Archive for March 2012

A Gǝʿǝz manuscript at Saint Mark’s, Jerusalem   1 comment

As I’ve mentioned before, HMML has recently received the last of the images for the manuscript collection of Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem. The collection consists almost exclusively of Syriac and Arabic/Garšūnī manuscripts, but while surveying the whole of it I came across a late copy of the Gospels in Gǝʿǝz. Here is the colophon:

SMMJ 281, f. 181r

Mentioned in the colophon are then recently departed Emperor Menelik II, who reigned 1889-1913, his oldest daughter Zawditu, empress 1916-1930, and Haile Śǝlāse (Selassie), who was ras (the position just beneath the emperor or empress) at the time of the copy. Also named are Malʾaka Salām Walda Masqal, the ṣaḥafe tǝʾǝzāz (royal secretary), and Abbā Matewos. The seal in the left column is that of Saint Mark’s, and the one on the right is that of Walda Masqal, which can also be seen, for example in EMML 3094 (Walda Masqal is named a number of times in other EMML manuscripts, too); it has the motto, “He who has an ear to ear, let him hear” (cf. e.g. Rev 2:7, and with some variation from the wording here several places in the Gospels). In the Garšūnī note at the bottom of this page, it says that the copy was presented (to Saint Mark’s, presumably) from Empress Zawditu in 1916 by Gabra Śǝlāse “the minister (wazīr) of Ethiopia”. (It is notable that whoever penned this note used the etymological Arabic spelling with /θ/ to spell the name Śǝlāse, rather than a phonetic spelling.)

The manuscript is not particularly significant for its content or age, and, while colophons often supply us with otherwise unknown prosopographic details, that’s not the case here. It is, however, at least of mild interest because of the presence of a Garšūnī note in a Gǝʿǝz manuscript, for what that note says, and because of this copy’s peculiar place in an otherwise Syriac and Arabic collection.

If any other unusual settings of manuscripts within particular collections come to mind, feel free to point them out in the comments.

From an Armenian colophon: on study, expertise, and enjoyment   1 comment

In the excellent introduction to his collection of Armenian colophon extracts translated into English, A.K. Sanjian shares the following bit from a 14th century (1357) colophon in a manuscript of a grammatical text:

As it is impossible for the birds to pull a yoke and make a furrow, and for the oxen to fly, so also no one can attain mastery in the great art of manuscript production without studying it. And should anyone be audacious enough to engage [in this art without studying it], he will fail, and he will corrupt the art and adulterate the text, like the stupid . . . butcher who cannot distinguish the joints [of the animal] and unskillfully cuts the meat from the limbs . . . For in the hands of a foolish and stupid man this [art] is like a pearl on the nose of a pig or like a golden necklace around the neck of a donkey; but he who is intoxicated with its love, he alone appreciates its sweetness.

So go, study, be intoxicated, and appreciate the sweetness!


Avedis K. Sanjian, Colophons of Armenian Manuscripts, 1301-1480: A Source for Middle Eastern History (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), 16.

L.S. Xač’ikyan, XIV Dari Hayeren Jeṙagreri Hišatakaranner [Colophons of Armenian Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century] (Erevan, 1950), no. 510, pp. 426-427.

On cancer, from a Garšūnī medical text   2 comments

Siddhartha Mukherjeeh’s Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (New York, 2010), a 500-plus page popular level survey of cancer in human history, with the bulk of the period covered being the last hundred years or so, thanks especially to the substantial advancements achieved in that time, has received wide acclaim. One service the work performs is that it informs a general readership that cancer is nothing new. I’d like to point here to a recent identification of a short passage on cancer in an Arabic (Garšūnī) manuscript from Mardin, but before I do that, it will be worthwhile to highlight, without going into any great detail, some resources in Greek and Arabic that touch on cancer. (Jacob Wolff  — see the full reference below — at the beginning of the 20th century traced the history of the disease; I’ll not be surprised if there’s something comparable that is more recent, but I don’t know it offhand.)

