Archive for the ‘Personalia’ Category

Macomber at work   2 comments

I wrote a post here some time ago about William Macomber, whose name is well known to students of eastern Christian manuscripts and who used to frequent HMML’s desks and bookshelves. My colleague at HMML, Matt Heintzelman, came across some pictures of him at HMML from the mid-1970s, and here they are.




Posted July 19, 2013 by adam_bremer-mccollum in Personalia

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Herbert Pierrepont Houghton (1880-1964)   2 comments

I came across this morning a short article by Herbert Pierrepont Houghton on Georgian nouns. I’d known his name from The Coptic Verb, Bohairic Dialect and from this bookplate, which is affixed to the inside front cover of Chaine’s Grammaire éthiopienne (Beirut, 1907), now part of HMML’s collection.

Houghton's bookplate

Houghton’s bookplate

From 1923-1950, Houghton taught in the classics department at Carleton College, which is only about 120 miles from where I write these lines. According to a brief mention on Carleton’s website, he first studied at Amherst College before earning his doctorate in 1907 from Johns Hopkins. At Carleton, he taught Greek, but also linguistics — a subject not taught nearly as much then as now — Old English, and Sanskrit. As will be seen from his publications (vide infra), however, these were hardly the full extent of his interests. Incidentally, we may note his attention to and appreciation of typography and book design, when we consider the preface to the second edition of his work on the Amharic verb: “This new edition is printed in Garamond type on India eggshell paper… The cover is purposely of a roseate hue resembling one of the shades used in the flag of Ethiopia, the country of which Amharic is the official language.”

His signature in HMML's copy of Chaine, Grammaire éthiopienne.

His signature in HMML’s copy of Chaine, Grammaire éthiopienne.

As I have said before (here, for example), tactile, or even visual-digital, reminders of our forebears can bring a kind of intellectual pleasure, a sign that we, too, participate in their kind of communio sanctorum, and that is one reason why personalia can be so meaningful (to a small group of people, admittedly!).

Transliteration (Houghton's?) in Grammaire éthiopienne

Transliteration (Houghton’s?) in Grammaire éthiopienne

Here are a few of Houghton’s works, listed in chronological order. NB: some of the books (in italics) are very short.

The Moral Significance of Animals as Indicated in Greek Proverbs (Amherst: Carpenter and Morehouse, 1915).

“Saving Greek in the College”. The Classical Weekly 10.9 (Dec. 11, 1916): 65-67.

“Review of The Sanskrit Indeclinables of the Hindu Grammarians and Lexicographers by Isidore Dyen”. The Classical Weekly 34.8 (Dec. 9, 1940): 88-89.

“Languages of the Caucasus: Georgian Noun Formation and Declension”. The Classical Weekly 36.19 (Mar. 29, 1943): 219-223.

Herbert Pierrepont Houghton (from the Carleton website)

Herbert Pierrepont Houghton (from the Carleton website)

“Review of Verbs of Movement and Their Variants in the Critical Edition of the Ädiparvan by E. D. Kulkarni”. The Classical Weekly 37.6 (Nov. 15, 1943): 68-69.

Languages of the Caucasus: Two Studies (Northfield, Minn.: Mohn, 1946).

Aspects of the Amharic Verb in Comparison with Ethiopic. 2d ed.. (Northfield, Minn.: Mohn, 1949).

“Gildersleeve on the First Nemean”. The Classical Journal 49 (1954): 215-220.

“The Coptic Infinitive”. Aegyptus 35 (1955): 275-291.

“The Seventh Nemean”. The Classical Journal 50 (1955): 173-178.

The Basque verb,: Guipuzcoan Dialect (Northfield, Minn.: Mohn, 1944). Cf. The Verb in Guipuzcoan Basque (Charlottesville, Va., 1956).

“Coptic Substantive Relationship”.  Aegyptus 36 (1956): 153-177.

“The Coptic Sentence”. Aegyptus 37 (1957): 226-242.

“The Coptic Apocalypse”. Aegyptus 39 (1959): 40-91.

“The Coptic Apocalypse, part III, Akhmîmice: «The Apocalypse of Elias»”. Aegyptus 39 (1959): 179-210.

The Coptic Verb, Bohairic Dialect (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1959). Originally (Northfield, Minn.: Mohn, 1948), online at HathiTrust.

