Digital Reviews

Getting manuscript documents (and early printings) online in a form that is electronically readable is only half the battle: keeping it accessible and raising standards to the point that multiple projects could be united into a permanent digital library are the follow-ups we tend to forget.

Germany's Institut für Dokumentologie und Editorik is now publishing RIDE, a review of digital editions (issue one is out and issue two is coming up).

The checklist that reviewers use to assess accessibility and inter-operability is an interesting one. There's a chart of technical issues noted so far and here are some of their criteria:
  • Which licenses are used to determine the copyright of the material published by the projects?
  • Do projects adhere to a standard data model like TEI?
  • Is the raw data accessible, either for the individual parts of the edition or as a whole?
  • Which interfaces do the projects support to allow reuse of their data?
The questionnaire picks out other more general issues like:
  • Is search with wildcards available?
  • Are the methods employed in the project explicitly documented? 
All points that I'll have to figure out. I document my methods, but this documentation is scattered, with part of it appearing here in the blog. It should all be combined in one place.

Like most digital publishers, I am keen to put material in the public domain, but am cautious about the form of declaration. I'm sceptical about TEI. I do want to put the raw data out there, but we are all aware that the rate of uptake is going to be minute: at the most, three or four researchers per century are likely to want to use my MS Excel tables. The interfaces question refers to things like an API or Representational State Transfer principles, which are only vaguely in the mind of independent researchers running single-person projects.


Line-by-line Poetry

A  nice piece in The New York Times this week points to the increasing traction that electronic formatting for poetry is gaining at small presses.

The report, Line by Line, E-Books Turn Poet-Friendly by Alexandra Alter, explains the macro-typography problem with poetry: lines, not paragraphs, are the fundamental unit. If electronic publishers of poetry attend to the formatting of every line, they can create beautiful presentations.

But in early e-books (and needless to say, in most web presentations of poetry), publishers rushed out poems without appropriate formatting and the results were awful. The Text Encoding Initiative and other projects developed enormously complex standards for historic poetry, but these were not appropriate for contemporary poets, because the rules were so ridiculously complicated to apply.

I worked through these issues 12 years ago in developing the poetry page of my Macro-Typography site. [Note: this shows broken at the moment in Firefox, but loads fine in IE.] Sadly, my efforts to devise a few simply standard units were too far ahead of the curve. At that time, poets did not understand the internet, and web designers did not understand poets.

I argued during the the introduction of HTML 5 that poetry should be taken into account. It wasn't.

Perhaps I was too impatient. It took centuries to establish the conventions used by typesetters in setting up poetry for printed books. It was bound to take a few years for web typographers to be understood.

The solution I propounded in 2002 is now gradually establishing itself. Poetry must be formatted in units of lines so that any spillovers when the screen is too narrow always appear indented, not flush left. The range of formats for lines must include various initial indentations, along with special cases such as the caesura and the flush-right line. Stanzas must be appropriately spaced from one another.

Alexandra Alter describes how eBook Architects, a company in Austin, Texas, is now developing virtuous web-display routines as it formats poetry professionally:
[T]he text was hand-coded and marked up semantically, so that the formal elements were tagged as lines, stanzas or deliberate indentations. When a line runs over because the screen is too small or the font is too big, it is indented on the line below — a convention that’s been observed in print for centuries.
Bravo. It's good that poets are gradually realizing that poetry can look beautiful on an electronic screen, and that Aldine blackletter on creamy white paper is not the sole way to publish. It's a pity it is still so hard to set up electronic publication that specialist companies have to be engaged to provide bespoke solutions. It ought to be part of standard HTML.


Translating Nonsense

How does one translate nonsense that has arisen when scribes fall into a doze and begin to write drivel? There is a celebrated passage in the Great Stemma which I have been looking at today which marks a low point in scriptorial quality control. It derives from the Septuagint version of the Book of Job. I have tried to collate it in six parallel lines of continuous text below:

LXX  οι δε ελθοντες προς αυτον φιλοι  
VL   Nam qui venerunt ad eum amici  eius hii fuerunt: 
del  Nam qui venerunt ad eum amichi eius hic fuerunt: Sophar Israel
gam  Nam qui venerunt ad eum amici  eius hii fuerunt: Sofar filius
alf  Nam qui venerunt ad eum amici  eius hii fuerunt: Sofar filius
bet  Nam qui venerunt ad eum amihi  eius hii fuerunt: Sofar filius

ελιφας των ησαυ υιων         θαιμανων βασιλευς 
Elifaz, de filiis Esau       Themanorum rex;
Elifaz, de filiis Esau       et Temanorum uxor filiis 
Elifaz, de filiis Esau       et Themanorum uxor et filiis
Elifas, de filiis Esau       et Temanorum uxor filiis 
Elifaz                       et Hemanorum uxor filiis

