O lucky me!

Tonight I was the recipient of two thoughtful and very much appreciated gifts:

The Penguin Classics edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English. This will pair excellently with the unabridged translation by Burton Raffel that I picked up last year.


The Baronius Press edition of the Catena Aurea by St Thomas Aquinas. This is a beautiful (and hefty!) four volume set of hardcovers, leather bound. Each volume has two registers (ribbon markers) and gilt pages. (The set is much more handsome than in the publisher’s picture.)

Both of these were on my list of books to buy. I am very happy to have both!

Thank you very much, my generous friend!

Gorgias Press Sale

Gorgias Press, publisher and distributor of innumerable titles related to Syriac and Eastern Christian studies, is having another Gorgias BiblioPerks sale through the end of 2009: 40% off! This is the same discount they offer to authors.

This is a very welcome sale, as there are many great things available from Gorgias, and they do wonderful work.

Note especially the new A Syriac Lexicon by Michael Sokoloff: every little scholarly boy’s dream present for 2009!

Happy shopping!

My Little Green Shakespeare

I have this great little volume of Shakespeare that I got for six bucks years ago, volume 12 of a set of The Works of Shakespeare, edited by Israel Gollancz, published in London by J. M. Dent & Co. in 1900. This volume includes Annals of the Life of Shakespeare, the King’s License to Shakespeare to hold plays, Shakespeare’s Will, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, A Lover’s Complaint, The Phoenix and Turtle, a Glossary to the foregoing works, a Preface to the Sonnets, the Sonnets themselves (the reason I bought this lovely little volume), and a separate Glossary for the Sonnets. A small note at the beginning of the volume indicates that it uses the Cambridge text, with annotations indicating the differences in the then-contemporary Temple Shakespeare. When I first bought this volume, most of the pages were uncut! I now wish I’d bought the remaining volumes that were available, even though the set was incomplete. The paper is very thick, with a heavy rag content, and the printing is two color (red and black). You can see and feel the imprint of the type in every page. There are numerous illustrations in the Annals, and frontispiece plate of an engraving by T. Trotter of the Felton Portrait. There is a red silk register (bound-in bookmark), and the cover is olive green buckram with gilt imprint, and the upper edge of the pages are also gilt. It’s small, too, which was another reason I picked it up, roughly the size of a common paperback (about 5.25 x 7.5 x 1.25 in, 14 x 19 x 3 cm).

Though I do love My Little Green Shakespeare, my “reading Shakespeare” is now a set that a friend recommended to me, The World of Shakespeare, published by Penguin Books using the Pelican Shakespeare text edited by Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller, a set of 38 small hardbacks that I picked up on sale for just under $60! Unfrortunately the set is now more than four times as expensive, so my recommendation is not as ecstatic. These are nice little hardcovers, mostly one play per volume, a volume for the Sonnets, and some doubling up. They’re very nicely made, and it’s nice to have something small for a vade mecum Shakespeare. Each volume is smallish (about 5.75 x 8.5 x .5 in. or 14 x 21.5 x 1.5), hardcover, blue cloth with silver imprint, each with a blue satin register, and the paper is matte, but thick, and the type is Garamond, one of my favorites. (See the pictures at Amazon.) They’re quite nice. But, in the end they’re not as nice as My Little Green Shakespeare!

Anyhow, the following is from the Annals of the Life of Shakespeare in My Little Green Shakespeare, author unknown, though perhaps Mr Israel Gollancz, dating to 1900 or before. It is the entry for 1613.

1613. On February 4 Shakespeare’s third brother Richard was buried in the parish church, Stratford-upon-Avon. Soon afterwards Shakespeare was in London, and purchased a house, as an investment, in Blackfriars. The purchase-deed, dated March 10, with the poet’s signature, is preserved in the Guildhall Library, London. Next day a mortgage-deed relating to the purchase was signed : this is also extant, and is now in the British Museum.

To this year, July 15, belongs an entry by the Registrar of the Ecclesiastical Court of Worcester, concering an action for slander brought by Shakespeare’s eldest daughter, Susanna Hall, against a person of the name of Lane. Robert Whatcott, Shakespeare’s friend, was the chief witness on behalf of the plaintiff, whose character was vindicated, and the defendant who did not appear in court was excommunicated.

The Tempest, one of a series of nineteen plays, was performed at the festivities in celebration of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth with the Elector Frederick.

Besides The Tempest, six more of Shakespeare’s plays were produced on this occasion:—Much Ado, Tempest, Winter’s Tale, Sir John Falstaff, (i.e., Merry Wives), Othello, Julius Caesar, and Hotspur (probably I Henry IV).

In the same list occurs the lost play of cardenno or cardenna, which on September 9, 1653, was entered on the “Stationers’ Registers” as “by Fletcher and Shakespeare,” but was never published.

