The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: Galen's On Simple Drugs and the Recovery of Lost Texts through Sophisticated Imaging Techniques.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Arts Languages and Cultures

Abstract

The Graeco-Arabic translation movement has been well studied, but Syriac, the vital connection between these two languages, is often ignored. This is partly the result of a lack of surviving Syriac texts. One such text, a sixth-century translation of Galen's On Simple Drugs by Sergius of Resh 'Ayna, exists in the undertext of an eleventh-century liturgical work, known as the Syriac Galen Palimpsest. This palimpsest potentially contains the whole of Sergius' translation, but it has remained for the most part unreadable. Now, using pioneering philological and imaging techniques, Professor Peter E. Pormann and Drs Siam Bhayro and Bill Sellers (in collaboration with other colleagues) have begun to decipher the undertext, and have determined that the palimpsest contains parts - if not all - of books 2, 4, 6, 8, and 9 of On Simple Drugs. This is an important discovery, with great research potential, since until now, the only known surviving Syriac translations of Galen were books 6-8 of On Simple Drugs, contained in a manuscript in the British Library. Furthermore, the Syriac Galen Palimpsest could also contain entirely new text, hitherto unknown, which will only come to light through systematic study of this document. Galen was the dominant medical writer in antiquity, and his system prevailed in Europe until the early modern period. The role of Syriac in the preservation and transmission of Galenic traditions has been discussed, but the true extent of its significance has not been properly ascertained, on account of the Syriac sources remaining largely unpublished. We are proposing to produce the first transcription, translation and analysis of this manuscript, which, initial studies suggest, may be the most significant Syriac medical manuscript thus far discovered. In order to do this, we will develop imaging tools that will allow us to obtain optimum readings of the undertext. These tools will be made available under a Creative Commons license, meaning that any individual or institution wishing to work on other palimpsests will be able to do so at no cost. It is believed that shedding light on this critical stage in medical history will also draw attention to the multiculturalism and inter-faith discourse that made the transmission and improvement of such texts possible.

Planned Impact

We have identified three main areas of impact, all of which encompass academic and non-academic groups.

1) Based on the excitement generated by the imaging of the Archimedes Palimpsest (1999-2008), we predict that the Syriac Galen Palimpsest, which appears to contain several of the lost books of Sergius of Resh 'Ayna, and possibly some of the lost translations of Joseph the Priest, will similarly stimulate the imagination of the public. We will ensure that the Syriac Galen Palimpsest receives adequate coverage, publicising it by holding an exhibition at The John Rylands Library, and garnering media attention (an area in which Pormann has considerable experience).

2) The project, by highlighting the contribution of Syriac-speaking Christians to the Greek-Arabic-Latin transmission process (and, therefore, to western medical tradition), will also draw attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East. The same tools used to enhance public awareness of the project (e.g. exhibitions, media appearances) will also be used to enhance public awareness of the vibrancy of this culture, and of its contribution both to Arabic and, consequently, to western medical tradition. The Syriac Galen Palimpsest encapsulates the plight of this culture: literally erased and almost lost to us forever, it is a metaphor for a society that is threatened with extinction, and it will serve to stimulate public engagement with a very important issue.

3) Libraries, institutions and individuals will be able to use the imaging tools developed as part of the project to improve the legibility of other documents, regardless of their level of technical expertise. It is hoped that this will lead to further study in this and in other areas, as long-held but under-utilised materials are brought into the light. The tools will be developed under a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone will be able to use them.

Publications


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Afif N. (2016) The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: Research Methods and Latest Discoveries in Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies Bulletin
 
Description The readability of the undertext in the Syriac Galen Palimpsest has been considerably improved by the application of Canonical Variate Analysis (CVA) to the sets of 8-bit and 16-bit multispectral images. The algorithm has been improved to enable the implementation of CVA processing in less that one minute. The Syriac Galen Palimpsest has been fully identified (with the exception of a few unreadable folios). The codicological structure of the original manuscript has been revealed and reconstructed.
Exploitation Route The Canonical Variate Analysis software for dimensionality reduction with application to image processing developed within the project under a Creative Commons license can be used for any other dimensionality reduction problem existent in computer science, engineering, economy, etc. The methodology of the codicological analysis in application specifically to palimpsests can be used by scholars working on multi-layered texts in order to reconstruct the structure of original manuscripts. The computational lexical tools which include the creation of bilingual corpora, lemmatisation and part-of-speech tagging can be employed by individuals and institutions in future projects of a similar nature.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
URL https://zenodo.org/record/154129#.WMa78HecagQ
 
Title Canonical Variate Analysis Software for Dimensionality Reduction with Application to Image Processing 
Description The software reads a number of multispectral images - 8 bit files - located in ImageJ software directory , applies the Canonical Variates Analysis algorithm and produces a number of enhanced colour images by using the produced 8 bit grayscale images by the Canonical Variates Analysis algorithm. The software is using the GSL GNU and OpenCV libraries and it was written for MAC OS X - Yosemite but with minor modifications should run on any platforms. The Canonical Variates Analysis algorithm is implemented in C running under MAC OS X - Yosemite and it can be used for any other dimensionality reduction problem existent in computer science, engineering, economy, etc. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2016 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact The software enables CVA processing in less than one minute and eases adjusting the images and enhancing particular areas in order to aid further identifications and transcriptions of the undertext in the Syriac Galen Palimpsest. 
URL https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.154129
 
Description COMSt Conference (Hamburg) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Naima Afif and Natalia Smelova, 'The Syriac Galen Palimpsest Project: research methods and latest discoveries', 'Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: Looking back - Looking ahead', Asien-Afrika-Institut, University of Hamburg
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.aai.uni-hamburg.de/en/comst/conferences/comst2016/pdf/smelova-afif.pdf
 
Description John Rylands Research Forum (Manchester) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Naima Afif and Natalia Smelova, 'The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: uncovering the hidden text by means of technology, codicology and philology', John Rylands Research Forum, JRRI, University of Manchester
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Natural Sciences and Technology in Manuscript Analysis Conference (Hamburg) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Corneliu Arsene, Siam Bhayro, Peter E. Pormann, William Sellers, 'Computational techniques in multispectral image processing: application to the Syriac Galen Palimpsest', Second International Conference on Natural Sciences and Technology in Manuscript Analysis, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC), University of Hamburg
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.manuscript-cultures.uni-hamburg.de/cal-details/CSMC%20Natural%20Sciences%202016%20Book%2...
 
Description Revealing Galen's Simples (Philadelphia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Corneliu Arsene, 'Revealing the Palimpsest', 'Revealing Galen's Simples' Symposium, Kislak Centre for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Philadelphia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/galen.html
 
Description Revealing Galen's Simples (Philadelphia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Peter Pormann, 'The Final Frontier: Galen's Syriac Versions and Graeco-Arabic Translation Technique', 'Revealing Galen's Simples' Symposium, Kislak Centre for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Philadelphia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/galen.html
 
Description Revealing Galen's Simples (Philadelphia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Siam Bhayro, 'Discovering Galen's Simples', 'Revealing Galen's Simples' Symposium, Kislak Centre for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Philadelphia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/galen.html
 
Description Revealing Galen's Simples (Philadelphia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact William Sellers, 'Working with the Data', 'Revealing Galen's Simples' Symposium, Kislak Centre for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Philadelphia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/galen.html
 
Description XII Symposium Syriacum (Rome) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Natalia Smelova, 'The Syriac Galen Palimpsest Project: scope, objectives and interim results', XII Symposium Syriacum, Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Rome
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016