Did the plays of Menander survive to the renaissance

I was very tired last night, and in need of something gentle to read.  So I took Andrew Lang’s Books and Bookmen to bed with me.  The name of Andrew Lang is one that I knew when I was a lad, for Tolkien refers to him often in his essay on fantasy, as the author of the Blue Fairy Book and other collections of literary. 

The essay was published in Tree and Leaf, which, like many another Tolkien fan I bought and found somewhat uncomfortable.  The ‘leaf’ story, Leaf by Niggle, was charming, although I was oblivious to the deeper meaning that only time could bring.  But as for ‘tree’, the essay, it was a puzzle. I had never heard of literary criticism, when I read it; nor, indeed, of Andrew Lang, who is perhaps a forgotten author these days.

The copy of Books and Bookmen itself was a century old, on good paper, and a delight to read and handle.  Stamps at various places indicated that it had once belonged to Norwich public library, which had foolishly disposed of it.  So I read of the Elzevir editions, of the bibliophilia of France, of the famous Derome blue binding which fades so badly, and of other things of no real importance to a poor man like myself, but curiously soothing.

In the middle of the book was an essay on literary forgeries, itself of considerable interest and relevance today, when the so-called Jordan Lead Codices are being touted.  But one passage caught my eye:

After the Turks took Constantinople, when the learned Greeks were scattered all over Southern Europe, when many genuine classical manuscripts were recovered by the zeal of scholars, when the plays of Menander were seen once, and then lost for ever, it was natural that literary forgery should thrive.

Is it so?  Were the plays of Menander then extant?

I don’t know what Lang’s source is for this remark, and I can’t find any leads.  If any reader does know, perhaps he would share his knowledge with us?

In the mean time, tonight, I shall continue to read Books and Bookmen.


Galen and his works

Who cares to read the works of an doctor of the 2nd century AD?  Well, it doesn’t matter anyway; you can’t!  Not unless you are fluent in Greek at least, anyway.  Do we care?

Those of us who have the “Indiana Jones” approach to lost texts and manuscripts cannot fail to find Galen interesting.  He’s almost a textbook case of how ancient Greek works reached us, via Arabic.  He also has much to say of interest about the way that ancient books were made and traded and forged.  Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars,1 refer to him frequently, and I’ve summarised a few of the bits.  This should whet your appetite!

Ptolemy I sought to fill the library at Alexandria.  He borrowed the official copies of the Attic tragedies from Athens, giving a massive deposit, and then chose to forfeit the deposit and keep the books.  This is recounted by Galen, 17(1).607. In their eagerness to buy all the books that existed, the librarians were frequently deceived into buying forgeries (Galen vol. 15, p. 105).

Galen attributes the confused state of one of the works of Hippocrates to marginal notes being incorporated into the main text by a copyist (vol. 15, p. 624); in vol. 17 (1) p. 634, he notes how a parallel from another writer had been written in a margin, and incorporated in the same manner.3

Galen also was very close to the text critical maxim that the more difficult reading is to be preferred (Corpus medicorum graecorum,p.178, 17-18) where he expresses a preference for old or antiquated words in the text and understands that they would have been changed into something easier if the text had been modified (ibid. 121.17-18).

The Arabic scholars investigated Galen closely, and recent research into Arabic versions has recovered a missing passage from one known text and, better still, proof that an incomprehensible passage in the Greek is because a leaf in an early copy was pulled out and reinserted backwards!  The Nestorian translator, Hunain ibn Ishaq, gives a long list of Galen’s works then extant and considers which had been translated into Syriac, which into Arabic, by whom, when, and where manuscripts of the Greek might be found.  His method of translation involves collating several manuscripts to deal with damage, a trick he learned in part from Galen himself.4

After the fall of Constantinople in 1204, William of Moerbecke became Latin archbishop of Corinth, and translated into Latin some works of Galen not now extant.

In the 19th century Minas Minoides discovered some lost essays of Galen on Mount Athos, which are today Mss. Paris. sup. gr. 634 and 635. 

Interested?  I admit that I am.  I’d like to see those passages of Galen in English.  Indeed I’d like to see that list by Hunain ibn Ishaq.

