2015-08-25

Armenian Treasures

We owe much to Armenian monks for the preservation of the early Christian past. Many ancient works that are now lost in their original Greek, such as key books by the great Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, survive only in Armenian translation.

That's why we should be so pleased that a new crop of digitizations and uploadings at Digita Vaticana includes Vat.arm.3, a finely illuminated 13th-century codex that is believed to have been the first Armenian manuscript to enter the Vatican book collections in the 15th century. This was exhibited in the Rome Reborn exhibition 20 years ago in Washington and St Louis and the catalog stated that it was thought to have been donated to the papacy by the Armenian delegates at the Council of Florence.

Its texts are mainly liturgical but there are also texts on chronology, geography, astronomy, mensuration, philosophy and history. I'm not aware if any of these are unique, but it's great to just browse this thick codex and admire the care with which it was made. From the illuminations, here is a fine red-beaked bird from folio 213r:
There's also a fine bird lady on folio 317r as part of what seems to be a matrix of consanguines or arbor consanguinatis
The digitizations are evidently advancing despite the summer heat in Rome. The latest 51 bring the tally of items on the index page to 2,633. Here is my list:
As ever, tell me via the comments box below if you know more about any of these codices.

Here is a drawing of devils flying around evil idolatrous Rome from Borgh.366, folio 1r
Angles of view in treatise on perspective drawing, Cappon 132, folio 14v:
By the way, a knowledge of medieval Armenian is something that certain scholars brag about, much as a scratch golfer would brag of his zero handicap. A few weeks back, a reviewer for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review was publicly berating any of his inferiors having the temerity to write about Philo without learning Armenian first: The language barrier is not unsurmountable and does not justify studying this part of Philo from the translations of the (Armenian) translation only. That sounds a bit like those ads that claim that anyone can learn to play golf like Tiger Woods if they buy this or that set of clubs. Sigh. If only life were that easy.

2015-08-04

Attic Nights

A literary Roman justice, Aulus Gellius, born in 125 or 128 CE, began, during his studies in Athens, to compile a commonplace book in 20 volumes that was to become known as the Attic Nights.

This album of quotes from famous books and from the views of Gellius's erudite friends was famed through late antiquity and the medieval period as a source of philology, literary wisdom, history and scientific knowledge. The blogger Roger Pearse once memorably described it as the world's first blog.

The work suffered a curious transmission, being broken into two parts. There is a section comprising books I to VII, which may once have had with it the lost book eight. The other section, from IX to XX, seems to have become detached from the first in late antiquity and has a separate manuscript history.

On August 3, Digita Vaticana brought online a principal witness to this second section, Reg.lat.597, a manuscript penned by the famous Carolingian scholar and scribe Lupus of Ferrières in about 850. It contains the Attic Nights from 9.14.2 to 20.6.12 and is written in a very clear fashion as you see in this extract from the chapter titles 10.10 and 10.11 on folio 80v:


X above says: "Quae eius rei causa sit, quod et Graeci veteres et Romani anulum [hoc] digito gestaverint qui est in manu sinistra minimo proximus," which reads in translation: The reason why the ancient Greeks and Romans wore a ring on the next to the little finger of the left hand. (Online at Perseus, where this is title 10.10.) Read it, as the explanation is quite intriguing, and then consider how many people still wear rings that way 2,500 years later.

The full list of 42 manuscripts just released, raising the total to 2,582, is as follows:
As always, please enter corrections or additions in the comment box below.

2015-07-28

Leonardo's Shadows

Leonardo da Vinci's art theory was compiled by a pupil, Franceso Melzi, in about 1540 into a celebrated Treatise on Painting, which explained perspective and shadows and numerous other techniques of art. It was widely read in later centuries. Digita Vaticana has just released a digitization of one of the manuscripts, Barb.lat.4304. Here is its explanation of the shadows seen on bodies at a distance:


Full background on the work and a comparison of the manuscripts can be found on the Treatise on Painting website at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia.

Digita Vaticana has been fairly busy as the Roman summer hots up, issuing a total of 204 items on July 14 and 23. Because of my own holiday in Sweden (more from that later), I am getting in arrears, so I beg pardon that the following list is not fully annotated. There are lots of art gems in this release. Here is a nativity scene from the beautiful Barberini Book of Hours:


Below is the full list of 204 items issued on July 14 and 23. The Digita Vaticana index and catalog server is now frequently out of service (more than 80 hours offline July 23-26), so in the following list, most of the links are to the digitizations themselves, where the servers tend to be more stable.
To finish, here are Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and Noah's Ark from Barb.lat.3984:


As always, if you can contribute or correct information, please use the comment box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for more news on digitizations.

