Archive for December 2011

Amorous pipe-smoking in Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Recently a story appeared (English, Hebrew) about part of an Ottoman-era pipe found in Jerusalem with the words in Arabic القلب لغة المحبوب. (A picture of the pipe-piece is included with the story, but it is unfortunately of such low resolution that it borders on being useless.) The Arabic words are said to mean in the English version, “Heart is language for the lover,” which, being pretty shabby English, is supplied with the interpretation, “love is language for the lovers;” still not very good English. In the Hebrew version, both times a translation is given, it’s the same: האהבה היא שפת האוהבים, that is, something equivalent to the English “interpretation”, with “heart” becoming “love” and “lovers” being plural and made to be agents rather than patients. To be clear, the last word in the original Arabic sentence is singular and passive, and since a definite singular noun (like indefinite plural nouns) can have a generic meaning in English, I see no reason to change “lover” to “lovers”. In addition, while “lover” is not completely wrong, better would be “beloved”. Now to the meaning of قلب (cf. Lane pp. 2553-2554): it is probably a stretch to go from “heart” to “love”, as in both the English and Hebrew versions of this report. Something along the lines of “sincerity” or “intimacy” is probably meant. So, lest I be accused of deriding someone else’s translation without offering one of my own for someone else’s derision: “Sincerity is the beloved’s language.” If Spanish is the loving tongue (which I do not necessarily concede), the pipe must be the loving smoke. (Note that in the song “Spanish is the Loving Tongue,” we hear a few times “mi corazón”, that is, “my heart” in the meaning of English “sweetheart“.)

I’ll take this opportunity to point out a few studies dealing with smoking in Ottoman-ruled lands:

  • Aimee C. Bouzigard, Archaeological Evidence for the Consumption of Tobacco and Coffee in Ottoman Arabia, M.A. thesis, East Carolina University, 2010.
  • James Grehan, “Smoking and ‘Early Modern’ Sociability: The Great Tobacco Debate in the Ottoman Middle East (Seventeenth to Eighteenth Centuries),” American Historical Review 3 (2006): 1352-1377.
  • Cheryl Ward and Uzi Baram, “Global Markets, Local Practice: Ottoman-period Clay Pipes and Smoking Paraphernalia from the Red Sea Shipwreck at Sadana Island, Egypt,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 10 (2006): 135-158.

A number of pictures and drawings of pipes from various parts of the world and various time periods will be found in:

  • Alfred Dunhill, The Pipe Book (1924, rev. ed. 1969).
  • Sander L. Gilman and Zhou Xun, eds., Smoke: A Global History of Smoking (London: Reaktion Books, 2004).

The subject of tobacco aroused the literary and legal acumen of a number of Muslim writers, most famously perhaps ˤAbd al-Ġanī al-Nābulsī (1641-1731), but there are many other works, several of which are anonymous. Most of these texts remain only in manuscript. As just two collection examples, note W. Ahlwardt’s catalog of Arabic manuscripts at Berlin, vol. 5 (Berlin, 1893), nos. 5486-5496 (including ḥašīš), and some texts in the Daiber Collection at the Institute of Oriental Culture, the University of Tokyo, which is searchable here.

As a final and tangential note, I add that more recent Gǝˤǝz manuscripts occasionally have anti-smoking notes. To my knowledge, nothing on this has been published, but you can see some references by searching the EMML manuscripts in HMML’s catalog.


Posted December 30, 2011 by adam_bremer-mccollum in Arabic, Gǝ`ǝz, History

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Searching HMML’s catalog in non-Roman scripts   Leave a comment

For several months now, it has been possible to search HMML’s catalog, Oliver, with a Google-type (or Googley) search, that is, by entering a search term to be found across all fields (title, author, incipit, etc.), but only with Roman script. As of today, however, thanks to Unicode, it is possible to search HMML’s catalog using non-Roman scripts! This means that you can enter a term in Arabic, Armenian, or Syriac (including Garšūnī, of course), and this search will now function across author, title, incipit, and any other field where native script is used. (Thus far, all of the Gǝˤǝz manuscripts in Oliver have been entered with transliteration, but this will soon change.) Naturally, since this is a brand new feature, there may be some bugs: if you find some, please contact me (preferably by email, not as a comment to this post).

Not a bad way to end the year. Happy searching!

