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On the nature of the seven planets (Syriac)   Leave a comment

The recent transit of Venus has been in the news for the past few days, so it’s a fine time to have another look at something astronomical-astrological (see here for a previous post on the theme). Below is an image from Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo (SOAA) ms 148, a manuscript from, at the earliest, the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, this terminus from the fact that, in addition to some of Bar ʿEbrāyā’s poems (mušḥātā, see Takahashi 2005: 313-346), it also contains texts from David Puniqāyā (d. ca. 1500) and Sergius of Ḥāḥ (d. 1508). The selection below is the beginning of a poem, Bar ʿEbrāyā’s “On the nature of the seven planets” in the heptasyllabic meter with rhyming lines, the seven planets being the “wandering — as opposed to fixed — stars” known in antiquity: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the sun, Venus, Mercury, and the moon.

SOAA 148, f. 58v

As you can see, someone has penciled the planet names in Arabic (Garšūnī) in the margins. The poem was published, without the use of this manuscript, in Dolabani’s edition of Bar ʿEbrāyā’s poetry (1929: 77-78, no. 6.3), but it’s not in Scebabi’s edition (Rome, 1877). Bar ʿEbrāyā lists those things or people associated with each planet in the order given above. A comparison between the printed edition, based on manuscripts in Jerusalem and Mosul, and the Aleppo manuscript yields a notable difference: Dolabani has only given the domiciles (baytā here in Syriac, as also οἶκος in Greek with this meaning) for Mercury and the moon, the last two planets, but the Aleppo manuscript gives domiciles for all seven of the planets, which means that the manuscript has ten more heptasyllabic lines than the printed text. In addition, the two-part little poem printed in Dolabani separately as 6.4 is clearly taken by the scribe of this manuscript as part of the poem on the planets, and the subject matter and phraseology indeed fits.

A review of Takahashi’s bibliography for the poems will show that much work remains to be done on them, including not least a proper edition, which would be no small task given the plethora of known manuscripts. Till then, let this little notice stand as a harbinger of what else might be discovered.

Bibliography

Dolabani, Y., ed. 1929. Mušḥātā d-Mār Grigorios Yoḥannān Bar ʿEbrāyā mapryānā qaddišā d-madnḥā. Jerusalem. Reprint, Glane, 1983.

Takahashi, H. 2005. Barhebraeus: A Bio-Bibliography. Piscataway.

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Yet another copy of the exemplar of Mingana Syriac 559?   1 comment

Church of the Forty Martyrs (Mardin) manuscript no. 555, copied in 1963-64 by Malki Gülçe for Yuḥanon Dolabani at the Church of Mary in Elâzığ, contains the same texts in the same order as Mingana Syriac 559 (see Mingana’s Catalogue, vol. 1, cols. 1034-1039). This Mingana manuscript—a welcome break from the almost ubiquitous theology, liturgy, and the like—is well-known for containing Job of Edessa’s very interesting Book of Treasures, a facsimile of which was published with an English translation by Mingana himself in 1935. But this is not the only notable text in the manuscript; in addition, there is:

  • a series of questions and answers attributed to Alexander Aphrodisias
  • selected questions and answers from the books of Galen
  • Job of Edessa’s short Treatise on Rabies (on which I have sent a proposal for this summer’s international Symposium Syriacum)
  • a brief work attributed to Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq on the fact that there are four elements and not more or less
  • a short text on dreams
  • a short text on the heart and the brain attributed to a nameless monk

Mingana’s manuscript was copied for him in 1930 on the basis of an exemplar copied in 1532 AG (= 1220/21 CE). Another manuscript, also copied, it seems, from this 13th century manuscript, is Harvard Syr 132 (Goshen-Gottstein’s Catalogue, pp. 90-91).

The Mardin manuscript at the beginning, before the Alexander Aphrodisias text, has the end of a work (only one folio) that I have thus far not identified, a philosophical text that deals (at least in this fragment) with the soul. This work is completely unmentioned by Mingana and Goshen-Gottstein. While the Mardin manuscript is some decades younger than the Mingana or Harvard copies, there is neither clear evidence, nor, as far as I know, even likelihood, considering the time and place of its copying, that it was copied from either of these manuscripts rather than from the thirteenth-century exemplar itself, the colophonic parts of which are included in the Mardin copy, as in Mingana’s (I don’t know about the Harvard manuscript in this regard). Late manuscripts such as the Mardin copy, and even earlier ones, are known sometimes to derive from printed editions, but the only text in this group that has been published is the Book of Treasures, mentioned above. On a quick perusal of this newly identified manuscript, I observed that the text is often not always the same orthographically and lexically as the Mingana copy. Witness, for example, that the second adjective describing Alexander’s questions, both in the title and in the table of contents at the beginning of the volume, is not asyāyē “medical” (as in Mingana’s text), but usyāyē “essential”, which, it bears emphasizing, requires the writing of an extra letter in Syriac.

These questions of textual derivation would be moot if the thirteenth-century exemplar were discovered, and it may yet show up, perhaps even in one of the collections digitized or being digitized by HMML, but for the time being scholars interested in Syriac scientific and philosophical literature will welcome another witness thereto, even one as late as this one.

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