Category: History

ὁ Καρπός, Aphorisms 6 – 10

As our reader continued to work through Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός he either was uninterested in the minor errors in the Greek or didn’t notice them (such as the τοῦ γενεθλίω which clearly should be τοῦ γενεθλίου). He did add a couple corrections, particularly when whole words were missing. And he continued adding Latin translations for nearly every Greek word.

Aphorisms 6 – 10 from the copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός in BnF gr. 2180.

Here is a transcription of these aphorisms. As in previous posts, I have not corrected the orthography or other mistakes.

Τότε ὠφελεῖ ἡ ἐπιλογὴ τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ τῶν ὡρῶν, ὅτε ἐστὶν ὁ καιρὸϲ εὔθητοϲ ἀπὸ τοῦ γενεθλίω. εἰ γὰρ ἐναντίοϲ ἐστίν, οὐ λυσιτελεισει, εἰ τάχα καὶ πρὸϲ ἀγαθὴν ἀφορᾷ ἔκβασιν.
Οὐ δύναταί τισ καταλαβεῖν τὰϲ κράσεις τῶν [ἀστέρπων], εἰ μὴ πρώτερον διαγνῷ τὰϲ διαφορὰϲ καὶ τὰσ κράσεισ τὰϲ φυσικάϲ αὐτῶν.
Ἡ σοφὴ ψυχὴ συνεργεῖ τῇ οὐρανίᾳ ἐνεργείᾳ ὥσπερ ὁ ἄριστοϲ γεωργὸϲ συνεργεῖ τῇ φύσει τῆϲ γὴσ δι ἀροτριάσεωσ καὶ ἀνὰκακθάρσεωσ.
Τὰ ἐν τῇ γενέσει καὶ φθορᾷ εἴδη πάσχει ὑπὸ τῶν οὐρανίων εἰδῶν. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο χρῶνται οἱ στοιχειοματικοὶ τούτοισ, τὰϲ ἐπεμβάσεισ τῶν ἀστέρων ^σκοποῦντεσ ἐπ᾽αὐτήν ἐπ’αὐτά.
Χρῶ ἐν ταῖσ ἐπιλογαῖϲ τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ τῶν ὡρῶν, τοῖϲ κακοποιοῖσ, ὥσπερ ὁ ἄριστοϲ ἰατρὸϲ τοῖσ δηλητηρίοισ πρὸϲ θεραπείαν συμμήτρωσ.

These aphorisms resemble those in a later copy, BL Harley ms. 5597.

