Ἀρχὴ σὺν Θεῷ: Two Mediæval Greek Poems on Learning

From Cambridge University Library, Manuscript Gg.1.2, a compendium of grammar, προγυμνάσματα, etymologies, &c. These poems come after the Περὶ Συντάξεως of George Pardus (a.k.a. “Gregory of Corinth”), which will protect the gentle reader from solœcisms, barbarisms, and other career-breaking faux pas: for example, it will remind you, if you even need reminding, to say ἀνέχομαι (with the dative, of course) rather than—mon Dieu!βαστάζομαι. A marginal gloss wrongly attributes that work to Constantine “Michael” Psellus, a mistake repeated by what I believe is still the standard catalogue to the library: Hardwick & Luard no. 1397.12 (vol. 3, pp. 11sq.; online here).

For help even beyond what Ψευδοψελλός can offer, we must call upon higher powers. As far as I know, these haven’t been published elsewhere.

256v  The top half of the page is an abbreviated run-through of nominal morphology.  The second half has the following poem:

Ὁ Λάζαρος τέθνηκε φύσεως νόμῳ·
τοῦτον δὲ Χριστὸς ἐξανιστᾷ τοῦ τάφου
ἄψυχον ὄντα καὶ νέκυν ὀδωδότα:
ἀλλ’ αὐτὸς οὗτος ὁ ζωῆς χορηγέτης, ζωῆς
ὁ κρατῶν καὶ θανάτου δεσπόζων, ὁ καὶ θα-
-νατῶν ζωοποιῶν τε ξένως, ὑμᾶς ἀνα-
στήσειε προσφιλῆ τέκνα, τῆς ἀμαθίας,
ὥσπερ νεκρὸν ἐκ τάφου.

Most of the words are marked (presumably numbered) with a superscription in another color, in a way we can derive no meaning from:  Α (Λάζαρος), Β (τέθνηκε), Γ (φύσεως), Δ (νόμῳ), Η (τοῦτον), Ε (Χριστὸς), Ζ (ἐξανιστᾷ), ΣΤ (τοῦ τάφου), Θ (ἄψυχον), ΙΒ (ὄντα), Ι (νέκυν), ΙΑ (ὀδωδότα), Α (αὐτὸς), Β (ζωῆς), [there may be a faint marking over χορηγέτης, but we can’t be sure], Δ (ζωῆς), Γ (κρατῶν), Ε (καὶ θανάτου), ΣΤ (δεσπόζων), Ζ (καὶ θανατῶν), Η (ζωοποιῶν), Θ (ξένως), ΙΣΤ (ὑμᾶς), ΙΕ (ἀναστήσειε), ΙΑ (προσφιλῆ), Ι (τέκνα), ΙΔ (ἀμαθίας), ΙΒ (ὥσπερ), ΙΓ (τάφου).  …An αἴνιγμα for the clever.

257r  This page is wholly taken up by another poem, a prayer for a young writer, with similar markings that we won’t reproduce here (puzzle-solvers can enlarge the photo), but with some verbal interlineal annotations as well.  The poem itself, in fairly large letters, runs:

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν ὁ ἀσπόρως
εὐδοκήσας τεχθῆναι ἐκ τῆς ἁγίας
θετόκου καὶ ἀειπαρθένου Μαρίας
ταῖς πρεσβείαις αὐτῆς καὶ τοῦ   (4)
χρυσορρήμονος Ἰωσήφ, φώτισον τὸν νοῦν τοῦ νέου
τοῦ νῦν ἀρξαμένου τοῦ σχεδογραφεῖν,
καὶ τὴν καταρχὴν εὐλόγησον τοῦ σχέδους ~
Τρὶς ἤδη γράφεις, ὦ παῖ, καὶ γένοιτό σοι  (8)
ἡ ζωαρχικὴ τριὰς βοηθός, ἵν’ αὐτῆς
τυχὼν βοηθούσης σοι τῷ ταύτης στι-
χεῖν ἐπαίνῳ καὶ ἐγκωμίῳ.

