Archive for the ‘Greek’ Tag

An episode from the Martyrdom of Barbara   1 comment

Today (Old Style, Dec. 4) is the commemoration of Saint Barbara (and her companion Juliana). Greek, Armenian, and Syriac texts are listed at BHG 213-218 and BHO 132-134. In addition, there are truncated notices of the synaxarion in Arabic (ed. Basset, PO 3: 403-404) and Gǝʕǝz (ed. Grébaut, PO 15: 651-654, with the sälam on 674-675). This Georgian icon of the saint has the following inscription at the bottom in asomt’avruli: წმიდაო ქალწულ-მოწამეო ბ(არ)ბ(ა)რე ევ(ედრ)ე ღ(მერ)თსა ჩუენთჳს (“O holy virgin-martyr Babara, plead with God for us!”).

From here.

From here.

Well known is the metamorphosis (Verwandlung) of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa “zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer”, but in this hagiographic episode we have another metamorphosis, a change into beetles thanks the curse of a saint! Prior to the part of the narrative I want to focus on, mainly for its fantastic elements, Barbara’s father, who is not a Christian, has hired some craftsmen to make a bath — balani in Syriac, but a tall tower (πύργος ὑψηλός) in Greek — in her name with two windows, but his daughter, who is beautiful, of course, and a Christian, in her father’s absence orders the builders to add an extra window, so that when he returns he finds three windows, an obvious index to the Trinity. Below I give part of the next part of the story in English, translated from Syriac; the corresponding Greek text is in Joseph Viteau, Passions des saints Écaterine et Pierre d’Alexandrie, Barbara et Anysia, publiées d’après les manuscrits grecs de Paris et de Rome, avec un choix de variantes et une traduction latine (Paris, 1897), pp. 91, 93; the book is now at here. The Syriac text is available in two places. In 1900, Agnes Smith Lewis, in her still significant volumes on females saints in Syriac, gave it along with an English translation: Select Narratives of Holy Women, vol. 1 (Syr.) 104-105, vol. 2 (ET) 79-80. Unfortunately, her manuscript was illegible at a crucial part, and thus her translation is missing some words, but Bedjan’s previously published text (AMS III 348-349, which appeared in 1892) has it, and it is on the basis of his text that I give the translation below.

In lieu of typing out the Syriac text from Bedjan, here are the necessary images.

bedjan_ams_III_348 bedjan_ams_III_349

Here is my translation:

When the building was finished and the bath made, her evil father, Dioscorus, returned from his journey. He entered the bath to see it, and saw three windows there. He asked and said to the craftsmen, “You’ve installed three windows?” The craftsmen said to him, “It was your daughter that commanded us to do so.” So he turned to his daughter and said, “Did you command the craftsmen to open [sic!] three windows?” She answered and said to him, “Yes, father, well have I commanded, because there are three windows that give light to everyone who comes into the world, and just two are dark.” So her father took her and went down to the bath, and she said to him, “How much more splendidly these three windows give light than two!” Again the maidservant of Christ, Barbara, said to him, “Observe now, father, and see: here is the Father, here is the Son, and here is the Holy Spirit.”

[p. 349]

When her father heard these things, he was filled with anger and great wrath, and he drew the sword that was hanging on him in order to kill her. But Saint Barbara prayed, and the crag that was near her opened up and received her within it and immediately put her out on the mountain that was there to receive her. Two shepherds, who were shepherding on that mountain, saw her fleeing, and when her father approached them, he questioned them whether they had seen his daughter. One of them, because he wanted her to be rescued, swore that he had not seen her, but the other one pointed his finger and showed her to her father. When the saint saw what he had done, she cursed him and immediately he and his sheep became beetles [ḥabšušyātā]: to this day these beetles congregate on the saint’s grave. As her father was going up the mountain after her, he found her and pulled her bitterly: he grabbed her by the hair of her head, drug her, brought her down from the mountain, brought her in and imprisoned her in a nasty room [ḥabšāh b-baytā ḥad šiṭā]. He closed and sealed [the door] in front of her with his ring, and he set guards over her, so that no one would be able to go in with her, until he went and informed Marcianus the governer about her, that he might eliminate her.

