I have now scanned in the text of Corsi’s edition of John the Deacon, and found that – as he says – it is really a transcription of the Berlin manuscript, with better punctuation, plus a collation with the 1751 Falconius edition. He didn’t look at the Mombritius or Mai editions.
But that’s just fine. It means that we can do an electronic comparison of Corsi’s text – the Berlin manuscript – with the other three editions – Falconius, Mai and Mombritius.
When I compare Falconius with Corsi, using dwdiff and dwdiff viewer that I wrote, the initial differences are small:
But then when you look at chapter 12, and 13, the comparison goes nuts. These are not the same text, basically:
In fact Corsi himself says the same: he didn’t bother to give an apparatus.
On the other hand if I compare the Mombritius (1498) edition with Corsi, at once we see that we’re dealing with the same text:
This is very useful, although a little bit annoying in that I have already translated chapters 12 and 13 from Falconius. So there are now a few things to do, focusing on chapters 12 and 13:
Mark up the manuscript print-outs to indicate exactly where chapter 12 and 13 appear, and see which version of the text is contained in each.
Look at the two Vatican manuscripts that Falconius used, find chapters 12 and 13, and see if these reflect Falconius’ text, or Corsi’s. I have an idea that they will in fact reflect that of Corsi. Falconius used a lectionary from Naples, but the Naples manuscripts are not online. There is clearly an article to be written on what exactly Falconius did, when he produced his edition, but not by me.
In the mean time I have been scanning the material in the Falconius edition which he himself states is not genuine (!) but from the Life of St Nicholas of Sion. I’m correcting the OCR in Finereader 15 now, and he’s quite right – the chapters all refer explicitly to Sion monastery.
Once I have an electronic text of this, I can search it for words found elsewhere. At least I will be able to identify *some* Nicholas of Sion material.
Of course this leads to the question of where the Life of St Nicholas of Sion might be found. The Greek Life has been edited, and there is a 1984 translation into English by Sevcenko. It might be worth my while to lay hands on this, although no copies are for sale. But… what about the Latin Life? Is there one? Has any work been done on this? Do I really want to find out?!
The original project was to produce a translation of the Life, as made by John the Deacon. I don’t want to lose sight of this. It is clear that Falconius has mixed in stuff which does not really belong to the Life of Nicholas of Myra.
Just to digress a moment, I was reflecting that all this is rather more serious than the “difficulties” of biblical critics, which seem to concentrate on a single word. This is indeed what text criticism was devised for.
I’ve also been thinking about the dwdiff utility. It seems merely to be a wrapper around something called wdiff, which itself is a wrapper around the standard tool diff, made by splitting the text into two files of words, and processing the output. But unlike dwdiff, wdiff exists in a Windows version! So I may go and investigate that. It would be handy to avoid popping open a Ubuntu window every time I compare a text.
Lots to do. I could use a few solid days on this, but, as ever, I can only do stuff in short bursts. Still… lots to do!
I’ve now completely retranslated chapter 1, the prologue, which I made an attempt at last year. I’ve been comparing the text of the Falconius (1751) edition, which I am translating, with the Mombritius (1498) and the Mai (1820-ish) editions, and finding small differences, and noting them.
Over the last week I started downloading copies of manuscripts from the Bibliotheque Nationale Francais site, Gallica. I’ve been bookmarking the start of John the Deacon, and looking at two places, one at the start and one at the end of the chapter. I’m seeing variation alright. But many of these manuscripts are probably all closely related. I now have 9 manuscripts on disk, 2 of which do not contain chapter 1.
I’ve got three different lists of manuscripts. The Bollandists list 121, and there are clearly more. I don’t know how many are online – possibly around 20, I would guess.
Just finding online manuscripts by shelfmark is hard. I have discovered the Biblissima site, and am using this.
It’s very helpful that the BNF allow downloads. Less helpful are sites like the Vatican that force you to use a crummy viewer.
Ideally I could collect manuscripts using my mobile phone while lying on the sofa. In actual practice it is quite hard work just to collect them, even using the PC. But I am learning all the time.
