Archive for the ‘colophon’ Tag

A (slightly) hidden scribal name   3 comments

One of the unendingly amusing parts of colophons (at least those composed by Christians) are the almost grandiloquent means with which scribes tout their now trumpeted humility: gloomy and unfavorable adjective piled upon gloomy and unfavorable adjective, lexical competition with other monastic scribes to find the most picturesque expression for assumed wickedness, &c. A nearly ubiquitous topos goes something like, “…written by the hands of the lowliest of God’s servants, whose name is not worthy to be mentioned…” The scribe nevertheless in most cases goes on to mention his name “on account of the prayers of the brothers”, that is, so that his fellow monk-readers will be able to pray for him (and his family) by name. The scribe of Church of the Forty Martyrs (Mardin) no. 496 (olim Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān 142), an 18th century copy of Bar ʿEbrāyā’s grammatical work called The Book of Splendors (Ktābā d-ṣemḥē), was rather more inventive. In the course of the colophon, written in the dodecasyllabic meter of Jacob of Sarug and with almost every line concluding with the Syriac adverbial ending -āʾit, he says (text in the image below),

If you want to know my name, our brother, read and observe in enlightenment with your great intelligence: Pray to the Lord to grant sincerely in his mercy a good reward to the one who prays lovingly, on whom may the Lord’s mercy be continually.

CFMM 496, p 450

It doesn’t take “great intelligence” to note the rubricated letters in the scribe’s request for prayer. Taking these together, we have the name Ṣlibā, several other examples of which can be found in Wright’s “General Index” to his catalog of the Syriac manuscripts then at the British Museum (p. 1319). While we know no more of his name than Ṣlibā, and that he copied the book in 2026 AG,* we will probably not be mistaken to imagine his having smiled at this playful finishing of his work.

* Also given are 1717 AD and 1127 AH, but these don’t match the AG year exactly.

From an Armenian colophon: on study, expertise, and enjoyment   1 comment

In the excellent introduction to his collection of Armenian colophon extracts translated into English, A.K. Sanjian shares the following bit from a 14th century (1357) colophon in a manuscript of a grammatical text:

As it is impossible for the birds to pull a yoke and make a furrow, and for the oxen to fly, so also no one can attain mastery in the great art of manuscript production without studying it. And should anyone be audacious enough to engage [in this art without studying it], he will fail, and he will corrupt the art and adulterate the text, like the stupid . . . butcher who cannot distinguish the joints [of the animal] and unskillfully cuts the meat from the limbs . . . For in the hands of a foolish and stupid man this [art] is like a pearl on the nose of a pig or like a golden necklace around the neck of a donkey; but he who is intoxicated with its love, he alone appreciates its sweetness.

So go, study, be intoxicated, and appreciate the sweetness!


Avedis K. Sanjian, Colophons of Armenian Manuscripts, 1301-1480: A Source for Middle Eastern History (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), 16.

L.S. Xač’ikyan, XIV Dari Hayeren Jeṙagreri Hišatakaranner [Colophons of Armenian Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century] (Erevan, 1950), no. 510, pp. 426-427.

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