Archive for the ‘literature’ Tag

An Arabic version of The Pilgrim’s Progress   2 comments

From p. 13 of the English edition mentioned at left.

From p. 13 of the English edition mentioned at left.

Lately I stumbled upon an Arabic translation of John Bunyan’s (1628-1688) classic work of English religious literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress, on Google Books, in Arabic called Kitāb siyāḥat al-masīḥī. I don’t know the translator, but the date of the translation seems to be 1868. Now there is a copy here at; one of many English editions is available here.

To give an idea of the Arabic version, here are a few passages from the beginning of the book, with page numbers for the Arabic copy. The first paragraph is particularly fine.

As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a Man cloathed with Rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a Book in his hand, and a great Burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the Book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, What shall I do?
p. 3
بينما انا عابر في تيه هذا العالم وجدت كهفًا في مكان فاستظلت به. ثم اخذتني سنة النوم فنمت واذا برجل قد ترآءى لي في الحلم لابسًا رثّة ووجهه منحرف عن بيته وعلى ظهره حمل ثقيل وفي يده كتاب قد فتحه وطفق يقرأ فيه. وعند ذلك بكى مرتعدًا ولم يقدر ان يضبط نفسه فصرخ مولولًا وقال ماذا اعمل


So I saw in my Dream that the Man began to run. Now he had not run far from his own door, but his Wife and Children, perceiving it, began to cry after him to return, but the Man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! Life! Eternal Life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the Plain.
pp. 7-8
قال صاحب الرؤيا ثم رايت ذلك الرجل وكان يقال له المسيحي قد اخذ في الركض وما ابعد الا قليلًا عن داره حتى راته زوجته واولاده فصاحوا به يريدون ان يردّوه فسدّ اذنيه واشتدّ في عدوه وهو يقول الحيوة الحيوة حيوة الابد ولم يلتفت الى ورائه بل هرب الى وسط تلك البقعة


Chr. I seek an Inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, and it is laid up in Heaven, and safe there, to be bestowed at the time appointed, on them that diligently seek it. Read it so, if you will, in my book.
Obst. Tush, said Obstinate, away with your Book; will you go back with us or no?
Chr. No, not I, said the other, because I have laid my hand to the Plow.
Obst. Come then, Neighbor Pliable, let us turn again, and go home without him; there is a company of these craz’d-headed coxcombs, that, when they take a fancy by the end, are wiser in their own eyes than seven men that can render a reason.
pp. 9-10
قال اني اطلب ميراثًا لا يبلى ولا يتدنس ولا يضمحلّ وهو مذخور في السماء بامن ليعطى في المقت المعيَّن لمن يطلبه باجتهاد. وان كنت في ريب من ذلك فافحص عنه في كتابي هذا تجده.
فقال اسكت ودعنا من كتابك اترجع معنا ام لا
قال كلّا لاني وضعت يدي على المحرث
فقال المعاند لصاحبه اذن نرجع وحدنا لانه يوجد جماعة من هولاء المجانين الذين اذا تخيّلوا سيـٔا يكونون عند انفسهم احكم من سبعة رجال متفلسفين


I can better conceive of them with my Mind, than speak of them with my Tongue: but yet, since you are desirous to know, I will read of them in my Book.
p. 12
قال المسيحي ان تصوّرها بالفكر ايسر عليّ من وصفها باللسان ولكن لاجل اهتمامك في معرفتها اقرأ لك شرحها في كتابي

Two cleverly written Syriac poems   1 comment

At the beginning of CCM (Chaldean Cathedral, Mardin) 13, from the 18th century, are two Syriac poems, in the twelve-syllable meter with six lines each of six words each, and as it says in Syriac at the top of the page, they may be read in the conventional way from right to left, top to bottom, or from top to bottom, right to left. That is, if we assign a number to each identical word, the pattern is as follows:


6 5 4 3 2 1 ⇓

11 10 9 8 7 2 ⇓

15 14 13 12 8 3 ⇓

18 17 16 13 9 4 ⇓

20 19 17 14 10 5 ⇓

21 20 18 15 11 6

In addition, the six lines of each poem rhyme. Here’s an image:

CCM 13, f. 1r

CCM 13, f. 1r

Constrained writing in Syriac poetry   1 comment conversation at the breakfast table this morning led to mention of E.V. Wright’s Gadsby (1939), a novel of no insignificant length that gets by without the letter E throughout its 50,000+ words. (I’ve not read it, but it’s apparently in print and buyable. Note also Georges Perec’s 1969 French novel, La Disparition, with several translations.) Avoiding this or that letter is a kind of constrained writing called a lipogram, but other kinds of constraint include palindromes, alliteratives, univocalism, attention to etymological source (e.g. avoiding latinate words in English), and acrostics. Meter and rhyme are the most typical constraints in much poetry.

These and other constraints, of course, are generally not limited to one particular language, although their application might be more difficult in some languages than others. Other than the meter (5-syllable, 7-syllable, and 12-syllable) and, more occasionally, rhyme, Syriac poetry offers (at least) two kinds of constrained writing, one common and the other rare: 1. the acrostic and 2. having lines or line-pairs that begin and end with the same letter. (I have tried but failed to come up with a concise name for № 2.)

