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Two Letters of the Patriarch Timothy from the Late Eighth Century on Translations from Greek

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Sebastian P. Brock
The University of Oxford, The Oriental Institute, Pusey Lane, Oxford OX 1 2LE, UK


Among the extensive correspondence of Timothy I, Catholicos of the Church of the East, are two letters which refer to his collobaration in a translation of Aristotle's Topics into Syriac and Arabic, commissioned by the Caliph al-Mahdī. An annotated English translation of both letters is provided.

Dans la volumineuse correspondance de Timothée I, Catholicos de l'Église orientale, deux lettres renvoient à sa collaboration à la traduction des Topiques d'Aristote en syriaque et en arabe, commandée par le Calife al-Mahdī. On trouvera ici la traduction annotée en anglais de ces deux lettres.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1999

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1 (Leipzig, 1903); cited henceforth as Pognon.

2 Studi e Testi 187 (1956); cited henceforth as Bidawid. For Timothy's life and work see especially Tisserant, E., in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, XV.1 (1946), cols. 1121–39Google Scholar; also Bidawid, pp.1–5, and Cheikho, H.P.J., Dialectique du langage sur Dieu. Lettre de Timothée I (728–823) à Serge (Rome, 1983), pp. 126.Google Scholar

3 I.e. Letters 40–59.

4 For the role of Syriac translators in general see especially Hugonnard-Roche, H., ‘Les traductions du grec au syriaque et du syriaque à l'arabe (à propos de l'Organon d'Aristote)’, in Rencontre de cultures dans la philosophie médiévale: Traductions et traducteurs de l'antiquité tardive au XIVe siècle (Louvain-la-Neuve/ Cassino, 1990), pp. 133–47,Google Scholar and L'intermédiaire syriaque dans la transmission de la philosophie grecque à l'arabe: le cas de l'Organon d'Aristote’, Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 1 (1991): 187209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar A summary survey of the Syriac translations of the Organon is given in my ‘The Syriac commentary tradition’, in Burnett, C. (ed.), Glosses and Commentaries on Aristotelian Logical Texts. The Syriac, Arabic and Medieval Latin Traditions (London, 1993), pp. 318.Google Scholar

5 Oriens Christianus, 2 (1902): 132.Google Scholar By an oversight Bidawid failed to mention that Letter 43 had been published by Braun (the same applies to Letter 46, on the Hexapla, published in Oriens Christianus, 3 [1903]: 300–19).Google Scholar

6 See Oriens Christianus, 3 (1903), p. 1.Google Scholar

7 CSCO 74, Scriptores Syri 30 (1914; repr. 1953). There is also an edition of the first half of Timothy's letters published by the Mar Narsai Press, Trichur (Kerala, India) in 1982, entitled Letters of Patriarch Timothy I. This contains 38 letters, corresponding to Braun nos 3–38, together with Letters 40 (to Sergius, edited by Cheikho) and 41 (to the monks of the monastery of Mar Marun, edited by Bidawid).

8 Now no. 509 in Haddad, P. and Isaac, J., Syriac and Arabic Manuscripts in the Library of the Chaldean Monastery Baghdad, I (Baghdad, 1988), pp. 224–9.Google Scholar For the date, see Bidawid, pp. 12–13; cp. also Selb, W., Orientalisches Kirchenrecht 1: Die Geschichte des Kirchenrechts der Nestorianer, Österriechische Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-hist.Kl., Sitzungsberichte, 388 (1981), pp. 64–6.Google Scholar

9 Pp. 13–15.

10 This is shown by the presence of an omission through homoioteleuton in Letter 48 (see note 25).

11 Oriens Christianus, 2 (1902): 411 (text and translation).Google Scholar

12 Letter 43 = Pognon, pp. XVI-XVIII (text), XVIII-XIX (translation); Letter 48 = Pognon, pp. XXI-XXII (text), XXII-XXV (translation).

13 This seems to be the sense; lit. ‘…done by us from the Syriac, whereas he did it…from both Syriac and from Arabic’. Baudoux, C., ‘À propos de la lettre du patriarche Timothée au prêtre et docteur Pethion’, Annuaire de l'institut de philologie et d'histoire orientales, 3 (1935): 3740Google Scholar, suggested emending mn tyy' (‘from Arabic’) to mn ywny' (‘from Greek’); it is hard, however, to see how such an implied corruption could have come about.