The first seven aphorisms from the copy of Ὁ Καρπός in BL Harley ms. 5597.
Comparison of Aphorisms ϛ’ to ι’ in BnF gr. 2180 and BL Harley ms. 5597
Aphorism BnF 2180 Harley ms 5597
ϛ’ Τότε ὠφελεῖ ἡ ἐπιλογὴ τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ τῶν ὡρῶν, ὅτε ἐστὶν ὁ καιρὸϲ εὔθητοϲ ἀπὸ τοῦ γενεθλίω. εἰ γὰρ ἐναντίοϲ ἐστίν, οὐ λυσιτελεισει, εἰ τάχα καὶ πρὸϲ ἀγαθὴν ἀφορᾷ ἔκβασιν. Τότε ὠφελεῖ ἡ ἐπιλογὴ τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ τῶν ὡρῶν, ὅτε ἐστὶν ὁ καιρὸς εὔθετος ἀπὸ τοῦ γενεθλὶου. εἰ γὰρ ἐναντίος ἐστίν, οὐ λυσιτελήσει, εἰ τάχα καὶ πρὸϲ ἀγαθὴν ἀφορᾷ ἔκβασιν.
ζ’ Οὐ δύναταί τισ καταλαβεῖν τὰϲ κράσεις τῶν [ἀστέρπων], εἰ μὴ πρώτερον διαγνῷ τὰϲ διαφορὰϲ καὶ τὰσ κράσεισ τὰϲ φυσικάϲ αὐτῶν. Οὐ δύναταί τις καταλαβεῖν τὰς κράσεις τῶν ἀστέρπων, εἰ μὴ πρότερον διαγνῷ τὰς διαφορὰς καὶ τὰς κράσεις τὰσ φυσικάς.
η’ Ἡ σοφὴ ψυχὴ συνεργεῖ τῇ οὐρανίᾳ ἐνεργείᾳ ὥσπερ ὁ ἄριστοϲ γεωργὸϲ συνεργεῖ τῇ φύσει τῆϲ γὴσ δι ἀροτριάσεωσ καὶ ἀνὰκακθάρσεωσ. Ἡ σοφὴ ψυχὴ συνεργεῖ τῇ οὐρανίᾳ ἐνεργείᾳ ὥσπερ ὁ ἄριστος γεωργὸς συνεργεῖ τῇ φύσει τῆς γὴς διὰ τῆς ἀροτριάσεως καὶ ἀνὰκαθάρσεως.
θ’ Τὰ ἐν τῇ γενέσει καὶ φθορᾷ εἴδη πάσχει ὑπὸ τῶν οὐρανίων εἰδῶν. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο χρῶνται οἱ στοιχειοματικοὶ τούτοισ, τὰϲ ἐπεμβάσεισ τῶν ἀστέρων ^σκοποῦντεσ ἐπ᾽αὐτήν ἐπ’αὐτά. Τὰ ἐν τῇ γενέσει καὶ φθορᾷ εἴδη πάσχει ὑπὸ τῶν οὐρανίων εἰδῶν. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο χρῶνται τούτοις οἱ στοιχειωματικοὶ τὰς ἐπεμβάσεις τῶν ἀστέρων σκοποῦντες ἐπ’αὐτήν.
ι’ Χρῶ ἐν ταῖσ ἐπιλογαῖϲ τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ τῶν ὡρῶν, τοῖϲ κακοποιοῖσ, ὥσπερ ὁ ἄριστοϲ ἰατρὸϲ τοῖσ δηλητηρίοισ πρὸϲ θεραπείαν συμμήτρωσ. Χρῶ ἐν ταῖς ἐπιλογαῖς τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ τῶν ὡρῶν, τοῖς κακοποιοῖσ, ὥσπερ ὁ ἄριστος ἰατρὸς τοῖς δηλητηρίοις πρὸς θεραπείαν συμμέτρως.

As promised, here is an initial English translation of aphorisms 6 through 10. Some of these were rather odd and posed some challenges, but here you go:

Translations of Ptolemy’s Aphorisms ϛ’ to ι’
Aphorism Greek English
ϛ’ Τότε ὠφελεῖ ἡ ἐπιλογὴ τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ τῶν ὡρῶν, ὅτε ἐστὶν ὁ καιρὸϲ εὔθητοϲ ἀπὸ τοῦ γενεθλίω. εἰ γὰρ ἐναντίοϲ ἐστίν, οὐ λυσιτελεισει, εἰ τάχα καὶ πρὸϲ ἀγαθὴν ἀφορᾷ ἔκβασιν. Then the choice of days and hours is beneficial when the time is properly arranged from the nativity. For if it is opposed, there will be no profit, even if it looks to a good outcome.
ζ’ Οὐ δύναταί τισ καταλαβεῖν τὰϲ κράσεις τῶν [ἀστέρπων], εἰ μὴ πρώτερον διαγνῷ τὰϲ διαφορὰϲ καὶ τὰσ κράσεισ τὰϲ φυσικάϲ αὐτῶν. A person cannot grasp the combinations of the stars, if he has not first discerned their differences and their natural dispositions.
η’ Ἡ σοφὴ ψυχὴ συνεργεῖ τῇ οὐρανίᾳ ἐνεργείᾳ ὥσπερ ὁ ἄριστοϲ γεωργὸϲ συνεργεῖ τῇ φύσει τῆϲ γὴσ δι ἀροτριάσεωσ καὶ ἀνὰκακθάρσεωσ. The wise mind assists the heavenly influences, just as the best farmer assists the nature of the earth through plowing and clearing.
θ’ Τὰ ἐν τῇ γενέσει καὶ φθορᾷ εἴδη πάσχει ὑπὸ τῶν οὐρανίων εἰδῶν. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο χρῶνται οἱ στοιχειοματικοὶ τούτοισ, τὰϲ ἐπεμβάσεισ τῶν ἀστέρων ^σκοποῦντεσ ἐπ᾽αὐτήν ἐπ’αὐτά. In their generation and corruption [terrestrial] forms are affected by the celestial forms. And for this reason casters of nativities consult them by examining the ingresses of the stars on them.
ι’ Χρῶ ἐν ταῖσ ἐπιλογαῖϲ τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ τῶν ὡρῶν, τοῖϲ κακοποιοῖσ, ὥσπερ ὁ ἄριστοϲ ἰατρὸϲ τοῖσ δηλητηρίοισ πρὸϲ θεραπείαν συμμήτρωσ. Use the the malefics in the selection of days and of hours, just as the best physician uses poisons in moderation for cure.

