Archive for the ‘marginalia’ Tag

Two meteorological reports from the sixteenth century   1 comment

As anyone who frequents this blog knows, manuscripts can be much more than simple receptacles for the main texts that their scribes copied. When present, colophons, notes, &c., may make a manuscript even more valuable and interesting. Here is a case in point. On f. 241r of SMMJ 211, a fifteenth-century copy of Bar ʿEbrāyā’s Chronography (secular & eccles.), are two later meteorological reports from different hands, neither the scribe’s.

Notes in outer column of SMMJ 211, f. 241r.

Notes in outer column of SMMJ 211, f. 241r.




The first note says roughly in English:

In the year 1814 (= 1502/3 CE) AG, in the month of Ḥzirān, there was a white meteor like the darkest night in the middle of the air for about an hour in the day, and everyone [lit. the whole world] saw it. And in the same year, on the feast of St. Jacob, on the 29th of the month of Tammuz, there was great and powerful thunder before midday, and with it were white clouds (ʿnānā), yet without a mist (ʿaymā) in the air, or rain, and this thunder continued roaring for about an hour of the day. They heard its sound throughout the region all the way to Gāzartā and the valley, and many people were frightened of its sound and fell on their faces. While the Lord shows us these signs for us to be repentant, our insolent and refractory heart neither repents nor is softened. May the Lord not repay us according to our evils, but according to the multitude of his mercy — amen — and his grace.

And from almost seven decades later, the second note (in less careful handwriting) says:

In the year 1882 AG (= 1570/1 CE) the clouds thickened and much rain appeared in Ṭur ʿĀbdin with terrible thunder, and intense lightning came down for six days in the month of Āb during the Feast of Booths in the villages, one of which is called Zāz, before the outer land of the Church of Mar Dimeṭ, and this lightning came down upon a house near that church with wood and straw inside it, and the house caught fire [with] all the firewood and straw.

(For the Church of Mar Dimet in Zaz, see a picture here.)

Update: Thanks to Thomas Carlson for the suggestion about PQʿTʾ (valley) in the first note, which I initially read as an unidentified place-name PWʿTʾ. The scribe writes waw and qop with little difference.

Saint Mark’s, Jerusalem, 180 (Book of Steps, Asceticon of Abba Isaiah)   2 comments

SMMJ 180 is a seventh- or eight-century manuscript containing the Book of Steps (Liber Graduum) and parts of the Asceticon of Abba Isaiah. The script is a beautiful, clear Estrangela, and the text is written in two columns with around thirty-nine lines. The manuscript is foliated with Syriac letters (numbered folios begin only at f. 10), but the book has been rebound in great disarray. According to a note dated 1881 on 102r, the book was repaired by Grigorios Ǧirǧis Muṭrān of Jerusalem in 1881. In the course of cataloging the manuscript, it became clear that, given the manuscript’s age and its significance as a textual witness, a detailed listing of its contents might be of some value.

SMMJ 180, ff. 62v-63r. The end of the Book of Steps and the beginning of the Asceticon, with some damage at the top.

SMMJ 180, ff. 62v-63r. The end of the Book of Steps and the beginning of the Asceticon, with some damage at the top.

In his edition of the Liber Graduum (LG), Kmosko discusses the manuscript (his Codex R) on pp. viii-ix, ccxciv-cccvi, the latter section being an appendix with a collation. Significantly, Draguet does not make use, it seems, of the Jerusalem manuscript in his edition of the Asceticon. For both of these monuments of Syriac literature, the Jerusalem manuscript deserves to be studied more closely, and thanks to these high quality images now easily available, those with a close interest in either or both of those texts may do so with little trouble.

Before turning to the contents of the codex, here are a few remarks on the paleography. The script is very straightforward Esṭrangela, with sharp angles as in the bēt and ṭēt. General observations include:
•    semkat not attached to the following letter
•    the right leg of the ālap has a little serif, seen both when the previous letter is attached and when it is not
•    the waw is not closed
•    the mim is not closed
•    the final nun, when not attached to the previous letter, is at an angle noticeably more horizontal than when it is attached

When there is a little space at line-end, the final letter has an extender to reach the edge. There are no explicit vowel marks, but there is a host of punctuation marks and diacritical points, with examples in almost every line.

