The manuscripts of Manuel Paleologus, “Dialogues with a Muslim”

Towards the end, the Byzantine state become nothing more than a city-state.  The emperor, John VI Paleologus, was forced to become the feudal vassal of his enemy, the Ottoman sultan Murad.  His son, Manuel Palelogus, in 1391-2, was actually obliged to go on campaign with Murad’s son Bayezid, and endure the contemptuous treatment of the latter.  Quartered during one of the winters with a learned Persian, he composed a series of dialogues about Christianity, one of which was quoted by the former Pope Benedict not that long ago.

The work, Dialogues with a Muslim is preserved in four manuscripts.[1]

AAmbrosianus graecus L 74 sup.  15th century.  It is preserved at the Ambrosian library in Milan, is 25.5 x 18 cms, and contains iii + 248 leaves.  It came to the library by purchase, by Cardinal Frederick Borromeo, the prefect of the library, in 1606 as part of the 38 manuscripts in the Sophianos collection in Chios.  Michel Sophianos (d.1565) was a 16th century humanist book collector, whose family was originally from Constantinople, and had moved to Chios, but who lived in Italy.  Whether the manuscript came from Constantinople originally is unknown.

PParisinus graecus 1253, 16th century. Now at the French National Library in Paris.  514 leaves.  The binding bears the arms of Henri IV.  Written in a large book hand, with quite few abbreviations; possibly copied by an Italian hand.

CCoislin 130. 16th century.  Also at the French National Library.  This is made up of 216 medium-sized leaves.  It was copied by James Diassorinos, a copyist born in Rhodes but whose father went to live in Chios around 1522.  In June 1543, James Diassorinos was living in Venice, penniless, and close to destitute.  Before going to Venice, he had spent his time copying manuscripts.  He took up the same trade at Venice, copying 6 large manuscripts between 1544 and 1555, 4 of them for the future Philip II of Spain.  He then took up the trade of an adventurer, adopting imaginary titles and attempting to organise a “reconquest” of parts of the Ottoman realm for his own advantage.  It is possible that this manuscript was copied at Chios in 1541.

S.  Parisinus suppl. gr. 169. 18th century.  Also preserved at the French National Library is this very late copy.  It is made up of 693 small leaves.  It’s a copy of C, collated against P.  The copyist was Claude Capperonier (1716-1775) who had difficulties with the abbreviations in his model.

The manuscripts are all basically the same, with few variants, all caused by copyist distraction, but A is the best.

It’s interesting to see what the manuscript tradition is, even for so late a text as this.

  1. [1]These notes are translated and abbreviated from the Sources Chrétiennes edition and translation of the 7th Dialogue.

2 thoughts on “The manuscripts of Manuel Paleologus, “Dialogues with a Muslim”

  1. Hi Roger,
    You mean Manuel Palaeologos not Michael.

    When you translated some of the dialogues into English you said you didn’t get much from them. As Manuel had first hand experience of Islam I think he must have had something worthwhile to say.

    I have heard that the dialogues are currently being translated to be published in the Translated Texts for Byantinists series from Liverpool University Press.

    I’ ve always wondered how much of the dialogues are actually based on a real discussion with a Muslim and how much is just literally fiction? Gregory Palamas wrote a letter (which has been translated into English) recounting his three discussions/ encounters with Muslim theologians during his captivity in the mid 14th century. The Muslims in the dialogues didn’t like being out argued and Gregory had to make himself scarce to avoid being lynched at one point.

  2. Drat!!! Thank you. You are so right: of course I meant Manuel … how did I type Michael?? Sigh.

    I too thought that there should be interesting stuff in there. Useful to know about the TTH version – thank you.

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