βαλδαδ ο σαυχαιων τυραννος
Baldad sauceorum tirannus;
Ammon                                 qui fuit Ar-auce tiranni
Ballenon filii Ballac  et filiis Amon qui fuit Cobar-auce tiramni 
Balenon filii Ballac uxor filiis Amon qui fuit Chobar-aucce tiranni 
Balexion             uxor filiis Amon qui fuit Bar-auce tiranni

σωφαρ ο μιναιων βασιλευς
Sophar mineorum rex
et Themas de filiis Elifaz dux Idumee
et Heman     filius Elifaz dux Idumee
et Temans    filius Elifaz dux Idumee
et Themas    filius Elifaz dux Idumee

The six texts are: the Septuagint, the Vetus Latina and the Great Stemma's delta, gamma, alpha and beta recensions. This text does not appear in modern bibles, as it has never been incorporated into the Masoretic or Vulgate versions, and must therefore be referenced as LXX Job 42:17e.

The context is that Job sits on his dung-heap, owning just a broken bit of pottery to wipe the discharge from his ulcers, lamenting and asking God what's up.

A trio of guys -- Eliphaz of Teman (a town in Edom); Bildad of Shuah; and Zophar of Naamath -- show up and make the snarky kind of unhelpful remarks that guys always make, to the effect that it might just be Job's own fault. We men tend to brutality.

Rabbis must have often been asked what rank these guys had. One suspects the three names are simply some kind of impenetrable humour, but a midrash which claims they are monarchs is recorded in the Septuagint.

Here is how the New English Translation of the Septuagint renders the midrash: Now the friends who came to him were: Eliphaz of the sons of Esau, king of the Thaimanites; Baldad, the tyrant of the Sauchites; Sophar, the king of the Minites.

The repetitious, inflated mess this turns into in the Great Stemma was first spotted by the great Yolanta Zaluska. I want to mention the passage in my planned book. It's a dilemma deciding which nonsense version to translate and how to render it. Here's one of the more absurd possibilities:
  • Sofar the son of Elifaz of the tribe of Esau
  • the wife of the Thaimanites
  • the sons of Balenon's son Ballac
  • Amon who was tyrant of Chobar-auce
  • Themas son of Elifaz, duke of Edom
That inflates the list to more than five visitors in the scribal version. Of course, the nonsense could be understood as meaning that a throng of sons came to visit Job too. In which case, the country lane outside Job's country estate in Uz would have had a parking problem with chariots, camels and donkey-carts jamming all available roadside space.


The Old Latin

Readers of this blog will recall that the names of many biblical characters in the Great Stemma are spelled in the fashion of the earliest Latin bibles, rather than in the forms prescribed by Jerome of Stridon in his Vulgate retranslation of the fifth century. I noted in my Studia Patristica paper that the original names in the diagram would seem to have been immune to Jerome's influence (although one must be cautious in guessing why) and that this was especially emphasized by Yolanta Zaluska:
Among the examples she isolates is Chor (Gen. 36:22), from the personal name Chorri in the Septuagint and Vetus Latina, which Jerome had amended to Horrei. Zaluska also detected the Vetus Latina name of a Horrite chief – Ucan – which Jerome had suppressed, as well as another name, Chat, which had arisen through scribal error in the Great Stemma’s transmission. Both names continued to be reproduced in the Great Stemma into the high medieval period although they were no longer current in the Genesis narrative.
I have undertaken various attempts to quantify just how many of the 540 names are present in the diagram in their Vetus Latina forms. Two years ago I wrote a long blog post on a statistical project to distinguish the variants and seek salient points in the data. The effort was rather inconclusive, partly because my methods were rather basic ones.

A recent article by Philip Burton (all references below) points to a possible way forward. Certain ordinary Greek words can be and were translated in alternative ways in Latin: Burton compares how those words are handled by Vetus Latina translators in seven cases and shows the results in a "distance chart of agreements" (page 187). He mentions that he gave a paper in 2008 offering hundreds of such comparisons. It might be useful for a future scholar to employ Burton's method to compare names in the Great Stemma manuscript.

Many other difficulties remain. Not only is it hard to distinguish Vetus Latina variants from bizarre scribal errors. We also simply don't know in many cases what the Vetus Latina text actually said.

Very little of 1 Kings and 2 Kings, two books that are of central importance to the Great Stemma, even survive. Natalio Fernández Marcos, the great Spanish biblical scholar, estimates in Scribes and Translators (page 44) that 90 per cent of what we know of the Vetus Latina version of 1-2 Kings derives from just three very fragmentary sources - the Opuscula of Lucifer of Cagliari, a Naples palimpsest and marginal glosses to several Spanish bibles.

