Archive for the ‘Ephrem’ Category

“Sinking in the sea of sin”, pt. II: Ephraem Armeniacus Adorator   Leave a comment

Some time ago I pointed out an Arabic/Garšūnī colophon with the phrase, “sinking in the sea of sin,” and I have since found another example from the fourteenth century (SMMJ 250, dated 1352, f. 246r, image below; sim. on f. 75r of the same manuscript).

SMMJ 250, f. 246r

SMMJ 250, f. 246r

Ephrem the Syrian, Mosaic in Nea Moni, 11th cent. Source. The lines at the bottom are from Lk 6:21: "Blessed are those who weep now, because you will laugh."

Ephrem the Syrian, Mosaic in Nea Moni, 11th cent. Source. The lines at the bottom are from Lk 6:21: “Blessed are those who weep now, because you will laugh.”

From the pen of my colleague, Edward G. Mathews, Jr., has recently appeared a little book of the collection of Armenian prayers attributed to Ephrem (vol. 4 of the Mekhitarist ed., [Venice, 1836], pp. 227-276; the prayers are also in an edition from Jerusalem [1933], and others), with Armenian text and facing English translation: The Armenian Prayers (Աղօթք) attributed to Ephrem the Syrian, TeCLA 36 (Gorgias Press, 2014). A concise and helpful introduction opens the book, and it concludes with indices for scripture and subject.

There is a lot of sin in the Armenian prayers attributed to Ephrem the Syrian. And there are a lot metaphors for sin in them, too, which may be wholesome fodder for certain classes of philologist. As I was going through this new book, it seemed like a fine idea to highlight some of the places in these ps.-Ephremian prayers that are similar to the Arabic phrase mentioned above. Some of the lines below have vocabulary similar to the “peaceful harbor” imagery that is used in colophons, on which see my paper, “The Rejoicing Sailor and the Rotting Hand: Two Formulas in Syriac and Arabic Colophons, with Related Phenomena in some Other Languages,” Hugoye 18 (2015): 67-93 (available here). This kind of language also reaches beyond biblical, patristic, and scribal texts. We hear Jean Valjean uttering “whirlpool of my sin” in “What Have I Done?” from Les Misérables.

Now for our examples from these Armenian prayers attributed to Ephrem. For these few lines I’m giving the Armenian text, Mathews’ English translation, and for fellow students of Armenian, a list of vocabulary.

I.1

…եւ ի յորձանս անօրէնութեան տարաբերեալ ծփին,

եւ առ քեզ ապաւինիմ,

որպէս Պետրոսին՝ ձեռնարկեա ինձ։

  • յորձան, -աց torrent, current, whirlpool
  • անօրէնութիւն iniquity, impiety
  • տարաբերեմ, -եցի to shake, agitate, move, stir
  • ծփեմ, -եցի to agitate, trouble
  • ապաւինիմ, -եցայ to trust, rely, take refuge, take shelter
  • ձեռնարկեմ, -եցի to put one’s hand to

…I am floundering and tossed about in torrents of iniquity.

But I take refuge in You,

Reach out Your hand to me as You did to Peter.

I.2

Ո՛վ խորք մեծութեան եւ իմաստութեան,

փրկեա՛ զըմբռնեալս՝

որ ի խորս մեղաց ծովուն անկեալ եմ.

  • խորք, խրոց pit, depth, bottom, abyss
  • փրկեմ, -եցի to save, deliver
  • ըմբռնեմ, -եցի to seize, trap, catch
  • մեղ, -աց sin
  • ծով, -ուց sea

O depths of majesty and of wisdom,

Deliver me for I am trapped,

and I have fallen into the depths of the sea of sin.