I’ve had no time to do anything useful for a week, but I’m still gathering materials on John the Deacon as a sideline. Thanks to the kindness of Fr. Gerardo Cioffari at the St Nicholas Centre in Bari (= Centro Studi Nicolaiani) – himself a considerable scholar -, I now have access to Pasquale Corsi’s translation of John the Deacon.
I don’t dare look at Corsi’s translation until I’m rather more advanced with my own translation than I currently am! Of course Dr Corsi worked on the text for years, rather than my dabbling, and knows far more about it. Dr Cioffari also sent me a booklet with critical text of an important work on the translation of the relics of St Nicholas to Bari, which may be very useful in time.
The translation is contained in P. Corsi, La traslazione di San Nicola: Le fonti, Bari (1987), p.87-109. His introduction is also useful, as this extract shows (plus google translate):
A tal fine, viene qui proposta una traduzione della Vita di san Nicola dal testo latino di Giovanni, diacono della Chiesa napoletana, il quale verso l’880 aveva tradotto precedenti fonti greche6. L’edizione seguita è quella da me stesso pubblicata di recente7, però con alcune modifiche sugerite da ulteriori letture e da qualche ripensamento; naturalmente ho provveduto anche ad eliminare alcuni errori materiali di stampa. Per quanto riguarda la traduzione, ho cercato di mantenere un giusto equilibrio tra la fedeltà al testo latino e le strutture linguistiche dell’italiano moderno, allo scopo di non sacrificare né lo stile del nostro agiografo né la scorrevolezza della versione moderna. Ovviamente, non posso essere certo di essere riuscito nell’intento. Mi auguro comunqe di aver conservato per il lettore le principali caratteristiche dell’opera di Giovanni, senza per questo rendere difficoltosa la comprensione dei concetti e delle espressioni.
To this end, a translation of the Life of St. Nicholas is published here from the Latin text of John, deacon of the Neapolitan Church, who had translated previous Greek sources towards 1880 (6). The edition followed is the one I published recently (7), but with some changes suggested by further reading and some rethinking; naturally I have also taken steps to eliminate some printing errors. As for the translation, I have tried to maintain a fair balance between fidelity to the Latin text and the linguistic structures of modern Italian, in order not to sacrifice either the style of our hagiographer or the fluency of the modern version. Obviously, I cannot be sure that I have succeeded in this intention. However, I hope to have kept the main characteristics of John’s work for the reader, without making it difficult to understand the concepts and expressions.
6 BHL 6104-6117, particol 6104-6106; cfr. BHG 1352y. Si veda, in proposito, anche l’introduzione al saggio qui appresso citato al n. 7. (=On this, see the introduction to the article in note 7 below)
7 P. CORSI, La ‘‘Vita” di San Nicola e un codice della versione di Giovanni Diacono, in “Nicolaus” VII/2 (1979), pp. 359-380, particol. pp. 361-380.
I’ve now placed an interlibrary request for the article in note 7, which should bring the Latin text, as edited from Ms. Berlin 741.
Interestingly a random Google search revealed an earlier translation by P. Corsi, in Autori Vari, Bibliografia agiografica italiana 1976-1999, p.23, item 254:
254. Corsi Pasquale, Giovanni Diacono: Vita di San Nicola, tradotta dal latino dal ms. Berolin. 741. Bari. Centro Studi Nicolaiani. 1982. 28 pp., ill.
The St Nicholas Centre publications are very nicely printed and illustrated, I should add.
But Corsi’s edition, although certainly an advance on any previous edition, is not the critical edition that we all need. This I learn from a really useful database page, at Mirabileweb, here:
Non è disponibile un’edizione critica; un recente lavoro di P. Corsi non esaurisce i complessi rapporti tra i lemmi BHL e le edizioni antiche di Mombrizio, Falconio e A. Mai.
A critical edition is not available; a recent work by P. Corsi does not exhaust the complex relationships between the BHL lemmas and the ancient editions of Mombrizio, Falconio and A. Mai.
This is in line with my own understanding: the transmission of the text is very complicated. Somebody needs to do a doctoral thesis on it!
Which comes first? The text or the translation? The question is not as simple as it seems.