If we include the smaller, interlinear writing as well, we find the following (with the main text here in capitals to aid in distinguishing the two):  ΚΥΡΙΕ (ὦ ἐξουσιαστά) ΙΗΣΟΥ (ὦ θεραπευτά), Ο ΘΕΟΣ (τίς: ποιητά), ΗΜΩΝ (τίνων), Ο ΑΣΠΟΡΩΣ (ὁ ἄνευ σπέρματος), ΕΥΔΟΚΗΣΑΣ (τί ποιήσας καὶ θελήσας) ΤΕΧΘΗΝΑΙ (καὶ γεννηθῆναι) ΕΚ ΤΗΣ (ἐκ τίνος) ΑΓΙΑΣ (καὶ σεβασμίας) ΘΕΟΤΟΚΟΥ (τῆς τὸν θεὸν γεννησάσης) ΚΑΙ ΑΙΕΙΠΑΡΘΕΝΟΥ (καὶ ἀεὶ καὶ πάντοτε παρθενευούσης) ΜΑΡΙΑΣ (τίνος) ΤΑΙΣ ΠΡΕΣΒΕΙΑΙΣ (ταῖς ἱκεσίαις καὶ παρακλήσεσιν) ΑΥΤΗΣ (τίνος) ΚΑΙ ΤΟΥ (καὶ ἄλλου τινός) ΧΡΥΣΟΡΡΗΜΟΝΟΣ (τοῦ χρυσολόγου, ἤγουν καὶ τοῦ χρυσὰ ῥήματα φθεγγομένου) ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ, ΦΩΤΙΣΟΝ (κάθαρον, λάμπρυνον) ΤΟΝ ΝΟΥΝ (τίνα) ΤΟΥ (τίνος) ΝΕΟΥ (ἤγουν παιδὸς) ΤΟΥ ΝΥΝ (ἀρτίως) ΑΡΞΑΜΕΝΟΥ (ἀρχὴν λαβόντος) ΤΟΥ (τί) ΣΧΕΔΟΓΡΑΦΕΙΝ (ἤγουν τοῦ σχεδογραφεῖν· ἄλλο τι) ΚΑΙ ΤΗΝ ΚΑΤΑΡΧΗΝ (τὴν ἔναρξιν) ΕΥΛΟΓΗΣΟΝ (ἐν λόγοις εὔλογον) ΤΟΥ ΣΧΕΔΟΥΣ (τίνα). ΤΡΙΣ (τί ποιῶν· ἐκ τρίτου) ΗΔΗ (ἀπάρτι) ΓΡΑΦΕΙΣ (τί ποιῶν), Ω ΠΑΙ (ὦ παιδίον), ΚΑΙ ΓΕΝΟΙΤΟ ΣΟΙ (καὶ γενηθήτω σοι, καὶ ὑπάρξειε) Η ΖΩΑΡΧΙΚΗ (τίς: ἡ ἄρχουσα τῆς ζωῆς) ΤΡΙΑΣ (ἡ τίς) ΒΟΗΘΟΣ (ποδαπός) ΙΝ’ (καὶ ὅπως) ΑΥΤΗΣ (τίνος: ἤγουν τῆς ἁγίας τριάδος) ΤΥΧΩΝ (ἐπιτυχών), ΒΟΗΘΟΥΣΗΣ (καὶ συνεργούσης) ΣΟΙ (τίνι), ΤΩ (τίνος) ΣΤΙΧΕΙΝ (ἤγουν ἐμμένειν) ΕΠΑΙΝΩ (τιμῇ καὶ δόξῃ) ΚΑΙ (καὶ ἄλλο τι) ΕΓΚΩΜΙΩ (ἐπαίνῳ).

Although, as a rather secular-minded man of the 21st century, we are certainly less familiar with orthodox teaching than was this poem’s author, we wonder if he, or perhaps she, has somehow in confusion given to Mary an attribute of the latter’s cousin’s (Luke ch. 1) or even of the patriarch’s wife (Gen. ch. 18). Likewise, we would expect not Mary & John but Mary & Joseph. (The nomen sacrum here is ἸΩου’, and I don’t think Ἰωσήπου is meant. [Or is it?] An additional confusion, or influence, may be from the epithet’s being ordinarily used, as far as I know, as a synonym of Chrysostom.) Readers: am I missing something? The transcription of σχεδογραφεῖν as its own gloss is correct, as is the accentuation of στ(ε)ίχειν as στιχεῖν. One should very much like to know more about the author (or authoress) of the poem and its addressee!  (For σχεδογραφία, which I seem to recall Anna Comnena disapproved of, see here and here.)