2015-07-10

Pirates, How to Deal With

A celebrated account of how Julius Caesar was held ransom by pirates has at least two endings. That by Livy maintains Caesar paid the ransom, then went back, seized the pirates and crucified them. The version by Polyaenus has it that Caesar, after borrowing a ransom from Miletus, organized a feast for the pirates:
In high spirits at the large sum they had received, they gave loose to their appetite, and drank freely of the drugged wine, which presently sent them to sleep.  In that state Caesar ordered them to be slain, and he immediately repaid the money to the Milesians.   (Book 8  Chapters 1-25: Romans)
Neither method was employed with the recent wave of piracy on the Somali coast. I leave it to readers to debate how best to deal with pirates. Polyaenus has a series of more than 800 recipes for dealing with all sorts of human pests.

Among the digitizations July 9 at Digita Vaticana is a Greek manuscript of these Strategemata, Barb. gr. 263. For the current state of thinking about Polyaenus, consult a review of recent conference papers on the book, where it is asserted that the most authoritative title of Polyaenus’ work is Strategika, not Stratagemata.  There is an English translation at Attalus.org.

This week saw 15 new items uploaded, bringing the total to 2,336. Here is a diagram on optics in Greek from Barb.gr.114

  • Barb.gr.42, Proclus Atheniensis, 410-c. 485, In Platonis Cratylum
  • Barb.gr.114, Damianus (4th century), Optica, in which sight is said to be an emanation from the eyes. See the Dictionary of Scientific Biography for more about this little work.
  • Barb.gr.115, Plutarch, c.50-127, Quomodo adolescens poetas audire debeat, arguing that poetry is deceptive and particularly dangerous to young people
  • Barb.gr.116, work by Psellus, Michael, 1018-1078
  • Barb.gr.136, Aristotle: Physica
  • Barb.gr.263, Polyaenus: Strategemata
  • Barb.gr.270, collection of works of Plato: Platonis et Pseudo-Platonis opera nonnulla cum lectionibus variis atque indice
  • Barb.or.44, Latin-Hebrew dictionary, 17th century
  • Barb.or.53, a list of Hebrew books that were banned in church domains: Renato da Modena, O.F.M.Cap., m. 1628 [ספר זיקוק], Index expurgatorius. Index vanitatum multarum expurgandarum a libris Hebraeorum praecipue in tribus glosis nempe Chaldaica, Hierosolimitana ac Babilonica, nec non in omnibus commentariis Rabbinorum Collectus
  • Borg.ebr.1, Yosippon with introduction by Judah Leon Mosconi
  • Neofiti.2, Ibn ʿEzra, Avraham ben Meʾir, 1089-1164 [פירוש התורה לראב"ע], Abraham b. Meir ibn Ezra's commentary on the Torah; by one of the most celebrated medieval Jewish scholars of all; Wikipedia; this copy was made at Cataluyud in Spain in 1473 with some beautifully ornamented incipits and pericopes in filigrees of violet and red ink. One from 156r is shown below
  • Ross.360, Maḥzor (Sephardic rite), with additional piyyutim and hoshanot and index of the piyyutim
  • Ross.437, Maḥzor made at Lucca, Italy in 1448, for the entire year (Roman rite), including a list of twenty-two fast days, additional piyyutim, prayers, halakhic and other treatises with the index of the seliḥot; certain rubbings out (and perhaps the snips?) are by a censor. At the bottom of 411v you can read the censor's inscription: "Corretto p[er] me Gio[vanni] Dom[en]ico da Lodi neofito di comissione del fr. Ang[elu]s Capillus."
  • Ross.925, Abravanel, Yitsḥaḳ ben Yehudah, 1437-1508 [פירוש ס' שמות לר"י אברבנאל]. Commentary on the Book of Exodus
  • Vat.lat.12993, Richard Rufus of Cornwall: Scriptum super Metaphysicam

For descriptions of the Hebrew manuscripts, I am in indebted as always to Malachi Beit-Arié (2008). Mark any corrections in the comment boxes below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for more news.

2015-07-01

Strange Beasts

The caladrius was an all-white bird, which, when placed on the bed of a sick person, supposedly foretold if they would live or die. If the person were not going to recover, the caladrius looked away from them, but if they were to live, the bird looked directly into their face and drew the sickness into itself.