I.7

նաւապետ բարի Յիսուս՝ փրկեա՛ զիս

ի բազմութենէ ալեաց մեղաց իմոց,

եւ տո՛ւր ինձ նաւահանգիստ խաղաղութեան։

  • նաւապետ captain
  • ալիք, ալեաց wave, surge, swell
  • տո՛ւր impv 2sg տամ, ետու to give, provide, make
  • նաւահանգիստ port, haven, harbor
  • խաղաղութիւն peace, tranquility, rest, quiet

O Good Jesus, my Captain, save me

from the abundant waves of my sins,

and settle me in a peaceful harbor.

I.20

Ձգեա՛ Տէր՝զձեռս քո ի նաւաբեկեալս՝

որ ընկղմեալս եմ ի խորս չարեաց,

եւ փրկեա՛ զիս ի սաստիկ ծովածուփ բռնութենէ ալեաց մեղաց իմոց։

  • ձգեմ, -եցի to stretch, extend, draw
  • նաւաբեկիմ to run aground, founder, be shipwrecked
  • ընկղմեմ, -եցի to sink, submerge, drown, bury
  • շարիք, -րեաց, -րեօք evil deeds, iniquity; disaster
  • սաստիկ, սաստկաց extreme, intense, violent, strong
  • ծովածուփ tempestuous, stormy
  • բռնութիւն violence, fury (< բուռն, բռանց fist, with many other derivatives)

Stretch forth, O Lord, Your hand to me for I am shipwrecked

and I am drowning in the abyss of my evil deeds.

Deliver [me] from the stormy and violent force of the waves of my sins.

I.64

Խաղաղացո՛ զիս Տէր՝ ի ծփանաց ալեաց խռովութեանց խորհրդոց,

եւ զբազմւոթեան յորձանս մեղաց իմոց ցածո՛,

եւ կառավարեա՛ զմիտս իմ ժամանել

յանքոյթ եւ ի խաղաղ նաւահանգիստն Հոգւոյդ սրբոյ։

  • Խաղաղացո՛ impv 2sg խաղաղացուցանեմ, խաղաղացուցի to calm
  • ծփանք wave, billow
  • ձորձան, -աց current, torrent, whirlpool
  • ցածո՛ impv 2sg ցածուցանեմ, ցածուցի to reduce, diminish, soften, calm, humiliate
  • կառավերեմ, -եցի to guide, direct, govern
  • միտ, մտի, զմտաւ, միտք, մտաց, մտօք mind, understanding
  • ժամանեմ, -եցի to arrive, be able, happen
  • անքոյթ safe, secure

Grant me peace, O Lord, from the billowy waves of my turbulent thoughts,

Abate the many whirlpools of my sins.

Steer my mind that it may come

To the safe and peaceful harbor of Your Holy Spirit.

In I.81, we have, not the sea, but, it seems, a river (something fordable):

Անցո՛ զիս Տէր՝ ընդ հուն անցից մեղաց…

  • Անցո՛ impv 2sg անցուցանեմ, անցուցի to cause to pass, carry back, transmit
  • հուն, հնի ford, shallow passage
  • անցք, անցից passage, street, channel, opening

Bring me, O Lord, through the ford of the river of sins…

The sea and drowning are by no means the only metaphors for sin in these prayers. Others from pt. I include ice (15), dryness (21), thorn (23; also p. 120, line 8), sleep (25), darkness (39, 102), nakedness (44-45), bondage and prison (54, 93), a quagmire (62), an abyss (71), “dung and slime” (72), and a weight and burden (123, 125, 129). From pt. III, p. 106, ll. 29-30:

հա՜ն զիս ի տղմոյ անօրէնութեան իմոյ,

զի մի՛ ընկլայց յաւիտեան։

  • հա՜ն impv 2sg հանեմ, հանի to remove, dislodge, lift up
  • տիղմ, տղմոյ mire, mud, filth
  • ընկլայց aor subj m/p 1sg ընկլնում, -կլայ (also ընկղմիմ, -եցայ!) to founder, sink, be plunged
  • յաւիտեան, -ենից eternity

Remove me from the mire of my iniquity

lest I sink in forever.

