Archive for the ‘research’ Tag

“The manuscript itself”   1 comment

In his excellent article, “Georgian Palaeography”,[1] J. Neville Birdsall (1928-2005),[2] after listing some reproductions of Georgian manuscripts, has the following to say (p. 95):

The aspirant in Georgian palaeography must use these and every available photographic reproduction, but it cannot be too much emphasized that acquaintance with manuscripts themselves is irreplaceable. A manuscript, said patristic scholar and Armenologist, Robert Pierce Casey, is “something between a gadget and a personality”. This is as true of manuscripts as paleographical evidence as it is of any other aspect of their use and value. The external technicalities of the manuscript may be learnt from pictures: the individuality of the scribe, even in technical matters such as thickness of pen, can be known best only from the examination of the manuscript itself.

Birdsall’s survey dates from a time not too distant, at least in terms of the slow-moving world of manuscript studies, but even so, the quality and the quantity of easily available, if not freely available, manuscript images online would probably have been inconceivable at the time of its writing. In other words, Birdsall, while acknowledging the value of often bitonal manuscript reproductions — if for no other reason than that that is sometimes all that was (and is!) available — seems to imply that one should always wish for a real, tactile encounter with “the manuscript itself”. This kind of autopsy today probably happens no more frequently than when Birdsall made the statement above, but it is likely that a great many more students and scholars have nevertheless seen manuscripts, and not bitonal images, but color photographs of such resolution that one might enlarge only a few lines and fill an entire screen without any loss of image quality. There are doubtless some things we miss when look at a manuscript on a screen, rather than on a library table — a notable one being an easily grasped perception of a manuscript’s actual size, something we can forget, even if we know the exact measurements, when reading on a screen and manipulating the size — but at least with very high quality digital reproduction, what do we lack that especially matters codicologically or paleographically speaking? Birdsall as an example mentions the thickness of the scribe’s pen. Is that still something “known best” only from immediate manuscript autopsy, is it something we cannot properly give attention to in digital manuscript facsimiles as available nowadays? On this question, see the image below and note the easily noticeable varieties of thickness as the scribe has turned the pen in different directions to form the letters.

If someone had access only to manuscript reproductions, even if bitonal and perhaps grainy, Birdsall, based the tone of his essay, would, I believe, encourage that person to go ahead and make the most of what they have. Those of us at work on manuscripts in various languages, not only Georgian, have the boon of much better images than were common fare even a couple of decades ago, and were he writing today, I wonder if Birdsall would have phrased his sentiments in quite the way as above.

A few lines from CFMM 309, p. 55, at full resolution. Each page has two columns and the ms measures 26.5x18x9 cm.

A few lines from CFMM 309, p. 55, at full resolution. Each page has two columns and the ms measures 26.5x18x9 cm.

[1] A.C. Harris, ed. The Indigenous Languages of the Caucasus, vol. 1, The Kartvelian Languages. Delmar, New York: Caravan Books, 1991. Pp. 85-128. It remains really the only thing of its kind in English. Unfortunately, it was published in a rather out-of-the-way book, not to mention the less than appealing typography.

[2] There is an obituary for Birdsall by J.K. Elliott from The Independent here.

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.

SBL Call for papers: Manuscripts from Eastern Christian Traditions   Leave a comment

The call for papers for the next annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (Baltimore, Nov 23-26, 2013) is now active, and I take the liberty to make special mention of the workshop session called Manuscripts from Eastern Christian Traditions. Here is its description:

This Workshop provides a forum to familiarize students and scholars, especially those who have not worked with manuscripts before, with manuscript studies within the broader fields of eastern Christianity in any of its languages and literary traditions.

This will be the third year for it (a report on the first year is here), and in each of the previous two years there have been two sessions, and presentations have ranged across the languages and traditions of the Christian east, and I’m sure this will continue into the third year. In addition, a joint session is planned this year with the well-established unit on Syriac Literature and Interpretations of Sacred Texts. Let me also make clear here that anything “eastern” and “Christian” broadly considered is of possible interest for the workshop, not just the heavy-hitters (Syriac, Coptic, etc.). Papers on lesser-studied languages and manuscript traditions within eastern Christianity like Persian (see, for example, Anton Pritula’s book [in Russian, with English summary at the end] here) and Sogdian are welcome and encouraged.

The call for papers closes on March 1, 2013. I will be glad to answer any questions about the workshop or about possible presentations therein, so please be in touch with me.

Fellowship for eastern Christian manuscript studies   1 comment

The recently established Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, Fellowship in Eastern Christian Manuscript Studies was announced not long ago on HMML’s website, but I thought it might be a good idea to share it again here. The original announcement is here, but for convenience and for broader distribution I also give the text here:

The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) announces the establishment of the Dietrich Reinhart OSB Fellowship in Eastern Christian Manuscript Studies, to be awarded annually for three years beginning with the Academic Year 2013-2014. The fellowship has been established through the generosity of Rebecca Haile and Jean Manas of New York, New York, in memory of Br. Dietrich Reinhart OSB (1949-2008). Br. Dietrich, 11th President of Saint John’s University, was a visionary leader who saw HMML as integral to the mission of Saint John’s Abbey and University, and enthusiastically promoted HMML’s work in the Middle East, Ethiopia, and India.

Awardees must be undertaking research on some aspect of Eastern Christian studies requiring use of the digital or microfilm manuscript collections at HMML. They must have already been awarded a doctoral degree in a relevant field and have demonstrated expertise in the languages and cultures of Eastern Christianity relevant for their projects.

The Fellowship may be held for a full academic year (September 1-April 30) or for one semester (September 1-December 20; January 4-April 30). The Fellowship provides accommodation in an apartment at the Collegeville Institute on the Saint John’s University campus; working space at HMML; access to library, recreational and cultural activities at Saint John’s University; round-trip transportation; and a stipend of up to $25,000 for a full academic year. Stipends will be adjusted for less than a full year in residence.

