Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Armenian love-verse from a sixteenth-century catholicos   4 comments

I’ve been reading lately through Michael E. Stone, Adam and Eve in the Armenian Traditions, Fifth through Seventeenth Centuries, Early Judaism and its Literature 38 (Atlanta, 2013), a thick volume that collects, in Armenian and English, references to Adam & Eve, the serpent, the Garden of Eden, etc., from over a millennium of Armenian literature. There are, of course, very many interesting passages that students of the history of biblical interpretation, patristics, and Armenian will appreciate. Especially for the last named group, students of Armenian, here are a few lines of a love poem by Grigoris Ałt’amarc’i (1480-1544), kat’ołikos from 1510 (see Stone, p. 688). Stone (p. 636) publishes the lines from Mayis Avdalbegyab, Գրիգորիս Աղթամարցի, XVI դ. Ուսումնասիրություն, քննական բնագրեր եւ ծանոթություններ (Grigoris Ałt’amarc’i: Study, Critical Texts, and Commentary) (Erevan, 1963), which I do not have access to. These are apparently lines 215-218 from the poem. These lines rhyme in -ին.

Թէ տեսանեմ ըզքեզ կրկին,

Լուսաւորի միտքս իմ մթին,

Եւ տամ համբոյր շրթանց քոյին,

Նա վերանամ ես ի յԱդին։

Vocabulary:

  • տեսանեմ, տեսի to see
  • կրկին doubly, again
  • լուսաւոեմ, -եցի to illuminate, brighten
  • միտք, մտաց, մտօք mind
  • մթին gloomy, dark
  • տամ, ետու to give
  • համբոյր, -բուրից kiss (cf. Geo. ამბორი)
  • շուրթն, շրթան, շրթունք, -թանց lip
  • քոյին a longer form of քո
  • վերանամ, -ացայ to rise, ascend, leave

Here is Stone’s translation:

If I see you again,

My dark mind is illuminated,

And I give a kiss to your lips,

Indeed I ascend to Eden.

 

Jacob of Serug on the Temptation of Jesus: Two homilies   1 comment

12th-cent. mosaic in Basilica di San Marco, Venice. Source.

12th-cent. mosaic in Basilica di San Marco, Venice. Source.

A couple of days ago UPS delivered a box with copies of my new book on two homilies by Jacob of Serug. These homilies are on the Temptation of Jesus (Mt 4:1-11, Mk 1:12-13, Lk 4:1-13), and the book, my second contribution (the first is here) to Gorgias Press’ series for Jacob within Texts from Christian Late Antiquity (TeCLA), includes vocalized Syriac text with facing English translation, introduction, and a few notes. As far as I know, neither homily has been translated before, so hopefully, even with some inevitable imperfections in this first translation, they will both now meet with more readers. The introduction has a few words about manuscripts, broader history of the interpretation of the pericopes on the Temptation, and the Syriac vocabulary Jacob uses for fighting, humility, and the devil.

And for your viewing pleasure, in addition to the one above, here is another representation of the encounter between Satan and Jesus, this one from Vind. Pal. 1847, a German Prayer Book dated 1537 (more info here, and on the image here), a copy of which is available through HMML. (Two more related images from Vivarium I would highlight are this one, with the image of the devil smudged, and this one from the Moser Bible, with a very different kind of Satan.)

Temptation of Jesus. Vind. Pal. 1847 (16th cent.) See further here.

Temptation of Jesus. Vind. Pal. 1847, f. 18v. See further here.

Finally, from Walters 539, an Armenian Gospel-book from 1262, here is Jesus post temptation, being ministered to by angels. The text on this page is Mt 4:8b-411.

Walters 539, p. 52.

Walters 539, p. 52.

Three sälam-verses (Gǝʿǝz hagiography)   Leave a comment

It occurred to me that it’s been a while since we’ve looked at any Gǝʿǝz texts, so here are few lines with vocabulary and English translation for some saints (chosen relatively randomly). These are sälam-verses, the five-line rhyming poems that occur in the Ethiopian synaxarion.