There is no finer way to come to grips with a text than by preparing an exact translation of it into another language. This forces the translator to look at every case ending, every -ae and -um; every verb tense and mood and voice. It highlights, very rapidly, areas of the text that have some kind of awkwardness about them.
I once knew a Swedish scholar who was tasked with preparing a critical edition of one of the works of Tertullian – I no longer remember which one. He began by translating an existing edition into English (!), very literally. This gave him a word-by-word knowledge of the text, which is why he did it.
My own efforts to translate John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas have reminded me of this forcefully. Some portions of the text are very much harder to translate than others.
In some cases the text itself – the Falconius edition of 1751 – seems suspect. When this happens, I increasingly find myself consulting the Mombritius edition of 1478, and the Mai edition of 1840. I have, indeed, come to mistrust the Falconius text. But along the way, I find that interesting things emerge.
I have found that the Mai edition often simply omits a “difficult” sentence altogether. The first three chapters of the text are particularly difficult, and I see that Mai simply omits most of it. Clearly the scribe of whatever manuscript lies behind the Mai edition felt exactly as I did about the text; and didn’t propose to strain his brain with it. Omitted sentences include all those which simply transcribe a Greek word. These are a source of difficulty to the Mai scribe. I do understand, indeed. At one point John uses the word “heroes” with the meaning “bishops”! I wonder what a Greek dictionary would show?
For John was translating an awful Greek text, the “Methodius ad Theodorum”, which is beyond my abilities. I suspect that the two – Methodius and John – need to be edited together. But my long years of corporate experience make me well aware of “scope creep”, as a risk to any project, and I refuse to be side-tracked. My translation will be of John, and John only.
It would also be possible to start doing some text critical work on the text. After all, a small number of manuscripts are already online. The Bollandist website lists a good many.
I have already OCR’d the texts of Falconius, Mombritius and Mai, and created Word documents of them. What I might do is to run a text comparison on these, and see what comes out. It would be purely for fun, of course, but it might be interesting.
If only one could OCR the manuscripts. But that said, today I found in one sentence of Falconius three OCR errors. This did delay me rather.
As with everything I do, I believe that whatever I do will be useful to others; and whatever I leave undone, well, the world is no worse off in this than it was before.
But clearly it would be possible for me to continue this, and produce some form of critical text. It might not be very good, depending on how much time and effort I devoted to it. But in this case, the translation would be the father of the text. Yet here again, to produce a proper critical edition of John the Deacon would certainly require knowledge of the Greek. It would not be a simple task.
I shall not go down this route. As I usually do, I will include the text that I have translated. This will be a somewhat modified version of Falconius. But I won’t go further than that.
Alright, I got tempted. I did a google search on BHL 6106, the chapter of John of the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas that I am currently translating, or rather prevaricating about translating!
Almost instantly I came up with two manuscripts at the French National Library. The first is 12th century, Ms. BNF Paris Latin 5573. The splendid catalogue – which came up with the match – is here. At the bottom is a link to a full digital manuscript, fully downloadable. The catalogue tells me which folio to look on. Magic.
The next was BNF Paris Latin 18303, 11th century, and really rather attractive! Catalogue is here. I downloaded it and scrolled to fol. 37, and there is the start of my text:
Magic. This sort of thing is so easy. Everyone should do it!
Well done the BNF for getting this stuff up there and out there.
I’ve settled back down to translating the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon. The new and improved Google Translate for Latin has made it a far easier task. The word order was exotic, and I had to crawl through each sentence, one by one, decrypting each word. This was tedious and time-consuming. Now at least I have a very decent guide to each sentence, and can concentrate on individual points.
As happens sometimes, I have ended up translating the chapters – or readings, for I think these are probably readings for church services – in reverse order. I have done chapters 15, 14 and 13, and am now wading through chapter 12.
The later chapters are of dubious authenticity. Chapter 12 is the first – starting from the end – to have transliterations of Greek words in it, for proper names. This reflects the fact that the Life was translated from the Greek Methodius ad Theodorum, in Naples in the 9th century.
