On the Rome fire of 192 CE

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MrMacSon
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On the Rome fire of 192 CE

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Though less famous than the purported burning of the Library of Alexandria, the great fire that tore through central Rome in 192 CE resulted in a similarly profound loss for ancient Greek and Roman scholarship. The true cost of this fire became clear to historians in 2005, when a text believed lost for centuries was unexpectedly rediscovered in a Greek monastery. Titled “On Consolation from Grief” and written in the aftermath of the blaze by Galen—court physician to several Roman emperors—the work does more than chronicle an unfortunate accident. As classicist Matthew C. Nicholls shows [see below], it offers a rare and poignant glimpse into the lost world of ancient public libraries.

The three lost libraries Galen describes, all located in close proximity to each other on Rome’s Palatine hill, shared some important characteristics. In a world without printing presses or photography, a crucial function of imperial public libraries was to safeguard authoritative versions of important texts—ideally the original manuscripts—that scholars like Galen could consult and copy with confidence. Some texts were stored in special collections assembled by a notable individual, while others appear to have been shelved by subject. Galen boasts of finding inconsistencies and errors in the catalogues used as finding aids, suggesting that patrons were free to browse shelves on their own, without a librarian’s supervision.

Another feature shared by the Palatine libraries is that they did not permit their holdings to leave the premises (although, as Galen tells us, one library had a certain guard who could be bribed to turn a blind eye to patrons pilfering texts). Unable to check books out, scholars would have had to either conduct their research at the library or produce their own copies of texts to take home with them. Either activity would have required plenty of workspace, good light, and long hours. The need for books to remain on-site also had effects outside the library walls: for convenience, many scholars rented nearby storage space for their personal books and research materials. In consequence, the neighborhood’s streets were full of scholars debating and booksellers hawking their wares.

Among the losses of the fire of 192 CE, the most obvious were the rare texts that, as Nicholls puts it, were “permanently lost to the world.” Texts that survived in the form of copies stored elsewhere were also affected, as scribal errors could no longer be corrected against an authoritative version. To make things worse, the fire also consumed the nearby storage facilities rented by scholars. For Galen that meant losing his personal collection of books in addition to his notes for in-progress works. This was an enormous headache, to be sure, but Galen seems to have handled the loss relatively well: one of his neighbors at the storage facility, a grammarian, “died after he lost books in the fire, consumed with despair and pain,” he tells us, “and everyone wandered for a long time dressed with black cloaks, thin and pale, like people in mourning.”

https://daily.jstor.org/library-fires-h ... ask-galen/


and
Matthew C Nicholls (2011) 'Galen and Libraries in the Peri Alupias' The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 101; pp. 123-142

ABSTRACT
This article examines the implications of Galen's newly-rediscovered Peri Alupias ('On Consolation from Grief') for our understanding of the function and contents of public libraries in late second-century A.D. Rome. As a leading intellectual figure at Rome, Galen's detailed testimony substantially increases what we know of imperial public libraries in the city. In particular, the article considers Galen's description of his use of the Palatine libraries and a nearby storage warehouse, his testimony on the contents, organization, and cataloguing of the books he found there, and his use of provincial public libraries for the dissemination of his own works.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/41724875
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Secret Alias
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Re: On the Rome fire of 192 CE

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I suspect that the gospels emerged in a library owing to this fire. I think Irenaeus took advantage of the situation. Just a hunch. At the very least the claim - that I think Irenaeus wrote into Luke and various texts of Justin - that (a) census roles existed showing Jesus's birth (b) the Acts of Pilate etc were all part of an effort to restock an ancient library and perhaps the library of peach (the Eirenaeon or whatever it was called, the library in the temple of Peace which housed all the relics from the capture of Jersualem)
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MrMacSon
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Re: On the Rome fire of 192 CE

Post by MrMacSon »

Yes, it be interesting to know what role this fire had on early Christianity (if any, of course)

mbuckley3's posts in the other thread relevant to this, too
mbuckley3 wrote: Galen is writing in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 192, which destroyed the imperial libraries on the Palatine, as well as the supposedly fire-proof storage facilities. So some of his works only survive thanks to the uncontrolled, 'freelance' copying of sparingly-distributed authorised manuscripts.
mbuckley3 wrote:
Galen, 'On Avoiding Distress' 12b-18 :
"There is no hope of recovery since all the libraries on the Palatine were burnt on that same day ...

... some...were clearly not the work of the author whose name they bore, being similar neither in language nor in ideas ... as well as others that were mentioned there, but did not circulate widely [μη φαινομενα] ..." (tr. V. Nutton)

... what stands out is Galen's reliance, aside from (alleged) autographs, on 'corrected' texts, whether edited by himself or by a select canon of predecessors. This was not simply the correction of scribal mistakes. Aristarchus, for instance, had decided views on what Homer would/should have said which informed his editions. Modern specialists in Galen's technical work have no trouble demonstrating that he imports his own ideas into his 'sources'. To put it unkindly, he is often 'proof-texting' his arguments, and unreliably summarising the views of previous/rival interpreters.

Galen is operating at a rarefied intellectual level with the resources of the premier manuscript collection in the empire. He cites and summarises sources at great length. Yet he is not necessarily a more reliable witness for the ipsissima verba of those sources than the church fathers are for their quotations.

I still need to read Matthew C Nicholls' 2011 article : https://www.jstor.org/stable/41724875
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