Acrostic poems are well known in various languages, including English, but here we are mainly concerned with alphabetic acrostics. (For Hebrew, see the discussion, with several examples, of W.G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry, 190-200, with bibliography, and for later examples see T. Carmi, The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, e.g. 206-207, 221-223, 223-224, 233-234, 235-238.) In Syriac, alphabetic acrostic poems, both mēmrē and madrāšē, are plentiful. Ephrem provides many early examples of strophic (as opposed to stichic) acrostics, and Andrew Palmer has studied them (see bibliography below). The hymn Res. 1 is not an alphabetic acrostic, but actually spells out Ephrem’s own name in the beginning strophes and then follows with strophes that all begin with M (vocalized text and ET in Brock and Kiraz, 80-95). The hymn Nis. 1 is an alphabetic acrostic, but it generally skips every other letter, the exception being the sequence P-Q (ʾ g h z ṭ k m s p q š; text and ET in Brock and Kiraz, 224-245). There are also other patterns, even reaching across several poems: № 7-15 of the hymns on Abraham of Qidun (ed. Beck, CSCO 322) follow the alphabet from start to finish with varying numbers of stanzas given to each letter.

We also find acrostics in dialogue poems, e.g. in text 3 of the collection published by Brock (pp. 13-14) we have, after a proem, each speaker beginning a line following the order of the alphabet up to ḥ, at which point the rest of the poem is lost. Several other texts in the collection (e.g. texts 8, 9) follow the same pattern and are complete. There are countless other acrostic poems in later Syriac literature, many still unpublished.

The other kind of constrained writing in Syriac poetry I would like to point out has two examples from the hand of Yaʿqub (Severos) bar Šakko (d. 1241) of Barṭelle. (See Martin and Sprengling in the bibliography for his discussions of poetry.) These verse letters have been known about, but they have not been published or translated, as far as I know. There are two copies of them both at HMML in almost identical manuscripts, even down to the pagination, copied by Dolabani (ZFRN 40 and CFMM 144). The first (pp. 261-263 in the mss) is “A Letter to Rabban Mar Faḫr al-Dawla bar Tomā” and the second (pp. 264-268) is “A Letter to Rabban Abū Ṭāhir Ṣāʿid, known as Tāǧ Al-Dawla bar Tomā of Baghdad”. The constraint in both texts, aside from the 7-syllable meter, is that each poem has each of its couplets beginning with the same letter, P in the first case, T in the second. Here is the beginning of the P-poem:

CFMM 144, p. 261

CFMM 144, p. 261

Here are the first four 7-syllable lines (copied two to a line in the manuscript) in English:

I have stretched out my neck in righteousness,

That I might bow before [his] feet.

I have opened my mouth that I might greet

Him who chases away every bad thing.

And now an example from the T-poem:

tāgāra (h)w da-myattrātā

d-šuprēh nābaʿ galyāʾit

tēʾaṭron (h)u d-ḥasyutā

wa-gmir b-kol-znā mpattkāʾit

He is a merchant of excellent goods,

Whose virtue springs up openly.

He is a theater of holiness,

And perfect in every way with variety.

The T-poem has its lines ending in adverbs in -āʾit, and similarly pp. 205-208 of these same two manuscripts have a mēmrā on fasting by John Ismaʿil (d. 1365 according to the manuscript), Patriarch of Antioch and nephew of Ignatius b. Wahīb (on whom see Graf, GCAL II: 271), in which every line of the poem ends with an adverb in -āʾit.

These Syriac authors show the depth of their knowledge of the language in being able to construct poems in these forms, and students may find their practice sharpened by studying these texts more closely. It may be easy to get caught up in the formalism of poetry with acrostic or other letter-focused features, but as a reading of the examples singled out here will show, this is not mere form — not that that’s always a bad thing. Plenty is still said here, and said well.

Bibliography (incl. basics for Syriac poetry)

Bickell, G. “Noch ein Wort über alphabetische und akrostichische Lieder Ephräms.” ZDMG 26 (1872): 809-811.

Brock, S.P. “The Dispute Poem: From Sumer to Syriac.” Bayn al-Nahrayn 7 [28] (1979): 417-426.

________. Sogyātā mgabbyātā. Holland, 1982.

________. “Syriac Dialogue Poems: Marginalia to a Recent Edition.” Le Muséon 97:1-2 (1984): 28-58.

________. “An Acrostic Poem on the Soul by Jacob of Serugh.” Sobornost 23:1 (2001): 40-44.

________. “Poetry and Hymnography (3): Syriac.” Pages 657-671 in The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies. Edited by S.A. Harvey and D.G. Hunter. Oxford, 2008.

Brock, S.P. and G.A. Kiraz. Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems. Eastern Christian Texts 2. Provo, 2006.

Cardahi, G. Liber thesauri de arte poëtica Syrorum nec non de eorum poetarum vitis et carminibus. Rome, 1875.

Geiger, Abraham, “Alphabetische und akrostichontische Lieder bei Ephräm.” ZDMG (1867): 469-476.

Hölscher, G. Syrische Verskunst. Leipzig, 1932. Rev. by G. Bergsträsser in Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 36 (1933): 748-754.

Kirschner, B. “Alfabetische Akrosticha in der syrischen Kirchenpoesie.” OC I, 6 (1906): 1-69; 7 (1907), 254-291. (As a monograph: Alfabetische Akrosticha in der syrischen Kirchenpoesie. [Rome, 1907].)

Martin, J.-P.P. De la métrique chez les Syriens. Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 7.2. Leipzig, 1879.