In addition, the manuscript tradition for more substantial sections of the Vetus Latina is not entirely reliable either. As Burton has pointed out, even the question of whether there was just one translation or many remains a moot point in current scholarship. Even the tradition of the Vulgate, often thought of as fixed, retains uncertainties in its transmission. So it will never be possible to take all 540 of the Great Stemma names and fix what proportion have Vetus Latina origins beyond any doubt.

In the past two weeks I have returned to the issue because I need to summarize this matter concisely in my planned book. Among the results: on my website, there is a new tabulation of Vetus Latina reconstructions of the 14 names of women in 1-2 Kings where each name is traced back to the Septuagint. The extreme corruption in the graphic organization of these names in the Great Stemma makes the passage an especially good pointer to the primitive Vetus Latina forms.

In addition, I have done a little more checking of how five of the most salient changes fared in the Vulgate tradition, checking the names usage in the 1926-1995 Biblia Sacra iuxta Latinam Vulgatam versionem where the manuscripts are compared. I was surprised to find how often the Vetus Latina forms crept back into the text, particularly in Spain.

Septuagint Vetus Latina Vulgate Ref. Changes Notes
μαλελεηλ Maleleel Malalehel Gen 5:12, 5:15 e to a, insert h Printed Vulgates 1530-1592 employed the VL form
φαλεκ Phalech Faleg Gen 10:25 ch (k) to g Faleg in largest number of witnesses, but Falech, Falec, Falleg, Phaleg, Phaleg (first printed Vulgates), Phalech also recorded
χορρι Chorri Horrei Gen 36:22 from ch (χ) to h Horrei in largest number of witnesses, but Horraei, Orrei, Hori (first printed Vulgates), Horri and Orri also recorded
ζουκαμ Zucam Zevan Gen 36:27 middle consonant from c (g) to v (b) Zeuan in largest number of witnesses, but Zeban, Zeuam, Zefan, Zephan, Zenan, Zauan (first printed Vulgates), Euan also recorded
βηρσαβεε Bersabee Bethsabee 2Sam 11:3, 12:24 second consonant from r to th Bethsabee in most witnesses, but Bethsabȩȩ, Bethsabe, Betsabee, Betsabeȩ, Bersabee (6 witnesses), Bersabeȩ, Bersabȩȩ and Bersabe also recorded
The last of these cases is particularly interesting. Jerome preserved Bersabee as the name of the city in the southern desert in Genesis 22 (see a discussion by Rico), but there can be no doubt whatever that he desired to suppress Bersabee as the name of Solomon's mother and amend this to Bethsabee. Yet it re-infected "his" text soon enough. The Bersabee witnesses are: Madrid RAH 2, Burgo 2, Milan Biblioteca Ambrosiana B48, Vat. lat. 10510 (2nd Bovino Bible), Paris 15467, Mazarine 5 (all Bersabee), Madrid Mus. Arch. 485 (Bersabeȩ) and Madrid Bib. Nat. A2 (Bersabȩȩ).

Among the other instances, it is notable that Malaleel even crept back into early printings of the Vulgate before it was expunged.

This exercise has tested and confirmed the hypothesis that most Vetus Latina forms of the biblical names turn up in the Great Stemma, sometimes in quite bizarre transformations. For Zucam, the variety of readings in the diagram include Zugat and Zucat. It remains difficult to imagine any process by which the Great Stemma could have been drafted using a mixed supply of Vetus Latina and Vulgate forms of the names. The hypothesis that it was drawn up with the aid of a Vetus Latina bible and was fitfully altered later to match Jerome's spellings is the only one sustainable in the court of common sense.

Burton, Philip. “The Latin Version of the New Testament.” In The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, edited by Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes. 2nd ed. Brill, 2012. Google Books
Fernández Marcos, Natalio. Scribes and Translators: Septuagint and Old Latin in the Books of Kings. Vetus Testamentum / Supplements. Brill, 1994. Google Books
Moreno Hernández, Antonio. Las glosas marginales de Vetus Latina en las Biblias Vulgatas Españolas: 1-2 Reyes. Textos y estudios “Cardenal Cisneros.” Madrid: Editorial CSIC, 1992. Google Books
Rico, Christophe. “La Traduction Du Sens Littéral Chez Saint Jérôme.” In Le Sens Littéral des Ecritures, edited by Olivier-Thomas Venard, 171–218. Collection Lectio Divina, Hors Série. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2009. Academia.edu.