The whole text of the martyrdom has other happenings of interest, including some that have verbal echoes with parts of the text given above, but for now, in this part of the tale, we see a saint teleporting through rock, and a shepherd and his flock transmogrified into beetles. In the Greek version, the sheep do indeed become beetles, as here, but the informer shepherd himself becomes a stone instead: καὶ εὐθέως ἐγένοντο τὰ πρόβατα αὐτοῦ κανθαρίδες καὶ προσμένουσιν τῷ τιμίῳ αὐτῆς λειψάνῳ, αὐτὸς δὲ ἐγένετο λίθος, καὶ ἔστιν ἕως τῆς σήμερον ἡμέρας. Notably, the synaxarion texts in Arabic and Gǝʕǝz lack the part about the shepherds, and thus the beetles! But since we’re here, I’ll append the sälam from Gǝʕǝz:

ሰላም ፡ ለበርባራ ፡ ዘአግሀደት ፡ ሃይማኖታ።
እንዘ ፡ ታርኢ ፡ ሥላሴ ፡ በውስተ ፡ መስኮተ ፡ ቤታ።
ኢያፍርሃ ፡ መጥባሕት ፡ ወሞሰርተ ፡ ሐፂን ፡ ኢያሕመመታ።
ሰላም ፡ ሰላም ፡ ለዩልያና ፡ ካልእታ።
እንተ ፡ ሰቀልዋ ፡ በ፪ኤ ፡ አጥባታ፨

Greetings to Barbara, who publicly announced her faith,
Showing the Trinity in the window of her house.
The sword does not frighten her, the iron saw does not harm her.
Greetings, greetings to Juliana, her companion,
Whom they hung up by her breasts.

Old Georgian phrases and sentences 14 (Barlaam and Ioasaph)   2 comments

Among the many hagiographic traditions that have found few linguistic bounds in the history of Christian literature is the story of Barlaam and Io(d)asaph, known in Georgian as the Balavariani. I don’t want to get into the question of how and where this tradition from India, going back to stories of the life of the Buddha (for accessible excerpts of which from the Pali Canon see here), was first made into a Christian text (see here e.g.); I only want to highlight this text in two ways: first, with a look at some lines from the beginning of the work to continue my Old Georgian phrases and sentences, and second, by putting together a convenient beginning bibliography on the text as it exists in Georgian and Greek, as well as some other languages of eastern Christianity. If the selected Georgian bit below is of no interest or use to readers, maybe the bibliography will be.

Ioasaph, apparently confused for Asaph (of the Psalms), in Walters 733, f. 36v; see here.

Ioasaph (?), apparently confused for Asaph (of the Psalms), in Walters 733, f. 36v; see here.

The Georgian text survives in two recensions (see Tarchnišvili 1958). The snippet here is from recension A, § 1 (available at TITUS here), and the accompanying English translation is adapted from Lang’s (1966).

(იყო იგი) შეყოფილი გონებითა ნებათა და საშუებელთა ამის სოფლისათა
He was tied to thinking on the desires and delights of this world

და დამონებულ ნებასა თავისა თჳსისასა,
and enslaved to his own will,

და ყოვლადვე ვერ წინააღმდგომელ შუებათა მიმართ განმხრწნელთა სულისათა.
and wholly unopposed to the indulgences that corrupt the soul.

The sentence of the Greek that most closely matches this one is κατὰ ψυχὴν δὲ ἐσχάτῃ πιεζόμενος πτωχείᾳ καὶ πολλοῖς κακοῖς συμπνιγόμενος, τῆς Ἑλληνικῆς ὑπάρχων μοίρας καὶ σφόδρα περὶ τὴν δεισιδαίμονα πλάνην τῶν εἰδώλων ἐπτοημένος (1.43-46, Volk 2006: 10). The Georgian text, a little before the above sentence, mentions the king’s non-christianity (იყო იგი წარმართი ფრიად, in recension B იყო იგი წარმართი, კერპთ მსახური), but the Greek expands it further here.

