Archive for the ‘Syriac poetry’ Tag

Where do solitary monks live? Or, how to name various rocky places in Syriac   Leave a comment

While cataloging the 15th-century manuscript CFMM 152 (on which see also here), I was struck by the long rubric of this mēmrā attributed to Ephrem.

CFMM 152, p. 156

CFMM 152, p. 156

(Students of Syriac may note the construct state before a preposition in ʿāmray b-ṭurē [Nöldeke, Gramm., § 206], as well as in the common epithet lbiš l-alāhā [Brockelmann, Lexicon Syriacum, 2d ed., 358a].)

Here with English glosses are the nouns in this rubric where monks may dwell. They can all be rocky areas, and there might be some semantic ambiguity and overlap with some of them.

  • ṭurā mountain
  • gdānpā ledge, crag
  • šnāntā rock, crag, peak
  • ṣeryā crack, fissure
  • pqaʿtā crack (also valley)
  • ḥlēlā crack

Brock’s list of incipits tells us that this mēmrā, possibly a genuine work of Ephrem, has been published by Beck in Sermones IV (CSCO 334-335 / Scr. Syr. 148-149, 1973), pp. 16-28. (Published earlier by Zingerle and Rahmani; there are two English translations, neither available to me at the moment.) The rubric in Beck’s ed. differs slightly from the one in this manuscript.

For comparison, here is another mēmrā attributed to Ephrem from a later manuscript, CFMM 157, p. 104. (see Beck, Sermones IV, pp. 1-16, for a published edition of the mēmrā).

CFMM 157, p. 104

CFMM 157, p. 104

This one has some of the same words, but the related addition terms are:

  • mʿartā cave (pl. without fem. marker; see Nöldeke, Gramm., § 81)
  • šqipā cliff
  • pe/aʿrā cave

And so I leave you with these related Syriac terms, in case you wish to write a Syriac poem with events in rocky locales!

Jacob of Serug on the Temptation of Jesus: Two homilies   1 comment

12th-cent. mosaic in Basilica di San Marco, Venice. Source.

12th-cent. mosaic in Basilica di San Marco, Venice. Source.

A couple of days ago UPS delivered a box with copies of my new book on two homilies by Jacob of Serug. These homilies are on the Temptation of Jesus (Mt 4:1-11, Mk 1:12-13, Lk 4:1-13), and the book, my second contribution (the first is here) to Gorgias Press’ series for Jacob within Texts from Christian Late Antiquity (TeCLA), includes vocalized Syriac text with facing English translation, introduction, and a few notes. As far as I know, neither homily has been translated before, so hopefully, even with some inevitable imperfections in this first translation, they will both now meet with more readers. The introduction has a few words about manuscripts, broader history of the interpretation of the pericopes on the Temptation, and the Syriac vocabulary Jacob uses for fighting, humility, and the devil.

And for your viewing pleasure, in addition to the one above, here is another representation of the encounter between Satan and Jesus, this one from Vind. Pal. 1847, a German Prayer Book dated 1537 (more info here, and on the image here), a copy of which is available through HMML. (Two more related images from Vivarium I would highlight are this one, with the image of the devil smudged, and this one from the Moser Bible, with a very different kind of Satan.)

Temptation of Jesus. Vind. Pal. 1847 (16th cent.) See further here.

Temptation of Jesus. Vind. Pal. 1847, f. 18v. See further here.

Finally, from Walters 539, an Armenian Gospel-book from 1262, here is Jesus post temptation, being ministered to by angels. The text on this page is Mt 4:8b-411.

Walters 539, p. 52.

Walters 539, p. 52.

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

Isaac of Antioch in a late, but important, Syriac manuscript (CFMM 259)   1 comment

CFMM 259, p. 195

This image is of the beginning of Isaac (of Antioch)’s “Homily (Memra) on the Departure (Death) of Children”. The memra begins:

O how bitter is the departure,

How hard and bitter the separation,

That separates a mother from her children,

And a bearer from her beloved ones.

With what voices can we mourn

A beloved, beautiful child,

Who sprouted and grew like a flower,

But quickly withered and vanished?

Most Syriac poets, even Jacob of Sarug, have generally been overshadowed by Ephrem, but lines like these, poignant and emotive, serve as a reminder that there are riches beyond those of Ephrem. (I thought the same recently while reading Qurillona.)

Notice of this homily is recorded in Bickell’s list of incipits (no. 6; in vol. 1 of his ed. of Isaac’s homilies), and according to Sebastian Brock’s list of Isaac’s homilies (JSS 32 [1987]: 279-313), this one is unpublished. There is, however, another memra that begins similarly (no. 177 in Bickell’s list, also included in Brock’s) and that has been published: P. Zingerle, Chrestomathia Syriaca, pp. 387–394 (from Vat. Syr. 92).[1] It turns out that the memra from CFMM 259 above, a text thought to have been unpublished, is in fact not a separate memra from that published in Zingerle’s chrestomathy; it is another version of it with different wording here and there. A comparison even of the short sample given above with the text that Zingerle published shows some of these differences, and there are more. I am not (now, at least) making a full collation, but I note that the reading of CFMM 259 has bearing on Zingerle’s remark on p. 387 about d-pāršā in his text. We are, of course, not unused to the fact of different textual versions, but it is all the easier to get thrown off by the fact when different wording occurs immediately at the beginning of a text!

The manuscript is dated 2220 AG (= 1908/9 CE), and there is a donation note at the beginning dated 1948. A table of contents is supplied at the beginning, but it missed a few of the texts in the manuscript, of which there is a total of thirty. In addition to providing another witness to this homily of Isaac’s, it also contains a number of other notable texts, homiletic, hagiographic (some of which are from Palladios), and apocryphal. Among them:

  • Memra on the Cream of Wisdom by John of Manʿim (cf. Barsoum, Scattered Pearls, p. 521)
  • The Revelations of the Twelve Apostles, translated from Hebrew into Greek and Greek into Syriac
  • The Two Letters that Fell from Heaven (see generally GCAL I 295-296)
  • The Story of Sergius Baḥira (text and trans. in B. Roggema, The legend of Sergius Baḥīrā: eastern Christian apologetics and apocalyptic in response to Islam [Brill, 2009].)
  • The Story of Maurice the Believing Emperor
  • The Story of Taḥsia, the Prostitute that Anba Bessarion Instructed (cf. Bedjan, AMS VII 105-109; also BHO 1137 for Armenian?)
  • The Story of Honorios the Emperor
  • The Story of Moses the Ethiopian (cf. Bedjan, AMS VII 219-224)
  • Memra on Himself, by Bar Qiqi (cf. Scattered Pearls, p. 414)
  • The Story of Simeon of the Olives
  • The Story of Daniel of Scetis (This text does not seem to exactly match any of those translated by S.P. Brock in T. Vivian, ed., Witness to Holiness: Abba Daniel of Scetis, pp. 181-205.)
  • The Story of Daniel of Galaš
  • The Story of Mark of Jabal Tarmaq
  • Sogitha (dialogue poem) on Joseph and Benjamin (cf. S.P. Brock, Sogyata Mgabbyata [1982], pp. 15-17; cf. Le Muséon 97 (1984): 42.)[2]

The few bibliographic references above are not complete. Some of these texts exist also in other copies at HMML (and elsewhere), either in Syriac or Arabic / Garšūnī.


[1] Thanks to those members of the Hugoye list who shared copies of Zingerle’s book with me.

[2] Thanks to Kristian Heal for pointing out to me these references for the sogitha.

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