Palmer, A. “St Ephrem of Syria’s Hymn on Faith 7: An Ode on His Own Name.” Sobornost / Eastern Churches Review 17:1 (1995): 28-40.

________. “Words, Silences, and the Silent Word: Acrostics and Empty Columns in Saint Ephraem’s Hymns on Faith.” PdO 20 (1995): 129-200.

________. “Akrostich Poems: Restoring Ephraim’s Madroshe.” The Harp 15 (2002): 275-287.

________. “Restoring the ABC in Ephraim’s Cycles on Faith and Paradise.” JECS 55:3-4 (2003): 147-194.

Schlögl, N. “Das Alphabet des Siraciden (Eccl. 51, 13-29). Eine textkritische Studie.” ZDMG 53 (1899): 669-682.

Sprengling, M. “Antonius Rhetor on Versification, with an Introduction and Two Appendices.” American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 32:3 (1916): 145-216.

________. “Severus bar Shakko’s Poetics, Part II.” American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 32:4 (1916): 293-308.

Excerpta synaxarica Armeniaca   1 comment

The synaxarion has made its appearance here in various languages many times. These collected hagiographic texts in brief arranged according to the church calendar offer students of the languages of the Christian east and students of Christianity more generally unique opportunities for learning the language and traditions. Not in terms of content, but of form, synaxarion entries are to the longer hagiographic texts dedicated to a saint’s legends almost what short stories are to novels. There are pleasures and benefits specific to the longer time required of a novel or a long hagiographic text, but there are likewise benefits and pleasures that derive from the shorter modes of the synaxarion and the short story. With the synaxarion, we collect some basics of the stories, either for the first time or as a review, and we can see the whole in minutes or hours, as opposed to days. Not all saints have a long vita, martyrdom, or encomium, but for those that do, their synaxarion reading may be a kind of praelectio or praeexercitamentum. Synaxarion selections often focus on the interesting bits that for this or that reason easily hold our attention, but they also present enough lexical and syntactic variety to be instructive for learners, yet without being too overwhelming in length. Selections from the synaxarion may even serve as a kind of chrestomathy with some appropriate helps (grammatical notes, glossaries, and/or translations).

St. Mamas on a lion. Image from here.

Below are a few excerpts from the readings for the past few days, Aug 31-Sept 2 (disregarding the difference between Old Style and New Style dates). Of course, since these are excerpts, we don’t get the whole story here, but hopefully you’ll learn (or re-learn) something, as I did in copying them. Most of these are simple sentences with basic forms and vocabulary, but a few were chosen simply because they struck me as memorable for some reason or other.

What’s the purpose of having picked out these excerpts and sharing them here? First, to highlight some hagiographic material readers might not otherwise regularly come across, and that chance meeting might lead to some story, passage, or text of interest and use to someone. The readings excerpted here come from longer or shorter remembrances of Photina (the woman at the well; cf. BHO 992), the invention of the cincture of Mary, Joshua, Symeon the Stylite (cf. BHO 1121-1126), Martha (cf. BHO ), Longinus (cf. BHO 565-566), and Mamas (cf. BHO ).

Second, especially for students of classical Armenian, these excerpts will provide some practice reading and also show how passages like these might be of use in studying the language. How much grammar might we divine, how much common and not-so-common vocabulary do we see in action in these selections from just a few pages of Armenian text? To list only a few examples, consider this vocabulary associated with tortures and martyrdom from the selections below:

  • հատանեմ, հատի to cut (off)
  • կտրեմ, -եցի to cut (off)
  • քերեն, -եցի to scratch
  • մարմին, մարմնոյ body
  • սուր, սրոյ sword
  • մուրճ, մրճոց hammer
  • հուր, հրոյ fire
  • դեղ, -ոց/-ից poison (here followed by the gen. մահու, lethal)
  • արիւն, -եան blood (e.g. with հեղում, հեղի to pour [here aor pass], հեղաւ արիւնն յերկիր the blood flowed on the earth)
  • բանտ/դ, -ից prison

And here are some terms associated with some aspect of Christianity:

  • յիշատակ, -աց remembrance, commemoration
  • երանելի blessed, happy (referring to a saint)
  • հաւատամ, -ացի to believe
  • խոստովանեմ, -եցի to confess

For verbs we have the ubiquitous participial forms as well as, given the genre, a host of past narrative forms that can be found in almost every line. This is not even to mention the very frequent function words and general vocabulary.

Thirdly, for readers with any interest at all in hagiography who may have less inclination to study classical Armenian, this little notice might serve as a reminder of what an important source hagiography, including the versions of the synaxarion in whatever language, is for questions of history, legend, literature, religious devotion, and religious memory. I do not know of an English translation of the Armenian synaxarion, but there is a complete French translation in the PO volumes. (An English version of the Armenian would be welcome, but it would be a long undertaking.)


Adontz, Nicholas. “Note sur les synaxaires arméniens.” Revue de l’Orient Chrétien 24 (1924): 211–218.

Aßfalg, Julius. “Synaxar(ion).” In H. Kaufhold, ed., Kleines Lexikon des christlichen Orients. 2d ed. Wiesbaden, 2007. Pp. 448-449.

Cowe, S. Peter. “Armenian Hagiography.” In The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography, edited by Stephanos Efthymiadis, 1:299–322. Ashgate, 2011.

Mécérian, Jean. “Introduction à l’étude des synaxaires arméniens.” Bulletin arménologique, Mélanges de l’Université de S. Joseph 43 (1953): 99–128.