The Ebers papyrus, in (hieratic) Egyptian, dated to the 16th century BCE, refers to a kind of tumor thought to have been cancer, but it’s not until much later that we get a name for cancer that sticks. Hippocrates (c. 450-c. 380 BCE) is given credit for naming the disease “crab” (καρκίνος = Latin cancer, Syriac sarṭānā, Arabic saraṭān). (Incidentally, this is one of many cases where English medical convention has opted for Greek or Latin words taken over wholesale instead of translations of those terms; German, by contrast, has Krebs.) A few centuries later, Galen (130-200 CE), too, discusses cancer (and other tumors). The Galenic emphasis and contribution for cancer is that it is caused by black bile. Some centuries after Galen, we have a focused description of cancer by Paul of Aegina (7th cent. CE) in his Medical Epitome (cf. also the passage on cancers in the womb from Ibn Sarābiyūn based on Paul in P. Pormann, Paul of Aegina, 27-28). I have collected a number of other notable passages, but I refer to just a few here. Photios in the 9th century had the following to say of cancer in his Lexicon (κ p. 132), “καρκίνος is a sensation [or “misfortune”] occurring in bodies, which is now called καρκίνωμα; it is often found.” The Suda s.v. is similar, as also Hesychios, Lex. κ no. 832; see Paul of Aegina, Epit. 6.45 for a longer description, and Oribasios, Coll. Med., quoting Xenophon (medicus), for some different types of cancer occurring in different parts of the body. The term καρκίνωμα is defined in the Definitiones medicae wrongly attributed to Galen (Kühn, vol. 19, 430.6 and 443.5). Again in another work of a pseudo-Galen we see that καρκινώματα are especially common in female breasts (Introductio, Kühn, vol. 14, 779.8-9, cf. 786.8; see also Hipp. Epid. 5.1.101).

As is well known, Syriac scholars spent considerable efforts poring over and translating Greek scientific works, and in the ninth century some of them — Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq is the most famous — played the unimaginably important role of further translating some of such texts into Arabic, sometimes from Syriac, sometimes directly from Greek. There are in Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq’s Risāla on the translations of Galen’s works into Syriac and Arabic (ed. Bergsträsser, 1925) three references of possible relevance: on Galen’s Ad Glauconem de medendi methodo libri IIDe tumoribus praeter naturam, and De atra bile. The Risāla, a new edition of which with English translation by John Lamoreaux is thankfully soon to appear, is a well-known resource for our knowledge of Greek medical literature in both Syriac and Arabic. This work is well known as a resource for the history of Arabic medical literature, but it bears underlining that many of the translations Ḥunayn refers to are Syriac; even if these are not all known to have survived, it is at least a boon to our Syriac literary knowledge to know that such and such a Galenic text did exist in that language. In the second book of Ad Glauconem, Ḥunayn tells us (p. 7, ll. 10-11), Galen “describes the indicators of tumors and their treatments” (ويصف في المقالة الثانية دلائل الاورام ومداواتها); this term (waram pl. awrām) does not, however, necessarily mean a cancerous tumor. This work had been translated into Syriac by Sergius of Rēšʿainā († 536) — at a time, Ḥunayn says, when he was somewhat accomplished in translation but he was not yet at the peak of his skill — before Ḥunayn himself translated it into Syriac and then into Arabic for different patrons (p. 7, ll. 12-16: وقد كان سبقني الى ترحمة هذا الكتاب سرجس الى السريانيّة وقد كان قوويّ بعض القوّة في الترجمة ولم يبلغ غياته ثم ترجمته بعد الى السريانيّة لسلمويه…ثمّ ترجمته في هذا الايام الى العربيّة لابي جعفر محمّد بن موسى). The other two books (nos. 57 and 68 in the Risāla), which I do not quote here due to space, are discussed on p. 31.4-9, and p. 32.14-16. The medical bio-bibliographer Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa hardly mentions cancer: the only place I know of is at the end of ch. 8 (p. 255 in the Beirut ed. before me) for a physician called Al-Sāhir (“the sleepless”), also known as Yūsuf the Priest, and even there the reference to the disease is somewhat tangential:

 وقال عبيد الله بن جبرائيل عنه إنّه كان به سرطان في مقدم رأسه وكان يمنعه من النوم فلقب بالساهر من اجل مرضه قال وصنف كناشا يذكر فيه ادوية الامراض وذكر في كناشه اشياء تدلّ على أنّه كان به هذا المرض

ʿUbayd Allāh b. Jibrāʾīl said of him that he had cancer on his forehead and that it would prevent him from sleeping, and so he was nicknamed Al-Sāhir because of his disease. He also said that he had put together a compendium [kunnāš] in which he mentions the remedies of diseases, and he mentioned in his book certain things indicating that he did in fact have this disease.

Finally, the main cause inciting me to pen this post: I have recently discovered two copies — Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin, 555(2) and 556, the former very incomplete and less accurate in comparison with the latter—of a medical text in Garšūnī manuscripts, both undated but perhaps of the 16th or 17th century. This anonymous work consists of a catalog of illnesses with their descriptions and treatments. Each section generally consists of these four (rubricated) headings: al-maraḍ (the disease), al-sabab (its cause), al-ʿarḍ (its presentation, manifestation), al-tadbīr (its regulation, steps to be taken against it). At this point I have no further data to identify the text, whether for author, date, or possible other manuscripts, but I welcome any additional information. Here are just a few lines from this work on cancer. In this section — no. 56 in 556, but no. 55 in 555(2) — cancer is grouped with dubayla (a stomach disease) and kumna (black cataract), and the ailments are each discussed in turn.

With the parts on these other illnesses omitted, the text reads (ms. no. 556 with some variants from 555(2) in brackets):

Al-sabab. Wa-l-saraṭān ḫilṭ sawdāwī ḥādiṯ bi-l-qarnī [bi-l-qarānī, om. ḥādiṯ].

Al-ʿarḍ. Wa-ʿalāmat al-saraṭān ṣalābat al-ʿayn wa-tamaddud ʿurūqihā.

Al-tadbīr. Wa-ammā al-saraṭān lā burū lahu [lā budd wa-lahu] ġayr an al-ṭabīb yajtahidu fī taskīn alamihi wa-taḫfīf aḏīyatihi bi-stifrāġ al-badan wa-bi-l-aġdiya [om. wa-] al-muʿtadila wa-bi-an yaḍaʿa ʿalá l-ʿayn ṣufrat al-bayḍ maḍrūba maʿa kaṯīra wa-bi-laban al-nisā wa-bayāḍ al-bayḍ maʿa šay yasīr min [maʿa] iklīl al-malik fa-iḏā sakana al-wajaʿ fa-yajibu an yukḥala al-ʿayn bi-l-tūtiyā [om. -l-] wa-l-šādanaj [wa-l-sādanaj] wa-l-luʾluʾ wa-l-našā taduqq [yaduqq] al-adwiya wa-tanḫul [wa-yanḫul] wa-yattaḫiḏ kuḥlan wa-yaktaḥil bihi.

And here is an admittedly rough translation:

The cause: Cancer is black bile occurring on the side of the head.

Its manifestation: The mark of cancer is a hardening of the eye and the stretching out of its veins.

Its regulation: As for cancer, there is no recovery for it, even though the physician may make efforts to placate the patient’s suffering and to reduce his pain by evacuating the body, by balanced nutrition, or by putting the well-beaten yellow of an egg with women’s milk and egg-white with a little melilot on the eye. If the pain lessens, then it is necessary that zinc, lentil-stone, pearls, and starch be applied to the eye. Crush the medicinal ingredients and strain them; let the patient take it and apply it to his eye.

