2017-10-23

Christians, Book-Burning, Temple Destruction and some balance on Nixey’s popular polemic

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by Neil Godfrey

[Updated 12 hours after original posting]

I’d like to place here some balance or corrective to Tim O’Neill’s criticism of Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. James McGrath has lent his support to O’Neill’s attack on Nixey’s book by expressing disdain for both atheists and their “gullible” audiences:

When atheists misrepresent ancient Christians as typically having been intellectual terrorists who burned great works of literature and philosophy, are they not themselves doing the equivalent themselves, burning the actual history in the minds of those gullible enough to blindly accept their claims, in order to replace our accurate knowledge of the past with their own dishonest dogma and that alone?

Just this morning I see that another biblioblog has collated some “critical reactions” to Nixey’s book.

To begin, Catherine Nixey makes it clear in her Introduction that what readers are about to encounter is a one-sided polemic.

This is a book about the Christian destruction of the classical world. The Christian assault was not the only one – fire, flood, invasion and time itself all played their part – but this book focuses on Christianity’s assault in particular. This is not to say that the Church didn’t also preserve things: it did. But the story of Christianity’s good works in this period has been told again and again; such books proliferate in libraries and bookshops. The history and the sufferings of those whom Christianity defeated have not been. This book concentrates on them. (p. xxxv, my emphasis)

It seems to me a little awry to condemn an author’s work because it accomplishes what its author intended it to do. But it is more serious to give the impression that a book denies something that it clearly does not: Nixey clearly says that the Church did, also, “preserve things”. Are we to think that even in the twenty-first-century one cannot speak ill of Christian history without attracting an avalanche of hostility?

Nixey, I understand, is a journalist and is writing for a popular audience. Often she adds little imaginative (novelistic) flourishes to fill out a dramatic historical episode. The book is neither a textbook nor original research. Nixey relies heavily on secondary literature rather than original research. That said, much of her secondary sources are highly respected scholars in the field (e.g. Robert Wilken, Dirk Rohmann).

Where to begin? Let’s return to the passage quoted above. Note that Nixey does not speak of “Christians” or “Christianity” as if these terms are labels of a monolithic movement. Christians in late antiquity were divided. Yet some of the attacks (they are more attacks than fair criticisms) appear at times to speak erroneously of Christianity as a united voice with a single attitude towards pagan learning. O’Neill writes:

The idea that the loss of ancient works came as a result of active suppression by “Christian authorities” coupled with ignorant neglect is the persistent element in these laments. In her recent debut book The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, British popular history writer Catherine Nixey harps on this theme. “Works by censured philosophers were forbidden,” she solemnly assures her readers, “and bonfires blazed across the empire as outlawed books went up in flames.” (p. xxxii) I imagine this kind of stuff sells popular books, but if we actually turn to the evidence and the relevant scholarship, we find very little to support these ideas.

It is a powerful image, this: Christianity as the inheritor and valiant protector of the classical tradition – and it is an image that persists. This is the Christianity of ancient monastic libraries, of the beauty of illuminated manuscripts, of the Venerable Bede. It is the Christianity that built august Oxford colleges, their names a litany of learnedness – Corpus Christi, Jesus, Magdalen. This is the Christianity that stocked medieval libraries, created the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, the Hours of Jeanne de Navarre and the sumptuous gold illustrations of the Copenhagen Psalter. This is the religion that, inside the walls of the Vatican, even now keeps Latin going as a living language, translating such words as ‘computer’, ‘video game’ and ‘heavy metal’ into Latin, over a millennium after the language ought to have died a natural death.

And indeed all that is true. Christianity at its best did do all of that, and more. But there is another side to this Christian story, one that is worlds away from the bookish monks and careful copyists of legend. (– Nixey, Darkening Age, p. 140f, my bolding)

If we are still willing to read Nixey’s book after such a bald assertion about what to expect we will be taken aback to find that Tim O’Neill’s warning is very wide of the mark. We would not expect to read the following passage about the philosophical works and the attitude of “Christian clerics” more widely in Nixey’s work (again with my emphasis):

Even philosophers like Plato, whose writings fitted better with Christian thought – his single form of ‘the good’ could, with some contortions, be squeezed into a Christian framework – were still threatening. Perhaps even more so: Plato would continue to (sporadically) alarm the Church for centuries. In the eleventh century, a new clause was inserted into the Lenten liturgy censuring those who believed in Platonic forms. ‘Anathema on those,’ it declared, ‘who devote themselves to Greek studies and instead of merely making them a part of their education, adopt the foolish doctrines of the ancients and accept them as the truth.’38

For many hard-line Christian clerics, the entire edifice of academic learning was considered dubious. In some ways there was a noble egalitarianism in this: with Christianity, the humblest fisherman could touch the face of God without having his hand stayed by quibbling scholars. But there was a more aggressive and sinister side to it, too. St Paul had succinctly and influentially said that ‘the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God’.39 This was an attitude that persisted. Later Christians scorned those who tried to be too clever in their interpretation of the scriptures. One writer railed furiously at those who ‘put aside the sacred word of God, and devote themselves to geometry . . . Some of them give all their energies to the study of Euclidean geometry, and treat Aristotle . . . with reverent awe; to some of them Galen is almost an object of worship.’40

And so, in part from self-interest, in part from actual interest, Christianity started to absorb the literature of the ‘heathens’ into itself. Cicero soon sat alongside the psalters after all. Many of those who felt most awkward about their classical learning made best use of it. The Christian writer Tertullian might have disdained classical learning in asking what Athens had to do with Jerusalem – but he did so in high classical style with the metonymy of Athens’ standing in for ‘philosophy’ and that prodding rhetorical question. Cicero himself would have approved. Everywhere, Christian intellectuals struggled to fuse together the classical and the Christian. Bishop Ambrose dressed Cicero’s Stoic principles in Christian clothes; while Augustine adapted Roman oratory for Christian ends. The philosophical terms of the Greeks – the ‘logos’ of the Stoics – started to make their way into Christian philosophy.51

. . . . . .

Christianity was caught in an impossible situation. Greek and Roman literature was a sump of the sinful and the satanic and so it could not be embraced. But nor could it entirely be ignored either. It was painfully obvious to educated Christians that the intellectual achievements of the ‘insane’ pagans were vastly superior to their own. For all their declarations on the wickedness of pagan learning, few educated Christians could bring themselves to discard it completely. Augustine, despite disdaining those who cared about correct pronunciation, leaves us in no doubt that he himself knows how to pronounce everything perfectly. In countless passages, both implicitly and explicitly, his knowledge is displayed. He was a Christian, but a Christian with classical dash and he deployed his classical knowledge in the service of Christianity. The great biblical scholar Jerome, who described the style of sections of the Bible as ‘rude and repellent’,49 never freed himself from his love of classical literature and suffered from nightmares in which he was accused of being a ‘Ciceronian, not a Christian’.50

. . . . . .

Philosophers who wished their works and careers to survive in this Christian world had to curb their teachings. Philosophies that treated the old gods with too much reverence eventually became unacceptable. Any philosophies that dabbled in predicting the future were cracked down on. Any theories that stated that the world was eternal – for that contradicted the idea of Creation – were, as the academic Dirk Rohmann has pointed out, also suppressed. Philosophers who didn’t cut their cloth to the new shapes allowed by Christianity felt the consequences. In Athens, some decades after Hypatia’s death, a resolutely pagan philosopher found himself exiled for a year. (pp. 147-152)

Yet those paragraphs really are from Catherine Nixey’s own book and not from Tim O’Neill’s criticism of it. Even in focussing on “the other side” of the story Nixey still reminds readers that that narrative was neither all black nor all white.

I highlighted the reference in that last paragraph to “philosophies that dabbled in predicting the future” because another one of O’Neill’s criticisms is that

Apart from these variant Christian texts, the books that the Christian emperors were most keen on rooting out were works of divination, augury and prophecy, since all later Roman emperors, pagan and Christian, saw the private consulting of auspices or the consultation of prophecies about their rule as a potential act of sedition. Nixey tries to claim this was merely a “pretext” for the destruction of hated Classical learning, though does so with little evidence. 

and that

any “bonfires” of books in this period tended to be of the works of “heretics” from non-conformist variants of Christianity rather than works of pagan scholarship.

Unfortunately, O’Neill has not followed up Nixey’s source reference to the recent scholarship of Dirk Rohmann’s book, Christianity, book-burning and censorship in Late Antiquity: studies in text transmission (2016). I have only had time to skim sections of Rohmann’s work at this stage but it seems that the evidence points to many areas of classical philosophy being closely associated with magic, divination and Christian “heresies”. We need to approach our sources and insights into the ancient world with some nuance. It is a mistake to think of Christian heresies, pagan magic and augury etc as all belonging to genres distinct and separate from ancient works of philosophy.

The Migration of Faith project:


We are an international interdisciplinary research project investigating how the banishment of hundreds of Christian clerics to a myriad of places all around the Mediterranean during the religious controversies of late antiquity shaped the institution of the Christian Church in this period and beyond. Applying both quantitative and qualitative analysis to a wide range of sources – histories, hagiography, laws, letters, treatises, epigraphy and papyri – we are working on compiling a free online prosopographical database of banished late antique clerics and their socio-spatial networks, as well as on books, articles and further events. Our project is a collaboration between the Department of History at the University of Sheffield, the HRI Digital at the Humanities Research Institute, the Faculty of Theology at the University of Halle (together with the Patristische Arbeitsgemeinschaft at the Humboldt University of Berlin), the Department of Culture and Society at Aarhus University, the Abteilung Byzanzforschung at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the German Historical Institute in London, and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council from August 2014 to October 2017.

Dirk Rohmann is a research associate of the University of Sheffield-based Migration of Faith project. I will try to select passages from Rohmann’s conclusions that point out the blurring between works of ancient philosophy and other ideas and practices Christians often sought to ban. Again, the emphases are mine.

Moreover, while there have been ancient precedents to suggest that certain philosophers were characterised as magicians, in Late Antiquity magic and heresy came to be linked more clearly to these philosophical traditions. In the case of heretics, it is particular clear that there was no exact definition, but it all depended on powerful parties arguing that someone else’s opinions, even if long since accepted, were not considered as viable any longer. Heretics were thus not only understood as non-conformist Christians, but occasionally those pagans whose opinions informed Christian-heretical discourse could also be dubbed as heretics in Late Antiquity, as opposed to the modern understanding of the term heresy that is limited to Christians. Along with imperial and ecclesiastical legislation that outlawed magical, heretical and astrological texts, I have argued that within Christian communities an unwillingness arose not only to preserve texts on these subjects but also texts that were related to these genres or were considered the basis for astrological or heretical world-views.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 3092-3100). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

Thus pagan philosophy itself came to be seen as the mother of heresies.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 4048-4049). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

While I do not intend to argue that by implication this means that writings containing ideas of materialist philosophy were specifically targeted in censorship legislation or that these books were regularly burnt along with heretical, magical or astrological books, my argument is that an unwillingness arose among Christian scribes to preserve any of the works that included these traditions for future generations unless for the explicit purpose of refutation. 

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 4065-4068). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

. . . Libanius is criticising the educational policy of the Christian administration in a generalized and non-specific way, to avoid further conflict. . . . [T]his is significant: Libanius as a pagan scholar was witnessing the Greek cultural tradition being threatened by the suppression of paganism. Although its tone therefore acknowledges the forces ranged against him, he is clearly making a stand and this should be recognized. The epilogue to this episode is that in another speech probably given in 382 Libanius expresses his hope shortly after the accession of Theodosius that the new emperor would be more tolerant than Valens, a ruler who had persecuted philosophers. . . .

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 4320-4325). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

Libanius and Ammianus are two examples of pagan authors who complain that the current imperial policy is responsible for the decline of ancient literature as wordly or clerical careers no longer required education in the classics. As a consequence, it is occasionally attested that institutions which preserved these traditions were shut down. It has been argued by others that Ammianus blames the physical decline of books and libraries mainly on changing interests, but on the balance of probability I have provided evidence to suggest that he occasionally criticised the changing religious climate in a way similar as Libanius did [see insert box]. While in the case of Jerome it is clear that he felt to have the authority to exclude from long-term preservation certain works that he disapproved of, I have discussed evidence from other important Christian authors to suggest that their moral engagement with ancient literary traditions had a similar long-term influence on the preservation of literature. On the one hand, it is well known that there was a broad consensus shared by both ecclesiastical and lay authors to generally exempt classical works from demonisation, although the interest in classical authors increasingly declined in western Europe after the fourth century. Augustine, for example, frequently endorsed the works of Plato, and many Christian authors of Late Antiquity were based on Plato and other ancient philosophers, whose opinions they held in high regard as long as they did not contradict the Bible. Their strategy was to allege that these positive philosophical views were themselves influenced by the Judaeo-Christian tradition. On the other hand, it has also become clear that texts that dealt specifically with pagan religion were considered as demonical as books on magic or divination. The most obvious example for this are the pertinent works by Varro, which are quoted and discussed by Augustine, but seem to have gone lost soon after. This chapter therefore illustrates the power that was attributed to books with different contents in Late Antiquity. Keeping in mind these specific powers of books in Late Antiquity, in the next chapter I shall discuss the evidence for the destruction of libraries either intentionally or accidentally in the wake of religious riots.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 4860-4876). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

Responses to Catherine Nixey’s book would be more rounded and fair if they did not appear to bend over backwards to paint “Christianity” (as if it were a monolith) in an essentially unblemished light. Some Christians were indeed pleased to see classical learning reduced to dust and ashes:

Although there is no clear indication that books were destroyed deliberately during the sack of Rome in 410, it is interesting to note that some Christian authors described these destructions as justified and welcome from an apologetical standpoint. The need to justify the destruction and the arguments used by Christian authors illuminate the power that books had at that time as well as their link to the demonical past of the Roman Empire, a view that I have presented in the previous chapters.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 5333-5337). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

Were books burned?

Yes. Not always. But at certain times and places. There was no grand Nazi-like empire-wide totalitarian conspiracy to hunt out and destroy all non-Christian works (as O’Neill misguidedly indicates is Nixey claim), but it did sometimes happen.

Particularly in the age of Justinian, book-burning was staged as a ritual act. Persecution of pagans under Justinian involved book-burning – book-burning was even enforced systematically during this time period and included an unspecific range of pagan books, if we can trust texts such as the anonymous Life of Simeon. At least, descriptions of religious inquisitions found there are confirmed in other source material. The general picture, then, is one of increased legislation and clamping down on certain avenues of thought, largely pre-Christian, but the evidence for legal enforcement is somewhat limited before the age of Justinian. Charges of magic and of paganism sometimes provided a convenient excuse for incriminating powerful individuals who would otherwise have been exempt from book-charges.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 2321-2327). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

So when O’Neill objects that

Nixey tries to claim this was merely a “pretext” for the destruction of hated Classical learning, though does so with little evidence.

he is overlooking Nixey’s source for this claim, the recent in-depth scholarly research of Dirk Rohmann that drew this conclusion.

But book burning was not the whole or even the main story, despite O’Neill’s misleading assertion:

The key point is that there was actually no blanket disapproval of “pagan” literature and scholarship, let alone the “outlawing” of it or the Nazistyle bonfires of Nixey’s fervid imagining.

O’Neill apparently failed to register much of the book, including regular summaries such as the following (after having described outright destructions by some monks and bowdlerizing edits by others):

A slow but devastating edit of classical literature was taking place. It is true that the appalling losses of knowledge that followed were not usually the result of dramatic, discrete actions – the burning of this library, the fury of that particular abbot – though these played their part. Instead, what ensured the near-total destruction of all Latin and Greek literature was a combination of ignorance, fear and idiocy. These weapons have less narrative heft, perhaps, but when left unchecked they can achieve a great deal.

Much was preserved. Much, much more was destroyed. It has been estimated that less than ten per cent of all classical literature has survived into the modern era.35 For Latin, the figure is even worse: it is estimated that only one hundredth of all Latin literature remains.36 If this was ‘preservation’ – as it is often claimed to be – then it was astonishingly incompetent. If it was censorship, it was brilliantly effective.

The ebullient, argumentative classical world was, quite literally, being erased. (p. 166)

Tim O’Neill turns to “a key scholarly monograph on the transmission of Classical works” (Tim’s description) by Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature noting that while the authors do acknowledge that some works were indeed lost because of Christian neglect and dislike — just as does Nixey. O’Neill goes on to give a fair and accurate account of what Reynolds and Wilson do say about the two sides to the story. Presumably, the tone of Nixey’s work did not encourage him to be as fair and careful in her case.

Archaeology of Religious Hatred

To underscore the complexity of the times, to remind ourselves that Christians did not all speak with one voice and that there really was a dark side to the new religion, I quote the concluding paragraphs of The Archaeology of Religious Hatred by Eberhard Sauer. Again I highlight the most pertinent points for this discussion:

While we must not overlook the element or rhetorical exaggeration, e.g. in the number of churches and monasteries allegedly constructed, archaeology has proven that the sources are basically telling the truth, and archaeological evidence helps us to gain a visual idea of the events which unrolled themselves one-and-a-half millennia ago. Some modern scholars have set themselves the target of disproving such a dramatic end by pointing out that the number of pagan votive inscriptions, works of art and temple building projects declined prior to Christian victory in the AD 330s and continued to do so thereafter. Yet, they fail to notice that the same is true for most similar non-religious monuments, thus pointing to cultural, economic and psychological changes, sparked by the Third-Century Crisis, rather than being proof for people losing their pagan faith. Furthermore, once the avalanches of Christian image destruction had gathered momentum in the fourth century, it must have seemed increasingly pointless even for committed pagans to continue to erect stone monuments whose fate was predictable. Others believe they can disprove that violence against monuments played any major role in the total transformation of the religious landscape of the ancient world in the late Roman/early medieval transition by listing temples which have yielded no traces of violent damage. Of course, the phenomena of filling temples with debris, emptying them of the cult inventory, whether out of fear of profanation or for re-use and temple destruction, took place simultaneously. By arguing that one is in opposition to the other they are missing the point. There is undoubtedly a strong causal link between the disappearance of pagan monuments and the spread of Christianity, irrespective of how much disappeared as a result of direct destruction and how much as a result of indirect pressure.As stressed above, Christianity had much to offer, such as a clear sense of purpose in life, the promise of a blissful afterlife etc. Indeed, it had been a successful and expanding minority religion within the Roman Empire even while it was still persecuted. Christianity, in particular the Nestorian denomination, had spread widely in the Persian Empire, India, central Asia and even China by the early Middle Ages. Undoubtedly it would have established itself as a world religion without the use of force and violence, yet one religion beside others (as it was in much of Asia). However, it is equally noticeable that, as far as I am aware, nowhere in Asia, Europe or Africa did it become the majority, let alone the sole, religion by the early Middle Ages with the exception of the western and eastern Roman Empire, many of its neighbours and successor states and their zones of influence. Image destruction has to be seen in the context of other oppressive measures, such as outlawing temple visits in the early AD 390s. Those who argue that paganism by and large collapsed in on itself as people had lost interest in it and waited for something more fulfilling, ought to explain why it is that Christianity became the sole religion precisely in those states which imposed it from above and normally outlawed pagan worship and tolerated or encouraged image destruction, while in the first millennium it failed to do so anywhere else. (pp. 172-173)

That last sentence deserves to be re-read, registered and dwelt upon. Its message points to the need for more Nixeys to tell the other side of the story.


Oh the irony, the irony…..

Since writing the above post the following biblioblog (BibleX) article came to my notice: Check Your Primary Sources. It links to another post (as an example of how we get things wrong if we don’t check our sources carefully), a post by Roger Pearse that scoffs at the “illiterate nonsense” of Nixey’s book.

The author of the tweet was a certain Catherine Nixey, who is an arts journalist for the Times of London.  She has a book out claiming that the Christians deliberately destroyed almost all ancient literature, or some illiterate nonsense like that.

Check your primary sources, indeed!

(The irony is that Roger Pearse obviously has not read the book and Charles Savelle merely assumes — without checking his sources himself — that RP has it wrong.)

One might almost think that some Christian scholars still have a bit to learn about scholarly approaches to criticisms of Church history after these past 1500 years.


 

136 Comments

  • John Roth
    2017-10-23 03:27:51 UTC - 03:27 | Permalink

    Interesting. My understanding is that most, if not all, of the philosophical schools contained procedures that would be considered magical today by current occult, new age and neo-pagan practitioners; pulling these apart in a particular work might be quite difficult.

    Not everything astrological vanished: the entire corpus of Hellenistic astrology has recently been translated into English, many works for the first time. The Church’s opinion of divination using astrology or geomancy wobbled back and forth many times, as did the opinion of local Church authorities. Astrology, in particular, was taught as a standard university subject as an adjunct to medicine.

  • 2017-10-23 08:01:53 UTC - 08:01 | Permalink

    Hi,

    Thank you for your link to me! But there is a slight misunderstanding in your comment. I wasn’t writing about Nixey’s book, which I tried (evidently in vain) to make clear that I had not read and was uninterested in. I was writing about a tweet that she posted which caught my eye. I mentioned her book only because promotion of it is the context of the tweet.

    All the best,

    Roger Pearse

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-10-23 09:26:08 UTC - 09:26 | Permalink

      You wrote:

      She has a book out claiming that the Christians deliberately destroyed almost all ancient literature, or some illiterate nonsense like that.

      That’s not a comment about Nixey’s book?

      • 2017-10-24 14:51:14 UTC - 14:51 | Permalink

        You think that makes my post about the content of her book?

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-10-24 20:59:57 UTC - 20:59 | Permalink

          Surely it is clear that I confined my comment to what you said about Nixey’s book and expressed no interest in anything else.

          That you made it clear that you had not read the book that you nonetheless described as “illiterate nonsense” was my point and went to the heart of the irony I was addressing.

  • Pingback: Reprint and impact of my book on book-burning | The Migration of Faith

  • Pofarmer
    2017-10-24 04:23:29 UTC - 04:23 | Permalink

    “Instead, what ensured the near-total destruction of all Latin and Greek literature was a combination of ignorance, fear and idiocy.”

    Gee, that reminds me a lot of the U.S. Right now.

  • Marginal_Jew
    2017-10-24 07:19:35 UTC - 07:19 | Permalink

    Can you please stop giving undue importance to that underqualified troll please, it’s clear that he has apologist agenda in mind

    That guy even deny Christian antisemitism or any of the documented horrible Acts of Christian cult.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-10-24 07:42:06 UTC - 07:42 | Permalink

      Who are you talking about? Who denied Christian antisemitism and when and where?

  • Domics
    2017-10-24 15:34:53 UTC - 15:34 | Permalink

    You write that according to Nixey ” Narrative was neither all black neither all white.”

    But from her book I read about the ” Near-total destruction of all Latin and Greek literature.”

    So according to the estimates she gives the narrative is for classical literature 90% black and 10% white and for Latin 99% black and 1% white.

    So in what O.Neill or Pearce are wrong? This is exactly what the primary source, Nixey’s book, claims.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-10-24 20:45:21 UTC - 20:45 | Permalink

      Your comment confuses two different things. There is no disagreements, I presume, between Nixey and O’Neill on the statistics of how much literature survived.

      The disagreement, and O’Neill’s misrepresentation, is over the narrative that is presented to explain those statistics. O’Neill has quote-mined Nixey’s book to give readers a false impression of what she actually argues.

      • domics
        2017-10-25 07:10:48 UTC - 07:10 | Permalink

        Nixey argues that the ‘near-total’ loss of the classical literature is attributable to the Christians (directly or by negligence or ignorance or fear) and that the 10% or 1% was saved almost because it could not be done otherwise (for ‘interest’) and unwillingly (she uses terms as ‘struggled’, ‘painfully’, ‘despite disdaining’, ‘awkward ‘).
        Could you explain how this could be defined as a ”narrative neither all black neither all white”?

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-10-25 08:27:22 UTC - 08:27 | Permalink

          Did you read my post in full? That’s where I cited Nixey’s words and those of her sources. How much of Nixey’s book did you in fact read? Do you think I have just made up the above quotations by Nixey?

          It is surely clear that O’Neill has misrepresented Nixey’s work by omitting her words that contradict his accusations.

          Yes, Nixey explains that she has chosen to give the dark side of the narrative because the light side has been covered well enough already — and she reminds readers from time to time of that “good” side.

          Please re-read my post and respond to what I have actually written.

          Do you not like to hear the bad side of early Christianity? Should this side be suppressed or denied? If so, why? Again, how much of Nixey’s book have you read?

  • Daniel Webstore
    2017-10-25 19:53:56 UTC - 19:53 | Permalink

    The rise of christism meant that only books of interest to christian orthodoxy were copied. “Pagan” texts simply wore out or rotted away, and were lost when they were tossed in a damp corner or used as kindling, because no one was interested in investing the time and resources to copy them. Book making was a very expensive undertaking, it required much skilled specialized labor and resources to manufacture a book before the era of mass produced paper (a Chinese invention) and mechanical printing (also a Chinese invention, see Joseph Needham’s opus).
    The ancient Jewish literary corpus was erased by the Judeo-Roman wars of 66 to 135 CE.
    The decline of the Roman economy starting in the late 3rd c. meant that libraries, both state supported and private, were no longer maintained.
    The 5th c. sack of Rome resulted in the loss of state archives and private collections of books.
    The library at Alexandria, already in a state of decline, was destroyed by theocrats (take your pick whether the death blow was dealt by christians or mohammehtians).
    The library at Caesaria, based on Origen’s collection of books, was died from neglect, Jerome mentioned its parlous state in a couple of his letters.
    The single greatest loss of Greek and Latin works from antiquity probably occurred when Constantinople was sacked by Crusaders in 12O3.
    Books can only survive in a sheltered civilized environment.

  • Daniel Webstore
    2017-10-25 20:15:46 UTC - 20:15 | Permalink

    The Korean movie “Blood Rain (2005)” depicts a pre-modern paper mill and shows how important its product was, why people would kill to get control over it.
    Paper was a hugely important invention; prior to its introduction to the West, the alternatives were not particularly satisfactory, papyrus was fragile and did not have a long shelf life in the humid environment of Europe, and parchment (leather scraped thin) books were hideously expensive (over 300 lambs/large print bible) and unwieldy.
    Books were expensive and the property of communities or wealthy individuals, a book collection represented wealth, rich men hired a librarian to maintain their books (see Letters of Pliny the Younger) the way Jay Leno hires mechanics to maintain his car collection.
    When private and public wealth declined in the late Roman Empire libraries fell into disrepair.
    As noted above books need a civilization with surplus wealth and a leisure class in order to physically survive.

  • 2017-12-10 19:29:09 UTC - 19:29 | Permalink

    Forgive me if I find this a weak defense of Nixey’s (terrible) book after O’Neill’s criticisms. It appears as though Nixey’s book is considered a “travesty” by serious historians. Your first argument says;

    “To begin, Catherine Nixey makes it clear in her Introduction that what readers are about to encounter is a one-sided polemic.”

    But is admitting you’re biased a good excuse for warping history into fiction and deceiving thousands of people while you’re doing it? In my view, not at all. Indeed, Nixey’s words are irrelevant to the fact that she portrayed the ancient church in a fiction-sort-of-manner. After O’Neill demonstrated that, in fact, there were no nazi-style burning of books ever in any widespread manner or widespread period of time, rather this practice only happened in tiny and sporadic times, you wrote in defense of Nixey:

    “Yes. Not always. But at certain times and places. There was no grand Nazi-like empire-wide totalitarian conspiracy to hunt out and destroy all non-Christian works (as O’Neill misguidedly indicates is Nixey claim), but it did sometimes happen.”

    O’Neill **misguidedly** indicates is Nixey’s claim? But is that not exactly what she says? Was it not Nixey who wrote “and bonfires blazed across the empire as outlawed books went up in flames”? This was precisely what she was saying, and O’Neill got it dead on. Quite frankly, it appears as if not even you can believe just how ridiculous Nixey’s claims are, and so have to completely reinvent her ideas.

    As for book-burning again, O’Neill has already demonstrated that Jewish, pagan, and Christian books all survived at equal rates.
    https://historyforatheists.com/2017/10/lost-books-photios-bibliotheca/

    Although some copies of specific works might have been burned at specific times by specific Christians here and there, this is largely irrelevant since it’s a demonstrable fact, as historians know, that Christians as a whole preserved these works and were interested in them. This is not because, as Nixey preposterously claims, “the Christians realized their writings were soooooooo inferior to the pagans”, in fact I personally find it closer to the opposite, it was because, as John of Damascus wrote:

    “I shall set forth the best contributions of the philosophers of the Greeks, because whatever there is of good has been given to men from above by God, since ‘every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights’”

    This was, in fact, the prevalent view at the time, otherwise no books of ancient history or paganism wuld have survived on. Yet many Christians, realizing the contributions of their predecessors, helped preserve practically all of them that are still around. We’ve already seen that Christian books simply were not preserved at a greater rate than Jewish and pagan books. Did the Christians also find their work vastly inferior to the Jews so as to preserve them? Not at all. Pagan temples also were not destroyed at great rates — the reason why there weren’t many more built after the 4th century is because the pagans were all converting to Christianity at a ridiculous place at that time and it’s hard to fund a temple when every rich pagan is getting baptised some time next Sunday. I’m currently reading Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity and it is made rather clear just how fast pagans were coming around to Christianity.

    As O’Neill pointed out, if Nixey’s nonsense that pagan claims that contradicted their own beliefs were suppressed, then why is it that ” Aristotle’s work taught that the universe was eternal and his work was not “suppressed” but was taught widely in the Greek speaking Christian East, picked up by Muslim scholars and, via them, became the dominant authority in the medieval West”?

    O’Neill is dead on in virtually every point he makes, and again, I must quote a certain Oxford historian who independently came to the conclusion that Nixey’s book is a “travesty”. It’s quite unfortunate to see that some sector of the internet atheist movement is indefinitely launching itself into a state of fringe movements and tantrums against the authority and evidence of the modern academic world. Seeing the recent crossfire between you, Carrier, and Larry Hurtado further convinced me of why people so emotionally ingrained in their ideologies will never come around to the basic facts.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-12-10 20:00:32 UTC - 20:00 | Permalink

      I would like to see you comment on the quotations I used to contradict O’Neill’s claims. I think you ignored half of my post, or did I miss something?

      But is admitting you’re biased a good excuse for warping history into fiction and deceiving thousands of people while you’re doing it?

      Everyone is biased. It is unavoidable. And making a special effort to present the other side of the story that has long been forgotten is quite a justifiable process if one is clear that that is what one is doing.

      If you read the quotations I cited from Nixey’s book I don’t understand why you say she “deceived thousands of people” as if she did not write those things.

