Iviron 812, a textual treasure-trove

Shortly after obtaining my PhD in late 2017, I stumbled upon a new topic which has since stuck with me: Paeanius’ Greek translation (Metaphrasis) of Eutropius’ Roman History, a rare surviving case of a near-contemporary translation from Latin to Greek.

The Metaphrasis has come down to us in five extant manuscripts whose relations I established three years ago in a paper published in the Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies (online here:DOI). As I demonstrated, the parent of all other manuscripts is the most complete one, Athous 4932 = Iviron 812 (Diktyon 24407), a paper manuscript preserved in the library of the Monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos.

This manuscript is a veritable treasure-trove for Roman history for several reasons:

  1. First, it has the most complete version of Paeanius’ text.
  2. Second, on four leafs it preserves parts of John of Antioch’s Chronological History, a work otherwise attested only in fragments.
  3. Third, it is the only witness of a short text called On the genealogy of Caesar.
  4. Fourth, it represents an independent strand of transmission for John XiphilinusExcerpts from Cassius Dio (edition in preparation by Kai Juntunen, Helsinki).
  5. Last but not least, it has been attributed by Inmaculada Pérez Martín to the workshop of Maximus Planudes in the Chora library (“The role of Maximos Planudes and Nikephoros Gregoras in the transmission of Cassius Dio’s Roman History and of John Xiphilinos’ Epitome“. Medioevo Greco 15 (2015) 175–193).

Pérez Martín found notes resembling the handwriting of Planudes and Gregoras in the margins of the manuscripts, and Planudes’ composition of a series of historical extracts corroborates this hypothesis. Consequentially, Pérez Martín opted for an earlier date and suggested the 12th century by comparing a hand in Vat. gr. 746 (ff.14–219v). However, another scribe’s handwriting bears much more resemblance with the Iviron scribe: Marc. gr. IV 58 (Diktyon 70442), dated to the late 12th century. I owe this information to Ciro Giacomelli.

For comparison’s sake and future reference, here is a photograph of the first page of the manuscript taken in 2018 by Father Theologos Iviritis, librarian at the Holy Monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos.

ms. Iviron 812, fol. 1r. Published with permission of the owner, the Holy Monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos. Copyright is held by the owner.

As can be seen, the manuscript is not in the best condition. Its text gets more legible as it goes on, but water stains, corrosion of the ink and the ink bleeding through the pages have done their part. The best description of the manuscript is still that of Panagiotis Sotiroudis (Untersuchungen zum Geschichtswerk des Johannes von Antiocheia, Thessaloniki 1989, 159–164). For reference, and as the work is hard to obtain, I quote here some parts of his description: “Der heutige Zustand des Codex ist sehr schlecht, besonders am Anfang, wo man ihn kaum durchblättern kann. Schuld daran sind die Würmer und die Nässe. Die Würmer haben an einigen Stellen das beschriebene Papier angefressen, so daß die Schrift fast unlesbar geworden ist. (…) Ein großer Teil dieser Schäden muß während der letzten 90 Jahren entstanden sein, da Lambros’ Mitarbeiter, welche den Text entziffert haben, auch solche Stellen lesen konnten, wo man heute nicht einmal Spuren erkennen kann.”

In private communication, an eminent Austrian scholar had already opted for a 13th century dating of Iviron 812. He vividly described the writing style thus: “deutlich dekadent und nicht auf dieser Höhe, daher vermute ich (und das Papier würde dazu passen) eine spätere Entstehung. Der Schreiber bringt einfach die Ordnung nicht mehr in die Schrift, torkelt herum, fol. 18 sind schöne Beispiele, wie er das Niveau nicht mehr erreicht, aber immerhin eine gut lesbare Schrift zustande bringt.”

A lot more remains to be done. A classification and assigment of the marginal notes, which are by far more than the three hands identified by Sotiroudis. The original condition of the manuscript must also be determined as it was rebound in or after the 14th century and is now missing substantial parts. Also, a new edition and translation of Περὶ τοῦ Καισαρείου γένους would be most welcome.

I have made a transcription of the Paeanius text in the manuscript in 2018/19, and I hope I will some day have the opportunity to edit the whole text with a translation and notes. Perhaps this blog can help achieve this goal?

Paianios, griechischer Übersetzer

Im Zusammenhang mit meinem Aufsatz “On the Transmission of Paeanius” habe ich einen Wikipedia-Artikel über Paianios geschrieben. Erst einmal auf Deutsch, denn in anderen Sprachen gab es das Stichwort schon. Wobei, den Englischen könnte man auch mal überarbeiten.


Warum ich ausgerechnet über diese unbekannten Autor schreibe, dessen Name selbst von Fachleuten als “Panaitios” oder “Pangasius” verballhornt wird? Weil ich das Werk des Paianios kurz vor meinem Referendariat als lohnenden Forschungsgegenstand entdeckt habe.

