The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 9

We continue reading the French translation of the Life of the early 6th century Patriarch of Constantinople (and controversial political figure) Severus of Antioch.

What I’m doing, in these posts, is taking the old Patrologia Orientalis translation from here, and running it through Google Translate (which is doing a rather fine job, I notice), and posting a corrected version here.  Since a lot of people still don’t know French, the exercise makes the Life more accessible.

The Life was composed by his friend Zacharias Rhetor, in response to various politically-motivated slanders.  But it gives a marvellous picture of students at university in late antiquity.  Since Severus and his friends lost the argument, in the Greek world, the text is preserved only in a Syriac translation.

The year is somewhere around 500 AD.  The tolerant emperor Anastasius is on the throne in Constantinople.  Rome has fallen to the Barbarians; but in the Eastern Empire, nobody seems to want to mention this.  Teachers of Latin are still found in Eastern schools.

When the illustrious Severus was about to leave Alexandria and go to Phoenicia in order to study law, and with the idea of becoming a lawyer, he invited me to go with him.  But I told him that I still needed to study further the speeches of the orators and philosophers, because of the pagans, who boasted and glorified themselves so much in these studies, so that we could battle in public against them in this respect.  So Severus preceded me to Phoenicia, but only by a year.  This completed, I went to Berytus in my turn to study civil law.

I expected to have to suffer from the students known as “edictales” all that those must endure who are newly arrived in that town to learn law.  In truth they endure nothing shameful.  It merely overwhelms them with joking, and tests the self-possession at the time of those who are mocked and the subject of amusement.   I was expecting above all to suffer at the hands of Severus, today this holy man.  In fact I thought that, being still young, he would imitate the custom of the others.

On the first day I went into the school of Leontius, son of Eudoxius, who then taught law, and who enjoyed a high reputation among all those interested in the law.  I found the admirable Severus sitting with many others near the master in order to listen to the lessons on the law.  Although I thought that he would be an enemy to me, I saw that he was favourably disposed towards me.  In fact he greeted me first, smiling and rejoicing!   I also thanked God for this remarkable prodigy.  When we, who at that time were the “dupondii”, withdrew, having completed our exercise, while those in Severus’ year stayed on for their marks, I went running to the holy church named Anastasia (Church of the Resurrection) in order to pray.  Then I went to the one named the Mother of God, which is situated within the town, close to the port.  After completing my prayer, I walked around outside the church.


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