Monday, December 30, 2013

Samstag ist angekommen der Untergang von Kraus

Der Untergang der Welt durch schwarze Magie,heisst das. Gibt es mir ein wenig zu schaffen. Ich frage mich, ob Humor ueberhaupt schwierig ist fuer nicht-Einheimische, ob es nicht verlangt Wissen, das man weniger aus Buechern als vor Ort kriegt. Frage mich auch, ob es allerlei Erklaerungen gibt in Band 14 Suhrkamps Kraus-Ausgabe. (Der Untergang ist Band 4.)

Spezifischer, zu Beginn der Lektuer dieses Buch von Kraus frage ich mich ob der Mann wirklich etwas gegen Luftschiffe hatte, oder aber tat nur so auf lustiger satirischer Weise. Waren Luftschiffe denn so um 1907-1908, als Kraus das in Wien schrieb, den Wienern besonders lustig? Kraus sagt auch dass der Fackel bald geschlossen sein wurde, was eigentlich gar nicht bald geschah. Was hatte der gute Mann bloss? Gab es vielleicht einen grossen Liftschift-Fest, konnte man zu der Zeit in Wien vor lauter wimmelden Luftschiffe den Himmel kaum sehen? Hatte vielleicht eine laermende Luftschiff-Fabrik nahe des Bueros des Fackels aufgemacht? (Kraus klagt viel von Laerm und von Technik, die der Mensch erfunden hatte ohne etwas Gescheites damit machen zu wissen.)

Nu. Bin mystifiziert.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Great Debate Over What Jesus Said About Homosexuality Is Underway

No, I don't actually find it particularly great, but I'm just one snarky person. Many thousands of Huffington Post Readers' Comments have been posted in response to one article entitled What Jesus Says About Homosexuality. (Yep: "says." Present tense.) The official HP position: Jesus said nothing about homosexuality and many things about acceptance and non-judgmentality. Conservatives counter: Jesus did say things about upholding the old law, and Jewish society was quite homophobic at the time. So far, both sides are right. (Except that Jesus also said things about tearing down the old order.) Both sides are right, that is, if we stipulate that "What Jesus says" = "What Jesus is portrayed as saying in the Gospels." Homophobic positions are taken in the New Testament outside of the Gospels. The progressives, the pro-LGBT-rights side, say that it doesn't matter what the rest of the New Testament says, the conservatives say Uh-huh it does too matter.

And then there are those who insist that it's "obvious" that Jesus and the Apostle John were a gay couple, and also that it is obvious that the centurion and his servant whom Jesus healed were a gay couple. They say this based entirely on the text of the Bible. If anyone has even attempted yet to explain how this could both be obvious and escape the attention of ridiculous numbers of people studying the Bible with ridiculous diligence for a ridiculously long time, I haven't noticed it. But of course this is theology. There's absolutely no requirement to make sense, whether you're perpetrating progressive, human-friendly theology or reactionary misanthropic theology.

And then there are those -- razor-sharp minds, these ones -- who insist that the word "homosexual" was not coined until the 19th century and that this is relevant. I suspect that there is significant overlap between this group and the group who insist on referring to Jesus as Jeshua or Yoshua or Joshua or something else other than Jesus, and consider themselves to be deep.

I don't know how any of the last group are Mainline Protestants. Not many, perhaps. But progressive Mainline Protestants tend to be very impressed with themselves in this discussion of Jesus' LGBT policies, as they generally are impressed with themselves. As far as I've noticed so far the progressive Mainline Protestants don't talk a lot about how it was their church who killed all of those people in Salem in the 1690's for witchcraft. There once again we have the tendency among progressive Christians, which I've pointed out so often, to ignore, distort, excuse away and misinterpret, in short, to lie* their smug ugly asses off about the history of their religion. And that, of course, is good traditional Christianity, as thoroughly Christian as constantly pointing out that other Christians are doin' it wrong. (*Of course, "to lie" implies conscious and deliberate deception, and so the term does not apply at all to many of these jokers, because they actually believe their own malarkey, or so it surely seems, head-spinning as it is.)