The remark, “there is no recovery for it,” a prognosis unfortunately still all too true for many, is reminiscent of other remarks about cancer in ancient and medieval medical literature. The command in the Egyptian Ebers papyrus has “do nothing against it”. More generally, Hippocrates in Aphorisms 7.87 counsels, “Diseases that medicines don’t heal, the knife heals; those that the knife doesn’t heal, fire heals; those that fire doesn’t heal we have to consider incurable” (Ὁκόσα φάρμακα οὐκ ἰῆται, σίδηρος ἰῆται· ὅσα σίδηρος οὐκ ἰῆται, πῦρ ἰῆται· ὅσα δὲ πῦρ οὐκ ἰῆται, ταῦτα χρὴ νομίζειν ἀνίατα), and in 6.38 (6.37 in the Syriac version) he recommends leaving “hidden cancers” (κρυπτοὶ καρκίνοι) untreated, since treating them will only cause a quick death, and presumably the cancer itself will still kill the patient, just not as quickly. See P. Pormann and E. Savage-Smith, Medieval Islamic Medicine 130 for a similarly bleak prognosis from 14th-century Spain.


Suplementary note: I don’t know the source of the sentence, but H. Fähnrich (in his chapter in A. Harris, ed., Indigenous Languages of the Caucasus, vol. 1, p. 202) cites in Georgian the line ძუძუსა ჩემსა მჯდომი მაზის “a cancer is on my breast.”



Peter Pormann, The Oriental Tradition of Paul of Aegina’s Pragmateia (Leiden, 2004).

——– and Emilie Savage-Smith, Medieval Islamic Medicine (Washington, D.C., 2007).

Jacob Wolff, Die Lehre von der Krebskrankheit. Four volumes. Gustav Fischer: Jena, 1907. In English see The Science of Cancerous Disease from Earliest Times to the Present, trans. Barbara Ayoub.

Evagrios’ (or Nilos’) work On Masters and Disciples in Arabic   Leave a comment

While browsing through some of the Mardin manuscripts last week I came across a small collection of sayings in Arabic attributed to Evagrios of Pontos (c. 345-399), whose works have a notable tradition in Syriac, Armenian, and Arabic. This collection of sayings, which have an air about them not unlike parts of Pirqe Avot, is a work known as De magistris et discipulis (CPG 6053) and sometimes attributed to Nilos (died c. 430).

CFMM 435, f. 60r

The text is in Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin, 435, ff. 60r-61r, which is dated the beginning of February, 2208 AG, 1897 AD, and 1613 Anno martyrum.

CFMM 435, f. 61v

This Mardin manuscript can now be added to the list of two other copies recently pointed out by Paul Géhin:

  • Coptic Museum, Cairo, Theol. 376, which was copied at almost the same time as the Mardin manuscript: 1612 Anno martyrum
  • Šarfeh 381, in Garšūnī, copied in May 1900 AG (= 1589 CE; see Sony’s catalog, p. 142)

The Cairo manuscript, it seems, has “On Masters and Disciples” as the title, as does the one at Šarfeh (Sony, p. 141), while the Mardin copy does not, as can be seen above.

I am hoping shortly to prepare an edition and translation of the Arabic text based on this manuscript, the other two being unavailable to me, and perhaps with some remarks about the translation technique.


In addition to the works cited at CPG 6053, note:

Anton Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur (Bonn, 1922), 86-88.

S.P. Brock, “Evagrius,” in Sebastian Brock, Aaron Butts, George Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, eds., Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, 2011).

A.M. Casiday, Evagrius Ponticus, The Early Church Fathers (London and New York, 2006).

Paul Géhin, “La tradition arabe d’Évagre le Pontique,” Collectanea Christiana Orientalia 3 (2006): 83-104, esp. 96-98.

