Redactioneel / Editorial (4:2 – Winter 1996-’97)

Terwijl ik dit schrijf, besef ik dat het precies vijf jaar geleden was dat de redactie van Gouden Hoorn op het idee kwam een informatief platform op te richten voor belangstellenden in Nederland op het gebied van Byzantium. Nu zijn wij zo ver, dat Gouden Hoorn, onze ‘spreekbuis’, tot ver over de Nederlandse grenzen gelezen wordt! Het is heel motiverend dat zoveel mensen vanuit allerlei disciplines en vanuit hun persoonlijke belangstelling ‘Byzantium’ als interessegebied hebben.

Dit nummer bevat daarom maar liefst drie artikelen van xenotische oorsprong: Dr Andrew Palmer verklaart hoe de hymnen van Ephraïm de Syriër er oorspronkelijk uitgezien kunnen hebben. Verheugend is ook het nieuws dat hij werkt aan een nieuwe editie met vertaling van de Hymnen, en hopelijk worden ze in de toekomst op muziek gezet.

Dr Stephen McCotter leidt ons binnen in de wereld van de belegering, poliorkía. Eén van de vragen die hij onderzocht heeft is, of belegeren de gevestigde, geurbaniseerde bevolking beter afgaat dan degenen die geen ervaring hebben met wonen in stedelijke gebieden.

Deze jaargang van Gouden Hoorn heeft als rode draad Kreta. De ‘Kretenzische notities’ deel 2 wordt hier ingevuld door de van dit eiland afkomstige Sofía Oikonomou, die verslag doet van een conferentie over Kreta.

Verder heeft de hofdichter Anthony Kirby wederom aan zijn Muze inspiratie onttrokken voor twee gedichten. Hetgeen mij noopt te vermelden, dat de Australian Newsletter of Byzantine Studies ook belangstelling heeft getoond voor Kirby’s geïnspireerde werk, een verheugend feit…

Rest mij nog te wijzen op twee belangrijke tentoonstellingen het komend jaar: in New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, en in Thessaloniki in een nieuw museum voor Byzantijnse cultuur. Zie hiervoor de rubriek ByzNiz. Veel plezier!


While writing this, I am reminded of the fact that it is five years ago that the editorial board of Gouden Hoorn first initiated the idea of starting a forum for those in the Netherlands who are interested in Byzantium. Now, Gouden Hoorn, our ‘mouthpiece’, is read over the Dutch or even European borders…

It is motivating that so many people from different disciplines and out of their own interest have ‘Byzantium’ as their topic of interest. This issue contains three ‘foreign’ articles: Dr Andrew Palmer explains how Ephraem the Syrian’s hymns were intended to have a different lay-out. dr Stephen McCotter introduces us to the world of the siege. Are those who are ‘urbanized’ better off besieging a city than those who are not used to living in an urban area, is one of the research questions of his thesis. The previous issue of Gouden Hoorn contained an article on Crete, and this issue also has Crete on the menu: Sophia Oikonomou, who is herself from Crete, discusses the VIIIth International congress of Cretan Studies that took place last September in Heraklion. Our ‘courtpoet’ Anthony has also found inspiration for some poems concerning the Byzantine world, which reminds me of the Byzantine studies in Australia Newsletter, in which you can also find a poem of his that was first published here…

Finally I should mention two important exhibitions that are planned for 1997: in the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York, and in Thessaloniki in the new Museum of Byzantine Culture.


Mind the gap! or, A Church Father with a sense of fun

by Andrew Palmer

St Ephraem the Syrian, according to a Greek text attributed to him, believed that ‘seriousness mixed with laughter destroys souls easily’. Like much of the ‘Greek Ephraem’, this utterance resembles those of the genuine Ephraem as much as Walt Disney’s Winnie the Pooh resembles A. A. Milne’s. Perhaps the kind of laughter the Greek originator of this saying had in mind was cynical or insensitive. But I rather suspect that Byzantine monks suffered from acute sense-of-humour failure as well.

The real Ephraem was full of fun. It goes rather against the grain to call him a Father at all; perhaps we should call him a Church Child? (After all, he remained a deacon until his death.) Much of his best teaching is presented in the form of a game. For travellers on the London Underground, the words ‘Mind the gap!’ have a rather banal meaning: ‘Try not to fall between the train and the platform!’ But ‘Mind the gap!’ would be a good name for the game Ephraem plays with his reader in the Hymns on Faith. Or should I say ‘the game Ephraem would have liked to play with his reader’ – before certain people with more vanity than sense spoiled the game for other readers by filling in the gaps with verses of their own composition.

When the manuscript was copied out again, these extra verses were put in amongst the original verses by a tidy-minded scribe who thought they looked better that way. The technical term for this process is ‘interpolation’. We need Interpol – the Inter-age Police Force – to detect what has been added. The ink will not show up as of a different colour, because we only have copies of the interpolated copy. Even in the interpolated copy the original and the secondary verses were written out with a single pen. We’d need to rediscover the original manuscript with the gaps in which the secondary verses were composed to prove it by forensic science.

Fortunately it is not too difficult, once you realise what has happened, to restore the poems as they were. For example, Hymn 68 in the Hymns on Faith must originally have had 22 verses. There are 22 letters in the Syriac alphabet and Hymn 68 has one verse for each letter, except that it has two verses for the last letter. One of these two – probably the second – is an intruder.

Hymns 66 and 67 lead up to the complete alphabet ‘acrostic’ in Hymn 68 by covering the alphabet between them: thirteen verses in Hymn 66, for the first thirteen letters in the alphabet, and nine verses in Hymn 67, for the remaining nine. But interpolations have inflated these two poems as well. And the same is true of Hymns 4 and 5, of which Hymns 66 and 67 are a kind of mirror. Hymn 4 has verses for each of the first nine letters in the alphabet, but, between the fourth and fifth, nine extra verses have been inserted. Hymn 5 covered the remaining 13 letters of the alphabet, so the extra verses on the tenth, twelfth, sixteenth and twenty-second letters should be removed.

The original pattern must have been as follows:
Hymn 4: 9 verses on letters 1-9
Hymn 5: 13 verses in letters 10-22
Hymn 66: 13 verses on letters 1-13
Hymn 67: 9 verses on letters 14-22
Hymn 68: 22 verses on letters 1-22

All in all, forty-four extra verses have been interpolated in these five hymns alone.