Paianios’ Metaphrasis ist die einzige zeitgenössische griechische Übersetzung eines nichtchristlichen lateinischen Werks. Und die letzte Ausgabe, aus dem Jahr 1912, lässt noch viel zu wünschen übrig. Es lohnte sich also, in die mittlerweile digitalisierten (oder digitalisierbaren) Handschriften des Werks zu sehen. Und obwohl es unscheinbare, kaum verzierte und nicht besonders kunstvoll ausgeführte Papierhandschriften sind, war es doch eine Freude für mich, die Mühe jener byzantinischen Schreiber nachzuvollziehen, die Wort für Wort, Zeichen für Zeichen, Strich für Strich das profane Geschichtswerk der Nachwelt überlieferten. Eine alte Handschrift, und sei sie auch noch so schlicht, ist eine Kostbarkeit.

Cardinal Bessarion’s Composite Codex: Marc. Gr. 523

 This came in the mail today.

Prof. Carlo Santini, who edited Eutropius in the Biblioteca Teubneriana in 1979, most generously sent me photographs of a part of Bessarion’s composite codex of philosophical and historiographical Greek texts (donated to the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice after his death 1472, Diktyon no. 69994). The Paeanius text, as already noted by Hans Droysen in 1879, is a direct copy of Laur. Plut. 70,5 (= L, Diktyon no. 16570).

As I already assumed in my most recent paper (“On the Transmission of Paeanius“, GRBS 63,2020,487-309, DOI 10.5281/zenodo.3960022) the Paeanius text is copied from the Laurentian ms. but independent of all younger copies. My assumptions were based on a few pages that Ciro Giacomelli kindly shared with me in February, 2020. What’s more, he promised me to photograph the rest of the text on his next visit to Venice. But that was before the plague hit.

Now, through the generosity of Prof. Santini, I can corroborate my earlier assumptions: The manuscript has the same defects as its parent, but does not copy all of its marginal notes. Because the other copies retain more of these notes, they must be independent of the Venice manuscript and are rather copied directly from L.

Two things are particularly interesting in this textual witness: Its text is in at least three places superior to its parent (avoiding needless gemination in proper names), in two of them it corresponds with its grandparent, ms. Iviron 812. And for the large gap in the middle of the text (book 6, chapters 9–11), Bessarion’s ms. leaves nearly two pages empty – apparently in hopes of eventually finding and restoring the missing text.

If only he had ventured to Mount Athos.

Monacensis Graecus 101: A collection of historiographical and rhetorical texts

Making research materials available online has become even more important in times of lockdown and reduced service from and access to public research institutions.

The Bavarian State Library, a long-time forerunner in making their valuable collections available online, recently uploaded another batch of digital images from their treasury of Greek manuscripts. One of them preserves some rare historiographical and rhetorical Greek texts and can now, through a digitisal copy of its black-and-white microfilm reproduction, studied from the comfort of your home.

Cod. Gr. 101, written around 1555 in Northern Italy, was described in detail by M. Molin Pradel, Katalog der griechischen Handschriften der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek, vol. 2 (Wiesbaden 2013) 279–286. Information about its age, scribes, possessors and textual contens can also be found in the Pinakes database (Diktyon no. 44545).

My interest in this manuscript is due to the fact that it is one of only five extant manuscripts transmitting Paeanius’ Metaphrasis (Translation) of Eutropius’ Roman History. The Munich witness of this text was studied extensively by Ernst Schulze (1870), and later by Spyridon Lambros (1912) who both (indepent of one another) proved it to be a copy from an older manuscript, Laur. Plut. 70.5 (Firenze, Biblioteca Media Laurenziana, Diktyon no. 16570also available online). The Munich ms. thus has value not as an original textual witness but as a possible source of scholarly conjectures to the text.

So far, checking the first 51 folios of the ms. has proved fruitful as it has yielded half a dozen corrections to the text – granted, all are easy corrections and have no ground-shaking consequences, but they are testiment to the critical acumen of its scribe or his supervisors. And they predate the first printed edition by more than 30 years.

Of course, a black-and-white microfilm can only take us so far. I have not been able, for example, to ascertain or even locate two notes in the ms. reported by Lambros (1912) 114–115 saying that the manuscript had been lent to Gotha librarian August Beck in 1868 (who requested it on Schulze’s behalf) and to Theodor Mommsen in 1872 (who used it to prepare an edition of Paeanius). To this end one must consult the object itself, not a copy from a copy.

Hello World

Hello and welcome!

I’ve started this blog to share information on my research. A classicist by training, I find pleasure in discovering old visual artifacts (be it text, image or something else) which transport meaningful messages through space and time. I love extracting those messages (or, if that’s not possible, imagining a possiblem message) and sharing them with others.

This blog will predominantly be about my studies in Greek and Latin texts, but also on any other dusty topic that is just waiting to be brought to life.