Procopius: Buildings

19 April 2012

Byzantine squiggles:
a rather mild example.

Although the Buildings, in its English translation by Dewing (Loeb edition), has been on Lacus since 2003, the original Greek was not, nor was it to be found anywhere else online; and for years those who visited my orientation page have been reading there, “I have no intention of transcribing the original Greek text: the paucity of readers of ancient Greek out there make it a case of diminishing returns.”

It’s probably still true. The anecdotal evidence I have is that people who read Greek also have access to the TLG. But it recently became useful to me to run a software test on a product I’m developing, and since I’ve been unable to find the Greek text of the Buildings online, other than in a xerox of Migne (wonderful in its time but not so reliable and somewhat superseded by more recent text scholarship) the Buildings became my test document. Perseus has the Greek text of the Wars and of the Secret History, which are also reproduced in a GoogleBooks/Archive.Org xerox: ‘my’ Buildings, when complete, will put all of Procopius online.

All this by way of saying that Book I of the Greek text of the Buildings has now joined its English translation onsite, in 3 webpages. As elsewhere onsite, the text and the translation are crosslinked, if for now only rudimentarily: I’ll be putting in the chapter-by-chapter crosslinks, by and by. The other Books are on their way.

The “software product” — an overblown name for it, but hey, ya do computer stuff, ya follow da rules and give it a fancy IP-sounding moniker — may be more important than the test document. I mentioned it in an earlier post: an automatic text expander that lets you type ancient (polytonic) Greek without worrying about the breathings and accents. For those few who input even a small amount of Greek from time to time, it’s a boon; currently catching about 92% of non-technical text, and not much less even of text with high technical content. The expander, which runs on Macintosh only, takes the form of a Typinator “set” which works nicely now, but the good folks at Typinator (see their website) have asked me to hold off on releasing it until they in turn update Typinator to its next version: as a beta-tester for them I’d found some minor bugs, impacting the handling of Greek, that they’ve now fixed; but their new version is not available yet. The set will be available on their site and on mine, very likely within a coupla weeks.

At any rate, the test succeeded. I hadn’t used any of Procopius to create the expander dictionary, but my set caught about 90% of his somewhat technical text, and frankly, without it I would never have been able to input 45 pages of ancient Greek in three days; and typing in all the squiggles one by one is so depressing that I wouldn’t have tried: it’s currently the longest Greek text on my site. (Yes, you still have to proofread; but we all proofread anyway, rihgt?)


Dio, continued

26 March 2012

Up on Lacus in the last few days, a few more of the Greek originals of the Discourses of Dio Chrysostom: 53, 56, 57, 60, 80. For a while, some of the wind was taken out of my sails when I discovered that Perseus has them all — but in fact, on closer inspection, they only have 1‑13 and 31‑35, which right now is nice complementarity, since of those I only have 5 and 9. At any rate, for the Greek originals, the situation is currently: 39 of them only on Lacus, 16 only on Perseus, and 2 on both: with 23 not online anywhere that I know of. For English translations, Dio is complete on Lacus, and as far as I can tell, neither Perseus nor anyone else has any of them.


18 February 2012

Cures, near Fara in Sabina

Nothing earth-shaking, but at least I haven’t added Latin nonsense or falsified mileages: the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica article “Cures” — being the little town in Sabine country that Titus Tatius and Numa apparently came from, and which was deemed in Antiquity to have been the origin of the name Quirites applied to the Roman people.

A brief article cribbed from a common 101‑year‑old encyclopedia should hardly be news, but alas it is, sort of. Wikipedia too, bless ’em, reproduces the same article, making essentially no changes: but the only two significant changes it does make are both mistakes. Small ones, but mistakes none the less: the ager Sabinus becomes an “alter Sabinus“; and 26 miles has been turned into 26 km. That in turn wouldn’t be terribly interesting if it weren’t that (a) the introduction of errors into the EB articles is very common at Wikipedia, maybe more common than not; and (b) the prevailing wisdom there, usually delivered with a sniff, is that the 1911 EB is antiquated, sexist, written in stodgy old English, and generally we people can improve all that.