The Hymns on Faith contain several other acrostics on the alphabet – for example, Hymns 6, 11, 26 and 32 – and most of these have been interpolated as well (all except Hymn 11, in fact). It looks as though there was something about such poems which encouraged people to add to them. Either the game of composing a verse on a given letter was like a contagious disease and the extra verses are copy-cat performances; or else the attraction is that you can ear-mark your new composition with an initial letter which shows where it fits into Ephraem’s composition, like a gloss in a footnote which later gets included in the text.

But why is it that Hymn 68, which had twenty-two verses, has an extra verse, while Hymn 11, which is also an acrostic of the whole alphabet, has no extra verses inserted in it? And why is it that Hymn 68 has only one extra verse, whereas Hymn 66 (which covers thirteen letters) has eleven extra verses and Hymn 67 (which covers nine) has sixteen extra verses?

The answer to the second question might be that each of these hymns was written on a page of its own, which had room for twenty-four verses, give or take a single verse. Hymn 66 originally used up the space of thirteen verses, leaving room for eleven extra verses; Hymn 67 left room for fifteen extra verses and an extra one was squeezed in; and Hymn 68 left room for two extra verses, although only one was composed.

The answer to the first question might be that the two hymns are in different metres. Hymn 11 may have completely filled the page it was on, leaving no room for extra verses to be composed.

The obvious way to test these answers is by trying to imagine how the pages of the original manuscript were laid out; then seeing if the lay-out can account for all the interpolations.

Syriac manuscripts from the fifth and sixth centuries are the earliest material evidence we have to go on. There seem to be three possible lay-outs: one block of text; two columns of text; and three columns of text. The likelihood is that the original manuscript set out the poetry line by line; so the length of the lines would indicate the width of the text and would tell us how many columns it is likely that there were to the page.

In Hymns 66-68 the line-length is four syllables (each verse consists of five four-syllable lines). This means the width of the text was small; so there would have been room for three columns to a page.

Let’s look at some three-column Syriac manuscripts, like the British Library Additional MS 12,176 and the Vatican Apostolic Library Syriac MS 111 (both of which are datable around AD 500). Both these manuscripts have forty to forty-six lines to the column, with a tendency to stop at forty or forty-two. Was this the original lay-out of Hymns 66-68 in the Hymns on Faith?

If it was, then the five-line verses mean that there could have been eight or nine verses in each column, making twenty-four to twenty-seven verses to a page. The tendency to stop at forty or forty-two lines to a column would mean that eight verses to a column is the more likely format, but there would have been room to add an extra verse of five lines in the wide lower margin.

This exactly accounts for the number of interpolated verses in Hymns 66-68. Hymn 66 filled the first column and more than half of the second column (8 + 5 verses), leaving room for eleven extra verses in the empty spaces (3 + 8) and so filling up three columns of forty lines each. Hymn 67, with the extra verses, filled two columns of forty lines and one column of forty-five lines (8 + 8 + 9 verses). Hymn 68 originally came two verses short of filling all three columns and so left room for two extra verses (8 + 8 + 7 verses in all). The proposed reconstruction can be studied in Figure 1. The fact that the space was not fully used up does not weaken the explanation, any more than does the fact that a verse was added in the lower margin in Hymn 67.

Fig. 1

Figure 1 (right to left, as in Syriac; O = original verse; X = verse of secondary composition)

Can the same line of reasoning explain the lack of interpolations in Hymn 11 (the only alphabet acrostic without extra verses)?

Hymn 11 is composed in a different metre: each verse is three lines long; the first and the second lines are each eleven syllables long; the third is seventeen syllables long (4 + 4 + 4 + 5). To save space on the pages which contained the sixteen hymns in this metre the original lay-out probably made four lines in each verse by putting the last five syllables on a line of their own. That would mean the column of writing was eleven or twelve syllables across. Two columns of this width could have been fitted on the same page which contained three columns of four or five syllables (the metre of Hymns 49-65 consists of a series of five-syllable lines), since less space was needed between the columns. That means that Hymn 11 could just have been fitted on one page, with eleven verses in each of two columns, each column having forty-four lines. That leaves very little room in the bottom margin for extra compositions.

Does the explanation work for Hymns 4-6, which are in another metre again? The metre of Hymns 4-6 has eleven six-syllable units, normally grouped in sense-units of twelve syllables, except that the last three six-syllable units usually form a sense-unit on their own. In fact, the ninth of the eleven six-syllable units is usually a self-contained sense-unit within this final group. That suggests that the verses had six lines, the fifth line being six syllables long, the others twice six. We detect a series of sixes already, and others will emerge. There are six hymns in this metre; one of these is Hymn 6; and in Hymn 6, the number six is explicitly highlighted. To fit in with all this one might wish there to be six verses of six lines each in each column, giving thirty-six lines. However, seven verses of six lines could easily be fitted in.

Suppose that the nine verses in the original Hymn 4 were distributed over two columns of twelve-syllable width. That would have left room for a further three to five verses on that page. What we have is nine extra verses. The theory seems to have broken down. Or has it?

Remember that Hymns 4 and 5 between them cover the whole alphabet? Suppose that they were set out on facing pages, with seven verses to the column! That would leave room for six extra verses. But still it is not enough; nor does it even begin to account for the interpolations in Hymn 5. However, don’t let’s give up yet!

Suppose we go at it another way: leave room after Hymn 4 for the nine extra verses! We go back to the harmonious idea that there were six verses to a column and we find that the original nine verses fill one and a half columns, leaving exactly one and a half columns for the nine extra verses. Hymn 5 can begin at the top of the fourth column; and verse seven of Hymn 5 will then begin in the first column over the page, verse thirteen being isolated at the top of the column next to it. Hymn 5 has seven extra verses. Five of these may have been composed under verse thirteen: I suggest, the ones which are initialled with the tenth, the seventeenth, and the twenty-second letters (verses 2, 11 and 18-20), because these letters would have headed the three columns over which Hymn 5 is distributed. The remaining two (verses 5 and 6 in Beck’s edition) relate closely to the subject-matter of Hymn 6. I suggest they were composed under that hymn and transported back to Hymn 5 by a later interpolator, who ordered the extra stanzas according to the alphabetical series in the Hymns, without considering their content. These two verses begin with Låmadh, the twelfth letter, but there is no initial Låmadh in Hymn 6, which covers letters 1 to 10. Hymn 5 covers letters 10-22 and so contains a verse on Låmadh, to which the two extra verses could be appended.