Georg Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, vol. 1, Studi e Testi 118 (Vatican City, 1944), 397-399

Grigory Kessel and Karl Pinggéra, A Bibliography of Syriac Ascetic and Mystical Literature, Eastern Christian Studies 11 (Leuven, 2011), 76-92.

B. Sony, Le catalogue des manuscrits du Patriarcat au Couvent de Charfet-Liban (Beirut, 1993).

R.W. Thomson, A Bibliography of Classical Armenian Literature to 1500 AD, Corpus Christianorum (Turnhout, 1995), 54.

Authorial and scholarly vestiges in our libraries   2 comments

Some years ago I decided to look for a copy of Paul de Lagarde’s (1827-1891) edition of the Syriac Geoponica. I found a copy from a used book dealer in Germany and bought it for a relatively modest cost, as I recall. I was, however, astonished to find this writing at the beginning:

Lagarde apparently sent the book as a gift to the great Theodor Nöldeke (1836-1930), whose textual annotations fill this slim volume. Little notes like this are good reminders of the organic nature of scholarship. The scholars, some of whose works we still scrutinize and even, especially in Nöldeke’s case, may consider as standards, are not mere names passed down from one generation of scholars to the next. Their hands touched books ours can touch, they read them with their eyes, annotated them with their pens. While it is always a treat to find inscriptions like these in electronic copies available online — I’ve seen the names of William Wright and Étienne Quatrmère, among others — holding a physical book in one’s hands is even better.

At the library here at Saint John’s I noticed another of Lagarde’s books with a notable past of ownership, this one two times over. This copy of his Symmicta belonged to both Arthur Jeffery (1892-1959), known especially for his Materials for the History of the Text of the Qurʾān: The Old Codices (Leiden, 1937) and The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qurʾān (Baroda, 1938), and to Leo Jung (1892-1987), an outstanding figure of Orthodox Judaism in America.

Finally, among HMML’s bountiful collection of Ethiopian studies materials is a copy of The Chronicle of King Theodore of Abyssinia (የቴዎድሮስ፡ታሪክ። yä-Tewodros tarik), an Amharic text edited by Enno Littmann (1875-1958). HMML’s copy was a gift of the author to Robert Garrett (1875-1961), whose name will be known to some readers for his manuscript donations to Princeton University. This copy, no. 23 of only 25, is even more interesting because the gift inscription is in Gǝʿǝz (za-tawǝhba la-Robǝrt Garrǝt ǝmmǝna Ǝnno Litman)! Incidentally, we are reminded in Littmann’s preface that Nöldeke himself had twenty years prior also copied out the same Berlin manuscript that Littmann used.

See further on the individuals named above:

John S. Badeau, Eric F.F. Bishop, and Frederick C. Grant, “Arthur Jeffery — A Tribute,” The Muslim World 50 (1960): 49-54.

Hubert Kaufhold, “Nöldeke, Theodor,” in Sebastian Brock, Aaron Butts, George Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, eds., Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, 2011).

Michael Kleiner, “Littmann, Enno,” in Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 3 (Wiesbaden, 2007), pp. 588-590.

Enno Littmann, “Autobiographical Sketch,” [in German] in The Library of Enno Littmann, with an Introduction by Maria Höfner (Leiden, 1959).

Ludwig Schemann, Paul de Lagarde. Ein Lebens- und Erinnerungsbild (Leipzig, 1920).

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, “Theodor Nöldeke,” ZDMG 85 (1931): 239-281.

Lucas Van Rompay, “de Lagarde, Paul Anton,” in Sebastian Brock, Aaron Butts, George Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, eds., Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, 2011).

Rainer Voigt, “Nöldeke, Theodor,” in Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 3 (Wiesbaden, 2007), p. 1195.

Anaïs Wion, “Collecting manuscripts and scrolls in Ethiopia: The missions of Johannes Flemming (1905) and
Enno Littmann (1906),” available here.