The excerpts

These lines (with the corresponding French translation) are taken from PO 5: 461-483, ed. and tr. G. Bayan. (See a list here, with links, of synaxarion texts in Armenian and other languages published in PO.) They are cited by page number in PO 5.


հաւատաց ի Քրիստոս եւ երտեալ ի Կարթագինէ ի քաղաքն Ափրիկիոյ մկրտեցաւ եւ անունեցաւ Փաւտինէ։ Elle crut au Christ, se rendit à Carthage, dans la ville d’Afrique…

Եւ քարոզէր զանուն Տեառն մերոյ Յիսուսի Քրիստոսի ամենեցուն, եւ լուսաւորէր զբազումս ի կռապաշտիցն։ Elle prèchait à tous le nom de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, et instruisait bon nombre d’idolâtres.


Եւ հրամայեաց զի սրով հատցեն զձեռսն Il ordonna de lui couper avec l’épée, les mains…

եւ ոչ կարացին հատանել զձեռսն։ … mais [ils] n’arrivèrent pas à lui couper les mains.

Հրամայեաց Ներոն արքայն զի մրճօք կտրեսցեն զձեռսն Néron ordonna alors de lui détacher les mains avec les marteaux.

Եւ ապա հուր բորբոքեցին եւ ընկեցին անդ զաղախինն Քրիստոսի On alluma ensuite un grand feu et on y jeta la servante du Christ.

Հանին ի հրոյն եւ արբուցին երկիցս անգամ դեղ մահու եւ ոչ վնասեցաւ նա։ On la fit sortir du feu, et on lui fit boire par deux fois du poison mortel, elle n’eut aucun mal.


Եւ ապա կախեցին զփայտէ եւ քերեցին զմարմին նորա եւ յոյժ հեղաւ արիւնն յերկիր Ensuite on la suspendit à un arbre, on lui déchira le corps, le sang coula abondamment à terre…

Եւ յորժամ իջուցին ի փայտէն հանին զերկոսին աչսն եւ բարձեալ տարան զնա ի խաւարյին եւ ի ժահահոտ բանտ յորուն էին օձք եւ թունաւոր սողունք։ Lorsqu’on la descendit de l’arbre, on lui creva les deux yeux et on la transporta dans une prison obscure et infecte, où se trouvaient des serpents et des reptiles venimeux.

Եւ մինչեւ ցայսօր որք իցեն աչացաւ եւ աչաչեն զԱստուած եւ զսրբուհի վկայն իւր զփօտինէ առժամայն բժշկին ե լուսաւորին աչք իւրեանց։ Et jusqu’aujourd’hui, ceux qui souffrent des yeux et prient Dieu et sa sainte martyre Photine guérissent aussitôt et recouvrent la vue.


Եւ ի ժամանակս Լեւոնի որդւոյ Վասլի թագաւորի՝ բազում սքանչելագործեաց գօտի սուրբ աստուածածնին բժշկիւթիւնս ի թագուհին Զոյի, յորմէ հալածեաց ի նմանէ զդեւն, որ բազում ամօք չարչարէր զնա, եւ յայլ ամենայն նեղեալս։ Sous le règne de Léon, fils de l’empereur Basile, la ceinture de la sainte mère de Dieu fit de nombreux miracles et guérisons sur la personne de l’impératrice Zoë, en chassant le démon, qui la tourmentait depuis de longues années, et sur tous les autres infirmes.


Սա ետ հրաման արեգականն եւ լուսնին եւ դադարեցին ի գնացից, մինչեւ կոտորեաց զՔանանացիսն ի Գաբաւոն։ C’est lui qui commanda au soleil et à la lune, et ils s’arrètèrent dans leur course jusqu’à ce qu’il eût massacré les Chananéens à Gabaon.


Symeon the Stylite on a 6th-7th century token (Walters Art Mus.,  48.2666; see here)

Symeon the Stylite on a 6th-7th century token (Walters Art Mus., 48.2666; see here)

Եւ մինչդեռ պատանեակն էր լսէր յեկեղեցւոջն հանապաց զգրելսն ի Պօղոսէ առաքելոյն եւ ի ծերունի ումեմնէ աստուածասիրէ տեղեկանայր եթէ վասն փրկութեան հոգւոց են գրեալքն։ Pendant qu’il était tout jeune il entendait continuellement à l’église les épîtres de l’apôtre Paul, et il apprit d’un viellard zélé qu’elles étaient écrites pour le salut des âmes.


Եւ նախանձեալ կրօնաւորացն ընդ ճգնութիւն արդարոյն ստիպեցին զհայր վանացն հանել զնա։ Les religieux devinrent jaloux de l’ascétisme du juste et obligèrent l’abbé du couvent de le renvoyer.

Իսկ երանելին ելեալ լալով գտանէ ջրհոր մի ցամաք, եր խոր յոյժ, լի թիւնաւոր զեռնօք եւ ընկէց զանձն իւր ի մէջ օձիցն, ոչ ինչ ճաջակելով։ Le bienheureux partit en pleurant, trouva un puits à sec et très profond, plein de reptiles venimeux, et se jeta parmi les serpents, sans prendre de nourriture.