Hymn 6, having 10 verses, filled one whole column and part of another, leaving room for two extra verses exactly. That would have meant that these two verses were on the same opening as the latter part of Hymn 5, which might have encouraged the interpolator to insert them in that hymn. Why the author of those verses chose the initial Låmadh I don’t know, but I suppose it has to do with the number six again, whether because Låmadh is the twelfth letter (2 x 12 = 24, which is also the product of the numbers of original verses in the two columns, 6 and 4), or because Låmadh stands for the number 30, so that two Låmadhs make sixty.

Six of the seven extra verses in Hymn 6 (four on the second letter, one on the ninth, and two on the tenth) would have filled a column left blank over the page, and the seventh might have been composed under the last verse in the next column, making that column up to six verses (Hymn 7 originally had only five verses: the ones initialled with the five letters of the poet’s name, AFREM). It is probable that Hymn 7 began below the top of the column and that the seven extra verses inserted in Hymn 6 were not divided into six and one by Hymn 7.

The six verses added on to Hymn 7 in the manuscripts must have been composed in a column left blank by the poet after Hymn 7. Hymn 8 could then have begun at the top of the last column and continued over the page. Hymns 8 and 9 have no interpolations so they may have filled three columns of six verses each with two columns of seven between them. The total number of columns filled by these six hymns would then have been sixteen (which contains the perfect number six, and ten, the number marked by the initial of Jesus, Yudh), or four page-openings, allowing Hymns 10 and 11, in a new metre, to be written out facing each other on a new page-opening (both Hymn 10 and Hymn 11 have exactly 22 verses).

In favour of this reconstruction we can add that it accounts for various things. For example, the first interpolated verse in Hymn 4 begins with the fourth letter of the alphabet and, according to this reconstruction, it was composed in the left-hand column immediately opposite the original verse on the fourth letter. Again, in Hymn 5, the interpolated verses feature, as we have seen, the letters which, according to the reconstruction, headed the three columns.

Finally, putting Hymns 8 and 9 into columns of six, seven, six, seven and six verses would bring verses 14-16 of Hymn 8 to the top of a column on one side of the binding exactly opposite verses 4-6 of Hymn 9 on the other side of the binding, so that verses 7-10 of Hymn 9 would have continued below and to one side of verses 14-16 of Hymn 8. The reason why this seems right is that Hymn 8, verses 14-16 all begin with the name Daniel, which begins with the letter which stands for 4 (as in verse 14 and verse 4); whereas verses 7-10 of Hymn 9 all begin with the name Zechariah (except that verse 10 does not have that name as its first word), which begins with the seventh letter. The total of acrostic verses in these two hymns is therefore 6 or 7 (depending on whether you count verse 10 of Hymn 9); and that very uncertainty seems to reflect the fluctuating column-lengths, now six, now seven verses to a column. I shall suggest at the end a reason why Ephraem might have chosen to give this highly contrived impression of being ‘at sixes and sevens’.

What is neat about the reconstruction is that it accounts for the exact number of extra verses in Hymns 4-7: 29. The original verses in Hymns 4-7 total 37. 37 + 29 = 66. There are six lines in each verse. 66 x 6 = 396. There are 36 lines in each column (discounting titles and refrains), making it possible to have columns containing exactly six verses with a total of 36 lines. 396 divided by 36 is 11. So Hymns 4-7, together with the extra verses we find in them, would have filled exactly 11 columns. Besides, the numbers 66 and 396 fit in nicely with the pattern of sixes we have already discovered. It is no accident that, in the original manuscript, these totals could only be reached by adding to those written those unwritten, by using, that is, to echo the last words of Hymn 1, both speech and silence. Hymn 1, verse 19 is a programmatic statement prefacing the whole book:

Let me use, in this dispute, both of these judiciously:
let me argue modestly; keep me still, not merely mute!
Where it helps, allow me speech; where that hinders, silence teach!

We have a debt of gratitude towards the people who vainly composed their own verses in the gaps in Ephraem’s manuscript. They showed little respect, it’s true, for Ephraem’s intentions. Yet their additions preserved the length of those gaps and made it difficult for later scribes to compress the text and get rid of the gaps altogether. Unintentionally, they enabled us to rediscover the very intentions they had disrespected. In a longer, but in some ways already superseded, article: ‘Words, Silences, and the Silent Word: Acrostics and Empty Columns in Saint Ephraem’s Hymns on Faith’ (forthcoming in Parole de l’Orient) I reconstruct the whole manuscript; for present purposes, half of the first quire of twelve folios, or six rectangles of cured, shaved and polished animal-skin piled up on top of one another and folded in half for binding. With this diagram before us, we can start playing ‘Mind the gap!’ (see Figure 2).

Fig. 2

Figure 2 (right to left, as in Syriac; O = original verse; X = verse of secondary composition; A, B, G, D, h, W, Z, H, T, Y, K, L, M, N, s, E, F, S, Q, R, J, t = the Syriac alphabet; KB means K comes first in Beck’s edition, B is what I conjecture in this position; I ignore the jumble of initials in 8 and 9 in order to bring out what I think is the only pattern in them; [Z] indicates that the name Zechariah is repeated in the first line, but not at the head of it, whereas Zechariah comes at the head of the three preceding verses; < indicates the beginning of Hymn 9)

The game begins with the obvious question: Why did Ephraem leave such a lot of empty parchment? Parchment, after all, was expensive. If you have seen the film The Pillow Book, by Peter Greenaway, you will already know that it is about a Japanese calligrapher who painted books on men’s shaved skin and sent them to her homosexual male publisher, where the ‘walking books’ stripped naked and allowed their texts to be copied by demure female secretaries in kimonos. One of the ‘walking books’ gets kicked out of doors as worthless by the publisher, who cannot discover any words on his skin, not even behind his ears or on his eyelids (as had been the case with the previous ‘walking book’, the ‘Book of Secrets’). It turned out that the wordless book had his title written on his tongue and closed up in his mouth. The title was: ‘The Book of Silence’. Ephraem’s game has no such single-layered solution, but leads from depth to depth, leaving Peter Greenaway, for all his cleverness, looking like a man who, after all, has nothing very profound to say, and who pays lip-service to oriental wisdom and to many-layered communication, without really understanding what it is that he is praising.

Hymn 4 has nine verses: it stops short of the tenth letter. The tenth letter is Yudh, the initial of yaldå, which means either ‘birth’ or ‘child’. This is a key-word in the first verse and a key-concept in the Hymns on Faith as a whole. In verse 1 of Hymn 4 Ephraem writes of the yaldå (the mysterious genesis of the eternal word from God the Father) that ‘the search for him is enclosed in silence’. In the gap after Hymn 4 the reader searches for the letter Yudh in vain; just as, in the life of faith, he searches in vain for words to describe the genesis of the Silent Word which is the ‘Brainchild’ of God; then begins, instead, to search for the Child Himself in silent prayer.

