Archive for September 2012

Another upside down name: Emperor Justin   8 comments

I have before given some examples of writing a name upside down as a kind of curse (cf. here). This is most often done with the name of Satan, but also for those considered heretics. We know the practice from Syriac, but also from Arabic, at least in Garšūnī. (I wonder about other language traditions, Christian and otherwise; I will be glad to hear of examples from other manuscript traditions that have escaped me.) The image below is from CFMM 301, an early 20th-cent. manuscript (completed at Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān on Aug. 19, 1912) with some hagiographic works and the Tale of Aḥiqar, this part from a version of the Story of Mor Gabriel (pp. 82-150 of the manuscript).

CFMM 301, p. 92

Here is a transliteration (with vowels added, of course) and translation:

wa-māta Anasṭūs al-malik al-muʾmin allaḏī banā al-haykal wa-kāna mawtuhu sana 829 y[ūnānīya] allāh yunīḥu nafsahu wa-yanfaʿunā bi-ṣalātihi amīn. wa-baʿdahu Yūsṭānīnūs al-kāfir bi-l-masīḥ wa-tabaʿa sūnudūs al-muḫālifīn wa-ḍṭahad al-muʾminīn wa-aḏalla al-masīḥīyīn ǧiddan

Anastasius, the believing emperor, who had built the sanctuary, died; his death was in the year 829 Anno Graecorum [= 518 CE]. May God grant rest to his soul and benefit us with his prayer! After him [came] Yūsṭānīnūs, the denier of Christ, and he followed the synod of the transgressors [i.e. the Council of Chalcedon], oppressed the believers and greatly degraded the Christians.


  • haykal I have rendered “sanctuary.” This probably refers to the church and prayer hall commissioned by Anastasius in 512.
  • allāh yunīḥu nafsahu is a calque of Syriac alāhā nniḥ napšēh.
  • (i)ḍṭahad must be the correct reading, despite the dot in the ṭet.

The first emperor mentioned here is Anastasius I, not a supporter of Chalcedon and not unfriendly to the adherents of Miaphysite doctrine. The second emperor referred to, whose name is written inverted, is either 1) Justin, who, in fact, followed Anastasius, or 2) Justinian, who followed Justin. The form of the name as written here looks more like that of the latter than of the former, but neither supported the Miaphysites and might be unexpectedly cursed by graphic inversion, while Anastasius is blessed. (Incidentally the name of Satan is not written upside down in this text!) On the next folio after this one, the expulsions of Severus, Philoxenus, Anthimus, and Theodosius are mentioned, and at least some of them were deposed before Justinian’s rule began in 527, but others closer to or in 536.


The ins and outs of the Council of Chalcedon and its aftermath are covered in any good volume that treats Late Antiquity and church history in the fifth and sixth centuries. For other topics in play here, note the following:
Aydin, Eliyo. Das Leben des heiligen Gabriel. The Life of Saint Gabriel. Tašʿitā d-qaddišā Mār(y) Gabriʾel. Bar Hebraeus Verlag, 2009. [Vocalized Syriac text, GT, and ET.]
Hunt, Lucy-Anne. “Eastern Christian Iconographic and Architectural Traditions: Oriental Orthodox,” in Ken Parry, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. Oxford, 2007. 388-419 (esp. 390).
Palmer, A.N. “Gabriel, Monastery of Mor,” in GEDSH, 167-169.

The beginning of Mark’s Gospel in an Armenian manuscript from Istanbul   1 comment

A large collection of Armenian manuscripts was digitized by HMML and is available for study. Edward Mathews, Jr., is now cataloging these manuscripts, and he has recently finished the particular collection called Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, Patriarch’s Collection (APIP); his records will be available online in their entirety in the near future. Below is an image from APIP 33, an undated but later copy of the Gospels in Armenian; the book is incomplete and breaks off near the end of Mark. Here is the beginning of that Gospel, with a painting of the Evangelist (there is also a painting of Matthew earlier in the volume), a nice zoomorphic Ս, and other usual features of Armenian manuscript decoration.

APIP 33, pp. 169-170

Künzle’s edition (see below) for this part of the Gospel reads as follows:

Awetaran ǝst Markosi
Skizbn awetarani YI K’I orpēs ew greal ē yĒsayi margarēs. Ahawasik es aṙak’em zhreštak im aṙaǰi k’o or handerjesc’ē zčanaparh k’o aṙaǰi k’o.

The text in APIP 33 differs from Künzle’s ed. in some minor points, including the presence of որդւոյ այ՟ “son of God” (cf. the Peshitta, and see also the apparatus criticus of the Greek text); the accusative marker on ըզհրե{ե}շտակ in the manuscript also includes a written preposed helping vowel.

Künzle, Beda O. L’Évangile arménien ancien / Das altarmenische Evangelium. 2 vols. Bern, 1984.
For further bibliography on the Bible in Armenian, see R. Thomson, A Bibliography of Classical Armenian Literature to 1500 AD (Turnhout, 1995), 239-249.

