Archive for February 2014

The tipping point of textual expertise   2 comments

How much reading do you have to do in a language until you read smoothly, without having to stop often and ask yourself about morphology or syntax, or to consult the dictionary? A simple question with a more complicated answer. It depends on the reader, on the language, on the text and genre, and even on the particular sentences within those texts (not all sentences within the same author or genre are of the same difficulty for learners), &c. And there are, of course, different kinds of reading, and many texts, too, for one reason or another merit, not only reading, but even multiple re-readings. Even with these variables, for most of us, fluid reading (or hearing) means the past mastering of several thousand lines wherein the dictionary did have to be frequently cracked, wherein the grammar did have to be checked, wherein the concordance did have to be probed, and wherein the original beside the version did have to be compared, and so on.

At the beginning of a unique Greek grammar for beginning students, Paula Saffire refers to a time in graduate school when reading Greek became less encumbered and more automatic for her.

The reason this happened was that I was reading Greek, happily, about eight hours a day, because of Harvard’s most powerful teaching tool, the Reading List. (Read all of Aeschylus, all of Sophocles, all of Homer, seven by Euripides, and so on.)[1]

The great Swedish scholar of Chinese, Bernhard Karlgren, wrote in 1908 of his reading assignments in some Germanic languages — to which family, it should be noted, belonged Karlgren’s mother tongue — while a student of Adolf Noreen:

300 pages Icelandic prose, 80 pages Icelandic poetry, 100 pages Gothic grammar, 40 pages Gothic text, 275 (difficult!) pages Old Swedish. I have very good reasons to rest a little while.[2]

At the time, Karlgren was working on two majors: one the subject just mentioned, and the other being Slavonic Languages. (Karlgren needed to master Russian because of the font of materials on Japanese and Chinese in that language. Students of Georgian are in a similar situation today.)

I don’t have a specific number, whether in hours or in lines, to answer the question asked above. But I know that it is a lot, and in many cases we may recognize the specific number only after the fact. One day, after hour upon hour and line upon line, we just realize that we’re moving along in a text with far fewer bumps in the road than before. And that’s when a new kind of enjoyment begins in the language.

If you have any studio-biographical references for scholars’ and learners’ time and efforts spent among the pages of foreign languages, please share them in the comments.

[1] P. Saffire and C. Freis, Ancient Greek Alive, 3d ed., p. xv.

[2] Letter of April 11, 1908 to his girlfriend Inna, quoted in N.G.D. Malmqvist, Bernhard Karlgren: Portrait of a Scholar, p. 38.

Old Georgian phrases and sentences 23 (Euphemianus and Alexis)   Leave a comment

The passage below comes from near the end of the story of Euphemianus and his son Alexis (aka The Man of God), in K. Kekelidze, Keimena, tom. 1, pp. 161-165; for other languages, cf. BHG 51, BHO 36-44, GCAL I:497-498, and CSCO 298-299. In Kekelidze’s edition, the title runs [Ⴇ~ⴀ ⴋⴐⴚⴑⴀ ႨႪ:] ⴚⴞⴍⴐⴄⴁⴀⴢ ⴄⴅⴔⴄⴋⴈⴀⴌⴄⴑⴈ ⴃⴀ ⴛⴈⴑⴀ ⴋⴈⴑⴈⴑⴀ ⴀⴊⴄⴕⴑⴈⴑⴈ, that is, for March 17, ცხორებაჲ ევფემიანესი და ძისა მისისა ალექსისი, The Life of Euphemianus and his Son Alexis. I give the Greek (from Pereira’s edition in AB 19 [1900], 243-253 [BHG 51]) for convenient comparison, the Georgian text from Kekelidze, my English translation of that, and the same Georgian text broken down into sentences with vocabulary. It will be immediately evident that the Greek and Georgian texts do not match exactly. (In this and other passages is evident a feature of the Greek version that Pereira notes as follows [p. 245, n. 1]: “Les mots d’origine latine, dont nous signalerons en note les plus marquants, sont assez nombreux dans notre texte pour faire croire, sinon que notre légende est traduite du latin, du moins que son auteur était familiarisé avec la langue latine.”)