Posted December 29, 2011 by adam_bremer-mccollum in Arabic, Armenian, Cataloging, Garshuni, Gǝ`ǝz, Syriac

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Nativity reading from a Mardin Gospel Lectionary   Leave a comment

Church of the Forty Martyrs ms. 41, p. 46

Below are the recto and verso of a folio (now pp. 31-32) from an undated (probably 13th century) Syriac Gospel Lectionary from the Church of the Forty Martyrs (formerly at Dayr Al-Zaˤfarān). The painting, one of twenty in this manuscript,[1] shows the birth of Jesus; it has has suffered somewhat in the middle of the page, and is thus not one of the better preserved, but is nevertheless fitting to current season of the church calendar. The Syriac text, from John 1,[2] is notable for the way in which it was written: outlined letters filled in with gold, and within a decorative border. A few other lections in the manuscript are also written this way, but the greater part is written in a fine, thick Esṭrangǝlā, an example of which I have also included.

Best wishes to all for year’s end and a new beginning!

[1] J. Leroy, Les manuscrits syriaques à peintures (Paris, 1964), vol. 1, pp. 371-383 (with some errors in reference to the manuscript’s pagination); vol. 2, pp. 127-136. I dare say these color images are rather more striking than the black and white reproductions in Leroy’s album. We can be thankful for the ease with which we can now reproduce such high-quality images.

[2] This reading, and most of the others, are of the Ḥarqlean version. Leroy says that the manuscript is Ḥarqlean, but there are in fact some lections from the Pǝšiṭtā, and they are so marked in the margins.

Church of the Forty Martyrs ms. 41, p. 31

Church of the Forty Martyrs, ms. 41, p. 32

Manuscript migration: changing locales and numbers   1 comment

ἅπανθ᾽ ὁ μακρὸς κἀναρίθμητος χρόνος

φύει τ᾽ ἄδηλα καὶ φανέντα κρύπτεται —Sophocles, Ajax 646-647 (Ajax speaking)

Just over a year ago a colleague wrote me asking about a certain Syriac manuscript to which he had seen a reference as belonging at Dayr Al-Zaˤfarān. I was cataloging the collection of this monastery at the time and the shelfmark in the reference he had found did not match at all anything I could find there, so after some further searching I gave him the news that for the present I was unsure about the manuscript’s whereabouts or even its survival. I knew, though, that a large number of the Dayr Al-Zaˤfarān manuscripts had made the short migration to the Church of the Forty Martyrs, in which collection the referenced shelfmark still did not match. I reported to my colleague that I would keep a close eye out for his manuscript when I started going through this large latter collection. Well, yesterday, one year and eleven days after my friend’s enquiry, my eyes fell upon the very manuscript he was looking for! I have happily reported the news to him.

Ajax says time both discloses and reveals: in this instance, at least, we can be glad of time’s revelatory march, and not it’s concealing power.

CFMM 158 (olim Zafaran 248), pp. 210-211

Editions, or editions and translations?   Leave a comment

First off, in answer to the title’s question, the optimum scenario is to have texts and editions. No question: that way, those closely involved with the language and literature and those outside this group can both get some benefit and have opportunity and even incentive to interact with the text. And even for the eventual case of every text edition, an included translation or translations is not too much to wish for. But in our own meantime, are translations always necessary? Let’s not kid ourselves that most of the literatures in the ancient, late antique, or medieval worlds of the east is of much more than even passing interest to that many people, even in translation. Let’s not kid ourselves further that in all but the rarest cases there might be some real pecuniary value to translation activity in these literatures. This is work done by a small number of scholars for a small number of scholars, and even if we wish any of these fields were more largely populated with active laborers, those laborers would not be ones who work chiefly with translations, but with texts in the appropriate original languages.

It may be a truism that translation is always time-consuming and often hard work, but I repeat the fact anyway. No one who has spent time at it, even if that person knows both languages well, will describe it as easy work requiring little time or thought. I find translating snippets not bad at all, and even enjoyable: I can relish the challenge and put sufficient time into it without drowning in the great mass of uncertainties that almost naturally seem to be attached to the interpretive task. Not so with full texts, when there is page after page of it to slog through. Now, producing useful editions of texts is also hard work, but not in the same way. In some cases, this latter labor can even come down to reading and transcribing manuscripts, or sometimes even a single manuscript, making perhaps some emendations here and there to correct the text, but doing so all the while having also recorded the manuscripts’ real reading (this rule was hardly adhered to steadfastly in prior centuries).