Medieval bestiaries, of which the digitized Aberdeen Bestiary is a fine example from the 12th century, were based on the Physiologus, an anonymous Greek-language book dating back to perhaps the 2nd century. On June 30, the BAV in Rome digitized and published online a 17th-century Greek manuscript of it, Ott.gr.354. Here is its caladrius giving a bearded man his doom on folio 64r:


All of the images in the Ottoboniani Physiologus are of great interest. Here is one of the sirens, from folio 45r:

This early Christian compendium contains 48 stories about the nature of real and mythical animals, plants and stones. In its mixture of fact and fiction, it is no more reproachable than the infotainment and "science documentaries" with half-truths, portentous voices and dramatic music which air on daytime television.

A Physiologus for TV with similar self-important commentary would be a great satire. Imagine the stock film clips which could be dug up for the elephant (folio 13r), of which we are told it cannot bend its legs, rarely has the desire to mate and practices water birth.


The Physiologus was once as well known as any TV series is today. It was translated into Latin and had enormous influence in the medieval world. Translations and adaptations from the Latin introduced the Physiologus into most languages of western Europe. Its magnificently bogus science shows up in most European literatures including the works of Shakespeare.

Below is the full list of 44 digitizations on June 30. For the Ottoboniani group, you can consult Pinakes or the old printed catalog at Archive.org for more details.
  • Barb.gr.105, Aesop's Fables, 6th century, Pinakes
  • Barb.gr.109, Epitome logica, Pinakes
  • Barb.gr.113, Manuel Chrysoloras, Pinakes
  • Ott.gr.174, Narrationes monachorum,
  • Ott.gr.219, Gregorius, etc: homiliae, apologia, etc., 
  • Ott.gr.223, Athanasius: vita, epistulae, etc. 
  • Ott.gr.242, Michaelis Glycae Capita Theologica ad varios directa, praemisso indice, 
  • Ott.gr.268, Miscellanea praesertim Patrum Graecorum incl. Gregorii Nazianzeni, 
  • Ott.gr.279, Alexandri Aphrodisiensis In Aristotelis Meteorologica, 
  • Ott.gr.281, Miscellanea homiletica, incl. Gregorii Nysseni, 
  • Ott.gr.282, Ioanis Tzetzi, 
  • Ott.gr.283, Andreae Caesariensis Commentarius in Apocalypsin, 
  • Ott.gr.296, Speculum beatitudinis humanae of 1581, 
  • Ott.gr.302, Porphyrii In Aristotelis Categorias Commentarium, 
  • Ott.gr.305, Miscellanea praesertim Patrum Graecorum, incl. Eusebii Pamphili in Cantica Canticorum, 
  • Ott.gr.320, Anatomia hominis, a.k.a. De partibus hominis, anon., 
  • Ott.gr.327, Pindari Odae / Carmina, 
  • Ott.gr.329, Arrianus super Epictetum, 
  • Ott.gr.331, Theodori Gazae Grammatica
  • Ott.gr.332, Platonis operae, plus Basilius Caesarensis, ad juvenes, 
  • Ott.gr.333, Miscellanea praesertim Patrum Graecorum, incl. Gregrorii Nysseni, etc, 
  • Ott.gr.334, Theoremata in Odyssaeam Homeri (on Homer), 
  • Ott.gr.337, Opuscula varia diversorum, 
  • Ott.gr.339, Miscellanea, 
  • Ott.gr.341, Isidori Pelusiotae, letters, 
  • Ott.gr.342, Homeri Ilias,  
  • Ott.gr.345, Maximi Planudi, notationes variae, 
  • Ott.gr.346, Miscellanea poetarum scaenicorum Graecorum, incl. Aristophanes, 
  • Ott.gr.347, Theodori Gazae introductionis grammaticae libri quattuor, 
  • Ott.gr.348, Ignatii et Polycarpi epistolae, 
  • Ott.gr.349, Didymi Alexandrini De Trinitate, 
  • Ott.gr.350, Niconis canones et decreta et constitutiones ad monachos spectantes 22, incl. Basilii canones poenitentiales, 
  • Ott.gr.351, Euripidis opera, 
  • Ott.gr.353, Gemini introductio in meteora, 
  • Ott.gr.354, the Physiologus, an Alexandrian work of Christian allegory attributed to Epiphanius; this is one of the H manuscripts in Sbordone's edition. I haven't yet recognized the unicorn in this manuscript. (Who can help me?)
  • Ott.gr.355, Miscellanea, incl. Aristophanes, 
  • Ott.gr.357, Expositio in III librum Regnorum et in loca quaedam biblica, incl. catena, 
  • Ott.gr.358, Miscellanea praesertim hagiographica, incl. Vita d. Theodori Studitae, 
  • Ott.gr.364, Polyaeni militaria, 
  • Ott.gr.368, Basilius in Isaiam, 
  • Ott.gr.369, Isaaci Tzetzae opera (poetry), 
  • Ott.gr.383, Isidori epistularum, 
  • Ott.gr.386, Aristotelis Analytica priora, 
  • Vat.ebr.16, a Targum Onkelos of the early 14th century, the translation of the Bible to Babylonian Aramaic (many thanks to Tuomas Levänen for pointing this out). This manuscript was used for variants in A. Berliner's edition of Targum Onkelos (Berlin 1884).
Below is a second rush of material digitized and placed online on July 1, which I will not blog about separately. The posted total on the Digita Vatica portal now stands at 2,321 items.