“A Study of the Coptic Prefixed Prepositional Particles”. Aegyptus 39 (1959): 211-222.

An Introduction to the Basque Language, Labourdin Dialect (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1961).

“The Akhmîmic Dialect of Coptic, with a brief Glossary”. Aegyptus 42 (1962): 3-26.

“The Coptic Gospel of Thomas”. Aegyptus 43 (1963): 107-140.

The Dictionary of Georgian National Biography   1 comment

I recently stumbled upon the Dictionary of Georgian National Biography online, where interested people can find short biographical summaries about famous Georgians (or people from elsewhere who came to be associated with Georgia) from antiquity — even Medea, as the daughter of the king of Colchis, has an entry — to the present. It’s hardly in-depth, but on occasions where only basic information about this or that individual from Georgia is needed, it’s worth a look. Here are direct links to a few entries that might interest readers of this blog:

Enno Littmann’s work on inscriptions from Ethiopia   2 comments

As vol. 4 of the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition appeared Enno Littmann’s Sabaische, Griechische und Altabessinische Inschriften (Berlin, 1913). Despite the book’s age and importance, I found no copy online, so, thanks to HMML staff, it’s now available at

The frontispiece to The Library of Enno Littmann

Enno Littmann was one of the outstanding scholars of the Semitic languages, those of Ethiopia in particular, in the first half of the twentieth century. (The German Wikipedia article is not very long, and the English one is almost nothing more than a list of a few publications.) Edward Ullendorff, in his obituary for Littmann published in Africa, Oct 1958, p. 364 (and reprinted in his From the Bible to Enrico Cerulli, p. 194), concluded “Among the greatest éthiopisants of the present century, Guidi, Praetorius, Conti Rossini, Marcel Cohen, Cerulli, Enno Littmann’s name occupies a most honored place.” Littmann himself wrote an autobiographical sketch (“An meinem Grabe zu verlesen”), and it is published at the beginning of the catalog of his library: The Library of Enno Littmann, 1875-1958 (Leiden, 1959), with an introduction by his student, Maria Höfner. In addition, pp. 52-57 of Ernst Hammerschmidt’s excellent little book Äthiopistik an deutschen Universitäten (Wiesbaden, 1968) discuss Littmann’s activities and contributions. Incidentally, I have before referred to a brief book inscription by Littmann among HMML’s holdings.

There is a much more recent book that collects early Ethiopian inscriptions (E. Bernard, A. Drewes, and R. Schneider, Recueil des inscriptions de l’Éthiopie des périodes pré-axoumites et axoumites [Paris, 1991]), which is unfortunately not plentifully available, but in any case, Littmann’s work is not to be dismissed. He was an expert philologist and his judgement is always worth consideration. In his presentation of the inscriptions, there are black-and-white photographs, line drawings, transcription into a usual printed type — a presentation in Hebrew letters is included for the South Arabian inscriptions, and the Old Ethiopic material is given in both the South Arabian script and in (now vocalized) Fidäl —, German translation, and commentary. The book is beautifully typeset, something we see too little of these days! Anyone working on the history of Ethiopia in antiquity and late antiquity and anyone likewise interested in epigraphy generally or in the languages used in Ethiopia will find Littmann’s book, now almost a century old, still a worthwhile volume.

From HMML's shelves

From HMML’s shelves

Some issues of Aethiopica available online   Leave a comment

Among the links to journals on the left is one to the excellent journal Aethiopica, the latest issue of which arrived here at HMML not long ago. The articles of Aethiopica will be appreciated by éthiopisants, Semitists, scholars of eastern Christianity, and others. Alin Suciu has pointed out that some issues have now been made available online: here you will find vols. 10-13 (2007-2010).

A plea for the inclusion of manuscripts in language teaching   3 comments

(Reposted here for easy access and future convenience from the HMML Chronicle, Aug 4, 2011; see here.)

I hope the title is not too grandiose for the little petition here offered: my intent can be made clear in few words, but the practical working out of its actual implementation will naturally require more time and purposeful planning.