The text offers no difficulties in terms of grammar. As seen in the layout above, the structure is built around three participles (შეყოფილი, დამონებულ, [ვერ] წინააღმდგომელ) and their connected nouns. In the order of the text, here are all but the commonest words (but not all of these are uncommon):

  • შეყოფილი joined, bound
  • გონებაჲ thinking
  • ნებაჲ desire
  • საშუებელი treat, delight
  • დამონებული enslaved
  • წინააღმდგომელი opposing, antagonistic
  • შუებაჲ indulging
  • განმხრწნელი (also written with -ჴ-) corrupting, ruining


(For the older publications, see generally BHO 141-145 for Armenian [with Marr 1899 below), Arabic, and Gǝʕǝz (with Weninger 2003 below); for Syriac see GSL 97-98; and for Arabic, see GCAL I 546-548. Further works on the Georgian text are listed in D.M. Lang, Cat. of Georgian and Other Caucasian Printed Books in the British Museum (1962), cols., 25-27, and D. Barrett, Cat. of the Wardrop Collection (1973), p. 25. The non-Greek texts are treated more recently in Volk 2009: 495, but specifically on the Georgian text, see 98-115.)

Asmussen, J.P. (1988). Barlaam and Iosaph. Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 3, p. 801. Online here.

Beck, Hans-Georg. (1959). Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich. Byzantinisches Handbuch 2.1. Munich. Pages 482-483.

Doelger, F. (1953). Der griechische Barlaam-Roman ein Werk der H. Johannes von Damaskos. Ettal.

Krumbacher, Karl. (1897). Geschichte der byzantinischen Literatur. 2d ed. Munich. Pages 886-891. Available here; unfortunately these pages are in part poorly scanned.

Lang, D. M. (1955). St. Euthymius the Georgian and the Barlaam and Ioasaph Romance. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 17(2), 306–325.

Lang, D. M. (1957a). The Life of the Blessed Iodasaph: A New Oriental Christian Version of the Barlaam and Ioasaph Romance (Jerusalem, Greek Patriarchal Library: Georgian MS 140). Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 20(1/3), 389–407.

Lang, D. M. (1957b). The Wisdom of Balahvar. A Christian Legend of the Buddha. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Lang, David Marshall. (1966). The Balavariani (Barlaam and Josaphat): A Tale from the Christian East Translated from the Old Georgian. With an introduction by Ilia Abuladze. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Available here.

Mahé, J.-P., & Mahé, A. (1993). La sagesse de Balahvar. Une vie christianisée du Bouddha. Paris: Gallimard.

Marr, N. Y. (1899). Армянскоь грузинскіе матеріалы для исторіи Душеполезной Повѣсти о Варлаамѣ и Іоасафѣ (Armeno-Georgian Materials for the Story of Barlaam and Ioasaph). Записки Восточного Отделениа Императорского Русскаго Археологическаго Общества, 11, 49–78.

Martin-Hisard, B. (2002). Le monde géorgien médiéval et l’Inde. Travaux et mémoires, 14, 457–471.

Tarchnišvili, M. (1958). Les deux recensions du «Barlaam» géorgien. Le Muséon, 71, 65–86.

Wolff, R. L. (1937). The Apology of Aristides: A Re-Examination. Harvard Theological Review, 30, 233–247.

van Lantschoot, Arnold. (1966). Deux paraboles syriaques (Roman de Barlaam et Josaphat). Le Muséon 79: 133-154.

Volk, Robert. (2006.) Die Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos VI/2. Historiae animae utilis de Barlaam et Ioasaph (spuria): Text und zehn Appendices. Berlin and New York.

Volk, Robert. (2009.) Die Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos VI/1. Historiae animae utilis de Barlaam et Ioasaph (spuria): Einführung. Berlin and New York.

Weninger, Stefan. (2003). Bärälam wäyǝwasǝf. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica 1: 472-473.

Wolff, R. L. (1939). Barlaam and Ioasaph. Harvard Theological Review, 32, 131–139.

Zotenberg, H. (1886). Notice sur le livre de Barlaam et Joasaph. Notice et extraits des manuscrits de la Biliothèque nationale 28: 1-166. Available here.

Old Georgian phrases and sentences 9   Leave a comment

პირველად გ(ა)ნიზრახე და მერმე ზრახევდი.

First think, and then talk.

Source: Sentences of Sextus 153 (Georgian 22). See Garitte, Gérard. “Vingt-deux ‘Sentences de Sextus’ en géorgien.” Le Muséon 72 (1959): 355–363.