The text is the 1751 edition of Falconius, which is fairly dodgy. At points I think it must be corrupt. Curiously this does not bother Google Translate at all, which laughs at spelling mistakes etc. One word didn’t feature in any dictionary that I have, but it did not stop Google. I would guess that Falconius has printed some odd medieval spelling.
Once I have a complete draft translation, I think that I shall have to look at manuscripts. It is really curious that no critical edition exists. I believe that several manuscripts are online, and it might be useful to look at these.
I also need to follow up whatever bibliographical hints I can get from the Bibliographia Hagiographica Latina. Simply googling the BHL references will probably lead me to a few sources.
I think there is a full Italian translation of the text by Pasquale Corsi in La traslazione di San Nicola: le fonti, Bari: Biblioteca di San Nicola: Centro Studi Nicolaiani (1987) Series: Studi e testi / Centro Studi Nicolaiani 8. But much Italian scholarship is ridiculously hard to access here, and little of it is online, or has attracted the attention of the PDF pirates. However I gather that book might be available from the Centro Studi Nicolaiana, so I have just popped them an email to enquire.
I have returned to work on making a translation of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas. In July 2019 I prepared a Latin text. The edition of Falconius, in 1751 seems to be all that there is! During November and December 2020 I translated a couple of chapters with immense pain and huge labour – the structure of the sentences is hard to work with – and then I set it aside and went off to do other things. At one point last night I was seriously contemplating simply abandoning the job.
How things have changed. Last night I jumped to the end and passed chapter 15 through the new and greatly improved Google Translate for Latin. It did a magnificent job, far better than I could have done, and did it in seconds. Of course it needed manual adjustment, but it was sobering how much better it was. In half an hour the chapter was complete.
At one point Falconius printed in the text, “Ab atis dirigas”, in the middle of a prayer asking the Lord to guide the monks, etc. This was beyond me, until I put the sentence into the standard Google search and found a parallel text with the same sentence, where it read “Abbatis dirigas” – “may you guide the abbots”! Wonderful!
Falconius’ text is less than ideal. This morning I was looking at chapter 14 – I’ve already done about half of it using the same tools – and I suffered a bit from him printing “penniculum” rather than “peniculum”, a sponge. There is no critical edition. Falconius seems to be the only edition of any sort, except for an incunable by Mombritius which does not contain these final chapters. But there are manuscripts online – more than Falconius had -, and I have Google search. The job can be done.
It is 10:20 here, and I must go out. This afternoon I shall return to John the Deacon. I’m looking forward to it.
The third unfinished project on my desktop is a translation from the Latin of the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon, who lived in Naples in the middle of the 9th century. John was bilingual, and created his work by translating the Greek Life by Methodius – the one that defeated all my translators.
It is a hard thing to pick something after a year or more, even if you are reasonably well-organised, unless you leave a file of notes written to your future self as to where you were and what you were doing. (Memo to self: do this next time!!) So I spent the end of yesterday and a couple of hours today trying to work out what I had, and reorganising the working directory.
The Latin text was printed by Mombritius in his Sanctuarium in 1477 or 1478 – it’s undated. I did OCR this and create a corrected file, but then I concluded that it was a bit too rough to work with; spellings, punctuation, etc. The text was printed again from some Vatican manuscripts by Falconius in 1751, who helpfully placed chapters 13-15 as an appendix and instead inserted a bunch of chapters from completely different Life of St Nicholas. Luckily the BHL volume specifies this, and I had prepared an electronic text with a note to myself about just this.
I had also divided the text into 15 files, and I had started the translation of chapter 1. I vaguely remember finding it very hard work indeed, which was why I stopped.
I’ve now sorted out the directory, and done a little more on chapter 1. After a year of Latin, it is less difficult. It really does help to establish exactly what the construction is, and to footnote a query if not sure, for later examination! Mind you, in a couple of sentences I have already come across two words which are not in my QuickLatin. The word order is horrendous sometimes, although the case of the words makes clear their function. Was John trying to show off in his prologue, like some dull Victorian German editor, I wonder? Let us hope that it settles down in the next chapter!
So all I need now is time and motivation. I shall start grinding away.