Rather than continue posting every few aphorisms, as I work through Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός I will try to post a group of ten aphorisms every few days until I get to the end. Then I’ll go back and try to polish the translation. Why? Because it’s kinda fun in a totally nerdy way and a great way to avoid real work while doing something that feels more productive and useful than watching cat videos.[1]


  1. I don’t watch cat videos. I am not judging people who have or who do, I just don’t enjoy cat videos. But I recognize they represent the quintessential work avoidance time suck. So what I’m trying to say is transcribing and translating Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός is also work avoidance but marginally less useless.  ↩

Aphorisms 4 and 5 from Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός

Let’s follow our reader through a couple more aphorisms from Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός. Again he glosses most of the Greek with Latin translations and, once again, corrects a couple scribal errors by writing the correct Greek word above the mistake (though he seems to miss a couple other mistakes).

Aphorisms 4 and 5 from Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός.

And here’s a transcription of these two aphorisms:

ἡ ἐπιτηδία ψυχὴ πρὸϲ γνωσιν μάλλον τυγχάνει τοῦ ἀληθοῦς ἢ ὁ ἄκροϲ ἀσκήσαϲ τὴν ἐπιστήμην.
δύναται ὁ ἐπιστήμων πολλὰϲ ἀποτρέψασθαι ἐνεργείας τῶν ἀστέρων, ὅτε ἐστὶν ἠδήμων τῆσ φύσεωϲ αὐτῶν, καὶ πρὸ παρὰσκεβασαι ἑαυτὸν πρὸϲ τὰϲ συμπτώσεισ τῶν ἐνεργειῶν.

Our reader seemed to think the “τὰϲ συμπτώσεισ” in aphorism 5 should be “τῆς συμπτώσεως” and made the correction above the Greek. But he didn’t correct the “παρὰσκεβασαι,” which should have been “προπαρὰσκευασαι” (though he glossed it acceptably as “preparare”).

This copy of the text varies in different ways from other copies. Here, for comparison, are aphorisms 4 and 5 from two other manuscripts:

Comparison of Aphorisms δ’ and ε’ in Three Different Manuscripts
Aphorism BnF gr. 2180 Vat. Barb. gr. 127 ÖNB med. gr. 49
δ’ ἡ ἐπιτηδία ψυχὴ πρὸϲ γνωσιν μάλλον τυγχάνει τοῦ ἀληθοῦς ἢ ὁ ἄκροϲ ἀσκήσαϲ τὴν ἐπιστήμην. ἡ ἐπιτηδίεα ψυχὴ πρὸσ γνωσιν πλέον τυγχάνει τοῦ ἀληθοῦσ ἢ ὁ ἄκρωϲ ἀσκήσαϲ τὴν ἐπιστήμην. ἡ ἐπιτηδία ψυχὴ πρὸσ γνωσιν πλέον ἐπί τυγχάνει τοῦ ἀληθοῦσ ἢ ὁ ἄκρωσ ασκήσασ τὴν ἐπιστήμην.
ε’ δύναται ὁ ἐπιστήμων πολλὰϲ ἀποτρέψασθαι ἐνεργείας τῶν ἀστέρων, ὅτε ἐστὶν ἠδήμων τῆσ φύσεωϲ αὐτῶν, καὶ προπαρασκεβασαι ἑαυτὸν πρὸϲ τὰϲ συμπτώσεισ τῶν ἐνεργειῶν. δύναται ἐπιστήμων πολλὰϲ ἀποτρέψασθαι ἐνεργείας τῶν ἀστέρων, ὅτε ἐστὶν εἰδήμων τῆϲ φύσεωϲ αὐτῶν, καὶ προπαρὰσκευασαι ἑαυτὸν πρὸ τῆς συμπτώσεως τῶν ἐνεργειῶν. δύναται ὁ ἐπιστήμων πολλὰσ ἀποτρέψασθαι ἐνεργείασ τῶν ἀστέρων, ὅτε ἐστὶν εἰδήμων τῆσ φύσεωσ αὐτῶν, καὶ παρὰσκευασαι ἑαυτὸν, πρὸ τὴς συμπτώσεως τῶν ἐνεργειῶν.
The Hungarian scholar Johannes Sambucus owned this lovely 16th-century copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός.