Dotted pointers indicate quotations from scripture. These signs are well known from other early Syriac manuscripts.

SMMJ 180, f. 20r, showing the indication of a biblical citation.

SMMJ 180, f. 20r, showing dotted pointers to indicate a biblical citation.

In addition, the scribe uses a sign that looks very much like the Alexandrian critical sign, the obelus, here in the form known as the lemniscus (cf. Swete, Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, 69-72, and Field, Origenis hexaplorum quae supersunt, I: liii-lx). For example, 26va, line 7:

SMMJ 180, f. 26v

SMMJ 180, f. 26v

Similarly, on 42v, there is a marginal correction of āzēl to zādēq (Kmosko there has āzēl, col. 776.22). This sign, too, is found in other manuscripts, not only Syriac, but also Garšūnī (e.g. SMMJ 174, p. 262), to anchor a marginal reading to a part of the main text.

Another kind of correction is that for transpositions. On 15r, for example, the words b-demʿē and wa-b-ḥaylā are each marked with a group of three dots to indicate that they should be transposed. That is, we should read mā da-gʿa b-ḥaylā wa-b-demʿē saggiʾātā. (Even without the dots, the grammar points in this direction, due to agreement between demʿē and saggiʾātā.) The same indication of transposition occurs elsewhere, as on 46ra, 49vb, 53vb, 54vb, 58rb, 61vb.

SMMJ 180, f. 15r

SMMJ 180, f. 15r

For LG, the sections are not divided more minutely than individual memra; here is an example of a section divider between memre:

SMMJ 180, f. 37v, end of memra 24,. beg. of memra 25.

SMMJ 180, f. 37v, end of memra 24,. beg. of memra 25.

On 43v is a marginal note to indicate the topic (not common in this manuscript): “On the soul’s being called spirit.”

Due to the disorderly arrangement of the manuscript, the path for anyone who is continuously reading the text almost looks like a choose-your-own-adventure book. To cover the surviving parts of the codex, beginning with LG and then moving to the Asceticon, one would read the folios in this order (X indicates a missing folio or folios; there are three such places): 93-100, 83, 101, 90, 84-89, 91, X, 92, 80, 79, X, 82, 81, X, 76, 75, 71-74, 70, 69, 68, 77, 11-18, 78, 19-62, 67, 63-66.

Hopefully the folio-by-folio list of the contents below will be of use to those at work on the Book of Steps or Isaiah’s Asceticon. I give by folio the corresponding parts of the text according to the editions of Kmosko for LG and Draguet for the Asceticon. For the former, in every place I have included memra and section number, and for many places identification down to the column and line number; for the latter, I have given logos and section number, along with page and line number.


Draguet, René. Les cinq recensions de l’Ascéticon syriaque d’Abba Isaïe. CSCO 289 / Scr. Syr. 120. Louvain, 1968.

Kessel, Grigory. “A Previously Unknown Reattributed Fragment from Memra 16 of the Book of Steps,” in Kristian S. Heal and Robert A. Kitchen, eds., Breaking the Mind: New Studies in the Syriac “Book of Steps (CUA Press, 2014), 53-71, esp. 54-60. Available here. [The volume has a picture from SMMJ 180 on the cover.]

Kmosko, Michael. Liber Graduum. Patrologia Syriaca 3. Paris, 1926.