This Christian tendency to just straight-up make stuff up goes all the way back to the era of the martyrs, if Candida Moss and others are correct in their assertion that the martyrs never were, and, of course, thoroughly obviously, but we've become so thoroughly used to it that it bears repeating, further back, to the very beginning of Christianity, to the basic Christian story: an Omnipotent Creator of Everything sends His Son to Earth to be a human sacrifice (even 2000 years ago human sacrifice was an outmoded, primitive, rejected concept in Greek and Roman and also in Jewish culture), a sacrifice which the Omnipotent One, in His infinite mercy, provided in order to save mankind from -- the awful wrath of... uh... the Omnipotent Creator. Offhand I can't think of any myth which is so far from possessing internal logic.

Theologians, Christians and others but especially Christians, attempt to prevent themselves and others from even addressing the ridiculousnesses of it all by referring to them as "mysteries." The only thing which strikes me as mysterious here is how successful the theologians continue to be in preventing people from thinking clearly about the whole fooferah. The success with which they pose questions like "What did [or, more often than "did," "does"] Jesus say about homosexuality?" and deflect sensible counter-questions such as:

"Who gives a rat's ass?"

"Why are you pretending that what Jesus said [says] is equivalent to what the New Testament says he said, and ignoring the evidence of the non-canonical Gospels and of the extensive polemical re-writes of the entire New Testament in the second and third centuries?"

Or, my favorite:

"Why do you all still insist upon insisting that the question of the Historical Jesus has been thoroughly examined and was answered conclusively: Yep, he existed, decades ago, or centuries ago, depending on what sort of exaggerating full-of-shit mood you're in on a particular day?"

Actually, that's my co-favorite. The actually more pertinent and pithy question is "Who gives a shit?" Why do we keep pretending that what Jesus said is so damn important one way or another, even if we could figure out what exactly he said, which clearly we can't?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ist Denn Hermann Bahr Wirklich Noch Nicht Überwunden Worden?

Ich scherze nicht: dieser Bandzuerst in 1981 veroeffentlicht, Nummer 7742 in der Reclam Universal-Bibliothek, heisst Die Wiener Moderne, ein weit ehrlicherer Titel aber waere Hermann Bahr und die Wiener Moderne gewesen. 61 Stueck Schreiben enthaelt der Band, einschliesslich einiger einleitenden vom Herausgeber und unverkennbarar Hermann-Bahr-Liebhaber Gotthart Wunberg, einiger von Vorbildern der Wiener Moderne wie Nietzsche, und des Restes, wie man wahrscheinlich erwarten wuerde von einem Bande der sich als eine Sammlung von Schriften aus Wien von ungefaehr 1890 bis 1910 ausgibt, tatsaechlich Prosa, Lyrik und Drama von Wien von ungefaehr 1890 bis ungefaehr 1910. Also, von Hoffmannsthal, Schnitzler, Freud, Herzl, Mahler und so Kram. Auch Kraus. 5 Stueck von Kraus, 4 gekuerzt. Und von den 61 20 von Bahr. Ist schier zum Himmelschreien: wo man das bloede Ding auch aufschlaegt, steht da noch ein Schreiben von diesem unmoeglichen Esel namens Bahr. Im fruehen Roemerreich Seneca, im viktorianischen England Carlyle, in San Francisco in 1960's Ferlinghetti, und in Literatur, Musik und Kunst in Wien um 1900, offenbar, und gewiss in diesem Band darueber und davon, an jeder Ecke, lauernd, langweilig, wichtigtuend, deklamierend, tyrannisch, selbstverliebt, immernichtaufhoerenwollend, dieser Hermann Bahr.

