Vatican Library

It seems the Vatican Library will be digital some day. The announcement has appeared here. Interestingly, there will be a feature that will help scholars search for diagrams: Another two servers have been installed to process the data to make it possible to search for images ... by a graphic pattern, that is, by looking for similar images (graphic or figurative) in the entire digital memory. The latter instrument, truly innovative and certainly interesting for all who intend to undertake research on the Vatican's manuscripts ... was developed from the technology of the Autonomy Systems company, a leading English firm. Unfortunately the entire project is scheduled to take 10 years, and I suppose we must factor in 50-per-cent mission creep, so make that 15 years right off.

Plutei Online

It's time to offer a brief review of the online access to the splendid Plutei Collection at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. I've found this a boon, since it not only offers images of the manuscripts, but also bibliographies which seem to be generated from a database. An interesting feature is that it offers a history spanning more than 100 years, showing which scholars have worked with each document.

When I look at Plut.20.54 for example, I can click on "MOVIMENTI RECENTI and see recent users. Under MOVIMENTI PASSATI, I can trace back its uses for scholarship to Bernhard Bischoff, and go all the way back to WM Lindsay when he consulted this Isidore manuscript in 1896 while preparing his critical edition. I am sure that here in Germany the publication of library lending records would probably be interpreted as a scandalous invasion of individual privacy and lead to the sacking of all the
high officials and possibly prison terms for the librarians. At the Plutei I find it rather touching. The slips amount to a kind of roll of honour of great philologists.

Not everything is perfectly designed however. I found the scans were not really of a high enough resolution for close analysis. A stemma in the Real Academia in Madrid is available in a fantastic resolution where I can see the pores in the parchment, but the Florence scans are so much inferior that in a few cases I had to guess about the shape of penstrokes in the document.

Secondly, while I do not intend to grumble at the lack of an English interface on the site, I did find it a pity there was no easy way to link to specific pages or to download them for later use. The URL in the address bar of the browser always connects to the first page of a manuscript, not the page you may want to link to. However it is possible to count up the number of page turns between the first page and the page of interest, and add the same number to the pagina part of the URL. In fact one can automate this slightly by copying the URL into Microsoft Excel and then using the fill function to manufacture a complete series of page links for the entire MS.

To make a copy to study when not connected to the internet, I found I had to discover the absolute URL for each image first. This is done by right-clicking the image within the Java interface and looking at the properties. But one cannot save this URL: you have to instead copy it out by hand, character by character, and re-enter it in a browser address bar. Press enter and you now get only the image you want, and can save that as a JPEG file.


Hippolytus Translation

Tom Schmidt has just issued a free online English translation of Hippolytus, a chronographer who was contempory with, but worked independently from, Julius Africanus. This will be hugely helpful in exploring the early origins of the timeline contained in the Great Stemma. This is also very helpful to any non-classicist who cannot read Latin and Greek. Martin Wallraff's Iulius Africanus Chronographiae finally brought the Julius Africanus chronology into a modern language (English) in 2007, and now Schmidt has overcome the chief defect of Helm's 1955 edition of Hippolytus (its lack of a continuous German translation). See Chronicon.net.


Hypatia Movie

A movie about the pagan philosopher Hypatia is currently on the loose in European cinemas. Agora is the work of a Spanish director, Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar. Let me admit from the start that I did not know the Hypatia story before I saw the movie in a Hamburg multiplex, and was somewhat startled by its anti-Christian storyline. The film (here is its website) features the Christians (the bad guys) seizing the Caesarion and the Library of Alexandria from Hypatia and her fellow-pagans (the good guys).
Some of the story I did not get: when the Christians capture the Caesarion, why do they worship amid what seem to be a couple of dozen outsized statues of Osirus and other gods? At the movie’s climax, a naked Hypatia, not looking a day over 30, is asphyxiated in the said Caesarion. The violence in the movie is thoroughly nasty.
The racial stereotyping is particularly disturbing: Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) and her fans Synesius (Rupert Evans) and Orestes (Oscar Isaac) are all north-of-the-Mediterranean types (white) and the villainous Cyril of Alexandria (Sami Samir) and his parabolani supporter Ammonius (Ashraf Barhom) are not only south-of-the-Mediterranean, swarthy, hook-nosed characters, but terrorists to boot.
So it is a movie that will appeal to people looking for an anti-Christian message, yet infuriate Coptic Christians in particular, annoy Christians in general and even irritate strongly committed members of other Middle Eastern religions.
You leave the cinema wondering how authentic this all is. The answer, surprisingly, is that the storyline is pretty close to the historical record, allowing for a little cinematic licence. The murder of Hypatia really did happen and this conflict really was one of those historical events where Christians not only sinned, but the whole Christian movement feared it was going sickeningly off the rails. Philip Rousseau's Ascetics, Authority and the Church in the Age of Jerome and Cassian mentions Hypatia's murder in the first few pages and illuminates the disgust that many "normal" people felt in this period towards early monks, who were indeed ragged radicals.
As I have thought more about the film, I have begun to value it more as a visual introduction, sketchy as it is, to a troubled period. At the same time, my exasperation at its retrograde historiography has grown. Contemporary research into Late Antiquity stresses not its weakness but its extraordinary intellectual vigour in the face of economic decline, its empowerment of minorities, its epic struggles between virtue and evil. Nothing and nobody in Late Antiquity is all good or all: it is a period of ferment, a very exciting time to be alive. Agora does not seem to have heard of this way of doing history or this way of doing movies, for that matter. Hypatia is so heroic and Ammonius is so vile that there just isn't any room left for nuance or ambiguity. The film website says the main historical adviser was a Mr Justin Pollard: he is not a distinguished scholar. Director AmenĂ¡bar is not a historian at all. They honestly tried, but the result of their labours disappoints with its lack of genuine engagement with the period.



A game-changing discovery, thanks to the launch this month of Plutei Online in Italy. It is gradually publishing digital scans online of nearly 4,000 manuscripts from the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, plus Bandini's catalogs which were drawn up in the 18th century to describe them. This library possesses not just one stemma as I first thought, but three quite diverse biblical stemma documents. Two are now online. At first glance, they are so important that I will have to re-evaluate what I have already written.



Readers may care to look at the mounting evidence that a timeline once ran through the Great Stemma. Gotolia offered the first clue. This widow of a Judaean king managed to achieve power later in her own right. And we find that she figures in the Great Stemma twice! The duplication can only mean that she was present in her separate capacities as both a spouse and a ruler. This has provided me with the first clue that there are two different streams of information present in the layout. That has in turn prompted a fresh look at the information arranged in the arcade on plates one and two. I have realized that the series of arches is a most natural way of portraying a timeline: it represents time as grasshopper springs. Could an antique graphics draftsman have conceived the distance of such leaps as being in scale to the passage of years?