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Guest post: Sebastian Brock on identifying an old Syriac leaf   Leave a comment

By Sebastian Brock
Oriental Institute, Oxford GB

In the course of cataloguing the Syriac manuscripts belonging to the collection of the former Chaldean Church in Mardin Adam McCollum discovered an old folio that had been re-used as an endpaper to strengthen the binding of Mardin Chald. 89, a much later manuscript. The folio contains two columns of text in a neat estrangelo hand that should probably be dated to the ninth century. He kindly sent an image of the folio to me in case I might be able to identify the contents.

CCM 56 (olim Mardin Chaldean 89), back endpaper

CCM 56 (olim Mardin Chaldean 89), back endpaper

It is not always easy to date estrangelo hands, especially those that are more conservative in character. After comparing the hand with the photographs of dated manuscripts in Hatch’s invaluable Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts, it became fairly clear that the script on the folio was likely to date from the ninth century. Having transcribed a certain amount of the text, in so far as it was legible, it turned out that it contained a number of place names, including ‘Byzantium’ and ‘Europe’. These names, and the general ‘feel’ of the text, strongly suggested that the work it contained was a translation from Greek.

The next clue was the presence of some marginal glosses in what was clearly a much later hand; this indicated that it was a work that still continued to be read and studied several centuries after the date of the original manuscript. It so happens that after about the ninth century many translations of Greek patristic authors fell out of fashion and were no longer copied or studied. One of the small number of Greek authors who did remain authoritative and studied was Gregory of Nazianzus, and so his writings, and in particular his Discourses, seemed a good place to start on the hunt for references to ‘Byzantium’ and (especially) ‘Europe’.

Fortunately most of the Sources chrétiennes volumes containing editions of the Greek text of the Discourses are provided with indexes of names, and it soon turned out that the folio did indeed belong to one of Gregory’s Discourses, namely his funeral oration on his brother Caesarius (Discourse 7 in the Greek numbering; the Syriac numbering is different). Actually the name ‘Caesarius’ turned out in fact to occur on the folio, but the writing was damaged at that point, with a key letter obscured.

Having located the passage (at the end of section 8 and beginning of section 9 of Discourse 7), it was now important to establish whether the translation belonged to the original translation of Gregory’s Discourses, or to the revision by Paul, bishop of Edessa, made in 623/4, where he had taken refuge from the Persian occupation of his see. Whereas several manuscripts of Paul’s revision survive, none of the original version are known. In order to establish to which version the folio’s text belonged it was necessary to pay a visit to the rich collection of Syriac manuscripts in the British Library, which fortunately includes a number of the relevant manuscripts. A comparison of the folio’s with two of the earliest manuscripts of Paul’s revision (Add. 14,548 of 790 and Add. 12,153 of 844/5) quickly established that the text on the folio must belong to the revision, and not to the lost original.

The Syriac version of Gregory of Nazianzus’ Discourses (in both forms where available) is currently gradually being published as part of the Corpus Nazianzenum by scholars at the Université catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, and so far (2001-) five volumes have appeared , covering eleven Discourses: Versio Syriaca I (J-C. Haelewyck) = Discourse 40; II (A.B. Schmidt) = 13 and 41; III (J-C. Haelwyck) = 37-39; IV (J-C. Haelewyck) = 28-31; V (J-C. Haelewyck) = 1-3.

Lost (?) and found: Mardin 129, Gregory’s Orations, and the Scholia of Ps.-Nonnos   1 comment

The beginning of scholion 19 (on Osiris)

In my continuing work cataloging the Church of the Forty Martyrs (Mardin) manuscript collection, I came recently upon a fine old manuscript on parchment. Since most of what I have been reading lately is in Serṭo (West Syriac) script, the older Esṭrangela always immediately catches my attention. This particular manuscript is missing the beginning and ending folios, as well as several at various places in the middle, but as I quickly went through the surviving leaves to get an idea of its contents, I recognized something I thought I had seen before: part of the (very interesting!) mythological scholia to the orations of Gregory Nazianzen, which I studied some years ago in Sebastian Brock’s edition (Cambridge, 1971).[1] I pulled this edition off the shelf and looked at Brock’s discussion of the manuscripts he used and there indeed was a reference to a manuscript from Mardin (pp. 11-12; no shelfmark). He says that he used photographs “taken under somewhat adverse conditions, and a few readings are not entirely certain.” This text in the Mardin manuscript has many of the proper names of the scholia written in Greek, sometimes not quite correctly, in the margins, as can be seen in the image to the right (“Osiris”, “Typhon”, “Titans”; “Mithras” belongs to the scholion in the other column).

In addition to this work, which is missing one folio at the beginning, the Mardin manuscript, now no. 129, contains in part or in full orations nos. 18 (On his Father), 38 (On Epiphany, the Birth of Jesus), 39 (On the Lights), 41 (On the Holy Spirit), 27 (Against the Eunomians), 29 (On the Son, I), 30 (On the Son, II), and 31 (On the Holy Spirit, only one folio).[2] The manuscript is briefly described in Dolabani’s Dayr Al-Za`farān catalog (p. 22 in western numerals, but p. ܟܐ in Syriac!), so it was apparently there before having been relocated to the Church of the Forty Martyrs, like so many other manuscripts from the same monastery. After Dolabani (and Brock), there has been some doubt and uncertainty as to this important manuscript’s whereabouts:

Es steht nicht fest, ob die Handschrift überhaupt noch an ihrem ursprünglichen Aufenthaltsort in Mardin liegt, ob sie verlorengegangen ist, oder ob sie mit weiteren Manuskripten aus Mardin in eine andere Bibliothek verlegt wurde. (A.B. Schmidt and M. Quaschning-Kirsch in Le Muséon 113 [2000]: 90, n. 8.)

Le Centre d’études sur Grégoire de Nazianze n’a pas pu obtenir un microfilm de ce manuscrit dont on a, semble-t-il, perdu la trace. (J.-C. Haelewyck, CCSG 53, Corpus Nazianzenum 18 [2005], p. xii; cf. CCSG 65, Corpus Nazianzenum 23 [2007], p. xi.)

I am happy to report that the manuscript is not lost at all!

From Or. 29 (On the Son, I)

[1] Of more recent publications note especially J. Nimmo Smith, ed., Pseudo-Nonniani in IV Orationes Gregorii Nazianzeni Commentarii, with the assistance of S. Brock and B. Coulie (CCSG 27, Corpus Nazianzenum 2; Turnhout: Brepols, 1992), and Bernard Coulie, “Les versions orientales des commentaires mythologiques du Pseudo-Nonnos et la réception de la mythologie classique,” in Rosa Bianca Finazzi and Alfredo Valvo, eds., La diffusione dell’eredità classica nell’età tardoantica e medievale. Il Romanzo di Alessandro e altri scritti. Atti del seminario internazionale di studio (Roma-Napoli, 25-27 settembre 1997) (L’eredità classica nel mondo orientale 2; Alexandria : Edizioni dell’Orso, 1998), pp. 113-23.

[2] Syriac editions of some of these orations have been published in the CCSG, Corpus Nazianzenum series.

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