Manuscript study has been and will continue to be the focus of codicological learning and the preparation of text editions (however one might envision this latter task), but does it not, too, have a broader setting in the study of the languages and literatures of this or that community? From the title of this post, it is obvious that my answer to that question is in the affirmative. But is there any justification for this answer among our past masters? To state the question differently, is there plausible evidence that the expertise of our philological forebears owes anything to their thorough experience with handling manuscripts? At the very least in answer to this question we can point to the fact that some scholars widely acknowledged as masters were deeply acquainted with manuscripts. Now this does not prove that their skill and acumen is due strictly to their manuscript work, but it would be foolhardy to imagine that this activity did not at least in some way augment whatever philological ability they possessed beforehand. I need only underline the names of, to mention a few, William Cureton, William Wright, August Dillmann,[[1]] Theodor Nöldeke,[[2]] Anton Baumstark, Henri Hyvernat, and, more recently than these others, Michel Van Esbroeck. The last named scholar, it is said, learned to write Arabic by tracing the projected words from Sinai manuscripts in a microfilm reader, and thus provides a very practical example of using manuscripts at an early stage of linguistic education.[[3]] .

A typical situation for students of ancient languages, I think, is for them to get what they know especially through “book learning” first of all, with more or less guidance by an instructor or professor; that is, they learn grammatical rudiments and then start in reading some texts. (I don’t enter into here the worthwhile discussion of the relative merits of a more inductive versus a more deductive method of instruction.) The rest of their formal philological education generally continues just this way: reading text after text after text, some of these meriting and getting more attention than others, depending on the student’s interests. The venue in which a student studies and the professors with whom he or she reads will largely determine how much exposure to manuscripts that student gains. While access to manuscripts—for everyone, but especially for students—formerly required more effort than is now the case, none of us really have any excuse any longer for not fully utilizing manuscripts more than was our past wont. While some manuscripts still remain very difficult or impossible to get copies of, especially in certain middle eastern collections, we can do what we can. If one is studying a particular text, it may not be feasible to look at every manuscript or even the most important ones, but especially for students, it is immensely helpful to work with manuscripts as much as possible and as early in their philological career as possible. This is the case both for unedited texts and those with editions; in fact, in the latter scenario, students may, especially with a more experienced scholar’s guidance, learn important things about textual study, with things learned both negatively from poorly done editions and positively for those more expertly executed.

In earlier days of modern scholarship, the chrestomathy was a regular tool for students making their early forays into the study of this or that language and literature. Perhaps today’s students and those of tomorrow, too, might find profit in some sort of chrestomathia manuscripta to use at the same stage of their scholarly career, but very preferably earlier rather than later. Such chrestomathiae are not an entirely new idea: witness Hyvernat’s Album de paléographie copte pour server à l’introduction paléographique des Actes des martyrs de l’Égypte (Paris, 1888), Tisserant’s Specimina Codicum Orientalium (Bonn, 1914; it is telling that this volume appeared in the series called Tabulae in usum scholarum!), and pp. 401-410 of Cheikho’s Chrestomathia Arabica (Beirut, 1897). Jan Just Witkam’s excellent paleography site, with many Arabic and Persian manuscript specimens, and one in Malay, is a recent example of something students might add to their arsenal of study; Witkam provides a few folios from each manuscript together with a complete transcription of the selection, similar to what Cheikho had done in his Chrestomathia. I hope this little plea might serve as a call for more such tools to be put together and, more importantly, to be utilized in the classroom and the study!

[[1]] See Ernst Hammerschmidt, Äthiopistik an deutschen Universitäten (Wiesbaden, 1968), pp. 17-20.
[[2]] C. Snouck Hurgronje, “Theodor Nöldeke, 2. März 1836 − 25. Dezember 1930,” ZDMG 85 (1931): 239-281, pp. 247-248, 254-255. (Available online here; this Nekrolog includes a fine picture of Nöldeke.)
[[3]] Samir Khalil Samir, SJ, “Michel van Esbroeck, SJ (1934-2003), le collègue et l’ami,” Collectanea Christiana Orientalia 2 (2005): 409-440, p. 410. (Available online here.)

Labīd’s poem from the Muʿallaqāt   1 comment

A 16th/17th-century Arabic manuscript belonging to the Near East School of Theology in Beirut (on which see pp. 5-6 of Illuminations, Spring 2011) contains the old Arabic poems known as Al-Muʿallaqāt along with some brief commentary on individual words. The Muʿallaqāt, usually deemed to be seven in number but sometimes more, are the most famous collection of classical Arabic poems. They have, of course, long excited interest and enjoyment in arabophone and arabophile places, and 19th- and 20th-century European orientalists toiled over these long and often difficult poetic works with manuscript-hunting, editions, commentaries, and translations. An edition with Arabic commentary appeared in Leipzig in 1850 by F.A. Arnold (see the poem of Labīd, with commentary, beginning here).