And once again, here are initial English translations of these two aphorisms.

Translations of Ptolemy’s Aphorisms δ’ and ε’ from BnF gr. 2180
Aphorism Greek English
δ’ ἡ ἐπιτηδία ψυχὴ πρὸϲ γνωσιν μάλλον τυγχάνει τοῦ ἀληθοῦς ἢ ὁ ἄκροϲ ἀσκήσαϲ τὴν ἐπιστήμην A mind suited to higher knowledge attains truth more than the skillful man practicing science.
ε’ δύναται ὁ ἐπιστήμων πολλὰϲ ἀποτρέψασθαι ἐνεργείας τῶν ἀστέρων, ὅτε ἐστὶν ἠδήμων τῆσ φύσεωϲ αὐτῶν, καὶ προπαρασκεβασαι ἑαυτὸν πρὸϲ τὰϲ συμπτώσεισ τῶν ἐνεργειῶν. A wise man is able to avert many influences of the stars when he is acquainted with their nature, and to prepare himself for the accidents of their influences.

More fun with Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός

Our premodern reader didn’t just add Latin glosses to his copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός, now and then he emended the Greek. For example, on the second aphorism the copiest wrote “τὴν κρεῖττον”. The reader seems to have been sufficiently bothered by this mistake that he wrote the correct article, “τὸ,” above the incorrect “τὴν.”

The second and third aphorism from the copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός in BnF gr. 2180.

Here’s a transcription of second and third aphorisms (including sigma chaos):

ὅτε ἐπιζητήσει τὴν κρεῖττον ὁ βουλόμενοϲ, οὐκ ἔσται μεταξὺ αὐτοῦ καὶ τῆϲ ἰδέαϲ ἀυτοῦ τοῦ πράγματοϲ διαφορά τισ.

ὁ πρόϲ τι πρᾶγμα ἐπιτήδιοϲ ἕξει πάντωϲ καὶ τὸν δηλοῦντα [ἀστέρα] τοιοῦτον ἐνδύναμον ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ γενεθλίῳ.

In other manuscripts Ptolemy’s second aphorism two seems displays a bit of drift toward the end, where “τοῦ πράγματος διαφορά” sometimes becomes the grammatically problematic “ἀυτοῦ πράγματων διαφορά” (as in Biblioteca Angelica, gr. 029 below) and sometimes the grammatically ok “τῶν πραγμάτων διαφορά.” The wording in the third aphorism likewise varies a bit toward the end, where “ἰδίῳ γενεθλίῳ” becomes “ὀικείῳ γενεθλίῳ.” Two 14th-century manuscripts illustrate these variations. Biblioteca Angelica, gr. 029 shows the variation in both aphorisms; Biblioteca Vallicelliana, fonds principal F 086 illustrates the variation in just the third aphorism.

Variations of Aphorisms β’ and γ’ from 14th-cent. Mss.
Aphorism Biblioteca Angelica, gr. 029 Biblioteca Vallicelliana, fonds principal F 086
β’ ὅτε ἐπιζητήσει τὸ κρεῖττον ὁ βουλόμενος, οὐκ ἔσται μηταξὺ αὐτοῦ καὶ τῆς ἰδέασ ἀυτοῦ πράγματων διαφορά τίσ. ὅτε ἐπιζητήσει τὸ κρεῖττον ὁ βουλόμενος, οὐκ ἔσται μεταξὺ αὐτοῦ καὶ τῆς ἰδέασ τοῦ τοῦ πράγματος διαφορά τις.
γ’ ὁ πρόσ τι πρᾶγμα ἐπιτήδειοσ, ἕξει πάντωσ καὶ τὸν δηλοῦντα [ἀστέρα] τὸ τοιοῦτον ἐνδύναμον ἐν τῷ ὀικείῳ γενεθλίῳ. ὁ πρός τι πρᾶγμα ἐπιτήδειος, ἕξει πάντωσ καὶ τὸν δηλοῦντα [missing ἀστέρα] τὸ τοιοῦτον ἐνδύναμον ἐν τῷ ὀικείῳ γενεθλίῳ.