Ἐγένετο δὲ ὁ καιρὸς τοῦ ἐξελθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος, καὶ ἡνίκα ηὐδόκησεν ὁ Κύριος παραλαβεῖν τὴν παραθήκην αὐτοῦ ἐξ αὐτοῦ, εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν παῖδα τὸν ὑπηρετοῦντα αὐτῷ· Ἀδελφέ, φέρε μοι χαρτίον καὶ μελάνην καὶ κάλαμον, Καὶ ἔγραψεν πάντα τὸν βίον αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰ μυστήρια, ἃ εἶχεν μεταξὺ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ἃ ἐλάλησεν τῇ νύμφῇ ἐν τῷ γάμῷ, καὶ ὡς ἀπέδωκεν τὸ δακτύλιον αὐτοῦ τὸ χρυσοῦν καὶ τὴν ῥένδαν ἐντετυλιγμένην εἰς πράνδεον καὶ πορφυροῦν, καὶ πάντα τὸν βίον αὐτοῦ ἔγραψεν, ὅπως γνωρίσωσιν αὐτὸν ὅτι αὐτός ἔστιν ὁ υἱὸς αὐτῶν. (Pereira, p. 249)

და იყო ოდეს მოიწია ჟამი მისი ზეცით წოდებისაჲ ო~ლისა მიერ. ჰქ~ა მსახურსა მას თჳსს: ძმაო ჩემო. წარვედ და მომართუ მე ქარტაჲ და მელანი და კალამი და მან მოართუა. ხოლო ალექსი დაწერა ყ~ლი რ~ი რაჲ იყო საქმჱ მისი და ნიშანი ოდეს იგი მისცა ცოლსა სარტყელი და ბეჭედი შარითა წახუეული რ~ი საიდუმლოჲ იყო ყ~ლთა-გან. და იპყრა იადგარი იგი ჴელსა მარჯუენესა: და ეგრეთ შეისუენა ნეტარმან ალექსიმ დღესა კჳრიაკესა჻ (Kekelidze, end of § 6, p. 163)

When the time for his call in heaven from the Lord came, he [Alexis] said to his servant, “My brother, go and bring me paper, ink, and pen,” and he brought it. Then Alexis wrote what his whole story had been and when [as] a sign to his wife [he had given] the belt and the ring wrapped in fine linen, which was a secret from them all, and he grasped the hymnbook [iadgari] in his right hand, and thus the blessed Alexis died on a Sunday.

და იყო ოდეს მოიწია ჟამი მისი ზეცით წოდებისაჲ ო~ლისა მიერ.

  • მოწევნა to approach, come near, arrive
  • ჟამი time
  • ზეცაჲ heaven
  • წოდებაჲ call

ჰქ~ა მსახურსა მას თჳსს:

  • მსახური servant

ძმაო ჩემო. წარვედ და მომართუ მე ქარტაჲ და მელანი და კალამი და მან მოართუა.

  • წარსლვა to go away
  • მორთუმა to bring
  • ქარტაჲ paper
  • მელანი ink
  • კალამი pen

ხოლო ალექსი დაწერა ყ~ლი რ~ი რაჲ იყო საქმჱ მისი და ნიშანი ოდეს იგი მისცა ცოლსა სარტყელი და ბეჭედი შარითა წახუეული რ~ი საიდუმლოჲ იყო ყ~ლთა-გან.

  • ნიშანი sign, mark
  • სარტყელი belt
  • ბეჭედი ring
  • შარი costly linen
  • წახუეული wrapped up (cf. წარხუევა to wrap up)
  • საიდუმლოჲ secret

და იპყრა იადგარი იგი ჴელსა მარჯუენესა:

  • პყრობა to grasp
  • იადგარი hymn-book
  • მარჯუენეჲ right (hand)

და ეგრეთ შეისუენა ნეტარმან ალექსიმ დღესა კჳრიაკესა჻

  • შესუენება to die

As an appendix, for one parallel among several possible (i.e. the text in other languages), here is the same part of the tale in a Gǝʕǝz version (CSCO 298, pp. 145-146, ed. E. Cerulli), with my translation:

ወሶበ ፡ ርእየ ፡ ቅዱስ ፡ ዘንተ ፡ ራእየ ፡ ተፈሥሐ ፡ ወተኀሥየ ፡ ፈድፋደ ፡ ወይቤሎ ፡ ለውእቱ ፡ ገብር ፡ ዘይትለአኮ ፡ አምጽእ ፡ ሊተ ፡ ክርታሰ ፡ ወማየ ፡ ሕመተ ፡ ወእምይእዜ ፡ ተዐርፍ ፡ እምፃማ ፡ ዚአየ። ወአንከረ ፡ ውእቱ ፡ ገብር ፡ እምነገሩ ፡ ወአምጽአ ፡ ሎቱ ፡ ክርታሰ ፡ ወማየ ፡ ሕመተ። ወጸሐፈ ፡ ቅዱስ ፡ ሙሴ ፡ ብእሴ ፡ እግዚአብሔር ፡ ኵሎ ፡ ገድሎ ፡ እምጥንቱ ፡ እስከ ፡ ተፍጻሜቱ። ወበራብዕ ፡ ዕለት ፡ ነሥአ ፡ ውእቱ ፡ ክርታሰ ፡ ዘጸሐፈ ፡ በእዴሁ ፡ ወአዕረፈ ፡ በዕለተ ፡ እሑድ። ወዓርገት ፡ ነፍሱ ፡ ውስተ ፡ ሰማያት። ወተቀበልዎ ፡ መላእክት ፡ ጻድቃን ፡ ወሰማዕት ፡ ነቢያት ፡ ወሐዋርያት ፡ እንዘ ፡ ይብሉ፤ ሃሌ ፡ ሉያ ፡ ፍርቃን ፡ ለአምላክነ። ወቦአ ፡ ውስተ ፡ ሰማያት።

When the saint saw this vision, he rejoiced and was very glad, and he said to his servant who was assisting him, “Bring me paper and ink, and henceforth shall you rest from labor in my [service].” The servant was surprised at his words and brought him paper and ink. Then the saint, Moses the Man of God, wrote all of his combat from beginning to end. On the fourth day, he took in his hand the paper he had written and he died [lit. rested] on a Sunday. His soul went up to heaven and the angels, the just, the martyrs, the prophets, and the apostles received it, saying, “Halleluia, salvation to our God!” And he entered heaven.

Old Georgian phrases and sentences 22 (Visramiani)   2 comments

For Valentine’s Day, there may be no better Georgian text to turn to than the Visramiani, the Georgian version of the Persian poem Vis o Rāmin. In addition to the prose version, there is an adaptation in verse, both fortunately available at TITUS. Here is where Ramin happens to see the face of Vis, and what the sight does to him, from ch. 12 of the prose version (p. 61, ll. 19-24 in the edition of Gvakharia and Todua).

ანაზდად ღმრთისა განგებისაგან ადგა დიდი ქარი და მოჰგლიჯა კუბოსა სახურავი ფარდაგი. თუ სთქუა, ღრუბლისაგან ელვა გამოჩნდა ანუ ანაზდად მზე ამოვიდა: გამოჩნდა ვისის პირი და მისისა გამოჩენისაგან დატყუევდა რამინის გული. თუ სთქუა, გრძნეულმან მოწამლა რამინ, რომელ ერთითა ნახვითა. სული წაუღო.

Suddenly, by the providence of God, a great wind arose, and it tore the covering curtain of the sedan chair: as if lightning shone forth from a cloud, or the sun suddenly arose, the face of Vis appeared, and at her appearance the heart of Ramin was taken captive, as if a sorcerer had poisoned him; at one look he had his soul taken away. [Adapted from Wardrop’s ET, p. 50]

Some vocabulary

  • ანაზდად all of a sudden
  • განგებაჲ guidance, direction, decision, order
  • ადგომა to arise (ადგა)
  • ქარი wind
  • მოგლეჯა to tear, rip (მოჰგლიჯა)
  • კუბოჲ sedan chair
  • სახურავი covering
  • ფარდაგი curtain
  • ღრუბელი cloud (ღრუბლისაგან)
  • ელვაჲ lightning
  • გამოჩინება to appear (გამოჩნდა)
  • მზეჲ sun
  • ამოსლვა to come up (ამოვიდა)
  • დატყუენვა to apprehend, usurp, conquer (დატყუევდა) (cf. Šaniże, Gramm., § 22 for ვ after a consonant, and § 27 for the falling away of ნ)
  • გრძნეული magician, sorcerer, witch
  • მოწამვლა to poison (მოწამლა) (cf. მოწამლეჲ sorcerer)
  • ნახვაჲ sight, glimpse
  • წაღება to take away (წაუღო)

Even after this, the narrator continues for many lines describing the ravishing and intoxicating effect on Ramin of having seen Vis, but the few lines here and the supplied vocabulary will have to serve us for now.