The image below shows the end of the poem of Imruʾ al-Qays and the beginning of Labīd’s; the latter poem is actually the second poem in this copy, but it is often the fourth poem in others. A prose translation into English of Labīd’s poem survives from the hand of William Wright and it was published in 1961 (see reference below).

NEST AP 6, ff. 62v-63r

These opening lines of the poem in Wright’s translation are:

1. Effaced are the dwelling-places at Minā, whether temporary or permanent; desolate are their Ghaul and their Rijām,

2. and the slopes of ar-Raiyān; their traces are laid bare, but old and worn, just as the rocks retain the letters graven on them.

3. Sites of dwellings are these, over which, since they were last inhabited, many a long year has passed with its full tale of sacred and profane months.

4. They have been gifted with the showers of the constellations of spring, and the rains of the thunderclouds have fallen on them in torrents and in drizzle;

5. rains from every cloud of the night, and morning cloud that covers the sky, and evening cloud whose thunderpeals answer one another.

6. And so the shoots of the wild rocket have sprung up over them, and the gazelle and the ostrich have their young on the two sides of the valley;

7. and the antelopes lie quietly by their young, to which they have newly given birth, while their fawns roam in flocks over the plain.

8. And the torrents have newly laid bare the marks of the tents, as if they were lines of writing whose text the pens retrace;

9. or the lines which a woman tattooing traces afresh, rubbing in her lampblack in circles, on which her pattern reappears.

A more thorough comparison would clarify the relationship, but it is notable that several of the explanatory words in the NEST manuscript agree exactly with the commentary published by Arnold, reflecting a tradition of comment on the poem(s).

Lamentation for the lost past, in particular as tied to a specific place, is a hallmark of old Arabic poetry, and these nine lines illustrate the theme well. This kind of writing can, to be sure, on occasion lean toward tedium, but the variety of similes, not to mention the language itself, can also to one in the right mood for it offer worthwhile evocative amusement. When reading these lines I thought of Aragorn’s mournful recitation of the lament for the old days of Rohan in chapter six of Book III of The Lord of the Rings (see The Two Towers [i.e. part two of the whole work], pp. 496-497) and beginning “in the Common Speech” — Legolas does not understand the language but knows that it is that of the Rohirrim and that the song “is laden with the sadness of Mortal Men” — with the words “Where now the horse and the rider? Where now the horn that was blowing?” It is widely known that Tolkien took as models for many aspects of The Lord of the Rings things literary, linguistic, and historical from Anglo-Saxon and other adjacent cultures, and this is the case with this piece of poetry, too. The source is the well-known Old English poem The Wanderer, beginning at line 92 (full text, with translation, available here, along with a note linking this part to Tolkien’s poem):

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago?

Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?

Hwær cwom symbla gesetu?

Hwær sindon seledreamas?

Eala beorht bune!

Eala byrnwiga!

Eala þeodnes þrym!

Hu seo þrag gewat,

genap under nihthelm,

swa heo no wære.

The “where? …where? …where?” (hwær) is in both the Old English poem and in Tolkien’s, with characteristic sound repetition, and in The Wanderer there is yet more repetition with eala (“alas”). There is sound repetition, too, in Labīd’s poem, but of a different kind: each line (bayt) ends in -hā (usually -āmuhā), and in some cases not only the second hemistich (called ʿaǧuz al-bayt, the back-end of the line), but also the first hemistich (ṣadr al-bayt, the front of the line). In all of these poems, whatever the language and whatever the sound repetition, the sadness they’re laden with is palpable, and when you’re in a melancholic mood, or some worse kind of temperament, it makes for something of a balm to hear and read yourself of the melancholic remembrances of others.


F.A. Arnold, Septem Mo‘allaḳât Carmina Antiquissima Arabum (Leipzig, 1850).

Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur I (Weimar, 1898), 17-19, with Supplementband I (Leiden, 1937), 34-36.

Ursula Schedler, “A Prose Translation of the Mo‘allaqah of Labid by William Wright,” Journal of Semitic Studies 6 (1961): 97-104.

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