Faith, Hope, and Charity/Pistis, Elpis, and Agape PO 9:450

These famous female martyr-saints named after the virtues are often, but not here, named with Wisdom/Sophia (BHO 1082-1085; cf. here).

ሰላም ፡ ሰላም ፡ ደናግል ፡ ሠላስ፤

ጲስ ፡ ጢስ ፡ አላጲስ ፡ ወአጋጲስ፨

አመ ፡ ኮና ፡ ስምዓ ፡ በእንተ ፡ ኢየሱስ ፡ ክርስቶስ፨

ኢያውዓየ ፡ ሥጋሆን ፡ ነበልባለ ፡ እሳት ፡ መብዕስ፨

ወኢያድመነ ፡ ላህዮን ፡ ጢስ፨

Greetings, greetings, three virgins,

Pistis, Elpis, and Agape!

When they became martyrs for Jesus Christ,

The harmful flame of fire did not consume them,

And the smoke did not cloud their beauty.

  • አውዐየ፡ to burn, consume (the form here i- + awʿayä > iyawʿayä [see Dillmann § 48.6, p. 92])
  • ነበልባል፡ flame
  • መብዕስ፡ (i.e. መብእስ፡) harmful, tormenting, severe
  • አድመነ፡ (also አደመነ፡) to cloud, cover with a cloud (i- + admänä > iyadmänä)
  • ላህይ፡ (i.e. ላሕይ፡) beauty
  • ጢስ፡ smoke

Matthew/Mattai/Matewos PO 9: 268

The sälam is straightforward in its details, but it is a good example of how the Gǝʿǝz word order can be moved around in this literary form. This Matewos celebrated here is associated with the conversion of the sibling saints Behnam and Sara.

ሰላም ፡ ለማቴዎስ ፡ ነቢረ ፡ ገዳም ፡ ዘአንኃ፨

አምሳለ ፡ በግዕ ፡ ጸጕረ ፡ እስከ ፡ ተሞጥሐ፨

ከመ ፡ ያርኢ ፡ ጽድቆ ፡ ወተአምሪሁ ፡ ስቡሐ፨

ሐፀበ ፡ በማየ ፡ ጥምቀት ፡ አባለ ፡ መርምህናም ፡ ርሱሐ፨

ወአባለ ፡ ሳራ ፡ እምለምጽ ፡ በህየ ፡ አንጽሐ፨

Greetings to Matewos, who dwelt in the desert a long time,

To the point that he clothed himself in fleece like a sheep!

To show glorious his uprightness and miracles

He washed the filthy flesh of Mar Behnam in the water of baptism

And there cleansed of leprosy the flesh of Sara.

  • አንኀ፡ (also አኖኀ፡, C √nwḫ) to do for a long time
  • በግዕ፡ sheep
  • ጸጕር፡ hair, fleece
  • ተሞጥሐ፡ to clothe o.s., wear
  • ሐፀበ፡ (ኀፀበ፡) to wash away
  • አባል፡ flesh, limb, body part
  • ርሱሕ፡ dirty, defiled, impure (antonym: ንጹሕ፡, from which root we have a verb below)
  • ለምጽ፡ leprosy
  • አንጽሐ፡ to cleanse, purify

Bikabes (spelled ቢከብስ፡ or ቢካቦስ፡) PO 9:499-501

The saint, a soldier, is said to come from Ašmūn Ṭanāh. His Christianity was revealed to a ruler. With others he confesses his Christianity before this ruler, who then gives them a chance to renounce their faith and to sacrifice to the gods: they don’t, and tortures ensue, which the saint survives.

