Publishing Michael the Syrian

An email has arrived, inviting me to publish commercially an English translation of the World Chronicle of Michael the Syrian.  This is a surprise, although a welcome one.  It is a very great honour also.

The Chronicle of Michael the Syrian is an enormous thing.  The French translation by J.-B. Chabot, made a century ago, fills three large volumes.  I borrowed the volumes, one by one, from a library and laboriously scanned them.  The resulting PDF’s may be found on  The translator estimates around 1200 pages, for the English translation, which is three times the size of Eusebius.

I don’t see my role in life as conventional publishing.  There are enough people who could do that.  Rather my job is to get things into the hands of people who want to read them.  This means three different types of people:

  1. Research libraries, where students can find them, and where journals can review them.  Hardbacks with dustjackets is my approach to these.
  2. Ordinary people involved in the subject.  This means cheap paperback, although I don’t know how cheap any book of 1200 pages can be. 
  3. Ordinary people who just want to look at bits now and then, or do searches.  This means freely available online — no other form will cut it. 

What I have done for the Eusebius and Origen volumes is to buy the copyright (although allowing the translators to do whatever they like with it as well — hey, why not?).  If I own the copyright, I can do #3.  But before I do, I get the book typeset and a cover designed, so that I can make #1 and #2 available through, etc.  I’ll do some marketing to scholars and libraries as well.  Once the sales die down, and whatever money is to be made is made, I can then do #3.

Of course a press like Cambridge University Press would be able to give the book a far more sumptuous production than I can.  They can market it to places who wouldn’t look at me.  But … they would also hold the copyright until all of us are dead, and none of us would ever see the book.

I’ve made a proposal to the copyright holder, anyway.  It may come to nothing, and it doesn’t matter if so; I’m quite busy enough right now!  But if it does happen, it will mean that Michael comes out of the shadows and into all of our lives.

It would also mean that I would have to start finding a typesetter!


6 thoughts on “Publishing Michael the Syrian

  1. Dear Roger,

    I was interested to hear that you have been approached to make a translation of Michael the Syrian. It would be wonderful to see an English translation, but it would mean a heavy commitment of time and effort on your part. I am sure you will not enter upon it lightly.

    If you do decide to go ahead, you might be interested in my own translation of the lists of episcopal consecrations at the end of his third book. I translated them a few weeks ago for my own purposes (I have nearly finished writing a major book on the Church of the East, and wanted to compare the episcopal organisation of the two churches), and once I started I began considering the possibility of translating the entire Chronicle, purely out of general interest. I am only too delighted to hear that you might be taking on this labour of Hercules, and wish you the best of luck with it.

    Do feel free to use my translation if you go ahead with the project. It was hardly an exacting exercise, so you are very welcome to the results. If nothing else, it will save you thirty pages of donkey work! It doesn’t seem to be possible for me to attach my translation file to this comment, but if you send me an email in reply I will email it to you.

    Do also consult me on the Jacobite dioceses, if you need enlightenment. Although I am principally interested in the Church of the East (I was the author of that unreadable tome ‘The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318-1913’, published a decade ago), in recent years I have been gathering a mass of data on the Jacobite Church for a projected general history of the West Syrian Church I intend to write one of these days.

    Regards, David Wilmshurst

  2. Dear David,

    I would be most interested to see your version of this portion of the chronicle. I will send you an email.

    A slight correction: I have been approached about *publishing* a translation. A correspondent has made one, and is revising it now. With your permission, I would pass your material over to him, as it might improve the version if he can see how someone else has attacked it.

    Never dismiss work such as your own as “unreadable”. It is of the highest value. A precise study of exact data is of far more lasting value than any number of tomes which blather generally and, in the end, tell the reader only at what period of history the author wrote and what his prejudices were.

  3. Dear Roger,

    No problem. Do pass my material over to your correspondent. I read your original post in haste, and misunderstood the situation. I am more excited than ever at the prospect that your correspondent’s translation is nearing completion.

    Topography will be a nuisance to whoever translates Michael the Syrian. I noticed that, even in his lists of bishops, which he may have compiled in person, he (or his scribe) uses several different versions of the same name: thus, the diocese of Zuptara (Fiey’s Zipatra) is sometimes spelled Zubtara, Symnadu Sanudanu, and the monastery of Qarqafta (‘the Skull’) Harqafta or Harsafta. These are clearly minor errors, and in my view they should be corrected in the translation, perhaps with an explanatory note. I’m not sure whether the variants go back to Michael himself, or were introduced by Chabot, as I only have the French translation conveniently to hand.

    I would be happy to look over the final translation with this sort of thing in mind, and would also be happy to correspond with your or your correspondant on points of topographical detail. Otherwise, you might wish to consult Sebastian Brock or Andrew Palmer.

    Thank you for your remarks about my book. I was merely being modest when I described it as an ‘unreadable tome’. As it happens, I share your admiration for precise studies of exact data, as indeed did C.S. Lewis, who praised the vital contribution made by ‘Mr Dryasdust’ in one of his own books (The Discarded Image, I think it was, but I may be wrong).

    Regards, David Wilmshurst

  4. I had the Dryasdust remarks in mind, I admit.

    I’ve not received the material from you by email, but probably you haven’t sent it. I’ll be delighted to put the two of you in contact.

  5. Dear Roger,

    I haven’t been able to find an email address for you, and don’t have the email address of your correspondent, and this comment format doesn’t appear to let me attach a file (?). Perhaps you or your correspondent could drop me an email and I will forward my translation without delay.

    BTW, I have nearly finished translating vol ii. of the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum of Bar Hebraeus and Mari’s History of the Nestorian Patriarchs. I have made both translations partly by way of research for my forthcoming book on the Church of the East, and partly for the sheer pleasure of translating these texts. I would love to get my translations in print sooner or later, and was thinking of offering them to George Kiraz at Gorgias Press, who has asked me to do a couple of books for him. I have only just read the ‘mission statement’ for your blog, and it now occurs to me that you might be interested in them, since you specifically mention the lack of a translation of Bar Hebraeus. Either or both would be projects at least a year down the track, however, as I have other book commitments on hand at present.

  6. I emailed you last night (to your Yahoo address). I have just emailed you again. My own email is [deleted]

    I would certainly be interested in these books. But we should discuss this offline.

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