      But even if you disagree with Nixey’s book and her aims and methods, is that any reason to justify a review that also distorts and misrepresents the book?

      • 2017-12-13 22:42:50 UTC - 22:42 | Permalink

        I didn’t miss half your post, I read the full thing. If we’re going to consider Nixey’s aims, we might as well consider O’Neill’s. This is his opening paragraph:

        “Catherine Nixey, The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, (Macmillan, 2017) 305 pp. Her publisher’s blurb informs us that Nixey’s book tells “the largely unknown – and deeply shocking – story” of how a militant Christianity “extinguished the teachings of the Classical world” and was “violent, ruthless and intolerant” in an orgy of destruction and oppression that was “an annihilation”. On the other hand, no less an authority than the esteemed historian of Late Antiquity, Dame Averil Cameron, calls Nixey’s book “a travesty”, roundly condemning it as “overstated and unbalanced”. And Dame Cameron is correct – this is a book of biased polemic masquerading as historical analysis and easily the worst book I have read in years.”

        Basically, he’s saying the book is a travesty, which I think he demonstrated. Nixey’s collation of historically unsound arguments, exaggerated claims and constant misrepresentation of ancient history can’t be excused by saying “well she’s biased so let’s ignore all of her errors and falsities”. You also say:

        “But even if you disagree with Nixey’s book and her aims and methods, is that any reason to justify a review that also distorts and misrepresents the book?”

        I would hate to justify a review that distorts and misrepresents Nixey’s book, but I don’t think O’Neill’s review did that (it was in my opinion fantastic). His extensive analysis of the book and exploration of the ancient world that Nixey tries to discuss gives a very convincing explanation of why the things Nixey claims is wrong. As for the quotes you provided to contradict O’Neill, I’m assuming you’re referring to the quotes about the book burning, temple destruction, views on pagan literature, etc. You heavily rely on a single monograph. I’m pretty sure I established in my previous comment (as well as something O’Neill established at length) that this was only a sporadic type of thing in the Christian world, where only a few Christians here and there would be burning books in this or that period, and every now and then a temple got destroyed. So what? This was certainly **never** the dominant view of Christians at any period, and you seem to simply not be taking into account the many great Christians, such as Origen, who prized the intellectual pursuits of the pagans and promoted reading and studying their works in order to be able to know them and respond to them in defense of Christianity better. Of course there was some book burning every now and then — Christians are by no means the only ones to have done such things, nor did they do it at greater levels than others.

        In the end of the day, Christians seem to have preserved numerous ancient pagan works and temples, and at no period did a significant number of pagan achievements ever disappear. Are you aware that you can access Plato’s entire Republic in less than a minute? Who do you think you have to thank for that? Nixey’s book offers nothing new and challenges nothing. It’s a popular level book written by a non-specialist that is inundated with mistakes. I’d welcome a criticism of church history, but only a legitimate one.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-12-14 01:48:45 UTC - 01:48 | Permalink

          Unless I missed something, you are simply ignoring half of what Nixey wrote, just as O’Neill ignores it. I quote Nixey’s words that O’Neill (and you) simply ignore.

          Well, if you want to ignore the sections of Nixey’s book that contradict your claims about it, that’s your right. God won’t strike you dead and I guess you will feel pretty good about it all.

          • 2017-12-15 01:52:42 UTC - 01:52 | Permalink

            The only words you quoted were at the very beginning where Nixey says “I know Christians did some good stuff but this is only about the bad parts.” The problem, as I have to keep repeating now, is that Nixey got that wrong too. Quite frankly, I (and I would guess O’Neill as well) couldn’t care less about what she’s not writing about, we only care about whether or not what she **does write about** is right. And it’s not. And that’s what’s important. That’s the entire point of O’Neill’s review, and a critical and lengthy review like that is very necessary. O’Neill quotes from Nixey’s book at length, and he has probably analyzed it more than any of us have.

            I mean, if you really want to talk about what Nixey does say, then read this garbage that O’Neill quoted from:

            “Intellectuals looked on in despair as volumes of supposedly unchristian books – often in reality texts on the liberal arts – went up in flames. Art lovers watched in horror as some of the greatest sculptures in the ancient world were smashed by people too stupid to appreciate them – and certainly too stupid to recreate them. The Christians could not even destroy effectively: many statues on many temples were saved simply by virtue of being too high for them, with their primitive ladders and hammers, to reach.”

            Is Nixey really just ‘focusing’ on the bad of church history and acknowledging the good, or is she really on an agenda to spew as much garbage against church history as she can feasibly imagine? Everyone who reads what Nixey has to say will come to their own conclusions. For what it’s worth, Nixey’s claims are demonstrably false. The issue you’ve picked at in your response to O’Neill is completely peripheral to what really matters.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-12-15 02:57:53 UTC - 02:57 | Permalink

              The only words you quoted were at the very beginning where Nixey says “I know Christians did some good stuff but this is only about the bad parts.”

              Oh come on, Jimmy. You obviously have not even read the post! Or you merely skimmed it with hostile intent and missed what I did quote of Nixey’s words.

              If I want to know what Nixey says I do not rely on the tendentious selections O’Neill chooses to quote. I read her entire book for myself. Have you done that or do you rely on what someone else tells you to think about what Nixey wrote?

              What’s the big deal anyway? Is it with Nixey you are upset or with anyone daring to challenge O’Neill’s presentation of a book?

              • 2017-12-15 04:12:23 UTC - 04:12 | Permalink

                Again, I’ve read your post, and I find none of it a convincing rebuttal to O’Neill at all. I’ve already explained my issues with what you wrote about the temples, book-burning, etc.

                “What’s the big deal anyway? Is it with Nixey you are upset or with anyone daring to challenge O’Neill’s presentation of a book?”

                Nixey’s book is the problem to me. Promoting historical illiteracy when things are already the way they are is the last thing we need, especially that which is polemically directed towards Christianity. I do not see what part of Nixey’s book O’Neill has not refuted (and let’s not forget which historian called it a travesty). Perhaps I should ask you a question now. Do you think the book is worth much at all?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-12-15 06:46:47 UTC - 06:46 | Permalink

                You don’t even read my comments. Otherwise you would not continue to say you read my post when you said that my post only quoted a small intro piece by Nixey. I quoted much more and you obviously did not read what I wrote.

                Of course it was not convincing to you because you only read a couple of paragraphs and said I did not write what in fact I did write in the section you did not read.

                I think if you are worried about promoting historical illiteracy you should direct your efforts to O’Neill and persuade him not to be so polemically one-sided when it comes to church history and books he reads. O’Neill propagated the same sorts of distortions with his discussion of Hannam’s God’s Philosophers — anyone reading O’Neill’s comments would think that Hannam was the model of balance, truth and undistorted enlightenment, above all criticism. One would be forgiven for thinking that O’Neill is programmed to praise any work that paints the church in a good light and condemn any work that tries to say something negative about the historical church. O’Neill does not seem interested in balance or fairness.

                I am an open source advocate and do not believe knowledge should be kept behind paywalls or price barriers of any kind.

              • 2017-12-15 22:25:47 UTC - 22:25 | Permalink

                Calm down, I had simply forgotten the second portion of Nixey’s book that you quoted. I’ve re-read it and remain unconvinced. We both seem to recognize O’Neill demolished the factuality of Nixey’s book. The real question you want to go for is “Nixey isn’t as bad as O’Neill makes her out!” That doesn’t matter, though. I don’t care at all if O’Neill is being rude to Nixey. The **only thing** I’m concerned with is whether or not Nixey’s claims are fact or fiction. And O’Neill demonstrated they are fiction.

                O’Neill is not trying to spit at anyone who doesn’t cozy up to church history, that’s ridiculous. He’s an active atheist. He just wants to piss on people who gets their facts wrong, and indeed he does a great job at it. Can you spot a single historically factual error in O’Neill’s post?

  • D.
    2017-12-14 19:37:40 UTC - 19:37 | Permalink

    “As for book-burning again, O’Neill has already demonstrated that Jewish, pagan, and Christian books all survived at equal rates. https://historyforatheists.com/2017/10/lost-books-photios-bibliotheca/

    This is absolute rubbish. The general consenus is that ancient literature suffered its greatest loss long before the ninth century. Whatever had made it into that century, was normally safe. Then, O’Neill is basing his breakdown on a translation (!) and he doesn’t say which one. The only one I am aware of is uncomplete, this tears up the whole argument. He lumps together Jewish and pagan, although Judaism is a living religion. The most ridiculous part of this is his breakdown of works lost/preserved. What methodology is that based on? A wikipedia search? Why is Cassius Dio marked as “extant” when the whole point of Photius is that he preserves excerpts of books by Dio that are lost? Why are the Acts of Chalcedon “lost” if I can now read a translation of those acts, and so on?

    ““I shall set forth the best contributions of the philosophers of the Greeks, because whatever there is of good has been given to men from above by God, since ‘every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights’””

    Yes, indeed, there was general consensus amongst the fathers of the church that those philosophical ideas that were compatible with the bible derived not from the philosophers but were inspired by God (through instruction by Moses). I don’t know where O’Neill gets his idea from that was a debate about this as I am unware of any.

    “Are you aware that you can access Plato’s entire Republic in less than a minute? Who do you think you have to thank for that?”

    See above

    “In the end of the day, Christians seem to have preserved numerous ancient pagan works and temples”

    I would like to see one piece of evidence that Christians preserved a pagan temple that was not turned into a church, beyond the fifth century.

    • 2017-12-15 02:12:41 UTC - 02:12 | Permalink

      This is more bad atheist history that O’Neill and others work admirably hard in order to rebut. O’Neill has in fact demonstrated that, out of the ancient works we know about, 35-38% of pagan, Christian and Judaic works were preserved. Your counter-argument is this:

      “The general consenus is that ancient literature suffered its greatest loss long before the ninth century.”

      Except that counters nothing, and is in fact not even relevant to O’Neill’s argument. What exactly where you responding to here? Again, 35-38% of pagan, Christian and Judaic works were individually preserved. This means that, it appears as though that at large, the Christians who preserved the ancient works preserved them at roughly equal rates. Is there any evidence that Christian works were preserved at a greater rate? No, because the percentages are roughly equal. The loss before the ninth century “targeted” pagan works just as much as it “targeted” Christian and Judaic works.

      “I would like to see one piece of evidence that Christians preserved a pagan temple that was not turned into a church, beyond the fifth century.”

      Beyond the fifth century? There are still many pagan temples that have survived until this day, and so you seem to be confused. Or perhaps you mean “show me a pagan temple built after the 5th century that Christians preserved”. In this case, the question is still confused since there … weren’t about any pagan temples being constructed after the 5th century to begin with. After the Roman Empire turned to Christianity, the building of pagan architecture was greatly reduced as the funding for pagan architecture was mostly came from the government to begin with. Perhaps you did not know this. As O’Neill also pointed out in his lengthy review of Nixey’s book, there is only documentary evidence for the destruction/conversion of some 42 temples, and if that wasn’t a small enough number to begin with, only 4(!) of these documentary accounts have been archaeologically confirmed. Also, you wrote this regarding the John of Damascus quote:

      “Yes, indeed, there was general consensus amongst the fathers of the church that those philosophical ideas that were compatible with the bible derived not from the philosophers but were inspired by God (through instruction by Moses). I don’t know where O’Neill gets his idea from that was a debate about this as I am unware of any.”

      I can easily see through the attempt here to twist what John wrote. He wasn’t simply referring to works that were “compatible with the bible” (as O’Neill pointed out, some works Christians preserved, notably including the likes of Aristotle, were anything but compatible with the Bible), he was referring to pagan works in general. And, indeed, as O’Neill and I point out, John’s view was the general consensus, and you agree with this — that Christians recognized the intellectual achievements of the pagan, they did not true to destroy or suppress them on a large scale as Nixey claims when she writes “bonfires blazed across the empire as outlawed books went up in flames”.

      “Why is Cassius Dio marked as “extant” when the whole point of Photius is that he preserves excerpts of books by Dio that are lost?”

      Sorry, what? Here’s a page that you can use to access all 80 books of Dio’s work. Scroll down a bit.
      http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/cassius_dio/home.html
      As for the Acts of Chalcedon, I too have found a translation of it on NewAdvent and have posted a comment on O’Neill’s post asking him about it.

      • Pofarmer
        2017-12-15 03:11:49 UTC - 03:11 | Permalink

        (as O’Neill pointed out, some works Christians preserved, notably including the likes of Aristotle,

        Uhm, my understanding is that the Christians DIDN’T preserve aristotle. Basically the Muslims did, and Aristotle was rediscovered after the reconquest of Constantinople. It was seen as important enough that Thomas Aquinas expended some pages attempting to recon Christian Theology to it.

        • 2017-12-15 04:16:14 UTC - 04:16 | Permalink

          There were about two works of Aristotle circulating in Latin before another forty or so were recovered from the Arabs, they weren’t all gone. Few people at the time new Greek and so it was increasingly hard to preserve these works (as well as other problems). Aquinas did a pretty good job.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2017-12-15 06:48:04 UTC - 06:48 | Permalink

            Oh groan!!!! Just read Nixey and you will find that she does not say all the classical works were destroyed but that many were preserved. Read the bloody book for yourself and stop relying on O’Neill to tell you what to think.

            • Pofarmer
              2017-12-15 06:57:29 UTC - 06:57 | Permalink

              Two works circulating out of 40. I mean, that’s a pretty good record. Right? Was it Aristotle or Archimedes that they found Mathematical books had been scrubbed over and converted to prayer books. Jimmy doesn’t know it, but he’s unwittingly torching his own arguments. “I mean, there weren’t any Pagan Temples after the 5th century because none were built”. No shit, that’s the friggin point

              • 2017-12-15 22:59:17 UTC - 22:59 | Permalink

                2/40 isn’t a good record, but again, I’ve made it obvious that this wasn’t due to any suppression, hence Nixey’s thesis goes splat. The fact that there were two at all still in circulation proves there was no suppression. The only reason so many were lost is because of the circumstances of the time, the same reason why Melito of Sardis, a Christian writer, is only known today from fragments and his work has been lost.

                “Jimmy doesn’t know it, but he’s unwittingly torching his own arguments. “I mean, there weren’t any Pagan Temples after the 5th century because none were built”. No shit, that’s the friggin point”

                Ugh, what’s the point then pal? That there weren’t much pagans around in the 5th century? Besides proving that most pagans had become Christian by this time, what other point are you trying to make?

        • 2017-12-15 04:18:15 UTC - 04:18 | Permalink

          I should also add that while there was a recovery of the bulk of Aristotle’s work, there was no “recovery of Plato” or “recovery of Cicero”. The failure to preserve Aristotle on part of the Europeans was an exception and not the rule, and the temporary loss certainly isn’t something to fault Christianity for, it’s something to fault improper ancient capacity of preservation of ancient works.

          • D.
            2017-12-31 09:14:07 UTC - 09:14 | Permalink

            A bit on the reception of Aristotle’s physical treatises after their reintroduction to the Latin West

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condemnations_of_1210%E2%80%931277

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-12-31 10:09:49 UTC - 10:09 | Permalink

              Just for the record, Jimmy disappeared from this forum after I suggested that his comments reminded me of earlier posters who also expressed very strong support for Tim O’Neill. Another commentator here suggested Jimmy was really Timmy O’Neill himself and after subjecting his comments to a LIWC test I have strong suspicions he is right. I don’t think “Jimmy” will be back here to respond to your comment.

      • D.
        2017-12-15 10:18:54 UTC - 10:18 | Permalink

        “This is more bad atheist history that O’Neill and others work admirably hard in order to rebut.”

        Have I given any indication of personal beliefs/view in my post above? And if not, why attach a label to anything factual that does not fit your personal views/beliefs?

        ” O’Neill has in fact demonstrated that, out of the ancient works we know about, 35-38% of pagan, Christian and Judaic works were preserved.”

        You have no idea what you are talking about. Scholarly estimates are of course that the amount of pagan works extant is closer to 1%, and probably less than that.

        “Is there any evidence that Christian works were preserved at a greater rate?”

        Again, I can’t take you serious here at all. How come that there is only one text evidently copied in a Latin monastery before the Carolingian period (e.g. Reynolds/Marshall, Texts and Transmission, p. xvii, who therefore call this period “the dark ages”). When at the same time the number of copies extant from the fathers of the church go into the thousands, rather than hundreds. How, then, can we not call this “a greater rate”? Please can you elaborate.

        “He wasn’t simply referring to works that were “compatible with the bible””

        We have already seen that it doen’t matter what John writes. In fact I find it extremely hard to recognise in his blog a single sentence related to the question at hand that could withstand scrutiny. We should be talking about what these Christian authors actually say (the “best” of the philosophers, the divinely inspired part…), if we were going to have a serious discussion about this.

        “bonfires blazed across the empire as outlawed books went up in flames”

        Evidently, this is a reference to the magic trials reported by Ammianus, what is wrong with the reference/quotation?

        “Sorry, what? Here’s a page that you can use to access all 80 books of Dio’s work. Scroll down a bit.
        http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/cassius_dio/home.html
        As for the Acts of Chalcedon, I too have found a translation of it on NewAdvent and have posted a comment on O’Neill’s post asking him about it.”

        I agree that I was being far too kind to call John O’Neill’s “methodology” absolute rubbish. You can’t be serious in pointing me to an online source (!) What amount of fragments of the books by Cassius Dio derive from Suidas, Excerpta Constantiniana, John Xiphilinus, and so on? How does this compare to the text claimed to be available to him by Photius? Where can I see that in your online source??
        Please stop going on about “NewAdvent”. I can see that your analysis is not even based on Wikipeida, it is based on the amount of works translated into English by the early 20th century and now available on the internet. Why not look up the amount of council acts extant today from ACO (ed. Schwartz). And unless all that happens, how can I not say that the whole point of O’Neill’s blog is to spread misinformation on the internet?

        I don’t seem to be able to follow you any longer.

        • 2017-12-15 22:53:34 UTC - 22:53 | Permalink

          “Have I given any indication of personal beliefs/view in my post above?”

          Of course you did, you expressed the view that O’Neill got his facts wrong.

          “You have no idea what you are talking about. Scholarly estimates are of course that the amount of pagan works extant is closer to 1%, and probably less than that.”

          No, you’re confused again. The number of manuscripts extant are about 1%, but not the actual number of surviving works. There might have been a hundred manuscripts of the Gospel of Judas ever preserved, but it only took one to survive for the document to be extant.

          “Again, I can’t take you serious here at all. How come that there is only one text evidently copied in a Latin monastery before the Carolingian period (e.g. Reynolds/Marshall, Texts and Transmission, p. xvii, who therefore call this period “the dark ages”). When at the same time the number of copies extant from the fathers of the church go into the thousands, rather than hundreds. How, then, can we not call this “a greater rate”? Please can you elaborate.”

          There are more manuscripts of the church fathers because more people read the church fathers. This is not Christians suppressing anything. We have more manuscripts of Homer than we have of Chrysostom or Ambrose. Obviously, our manuscripts for the Bible dwarf that of the church fathers. Does that mean that the church fathers were being suppressed by the Bible believers? No, and the same principal demonstrates that pagan works were not suppressed because they are dwarfed by the more important authors of the time. Many universities of medieval Europe would readily offer the works of Aristotle and other pagans for the reading of their students. Where do you think Thomas Acquinas got his copy of Aristotle from? Did he secretly slip into the Pope’s room of banned books? LOL

          “I agree that I was being far too kind to call John O’Neill’s “methodology” absolute rubbish. You can’t be serious in pointing me to an online source (!)”

          Tim O’Neill, not John(?) O’Neill. Anyways, more nonsense. I offered you a link going to penelope.chicago.edu — did you notice the .edu part at the end? This isn’t some “online source”, it’s an official educational source containing Dio’s works. Maybe I can appease you with a citation to Harvard’s Loeb Classical Library of Dio’s 80 extant books of his Roman History.
          http://www.hup.harvard.edu/results-list.php?author=3592

          Dio’s works are extant. Maybe not 100% of everything he wrote is, but not 100% of Augustine’s writings are extant either.

          “Please stop going on about “NewAdvent”. I can see that your analysis is not even based on Wikipeida, it is based on the amount of works translated into English by the early 20th century and now available on the internet. Why not look up the amount of council acts extant today from ACO (ed. Schwartz). And unless all that happens, how can I not say that the whole point of O’Neill’s blog is to spread misinformation on the internet?”

          What’s wrong with you? I agreed that the Acts of Chalcedon appears to be extant because a quick google search of mine found a translation of the thing on a website called NewAdvent. And so, for agreeing with you, you lost your mind because I have the “wrong source”. Perhaps you’re entering into a state of hysteria now that more then half your claims have been shown to be wrong.

          I’m going to repeat it again, something O’Neill has demonstrated and you continue to fail to address. The total number of surviving pagan works from the Christian era onwards (once Christians got in charge of preserving all this stuff) is roughly equal to the total number of surviving Christian works. Not I, nor O’Neill are saying there are the same number of manuscripts for both categories, nor are we saying that all the manuscripts that ever had these works are still around today. About a third of pagan works have survived and a third of Christian works have survived, at least from Photios’s collection. If you have any evidence at all to the contrary, then please provide your own analysis and we’ll see how it goes.

          • D.
            2017-12-16 07:54:38 UTC - 07:54 | Permalink

            So, I disagree with demonstrably wrong “facts” posted by a self-confessing atheist, and this makes me a “bad atheist”? I like this kind of moral reasoning!

            “About a third of pagan works have survived and a third of Christian works have survived”

            I’m afraid this is not a starting point for discussion. I can only see you are not interested in any discussion and only want to spread misinformation. Even on the HFA blog, I can only find the 1% figure.

            What is your preferred survey of Latin texts and transmission?

            If you think it’s ok that there is only one copy (manuscript) of a classical text, but thousands of church fathers, bibles or other Christian works for that time period, then this your view. Not everyone might agree. I, for one, would call this “a greater rate” in so far as it is greater by at least the factor 1000 (and deriving from a much greater amount of works that Christian orthodox works). You might disagree. Fine. You have to respect there are other opinions. Some think that 1000 is greater than one. You don’t have to assume that someone is a bad person because they think 1000 is greater than one. Even if you think this opinion is wrong.

            Yes, I agree the 13th or 14th century is different from, say, the 7th. The 16th century is still different.

            What is your defintion of extant? A line preserved by a secondary author? At least a couple of chapters from every book of a work, even if that is from secondary authors? Where can I see that in your online source?

            How about the other council acts marked as “lost” in that blog? How do the works mentioned in the unknown translation used in the blog compare to the works actually mentioned by Photius? How many books that he claimed did he have in hand really?

            I have said before there is not much gain in doing this, even if the analysis would be half-way accurate.

            Works that made it into the ninth century were usually safe (this is more evident for Latin than for Greek works, but not very different really). The problematic period of time is the one from the 4th to 8th centuries, when the codex replaced the scroll, and Christian book production kicked in. In the above we have observed that this is also the period of time when temples and pagan art work were destroyed, turned into churches, or no longer maintained.

            You appear to think that there was no amount of time in between the 4th and 13th century.

          • D.
            2017-12-16 08:58:25 UTC - 08:58 | Permalink

            I really just had a quick look at the HFA breakdown of Photius’ claimed works from the unknown translation, this all doesn’t make sense to me. For example, how about Procopius, History? Which history? How about “Nicephorus, Historical Epitome and Nicephori gregorae Byzantina historia, cura l. Schopeni, i–ii, Bonn 1829–1830? They are all claimed lost…

            As it stands, the breakdown is of no value.

          • D.
            2017-12-16 15:12:09 UTC - 15:12 | Permalink

            Also, why is Appian lost if I can find fragements of his work on the internet?

            http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Appian/home.html

            How does this compare to the amount claimed on the blog?

            How about Themistius, orations? (ed. Schenkel, Downey, Leipzig: Teubner, 1965-1974)

            How about Lesbonax, orations? (ed. Kiehr, Leipzig: Teubner, 1904)

            Dexippus?

            Gunther Martin: Dexipp von Athen. Edition, Übersetzung und begleitende Studien. Tübingen 2006

            Isn’t Lucius of Patrae, Metamorphoses, really Apuleius, Metamorphoses?

            Isocrates, letters?

            http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0246:letter=2

            Sopater, “Various extracts”?

            SYRIANI, SOPATRI ET MARCELLINI SCHOLIA AD HERMOGENIS STATUS Rhet.

            Vindanius Anatolius?

            F. N. Niclas Lips. 1781; Lagarde Geop. in serm. Syr. vers. quae supers., Lips. 1860

            Was Agapius pagan?

            Hypeirides and Andocides, orations?
            http://www.attalus.org/info/orators.html#hypereides
            http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0018&redirect=true

            Just a quick and dirty check.

          • D.
            2017-12-16 15:16:20 UTC - 15:16 | Permalink

            Did Lycurgus write a life?

            • 2017-12-16 16:47:11 UTC - 16:47 | Permalink

              “So, I disagree with demonstrably wrong “facts” posted by a self-confessing atheist, and this makes me a “bad atheist”? I like this kind of moral reasoning!”

              Huh? Bad atheist? I never said bad atheist, although I would say you’re a *wrong* atheist for denying O’Neill’s uncontroversial documentation of what survived and what didn’t.

              “If you think it’s ok that there is only one copy (manuscript) of a classical text, but thousands of church fathers, bibles or other Christian works for that time period, then this your view. Not everyone might agree. I, for one, would call this “a greater rate” in so far as it is greater by at least the factor 1000 (and deriving from a much greater amount of works that Christian orthodox works). You might disagree. Fine. You have to respect there are other opinions. Some think that 1000 is greater than one. You don’t have to assume that someone is a bad person because they think 1000 is greater than one. Even if you think this opinion is wrong.”

              I never said this makes you a bad person. I don’t know why you’re accusing me of this. I don’t know a single church father who has a thousand manuscripts of his work. If you’re saying “collectively” the church fathers had their manuscripts in the thousands, then you must also account the pagan works collectively as well, and here we find that, collectively, pagan manuscripts number in the thousands. Homer has almost 2,000 manuscripts. Herodotus has more than 100. Sophocles has almost 200. Plato and Caesar both surpass 100 as well. So, the numbers aren’t nearly as scarce as you make them out to be. And, furthermore, if there is any reason why there are more church father manuscripts, it is because more people read them. A lot more people. There are more copies of Augustine than Tacitus for the same reason as why there are more copies of Harry Potter than Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. There is no suppression, that is my point!

              “What is your defintion of extant?”

              I don’t have an exact definition, but the fact that we have literally hundreds of pages in a modern book format preserved of Dio makes me conclude Dio is extant. I found a PDF of Loeb Library’s digital version of Dio’s work, and it’s literally over 500 pages long.
              https://ryanfb.github.io/loebolus-data/L053.pdf
              If I have any definition of extant, that must surely qualify.

              “How about the other council acts marked as “lost” in that blog?”

              Why don’t you ask Tim yourself? And assuming all those council acts you think are extant but O’Neill counted otherwise, how much would it change the percentage? I have found that if you include every single ‘Acts’ as extant in O’Neill’s summary, that would raise the percentage of extant Christian works to 39%! That is not even 2% higher than what we have for the pagan/Jewish works. Is this the extent to which O’Neill got things wrong? If so, I’m afraid his proposition still works.

              “The problematic period of time is the one from the 4th to 8th centuries, when the codex replaced the scroll, and Christian book production kicked in. In the above we have observed that this is also the period of time when temples and pagan art work were destroyed, turned into churches, or no longer maintained.”

              But we’ve also observed that this book burning/temple removal was **rather rare**. As Tim O’Neill also noted that I have refreshed my memory of yesterday, he writes “Several laws were decreed to protect art works (C.Th. 16.10.15) and esteemed buildings and temples (C.Th. 16.10.18) and Lavan notes “in regions such as Africa, Greece and Italy, temple preservation seems to have been a more prominent process than temple destruction” (p. xxxvii).”

              “For example, how about Procopius, History? Which history?”

              You’ll need to expand. O’Neill lists one of Procopius’s works as extant, one as lost. As for Appian and some others you mention, mere fragments of a work is not enough for it to be extant. Is Papias extant because we have fragments of him from Irenaeus and Eusebius? No. Plus, if you really really want to include Appian as extant, Appian is a pagan anyways and so including his works as extant would be quite counterproductive to your defense of Nixey’s empire-wide-book-burning thesis or whatever nonsense she promulgates.

              Your points do not counteract O’Neill’s findings. If they do anything at all, they only shift the percentages by a few points up for both Christian and pagan works.

              • D.
                2017-12-16 17:49:03 UTC - 17:49 | Permalink

                You wrote:

                “This is more bad atheist history”…

                You completely missed my point. When I was writing about manuscripts, I was writing about the pre-Carolingian period, because it is really uncontroversial that this was the period when the greatest loss of ancient works occured:

                “How come that there is only one text evidently copied in a Latin monastery before the Carolingian period (e.g. Reynolds/Marshall, Texts and Transmission, p. xvii, who therefore call this period “the dark ages”). When at the same time the number of copies extant from the fathers of the church go into the thousands, rather than hundreds. How, then, can we not call this “a greater rate”? Please can you elaborate.”

                I was not writing about the late middle ages or early modern period! I have said this before. The 14th century is different from the 7th!

                “*wrong* atheist for denying O’Neill’s uncontroversial documentation of what survived and what didn’t.”

                I’d say O’Neill came to his assessment simply be flipping a coin. I’m not going to comment on his website as he has a very aggressive style.

                We agree that Photius at the very best had a few titles available to him from classical/pagan authors (up to c. 250) which are lost today? This is pretty much nothing in the big picture. Even this is controversial as he might as well rely on short extracts or lexicons much in the way that Suidas did (from the 6th century or earlier). In order to come to some serious conclusions, you definitely have to have good reading skills in ancient Greek, and I can’t see this from O’Neill’s credentials. Without this, no analysis is possible I’m afraid.

                So, the greatest loss of ancient works must have occurred before the ninth century. Whatever classical titles survived until that time, was safe (certainly this is true for the west, but the east is not very different).

                ” the fact that we have literally hundreds of pages in a modern book format preserved of Dio makes me conclude Dio is extant.”

                Except that a huge part of this is from secondary quotations in Byzantine extracts, but your online sources does not account for this. Therefore, the whole point of any investigation on Photius should be to try and determine if Photius had more than we have today. Seeing that this is a very important source for Roman history.

                Concerning Appian, of course the question is: did Photius have more in hand than we have today, and if so, why? Otherwise the whole analysis is useless. I can only see one item by Procopius (of Caesarea) in that list. Since Procopius wrote a number of historical works (which are extant) you can see why the whole list amounts to flipping a coin.