If you can correct any of these entries, tell me via the comments box below. This is not an official or expert list and I simply copy what I can find online about these manuscripts. I do so as a public service. The best way to thank me is to follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin), where I will keep providing news of manuscript digitizations.

2015-06-23

Ancient Science

Ancient science was kept alive through the Middle Ages by constant copying and anthologizing. One compilation that has come down to us was gathered at Constantinople at the end of the 13th century and contains the soundest text we possess of the Geography of Ptolemy of Alexandria. His work is one of the greatest scientific achievements of the ancient world.

Here is a Ptolemy diagram from the introductory book, How to Draw a Map of the World, with a simple trig lesson showing how to transfer arcs relative to your standpoint (at left). It's at 129r. One can read the text explaining the concept in part 1.2 of the Berggren-Jones translation at Google Books.

This codex contains Ptolemy's coordinates, but not the world maps attributed to him or his late antique editors.

Ptolemy's geography was famously wrong in certain key ways. Some of the most exciting research of the past decade has examined the possibility that Ptolemy was hit by a garbage-in-garbage-out situation whereby he unwittingly relied on false experimental data (the earth's circumference), leading to some spectacular failures in his essentially brilliant compilation.Klaus Geus and Irina Tupikova argued in 2013 that mystery locations on Ptolemy's map are none other than the Gulf of Finland and Poland's Vistula River if one adjusts the false data. We now stand a better chance of identifying all 6,400 places for which Ptolemy gives coordinates in the Geography.

Various other scientific texts by authors as diverse as Euclid and Abu Ma'shar of Baghdad are all bound into the Vatican's massive 397-folio volume. Here is an unidentified diagram from folio 209v.

This codex, which is a kind of album of the best of ancient science, was brought to Rome by Isidoros, (c. 1385 to 1463), metropolitan of Kiev and later a Roman cardinal, and it thus ended up in the Vatican collection of Greek manuscripts as Vat.gr.191. It is one of the treasures that has finally entered our modern album of science, the internet. Digita Vaticana placed it online on June 22.

Renate Burri's description (in German) of this codex (designated X in the stemma) can be consulted on Google Books. A stemma showing the place of X as a key source has been published recently by Florian Mittenhuber. Burri has argued that the first diagram above is by a Byzantine editor, Manuel Chrysoloras, not by Ptolemy. Her book on the manuscripts of The Geography was recently reviewed on BMCR.

Also new in the uploads this week is one of the books that is known as a Barberini Codex, this one being an evangeliary made at one of the two main centres of monasticism on Lake Constance, either Reichenau or St Gallen, just a few years before 1000 CE. Here is its illumination of the Ascension (folio 84v): 

Below is my own list of the 64 new items uploaded June 22, which take the posted total to 2,264. As always, I have compiled this in haste, using web searches to grab keywords, so this is subject to correction. The materials below with the shelfmark Borg. copt. are a variety of biblical and other materials, some of them only single leaves or papyri. For more information about the materials from the Capponi collection, Cozzo's 1897 printed catalog can be consulted at Archive.org.
Two more images from the Barberini Codex show the Three Magi (fol. 18v) and the Presentation at the Temple (fol. 24v)

As always, if you can add any information about any item, write in the comments box below, or tweet to me at @JBPiggin