And so we can. Our first step though, is to introduce no mistakes of our own. The next, which I’ve attempted to do on my own page, would be to add the source citations, links to what further websites may be relevant, and in this case a GoogleMap; and the dozen or so times Cures appears elsewhere onsite are now linked to it. Nothing major, but at least it’s not nonsense.

Historia Augusta

9 January 2012

Bust of Caracalla(Musei Capitolini)

The complete Historia Augusta has been up on LacusCurtius for seven years now, and in all that time the reader going to its orientation page will have read that there was an introduction by the Loeb editor, and a little section on the manuscripts — but that I hadn’t put them up, and would do so in the fullness of time.

Of course I quickly forgot about the missing items; yesterday must have been the fullness of time, and I had occasion to discover them again. They’re now up: Introduction and Manuscripts.

David Magie’s explanation of just how people consider the Historia Augusta a pack of lies is reasonably thorough and clear. But the more useful and interesting explanation is in fact on Livius; though less complete and technically detailed, that’s still the one I recommend.

Why Cuneiform Studies Matter

28 July 2011

The Ptolemy III Chronicle

I have just written a review, to be published in Ancient Warfare, of John D. Grainger’s book The Syrian Wars. It is an important book, because the author shows that the Syrian Wars were crucial for the formation of the two largest Hellenistic states. Grainger essentially proves that Tilly’s Coercion, Capital, and European States (1990) is also applicable to Antiquity.

The trouble is that he might have written an even better book if he had been more aware of cuneiform studies. I know, those tablets are being published slowly, frustratingly so, and it is tempting to ignore them. Grainger is to be praised for at least reading the Astronomical Diaries, but still, he appears to be unaware of, say, the Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period.

This is understandable. Like so many cuneiform texts, the chronicles have been published online only. In fact, they are still being discussed (compare this recent post). Nevertheless, the information is important. For example, Grainger is aware that during the Third Syrian War, the Ptolemaic army crossed the Euphrates, but concludes that it did not reach Babylonia. The Ptolemy III Chronicle (BCHP 11) in fact describes how the Egyptian forces massacred the garrison of Seleucia and captured Babylon. The Third Syrian War was much bigger than Grainger realizes, and Egyptian strategy was far more ambitious than he assumes.

Another mistake, less important, is Grainger’s date of the Babylonian War: the Antigonid attempt to drive out Seleucus, dated by Grainger to 311. He also writes that, to help the embattled Seleucus, Ptolemy launched a naval expedition to the Aegean. Grainger correctly dates this to 309-308, but this makes his overall reconstruction unconvincing: Ptolemy can have lured Antigonus‘ armies away from Babylonia only if the two operations took place more or less simultaneously. Fortunately, the problem vanishes once we realize that the Antigonid offensive in fact took place in 310. Grainger has not used the latest literature on the Diadochi Chronicle.

I am not writing this to diminish Grainger’s scholarship. As I said, he proves how important the Syrian Wars were, and an occasional error does not fundamentally change that. I wrote the above section to stress that two often ignored specialties actually matter: the study of cuneiform sources and the study of chronology.

There are two other points to be made. To start with, it would be nice if the students of cuneiform sources did a bit more to let the world know what they are doing. The Ptolemy III Chronicle, for example, might have been published in the Journal of Hellenic Studies. Grainger cannot be blamed for not knowing the Near-Eastern texts if there is not a signpost to give directions.

In the second place, the field of ancient history has become too complex. No one can know everything, and therefore, authors must invoke the advice of their colleagues. (This is why BCHP is preliminarily published online: to enable others to look at it, and make sure that no information is ignored.) And because no one can know everything, publishers have editorial boards. Grainger’s book deserved better editors, who might have spotted that their author had ignored, for example, Mittag’s Antiochos IV and Boiy’s Between High and Low.