                Otherwise, I can really only urge you to become acquainted with recent monographs in the area rather than to rely on an internet blog! You can find material here (above), or on the other blog. Of course, you should read material arguing for either theory. And then come to own conclusions. You seem to be relying only on O’Neill’s (highly polemical and distorted) review of Nixey’s book which is not written for academic purposes (this makes it easy to say bad things about it, but O’Neill is far worse, you can see that when he mentions one law on preserving ancient art work, and turns this into “several”, and “temples” were preserved only when they were secularised or turned into churches – the law that he mentions actually gives evidence for this). Otherwise, there is no basis to discuss this further I’m afraid.

  • D.
    2017-12-14 19:54:26 UTC - 19:54 | Permalink

    Of course, the biggest flaw in O’Neill’s “methodology” on Photius is his lack of reflection about what books Photius actually has had in hand. Could it be he is relying on epitomai from the age of Justinian as was typical for that period of time?

    But this is very characteristic of O’Neill’s approach. He is distorting facts, omitting material that has the greatest relevance to the questions at hand, arguing ad hominem, and making up his statements out of thin air, with little understanding of the research involved.

    • 2017-12-17 03:48:34 UTC - 03:48 | Permalink

      “You completely missed my point. When I was writing about manuscripts, I was writing about the pre-Carolingian period, because it is really uncontroversial that this was the period when the greatest loss of ancient works occured”

      Who cares? That has nothing to do with this conversation. Did Christians widely suppress these works or did they not? That’s the only thing that matters. I continue to see a stunning deficiency of justification for this claim of Nixey.

      “We agree that Photius at the very best had a few titles available to him from classical/pagan authors (up to c. 250) which are lost today? This is pretty much nothing in the big picture. Even this is controversial as he might as well rely on short extracts or lexicons much in the way that Suidas did (from the 6th century or earlier). In order to come to some serious conclusions, you definitely have to have good reading skills in ancient Greek, and I can’t see this from O’Neill’s credentials. Without this, no analysis is possible I’m afraid.”

      Heresy. O’Neill conducted an uncontroversial analysi that doesn’t require advanced knowledge in Greek or the literature in order to be able to doublecheck. Photios, an ancient author, happens to have provided a hefty list of ancient works he had in his possessions (or something of the sort). There are about 185 of these he lists, which is a rather large sample size given the number of actual extant works we have today from the period and region in question. So, O’Neill simply divided the works into Christian versus Jewish/pagan, and examined to see at what rate each type of authors had their works preserved. As it turns out, from this large sample size, a roughly similar amount of preservation happened. That demonstrates very effectively that these documents were being preserved regardless of the authors or contents they bore.

      “So, the greatest loss of ancient works must have occurred before the ninth century. Whatever classical titles survived until that time, was safe (certainly this is true for the west, but the east is not very different).”

      OK. How does that show Nixey isn’t a loon?

      “Concerning Appian, of course the question is: did Photius have more in hand than we have today, and if so, why?”

      No, that isn’t the question. The short answer is that he did. But that doesn’t matter, Photios simply lists a bunch of authors which lets us examine the rate of preservation of the Christian texts against the rate of preservation of the Jewish/pagan texts. These authors once were extant. The **real** question is “Are they still extant?” O’Neill answers that. There is no evidence for widespread suppression of pagan books.

      “Otherwise, I can really only urge you to become acquainted with recent monographs in the area rather than to rely on an internet blog!”

      O’Neill extensively quoted from the literature and ancient accounts to basically show Nixey was full of it. Averil from Oxford calls Nixey’s book a travesty. You and Godfrey have continued to fail to show that Nixey’s arguments are valid. At what point will you admit you did yourself in by defending Nixey when you still had inadequate knowledge? As I have demonstrated in my previous response, we literally have thousands of manuscripts of pagan works. Almost 2,000 from Homer alone. Why? Will you ever admit you’re wrong?

      • Neil Godfrey
        2017-12-17 04:18:08 UTC - 04:18 | Permalink

        How much of Nixey’s book have you read?

        Why do you keep repeating points that have been addressed in the post and comments as if they had never been mentioned and we are unaware of them? You still have nowhere given any evidence that you have read the post; your comments continue to indicate you have only skimmed a few lines of it.

        Why do you insult people? Why can’t you disagree in a civil manner with others? One would almost suspect that you are channeling O’Neill’s spirit!

        • 2017-12-17 15:55:49 UTC - 15:55 | Permalink

          Neil, you’re just like Carrier in a way. When things don’t suit you, “you haven’t even read my post!!” This is quite annoying. The only person I’ve insulted is Nixey herself.

          You claim you have previously addressed my points, but surely you haven’t. I’ve already responded to every point made so far. There is still not a figment of evidence of widespread bonfires of books in any period of Christian history. I think it’s been definitively shown that these were sporadic events and that the mainstream Christian view was to preserve the pagan and Jewish works. O’Neill, as we have seen, has shown that pagan/Jewish works have survived at roughly an equal rate to Christian works. At this point, you haven’t even denied this proposition. You continue to deny what O’Neill is saying and your reason is … O’Neill is being mean to Nixey. Really? “But Nixey said that she was only presenting the bad side of church history!” Unbelievably, I’ve actually went back to O’Neill’s post and have found that he anticipated this very response. He writes, after reviewing that Nixey wrote she is only focusing on the bad side of church history:

          “A couple of Nixey’s less competent online defenders seem to believe this gets her off the hook and means she is instantly absolved of any bias. After all, they have argued, if she states outright that she is writing to redress the balance then surely she cannot be condemned for giving her book her intended slant. As we will see, however, there is a marked difference between putting some emphasis on a neglected perspective while maintaining balance and objectivity and what we find in Nixey’s book.”

          Again, what **evidence** is there that O’Neill’s historical criticisms of Nixey are wrong? Why did Averil from Oxford call Nixey’s book a travesty?

          • Neil Godfrey
            2017-12-18 03:54:03 UTC - 03:54 | Permalink

            Neil, you’re just like Carrier in a way. When things don’t suit you, “you haven’t even read my post!!” This is quite annoying. The only person I’ve insulted is Nixey herself.

            So why insult Nixey? Why?

            If you read my post then why do you say that the only quotation of Nixey’s that I presented was from a few lines at the beginning? And you have failed to address the quotations I did provide from her book. That’s why I don’t accept with seriousness your claim to have read my post.

            You claim you have previously addressed my points, but surely you haven’t. I’ve already responded to every point made so far.

            Except to what I pointed out Nixey did in fact write.

            There is still not a figment of evidence of widespread bonfires of books in any period of Christian history. I think it’s been definitively shown that these were sporadic events and that the mainstream Christian view was to preserve the pagan and Jewish works.

            Earl Doherty in an introductory blurb to his book said that one day someone wrote a story about a man who was god. Some people took that bit of introductory hyperbole as the literal argument of his book and excoriated Doherty over it. If you had read Nixey or even what I have quoted of Nixey you would surely know that in the argument of her book she did indeed say that the bonfires, though widespread, were indeed sporadic!

            You are also overstating the case to say that “mainstream Christian view was to preserve” the pagan and Jewish works. That’s a different argument again. There was no “mainstream Christian view to preserve the pagan and Jewish works” per se.

            O’Neill . . . He writes, after reviewing that Nixey wrote she is only focusing on the bad side of church history:

            “A couple of Nixey’s less competent online defenders seem to believe this gets her off the hook and means she is instantly absolved of any bias. After all, they have argued, if she states outright that she is writing to redress the balance then surely she cannot be condemned for giving her book her intended slant. As we will see, however, there is a marked difference between putting some emphasis on a neglected perspective while maintaining balance and objectivity and what we find in Nixey’s book.”

            I disagree with O’Neill’s statement. Putting emphasis on something cannot be done without upsetting an even balance. That’s what putting emphasis on something means. It means stepping aside from a balanced narrative and even-handed objectivity. It means putting emphasis on a side of the story that has too rarely been told in recent years. O’Neill’s condemnation is self-contradictory. It makes no logical sense.

            I have also read the book. I have no problem with an author making it clear what they are doing and then following through. O’Neill apparently thinks the book should be burned! On a bonfire! 😉

            Again, what **evidence** is there that O’Neill’s historical criticisms of Nixey are wrong? Why did Averil from Oxford call Nixey’s book a travesty?

            (I don’t recall reading Averil’s review. If I did I’ve forgotten it. Nixey’s book has flaws but “travesty” I suspect might be going too far.)

            O’Neill simply ignores Nixey’s reminders that she is writing a side of the story that emphasizes something not heard lately very often. I have merely tried to point out that O’Neill’s blanket portrayal of Nixey’s book is unjustified by quoting passages by Nixey that did not support O’Neill’s accusations.

            I think the evidence for both sides of Nixey’s argument should be addressed and quoted, don’t you?

      • D.
        2017-12-17 08:17:03 UTC - 08:17 | Permalink

        “There is no evidence for widespread suppression of pagan books.” …

        … in the Byzantine empire from the late 9th to 15th century. Correct. I don’t know anyone who claims that.

        • 2017-12-17 15:57:39 UTC - 15:57 | Permalink

          “… in the Byzantine empire from the late 9th to 15th century. Correct. I don’t know anyone who claims that.”

          OK then, bub. How about from the 4th to 8th centuries? Any evidence there either?

          • D.
            2017-12-17 22:24:40 UTC - 22:24 | Permalink

            I’m afraid I’m not going to give an extensive argument on the internet. You already have some examples on this blog. If you are interested in this question, you should consult academic literature mentioned here or elsewhere. It can simply not be a serious undertaking to discuss such a complicated question on any internet blog. However, very few would doubt that Christianity had a substantially negative impact on the preservation of ancient works for a variety of reasons (not just outright book-burning). So, the question should really be about order of magnitude, and there are indeed different views on that.

            All I wanted was to address the question that you mentioned above, regarding Photius’ bibliotheke. Even if the breakdown of works would be somewhat professionally done, this has very little relevance to the question at hand. Quite often, Photius simply mentions a title, with no further information whatsoever. So, it is completely unclear where he got that information from. He might have heard about it, or like Suidas, he could be relying on the lost lexicographical works that he claims to have in hand, and probably rightly so. If you look at the titles, then the percentage of classical/pagan works (up to c. 250) already is quite low. The bulk of the work is patristic literature, and some late-antique lexicons. There are hardly a dozen titles (short works) from the classical period that he claims to have but are not now preserved in full. Even in those cases, at least we have substantial parts, unrelated to Photius’ extracts, and Photius often isn’t even claiming that he has the full work. It’s an overly optimistic (19th century scholarly) view that he really had access to many of the texts he mentions. Even those few classical titles are really inoffensive: perhaps some histories, and some texts by the Attic orators now lost. (other Byzantine works don’t show anything more of significance either). There is none of the problematic stuff (e.g. non-Platonic philosophy, drama, lyrical poetry, or indeed any poetry at all, et alone pagan religion). Maybe he had half of the texts he claims? Even if we assume he had seen them all at some point, then it sounds about right that nearly half of it is now preserved (of all the works he mentions). I think you can even read this on Wikipedia. Nearly half over the course of several centuries! Even though Constantinople was eventually invaded, pillaged and sacked. Compare this to what survived from the Roman Empire at that time. How much do we have of Latin tragedies, how much of Hellenistic literature? Even though preservation of the works was not confined to Constantinople, but spread across several centres of learning.

            There is virtually no evidence for engagement with classical literature in the preceding iconoclastic period (when people had the bad habit of destroying what their adversaries wrote, this was common in that period of time). Lots of book-burning during the age of Justinian too, persecutions of pagan scholars, pagan material was banned from schools and so on. With Photius, we are already entering the period of Byzantine humanism. You can see that what had survived up to that time, was reasonably safe. This is a period very different from the 4th to 8th centuries.

            I hope this has been clear enough now!

          • D.
            2017-12-17 22:52:23 UTC - 22:52 | Permalink

            Btw, I’d be careful to follow O’Neill’s statistics on temple destruction. This is because it is nearly impossible to come to firm conclusions, let alone statistics on that question:

            “All too often, even when perfectly excavated, the remains of a temple are not sufficiently well preserved to give us reliable evidence of its abandonment history. In the case of cities that survived into the sixth and seventh centuries, as most Roman cities did, the abandoned temples became a major source of cheap stone, and were, over time, systematically taken apart, down to the level of their foundations, or even below them. In the process, any trace of their immediate post-abandonment history will have been destroyed, and, with it, any accurate indication of when and how they were abandoned.”

            Bryan Ward-Perkins, “The End of the Temples: An Archaeological Problem”, in: J. Hahn (ed.), Spätantiker Staat und religiöser Konflikt: Imperiale und lokale Verwaltung und die Gewalt gegen Heiligtümer, Berlin: De Gruyter 2011, p. 191

          • D.
            2017-12-17 23:35:54 UTC - 23:35 | Permalink

            Or look at what Gregory of Tours (2.29) wrote about Vergil (not exactly a controversial author):

            “The gods whom thou honorest are nothing they cannot help themselves nor others; for they are carved from stone, or from wood, or from some metal. The names which you have given them were of men, not of gods, – like Saturn, who is said to have escaped by flight, to avoid being deprived of his power by his son; and like Jupiter himself, foul perpetrator of all uncleanness, derider of his family, who could not abstain from intercourse with his own sister, as she herself says: “I am the sister and wife of Jupiter”. What power have Mars and Mercury ever had ? They are endowed with magical arts rather than divine power.”

            This is fairly typical stuff. Does this show that the “mainstream Christian view was to preserve the pagan and Jewish works”?

            • 2017-12-18 03:28:01 UTC - 03:28 | Permalink

              “I think you can even read this on Wikipedia.”

              LOL. You also say that some of the academic literature talking about widespread Christian suppression of pagan literature has been documented here, but in fact not a figment of it has. On the contrary, we’ve seen O’Neill document an overwhelming amount of academic resources that clearly rebuke this, and even in your most recent post, you’ve **yet** to provide evidence for Christian suppression of pagan works. You quote Vergil, however, Vergil is only refuting paganism. Is not agreeing with paganism evidence that Christians were widely suppressing pagan literature? That is a truly nonsensical thing to say.

              O’Neill doesn’t need to be trusted on temple statistics, he simply quotes the academic literature. Have you even read O’Neill’s post? O’Neill clearly documents the academic consensus. We only have the evidence of the destruction of some 40+ pagan temples being converted/destroyed, and not even 5 of those have been archaeologically confirmed. The material of temples being reused for other architecture is not the same as converting it to a church or destroying it. What else was a 7th century “engineer” supposed to do when he didn’t have much money but there was a dusty building across the street that hadn’t been attended for 200 years? He does the smart thing, basically what any logical person on Earth would do — he would use material from the abandoned building! That’s not suppression.

              The period of Justinian was quite bad for the pagans, but of course, the fact that Justinian’s time was the only time for this to actually ever happen in ancient Christian history just confirms what I’ve always been saying: pagan suppression was a sporadic thing, never widespread. You quote Vergil’s views, but fail to quote the views of Origen and Pope Damascus who promoted the studying of pagan works. Origen and Damascus were ridiculously more powerful and influential than Vergil had ever dreamed of — some say Origen was the most educated Christian of the third century. This **was** the widespread view of Christians. Historians have long rejected the claim that there was widespread suppression of paganism in the first millennium. You should read something that Peter Brown wrote.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-12-18 06:42:08 UTC - 06:42 | Permalink

                pagan suppression was a sporadic thing, never widespread

                “sporadic” is a temporal reference; “widespread” is a spatial reference. The two are not opposites of one another.

                Events can be BOTH sporadic and widespread.

                Which is what I recall Nixey saying, btw.

                Notice to readers: I recall dealing with this “Jimmy” in the past and ended up blacklisting him as a time-wasting troll. I’ve done the same to him again this time now, too.

              • D.
                2017-12-18 07:02:23 UTC - 07:02 | Permalink

                You are confusing Gregory of Tours and Vergil (author of the Aeneid, the Latin Homer). Gregory of Tours is quoting Vergil (Iovisque et soror et coniunx), but hardly in a positive way. Probably he has never read Vergil anyway, how could he?

                I think classicists would agree Vergil easily surpasses Origen.

                You are mentioning Peter Brown, so I provide some quotations (Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity, London 1989).

                “Once this wedge was withdrawn, the non-Christian found himself an outlaw in a unified state … This change was the sympytom of a rapid simplification of culture” (p. 174)

                “Throughout the seventh and eighth centuries, Rome was the Mecca of bibliophiles from the less literate provinces; but a bishop from Spain needed to be told by an angel where he could find the text he wanted in the depths of the papal library. Nothing shows the change of atmosphere more clearly than the fate of the book itself. The early Middle Ages was an age of lavish book-illumination – for the written word ceased to be taken for granted in western Europe. The book itself became a holy thing … The great Gospel-books, the liturgical books, the carefully prepared anthologies of the sermons of the Fathers, came to stand apart, along with other holy objects, in the great basilica-churches that linked the men of the seventh and eighth centuries to their awesome, partly understood past … In this new environment, the Late Antique legacy was completely transformed.” (p. 176)

                “The collapse of an independent, classical elite followed swiftly: In the late sixth century the culture of the governing class of the empire finally became indistinghuisable from the Christian culture of the avarage man. An atmosphere of intolerance, manifested in the occasional savage punishments of Jews and of the few remaining pagans, show the norms of Roman law bending before the storms of public opinion … In such an atmosphere, forgrery throve – a sure sign that the past had become cut off from the present, and had become a timeless, flat backdrop.” (p. 180-81)

                “the emergence of the holy man at the expense of the temple marks the end of the classical world” (chapter “death of the classical world”, p. 108)

                “Paganism, therefore, was brutally demolished from below. For the Pagans, cowed by this unexpected wave of terrorism, it was the end of the world. ‘If we are alive,’ wrote one, ‘then life itself is dead.” (p. 104)

                So Peter Brown links the suppression of classical culture to terrorism. This is no different from Nixey’s link to Islamic state. No disagreement here. Terrorists tend to punish occasionally, not constatntly. It’s the pending threat that makes the difference.

                You can see why it is difficult to say if a temple was at some point of time destroyed or just abandoned, when normally not even the fundaments of the temple exist any longer? That this makes it difficult to come to conclusions/statistics? And who has said that all (or most) temples were destroyed rather than abandoned? They were destroyed, abandoned, secularised or turned into churches (but not maintained).

                Origen who was condemened as a heretic at several occasions?

                John of Damascus who lived in Muslim Syria?

                Yes, a lot of Christian agree that Christians are entitled to take the spoils of gold and silver from the classical literary heritage, i.e. those parts that were of use – and leave behind the rest.

                No, the age of Justinian was not the only period of time when wide-spread persecutions of pagans occurred. You even have empire-wide book burnings before that already. Then you have a period (centuries) of banning all aspects of pagan culture.

                I’d call this suppression.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-12-18 09:14:23 UTC - 09:14 | Permalink

                Fyi — “Jimmy” began ringing too many memory bells of another “jimmy” or whatever some years ago who insists he’s a most dogmatic fundamentalist and by no means the same person as Tim O’Neill — I have no idea and don’t care. He’s a troll; a waste of time. I have put him on my spam list.

                If you really want to continue a discussion with this person I am sure Tim O’Neill can put you in touch. The two have indicated in the past that they are “very close”. Check his “History for Atheists” blog or website.

  • 2017-12-15 07:34:06 UTC - 07:34 | Permalink

    The Latin West knew about Aristotle’s logic from a translation of Porphyry by Boethius in the sixth century. Later they acquired copies of Aristotle from Christian Byzantium and the Arabs.

    Jimmy, I don’t accept that we should approach a question with the assumption that the church is going to be pure and clean and innocent in all its efforts regarding knowledge and its preservation, nor do I think we should assume that the church was out to destroy every pagan authored work that promoted what became science. That might be the black and white view you read on Tim O’Neill’s blog but I don’t think its a justified way to approach historical investigations.

    But we are missing something here that is just as important. Too often it is assumed that when the Western Latin clerics wrote about or preserved works about “nature”, they were doing it out of some interest in nature itself as we might be interested in it. But in fact they were not interested in anything that could be construed as “science”. Their motivations and interest were in using such knowledge of the ancients to overthrow the arguments of heretics. Mere preservation of certain writings does not necessarily imply an interest or positive attitude towards the subjects that the ancients had.

    As D. above says, O’Neill tends to lack the nuance the comes with genuine knowledge and understanding of the things he is attempting to talk about.

    • 2017-12-15 23:14:03 UTC - 23:14 | Permalink

      “Jimmy, I don’t accept that we should approach a question with the assumption that the church is going to be pure and clean and innocent in all its efforts regarding knowledge and its preservation, nor do I think we should assume that the church was out to destroy every pagan authored work that promoted what became science. That might be the black and white view you read on Tim O’Neill’s blog but I don’t think its a justified way to approach historical investigations.”

      I agree with this. O’Neill does as well. You go on to state he does not accept this because he lacks nuance or something, but in fact O’Neill acknowledges precisely the same thing. He says that temple destruction happened, but it is nowhere near the floating monstrosity Nixey makes it out to be. He says sometimes books were burned here and there, but again, nowhere near the empire wide bonfire that Nixey makes it out to be. O’Neill is far more nuanced than any of the commenters here, probably including myself. You claim O’Neill lacks the “genuine knowledge and understanding”, but reading his blog and yours, he’s far, far more grasped with the ancient world than you or I are. He seems to have read practically all the books and he easily sifts through complicated Roman history and archaeology, at many times referring to monographs and facts of ancient history I’ve never heard of. You also wrote this:

      “But we are missing something here that is just as important. Too often it is assumed that when the Western Latin clerics wrote about or preserved works about “nature”, they were doing it out of some interest in nature itself as we might be interested in it. But in fact they were not interested in anything that could be construed as “science”. Their motivations and interest were in using such knowledge of the ancients to overthrow the arguments of heretics. Mere preservation of certain writings does not necessarily imply an interest or positive attitude towards the subjects that the ancients had.”

      Before I actually respond, do you have any actual proof of this?

    • D.
      2017-12-16 08:31:51 UTC - 08:31 | Permalink

      “The Latin West knew about Aristotle’s logic from a translation of Porphyry by Boethius in the sixth century.”

      Isn’t Pophryry the one who initiated the Great Persecution of 313? The one who later served as legal reference for book burnings? Was not Boethius executed and while waiting for this, wrote a philosophical treatise, including references to several philosophers whom the fathers of the church condemned, but not a single reference to Christianity?

      • Pofarmer
        2017-12-17 13:09:54 UTC - 13:09 | Permalink

        “Was not Boethius executed and while waiting for this, wrote a philosophical treatise, including references to several philosophers whom the fathers of the church condemned, but not a single reference to Christianity?“

        Could you expand on why this is important?

        • D.
          2017-12-17 15:00:02 UTC - 15:00 | Permalink

          The death of Boethius, along with his father in law, Memmius Symmachus, marks the end of senatorial scholarly activity and re-editing of ancient manuscripts, from which our manuscript tradition of Latin classics normally derives because these editions somehow made it into the Carolingian period, when Charlemagne placed some copies of the original texts in monasteries of the Frankish Empire.

          In his consolation, Boethius discusses such subjects as pantheism (which only re-emerged in the early modern period, e.g. Giordano Bruno), metempsychosis and even alignment of Epicurean evolution of the world with the Platonic concept of creation, and with divine providence. This could be a reflection of rhetorical discussions from a standpoint genuinely rooted in pagan philosophy.

          Because he does not mention Christianity once in this work, this could point to a (complete or partial) fall-out with Christianity (basically you had to be Christian in that position at that time), perhaps to do with his pending execution or the preceding trial (he often complains about contemporary senatorial families).

          Criticism in this work tends to be muted, e.g. there are several allusions to Theoderic (the “Tarquinian tyrant”), although Theoderic is not mentiioned once. It is unlikely the text would have made it out of his place of imprisonment had he been more open with his views.

          Treason trials of that time normally included some kind of magic charges (i.e. accusations of pagan/philosophical views not in accordance with Christianity).

  • D.
    2017-12-18 14:37:03 UTC - 14:37 | Permalink

    Perhaps to come to a conlusion, may I add to the text by John of Damascus the part omitted by O’Neill:

    “…but whatever is hostile to the Christian truth, has been identified as the darkness of the satanical error, as an invention with which to destroy our souls”.

    https://archive.org/stream/patrologiaecurs62migngoog#page/n269/mode/2up

    Does he REALLY sound like someone who embraces ALL parts of pagan philosophy rather than those which are not opposed to the bible?

    What now, do we make out the fact that we find the first part of the quotation freely circulating on the internet, the second part hardly accessible?

  • D.
    2017-12-18 15:07:39 UTC - 15:07 | Permalink

    John of Damascus then goes on to say:

    “Whatever is depraved and attached to the knowledge of false name, I shall reject. Soon I shall cover the nonsense of the heresies hateful to God, so that, having understood their falsity, we can stick even more closely to the Christian truth.”

    Then in the main part of his work (“on heresies”), John of Damascus goes on to condemn nearly all of the classical philosophers.

    https://archive.org/stream/patrologiaecurs62migngoog#page/n347/mode/2up

    I wouldn’t call this “mainstream Christianity”, but surely this is mainstream patristic heresiology.

    O’Neill is therefore probably right to conclude “This was the position that won the debate.”

    But I’m not sure if he checked his sources…?

  • D.
    2017-12-18 21:53:25 UTC - 21:53 | Permalink

    O’Neill writes:

    “What people like Nixey neglect to mention is the fact while some prominent clergy argued that the Bible and the works of the Church fathers were sufficient for a Christian’s education, others argued that all knowledge came ultimately from God and so “pagan” learning was a gift to be used. And the key point here is that these were the Christian authorities who won the debate over the use of non-Christian learning. It was not hardliners like Tertullian, Tatian or John Chrysostom who ended up setting the intellectual agenda for Christianity for the next 1000 years, it was the more liberal and open Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Basil of Alexandria and Gregory of Nazianzus. John of Damascus encouraged his readers to study “the best contributions of the philosophers of the Greeks” arguing that “whatever there is of good has been given to men from above by God, since ‘every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights’”(Philosophical Chapters, 1958,5). Similarly, Clement argued that philosophy was worth study because “[t]he way of truth is therefore one. But into it, as into a perennial river, streams flow from all sides.”(Stromata, I.5). Modern polemicists may sneer that these Patristic writers still saw philosophy as ancillary to or “the handmaiden” of theology, but that is essentially just condemning ancient people for not holding modern priorities. The fact remains that these were the authorities whose view prevailed, not the hardliners who the polemicists always highlight.”

    This is absolutely untrue. Not one of the authors he mentions, or indeed any Christian ecclesiastical author, holds the view that “all knowledge came ultimately from God”. Only the knowledge that did not contradict the bible “came from God”. Otherwise, how would God say one thing in the bible, another to the pagan philosophers? All of these Christian authors divide pagan knowledge into “knowledge from God/the light” and “knowledge of Satan/the darkness” (ok, maybe John Chrysostom is a tad more radical…) This does not only apply to pagan philosophy, but to all areas of knowledge.

    A significant change of attitudes came with Dante Alighieri in the 14th century. While Vergil was not allowed to see the Christian realm of paradise, he could still guide Dante to its outskirts and only had to endure lighter punishments in hell than the other classical authors.

    Get your facts right!

  • D.
    2017-12-19 09:37:21 UTC - 09:37 | Permalink

    I have now also identified the source of O’Neill’s erroneous views (posted in https://historyforatheists.com/2017/10/lost-books-photios-bibliotheca/).

    He is simply relying on E. Grant, Science and Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus, JHU 2006, p. 110. This is because the format of the reference to John is identical with Grant (he should have given the full reference, not just the abbreviation).

    However, he completely misunderstands Grant, who nowhere in his discussion of the passage claims that “all knowledge came ultimately from God”.

    On the contrary, in his earlier book (God and Reason in the Middle Ages, CUP 2001, p. 35) Grant makes it very clear that John of Damascus was a canonical author, who therefore held the right belief: “Here again lurks the theme of despoiling the Egyptians: Take all good you can from your enemies and use it for the faith”. John sees the philosophers as enemies of human kind, who had been conquered and now needed to be despoiled to demonstrate the triumph of Christianity.

    I can clearly see through O’Neill’s atheistic bias: he is attempting to accuse of heresy ecclesiastical authors, recognised by the catholic church as canonical, and thus to spread misinformation on the internet.

    The alternative view is that he could not be bothered to even consult the English translation of the work he quotes. It is simply impossible to misunderstand John of Damascus in that way!

    This is true of all of the “evidence” he purports to show. My advice would be to reconsider the blog post.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-12-19 10:11:13 UTC - 10:11 | Permalink

      I have Tim O’Neill to thank for his citations of Grant because when I followed them up I was introduced to a trenchant debate between Grant on the one hand and French and Cunningham on the other with respect to the nature of what we call science in late antiquity and the “middle ages”. I recommend reading Before Science: The Invention of the Friars’ Natural Philosophy in order to get a more nuanced and apparently more deeply researched view than one finds in Grant’s works.

      I’m not sure about Tim’s atheistic bias, though. He more often than not advocates arguments that support traditional, even conservative, Christian perspectives.

      See my comment on Jimmy at https://vridar.org/2017/12/16/was-the-name-jesus-too-common-to-belong-to-a-deity-or-archangel/#comment-83829

  • D.
    2017-12-19 10:43:39 UTC - 10:43 | Permalink

    My comment

    “I can clearly see through O’Neill’s atheistic bias: he is attempting to accuse of heresy ecclesiastical authors, recognised by the catholic church as canonical”

    was tongue in cheek of course. But at the end of the day, his writing would indeed amount to heresy. It’s more likely he didn’t check his source, or deliberately misrepresented it.

  • D.
    2017-12-29 10:23:26 UTC - 10:23 | Permalink

    O’Neill somewhere in his “review” writes:

    “Which all sounds terrible, except both the “empty shelves” and the regretful and indignant spectators of Gibbon’s lurid passage existed entirely in his imagination. The destruction of the Serapeum is one of the best attested events in the ancient world, with no less than five accounts surviving to us, from both Christian and pagan commentators. None of them mention any libraries or books.”

    Why can O’Neill not even be bothered to check any of his sources or verify any of his claims? There can be no excuse as Edward Gibbon’s work is available freely on the internet.