Folio-by-folio contents of SMMJ 180

[11r-11v] LG 19.39-20.3 (col. 521.17-532.11)
[12r-12v] LG 20.3-20.6
[13r-13v] LG 20.6-20.8
[14r-14v] LG 20.8-20.10
[15r-15v] LG 20.10-20.13 (col. 556.12-564.17)
[16r-16v] LG 20.13-20.15
[17r-17v] LG 20.15-20.17
[18r-18v] LG 20.17-21.2 (col. 580.15-589.7) THEN GO TO [78r]
[19r-19v] LG 21.4- 21.7 (col. 596.23-604.6)
[20r-20v] LG 21.7-21.9 (col. 604.6-609.19)
[21r-21v] LG 21.9-21.11 (col. 609.20-617.8)
[22r-22v] LG 21.11-21.16 (col. 617.9-624.26)
[23r-23v] LG 21.16-21.20 (col. 624.26-632.7)
[24r-24v] LG 21.20-22.3 (col. 632.7-640.3)
[25r-25v] LG 22.3-22.6 (col. 640.3-645.18)
[26r-26v] LG 22.6-22.8 (col. 645.18-653.9)
[27r-27v] LG 22.8-22.11 (col. 653.8-660.24)
[28r-28v] LG 22.11-22.14 (col. 660.24-668.19)
[29r-29v] LG 22.14-22.17 (col. 668.19-676.5)
[30r-30v] LG 22.17-22.20 (col. 676.5-681.19)
[31r-31v] LG 22.20-22.25 (col. 681.19-689.12)
[32r-32v] LG 22.25-23.3 (col. 689.12-697.11)
[33r-33v] LG 23.3-23.8 (col. 697.11-704.24)
[34r-34v] LG 23.8-23.11 (col. 704.24-712.13)
[35r-35v] LG 23.11-24.2 (col. 712.13-720.6)
[36r-36v] LG 24.2-24.7 (col. 720.6-728.8)
[37r-37v] LG 24.7-25.2 (col. 720.6-736.14)
[38r-38v] LG 25.2-25.5 (col. 736.14-741.25)
[39r-39v] LG 25.5-25.8 (col. 741.25-749.22)
[40r-40v] LG 25.8-26.2 (col. 749.22- 760.23)
[41r-41v] LG 26.2-27.2 (col. 760.23-769.12)
[42r-42v] LG 27.2-27.5 (col. 769.12-777.3)
[43r-43v] LG 27.5-28.1 (col. 777.3-788.4)
[44r-44v] LG 28.1-28.6 (col. 788.4-793.24)
[45r-45v] LG 28.6-28.11 (col. 793.24-801.25)
[46r-46v] LG 28.11-29.1 (col. 801.25-812.17)
[47r-47v] LG 29.1-29.3 (col. 812.17-820.14)
[48r-48v] LG 29.3-29.6 (col. 820.14-828.15)
[49r-49v] LG 29.6-29.9 (col. 828.15-836.9)
[50r-50v] LG 29.9-29.12 (col. 836.9-844.3)
[51r-51v] LG 29.12-29.16 (col. 844.4-849.25)
[52r-52v] LG 29.16-30.1 (col. 849.25-860.6)
[53r-53v] LG 30.1-30.3 (col. 860.6-868.11)
[54r-54v] LG 30.3-30.5 (col. 868.11-876.8)
[55r-55v] LG 30.5-30.8 (col. 876.9-881.27)
[56r-56v] LG 30.8-30.12 (col. 881.27-889.16)
[57r-57v] LG 30.12-30.14 (col. 889.16-897.8)
[58r-58v] LG 30.14-30.18 (col. 897.8-905.7)
[59r-59v] LG 30.18-30.21 (col. 905.7-913.5)
[60r-60v] LG 30.21-30.25 (col. 913.6-921.18)
[61r-61v] LG 30.25-30.29 (col. 921.18-929.15)
[62r-62v] LG 30.29 (col. 929.15-932.16); Asct., Logos 1 (Draguet, p.2-3.1) THEN GO TO [67r]
[63r-63v] Asct., Logos 1.4a-2.2 (Draguet, pp. 6.4-10.5)
[64r-64v] Asct., Logos 2.2-3.1 (Draguet, pp. 10.6-14.2)
[65r-65v] Asct., Logos 3.1-3.4 (Draguet, pp. 14.2-18.4)
[66r-66v] Asct., Logos 3.4-5.18 (Draguet, pp. 18.4-26.8/16)
[67r-67v] Asct., Logos 1 (Draguet p. 3.1-p. 6.4) THEN GO TO [63r]
[68r-69r] LG 19.31-19.36 THEN GO TO [77r]
[69r-69v] LG 19.25-19.31 THEN GO TO [68r]
[70r-70v] LG 19.22-19.25 THEN GO TO [69r]
[71r-71v] LG 19.4-19.7
[72r-72v] LG 19.7-19.11
[73r-73v] LG 19.11-19.19
[74r-74v] LG 19.19-19.22 THEN GO TO [70r]
[75r-75v] LG 19.1-19.4 THEN GO TO [71r]
[76r-76v] LG 18.4-19.1 THEN GO TO [75r]
[77r-77v] LG 19.36-19.39 THEN GO TO [11r]
[78r-78v] LG 21.2-21.4 (col. 589.7-596.23) THEN GO TO [19r]
[79r-79v] LG 15.12-15.15 (col 365.4-372.26) THEN GO TO ? (folio missing)
[80r-80v] LG 15.9-15.12 (col. 357.11-365.4) THEN GO TO [79r]
[81r-81v] LG 17.1-17.4 THEN GO TO ? (folio missing)
[82r-82v] LG 16.9-17.1 THEN GO TO [81r]
[83r-83v] LG 10.2-10.5 THEN GO TO [101r]
[84r-84v] LG 11.3-12.1
[85r-85v] LG 12.1-12.4
[86r-86v] LG 12.4-12.7
[87r-87v] LG 12.7-13.3
[88r-88v] LG 13.3-13.8
[89r-89v] LG 13.8-14.3 THEN GO TO [91r]
[90r-90v] LG 10.9-11.3 THEN GO TO [84r]
[91r-91v] LG 14.3-15.3 (col. 332.1-341.9) THEN GO TO ? (folio missing)
[92r-92v] LG 15.6-15.9 (col. 349.16-357.11) THEN GO TO [80r]
[93r-93v] LG 7.18-7.21 (i.e. the end of memra 7)
[94r-94v] LG 8.1-8.5
[95r-95v] LG 8.5-9.2
[96r-96v] LG 9.2-9.6
[97r-97v] LG 9.6-9.9
[98r-98v] LG 9.9-9.13
[99r-99v] LG 9.13-9.19 (col. 233.2-241.7)
[100r-100v] LG 9.19-10.2 (col. 241.7-252.2) THEN GO TO [83r]
[101r-101v] LG 10.5-10.9 THEN GO TO [90r]