The Sentences of Sextus, a Christian — the degree of its Christianness can be debated, as already noted by Jerome — gnomological text of the second or third century CE written in Greek, enjoyed notable popularity in Late Antiquity, with translations, in part or in whole, into Latin (by Rufinus), Coptic (Nag Hammadi), Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, and Gǝʿǝz. (I don’t know of an Arabic version of the Sentences, but there probably was one. Dimitri Gutas, Greek Wisdom Literature in Arabic Translation. A Study of the Graeco-Arabic Gnomologia, (New Haven 1975) would be a good place to start looking, but I don’t have access to it now.) Garitte published the collection of 22 sayings from the work in Georgian (სიტყოანი სოჳქესტისნი) based on Sinai codex 35 (10th cent.). This Georgian version was translated from the Armenian translation, not directly from Greek. Both the Armenian and Greek sentences have a clause not in the Georgian, but for comparison here are the corresponding parts: σκέπτου πρὸ τοῦ λέγειν and նախ խորհեսջիր եւ ապա խօսեսջին.

Chadwick, Henry. The Sentences of Sextus. Cambridge, 1959.

Sargisean, B. Srboy hōrn Ewagri Pontac’woy Vark’ ew Matenagrut’iwnk’. Venice, 1907.

Two important Syriac books from OI (Chicago)   Leave a comment

For some time the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has very generously made available PDFs of its great store of books in Egyptology, Assyriology, archaeology, history, etc. Very recently the accessibility of two books of definite interest for Syriac scholars have been announced:

This is part I, but that is all that appeared. The only complete edition is that from the Bar-Hebraeus Verlag, 2003. Full information on manuscripts, editions, and studies will be found in Hidemi Takahashi’s always handy Barhebraeus: A Bio-Bibliography (Piscataway, 2005), 147-173.

Lagarde, with his interest in the Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible had worked on this Syriac text before and published it (as he did for other works) in Hebrew script (see here for bibliography of Epiphanios in Syriac). I cannot refrain from quoting Sprengling’s humorous report (p. ix) on Lagarde:

…our last predecessor in a similar undertaking [work on the Syriac Bible], the curious Paul de Lagarde of Göttingen. Lagarde had therefore undertaken an extensive study and a series of editions of this Epiphanius material. In his usual fashion he scattered this work around in a series of odd publications, many of them in small editions. These are not easy to get and, when obtained, generally not easy to use. The Syriac text, for example, he printed in Hebrew letters, because there was no Syriac type in Göttingen. His translation into German is curious. In various notes voicing his disgust and alleging (a thing Lagarde does not often admit) his incompetence, he shows that this was to him no labor of love. Jülicher’s statement in Pauly-Wissowa that the text is “sehr schlect ediert” by Lagarde is, indeed, too harsh a judgement. But a better, more easily accessible, more usable, and in every way more definitive edition than that of Lagarde, dated 1880, was clearly called for.

Hence the book by Dean, now eminently accessible after not being so for many years.
The Greek fragments of Epiphanios’ work (CPG 3746, cf. 3747) are not all that remains in addition to the Syriac: Georgian (CSCO 460-461, by M. van Esbroeck) and Armenian (CSCO 583, by M. Stone and R. Ervine) witnesses have also been published since the time of Dean’s Syriac text. In this work, interesting in and of itself, we have another opportunity for cross-linguistic comparison.

So, hats off to the OI for sharing its resources!

St. Nikolaos in eastern hagiography   1 comment

Today many Christian traditions are celebrating the commemoration of Nikolaos/Nicolaus/Nicholas, bishop of Myra in Lycia in what is now part of southern Turkey. I had hoped today to offer complete translations of some hagiographic material on him in Greek, Syriac, Gǝʿǝz, and Arabic (I had already omitted Armenian, the language among these that I’m slowest at reading), but alas, other necessities won out and prevented me from finishing it all. All is not given up, however: I can at least here make a few remarks about the sources and offer some snippets in English translation.

On a general bibliographic note, we may point to the long article in Bibliotheca Sanctorum 9: 923-948. BHG 1347-1364 lists a great plethora of Greek forms of hagiographic material for him. BHO 808-810 includes only an Armenian (in two parts) and a Syriac version; nothing is given for Arabic, Coptic, Gǝʿǝz, or Georgian, and I can here only supplement that list partly. Of course, I welcome any additions to that which I mention here.