Եւ նորա արարեալ անդ աւուրս ինչ՝ գնաց յանապատ եւ անդ շինեաց իւր արգելանոց նեղ եւ բնակեցաւ անդ ամս չորս. Il y demeura quelques jours, et se rendit dans un désert; il s’y fabriqua un abri étroit et y demeura quatre ans;

եւ ոչ ինչ ճաշակեաց բայց միայն ոսպն թրջեալ։ il ne se nourissait que de lentilles mouillées.

Եւ յետ այնորիկ շինեալ սիւն բարձրագոյն յերկրէ գիրկս չորս եւ ելեալ եկաց անդ ամս եօթն։ Il construisit ensuite une colonne élevée de la terre de quatre coudées, y monta et y demeura sept ans.

Եւ աղօթիւք զբազում հիւանդս բժշկէր, եւ ուսուցանէր առնել զկամս Աստուծոյ եւ կեցուցանել զհոգիս։ Par ses prières il guérissait beaucoup de malades et leur enseignait à accomplir la volonté de Dieu et à sauver leur âme.

հանգիր առ խարսխի սեան իմոյ եւ ննջեա. Repose-toi au pied de ma colonne et endors-toi.

եւ նորա եդեալ զգլուխ առ սեանն՝ աւանդեաց զհոգին։ Elle posa la tête auprès de la colonne et rendit son âme.

Եւ հրամայեաց դնել զմարմին մօրն իւրոյ առ սեանն. Il ordonna d’enterrer le corps de sa mère près de la colonne.

Եւ ի տեսանել զմայր իւր տխրեցաւ։ A la vue de sa mère il devint triste.

Եւ թաղեցին զնա ի տեղւոջն յայնմիկ վասն տեսանելոյ միշտ զգերեզմանն եւ յիշելոյ զհոգի նորա։ On l’enterra en cet endroit, pour qu’il ait toujours sous les yeux son tombeau et pour qu’il se souvienne de son âme.


Եւ ընդ աւուրսն ընդ այնոսիկ տեսեալ որսորղաց ոմանց եղն մի, զհետ մտեալ ոչ կարացին ըմդռնել զնա. En ces jours, quelques chasseurs ayant aperçu une biche, la poursuivirent, sans pouvoir l’atteindre.

եւ որսորղացն ըմբռնեալ զնա զենեցին եւ կերան. Les chasseurs la saisirent, la tuèrent et la mangèrent.

եւ նոյնժամայն ատամունք նոցա անկան ի բերանս իւրեանց առ հասարակ։ Aussitôt toutes leurs dents tombèrent dans leur bouche.

Կին ումն ի գիշերի ջուր ըմպելով՝ եմուտ յորովայն նորա ընդ ջրոյն ձագ օձի, եւ սնեալ ի փորին՝ աճեաց եւ յոյժ չարչարէր զկինն. Une femme en buvant de l’eau la nuit avait introduit dans son estomac, en même temps que l’eau, un petit serpent, qui continua à se nourrir et à croître dans le ventre et causait beaucoup de douleurs à la femme.

եւ գնացեալ առ երանելին աղաչեաց։ Elle alla trouver le bienheureux et la pria.

Եւ սուրբն Սիմէեոն աղօթիւք եհան զօձն ընդ բերան կնոջն. եւ առժամայն սատակեցաւ եւ էր կանգուն մի։ Saint Siméon, par ses prières, fit sortir le serpent par la bouche de la femme; il creva aussitôt. Il était long d’une aune.


եւ կեայր ի վերաի սեանն բացօթեաի, յամարայնի արեգակնակէզ լինելով եւ ի ձմերայնի ցրտանք եւ ձիւնով ժուժկալեալ։ Il vivait sur la colonne en plein air, brûlé par le soleil en été et subissant le froid et la neige l’hiver.


Եւ բազում վտանզաւորք ի ծովու եւ ի ցամաքի կոչէին յօգնականութիւն զանուն սրբոյն Սիմէոնի, եւ առժամայն փրկէին ի նեղութենէ իւրեանց։ Et beaucoup de gens en danger, sur mer et sur terre, appelant au secours et invoquant le nom de saint Siméon, furent aussitôt délivrés de leurs peines.

Եւ յաւուրսն յայնոսիկ այր մի ցանկացեալ կնոջ ումեմն եւ ոչ կարացեալ հասանել պիղծ ցանկութեանն: En ces jours, un homme convoitant une femme ne parvint pas à réaliser ses désirs impurs.

Իսկ յորժամ վածճանեցաւ կինն, երթեալ գաղտնաբար ի գիշերի առ տապան կնոջն կամէր պառնընկել ընդ նեռեալ մարմինն եւ կապեցաւ ընդ տապանին եւ ոչ կարէր ելանել։ Lorsque la femme mourut, il se rendit en secret et pendant la nuit à la tombe de la femme dans l’intention de violer le cadavre; il resta lié à la tombe, et ne pouvait en sortir.


Եւ յորժամ անցուցանէին դագաղօքն զմարմին սրբոյն Սիմէոնի մերձ ի տապանն յայն, աղաղակեաց այրն ասելով. Au moment où l’on faisait passer dans un cercueil le corps de saint Siméon près de cette tombe, l’homme se mit à crier:


Ողողմեա ինձ սուրբ Աստուծոյ Սիմէոն։ Aie pitié de moi, saint de Dieu, Siméon.

Եւ առժամայն արձակեցաւ, ել ի տապանէն եւ խոստաովանեցաւ զմեղս իւր։ Il se dégagea aussitôt, sortit de la tombe et confessa son péché.

Եւ թաղեցին զերանելին մերձ ի սիւնն։ On enterra le bienheureux près de la colonne.