Gestern bestellte ich einen Band von Karl Kraus, obwohl ich noch keine richtige Ahnung darueber hatte, wer Kraus war und was er denn wollte und wofuer er galt und gelt, und noch nicht einmal mit diesen 5 Aufsaetzen von Kraus in diesem Hermann-Bahr-terrorisiert-fin-de-siecle-Wien-Band zurechtkam, denn Kraus schreibt gelegentlich ein wenig geschnorkelt und gar sarkastisch -- ich bestellte den Band in erster Linie, ich scherze gar nicht, weil ich in Wiki las, dass Kraus Bahr gar nicht leiden konnte und regelmaessig Feindliches zu Bahr schrieb. Ich las das in Wiki und wusste noch einmal nicht ob es stimmte, bloss die Hoffnung dass es stimmen koennte, dass es irgendwo Rettung vor Bahr geben koennte, trieb much zum Kauf. Seitdem bin ich mir sicher geworden, dass es stimmt. Ein Beispiel davon, was ich seit der Bestellung gelernt habe: eine der ersten Schriften, die Kraus ein Publikum gewann, geschrieben und veroeffentlicht in 1893 als Kraus noch nicht 20 Jahre hatte, heisst "Die Ueberwindung von Hermann Bahr." Es stimmt. Braver Bursch. Kraus ist einer von uns. Hermann Bahr wird doch eines Tages ueberwunden werden. Und Seneca, und Ferlinghetti.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Someone Knock Me Over With A Feather: Ben Stein Doesn't Like The White House's Holiday Tree

(I know: how can it be, Ben Stein finding fault with the Obama administration? Ben Stein defending a Republican talking point? Ben Stein bravely standing up *cough toady cough cough* for that poor downtrodden group, the American Christians?)

I just found an editorial by Ben Stein's grandfather which originally appeared in the Viennese newspaper Neue Freie Presse in 1935, arguing that this Hitler fellow wasn't so bad and that everyone should just calm down and give the man a chance. Some say it was this editorial which killed Karl Kraus, although of course it's impossible to be sure about such things.



"Happy holidays" is an improvement over "Merry Christmas" as a greeting to complete strangers because the latter will offend some people, whether that offends you or not. But I've had a holiday epiphany and I can improve even upon "Happy holidays" : just say "Have a nice day." Or "Hello." (These both have the great advantage of being equally appropriate all year round.)

Or just keep yr trap shut. That'd work too. Now remember, I'm giving you free advice here about how to behave around complete strangers. I'm not coming after the Christmas tree on yr front lawn, I'm not going to crash your Christmas party and begin shouting angry atheist polemics. And all I'm asking is that you also have the common decency to leave me alone too.

If, that is, you're a complete stranger to me. My friends, my family: don't worry about a thing. We're cool. Say whatever you like.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What Elephant In The Room?

I've quoted the following sentence from chapter 52 of Nietzsche's Antichristso often that I'm sure I must sound like a broken record to some of my readers. It's just that it has proven itself over and over again to be true, and I haven't been able to improve upon it, and I'm not going to pretend that I and not Nietzsche came up with it: "'Glaube' heißt Nicht-wissen-wollen, was wahr ist." ("Having religious faith means not wanting to know what is true.")

I'm imagining how Nietzsche may have tried over and over again to have sensible conversations with religious people about religion before he came to the sad conclusion expressed in that famous sentence. (I'm not the only one who has repeatedly quoted it.) But they don't wanna know. They may be very intelligent, you may be able to have sensible conversations with them on every conceivable non-religious topic, but as soon as a religious topic comes up, it's simply a no-go.

A recent, horribly-familiar example (These things are horribly familiar because they occur with even greater regularity than me quoting "'Glaube' heißt Nicht-wissen-wollen, was wahr ist." It's Groundhog Day --or so I gather. I've never watched the movie, but from what I hear, the hero, Bill Murray, repeats the same day over and over and it becomes nightmarish. Seeing an otherwise-intelligent person's brain switch off when the topic of conversation turns to religion is nightmarish.) is the reaction of "progressive" Christians (They may well be both progressive and Christian -- just not at the same time, imho.) to the fooferah over the Duck Dynasty doofus and his homophobic comments.

The Duck Dynasty doofus is a Christian. Because of the publicity his recent nasty remarks have gotten, "progressive" Christians are rhetorically asking, "Is homophobia Christian? Is Christianity homophobic?" Rhetorically, of course, because they have no intention of really looking into that question, they have their own answer ready, and any intelligent commentary on the subject is going to annoy them greatly. They're going to avoid any real discussion of the matter the way ducks avoid deserts. Their answer is that Christianity is not homophobic. Which of course is a thoroughly absurd thing to say about a religion which was extremely uniformly and harshly homophobic for its first 1950 years or so, and which in the several decades since then has gradually begun to change, but still, unfortunately, is probably deeply homophobic in its majority.