    Of course, Gibbon’s source is Orosius, History against the pagans 6.15 (writing in the early 5th century, a contemporary writing for contemporaries)

    “So perished that marvelous monument of the literary activity of our ancestors, who had gathered together so many great works of brilliant geniuses. In regard to this, however true it may be that in some of the temples there remain up to the present time book chests, which we ourselves have seen, and that, as we are told, these were emptied by our own men in our own day when these temples were plundered—this statement is true enough—yet it seems fairer to suppose that other collections had later been formed to rival the ancient love of literature, and not that there had once been another library which had books separate from the four hundred thousand volumes mentioned, and for that reason had escaped destruction.”

    https://sites.google.com/site/demontortoise2000/orosius_book6

    I have no words for O’Neill’s accusations that authors are making up sources, when in reality it is only O’Neill himself who makes up all of his claims and misinformation that he is attempting to spread on the internet.

    Again, this is just another example, virtually all statements in O’Neill’s “historyforatheists” blog are simply inventions of his imagination.

    Of course, he does not allow on his blog pingbacks to websites pointing out some of his mistakes, only pingbacks from websites that suit his agenda.

  • D.
    2018-01-02 13:43:38 UTC - 13:43 | Permalink

    Again for the record, I have now posted a few of the concerns I raised in this discussion on Tim O’Neill’s blog post (this is far from comprehensive, just a starting point for discussion).

    https://historyforatheists.com/2017/11/review-catherine-nixey-the-darkening-age/#comment-1069

    As anyone can see, after some hours of “moderation”, Tim O’Neill decided to publish the first few.

    However, he refused to publish/censored three follow-up posts. I therefore posts these comments here for transparency.

    POST 1

    I didn’t know that Clement of Alexandria or Philo wrote Latin or that Philo predates Christianity (i.e. teaching of Jesus Christ) or that Augustine is using that term (where?). But we agree on the rest.

    You know as I do that Islamic scholars got their ancient knowledge from expelled and persecuted scholars (even if these were Christians rather than pagans, they were still monophysites and therefore heretics). This does not seem to suggest a high degree of tolerance in the Christian world at that time.

    So, we have now moved on from your assertion that Aristotle’s view that the world was eternal “was taught widely” in the Christian world (any reader would understand your text that way) to “OK, when that idea was first reintroduced to the Latin west via the Islamic world, it was actually condemned as heretical, people saying this could lose their livelihoods and potentially had to face the Inquisition, BUT the church was more relaxed about those Aristotelian views that did not contradict the bible”. And how many “universities” were there in the Christian world in 1210? Any evidence that this view was discussed in Oxford? Otherwise we agree on this point. There is some progress here.

    Where does Nixey claim “that any works that contained such ideas were not preserved at all”? I can not see this in your text.

    So, we have now moved on from your assertion that “both the “empty shelves” and the regretful and indignant spectators of Gibbon’s lurid passage existed entirely in his imagination” to “Oh, actually there is a source for this, and Gibbon mentions it. But personally I have some doubts that this passage talks about the Serapeum, even though Orosius in context is very clear that he is actually talking about the book collections associated with the Great Library of Alexandria”. Would it not have been more honest to put it that way in your above text? Does it not make a difference?

    What is your reason to say that “In fact, the target does seem to have been the practice of divination, for purely political reasons.” – when Ammianus writes that the books burnt were normally books on the liberal arts and on law? Yes, there was a political reason: the philosophers in question attempted to restore a pagan emperor because they felt suppressed.

    Monks in charge of early transmission of texts were not normally able to understand a full word, let alone a full sentence. Their job was to identify single letters and reproduce these. They were, however, not normally able to proofread a single word, or full sentence. The corrector (the abbot) had to do this. Otherwise they would have noted if a word was grossly misspelled or full lines omitted, as the sentence does not work. In the case of Lucretius, however, Butterfield was able to show that none of the correctors or glossators (except for Dungal) was able to comprehend the meaning of the text either. This is no surprise as the text by Lucretius is extremely difficult to read. If the correctors and glossators couldn’t read the text, how would the scribes?

    As said before, there is no evidence the text circulated in ecclesiastical or monastic circles between c. 400 and 800. All copies that you mention from the Carolingian period were distributed to monasteries of the Frankish empire by order of Charlemagne and derive from the one copy recovered by Dungal and his subsequent single work of reproduction, probably from the British Isles (but not from a monastery, which did not have any classical texts at that time). Again you can read this in Butterfield (and many earlier works on the transmission of Lucretius). As Charlemagne was crowned emperor by the pope, there was little to stop him. Certainly, no medieval scholar outside of the monastery had read the text before it was recovered by Poggio. It is also very doubtful that subsequent abbots of the monastery were aware of its existence as there is no record or title.

    So, you are not going to answer any question on your “list” of Photius. Perhaps there are a dozen or so titles from the pagan-classical period which you claim are now lost, but for nearly all of these an edition exists, which is normally unrelated to Photius.

    Again, I didn’t say that you misquote Lavan et al, only that your conclusion “The point is that, given the many thousands of temples in question, a mere 43 examples does not support the idea of some kind of Empire-wide orgy of destruction.” can not be supported from your quotation because in the vast number of cases not even the fundaments of the temple are extant, and there is therefore no way to say how many temples were in reality destroyed, let alone what happened to cult objects stored in the temple. (as to Gaul you also have to account for the fact that much of late antique Gaul was occupied by Merovingian pagans, the work of temple destruction brought on by Martin of Tours was therefore pioneering in that area).

    I can understand why your “patience” with me is beginning to wear out. This is not a place for free and unbiased discussion of religious subjects.

    POST 2

    “No more than 11 of the 109 non-Christian works are lexicons and just 4 are medical works”.

    I count 7 medical compilations/works, from authors you claim are pagan. Also, 8 titles from Jewish authors (belonging to the Judeo-Christian tradition), primarily Philo, who can easily be counted to the group of “fathers of the church”, as you also agree. But there are many more “pagan” authors that do not date to before c. 250, but to late antiquity, mostly histories. Of those that do, most titles are extant today. Where you claim this work to be lost, there normally is a modern edition available, even though it might not be the full text. But how de we know Photius had the full text?

    POST 3

    Butterfield (CUP: 2013) on Sigebert of Gembloux “Lucretius: naturam clandestinam is no doubt drawn from a prosodic florilegium” (p. 287, available on google books for those that don’t want to look it up at a university library).

    So, Sigebert of Gembloux shows no indication that he was aware that the text was still in existence. He has certainly never seen it. He was, however, aware that Lucretius was a deeply heretical and magical text as the fathers of the church agreed.

    In fact, the whole footnote in Butterfied demolishes any hope that any medieval scholar had the text (and certainly that “a long line of Christian scribes … found it interesting” as you assert in the above).

    The catalogue from Bobbio lists the author but not the title (Lib. Lucretii)

    ———-

    CONCLUSION

    It is clear that Tim O’Neill is fully aware that none of the sentences he is posting on his blog could withstand scrutiny. Not one sentence that does not, at the very least, seriously distort established academic views.

    I still find it strange that Tim O’Neill purports to discuss the subject of religious censorship on his blog, and then censors factual questions, corrections, based on the most recent scholarship, and even areas of agreement, which are all politely worded, very much opposed to Tim O’Neill’s own rudeness.

    This seems to be a common habit as anyone can grasp from O’Neill’s earlier discussion with “James Aubrey”. (I take it that “I think it might be time for you to go away” has the same meaning as “I think my patience with you is beginning to wear out.”)

    Like a late-medieval inquisitor, Tim is not interested in discovering the truth, only in burning the witch at the stake.

    • Sanpete
      2018-02-21 00:27:17 UTC - 00:27 | Permalink

      It occurs to me that you may have email notification enabled, in which case please see my response to several of your comments below.

  • D.
    2018-01-09 23:09:22 UTC - 23:09 | Permalink

    On the question of whether or not most early medieval monks were able to read the texts they were copying, see Karl Büchner, Überlieferungsgeschichte der Lateinischen Literatur des Altertums, in: Herbert Hunger (ed.), Geschichte der Textüberlieferung der antiken und mittelalterlichen Literatur, 1. Antikes und mittelalterliches Buch- und Schriftwesen, Zurich 1961, p. 314.

    They were not.

    This is classicist freshmen knowledge!

  • D.
    2018-01-10 07:57:25 UTC - 07:57 | Permalink

    “monks were only supposed to copy what they saw on the page (and not try to correct the errors they may or may not have seen in their exemplar), but this did not protect from all corruption, especially when monks didn’t understand the text in front of them.

    Language barriers frequently separated a monk from his exemplar. A Latin speaking monk may be asked to copy down a Greek text, but even if the text was in Latin, it was a very different form of Latin than what he would be used to. By the middle ages, the Latin language had regionalized and evolved into something that was nothing like the archaic Latin of Ancient Rome, both in grammar and syntax, much like the difference between modern English and Middle English. Some people thought this was for the best; Poggio, a major (and enthusiastic) figure in copying culture during the Renaissance, believed that understanding the text was not favorable, as it would introduce the possibility of more hypercorrection errors because monks would feel more comfortable correcting their own language. This would make the manuscripts more precise in their readings, but may be dangerous if a scribe was unable to recognize if he himself made a major error in copying a foreign language.”

    https://sites.dartmouth.edu/ancientbooks/2016/05/24/medieval-book-production-and-monastic-life/

  • D.
    2018-01-10 15:41:37 UTC - 15:41 | Permalink

    “Despite these literary pursuits majorly dominating monastic life, the reading culture present in monasteries was not a positive reinforcement of a love for the written word so forced upon the monks. Reading and copying were indeed treated as manual labor, and that added a negative connotation of and intense distaste for reading. Benedict’s Rule creates daily silent meals, where no one was allowed to speak for any reason, other than the “weekly reader”–the person in charge of mandating a certain holy book or other to the entire dining room (ch. 48). Even the weekly reader’s enthusiasm for reading was crushed, because the rule dictates that the reader should pray to God for salvation from pride in his important task of reading to the masses.”

    (source as above)

    Lucretius an “interesting” text for monastic readers? Lucretius the very incarnation of the deadly sin of pride? As in pride demolishing religion?

    quare religio pedibus subiecta vicissim
    opteritur, nos exaequat victoria caelo

    Really??

  • D.
    2018-01-12 06:36:09 UTC - 06:36 | Permalink

    Butterfield, The Early Textual History of Lucretius’ De rerum natura, Cambridge 2013, p. 7: “no evidence survives that anyone between the tenth century and 1417 read Lucretius directly”.

    Tim O’Neill: “Even Lucretius’ De rerum natura, with its Epicurian atomism, survives to us because of a long line of Christian scribes that found it interesting even if they disagreed with many of its key ideas.” (without reference)

    The last author to disagree with Lucretius is Isidore of Sevilla (7th century). However, it is very unlikely that Isidore read Lucretius directly.

  • Sanpete
    2018-02-21 00:18:35 UTC - 00:18 | Permalink

    I find this reply to O’Neill hard to follow. Parts of Nixey’s book that don’t seem to conflict with his criticisms are quoted as though they do. That Nixey occasionally points out that things weren’t really black and white, which O’Neill acknowledges she does, doesn’t undo her mostly black-and-white presentation. As O’Neill rightly observes, balancing by focusing on a neglected part of history, which he acknowledges this may be, doesn’t imply being biased in tone, leaving out crucial context, or asserting as fact things not known, or things we have reason to believe are false. There’s a vast difference between how Nixey treats the evidence and how Reynolds and Wilson do.

    Similarly, the quotes from Rohmann don’t contradict or trouble O’Neill’s views nearly as much as implied. In particular, O’Neill is right that Nixey’s claim that targeting certain texts is a pretext is based on little evidence. Most of the quotes given above from Rohmann have nothing to do with pretext, for one thing. And Nixey doesn’t support that claim with material from Rohmann, at least not in an overt way.

    What Nixey actually says on page 162 is “Divination and prophecy were often used as pretexts to attack a city’s elite,” whom she then characterizes as intellectuals. Though she doesn’t acknowledge it, that’s actually close to something Rohmann does say. In the context of the targeting of a few successful Neoplatonists he says “the context suggests that the charges of paganism offered a convenient pretext for getting rid of unwanted people.” He says it’s suggested, in relation to those few cases. He repeats the idea in a less qualified form, though with “sometimes,” not “often,” in one of the quotes given above, but the evidence given remains limited to the few cases that merely suggest the notion. There’s nothing conclusive or representative in it.

    Nixey focuses instead on one particular purge as evidence, treating it as though representative, and relying on the testimony of one source, Ammianus. Rohmann, unlike Nixey, is cautious in his treatment of Ammianus, quoting but not assuming his view, and questioning his reliability on the basis of potential bias (65-69).

    I think it’s fair to say Nixey’s sweeping claim based on a single potentially biased source describing one case, even if Rohmann’s evidence is also considered, is questionable, unsupported as a generalization, and should have been expressed that way.

    There are of course many other particular criticisms of the book in O’Neill’s review.

    On the 1% claim that Nixey uncritically borrows from Rohmann, who uncritically borrows it from Fuhrmann, and which is uncritically accepted by some here, it’s another case of needing to check sources. All Fuhrmann says is “one may assume” less than a hundredth of Latin literature remains, with no further argument as far as I can tell. Not any kind of survey or otherwise worked out estimate. It shouldn’t be given the weight it has been. If you read German you can easily judge for yourself by scrolling to page 17 in the Blick ins Buch function here:

    https://www.amazon.de/Geschichte-römischen-Literatur-Reclams-Universal-Bibliothek/dp/3150176581

    In regard to balance, a more useful response to O’Neill would include some acknowledgement of what he and others critical of Nixey get right. As I begin to go through her book I find them to be largely correct. The book so far is at least as misleading, in a willfully inflammatory way, as corrective. A lost opportunity spoiled by highly selective empathy, it appears. (Yes, some of that also applies to O’Neill.)

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-02-24 06:10:42 UTC - 06:10 | Permalink

      Hi Sanpete. You write that Nixey is guilty of

      leaving out crucial context, or asserting as fact things not known, or things we have reason to believe are false.

      Can you cite examples of each of these three sins in Nixey’s book?

      I think I have supplied enough evidence to demonstrate that O’Neill “overstated” his criticisms of Nixey’s work. I think O’Neill came here earlier posing as “Jimmy” (see above), but even if it was not O’Neill himself he channelled the same words O’Neill uses elsewhere, professing to have no motive other than the purest desire to see history undistorted (indicating a lack of awareness of what history is and how it works) and even resorting to typical O’Neill personal insults towards Nixey.

      I have little patience for someone who professes to be expert at something he is not, who insults others routinely, and who failed to acknowledge sections of Nixey’s book that belied his criticisms.

      You and others are of course free to have your own views of Nixey’s book but I prefer that Nixey’s work be criticized directly and O’Neill’s unprofessional treatment be left aside.

      • Sanpete
        2018-02-24 19:47:42 UTC - 19:47 | Permalink

        Neil, what you quote from me is part of my explanation of what O’Neill is saying, so I hope you’ll forgive me for including a couple examples taken from him. Some of his are more developed than what I could offer at this point. You may be able to verify them independently if you don’t want to look at his review.

        An example of leaving out crucial context would be the lack of mention in Nixey’s story of the destruction of the Serapeum (86) that there are Christian reports that Pagans were holed up inside doing awful things to Christians. She relies on one of the historians who claims that, Rufinus, for her own account but doesn’t include that part of what he said. It’s also given in another account (Sozomen). Whether she believes it or not, it’s a crucial claim to just skip over.

        Examples of asserting as fact things not known would be that “Divination and prophecy were often used as pretexts to attack a city’s elite,” that 99% of Latin Literature was lost (xxxii), both points I’ve addressed on this page, and that Christians destroyed tens of thousands of books at the Serapeum (88). My impression so far is that Nixey does a lot of this.

        An example of asserting as fact things we have reason to believe are false would be that there was an unbroken line or “Golden Chain” from Plato to the Academy Damasius abandoned in 532 (xxvii).

        It’s for reasons like this that I don’t see how your response to O’Neill, which consists mostly of quotes from Nixey that he acknowledges in some way or other, and quotes from Rohmann that don’t conflict with his views much either, gets at the central points he raises against her. I think you may overstate your case against him as much as he overstates his against her, maybe more, as he does seem to raise a number of strong points, not limited to those mentioned above, none of which you acknowledge.

        I don’t think a desire for undistorted history shows any lack of awareness of what history is or how it works. It’s an ideal that like many ideals may not be entirely achievable in many cases, but that doesn’t make it any less important. (Postmodern influence has caused a lot of needless confusion about this.)

        • Neil Godfrey
          2018-02-27 20:11:36 UTC - 20:11 | Permalink

          In my reading of Nixey’s book her stated intention is clear and plain. Yes, I quoted Nixey herself in response to O’Neill’s criticism because those quotes, to my reading, actually belie O’Neill’s criticisms. O’Neill did not acknowledge what Nixey was in fact about, what her intentions were, nor did he indicate accurately what she actually said. I attempted to redress that by pointing out things Nixey said that readers of O’Neill’s review would not suspect she said.

          O’Neill seems to me to be faulting Nixey for not writing the book he would have preferred. Yes, the book is one sided and I see no problem with that if the author states from the outset that it is intended to be just that and gives her reasons. Such a book can start a debate. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly in O’Neill’s case) the debate is about Nixey’s right to write such a book and not the topic itself.

          I find O’Neill’s regular tendentiousness in always looking for ways to present the institutional church in a relatively progressive and enlightened manner to be contrary to the very value he tries to say he believes in about historical writing.

          I am more interested in the history of the church and the state of learning. If we relied upon O’Neill’s posts and criticisms we would be very misled about the historical conflicts in late antiquity. No serious inquirer relies solely upon one book but we all like to hear a range of views. I am glad Nixey shouted out, “Hold on a minute. Let’s not overlook this other side to history. Rub your noses in that for a bit before letting the church off as saintly free. Now, let’s have a real discussion — don’t diminish the dark side when we talk about this topic.”

          • Sanpete
            2018-02-27 22:19:11 UTC - 22:19 | Permalink

            Neil, I’ve responded to most of those points above. In brief, O’Neill doesn’t criticize Nixey for merely being one-sided. He does acknowledge that she occasionally says something on the other side. But he points out serious problems, distortions of facts and tone, that go well beyond focusing on one side. I’ve given examples, which you asked for but don’t acknowledge, and that don’t fit with your appraisal of the book.

            That O’Neill has his own serious faults doesn’t imply his criticisms are without merit, as the examples given show. He seems to me to be basically right about Nixey, for the reasons I’ve spelled out.

            I’m only guessing, but it seems this is a lot like politics: people have a hard time faulting a figure that promotes views they approve of, no matter how misleading they are, and how egregious their abuse of facts.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2018-02-28 10:35:27 UTC - 10:35 | Permalink

              We will have to agree to disagree. (But I do object to the suggestion that I liked Nixey’s book because she expresses a view I like. That is a gratuitous imputation of motive. I believe it is false. I do not “like” polemical works from any sort of serious scholarly point of view at all. But I respect Nixey’s honesty in explaining what she was doing and I have no problem with someone writing about a side that has been brushed under the carpet for too long. Many people don’t like what she was doing and accuse her of dishonest treatment of the material. I disagree. But there is no need to accuse me of a dishonest or culpable motive if I disagree with Tim or you.)

              I have no problem, though, in admitting to a personal dislike of Tim O’Neill. I find him to be a bully, immature, a lightweight intellectually who demonstrates only a very amateurish (virtually nonexistent) awareness of the deeper principles of how history works, superficially trite in many of his analyses, and blind to certain of his own ideological biases. He even boasts of being one of those crude and arrogant Australians that many of us really do find an embarrassment. I have invited him to engage me in reasoned discussion of his ideas several times on one condition only: that he refrain from insults and abusive language. He finds that condition intolerable — I take that as a sign that he will feel naked if he cannot use his bluster and bullying to cover for his weak analyses and arguments and poorly hidden ideological agendas.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2018-02-28 12:07:58 UTC - 12:07 | Permalink

              I’ve given examples, which you asked for but don’t acknowledge,

              Fair enough. I will have a second and closer look.

  • Sanpete
    2018-02-21 00:22:43 UTC - 00:22 | Permalink

    To D., it appears O’Neill is wrong about some of his claims, but it’s a vast overreaction to say, “it is only O’Neill himself who makes up all of his claims and misinformation that he is attempting to spread on the internet. Again, this is just another example, virtually all statements in O’Neill’s “historyforatheists” blog are simply inventions of his imagination.” You haven’t even come close to supporting that claim, which not only overstates the case against O’Neill but implies there’s no similar case against Nixey, as it appears there is. (The reactions here to O’Neill accompanied by silence about Nixey’s hard-to-miss faults is peculiar.)

    You’re right to poke at the way O’Neill expresses his attack on Gibbons in regard to the remark about the destruction of the Serapeum. But that doesn’t excuse Nixey, who should have checked the source, which isn’t clearly about the Serapeum, before relying on Gibbons’ reaction to it.

    Further, if O’Neill is right that there’s substantial doubt that there was still a library there at the time of the destruction, that’s a pretty big problem for Nixey’s imaginative narrative.

    It seems to me you misunderstood all along O’Neill’s remark about Aristotle and his teaching about the eternality of the world. He said Aristotle taught that doctrine, and that Aristotle was widely taught (not that that doctrine was widely taught), and that therefore the writings of an author who taught what was contrary to Church teaching weren’t suppressed.

    On the other hand, Nixey was talking in that context particularly about theories taught by philosophers still alive, not the entire works of dead ones (152), so it seems O’Neill took her out of context. I don’t see where Nixey said that all works containing banned ideas were suppressed, but she did make a sweeping claim that would be naturally understood to mean that all views opposed to the Church’s teaching were filtered out of texts, not passed on (153-4), which is evidently not true. She also says in a quote given on this page, “what ensured the near-total destruction of all Latin and Greek literature was a combination of ignorance, fear and idiocy” (166), which seems to overstate the known facts. She explains that in terms of the unsubstantiated 1% estimate I discussed in my other post.

    I’m pretty sure O’Neill nowhere implied that John of Damascus or other Church leaders embraced all parts of pagan literature. Some encouraged the study of such literature, despite being opposed to some parts of it, and some didn’t want any of it, or at least no part in conflict with the Church, available at all.

    I think you also misapprehend the point about all knowledge coming from God. No knowledge, as understood by Church leaders, could contradict the Bible. Knowledge was understood to be true.

    You also seem to misunderstand the point about temple archaeology. All O’Neill is saying in what you quote from him is that the evidence available doesn’t support a claim of a wave of destruction. That doesn’t mean it shows there wasn’t such a wave, only that we have no evidence for it. His source Lavan et al does go further and say “it can be stated with confidence that temples were neither widely converted into churches nor widely demolished in Late Antiquity,” so maybe you’re taking issue with their work. I haven’t yet looked into it.

    I’m not sure it matters to O’Neill’s point about pagan texts whether the scholars who transmitted ancient texts to Islamic scholars were themselves the objects of intolerance, unless the reason for the persecution was those texts. The point remains that the texts were preserved within the Church long enough to allow their transmission. But yes, being more complete in his description of that chain of custody would be better.

    Whether or not scribes understood what they were writing, or understood Lucretius in particular, it’s certainly true that the nature of at least some of the pagan texts was known to some involved in overseeing their preservation.

    I agree that Rohmann 65ff doesn’t imply that the targeting of works on divination and magic was mere pretext for the suppression of philosophers, though he does make a weak form of that claim elsewhere as discussed in my previous post.

    It’s hard to respond to your criticisms of O’Neill’s claims about whether pagan texts were selectively destroyed/not preserved, which cover a lot of ground. He does seem to greatly overstate the significance of his informal survey of the works listed by Photius, and maybe his counting is off too, but it’s nonetheless an interesting idea to see how well such an experiment fits other ways of estimating the losses. If there’s anything to his results it does support at least in a small way some questioning of the assumption that pagan works were singled out for destruction on a massive scale.

  • D.
    2018-02-26 23:16:36 UTC - 23:16 | Permalink

    @Sanpete

    I agree Nixey’s book is a polemical work rather than a scholarly treatment of the subject. It is written for a general rather than academic readership. That goes without saying. It is not meant to be a particularly balanced account of late antique history. I personally have no problems with that.

    Nevertheless, I have several objections to your narrative.

    Fuhrmann actually says “Man kann annehmen…”, which means “we can safely assume” rather than “one may assume”. Of course, this “claim” is not only found in Furhmann, but – as far as I’m aware – in most introductions to classical studies or classical philology, perhaps in slight variations. In Rohmann, p. 8, you can find the standard survey of Latin literature in support of that estimate (Michael von Albrecht, 1994). There is also an index entry “divination”. Your quotation is very selective, the topic of divination is dicussed throughout the book, not just in the section you mention.

    Orosius, the source mentioned by Gibbon, is very clear that he talks about “emptied book-shelves” in relation to the Ptolemaic library collection in Alexandria. The problem I have with O’Neill is that he actually says that this source doesn’t exist, even though it does exist (“both the ’empty shelves’ and the regretful and indignant spectators of Gibbon’s lurid passage existed entirely in his imagination.”). If he has doubts about the reliability of Orosius, he should give a full argument, and not just say – oh well, it’s more convenient for my narrative to say the source doesn’t exist.

    O’Neill is most definitely not right to say there are “substantial doubts” that there was still a library in the Serapeum at the time of destruction. Somewhere he mentions Ammianus, and that seems to be his only argument – but that is the whole point, he does not seem to be willing to read the text in the original Latin, othwerise he would not have arrived to such an outlandish interpretation. Certainly, there is not one scholarly opinion that could support O’Neill’s made-up argument, therefore he can’t cite one.

    As to Aristotle, I have already said here and on Tim’s blog that the knowledge of his works in the west was limited largely to a translation by Boethius, which contains nothing of the sort that the world was eternal. Even those authors in the Greek east who discussed that idea were at one point in time considered heretical. When the idea came back to the west, it was immediately banned by the Catholic church. This is really uncontroversial, and is by no means an original claim by Nixey, who is simply relying on academic literature. This does not mean that even some Christian theological authors engaged with Aristotle’s ideas, say, on logic. A superficial reading of O’Neill, however, would support the understanding that there was no offence whatsoever taken with regard to Aristotle’s teaching, which is of course not true.

    There is definitely not a single father of the church encouraging the study of pagan literature in conflict with the Church (and that was a whole lot of it). O’Neill, however, says that some fathers of the Church “saw all knowledge coming ultimately from God”. This is highly misleading and a massive omission. Even in the quotations provided by O’Neill, I have demonstrated that, while all knowledge – supporting the bible – came from God, everything else came from the devil. How could it be any clearer?

    No, I don’t misunderstand the point of temple archaeology. I have simply cited a highly respected Oxford specialist who rightfully says that we can not trace the history of destruction accurately and in a statistically meaningful sense because in most cases not even the fundmants of temples survive and we can therefore not judge the immediate post-abandonment history. Nevertheless, I agree that not all temples were either destroyed or turned into churches and that some temples were simply no longer maintained and fell into decline. The point is more about what happened, say, with cult statues, and the book by Sauer mentioned above makes a strong case for sustained destruction.

    What do you mean by “the Church”? The whole point is that there were indeed several Christians groups, which suffered persecution from the orthodox Church, and these drew their arguments from ancient philosophers. The orthodox Church was clear that this kind of philosophy was the root of all heresy.

    And where have I said that no one involved in copying a pagan text was aware of its pagan character? Of course, some texts (like Vergil, who was endorsed by Augustine for allegedly predicting the advent of Jesus) were obviously seen as far less problematic than an Epicurean author, who was the root of all heresy.

    As to Photius, I have already more than once explained that the loss of ancient texts definitely occurred before the period of Byzantine humanism. Classical texts accessible to Photius normally survive until today because of substantially changed attitudes in comparison to, say, the period of iconoclasm. It is therefore trivial to say that. What I criticise is that O’Neill is almost always wrong when he says that a classical text no longer extant today was accessible to Photius in full. These texts are actually far and few between.

    I was not being polemical when I said I couldn’t identify a single sentence in O’Neill’s text which does not contain either false or misleading information. This is not a verdict on Nixey’s book, it’s simply a verdict on O’Neill’s text.

  • D.
    2018-02-27 10:36:00 UTC - 10:36 | Permalink

    @Sanpete

    Also, you mention the destruction of the Serapeum as an “example” that Nixey omits crucial context (“the lack of mention in Nixey’s story of the destruction of the Serapeum (86) that there are Christian reports that Pagans were holed up inside doing awful things to Christians”). This is also demonstrably not true (Nixey: “Christians afterwards were attacked and even killed by outraged worshippers. Upsetting and unedifying though the incident was, it would be utterly eclipsed by what was about to follow.””). O’Neill’s criticism really is about Nixey allegedly not mentioning Olympius and other philosophers and that these philosophers were actually involved in the violence against Christians, but O’Neill is unable to back up this claim with sources other than to say that Olympius was also in the temple. So again it really is O’Neill rather than Nixey who is distorting the evidence.

  • Sanpete
    2018-02-27 19:04:52 UTC - 19:04 | Permalink

    @D.

    The same problems attach to misleading narratives regardless of level of scholarship. There’s no excuse for it at any level if truth is the goal. If it isn’t the goal, then the book is even worse.

    I can’t find any dictionary that defines annehmen as “safely assume.” But the point remains no argument or evidence is given for the 1% figure. If you know of a source that does give any, please give it. Von Albrecht is cited in connection with a figure of under 10% for mentioned works, not the 1% figure for all works.

    I don’t understand your remark that my quotation from Rohmann about divination is selective. If you know of any other evidence he gave in relation to the seeking out of books on divination being a pretext (i.e. an excuse or cover for the ulterior goal of attacking intellectuals, as Nixey says), please point it out. My point about that remains that he gives little evidence for the idea that it was a pretext, and Nixey gives even less, which fits what O’Neill said.

    My point about the Orosius reference remains that Nixey should have done her homework before quoting Gibbons about it. I already agreed with you that O’Neill was wrong in the way he went after Gibbons. He wasn’t wrong to criticize Nixey or Gibbons for using it badly.

    O’Neill’s argument about whether there was a library at the Serapeum when it was destroyed isn’t limited to his reference to Ammianus, who was evidently confused in a way that makes me question his account. And it isn’t original to him. He isn’t the only one to read Ammianus as he does. For example, Luke Lavan, a scholar, reads it the same way at the beginning of his introduction to the volume he co-edited: The Archaeology of Late Antique ‘Paganism’. I welcome your reading of the Latin if you think it matters.

    The stronger part of O’Neill’s argument in my view is that there’s simply no mention of books having been at the Serapeum in any of the several near-contemporary accounts of its destruction. That argument isn’t new with him either. He gives a link to James Hannam, who is indeed also a scholar:

    http://bede.org.uk/Library2.htm#_ednref54

    O’Neill doesn’t claim that no offense was taken to Aristotle, only that his works were taught and not suppressed. I agree that he misread Nixey, though he’s right that she gives the impression of far greater suppression than the evidence supports.

    O’Neill didn’t say Church Fathers encouraged the study of parts of pagan literature in conflict with the Church as far as I know. But some Church Fathers certainly did study even those parts in order to refute them, and some did also encourage learning truth from all sources, not only Christian ones. That’s consistent with the belief that the false parts come from the devil. One source could be a mix of both the devilish and divine. Probably all Church Fathers saw all knowledge as coming ultimately from God, the source of all truth. There cannot be knowledge of something that isn’t true. I don’t see anything misleading here.

    I understand your original point about temple archaeology. I was referring to what you said later that involved a misreading of O’Neill’s response to you (in which he appears to change his position without saying so–maybe that threw you off). As to your original point about the limits of archaeology, it’s a good question. Lavan’s answer is that the number of known sites is in the thousands, and there is only a tiny fraction that show evidence of destruction of any intentional kind, some of which is undoubtedly not Christian. For it to be true that a substantial portion of temples and statues were destroyed would require that they were so throughly destroyed that their remains cannot be found, or the remains so few as to make it impossible to tell what happened, and that the destructions aren’t mentioned extant sources. There’s no reason to think that was the norm (except with many bronzes, I suppose).

    Lavan’s claim is plausible enough on its face, more with regard to temples, which are his main focus, than statues, but it seems less certain to me than he makes it out to be. He is, however, a lot more aware of the evidence than I am. It makes a strong counter-narrative to Nixey, whose evidence on the extent of destruction is very flimsy, mostly based on hagiography and other suspect records. And even if they were all true in their specifics, it wouldn’t add up to the great wave of destruction she makes it out to be. A hero of destruction like St. Martin, one she singles out, was credited with five temple destructions. It would take a hundred St. Martins to make even a big dent in the number of temples.

    Are you saying that the orthodox Church or its allied institutions wasn’t the keeper of the texts the heretics took with them, that they owned them personally? Maybe you could explain your view and what you base it on a little more fully.

    Yes, any inference drawn from Photius’ list would only apply to destruction after the date of the list. Nixey treats the entire Middle Ages as a continuation of the selective destruction/neglect.

    Nixey doesn’t mention the claim by Christian writers that pagans were holed up inside the temple. Yes, she does mention, and immediately puts aside without her usual graphic embellishment despite very colorful testimony available, the claim about an attack by the pagans, but she says nothing about ongoing use of the temple as a fortification and ongoing torture of Christians inside it. That was presented as a reason for destroying it.

    O’Neill cites testimony of a former student, Socrates Scholasticus, of a couple scholars who he claimed were involved in the battle at the Serapeum. One claimed to have killed nine men.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=UjYIDAAAQBAJ&pg=PT253&lpg=PT253&dq=Socrates+Scholasticus+Helladius+and+Ammonius&source=bl&ots=3irHADkMlu&sig=nbflgUjc54Hln3wRKC6F8MmAXYY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiehLTK08bZAhXmhVQKHf7BA5MQ6AEISjAE#v=onepage&q=Socrates%20Scholasticus%20Helladius%20and%20Ammonius&f=false

    Rufinus and Sozomen (and maybe others) mention Olympius leading the temple defenders, not merely being present:

    http://faculty.uml.edu/ethan_spanier/Teaching/documents/CP7Rufinus.pdf
    https://books.google.com/books?id=-fyZRdkzLJEC&pg=PA102&lpg=PA102&dq=%22olympius%22+serapeum+better+die&source=bl&ots=Tdom1Rgjck&sig=y38IaiQew4O7MIn8WXl5yg-MP8g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjW9qK_4MbZAhXB6J8KHWLXDmsQ6AEIZTAN#v=onepage&q=%22olympius%22%20serapeum%20better%20die&f=false

    (I’m just using the results that come up first in searches. No doubt better ones exist.)

    That Nixey fails to mention the reports that the scholars were central in the battle at the Serapeum is also a major omission, particularly as she writes of scholars fleeing Alexandria, when several of those scholars were implicated in the reports. She is very selective in a highly biased and misleading way about which facts she passes along to her readers.

    Your claim about every sentence from O’Neill being false or misleading is way, way off. The majority aren’t in any way controversial, and some you took issue with aren’t false or misleading.

  • D.
    2018-02-27 21:55:42 UTC - 21:55 | Permalink

    Serapeum:

    I’m not saying Nixey quoting Gibbon only in this context is a particularly happy reference. As said before I was trying to reply to Tim O’Neill (who banned me from his site simply because I was challenging primarily his “calculations” on Photius, so I can not answer him directly…).

    Concerning Ammianus: he says “In quo bybliothecae fuerunt inaestimabiles”. Ammianus was a Greek native speaker whose use of aspect was therefore similar to the Greek language (Aorist). In Late Antiquity, there is particularly strong evidence for the (Latin) perfect used in the way to describe the ingressive aspect of the verb. Even in classical Latin, I’d expect Ammianus to use either the pluperfect or imperfect (describing a duration as apparently the library was in existence for centuries, not just for a short time) *IF* he wanted to say the library is no longer in existence. At best, one could argue that Ammianus is ambiguous here, but really I would see this “fuerunt” as evidence for continued existence up to the time of writing (we are in agreement about the rest, either “septingenta” is a scribal error of “septuaginta” or Ammianus was relying on a late and erroneous account, as there is scholarly consensus that the destruction caused by Caesar did only affect a small part of the collection, and this is also backed up by the best testimonials we have) – even if there was no other evidence in support. But we also have at least the two testimonials by Aphthonius (who evidently has seen that library shortly before the destruction of the building in 391) and that of John Chrysostoms who also attests that a library was in existence in the Serapeum at the time of writing (in 386, so both authors are likely more recent than Ammianus’ reference).

    So, we have clear evidence that the building was razed to the ground, the content found in there burned in the streets, and the building itself was housing a library up to time of destruction. After that, we never hear of the library again except as a memory of the past. O’Neill still thinks he can construct a very obscure argumentum ex silentio, saying that the sources attesting the destruction (all but one were Christian, and scholars who presumably were not very happy about the presumed loss of works) do not specifically mentions books. The only pagan source is Eunapius, but his “description” is actually an ex eventu prophecy by Antonius the philosopher who died before the building was destroyed (in fact there are quite a few such ex eventu prophecies and they concur that the end of the Serapeum also meant the end of pagan philosophy and scholarship, how can it be any clearer?). The problem is that Orosius, writing in the early fifth century, explicitly says that the book shelves, associated with the Ptolemaic library foundation, were emptied by Christians in the recent past and the books destroyed. His account was signed off by Augustine. So, we actually do have two important authorities atttesting the destruction of books if the evidence is still not sufficient to some.

    I’m generally wary when it comes to internet accounts of that question because these are not peer-reviewed and the topic itself has some religious significance. You are right that O’Neill is using James Hannam (and his book God’s philosophers) quite often, although some think Hannam has a Catholic agenda. In fact, now that you point me towards that “source”, I can confirm that the arguments are the same, and O’Neill was probably relying on Hannam only. However this may be, James Hannam’s argument, even though he is somewhat more detailed than O’Neill, is highly constructed: he brushes away the evidence quoted in Aphthonius because he says it has to predate Ammianus (on this, see above) – but the scholarly consensus is that the work by Aphthonius was written long after Ammianus. Obviously, he can not say the same about John Chrysosotm, so his argument is:

    “On the other hand Tertullian could just be confused about the Ptolemy connection and Chrysostom misinformed. Both men were Christian apologists and so might not be considered the most reliable source of historical facts.”

    Fact is John Chrysostom delivered this text as a speech to contemporaries, which means this is a credible source, because otherwise his audience would have “shot him down”.

    So we have a number of authors (both pagan and Christian) attesting there was a library in the Serapeum until at least 386. We have clear evidence the building was razed to the ground in 391 (or 392). Thereafter, the library is no longer heard of. We also have two authorities confirming that the books were destroyed. We have no evidence to the contrary unless you twist the evidence in ways unheard of. I’d call this proven beyond reasonable doubt.

    1%:

    Let’s be fair, Furhmann says LESS than one percent, i.e. that is the conservative estimate. Furhmann is relying on the same survey that is also underlying Michael von Albrecht’s history of Latin literature. You probably have to read the two volumes if you want to verify the estimate (both volumes have been translated into English). In conclusion, Michael von Albrecht says about the same (“we can not even hope to have a representative selection of Roman literature”). He is not only collecting all evidence for authors and titles lost but known, but also indirect testimonials, such as attestations of literary productions in ancient artwork and evidence for the existence of genres entirely lost to us. So, the figure of less than 10% extant from what is known but lost, can never be accurate. It includes Christian texts also, which are over-represented (as long as these are not heretical). Fuhrmann actually gives the very strong argument that there are 20 times as many works extant from late antiquity (obviously because these are mostly Christan texts, fathers of the church and so on) than from classical antiquity. There is no reason to think late antiquity was more productive than classical antiquity; on the contrary, classical antiquity was more productive if contemporary descriptions of the literary scenes are anything to go for. So, the estimate of 1:10 for titles unaccounted but lost, really is conservative (some genres are lost entirely, including knowledge of authors, others are relatively well preserved).

    And why should I trust O’Neill, who is not even academic or has even studied the area in question. Why should I not trust a chair in classics?

    Divination:

    Okay, let’s cut it short, Nixey’s use of the word “pretext” (in the way you understand it) is not a very good one. Still you can find a lot of instances where divination was brought as accusation against pagan intellectuals in many scholarly works, that includes Watts, definitely not only the ones you cited.

    Fathers of the Church:

    You wrote:

    “some did also encourage learning truth from all sources, not only Christian ones. That’s consistent with the belief that the false parts come from the devil. One source could be a mix of both the devilish and divine. Probably all Church Fathers saw all knowledge as coming ultimately from God, the source of all truth. There cannot be knowledge of something that isn’t true. I don’t see anything misleading here.”

    I want to see evidence for that claim (i.e. a father of the church saying that they encourage learning from sources that are considered to be devilish, such as Epicurean or other heretical authors).

    Pagans in the Serapeum:

    Yes, there is evidence that philosophers were involved in the defense of the Serapeum, but no clear evidence that they were also involved in the previous killing of Christians (i.e. before the Serapeum was attacked). In any case, the most you could say is that some level of detail is missing here, not that the fact itself remains omitted.

    temples:

    Yes, the number of excavated sites is in the thousands, but in most cases all we can say is that the material for the temples was entirely removed, which obviously makes it difficult to come to conclusions about whether the temple was first destroyed, or just the funding choked off, the temple fell into decline, and the material was removed later. I have said this before. O’Neill acconts for none of these possibilites, and I am not the only one who criticised him for his narrative (and got banned as a result). Btw, where does Nixey claim that more temples were destroyed than simply no longer maintained, please can you provide a quotation?

    Islam, Syriac Christianity, and persecuted pagan scholars:

    Okay, if “the Church” found no offence in the writings in question (those transmitted via Islam, e.g. some works by Aristotle) why have they not been continuously extant in the Christian world also? Why was their rediscovery such a big deal?

    I you read O’Neill’s text, it is clear that he has very limited knowledge of the whole period, and is cherry-picking what he finds in academic books or internet sources. I think we agree in may instances on this, in others we may have slightly different views, but that’s ok.

  • D.
    2018-02-27 23:08:55 UTC - 23:08 | Permalink

    Also, quite obviously both Sozomenus and Rufinus had to deliver a justification for the destruction of the building. Quite independent from that observation, Christian Church histories are full of accounts like the one quoted by O’Neill and they always repeat the same literary topoi. I’m not doubting that violence preceded the destruction of the builiding, but few scholars, if any, would take at face value that particular account of Christians forced to offer sacrifices.

    I agree, however, that Nixey’s account of the surrounding circumstances is missing some detail.

  • D.
    2018-02-28 00:28:08 UTC - 00:28 | Permalink

    Having a closer look at O’Neill’s summary of Lavan:

    “Drawing on surveys of the evidence by Penelope J. Goodman, Richard Bayliss and several others, Lavan shows that the tales of widespread, systematic destruction and desacralisation are artefacts of rhetoric and not reflected in the hard archaeological evidence. He notes that “only 2.4% of all known temples in Gaul have evidence of being destroyed by violence” (p. xxv). The picture is the same elsewhere: only a few examples are to be found in Africa, all in the city of Cyrene, only one example in the whole of Asia Minor and just one in Greece (and that is the temple destroyed by the Visigoths mentioned above). And so it goes on: just one example in Italy, three in Britain and just seven in Egypt – including the Serapeum, to which Nixey devotes a whole chapter. The exception to this rule seems to have been the provinces of the Levant, which “seems to have been a hot spot of temple destruction: 21 of 43 cases of temple destruction/desecration cited by Bayliss come from this zone” (Lavan, p. xxxviii).”

    This gives the impression that only a handful of temples were destroyed or desecralised in various regions.

    However, on p. xxviii Lavan says that in near future the amount of “confirmed archaeological cases of destruction” could rise to 5% of all temples. Again, the argument of Ward-Perkins is that it is very difficult to come to “confirmed” conclusions as in most cases the fundaments have been removed. But the 5% figure only pertains to “confirmed” evidence. In the preceding few pages, Lavan actually admits that there are only very few destruction types possible where the evidence can be seen as “confirmed”. Almost always this is burning. Ward-Perkins says the same. However, there is very little evidence for burning as a method of temple destruction in the hagiographic sources of late antiquity. So we are comparing apples to pears.

    Then, on the question of removing cult statues from temples (a theme apparently more highlighted in Nixey’s book), Lavan concludes: “we need not think that EVERY temple was comprehensively stripped by an army of monks in the dramatic manner described by Libanius in Or. 30.8. SOME could have kept their decoration…” (p. xxxii, highlighting is mine) – which rather more sounds like an inversion of the 5% estimate.

    Lavan is also clear on the (forced) closure of temples (as evidenced in the Codex Theodosianus): “lack of any archaeological or epigraphic attestation of cult continuity on unaltered urban temple sites in the 5th c., across the Mediterranean. This strongly suggest widespread closure”. (p. xxxiv-xxxv)

    It therefore comes as a suprise that O’Neill is using Lavan in support of his assertion that “religion was already changing in nature and focus and moving away from blood sacrifice as its central ritual.”

  • D.
    2018-02-28 20:06:50 UTC - 20:06 | Permalink

    Two more “arguments” by Hannam/O’Neill, with which I inted to demonstrate the ways in which the internet is infiltrated by non-academics who are keen to distort history to fit with their aims and agendas:

    O’Neill: “We know that [the Serapeum] was ransacked on the orders of the Alexandrian bishop George the Cappodocian c. 360 AD and it is likely the library was looted in this action.” (without reference)
    https://historyforatheists.com/2017/07/the-destruction-of-the-great-library-of-alexandria/

    This is based on Hannam: “Did this clearing out of the Serapeum (for the context makes clear that this is the temple referred to) involve the removal of the library? It may well have done because at much the same time Julian writes to the new Prefect of Egypt, one Ecdicius (the old one, Artemius having been executed for sacking the temple[100]), and asks him to send George’s large private library on to him at Constantinople[101].”
    http://bede.org.uk/Library2.htm#_ednref99

    But in the actual source (letter of Julian to Ecdidius) we can read: “And I know what books George had, many of them, at any rate, if not all; for he lent me some of them to copy, when I was in Cappadocia,[4] and these he received back. [4: i.e. when he was interned for six years by Constantius at Macellum in Cappadocia. George was then at Caesarea near Macellum.]”
    https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Letters_of_Julian/Letter_23

    So, George of Cappadocia already owned that collection c. 20 years before he could possibly have obtained books from the Serapeum in Alexandria.

    Then Hannam on the figures of bookscrolls contained in the library: “Seneca’s figure of 40,000, although, as section 5 will show, not uncontroversial, seems a more reasonable figure and still makes the Royal Library much larger than any of the later classical or medieval libraries.”
    http://bede.org.uk/Library2.htm#_ednref24

    Seneca actually writes “Forty thousand books were burned at Alexandria”. (de tranquillitate animi 9)

    Obviously, this is the number of books destroyed during Caesar’s war, a fraction of the whole content, or as O’Neill also agrees, a storehouse in the harbour area.

    Still, O’Neill is using that figure for his table of various accounts on the number of books in the library. Of course, he does not mention that this is only the figure for books destroyed in the harbour area. The aim of this table is to show that there was no agreement on the number of books in antiquity.

    Likewise, the figure of 54,800, mentioned in Epiphanius (in 392) refers to the original collection before the foundation of the library proper. This seems to be based on the early history of the library by Flavius Josephus (AJ 12.2)
    http://sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/ant-12.htm
    Neither Hannam nor O’Neill mention Flavius Josephus because this could undermine their narratives.

    None of this is mentioned by either Hannam or O’Neill, and these are the only figures substantially different from the others provided in contemporary sources. This is not to say that the figures can necessarily be taken at face value, but it is also clear that both blog writers distort the evidence as they see fit. This is a bit strange, seeing that Hannam works as an accountant.

    Quite probably one day a book will be written on how apologetic blog authors distort the historical evidence to misinform a large audience of internet users, the one building on the other, and to what extent this is then even accepted in scholarly books, which are only marginally interested in questions like this. Of course key to this strategy is to either not allow others to post comments or to immediately ban posters who check the material presented. And not to allow pingbacks other than from sites that have the same agenda. Otherwise, it would not work. Same as with the “calculation” on Photius (although this is far worse).

  • D.
    2018-02-28 22:48:51 UTC - 22:48 | Permalink

    To give a bit more context on the letter by emperor Julian concerning the library of George of Cappadocia above.
    https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Letters_of_Julian/Letter_23

    George of Cappadocia was the Arian bishop of Alexandria and replacement for the exiled Nicene bishop Athanasius. When Athanasius returned because of Julian’s edict of Tolerance in 362, the Nicene (Catholic) mob in Alexandria murdered George, plundered his house and his library. It is for this reason that Julian asks his accountant to inquire on the whereabouts of George’s library because the library included books on philosophy.

    It is absolutely ridiculous even to consider seriously that this library was the Ptolemaic library in the Serapeum (this was the private library that Julian had personally seen in Caesarea about 15 years ago.)

    Hannam then makes much out of Julian’s alleged letter to Porphyrius, which probably is a Christan forgery, at least in part, like several others in the corpus of Julian’s writings, but of course Hannam does not mention this.
    https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Letters_of_Julian/Letter_38
    Even if it was not there is no indication that the books were any different than those in ep. 23, obviously they were the same because George was dead.

  • D.
    2018-03-01 00:19:21 UTC - 00:19 | Permalink

    This is perhaps the most absurd part in Hannam’s account (followed by O’Neill):

    “This concludes the case against Caesar which seems to be pretty good although not watertight. For some reason many modern scholars have been unwilling to accept it even though there is no mention of the Royal Library existing at all after his visit.”
    http://bede.org.uk/Library2.htm#_ednref50

    Hannam is – quite probably – deliberately omitting the evidence that the library of Alexandria continued to be the reference library for the Roman Empire in the couple of centuries following the war of Casear. So there is “some reason”, but Hannam does not mention it.

    The unwary reader could think this is a scholarly text, backed up by footnotes, when in reality this is fabrication of history, a fictional text at best. There are more examples of this kind only in regard to this one question. As a general rule of thumb, both Hannam and O’Neill regularly omit evidence, cherry-pick the evidence they include, regularly get the dates and interpretations wrong, all that to suit their agendas. And so the whole “review” (which really isn’t a review, but a collection of alternative facts on the history of the early church) by O’Neill goes on and on…

    I stop here.

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-01 07:04:20 UTC - 07:04 | Permalink

    D., your remarks about the tense of the verb in Ammianus treat it in isolation, but I think an additional reason it’s commonly understood to refer to the past is the context, which speaks of the destruction of the library. Obviously he’s confused, but he does appear to be referring to a destruction of a library at the Serapeum. He may have been confused about what he was told.

    I wonder if Aphthonius was a witness to the library. He was writing rhetorical examples, not autobiography, and may have been adapting earlier writings, as rhetoricians have always been inclined to do, and as he is known to have done with his fables (including in the work in question, using one from Aesop). In that case, the date of the original account may be earlier than usually thought.

    I don’t think John Chrysostom had any direct knowledge of the situation hundreds of miles away in Alexandria, as I don’t think he had been there. The story of the Septuagint was no doubt widely known. Even if he were right about the Septuagint still being there, that’s not a library. (I don’t think we would have any record of rebuttals from the audience, who probably wouldn’t have known either.)

    It remains unclear what temples (plural) Orosius was referring to, or how many books would have been in the chests he refers to. No doubt many temples had some kind of books on hand, but that doesn’t imply a library of any substantial kind.

    So, not a lot to go on there. O’Neill, and the scholars he relies on, are right that there is substantial doubt about the presence of a library, given the at-best shaky indications of one and the lack of reference to it by those who describe the destruction.

    *

    About Hannam, I don’t know much about him, but a guy with a website called bede.com probably does have a Catholic agenda. I don’t think he still works as an accountant after his doctorate and book.

    I think you’re unfair to him, quick to assume he’s wrong without considering it carefully enough, same as with O’Neill. In Hannam’s account of George’s library and the related evidence, he agrees that George already had the collection of books Julian referred to before the sack of the Serapeum, saying it shows he was a bibliophile and might have coveted the Serapeum’s library. He doesn’t make that much of it, saying it seems to supply “the best lead” about what happened to the Serapeum library.

    He says, “Some writers have gone so far as to allege that 40,000 scrolls of an entire holding of 400,000 were destroyed and thus the damage was rather marginal. Although perhaps some books survived, this interpretation places a reliance on ancient numbers that is rather uncritical.” So, like O’Neill, he’s aware of what Seneca is talking about, but prefers to think it represents all or most of the library. O’Neill takes the chart directly from Hannam. The chart itself could be more clear, as you point out.

    If Epiphanius based his account on Josephus, it’s odd he used a different number. Do you mean they don’t mention Josephus because he gives such a large number? They do list the number, which is taken from a letter of Aristeas.

    Please say more about the evidence that the library of Alexandria continued to be the reference library for the Roman Empire in the couple of centuries following the war of Caesar.

    *

    Fuhrman’s claim about 1/20th as many works from 250 BC to 250 AD being preserved is also given without argument, so it’s unclear why you say it’s a very strong argument. It’s also unclear how it relates to the <1% claim about Latin works including those we have no records of. The <10% figure is for Greek and Latin, the <1% figure for Latin only, so there's something missing in your reasoning that seems to connect them.

    It should be noted that Nixey gives the 1% figure for Latin literature (without any explanation of what she means) without any qualification in her introduction, not as an estimate. She states it two different ways for emphasis. She more correctly says it's an estimate more than a hundred pages later, but even there it should have been pointed out that it's not a well-supported figure.

    This has nothing to do with trusting O'Neill, by the way, who is in the habit of giving sources. He isn't arguing from his own authority. Whether he has a deep understanding or not, he has raised numerous good points about Nixey's book.

    *

    If divination was the true point of the book targeting, then there should have been many scholars implicated, because such materials were in their books. O'Neill's point is that the divination issue does seem to have been the real target, for the political reason that it was a danger to the emperor to have people predicting his end, and there's little evidence otherwise. I don't follow your reference to Watts and what seems to be an implication that I've overlooked something that would alter what I or O'Neill have said.

    *

    I don't know of any Church Fathers who encouraged learning from devilish sources in so many words, but then neither I nor O'Neill have said anything about that. Some encouraged learning from sources that were sometimes or generally wrong–and by implication devilish to that extent, since the devil was the author of all error–and also studying pagan sources to show their errors. I came across this random example yesterday, but there are many more: Socrates Scholasticus Church History III:16. It's pretty broad in its defense of studying pagan texts.

    *

    I don't follow the distinction between missing some level of detail and omitting a fact. That the philosophers at the Serapeum were implicated in the killing of Christians is an important point in determining blame about how they were treated, but Nixey fails to include it.

    I agree the claims of Christians being tortured inside the Serapeum are highly suspect, but so are a lot of the details Nixey does include in her narratives when it suits her to.

    *

    Could you direct me to where Ward-Perkins says the material/fundaments for the temples at most temple sites was entirely removed?

    Both Lavan and the scholars he is reacting to, such as Deichmann and Fowden, are very vague about their estimates of destruction. Lavan is impressed by the amount of remains that don't show any distinct signs of Christian destruction, and seeks to counter the impression that it was a normal thing. He thinks the record shows that much. But because of the limits in our knowledge, it's impossible to be precise.

    You say there is very little evidence for burning as a method of temple destruction in the hagiographic sources of late antiquity. Nixey's original edition gives a different impression, speaking of razing and burning temples (xxxi) and dwelling on St. Martin. She has edited the former reference now (MacMillan is putting out an edition) to omit the reference to fire.

    On how many temples were stripped of their ornaments and such, the "some" in the quote you give is only a subset of those not stripped by Christians. Lavan seems to think most temples were stripped when protection for them ended, but not necessarily for religion reasons. Most abandoned buildings do get stripped eventually.

    O'Neill doesn't cite Lavan in support of the claim of the decline of blood sacrifice, which he introduces as happening alongside what Lavan and others discuss. O'Neill gives an example from 363, but I don't know how representative it is. Lavan speaks of the forced closure of temples in urban centers, while their use continued in rural areas.

    I'm not aware of Nixey claiming more temples were destroyed than no longer maintained or the like, or of O'Neill implying she did. She merely gives a highly selective account that O'Neill is countering. If you were to read her book the way you read O'Neill, you'd be much harsher about it than I am!

  • D.
    2018-03-01 11:45:53 UTC - 11:45 | Permalink

    I didn’t post on here in order to defend Nixey’s book. I have said before that she makes it clear that this is a polemical book. It’s not a scholarly book. I did post on here because I had several concerns about O’Neill’s “calculation” on Photius. As I have shown above, O’Neill is probably more often than not wrong in declaring a text as extant or not. But another poster above did not see that as clearly. So I had to reply to this. I was then invited to post my concerns on O’Neill’s site. I was definitely expecting abuse, even though I was polite, but I didn’t expect to be banned outright. This only shows that O’Neill is well aware that much of what he posts is factually incorrect. Otherwise, he would have the balls to face critical engagement, but he doesn’t.

    You say that O’Neill has no knowledge of the period, and is instead relying on “sources”. You see the problem is that he almost never provides any sources, certainly not in cases where one would expect a source. Our analysis has revealed that he is mostly relying on internet sites or popular books that both have an agenda and misrepresent the evidence. In other cases he simply does not understand what he is reading or is cherry-picking or quote-mining what he reads. This is very different from Nixey because she is providing references to scholarly books and her account is verifiable, but O’Neill’s isn’t.


    The only destruction that Ammianus mentions is the one during the wars of Caesar. It is generally acknowledged that this destruction was minor, probably just a storehouse in the harbour area, which was the only area affected (from the first hand report by Hirtius, confirmed in the other sources). In fact, there is no evidence for the destruction of the Serapeum or indeed any library in Alexandria other than the one during the wars of Caeasar (and under Theodosius). Even the Museion, which possibly housed the Royal Library is well attested up until the time before Theodosius/Theophilus. At any rate, it is well attested that Alexandria remained the main library centre after the wars of Caesar.

    Yes, Aphthonius wrote a textbook for use in school. It is highly implausible the textbook was not up to date, as it was likewise written for circulation amongst contemporaries.

    As his collections of letters reveal, John Chrysostom was very well connected to at least a hundred or so powerful magistrates and clerics throughout the east. He would have been amongst the first to hear about the destruction of the Serapeum, given also his incendiary language against the philosophers of old. The eventual destruction of the Serapeum even had repercussions in the west as it was seen as the end of pagan philosophy. He actually says: “ἅγιος ἔσται τοῦ Σεράπιδος ὁ ναὸς διὰ τὰ βιβλία”, so he is generally referring to books/a library in the Serapeum. True, in context he also mentions the Septuagint bible because it was still part of the Ptolemaic library foundation, and clearly shows that the Ptolemaic library foundation was in the Serapeum. He would not have mentioned the library in the Serapeum if it was not significant at the time. In all likelihood, it was still the largest as suggested by Aphthonius.

    Yes, that quote from Hannam is a few pages further down the text, by which time the reader had forgotten where the 40,000 book estimate comes from and that this only relates to the books destroyed (there is no indication in Seneca that this was anywhere near the total amount, it’s just the numbers of books destroyed, and he is the closest to the event). O’Neill then uncritically picks up the 40,000 book estimate from Hannam and does not say that this is really about the books destroyed (i.e. a fraction).

    The account of Josephus would also be important to mention because it describes the methods of acquisition and undermines O’Neill’s assertion that the library consisted of Greek books only (as Epiphanius also confirms), for which he was rightfully criticised. It also shows that neither Hannam nor O’Neill are aware of much of the sources on that topic (or they both cherry-pick).

    A good book for source references on the library of Alexandria, to my mind, is the one by Mostafa El-Abbadi (1990). Of course, scholarly books like these don’t get mentioned on the internet. I have said this before.

    Orosius is very clear in context that he talks about the books associated with the Ptolemaic library foundation, it can’t get any clearer because he actually says it.

    So, Hannam says this is the “best lead” and still doesn’t make much of it even though the library is by no means even remotely related to the Serapeum and that is firmly attested? And O’Neill’s “highly likely” is also OK with you? Again, this is not even a starting point for discussion.

    In the logic you provide you could as well say that Jesus never existed or that is unclear whether Plato was a philosopher.

    My criticism was O’Neill’s assertion “Both Nixey and her key source, Rohmann, claim that the discovery of works on divination and magic were merely “a pretext” for the suppression of philosophers (Nixey p. 162; Rohmann, pp. 65 ff.)” as it misrepresents the latter completely.


    Yes, you don’t know of any church father, who encourages learning from all sources, including sources not agreeing with the bible, because there is not one. Then why on earth is O’Neill or are you pretending this? (Socrates was a not a church father, he was a lawyer, not even a cleric).

    On Ward-Perkins:
    https://historyforatheists.com/2017/11/review-catherine-nixey-the-darkening-age/#comment-1072

    You need to get that article yourself if you don’t trust me.

    I think we can stop here. This all takes too much time to write. We are going in circles and you are simply repeating of what you have said before, and not engaging with what I say. I have shown that much of what O’Neill writes is false or misleading. Certainly, almost nothing of what he writes is verifiable either with sources or scholarly books, and there is a clear reason for this. The above were just examples, his misrepresentations are not at all limited to that.

    In fact, he can not even be bothered to correct his “calculation” on Photius, even though it is confirmed that he is wrong. And that was my whole point of posting.

  • D.
    2018-03-01 14:03:57 UTC - 14:03 | Permalink

    Two more points: yes, Orosius does not mention the Serapeum directly, only that he saw the emptied book shelves associated with the Ptolemaic library in the area/district of the temple or temples (if you want to understand the plural in that way) and that he was told that the books were destroyed by Christians in the recent past. It is firmly attested that while the building (the Serapeum) was razed to the ground, the area itself was still visible later. The only other place he could be referring to could therefore be the royal library, possibly in connection with the Museion. For the destruction of the Museion there is only circumstantial evidence because it was last seen and attested in the age of Theodosius. It is unlikely to have survived the destruction of temples in Alexandria in 391/2 because we never hear of it thereafter and it seems to have been no longer in existence. Depending on your interpretation of the plural for temple area/district, Orosius could be alluding to both.

    Of course, neither O’Neill nor Hannam mention anything of that because it does not fit their agenda, even though this has long since been discussed in scholarly literature.

    The ratio of less than 10% for titles extant vs. lost but known goes for both Greek and Roman literature. True, there is not such a comprehensive survey available for Greek literature like that of von Albrecht for Latin, and some scholars therefore say that the ratio for Greek literature (altogether) could be a bit higher. I’m not so sure: although we have a good amount of literature from classical Athens, we have almost nothing from the Hellenistic period, and that seems to have been the most productive (again if you don’t trust Fuhrmann or others, you want to consult von Albrecht for surveys of classical vs. late antique literature).

    Again, this does of course not mean it all got lost because of Christianity, it’s simply an estimate of what we have and don’t have.

    Again, there is no indication that philosophers were involved in the previous killing of Christians, on the contrary the sources say these philosophers wanted to safeguard the philosophical tradition stored in the Serapeum rather than to kill Christians. So, it’s not as black and white as O’Neill makes it out.

  • D.
    2018-03-01 22:12:51 UTC - 22:12 | Permalink

    If you look at the immediate context of Ammianus, i.e. his ekphrasis on Alexandria, you will clearly see that he is constantly shifting from perfect to indicative, and is also sometimes using the imperfect (indicating that the event is complete). The perfect (ingressively), on the other hand, refers to the building/foundation acts in the past, but there is no indication the monument etc is no longer there, for example:

    Alexandria enim vertex omnium est civitatum, quam multa nobilitant et magnificentia conditoris altissimi et architecti sollertia Dinocratis, qui cum ampla moenia fundaret et pulchra paenuria calcis ad momentum parum repertae omnes ambitus lineales farina respersit, quod civitatem post haec alimentorum uberi copia circumfluere fortuito monstravit. … haec eadem regina heptastadium sicut vix credenda celeritate ita magnitudine mira construxit ob causam notam et necessariam. (22.16.7, 10)

    Likewise his description of the Serapeum:

    in quo bybliothecae fuerunt inaestimabiles. et loquitur monumentorum veterum concinens fides septingenta voluminum milia, Ptolomaeis regibus vigiliis intentis conposita bello Alexandrino, dum diripitur civitas sub dictatore Caesare, conflagrasse.

    He is using the (ingressive) perfect to refer to the act of foundation in the past, rather than the imperfect, which would imply a duration in the past that is, however, now complete (or obsolete).

    There is also no need to assume he was “confused”. He simply says that there is a library in the Serapeum, and also that he is aware of an old tradition saying that there were substantial losses during the war with Caesar. At no point does he imply the library was completely destroyed at the time, just that many books were lost. He even distances himself from that account of substantial losses, because he refers to it as a second hand report (perhaps from Aulus Gellius who is considered to be unreliable, a sensationalist author).
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aulus_Gellius#Writings

    Orosius pretty much says the same. Only difference is that Orosius gives more credence to the account that the books were indeed lost during Caesar’s war and then replaced rather than that the losses were minor and the library still essentially the same as before the Alexandrine war, but he mentions the two traditions. At any rate, there was still a library, that is attested not only in the sources I mentioned above.

    Again, this apparently was the fourth/fifth century tradition, but the scholarly consensus is that the losses were indeed only minor at the time of Caesar because the late republican/early imperial tradition is that they were minor.

    Most certainly, Ammianus does not say that the library got lost during the reign of Julian, or shortly before. Ammianus’ account is actually the most comprehensive for that time period, and he is extremely interested in book burning and the like. But he nowhere mentions this.

    Rubbish like that you can only read on the internet as there is no chance this would be accepted as a credible publication. And btw, George’s plundering of the Serapeum and stealing of ornaments is attested only in an edict by the emperor Julian himself. It is absolutely insane to even think about that Julian, although eager to collect the literary tradition of the past, would have left unmentioned such an act, only to then mention this in a letter, but disguising this as a library he already knew from 15 years ago because he had borrowed most of the books in question and therefore felt confident to identify those books if he sees them again.

  • D.
    2018-03-02 10:26:23 UTC - 10:26 | Permalink

    One more example in relation to this of how Hannam distorts the historical sources.

    First, he refers to the actions of George with regard to the Serapeum:

    “The new Emperor was Julian, also a pagan, who berated his fellows in the name of Serapis for the deed while acknowledging they were provoked when George “…brought an army into the holy city and the Prefect of Egypt seized the most sacred shrine of the God and stripped it of its statues and offerings and of all the ornaments”[99]”

    In note 99 he gives “Julian Letters ‘ To the Alexandrians’.” That source reference is already useless because it does not contain the letter number (in the edition by Bidez or the translation of Wright).

    A search through Wright of letters to the Alexandrians turns up empty, and the passage really is from Socrates 3.3, which however, incorporates that letter. It’s what the Alexandrians would bring forward in defense of murdering George.

    So, the temple could have been despoiled at the time, but the account is probably exaggerated because it is framed as defense speech by the population of Alexandria (seeing that in 391 there were still enough images, writings etc to burn or otherwise destroy in the streets)

    In the next paragraph, Hannam speaks of “Artemius having been executed for sacking the temple[100]” and “he ordered the temple ransacked” but the reference to Ammianus contains nothing of that sort:

    Amm. 22.11.2: “And at the same time, Artemius, who had been Duke of Egypt, and against whom the citizens of Alexandria brought a great mass of heavy accusations, was also put to death”

    Therefore, Ammianus does not even mention the events at the Serapeum. From the above it appears that the population of Alexandria defended the Serapeum, so it is unclear whether or not the raid was successful. At any rate, the whole event was part of a wider religious conflict to do with Athanasius (see C. Haas, The Alexandrian riots of 356 and George of Cappadocia, in GRBS, 1991, 281-301)

    Then O’Neill tops it all up:

    “We know that it was ransacked on the orders of the Alexandrian bishop George the Cappodocian c. 360 AD and it is likely the library was looted in this action.” (without any source as there isn’t any)

    In another context O’Neill writes: “The only mention of the Mouseion after this is found in a late source, the tenth century Byzantine encyclopaedia called the Suda, which describes the fourth century philosopher Theon as ‘the man from the Mouseion'”.

    He omits the record by Synesius (late fourth century), calvitii encomium 6 (Ἔξεστι δὲ τοὺς ἐν μουσείῳ θεάσασθαι πίνακας, τοὺς Διογένας λέγω καὶ τοὺς Σωκράτας καὶ τοὺς οὕστινας βούλει τῶν ἐξ αἰῶνος σοφῶν etc.)

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-02 20:01:52 UTC - 20:01 | Permalink

    I’m a little worried about the effect O’Neill has on you guys. He seems to have gotten so under your skin that you can’t see straight in regard to anything he says. I hope if he said not to climb up on your roof you wouldn’t go get a ladder to show him how wrong he is.

    I’m more interested in Nixey’s book, which I expect a lot more people will read than O’Neill’s blog. I think it will seriously mislead a lot people and increase an unhelpful polarization along the lines of that promoted by Hitchens and Dawkins. O’Neill also contributes to polarization, happily on a smaller scale, and it undermines his own work. But you have to put his unprofessional manner aside to see whether he’s right in his criticisms of Nixey. He’s given by far the most detailed response to her that I’ve found, and it’s been the most helpful despite its defects.

    This discussion is helpful too, but it would be even more helpful with less trauma over O’Neill’s manner, which we all agree is bad, and a more dispassionate focus on the facts.

    D.: “I have said before that she makes it clear that this is a polemical book. It’s not a scholarly book.”

    Neil: “I respect Nixey’s honesty in explaining what she was doing and I have no problem with someone writing about a side that has been brushed under the carpet for too long.”

    Again, these are no excuse for the issues O’Neill brought up and that are being discussed here. O’Neill’s blog isn’t any less polemical or more scholarly than Nixey’s book, but you treat the two entirely differently. The kind of honesty that matters lies in how truly and fairly Nixey presents the material she thinks has been neglected. (I think that side hasn’t been neglected as much as she makes it seem–there’s a long tradition similar to the one she takes up going back to before Gibbon, whom she borrows from, and still carried on by “enlightened” critics of religion such as those just mentioned. She’s a little different in not being so much anti-religion, but she’s clearly upset with Christianity, and that discolors her presentation to the point that it fits well into that lineage.)

    D., I don’t say O’Neill has no knowledge of the period. He clearly does have some. I don’t think you’ve shown that he’s wrong nearly as much as you think. But whatever his level of understanding, he generally gives sources so that we don’t need to rely on him. His sources are as good as Nixey’s, but in a different way. His source Hannam, for example, gives sources for his claims, so what O’Neill draws from him, even if only from a blog, can be checked out. Fuhrmann, on the other hand, may be a lot more knowledgeable, and peer reviewed, but the claim Nixey draws from him (or rather from Rohmann) is given no support at all, so it can’t be checked in any reasonable way. Both pick and choose the sources that suit them. It’s no better when Nixey does it than when O’Neill does.

    *

    D., I haven’t really looked into the particulars of how O’Neill treats Photius’ list, because it would be a lot of labor for a relatively weak point that only tenuously bears on Nixey’s book, which is mostly about things that happened earlier, though she does sometimes bring up stuff from that late.

    Ammianus is assumed to be confused because he seems to confound the main library, which people (probably wrongly) blamed Caesar for destroying, with the Serapeum. The perfect tense is interpreted as past because that fits most naturally with the idea of the past destruction he describes, but yes, it’s possible, if even more confusing, that he was talking about only a part of the Serapeum library being destroyed with some still left.

    Hannam evidently supposes Ammianus didn’t know what really happened to the library. You seem to think he would have found out if it had happened during the time of Julian, which would make sense, if he actually talked to anyone about it, which he doesn’t say he did. He gives no indication of having spent a lot of time at the Serapeum, which might not have always had tour guides on hand anyway.

    Any possible theory that is well explained and footnoted is publishable, by the way, and Hannam is a published author, including in peer-reviewed publications. You share with O’Neill a tendency to trash talk those you disagree with. Nixey does this too, repeatedly calling Christians stupid and ignorant, among other things.

    Hannam doesn’t think the books mentioned in Julian’s letter are from the Serapeum. He doesn’t imply Julian knew George had acquired the Serapeum collection, only that he might have received it eventually along with George’s earlier collection. He thinks the letters imply George had a large collection, and thus a probable interest in taking books from the Serapeum. Maybe. Hannam really doesn’t make much of it. I don’t know enough about Julian’s correspondence and how much of it we have to know whether we could expect to find mention of receiving the books. I don’t know what “highly likely” from O’Neill you refer to.

    Hannam assumes that Artemius was executed for the sack of the Serapeum, which is a reasonable supposition given the Julian letter, but he should have stated it as probable. It’s only an aside in this context. O’Neill’s source about the sack is of course the same Julian letter, which is generally accepted as good evidence there was such an event. He marks the point about the library as merely likely, i.e. speculation.

    You’re right that O’Neill appears to have overlooked the reference in Synesius to the Mouseion. It makes no reference to a library, though, and it can’t be determined whether the building was still in use from his remark.

    Orosius isn’t clearly confused in the way Ammianus seems to have been, in that he seems to be talking about the main library, not the Serapeum, being destroyed by Caesar. In regard to temples, he could refer to any temples that had book chests that were emptied by Christians. It’s not clear how many temples might have had book chests, how many had their books removed, which temples he’s talking about, or how many books would have been in the chests. Hannam’s view is reasonable enough: “Orosius, as mentioned in section 6, recounts the destruction of the Royal Library by Caesar. However, he goes on to say that there was no other library in Alexandria at the time of Caesar’s visit and that later libraries (including, one presumes, the Serapeum library) were set up in an attempt to emulate the wisdom of the ancients.” Later he says, “Where did it [the Serapeum library] go? The answer is that it was most likely taken to a different institution, probably Christian, like the books that had resided in the temples visited by Orosius in Alexandria which he reports were removed in his own time.” That’s his theory. Yes, he could have mentioned that some think Orosius was talking about the Serapeum in particular, and think he meant it was stripped of a great library when it was destroyed, but since there’s no evidence at all that he means that, all Hannam could do is say they have no evidence.

    My take is a lot simpler: it’s hard to tell what Orosius was talking about, and there’s much disagreement about it among scholars, so its value as evidence about the library is very limited. I already agreed that O’Neill messed up in his treatment of Orosius.

    Using only up-to-date examples wasn’t a goal of ancient rhetorical handbooks, which freely borrowed material from various periods of the language they were working in. Aesop’s fable, the first example, was hardly up to date. El-Abbadi, since you like him, translates Aphthonius’s remarks about the Serapeum in the past tense: “on the inner side of the colonnade, were built chambers, some of which served as book-stores and were open to those who devoted their life to the cause of learning.” His explanation seems weak to me, but here it is: “It is obvious that Aphthonius, in his description of the temple is presenting to his readers an image of the past, as it once had been and was no more at the time he wrote, hence his use of the imperfect tense and the past participle. Nowhere, within this context, does he use the present tense.” (“Demise of the Daughter Library,” 90-1, in What Happened to the Ancient Library of Alexandria? edited byMostafa El-Abbadi and Omnia Mounir Fathallah, 2008.)

    John Chrysostom refers to translated books and holy books, plural, in speaking of the Septuagint, which was a compilation of books. The whole point of his story is about the Septuagint, which was holy for Christians, not other books that might have been in the Serapeum at some time, which wouldn’t support his point at all. His point was that housing holy books doesn’t make a building holy.

    A reader would have to be very forgetful to not recall where Senaca’s 40,000 number came from, since Hannam gave a clear reminder in the previous paragraph. O’Neill’s point about the numbers is that probably none are reliable, so he has no reason to go into the particulars with regard to whether 40,000 represents the whole collection or part.

    I’m not aware of O’Neill claiming the library only contained Greek books. I still don’t see any way in which he or Hannam would have improved their explanations by referring to Josephus instead of his source.

    I just gave you a plain example where a Church Father encourages learning from Pagan sources, including sources not in agreement with the Bible. Did you read it? Socrates Scholasticus Church History III:16. Here’s a link:

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/26013.htm

    The quote you give from Ward-Perkins doesn’t say anything about the majority of temple sites. That’s why I asked you to direct me to where he does say that about a majority of sites. I can’t find such a remark in his article.

    The point about the 1% claim remains that there’s simply no evidence given for it. The mere fact that there’s a survey of the literature in von Albrecht isn’t evidence for the 1% claim.

    I agree that O’Neill accepts too easily the claims about the torture and murder of Christians in the Serapeum before the main attack, and that he merely assumes the philosophers present were implicated in that. Nonetheless, it’s a serious omission by Nixey to not refer at all to these reports and the possible connection to the philosophers fleeing, nor the report that at least one of the philosophers bragged of killing Christians. Puts things in a very different light.

  • D.
    2018-03-02 21:14:40 UTC - 21:14 | Permalink

    I guess we have different expectations because I posted on here because I wanted to point out to a reader (and to readers of O’Neill’s blog) that his count of Photius is complete nonsense. And also his conclusions. So you don’t have to be worried. Why are you worried?

    I have a few questions, though.

    How many sources does O’Neill on average quote in the blogs discussed here?

    Where does Ammianus say that the books destroyed during the wars of Caeasar were stored in the Serapeum at the time? Had I not visited the World Trade Center more recently, would you also say I wouldn’t know that there is now a new one?

    Can you point me to peer reviewed publications by Hannam? If that “idea” would be publishable, why not do it? Why post it on the internet? You yourself give the correct qualifier: “possible”.

    OK, so we agree there is no shred of evidence George of Cappadocia had the Serapeum library in his personal possession. Glad we have clarified this.

    If the Museion was “not in use” at the time Synesius wrote, why does he describe the statues of philosophers in the building? And why is Suidas a bad source when they are generally believed to faithfully transmit excerpts from the 4th/5th centuries?

    Please can you direct me to the passage/word in Orosius where he says that book shelves in “temples” had been emptied by Christians? As I can’t seem to find it. Can you perhaps point me to the word used in the Latin?

    So, we agree the Septuagint was an important acquisition (for Christian authors) to the Ptolemaic library. We also agree the Serapeum was a pagan temple up to 391, right? So, you think the pagan philosophers in the Serapeum have kicked out all the pagan books (philosophers etc) and only kept the Septuagint bible as they liked it so much, and John Chrysostom refers to this reduction in size of the library?

    Please can you direct me to a source saying that Socrates is a recognised father of the Catholic or whatever church?

    Ward-Perkins, 189:
    “Unfortunately, huge numbers of temples, probably by far the majority of those known today, were uncovered early in the history of archaeology … If there ever were traces in the archaeological record of when and how these temples closed, they have gone for ever.”
    Pretty clear, really. He is talking about “by far the majority”.

    Btw, it is good that you provide the reference to El-Abbadi because he reads it as evidence that Aphthonius has seen the Serapeum library before 391 and wrote that text shortly after 391 (when the books were no longer there). Maybe you have missed that bit.

  • D.
    2018-03-02 21:51:17 UTC - 21:51 | Permalink

    Oh, and I guess you also missed that bit:

    “It is clear from the above discussion that the war against pagan cults did not spare pagan books; and in the light of Aphthonius’ account, there can hardly be any doubt that the attack on the Serapeum in 391 A.D. put an end to the temple and the daughter library.”

    (El-Abbadi, 93)

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-03 18:35:57 UTC - 18:35 | Permalink

    D., those questions seem to be mostly poking, but I’ll answer the ones I can see some potentially sensible point of in relation to what I’ve said.

    Google says:

    http://jameshannam.com/publications.htm

    That goes up to 2011. He does seem to have returned to his former life lately, with a book out on taxes.

    Orosius VI:15:32, templis? armaria liborum? Not sure which word you’re trying to call attention to.

    http://www.attalus.org/latin/orosius6B.html

    You may be right that the Septuagint wouldn’t be high on the list of books the operators of the Serapeum would keep on hand except as part of a larger library. On the other hand, they might have thought it would be good fire insurance even in a small collection. I still doubt that John had any current knowledge of the situation. The story he relates was legendary, and Christians may not have been very aware of changes in the status of pagan libraries in distant lands.

    On Socrates, the link was a clue. Here’s another link:

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/index.html

    Not a rigorous enough source for you, perhaps. If you doubt that there were Church Fathers of the more priestly kind saying similar things, there are still examples given above. I just thought you might be interested in another, particularly well worked out statement.

    Again, the Ward-Perkins quote clearly does not say or imply “in most cases not even the fundaments of temples survive” or “in most cases all we can say is that the material for the temples was entirely removed” or “in most cases the fundaments have been removed” as you said above. Further, you now take Ward-Perkins out of context, as the second part of the quote appears to be in relation to two temples in particular, not necessarily the majority.

    I’m well aware of El-Abbadi’s ideas and conclusion. I’m also aware of the weak suppositions they’re based on, as I assume you are, though you now seem to think it worth baiting about despite the fact that his argument isn’t consistent with your own previous arguments.

    *

    Now I have a question for you, or anyone else. Nixey says that monks in scriptoriums asked for Pagan texts by making a gagging gesture (xxxii). She cites Greenblatt The Swerve 43-4, who gives no source, and no indication of a date. It’s also mentioned by Greetham Textual Scholarship 57, who also gives no source.. The parts about the psalter and scratching are well attested, but I can’t find any reference to a primary source for the gagging part. Any idea where it comes from?

    This kind of thing is pretty late, by the way, not attested before the 10th c, but Nixey doesn’t give any clue she isn’t talking about the entirety of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Of course she may not know she isn’t, since her source doesn’t say either.

  • D.
    2018-03-03 20:43:46 UTC - 20:43 | Permalink

    Thank you for that link.

    You see Hannam, yes, he has a chapter in CUP, but this is about public engagement in the context of contemporary science. He has another chapter in a popular book on the Christ myth, and a journal article on a subject within early modern history. He also has a book originally titled “The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution” with a commercial, not an academic publisher. This is written for a broad audience, and seems to be a success. Perhaps we can compare this to Nixey’s Darkening Age (in terms of purpose rather than angle).

    Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about this at all, and I trust there is more money in finance. Hannam did a part time degree and PhD in the history of science (medieval/early modern). Still, this means he has not studied the period (antiquity or late antiquity), presumably he has no knowledge of Greek and so on. So we have to be very careful on interpretations on a blog basically written in order to advertise “The Genesis of Science”, and I think I have made my point on the letters of Julian/private library of George from Caesaria.

    I have earlier given this extract from Ward-Perkins:

    “All too often, even when perfectly excavated, the remains of a temple are not sufficiently well preserved to give us reliable evidence of its abandonment history. In the case of cities that survived into the sixth and seventh centuries, as most Roman cities did, the abandoned temples became a major source of cheap stone, and were, over time, systematically taken apart, down to the level of their foundations, or even below them. In the process, any trace of their immediate post-abandonment history will have been destroyed, and, with it, any accurate indication of when and how they were abandoned.”

    Again, if you want to read the whole article in context, inevitably, you have to get a copy yourself. Yes, he gives two examples to underpin the point made earlier.

    Lavan speaks of “confirmed evidence”, not just “evidence” (like O’Neill). That makes a huge difference. This is explained at length in the chapter by Ward-Perkins

    Yes, Socrates was by no means a saint, or father of the Church. He was a layperson, not even a cleric. Yes, this passage is the locus classicus for a layperson writing in defence of parts of pagan literature (against those who thought otherwise, e.g. the fathers of the church). This is not very unusual for a layperson in the Greek east still in the early fifth century (it is different from the Latin west).

    You really have to show me a passage by a father of the church proper, recommending the study of “devilish” literature (i.e. pagan literature not agreeing with the bible) rather than pointing me to the NPNF translation in general.

    Why is El-Abbadi’s argument not consistent with what I have said before?

    He makes a number of strong points:
    1) Even though Hannam/O’Neill pretend there is no indication that books were destroyed, in the sources on the destruction of the Serapeum (leaving aside Orosius for a second), there is actually quite a bit: clear indications that the whole contents were diligently destroyed or burned, including writings (hieroglyphs, presumably as part of the library) and acknowledgments that the destruction of the Serapeum meant the end of pagan philosophy (that would be odd if it was just a temple, with no books stored inside, seeing that the Serapeum was earlier known as the center for pagan philosophy because of the books).

    2) He has a good point on Aphthonius, who describes the building and library as a unity. If we accept that Aphthonius wrote about the temple/library as a thing of the past, then the two disappeared together, not one after another. If we don’t accept this, then at the very least, it’s clear proof there was a library in the building in the late fourth century (the use of “past tense” is very different from Ammianus). The description is very detailed and fits the archaeological evidence. In all likelihood, he has seen it. He was a rhetorician (i.e. academic) and as such, then as now, was expected to travel and study at the main places of study (Athens, Alexandria). Even in the very unlikely event that he has not seen the Serapeum himself, then he had firm reports from his peers in Antioch or elsewhere. His textbook (written for use in school) was obviously successful as it is still around today. Why use a shitty textbook? (No, you can’t compare that to his antiquarian studies on Aesop’s fables. I’m afraid you completely distort the reliability of ancient authorities, it’s like saying: Socrates was not a philosopher because Plato was confused).

    I post a link to the chapter available on google books:
    https://books.google.com/books?id=Gz2wCQAAQBAJ&lpg=PR1&pg=PA89&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

    I think we can agree on the “fire insurance”. That could be the whole point of that segment in John Chrysostom. (the Septuagint does not make the Serapeum holy, of course not!)

    Right, Antioch is around a thousand miles from Alexandria, but the church could take advantage of the imperial courier system. At best, you could argue his information was a few months old (he was definitely interested in things like this, see above). I’m also afraid his account is NOT legendary because he associates the Septuagint (and generally books, of demonical character) specifically with the Serapeum-building (naos). If this was an allusion to the legend, he would have attributed the Septuagint to the Royal Library (like Flavius Josephus, for example), not the Serapeum.

    Orosius:

    Good, yes, templis (templa). Now what does it mean? Check it out.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_ancient_Roman_religion
    (Or use any source you like).

    We agree we first have to agree on a translation of the passage in Orosius? We can not rely on a garbled 19th century translation now in the public domain. I therefore post my translation, and we can then discuss this:

    ea flamma cum partem quoque urbis invasisset, quadringenta milia librorum proximis forte aedibus condita exussit, singulare profecto monumentum studii curaeque maiorum, qui tot tantaque inlustrium ingeniorum opera congesserant. 32 unde quamlibet hodieque in templis extent, quae et nos vidimus, armaria librorum, quibus direptis exinanita ea a nostris hominibus nostris temporibus memorent – quod quidem verum est -, tamen honestius creditur alios libros fuisse quaesitos, qui pristinas studiorum curas aemularentur, quam aliam ullam tunc fuisse bibliothecam, quae extra quadringenta milia librorum fuisse ac per hoc evasisse credatur.

    “After this fire [during the wars of Caesar] had invaded even a part of the city, it burnt four hundred thousand books, coincidentally stored in a nearby building, indeed the unique monument of the studies and efforts of the ancestors, who had gathered together so many and so great works of brilliant geniuses. Even though at that place and in our day, in the temple district [but not in the building] there survive book chests, which I have seen myself – people there remember that the books were destroyed and the book chests therefore emptied by our very own men in our very own time, and this is certainly true! – still it seems more credible to believe that these were other books, acquired in order to rival the original efforts of studies, than to believe that there was once another library, which existed beyond the four hundred thousand books and had therefore escaped [destruction in the wars of Caesar].

  • D.
    2018-03-03 20:44:48 UTC - 20:44 | Permalink

    And, no, I’m afraid I don’t know the source from the 10th century…

  • D.
    2018-03-03 22:36:29 UTC - 22:36 | Permalink

    You also asked me in the above about sources for Alexandria retaining one or more reference libraries for the Roman empire after the Alexandrine war of Caesar.

    This is a good summary:

    “In AD 80, a devastating fire burned “the Octavian buildings [Portico of Octavia] together with their books” (Roman History, LXVI.24.1); shortly before, a library associated with the Temple of Augustus had burned as well (Pliny, Natural History, XII.94). These libraries were restored by Domitian, “at very great expense, seeking everywhere for copies of the lost works, and sending scribes to Alexandria to transcribe and correct them” (Suetonius, Life of Domitian, XX; also Martial, XII.3.7-8). Perhaps because the emperor himself was indifferent to history or poetry, the largess is unexpected and remarked upon by Aurelius Victor in the fourth century AD. “With exemplars sought from everywhere, especially Alexandria, he restored libraries consumed by fire” (De Caesaribus, XI.4).”

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/greece/paganism/library.html

  • D.
    2018-03-04 09:53:04 UTC - 09:53 | Permalink

    This is also a very good definition to explain the difference between aedes and templum:

    ‘The aedes was the dwelling place of a god.[2] It was thus a structure that housed the deity’s image, a temple, as distinguished from the templum or sacred district. [3] Aedes is one of several Latin words that can be translated as “shrine” or “temple”; see also delubrum and fanum. For instance, the Temple of Vesta, as it is called in English, was in Latin an aedes.[4] See also the diminutive aedicula, a small shrine.

    In his work On Architecture, Vitruvius always uses the word templum in the technical sense of a space defined through augury, with aedes the usual word for the building itself.[5]’

    http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Aedes

  • D.
    2018-03-05 20:06:00 UTC - 20:06 | Permalink

    It should also be noted that “diripio” in context of “libros” means “tear into pieces”. This is also the most common meaning of “diripio”.
    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/diripio#Latin
    (like in Lact. mort. pers. 13: Quod edictum quidam etsi non recte, magno tamen animo deripuit et conscidit “A certain person tore down this edict, and cut it in pieces, improperly indeed, but with high spirit”)

    This is consistent with other descriptions of the destruction of the Serapeum, which note that the contents found in the temple were diligently destroyed.

    I suggest a slightly revised translation:

    “After this fire [during the wars of Caesar] had invaded even a part of the city, it burnt four hundred thousand books, coincidentally stored in a nearby building, indeed the unique monument of the studies and efforts of the ancestors, who had gathered together so many and so great works of brilliant geniuses. Even though at that place and in our day, in the district [of the destroyed temple] there survive book chests, which even I have seen myself, and the inhabitants there remember that the books were torn into pieces and the book chests emptied by our very own men in our very own time – this is certainly true! – still it seems more credible to believe that these were other books, acquired in order to rival the original efforts of studies, than that there was once another library, which existed beyond the four hundred thousand books and had therefore escaped [the fire during the wars of Caesar].”

    This is similar to Rufinus 11.26 (on the destruction of the Serapeum): vastata sunt omnia atque ad solum deducta. “everything was destroyed and razed to the ground”.

  • D.
    2018-03-05 20:46:48 UTC - 20:46 | Permalink

    Also, if you look at the description of the (destroyed) Serapeum in Rufinus (a Latin language author), he is nowhere using the perfect (like Ammianus), he is always using the imperfect of pluperfect.

    There is no way Ammianus mentions the library in the Serapeum as a thing of the past. Basically, the Latin perfect can be either present or past tense, and that depends on the context. Because the existence of the library in the Serapeum was long-lasting rather than a short act, the perfect can never be understood as describing an act that is now complete. In that case, he needed to use the imperfect or pluperfect (same as Rufinus).

    Quick overview on the Latin “present perfect continuous”:
    http://latindiscussion.com/forum/latin/english-past-tenses-vs-latin-perfect-imperfect-pluperfect-in-examples.25916/

    The correct translation is

    in quo bybliothecae fuerunt inaestimabiles. et loquitur monumentorum veterum concinens fides septingenta voluminum milia, Ptolomaeis regibus vigiliis intentis conposita bello Alexandrino, dum diripitur civitas sub dictatore Caesare, conflagrasse. (Amm. 22.16.13)

    “In it [the Serapeum] have always been inestimable libraries. And the unanimous belief of ancient records says that 700,000 (70,000?) book rolls, which were collected through unremitting efforts by the Ptolemaic kings, were burnt in the Alexandrine war, when the city was plundered at the time of the dictator Caeasar.”

    To me, Ammianus’ use of “belief” (fides) suggests that he had serious doubts about that story anyway, arguably more than Orosius had.

    So, Ammianus is another authority attesting the existence of the Ptolemaic library in the Serapeum for the late fourth century (up to its destruction in 391). I now count five attestations.

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-05 22:39:19 UTC - 22:39 | Permalink

    In dealing with a subject controversial among scholars, it’s always a good idea to be cautious in accepting any controversial conclusion. That applies to Hannam, O’Neill, Nixey, Rohmann, Fuhrmann, Lavan, Ward-Perkins, El-Abbadi, and everyone else. What we usually discover in regard to controversial issues of fact is that they’re controversial because the evidence isn’t adequate to reach a conclusion.

    “All too often” doesn’t mean “in most cases.” I don’t know why you keep assuming I haven’t read Ward-Perkins’ paper. I have. It doesn’t say what you said. This isn’t to say there aren’t real limitations to what we can know from archaeology, but let’s not exaggerate them.

    What I pointed you to is a list of Church Fathers, which includes Socrates. Examples have already been given from clerics that make the same points he does. Again, almost all Pagan literature, including parts studied by Church Fathers for purposes of learning or refutation, was at odds with the Bible in some way or other. Even Basil, who hardly endorsed all Pagan literature, and was addressing young students whom he sought to protect so his advice would be maximally conservative, did recognize that even the bad bits can serve a purpose: “If, then, there is any affinity between the two literatures, a knowledge of them should be useful to us in our search for truth; if not, the comparison, by emphasizing the contrast, will be of no small service in strengthening our regard for the better one” (Ad adolescentes 3). O’Neill said nothing controversial about the general division among the Church Fathers’ views on the use of Pagan literature.

    Hannam said there was no reference to the Royal Library after Caesar’s attack, meaning the particular library built in the Mouseion. Mentions of libraries in Alexandria after the attack aren’t evidence against that claim. Hannam assumes there was a library at the Serapeum, for example, after the Royal Library was gone.

    I apologize, I see that El-Abbadi’s argument fits well enough with yours. There’s still not much there, though. I don’t see in his article the points you seem to credit to him in your paragraph (1). Who said the destruction of the Serapeum meant the end of Pagan philosophy? I also don’t know what hieroglyphs you refer to.

    El-Abbadi doesn’t appear to apply the same kind of analysis to Aphthonius that he does to Rufinus, who he says changes the tense according to what still exists. Is the part of the Aphthonius example that describes, say, the hill upon which the Serapeum was located–still there of course–also in the imperfect? I don’t have the text, but I would think that if it were in a different tense, El-Abbadi would cite that as evidence instead of bothering with Rufinus.

    It’s not true that a rhetorician was expected to travel to the places described in examples, which might be from any time period. And using material from the past isn’t a bad reflection on a rhetorical handbook, which isn’t a travel guide.

    John himself calls his account of the Septuagint and the Serapeum an old story. I see no reason he would be aware of a change in the status of the books in a Pagan temple many miles away, especially if it had happened decades before, or that he would have any knowledge at all other than what he might have heard or assumed. But, in any case, it remains that the Septuagint isn’t a library and doesn’t imply one.

    I expect templis is usually translated as temples in the context of what Orosius wrote in part because a building is a more natural association for a book closet or chest than a district is. Have you seen templa (plural) used to refer to one temple district? Your reading seems a stretch, but even if accepted, it wouldn’t address the point of the size of the chests, how many there were, or how much had been in them.

    Your source on the present perfect continuous says that it’s done with the present tense in Latin, not the perfect. The page correlates the Latin perfect tense with the English past simple or present perfect simple, both of which usually indicate completion. The latter might refer to an ongoing action, though I think that only occurs in English in certain constructions, and I suspect the same is true of Latin. In any case, the most common meaning would be to refer to a completed action, which also fits best with the past action described in the context.

    To recap the counting, (1) Ammianus is most naturally read to be referring to a past fact, but maybe it’s possible he doesn’t (I don’t know). (2) Orosius appears to be referring to multiple temples, or possibly multiple sites, but he gives no indication of how many, whether he includes the Serapeum, or how many books might be involved. (3) John tells an old story that he says the ending of still holds, but we don’t know if he had any way of knowing that, and in any case the presence of the Septuagint doesn’t imply a large library, or any library other than that book. (4) The Aphthonius description is part of a rhetorical handbook that freely borrows from other sources from various times, so the date of the description is unknown. The tense of the verbs doesn’t appear to indicate anything that alters that fact.

    I don’t know what your fifth source is, but I suspect it’s no stronger than the other four. We really have no strong reason to think there was a substantial library in the Serapeum when it was destroyed, and the fact that the witnesses of its destruction don’t mention one calls the idea into serious question.

  • D.
    2018-03-06 08:59:45 UTC - 08:59 | Permalink

    Ward-Perkins says the evidence is unclear for by far the majority of excavated sites. This fits with Lavan’s text who speaks only of “confirmed evidence” and that temples were “not widely destroyed” (although this is different for different regions) and “some” may have even kept their ornaments and cult statues for a while.

    Again, Socrates is NOT a church father. Nor is he a saint. He is not even a cleric. He was a lawyer and a layperson. He is even somewhat sympathetic to Novatianism – indeed a very rare attitude of tolerance at the time.

    Yes, Basil of Caesarea (the standard example) says there are two literatures, the one pagan, the other Christian. Christians should collect from pagan literature what is useful to the study of scripture (like bees collect honey) – and leave the rest behind, i.e. this is just a variation of the theme of Christians despoiling “the temple of pagan literature” of its gold and silver, destroying the rest. Basil even wrote a monastic rule which prohibited reading any pagan texts in monastic schools.

    Yes, the existence of a library in the Museion, or indeed the continuation of the Royal Library, beyond the Serapeum library is not firmly attested for the Roman period, but remains a possibility. All we know is that the Museion (as a research institute) continued to exist until around the 380s, and that in 392 the whole area was a “wasteland” and the whole Ptolemaic library definitely gone (Epiphanius). It was never restored and never again mentioned thereafter. Because it is firmly attested that the Septuagint bible, once a part of the Royal library, was in the Serapeum by the Roman period, it seems the Serapeum was the main library in that later period, although I wouldn’t rule out there was still another library before 391.

    The story about hieroglyphical writings in the Serapeum at the time of destruction is recorded in Socr. 5.17 and Soz. 7.15. Examples for the destruction of the Serapeum indicating the end of philosophy (from Rohmann, 51-53) are the Passion of Philip and the Coptic Martyrdom of Victor of Antioch. Both are written in response to the burning of Christian books during the persecution and from an ex eventu view predict similar acts of future retaliation. Eunapius also is very clear that visitors came to the philosopher Antoninus (died 390) and to the Serapeum in order to study philosophy (same as with Aphthonius’ description): “those who were then pursuing their studies at |421 Alexandria used to go down to him to the seashore … some would propound a logical problem, and were forthwith abundantly fed with the philosophy of Plato … This, then, greatly increased the reputation of Antoninus also for foresight, in that he had foretold to all that the temples would become tombs.”
    http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/eunapius_02_text.htm#EUSTATHIUS

    You see I only have access to the Greek text by Aphtonius at the moment, which is not an easy read. You can find an English translation in the chapter by El-Abbadi above (p. 90). Still, the context is that the whole description is an ekphrasis, i.e. exemplary geographical description, of Alexandria and its hill (acropolis). And yes, for those parts which were still around at the time of writing he is using the present tense. This is much better than a history because it was written for circulation in school amongst contemporaries (in Alexandria and elsewhere).

    Again, you are distorting what I’m saying, I didn’t say a rhetorician had personally visited all places he describes, just that it was common for rhetoricians at that time to travel to Alexandria as the main centre of philosophy. At any rate, surely a text book was up to date.

    Can you please point me to the exact passage in which “John himself calls his account of the Septuagint and the Serapeum an old story.” I can’t find it. Of course, John would have known what happened to the Serapeum seeing that one of his mean theme was incendiary language against philosophical books. Like Aphthonius, he was also a student of Libanius.

    Yes, normally you would expect book chests in the building, not outside of it. However, Orosius is very specific that the book chests are outside the building in the district. You can clearly see this in the sentence itself, the books destroyed during the wars of Caesar were in a building (aedibus), but the books destroyed during the destruction of the Serapeum are now no longer in a building (Like aedibus, templis is normal for a large area, therefore the plural).

    You seem to have little understanding of the Latin. What you suggest is as impossible as to say that “car” and “road” are the same (for example, a car is often on a road, but a passenger lying on the road is not in a car).

    Orosius’ point is:
    1) There is an ancient narrative that 400,000 (40,000) books were destroyed in a store house during the Alexandrine war. No destruction is recorded thereafter up to 391.
    2) He thinks it is more likely that the 400,000 or so books were replaced than that they had survived at the time (this could be an apologetic reading, at least this is not supported in scholarship)
    3) He knows this because he has personally seen emptied book shelves, in which up to 391 those books were stored. These books are now destroyed, by Christians. The fact that he supports the 400,000 figures means the amount of book chests was also huge.

    In the context of Ammianus, the perfect could only be seen as a past tense if the event thus described was of very short duration only. Because the library was in the Serapeum for centuries, it can not be seen as past tense. You can look it up in any Latin grammar you like.

    If you have only one piece of evidence attesting something in ancient history, then yes, you could reason that somehow the source of flawed. In that case, however, you have five sources (including Aurelius Victor). Certainly there was a large library in the Serapeum by the Roman period (the attestations I mentioned are only for the late fourth century) There is not the tiniest shred of evidence there was any change in status.

    Your only argument is that “witnesses of the destruction” don’t mention books, but none of the sources is an actual witness other than Orosius who is very clear that the books were destroyed. None of the other authors even lived in Alexandria at the time, most lived in far away places (further away than Antioch). Thus, they were fully aware that the Serapeum was destroyed (like presumably most educated people at the time), but none is a reliable witness. They simply use literary topoi to describe the destruction, e.g. Theodoret only says that Theophilus personally fought against the statue of Serpais and burnt it. History is also written by the winning side, thus the destruction of the Serapeum is described like most other destruction of temples in a way that puts the church in a positive light. Eunapius’s text is one of the very few pagan texts that survives at significant length from that period of time. But if you look at the Greek text, the section on the destruction of the Serapeum is heavily edited, and corrupted, suggesting later changes to the text.

    The burden of proof should be with those arguing that either the books were rescued from the destroyed building (there is none) or that the books were removed at some time before 391 (there is none either) – even if Orosius was not our only eye witness and didn’t explicitly attest that the books were destroyed (most definitely he talks about the books from the Ptolemaic library of Alexandria).

    I have said in the above that the destruction of the Serapeum and its library is proven beyond reasonable doubt. The attestation for this is much better than for most other events from antiquity (Socrates was not a philosopher, Plato was confused – but where does it get us?). If this wasn’t such a heated issue, we would have stopped long ago. The only way to cast this into doubt is to twist all of the evidence we have with no exception. This includes mistranslation of most of the texts.

    In the above you said, your reason for posting on here was to prevent “increase[ing] an unhelpful polarization along the lines of that promoted by Hitchens and Dawkins” Therefore, it is clear you can’t reasonably admit that the evidence is conclusive. This is very different from my approach which is simply about correcting misunderstandings of texts that are indeed difficult to read. However, I trust that readers of the blog can come to their own conclusions.

    And btw, my criticism was about O’Neill’s claim that “both the “empty shelves” and the regretful and indignant spectators of Gibbon’s lurid passage existed entirely in his imagination.” which is not true. The source he gives, Orosius, does exist. It mentions both the “empty shelves” and “spectators”.

  • D.
    2018-03-06 10:59:11 UTC - 10:59 | Permalink

    Oh, and I forgot to mention the quotation from Palladius, above taken from Peter Brown:

    “Paganism, therefore, was brutally demolished from below. For the Pagans, cowed by this unexpected wave of terrorism, it was the end of the world. ‘If we are alive,’ wrote one, ‘then life itself is dead.” (p. 104)

    Palladius was a scholar who lived in Alexandria and was a contemporary of Hypatia, to whom he dedicates one of his epigrams.

  • D.
    2018-03-06 16:32:40 UTC - 16:32 | Permalink

    And even IF you insist that the perfect fuerunt in Amminanus has to be seen as a past tense (again, I doubt that because there is no futher context/subclause to suggest that), that does by no means imply that the library was at one point in time removed from the Serapeum (why not mention it then, where should it have gone when the Ptolemaic library was certainly no longer in existence by 392?)

    Scholars therefore normally dismiss this passage as evidence for anything and that is for good reasons. Only in the internet will you find stuff of this kind.

    1) Ammianus did not even live in the east. He lived in Rome. It is not known if he had ever visited Alexandria himself (some assume that because of his descriptions of Alexandria and because, like in the case of Aphthonius, travels to Alexandria were reasonably common for rhetoricians at the time). It is known that he lived in Antioch, but that he moved to Rome probably already in the 370s. While people at the time were normally aware of major events happening in the respective parts of the Roman Empire, this is far less clear for such knowledge exchange between the east and the west. It is, however, well known that Ammianus was based on a number of (Latin) sources that he had available in Rome, certainly among them Aulus Gellius, from whom he probably borrows that passage. As you say, this could be a confusion, and such confusion is far more likely for soemone who lived in the west.

    2) Again, fuerunt is probably ingressive aspect of the present tense. He was a Greek native speaker, and his use of the Latin perfect is similar to the use of the Aorist (which can be either present or past tense – normally this depends on the tense on the subclause but there is no subclause here). In that case, he simply said that there was a libary in the Serapeum at the time of writing.

    3) OK, let’s go for the Hannam/O’Neill reading and assume that actually Ammianus meant the perfect of fuerunt to be past tense. Then the interpretation obviously depends on the date of writing. The latest date mentioned by Ammianus is the consulship of Neoterius in 391 (26.5.14). Obviously that very much leaves in balance the question of whether the Serapeum (and library) was still around or just destroyed. Some think Ammianus must have published his work still in 391 before he heard about the destruction of the Serapeum because in the passage in question (22.16.12) he mentions the building (Inter quae eminet Serapeum, quod licet minuatur exilitate verborum, atriis tamen columnariis amplissimis et spirantibus signorum figmentis et reliqua operum multitudine ita est exornatum, ut post Capitolium, quo se venerabilis Roma in aeternum attollit, nihil orbis terrarum ambitiosius cernat.), so this is a (weak) argumentum ex silentio (assuming Amminus must have heard about its destruction in Rome). Even that is far from certain because “eminet” simply seems to refer to the fame (verborum) of the building, whilst “est exornatum” really looks like a perfect. Indeed, he may have worked on that particular passage just before 391, but the publication may date from after 391 (or shortly after), and writers often revised or updated their work before publication. He could have simply replaced “sunt” with “fuerunt”. He was a pagan scholar writing in the 390s, which means it was not particularly wise for him to add fuel to the fire (no pun intended). There is some evidence for correspondence between Ammianus and Libanius (in Antioch) in 391, so Ammianus could have learned about the end of the library from him, but he wasn’t necessarily aware the building was also destroyed. In that case, we even have one more testimonial for the destruction of the library in 391.

    Furthermore, the manuscript tradition for Ammianus is particularly weak and full of corrupted passages, which today are impossible to understand. Probably a lot of later editing went into that text.

    It is therefore best to take that particular “fuerunt” out of the equation because you can read into Ammianus whatever you want to read into it.

    So, there really is no evidence for any relocation of the library before 391.

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-07 00:46:08 UTC - 00:46 | Permalink

    The upshot of the archaeological evidence is that there isn’t any indication of a great wave of Christian destruction of Pagan temples on a massive scale. In fact, there’s so little evidence of it even in the minority of cases where we would be able to see it that it makes such an event unlikely. Even combining all the records we have, textual and archaeological, the evidence there was more than sporadic destruction at isolated sites is very thin. That’s stated more conservatively than Lavan.

    You can fight it out with New Advent, among others such as the CCEL who also include Socrates, about who was and wasn’t a Church Father. It’s a squishy concept. Doesn’t matter to the point, since clerics made the same points he did.

    Again, for a rhetorical handbook, being up to date in no way implied using only examples from the present time. Again, the examples were clearly from a variety of periods. There’s no reason at all to think the description should have been up to date in the sense you imply. (And despite how El-Abbadi translates Aphthonius, Alexandria wasn’t really the main center of philosophy.)

    Here’s an English translation of Aphthonius:

    http://people.umass.edu/dfleming/E388%20Aphthonius%20Progymnasmata.pdf

    Please be more specific about the tenses in the Aphthonius text. Is the description of the hill in the present tense?

    Even if what El-Abbadi says about the tenses is true, and even if one baselessly believes the account was from shortly before the destruction, it doesn’t follow that the books were still there when the original witness was at the Serapeum. Translating it as past tense opens the possibility of earlier removal.

    What do hieroglyphs on stone have to do with the question whether there was a library at the Serapeum?

    I see nothing in Rohmann drawn from Philipp or Victor that bears on whether there was a library at the Serapeum. Philipp may refer to the destruction of Paganism generally, but there’s nothing specific to the Serapeum. Victor speaks of the end of philosophers, which we know didn’t happen at the Serapeum. The only ones we know of who were there were let go. No doubt philosophy was being studied at Alexandria, including at the Serapeum, but it didn’t end solely because of the destruction of the Serapeum, and there’s no indication of an extensive library being central in or even part of the claims of those who spoke of the end. That includes Palladius.

    An English translation of Chrysostum Adversus Judaeos part I (see 6:1):

    http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/chrysostom_adversus_judaeos_01_homily1.htm

    Greek text:

    https://greekdownloads.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/ceb1ceb3ceafcebfcf85-ceb9cf89ceaccebdcebdcebfcf85-cf84cebfcf85-cf87cf81cf85cf83cebfcf83cf84cf8ccebccebfcf85-cebaceb1cf84ceac-ceb9cebf.pdf

    The term he uses is ἱστορίαν παλαιάν, old story.

    I still see no reason John would have been aware of the current status of an old Pagan temple hundreds of miles away. Pagan books were everywhere. Your certainty is pure assumption. In any case, it remains that one book doesn’t make a substantial library.

    Latin grammars don’t support your claim about the use of the perfect tense, quite the opposite. Here’s an extended discussion that includes this: “The perfect is quite often found to describe actions that lasted for one second, but also for hours, days, years, centuries… Definitely, the fundamental distinction between the two tenses is not about duration.”

    http://latindiscussion.com/forum/latin/perfect-and-imperfect.24158/

    I haven’t insisted that Ammianus be read in the past tense, only that he can naturally be read that way. I agree entirely with what you say scholars normally think, that it’s not good evidence either way about whether there was a library at the Serapeum when it was destroyed. (You can take up your claim that only people on the internet read it otherwise with Lavan, among others.)

    There’s nothing in the Orosius text saying or implying the book chests were outside, nor that he saw any great number of chests, nor at any particular temple or site, despite what you keep assuming. (Your reasoning in regard to car and road has no connection to what I said.) This is like your claim that annehmen means “safely assume”–you’re putting way too much weight on a strained or even completely unfounded reading.

    Good evidence can’t be just as or more easily read another way. That applies to all the five sources you refer to: not one is clear on the point at hand. Each is just as or more easily read to refer to other things than a substantial library shortly before the destruction of the Serapeum. The evidence simply isn’t there in the way you claim. This isn’t a close call.

    The lack of attestation about a supposedly major aspect of history from any of several witnesses (not firsthand as you point out), including those who would have an interest in it, is indeed evidence that it wasn’t as supposed. It’s not strong evidence, but it’s not nothing either. The early accounts don’t only relate topoi. Some give details that go beyond topoi that imply they had access to the accounts of witnesses.

    I entirely agree the burden of proof is on those who make some definite claim about what happened. That includes you. I on the other hand make no such claim. I only claim that the evidence doesn’t tell us with any degree of confidence whether there was a library at the Serapeum when it was destroyed. The same applies to the five sources. You claim each definitely says or implies something; I argue only that we can’t tell with confidence whether what you draw from it actually follows. (Your analogy to Socrates the teacher of Plato, attested to by numerous ancient sources and clearly personally known by Plato, is poor, by the way.)

    I’ve already agreed several times that O’Neill was wrong about the how he expressed his objection to Gibbon/Orosius. As for the library, O’Neill does say it wasn’t there without qualification in his piece based on Hannam, but in his main review of Nixey, he usually just says there’s no evidence it was still there, which is more accurate. He, like Hannam, does read Ammianus as evidence it wasn’t there, but I don’t think it’s strong evidence.

  • D.
    2018-03-07 08:22:01 UTC - 08:22 | Permalink

    You see I didn’t say that the library was at some time removed from the Serapeum before its destruction in 391. I only said it is confirmed that the Ptolemaic library (the Great Library of Alexandria) was in the Serapeum, which was either the main library, or one of the two main libraries, by the late 2nd century AD. (Not even Hannam/O’Neill doubt that one). There is also evidence to suggest that it continued to be there until at least 386. It is confirmed that the building was entirely destroyed in 391 and (from eye-witness reports) that the books from the Ptolemaic library were destroyed, and the book shelves emptied. It is also confirmed that in 392 the Great Library of Alexandria was no longer in existence.

    You therefore have to direct your concerns to Hannam/O’Neill.

    I have already addressed many of your questions in the above, which you simply repeat with no new arguments, so I shall only respond to new questions.

    You see the New advent or CCEL does not just include saints or fathers of the church. (CCEL stands for Christian ecclesiastical authors vs. pagan authors). For example, I am a Christian, but the Catholic church does not recognise me as a saint or father of the Church. At any point in time, there are billions of Christians that are not recognised as saints or fathers of the Church. As for Socrates of Constantinople, why not just try google/Wikipedia, so we can finally drop this from the list? I don’t know about any cleric who said the same. Most certainly there was no church father who said anything like this. Like O’Neill you are fabricating/distorting the evidence.

    Ekphrasis/descriptio is an accurate portrayal of an artwork or geographical location (or any scene). Like in Ammianus’ description of Alexandria, ekphraseis of geographical locations are normally part of a historical work and as accurate as it gets.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekphrasis
    You would need to show me an example for an ancient ekphrasis of a real geographical location that was not supposed to be accurate/up to date.
    This is a rhetorical device entirely different from “fabula” and the like.
    Most certainly, Aphthonius is more reliable than, say, church histories.

    Yes, the description of the hill is in the present tense, both the verbs and participles (Ἄκρα τις ἐξανέχει τῆς γῆς, μέχρι μὲν πολλοῦ προϊοῦσα εἰς ὕψος, καλουμένη δὲ δι’ ἀμφοτέρων ἀκρόπολις usw.)

    El-Abbadi’s volume is out with a major academic publisher, so the material is fact-checked (unlike Hannam/O’Neill).

    Both the Serapeum and the library in it are described in the past tense, so the removal/destruction happened at the same time/was the same event.

    The conclusion of the Ekphrasis is also interesting:
    “what it was not possible to describe has been omitted.”

    Hieroglyphs on stone are hieroglyphic inscriptions, which are part of a temple archive/library/centre of study. Yes, Socrates and Sozomenos may just stop short of saying that all other writings were destroyed (except of that piece that looked like a cross), but Eunapius is also reasonably clear in his verdict (and Orosius is explicit that the Great library of Alexandria was destroyed).

    Of course, the translation of the Septuagint bible was an old story to John because it happened at the time of foundation of the Ptolemaic library. To Christian and Jewish authors (e.g. Flavius Josephus, Tertullian, Epiphanius) that work was virtually synonymous with the Ptolemaic library (the one in the Serapeum in the early imperial period). The other books were devilish anyway.

    John says (in 386): “Up to the present day the translated books remain there in the temple. But will the temple of Serapis be holy because of the books? Heaven forbid! Although the books have their own holiness, they do not give a share of it to the place because those who frequent the place are defiled.”

    This is very clear.

    Just a random example of a perfect used as present tense (in classical Latin): “Ne mihi … carpere somnos neu dorso nemoris libeat iacuisse per herbas”.

    Yes, after the destruction of the Serapeum (and the closure or destruction of the Museion), the new main centre of philosophy in the east was Athens. Athens continued to be a centre for philosophy until Justinian shut down the academy.

  • D.
    2018-03-07 15:35:26 UTC - 15:35 | Permalink

    Forget my earlier link on ekphrasis.

    This is the article to go for:

    O. Wulff, Das Raumerlebnis des Naos im Spiegel der Ekphrasis, BZ 30 (1929-30) 531-539

    https://www.degruyter.com/downloadpdf/j/byzs.1929.30.issue-1/bz-1929-0190/bz-1929-0190.pdf

    Wulff concludes that late antique/Byzantine ekphraseis of buildings and places are the most accurate descriptions of buildings. It can’t be more accurate.

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-07 22:09:18 UTC - 22:09 | Permalink

    Can’t tell what “many” questions you refer to. I asked two, both of which you answer.

    Yes, there was a large library at the Serapeum a couple-hundred years before the temple was destroyed. There isn’t any good evidence about a substantial library there during the intervening centuries. We have no good idea how many books remained in any library in Alexandria during that time, much less about the Serapeum.

    I don’t consider Wikipedia a reliable source, though it often gives sources that can be followed up on. But since you requested it in regard to Socrates, the entry on Church Fathers says, “The term is used of writers or teachers of the Church not necessarily ordained.” It cites the old Catholic Encyclopedia, which doesn’t limit the term to clerics. You can find the mentions of Socrates and numerous other non-clerics under the general heading of “Classification of Patristic Writings” in the entry on Church Fathers. (Long entry, so use your browser’s search function.)

    https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Fathers_of_the_Church

    Again, I and others have already pointed you to clerics who make the same points as Socrates. You haven’t pointed out any relevant difference between them.

    In regard to Aphthonius, I haven’t said anything about accuracy, which isn’t the same as currency, or being up to date as you put it. You can read Aphthonius’ own explanation of description at the links I gave above. There’s nothing about a description needing to be current, of course (nor accurate, for that matter). On the contrary, some of his examples of description, such as Homer and Thucydides, were clearly not current. There’s simply no good reason a rhetorical handbook would limit itself to only current examples of rhetoric, and as a matter of plain fact, Aphthonius doesn’t do so.

    “Both the Serapeum and the library in it are described in the past tense, so the removal/destruction happened at the same time/was the same event.”

    That doesn’t follow. It’s interesting about the tenses, which increases the likelihood that the books were already gone when the original source of Aphthonius’ description was written, whenever that might have been.

    I still don’t see what point you’re trying to make in regard to hieroglyphs. There was once a library at the Serapeum, and possibly some of the inscriptions were related to it. That the hieroglyphs remained doesn’t imply the books did.

    Yes, what John said is very clear in regard to his belief that the Septuagint was and remained at the Serapeum. He’s not clear at all about where he got that idea, other than an old story. It remans that he’s no better a witness than the authors who you point out didn’t live in Alexandria at the time of the destruction of the Serapeum. And, more simply, it remains that the Septuagint isn’t a library.

    Again, I haven’t claimed or even suggested that the perfect tense can’t be used in reference to the present. I’ve very plainly said otherwise. Doesn’t look like the most natural fit in regard to Ammianus, but it doesn’t much matter to my view.

    Alexandria was never the main center of philosophy. El-Abbadi’s translation of that point is unusual that way.

  • D.
    2018-03-08 08:33:26 UTC - 08:33 | Permalink

    We are going in circles, without any progress because you keep on repeating the same line of argument without backing it up. I have already addressed most of your points in the above.

    There is not a shred of evidence that the library was removed from the Serapeum in the fourth century. No doubt that would have been too important an event to go completely unmentioned. On the contrary, there is evidence that the library was in the Serapeum until at least 386, that the books were destroyed by Christians, that the building, including all its contents was destroyed in 391, and the library gone in 392.

    The source you give on Socrates mentions him as a “historian of the Patritic period”, but there is not one source saying that he is a saint or father of the church. Even despite that, Socrates’ argument is that some parts of pagan literature should be kept/used because there are not very different from the bible. There is certainly not one saint or father of the church who would not detest the use of pagan literature not in support of the bible, therefoe it is impossible to cite any such statement. Otherwise, how would they be a saint?

    The link on ekphrasis I gave is very clear that such descriptions are accurate for the time of writing (i.e. up to date). Even your own example for geographical ekphraseis (i.e. of places), Thucydides on the Thesprotian harbour Chimerium, this is an eyewitness account. There can be no doubt Aphthonius had seen the library in the Serapeum, otherwise he would not have used it as an example for ekphrasis in a textbook. Indeed you are unable to cite any example for ekphrais (of place) which is not accurate at the time/up to date (as there isn’t any).

    The point with the cross-shaped hieroglyphs is that according to Socrates and Sozomenus these were the only kinds of writing saved from destruction.

    John Chryosotom (who truly is a saint) is very clear there are books in the Serapeum “up to the present day”. He was extremely well connected, to a hundred or so powerful magistrates and clerics throughout the east, and already in 386 aspiring to become bishop of Constantinople, i.e. the most important cleric of the east. This is not some hermit sitting in a cave!

  • D.
    2018-03-08 14:55:02 UTC - 14:55 | Permalink

    John Chrysostom even studied at the rhetoric school (“university”) of Antioch. Like Aphthonius and Ammianus, he was a student of Libanius. Antioch and Alexandria were deeply connected centres for pagan philosophy and rhetoric, with a lot of exchange between the two places, either teaching staff or students. Because John Chrysostom wished all pagan philosophy and rhetoric to be obliterated from the earth, he had a very own interest in news like destruction of temples, schools, libraries and so on. There is no way he would have messed it up. This is simply unthinkable.

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-08 18:22:40 UTC - 18:22 | Permalink

    “We are going in circles, without any progress because you keep on repeating the same line of argument without backing it up. I have already addressed most of your points in the above.”

    You still misapprehend or ignore crucial parts of what I’ve said, so I’ve kept trying to explain or point them out again until you acknowledge them or at least stop repeating what they refute. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, as will appear again below.

    The link I gave you includes Socrates under the heading “Classification of Patristic Writings,” not “historians of the patristic period.” Patristic writings are those of Church Fathers. The term Church Father isn’t limited to saints, nor to clerics, as the link clearly shows.

    Again, both Socrates and Basil, among others, clearly argue for the usefulness even of Pagan writings that don’t agree with the Bible. You keep denying it, but the quotes are on this page.

    I haven’t claimed there’s strong evidence that the library at the Serapeum was moved or destroyed prior to the destruction of the Serapeum, only the lack of notice of its being there when the Serapeum was destroyed.

    You now claim that the removal of the library before 391 would have been too important an event to go unmentioned, but you evidently don’t think that its destruction in 391 would be too important to go unmentioned. You undermine your own argument.

    Neither historian that mentions the hieroglyphs says or implies that they were the only writings saved, though if there was no library there, that would certainly be possible.

    There were evidently some common confusions about the Serapeum and the Great Library, even among professional historians of the day, which John was not. Your assumption that John knew what was at the Serapeum remains pure assumption, no more.

    But, again, it doesn’t really matter anyway. The Septuagint isn’t a library. And it could easily have been removed anytime at a moment’s notice with no one but the one(s) removing it knowing.

    I haven’t questioned the accuracy of Aphthonius’ example of description, only its original date. I also haven’t questioned whether the description was originally an eyewitness account. I assume it was. However, that no more means that Aphthonius was the original witness than that he was the original author of the fable of the crickets and the ants. He doesn’t always give his source.

    And, again, it doesn’t really matter anyway. Even if Aphthonius were the original witness, since the part about the library is set in the past, the books might have been long gone when the original witness visited.

    Really, there’s nothing substantial there in any of the sources you cite, for multiple reasons. Which is why I continue to maintain that we have no good evidence there was a library at the Serapeum when it was destroyed, and no very strong evidence that there wasn’t. We don’t know. Nixey doesn’t know.

  • D.
    2018-03-08 19:47:08 UTC - 19:47 | Permalink

    The problem is that most of your assertions are entirely fabricated and you keep repeating them, but you are unable to back up any with sources.

    The link you provided above also mentions heretics like Eutyches and Arius under the same heading. In your logic, would you say both are fathers of the church? And if not, why do you claim this for Socrates, who never wrote theological works, who was simply a lawyer who wrote history. Even your source says: “The two Constantinopolitan historians, Socrates and Sozomen, in spite of errors, contain some data which are precious” How can a historian whose works contain errors be seen as a father of the church?

    Some quotations from Basil of Caesarea:

    “I shall then discuss next the extent to which one may pursue it [pagan learning]. To begin with the poets, since their writings are of all degrees of excellence, you should not study all of their poems without omitting a single word. … when they portray base conduct, you must flee from them and stop up your ears, as Odysseus is said to have fled past the song of the sirens,10 for familiarity with evil writings paves the way for evil deeds. Therefore the soul must be guarded with great care, lest through our love for letters it receive some contamination unawares, as men drink in poison with honey. We shall not praise the poets when they scoff and rail, when they represent fornicators and winebibbers, when they define blissfulness by groaning tables and wanton songs. Least of all shall we listen to them when they tell us of their gods, and especially when they represent them as being many, and not at one among themselves.”

    “the bees do not visit all the flowers without discrimination, nor indeed do they seek to carry away entire those upon which they light, but rather, having taken so much as is adapted to their needs, they let the rest go. So we, if wise, shall take from heathen books whatever befits us and is allied to the truth, and shall pass over the rest. And just as in culling roses we avoid the thorns, from such writings as these we will gather everything useful, and guard against the noxious.12 So, from the very beginning, we must examine each of their teachings, to harmonize it with our ultimate purpose, according to the Doric proverb, ‘testing each stone by the measuring-line.'”
    http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/basil_litterature01.htm

    Obviously, since there isn’t very much pagan literature that holds the view that there is just one rather than many gods, how can you say Basil encourages to study this?

    The destruction of the library of Alexandria by Christians is well attested in the sources because Orosius and Augustine confirm that the library was destroyed by Christians.

    The only aspect you challenge is whether it was destroyed when the Serapeum was destroyed also. This is highly likely because all the evidence suggests that the library was never removed from the Serapeum. The only alternative would be that pagans removed the library to rescue it from the Christians. Nevertheless, the Christians were able to search out its location and to destroy it. This is unlikely because it is not mentioned anywhere.

    No, all authors of the imperial period agree that the Ptolemaic library, including the Septuagint, was housed in the Serapeum. John does so too, for the year 386.

    You still don’t understand the difference of fabula and ekphrasis as rhetorical devices. An ekphrasis is an eye-witness account, a fabula is not.

    “Really, there’s nothing substantial there in any of the sources you cite, for multiple reasons.”

    Except that the library of Alexandria was destroyed by Christians.

  • D.
    2018-03-08 20:45:45 UTC - 20:45 | Permalink

    Here’s an up to date list (2017) from an Italian professor of theology:

    https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/doctors-of-the-catholic-church/

    It does not include Socrates of Constantinople.

  • D.
    2018-03-08 21:12:46 UTC - 21:12 | Permalink

    I think I have identified the source of your erroneous beliefs:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Church_Fathers

    But that list even mentions such authors as the Montanist Tertullian and Boethius who suggested the world could be eternal.

    Notably, the list does not provide a reference for its claim on the status of Socrates, although it cites the link you provided above in the end section.

    Surely, Socrates is not a an officially recognised doctor/father of the church or a saint. Even informally, I have never heard of Socrates as a father of the church. If you follow the link to “Church fathers”, he is not listed either.

    At best you could say, “Christian author of the patristic period”.

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-08 23:15:09 UTC - 23:15 | Permalink

    “The problem is that most of your assertions are entirely fabricated and you keep repeating them, but you are unable to back up any with sources.”

    You appear not to be aware of the irony of remarks like this, which you keep making about those you disagree with, even while you’re regularly forced to abandon one bad argument after another. Please do point out any example of this if you come across one, but merely claiming I’m wrong doesn’t count.

    You have to read the what the Church Fathers article says about the writers mentioned, of course. Heretics are pointed out as heretics, so they fall outside the criteria for being a Church Father, which the article sums up this way: “Those alone who, though in diverse times and places, yet persevering in time communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, have been approved teachers.” That’s why Socrates is included in multiple compilations of the writings of the Church Fathers, as pointed out before, and Arius isn’t. Besides the ones I already gave above, there are these:

    http://www.bluewatervicariate.org/church-fathers/

    https://www.ccel.org/reading/eusebius

    Your link about the Doctors of the Church very clearly says it’s a different category than Fathers of the Church. There’s no such thing as an officially recognized Church Father, it’s not an official category. Basil, by the way, is a Doctor of the Church.

    “Obviously, since there isn’t very much pagan literature that holds the view that there is just one rather than many gods, how can you say Basil encourages to study this?”

    By quoting him doing so. You continue to act as though plain quotes presented to you simply don’t exist.

    “The destruction of the library of Alexandria by Christians is well attested in the sources because Orosius and Augustine confirm that the library was destroyed by Christians.”

    No, that’s plainly not true, as you should very well know by now. Orosius explicitly blames Caesar, and then refers to an unspecified number of books taken by Christians much later, at a time when we don’t even know if there was still a Great Library. I have no idea how you drag Augustine into this.

    There are numerous ways whatever library was left after Caesar could have disappeared, by neglect (papyrus deteriorates), later fires, removals by Rome or others for their own purposes, to protect it as you suggest, Christian destruction, and who knows what else. A lot can happen in a couple-hundred years.

    “This is unlikely because it is not mentioned anywhere.”

    Again, as I just said above, your argument from silence is no stronger than the argument from silence about the destruction of a library at the Serapeum. This is why I repeat things. You keep ignoring them. And I’ll revise what I said to point out that your argument from silence is actually weaker, as it concerns something that could have happened in a number of ways at any time over hundreds of years, possibly a little at a time, not a specific event known to have happened at a specific time like the destruction of the Serapeum. We know we have descriptions of that event, yet they’re silent about a library.

    Epiphanius claimed the Septuagint was in the first library, not the daughter library. And as has been discussed already, there also seems to be confusion about which library Caesar might have destroyed, or at least the way Ammianus talks about it is confusing.

    Nothing I’ve said implies there aren’t differences between fables and descriptions, of course. You’ve shown no *relevant* difference, though. Again, as I very plainly just said above, I haven’t questioned whether the description was accurate.

  • D.
    2018-03-08 23:44:33 UTC - 23:44 | Permalink

    Can you please direct me to any argument I have so far been “forced to abandon”?

    Orosius says that the books destroyed by Christians were the books from the Ptolemaic library (the Great library of Alexandria).

    I quote Orosius once more:

    “After this fire [during the wars of Caesar] had invaded even a part of the city, it burnt four hundred thousand books, coincidentally stored in a nearby building, indeed the unique monument of the studies and efforts of the ancestors, who had gathered together so many and so great works of brilliant geniuses. Even though at that place and in our day, in the district [of the destroyed temple] there survive book chests, which even I have seen myself, and the inhabitants there remember that the books were torn into pieces and the book chests emptied by our very own men in our very own time – this is certainly true! – still it seems more credible to believe that these were other books, acquired in order to rival the original efforts of studies, than that there was once another library, which existed beyond the four hundred thousand books and had therefore escaped [the fire during the wars of Caesar].”

    Orosius is very clear that either the losses caused by Caesar had been replaced or that they weren’t substantial in the first place. He knows this because the very same books were recently destroyed by Christians.

    It is well known that Oroius sent his work to Augustine for approval who signed it off as true.

    OK, then you misunderstood me because my argument was that Socrates is recognised neither as saint nor father of the church by any church. This does not necessarily mean that some private people call him by whatever name, although even an informal reference as father of the church is extremely unsual and certainly not found in scholarship. I guess you can find backup for any claim on some website, including the claim that Elvis is alive and the like.

    Even your own made up quote on Basil (no reference) made it clear that he separates pagan literature into parts that agree with the bible and other parts that do not. My quotation (which is actually most of what he says) is likewise clear that he condemns most of pagan literature.

    Yes, in theory there could be other ways how a library disappears (however unlikely this is) but in case of the library of Alexandria there is no record for this except for destruction by Christians (btw papyrus can last for thousands of years, and not just in Egypt).

    The destruction of the library of Alexandria is recorded by important sources, that means also an earlier removal or destruction would have been recorded. But it isn’t. Even in the sources on the destruction of the Serapeum, it is impossible to say that they don’t attest the destruction of the library. At best you could say that depends on how apologetic your view is on the translation and interpretation. Orosius (and Augustine) clearly attest it.

    There is plenty of evidence that the Septuagint bible, as part of the Ptolemaic library, was part of the Serapeum in the imperial period. John is clear that remained the case until 386.

    The difference between fable and ekphrasis (eye witness report) is that the latter is an eye witness report, the former not. Just read the source I provided.

  • D.
    2018-03-09 07:28:10 UTC - 07:28 | Permalink

    OK, so basically your confusion comes from the translation “Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers”, edited by Schaff in the 19th century and now disseminated from various websites, including a volunteer project from Calvin College (also Calvinistic): CCEL. This is where you pick up all your website references. Now Schaff was a Swiss Calvinist and, like most Protestant churches, rejects the concept of formal recognition of saint/father/doctor of the church. Instead Calvinists think that sainthood is awarded via predestination. The title “Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers” was therefore seen as provocation at the time. From a Catholic standpoint, Calvinists are no less heretics than, say, Arians and Eutychians.

    For the question at hand, however, we need to identify authors that are recognised as father or saints by either Catholic or Orthodox churches. I have clearly said it before. There were no Calvinists in the ancient world, so their views have little matter here.

  • D.
    2018-03-09 08:14:20 UTC - 08:14 | Permalink

    You wrote:

    “Please do point out any example of this if you come across one, but merely claiming I’m wrong doesn’t count.”

    Examples of statements that have been proven wrong:

    “Probably all Church Fathers saw all knowledge as coming ultimately from God, the source of all truth.” and so on.

    Church Fathers (in the definition above) agreed that a lot of knowledge came from the devil.

    “It remains unclear what temples (plural) Orosius was referring to, or how many books would have been in the chests he refers to.”
    “My take is a lot simpler: it’s hard to tell what Orosius was talking about, and there’s much disagreement about it among scholars”

    Orosius does not mention temples, and the plural is normal for a large area. You have yet to point me towards “disagreement among scholars” – with that I mean peer-reviewed publications, not internet sites.

    “If divination was the true point of the book targeting, then there should have been many scholars implicated, because such materials were in their books. O’Neill’s point is that the divination issue does seem to have been the real target, for the political reason that it was a danger to the emperor to have people predicting his end, and there’s little evidence otherwise.”

    That statement is specific for the magic trails of the 370s, indeed a major wave of book burning, but by no means the only one. Charges of magic and divination were the main targets with which to suppress paganism, and it was not normally the emperors involved in the destruction of books.

    Other points include lack of recognition that a well connected person like John Chrysostom would have been amongst the first to learn about the destruction of the Serapeum, since everyone else was also aware of that. And a a lack of understanding of the difference between fable and eye witness account.

    To be fair, I think these are the only questions so far discussed in this thread (except the question of who is recognised as saint/father/doctor of the church).

    You simply keep on repeating your points but you never back them up with anything other than with dubious websites that spread misinformation. Therefore there is no progess.

  • D.
    2018-03-09 08:50:48 UTC - 08:50 | Permalink

    I think what we should do is to collect scholarly opinions (in publications proper) on Orosius and the destruction of the Serapeum.

    I start:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=X5hkltq6rrMC&pg=PA101&dq=Orosius+library+of+alexandria&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

    “Orosius’ journey to Palestine took him first to Egypt where he paid his respects at pagan shrines and observed first-hand the bleak remnants of the great libraries of Alexandria”. (with note 19: “reference to … the destruction of the Serapeum in 391”)

    Saint Pacian, Orosius, Catholic University of America Press 1999.

    This does not appear like a source that is leaning towards “bad atheist history”.

  • D.
    2018-03-09 09:49:10 UTC - 09:49 | Permalink

    Sorry, forgot to include the author: https://prabook.com/web/craig_laverne.hanson/145734

  • D.
    2018-03-09 10:20:53 UTC - 10:20 | Permalink

    Translation and commentary on Orosius by Andrew Fear (Liverpool University Press):

    https://books.google.com/books?id=s49zf3smkwwC&pg=PA297&dq=Orosius+library+of+alexandria&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiWm8vX697ZAhVGXRQKHWZ5A6AQ6AEINDAC#v=onepage&q=Orosius library of alexandria&f=false

    “There was another great library in Alexandria, the Pergamene. … It was destroyed by the Christian patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus … It is this act of vandalism by Christians … that Orosius is trying to talk away”.

  • D.
    2018-03-09 13:36:14 UTC - 13:36 | Permalink

    You wrote:

    “Orosius explicitly blames Caesar, and then refers to an unspecified number of books taken by Christians much later, at a time when we don’t even know if there was still a Great Library.

    This is evidently not true. Orosius says that the books from the Great Library were destroyed by Christians. Yes, he also mentions the destruction in the age of Caesar, but only to go on to say that either the library was replaced or that the losses were small until the library was eventually destroyed by Christians in 391.

    This should not be very difficult to understand.

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-09 18:31:50 UTC - 18:31 | Permalink

    On the points I’ve made that have supposedly been proven wrong, at best you merely assume and assert I’m wrong without any evidence, which as I said doesn’t count.

    Again, as I explained above several times, false knowledge is an oxymoron. Knowledge implies truth, so for a Church Father all knowledge would have to be consistent with the Bible and come ultimately from God. O’Neill was right. It’s not even controversial.

    It’s most peculiar that you imagine that it has been proven false that Orosius refers to temples, or that anything else I’ve said about that is false. Templis is normally translated as temples. That is a common, standard meaning of the word and it fits the context best. You can verify this by checking other translations if you’re in doubt about it. The Fear translation that you just linked to, for example, is temples.

    It’s obvious already that scholars disagree about what Orosius refers to. If you’re in doubt about that, look it up. You certainly haven’t proved that wrong either.

    I can’t tell what your objection to what you quote from me about targeting divination texts is, but you’re not close to showing it’s false. Of course the emperor wasn’t out destroying books, but the imperial edicts were there.

    I haven’t said anything about John Chrysostom not being aware of the destruction of the Serapeum. Nor have you proven anything I’ve said about our knowledge of what he knew wrong. You merely assume.

    Again, and this comes up again below too, you haven’t pointed out a *relevant* difference, one that matters in the context of my argument, between fable and description.

    I repeat things because you keep ignoring them. That’s why there’s no progress.

    *

    Since you asked.

    Points you’ve had to abandon because they’re clearly wrong. I don’t include points just as clearly wrong that you continue to assert.

    “in reality it is only O’Neill himself who makes up all of his claims and misinformation that he is attempting to spread on the internet.”
    “virtually all statements in O’Neill’s “historyforatheists” blog are simply inventions of his imagination.”
    “Not one sentence that does not, at the very least, seriously distort established academic views.”
    “I was not being polemical when I said I couldn’t identify a single sentence in O’Neill’s text which does not contain either false or misleading information”

    Wild exaggerations that a minute spent at O’Neill’s blog shows to be false. Many, probably most of his statements are uncontroversial explanations of accepted history. Many of the controversial statements are borrowed from others, like Hamman or Lavan, not made up by O’Neill.

    “Certainly, there is not one scholarly opinion that could support O’Neill’s made-up argument [about Ammianus], therefore he can’t cite one.”

    He in fact cited Hannam, and Lavan and others state the same view in published academic articles or books.

    “Likewise, the figure of 54,800, mentioned in Epiphanius … seems to be based on the early history of the library by Flavius Josephus … Neither Hannam nor O’Neill mention Flavius Josephus because this could undermine their narratives.”

    Hannam did in fact mention Josephus, and explained that he and Epiphanius based their accounts on the Letter of Aristeas. (And Josephus doesn’t undermine anything either said.)

    “It is absolutely ridiculous even to consider seriously that this library was the Ptolemaic library in the Serapeum (this was the private library that Julian had personally seen in Caesarea about 15 years ago.)”

    Hannam didn’t say that George’s library mentioned in Julian’s letters was from the Serapeum. You misread him in other ways too.

    “Fuhrmann actually says “Man kann annehmen…”, which means “we can safely assume” rather than “one may assume”.”

    He actually says “Man darf annehmen,” and “safely” nowhere comes into it.

    “Fuhrmann actually gives the very strong argument that there are 20 times as many works extant from late antiquity (obviously because these are mostly Christan texts, fathers of the church and so on) than from classical antiquity.”

    This is part of your argument on behalf of Fuhrmann for his 1% claim. He didn’t argue for it at all, nor this 20x claim, and what you said made no sense.

    “in most cases not even the fundmants of temples survive”
    “in most cases all we can say is that the material for the temples was entirely removed”
    “in most cases the fundaments have been removed”
    “Ward-Perkins says the evidence is unclear for by far the majority of excavated sites.”

    Things you kept claiming Ward-Perkins said, but he didn’t, nor did he imply them. You took him out of context to argue he did, and then acted as though “all too often” means “in most cases.” All he actually said about the majority of cases is that they were excavated early, which he explained can be a problem, but he nowhere said it made all or even most of the sites excavated early unclear.

    “Because the existence of the library in the Serapeum was long-lasting rather than a short act, the perfect can never be understood as describing an act that is now complete.”
    “the perfect could only be seen as a past tense if the event thus described was of very short duration only”

    Latin grammar disagrees. You also implied Ammianus was using the present perfect continuous, a tense that your own source said is represented in Latin with the present tense, not the perfect.

    *

    Now on to arguments you haven’t given up yet but should.

    “Orosius says that the books destroyed by Christians were the books from the Ptolemaic library (the Great library of Alexandria).”

    Actually, as I’ve pointed out before, and as your own translation indicates and you sometimes seem to acknowledge, he seems to be talking about other books not from the Great Library. He thinks it more likely that the ones Christians destroyed were replacements.

    Whatever he meant, he clearly doesn’t express any particular amount of books that Christians removed, as I keep pointing out, and you keep ignoring. No amount of speculation on what he meant is going to change that, nor will you be able to make him say that Christians destroyed the Great Library, try as you might. He simply doesn’t say or imply that.

    “Orosius (and Augustine) clearly attest it.”

    Again, that’s plainly false, for clear reasons you keep ignoring. What’s clear is that Orosius doesn’t mention the Serapeum by name, nor say anything that would specify it, not even close. (The notion that Augustine can be implicated is beyond stretching. There isn’t the slightest reason to think Augustine had independent knowledge of what Orosius wrote about this, or even that he was reading it carefully before it was published.)

    There’s probably not much additional value in what scholars say about Orosius unless they give some argument we haven’t already considered. This isn’t a matter of convention like who is or isn’t a Church Father.

    “The difference between fable and ekphrasis (eye witness report) is that the latter is an eye witness report, the former not.”

    Again, you have not shown any *relevant* difference. Again, as I very clearly said above, and you have simply ignored, I don’t doubt that the original writer was an eyewitness. That has no bearing on my argument. It remains that we simply don’t know when the original narrative was written.

    And, as I keep pointing out and you also keep ignoring, even if Aphthonius were the original author and witness, the fact that he sets the part about the library in the past means that the books may have been long gone when he visited. You have nothing here.

    “The destruction of the library of Alexandria is recorded by important sources, that means also an earlier removal or destruction would have been recorded.”

    That doesn’t follow. Two events far apart aren’t necessarily or even probably going to be spoken of together.

    “Even your own made up quote on Basil (no reference) made it clear that he separates pagan literature into parts that agree with the bible and other parts that do not. My quotation (which is actually most of what he says) is likewise clear that he condemns most of pagan literature.”

    Wow. You keep wildly accusing those you disagree with of being dishonest, and it usually comes back on you, as it does again this time. My “made up quote” isn’t made up, as you could have easily verified with Google, or by noticing it’s on the same page you were looking at for your quotes. And I did in plain fact include the reference–see above to verify that.

    Nothing you say conflicts with the plain fact that Basil, Church Father and Doctor, sees some advantage from studying even the incorrect parts of Pagan literature. My main point about this remains that what O’Neill said about the division of opinion among Church Fathers was correct, and not even controversial. You were trying so hard to show him to be wrong about everything that you couldn’t see that.

    I didn’t misunderstand you at all, nor am I the one confused. You claimed repeatedly that Socrates wasn’t a Church Father. Faced with clear evidence that he is considered such by some of the most central and mainstream sources that deal with such matters, including Catholic sources, and including scholarly books, you make unfactual excuses. Why not just move on? Here are some more references:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=_YtWAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA221&lpg=PA221&dq=socrates+%22church+father%22&source=bl&ots=PFMIw6A_2w&sig=90j00HbzbIw9Nk5v2apMcQMo1FM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiei-q4z97ZAhXJEJAKHQ30CeYQ6AEIkQEwDg#v=onepage&q=socrates%20%22church%20father%22&f=false

    https://books.google.com/books?id=GIJJPO8jFAEC&pg=PT217&lpg=PT217&dq=socrates+scholasticus+%22church+father%22&source=bl&ots=dtMJ44cGUz&sig=jw_89vfDK4aD_czz06d2WIXSrcE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwipiIioyt7ZAhUChpAKHSvhBHMQ6AEIUTAF#v=onepage&q=socrates%20scholasticus%20%22church%20father%22&f=false

    https://books.google.com/books?id=78oh3_OUoeoC&pg=PA290&lpg=PA290&dq=%22church+father+socrates%22&source=bl&ots=_oC5ndVOrX&sig=250KpYRD_eeWj02hgNqgmIdn52c&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiCkqjL0N7ZAhVECpAKHeDdCE4Q6AEIMDAC#v=onepage&q=%22church%20father%20socrates%22&f=false

  • D.
    2018-03-09 19:54:09 UTC - 19:54 | Permalink

    This is now getting very long, so I concentrate on the main aspects (this does not mean I agree with anything I leave unanswered, the reader would have to consult what I said in the above).

    The difference re Ward-Perkins seems to boil down to the understanding of “all too often” and how that feeds into the further context where says it is impossible to come to confirmed evidence in many instances. Otherwise we agree. So let’s leave it here. I can’t see anything else I was wrong in what you are trying to say. You are either taking me out of context or just wrong. For example, you haven’t even cited any Latin grammar.

    It is definitely NOT true that parts of what Tim O’Neill posts on his blog is “accepted history”. Perhaps in your world. I have already shown pertinent examples and backed up everything with sources and further explanation. This is far from complete. Even in your answers, you have acknowledged that I am right in most of my concerns (there is some disagreement on others, so let’s leave it here). For example, O’Neill claims the source by Orosius doesn’t exist, and he not even mentions that source, even though it is quite obviously key as you also acknowledge.

    ——-

    Yes, you can translate “templa” as “temple” or “temples” for lack of a better word, but you have to be aware that it really means the district of the temple rather than the building. Therefore, the fact that Orosius mentions those books “in templis” does by no means imply they were stored in buildings. On the contrary, the natural understanding is that they were outside of the building, and scholars are aware of that. As far as I can see, there is no reasonable doubt among scholars that Orosius describes the end of the great library of Alexandria and refers to the destroyed Serapeum.

    “Other books” clearly means “not the books dating from the Hellenistic period, but later replacements”. At any rate, the destroyed books are from the Great library of Alexandria, whether they date from the Hellenistic period or were replaced after the Alexandrine war. There is no ambiguity here.

    Yes, there is evidence that Augustine read Orosius carefully.

    No, Orosius does not mention the Serapeum by name (because that was clear to anyone reading him), but it seems very difficult to assume that was another building. The only one I could think of is the Museion (probably destroyed in the same year), but only in case that was still connected to the Royal Library. In either case, Orosius makes it clear the great library of Alexandria was gone and was destroyed by Christians.

    Yes, Aphthonius wrote the description of the Serapeum and its library as an eye witness, that implies the description is from his own life time and the Serapeum and its library disappeared as a unity. They can not have disappeared one after another because the tense is the same for both the building and the library (but not for the surrounding structure which were still there after 391).

    Definitely, there is not a shred of evidence the books were removed before the destruction. No “substantial doubts”. Your only argument is to call into questions the reliability of several ancient authorities, for reasons that go beyond any sane person! But you can not quote one shred of evidence in favour of your assertion.

    Yes, it is widely known that Basil said that Christians CAN use some parts of pagan literature, but he also clearly says that this should be limited, e.g. Christians should not read poetry that assumes there is more than one God (as you can see in my quote from the same work). So, he clearly does not recommend all parts of pagan literature, only those that agree with the bible.

    Probably there was a slight misunderstanding in the use of the term “Father of the Church”. I asked specifically for a source that Socrates is RECOGNISED by the catholic (or orthodox) church as father (doctor) of the church or saint. He is certainly neither. He was not even a theological author or cleric. He was simply a layperson and a lawyer who wrote a church history. What you mean is a VERY informal and rare way of summarising various authors of the period, including highly controversial ones, as “fathers”. So let’s move on, after we have clarified this.

  • D.
    2018-03-09 20:23:18 UTC - 20:23 | Permalink

    One more comment on this:

    ‘“Certainly, there is not one scholarly opinion that could support O’Neill’s made-up argument [about Ammianus], therefore he can’t cite one.”

    He in fact cited Hannam, and Lavan and others state the same view in published academic articles or books.’

    Hannam’s blog doesn’t count. Hannam is neither acknowelged as scholar of that field, nor has he studied the period in question, nor is his blog peer-reviewed.

    Indeed, I didn’t know about Lavan also mentioning this in a footnote, but then again Lavan (btw, a graduate from the Catholic University at Leuven, this shows) is an archaeologist, not a specialist on Ammianus or indeed on the sources of this period.

    We have already agreed in the above that it is not possible to deduce anything meaningful from “fuerunt” and that this is general scholarly consensus. Even Lavan only says that statement dates to some point before 392 (leaving in balance its significance if there is any).

  • Sanpete
    2018-03-09 21:12:58 UTC - 21:12 | Permalink

    D., I’ll give one more particularly brief, simple and clear example and let it go at that. You say, “you haven’t even cited any Latin grammar.” Of course I did, but like so much of what I’ve said, you simply ignore it. Way too much of that and denial of other plain facts, along with an insistence that highly tenuous claims are clearly true, to make any more progress here.

    I’ve enjoyed and learned from our discussion and thank you for all the work you’ve put into it.

  • D.
    2018-03-09 21:27:19 UTC - 21:27 | Permalink

    OK, and I also agree my explanation for the perfect at the time (its alignment with the English use) was not ideal.

    Apologies!

    Let’s do it better:

    http://cdn.textkit.net/AG_New_Latin_Grammar_AR5.pdf

    p. 298-300.

    What Hannam/O’Neill have in mind is the “Aoristic/Historic Perfect”. This can be firmly ruled out. Such a perfect you have in a historical narrative, alternating with the imperfect, but only where the perfect stands for very short duration. In the context of Ammianus the present tense is used, this is not a historical context. Even if it was, the correct form would be “erant” (imperfect). Likewise, the Perfect Definite does not apply here as this would mean an action that is now complete (like feci “I have done”)

    That leaves two possiblities: either indefinite present/general truth (“there has always been a library”) – or emphatically to note that the thing does no longer exist “fuimus Troes” – we are now no longer Trojans – because Troy has been destroyed. By no means does this indicate that the library has been “moved” as you desparately want it to have, but it means the library has just now been destroyed – in that case it is pertinent that Ammianus wrote in 391 or shortly after.

    You can take your pick.

    Having said this, this is the use of classical Latin. However, Ammianus was a late Latin author, and Greek native speaker, so the ingressive aorist variant remains a strong possibility.

    Only, the Hannam/O’Neill assertion can be firmly excluded.

    But I’m glad we have now clarified this!

  • D.
    2018-03-09 21:28:50 UTC - 21:28 | Permalink

    @Sanpete

    Thank you as well. I enjoyed our conversation and it has helped me to clarify my thoughts as well!

  • D.
    2018-05-18 18:50:10 UTC - 18:50 | Permalink

    People on O’Neill’s blog seem to be reading this site as well. I therefore answer his latest reply here:

    “the ones from the guy who briefly commented here claiming all early medieval monks were actually illiterate and so the scribes who copied Lucretius were just tracing shapes or something and couldn’t actually read what they copied. This guy doesn’t seem to have asked himself the obvious question: so who were they copying these complex works FOR and WHY? The rest of the stuff there is riddled with this kind of idiocy and other basic errors of fact or logic. Like when the same guy tries to parse Ammianus using grammatical features that aren’t actually found in Greek, coming to conclusions which are total gibberish as a result. ”

    On the first question, for who and why Lucretius was copied, I recommend reading today’s accepted standard view in Bernard Bischoff, Paläographie des römischen Altertums und des abendländischen Mittelalters. Berlin 1979.

    On the second, on the existence of ingressive Aorist in ancient Greek – well I take it this is a language O’Neill has never learned because none of his references is to any original text and his mistakes regarding works mentioned by Photius would not otherwise have happened. Therefore, Wikipedia seems good enough 🙂

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aorist_(Ancient_Greek)#Ingressive

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