Եւ Անտոն աշակերտ սրբոյն եւ ապասաւոր նորին գրեաց զաստուածահաճոյ վարս նուրա։ Et Antoine, le disciple du saint et son serviteur écrivit la vie du saint, si agréable à Dieu.

Ի ժամանակս պատկերամարտիցն զանարատ աստուածածնին զերանելի պատկերն՝ ունելով ի գիրկս զտղայացեալ Աստուածն մեր՝ որ էր ի տախտակի նկարեալ ի վանսն որ կոչի Միասինոն, ընկեցին ի ծովակն որ կոչի Ղազարու (?)։ A l’époque des iconoclastes, on jeta dans le lac dit Zagourou [sic] la bienheureuse image de l’immaculé mère de Dieu, tenant dans ses bras notre Dieu comme enfant, [image] peinte sur bois et qui se trouvait au couvent dit Miasinon.

Որ եւ զբազոմ ժամանակս անդէն անփուտ պահեցաւ տախտակն, եւ անապական ի նմին՝ դիւրաջինջ նկար դեղոց։ Le bois s’y conserva incorruptible pendant de longues années, et les couleurs délicates n’eurent à souffrir aucune détérioration.


Ի սոյն յիշատակ է սրբուհւոյն Մարթայի մօր երանելւոյն Սիմէոնի՝ որ է բարեշնորհ։ En ce jour commémoration de sainte Marthe, mère du bienheureux Siméon, qui est rempli de grâces.


Յայսմ աւու յիշատակ Կեսարիա կապադովկեցւոց Ղունկիանոսի զինուորի եւ վկայի, զորմէ ասի թէ նա էր որ եբաց գեղարդեամբ զկողս Տեառն ի խաչին եւ յետոյ մկրտեցաւ յառաքելոցն. En ce jour, commémoration, en Césarée de Cappadoce, du soldat et martyr Longinos, duquel on dit que ce fut lui qui perça de sa lance le côté du Seigneur sur la Croix, et qu’il fut baptisé ensuite par les apôtres.

եւ մերձ ի կապպադովկիա սրբութեամբ կենցաղավարելով եկաց։ Il vécut d’une sainte vie près de Cappadoce.

Յետոյ եղեւ ի յՕքտաւիդիս դատաւորէ եւ վասն խոստավանութեամ հաւատոցն հատաւ լեզուն եւ կորզեցան ատամունքն եւ սրով հատաւ գլուխն։ Il fut ensuite saisi par le juge Octavidis et pour avoir confessé la foi on lui coupa la langue, on lui arracha les dents et on lui trancha la tête avec la glaive.


Եւ էր Ռուփինա յղի։ Rufina était enceinte.

Եւ հարցեալ քննէր զնոսա եւ նոքա խոստովանեցան համարձակութեամբ զանունն Քրիստոսի։ Le juge les interrogea et ils confessèrent avec hardiesse le nom du Christ.

Եւ բարեպաշտին Ռուփինայ լցան աւուրք յղութեանն եւ ծնաւ ի բանդին արու մանուկ Quant à la pieuse Rufina, les jours de sa grossesse s’étant accomplis, elle mit au monde, dans la prison, un garçon.


Եւ մինչեւ զարգացաւ մանուկն ետ զնա ի դպրոց եւ ուսաւ գիր Lorsque l’enfant grandit, elle l’envoya à l’école et il y apprit les lettres.

եւ ձաղկեցին դահիճքն եւ այրեցին հրով զմարմինն. Les bourreaux le flagellèrent et brûlèrent son corps au feu:

եւ տարան ի ծովն եւ կապեցին ծանր կապար ի պարանոց նորա, եւ կամեցան ընկղմել զնա ի ծովն, ils l’amenèrent à la mer, attachèrent à son cou du plomb lourd, et voulurent le noyer dans la mer,

եւ հրեշտակ Տեառն կորզեաց զնա ի դահճացն, եւ եհան զնա ի մերձակայ լեառն Կեսարու։ mais l’ange du Seigneur le délivra des bourreaux, et le conduisit sur la montagne qui se trouvait près de Césarée.

Եւ ժողովէին առ նա երէք վայրիք եւ յորժամ ընթեռնոյր զաւետարանն երկիր պագանէին ամենայն կենդանիքն։ Les animaux sauvages s’assemblaient de lui et lorsqu’il lisait l’évangile tous ces animaux se prosternaient.


Եւ կթէր զեղունսն եւ առնէր պանիր եւ բաշխէր աղքասաց եւ որբոց հրամանաւն Աստուծոյ։ Il trayait les biches, fabriquait du fromage et le distribuait aux pauvres et aux orphelins sur l’ordre de Dieu.

Եւ աղաւնի բերէր նմա կերակուր. եւ նա տայր եւ այլ կապելոցն որ էին ի բանդին։ Une colombe lui apportait sa nourriture: il en distribuait aux autres détenus dans la prison.

Եւ բերին այլ առիւծ ահաւոր, զայն որ մինչ ի լերինն էր գնաց առ նա, On introduisit un autre lion terrible, celui qui était allé vers lui lorsqu’il était sur la montagne.