Saints’ Lives are a form of folk story. These circulated widely in the middle ages, sometimes as ballads or plays, and they gained additional material from the need to tell a good story. Tracing these stories back to a literary source can be time-consuming.
Today is St Nicholas’ Day, so an investigation of this sort seems appropriate. A correspondent wrote to me a couple of days ago as follows:
One legend that is popular in the [medieval stained-glass] windows and also illuminated manuscripts of the same period is the legend of the three children resurrected from the pickling vat. I gather that this is a much later version of a legend of three scholars drugged and murdered. I cannot find any real source or text for this legend in Latin or a European language…
This legend is in fact known as the “Miracle of the Three Clerics”, in the short titles given by Charles W. Jones to the legends in his Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari and Manhattan, p.497-8. But they are clearly youths, who have just received the tonsure, so we also have The Three Clerks, The Three Boys/Schoolboys, and so on.
Here is a 1390 illustration:
None of the early Greek legends contain this story, nor is it found in the Golden Legend, nor in the Roman breviary. But it does appear in early French verse, and it is very popular indeed in artistic depictions, where it is the most popular of the miracles of St Nicholas. By the 14th century in English wall paintings, St Nicholas almost always appears in the “Raising to Life of the Three Boys”.
McKnight in his useful 1919 book on St Nicholas gives this summary of the story:
Still another story in which St. Nicholas appears as the guardian angel of schoolboys, is the one dealing with the resuscitation of the three schoolboys murdered on their journey home. The story, which appears in a number of variant forms, relates how three boys, on their journey home from school, take lodging at an inn, or as some versions have it, farmhouse. In the night the treacherous host and hostess murder the boys, cut up their three bodies, and throw the pieces into casks used for salting meat. In the morning St. Nicholas appears and calls the guilty ones to task. They deny guilt, but are convicted when the saint causes the boys, sound of body and limb, to arise from the casks.
McKnight states in quotes that the story is “not known among the Greeks, who are so devoted to St. Nicholas”, and gives a reference for that quote to C. Cahier, Caractéristiques des saints dans l’art populaire, Paris, 1867, vol. i. He adds that:
Its earliest record is said to be that in the French life of St. Nicholas by Wace. With the incident in the story, Wace connects the great honor paid to St. Nicholas by schoolboys. “Because,” says Wace, “he did such honor to schoolboys, they celebrate this day [Dec. 6] by reading and singing and reciting the miracles of St. Nicholas.”
Wace was a Norman poet, who wrote a Life of St Nicholas in French verse, drawing upon two versions of the Life by John the Deacon, and adding seven episodes which seem to come from popular legends of the time. The story of the Three Boys appears as verses 213-226. There is in fact an edition, study and translation of this text in English by Jean Blacker and friends, with a Google Books preview. I was only able to see the French text, which begins “Tres clercs alouent a escole.” (p.284) Fredell (below) gives the text as follows:
Treis clercs alouent a escole.
– N’en ferai mie grant parole. –
Li ostes par nuit les occist,
Les cors mussat, I’aver en prist. (216)
Seint Nicholas par Deu le sout,
Sempres fu la si cum Deu plout.
Les clercs a l’oste demandat,
Nes pout celer si les mustrat. (220)
Seint Nicholas par sa preere
Mist les almes le cors arere.
Pur ceo qu’as clercs fit cel honur
Funt li clers la fest a son jur (224)
De ben lire et ben chanter
Et des miracles reciter.
Unfortunately the preview breaks off, and does not give the English on p.285.
From the prefatory material I learn that the miracle is not found in any of the early Latin prose texts either. It does appear in Latin hymns dating from the eleventh century and from three extant rhymed versions of the legend that predate Wace. It also appears in a Latin play preserved in the Fleury playbook. These details the editors obtained from the most recent edition, that of Einar Ronsjö, pp.42-45, although this is inaccessible to me. There are 5 manuscripts, the earliest, A (Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal 3516, f. 69v-73v), dating to 1267 or 1268.