14 The tense suggests that this was taking place contemporaneously.

15 The Syriac could perhaps also be understood as follows: ‘…did not allow (us) even to look at…’.

16 Lit. ‘assented to…’.

17 Or, ‘to whom it belongs’.

18 Braun's text is corrupt in three places in lines 11–12 of p. 6: nehwōn B] + šu'ālē L M P; 'ellā B] dam L M P; and 'etrgeš B] tetrgeš L M P.

19 Syriac obscure; Braun emends šrb' to šrk', and renders ‘das übrige (seien) Abhandlungen von ihm (Ar. selbsts?)’.

20 So L M P; B leaves a space.

21 Lit. ‘deprivation’, presumably representing sterēsis.

22 Reading dpyyš, with L M P.

23 Anal. Post. I.13: ὅτι έν Σχύθαιζ ούχ είσι αύλητρ⋯δεζ ούδέ γάρ ἄμπελοι It is this passage that Timothy is attempting to explain in the next two paragraphs; see further, the annotation below.

24 'wlhṭrydyn; see commentary.

25 Following L, which reads musiqārā man l-šuddā‘ā ṭekniqos, lost by homoioteleuton in both M and P (p. XXII, line 8). Pognon rightly saw that there was something wrong with the text of his manuscript.

26 This is evidently the sense (so too Pognon), and I follow the reading of L, ‘ly sk (i.e. ‘alli sāk); Pognon's manuscript, not realising ‘ly is a verb, has emended sk to sm (Pognon hardly gives a translation of his text). M omits sk altogether.

27 The following abbreviations are used: DPhA = ‘Aristote de Stagire’, in Goulet, R. (ed.), Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques, I (Paris, 1989)Google Scholar; Peters, Aristoteles Arabus = Peters, F.E., Aristoteles Arabus. The Oriental Translations and Commentaries on the Aristotelian Corpus (Leiden, 1968).Google Scholar

28 For Bashosh and its school, see Fiey, J-M., Assyrie chrétienne, I (Beirut, 1965), pp. 257–9,Google Scholar and Cheikho, Dialectique du language, pp. 3–5.Google Scholar At an unknown date the School moved to Mosul (Bidawid 1–2), where it was known as the School of Mar Gabriel and Mar Abraham (Fiey, , Mossoul chrétienne (Beirut, 1959), pp. 126–8)Google Scholar; Timothy speaks of it as ‘our monastery of Mar Abraham (Letter 13, Braun, p. 108); cp also Letter 42 (Bidawid, pp. 34–5).

29 Peters, , Aristoteles Arabus, pp. 21–3Google Scholar; Hugonnard-Roche, H. and Elamrani-Jamal, A., in DPhA, pp. 524–6.Google Scholar (The relevant excerpts from the Fihrist are conveniently to be found in Peters, Aristoteles Arabus).

30 For Abū Nūḥ, see also Kraus, P., ‘Zu ibn al-Muqaffa‘’, Rivista degli Studi Orientali, 14 (1933/1934): 1013.Google Scholar

31 For Timothy's relations with al-Mahdī, see Fiey, J-M., Chrétiens syriaques sous les Abbassides (CSCO 420, Subsidia 59; 1980), pp. 36–9.Google Scholar

32 For attitudes to translation technique, see my The Syriac background to Hunayn's translation techniques’, Aram, 3 (1991): 139–62.Google Scholar

33 See, for example, Kustas, G.L., Studies in Byzantine Rhetoric (Thessaloniki, 1973), pp. 63100.Google Scholar

34 Peters, , Aristoteles Arabus, pp. 20, 22Google Scholar; Elamrani-Jamal, , in DPhA, pp. 525–6.Google Scholar

35 For the various translations into Syriac and Arabic of the Sophistici Elenchi, see Peters, Aristoteles Arabus, pp. 23–6, and Hugonnard-Roche, in DPhA, pp. 526–8.

36 Reinink, G.J., ‘Severus Sebokts Brief an den Periodeutes Jonan. Einige Fragen zur aristotelischen Logik’, in Lavenant, R. (ed.), IIIe Symposium Syriacum, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 221 (Rome, 1983), pp. 97107.Google Scholar

37 For this note, see Lyons, M., Aristotle's Ars Rhetorica. The Arabic Version, I (Cambridge, 1982), pp. iiiv.Google Scholar

38 For the Arabic translations (only one of which survives) and commentaries, see Peters, Aristoteles Arabus, pp. 26–8, and especially Aouad, M., in DPhA, pp. 455–72.Google Scholar

39 For the Arabic translation of the Poetica and commentaries, see Peters, , Aristoteles Arabus, pp. 28–30Google Scholar, and Schrier, O.J., ‘The Syriac and Arabic versions of Aristotle's Poetics’, in Endress, G. and Kruk, R. (eds.), The Ancient Tradition in Christian and Islamic Hellenism (Leiden, 1997), pp. 259–78.Google Scholar