Isaac of Antioch in a late, but important, Syriac manuscript (CFMM 259)   1 comment

CFMM 259, p. 195

This image is of the beginning of Isaac (of Antioch)’s “Homily (Memra) on the Departure (Death) of Children”. The memra begins:

O how bitter is the departure,

How hard and bitter the separation,

That separates a mother from her children,

And a bearer from her beloved ones.

With what voices can we mourn

A beloved, beautiful child,

Who sprouted and grew like a flower,

But quickly withered and vanished?

Most Syriac poets, even Jacob of Sarug, have generally been overshadowed by Ephrem, but lines like these, poignant and emotive, serve as a reminder that there are riches beyond those of Ephrem. (I thought the same recently while reading Qurillona.)

Notice of this homily is recorded in Bickell’s list of incipits (no. 6; in vol. 1 of his ed. of Isaac’s homilies), and according to Sebastian Brock’s list of Isaac’s homilies (JSS 32 [1987]: 279-313), this one is unpublished. There is, however, another memra that begins similarly (no. 177 in Bickell’s list, also included in Brock’s) and that has been published: P. Zingerle, Chrestomathia Syriaca, pp. 387–394 (from Vat. Syr. 92).[1] It turns out that the memra from CFMM 259 above, a text thought to have been unpublished, is in fact not a separate memra from that published in Zingerle’s chrestomathy; it is another version of it with different wording here and there. A comparison even of the short sample given above with the text that Zingerle published shows some of these differences, and there are more. I am not (now, at least) making a full collation, but I note that the reading of CFMM 259 has bearing on Zingerle’s remark on p. 387 about d-pāršā in his text. We are, of course, not unused to the fact of different textual versions, but it is all the easier to get thrown off by the fact when different wording occurs immediately at the beginning of a text!

The manuscript is dated 2220 AG (= 1908/9 CE), and there is a donation note at the beginning dated 1948. A table of contents is supplied at the beginning, but it missed a few of the texts in the manuscript, of which there is a total of thirty. In addition to providing another witness to this homily of Isaac’s, it also contains a number of other notable texts, homiletic, hagiographic (some of which are from Palladios), and apocryphal. Among them:

  • Memra on the Cream of Wisdom by John of Manʿim (cf. Barsoum, Scattered Pearls, p. 521)
  • The Revelations of the Twelve Apostles, translated from Hebrew into Greek and Greek into Syriac
  • The Two Letters that Fell from Heaven (see generally GCAL I 295-296)
  • The Story of Sergius Baḥira (text and trans. in B. Roggema, The legend of Sergius Baḥīrā: eastern Christian apologetics and apocalyptic in response to Islam [Brill, 2009].)
  • The Story of Maurice the Believing Emperor
  • The Story of Taḥsia, the Prostitute that Anba Bessarion Instructed (cf. Bedjan, AMS VII 105-109; also BHO 1137 for Armenian?)
  • The Story of Honorios the Emperor
  • The Story of Moses the Ethiopian (cf. Bedjan, AMS VII 219-224)
  • Memra on Himself, by Bar Qiqi (cf. Scattered Pearls, p. 414)
  • The Story of Simeon of the Olives
  • The Story of Daniel of Scetis (This text does not seem to exactly match any of those translated by S.P. Brock in T. Vivian, ed., Witness to Holiness: Abba Daniel of Scetis, pp. 181-205.)
  • The Story of Daniel of Galaš
  • The Story of Mark of Jabal Tarmaq
  • Sogitha (dialogue poem) on Joseph and Benjamin (cf. S.P. Brock, Sogyata Mgabbyata [1982], pp. 15-17; cf. Le Muséon 97 (1984): 42.)[2]

The few bibliographic references above are not complete. Some of these texts exist also in other copies at HMML (and elsewhere), either in Syriac or Arabic / Garšūnī.


[1] Thanks to those members of the Hugoye list who shared copies of Zingerle’s book with me.

[2] Thanks to Kristian Heal for pointing out to me these references for the sogitha.

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