Note: I’ve added a new category for tagging, “Manuscript Finds”, for fun stuff like this, and have tagged some of the earlier posts with it.

4 Comments to “Ἀρχὴ σὺν Θεῷ: Two Mediæval Greek Poems on Learning”

  1. The poem on Lazaros has been published, from an Athos manuscript, by E. Miller in Annuaire de l’Association pour l’encouragement des Etudes grecs en France 8, 1874, 250. I have no idea what the meaning of the letters above the words might be.
    The second text cannot be called a poem in the strict sense because, with the exception of verses 7 and 8, it is written completely in prose. This is a nice example of teaching by furnishing each word with a synonym. Concerning the xrusorrhmon in verse 5, reference to St. Joseph is hardly possible, so the Iw(ann)ou of the dodex is certainly correct. So it is St. John, but which John? Theoretically it could be the Evangelist who had a close relationship to the Virgin (think of the Crucifixion and all the relevant icons. Yet, as you write, there is also St. John Chrysostom, and indeed he is the only one who is adorned with this epithet in hundreds of passages. So we should accept that the author addressed the Virgin (for religion) and Chrysostom (for rhetoric). Towards the end, the word stixein poses problems which at the moment I am unable to solve. Finally I must confess that I do not understand what you write about the confusion of Mary’s attributes.

  2. Thank you very much, Prof. Hörander! I’m very glad to see that the poem’s been published, and just as glad to see that such an old journal is available for free online (here, for anyone interested).

    As far as Mary and Elizabeth/Sarah, I think I was taking ταῖς πρεσβείαις wrong, as “in her eld” (though not “by means of her embassies”!), Mary being of course was maiden. Saskia informs me that it can also mean “intercession, pleading” &c., a use I haven’t come across before; this makes more sense, I suppose, though I don’t remember anything about supplication in the Bible, where I always imagined the Annunciation as something of a bolt out of the blue. (Maybe something I’m missing from a non-canonical work like the Protevangelium?) Any thoughts?

    Again, thanks!

  3. Letters above the words are definitely numbers. This is the Byzantine system of writing the numbers. The eclipsed sign stigma ( ς ) is used for six. So, iota comes as the tenth, followed by iota-alpha, iota-beta, etc., revealing the correspondence with eleven, twelve,…

    So, what is the order defined by these numbers?

    I think they show the order of words in the syntax of a later form of Greek. Someone, obviously a Greek, was trying to understand the poem by…, well, we wont say by translating it, but rather by transferring it in the form of the Greek language with which he was familiar. And indeed, this is a book of grammar, προγύμνασμα, κλπ. Being a book of exercise, the meaning of the words of the poem is written above them, and also the answer to the questions asked when someone tries to solve the knot of the syntax: what, who, whom, when, etc.

    I wanted to add here the order of words of the second poem, but my eyes didn’t helped me much. From what I manage to conclude, my proposal should be correct in this case, too.

    * * * *
    This Byzantine system of writing the numbers is still in use in our times. For instance, sessions and meetings of the parliament are counted with a notation in letters. Byzantine emperors, kings, archbishops and bishops with the same name as a previous one, are normally called “the second”, “the third”, etc, and this is noted with a letter. Schools in the cities, school years, goverment or police departments, yearly symposia or conferences, paragraphs in the law, etc., are noted with a notation in letters. Alas!, for your mobile telephone you will get just a combination of what is known as Arabic digits.

    Ah!!… Thank God of Hellenism!, I haven’t lost the link to this webpage!!

  4. Um, a correction!
    Above the words of the poems are not written “the answer to the questions asked when someone tries to solve the knot of the syntax”, but rather the question, and this is written above the word which is the answer to this question: τις;, τίνος;, τίνα;, κλπ.

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