renaissance manuscript, printed in the 19th century:

Chronography of 354 – illustration of February

There are two elements to this picture that I did not engage with back in 2006, since they are most likely not original.  To the right, drawn clumsily down the side, is a four-line poem, a tetrastich.  Underneath, in majuscule, is half of a two line poem or distich – the second line appears underneath the facing page.

I intend to do a short series of posts here, dealing with the tetrastichs and distichs.  It would be nice to deal with them month by month, just as they appear in the manuscripts of the Chronography.

Now for a bit of bibliography.

Since 2006 an excellent study has appeared by Richard Burgess, “The Chronograph of 354: Its manuscripts, contents and history”, Journal of Late Antiquity 5 (2013), 345-396. This includes a convincing discussion of the tetrastichs and distichs.

The following year there appeared a mighty two-volume attempt at a modern edition and commentary: J. Divjak & W. Wischmeyer, Das Kalenderhandbuch von 354: Der Chronograph des Filocalus, Vienna: Holzhausen (2014).  Generously, the publishers have since made it available for free download: vol.1, and vol. 2.  This is no small blessing.

The new book was reviewed harshly by Burgess, and it seems as if the task of handling so much data perhaps overwhelmed the editors, as much as it overwhelms the reader.  But they edit the tetrastichs and distichs and even – very wisely – provide them with German translations.  So I intend to make use of their efforts.

Since 2006 a bunch of the manuscripts have come online and are accessible, particularly at the Vatican.  This also is a blessing, and I hope to use some of this material.

There is a mass of scholarly literature on every aspect of the Chronography, but most of it I have not read.  My purpose here is to make these texts better known.

Let’s talk a bit about how these texts actually come to us.

The distichs were edited by A. E. Housman, as a poem of twenty-four lines, who pronounced it to be pure “Augustan” in style.  The verses are perhaps 1st century.

The tetrastichs are said to be fifth-century, but I’m not sure on what basis.  But, although they are transmitted to us with the Chronography, they also circulated independently and have reached us in that way also, as part of the Latin Anthology.  The content of the poems seems to describe pictures in a calendar, but not always the pictures that we have.

The manuscript tradition of all this material is rather tangled, but a few details (from Burgess) may explain why the tetrastichs and distichs are thought to be later.

All but one of the extant manuscripts of the Chronography derive from a now lost Luxemburg manuscript of the 9-10th century which comes to light in 1560.  This is given the siglum “L”.  It was copied from Valentinus’ original book (siglum “O”).  The Luxemberg manuscript clearly had the tetrastichs and distichs, at least by the time that renaissance copies were made from it.

But the Luxemburg manuscript was not the only copy made from “O”.  It seems that St Gall 878 (= “S”), which contains only text from various parts of the work, was also copied directly from “O” in the 830s.  The copyist of “S” included the distichs, but he did not copy the tetrastichs.  This suggests that the tetrastichs were not present in “O”.

Neither the tetrastichs nor the distichs fit into the ornate graphic design of the framework of the ancient original.  They are tacked on the side and the bottom of the page.  This suggests again that neither is original.  The distichs are present in a clear rustic capitals, and were probably added in antiquity.  They do not relate to the text in any way, however.  The tetrastichs were added in a sloppy way, which might even be as late as the renaissance.  But they do relate in some ways to the illustrations.

I think that’s more than enough detail for now.  One problem with writing about the Chronography is that you always feel the urge to add more detail.  And then more.  Almost nobody who has written about this has resisted this temptation, with the result that the publications are very dense and unreadable.  Divjak and Wischmeyer almost drowned in the mass of data!  I shall try to do better, but those wanting more information must refer to the sources above.

I will post this and the first two months, since we’re a bit late with starting this.  I hope to post the other months at the start of each month.  For each month I will give the tetrastich and the distich.  Since the tetrastich often refers to the ancient image for the month, I will include this also.