It might be argued that a translation helps readers know for certain how an editor (and, in this case, translator) understood the text. Yes, so argued, and so conceded. But I counter that necessarily knowing how this or that editor/translator understood part—and cumulatively, all—of a text pales in importance to making that text itself more accessible to other readers (of the original language). In other words, the focus should be the text and its place as a linguistic document within a literary tradition, not how this or that scholar has understood it. The latter, while not by any means unimportant, is secondary. In addition, at the very least, a suitable introduction and a commentary would partly answer this question with regard to the opinions of the editor (and non-translator!).

There is today not necessarily the question of recouping costs, which was the case in earlier generations. Electronic texts, even a PDF that can be both electronic and then physical with the push of a button, are relatively easily and very cheaply made, and even with good typography, provided the maker knows something about it and is not stuck in the MS Word-only daydream (which is, in fact, sometimes a day-nightmare for Mac users, and that even from the point of view of practicality, much less aesthetics!). Open access journals available online mean not only less cost to publishers and to readers, they also mean more potential readers, since these resources are discoverable so simply via searching and linking.

How does the question fare in the history of oriental scholarship? Just a few examples: Where would be in terms of material for Jacob of Sarug, the Syriac Martyr Acts, etc., had Paul Bedjan (or his publisher) decided that French translations were requisite for the thousands of pages he edited? I fear we would hardly have so many thousands of pages in Syriac edited by him anymore! What about Wright’s editions of the Travels of Ibn Jubayr, the Kāmil of Al-Mubarrad, and the later Syriac translation of Kalila wa-Dimna. What of Paul de Lagarde’s numerous text editions? We would be better off if all of these texts had translations, and indeed some of the texts just mentioned eventually have found their translators, but if the necessity of translation had loomed over the head of Bedjan, Wright, or Lagarde, it is hardly likely that we would have the texts edited by them that we have, and we would thus have much less within reach so much literature. We can be glad, then, that they did not give in to fear of this sword of Damocles before putting out these published texts in Syriac and Arabic, and not also in English.

Again, I want to make clear that I am not discounting the worth of translations, and even multiple translations into more than one language in use. But I am questioning if every edition of every text needs, or absolutely requires, a translation. What about, at least for some texts, aiming first at editions with good introductions, and in some cases with commentary and perhaps even a glossary, so that it will be especially useful to students? The translation can be something that comes later, perhaps by the editor, perhaps by someone else.

We do not even enter into the thorny question of editing principles: I use “edit”, “edition”, etc. in their etymological sense of “publish”, “give out (to the public)”. The question for now is simply that of the title above: should scholars be required, by their own or external compulsion, in every case to produce a translation alongside any newly edited or re-edited text? My own answer, as will be obvious by now, is “no”, but I think discussion of the question may prove fruitful for the fields concerned.

Ethiopic typography   1 comment

By virtue of my work at HMML, I work most closely with manuscripts, and it’s not infrequent that I find myself well reminded of how important it is to stay closely familiar with manuscripts over against printed editions for one reason or other, but I nevertheless have no trouble finding both interest and beauty in printed texts (and unfortunately also ghastliness!). And there are times when a printed text is the only witness to a text one has access to!

There have been studies and discussions of the history of Arabic type and Arabic typography, and for Syriac there is J.F. Coakley’s excellent Typography of Syriac: A historical catalogue of printing types, 1537-1958 (New Castle, Delaware and London: 2006). As far as I know, there is nothing very extensive on Coptic or Georgian from this viewpoint, but I will happily be corrected. (See here for some sources on Armenian typography.)

We are, I believe, richer in these cases from the standpoint of paleography than of typography. So, too, with Gǝ`ǝz: we have Siegbert Uhlig’s Äthiopische Paläographie (Stuttgart, 1988), and its much slimmer English cousin, Introduction to Ethiopian Palaeography (Stuttgart, 1990), but there is no Ethiopic counterpart to Coakley’s book mentioned just above. There are, by my unscientific estimate, less printed data to go on for Gǝ`ǝz than for Syriac, but there is still plenty to be of interest. Here I only give a kind of mini-gallery of some printed texts, some from screen captures of digital images and some from photos of books at HMML, but a proper presentation would also naturally include the history of the type used in this or that printing. These examples go from 1654 to 1900. We could also look at texts published after this time period, such as in PO, CSCO, and Aethiopica, but the typography of these publications is not appreciably different from the examples below from Dillmann’s Chrestomathia and Budge’s Miracles.