*See further bibliography at Giunashvili 2013.

Gippert, J. (1994). Towards and Automatical Analysis of a Translated Text and its Original: The Persian Epic of Vīs u Rāmīn and the Georgian Visramiani. Studia Iranica, Mesopotamica et Anatolica, 1, 21–59.

Giunashvili, J. (2013). Visramiani. In Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved from

Gvakharia, A. (2001). Georgia iv. Literary Contacts with Persia. In Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved from–1

Lang, D. M. (1963). Rev. of Alexander Gvakharia and Magali Todua, Visramiani (The Old Georgian Translation of the Persian Poem Vis o Ramin): Text, Notes, and Glossary. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 26(2), 480.

Vashalomidze, S. G. (2008). Ein Vergleich georgischer und persischer Erziehungmethoden anhand literarischer Quellen der Hofliteratur am Beispiel von Vīs u Rāmīn und Visramiani. In A. Drost-Abgarjan, J. Kotjatko-Reeb, & J. Tubach (Eds.), Von Nil an die Saale: Festschrift für Arafa Mustafa zum 65. Geburtstag am 28. Februar 2005 (pp. 463–480). Halle (Saale). Retrieved from

Wardrop, O. (1914). Visramiani: The Story of the Loves of Vis and Ramin, a Romance of Ancient Persia (Vol. 23). London: Royal Asiatic Society. Retrieved from

Old Georgian phrases and sentences 21: A twelfth-century tomb inscription and its biblical source   Leave a comment

Among the most famous figures in Georgian history is David the Builder (დავით აღმაშენებელი, r. 1089-1125). The epitaph traditionally known as his, however, is almost certainly not, but rather, as shown in a short note by Jost Gippert and Manana Tandashvili, that of his son, Demetre I, who reigned 1125-1154. I cannot add anything to the historical discussion of the epitaph, but it is worth taking the opportunity to look closer at the inscription itself, a photo of the epitaph with a reading of the inscription being easily available here and, in several close photos here, with a reading also given in the short note just mentioned. The inscription provides practice for reading asomt’avruli and learners of the language may appreciate a convenient setting forth of the vocabulary of its simple contents.

As in Georgian manuscripts, the writing in the inscription can be very economic thanks to much abbreviation. I have filled out the abbreviations in the asomt’avruli in parentheses, marked words spreading across lines with a – at line end, and I have not marked less legible letters as such; to judge the latter see the photos pointed out above.

8 ႫႤ

Rendered into mxedruli, with the abbreviations still marked, this is:

ქ(რისტე) ესე არს განსასო(ჳ)ენებელი ჩ(ე)მი ო(ჳ)კ(ოჳნით)ი ო(ჳ)კ(ოჳნისამდ)ე ესე მთნავს აქა დავემკჳდრო მე


  • განსასუენებელი resting place (cf. განსუენება to give rest to, as in Mt 11:28 (all versions) მე განგისუენო თქუენ κἀγὼ ἀναπαύσω ὑμᾶς)
  • უკუნი eternity (უკუნითი უკუნისა-მდე = εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων)
  • თნა to please (as in Mt 14:6 Xanm. and PA ხთნდა ჰეროდეს როკვაჲ იგი მისი ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡηρῷδῃ [“her dance” in Georgian, but not Greek]); the form here is მ-თნა-ვ-ს
  • დამკჳდრება to stay, reside, dwell (as in Jn 1:14 Ad დაემკჳდრა ჩუენ თანა ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, and Jos. Ant. Iud. 1.6.1 [126] და ესოდენნი ვიდრემე ნათესავნი იაფეთოის ყრმათაგან დაემკჳრებიან καὶ τοσαῦτα μὲν ἔθνη ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰαφέθου παίδων κατοικεῖται); the form here is და-ვ-ე-მკჳდრ-ო