40 On this monastery see especially Fiey, , Assyrie chrétienne II, pp. 759–70.Google Scholar

41 For Job see Nasrallah, J., ‘L'église melchite en Iraq, en Perse et dans l'Asie Centrale’, Proche-Orient Chrétien, 26 (1976): 319–53, pp. 331–2,Google Scholar and his Histoire du mouvement littéraire dans l'église melchite du Ve au XXe siècle, II.2 (Louvain/Paris, 1988), pp. 34–5.Google Scholar

42 For a detailed discussion of this paragraph, see my Zur Überlieferungsgeschichte der Nonnos zugeschriebenen mythologischen Scholien im Syrischen’, ZDMG Suppl., 1.2 (1969): 458–62, pp. 459–60.Google Scholar

43 The manuscripts of both translations are listed by van Roey, A. and Moors, H. in Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica, 4 (1973): 121–33Google Scholar [older version], and 5 (1974): 79–125 [Paulā's new translation].

44 See my The Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Nonnos Mythological Scholia (Cambridge, 1971), pp. 30–1, 50–2,Google Scholar and de Halleux, A., ‘La version syriaque des Discours de Grégoire de Nazianze’, II Symposium Nazianzenum, ed. Mossay, J., (Paderborn, 1983), pp. 75111, on pp. 81–2.Google Scholar

45 British Library Add. 12153, dated AD 844/5.

46 Letter 22 (ed. Braun, p. 135). Timothy mentions the Syriac translation of Gregory in several other letters as well (17, 18 and 20); on these, see ‘Zur Überlieferungsgeschichte’, pp. 460–1.

47 See Zonta, M., ‘Nemesiana Syriaca: new fragments of the missing Syriac version of the De Natura Hominis’, Journal of Semitic Studies, 36 (1991): 223–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar (references to other Syriac materials can also be found there).

48 Wiessner, G., Zur Handschriftenüberlieferung der syrischen Fassung des Corpus Dionysiacum, Nachrichten, Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, phil.-hist.-Kl. (1972), Nr. 3, pp. 165216Google Scholar; Suchla, B., Corpus Dionysiacum, I (Berlin, 1990), pp. 5764.Google Scholar

49 See Ibrahim, Y., in Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts in Iraq. The Libraries of Mosul and its Suburbs, II (Baghdad, 1981), pp. 160–3.Google Scholar According to its colophon it was copied by Cyriacus, son of Shamona, in Edessa in December 766.

50 See my Jacob of Edessa's Discourse on the Myron’, Oriens Christianus, 63 (1979): 2036, p. 21.Google Scholar

51 Edited by Wiessner, , Zur Handschriftenüberlieferung, pp. 198–9.Google Scholar

52 Bidawid, p. 61. For Sergius as metropolitan of Elam, see Fiey, J-M., ‘L'Elam: la première des métropoles syriennes orientales, I’, Melto, 5 (1969): 257–60.Google Scholar

53 For Timothy's relationship with Hārūn al-Rashīd, see Putman, H., L'Église et l'Islam sous Timothée I (780–823) (Beirut, 1975), pp. 135–42,Google Scholar and Fiey, , Chrétiens syriaques sous les Abbassides, pp. 41–61Google Scholar (p. 50 for this episode).

54 See Brooks, E.W., ‘Byzantines and Arabs in the time of the early Abbasids’, English Historical Review, 15 (1900): 728–47, p. 742.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Hārūn was interested at this time in establishing strong frontier towns in the areas bordering on Byzantine territory.

55 Peters, , Aristoteles Arabus, pp. 17–20Google Scholar; Hugonnard-Roche and Elamrani-Jamal in DPhA, pp. 520–4.

56 See (e.g) the tables in Gutas, D., ‘Paul the Persian on the classification of the parts of Aristotle's philosophy: a milestone between Alexandria and Baghdad’, Der Islam, 60 (1983): 231–67, p. 261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

57 For Hormizd-Ardashir, see Fiey, , ‘L'Elam: la première des métropoles syriennes orientales, II’, Parole de l'Orient, 1 (1970): 123–53, pp. 130–4.Google Scholar (Both Fiey's articles on Elam are conveniently reprinted in his Communautés syriaques en Iran et en Irak des origines à 1552 [London, 1979]).Google Scholar

I am most grateful to my colleague Dr Fritz Zimmermann both for discussion and for reading a draft of this article.

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