Arabic. The saint will be found in the so-called Synaxaire arabe jacobite (rédaction copte) as published in PO 3.3: 420-423; this text is very close to the longer Ethiopic version mentioned below. In addition, I know of a short text (not the same as the previous) from the synaxarion manuscript CFMM 251 (see here), pp. 142-143. From the former, here is an interesting anecdote (also in the longer Gǝʿǝz text):

This saint banished many demons (šayāṭīn) from people and from a large tree in which Satan (šayṭān) lived and frightened people.

Armenian. BHO gives Վարք եւ վկայաբանութիւնք սրբոց հատընտիր քաղեալք ի ճառընտրաց, vol. 2 (Venice, 1874), 165-188 (see here; nondum legi!). The section for Nicolaus, who performed miracles “on sea and on land, in cities and in provinces” (ի ծովու եւ ի ցամաքի, ի քաղաքս եւ ի գաւառս) in the Armenian synaxarion will be found in PO 16.1:168-173; it is close to the Syriac text published by Bedjan (see below).

Gǝʿǝz. The saint’s story is given in the synaxarion for the 10th of Taḥśaś; text in PO 15.5: 704-706, and in the longer version, 708-713. There is an English translation of the longer version by Budge, without the sälam hymn (on which see D. Nosnitsin in Enc. Aethiopica, vol. 4, 484) at its end in The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, vol. 2, 356-359. (As with all of Budge’s work on Gǝʿǝz, caveat lector.) I give here a translation of the short version, one notable miracle episode (my translation, not Budge’s) from the longer version (§ 7 acc. to PO), and the sälam.

The shorter version is as follows:

On this day, too, the father, the just saint Nicolaus (which means “the people’s victor”), bishop, died. This just father and saint was from the people of the city of Myra. The name of his father was Epiphanius, and the name of his mother Yona [“Tuna” in Syn. arab. jac.], and they were rich people in the city of Myra, and they were serious God-fearers. They had no child and for that reason they were very sad and they would continually pray and entreat God to give them a child, in whom they might rejoice and who might inherit their wealth. They were thus without a child until they had grown old and the time of childbirth had passed them by, and they despaired of desiring a child.

Nicolaus was thrown into prison, but God spared him, that he might be a great branch in the tree of the faith. He remained in prison until God destroyed Diocletian and installed Constantine, the just emperor. He released all the believers from the prisons, and this saint went out from their number and returned to his homeland and he stayed there teaching the people, so that they were strengthened in the orthodox faith, until the assembly of the gathering of the 318 bishops came together in the city of Nicaea, and this father was one of them, and he rebuked Arius, excommunicated him, cursed him, and banished him.

When this saint had completed his combat (gädlo) and had tended his flock, he departed to God, after having sat on the seat of the episcopate more than forty years. All the days of his life were eighty years.

From the longer version (cf. PG 116: 321-328 for this episode in Greek):

There was a certain rich man in his city. After a long time all of his wealth was spent, and he became so poor that he found for himself no daily nourishment. He had four daughters: they were grown and their time of marriage had passed, and he could not give them in marriage to anyone due to their poverty. Satan suggested to him an abominable thought: that he should build a whorehouse and put his four daughters in it for them to practice whoredom for payment, and he might find nourishment for himself and his children from whoredom. But God revealed to St. Nicolaus what that man was up to and he set out at night and took 100 gold dinars from his father’s wealth and tied it in a rag. Before it was morning, he threw it into the man’s house, and when the man woke up from his slumber, he found the gold, rejoiced greatly, and gave away his oldest daughter in marriage. Thus, too, a second time the saint threw him 100 gold dinars, and the man gave away his second daughter in marriage. A third time the saint threw him 100 gold dinars, but when he threw it, the man was already awake, and he didn’t take the gold, but instead went out of his house to see who it was that had thrown the gold. When he had gone out, he found St. Nicolaus and knew that he had thrown the gold to him three times. Immediately the man bowed down to him at his feet, thanked him greatly, and said to him, “Your reward in heaven is great, for you have saved me from the poverty of my wealth and from a fall into sin, which I thought I would do!” (And he gave away in marriage his fourth and his third daughters.)