I was about to add something like "It's very easy to learn the truth about the history of Christianity," but of course for most people it isn't easy at all. I was thinking of people like myself, who, when they are curious about an historical topic, refer to primary sources: things written in the historical period under consideration. In this case, things written at various times over the course of the past 2000 years. But of course, I'm not like most people. Most people study history by reading recent authors and deciding which ones they trust. (Trust ME!) And most of the people writing about the history of Christianity are Christian apologets who can't write four words without lying three times. Or is it a lie when you don't want to know the truth? In any case, in this example of Christianity and homosexuality, a "progressive" Christian theologian will most likely offer up an interpretation of the New Testament which supports the position that Jesus Christ didn't oppose homosexuality. This will involve either completely ignoring Matthew 5:17-18, where Jesus is portrayed as saying that he supports Old Testament law completely, or claiming that Jesus never actually said that, or "interpreting" Matthew 5:17-18 to make it seem that it says something other than what it clearly says -- I can think of terms other than "interpretation" to describe this, but none of them are even remotely polite -- or claiming that Old Testament law was not homophobic, which is as ridiculous as it is currently popular among "progressive" Christian and Jewish theologians.

And of course, no matter what sort of pretzel-logic, insult-to-reason-and-truth "interpretation" the Bible is subjected to, there remain 1900 more years' worth of Christianity which need to be hidden somehow in order to back up a thesis as ridiculous as "Christianity is not homophobic." Either that, or the "interpretation" means that those intervening 1900 years simply do not count and there's a do-over, which is much more ridiculous still than any Bible "interpretation."

But of course, theology is ridiculous, and growing ever more so the more we learn about -- anything. The will not to know is staggering. Or in the cases of a few tortured souls, I'm sure, the will to know all sorts of things and keep them from the public.

I'm glad that these "progressive" theologians are not homophobic and are speaking out against homophobia. But I can't ignore the ridiculousness of their claims that their religions have never been homophobic. If I were able to ignore things which are as obvious as that, I might be a theologian myself. And who's to say they're not better off? Ignorance is bliss, they say. So they say.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Can't Find A Pope Francis Effect In The Book Market Yet

Rush called Francis a Marxist. Francis makes statements about the rich and the poor which certainly sound more Leftist than Rightist. Now he's said, "I know many Marxists who are good people." In angry opposition to Francis, or so he thinks, a rightwing freemarket laissez-faire rah-rah-siss-boom-bah capitalist has written: "Capitalism and many variants called Capitalism has raised the standard of living for more people around the world than any system every created by man. Capitalism has produced more wealth and increased production greater than any other system in the world." I replied to him: "That's very close to a direct quote from the first pages of the Communist Manifesto. Which you might want to read sometime. It's only 20, 30 pages or so. Maybe some people somewhere dispute what you say about capitalism's effect on the world's wealth and productivity. Marxists certainly don't."

So that's when I wondered whether perhaps many Americans had indeed read the Communist manifesto because of Francis. What with the economy and all, and now in top of that what with Francis infuriating rightwingers on such a regular basis in such a delightful way. Marx has been read very little in the US in proportion to how much he is dissed. People don't know what they're talking about when they diss him, they're just repeating the staggeringly-successful US capitalist talking points on Marx and Communism. So I thought, maybe now, after years of spectacular worldwide abuse of financial deregulation and now with Francis, and what with the economy and all -- maybe now, finally, Americans would start reading Marx. The Communist Manifesto at least. Capital and Critique of Political Economy, that could come a little later, and then pretty soon Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brian could discuss Maoism versus New Left with their movie-star guests and everybody would get it and the Earth would be saved and we could all just really get on with it. Thanks to a Pope, sure, why not, who, if not History, doesn't love irony?

But no, I was getting a little ahead of myself. I couldn't find an edition of the Communist Manifesto higher than around #20,000 on Amazon's book bestseller list. Then I thought: maybe The Portable Karl Marx,but ouch: it's at #147,305.

Even Francis himself is not burning up the track: a book by him published in November is at #1348, and Evangelii Gaudium,which caused such a fooferah in the headlines? It's at #661. Holy moly, pardon my French, Holy Father. Wouldn't something by John Paul II have been at #1 by now? And in Amazon's top 20 for books there are items by Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. It's all horribly disappointing and surprising for me, except for the success of O'Reilly and Beck, which is merely horribly disappointing for me.

