Some very good news from Professor Christoph Flüeler of the E-Codices manuscript digitization project in Switzerland. I asked him if Cod. Sang. 133, a little codex that is hugely important to the history of books, was likely to be released on the E-Codices website, and he replied that his team would speed this one up and make sure it is issued on the web in the next few months. This is magnificent. I am a big fan of E-Codices, which is a key source in Antiquity studies.

Cod. Sang. 133 in the Abbey Library at St. Gall in Switzerland is an important source in understanding the antique book trade, since it contains a set of more or less intact stichometric lists. These were computations of the length of books, calibrated in στιχοι or stichoi, that were used to set both the cost of transcription (the scribe's wages) and the book price (what the bookseller charged).

Cod. Sang. 133 contain fourth-century measurements of the books of the Bible and the 28 works of Cyprian. We know from the writer Galen (quoted here by Diels) that a Greek stichos or unit was 16 syllables, and this source confirms a Roman stichos, or verse, was similarly 16 Latin syllables.

Once described by Bernhard Bischoff as the "oldest document of the Christian book trade" and used by scholars such as Bruce Metzger to estimate the bulk of early bibles, this record gives us an insight into the economics of book publishing. The content is of course dry, for example:

This translates as:
The Four Gospels:
Matthew, 2700 lines
John, 1800 lines
Mark, 1700 lines
Luke, 3300 lines
All the lines make 10,000 lines.

But there are some interesting observations. The author lets fly for example at exploitative Roman booksellers for their slack and cheating ways with his beloved Cyprian:
Because the index of verses in Rome is not clearly given, and because in other places too, as a result of greed, they do not preserve it in full, I have gone through the books one by one, counting sixteen syllables per line, and have appended to each book the number of Virgilian hexameters it contains (Rouse translation).

The St. Gall manuscript, written during the late 8th or early 9th century, probably at St. Gall itself, and another manuscript, Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Vittorio Emanuele II, Vitt. Em. 1325 (handwritten catalog entry in Italian here, formerly Cheltenham or Phillipps 12266), written at Nonantola in the 10th or early 11th century, are the key practical records we have about the stichometric method.

These North African lists, the so-called indicula, were discovered (it seems) by the great Theodor Mommsen, who wrote them up in 1886. Mommsen expanded his fame with this codex in the late 19th century, publishing the Liber Genealogus in his MGH series. It also contains a curious work, the Inventiones Nominum, which mentions a good many unusual biblical names that never made it into canonical scripture.

The St. Gall codex was revisited in 2000 by eminent US professor Richard Rouse, who argued that the 11 items discovered by Mommsen in the collection (see below) were not a random group of texts, but formed an intact North African reference book or compendium. It had travelled through the centuries together and had been put together by Donatist scholars, according to Rouse and his co-writer Charles McNelis.

The St Gall codex is of quite a small format, which explains why the Liber Genealogus, not a very long work, fills 49 of its folios: there is not that much writing on each side. The script is very clear and the parchment clean, which suggests it was probably not very heavily used in its day. This text of the Liber is the earliest recension (the direct description of the Great Stemma) and therefore the most important.

Here is Mommsen's Latin description of the compendium, interspersed with text from Scherrer's 1875 St. Gall printed catalog, with one or two additions by me (the English bits, obviously):

Cod. Sang. 133

Pgm. 8° s. VIII u. IX; 657 (656) pages.

Scherrer: Drei oder vier Handschriften in einem Band. [Preceded by Eusebius/Jerome on Holy Land place-names. Followed by Isidore Chronicon pp 523-590 and 'Incipit cuius supra Goti de Magog Jafet filio orti' pp 590-597. Pages 598-601 blank.]

Mommsen: saec . IX formae octonariae praeter alia quae recenset catalogus editus p. 48 [Scherrer] a glutinatore demum cum his compacta medio loco p. 299-597 continet commentaries qui sequuntur:

1. p. 299 – 396 librum genealogum infra editum. [Scherrer: S. 299-396: 'Inc. liber genera(tio)num vel nominum patrum vel filiorum vet. test. vel novi a s. Hieronimo prbo conpraehensum etc. Incipit genilocus sci Hieronimi prb.' Am Ende: 'Explicit liber genealogus.' (Unbekannt und nicht von Hieronymus; reicht, laut p. 396, bis zum Jahr der Welt 5879 oder bis zum Consulat 'hieri et ardabii.')]

2. p. 397 – 420 incipiunt prophetiae ex omnibus libris collecte. quae prophetiae membra habent .... cecidisse in hanc voluntate perseverantes caeci a dei fide lapsi sunt ignorantes. expl . coll . prophet . veteris novique testamenti.
[Scherrer: S. 397-426: 'Incip. prophetiae ex omnibus libris collecte.' (Katechese).]

3. p. 420′– 421 incipiunt virtutes Haeliae quae eius merito a domino factae sunt. prima virtus. clausit caelum . . . sublatus est in caelo.

4. p. 421 – 426 incipiunt etiam Helisei virtutes. prima virtus. de melote divisa est .... post mortem suam revixit. expl.

5. p. 427 – 454′ inc̅p̅t̅ inventi̅o̅n̅ nomi̅n̅ , duo sunt Adam , unus est protoplaustus .... et alius est Domires vir sponsor Teclae: inter ambas autem sunt an̅n̅ ferme DCCLXX. [Scherrer: S. 427-492: 'Incipt. invention. nominum.' (Aufzählung von Personen- und Völkernamen des A. T.).]

6. 454′– 484′ sequitur liber generationis cum praescriptione hac: haec sunt diutissime . . . . . . anni sunt v̅dccccxviii (vide infra p . 89), sed c . 240 – 331 ad brevem epitomam redactis et ad eius finem inserta computatione quae statim referetur adsunt rursus nostrae editionis c. 333 – 361, abest pars extrema c . 361 – 398: subscriptum expl .

