Cursing upside down   2 comments

How do you express your utter dislike of someone whose name you’re compelled to write? Syriac scribes sometimes recorded the names of unsavory creatures by writing them upside down. I first saw this with the name “Satan” in the Lyon manuscript facsimile of Jacob of Edessa’s Hexaemeron published by Chabot (see f. 15a).[1] I found another example just today in a Garšūnī version of The Story of St. Marina and her Father Eugenius. See here, again the word “Satan” (al-šayṭān), at the end of the second line:

Church of the Forty Martyrs, no. 125, p. 317

This phenomenon has been noted before for Syriac (see below), but, as far as I know, not yet for Garšūnī. It is, of course, not surprising that a known phenomenon of Syriac scribal habits should appear also in Garšūnī. Other examples in Garšūnī include, from a commentary on the Creed, the name “Apollinaris” written upside down (Dayr Al-Za‘faran 6, f. 59v, col. b), and the name “Nestorius” written upside down in a collection of canons (Dayr Al-Za‘faran 73, p. 418).

Relevant references for Syriac known to me are the following:

  • Eugène Boré highlighted the practice, also with the word “Satan”, for a manuscript of Barhebraeus’ Candelabrum Sanctuarii.[2]
  • Moberg, in the introduction to his edition of the Book of Himyarites, remarks that the name of “the tyrant Jewish king” Masruq is almost always written upside down in the ms.[3]
  • the writing of “Barsawma” upside down in Syriac Orthodox manuscripts has been noted.[4]
  • J.F. Coakley, notes an exampled of “Satan” thus written in a printed book from Lebanon in 1902.[5]
  • Most recently, Michael Penn has noted a manuscript with the names “Bardaisan” and “Marcion” written inverted.[6]

[1] I.-B. Chabot, Iacobi Edesseni Hexaemeron, seu in opus creationis libri septem (CSCO 92/Syr. 44; Paris: Secrétariat duSCO, 1928). Cf. J. Y. Çiçek, Štāt yawmē d-ḥasyā Yacqob episqopā d-Urhāy (Glane: St. Ephrem the Syrian Monastery, 1985).

[2] “Analyse de l’ouvrage de Bar-Hebraeus intitulé [mnārat qudšē] le Flambeau des saints,” JA 2e sér. 14 [1834]: 481-508; see p. 503, n. 1.

[3] (Lund, 1924), pp. xvi-xvii, cf. also p. xxii.

[4] J.P. Asmussen, “Christianity in Iran,” in Ehsan Yarshater, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 3(2), The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983], p. 944.

[5] The Typography of Syriac: A Historical Catalogue of Printing Types, 1537-1958 [New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press; London: British Library, 2006], p. 63.

[6] “Monks, Manuscripts, and Muslims: Syriac Textual Changes in Reaction to the Rise of Islam,” in Hugoye 12.2 (2009), p. 252.

Posted December 9, 2011 by adam_bremer-mccollum in Garshuni, Paleography, Syriac

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2 responses to “Cursing upside down

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  1. Pingback: Another upside down name: Emperor Justin « hmmlorientalia

  2. Pingback: “Satan” upside down in an Arabic manuscript | hmmlorientalia

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