Latin in Greek and Greek in Latin: Some Bilingual and Transliterated Texts in the Sinai Collection

The Manuscripts on Microfilms blog is back after a two-year hiatus! In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my finds from the Sinai collection, which I’ve been working on this winter.

The monastery of Saint Catherine has long been an important place of religious devotion for pilgrims from all corners of the Christian world. Its strategic location between East and West, in addition to its direct proximity to the θεοβάδιστον ὄρος, where Moses met the Lord and received the Law, made the monastery a prominent destination and thoroughfare for all kinds of travelers. The monks who dwelled at the foot of this holy mountain also formed a multilingual and international community as the number of different languages represented in the monastery’s manuscript collection will attest. The following three examples are drawn from documents that reveal the presence of Latin speakers (or perhaps we should say readers) at the monastery.

A Greek Sator Square: Mount Sinai, Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sin. Gr. 1208

Ms. Sin. Gr. 1208 is a well-worn collection of patristic texts dated to the fifteenth century. One reader found some space among the busy collection of scribbles and probationes pennae on the final folios of the ms to create his own version of the ancient and well-known Latin palindrome, the Sator square. Interestingly, the scribe (or perhaps we should call him “the scribbler”) chose to work through the word puzzle in a more familiar script and even added diacritics.


I’ve transcribed the square below with my best guesses as to whether a diacritical mark is a breathing and or an accent.


Στέκει Μάνα: Mount Sinai, Monastery of Saint Catherine, Ms. Gr. 1586.

Two leaves attached to the end of ms. Gr. 1586, fourteenth-century sticherarion contain parts of the hymn “Stabat Mater” written in Latin, then transliterated into Greek script and finally translated into Greek. A few lines of the “Ave Maria” receive the same treatment. The transliteration and translation of the hymn into Greek suggests that the scribe not only wanted his Greek-speaking audience to understand the text but also to be able to pronounce the words of the hymn in Latin.



Transcription of the beginning of the first leaf: (as diplomatic as possible)

Latin: stabat mater dolorosa iuxta cruce [sic] lacrimosa dum pendebat filius…

Latin transliterated into Greek script: στάμπατ μάτερ ντολορόζα γιουστα κρούτζε λακριμόζα ντοῦμ πεντέμπατ φίλιους.

Greek translation: Στέκει μάνα πονεμένη, εἰς τὸν στ[αυρὸ]ν ἀπολυπισμένη, ἐκεῖ ὄπου ἐκρέμεσεν ὁ υἱός…

Soson Imas: Mount Sinai, Monastery of Saint Catherine, Chest 4, Document 111

The last image is of a document from Chest 4, that never-ending trove of treasure.  It contains a portion of the liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom that has been transliterated phonetically into Latin characters. Benešević transcribed and lightly edited the entire text in his catalogue and put the Greek in a parallel column (Benešević no. 2150, see pp. 346-354 of vol. 3). He dates the document to the 12th century. The transliteration makes the Greek text of the liturgy legible (if not comprehensible) to non-Greek speakers.


Inc. fol. 1r: agathon to exomologiste to k[iri]o. ke spallin to onomati ssu. ipsiste tes pres<s>uies tis theotocu soter soson imas…

Ἀγαθὸν τὸ ἐξομολογεῖσθαι τῷ κ[υρί]ῳ καὶ σπάλλειν (ψάλλειν) τῷ ὀνόματί σου ὕψιστε ταῖς πρε<σ>βείαις τῆς Θεοτόκου σῶτερ σῶσον ἡμᾶς…

I am grateful to Elena Velkovska for kindly helping me come to grips with some of the more inscrutable penmanship.

Stay tuned for more finds!

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