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).
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.