This particular variation carries over into some fifteenth-century manuscripts, e.g., Vatican Barb.gr.127 or BnF gr. 2027, and even sixteenth-century copies, e.g., Harley ms 5597.

The third aphorism from Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός, with the common variant highlighted (BL Harley ms. 5597).

As promised in the previous post, Struggling with Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός, here are initial translations of the second and third aphorisms (with the same caveat that I reserve the right to admit this translation is horrible and to change it).

Translations of Ptolemy’s Aphorisms β’ and γ’ from BnF gr. 2180
Aphorism Greek English
β’ ὅτε ἐπιζητήσει τὴν (corrected above to τὸ) κρεῖττον ὁ βουλόμενοϲ, οὐκ ἔσται μηταξὺ αὐτοῦ καὶ τῆς ἰδέαϲ ἀυτοῦ τοῦ πράγματοϲ διαφορά τισ. When anyone seeks the superior thing, there will not be a particular difference between it and the form of the thing itself.
γ’ ὁ πρόϲ τι πρᾶγμα ἐπιτήδιοϲ ἕξει πάντωϲ καὶ τὸν δηλοῦντα [ἀστέρα] τοιοῦτον ἐνδύναμον ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ γενεθλίῳ. He who is suited to a particular activity will certainly have the star signifying such an influence in his own nativity.

Study of the variations and other scholarly contributions will have to wait. For the moment, I’m just having fun working through the copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός in BnF gr. 2180. I confess, I’m also enjoying the amazing botanical illustrations, such as this one:[1]

One of the many amazing botanical illustrations from BnF 2180.

  1. If you’re interested in Byzantine herbals and botanical illustrations, this ms is loaded with amazing images of plants. Unfortunately, many of the illustrations were never added to the manuscript, just large blank spaces awaiting a skilled illustrator.  ↩

Struggling with Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός

It is perversely reassuring to see that other people have had to labor to understand Ptolemy’s aphorisms.[1] Consequently, this 15th-century copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός (more widely known by its Latin title, Centiloquium) makes my day.

Copied sometime in the latter half of the fifteenth century by a certain George Mediates, this manuscript was later owned by Jean Hurault de Boistaillé, who amassed an impressive collection of Greek manuscripts, see, e.g., this list.[2] Philippe Hurault de Cheverny inherited Boistaillé’s manuscripts. Shortly after his death in 1620 the collection was purchased for the Bibliothèque royale de France.

A page from a manuscript copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός with numerous Latin interlineations.

Some premodern reader worked through Ptolemy’s text adding Latin translations above most of the Greek words. He worked diligently through the first 50 or so aphorisms, adding such interlinear glosses throughout. Then he suddenly stopped.

An enlargement showing more clearly the interlinear, Latin glosses.

Here is a transcription of the preface and the first aphorism (most of what you see in the image immediately above):

βιβλίον κλαυδίου πτολομαίου ὁ λεγόμενοϲ καρπόϲ κεφαλεα ρ’
Προεκθέμενοι, ὦ σῦρε, τὰϲ ἐνεργείαϲ τῶν ἀστέρων τὰϲ ἐν τῷ ϲυνθέτῳ διενεργουμένας κόϲμῳ κατὰ πολλὺ λυσιτελεισ, ουσας πρὸϲ τὴν πρόγνωσιν, καὶ τὸ παρὸν ἐξεθέμεθα πόνημα, ὅπερ καρπόϲ ἐστι τῶν βιβλίων ἐκείνων, γυμνασθὲν διὰ τῆσ πείρασ τὴ ἀληθεία σύστοιχον

δεῖ οὖν τὸν μέλλοντα τοῦτω απιέναι προότερον διελθεῖν τὰϲ τῆσ ἐπιστήμης ἁπάσας μεθόδους, εἶτα πρὸϲ τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν τουτῶν χωρῆσαι.