Scholarship would really benefit were manuscripts to be put online first and books not to be published before a round of consultation. We have the means, we have the knowledge, and we have the technology to produce better books – so what are we waiting for?

The Bagayasha Chronicle

25 July 2011

One of the fragments of the Bagayasha Chronicle

Finally, after years of struggling, Irving Finkel and Bert van der Spek have decided that it is time to bring the “Bagayasha Chronicle” online. It is an extremely difficult text, which still defies proper understanding, but seems to be part of an astronomical diary of about the 130s BC.

Nevertheless, it is reasonably clear that the text deals with the brother of the Parthian king Mithradates I the Great, Bagayasha, who visits Babylon for a punitive action. What happens exactly, is not really known, but the council of Greek elders has to explain things, generals are present, there is a reference to plundering, and the Greek citizens leave their homes. After this, we read about supplications from the Babylonians in the city, led by the šatammu; someone intercedes for the citizens; Bagayasha seems to agree and leaves for Borsippa. It seems that Babylon has acted treacherously, somewhere in the years following Mithradates’ conquest, perhaps when the Seleucid king Demetrius II Nicator was trying to regain his dominions (in 141-138).

Finkel and Van der Spek think that they have made all progress they were able to make, and have decided to an evulgetur, and I had the honor of preparing the online edition. They invite scholars to suggest new interpretations (more).

They have another fragment concerning Bagayasha in stock, which will be published ASAP. You can find the new chronicle here.

Oppian, Cynegetica

6 May 2011

A pair of opisthuretic Dogs going at it

It’s been a long while since I’ve put up anything new on the Graeco-Roman section of my site, at least anything of any size or consequence. But American history notwithstanding, I’m still committed to providing crumbs of Antiquity to the numberless eager masses starving to feed on them.

Today’s morsel is Oppian’s Cynegetica, in both Greek original and English translation: nominally a manual on hunting, much of it is in fact a textbook on zoology, frequently cribbing from the incredible, towering genius of Aristotle, but also standing on its own as a good snapshot of what the Mediterranean world knew about animals in the early 3c AD, and so written — it’s poetry, or at least it’s in verse — as to make it a natural ancestor of all those wonderful medieval bestiaries. It’s an interesting book, and worth the trouble of putting up.

And transcribing the Cynegetica has indeed proved to be a tremendous chore, mostly because its editor and translator, the Scotsman A. W. Mair, did exemplary work, his voluminous annotations being extraordinarily thorough, as well as relevant and intelligent, which is more than can be said of some other modern editings found in the Loeb Classical Library: at any rate, Prof. Mair’s notes range from the ever seminal Aristotle of course to Sir Walter Scott; from Pliny and Ovid to Schemseddin Mohammed (16c) and Shakespeare; from Plutarch and the Bible to modern zoological works. Those copious notes are in Latin and Greek, German, French and Italian, and thank goodness there’s not very much Hebrew, since that particular language is a pain for me to transcribe. Mmm, I forgot — a smattering of English, too.

Further complicating the transcription is that Oppian — whether he or someone else by the same name, as the old saw goes — also wrote Halieutica, on fishing; and the two works are very tightly related, so that Prof. Mair’s notes constantly link from one to the other, and his 80‑page introduction covers both: this in turn means that, until I also get the Halieutica fully up (only a draft for the moment), some few of the links to it may not work; patience, folks, we’ll slay this monster yet.

Similarly, the many, many, citations of Athenaeus and Strabo and of Plutarch On the Intelligence of Animals — all three also in progress on LacusCurtius (i.e., incomplete and in their bathrobes as it were) — had me detouring thru those writers and making sure at least that they’d brushed their teeth, and fixing the worst rips in their pajamas: links to them are correspondingly incomplete and may occasionally be erratic as well, reader be warned.

Still, when I get done, taking it all together, LacusCurtius will have a solid nucleus on ancient zoology. The next step would be Aristotle; I wonder if I’ll take it.