Archive for the ‘Ge`ez’ Tag

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).

Devils and fire-breathing jackals   Leave a comment

For this simple post, I just want to share a few lines from a memorable scene in the Life of the famous Ethiopian saint Täklä Haymanot (ተክለ፡ ሃይማኖት፡; BHO 1128-1134). It comes from the Däbrä Libanos version, as published by Budge (1906); for more details on this and the other versions, see Denis Nosnitsin in Enc. Aeth. 4: 831-834. For the setting: the people of a “high mountain” called Wifat (ዊፋት፡) are responding to the saint’s question of how they know when their god is coming to them.

ወይቤልዎ ፡ ይመጽአ ፡ እንዘ ፡ ያንጐደጕድ ፡ ከመ ፡ ነጐድጓደ ፡ ክረምት ፡ለቢሶ ፡ እሳት። ወተፅዒኖ ፡ ዝዕበ ፡ ወብዙኃን ፡ መስተፅዕናነ ፡ አዝዕብት ፡ እምለፌ ፡ ወእምለፌ ፡ የዐውድዎ ፡ ወኵሎሙ ፡ ያበኵሁ ፡ እሳተ ፡ እምአፉሆሙ።

f. 67ra-67rb (text in Budge, vol. 2, p. 39)

My translation (for Budge’s, see vol. 1, p. 97):

And they said to him, “He comes thundering like the thunder of the rainy season, clothed in fire, riding on a jackal, and many jackal-riders surround him on each side, all of the [mounts] blowing fire out of their mouths.


  1. ክረምት፡ the rainy season is June/July-September
  2. ዝእብ፡ (pl. አዝእብት፡) jackal; hyena; wolf. Specific possibilities include:
  3. Budge’s text mistakenly has መስተፅናነ፡ for the correct reading መስተፅዕናነ፡.
  4. The text could mean that the jackal-riders are breathing out fire, but the image in the manuscript (BL Or. 728; see Budge’s pl. 38) obviously takes that predicate as referring to the jackals themselves.
Pl. 38 from Budge, Life of Takla Haymanot, vol. 1

Pl. 38 from Budge, Life of Takla Haymanot, vol. 1


The Transfiguration in Gǝʿǝz: Three sälam verses from the Synaxarion   Leave a comment

Today (Aug 19) some churches celebrate the Transfiguration, and there are readings for the feast in published synaxaria in Arabic, Armenian, and Gǝʿǝz. A close reading and comparison of the language of these texts would be worthwhile, but now I’d like only to share part of the Gǝʿǝz reading, namely the three sälam verses that close the commemoration of the Transfiguration. (On the genre of the sälam, see this post.) Most typically, there is only one five-line verse in the Gǝʿǝz synaxarion at the end of the commemoration of a saint or holy event, but for this important feast there are three together, the verses ending, respectively, with the syllabic rhymes -ʿa/ʾa, -wä, -se. As usual, verses like this provide a good learning opportunity for students interested in Gǝʿǝz, both in terms of lexicon and grammar, the latter especially thanks to the freer arrangement of the sentence’s constituents that obtains in this kind of writing.

I give Guidi and Grébaut’s text from PO 9: 513-514, together with a new, rough English translation.




Greetings to Tabor, which is named and called
The fertile mountain and the firm mountain!
There Barak conquered, and the might of Sisera was conquered.
And having ascended [that mountain], when Jesus had become man,
He revealed the hidden mystery of his second coming.

Greetings to your ascent up the slope of Mount Tabor in tranquility!
Having taken the men you had chosen from among many,
Jesus, you who were incarnate from the house of Judah,
The appearance of your face shined like lightning,
And your clothes were as white as snow.

The Father proclaimed you in praise,
And the Spirit of holiness concealed your head.
When you had made an assembly of apostles,
Where Elijah was present and where Moses was,
You, Son, showed the trinity of your divinity.


[1] The two prepositions in this line behave more like adverbs than prepositions, given that a relative pronoun pointing back to ክናሴ፡ in the previous line is omitted: “assembly at [which] Elijah was present and with [which] Moses was.” Cf. Dillmann, Gr., § 201.