Two scribal notes (Garšūnī & Arabic) of a certain Rabbān Īsḥāq   Leave a comment

Marginal notes of any kind, whether by the original scribe or by a later owner or reader, are among the unique parts of a particular manuscript, no matter how many other copies of the main text may exist. Here, as a simple example of such notes, and for those that might like some easy practice reading Garšūnī and Arabic, are two images from SMMJ 168, a collection of homilies attributed to Ephrem, Jacob of Serugh, John Chrysostom, and others in Garšūnī. They are both written by a reader and secondary scribe named Isaac (here spelled Īsḥāq). The first one is in Arabic script:

SMMJ 168, f. 240r, margin

SMMJ 168, f. 240r, margin

iġfirū* li-rabbān Īsḥāq

Forgive Rabbān Īsḥāq!

*Missing the alif otiosum.

The second one, several folios later, is written around the outer and lower margin, all in Syriac script (but Arabic language) except for the last three words, which are in Arabic.

SMMJ 168, f. 270r

SMMJ 168, f. 270r

hāḏihi ‘l-waǧh katībat  al-ʕabd al-ḫāṭiʔ rabbān Īsḥāq bi-sm qass wa-rāhib. taraḥḥam ʕalay-hi wa-ʕalá wāliday-hi ayyuhā ‘l-qānī wa-‘l-qāriʔ. raḥimaka ‘llāhu āmīn.

