Translations of ancient Greek literature into Middle Persian

In 529 AD the emperor Justinian closed the Academy in Athens.  The remaining heirs of Plato chose to travel to the court of the Sassanid Persian King of Kings in order to continue  their studies there.  Finding conditions among the barbarians uncongenial, in time they returned. 

But it raises the question of why we never hear of translations of Greek literature into Persian.  The Persian empire was a potent adjacent power throughout the Greek classical period, and revived in the 3rd century and continued down to the Moslem conquest in the 7th century. 

I never read L. D. Reynolds and N. G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars (3rd) without learning something.  On page 256 I learn that a few texts are indeed extant in translations into Pehlevi. 

Wilson lists four texts: the novel about Alexander the Great known as ps.Callisthenes; the Geoponica; and two astrological texts, the handbook of Vettius Valens which we have discussed before, plus Teucer of Babylon’s Paranatellonta, which is a new text to me.

Wilson references “Studies presented to E. G. Browne, 1922” (in his usual casual fashion), which turns out to be A Volume of Oriental Studies Presented to Edward G. Browne on his 60th birthday (7 February 1922), and thankfully online at Archive.org.  The specific article is that by C. A. Nallino, which turns out to be on p.345-363 and entitled Tracce di opere greche giunte agli Arabi per trafila Pehlevica.  Unless my eyes deceive me, this is about texts which ended up in Arabic via Persian, rather than about Greek texts in general.  The article merely discusses these four texts, and the evidence for them.

It would seem, therefore, that there might be more, were one to look.

3 thoughts on “Translations of ancient Greek literature into Middle Persian

  1. Middle Persian literature did NOT survive well the Islamic conquest. I remember reading how Greek astrological terms found their way back into Greek from Persian astrological texts but little more. In the Wikipedia article on Middle Persian it lists surviving works in that language that I think are only 10 titles or so. I remember an article saying more or less the same thing by the Orientalist Bernard Lewis

  2. Thank you both — I’ve learned something.

    I had no idea that a Persian version of the Diatessaron existed. I don’t think it matters that it reached it via Syriac — that would be probably true for all Greek literature.

Leave a Reply