ἀπὸ σοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ τῆϲ ἐπιστήμηϲ οὐ γάρ ἐστι δυνατὸν τὸν ἐπιστήμοναν τὰϲ μερικὰσ ἰδέαϲ τῶν πραγμάτων ἀναγκεῖλαι, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ ἡ αἴσθησισ δέχεται τὴν μερικὴν ἰδέαν τοῦ αἰσθητοῦ ἀλλά τιναν γενικήν. καὶ δεῖ τὸν μετιόντα καταστοχάζεσθαι τῶν πραγμάτων μόνοι γὰρ οἱ ἐνθουσιοντες προλέγουσι τὰ μερικά.[3]

A number of things about this copy interest me, starting with the Greek itself. Perhaps the least significant: this scribe ranges freely across the three forms of sigma with no apparent rhyme or reason: the typical internal form, σ, occurs frequently at the end of words; the typical Byzantine form, ϲ, appears at the beginning and end of words; and the terminal form, ς, appears only occasionally at the end of a word. Further, the scribe either misspells a number of words or, as seems possible in some cases, spells them to capture pronunciation. Then there are the places where the wording itself varies from other copies.

For those who care, here’s a comparison of the preface and first aphorism in BnF gr. 2180 and those in the now quite old critical edition (I added line breaks to the critical edition text to make it easier to compare to BnF gr. 2180).

A Comparison of BnF gr. 2180 and the critical edition
BnF gr. 2180 Critical edition
Preface Προεκθέμενοι, ὦ σῦρε, τὰϲ ἐνεργείαϲ τῶν ἀστέρων τὰϲ ἐν τῷ ϲυνθέτῳ διενεργουμένας κόϲμῳ κατὰ πολλὺ λυσιτελεισ, ουσας πρὸϲ τὴν πρόγνωσιν, καὶ τὸ παρὸν ἐξεθέμεθα πόνημα, ὅπερ καρπόϲ ἐστι τῶν βιβλίων ἐκείνων, γυμνασθὲν διὰ τῆσ πείρασ τὴ ἀληθεία σύστοιχον.

δεῖ οὖν τὸν μέλλοντα τοῦτω απιέναι προότερον διελθεῖν τὰϲ τῆσ ἐπιστήμης ἁπάσας μεθόδους, εἶτα πρὸϲ τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν τουτῶν χωρῆσαι.

Προεκθέμενοι, ὦ Σῦρε, τὰς ἐνεργείας τῶν ἀστέρων τὰς ἐν τῷ συνθέτῳ διενεργουμένας κόσμῳ καὶ πολὺ λυσιτελούσας πρὸς τὴν πρόγνωσιν, καὶ τὸ παρὸν ἐξεθέμεθα πόνημα, ὅπερ καρπός ἐστι τῶν βιβλίων ἐκείνων, γυμνασθὲν διὰ πείρας.

δεῖ οὖν τὸν μέλλοντα τοῦτο μετιέναι πρότερον διελθεῖν τὰς τῆς ἐπιστήμης ἁπάσας μεθόδους, εἶτα πρὸς τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν τούτου χωρῆσαι.

First aphorism ἀπὸ σοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ τῆϲ ἐπιστήμηϲ οὐ γάρ ἐστι δυνατὸν τὸν ἐπιστήμοναν τὰϲ μερικὰσ ἰδέαϲ τῶν πραγμάτων ἀναγκεῖλαι, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ ἡ αἴσθησισ δέχεται τὴν μερικὴν ἰδέαν τοῦ αἰσθητοῦ ἀλλά τιναν γενικήν. καὶ δεῖ τὸν μετιόντα καταστοχάζεσθαι τῶν πραγμάτων μόνοι γὰρ οἱ ἐνθουσιοντες προλέγουσι τὰ μερικά. Ἀπὸ σοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐπιστήμης οὐ γάρ ἐστι δυνατὸν τῷ ἐπιστήμονι τὰς μερικὰς ἰδέας τῶν πραγμάτων ἀναγγεῖλαι, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ ἡ αἴσθησις δέχεται τὴν μερικὴν ἰδέαν τοῦ αἰσθητοῦ ἀλλά τινα γενικήν. καὶ δεῖ τὸν μετιόντα καταστοχάζεσθαι τῶν πραγμάτων· μόνοι γὰρ οἱ ἐνθουσιῶντες προλέγουσι καὶ τὰ μερικά.

I have nothing profound to add to this post, no insight to give. The goal of this post was merely to draw attention to this Byzantine copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός because, well, I find it interesting. Now back to work on this text.