As also noted by Gippert and Tandashvili, the words of the inscription clearly come from Ps 132:14. The A recension of the Psalter in Old Georgian was edited by M. Šaniże (Tbilisi, 1960), online here, and an edition of the Psalter from a Graz manuscript was edited by V. Imnaišvili (Tbilisi, 2004), online here. For this verse (as in Greek, Psalm 131, not 132, in Georgian), they both read:

ესე არს განსასუენებელი ჩემი უკუნისამდე;
ამას დავემკჳდრო, რამეთუ მთნავს ესე. (Graz ms, f. 234r, lines 5-7, available here)

But the text of this verse in the Mc’xet’a Bible (see here), compiled later, matches the tomb inscription even more closely:

ესე არს განსასუენებელი ჩემი უკუნითი უკუნისამდე,
ამას დავემკჳდრო, რამეთუ მთნავს ესე.

The text of the inscription matches that of the biblical text so closely that no additional vocabulary notes are necessary.

With that, until next time, happy reading and memento mori.

Samson and the Archangel Michael in the Ethiopian synaxarion   1 comment

In the Gǝʕǝz reading in the synaxarion for Yäkkatit 12 is a commemoration of the Archangel Michael, specifically with how he is said to have been involved in the life of Samson, who is here called a giant. For the benefit of those studying Gǝʕǝz, here is the short passage, the text taken from PO 45: 528, 530 (ed. Colin), with some vocabulary and glosses.

 በዛቲ፡ ዕለት፡ ተዝካሩ፡ ለመልአክ፡ ክቡር፡ ሊቀ፡ መላእክት፡ ሚካኤል። እስመ፡ በዛቲ፡ ዕለት፡ ፈነዎ፡ እግዚአብሔር፡ ሎቱ፡ ስብሐት፡ ለመልአክ፡ ክቡር፡ ሊቀ፡ መላእክት፡ ሚካኤል፡ ኀበ፡ ሶምሶን፡ ረዓይታዊ፡ ወረድኦ፡ እስከ፡ ሞኦሙ፡ ለሰብአ፡ ፍልስጥኤም፡ ሶበ፡ ፈቀዱ፡ ቀቲሎቶ፡ ወወሀቦ፡ እግዚአብሔር፡ ኃይለ፡ ላዕሌሆሙ፡ ወአጥፍኦሙ። ወቀተለ፡ እምኔሆሙ፡ በአሐቲ፡ ዕለት፡ ፲፻በመንከሰ፡ ዓድግ። ወሶበ፡ ጸምዓ፡ ወቀርበ፡ ለመዊት፡ እስተርአዮ፡ ሎቱ፡ ሚካኤል፡ ሊቀ፡ ምላእክት፡ ወአጽንዖ፡ ወአውሐዘ፡ ሎቱ፡ እግዚአብሔር፡ ማየ፡ እምዓፅመ፡ መንከሰ፡ ዓድግ፡ ወሰትየ፡ ወድኅነ። ወሶበ፡ ተጋብኡ፡ ሕዝበ፡ ፍልስጥኤም፡ ወተመክነዩ፡ ላዕሌሁ፡ ምስለ፡ ብእሲቱ፡ ወአዖርዎ፡ አዕይንቲሁ፡ ወሰድዎ፡ ውስተ፡ ቤተ፡ ጣዖቶሙ፡ ወአስተርአዮ፡ ሚካኤል፡ ወወሀቦ፡ ኃይለ፡ ወቀተሎሙ፡ ለኵሎሙ። ትንብልናሁ፡ የሀሉ፡ ምስሌነ፡ አሜን።

ፈነዎ፡ D to send (+ 3ms)
ሎቱ፡ስብሐት፡ “to whom be glory!”
ረዓይታዊ፡ giant
ረድኦ፡ to help (+ 3ms)
ሞኦሙ፡ to conquer (+ 3mp)
ፈቀዱ፡ to want
ወሀቦ፡ to give (+ 3ms)
አጥፍኦሙ፡ caus. to destroy (+ 3cp)

