Thinking about Severian on Genesis

Severian of Gabala ca. 400 preached at least six sermons on the six days of Creation.  Six have reached us in Greek; there are rumours of a Seventh in Arabic, although this is unpublished.  The sermons are notorious as advocating a flat-earth cosmology, although I suspect this projects back quite a few ideas not present in the texts themselves.

Yesterday I finished translating the first sermon into English from the old French translation of Bareille.  Translating a translation is always unsatisfactory, and if I had endless money I wouldn’t dream of it.  But it still has some value, if not for the scholar; the ordinary mortal can at least gain a sense of what the text contains and its structure and argument.

However I grew more dissatisfied as I proceeded.  I really do feel that a proper translation of these six sermons is necessary and desirable.  Nor am I satisfied that Bareille is that accurate.  At one point he suggests more or less the opposite of what the Greek says, and what the context makes clear he must mean – I presume a “not” has dropped out of his translation in the printing process. 

These sermons are really very interesting.  Surprisingly, Severian is not an obscurantist, but a man of a probing and scientific mind.  He rejects the appeal to the authority of past writers, and appeals regularly to what can actually be seen, and for original thinking.  Admittedly he comes to seriously mistaken conclusions; but they are not self-evidently daft conclusions, given the state of knowledge at the time.  He is also preaching to an audience which is hoping to trip him up — it would be very interesting to learn the circumstances under which he felt obliged to preach on this subject.

I will consider commissioning a translation of these from Greek.  It’s 70 columns of Migne, which won’t be cheap; but if done well, done once, will always be worth doing.  If I can get hold of a copy of the Arabic, I might have a translation made of that as well, and perhaps do the set in book form.  If I do that, of course, I would need to get the Greek transcribed.

I’ve never digitised a lot of Greek.  So I’ve just emailed Dr. Maria Pantelia at the TLG, on a whim, suggesting that perhaps we might work together on digitising the Greek.  If I pay for some of it, perhaps it would benefit both sides.  If not, of course, I’ll find another way.

4 Responses to “Thinking about Severian on Genesis”


  1. Alin Suciu

    At least four of these sermons on Genesis are equally attested in Sahidic Coptic, in a fragmentary White Monastery codex.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Thank you for this note, which is most interesting. Do you know where this codex is, or its shelfmark?

  3. Mike

    FYI: A translation of these homilies by Robert C. Hill will be published February 2011. thanks.
    See: http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/toc/code=2920

  4. Roger Pearse

    Excellent news – thank you!