Classical Ink and Its Exodus (Continued)

By David N. Carvalho


THE storming of Alexandria and the destruction of the Pergamus library, composed largely of ink-written volumes, by the Saracens, A. D. 642, has already been reverted to. Astle observes:

“Thus perished by fanatical madness, the inestimable Alexandrian library, which is said to have contained at that time upwards of five hundred thousand volumes; and from this period, barbarity and ignorance prevailed for several centuries. In Italy and all over the west of Europe learning was in a measure extinguished, except some small remains which were preserved in Constantinople.

“Theodosious, the younger, was very assiduous in augmenting this library, by whom, in the latter end of the fourth century, it was enlarged to one hundred thousand volumes, above one-half of which were burnt in the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the First, so famous for his hatred to images.

“The inhabitants of Constantinople had not lost their taste for literature in the beginning of the thirteenth century, when this city was sacked by the Crusaders, in the year 1205; the depredations then committed are related in Mr. Harris’s posthumous works, vol. ii, p. 301, from Nicetas the Choniate, who was present at the sacking of this place. His account of the statues, bustos, bronzes, manuscripts, and other exquisite remains of antiquity, which then perished, cannot be read by any lover of arts and learning without emotion.

“The ravages committed by the Turks who plundered Constantinople, in the year 1453, are related by Philelphus, who was a man of learning, and was tutor to aeneas Sylvius (afterwards pope, under the name of Pius the Second) and was an eye-witness to what passed at that time. This tutor says, that the persons of quality, especially the women, still preserved the Greek language uncorrupted. He observes, that though the city had been taken before, it never suffered so much as at that time; and adds, that, till that period, the remembrance of ancient wisdom remained at Constantinople, and that no one among the Latins was deemed sufficiently learned, who had riot studied for some time at that place; he expressed his fear that all the works of the ancients would be destroyed.

“Still, however, there are the remains of three libraries at Constantinople: the first is called that of Constantine the Great; the second is for all ranks of people without distinction; the third is in the palace, and is called the Ottoman library; but a fire consumed a great part of the palace, and almost the whole library, when as is supposed, Livy and a great many valuable works of the ancients perished. Father Possevius has given an account of the libraries at Constantinople, and in other parts of the Turkish dominions, in his excellent work entitled, Apparatus Sacer. (He calls attention to no less than six thousand authors.)

Many other losses of the writings of the ancients have been attributed to the zeal of the Christians, who at different periods made great havock amongst the Heathen authors. Not a single copy of the work of Celsus is now to be found, and what we know of that work is from Origen, his opponent. The venerable fathers, who employed themselves in erasing the best works of the most eminent Greek or Latin authors, in order to transcribe the lives of saints or legendary tales upon the obliterated vellum, possible mistook these lamentable depredations for works of piety. The ancient fragment of the 91st book of Livy, discovered by Mr. Bruns, in the Vatican, in 1772, was much defaced by the pious labours of some well-intentioned divine. The Monks made war on books as the Goths had done before them. Great numbers of manuscripts have also been destroyed in this kingdom (Great Britain) by its invaders, the Pagan Danes, and the Normans, by the civil commotions raised by the barons, by the bloody contests between the houses of York and Lancaster, and especially by the general plunder and devastations of monasteries and religious houses in the reign of Henry the Eighth; by the ravages committed in the civil war in the time of Charles the First, and by the fire that happened in the Cottonian library, October 23, 1731.”

Mr. Astle’s comments on the volumes or remnants of volumes which remain to us, becomes most interesting in the lights thrown on them by Professor Anthon in his “Classical Dictionary,” 1841, which are quoted in part following those of Mr. Astle.

Mr. Astle remarks:

“The history of Phoenicia by Sanconiatho, who was a contemporary with Solomon, would have been entirely lost to us, had it not been for the valuable fragments preserved by Eusebius.”

Says Prof. Anthon:

“Sanchoniathon, a Phoenician author, who if the fragments of his works that have reached us be genuine, and if such a person ever existed, must be regarded as the most ancient writer of whom we have any knowledge after Moses. As to the period when be flourished, all is uncertain. He is the author of three principal works, which were written in Phoenician. They were translated into the Greek language by Herennius Philo, who lived in the second century of our era. It is from this translation which we obtain all the fragments of Sanchoniathon that have reached our times. Philo had divided his translation into nine books, of which Porphyry made use in his diatribe against the Christians.  It is from the fourth book of this lost work that Eusebius took, for an end directly opposite to this, the passages which have come down to us.  And thus we have those documents relating to the mythology and history of the Phoenicians from the fourth hand.”

Mr. Astle continues:

“Manetho’s History of Egypt, and the History of Chaldea, by Berosus, have nearly met with the same fate.”

From Anthon:

“Berosus; a Babylonian historian. He was a priest of the temple of Belus in the time of Alexander.  The ancients mention three books of his of which Josephus and Eusebius have preserved fragments. Annius of Viterbo published a work under the name of Berosus, which was soon discovered to be a forgery.”

By Astle:

“The Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus consisted likewise of forty books, but only fifteen are now extant; that is, five between the fifth and the eleventh, and the last ten, with some fragments collected out of Photius and others.”

By Anthon:

“Diodorus, surnamed Siculus, a contemporary of Julius Caesar and Agustus. He published a general history in forty books, under the title ‘Historical Library,’ which covered a period of 1138 years. We have only a small part remaining of this vast compilation. These rescued portions we owe to Eusebius, to John Malala and other writers of the lower empire, who have cited them in the course of their works. He is the reputed author of the famous sophism against motion. ‘If any body be moved, it is moved in the place where it is, or in a place where it is not, for nothing can act or suffer where it is not, and therefore there is no such thing as motion.’ “

By Astle:

“The General History of Polybius originally contained forty books; but the first five only, with some extracts or fragments, are transmitted to us.”

By Anthon:

“Polybius, an eminent Greek historian, born about, B. C. 203. Polybius gave to the world various historical writings, which are entirely lost with the exception of his General History. It embraced a period of 53 years. Of the forty books which it originally comprehended, time has spared only the first five entire. Of the rest, as far as the seventeenth, we have merely fragments though of considerable size. Of the remaining books we have nothing left except what is found in two merger abridgments which the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, in the tenth century caused to be made of the whole work.”

From Astle:

“Dionysius Halicarnassensis wrote twenty books of Roman antiquities, extending from the siege of Troy, to the Punic war A. U. C. 488; but only eleven of them are now remaining, which reach no further than the year of Rome 312.”

From Anthon:

“He was born in the first century B. C. His principal work was ‘Roman Antiquities.’ It originally consisted of twenty books, of which the first ten remain entire. Dionysius wrote for the Greeks, and his object was to relieve them from the mortification which they felt at being conquered by a race of barbarians, as they considered the Romans to be.  And this he endeavored to effect by twisting and forging testimonies, and botching up the old legends, so as to make out a prima facie proof of the Greek origin of the city of Rome. Valuable additions were made in 1816, by Mai, from an old MSS.”

By Astle:

“Appian is said to have written the Roman History in twenty-four books; but the greatest part of the works of that author is lost.”

By Anthon:

“He was the author of a Roman History in twenty-four books which no longer exist entire; the parts missing have been supplied but was not written by Appian but is a mere compilation from Plutarch’s Lives of Crassus and Antony.”

By Astle:

“Dion Cassius wrote eighty books of history, but only twenty-five are remaining, with some fragments, and an epitome of the last twenty by Xiphilinus.”

By Anthon:

“His true name was Cassius, born A. D. 155; . . we have fragments remaining of the first thirty-six books, they comprehend a period from B. C. 65 to B. C. 10;--they were found by Mai in two Vatican MSS., which contain a sylloge or collection made by Maximus Planudes (who lived in the fourteenth century. He was the first Greek that made use of the Arabic numerals as they are called).”

Mr. Astle further observes:

“The Emperor Tacitus ordered ten copies of the works of his relation, the historian, to be made every year which he sent into the different provinces of the empire; and yet, notwithstanding his endeavours to perpetuate these inestimable works, they were buried in oblivion for many centuries.  Since the restoration of learning an ancient MSS.  was discovered in a monastery in Westphalia, which contained the most valuable part of his annals; but in this unique manuscript, part of the fifth, seventh, ninth and tenth books are deficient, as are part of the eleventh, and the latter part of the sixteenth. This MSS. was procured by that great restorer of learning Pope Leo X., under whose patronage it was printed at Rome in 1515; he afterwards deposited it in the Vatican library, where it is still preserved. Thus posterity is probably indebted to the above magnificent Pontiff, for the most valuable part of the works of this inimitable historian.”

Accounts which differentiate in their descriptive details of questioned ink-written fragments of antiquity and on the genuineness or authenticity of which rests the truth or falsity of ancient history or other literature, serve to taint such remains with a certain degree of suspicion and doubt. When, however, in the light of investigation, the materials of which they are composed are found to approach closely the age they purport to represent, then it is that such fragments can be said to have fairly established their own identity.

Taylor asserts:

“The remote antiquity of a manuscript is often established by the peculiar circumstance of its existing BENEATH another writing. Some invaluable manuscripts of the Holy Scriptures, and not a few precious fragments of classic literature, have been thus brought to light.

“The age of a manuscript may often be ascertained with little chance of error, by some such indications as the following:--the quality or appearance of the INK, the nature of the material; that is to say, whether it be soft leather, or parchment, or the papyrus of Egypt, or the bombycine paper; for these materials succeeded each other, in common use, at periods that are well known;-- the peculiar form, size, and character of the writing; for a regular progression in the modes of writing may be traced by abundant evidence through every age from the remotest times;--the style of the ornaments or illuminations, as they are termed, often serves to indicate the age of the book which they decorate.

“From such indications as these, more or less definite and certain, ancient manuscripts, now extant, are assigned to various periods, extending from the sixteenth, to the fourth century of the Christian era; or perhaps, in one or two instances, to the third or second. Very few can claim an antiquity so high as the fourth century; but not a few are safely attributed to the seventh; and a great proportion of those extant were unquestionably executed in the tenth; while many belong to the following four hundred years. It is, however, to be observed, that some manuscripts, executed at so late a time as the thirteenth, or even the fifteenth century, afford clear internal evidence that, by a single remove only, the text they contain claims a REAL antiquity, higher than that even of the oldest existing copy of the same work. For these older copies sometimes prove, by the peculiar nature of the corruptions which have crept into the text, that they have been derived through a long series of copies; while perhaps the text of the more modern manuscripts possesses such a degree of purity and freedom from all the usual consequences of frequent transcription, as to make it manifest that the copy from which it was taken, was so ancient as not to be far distant from the time of the first publication of the work.”




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