ወለቅዱስሰ ፡ አባ ፡ ቢከብስ ፡ ኰነኖ ፡ ኵንኔ ፡ ዓቢየ ፡ ወብዙኃ ፡ ወሞቅሖ ፡ በሐጺን ፡ ወወደዮ ፡ ውስተ ፡ መንኰራኵራት ፡ ወሰቀሎ ፡ ቍልቍሊተ ፡ ወመተሮ ፡ መለያልያቲሁ።

As for Abba Bikabes, he tortured him severely and much: he chained him with iron, put on the torture wheels, hung him upside down, and cut his limbs.

  • መንኰራኵር፡ (pl. መንኵራኵር፡ and as above) (torture) wheel (see here)
  • ሰቀለ፡ to hang, crucify
  • ቍልቍሊተ፡ upside down
  • መተረ፡ to cut
  • መሌሊት፡ (pl. መለያልይ፡ and as above) limb, body part

Next, the ruler puts these Christians into a boat headed to Baramuni* for 27 days in which they had naught to eat or drink, followed by further tortures, which this time bring an end to the saint. A rich man takes the saint’s body, prepares it for burial, and sends it to Ašmūn Ṭanāh, where a church is built in his name. The sälam at the end is as follows:

ሰላም ፡ ለአባ ፡ ቢካቦስ ፡ ዘኮኖሙ ፡ ተባያጼ፨

ለ፺ወ፭ሰማዕታተ ፡ ክርስቶስ ፡ እንበለ ፡ ግጋፄ፨

ጣዖተ ፡ አሕዛብ ፡ ይዝልፍ ፡ ወንጉሦሙ ፡ ዓማፄ፨

ለዘ ፡ ጥቡዕ ፡ ኢመጽኦ ፡ ድንጋፄ፨

እንዘ ፡ ይመትሩ ፡ ሥጋሁ ፡ በማኅፄ፨

Greetings to Abba Bikabes, who became a companion

To the ninety-five martyrs of Christ without fear,

Reviling the idols of the peoples and their lawless king!

No terror came upon the steadfast [saint]

As they cut his flesh with an axe.

  • ተባያጺ፡ companion
  • ግጋጼ፡ fear
  • ዘለፈ፡ to revile, refute, disprove
  • ዓማፂ፡ unjust, lawless, wicked
  • ጥቡዕ፡ steadfast, eager, bold
  • ደንጋፄ፡ terror, dread, amazement
  • ማኅፄ፡ (i.e. ማሕጼ፡) axe

*For both toponyms mentioned here see Amélineau, Géographie, p. 88; (and note the story for John of Ašmūn Ṭanāh there; cf. p. 170 and 457).

The dearness of home: Arabic verse attributed to Maysūn bint Baḥdal al-Kalbiyya   1 comment

The poem below is one of Heimweh. The poetess credited with the poem, whether rightly or wrongly, is Maysūn bint Baḥdal b. Unayf al-Kalbiyya, the mother of Yazīd I and wife of Muʿāwiya, and she is said to have sung these lines after her husband brought her to Syria (al-Šām) from the desert home of her family. She came from a tribe predominantly Christian. (See the brief article about her by Lammens in EI² 6: 924. On her father, Baḥdal, see EI² 1: 919-920.) After the Arabic text, an English translation follows, together with a list of some vocabulary.

The poem’s rhyme-letter (rawī) is f, which is preceded by ī or ū, these two vowels being considered as rhyming (Wright, Grammar of the Arabic Language, vol. 2, § 196b). The text of the poem is given in Nöldeke-Müller, Delectus veterum carminum arabicorum, Porta Linguarum Orientalium 13 (Berlin, 1890), p. 25, and in Heinrich Thorbecke’s edition of Al-Ḥarīrī’s (EI² 3: 221-222) Durrat al-ġawwāṣ fī awhām al-ḫawwāṣ (Leipzig, 1871), pp. 41-42. (Nöldeke and Müller dedicated their Delectus to the memory of the recently departed Thorbecke.) The images below are from the latter book.

al-hariri_durrat_p41al-hariri_durrat_p42

English’d:

Aye, dearer to me is a tent where the winds roar than a lofty palace.
Dearer to me is a rough woolen cloak with a happy heart than clothes of well-spun wool.
Dearer to me is a morsel of food at the side of the tent than a cake to eat.
Dearer to me are the sounds of winds in every mountain path than the tap of the tambourine.
Dearer to me is a dog barking at my night visitors than a familiar cat.
Dearer to me is a young, unyielding camel following a litter than an active mule.
And dearer to me is a thin generous man from among my cousins than a strong lavishly fed man.

Vocabulary and notes:

  • ḫafaqa i to beat; (of wind) to roar
  • qaṣr citadel, palace (on which see Jeffery, Foreign Vocabulary of the Qurʾān, 240)
  • munīf lofty, sublime, projecting
  • ʿabāʾa cloak made of coarse wool
  • qarra a i to be cool; with ʿayn eye, to be joyful, happy (Lane 2499c)
  • šaff a garment of fine wool
  • kusayra (dimin.) a small piece of something
  • kisr side (of a tent). Note in this line the jinās, the use of two words of the same root but different meaning (see Arberry, Arabic Poetry, 21-23).
  • raġīf cake
  • faǧǧ wide path in the mountains
  • naqr beat, crack, tap
  • duff tambourine
  • ṭāriq, pl. ṭurrāq someone who comes at night
  • dūn here, before, opposite (Lane 938c)
  • alūf familiar, sociable
  • bakr young camel
  • ṣaʿb difficult, unyielding
  • baġl mule
  • zafūf agile, active, quick
  • ẓaʿīna a woman’s litter carried by camels
  • ḫirq liberal, generous, bountiful
  • naḥīf thin, slight, meager
  • ʿilǧ “strong, sturdy man” (Lane)
  • ʿalīf fatted, stuffed, fed

On Saint Mark’s, Jerusalem, № 181 (content, notes, & endpapers)   Leave a comment

Manuscript № 181 of Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem (SMMJ) is an East Syriac manuscript, written, it seems, by a scribe named ʿAbdišoʿ of Ātēl. The main content of the manuscript is the First Part of Isaac of Bēt Qaṭrāyē, bishop of Nineveh’s famous monastic work (see GEDSH 213-214).

SMMJ 181, f. 1v

SMMJ 181, f. 1v

The text is complete, but between chapters 34 and 35 (acc. to Bedjan‘s numbering; the chapters are mostly unnumbered in this manuscript) there is another text, the beginning of which is unfortunately missing. After a little searching — thanks to Luk Van Rompay for the tip to check the Synodicon orientale! — I found that this intervening text is a Letter on Proper Conduct, especially on marriage, by Catholicos Aba I (d. 552; GEDSH 1), the text of which was published by Bedjan and Chabot; as it survives in this manuscript, the text corresponds to Bedjan, Histoire de Mar-Jabalaha, 282.3-287.12, and Chabot, Synodicon orientale, 83.6-85.9.

After the First Part, at the end of the manuscript, there are two more notes I would like to share. First, a note that seems to be in the same hand as the copied text of the manuscript:

SMMJ 181, f. 358v, scribal (?), note

SMMJ 181, f. 358v, scribal (?), note

Bless, sirs! Pray in the love of Christ for the sinner ʿAbdišoʿ of Ātēl, worn out, who came to Jerusalem in the year 1955 AG [=1643/4 CE].

He wrote these lines.

And again in the year 1962 AG [=1650/1 CE] the sinner came to Jerusalem. Pray for me. Amen.

Second, there is a short Syriac verse in the seven-syllable meter (with rhyme-end in -ṭē):

SMMJ 181, f. 358v

SMMJ 181, f. 358v

At the end of doomed times,

Let rulers be cursed,

Along with all idlers and slackers,

Foolish people and idiots!

Finally, the manuscript has pastedowns and endpapers in Syriac and Arabic. Here are two examples:

SMMJ 181, endpaper in Arabic

SMMJ 181, endpaper in Arabic

SMMJ 181, endpaper from a Syriac lectionary, here with Ex 34:34-35 and Isa 58:1

SMMJ 181, endpaper from a Syriac lectionary

I’ve not identified the Arabic text, but the Syriac endpaper above is from a lectionary, here with Ex 34:34-35 and Isa 58:1.

Marginal note on Ibn Sīnā in a sixteenth-century Syriac manuscript   Leave a comment

Ibn Sīnā (see also here, here, from the Enc. Iranica here, and specifically for metaphysics, here) stands among the most well known and most influential of philosophers who have written in Arabic, and his influence was hardly confined to the intellectual worlds where Arabic or Persian were the means of communication. From the twelfth and thirteenth centuries he was read in Latin — several volumes of the Latin witness to Ibn Sīnā have appeared since 1972 in editions by Simone van Riet (Brill) — and reflections of his work can be found in the writers of the Syriac Renaissance of the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, especially in the voluminous work of Bar ʕebrāyā. Alongside the Qānūn fī ‘l-ṭibb may be mentioned especially his encyclopedic Kitāb al-šifāʔ, Dāneš-nāma (or Dānišnāma-i ʕalāʔī, in Persian, for the prince ʕalāʔ al-Dawla see here), and the Kitāb al-išārāt wa-‘l-tanbīhāt; the last mentioned work was translated into Syriac by Bar ʕebrāyā and there are two late copies with parallel Garšūnī and Syriac available at HMML: CFMM 550 and MGMT 20 (both twentieth century). John bar Maʕdani (d. 1263), a contemporary of Bar ʕebrāyā, penned two poems on the soul, one (or both) of which goes by the name of “The Bird” (pāraḥtā). I have recently cataloged an East Syriac manuscript of the sixteenth century that contains these two poems (and another, “On the Way of the Perfect”): it was copied in Gāzartā and completed on Aug. 10, 1866 AG/962 AH (= 1555 CE). The scribe, named Yawsep, rightly notes in the margin at the beginning of both of these poems that Bar Maʕdani is following Ibn Sīnā on this theme. The latter had written “a treatise, the Bird, an allegory in which he describes his attainment of the knowledge of the truth” (risālat al-ṭayr. marmūza yaṣif fīhā  tawaṣṣula-hu ilá ʕilm al-ḥaqq; see Gohlman, pp. 98-99). Here is the marginal note to the first poem, that to the second being much less legible:

CCM 24, f. 112v, marginal note

CCM 24, f. 112v, marginal note

Bar Sini [sic], the Muslim [hāgārāyā] philosopher, made a treatise [Syr. eggartā = Arb. risāla], the thought of which he somewhere directs to the subject at hand.

Here are the rubric and first lines of Bar Maʕdani’s first poem on the soul from this manuscript:

CCM 24, f. 112v.

CCM 24, f. 112v.

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Anawati, G. La Métaphysique du Shifa’ I-IV et V-X. Paris, 1978-86.

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Goichon, A.-M. “Ibn Sīnā.” In Encylopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., vol. 3, 941-947.

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Mcginnis, Jon. Avicenna, The Physics of The Healing. 2 vols. Provo, 2009.

Marmura, Michael. The Metaphysics of Avicenna (al-Ilahiyyat min Kitab al-Shifa’). Provo, 2004.

________. “Plotting the Course of Avicenna’s Thought.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 111 (1991): 333-42.

Michot, Yahya. “La pandémie avicennienne.” Arabica 40 (1993): 287-344.

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Rahman, F. Avicenna’s De Anima (Fi’l-Nafs). London, 1954.

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Takahashi, Hidemi. Aristotelian Meteorology in Syriac: Barhebraeus, Butyrum Sapientiae, Books of Mineralogy and Meteorology. Aristoteles Semitico-Latinus 15. Leiden/Boston, 2004.