ቀተለ፡ to kill (we saw the converb above)
መንከሰ፡ዓድግ፡ jawbone of an ass (the second word also spelled with ʔ)

ጸምዓ፡ to thirst (√ṣmʔ, though the last here written as ʕ)
ቀርበ፡ለመዊት፡ “he was near to death”
እስተርአዮ፡ caus.-pass. to appear to (+ 3ms)
አጽንዖ፡ caus. to strengthen (+ 3ms)
አውሐዘ፡ caus. to make s.t. flow
ዓፅመ፡ bone
ሰትየ፡ to drink
ድኅነ፡ to be saved

ተጋብኡ፡ L pass.-refl. to gather together
ተመክነዩ፡ Q pass.-refl. to scheme
አዖርዎ፡ caus. √ʕwr to put out (someone’s eyes) (NB the pronominal suffix matches the suffix of the following word — 3ms, ref. to Samson — and not the following word itself.)
አዕይንቲሁ፡ pl. of ዐይን፡ eye (+ 3ms)
ወሰድዎ፡ to lead, take (+ 3mp)
ቤተ፡ጣዖቶሙ፡ “the temple of their idol”
ትንብልናሁ፡ intercession (+ 3ms)

The pericope adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) in a Syriac-Arabic (Garšūnī) lectionary   5 comments

The famous passage known as the pericope adulterae, about which there is a long bibliography and on which Chris Keith has written perhaps most recently (e.g. this survey paper and this book), is not a regular part of the Bible in Syriac. That is, it is not in the typical text of the Peshitta, nor in the Old Syriac, nor even the Harqlean, but we have traces of it, on which see Gwynn, Remnants of the Later Syriac Versions of the Bible (1909), lxxi-lxxii, texts on 41-49, and notes on 140. Gwynn (lxxii) refers to a late Syriac copy, which he does not print, “judging from internal evidence that it was merely a translation from the Latin Vulgate probably connected with the action of the Synod of Diamper,” but he does give some Syriac texts of the passage. The situation with biblical texts in Arabic versions generally being more complicated than Syriac, we can’t say much without further work, but in my recent cataloging work I have come across a copy of the passage in both languages in a late seventeenth-century lectionary (CCM 64) with Syriac and Garšūnī in parallel columns. According to this manuscript’s long colophon on ff. 202r-205r, the book was finished on 7 Ḥzirān (June), a Friday, 1695 AD and 2006 AG, written in the village of ʕayn Tannūr by a scribe named ʕabdā l-ḥad, whose name is given explicitly and also cryptically and acrostically in the series of words ʕabdā bṣirā dawyā allilā lellā bannānā d-šiṭ min kolhon bnaynāšā (“unworthy slave, weak, insignificant, foolish, slothful, more wretched than anyone”).

The text appears in the lection on ff. 77v-80r, for the fifth Sunday of the Fast (Lent), which contains John 7:37-8:20. In a marginal note, the scribe notifies the reader that the verses we call 7:53-8:11 are not in Syriac copies, but he has translated them from Latin:

CCM 64, f. 79r, marginal note

CCM 64, f. 79r, marginal note

Know, dear reader, that this pericope [pāsoqā] is lacking in our Syriac copy [lit. the copy of us Syriac people], but we have seen it among the Latins [r(h)omāyē], and we have translated it into our Syriac language and into Arabic. Pray for the poor scribe!

John 7:53, in both languages is written interlinearly, but 8:1-8:11 appear just like the rest of the text. (The word pāsoqā above can mean “verse” as well as “section, pericope”; given the history of this passage, in Syriac and other languages, I have taken the word to have the latter meaning here, and not to be merely a reference to the interlinear verse.) Were it not for the marginal note, the reader would have no idea that the passage does not normally occur in the text. Here, then, is a little something for other Syriac and Arabic/Garšūnī readers; I have not compared this Syriac version carefully with those given by Gwynn, but for anyone who wishes to do so, here it is. Happy reading!

CCM 64, f. 79r

CCM 64, f. 79r

CCM 64, f. 79v

CCM 64, f. 79v

CCM 64, f. 80r

CCM 64, f. 80r

%d bloggers like this: