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.

Manuel Paleologus, Dialogue with a Learned Persian, uploaded

For some months I’ve been translating the work that got Pope Benedict into so much trouble a year or two back; Dialogue 7 of the Dialogues with a Learned Moslem by Manuel II Paleologus.  It’s been hard going, because I have found the arguments really tedious.  I’ve now accepted that I will never manage to do all 37 chapters of this, and have decided to stop, and upload what I have managed to do.

Chapters 1-18 are now online here.  The remark quoted by the pope comes early on, and the rest gives quite enough to see the context of the discussion.

Still driving on Manuel

I’m labouring away on translating the 7th Dialogue with a Persian of Manuel II Paleologus, the work that was the pretext for all those Moslem attacks on the Pope.  I’m beginning to get an idea of the context of the quotation; “what did Mohammed bring into the world that was not evil.”

The whole dialogue is addressing a single question: which is the best Law? — that of Moses, that of Christ, or that of Mohammed.  Both sides agree that Christ added to the Law of Moses; that Mohammed added his stuff on top of both.  So the question is whether the additions made were an improvement.

Both sides agree that Christ’s additions improved the Law of Moses.  But the learned Persian asserts that the Law of Christ is impractical for ordinary people, and the additions of Mohammed make it tolerable and practical.  Manuel is having none of this; which of them, he asks, is not in fact an evil?

That was the real context.

Struggling a bit with Manuel Paleologus

In all the textbooks on textual criticism, you will find little mention of a factor that must decide whether texts live or die.  This is the B-word; BOREDOM.  Who can bring themselves to copy a text, if they keep calling asleep or going off to pluck their eyebrows, or sort the rubbish, of whatever?

I’m working on translating Manuel Paleologus’ Dialogue with a Persian at the moment — mainly because Pope Benedict quoted from it and no-one could read the text.  But I am wishing I had not.  It’s really boring, to me anyway.  Worse yet, I find Manuel’s arguments contrived, while his Moslem antagonist makes what seem like reasonable criticisms.

Feeling a little under the weather as well, although that may be due to eating too many strawberries with cream yesterday.  But Manuel isn’t helping. 

Oh well.  Back to it.

On second thoughts, what’s on TV?