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Teule, Herman G.B.”Renaissance, Syriac.” GEDSH 350-351.

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Watt, John W. Aristotelian Rhetoric in Syriac: Barhebraeus, Butyrum Sapientiae, Book of Rhetoric. Aristoteles Semitico-Latinus 18. Leiden/Boston, 2005.

________, “Graeco-Syriac Tradition and Arabic Philosophy in Bar Hebraeus.” In H.G.B. Teule, C.F. Tauwinkl, R.B. ter Haar Romeny, and J.J. van Ginkel, eds. The Syriac Renaissance. Eastern Christian Studies 9. Leuven/Paris/Walpole, Mass., 2010. Pages 123-133.

Two cleverly written Syriac poems   1 comment

At the beginning of CCM (Chaldean Cathedral, Mardin) 13, from the 18th century, are two Syriac poems, in the twelve-syllable meter with six lines each of six words each, and as it says in Syriac at the top of the page, they may be read in the conventional way from right to left, top to bottom, or from top to bottom, right to left. That is, if we assign a number to each identical word, the pattern is as follows:

⟸⟸⟸

6 5 4 3 2 1 ⇓

11 10 9 8 7 2 ⇓

15 14 13 12 8 3 ⇓

18 17 16 13 9 4 ⇓

20 19 17 14 10 5 ⇓

21 20 18 15 11 6

In addition, the six lines of each poem rhyme. Here’s an image:

CCM 13, f. 1r

CCM 13, f. 1r

Constrained writing in Syriac poetry   1 comment

http://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.

A Syriac fragment on Job and his wife: Text and translation   1 comment

The manuscript CFMM 144, from the early twentieth century, is almost identical to ZFRN 40, a collection of Syriac mēmrē, especially by later authors, most of whom are not very well known and have been little studied. The CFMM manuscript is distinct, however, in having at the end a mēmrā by Isaiah of Bēt Sbirinā (d. 1425) on Job and his wife. (For a lighthearted review of the biblical tale, see here.) I do not yet know of any other copies of this text. Unfortunately the copy in CFMM 144 is incomplete, but nevertheless I would to share it along with a preliminary English translation. See the document here: isaiah_bet_sbirina_memra_job.

Vullers’ Persian chrestomathy   3 comments

Ferdowsi Square in Tehran (from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Ferdowsi_Square_%28Tehran%29.jpg)

Ferdowsi Square in Tehran (from here)

Lest, dear reader, you grow over-full of Georgian, the subject of the last three (mini-)posts, here’s something on Persian.

Some days ago while studying one of the Muʿallaqāt, I came across some works of Johann August Vullers, who was a student of Antoine Silvestre de Sacy (1758-1838), but about whom I can find little other information. Vullers did work on Arabic poetry, but it was especially Persian literature that seems to have interested him. Of the works by Vullers that I found, including a grammar and lexicon, his Chrestomathia Schahnamiana in usum scholarum (Bonn, 1833) most caught my eye. I have a soft spot for chrestomathies — reading-books for foreign languages that are usually made up of shorter or longer excerpts, often together with glossaries and annotations — and the nineteenth century was a great age of chrestomathies. They may not be so commonly published now as they once were, but there is value in them for both students in courses and for autodidacts. This volume is a Persian reader (dedicated to August Wilhelm von Schlegel, 1767-1845), mostly from the Šāh-nāma, with Persian-Latin lexicon and a few notes. The purpose he gives as follows: “ut iuvenes ad legendum praeclarum istud Persicarum litterarum monumentum, Schahname dico, impellerem…” (“that I might urge the young to read that famous monument of Persian literature, the Šāh-nāma“). The contents are as follows:

  • pp. 1-25, from the part on Alexander the Great
  • pp. 26-70, on Sām’s son
  • pp. 71-86, “de libro fabularum, Calila et Dimna inscripto”
  • pp. 87-108, a selection from the Borzū-nāmā (it had been previously published by Kosegarten)
  • pp. 109-261, Persian-Latin glossary
  • 262-267 annotations