Then I thought: Maybe Kindle is here and it's passed me by because I'm old, and that's where the real bestsellers are, and Francis is way up high in the Kindle bestseller list, but no. Marx, also no.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Invention And Application In Late-Medieval And Renaissance Europe: Timepieces, Firearms And Printing

I'm deliberately confining my remarks to Europe and European colonies. I'm not a Europhile, I just don't know much about the development of timepieces, firearms and printing outside of Europe, and I honestly try as best I can not to pontificate overmuch on subjects on which I am ignorant. Apparently there is still some debate about where and when these things were invented. I don't know how serious this debate is. I don't know whether the academic consensus about these origins is different in Damascus or Beijing than it is in Oxford or Paris. I do know that the Western academic consensus about the date and place of the invention of the firearm has undergone major revisions in the past two centuries. For example, there are certain pistols of Chinese origin which Western experts once said were 11th-century and are now dated to the 16th-century, the 11th-century dating having rested on certain linguistic and archaeological errors no competent Chinese scholar would have made.

It's certainly possible that firearms and mechanical timepieces were introduced into Europe from East Asia, Africa or the Middle East. There's no dispute that gunpowder and rockets were used in China long before the 11th century. There's no dispute that China and the Islamic world were very advanced technologically during Western Europe's Middle Ages. I certainly don't think it's impossible that Muslims and Chinese had guns long before Europeans did. I wouldn't even go so far as to say that it is improbable. I will go exactly so far as to say that the earliest evidence of firearms known to me, at this time, comes from Europe. The same way that I don't think it's impossible, and would not go so far to say that it is improbable, that Chinese fleets regularly visited the west coast of the Americas before Columbus was born. I just don't think it's been confirmed, as yet.

Those 16th-century Chinese pistols are not the only example of false assumptions about the early history of firearms springing from very elementary errors. For example, some people -- academics? Hmmm, I don't think so. And as I've said before on this blog, it may well be that I am the only autodidact on Earth who currently is as competent and reliable on historical and linguistic matters as an above-average full professor -- some people think that they have come across evidence that Ghengis Khan's armies had huge cannons, the most powerful ones on Earth. Actually Ghengis Khan (1162? – August 1227) died about a century before there was anything which we reasonably can agree is evidence of a cannon. Some people think Ghengis Khan had cannons because they do not realize that the ancestors of our English word "artillery" in Latin, French and other languages long predates the invention of firearms, and once referred to catapults, trebuchets, mangonels and every other sort of weapon which hurled something toward the enemy. Yes, there are reports that Ghengis Khan's armies had the largest and finest "artillery" in the world. It's quite reasonable to think that his catapults and mangonels might, indeed, have been the most powerful on Earth at the time. It would have been just one of several ways in which those armies represented the cutting edge of the military technology of their time. But there is no serious evidence that they had cannons.

About that evidence of a cannon about a century after Ghengis' death? Here it is, a picture in a manuscript made by an Englishman, Walter de Milemete, around 1326:


As with guns, it is difficult to say when mechanical clocks, clocks other than sundials and water-clocks, were first made. As with guns, linguistics adds to the confusion, as for some time there was no specific term to differentiate the new type of clock from a sundial or water-clock. Printing was underway as early as the 1430's, by Gutenberg and some other Germans, who kept their new invention pretty much secret until the 1460's, which is when when something which can fairly be called "an explosion of printing" spreads across Europe. The remarkable success of the German printers in keeping printing a secret of course begs the question: how long before them might printing have existed, and been kept so successfully secret that we still don't know about developments pre-Gutenberg?

If David Hockney is right,the European Old Master painters, as early as the mid-15th century, as early as the secretive Gutenberg's lifetime, had invented cameras or devices very similar to cameras, and kept the knowledge of those gadgets secret for a good 400 years, until the public learned that photographs could be made by means of the camera obscura. Perhaps Hockney is right. He certainly knows much more about both painting and photography than I ever will. I would just like to observe that his theory does nothing to explain the realism of sculpture, which greatly increased during the Renaissance right along with the realism of painting, nor does it explain the realism of some painting of ancient Rome. I still tend toward the pre-Hockney theory, that artists of certain eras tend to produce less realistic representations simply because they are less interested in realistic representation, not because they lacked the means to produce it.