On artwork in Armenian manuscripts, see this (very selective) list:
Buchhausen, Heide, and Helmut Buchhausen. 1976. Die illuminierten Armenischen Handschriften Der Mechitaristen-Congregation in Wien. Vienna.
Izmailova, T. 1986. Miniature arménienne, Hovhannes Sandoghkavanetsi. Erevan.
Janashian, Mesrop. 1966. Armenian Miniature Painting of the Monastic Library of San-Lazzaro, Venice. Venice.
———.1970. Armenian Miniature Paintings. Trans. Bernard Grebanier. Venice.
Mathews, Thomas F., and Alice Taylor. 2001. The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated. Los Angeles.
Mathews, Thomas F., and Roger S. Wieck, eds. 1994. Treasures in Heaven: Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts. New York.
Der Nersessian, S. 1933. “La Peinture Arménienne Au VIIe Siècle Et Les Miniatures De l’Évangile d’Etchmiadzin.” In Actes Du XIIe Congrès International D’études Byzantines, Ochrid, 10-16 Septembre, 1961, 3:49–57. Belgrade.
———. 1993. Miniature Painting in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia from the Twelfth to the Fourteenth Century. Washington, DC.
Nersessian, V. 1987. Armenian Illuminated Gospel-Books. London.
Der Nesessian, Sirarpie, and Arpag Mekhitarian. 1986. Armenian Miniatures from Isfahan. Brussels.
Weitzmann, Kurt. 1933. Die Armenische Buchmalerei Des 10. Und Beginnenden 11. Jahrhunderts. Istanbuler Forschungen 4. Bamberg.

An episode in the Story of Šhemʿon of Qartmin (Syriac and Arabic)   2 comments

Among some manuscripts at the Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin, that I have recently cataloged are some that deal with the hagiographic Qartmin trilogy of the stories of Samuel, Simeon, and Gabriel.[1] Some of this material has been published (and even partly translated), but the published texts are not easy to come by. While going through these texts I came across one episode in The Story of Šemʿon (Simeon) in Syriac and in Arabic that, not too short and not too long and of enough entertainment value and philological interest, called for greater readership than it currently has residing in manuscripts. The text, in either or both languages, would be suitable for intermediate, perhaps even beginning, reading courses, and of course anyone interested in hagiography and the history of asceticism, and more generally scholars of Syriac and Arabic, would lose nothing by studying the passage. I stress that the file below is merely a beginning effort, and while I have proofread it, it still should be considered a draft! Here it is:


The ease of making texts available this way — from manuscript to electronic file to the internet in a matter of days, with the option of correction always there — has the potential to change greatly any academic field based on texts, and I hope that more such text presentation will appear. Comments especially on this general prospect are encouraged!

[1] For some history and bibliography see A.N. Palmer, “Gabriel, Monastery of Mor,” in GEDSH, 167-169.

A list of some ethnic stereotypes in Syriac   16 comments

I was recently going through a manuscript that belongs to the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo to hunt down a text for someone and I came across a very short, but interesting, piece, an image of which, with translation, I give below. It is a list of several people-groups or nations with their supposedly characteristic faults, and while, of course, this kind of thinking is eschewed today (at least in most public conversation), it offers a unique picture of how these nations were viewed. I am not aware of another witness to the text beyond this manuscript, in which, however, it is copied twice (ff. 191v and 193v), but it is unlikely that it was composed on the spot for this manuscript. Aside from knowledge of the existence of the named peoples, there are no indications of date of composition, but the list is relatively far-reaching, although one omission that comes to mind is the Chinese (ṣināyē; cf. Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus, col. 3395).

Syr. Orth. Archd. Aleppo 61(m), f. 191v

Here is a rough first translation, not without some uncertainties. I have numbered each segment.

That you might know the bad characteristics that exist among the peoples of all the earth.

1. Hebrews: the characteristic of importunity, disobedience, and deceit.

2. Greeks and Romans: greed, pride, arrogance, and haughtiness.

3. Syrians: envy, hatred, disorderliness, and ???

4. Persians: shamelessness and lasciviousness.

5. Armenians: hiddenness, hypocrisy, lying, thievery, ignorance, and tyranny.

6. Egyptians: angry, zealous, roving (?), and low in skill.

7. Arabs (Ṭayyāyē): shedders of blood, lovers of killing, badness of desire, and irascibility.

8. Barbarians: ignorance and disorderliness.

9. Pagans: fraudulent, making nature a liar by altering [ways of] worship.

10. Indians: pride that comes with the wisdom of this world and healing through drugs and arrows.

11. Elamites: [overly?] loving modesty.

12. Brahmins: pure, holy, and perfect.

13. Iberians, i.e. Georgians: simple and lovers of flesh.

14. Russians: deprived of mercy toward people.

15. Nubians and Ethiopians: haters of clothing.

And a common [bad characteristic] for all humans is mortality.

Notes keyed to each segment:

1. The root ṭlm is known but the form as here is not in the lexica. Perhaps read ṭālomutā.

2. The last three words are synonyms for “pride.”

3. I’m not sure what ša/āwyutā da-l-rēšē means exactly.

5. Maṭšyutā: again, the root is known but the form, I think, unattested.

6. Up to this point only abstract nouns have been used, but beginning here there are also adjectives, plural to match the gentilic nouns.

9. Perhaps Romans 1 in view here.

10. On later meanings of “Elamite,” see Payne Smith, cols. 2866-2867. It probably means here some inhabitants of Mesopotamia.

12. For the proper name, see Payne Smith, col. 615.

I welcome comments, especially any remarks on the questions and improvements to the translation. Does anyone know of some other text like this, Syriac or otherwise?

UPDATE (Nov. 26, 2012): I have just come across another witness to the same text: CFMM 386, p. 279. There are no notable variants to speak of except for the lack of “i.e. Georgians” after “Iberians”. The main part of CFMM 386 is dated 1890 AG (= 1578/9 CE), but the part with the ethnic stereotypes is in a later hand at the end.

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