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Recently available resources for Nubian studies   Leave a comment

Well over two years ago I wrote a short post on some Old Nubian resources. Giovanni Ruffini has recently announced more work in general Nubian studies. These, three in number, are:

So, even though the corpus of Old Nubian is comparatively small, it’s exciting to see new work appearing widely available in this and related fields. Go have a look.

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).

Resources on Old Nubian   3 comments

Several weeks ago I had HMML order some more books with Old Nubian texts and they arrived last week. Like the bulk of scholarly work on this language and its literature, these books are from the pen of Gerald M. Browne (1943-2004),[1] who worked in the classics department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is best known for his work on Old Nubian, as well as on Coptic.

These most recent acquisitions at HMML are Beihefte from the series Beiträge zur Sudanforschung: Literary Texts in Old Nubian (1989) and The Old Nubian Miracle of Saint Menas (1994). Each volume includes the Old Nubian text with accompanying English translation and grammatical commentary; the former volume includes an Old Nubian-English glossary, and the latter a Greek-Old Nubian index and (bitonal) facsimile of the manuscript. Among other resources, HMML (or Saint John’s itself) has Browne’s Old Nubian Dictionary, CSCO 556 / Subs. 90 (Louvain, 1996) and Old Nubian Grammar (Munich, 2002).

Old Nubian, of the Nilo-Saharan language family, was used in what is now Sudan and southern Egypt, and its descendant, Nobiin, is still spoken in the region today. It was written in an alphabet derived from Greek akin to Coptic, and, as in Coptic, there are a few extra letters, these from Coptic and Meroitic. Notable linguistic features include SOV (subject-object-verb) word order, the use of postpositions (as opposed to prepositions), the genitive noun coming first in genitive constructions, and adjectives following the nouns they modify. Browne produced a grammatical sketch in 1989 (Introduction to Old Nubian [Berlin]) that is rare these days, but his more complete Grammar referred to above is now the standard. His Dictionary was supplemented in 1997 by three appendices in a separate volume, also available at HMML: Old Nubian Dictionary: Appendices, CSCO 562 / Subs. 92 (Louvain, 1997).

Texts in Old Nubian survive from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries, with most from the tenth to the twelfth. Edited, these materials amount to under 100 pages of continuous text and include, among others, fragments from the Bible, some hagiography (the stories of St. Menas, St. George, and Epimachus), and the Nicene Canons. The longest continuous text is the Pseudo-Chrysostomian “Homily on the Venerable Cross”, the Greek original of which also survives. As is not surprising, there are connections between Old Nubian literature and that of Coptic and Ethiopian Christianity.

The study of Old Nubian is rather younger than that of most of its other eastern Christian neighbors. The British Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith (1862-1934) worked on the language in the early twentieth century: his Nubian Texts from the Christian Period (Berlin, 1913) contains some texts with English translation, a short description of the language, and a glossary. Werner Vycichl published some grammatical studies from 1956 to 1961 and, following Nubian excavations in the 1960s, F. Hintze did further work investigating the language. More recently, contemporaneous with Browne, the Russian scholar E.B. Smagina published some important works which, however, remain only in Russian.

There are, alas, no Old Nubian manuscripts available for research at HMML, but we can at least here study the language and its literature!

Note

[1] See a brief obituary here. A partial bibliography of his Nubian studies will be found in his Grammar referred to later in this post.

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