Sadly no-one has ever been interested in translating Galen.  Initially I could only find one work in translation.  Then John Wilkins of Exeter University in the UK kindly pointed out to me that some selected works were translated by Peter Singer for the Oxford World Classics series in 1997, but that’s it. 

Incidentally the little Oxford World Classics paperback is already out of print, and commanding prices from £31 upwards! This system of making minority-interest texts available in short print run book form with a fierce copyright of life+70 years seems pretty broken to me; the book may exist, but who can read it?  Luckily my local library bought it, so I should be able to get it on ILL, and will report back.

Let us hope that Galen will attract more attention, and more of it online. 

1. 3rd edition, Clarendon Press (1991).    
2.  The reference given in S&S — generally bad on references — is 17(1).607., which tells us little; which work of Galen is this?  Luckily I have the French translation of S&S, D’Homere a Erasme, translated by Pierre Petitmengin who inserted a good few and elucidates.  He gives the reference to the Kühn edition of Galen, Claudii Galeni opera omnia, 1821-33, 20 vols; the ref. is to vol. 17, 1, p.607; I have followed his lead on references above.   There is a review of Kühn’s edition in English here.  The edition is Greek with a Latin translation, and runs to over 20,000 pages!  Vol. 20 is here.
3.  S&S describes Galen as the greatest text-critical scholar of his time, and that W.G.Rutherford, A chapter in the history of annotation, London 1905, pp.47-57 is still worth reading.
4. See J.S.Wilkie, JHS 101 (1981), 145-8; S&S has further bibliography.


Nicaea II and missing books

This post raises some interesting questions about the destruction of Iconoclast literature after the second council of Nicaea in 787 AD.  (Also commented on here at Labarum).

The thrust of the post is that the council ordered the destruction of iconoclast books, aside from those held in a private collection by the patriarch of Constantinople.  The existence of such a collection may explain some of the reading material listed by Photius in his Bibliotheca.

What I was not clear about, tho, was what the historical sources quoted were.  How do we know this?

Sadly a firewall prevents me posting a comment, but if you know, please let me know.

I find that this is supposedly from the 9th canon of the canons of the council.  In the NPNF translation these read:

Canon IX.

That none of the books containing the heresy of the traducers of the Christians are to be hid.

All the childish devices and mad ravings which have been falsely written against the venerable images, must be delivered up to the Episcopium of Constantinople, that they may be locked away with other heretical books. And if anyone is found hiding such books, if he be a bishop or presbyter or deacon, let him be deposed; but if he be a monk or layman, let him be anathema.


Ancient Epitome of Canon IX.

If any one is found to have concealed a book written against the venerable images, if he is on the clergy list let him be deposed; if a layman or monk let him be cut off.

Van Espen.

What here is styled Episcopium was the palace of the Patriarch. In this palace were the archives, and this was called the “Cartophylacium,” in which the charts and episcopal laws were laid up. To this there was a prefect, the grand Chartophylax, one of the principal officials and of most exalted dignity of the Church of Constantinople, whose office Codinus explains as follows: “The Ghartophylax has in his keeping all the charts which pertain to ecclesiastical law (that is to say the letters in which privileges and other rights of the Church are contained) and is the judge of all ecclesiastical causes, and presides over marriage controversies which are taken cognizance of, and proceedings for dissolution of the marriage bond; moreover, he is judge in other clerical strifes, as the right hand of the Patriarch.”

In this Cartophylaceum or Archives, therefore, under the faithful guardianship of the Chartophylax, the fathers willed that the writings of the Iconoclasts should be laid up, lest in their perusal simple Catholics might be led astray.

But here at IntraText I find a different version of the text.  Now IntraText is not a scanning site; they just use what others upload.  So which translation is this?  The same text is here.  I also find it here with attribution to Peter L’Huillier. 

After much searching, I find online “Canons of the seven ecumenical councils from the Rudder trans. by D. Cummings, 1957, with intro by Archbishop Peter L’Huillier.” (Chicago: Orthodox Christian Educational Society) and discussed here.