On June 29th of this year the Globe Theater was burned down during the performance of a play on the subject of Henry VIII (cp. Preface).

A Sonnet upon the pitiful burning of the Globe playhouse in London” was composed by one who was well acquainted with the details of the fire:—

“Now sit ye down, Melpomene,
Wrapt in a sea-cole robe,
And tell the doleful tragedy,
That late was played at Globe ;
For no man that can sing and say
Was sacred on St. Peter’s daye.
     Oh sorrow, pitiful sorrow, and yet all this is true.

     .     .     .

Out run the knights, out run the lords,
And there was great ado ;
Some lost their hats and some their swords,
E’en out-run Burbidge too ;
The reprobates though drunk on Monday,
Prayed for the fool and Henry Condye.
     Oh sorrow, pitiful sorrow, and yet all this is true.

The perriwigs and drum-heads fry,
Like to a butter firkin,
A woeful burning did betide
To many a good buff jerkin.
Then with swoll’n eyes, like drunken Flemminges,
Distressed stood old stuttering Hemminges.
     Oh sorrow, pitiful sorrow, and yet all this is true.

I’ll leave you with (rather than the above dreck) my favorite of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the one hundred and ninth:

O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seem’d my flame to qualify.
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie :
That is my home of love : if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again ;
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reign’d
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stain’d,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good ;
     For nothing this wide universe I call,
     Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.

Taking the plunge

Well. So, I’ve finally bought a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the 50th anniversary edition. I’ve never read it, actually. (No teasing!) I read The Hobbit back in high school, and The Silmarillion recently on the recommendation of a friend, but that’s been the limit of the relationship between me and Professor Tolkien’s “sub-creation” up to now.

And since I’m no longer a teenager with too much time on my hands and thus able to read and re-read many times a single book in order to figure out its details, and don’t relish the idea of therefore being lost in the welter of invented languages, weird but vaguely familiar names, and imagined histories, I’ve also picked up a copy of The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, and have ordered a copy of the same authors’ The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion. These, particularly the latter which is a very helpful-sounding commentary, will undoubtedly be very helpful. The former is, as the title connotes, a more wide-ranging reference work on J. R. R. Tolkien’s vast and (to me) bewildering body of work. I’m sure it will make sense of it all. I have not picked up a copy of the companion volume to the Reader’s Guide, which is primarily a detailed chronology of Tokien’s life. That’s a bit out of my interest range, though I’m impressed by its level of detail and the usefulness of such a work for those whose field of study is Tolkieniana.

The 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings is a very nice piece of bookmaking, though my copy is slightly marred by some stray spots of glue on the cover—an annoyance, but not severe enough to warrant a return. (I approach it this way: my copy came with pre-added character!) It’s a grayish-black leather hardcover, with slipcase, register (the bound-in ribbon marker), gilt page edges, two bound-in maps (these are bound in a little awkwardly, and may thus suffer tearing as I’ll undoubtedly need to consult them; unbound maps in a pocket would have been a better option), a few color illustrations, and two color text (red and black). I figured that if I’m going to read this book, I may as well have a nice copy of it! And it is indeed quite nice. It is also a corrected text, and one of the editions to which the references in the Reader’s Companion is keyed, so that will be very helpful.

I’m thoroughly impressed by the Tolkien scholarship that I’ve seen. I really didn’t know anything about it beyond a few weeks ago, when I read through the blog (Wormtalk and Slugspeak) of the fascinating and funny Professor Michael D. C. Drout of Wheaton College. With his Tolkien hat on, he is editor of The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, co-editor of the journal Tolkien Studies (available online at Project Muse, for those with access), author of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Beowulf and the Critics. With his Anglo-Saxon hat on, he is author of How Tradition Works: A Meme-Based Cultural Poetics of the Anglo-Saxon Tenth Century, and has produced recordings of his readings of Anglo Saxon texts (available at Anglo-Saxon Aloud, Beowulf Aloud, and Ango-Saxon Aloud: Greatest Hits). It’s particularly in the book reviews included in the various issues of Tolkien Studies that I’ve found such help in selecting the useful reference works I mentioned above. The various articles are quite interesting, as well. From the most recent issue: “‘A Kind of Elvish Craft’: Tolkien as Literary Craftsman” by John D. Rateliff, “Talk to the Dragon: Tolkien as Translator” by Ármann Jakobsson, and “The Music and the Task: Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth” by Verlyn Flieger are just three that are intriguinginly titled, and that I’ll be reading through soon. Very interesting!