Awardees will be expected to devote full attention to their research projects while in residence. They will also be expected to participate in a weekly seminar for Collegeville Institute resident scholars, to present their research in a public lecture sponsored by HMML, and to be a resource for HMML staff and other researchers during their stay.

Applicants are asked to provide: 1) a cover letter with current contact information and an indication of availability for a full-year or one-semester residency; 2) a description of the project to be pursued, including an explanation of how access to HMML’s resources will be important for its success (1000-1500 words); 3) an updated curriculum vitae; 4) two letters of reference.

The cover letter, project description, and CV should be sent by the applicant to; letters should be sent by the referees directly to the same email address or in hard copy to Julie Dietman, HMML, Box 7300, Collegeville, MN 56321.

Applications for the Academic Year 2013-14 are due December 15, 2012. The decision and acceptance process will be completed by the end of February 2013.

Armenian, Syriac, and Arabic collections available at HMML (summer 2012)   1 comment

Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul (Patriarch’s collection) 109 (dated 1433 CE)

This PDF file was distributed in one of the sessions at the Symposium Syriacum on Malta a few weeks ago. Because it is (a) up-to-date, (b) concise, and (c) easily navigable, it is fitting to share it here, too, where it will hopefully be widely viewed and consulted. A few things to bear in mind:

  • Listed here are only collections of manuscripts photographed digitally (i.e. the European collections photographed by HMML in prior decades and preserved in bitonal microfilm — including a notable number of Armenian and Arabic manuscripts, much less in Syriac — are absent).
  • Manuscripts from these collections are immediately available to order (either for limited access viewing online or for your personal digital copy).
  • Cataloging can be time-consuming work, and this particular project has only been underway for two years. While these collections are preserved and available for study, only a small fraction of this great number of manuscripts has so far been cataloged. That means, of course, that there is far more here than is listed in the online catalog, Oliver.
  • Finally, as I said in the presentation at the Symposium, capable catalogers for many of these collections are needed. While the study of all of these languages and literatures has advanced over the past centuries, there are still very many texts that remain only in manuscripts, not to mention the fact that manuscripts will remain interesting in and of themselves for various reasons (paleography, codicology, historical notes, etc.) and the fact that even where printed editions exist recourse to manuscripts (whether used in the edition in question or not) is very often an illuminating (pun intended) exercise. All this and more means that the opportunity to catalog and otherwise study these manuscript collections will, I hope, be considered welcome to scholars in the field: հունձք բազո՛ւմ են՝ եւ մշակք սակա՛ւ; ḥṣādā saggi wǝ-pāʿlē zʿorin; al-ḥiṣād kaṯīr wa-l-faʿala qalīl! Please feel free to contact me about the details of this cataloging work, including remuneration.

Here are a few images from various collections at HMML.

Dominican Friars of Mosul 354: Jacques Rhetoré’s Grammaire de la langue Torâni

Pontifical Babel College Library, Habbi (Ankawa) 10, an early 18th cent. copy of Bar ʿEbrāyā’s Book of Splendors, copied in Alqosh.

Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil 151, Yawsep II’s Book of the Magnet (see H. Teule in Samir FS, pp. 221-241)

Saint Mark’s, Jerusalem 43, f. 7v: A Garšūnī commentary to the Pentateuch.

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).

Malta bound   3 comments

Last year about this time I participated in the North American Syriac Symposium at Duke University, and next week will take place on Malta the eleventh quadrennial international Symposium Syriacum and the ninth Conference on Christian Arabic Studies. I’ll be presenting a paper there on Job of Edessa’s Treatise on Rabies, and in another session I’ll participate in a presentation to give an update on some of HMML’s recent activities in the fields of Syriac and Arabic manuscripts. For anyone who cares, here’s the abstract for the paper on Job of Edessa’s work on rabies:

While the history and sources of the science of human medicine in Arabic and (to a lesser extent) Syriac literature have attracted a reasonable amount of scholarly attention, the same cannot be said for veterinary medicine, almost certainly due to the latter field’s greater paucity of sources. One such source, however — all the more important because there are not many of them — has been known in the west for almost a century now but has never been studied: a Syriac text entitled A Treatise on Rabies by Job (Iyob or Ayyūb) of Edessa (d. ca. 835). This work, which also deals with serpents and scorpions in addition to rabid canines, survives, as far as is known, in three late manuscripts, and it has never been edited or translated. Where the author is known, it is for his much longer and encyclopedic Book of Treasures (ed. and tr. 1935), the only other work of Job’s that survives, though a few other theological, medical, and philosophical titles are known. Both Job and his son Ibrāhīm served as physicians in the Abbasid entourage, and Job is mentioned in Arabic sources, including Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq’s Risālah, as a prolific translator of Galen’s works into Syriac. The work on rabies, an original composition divided into eight sections, deals with, among other things, the propensity of dogs to this affliction, the fear of water experienced by rabid dogs and people with rabies, a comparison of rabies with other animal stings and poisons, and the lethality of a rabid dog’s bite. The object of this paper is to make this interesting and thus far unstudied text better known. After some details on the life and work of Job of Edessa and on the history of veterinary medicine, especially in the Middle East, the subject turns to Job’s text itself by analyzing its contents, outlining the scientific vocabulary, investigating the author’s possible sources, and situating it within the history of science and veterinary medicine.

I’m looking forward to talking with colleagues and friends in Syriac and Arabic studies, and, of course, to seeing Malta, whither I’ve never been.

P.S. The title of this post was chosen with a full nod to Lead Belly’s “Alabama Bound” (my home state)!

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