  1. Modern scholarship has shown to its own satisfaction that the collection of aphorisms attributed to Ptolemy, well known in Latin as the Centiloquium, were not, in fact, composed by Ptolemy. For the moment, I don’t care if the text was or was not written by Ptolemy. The copiest and the pre-modern owners of this manuscript thought Ptolemy had composed the aphorisms—for my purposes now, that’s more important than insisting on a ps- prefix for Ptolemy.  ↩

  2. See also D. Jackson, “The Greek Manuscripts of Jean Hurault de Boistaillé,” Studi italiani di filologia classica 2(2004): 209–252.  ↩

  3. Translations from the Latin versions of the Centiloquium are easy to find. I know of only one translation from the Greek. A second, it seems to me, could be useful. So I will slowly add translations from the Greek. Here, then, is a really rough translation of the first aphorism (I reserve the right to admit I totally messed up this translation and to improve it when I realize that):

    For it is not possible that the wise man from himself or from knowledge reports the particular forms of events, just as perception cannot grasp the particular form of the thing perceived but a certain general form. And so it is necessary to infer the course of events, for only those inspired by a god can predict the particulars.  ↩

Last Days of Patient 33

In the afternoon of September 26, 1818, a family from Gloucester County, New Jersey arrived at Friends’ Asylum in Frankford, outside Philadelphia. They had brought their relative, a 26-year-old woman, fifteen miles from Woodbury to the asylum because she was suffering “in a violent state of insanity.” They hoped the asylum would be able to restore her health.

Staff recorded Patient 33 in the Asylum Register on September 26, 1818. Ten days later, according to the register, she died. The Asylum Register offers an accounting of patients admitted to the asylum, including basic information such as name, date, age, discharge date. Other copies of the register include more information, including sex. For reasons we can’t know, many of the most revealing columns remain empty.

Patient 33’s insanity had come on suddenly and without warning. According to the records she had been insane for only six days when they arrived at the asylum.[1] Before she could be admitted, however, the proper forms had to be completed. First, there was certificate of insanity, that had to be filled out by a physician. The superintendent called the resident physician who examined her and signed the necessary certificate. Second, the superintendent required the family to sign a contract agreeing to pay for room and board and any damages, and place a deposit. In this case, the superintendent required a deposit for 13 weeks, which could have cost the family as much $39.[2] The next morning the family returned home, leaving Patient 33 in the care of the asylum. Ten days later, they returned to the asylum to attend her funeral.

The Superintendent’s Daybook

The first superintendent, Isaac Bonsall, had no medical training. He had been hired to manage the staff and patients in the asylum. His concerns focused on maintaining order, ensuring that patients and staff were attending to their duties, and keeping the peace. Far from just a way to control patients, this approach was central to the asylum’s treatment of the insane, the “moral treatment” the asylum espoused. For Bonsall, then, Patient 33 was a challenge to be managed. Proper management and regulation of daily behavior would, in his view, restore her sanity. This approach shaped his understanding of Patient 33 and informed his responses to her condition.

In her first days at the asylum, Patient 33 behaved so violently that the staff felt compelled to restrain her. But she escaped her straps, either by slipping out of them or simply breaking them. Unattended, she risked harming not only herself but also the other patients and disrupting the calm, salubrious environment. Consequently, she was often confined to her room or to her bed except for meals. On September 28 Bonsall noted:

our new Patient very similar to Wm. B. [a particularly disruptive male patient] for getting out of her Straps & breaking them, eat [sic] her Meals tolerably well but had to be kept confined.

The superintendent, Isaac Bonsall, recorded in his day book the basic economy of the asylum, which patients were disruptive and which behaved, which ones worked and how much, etc. On September 28, 1818, he noted that the Patient 33, the “our new Patient” was disruptive but generally ate well.

As the head of the asylum and symbolic patriarch of the family there, Bonsall was particularly concerned when patients damaged the building, especially the windows. His daybook is filled with reports of how many window panes disruptive patients broke. Soon he and his successor started hand writing on the admissions contracts a note that families were responsible for the cost of replacing broken window panes. Unsurprisingly, then, he noticed when Patient 33 seemed too interested in the window, though what exactly concerned him is unclear. He remarked:

…found it necessary to Shut the window of our new Patients [sic] Room She looked with so much earnestness out that we feared it would injure her.