The sälam (a poem, very frequent in the synaxarion, with each of its five lines ending in rhyme, in this case -u), refers to the saint’s distinction from his birth:

Greetings to Nicolaus, whose mention was praised
In Myra, his city!
The people were astonished and his fellow citizens amazed
On the day he was born, when they watched him
Stand for two hours on his feet.

Greek. The longer version of the saint’s life in the menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes will be found in PG 116: 317-356, and the short entry in that of Basil Porphyrogenitos in PG 117: 193 (these online scans are unfortunately not very easy to read). Several, but by no means all, of the texts indicated in BHG are in G. Anrich, Hagios Nikolaos: Der heilige Nikolaos in der griechischen Kirche, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1913), which I do not have and which I cannot find online; if it is online, I will be glad to know of it! Here is a translation of the short menologion entry:

Commemoration of our holy father Nikolaos, archbishop of Myra in Lycia.

This great high priest and wonder-working bishop lived in Myra in Lycia during the reign of Constantine the Great. Having earlier become a monk and having struggled much for virtue, when he was ordained bishop, he performed many wonders. He freed three men from death, for they had been slandered and bound and were about to be beheaded, but the saint ran, grabbed the blade and took it from the executioner, and freed the men. At yet another time three different men were slandered before Constantine by Ablabios the prefect as treacherous and they were shut up in the Praetorium. When they were about to be beheaded, they appealed to St. Nikolaos, and he came to Constantinople in a dream and gave an announcement to the emperor and to the prefect, and they freed the men. Having performed many other wonders, he died peacefully.

Syriac. A Syriac version is found in the voluminous collection of the acts of saints and martyrs edited by the indefatigable Paul Bedjan (it should be obligatory to use that adjective at every mention of his name!): AMS IV, 290-302. Most of the story in the Syriac text and also that of the Armenian synaxarion centers on three officials sent to quell the Phrygian rebellion, who are then slandered before Constantine (see the translation of the short Greek text above; for the longer Greek version, see PG 116: 337-352), eventually to be released thanks to the dreamy intervention of the saint. Constantine sends them to Nicolaus with, inter alia, “a golden Gospel-book infixed with precious stones” (Syr., 299). They become the saint’s students and stay with him henceforth. The remainder of the Syriac text deals with the saint’s alleviating a famine and his foiling the plans of the goddess Artemis (“that deceiver, whom the pagans call their goddess”) — in the Greek of PG 116: 353-356, it is said to be a demon of Artemis’ temple: Πονηρὸν δὲ δαιμόνιον, ὃ τῷ βωμῷ πάλαι τῆς Ἀρτέμιδος ἐνοικοῦν — who wished to unleash a jar of magical oil (šṭiptā d-mešḥā d-ḥarāšutā, Syr., p. 301; when cast into the sea, it spread a fire on the water’s surface for 15 miles!) to destroy the inhabitants and churches of Myra. Like some of the other versions, the Syriac concludes with a general list of his miraculous deeds post mortem:

These wonders God performed by the hands of the saint while he was with us in life. Here are the wonders and signs that he did after his death: persecuting demons, healing the sick and weak, assisting and encouraging those falling in temptations and dangers, and also those who travel by sea, to whom he appears in clear sight. All these things there is no tongue sufficient to tell, and to the end he shall not cease to make supplication for God’s church.

I do plan before long (hopefully this month) to finish what I had first set out to do, and, if successful, I’ll post the translations here. In the meantime, ad fontes!

Greek typography from some of our rare books   2 comments

First, an apologia: this post is not directly tied to the regular fare here, but in the belief that the appreciation of cool books is not too uncommon a faculty, I can in perfectly good conscience share these images with you here. And who doesn’t love Greek? In this case, let’s recast Vergil’s “Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis” to “Ecce ego complector Danaos monumenta ferentis!” (Note the meter!)