7. p. 484 – 485 item interpretationes filiorum Iacob de Hebreo in Latino. amen vere. Ruben dei spiritus cet.

8. p. 485 – 488 item interpretationes Hebreas in Latin translatas . Hebrea lingua triplex .

9. p. 488 – 492 incipit indiculum veteris testamenti , item novi et Caecili Cipriani, quos indices versum numerum per singulos libros enuntiantes ex gemello libro Cheltenhamensi edidi in Hermae volumine 21 p . 142 seq. librarius iam is qui archetypum scripsit indices eos ad librum generationis non pertinentes neque ei continuatos ad titulorum eius laterculum adiunxit (v. p. 89 not.).

10. p. 492 item interpretationes Hebreas in Latinum . Maria domina cet. [Scherrer: S. 492-522: 'Interpretationes hebreas in latinum etc. Nomina locorum et interpr. nominum de hebreo in latinum. (Excerpte aus Hieron. Liber de interpr. nom. hebr. Opp. ed. Mart. II, von p. 3 bis circa p. 83.)

11. p. 493 – 522 nomina locorum et interpretatio nominum de Hebreo in Latinum. Hermon regio Hebreorum cet. similesque interpretationes aliae.

There is a very old Wikipedia article on stichometry, which I have just fixed a bit. Not just old in the sense of posted in 2005, but old because it was copied from a 100-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica: it stated that one of the codices is at Cheltenham in Sir Thomas Phillipps's collection. In fact that collection was broken up and sold a century ago. This codex was purchased by the Italian state, and I have altered the Wikipedia article accordingly.


At the Oxford Patristics Conference

I have been accepted to present a paper on the Great Stemma at the Oxford Patristics Conference which takes place in England August 8-12. The paper will be a short communication delivered during one of the parallel sessions when participants can divide up according to the area that interests them.

Here is my abstract (I think I am allowed to publish this, though the paper itself is under wraps until delivery):

The annotated diagram which spans eight folios of Florence Laurenziana Plutei 20.54, ff 38r-45v is demonstrably Late Antique in origin. This little-studied Latin work, partly published by Wilhelm Neuss and Bonifatius Fischer, presents a genealogy from Adam to Christ. It is also found in a cluster of Spanish bibles and the Apocalypse commentary of Beatus of Liébana. The anonymous author worked entirely from the Vetus Latina rather than from Jerome's Vulgate. We can study how a Late Antique author used complex graphics in place of prose to include a non-canonical figure, Joachim, as father of the Virgin within the genealogy of Christ. He structured the diagram around a timeline based on Eusebius's Chronological Canons. The paper will present a reconstruction of the diagram's archetype, arguing that it was originally a chart displaying synchronisms between scripture and history. It suggests that information graphics were a tool in early Christian literature.



In the classic sense, ekphrasis means a poem that vividly describes a work of art or other physical artefact. During the Greek period, such texts might describe weapons, exceptional clothing, household items of superior craftsmanship (urns, cups, baskets) and splendid buildings.

This form of expression connects with the Roman pride in showing off one's education (paideia) at dinner parties which Michael Squire describes (p. 219) in his book Image and Text in Graeco-Roman Antiquity: Learned discussions of myths and philology were the bread and butter of the cena and convivium, and it seems to have been de rigueur to intersperse dinner with all manner of literary entertainments, he notes. Even Petronius's Trimalchio appreciates that 'one must know one's philology at dinner' (oportet etiam inter cenandum philologiam nosse: Petron. Sat. 39.3), though getting his own woefully wrong, Squire notes.

Squire traces this back to Hellenistic examples, quoting (p. 239) a passage in Greek (Dom. 2) from Lucian's On the Hall: When it comes to what we see, the same law does not apply for ordinary as for learned men. For the former, it is enough to do the usual thing: simply to gaze, look around ... But when a man of learning looks upon what is beautiful, he would not, I think, be content with harvesting his delight in looking alone, nor would he allow himself to witness their beauty in silence; instead, he will do all he can to take his time and to reciprocate the image with speech.

Lucian's speaker later says: 'Visual judgement lies not in the act of looking, but a rational eloquence also concurs with what is seen' (Dom. 6, quoted Squire p. 240). Addressing this Hellenistic 'etiquette of viewing', Squire adds (p. 243): 'The art of being an educated viewer once again becomes the art of being equipped with paideia - of having the terms, language and knowledge to articulate what is remarkable in an image.

The remainder of Squire's argument, that 'verbally mediated responses might actually force viewers to look harder at what they saw' (p. 247), need not concern us here. Instead, I am concerned with the relationship between the Great Stemma and the Liber Genealogus. The one is a very large and impressive diagram, the other an extended text which muses, in list order, on the etymology of biblical names and drops in various tendentious remarks of a Donatist nature about the Church of Rome. In the order of the material, the earliest, G recension of the Liber Genealogus closely follows the diagram. It is all but inconceivable that this order would have been independently adopted without reference to the diagram.

We are thus left with the issue of how and why the Liber Genealogus was written.

It seems to me that the practice of ekphrasis offers a plausible hypothesis to explain its creation. Much of what we read in the Liber seems to be a response to the visualization, perhaps by a Christian displaying both classical learning and biblical knowledge. It might be too fanciful to imagine three or four Christian literati going out to dine with a secretary at hand to jot down what they say and the Great Stemma pinned up on the wall of the dining room. But certainly the Liber does seem to be written with the purpose of dazzling somebody with the eloquence and resourcefulness of its etymological speculation about Hebrew names of the Bible.