եւ տեսեալ առիւծուն ծանեաւ զերանելին եւ երթեալ երկիր եպագ նմա եւ խօսեցաւ մարդկային բարբառով եւ յանդիմանեաց զամպարշտութիւն դատաւորին. Le lion l’ayant aperçu, reconnut le bienheureux et se prosterna devant lui et parlant le langage humain, reprocha au juge son impiété:

եւ զբաբումս ի կռապատիցն սատակեաց. եւ ինքն գնաց ի տելի իւր։ il tua beaucoup d’idolâtres, et retourna à sa place.

Եւ ըմբիշ մի երեքժանի սուսերաւ եհար զսուրբն։ Un athlète armé d’un trident aigu en frappa le saint.


հեղոյր ի մարմնոյ նորա արիւնն որպէս աղբիւր։ … le sang coulait de son corps comme une fontaine.

Եւ ելեալ ի վերայ վիմի օրհնեաց զԱստուած Il monta sur un rocher, bénit Dieu…

եւ այնպէս աւանդեաց զհոգին իւր ի ձերս Աստուծոյ։ … il rendit ainsi son âme entre les mains de Dieu.

Vullers’ Persian chrestomathy   3 comments

Ferdowsi Square in Tehran (from

Ferdowsi Square in Tehran (from here)

Lest, dear reader, you grow over-full of Georgian, the subject of the last three (mini-)posts, here’s something on Persian.

Some days ago while studying one of the Muʿallaqāt, I came across some works of Johann August Vullers, who was a student of Antoine Silvestre de Sacy (1758-1838), but about whom I can find little other information. Vullers did work on Arabic poetry, but it was especially Persian literature that seems to have interested him. Of the works by Vullers that I found, including a grammar and lexicon, his Chrestomathia Schahnamiana in usum scholarum (Bonn, 1833) most caught my eye. I have a soft spot for chrestomathies — reading-books for foreign languages that are usually made up of shorter or longer excerpts, often together with glossaries and annotations — and the nineteenth century was a great age of chrestomathies. They may not be so commonly published now as they once were, but there is value in them for both students in courses and for autodidacts. This volume is a Persian reader (dedicated to August Wilhelm von Schlegel, 1767-1845), mostly from the Šāh-nāma, with Persian-Latin lexicon and a few notes. The purpose he gives as follows: “ut iuvenes ad legendum praeclarum istud Persicarum litterarum monumentum, Schahname dico, impellerem…” (“that I might urge the young to read that famous monument of Persian literature, the Šāh-nāma“). The contents are as follows:

  • pp. 1-25, from the part on Alexander the Great
  • pp. 26-70, on Sām’s son
  • pp. 71-86, “de libro fabularum, Calila et Dimna inscripto”
  • pp. 87-108, a selection from the Borzū-nāmā (it had been previously published by Kosegarten)
  • pp. 109-261, Persian-Latin glossary
  • 262-267 annotations

Part of Iranian epic tradition, the Šāh-nāma was put into its most well-known form by Ferdowsi, and there are translations into Turkish, Georgian, and many other languages, including European languages. Nöldeke (see bibliography below) was an avid reader of it, as evidenced not only in some of his books and articles but also in his letters, in a recent edition (Bernhard Maier, ed., Gründerzeit der Orientalistik: Theodor Nöldekes Leben und Werk im Spiegel seiner Briefe, 2013) of which one will find the work mentioned several times. (Georgian literary contacts with Persia are well known, and Rustaveli referred to his Knight in the Panther’s Skin, the Georgian national epic, as “This Persian tale, translated into Georgian,” ესე ამბავი სპარსული, ქართულად ნათარგმანები [st. 9].) In the preface, Vullers refers to De Sacy as “praeceptor meus dilectissimus” (p. vii, cf. p. xiii). There is a two-part review of the book, not favorable, by De Sacy in Journal des Savants, 1833, pp. 719-728, and 1834, pp. 207-18. (Thanks to Richard Budelberger for pointing out the first part, and for the links.)


These old chrestomathies still have something to offer, even though their pedagogical method may not necessarily now be in vogue, even though the evident approach to text-editing may differ from ours, etc. For one thing, many of these books are easily available online. They provide thousands and thousands of lines of grist for the reading-mill. That in itself is a welcome boon for lesser-known languages that might not otherwise be an object of study for no other reason than a dearth of texts. In the best of cases, the texts were chosen both because they are interesting and because they are linguistically accessible, at the same time providing exposure to regular forms, constructions, and vocabulary. Many chresthomathies also offer annotations, sometimes meager, sometimes abundant, and a glossary. These helps will be found to be more or less useful depending as much on their quality and quantity as on the individual reader using the book. For what it’s worth, E.G. Browne recommends the Gulistan as the best Persian reading-texts for learners: “As a reading-book nothing on the whole excels the Gulistán of Saʿdí, of which there are good editions (furnished with full vocabularies) and translations by Eastwick and Platts” (A Literary History of Persia, vol. 1, [London and Leipzig, 1909],  p. 496).

Finally, for more Persian poetry reading, we can look forward to the (apparently forthcoming) Classics of Persian Poetry: A Primer for Students by Michael Craig Hillmann.

Bibliography (items linked to above not repeated here)

Texts and translations

A. E. Bertels (editor), Shax-nāme: Kriticheskij Tekst, nine volumes (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Nauka, 1960–71)

Clinton, Jerome W. The Tragedy of Sohráb and Rostám. Rev. ed. Seattle and London, 1996. [Persian text and ET.]

Mohl, Julius. Abu’l-Qāsem Ferdowsi, Le livre des rois. 7 vols. Paris, 1838-78. (At Internet Archive all but vol. 2 here.)