This side [of the folio] is the writing of the sinful slave Rabbān Īsḥāq, [who is] in name a priest and monk. O owner and reader, plead for mercy for him and his parents! May God be merciful to you! Amen!

Marginal note on Ibn Sīnā in a sixteenth-century Syriac manuscript   Leave a comment

Ibn Sīnā (see also here, here, from the Enc. Iranica here, and specifically for metaphysics, here) stands among the most well known and most influential of philosophers who have written in Arabic, and his influence was hardly confined to the intellectual worlds where Arabic or Persian were the means of communication. From the twelfth and thirteenth centuries he was read in Latin — several volumes of the Latin witness to Ibn Sīnā have appeared since 1972 in editions by Simone van Riet (Brill) — and reflections of his work can be found in the writers of the Syriac Renaissance of the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, especially in the voluminous work of Bar ʕebrāyā. Alongside the Qānūn fī ‘l-ṭibb may be mentioned especially his encyclopedic Kitāb al-šifāʔ, Dāneš-nāma (or Dānišnāma-i ʕalāʔī, in Persian, for the prince ʕalāʔ al-Dawla see here), and the Kitāb al-išārāt wa-‘l-tanbīhāt; the last mentioned work was translated into Syriac by Bar ʕebrāyā and there are two late copies with parallel Garšūnī and Syriac available at HMML: CFMM 550 and MGMT 20 (both twentieth century). John bar Maʕdani (d. 1263), a contemporary of Bar ʕebrāyā, penned two poems on the soul, one (or both) of which goes by the name of “The Bird” (pāraḥtā). I have recently cataloged an East Syriac manuscript of the sixteenth century that contains these two poems (and another, “On the Way of the Perfect”): it was copied in Gāzartā and completed on Aug. 10, 1866 AG/962 AH (= 1555 CE). The scribe, named Yawsep, rightly notes in the margin at the beginning of both of these poems that Bar Maʕdani is following Ibn Sīnā on this theme. The latter had written “a treatise, the Bird, an allegory in which he describes his attainment of the knowledge of the truth” (risālat al-ṭayr. marmūza yaṣif fīhā  tawaṣṣula-hu ilá ʕilm al-ḥaqq; see Gohlman, pp. 98-99). Here is the marginal note to the first poem, that to the second being much less legible:

CCM 24, f. 112v, marginal note

CCM 24, f. 112v, marginal note

Bar Sini [sic], the Muslim [hāgārāyā] philosopher, made a treatise [Syr. eggartā = Arb. risāla], the thought of which he somewhere directs to the subject at hand.

Here are the rubric and first lines of Bar Maʕdani’s first poem on the soul from this manuscript:

CCM 24, f. 112v.

CCM 24, f. 112v.

Bibliography (selected!)

Achena, M. and Henri Massé. Le livre de science (Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i) I: Logique, Métaphysique II: science naturelle, mathématique. Paris, 1986.

Anawati, G. La Métaphysique du Shifa’ I-IV et V-X. Paris, 1978-86.

Furlani, Giuseppe. “Avicenna, Barhebreo, Cartesio.” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 14 (1933): 21-30.

________. ”La psicologia di Barhebreo secondo il libro La Crema della Sapienza.” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 13 (1931-1932): 24-52.

________. “La versione siriaca del Kitâb al-išârât wat-tanbîhât di Avicenna.” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 21 (1945): 89-101.

Goichon, A.-M. “Ibn Sīnā.” In Encylopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., vol. 3, 941-947.

________. Lexique de la langue philosophique d’Avicenne. Paris, 1938.

________. Livre de directives et remarques (al-Isharat wa’l-Tanbihat). 2 vols. Paris, 1951.

Gohlman, William E. The Life of Ibn Sina: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation. Albany, 1974.

Gutas, Dimitri. Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition. Leiden/Boston, 1988.

Hasse, Dag. Avicenna’s De Anima in the Latin West. London, 2000.

Heath, Peter. Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sînâ). Philadelphia, 1992.