Metaphors from nature for things other than sin are “the ice of disobedience,” “the fog of mistrust,” “the raging torrents of desires for pleasures,” and ” the spring of falsehood” in pt. VI, p. 136, ll. 23-26.

Whether these places are of interest to you spiritually, conceptually, philologically, or some combination of those possibilities, I leave you to ponder them.

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Where do solitary monks live? Or, how to name various rocky places in Syriac   Leave a comment

While cataloging the 15th-century manuscript CFMM 152 (on which see also here), I was struck by the long rubric of this mēmrā attributed to Ephrem.

CFMM 152, p. 156

CFMM 152, p. 156

(Students of Syriac may note the construct state before a preposition in ʿāmray b-ṭurē [Nöldeke, Gramm., § 206], as well as in the common epithet lbiš l-alāhā [Brockelmann, Lexicon Syriacum, 2d ed., 358a].)

Here with English glosses are the nouns in this rubric where monks may dwell. They can all be rocky areas, and there might be some semantic ambiguity and overlap with some of them.

  • ṭurā mountain
  • gdānpā ledge, crag
  • šnāntā rock, crag, peak
  • ṣeryā crack, fissure
  • pqaʿtā crack (also valley)
  • ḥlēlā crack

Brock’s list of incipits tells us that this mēmrā, possibly a genuine work of Ephrem, has been published by Beck in Sermones IV (CSCO 334-335 / Scr. Syr. 148-149, 1973), pp. 16-28. (Published earlier by Zingerle and Rahmani; there are two English translations, neither available to me at the moment.) The rubric in Beck’s ed. differs slightly from the one in this manuscript.

For comparison, here is another mēmrā attributed to Ephrem from a later manuscript, CFMM 157, p. 104. (see Beck, Sermones IV, pp. 1-16, for a published edition of the mēmrā).

CFMM 157, p. 104

CFMM 157, p. 104

This one has some of the same words, but the related addition terms are:

  • mʿartā cave (pl. without fem. marker; see Nöldeke, Gramm., § 81)
  • šqipā cliff
  • pe/aʿrā cave

And so I leave you with these related Syriac terms, in case you wish to write a Syriac poem with events in rocky locales!

A 15th-century Syriac scribal note   2 comments

Here is a simple scribal note on a page of manuscript 152 of the Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin (CFMM), a book dated 1780 AG (= 1468/9 CE) and containing mēmrē attributed to Isaac, Ephrem, and Jacob. On p. 59, where the date is given, in addition to the name Gabriel, which also occurs in this note, we see the name Abraham as another partner in producing the manuscript, which was copied at the Monastery of Samuel.

CFMM 152, p. 145

CFMM 152, p. 145

Here’s the Syriac and an English translation, followed by a few notes for students.

d-pāgaʿ w-qārē nšammar ṣlotā l-Gabriʾēl da-npal b-hālēn ḥaššē wa-ktab hānā ptāḥā a(y)k da-l-ʿuhdānā w-meṭṭul reggat ṣlotā d-ḥussāyā da-ḥṭāhē

Whoever comes upon and reads [this note], let him send a prayer for Gabriel, who has fallen into these sufferings and has written this page-spread as a memorial and due to a longing for a prayer for the forgiveness of [his] sins.

A few notes on the passage:

  • The verb pgaʿ, semantically similar to Greek ἐντυγχάνειν, often means “to read” and is commonly paired with qrā in notes and colophons.
  • šmr D + ṣlotā means “to direct, send, utter a prayer”.
  • ḥaššē may not refer to any specific pains or illness. Scribes are generally all too happy to remind their readers that it was in difficult circumstances — of environment, body, mind, etc. — that they wielded their pens!
  • ptāḥā means “the opening” (ptaḥ to open), that is, the two-page spread of an open book.
  • The purpose, commonly mentioned in notes and colophons, of Gabriel’s copying this book is to remind readers to pray for his sins.

