Did he really? Could any scholar…? Apparently he did. Angelo Mai and the Editio Princeps of the Vatican Mythographers

The “Vatican Mythographers” is a set of three ancient texts about pagan mythology, all originally published by Angelo Mai from Vatican manuscripts in 1831.[1]   His edition has been reprinted since, and translated into English and French, but no critical edition has ever appeared.

A paper appeared by Kathleen Elliot and J. P. Elder in 1947, in preparation for such an edition, which however never appeared.[2]  This contains the following curious remarks:

… his transcriptions are frequently incorrect, a fact which will surprise no one acquainted with this industrious prefect’s habits. His text is further vitiated we speak from at least scholastic purity – by his frequent euphemistic changes: “. . . illud non celabo, me videlicet complura mythographorum horum vocabula, quae, ut fit in ethnica mythologia, pudicis auribus ingratiora accidissent, euphemismis commutavisse . . .” (Mai, praef. xvi). Whether a “rem habuit” is actually less salacious than a “concubuit” or whether a “complexus” is more delicate than a “compressus” is doubtless a matter of secular taste.

This seems very odd behaviour.  So I retrieved Mai’s preface, and section IX is as follows.

IX.  Atque ego quidem in exscribendo, distin­guendo, plurimisque mendis purgando tam copiosos fabularum libros, non modicum laborem pertuli: scho­lia tamen mea nulla propemodum addidi, ne molem voluminis nimis augerem: cuius rei gratia minutis et­iam typis usus sum, quominus chartam innumeram lectoribus meis obiicerem: quos etiam illud non ce­labo, me videlicet complura mythographarum ho­rum vocabula, quae, ut fit in ethnica mytholo­gia, pudicis auribus ingratiora accidissent, euphemismis commutavisse “utcumque ferent ea fata mi­nores.” Auctorum apud hos mythographos appel­latorum syllabum scripsi: latinitatis tamen nova vo­cabula,quae sparsim videbam, philologis ac lexico­graphis colligenda permisi: a quibus etiam scholio­rum ad hos mythographos apparatum subinde con­cinnandum auguror. Interim laetari licet, quod his a me codicibus editis, tres insignes mythographos Hyginum, Placidum, et Leontium, adquisivisse videmur.

And indeed I endured not a little labour in copying, dividing, and cleaning up many errors such copious books of fables: but I added almost no notes, to avoid increasing too greatly the bulk of the volume: for the sake of which I also used small typefaces, to avoid throwing uncountable paper at my readers, from whom I will not conceal that, I have in fact exchanged for euphemisms many words of these mythographers which, as happens in pagan mythology, fall unpleasantly upon modest ears, “however those who come later may consider the deed.” (Aen. 6, 822). I have written an index of each author named in these mythographers; however I have left it to the philologists and lexicographers to collect the new words of Latin, which I saw occasionally: by whom I also predict that an apparatus of notes for these mythographers will be furnished hereafter. In the meantime, let us be happy that from these codices published by me, we seem to have acquired the three distinguished mythographers Hyginus, Placidus, and Leontius.

This is hard to credit.  A Latin text intended for schoolboys might be bowdlerised, but hardly a scholarly edition intended for research libraries!  What on earth was Mai thinking?  How extraordinary.  And his quotation from the Aeneid tells us that he knew that subsequent scholars would curse him.

Is it possible that he was ordered to do this?  That the Vatican press could not issue obscene works?  We can only guess.

Elliot does identify the manuscripts used by Mai, which the latter had left obscure.  For the first mythographer, this is Vat. reg. lat. 1401, online here.  So it would be possible to collate the two from home, and to discover precisely what Mai did to the text.

Here on folio 14v, the bottom of column 1 and the start of column 2, is the chunk that I quoted earlier today:

It’s interesting to compare this with Mai’s Latin text (p.34), and my translation:

89.  De ortu Panis. Post mortem Ulixis Mercurius cum uxore eius Penelope concubuit. Quae sibi juxta oppidum Tegeum peperit filium, Pan nomine.  Unde et Tegeeus dicitur.

89.  On the Origin of Pan. After the death of Ulysses, Hermes lay with his wife Penelope, who gave birth to a son near the town of Tegea, named Pan.  From which he is called “the Tegean”.

Bode corrected “Tegeum” to “Tegeam”, correctly.  But there’s nothing amiss here at least.

Searching for the “rem habuit” referred to by Elliot, it appears to be in chapter 94,

94. Neptuni et Erycis. Cum animadvertisset Neptunus Venerem spatiantem in litore siculi maris, cum ea rem habuit: ex quo gravida facta filium peperit, quem nominavit Erycem.

94.  Of Neptune and Eryx.  When Neptune had noticed Venus walking on the beach of the Sicilian sea, he had an affair with her: and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom she named Eryx.

Here’s the manuscript image, from folio 15r:

The “sicula maris” is clear enough, but the next two words are very abbreviated.  The horizontal stroke above the “a” of “ea” is clearly “eam”.  The backwards “c” is “con” or “com”, the “p” with a squiggle above it is “prae”. So I think they read “eam conpresset,” “he lay with her.”  Not what Mai printed.

It’s very strange.  Someone needs to do this work here, and compare the text and the manuscripts, line by line.

But not me!

Update (20 April 2024):  Apparently it has been done!  A kind commenter tells me of the existence of two critical editions:

Anyway, there are at least two modern editions of the first text that comply with current critical standards:
– P. Kulcsár, Mythographi Vaticani I et II (1987, Corpus Christianorum SL 91C)
– N. Zorzetti & J. Berlioz, Premier Mythographe du Vatican (1995, Les Belles Lettres #328)
Both read “eam compressit” (pp. 40 and 57 respectively).

Thank you!

Update 22 April 2024: A kind commenter pointed out that “spatiantem” should be “walking” – fixed! Thank you.

  1. [1]Angelo Mai, Classicorum auctorum e Vaticanis codicibus editorum Tomus III. Rome, 1831.  Online here.
  2. [2]Kathleen Elliot and J. P. Elder, “A Critical Edition of the Vatican Mythographers,” in: Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 78 (1947), pp. 189-207. JSTOR.

How did he get *that* reading?? (Again) – Recensio 7

From one of the miracle stories of St Nicholas (BHL 6164), appended to John the Deacon.  The story so far.  St Nicholas has sneaked up on a gang of robbers who have looted a customs-house, which was left under the saint’s protection.

Tunc dixit ad eos Sanctus Nicolaus, “O infelices et miseri, quid agitis? Numquid ignoratis, quoniam ego ipse ibidem eram, quando hoc malum perpetrastis? Nam oculi mei conspexerunt, quando has et illas res abstulistis.” Quantitatem et numerum etiam cunctarum rerum, quae de theloneo abstulerunt, singillatim eis exponens, addidit dicens, …

Then Saint Nicholas said to them, “O unfortunate and wretched ones, what are you doing? Do you not know that I myself was there when you committed this evil? For my eyes saw when you took away these things and those things.” Then he gave the quantity, and also the number of all the things which they had taken from the toll-house, listing one by one to them, saying, , …

He tells them, “All is known!” and they panic and take the stuff back. The Latin text here is what I now think the author wrote.

But I was working from the Falconius edition (1751) here, and when I got to this bit, I was a bit puzzled.  Here it is:

Latin text of the passage in the edition of Falconius.

Which is a bit weird.  How is “quanti autem” the accusative for “exponens”?

Well I happened to have a manuscript open (BNF lat. 989, 10th c.), and I saw this:

Latin text of the passage in manuscript BNF lat. 989.

That made more sense.  “Quantitatem” rather than “Quanti”.  The etiam has moved up, so we end up with “etiam &”, a phrase not  uncommon in John the Deacon.  But the “etiam”‘s do move around in the manuscripts.  It’s probably just a copyist error in this particular manuscript.

Next I looked at the Mombritius, the first edition, published before 1480, and I got this:

Latin text of the passage in the edition of Mombritius.

This confirmed the “quantitatem”, but left the “etiam” alone.  Only “numerum” has now become “munerum”, “the quantity and value also of all the stuff…”.  Nobody else has “munerum”, so this suggests to me that the Mombritius edition was based on a manuscript in Gothic hand, where such slips can be rather easy…

Cartoon showing Gothic book hand and its unreadability

I do love that cartoon!

Next I opened another manuscript, Wien ONB 416 (12th c.), which belongs to a separate family from the other manuscripts:

Latin text of the passage in the manuscript Wien ONB 416.

Here again we have “Quantitatem & numerum etiam”, rather abbreviated.

Then I looked at the Lippoman edition (1515), and all became clear.

Latin text of the passage in the edition of Lippomanus.

Here is our “Quanti”, as Falconius gives it!  And here also is his “autem”, or rather “tatem”!!  The silly fool was copying Lippomanus, clearly in a great hurry, and didn’t notice the hyphen.  So he gave two words, “Quanti autem”, where the nice clear printed copy before him read “Quantitatem”.

It’s hard to believe that Falconius did this, so I would tend to think that his compositor/typesetter did it.  Which means that when Falconius sent his edition to the press, he sent a marked-up copy of Lippomanus to the press, rather than writing out his own copy first.

We get an awful lot of information here about these early editions.

  • The editio princeps, Mombritius, ca. 1480, was printed from a manuscript in Gothic hand, and misread.
  • The second edition, of Lippomanus, ca. 1515, may have used Mombritius but certainly did not copy it.  Instead it gives the manuscript reading.
  • The third edition, of Falconius, 1751, was done carelessly and quite possibly by writing changes into a copy of the Lippomanus edition.  There was no change at this point, but the typesetter misread the exemplar before him and got it wrong.

That’s rather nice, really.  I’ve learned a lot from a little.  Once again, I’ve learned not to rely on Falconius.


How papyrus rolls lost their tops and bottoms – from Oxyrhynchus

A truly fascinating post at Papyrus Stories tells us what happened when an archive of papyrus rolls was neglected in the early 2nd century.

“The documents shown to me by the clerk Leonides (…) were in some cases deprived of their beginning, or damaged, or moth-eaten (…). Since the books have been hastily moved from one place to another repeatedly, lying on top of each other and unattached (…). Some were eaten away at the top because of the dry heat (…) and since they are being handled daily, and their material is brittle, it happened that some were destroyed in parts, others were without beginnings, and some had even fallen apart.”

This was only part of the story.  There was a position, Keeper of the Fayum archives, but by 107 AD Leonides was the man responsible for day to day care.  The rolls were already in a mess.  Over the next 50 years all those concerned were involved in endless bureaucratic argument and appeals to the prefect over whose fault this was and what should be done, and who should pay for it.

I recommend reading the whole article.  It is an interesting insight into the disfunction of the administration at that period, from the Prefect down.  But more, it explains how it is that we get so many texts which are missing the beginning.

For the last year I have myself been trying to obtain access to a document in an archive near me, where petty bureaucrats simply won’t solve the problems they themselves create.  I’ve had to give up, in fact.  So I have quite a bit of fellow-feeling for the poor souls caught up in this mess!


How ancient writers lost their books? A modern parallel!

Ancient writers often composed their works in many books.  Often, we find that not all of these books have reached us.  Some have; some have not.

This evening I had an illuminating experience.

Like many people, I have a directory on my hard disk, full of PDF’s of old Loeb editions.  Among these are nine volumes of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, obtained from Archive.org long ago and seldom looked at.

This evening I wanted to consult a passage, referenced as being in book 36.  I looked for my Loeb PDF’s, and was troubled to discover that volume 9, in PDF, apparently ended with book 35.  Was it possible…?

Indeed it was.  It turned out that the Loeb edition was in TEN volumes; and the tenth volume is not to be met with online.

I had never noticed.  As far as I knew – until the pinch came – I had all of Pliny the Elder.

Why this should be is hard to say.  Possibly copyright, that bugbear of scholarship, is to blame.  But it doesn’t matter, for our purposes, just why the volume is absent.

The point is that Pliny is now circulating, and circulating very widely, in a mutilated form.  If some disaster intervened, and my hard disk was the sole transmitter of his work, those last book(s) would be gone for good.

It’s very like the situation that must have happened many times in antiquity.  A busy owner, a mass of books, seldom consulted, and one or more volumes quietly absent and unnoticed.

It is no surprise that we have missing volumes of ancient multi-volume works.  The marvel is that so much has survived!

In the mean time … does by chance anyone have a PDF of the 10th volume of the Loeb edition?


The manuscripts of Polybius

The Greek writer Polybius wrote a history in 40 books which recorded events from 264 BC down to the fall of Carthage in 146 BC.[1]  The work must still have existed in a complete form in the Byzantine era, when extracts were made from it, but has not come down to us intact.  However a great deal of it survives.

The remains can be classed as follows:

  • Books 1-5 survive complete.
  • Long extracts of books 6-18 are preserved in a collection known as the Excerpta Antiqua.  The oldest manuscript of this, F, in fact also contains excerpts of books 1-5, but later manuscripts omit these.
  • Shorter extracts from all the books are included in some of the massive historical compilations made at the command of the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (d. 959 AD).

A monograph with a detailed study of the manuscript tradition was published by J.M. Moore.[2]

Manuscripts of the full text

The following are the manuscripts:

  • A = Vaticanus graecus 124 (once 126). 10th c., probably AD 947.
  • B = London, British Library, Add. 11728. AD 1616.
  • B2 = Marcianus gr. VII, 4. 15th c.  Copy of B.
  • B3 = Florence, Mediceo-Laurentianus Plutei 69, 9. AD 1435, made for Filefo.
  • B4 = Marcianus gr. 371. Mid 15th c.  Once belonged to Bessarion.
  • B5 = Marcianus gr. 369. AD 1470. Copied for Bessarion.
  • C = Munich gr. 157. 14th c.  Polybius is on f.1-91v, the remainder containing Herodian and Heliodorus.  It came from Constantinople after 1453, as a note on f.169r states; then to the library of Matthias Corvinus , King of Hungary (d. 1490), then to Joachim Camerarius who presented it to Albrecht V of Bavaria (d. 1579), whose library forms the nucleus of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek today.
  • C2 = Vaticanus Urbinas gr. 101.  Written between 1455-1474.
  • Z = Vaticanus gr. 1005. 15th c.
  • Z2 = Constantinople, Top Kapu Serai, fonds Ahmet III, 25. 15th c.
  • D = Munich gr. 388 (also contains Excerpta Antiqua). 14th c.
  • E = Paris, BNF, graecus 1648. Once Medici Reg. 1859.  Late 14-early 15th c.
  • J = Vienna phil. gr. 59. 15th c.  A damaged and disarranged ms.
  • F = Vaticanus Urbinas gr. 102 (contains Excerpta Antiqua for books 1-18). 10-11th c.
  • C3 = Paris, BNF, gr. 1796 + Oxford Bodleian Laud. gr. 4. Mid. 16th c.
  • C4 = Paris, BNF, gr. 1649. AD 1547.
  • C5 = Paris, BNF, Coislin. 318. 16th c.

The following mss. contain only a single short excerpt from book 2.  They are all 15th c. except Z4 which is 16th c.

  • Z3 = Paris, BNF, gr. 1739.
  • Z4 = Paris, BNF, gr. 462.
  • Z5 = Paris, BNF, gr. 2376.
  • Z6 = Milan, Ambrosianus, gr. F88 sup.
  • Z7 = Leiden Scal. gr. 51.

All the mss. above derive from a copy in which there are certain common errors.  In book 4, 20:7 some words preserved by Athenaeus are lost, for instance.

A is the best ms.  From it derive B and its children and C4.

An independent manuscript which contained at least books 1-18 is the origin of the remaining mss.  From this ms. was made the Excerpta Antiqua, preserved in Ms. F.  and also another ms, from which the other mss descend; C, Z, D, E and J.

C3, C4 and C5 are copies of the editio princeps, which was printed from C.

The Excerpta Antiqua

There are two pages of mss. containing portions of these.  The principal mss. are:

  • F = Vaticanus Urb. gr. 102, as above.
  • F2 = Vaticanus gr. 1647. 15th c.
  • F3 = Florence, Mediceo-Laurentianus plutei 69, 21. 16th c.
  • D = Munich gr. 388, as above.
  • D2 = Vaticanus gr. 125. 16th c.
  • D3 = Oxford, Bodleian, Archbishop Selden B 18. 16th c.  Once belonged to Casaubon.
  • G = Florence, Mediceo-Laurentianus Plut. 69, 9. Ms. B3 above is also in the same physical volume. 16th c.
  • K = Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale Francais, gr. 2967. 15th c.

F is unique in two ways.  Firstly it contains excerpts from books 1-5.  Since the full text of these was available elsewhere, these did not get copied.  Secondly it not only contains the lengthy extracts, but in the margin it contains a large number of short passages from the sections not included in the main excerpts.  Most of these are also in F2, but not in the other mss (with 3 exceptions).

F, K, G and D are independent of each other.

The Constantinian Excerpts

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus ordered the creation of a number of compilations of excerpts from earlier texts.  Most are now lost.

The extracts from books 1-5 in these compilations derive from a manuscript which is independent of the tradition we have.  The lacunae in all the mss. of the full text are not found in these excerpts.

  • P = Turonensis 980 (once 955) (Tours, Bibliotheque Municipale). 10th c. Contains the Excerpta de virtutibus et vitiis.  Two folios at the beginning praising Constantine VII were printed, but are now lost.
  • M = Vatican gr. 73 (once 91).  10-11th c.  Contains the Excerpta de sententiis.  A palimpsest, discovered by Angelo Mai with the use of chemicals, but now many pages are entirely black and unreadable.  Only ms. for this compilation.
  • Q = Scorialensis Ω 1 11 (once 1K3, 1Z2). 16th c. Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo el Real, El Escorial.  Contains the Excerpta de insidiis.
  • T = Paris, BNF, Suppl. gr. 607. 10th c. Contains the Excerpta de strategematis.

There are also extracts from Polybius in the Excerpta de legationibus, extant in a number of 16th c. manuscripts, all derived from a manuscript lost in the fire at the Escorial in 1671.

  1. [1]This from the introduction to the 1922 Loeb edition.
  2. [2]J.M. Moore, The manuscript tradition of Polybius, Cambridge (1965).  This post is derived mainly from this source.

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 Titus, 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 n.a.lat. 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.

From my diary

Via AWOL I learn that an edition and translation of Bar Hebraeus’ scholia on the Old Testament is now available in PDF form online from the University of Chicago.  The PDF is here (linked on that page under the red down-arrow next to the text “Terms of Use”.

In addition, an interesting volume, The Early Text of the New Testament, ed. Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, Oxford, has appeared and is discussed by Larry Hurtado here.  It has wider interest than merely biblical scholars:

There are cogent discussions of wider issues, including in particular Harry Gamble, “The Book Trade in the Roman Empire” (pp. 23-36), and Kruger (a former PhD student), “Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts” (pp. 63-80).  …

Charles Hill (“‘In These Very Words’:  Methods and Standards of Literary Brorowing in the Second Century,” pp. 261-81) provides a valuable study showing that pagan and Christian authors followed a different set of conventions in citing texts than used by copyists of texts.  …

This volume (though expensive!) is now probably the most up to date analysis of earliest evidence about the state and transmission of NT writings in the second century CE.  Given the limitations of our evidence, scholars are required to make the best inferences they can.  This volume provides essential resources in doing so, and largely shows that we can with some confidence posit that the NT writings, essentially as we know them, were copied for both ecclesial and private reading.

Which is what we would tend to expect, surely, of any ancient literary text not belonging to the corpus of astrological handbooks or similarly fluid literature?

Michael Kruger adds a note here.

I’d very much like to read this volume: it seems likely to be relevant to classical and patristic scholars.  It’s about $175, tho, which is a bit above my budget!

UPDATE: A corrrespondent writes to point out that I have confused two books in the above.  I referred to The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis. Second Edition (eds M.W. Holmes & B.D. Ehrman; NTTSD 42; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2012), which appeared at a ridiculous price ($314).  But the book that I was discussing was actually the Charles Hill volume!  Many thanks for the correction.  Friday night tiredness, I’m afraid, is responsible.

The Holmes volume, however, is also likely to be interesting, as may be seen from the list of chapters given by Peter Head here.  But at $341 is way out of reach.  However I suspect it will be quickly pirated in PDF form, unless students have become wealthy in the last few weeks!


Aurispa and his 238 Greek manuscripts

We owe the preservation of a considerable portion of the Greek classics to the actions of a single man.  The Italian Giovanni Aurispa made a trip to Constantinople in the early fifteenth century.  On his return, in the winter of 1423, he came back with 238 Greek manuscripts.  Many of these are the only, the oldest or the best source that we have for the text they contain.

I’ve always been curious to know more of Aurispa, but the sources tend to be in Italian.  This is not one of my better languages.

Today however I learn of the source of the numeral “238”, which is often mentioned but never referenced:

In his famous letter to Traversari, dated 27 August (1424), Aurispa says he has 238 volumes of pagan Greek authors and gives the names of many of them, including the following: “Aristarchum super Iliade in duobus voluminibus, opus quoddam spatiosum et pretiosissimum; aliud commentum super Iliade, cuius eundem auctorem esse puto et illius quod ex me Nicolaus noster habuit super Ulixiade.”

Traversari seems to have requested the Aristarchus, for on 23 February (1425) Aurispa says he cannot send it because it is in Venice with the others (he was in Bologna then).[1]

I had no idea that Aurispa’s letters exist!  It would be most interesting to see the list of authors in that letter.  But how?