While he was not the first printer of Greek, Aldo Manuzio stands out clearly as one of the most zealous philhellenes among early printers. Among the issue of his press are, for example, Constantinus Lascaris’ Erotemata (1495), Aristotle (1495), and Aristophanes (with scholia, 1498). The Erotemata, a kind of grammatical catechism, — Chrysoloras wrote a similar work with the same title — had been published earlier in Milan, 1476, the first completely Greek book printed; Constantinus Lascaris is not to be confused with another Greek scholar of the period, Janus Lascaris. Aldo dedicated serious attention to publicizing his plan of Greek printing and encouraged purchasers to buy so that more Greek books would follow. The Aldine Press, during Aldo’s life and after in the hands of his family, was not the only publishing house interested in Greek, of course. The only other one I’ll mention here is that of the Estienne (Stephanus) family (Henri, his son Robert, and his grandson Henri the younger).

As with Latin, early type in Greek, in some fonts at least, was made to mimic a certain kind of handwriting, one which had a plethora of ligatures. Proctor (cited below, pp. 12-13) describes what this mimicry entailed:

In the Venetian type the appearance of continuity is sought by an elaborate system of ligatures, two, three and four letters being commonly cast in one piece, and in an immense variety of forms and combinations, so that the number of sorts found in the two books exceeds twelve hundred, and even this is probably far from representing the fount in its completed state as projected. The effect was unsatisfactory; because the ‘case’ was complicated to an extraordinary extent by the enormous quantity of boxes required, and the use of so many ligatures resulted (in practice, thought not of necessity) in splitting up the longer words into disconnected syllables, a result which makes the books very difficult to read even after considerable experience of them.

Some, but certainly not all, of this difficulty remained for both compositor (typesetter) and reader well into the 18th century. The first time I really took notice of it was several years ago in Daniel Wyttenbach’s (1746-1820) edition of Plutarch, printed at Oxford. Not until, it seems, the Didot-Porsonian types of the 19th century did a more separate and straightforward Greek type become the norm still in wide use today. There is to me, though, a kind of beauty in the convoluted knots of ink found in the ligatures of older printings; no, I would not want it for rapid reading of an unfamiliar text, but there are times when one can appreciate a more familiar text in this type. (Note that Proctor is fairly unsympathetic toward the Aldine type and its subsequent influence; more recent discussion has not been so unfavorable.)

The examples that follow, all from the collections of HMML or Saint John’s University, are from the 15th and 16th centuries, followed by images of two fine press editions from the early 20th century. Since most or all of the abbreviations and ligatures encountered in these printings occur, too, in manuscripts, some of the handbooks to Greek paleography may be useful in deciphering them (e.g. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible, p. 30), but the most comprehensive list, for printed works in particular, that I know of is the work of G.F. von Ostermann and A.E. Giegengack listed below. Finally, it should be pointed out that all this is not of any mere historical or aesthetic interest. There are still occasions where one is required to consult volumes printed with this kind of type for everyday research: not long ago while studying some hagiographic material in Christian Palestinian Aramaic I had to compare a Greek text in F. Combefis’ Illustrium Christi martyrum lecti triumphi, vetustis Graecorum monumentis consignati (Paris, 1659), which, while not as difficult to read as some ligatured typefaces, nevertheless requires some acclimation for those who typically read Porsonian or similar type.

ΙΩΑΝΝΗΣ Ο ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΙΚΟΣ ΕΙΣ ΤΟ ΠΕΡΙ ΓΕΝΕΣΕΩΣ, ΚΑΙ ΦΘΟΡΑΣ. ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ Ο ΑΦΡΟΔΙΣΙΕΥΣ ΕΙΣ ΤΑ ΜΕΤΕΩΡΟΛΟΓΙΚΑ. Ο ΑΥΤΟΣ ΠΕΡΙ ΜΙΞΕΩΣ. Ioannes Grammaticus in libros De generatione, et interitu. Alexander Aphrodisiensis in Meteorologica. Idem De mixtione (Venice, 1527) at the Aldine press, under Andreas Asulanus. The title page has a warning against the book being printed elsewhere in Venice or of being sold elsewhere once printed.