Wace states that his poem is an adaptation of one or more Latin texts. The main source was the Life written by John the Deacon in Naples ca. 880, which exists in two different versions, the original and an interpolated version. The first of these was that printed in 1479 by Boninus Mombritius in his Vitae sanctorum. This was Wace’s main source. But he seems also to have known another version, interpolated with extra episodes, which was printed by Falconius in the S. Nicolai acta primigenia in 1751. There is also a Latin version that fuses both, which appears in 11th century manuscript Paris, BNF, lat. 5607.
The most useful article that can be readily accessed is Joel Fredell’s account, “The Three Clerks and St. Nicholas in Medieval England”. Fredell tells us that “The Three Clerks”, a Latin drama from ca. 1100 found in British Library Additional 2241, apparently from Hildesheim in Germany. He also summarises the various versions of the story:
In its simplest form, in Wace’s c. 1150 Life, three clerks on their way to school stop at an inn; they are murdered by the innkeeper for their traveling money. St. Nicholas then appears and resurrects the students. Wace’s version of the tale only briefly covers the murder, concentrating on the resurrection for much of its fourteen lines.
The roughly contemporary Fleury version adds a number of details not seen in Wace or any earlier extant sources. Here a scheming wife urges her husband to murder the clerks, and Nicholas pretends to be a customer demanding “fresh meat” – a strategy which leads to the discovery of the murder and the couple crying miserere to Nicholas. The revived clerks pray to St. Nicholas before singing a Te Deum to close.
This play in fact seems to conflate the Three Clerks murder/resurrection with another “apocryphal” episode in the life of Nicholas also known primarily from Wace: the Murdered Merchant. A merchant goes on pilgrimage, loaded with offerings, to a shrine to St. Nicholas. A wicked innkeeper murders the merchant for his wealth, cuts up the body, and salts it down in a pickling vat. St. Nicholas resurrects the merchant in the night, who greets the astonished innkeeper in the morning and convinces the latter to atone for his crime by coming along to the shrine of St. Nicholas and asking for mercy.
The Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 779 MS of the SEL [=Southern English Legendary] (before 1450) seems to contain the crowning development of the Clerk/Merchant fusion of meat, mercy, and meretricious wife found in the Fleury play-book. The Three Clerks here is a 99-line episode at the end of the life of Nicholas. The innkeeper has become a butcher who, in response to his wife’s suggestion that they can profit from the clerks as guests, offers lodging and then murders them. When the butcher discovers that the clerks are penniless, the wife suggests grinding and salting the bodies, using the meat for pies and pasties to sell in order to make something out of the murder. The butcher obligingly grinds up the students and salts them down in a pickling tub. Nicholas appears as the couple are hawking the pies and pasties, asks for “clean meat,” forces the couple to take him to the salting tub where they kneel and beg forgiveness, and raises up the reconstituted students from their pickle. The clerks close the episode with a prayer to St. Nicholas and a shortened vernacular Te Deum.
The slightly earlier version in Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, Trinity College MS 605 (c. 1400) disposes of the episode in six lines, placing the students in a vat simmering under a brown sauce, from which St. Nicholas saves them with no dialogue, pleas, or prayers.9
This latter version is preceded by a longer episode also found in Wace and subsequently rare in the written canon of Nicholas’s life, but documented in stained glass and painting. When the boy Nicholas is to be ordained bishop of Myra, his landlady is so excited to view the ordination that she leaves her baby in bathwater over a fire. When she returns the baby is playing with the simmering bubbles, his “cors tendre et nu” miraculously unharmed; the grateful mother gives full credit to the saintly intervention of Nicholas
Fredell states that the miracle may have been “official” in France, but apocryphal in England!
From all this I think we may infer that the story arose in Normandy in the early 11th century, as a folk-story, and went on to massive artistic success. Curiously there is even a retelling by Balzac, Les trois clercs de sainct Nicholas.
Let’s finish with a couple of images of the story, from English churches.
I also found an 11th c. manuscript, Paris, BNF lat. 18303, online here containing the life and miracles of St Nicholas.