The hymn begins by evoking the scene witnessed in heaven by the prophet Daniel (7,9-10):

A thousand thousands stand; a myriad myriads prompt.
Those thousands and myriads cannot penetrate one.
All of them are silent, where they stand in service.
He does not share his throne, except with his own son.
In silence is he sought.
Were the wakeful to intrude, that silence would check them.

From this translation, done into the original metre, it can be seen that the distinctive short line, which is followed by a blank half-line, and probably by a silence in the musical rendering (now lost), is exactly the phrase ‘The search for him is enclosed in silence’ (compressed, because of the metre, into six syllables: ‘In silence is he sought.’).

The nine verses of Hymn 4 stand for the nine divisions of the angels, ordered, in three ascending ranks, below the throne of God, as Ephraem’s contemporary, Athanasius, imagines them (see Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon, s.v. angelos) and as, towards the year 500, an anonymous Syrian would describe them in the Celestial Hierarchies attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite. The hymn ends with a verse on the seraphim and a verse on the cherubim. The latter are just below the throne (or the chariot: it has wheels of blazing fire, according to Daniel), which they carry (Ezekiel, chapter 10). The blank parchment after the verse on the cherubim can therefore be seen as a representation of the fiery throne itself and of the river of fire which flowed out of it. The verses ‘lead up to’ the blank space, just as the ranks lead up to the throne. The fact that the throne is invisible, whereas the verses representing the angels are visible, can be read as meaning: ‘If the angels themselves, who are made of created spirit and fire, cannot be seen or described by human beings, how much less can the One who sits on the throne, who is as far beyond the comprehension of angels as the angels are beyond that of men!’ Similar arguments are used explicitly by Ephraem in the Hymns on Faith. For example, Hymn 33, verse 7:

Even evil spirits
cannot be portrayed.
If you represent
holy spirit with thoughts,
putrid spirits will put
all your words to shame.

Hymn 11, verses 7 and 8, give expression to the idea that the gap between beasts and humans corresponds to that between humans and angels and that there is a yet greater gap between the angels and the Holy Trinity (the Father and the Son and the Love they share, which is a name for the Holy Spirit):

Little Man can never hear all languages.
Even an ear attuned to that of watchful stars
could not hear the silence in which sire and son
communicate on high.

Foreign is the tongue of men to that of beasts;
foreign that of watchful stars to both of these;
foreign to the watchers is the hush in which
the father shares his love.

‘Watchers’ is the name given to the angels by the Prophet Daniel (4:13). Robert Murray, in The Cosmic Covenant (London, 1992), has documented an ancient Hebrew myth about the stars, which makes them in some way identical with the angels. I am convinced that Ephraem meant his readers to think of the stars when he used the name ‘watchers’ for the angels. For example, the passage just quoted follows immediately on a reference to the firmament and to the days which follow one another. The mind associates this easily with the contrasting image of the star-studded firmament at night. The stars keep watch while humans sleep. They might well be made of spirit and fire, the stuff of angels. They are said to shout praise to the Creator in the inaudible ‘Music of the Spheres’; and yet they maintain a deep silence in the midst of heaven, apparently empty of all but the myriad stars, yet full of the unseen presence of the lord around whom they revolve.

In Hymn 10, verse 4, the Syriac has: ‘Watchers, behold, are astounded at your intermediate wealth,’ that is, at the knowledge manifested to them, which is intermediate between God’s own knowledge and that of human beings. Thinking of the stars between heaven and earth and of the shooting stars which seem like angels racing to earth with messages for the human race, I translate this whole verse as follows:

Only he that bore you knows your crowning lay.
Meteoric eyes are widened at your spread.
Readings filter down to earth and surfeit us
with insights, like a flood.

As we hurtle through the space left by Ephraem between Hymns 4 and 5, we may well contemplate the child in the image of the sun, offered to us in Hymn 4, verse 4 (the metre, usually 12 + 12 + 12 in the first three lines, here gets thrown off balance and ‘dashed to pieces’ and becomes 6 + 12 + 12 + 6):

Does the mind not stagger? Its eye was braced to gaze
full on your effulgence. Then your small flame came out
and dashed it to pieces! Who can look at the son?
His rays are to be feared, so dense in every part!
He’s that sun long foretold.
There’s healing in his hem, but pain in seeking him.

The sun reappears many times. Already in Hymn 5, verse 5, it has become an image not only of the child, but also of the mystery of his birth:

Nature gives us a kiln to test the word for truth.
The sun is all naked before the all-naked eye,
yet she is unable to penetrate his depths.
Nothing hides him from her, yet she cannot see him.
How much less can we gaze
directly at the sun of your bare begetting!

In Hymn 6, verse 2, it becomes a model by which to understand that, while God himself is unreachable, his child reaches down to earth, and in that ‘beam’ the intensity of the ‘sun’ is so softened that our eyes can bear it – just:

Blazing on high, the sun defeats all our gazing.
All pales beside its fact; all yields to its impact.
Its beam is stretched out long; it comes down to the eye.
But for the veiled one’s child, there’s none that has seen him.
Too intense for his slaves,
through his child that unseen presence appeared to men.

Much later, in Hymn 40, and again in Hymns 73-75, the sun becomes an icon of the Holy Trinity, with the heat being added to the fire and the light as the third partner. In Hymn 57 an analogy is drawn between the human memory and the Word of God (Syriac mellthå = Greek logos), and the sun is used as a simile for both:

The model discerned
in the dim mirror
of the human mind
teaches through wonder
of God’s own mellthå.
Our word has never
its own dull nature;
our silence worships
his word’s bright silence
The mind amazes.

It is in the rarefied brightness of the unstained parchment that we catch a reminder of the sun, which represents the impenetrable knowledge of God. With the first two lines of Hymn 5, we re-enter the thick ‘atmosphere’ of Ephraem’s articulated poetry (as opposed to his unarticulated poems: the gaps), descending from the silent contemplation of divine knowledge to a comparison between angelic knowledge and human knowledge:

In moderation the knowledge of watchers probes.
Inordinately the knowledge of humans roams.