Whenever and wherever guns were first invented, very soon after 1326 the means to manufacture them was no longer secret, and cannons were no longer an unusual sight on battlefields. But they were by no means an instant success. More than once I have encountered the strange phenomenon of a passionate gun-control advocate, a sworn enemy of present-day gun manufacturers, who harbors nevertheless a strong affection for, and in one case even actually collects, early firearms, because they were so unlikely ever to inflict injury upon anyone (with the possible exception of the people firing them, if they happened to explode like fragmentation bombs.) Large guns operated by teams of soldiers established themselves before firearms carried by individual soldiers. For a long time it was a very controversial question whether a foot-soldier carrying a gun was more effective than one carrying a bow and arrow, and as late as the reign of Henry VIII armies with archers, notably English armies with longbows, often trounced enemies with matchlocks and wheellocks.

Several decades of printing in secret in Germany before it became a Europe-wide trade, 225 years or more of guns before they finally eclipsed bows and arrows on the battlefield (big guns had replaced catapults and trebuchets somewhat earlier), and over 200 years of mechanical clocks, powered by free-hanging weights for most of that time, before someone came up with the idea of powering a clock with a windable spring, and before someone -- the same someone? Will we ever know? -- came up with the idea of making a clock small and stable enough and immune enough to bumps and shakes to being carried around. The idea of a watch that is, and made one. Unless watches were made long before the first ones we know of, from around 1530, and the invention was kept secret. We mustn't lose sight of how different the prevailing mentalities of other ages have been when it comes to invention. We're used to thinking of an invention as something which is publicly claimed as one's own as soon as possible, with the hope of reaping fame and fortune from it. Speaking of fame: many 16th- and 17th-century authors made anagrams of their own names on the covers of their own very popular books, so that only an initiated circle could know, for example, that German Schleifheim von Sulsfort, Samuel Griefnson von Hirschfeld, Philarchus Grosses von Trommenheim, and Michael Rechulin von Sehmsdorf were all actually just Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, so that it wasn't until the 19th ceentury, with the aid of the diligent detective work of many scholars, that the German reading public at large learned the identity of the author of perhaps the greatest work of fiction yet written in their language, Simplicissimus.

Learning about other cultures and other times, really understanding them, always involves learning to let go of some of the attitudes and assumptions stereotypical to our own culture and time. Chumps like the idiots who spew forth the "History Channel" do the exact opposite of this when they say things like "Roman roads were the Internet of their time" or "Anthony and Cleopatra were the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of their time." It seems some people are quite uncomfortable even attempting to imagine lives and circumstances different from their own. No, those roads weren't an Internet, they were roads. Learning anything significant about people like Anthony and Cleopatra might actually require ceasing to think about people like Brangolina, if only for a painful and bewildering moment.

Was that last sentence unnecessary and obnoxious and Sheldon-like? Meh. I yam what I yam. And Sheldon's not all bad, he's just got a wrong-planet thing going on.

So, if you're inclined to study invention of other eras, and grappling to picture how it was with earlier inventors, as well as such things can be imagined, you need to jettison some assumptions which are specific to here and now, when significant inventions so often (not always!) are followed very quickly by application and recognition, when recognition is indeed sometimes a powerful motivation to invent. And keep in mind not just all of the differences between a certain age and now, but also between one past age and another. Imagine a Europe in 1300, with no clocks, no guns and no printing -- or perhaps with all three, but all three kept strictly secret by their inventors, for reasons which would be difficult indeed for us to really imagine to the point where we can sympathize with those reasons, and if we're not to that point we're not yet close to understanding -- and then imagine 1550, when clocks and guns and printing are not only everywhere, but are so firmly established that already it has begun to become difficult to imagine the time before them. We constantly transform our own world, and the things transformed include the way in which we study our ancestors and their transformations. We're constantly a work in progress, and by "we" I mean much more than just humans.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Dark Ages And Ancient Latin