George H. McKnight, St. Nicholas: His Legend and His Role in the Christmas Celebration and Other Popular Customs, Putnam (1919). Online at Archive.org, and also at Project Gutenberg.↩
Wace, The Hagiographical Works: The <i>Conception Nostre Dame</i> and the Lives of St Margaret and St Nicholas. Translated with introduction and notes by Jean Blacker, Glyn S. Burgess, Amy V. Ogden with the original texts included, Brill (2013). Preview here. Manuscripts p.237. Outline of the story episodes p.241. Notes on p.347. Also see Le Saux, A companion to Wace, 2005, p.51 f for an extended discussion of the St Nicholas piece.↩
Einar Ronsjö, La Vie de saint Nicolas, par Wace, poème religieux du XIIe siècle, publié d’après tous les manuscrits, Études Romanes de Lund, 5 (Lund: Gleerup; Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1942).↩
J. Fredell, “The Three Clerks and St. Nicholas in Medieval England”, Studies in Philology 92, 181-202. JSTOR.↩
There are several Italian authors of the Dark Ages known loosely as John the Deacon, and a google search will quickly find evidence that people get confused. The text that I am working on, BHL 6104, is a Life of St Nicholas of Myra, in Latin, translated by “John the Deacon”. I struggled with this, so I thought that these notes might help someone!
The first place to look is the Clavis Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Aevi Italiae (700-1000), or SCLMAI, edited by B. Valtorta and published by Sismel in Florence in 2006 in one volume. This lists most of the following figures, all of whom left literary works, under the name of “John” or “Giovani”, some of whom are relevant, and I’ve added some notes under each.
Iohannes Aretinus, episcopus = Bishop John of Arezzo.
Bishop of Arezzo in the second half of the 9th century. In 875 at the request of Pope John VIII he was part of a mission of Charles the Bald to invite him to Rome for consecration. In July 877 he participated in a council in Ravenna called by the same pope. He died in the summer of 900. Author of a Latin translation of a Greek text on the ascension of Mary.
Iohannes Canaparius, monachus.
A monk in the monastery of Sts Boniface and Alexius on the Aventine in Rome and author of the Miracula s. Alexii. Became abbot in 1002, and probably knew St Adalbert of Prague during his stay in Rome. Died 1004. Author of the Passio S. Adaberti martyris Christi.
Iohannes Casinensis, monachus = John of Montecassino = John the Monk (of Montecassino). 9th century.
The CSLMAI says that nothing is known of him, except that he lived at the end of the 10th c., and wrote a Passio S. Iohannis martyris.
Articles at Treccani say: John the Deacon (or John of Montecassino, or Giovanni Imonide, latin Iohannes Hymonides). – Monk of Montecassino, historian (b. ca. 852 – d. before 882). Influential at the curia of John VIII, friend of Anastasius Bibliothecarius, he composed from archival material one of the best lives of Gregory the Great. It is very likely that he was involved with the Liber pontificalis; more questionable is the attribution to him of other works, among which the so-called Cena Cypriani. (This short note from Treccani; a much longer article with bibliography by Paolo Chiesa is here).
Iohannes Cluniacensis, monachus (Salernitanus) = John of Cluny, or John of Salerno = John the Monk (of Cluny / Salerno). Also Iohannes Romanus; Iohannes Italus (!)
Born in Italy, probably in Rome, he met Odo of Cluny in 938 and became a monk. Two years later he accompanied Odo to Rome, where he was later appointed prior of the monastery of St. Paul. In 943 he moved to Salerno where he composed the Life of Odo, who had died in Nov. 18, 942. Author of Sententiae Morales super Iob, and Vita S. Odonis Abbatis.
Iohannes Hymmonides Romanus, diaconus = John Hymmonides, or John Romanus = John the Deacon (of Rome).
The SCLMAI : Born around 825, a deacon of the church of Rome. After the death of Pope Nicholas I (Nov. 867) he was exiled by the emperor Ludovicus II. He became part of the entourage of Pope John VIII, and was connected to Anastasius Bibliothecarius and Gauderico di Velletri. He planned (in vain) to continue the Historia Tripartita of Cassiodorus, and Anastasius Bibliothecarius trabslated a Greek Chronographia Tripartita to assist him. He died around 880, certainly before 882. He might be the author of the life of Pope Hadrian II contained in the Liber Pontificalis. Author of the Cena Cypriani; Vita S. Clementis; Vita S. Gregorii Magni.
