Minucius Felix

4 May 2012

Minucius Felix was a very early Christian apologist; we know next to nothing about him, which made him a candidate for a very brief article in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Why, you ask, would I put such a squib online, considering that the EB1911 entry was copied by Wikipedia and updated, and from there it spread to the four corners of the Net by what is euphemistically called “cloning”? Well, the original article didn’t seem to be online any more; and, as usual, it was far better.

Don’t believe me? Compare them! Here’s the virginal 1911, and here’s the meretricious modern version. I like WP’s nifty touch of deleting the argument for dating it in comparison with Tertullian, then adding “[citation needed]”. Correcting Cyprian’s title is a nice touch too, and disabbreviating the Lactantius title incorrectly: a little learning is a dangerous thing.

A better article than either is to be found in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.


Counting Years, 2

23 April 2012

There’s even a bit more to it than that. Astronomers — when they use calendar years at all, rather than the much more frequent Julian Dates — do have a Year 0, precisely because it makes calculations easier. In standard astronomical ephemerides, the year you and I call 1 B.C., astronomers call 0; our 2 B.C. is their -1. (For those who might need evidence, here’s a copy of the relevant page of a standard astronomical reference work, Bryant Tuckerman’s Planetary, Lunar and Solar Positions, Vol. 1, 601 B.C. to A.D. 1), p333, in which the year numbers head off the year’s worth of dates in the column after “Sun”:

This is important because the basis of all chronology is ultimately solar eclipses and other astronomical phenomena, for which we consult astronomical reference works, like Tuckerman, or Oppolzer’s Canon der Finsternisse, or Meeus’ more recent eclipse canon: we thus need always to remember that in such works, dates before Christ will be 1 off from our everyday reckoning: the 1961 Dover reprint of Oppolzer dots the i’s, as can be seen in this photostat: as Jona will tell us, the famous eclipses listed here (there are more on the next page) are referred to by everyone except astronomers as those of 1063, 763, and 648 B. C.

The closely related error of ignoring what the ancients meant by “20th year” or “20th day” pops up in all kinds of circumstances, and writers need to be careful. In ancient medicine, the Great Climacteric, the 63rd year of a person’s life, starts when that person turns 62, not when they have accomplished a full 63 years: a matter I’m amusingly aware of this year, since I turned 62 last November. References to “quinquennial games” are to games that occur every four years by our reckoning: and the kind of trouble modern writers can get in, leading to quack-like theories, is beautifully seen by the wrong-headed speculations of several amateur chronologists: see for example the edition of “De Die Natale” (sic!) by William Maude, 1900, where he refers with pride several times to an entire book he seems to have based on this misunderstanding of his: p21.

Similarly, I periodically get mail, sometimes irate, from modern astrologers whom I have the misfortune of reminding to be wary of the degrees of the exaltation of the planets. . . .

Moral: nothing is ever as simple as it looks, and we need to be on our toes constantly. Being careful and accurate is, of course, what scholars are paid to do, often very well paid, and not infrequently out of our tax money, directly or indirectly. (If your local university prof is sloppy and tells whoppers, write your congressman!)

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.

Back to Dio Chrysostom

20 March 2012

Another straightforward little item which reveals all kinds of less straightforward things. The item: the transcription of the Greek original of Dio Chrysostom’s 62d Discourse, joining the English translation which has been onsite for a coupla years.

Frequent visitors to my DC orientation page know that almost all the Greek text of that author is online somewhere: nearly evenly split between my own site and the University of Louvain’s; in my Table of Contents, I provided links to theirs as well as mine.

Imagine my surprise then when a few hours ago I went to find one of theirs — and discovered that they’ve all been yanked offline. The occasional French and English translations that had been there, still are: but of the Greek, zilch. Gone. And with that, gone off the Web, as far as I know.

The first thing this little event shows is just how incomplete and, above all, fragile the Web is. One person somewhere makes a decision, for whatever reason, and zap! the world over, the efficiencies of this wonderful new medium are wiped out, sending students and profs alike scurrying back to that single copy of Dio’s Greek that may be squirreled away in their University library, if they’re lucky. As for independent scholars, or students in a small impecunious college, or a havo teacher on the island of Saba — forget it, they’re up the creek again. Of course in the case of the transcription of a common published text like Dio’s, there’s no ultimate loss; but the loss of online availability sets up all the old barriers against the people who aren’t in the academic loop. The situation is worse for original work, some of it quite good: pulled offline, it’s like it never existed.

Second concern: there’s really rather little communication out there. Despite instantaneous e‑mail and blogs like this one, and bulletin boards and mailing lists, there may be less day-to‑day communication on matters of detail like this than in the humanist age of say, the fifteenth century. The debating of grand ideas and the adjustment of additional little discoveries is in better shape than in the 15c, thanks to the blossoming of thousands of (print) journals: but the sharing of manuscripts (as it were), as one reads constantly in the letters of medieval clerics and renaissance humanists, seems to be less efficient.

Switching gears now: read on for an unabashed plug of Typinator, an extremely handy tool which allows its users, in this case me, to churn out good Greek text with minimum difficulty. Typinator is a text expander, designed to reduce the time spent typing. The idea is not new, and there are a few of them out there, and some word processors have a certain level of text expansion built into them: but Typinator goes well beyond that, and I’m very glad I have it. Of course I use it for English; but I also have a separate set for polytonic Greek. Those who struggle with typing Greek with all its (absurd and mostly unnecessary, but traditional) squiggles — breathings, accents, subscript iotas, diaereses, combining in seemingly endless ways — will understand immediately. How mind-numbing to input pages of this stuff, requiring multiple keystrokes per character! Κελτοὶ δὲ οὓς ὀνομάζουσι Δρυΐδας, yipes! But, with training, once Typinator has seen a word it will put all its squiggles on for you if you like, and get them right: you just type “Κελτοι δε ους ονομαζουσι Δρυιδασ” (yes, no need to fidget for the final sigmas, either), and it comes out correctly bedizened with its Byzantineries; even enclitics can be accommodated, if with a bit of juggling. To anyone dealing in lots of Greek, this inexpensive little piece of software is worth its weight in gold.

Anyhow, here we go with the remainder of Dio.


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.