I’m also impressed by the dedication and deep knowledge of his father’s work displayed in Christopher Tolkien’s editorial work on his father’s (fortunately vast) corpus of notes, drafts, art, and so on. It’s absolutely amazing what he’s accomplished in that regard. I first became aware of the important role he played in this regard in reading the preface to The Silmarillion (the second, corrected edition). I look forward to enjoying more of his work. The History of The Hobbit is a critical edition including drafts and a detailed investigation into the writing of The Hobbit [my mistake; this one is actually by John Rateliff, incorporating Tolkien’s drafts and such]. I’ll certainly be reading that. His [Christopher Tolkien’s] massive Complete History of Middle Earth, looks like a great read, actually. I’ll probably pick that up, too. I’ve also heard very good things about The Children of Húrin. His latest is a presentation of his father’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, an original English version of the old Norse tale, and not one of the Middle Earth books.

How very intersting!

The List of Shame!

Below is a list of some of my recent and fairly recent book acquisitions (in no particular order), some of which, when I look at them, I feel guilty for not already having read them through. But as I’m currently involved in other guilt management catchup reading, there is no escape!

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.

Michael Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology

Bishop AUGOUSTINOS (Kantiotes), A Panoramic View of Holy Scripture. (Two volumes, one each for OT and NT. His Grace provides short introductions to all the books of Scripture, including the anaginōskómena, the “apocrypha”.)

Fr Eugen Pentiuc, Long-Suffering Love: A Commentary on Hosea with Patristic Annotations. (Recommended by our beloved Esteban.)

Grant Frame, Babylonia 689-627 B.C.: A Political History

G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Donald B. Redford, The Wars in Syria and Palestine of Thutmose III

James K. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible

Mafred Bietak, Avaris: The Capital of the Hyksos: Recent Excavations at Tell el-Dabʿa

Mordechai Cogan and Dan’el Kahn, Treasures on Camel Humps: Historical and Literary Studies from the Ancient Near East Presented to Israel Eph‘al

Peter Der Manuelian, Studies in the Reign of Amenophis II

Jacob Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia (five volumes), with the companion volume Aphrahat and Judaism: The Christian-Jewish Argument in Fourth-Century Iran, The Transformation of Judaism: From Philosophy to Religion and its companion volume Sources of the Transformation of Judaism: From Philosophy to Religion in the Classics of Judaism, and The Theology of the Halakhah

Rabbi Nosson Dovid Rabinowich (translator/editor), The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon

Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany

Paula Fredricksen, Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism

Huub van de Sandt and Jürgen Zangenberg, Matthew, James, and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings

M. A. Knibb, The Septuagint and Messianism

Eamon Duffy, The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village, Marking the Hours: English People and their Prayers 1240-1570, and, of course, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580

Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform: 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Tobit (from the DeGruyter Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature)

Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization

Adrian Murdoch, Rome’s Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoberg Forest, and The Last Roman: Romulus Augustulus and the Decline of the West

C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (the new, unabridged translation by Burton Raffel)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (the annotated and illustrated edition edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer)

Eric Ormsby, Facsimiles of Time, and Time’s Covenant

D. J. Enright, Collected Poems 1948-1998

Zbignieuw Herbert, The Collected Poems 1956-1998

If someone would invent a pill that would safely remove my need for sleep with no deleterious effect on reading capability, I would very much appreciate it.

In my defense, I will say that I have always made it a habit to read, at the very least, the preface and introduction of every book that comes my way. And in several of the above-mentioned books I have made substantial, if only occasional, progress. I have always preferred to read my books straight through. Perhaps I am now in a period of transition, and am becoming one of those people who reads a number of books at a time. It seems that way.

In any case, from the parts of the books above that I have read, I can recommend them all, with greater or lesser enthusiasm depending upon the title.

Books on the Holy Family in Egypt

I recently picked up a couple of stunningly beautiful books, “coffee table books” as they say, and wanted to recommend them to others. Both are large and lavishly illustrated.

For the Biblically illiterate, the Gospel According to Matthew describes that, after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Joseph is warned to take Mary and the infant Jesus into Egypt to escape the murderous intent of King Herod (unfathomably called “the Great”). Coptic tradition has the Holy Family wandering through the country for a period of three and a half years, during which they made their way as far south as Assiut. An angel told Joseph when it was safe to return to the Land of Israel, specifically to Galilee, and Joseph then took the family to Nazareth, out of the territory of Herod’s equally brutal son Archelaus. The two coffee table books are related to the traditions of the Holy Family in Egypt.