Constrained writing in Syriac poetry   1 comment

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/28/Gadsby.jpgA conversation at the breakfast table this morning led to mention of E.V. Wright’s Gadsby (1939), a novel of no insignificant length that gets by without the letter E throughout its 50,000+ words. (I’ve not read it, but it’s apparently in print and buyable. Note also Georges Perec’s 1969 French novel, La Disparition, with several translations.) Avoiding this or that letter is a kind of constrained writing called a lipogram, but other kinds of constraint include palindromes, alliteratives, univocalism, attention to etymological source (e.g. avoiding latinate words in English), and acrostics. Meter and rhyme are the most typical constraints in much poetry.

These and other constraints, of course, are generally not limited to one particular language, although their application might be more difficult in some languages than others. Other than the meter (5-syllable, 7-syllable, and 12-syllable) and, more occasionally, rhyme, Syriac poetry offers (at least) two kinds of constrained writing, one common and the other rare: 1. the acrostic and 2. having lines or line-pairs that begin and end with the same letter. (I have tried but failed to come up with a concise name for № 2.)

Acrostic poems are well known in various languages, including English, but here we are mainly concerned with alphabetic acrostics. (For Hebrew, see the discussion, with several examples, of W.G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry, 190-200, with bibliography, and for later examples see T. Carmi, The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, e.g. 206-207, 221-223, 223-224, 233-234, 235-238.) In Syriac, alphabetic acrostic poems, both mēmrē and madrāšē, are plentiful. Ephrem provides many early examples of strophic (as opposed to stichic) acrostics, and Andrew Palmer has studied them (see bibliography below). The hymn Res. 1 is not an alphabetic acrostic, but actually spells out Ephrem’s own name in the beginning strophes and then follows with strophes that all begin with M (vocalized text and ET in Brock and Kiraz, 80-95). The hymn Nis. 1 is an alphabetic acrostic, but it generally skips every other letter, the exception being the sequence P-Q (ʾ g h z ṭ k m s p q š; text and ET in Brock and Kiraz, 224-245). There are also other patterns, even reaching across several poems: № 7-15 of the hymns on Abraham of Qidun (ed. Beck, CSCO 322) follow the alphabet from start to finish with varying numbers of stanzas given to each letter.

We also find acrostics in dialogue poems, e.g. in text 3 of the collection published by Brock (pp. 13-14) we have, after a proem, each speaker beginning a line following the order of the alphabet up to ḥ, at which point the rest of the poem is lost. Several other texts in the collection (e.g. texts 8, 9) follow the same pattern and are complete. There are countless other acrostic poems in later Syriac literature, many still unpublished.

The other kind of constrained writing in Syriac poetry I would like to point out has two examples from the hand of Yaʿqub (Severos) bar Šakko (d. 1241) of Barṭelle. (See Martin and Sprengling in the bibliography for his discussions of poetry.) These verse letters have been known about, but they have not been published or translated, as far as I know. There are two copies of them both at HMML in almost identical manuscripts, even down to the pagination, copied by Dolabani (ZFRN 40 and CFMM 144). The first (pp. 261-263 in the mss) is “A Letter to Rabban Mar Faḫr al-Dawla bar Tomā” and the second (pp. 264-268) is “A Letter to Rabban Abū Ṭāhir Ṣāʿid, known as Tāǧ Al-Dawla bar Tomā of Baghdad”. The constraint in both texts, aside from the 7-syllable meter, is that each poem has each of its couplets beginning with the same letter, P in the first case, T in the second. Here is the beginning of the P-poem:

CFMM 144, p. 261

CFMM 144, p. 261

Here are the first four 7-syllable lines (copied two to a line in the manuscript) in English:

I have stretched out my neck in righteousness,

That I might bow before [his] feet.

I have opened my mouth that I might greet

Him who chases away every bad thing.

