Agapius again

I have resumed work on turning the French translation of Agapius, published by A. Vasiliev in the Patrologia Orientalis, into English.  In fact I never totally halted on this, except when I was working at full speed on the Greek translator.  My work has no scholarly value, but there must be 2bn people who can read English and cannot read French, so I hope that making this freely available will promote interest in this text.

Long term readers will be aware that Agapius was a 10th century Arabic Christian writer, who has left us a world chronicle.  This is best known for supposedly containing a unique version of the so-called Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus; and also has a fragment of Papias not otherwise known.  His work is largely made up of material from earlier chroniclers, mostly Syriac and Byzantine.  The text was published in 600 pages of the PO, in four parts, all of which are now on  I have made a translation of parts 1, 3 and 4, and am halfway through part 2 at the moment *.  The current text is taken from legendary material about Alexander which circulated through the east.  In truth it is quite tedious, but I hope that easier access to this text will promote study of this material.

Here is a sample.  Alexander has just defeated the Indians by rolling red-hot brass elephants (with a coal furnace inside each) into the ranks of the enemy, who happen to be downhill.

The troops of Alexander pursued them in all directions and killed a very great number of them. After this the auxiliary troops of the king of China, agitated and drawn out, came to the king of India, with their tired beasts of burden. They halted in the camp of the Indians without movement or resources. Alexander, who was unaware of their situation, thought, after having seen their camp, that this was a trick on their part. So he gathered his philosophers and said to them: “You have already seen with which speed their reinforcements arrived and what a state of exhaustion we are in; [you see] that we have fewer resources than they do. Yesterday, at nightfall, we had massacred them and made them perish. But hardly has the day begun, and their army has returned more numerous than before. What is your opinion on this, our situation and our position?” While they were reflecting, the oldest of their philosophers said: “I believe that we must attack them and fight them next Tuesday.” However this opinion was pronounced on Wednesday, seven days before Tuesday.

In Agapius, Alexander is always hanging around after battles, and asking his philosophers what he should do next.  Of course the Arabic word using is probably hakeem; usually translated “doctor”, but often “philosopher”, and in any case a learned man of some sort, of the kind that might be met with in the Arabian nights in the Bazaar.  The word might even mean “magician” or “sorceror”, as Sinbad the Sailor found to his cost.  There is an Arabic correspondance of Alexander and Aristotle, in which the former seeks ways to defeat the Persians, and the latter advises him on spells and incantations to do so!

In a sense all this is tedious.  Yet in another sense it is salutary to be reminded that the rise of superstition in the west during the Dark Ages was paralleled also in the East, even without the barbarian invasions.

* Postscript: I was translating away and suddenly found myself at the end of the chunk.  I divided each part of Agapius into three chunks, you see, each of 50 pages.  So I have in fact completed two-thirds of part 2.  Only another 38 pages to go!


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