Nissel and Petraeus, S. Johannis Apostoli & Evangelistae Epistolae Catholicae Tres, Arabicae & Aethiopicae (Leiden, 1654), p. 11

Robert Bellarmine, Dottrina Christiana (Rome, 1786), p. 3














J.J. Marcel, Jonas propheta, idiomata gheez (Paris, 1802), p. 2

A. Dillmann, Cat. Cod. Manu. Orient. qui in Mus. Brit., pt. III (London, 1847), p. 1






A. Dillmann, Chrestomathia Aethiopica (Leipzig, 1866), p. 43







Budge, Miracles of the B.V.M. (London, 1900), p. 11

Posted December 16, 2011 by adam_bremer-mccollum in Gǝ`ǝz, Typography

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Lost (?) and found: Mardin 129, Gregory’s Orations, and the Scholia of Ps.-Nonnos   1 comment

The beginning of scholion 19 (on Osiris)

In my continuing work cataloging the Church of the Forty Martyrs (Mardin) manuscript collection, I came recently upon a fine old manuscript on parchment. Since most of what I have been reading lately is in Serṭo (West Syriac) script, the older Esṭrangela always immediately catches my attention. This particular manuscript is missing the beginning and ending folios, as well as several at various places in the middle, but as I quickly went through the surviving leaves to get an idea of its contents, I recognized something I thought I had seen before: part of the (very interesting!) mythological scholia to the orations of Gregory Nazianzen, which I studied some years ago in Sebastian Brock’s edition (Cambridge, 1971).[1] I pulled this edition off the shelf and looked at Brock’s discussion of the manuscripts he used and there indeed was a reference to a manuscript from Mardin (pp. 11-12; no shelfmark). He says that he used photographs “taken under somewhat adverse conditions, and a few readings are not entirely certain.” This text in the Mardin manuscript has many of the proper names of the scholia written in Greek, sometimes not quite correctly, in the margins, as can be seen in the image to the right (“Osiris”, “Typhon”, “Titans”; “Mithras” belongs to the scholion in the other column).

In addition to this work, which is missing one folio at the beginning, the Mardin manuscript, now no. 129, contains in part or in full orations nos. 18 (On his Father), 38 (On Epiphany, the Birth of Jesus), 39 (On the Lights), 41 (On the Holy Spirit), 27 (Against the Eunomians), 29 (On the Son, I), 30 (On the Son, II), and 31 (On the Holy Spirit, only one folio).[2] The manuscript is briefly described in Dolabani’s Dayr Al-Za`farān catalog (p. 22 in western numerals, but p. ܟܐ in Syriac!), so it was apparently there before having been relocated to the Church of the Forty Martyrs, like so many other manuscripts from the same monastery. After Dolabani (and Brock), there has been some doubt and uncertainty as to this important manuscript’s whereabouts:

Es steht nicht fest, ob die Handschrift überhaupt noch an ihrem ursprünglichen Aufenthaltsort in Mardin liegt, ob sie verlorengegangen ist, oder ob sie mit weiteren Manuskripten aus Mardin in eine andere Bibliothek verlegt wurde. (A.B. Schmidt and M. Quaschning-Kirsch in Le Muséon 113 [2000]: 90, n. 8.)

Le Centre d’études sur Grégoire de Nazianze n’a pas pu obtenir un microfilm de ce manuscrit dont on a, semble-t-il, perdu la trace. (J.-C. Haelewyck, CCSG 53, Corpus Nazianzenum 18 [2005], p. xii; cf. CCSG 65, Corpus Nazianzenum 23 [2007], p. xi.)

I am happy to report that the manuscript is not lost at all!

From Or. 29 (On the Son, I)

[1] Of more recent publications note especially J. Nimmo Smith, ed., Pseudo-Nonniani in IV Orationes Gregorii Nazianzeni Commentarii, with the assistance of S. Brock and B. Coulie (CCSG 27, Corpus Nazianzenum 2; Turnhout: Brepols, 1992), and Bernard Coulie, “Les versions orientales des commentaires mythologiques du Pseudo-Nonnos et la réception de la mythologie classique,” in Rosa Bianca Finazzi and Alfredo Valvo, eds., La diffusione dell’eredità classica nell’età tardoantica e medievale. Il Romanzo di Alessandro e altri scritti. Atti del seminario internazionale di studio (Roma-Napoli, 25-27 settembre 1997) (L’eredità classica nel mondo orientale 2; Alexandria : Edizioni dell’Orso, 1998), pp. 113-23.

[2] Syriac editions of some of these orations have been published in the CCSG, Corpus Nazianzenum series.

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