And now an example from the T-poem:

tāgāra (h)w da-myattrātā

d-šuprēh nābaʿ galyāʾit

tēʾaṭron (h)u d-ḥasyutā

wa-gmir b-kol-znā mpattkāʾit

He is a merchant of excellent goods,

Whose virtue springs up openly.

He is a theater of holiness,

And perfect in every way with variety.

The T-poem has its lines ending in adverbs in -āʾit, and similarly pp. 205-208 of these same two manuscripts have a mēmrā on fasting by John Ismaʿil (d. 1365 according to the manuscript), Patriarch of Antioch and nephew of Ignatius b. Wahīb (on whom see Graf, GCAL II: 271), in which every line of the poem ends with an adverb in -āʾit.

These Syriac authors show the depth of their knowledge of the language in being able to construct poems in these forms, and students may find their practice sharpened by studying these texts more closely. It may be easy to get caught up in the formalism of poetry with acrostic or other letter-focused features, but as a reading of the examples singled out here will show, this is not mere form — not that that’s always a bad thing. Plenty is still said here, and said well.

Bibliography (incl. basics for Syriac poetry)

Bickell, G. “Noch ein Wort über alphabetische und akrostichische Lieder Ephräms.” ZDMG 26 (1872): 809-811.

Brock, S.P. “The Dispute Poem: From Sumer to Syriac.” Bayn al-Nahrayn 7 [28] (1979): 417-426.

________. Sogyātā mgabbyātā. Holland, 1982.

________. “Syriac Dialogue Poems: Marginalia to a Recent Edition.” Le Muséon 97:1-2 (1984): 28-58.

________. “An Acrostic Poem on the Soul by Jacob of Serugh.” Sobornost 23:1 (2001): 40-44.

________. “Poetry and Hymnography (3): Syriac.” Pages 657-671 in The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies. Edited by S.A. Harvey and D.G. Hunter. Oxford, 2008.

Brock, S.P. and G.A. Kiraz. Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems. Eastern Christian Texts 2. Provo, 2006.

Cardahi, G. Liber thesauri de arte poëtica Syrorum nec non de eorum poetarum vitis et carminibus. Rome, 1875.

Geiger, Abraham, “Alphabetische und akrostichontische Lieder bei Ephräm.” ZDMG (1867): 469-476.

Hölscher, G. Syrische Verskunst. Leipzig, 1932. Rev. by G. Bergsträsser in Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 36 (1933): 748-754.

Kirschner, B. “Alfabetische Akrosticha in der syrischen Kirchenpoesie.” OC I, 6 (1906): 1-69; 7 (1907), 254-291. (As a monograph: Alfabetische Akrosticha in der syrischen Kirchenpoesie. [Rome, 1907].)

Martin, J.-P.P. De la métrique chez les Syriens. Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 7.2. Leipzig, 1879.

Palmer, A. “St Ephrem of Syria’s Hymn on Faith 7: An Ode on His Own Name.” Sobornost / Eastern Churches Review 17:1 (1995): 28-40.

________. “Words, Silences, and the Silent Word: Acrostics and Empty Columns in Saint Ephraem’s Hymns on Faith.” PdO 20 (1995): 129-200.

________. “Akrostich Poems: Restoring Ephraim’s Madroshe.” The Harp 15 (2002): 275-287.

________. “Restoring the ABC in Ephraim’s Cycles on Faith and Paradise.” JECS 55:3-4 (2003): 147-194.

Schlögl, N. “Das Alphabet des Siraciden (Eccl. 51, 13-29). Eine textkritische Studie.” ZDMG 53 (1899): 669-682.

Sprengling, M. “Antonius Rhetor on Versification, with an Introduction and Two Appendices.” American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 32:3 (1916): 145-216.

________. “Severus bar Shakko’s Poetics, Part II.” American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 32:4 (1916): 293-308.

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