Inati, Shams. Ibn Sina on Mysticism (al-Isharat wa’l-Tanbihat namat IX). London, 1998.

________. Remarks and Admonitions Part One: Logic (al-Isharat wa’l-Tanbihat: mantiq). Toronto, 1984.

Janssens, Jules. Bibliography of Works on Ibn Sina. 2 vols. Leiden, 1991-1999.

Janssens, Jules and Daniel de Smet, eds. Avicenna and His Heritage. Leuven, 2001.

Joosse, Nanne Peter. A Syriac Encyclopaedia of Aristotelian Philosophy: Barhebraeus (13th c.), Butyrum Sapientiae, Books of Ethics, Economy, and Politics. Aristoteles Semitico-Latinus 16. Leiden/Boston, 2004.

Mcginnis, Jon. Avicenna, The Physics of The Healing. 2 vols. Provo, 2009.

Marmura, Michael. The Metaphysics of Avicenna (al-Ilahiyyat min Kitab al-Shifa’). Provo, 2004.

________. “Plotting the Course of Avicenna’s Thought.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 111 (1991): 333-42.

Michot, Yahya. “La pandémie avicennienne.” Arabica 40 (1993): 287-344.

Morewedge, Parviz. The Metaphysica of Avicenna (Ilahiyyat-i Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i). New York, 1972.

Rahman, F. Avicenna’s De Anima (Fi’l-Nafs). London, 1954.

Rashed, Roshdi and Jean Jolivet, eds. Études sur Avicenne. Paris, 1984.

Reisman, D. and Ahmed al-Rahim, eds. Before and After Avicenna. Leiden/Boston, 2003.

N. G. Siraisi, Avicenna in Renaissance Italy: The Canon and Medical Teaching in Italian Universities after 1500. Princeton, 1987.

Takahashi, Hidemi. Aristotelian Meteorology in Syriac: Barhebraeus, Butyrum Sapientiae, Books of Mineralogy and Meteorology. Aristoteles Semitico-Latinus 15. Leiden/Boston, 2004.

________. “The Reception of Ibn Sīnā in Syriac: The Case of Gregory Barhebraeus.”, In Before and After Avicenna (see above), 249-281.

Teule, Herman G.B.”Renaissance, Syriac.” GEDSH 350-351.

________. “The Transmission of Islamic Culture to the World of Syriac Christianity: Barhebreaus’ Translation of Avicenna’s kitâb al-išârât wa l-tanbîhât. First Soundings.” In J.J. van Ginkel, H.L. Murre-van den Berg, and T.M. van Lint, eds. Redefining Christian Identity: Cultural Interaction in the Middle East since the Rise of Islam. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 134. Leuven: Peeters, 2005. Pages 167-184.

________. “Yuḥanon bar Maʿdani.” GEDSH 444.

Watt, John W. Aristotelian Rhetoric in Syriac: Barhebraeus, Butyrum Sapientiae, Book of Rhetoric. Aristoteles Semitico-Latinus 18. Leiden/Boston, 2005.

________, “Graeco-Syriac Tradition and Arabic Philosophy in Bar Hebraeus.” In H.G.B. Teule, C.F. Tauwinkl, R.B. ter Haar Romeny, and J.J. van Ginkel, eds. The Syriac Renaissance. Eastern Christian Studies 9. Leuven/Paris/Walpole, Mass., 2010. Pages 123-133.

A Syriac weather report   1 comment

The image below is from the end of CCM 40, a Pentateuch in East Syriac script copied in 1963 AG (= 1651/2 CE). One wonders why the writer of these words was moved to share this meteorological datum here, but here it is in any case, and we’re reminded that every book we look at, whether handwritten or printed, has lived a life before we met it, and other people have often known, read, and marked in that book. Notes like this, as well as colophons and certain other features, make every manuscript unique, no matter how many copies of its text(s) may exist.

CCM 40, f. 206v

CCM 40, f. 206v

In the year 2156 [= 1844 CE] of the blessed Greeks, on Tuesday, on the tenth of Tešri ḥrāyā (November), the snow came.

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