The confusion between this man and John of Montecassino is obvious.
Iohannes Mediolanensis, presbyter = John of Milan = John the Priest.
8-9th century, hagiographer. Author of a single work on the Passio of the Virgin Mary.
Iohannes Neapolitanus, diaconus (and see also Guarimpotus Neapolitanus) = John of Naples = John the Deacon (of Naples). 9-10th century. This is undoubtedly our author.
Hagiographer and translator, deacon on the church of S. Gennaro ad Diaconiam (=St Januarius) at Naples. He was a pupil of the priest Auxilius, active in Naples ca. 896. In 902 he took part in the translation of the relics of St Severinus to Naples, and in 906 in that of the relics of the martyr Sosius to the monastery of St Severinus of Naples. His works are characterised in the Neapolitan school of translation from Greek by their extreme freedom and formal elegance. He may be the same as Guarimpotus Neapolitanus, in which case Guarimpoto would have been his name before ordination. The date of his death is unknown. Author of: Acta XL Martyrum Sebastenorum; Acta S. Sosii; Gesta Episcoporum Neapolitanorum; Passio S. Maximi Cumanae; Translatio S. Severini Neapolim; Vita S. Euthymii Abbatis; Vita S. Nicolai. The Life of St Nicholas was made at the age of 20 or 25 at the exhortation of the monk Athanasius, who may perhaps be identified with the Athanasiuis sent to Misenum with John to look for the relics of St. Sosius. BHL 611-7 are epitomes of the work. (SCLMAI; Long article with bibliography by Luigi Andrea Berto at Trecani here)
Iohannes Ravennas, archiepiscopus = Archbishop John of Ravenna. died. 929. Author of 7 works.
Iohannes Venetus, diaconus = John the Deacon (of Venice). b. ca.940-945, d. after 1018. Not in the SCLMAI.
Author of the Chronicon Venetum, the oldest Venetian history. (Wikipedia article here).
We must also mention one further figure:
Guarimpotus Neapolitanus = Guarimpoto of Naples. 9-10th century.
Translator and hagiographer. It is unclear whether he can be identified with “Guarimpotus Grammaticus”, author of the translation of the sermon of Cosmas Vestitor on the translation of relics of John Chrysostom; likewise with John the deacon of Naples, with whose works the author of the Passio Eustratii has strong stylistic affinities. The name of Guarimpotus appears only in the prologue of the Passio Eustratii, so all his works are uncertain to some degree. Author of: a lost Passio S. Blasii (possible remains in BHL 1380-1379, which may instead be by Bonitus Neapolitanus Subdiaconus); Passio S. Eustratii et IV sociorum in Armenia, BHG 646-646a, PG 116, 468-515, made at the request of Athanasius II, bishop of Naples in 875-898; Passio S. Febroniae; Passio S. Petri Alexandrini, BHL 6692-3; Vita S. Athanasii ep. Neapolitani; Translatio S. Athanasii ep. Neapolitani.
Out of these, three figures actually appear as “John the Deacon”; John Hymmonides, John of Naples, and in fact also John of Montecassino. Following the links reveals that our boy is in fact John of Naples, translator of more than one hagiographical work from Greek.
I also found that searching for “Giovanni Diacono” produced a lot of information and some excellent bibliography.
What I had not realised was that Naples, in the 6th-9th century, was actually part of the Byzantine Empire, as the Duchy of Naples. Its ruler held the titles of dux and magister militum. Originally dependent on the exarchate of Ravenna, it transferred to the supervision of the Byzantine governor of Sicily after the fall of Ravenna. But in practice it was rare for a Byzantine army to appear in Sicily, and Naples therefore remained largely independent. It was vexed by constant Lombard raids, which devastated the countryside. At other periods the Byzantine government sent Greek settlers to reinforce the Greek population. The majority of the people were Latin speaking. By around 840 the Byzantine rule had dissipated to nothing, and the Duchy ceased to feature the Byzantine emperor on its coins. All the same, this was a bilingual environment, and there was a school of translations into Latin; including the text that we are concerned with here, the Life of St Nicholas.