The first is one that I’d heard of from several sources, but it was Gina at Book Dust who really inspired me to pick up a copy after her post on it. She was fortunate enough to attend a presentation on the book by the editor. The book is The Churches of Egypt: From the Journey of the Holy Family to the Present Day, by Gawdat Gabra and Gertrud J. M. van Loon with Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom, edited by Carolyn Ludwig (whose presentation Gina heard), and photographs by Sherif Sonbol. It’s a Ludwig Publishing Edition, of The American University of Cairo Press, 2007. In 328 pages, a vast number of ancient and modern churches in Egypt are described and, most strikingly, beautifully illustrated in full color by Mr Sonbol’s beautiful photography. The volume is actually heavier on the photography than on the text, but, believe me, that is no problem at all. There are some stunningly beautiful churches in Egypt, from the ancient mudbrick chapels of an ancient monastery to great Patriarchal cathedrals with towering columns. Amazon is currently offering this book at a substantial discount.

The second book is one that I hunted down after having devoured the first one. Be Thou There: The Holy Family’s Journey in Egypt is edited by Gawdat Gabra, with chapters written by William Lyster, Cornelis Hulsman, and Stephen J. Davis. The photography in this volume, also stunning, is by Norbert Schiller. This is a 164 page description of various sites associated with the journey of the the Holy Family into Egypt. (Also availabe at a discount at Amazon.) For centuries there were was only a general itinerary, mentioning a few places, but as time went on, villages and towns and cities along these routes would claim to have been passed through by the Holy Family, often with miraculous wells or trees associated with the various stops. Many of these appear in the book, without its trying to establish a precise itinerary. A more precise “official” itinerary was established by the Coptic Orthodox Church for the year 2000 celebrations. This book includes descriptions of the route and the traditionally associated pilgrim sites. There’s a very interesting appendix describing the development of the itinerary through the ages, and its development and validation not just through oral tradition, but through visions, whether ancient (like that recorded in the Vision of Theophilus, attributed to the Patriarch of Alexandria of the late third and early fourth century) or more recent (visions of the Holy Virgin Mary at Assiut in 2000).

What I found very interesting about the official itinerary is that it appears to actually follow some ancient roads, and that many of the various towns or cities passed through were certainly around in the very late first century B.C. For this, one may refer to the beautiful maps of The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (see also here). It would be good to post more on this in the future, particularly in order to provide the ancient names for the various sites in the itinerary, which are not always obvious when they differ greatly from their modern names. It’s a fun project, one I’d like to incorporate much of the traditional material into. We’ll see how that turns out.

Anyhow, I wanted to bring attention to these two beautiful and edifying books. You may justify the expense in that they are less expensive than a tour of Egypt! Give your eyes a rest from reading words, and enjoy the beautiful photography of these books. And meditate on the travels of the Holy Family, and on the faith of the Copts, who treasure the tradition of the sanctification of their entire ancient homeland by the visit of the Holy Family up and down the Nile.

Buy it now!

Eighth Day Books has reprinted of Fr Andrew Louth’s absolutely magnificent Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology which I’ve mentioned here several times before. It’s available there for the very low price of US $25. Thank you, Eighth Day Press! I’ll be buying several copies for friends.

Hopefully with this text being available at such a low price, it will be more widely read and discussed, as it deserves much more attention than it has received.

Many thanks to Papabear of Diligite Iustitiam for bringing this reprint to my attention via a link to one of my posts on the book. Isn’t this technology just amazing and so helpful? Glory to God!

Only one book saved!

I’ve been tagged again. This one involves this scenario: if your house were burning down (God forbid!) and you could only save one book, which would it be?

Of course, there’s always this proviso these days “aside from the Bible.” But I very likely would grab one of my Bibles which was extremely expensive several years ago and difficult to find: a New Internation Version Pulpit/Lectern Bible, for which there’s a little, not very good picture here. It’s heavy, thick, and got a fantastically beautiful font. It’s also entirely out of print and still in demand. I’d have trouble replacing it.

If I really had to play along, and not grab at least one of my Bibles (why? because the fire would make me insane?), I’d probably grab one of the following: my beautiful edition of Christina Georgina Rossetti’s Complete Poetical Works which formerly belonged to famed New York book collector George Zabriskie, a gold-tooled butterscotch marbled leather with gilded pages; my second edition parts one and two of Sefer ha-Aggadah, printed in Odessa, 1912, before Ravnitsky and Bialik emigrated to Israel; or my first edition (a second is supposed to be out this year) of the Ash Tree Press collection A Pleasing Terror, the annotated ghost stories of Montague Rhodes James, which also commands a high price these days.

But, in the end, I suppose I’d grab the notebook in which is my work for a complete scriptural index and concordance to Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes. And a folder in which I keep the handwritten list of errata (24 pages so far, kids, and that’s not even the entire first volume). That’s for all the time involved, as I would never, ever want to go through this kind of project again, being heartily sick of the tedium of it. And if some guy is standing by the door to make sure I can only take one, I’d punch his clock and use him to beat off the flames so I could save the other books listed above, and then some. So there.