Part of Iranian epic tradition, the Šāh-nāma was put into its most well-known form by Ferdowsi, and there are translations into Turkish, Georgian, and many other languages, including European languages. Nöldeke (see bibliography below) was an avid reader of it, as evidenced not only in some of his books and articles but also in his letters, in a recent edition (Bernhard Maier, ed., Gründerzeit der Orientalistik: Theodor Nöldekes Leben und Werk im Spiegel seiner Briefe, 2013) of which one will find the work mentioned several times. (Georgian literary contacts with Persia are well known, and Rustaveli referred to his Knight in the Panther’s Skin, the Georgian national epic, as “This Persian tale, translated into Georgian,” ესე ამბავი სპარსული, ქართულად ნათარგმანები [st. 9].) In the preface, Vullers refers to De Sacy as “praeceptor meus dilectissimus” (p. vii, cf. p. xiii). There is a two-part review of the book, not favorable, by De Sacy in Journal des Savants, 1833, pp. 719-728, and 1834, pp. 207-18. (Thanks to Richard Budelberger for pointing out the first part, and for the links.)

vullers_chrest_schahnamiana

These old chrestomathies still have something to offer, even though their pedagogical method may not necessarily now be in vogue, even though the evident approach to text-editing may differ from ours, etc. For one thing, many of these books are easily available online. They provide thousands and thousands of lines of grist for the reading-mill. That in itself is a welcome boon for lesser-known languages that might not otherwise be an object of study for no other reason than a dearth of texts. In the best of cases, the texts were chosen both because they are interesting and because they are linguistically accessible, at the same time providing exposure to regular forms, constructions, and vocabulary. Many chresthomathies also offer annotations, sometimes meager, sometimes abundant, and a glossary. These helps will be found to be more or less useful depending as much on their quality and quantity as on the individual reader using the book. For what it’s worth, E.G. Browne recommends the Gulistan as the best Persian reading-texts for learners: “As a reading-book nothing on the whole excels the Gulistán of Saʿdí, of which there are good editions (furnished with full vocabularies) and translations by Eastwick and Platts” (A Literary History of Persia, vol. 1, [London and Leipzig, 1909],  p. 496).

Finally, for more Persian poetry reading, we can look forward to the (apparently forthcoming) Classics of Persian Poetry: A Primer for Students by Michael Craig Hillmann.

Bibliography (items linked to above not repeated here)

Texts and translations

A. E. Bertels (editor), Shax-nāme: Kriticheskij Tekst, nine volumes (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Nauka, 1960–71)

Clinton, Jerome W. The Tragedy of Sohráb and Rostám. Rev. ed. Seattle and London, 1996. [Persian text and ET.]

Mohl, Julius. Abu’l-Qāsem Ferdowsi, Le livre des rois. 7 vols. Paris, 1838-78. (At Internet Archive all but vol. 2 here.)

Warner, Arthur George and Edmond Warner. The Sháhnáma of Firdausí. 9 vols. London, 1905–1925. (At Internet Archive: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.)

Studies (and vocabulary)

Banani, Amin. “Reflections on Re-reading the Iliad and the Shahnameh.” Available here and here.

Moïnfar, Mohammad Djafar. Le vocabulaire arabe dans le Livre des rois de Firdausī: Étude philologique et de statistique linguistique. Wiesbaden, 1970.

Nöldeke, Th. Das iranische Nationalepos. 2nd ed. Berlin and Leipzig, 1920. (Available here and at Internet Archive here.)

The Shahnama Project. At Cambridge.

Wolff, Fritz. Glossar zu Firdosis Schahname, Berlin, 1935; reprint, Hildesheim, 1965.

Yarshater, E. “Iranian National History.” In Cambridge History of Iran III/1, pp. 359-477.

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