In a piece I posted on this blog in August, I mentioned that my search for traces of the missing books of Livy went cold, very cold, in the late 6th century. I feel a little silly now, reading L D Reynolds' introduction to Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics,a collaborative work of 14 Classical scholars which describes the most important known manuscripts of the texts of 134 ancient Latin texts and the ways in which the printed versions of those texts came to be made from those manuscripts, and learning that Livy is absolutely typical of ancient Latin authors in this regard: many of their texts disappeared around that time. The 7th century represents the darkest of the Dark Ages when it comes to the transmission, the passing down, of ancient Latin texts. As Reynolds puts it on p xv, referring to nothing else but the transmission of ancient Latin: "By the time the sixth century had reached its mid-course the Dark Ages had come, and they seem to have come with a vengeance." On p xvi he illustrates his point with some striking figures: we possess only 264 7th-century Latin manuscripts, even defining the 7th century very generously to include manuscripts which may have been made either in the late 6th or early 7th century, or in the late 7th or early 8th century. 264 is a tiny number compared to the number of manuscripts from later centuries. For example, there are 330 15th-century manuscripts just of the work of the author Sallust. Of those 264, only 26 are secular, that is, something other than books of the Bible or Christian prayers or theology or things which otherwise have to do with Christianity. Of those 26, 8 manuscripts have to do with law, 8 with medicine, 6 with grammar and 1 with surveying, 1 contains excerpts from Vegetius' book on military matter, 1 was made in Spain and is a miscellany of mostly Spanish authors, and 1 contains a fragment of Lucan's poem about the Civil War in late republican Rome.

That's all 26. 24 manuscripts of very little literary interest, 1, the Vegetius, of middling literary interest, and then Lucan, usually classed as a minor classical author. As I was reading p xvi I kept saying to myself, "[...]and a palimpsest of Gellius. And Gellius. There's a 7th-century manuscript of a fragment of Gellius' work," but no. Professor Ihm, in the apparatus to his 1901 edition of Gellius (an author who to this day, like Lucan, is read somewhat more often and with more enjoyment than, say, Vegetius.), an edition with which I was familiar, describes the palimpsest manuscript, Vatican pal Lat 24, as "s VII (?)." Ihm was guessing that this was a 7th-century manuscript and making it clear that this was a guess. P K Marshall, in Texts and Transmission, published in 1983, says it was made in the 4th century, no ifs, ands or buts about it (p 176). I believe that the experts got much better at dating manuscripts between 1901 and 1983, and that we can trust Professor Marshall when he says that Vatican pal Lat 24 is a 4th-century manuscript. I don't know enough about paeleography to tell you in any detail why I think it's safe to go ahead and trust Marshall on this issue, but I do. Trust me, or look into these things for yourself. (I hadn't realized it, but Vatican pal Lat 24 is the very same manuscript which also contains the palimpsest passage of book 91 of Livy which I've mentioned a few times in this blog, and some other noteworthy palimpsest classical fragments as well.)

Marshall's clarification of the date of this, the oldest known manuscript of Gellius, is very much a mixed thing: from a purely practical point of view, with a concern for re-creating a text of Gellius which is as close as possible to what the author intended to say, 4th century, all other things being equal, is much better than 7th century. All other things being equal when it comes to establishing the text, older, closer to the time of the original composition, is better. And 4th century is much older than 7th from an editor's point of view.

On the other hand, there are so many 4th century manuscripts of the Latin classics laying around, and so few from the 7th century. And, it turns out, one less than I had thought until now. 7th century manuscripts of the classics are like black swans. If you think of it as classics versus Christians, and there are plenty of good reasons to think of it that way, then a 7th century manuscript of a classical author is a treasure rescued from the belly of the beast, from the very center of the darkness of the Dark Ages. 4th century is far better for editing the text, but back when people thought Vatican pal Lat 24 was 7th-century, the manuscript seemed like an impossibly exotic object.

Charlemagne either couldn't read or couldn't read very well, although he began at an advanced age to diligently study reading and writing. And, of huge importance to the study of ancient Latin, he threw his huge influence into the advancement of education, and so by the 9th century the Dark Ages are over -- the Middle Ages continue until the Renaissance -- and 9th century manuscripts of the classics far outnumber ones from the 4th and 5th century, and with each century the number of manuscripts made which we know today grows, until the 15th century, and printing.