A Gǝʿǝz manuscript at Saint Mark’s, Jerusalem   1 comment

As I’ve mentioned before, HMML has recently received the last of the images for the manuscript collection of Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem. The collection consists almost exclusively of Syriac and Arabic/Garšūnī manuscripts, but while surveying the whole of it I came across a late copy of the Gospels in Gǝʿǝz. Here is the colophon:

SMMJ 281, f. 181r

Mentioned in the colophon are then recently departed Emperor Menelik II, who reigned 1889-1913, his oldest daughter Zawditu, empress 1916-1930, and Haile Śǝlāse (Selassie), who was ras (the position just beneath the emperor or empress) at the time of the copy. Also named are Malʾaka Salām Walda Masqal, the ṣaḥafe tǝʾǝzāz (royal secretary), and Abbā Matewos. The seal in the left column is that of Saint Mark’s, and the one on the right is that of Walda Masqal, which can also be seen, for example in EMML 3094 (Walda Masqal is named a number of times in other EMML manuscripts, too); it has the motto, “He who has an ear to ear, let him hear” (cf. e.g. Rev 2:7, and with some variation from the wording here several places in the Gospels). In the Garšūnī note at the bottom of this page, it says that the copy was presented (to Saint Mark’s, presumably) from Empress Zawditu in 1916 by Gabra Śǝlāse “the minister (wazīr) of Ethiopia”. (It is notable that whoever penned this note used the etymological Arabic spelling with /θ/ to spell the name Śǝlāse, rather than a phonetic spelling.)

The manuscript is not particularly significant for its content or age, and, while colophons often supply us with otherwise unknown prosopographic details, that’s not the case here. It is, however, at least of mild interest because of the presence of a Garšūnī note in a Gǝʿǝz manuscript, for what that note says, and because of this copy’s peculiar place in an otherwise Syriac and Arabic collection.

If any other unusual settings of manuscripts within particular collections come to mind, feel free to point them out in the comments.

Ethiopic typography   1 comment

By virtue of my work at HMML, I work most closely with manuscripts, and it’s not infrequent that I find myself well reminded of how important it is to stay closely familiar with manuscripts over against printed editions for one reason or other, but I nevertheless have no trouble finding both interest and beauty in printed texts (and unfortunately also ghastliness!). And there are times when a printed text is the only witness to a text one has access to!

There have been studies and discussions of the history of Arabic type and Arabic typography, and for Syriac there is J.F. Coakley’s excellent Typography of Syriac: A historical catalogue of printing types, 1537-1958 (New Castle, Delaware and London: 2006). As far as I know, there is nothing very extensive on Coptic or Georgian from this viewpoint, but I will happily be corrected. (See here for some sources on Armenian typography.)

We are, I believe, richer in these cases from the standpoint of paleography than of typography. So, too, with Gǝ`ǝz: we have Siegbert Uhlig’s Äthiopische Paläographie (Stuttgart, 1988), and its much slimmer English cousin, Introduction to Ethiopian Palaeography (Stuttgart, 1990), but there is no Ethiopic counterpart to Coakley’s book mentioned just above. There are, by my unscientific estimate, less printed data to go on for Gǝ`ǝz than for Syriac, but there is still plenty to be of interest. Here I only give a kind of mini-gallery of some printed texts, some from screen captures of digital images and some from photos of books at HMML, but a proper presentation would also naturally include the history of the type used in this or that printing. These examples go from 1654 to 1900. We could also look at texts published after this time period, such as in PO, CSCO, and Aethiopica, but the typography of these publications is not appreciably different from the examples below from Dillmann’s Chrestomathia and Budge’s Miracles.

Nissel and Petraeus, S. Johannis Apostoli & Evangelistae Epistolae Catholicae Tres, Arabicae & Aethiopicae (Leiden, 1654), p. 11

Robert Bellarmine, Dottrina Christiana (Rome, 1786), p. 3














J.J. Marcel, Jonas propheta, idiomata gheez (Paris, 1802), p. 2

A. Dillmann, Cat. Cod. Manu. Orient. qui in Mus. Brit., pt. III (London, 1847), p. 1






A. Dillmann, Chrestomathia Aethiopica (Leipzig, 1866), p. 43







Budge, Miracles of the B.V.M. (London, 1900), p. 11

Posted December 16, 2011 by adamcmccollum in Gǝ`ǝz, Typography

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