Further on, in verses 7-9 (verses 10, 12 and 13 in Beck’s edition), the poet seems to come close to stating that he is using the empty space between his poems as a kind of unpainted canvas, to stimulate our imagination:

Again, this air we share is fused with everything.
Our breath depends on it, though the bond is painless.
It passes in and out, stays with us as absent.
The hand which falls on air feels nothing underneath.
Air escapes, yet stays put.
It’s there, yet it’s not there, trapped, but uncatchable.
Paint, then, with these pigments — comparisons with air —
an icon of thereness and unpaintableness!
He’s near and far away, in us, yet not in us.
Creation is in him, he in it, as absent.
There is nothing so big
that he might hide in it; and yet he hides himself.
Chary of going too far, we’ve sketched, for our life’s sake,
impalpable thereness. Now: straight home, to silence!
Blind man, don’t try to see white heat by fingers’ touch!
That will not make all clear; coals are hot: they will sear.
Hidden thereness harms seers,
unless they do homage and so grow in spirit.

The first part of this might have been useful to the mother whose four-year-old son, Callum, questioned her about God:

Callum: Is God everywhere?
Mother: Yes, dear.
Callum: Is he in this room?
Mother: Yes, he is.
Callum: Is he in my mug?
Mother: [growing uneasy] Er – yes.
Callum: [clapping his hand over the mug] Got him!

(quoted from Margaret Donaldson, Human minds: an exploration, Penguin 1993, p. 80)

The transition from Hymn 5 to Hymn 6 was also effected by a blank space. The poet seems to have used this to represent the absence of reasons for the birth of the Son, who was begotten out of sheer love. Look at Hymn 6, verse 1:

Amazing as it seems, some people miss the truth,
that great mountain even short-sighted folk can see.
No one can fail to feel in ‘father’ the name ‘son’.
Not of need was he got: his begetter has none.
No reasons caused that birth.
Out of sheer love, the sire begat a blazing child!

Hymn 6 ends in the following verse (verse 17 in Beck’s edition):

Jesus, O blazing name, O unseen bridge, which leads
over from death to life! Reaching you, I stand still
at your letter, the tenth. Be a bridge for my word
to cross to your truth by! Throw your love to your slave!
Let me cross on your self
to your fearsome father, softened through his own child!

There follows another empty column before Hymn 7. This empty column represents both the beam which connects the sun with the earth and the bridge which enables the poet personally to cross over from earth to heaven. This same bridge enables his human language to come some way towards giving expression to the truth. Hymn 7 represents the poet, being an acrostic composed on the five letters of his name.

The poet is a creator. As such, he realises at least a part of what it means to say that human beings were created in the image of God; for God is a Creator, too. Hymn 6 is very largely about his creation of Adam on the sixth day. The theme of the number six, which we have found to be so ubiquitous in the six hymns 4-9, is certainly chosen, along with the metre, to remind us of the six days of Creation. The first six poems in the book might represent the first six ‘days’ of Ephraem’s poetic creation; except that he only seems to ‘rest from his labours’ after completing a seventh one, Hymn 7. I should like to see the empty column after this acrostic on the name AFREM as a space in which the human creator is ‘resting from his labours’. But how can the first seven hymns in the book be counted as six?

Actually there are several ways: either Hymns 2 and 3 are taken together (they share the same metre and Hymn 3 continues the list of beatitudes in Hymn 2 like a sequel); or Hymns 4 and 5 are taken together (between them they cover the whole alphabet); or Hymns 6 and 7 are taken together (they are linked by an ‘unseen bridge’).

This is the meaning I wanted to suggest for the fluctuation between six and seven in the lay-out of Hymns 8 and 9. By alternating columns of six or seven verses in those hymns, Ephraem may have intended to suggest that the first seven hymns could also be counted, for symbolic purposes, as six.

After Hymn 8 there are no more gaps in the first quire. That is where my analysis, for the purposes of this article, must draw to a close.

Ephraem left gaps in his Hymns on Faith between each of the hymns 4 to 7 and that which followed it. These gaps can be measured, thanks to the extraneous material which gathered in them and which was subsequently incorporated in the hymns. It is a service to Ephraem and his readers to remove this extraneous material. It is also very revealing to restore the book in what must have been its original lay-out. Even the metres of the poems can be seen to be important for deciphering the poet’s more abstruse points. That he had some deep purpose in leaving whole columns blank would seem evident from the fact that parchment was expensive. There seems to be no need to document this for every region and period; to cite one authority only, it has been sufficiently documented by Rosamond McKitterick in The Carolingians and the Written Word. If, in interpreting this purpose, we are guided by what he actually says, not least in the poems to either side of the gaps, our interpretation will be a valid one. This method does, in fact, produce very satisfactory results. The gaps say much more than that speech, in theology, must be balanced by silence; or that ‘roaming’ follows ‘being still’ (to quote Hymn 32, verse 5 = verse 6 in Beck’s edition) in the poet’s rhythm of creativity and meditation, as day follows night in the Genesis Creation-narrative: the ‘gaps’ we have been ‘minding’ are the invisible colours with which Ephraem paints ‘an icon of thereness and unpaintableness’.

Denk om het gat: een kerkvader met gevoel voor humor

Ephraïm de Syriër heeft zijn Hymnen van het Geloof in acrosticha geschreven. Sommige hymnen echter doorbreken die acrosticha. Heeft de auteur ze zo bedoeld, of is er later aan gesleuteld? Op ingenieuze wijze wordt aangetoond dat Ephraïm met zijn publiek speelt door functionele gaten in zijn hymnen open te laten, de acrosticha respecterend. Het patroon van de oorspronkelijke lay-out van de hymnen wordt duidelijk.

Gouden Hoorn literair

by Anthony Kirby

‘REMEMBER if we preserve our freedom–‘
I have caught myself peering through glasses
At the written world of two millenium’s grace;
My eyes have run the gauntlet, cherishing
The wisdom and folly of inexorable struggles:
Of power and ideology:-
‘Remember if we preserve our freedom by our own efforts, this will
Easily restore us to our old position’.
A wry smile crosses my lips:
The pink of a tainted blue-black sky beckons beyond
The window — and still the knowledge of a city
So far away in time and distance renders
My gains as short and sweet.
So mistaken identities, crass and obscure
Fall neatly into fallen lines, parallels forever
In the endless night, feeding the dead
Who have thus offered up their souls;
Their unseeing eyes and faces grin
‘We know the secret of the earth,
We are the ghosts of the past;
We have tasted the bloodied earth,
We were there when they devastated our lands;
We were there when our children screamed at the advancing hordes;
We heard the demagogues speak with their forked tongues
Licking our wounds with their venomous spittle.
We had no time to spend shedding tears,
We had no time to spray words of helplessness.
We are the whispers or fabrications of the written word.’
Into this new dimension, my probing questing
For fair opinions found little hope.
Blinking; shivers and silence–
No questions as these thieving eyes
Steal silence.
Nothing more

16.11 1987


White and pale blue
Form the day
Whist blinded eyes seeking oblivion
Gain gold:
And this river overcomes,
The river overcomes.