Alexander of Aphrodisias on Aristotle’s Meteorologica

ΔΙΟΝΥΣΙΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΑΛΙΚΑΡΝΑΣΣΕΩΣ ΡΩΜΑΙΚΗΣ ΑΡΧΑΙΟΛΟΓΙΑΣ ΒΙΒΛΙΑ ΔΕΚΑ. Dionysii Halicarnassei antiquitatum Romanorum Lib. X (Paris, 1546) bound with ΔΙΟΝΥΣΙΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΑΛΙΚΑΡΝΑΣΣΕΩΣ ΠΕΡΙ ΣΥΝΘΕΣΕΩΣ ΟΝΟΜΑΤΩΝ, ΠΡΟΣ ΡΟΥΦΟΝ. Τοῦ αὐτοῦ τῆς ῥητορικῆς τέχνης κεφάλαιά τινα, πρὸς ἐχεκράτην. Τοῦ αὐτοῦ περὶ τῶν θουκυδίδου ἰδιωμάτων, πρὸς ἀμμαῖον. Dionysii Halicarnassei de compositione, seu orationis partium apta inter se collocatione, ad Rufum. Eiusdem, artis Rhetoricae capita quaedam, ad Echecratem. Item quo genere dicendi sit usus Thucydides, ad Ammaeum (Paris, 1547) at the press of Robert Estienne (Stephanus). Not listed on any title page, but also included are the sections from Dionysius’ work On the Attic Orators that deal with Lysias and Isocrates.

Dion. Hal., On the Style of Thucydides

Isaac Casaubon, Strabonis rerum geographicarum libri xvii (Paris, 1620). With the Latin translation of Guilielmus Xylander (a.k.a. Wilhelm Holtzman, 1532-1576). Casaubon was responsible for the first critical edition of Strabo (1587?), but this is a later edition. This edition (others too?) has a Latin poem on Casaubon’s edition of Strabo by Theodore Beza (1519-1605), and two shorter poems, one in Greek, one in Latin, by an author I am unable to identify. Casaubon’s text-critical notes are in the margins, and his commentary comes at the end of the book.

Casaubon’s Strabo

Marsilio Ficino, Plotini Platonicorum facile coryphaei operum philosophicorum omnium libri liv in sex enneades distributi, (Basel, 1580). Contains the Greek text, Ficino’s Latin translation in parallel, and commentary.

Ficino, Plotinus

Biblia Sacra Polyglotta, 6 vols., edited by Brian Walton with the assistance of many other scholars.

The beginning of Gen 22 from the London Polyglot

ΑΙΣΧΥΛΟΥ ΟΡΕΣΤΕΙΑ (London, 1904). Typeset by Robert Proctor, who was mentioned above. According to the colophon, printing was finished in March. The Greek type is based very closely on the Alcalá Greek typeface used for the famous Complutensian Polyglot (1514), with some augmentation to make up for some original deficiencies, such as a full set of accents.

Proctor, Agamemnon, first lines

ΟΜΗΡΟΥ ΠΟΙΗΣΙΣ. ΙΛΙΑΣ (Bremen, 1923), edited by Edward Schwartz at the Bremer Presse. A small number of text-critical notes (in Latin) are placed at the end of the book. This copy is no. 300 of 615. The Odyssey was issued the next year, and HMML also has that volume. The typeface of these volumes was first printed at this time: “adhibitis typis quorum forma nunc primum inuenta et excusa est”, in the words of the colophon to the Iliad edition.

The opening lines of the Iliad


Nicolas Barker, Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script and Type in the Fifteenth Century, 2d ed. (New York, 1992).

Martin Davies, Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (Malibu, 1995).

Greek Font Society

Martin Lowry, The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford, 1978).

G.F. von Ostermann and A.E. Giegengack, “Printer’s & Translator’s Elementary Information on Classical & Modern Greek and Abbreviations in Early Greek Printed Books,” originally in Languages: For the Use of Printers and Translators, 3d ed. (Washington, DC, 1936), reprinted at the end of Al.N. Oikonomides, Abbreviations in Greek: Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books (Chicago, 1974).

Rudolf Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship from 1300 to 1850 (Oxford, 1976).

Robert Proctor, The Printing of Greek in the Fifteenth Century (London, 1900).

Nigel Wilson, From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance (Baltimore, 1992).

________, Mediaeval Greek Bookhands: Examples Selected from Greek Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries Medieval Academy Books 81 (Cambridge, Mass., 1973, repr. 1995).

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