Warner, Arthur George and Edmond Warner. The Sháhnáma of Firdausí. 9 vols. London, 1905–1925. (At Internet Archive: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.)

Studies (and vocabulary)

Banani, Amin. “Reflections on Re-reading the Iliad and the Shahnameh.” Available here and here.

Moïnfar, Mohammad Djafar. Le vocabulaire arabe dans le Livre des rois de Firdausī: Étude philologique et de statistique linguistique. Wiesbaden, 1970.

Nöldeke, Th. Das iranische Nationalepos. 2nd ed. Berlin and Leipzig, 1920. (Available here and at Internet Archive here.)

The Shahnama Project. At Cambridge.

Wolff, Fritz. Glossar zu Firdosis Schahname, Berlin, 1935; reprint, Hildesheim, 1965.

Yarshater, E. “Iranian National History.” In Cambridge History of Iran III/1, pp. 359-477.

More Sindbad in Garšūnī   3 comments

A few months ago I highlighted on this blog an acephalous copy of The Seven Voyages of Sindbad in Garšūnī from a manuscript in Aleppo. I have recently found in my continuing cataloging of the manuscripts of the Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin, another copy, but very significant is the fact that this recent copy is complete, including the beginning! Here is the start of the work:

CFMM 306, ff. 65v-66r

The complete text is on ff. 65v-109r (foliation supplied by me, as the pagination is inconsistent) and the rest of the manuscript consists of hagiographic or legendary texts (including more Aḥiqar). I failed to mention in the previous post on this work that there are also two Garšūnī copies of it in the Mingana collection:

  • Mingana Syr. 146, ff. 45-65 (Cat., vol. 1, col. 328). The beginning is missing. It is worth pointing out that Mingana 146 also contains a rather obscure story called “The Persian King and his Ten Viziers,” another copy of which follows the Sindbad story in the Mardin manuscript; Mingana gives no incipit, but the title matches the Mardin copy exactly.The rest of the Mingana manuscript, perhaps from around 1700, contains, incidentally, very many hagiographic and legendary stories also known in the Forty Martyrs collection.
  • Mingana Syr. 463, ff. 79r-121v (Cat., vol. 1, col. 828). The manuscript is dated May 2130 AG and 1234 AH (= 1819 CE). Mingana again gives no incipit, but the title of the rubric matches the Mardin copy above exactly.

So this makes four (at least partial) copies of Sindbad in Garšūnī, and there are almost certainly more in HMML’s hitherto uncataloged manuscripts, if not elsewhere. I stress that all four of these copies are not incorporated into the Alf Layla wa-Layla “cycle” (right word?), but isolated and copied with saints’ lives and other stories. There is literary and textual investigation to be done here, but it will have to wait for another day.

Foreign languages and close reading   2 comments

In my experience, there is no other reading than close reading when reading in a foreign language. This is surely one of the benefits of reading in a foreign language, even when there may be a translation (or the original?!) in one’s own language to hand. There are layers in some books that ache for uncovering which we may easily pass over in our mother tongue but to which we nevertheless yield, tiresomely but grinningly, when the texts before us poke and prod with their reminders, perhaps just under our consciousness, that we better pay damn close attention or we’ll be lost. The ever-mustachioed Albert Schweitzer, who spoke both German and French from his childhood, opined that no one ever really has two mother-tongues, and that one of them requires more mental labor to use (see the note below). As for myself, I’m hardly a bilingual to that degree, so non-English reading (or listening!) often demands acute scrutiny and constant re-evaluation of the accumulating thoughts in the words.

While “close reading” is, as far as I know, a named product of twentieth-century literary criticism, it is hardly a new way of reading when understood broadly. Exegesis of important texts — poetic, religious, legal, etc. — has in various contexts long spawned voluminous commentaries filled with interpretation made up of sentences in a number far out of proportion to the words in the original text that they explicate. To be sure, there is a practical aim for some of this careful reading and explanation, especially in legal or, in certain societies, religious texts. But to be equally sure, another aim is mere, pure pleasure (delectatio), that which comes from the intellectual practice with considering in detail words, meanings, and grammar, and finally arriving at some understanding, and then going back to doing it again tomorrow; and of course, following all this slow, careful reading, or alongside it, may also be the animated discussion of it with fellow-readers.

Indo-Europeanist Calvert Watkins — in the preface to his delightful How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics, which I’ve finally gotten round to reading — quotes the definition “Philology is the art of reading slowly,” a description he inherited from his teacher Roman Jakobson (see Watkins’ article in Comparative Literature Studies 27 [1990]: 25), for whom, too, it was an inherited classification. One reason philology is so often (but not always) associated with texts in foreign languages is that those texts are the ones we absolutely must pay close attention to while reading, that is, those are the texts we must read slowly; otherwise we may as well pack up and go home, and do so the poorer.

This weekend, then, perhaps with even more gusto than usual, let’s read something hard, preferably in a foreign language, and have fun with it, and if we’re lucky, there’ll be someone else equally minded for us to share the pleasure with.


1. The interesting passage from Schweitzer will be found on pp. 51-52 of his autobiography, Aus meinem Leben und Denken (Leipzig, 1933), which I read years ago when first studying German, and which I recently translated (roughly!). Here it is, for those that care to read it: schweitzer_on_french_german

2. Nietzsche’s remarks quoted here are most apropos to the concept discussed here.

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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