Hands clasping at the mellowed earth,
Seeking the root,
Another root;
Thoughts cover their feet with
Dusty roads, all leading to Byzantium.

Stark star-spun nights
Cut across ancient buildings,
Hail, rain and sun; wind snow and frost
Devour, yet the fabric stands.
The alien bricks hold,
The mortar enigmatic
Tells no stories, no stories
Are to be told.

On a high-swept plateau
My hands create
Another frame, another eye
To steal the day before into a future thrill;
My hands shake as they create.

12.9 1996

The strategy and tactics of siege warfare in the early Byzantine period from Constantine to Heraclius

by Stephen McCotter

This doctoral thesis, successfully examined in October 1995, arose from the concern that while many scholars have recently dealt with the Byzantine army from a socio-economic perspective, research into how the army actually conducted its operations was neglected. Sieges in particular were largely ignored although they constituted over half of the military engagements in the period from Constantine to Heraclius. Investigations covered how the Byzantines and their enemies attacked and defended fortifications, what weapons they used, why they attacked them, how they treated them after capture, and how the cities were defended. It also examines the changes over time in this area of late antique military operations. This diachronic work was concerned not only with the Byzantine forces, but also with their enemies. Literary statements by late antique authors, to the effect that the ‘barbarians’ were useless when it came to attacking walled cities, had been accepted without question but the fact remained that they captured many. This needed to be examined. To facilitate this, the various armies were grouped according to their level of urbanisation, since siege warfare naturally involves attacks on cities. The aim was to see whether urbanised peoples conducted siege warfare in a more advanced fashion than their less settled counterparts.

The conclusion of the thesis suggests that experience of urban living does not improve poliorcetic ability in its own right. The Visigoths roamed inside the empire for 40 years before settling in Aquitaine, but even then they could still not take cities by assault, and they show no sign of having acquired siege weapons. Yet the nomadic Avars were able to assault cities successfully almost from their first contact with the empire. Thus association with urban living was not the sole determinant of poliorcetic capability, at least not for storming operations. If cities were to be assaulted it was the side with the best weaponry which achieved most, and the urban lifestyle of various peoples seems to have little bearing on this. The significant feature appears to have been the use of the bow. The western barbarian peoples did not make much use of archers and consequently struggled to take towns by force, but when they incorporated the former imperial institutions of the regions they inhabited, including their military establishments, their ability to assault cities improved dramatically. The fact that many former imperial units contained archers would appear to be the key factor in this. In terms of simply gaining control of cities by any means possible, an urban background seems to have influenced the ability of the various peoples. Once they started to live in and around cities, the barbarians understood what urban life required in order to function. It is no coincidence that after the Goths had been living in Italy for a while they appreciated the importance of supplies for a city’s survival. Rather than simply sitting around towns trying to prevent provisions reaching those inside, they actually tried to control possible sources of supply. Hence their capture and garrisoning of Portus every time they besieged Belisarius in Rome. The value of treachery and deception was not lost on them either, witnessed particularly by their attempts to bribe gate-keepers. Thus the various barbarians were just as effective as their more settled counterparts when it came to taking cities. They used different tactics, based on a recognition of their own abilities and deficiencies, to conduct sieges. Successful storming operations were admittedly rare, but it must be pointed out that the Byzantine military handbooks themselves suggested that direct assaults were the last resort rather than the preferred way of taking objectives. Therefore, by avoiding assaults, the barbarian forces were achieving success with the minimum number of casualties, which is arguably military ability at its best.

Other aspects touched on the doctoral work included technology transfer, particularly the introduction of the trebuchet. I believe it may have appeared as early as the 580s, being brought west by the Avars and rapidly copied by the Byzantines and then the Persians. Another point was the increasing influence of Christian beliefs in warfare. The siege of 626 is not unique in terms of popular piety as similar incidents of supernatural defenders of cities appear as early as 337 at Nisibis. It is put into context by demonstrating that divine protection did not only take the form of phantom apparitions, but is evident in reports of bishops manning ballistae, monks defending walls, cities falling because they had not fasted piously enough and other similar beliefs.

Finally, a comparison with former Roman siege operations showed that the Byzantines were not as effective as their predecessors. less effort and energy appears to have been expended in the military conduct of sieges than before. Even the nomadic tribes seem to have been more forceful in their poliorcetic operations, while the Persians appear to have been the most successful and competent of all the forces in late antiquity. While the Roman legions had easily been the preeminent military force in their time, the fourth-seventh centuries were times of crisis when the empire was overwhelmed by widespread military problems and the fact that it conducted as many sieges as successfully as it did is testimony to its ability.


Strategie en tactiek van oorlogsvoering via belegering in de vroeg-Byzantijnse tijd: van Constantijn tot Heraklius

Dit promotieonderzoek is gestart om de leemte te vullen die bestond in het onderzoek naar het Byzantijnse leger, namelijk de vraag hoe het leger zijn operaties, in het bijzonder de belegeringstactiek, uitvoerde. Bronnen uit de tijd zelf spraken erover dat de ‘barbaarse’ legers steden niet konden aanvallen, maar feit is dat ze er wel veel hebben hebben bezet. Zowel het Byzantijnse als vijandige legers werden bestudeerd, waarbij een indeling werd gemaakt van de legers in hun mate van verstedelijkt zijn, omdat belegeringen gewoonlijk steden als doelwit hebben. Op zich, concludeert deze studie, bevordert het gewend zijn aan wonen in een stedelijke omgeving de mate van kundigheid in belegeren niet. ‘Barbaarse’ legers gebruikten andere tactieken die zij beheersten en leerden van hun zwakke punten.

The VIIIth International Congress of Cretan Studies, Heraklion

by Sophia Oikonomou

The International Congress of Cretan Studies has become an important cultural event in Greece during the last 35 years focusing its interest on various aspects of Cretan life.

The first International Congress of Cretan Studies took place at Heraklion in September 1961. It was Andreas Kalokairinos together with a group of young intellectuals who planned and organised that first congress, the main interest of which was studies regarding the island of Crete. This same group of people had already succeeded in publishing the first periodical for Cretan studies, Kretika Chronika (the first issue appeared in 1947 and it is still being published). They also founded the Society of Cretan Historical Studies (EKIM) in 1951 and two years later the Historical Museum of Crete, one of the most important museums in Greece today.