Within a few days Patient 33 seemed to have recovered her sanity but now suffered from some physical ailment that required attention, Patient 33’s

…mind mostly rational today but great bodily debility — Doctor Lukens [the resident physician] being of the opinion it would be best to send for Doctor James to see her Samuel Raleigh [a worker at the asylum] went for him and he accordingly came and found her quite ill — much attention was given her.

Bonsall noted that Patient 33 seemed to have recovered her sanity but had grown so weak that they sent for a special physician to see her.

Over the next couple days Bonsall records all the attention he, his wife, and other members of the asylum paid to Patient 33—they took turns sitting with her all night and the next day; the women stayed home from meeting so they could take care of her. Although her physical health declined, she was increasingly lucid. Bonsall’s wife asked her one evening “if she did not feel her mind more comfortable than she had done her reply was ‘yes much more so’.” The following morning Bonsall noted that Patient 33 “appeared to possess a quiet mind” but was weaker than before. Later that morning Patient 33 passed away.

Bonsall recorded the various preparations for her funeral—sending the family a letter, assembling a coffin, planning the burial, arranging for other patients to attend the funeral. Even in her death, Patient 33 required proper management.

The Physician’s Casebook

In contrast to Bonsall’s managerial account, Dr. Lukens’s version of Patient 33 tends toward impersonal and clinical. Patient 33 is a series of symptoms that require different prescriptions and treatments. Lukens carefully recorded the initial conditions, daily symptoms—e.g., any discharge, her appetite and pulse, physical strength and vigor—and his treatments and their effects.

The first few days Lukens prescribed various purgatives, e.g., Calomel and Jalap, to expel harmful fluids and calm the violence:

28 — Bowels costive Rx. Calomel gr. x Jalap gr. xij it did not operate in the evening—but she could not be prevailed to take any thing now—apetite [sic] very poor—
29 — Rx Calomel gr. x Jalap 2j—it operated well—she is some better.
30 — Bowels lax—apetite [sic] very poor—a slight dawning of reason appears

In Dr. Lukens’s casebook Patient 33 is reduced to a series of symptoms and treatments. His spare prose, however, suggests the various ways he understood the relationship between somatic symptoms and mental conditions.

Perhaps hoping to apply a more targeted treatment, Lukens first applied cups to Patient 33’s temples to draw out harmful fluids but soon stopped. Instead, he chose to apply a blister to her head and neck. He left the blister on for two days, dressing it on the second. Later he applied blisters to her ankles, though he seemed to think they weren’t especially effective because they produced inflammation but very little discharge. The next day he applied a blister to her breast. Clearly Lukens had a complicated understanding of how the blister functioned when applied to different parts of the body. Although blisters had been used for years treat insanity, at this time their efficacy was being questioned, e.g., J. G. Spurzheim Observations on the deranged manifestations of the mind, or, Insanity (London, 1817). Nevertheless, there was a strong local tradition of using blisters, and Dr. Lukens remained committed to them.

As Patient 33 grew weaker, Lukens increasingly prescribed nourishment along with his other treatments. And like Bonsall, he noted when she became more rational. As she became increasingly rational, he noted her manic violence caused by an insanity was slowly replaced by an uncontrollable restlessness caused by some physical debility.

In the end Patient 33 died. On October 7, 1818 her family returned to witness her burial. Bonsall and Lukens understood their efforts to have helped restore her sanity, even if they couldn’t restore her physical health. There is probably nothing anybody could have done to save her. Rather than condemn Bonsall and Lukens for what we consider barbaric treatment, perhaps we should see them in a more generous light. We should see two people struggling to save and comfort a young woman. Bonsall deployed all the care-giving resources of asylum, with people attending to Patient 33’s needs. Lukens exercised his medical expertise to treat first a mental illness and then a somatic illness. Patient 33’s death reminds us that the best medicine and most well-intentioned care is sometimes not enough, even when it’s all we have.


  1. When modern physicians hear that she had been insane for six days, they have a number of plausible diagnoses. Those diagnoses do not interest me. While we can safely conclude that she was not “insane,” and equally safely we can conclude that she suffered from some acute medical illness, we cannot determine her illness.  ↩

  2. It is unclear how the superintendent determined either weekly room and board charges or how much of a deposit to require. The records for Patient 33 don’t survive, but typically the weekly rate was around $2.50-$3.00.  ↩