Vatican Library to be digitized ... again

These stories about the Vatican Library - the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana or BAV - digitizing its manuscript collection are starting to get repetitive.

Repetitive: because we have been here before, and most Rome correspondents never dig into what must be some rather messy background. Readers of this blog will recall a post four years ago about an impending digitization. At that time, a British company named Autonomy Systems was named as contractor. Is this the company which Hewlett Packard took over in 2011 and got into a fight with?

I don't know. I do know I still don't see the promised manuscript library. And I don't see any explanation by the BAV, though Cesare Pasini's rather silly encomium of that project is still online.

Chief prefect Pasini is still at it. He was referring grandiloquently in December to the "vast project" funded by Leonard Polonsky to digitize Greek and Hebrew items, but this too has moved at a snail's pace. The website under the auspices of Oxford University shows only a handful of Greek manuscripts  have actually been digitized so far.

At the Vatican, the digital library as of now is still a very meagre affair: if it were not for the Palatini latini files donated by the German University of Heidelberg, there would only be 24 codices available on the site. A sobering account in the National Catholic Reporter says the BAV is in fact 23 million dollars short of funding, adding that outside groups have helped the BAV digitize 6,800 codices, but it seems fewer than 5 per cent are on its website.

Yesterday, March 20, there seems to have been a news conference at the Vatican to announce a new contractor, NTT Data of Tokyo. The press release is short on specifics. Pasini says the Japanese company will "support the further improvement of the project". Not a word about the four lost years, or why the projects have stumbled.

Most of the news reports I am seeing miss all these subtleties. And trust a Daily Telegraph sub to make the shoddy reporting even worse: the headline "Vatican library plans to digitise 82,000 of its most valuable manuscripts" is plain misleading. The press release clearly says NTT Data will only be working on 3,000 items over the next four years.

Of one thing we can be sure. If the day ever comes when the Vatican has digitized all 82,000 of its codices, the Daily Telegraph will have long ceased to exist.


British Library Mappaemundi

More digital mappaemundi are due soon, from the British Library website. I haven't posted about digital maps since 2010 but have been doing some work on map vectorizing in the background.

Here is a plot of the Dura-Europos map - a completely vectorized trace - which is an example of what could be done to make a whole range of first-millennium maps readable to modern human eyes (and machine-readable too):
The idea is to trace the actual lines on the map and digitize these with drawing software, as I have done for various diagrams, such as Lambert's stemma on Piggin.net.

As far as I can see, Virtual Mappaemundi (VM) will only digitize the script of the maps, but will not vectorize the lines. Maybe this is an opportunity to extend the process by crowd-sourcing?

The March 14 post on the BL blog by Cat Crossley about the digitizations of the nine mappaemundi doesn't tell us a whole lot about the technology, but Cat has just tweeted back:
I could only track down low-res pics before getting the blog out, rest assured all VM project images are hi-res + magnificent!


A Short Chronographic Work

We are about three months away from seeing the first-ever critical edition of the Ordo Annorum Mundi, a minor chronographic work that has not won adequate scholarly attention in the past. This is very welcome news.

I have just registered this from looking at the website of Brepols, the Belgian publisher of the Corpus Christianorum series. Its Series Latina comprises critical editions of Latin texts from the first eight centuries of the Christian era and is one of the great contemporary monuments of scholarship.

The Ordo will appear in volume II of the works of Julian of Toledo and is being edited by the eminent Spanish scholar José Carlos Martín-Iglesias of the University of Salamanca, one of the foremost living experts on Julian. He has already established that the Ordo's author is not Julian, but has decided this volume is the best place to publish it (since no one can say who the author is).

The publisher's page states about this part of the project:
On a voulu attribuer a Julien de Tolède une petite chronologie qui fait le calcul des années du monde depuis la création jusqu'à la naissance du Christ dans sa première rédaction, du Ve siècle environ. Cet opuscule est bientôt arrivé en Espagne wisigothique et a connu des nouvelles rédactions du temps des rois Chintila (636-640) et Wamba (672-680). On peut reconstruire jusqu'à cinq versions différentes de cet oeuvre entre le Ve et le VIIIe siècle.
The Ordo may not be of any great intrinsic value, but its importance comes from its usefulness as a tracer of intellectual history and other literary works. It is intimately related to the Great Stemma and was consulted and extensively quoted by Beatus of Lièbana in his Apocalypse Commentary (which means that it is not unlikely that Beatus saw and adopted the Great Stemma itself for his own purposes).

This important volume is scheduled for publication this June. In anticipation of its publication, I have left my own text and page of notes on the Ordo Annorum Mundi largely unchanged, since it will soon be superseded by Professor Martín's expert analysis.