Since then, eight successful congresses have been organised, one every five years in the capital cities of the prefectures of the island of Crete. Mainly EKIM together with other cultural societies of the island organise these congresses. The number of participants keeps growing as well as the number of papers given and of the pages of the congresses’ proceedings.

This year’s congress that took place in Heraklion and was organised by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies (EKIM), was attended by 350 participants from eighteen different countries and 290 papers had been delivered regarding archaeology, history, literature, language and folklore tradition of Crete.

The innovation at this congress was the appointment of a main theme which was “Private Life in Crete”. The appointment of a main theme was thought necessary for the congress to acquire a coherence since it presents an unavoidable heterogeneity because of the large number of participants and of the different periods of Cretan history covered. Most of the papers conformed to that direction.

The proceedings were divided as in the previous congresses in three sections which correspond with the three main periods of Cretan history : the prehistoric and ancient Greek period (section A’), the Byzantine and Venetian period (section B’) and the modern period (section C’).

Three keynote speeches on the main theme were given on the first day of the congress: “Everyday life in Minoan Times” by Professor Peter Warren (section A’), “Everyday life in Crete under Venetian rule: Existing research and prospects for the future” by Professor Chryssa Maltezou (section B’) and “Information on the everyday life of Cretans, drawn from unpublished material held by the Folklore Centre of the Academy of Athens” by Dr. G. Aikaterinidis (section C’).

The largest number of papers given were of section A’ and they referred to Minoan religion, script, architecture and ceramics. Presentations on undergoing excavations were very interesting as well as on activities and establishments of the Minoans outside Crete. In section B’ papers regarding Byzantine Crete and especially its architecture, iconography, pottery, inscriptions and literature were very important and stimulating, while the ones given on the Venetian period were many more in number. The identification of the first signed work of Domenico Theotokopoulos was the subject of one of the most impressive papers given in the congress. Section C’ presented the smaller number of papers regarding the study of literature and language.

This 1996 Congress was enriched with presentations by the Foundation of Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH) on technology in archaeological and historical research: a)”Applications for Lasers in the Maintenance and Presentation of Monuments and Works of Art” by Professor K. Fotakis and Dr. B. Zaphiropoulos, b)”Cultural Information Systems” by Professor P. Constantopoulos. These presentations were enthusiastically welcomed by the audience of all three sections.

The participants of the congress and their companions had the opportunity to attend receptions and other activities: excursion to Piskopiano and tour of its Agricultural Museum, tour of the new exhibition rooms at the Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion, excursion to Rethymnon and tour of the local Museum of History and Folklore, and excursion to Gortyna with a visit to the excavation at the Praetorium and the early Christian Basilica in Metropolis conducted by the archaeologists excavating there. In addition a performance of G. Chortatzis’ “Erophili” by the Municipal Regional Theatre of Crete directed by Spyros Evangelatos and a concert by the Polyphonia choral group entitled “Franciscus Leondariti and his Time” were two more activities offered.

Proceedings are expected to be published in two year’s time while the IX International Congress of Cretan Studies will be held in 2001 at Hagios Nikolaos or Ierapetra of Lassithi prefecture.

For further information on the congress and its proceedings you may contact:

The Society of Cretan Historical Studies (EKIM)
Historical Museum of Crete
Lysimahou Kalokairinou 7
71202 Heraklion Crete
tel.: 0030-81-283219
fax.: 0030-81-283754


Het VIIIste Internationale congres over Kretenzische Studiën, Heraklion Kreta, 9-14 september 1996

Elke vijf jaar wordt sinds 1961 dit internationale congres op Kreta georganiseerd. Dit jaar was er een innovatie in de vorm van een centraal thema: privéleven op Kreta. Er waren 350 deelnemers op dit congres. Over ongeveer twee jaar zullen de artikelen gepubliceerd worden, en in 2001 vindt het negende congres plaats in Hagios Nikolaos, of Ierapetra.

Byz-Niz: Berichten uit de O.B.O.-burelen


De redactie ontving het programma van de A.A. Brediusstichting, die gevestigd is in Kasteel Hernen, 6616 AH Hernen (tel. 0487-531387). Helaas lopen de meeste programmaonderdelen tot eind december, zodat dit nummer te laat komt om ze nog te vermelden.

Twee lezingen, georganiseerd door het Department of Classics/Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies van het King’s College, London:

27 januari 1997, 17:30. Seminar: Krijnnie Ciggaar (Leiden): ‘Three historical personalities, three contacts between the West & Byzantium: Theophanu, Guibert of Nogent, St. Bernard.’

6 februari 1997, 18:00: Sixth Annual Runciman Lecture: Prof. Anthony Bryer (Birmingham): ‘This is Roum country; they spoke christian here’. Who were the Byzantines?

Maart’97: The Glory of Byzantium, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Juli ’97: Treasures from Mount Athos, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki.
1997 Spring Symposium Byzantine Studies: Desire and denial in Byzantium.

University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, 21-24 March.
Informatie: Liz James, School of European Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton.
Tenth International Non-Slavic Languages Conference.

University of Chicago, 8-10 mei 1997. Direct hierna vindt de Conference on the Cultures of Caucasia plaats, 10-11 mei 1997.
Organisatie: Howard I. Aronson, Bill J. Darden, Victor A. Friedman, NSL-10, Dept. of Slavic Languages & Literatures, University of Chicago. 1130 E. 59th St., Chicago, IL. 60637. E-mail:
South African Conference on Patristic and Byzantine Studies

Prof. Hendrik F. Stander laat ons weten:

“The South African Society for Patristic and Byzantine Studies will hold a conference from 27-29 August 1997 in Pretoria. A considerable number of international scholars has already indicated that they would like to read a paper at this conference. The registration fee for the conference is US $30 (non-refundable) and must be received before January 31, 1997. All other information regarding the conference will only be sent to those whose registration fee has been paid. Please note that no other fees will be payable at the conference (the banquet is optional). Please make your cheque payable to the University of Pretoria and send it to myself.

You can also contact me by e-mail. Please send all your e-mail notes under the heading “S.A. Conference” (to enable me to distinguish them from junk mail).”

Prof. Hendrik F. Stander
Dept. of Ancient Languages
University of Pretoria
0002 Pretoria

De WWW pagina van het Oecumenische Patriarchaat van Constantinopel is nu online:

Verder nog interessante adressen:

(Informatie over Byzantium)

(Byzantijnse geschiedenis, kleding, etc.)

