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Murison and his work on Theophilus

by Simon Corcoran


Murison and Theophilus

Alexander Falconer MURISON (1847-1934) was Professor of Roman Law (later also concurrently of Jurisprudence and of Roman-Dutch Law) at University College London from 1883 until his retirement in 1925. There was at that time little official pressure on academics to engage in active research or to produce books and articles, and, indeed, Murison's bibliography of published work on Roman law is rather thin. However, he did feel it incumbent upon him to direct his talents towards making a contribution to scholarship, and he was certainly not idle.

An accidental book purchase led him to the Paraphrasis Institutionum of Theophilus, the Greek lecture course for Justinian's Institutes, prepared by Theophilus, one of the Institutes' co-authors, for his law-students, probably as early as 533/4. Murison set himself to producing an English translation from Reitz's 1751 edition, which took him four years (1897-1901). Although intended for publication, this was permanently delayed, since Murison felt that he should first revise it in the light of other editions and manuscripts. His encounter in 1904 with the unsatisfactory edition of Ferrini (1884/1897) was followed by an examination of the editio princeps of Viglius (1534).

It was clear, however, that further work on the manuscripts was desirable. Lack of funds as a result of his meagre college pay meant that he was unable to undertake much in the way of research trips. However, if he could not go to the manuscripts, it proved less difficult for them to come to him. By a combination of the good offices of the well-connected and his own personal pleading, five manuscripts from Paris and Brussels were sent under special arrangements to reside temporarily at the British Museum for months at a time, allowing him to conduct extensive work upon them (1907-1914). Not only did he make collations of all their readings, but he also produced an edition of the scholia from the Paris manuscripts, as well as transcribing a lexicon of Roman legal terms from one of the Brussels manuscripts. Unfortunately, these, like the translation, were to remain unpublished.

One of his last extensive efforts on Theophilus, as war engulfed Europe in the summer of 1914, was a transcription of the Beschreibung and list of manuscript variants made by Cario from the lost Messina Codex (believed by Murison to have been destroyed in the earthquake of 1908). Cario's manuscript came on loan from Berlin and remained in London throughout the war until returned in 1919, only to disappear itself during bombing in the Second World War. This made Murison's transcription the sole witness to the Messina readings.

Therefore, although he worked intensively on Theophilus for more than 20 years, Murison was only able to examine five manuscripts in person, estimating that he ought to consult at least eight more. Thus he felt unable to publish his English translation, as it could not be revised to his satisfaction without finishing the critical textual work. After the War, he did not resume work on Theophilus to the same extent. Rather, in the years before his retirement, he seems to have produced fair copies of some of his Theophilus material. He also revised Hunter's Roman-law primer (1921), as well as translating into English several works of continental scholarship (from Danish, Dutch and French). These translations remain unpublished.

Indeed, even after his retirement in 1925, he was still busy, but not with Theophilus. He continued with translations of foreign scholarship (from German and Italian). However, it was his translations of mainstream classical authors (Homer, Horace, Pindar, Virgil), which made it into print, although their critical reception was not always favourable. Most of his research papers on Theophilus and his unpublished translations were deposited in the archives at UCL, some in the early 1920s, the remainder after his death in 1934.

While he never published a single word of his research on Theophilus in any scholarly context, this does not mean that his work went unnoticed. The key figure here was the great Italian Romanist, Salvatore Riccobono, the continental scholar closest to Murison. When Riccobono visited London in May 1924, he delivered two papers, giving them in English translations provided, it seems, by Murison. Later that year Murison travelled to visit Riccobono in Palermo. En route he consulted or attempted to consult Theophilus manuscripts in Turin, Florence, Rome and Naples. Unfortunately, although he made notes on material from both the Laurentian and Vatican libraries, these have not survived, and in any case cannot have been extensive, given how brief his visits were. Riccobono later persuaded Murison to give a paper on law in the Latin poets at the Digest anniversary Congress held in Rome (April 1933), which provided one of Murison's few Roman-law publications (albeit posthumous). Following Murison's death in June 1934, Riccobono drew attention to the unpublished Theophilus material held in the archives at University College London, both at the Byzantine congress in Rome (September 1936) and in the obituary which he wrote in the Bullettino dell'Istituto di diritto romano.

Knowledge of the untapped resource was therefore kept alive. The importance of the Cario transcription evaporated, however, when Jan Lokin finally tracked down the missing Messina codex at Kiel in 1974. However, Lokin and the Groningen Byzantinists were well aware of Murison's papers and decided to adopt Murison's unpublished translation, which has finally appeared with only minor revisions as the parallel text facing the new edition of Theophilus's Greek (Groningen, 2010). This is, in essence, what Murison had desired all along, that his translation should only appear, once revised in the light of a proper critical reassessment of the manuscript tradition.

Murison: bibliography of his Roman law and classical writing

A.F. Murison, "A short history of Roman law" in W.A. Hunter, A Systematic and Historical Exposition of Roman Law in the Order of a Code 2nd edition (London, 1885) 1-121 [repr. in 3rd ed. 1897; 4th ed. 1903]; usually referred to as "The External History of Roman Law"
A.F. Murison, "Lex Dei," Classical Review 27 (1913) 274-277 [review of M. Hyamson, Mosicarum et Romanarum Legum Collatio (London, 1913)]
W.A. Hunter (revised and enlarged by A.F. Murison), Introduction to Roman Law 8th edition (London, 1921)
A.F. Murison, Horace rendered in English verse (London, 1931)
A.F. Murison, The Bucolics & Georgics of Vergil rendered in English hexameters (London, 1932)
A.F. Murison, The Odes of Pindar rendered in English verse (London, 1933)
A.F. Murison, The Iliad of Homer rendered in English hexameters, vol.1: Books I-XII (London, 1933)
A.F. Murison, "The law in the Latin poets," in Atti del Congresso Internazionale di diritto romano: Roma 2 (Pavia, 1935) 607-639
J.H.A. Lokin et al. (eds.), A.F. Murison (trans.), Theophili Antecessoris Paraphrasis Institutionum (Groningen, 2010)

Other bibliography

S. Corcoran, 'Murison and Theophilus', Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 53/2 (2010) 85-124
E.C. Ferrini, Institutionum Graeca Paraphrasis Theophilo Antecessori vulgo tributa 2 vols. (Berlin, 1884-1897; repr. Aalen, 1967)
J.H.A. Lokin, 'Theophilus Antecessor, I. The Codex Messanensis, hodie Kilianus; II. Was Theophilus the author of the Paraphrase?', Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 44 (1976) 337-344 [repr. in Analecta Groningana (Groningen, 2010) 89-97]
A.F. Murison, Memoirs of 88 Years (1847-1934), being the autobiography of Alexander Falconer Murison, ed. A.L. and Sir J.W. Murison (Aberdeen, 1935)
S. Riccobono, 'Alexander Falconer Murison', Bullettino dell'Istituto di Diritto Romano 2nd ser. 2 (1935) [publ. 1936] 427-430


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