Diller gives the following reference: R. Sabbadini, Carteggio di Giovanni Aurispa, Rome, 1931, pp.11f., 24, 159f.  But surely there must be an earlier publication?

If so, I was unable to locate it.

  1. [1]Aubrey Diller, Aurispa and Aristarchus, Classical Philology 55 (1960), p.35-36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/265440

Arrian’s lost work on “After Alexander” and what survives of it

The second century writer Arrian is our best source for the life of Alexander the Great, using impeccable sources then extant but now lost.  A number of his other works are extant, and indeed his work On hunting even exists in English, and can be found on Archive.org. 

But equally interesting to us is his Τα μετὰ Αλέξανδρον, After Alexander.  This work in ten books is lost, but we know of it from Photius, who, in his Bibliotheca, also gives us a long summary of its contents.  This 9th century epitome, made casually as part of this enormous work, is one of our major sources for the early years of the Succcessor period, from the death of Alexander in 323 to the summer of 319.  The work clearly existed in a complete form when Photius read it, which makes it a pity that it did not survive the next few centuries. 

However I learn that we do have a little more.  For it seems that some leaves from one or more copies were reused, and these palimpsest leaves have reached us. 

The first of these is a Vatican palimpsest, ms. Vaticanus 495, which contains two leaves — a single bifolium — which appear as folios 230, and 235.  This was discovered in 1886 by Reitzenstein, and published in 1888.(1)  The leaves seem to be 10th century.  The pages contain a portion of the account of the doomed Egyptian campaign of Perdiccas, which ended in his death, the destruction of the central authority, and the foundation of the power and prestige of the Ptolemaic dynasty.  The editor believed the extract to be from book 7 of the work. 

The second survival was discovered much more recently by Jacques Noret in 1977 at Göteborg, ms. Graecus 1, folios 72 and 73, and was published by him with diplomatic transcription,  a “normal” text, and a French translation.(2)  This has a portion of book 10.  A discussion with images of the pages was published by B. Dreyer in 1999, and I think this is online.(3) The manuscript contains Dionysius Periegetes (f. 1-40) and then the commentary of Eustathius upon it (f. 48-142).  The first was written in the 14th century, the commentary 14-15th c.

 There is also a papyrus of the 2nd century, so very close to the date of composition, published by V. Bartoletti in 1951, which contains a portion of the struggle between Eumenes, Craterus and Neoptolemus. 

So it looks as if at least one 10th century manuscript existed down to the renaissance, when it was dismembered for use as raw materials!

1. Reitzenstein, Arriani τῶν μετὰ Αλέξανδρον libri septimi fragmenta e codice Vaticano rescripto nuper iteratis curis lecto, Breslauer philologische Abhandlungen Bd. 3, H. 3, Breslau 1888, S. 1–36.
2. Noret, Analecta Bollandia 95, 1977, 269–73. Noret, Ant. Class. 52, 1982, 235–242.
3. Boris Dreyer, Zum ersten Diadochenkrieg: Der Göteborger Arrian-Palimpsest (ms Graec 1), Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 125 (1999) 39–60. This contains colour images of the Göteborg leaves and monochrome ones — rather poor — of the Vatican leaves.


The Vlatadon library in Thessalonika

I have had an email back from Veronique Boudon-Millot today, giving the story of how the lost text by Galen, Peri Alupias (On consolation for grief) was found.  It’s very interesting, and I have asked for permission to translate it and place it here. 

She also mentions that Vlatadon 14, the manuscript that contained the new work, also contains the first complete copies of Galen’s On my own books and On the order of my own books, the two works most interesting to non-medical specialists, as evidence for the transmission of texts in the 2nd century AD.  The only previously known copy of the Greek was the Ambrosianus Q 3 sup. in Milan, which has many gaps in the text.  Those gaps previously had, perforce, to be filled from Hunain ibn Ishaq’s Arabic translation, itself extant only in a single forgotten manuscript in the obscure library of Mashhad in Iran.

A key factor in the discovery is that the Vlatadon collection catalogue is itself very obscure and little known.  It was published by S. Eustratiades in 1918.  There is no copy in the United Kingdom, but there is a copy in the French National Library in Paris.  It’s about 136 pages, but ms. 14 is the only medical text.  The remainder are patristic.  And that is exciting!  For if the collection is that little known, who knows what it might contain?!