(Slavische geschiedenis)

(Russische kerkgeschiedenis)

Athens News Agency Bulletin (No 1050), November 26, 1996
Greek Press & Information Office
Ottawa, Canada
E-Mail Address:

Attempt to convert Byzantine-era cathedral into mosque creates friction within Turkey
Istanbul, 26/11/1996 (ANA – A. Kourkoulas)

An attempt by the Turkey’s directorate of charitable foundations to convert the Byzantine cathedral of Agia Sophia in the Black Sea port city of Trabzon into a mosque is causing the reaction of the Turkish ministry of culture, press reports noted yesterday. The same reports say the ministry is claiming property rights over the church, after the directorate issued instructions for its conversion. The ruling Refah party has made it clear that “does not consider this initiative necessary.”
Ontvangen ter redactie

Byzantine studies in Australia newsletter 32 (1996) oct. Met overnames uit GH 4.1
Society for Armenian Studies Newsletter: Vol. 20, no. 1 (summer 1996).
Catalogus nr. 7 van Quest Books, Harmer Hill, Millington, York YO4 2TX, UK.


Een selectie uit de fondslijst 1996 van uitgeverij Porphyrogenitus :

Monumenta Peloponnesiaca, ed. J. Chrysostomides, 1995
A collection of 320 fully annotated, unpublished documents in Latin, Italian, and Greek, drawn from the archives of Dubrovnik, Florence, Malta, Paris, Venice and the Vatican. These documents shed a new light on the political, social, and economic conditions in the Peloponnese in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. 16 plates, map, full index, select vocabulary. 704 pages, 280 x 220mm, hardback, ISBN 1 871328 06 3. Price £130.

Kathegetria: essays in honour of J.M. Hussey, ed. J. Chrysostomides, 1988
A collection of 31 articles by internationally distinguished scholars, exploring a wide range of important aspects of Byzantine history – a fitting tribute to Professor Hussey’s contribution to Byzantine studies.
Contributors include J. Darrouzes, J. Koder, H. Hunger, S. Runciman.
543 pages, 242 x 170mm, hardback, maps, analytical index.
ISBN 1 871328 00 4.
Price £45.

The journals and letters of George Finlay, ed. J.M. Hussey, 1995
The journals and selected correspondence of the nineteenth-century Scottish scholar, traveller, and philhellene. His writings provide a vivid picture of day to day life in Greece, and will be an invaluable source to topographers, archaeologists and historians. This edition is richly illustrated with over 130 of Finlay’s own sketches. 949 pages, 240 x 165mm, hardback in two vols.
ISBN 1 871328 10 1. Price £95.

Jonathan Harris, Greek Emigres in the West 1400-1520, 1995
Most studies of emigrants from Constantinople and Greece in Western Europe in this period have focused on the scholars who contributed so much to the study of Greek during the Italian Renaissance. This original investigation reveals that they also included physicians, shipbuilders, artists, and other skilled craftsmen, and argues that the readiness of western regimes to employ them undermines traditional assumptions about Byzantium’s cultural and technological backwardness in the century before the fall of Constantinople. 282 pages, 220 x 150mm, hardback, index, full bibliography.
ISBN 1 871328 11 X. Price £45.

In voorbereiding:

The letter of the three patriarchs to the emperor Theophilus and related texts, ed. J. Chrysostomides, Ch. Dendrinos, and J.A. Munitiz
A new edition, with English translation, notes and substantive introduction on historical, literary and iconographical aspects of these texts, which belong to the second period of the iconoclast movement (813-843). An introductory essay by J. Chrysostomides offers a new assessment of the authenticity of the largest text, The Letter of the Three Patriarchs. c.300 pages, 240 x 160 mm, plates, indices, hardback. ISBN 1 871328 12 8. Price approx £65.

Te bestellen bij:

Porphyrogenitus Ltd.
27 Upper Gordon Road
Surrey, GU15 2HJ
United Kingdom


door André de Raaij

Als je het maar als koopje presenteert, dan denkt de calculerende burger misschien wel dat het echt om een koopje gaat. Het is een manier om salontafelboeken te slijten. De titel zij curiositeitshalve vermeld: Die Armenier – Brücke zwischen Abendland und Orient. Belser: 1996, Fl. 65,60. Gezien bij Scheltema, Holkema & Vermeulen. Aardiger is de eveneens daar waargenomen gelegenheidsuitgave van een kleine Amsterdamse uitgeverij: Turkish cookery book, comp. by Turali Efendi. Origineel: London, 1864. Amsterdam: De Kan, mei 1996, Fl. 7,50. Vergelijkbaar met het boek over de Donau van Claudio Magris (die er dan ook een voorwoord bij geschreven heeft) is: Pedrag Matvejevic, De Middellandse Zee – een getijdenboek. Meulenhoff: 1993, Fl. 19,95, eveneens bij SH&V. Uiteraard komt het oostelijke, “Byzantijnse” gedeelte van de oude wereldzee voldoende aan bod.

In de rubriek triviaalliteratuur met een Byzantijnse toets biedt De Slegte: Rose Macaulay, De torens van Trebizonde. Contact: 1987, Fl. 9,95. H.A.R. Gibb, De islam – een historisch overzicht. Meppel: Boom, 1985 (tweede druk), Fl. 10,90, eveneens bij De Slegte. Misschien is er een derde druk op komst, want deze uitgeverij verramsjt niet zomaar. De glorie van Venetië. Atrium/Terrail: 1994 is ook bij De Slegte gesignaleerd voor Fl. 39,90, maar ook hiervoor geldt: buiten de ramsj zie je zo’n boek in het geheel niet, en men kan niet van een buitenkansje spreken.

De Britse boekenmarkt is aan het instorten dankzij deregulering die heilzame marktkrachten hun werk laat doen, zodat W.H. Smith voor het eerst in zijn lange bestaan verlies lijdt, en dit kan meteen in negen cijfers uitgedrukt worden. Zoals in betere dagen Amerikaanse elpees met een gaatje in de hoes voor spotprijzen in Nederland te koop waren, duiken nu voortdurend courante Penguinboeken voor schokkend lage prijzen op in diverse winkels. Daar zitten ook wel eens “Byzantijnse” titels tussen, maar er is geen beginnen aan ze te signaleren – daarvoor is de status van deze ramsj te vaag. Een kwestie van geluk hebben en goed opletten…