Ioannes Lydos, a teacher of Latin in Justinian’s Constantinople, author of three works (in Greek), and disgruntled employee of the praetorian prefecture, has been largely neglected by modern scholarship. Two of his works, On the Magistracies of the Roman State and On the Months (a treatise on the Roman calendar that survives in extensive excerpts), have played an important role in classical scholarship, as they preserve precious information and fragments of lost ancient authors, including those from the Latin tradition. The third work, On Celestial Signs, is more technical (meteorological and astrological). Only Magistracies has been translated before this into English (twice) and now French. It is surprising that Months has not been translated in its entirety before now, given the amount of information that it contains about ancient calendars, ritual practices, and their interpretation in late antiquity. 1
In 1983, after his retirement, Anastasius Bandy (1921-2012) produced the critical edition of Magistracies that is still used widely, accompanied by an English translation. In her foreword to the present volume (i-ii), his widow Anastasia explains that he then went on to produce editions and translations of the other two works as well but died before they could be published, unable to find “competent typists for the Greek texts” (viii). Friends and colleagues, under the direction of Craig J. N. de Paulo, took on the task of publishing the results of his work, more or less as he left them, without making additional corrections. The result is a four-volume set published by The Edwin Mellen Press (v. 1: Months, v. 2: Signs, v. 3: Magistracies, v. 4: Indexes). Apparently, the Magistracies volume in this set will basically be a reprint of Bandy’s 1983 edition “with recent revisions” (vii-viii). Each of these volumes (including the index) in hardcover currently costs around $140, for a total of $560, a sum impossible for most scholars. The review copy that was sent to me was paperback and had an ugly cardboard cover glued around the outside (presumably to prevent me from reselling it), with instructions for writing a review thoughtfully printed on the outside. This resale-proof cover also announces that a paperback version will be available for $50, though I could not find this option on the publisher’s webpage.
The volume under review here is poorly edited. The Greek text on the left is densely printed in a tiny font, like a continuous footnote. It is not easy to read. The facing translation is in a larger font and more spaced out. As a result, the translation already lags behind the text by the end of the first page, and they no longer face each other thereafter. Toward the end of the text they are dozens of pages apart, and so the translation runs for fifty pages beyond the end of the Greek text. It is not easy to locate the corresponding passages. The print is too faint everywhere, as if the copier were running out of toner. There is no commentary on the matters discussed by Lydos, only some footnotes to the translation (one to two per page) citing relevant ancient texts. Allusive references in the many forewords and acknowledgments (e.g., xii, xxviii) suggest that the volume containing the indices will contain commentary-like material “to help the reader understand the content.” There is no index here so none of these volumes is self-standing. Bandy adds that “I have not always dealt fully with the external evidence of Lydus’ materials, this being the province of historians” (xii).
The volume includes an introduction to the life, works, and manuscripts of Lydos (1-46) that more or less repeats the information in the introduction of the 1983 edition of Magistracies and likewise does not use scholarship published after the mid-twentieth century. Michael Maas was asked to contribute a brief introduction to Lydos’ works (xv-xxvi), but was not involved in the production of either the text or the translation. Unfortunately, while Bandy discusses the main manuscript of Lydos’ works, the Codex Caseolinus, the volume under review does not explain or refer to the other sources from which the previous editor of Months, R. Wünsch, obtained additional excerpts and other fragments, in spite of the fact that Bandy himself uses these excerpts and fragments for his own edition. One has to go back to Wünsch’s edition for that information (v-xci). Moreover, Bandy changes the order of the excerpts, even moving them from one book to another, so that the numbering of his edition no longer corresponds to that of Wünsch, which has long been standard among scholars. A reference to Wünsch’s book-and-section number is printed next to Bandy’s in tiny letters, but there is no concordance in the volume, so one has to skim through the margins of the entire text to find in it a passage based on Wünsch’s numbering system. Even after doing so I was still unable to find a passage that interests me (1.20 Wünsch). There is no explanation for why this was done; presumably, the present arrangement reflects Bandy’s understanding of the text’s thematic coherence and flow, but it comes at an unacceptable cost. Also, Wünsch had usefully printed the book number at the top of each page, but this is not done here, so that the reader is lost when Wünsch’s number, printed in the margin, does not correspond to Bandy’s, which is more often than not (and the facing translation is always referring to the Greek text many pages back). The Greek text itself has a sparser apparatus than that of Wünsch and has mistakes in both spelling and accents; therefore, in its current shape it does not yet constitute an improvement as a critical edition.
Bandy was a gifted philologist and his translation is generally reliable, but it aims to reproduce the cramped style of the text and so does not read easily. It still needs much editing in that regard. The desire of friends and family to honor a scholar’s legacy is laudable, and it is a milestone in the study of Lydos to finally have a complete translation of his works. There is no doubt that more students will now turn their attention to them. However, these editions and translations should not have been rushed into print in this premature state, especially when Bandy himself was in no hurry. In his own acknowledgments, he says that the Loeb Classical Library has acquired the rights to publish the three works using his editions and translations (xxvii). But an inquiry to the LCL suggests that no agreement was reached on this point when Bandy approached the editors in 2005.
At any rate, we should wonder what the role of the Edwin Mellen edition is. It will cost libraries an enormous sum of money to buy these volumes, only to see them eventually rendered obsolete by a proper critical edition of Lydos’ text. It may have the deleterious effect in the meantime of scaring other potential publishers away from producing more polished translations or fuller commentaries on these works, which the field could use now. It would have been preferable to arrange for an online publication, as was done, for example, with F. H. Blume’s similar draft translations of Justinian’s Codex and Novels, maintained on the website of the Law Library of the University of Wyoming. Anastasius Bandy began a service to the fields of classics and Byzantine studies with this difficult work, but it should have been finished, even if by someone else, before being published.
1. The three works have been edited by A. C. Bandy, ed. and tr., Ioannes Lydus: On Powers or The Magistracies of the Roman State (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society 1983); R. Wünsch, ed., Ioannis Laurentii Lydi Liber de mensibus (Leipzig: Teubner 1898); and C. Wachsmuth, ed., Ioannis Laurentii Lydi Liber de ostentis (Leipzig: Teubner 1897). There is now a French Magistracies : M. Dubuisson and J. Schamp, ed. and tr., Jean Le Lydien: Des magistratures de l’État romain, 2 vols. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres 2006).