Back in 2013 I wondered what the earliest sources were for the life of St. Nicholas of Myra, whose legends form the basis for the Santa Claus story. There are three, all 9-10th century, in fact. I decided that one of these, the Methodius ad Theodorum, c. 817-821 AD, would be a good candidate to get translated. But it’s proving a real challenge. We may have to admit defeat! But I think that it would be good to document where we got to.
Why did he did edit it twice? Well, it appears from the introduction that the text was very difficult to edit from the sole manuscript, Ms. Vaticanus Graecus 2084 (10th c.). Some of these Greek manuscripts are so heavily ligatured that they can be extremely hard to read! But after he had published vol.1, Anrich discovered that Spyridonof had published another text from the same manuscript, Methodius’ Vita Theophanis, which clarified things somewhat. This led him to try a second time in vol. 2, and this time with punctuation.
A correspondent, Joel Eidsath, kindly picked up on my posts, and started a thread at Textkit to translate the Methodius Ad Theodorum. In case this vanishes, I’ll quote some of it here. Joel reckoned that the introduction was the worst bit, and the rest would be easier! He did most of page 1 (of 10), and this read as follows:
Τοῦ ἐν ἁγίοις πατρὸς ἡμῶν Μεθοδίου πρεσβυτέρου καὶ ἡγουμένου εἰς τὸν βίον καὶ τὰ λείποντα τοῦ ὁσίου πατρὸς ἡμῶν Νικολάου ἀρχιεπισκόπου Μύρων.
Ἐπειδὴ ἡ τῶν καθ’ ἡμᾶς λόγων πλοκὴ τῇ ἀσαφείᾳ τῆς πρωχονοίας τὸ γρῖφόν σοι ἐντυγχάνοντι ἐπέχειν νομίζεται, ζητεῖ δὲ ἡ καθαρά σου ἁπλότης, ὦ ἀνδρῶν ἄριστε καὶ περιφανέστατε Θεόδωρε, λόγον ἐγκωμίου τῇ φράσει ἀποίκιλον καὶ νοήμασι τὸν εὐκάτοπτον, πρὸς δὲ καὶ τῷ ποσῷ τὸν ἀπέριττον — ἐγώ, ῖνα μὴ δόξω ἀνήκοος καὶ ὅπως σοι φανείην παρέτοιμος, τῇ πίστει καὶ κελεύσει σου χαριζόμενος, ἀνιστορῆσαι μᾶλλον τὰ τοῦ περιβοήτου Νικολάου μέγιστα κατορθώματα καὶ οὐκ αὖθις ἐγκωμιάσαι τὸ λοιπὸν προαιρήσομαι, ὡς τάχα τῆς ἱστορίας συνήθως ἐχούσης τὸ εὐκατάκουστον. εἰ δέ τι συμπλεκείη που τῇ ἱστορί ἐγκώμιον, θεῷ ἀναθετέον τὸ χάρισμα καὶ τῇ πίστει σου, τῷ δόντι καὶ τῇ χορηγηθείσῃ παρὰ τῆς αὐτοῦ μεγαλοδωρεᾶς, εὕρασθαι σὺν ἐξηγήσεσι τὸ ἐγκώμιον. ἔστι δὲ τῶν περὶ πάντας ἀκροατὰς διηγήσεων πλησιέστερον, μετὰ τὸ εἰπεῖν γένος καὶ πόλιν καὶ ἐπιτήδευμα, τὴν ἐκ νεαροῦ τοῦ σώματος ἀγωγήν τε καὶ αὔξησιν διαγράψασθαι, ἵν’ ὁμολογουμένην ἤτοι θαυμαζομένην τὴν ἀνάταξιν ἤ ἐπαύξησιν εἰς δύναμιν ἐκ δυνάμεως καὶ πρὸς τοιάνδε ἐκ τοιᾶσδε ἀγωγὴν ἤ προσαγωγὴν ὁ ἱστορεῖσθαι τολμώμενος τῇ τῶν ἀκουόντων διανοίᾳ σαφέστατα ἐγκατάθηται. καὶ δὴ θεοῦ διδοῦντος λόγον ἐν ἀνοίξει εὐθέτῳ τοῦ στόματος, ἅπερ ὄψις εἴτ’ οὖν ἐν βίβλοις ἀνάγνωσις δέδωκε, ταῦτα διηγησόμενος καὶ παρέστηκα.
From the our holy father Methodius, elder and leader, the biography and leavings of our pious father Nikolaus, archbishop of Myra:
After our complicated discussion, the intricate question that you left was thought to be unsolvable due to my poverty of mind. But your unblemished purity seeks, O Theodore, best and most famous of men, an encomium using simple words and clear images, over and above this a quantity of straightforwardness — I, that I may not appear to have ignored you nor appear to you unprepared, am obliging your faith and request with more unrecorded great virtuous acts of the much spoken of Nikolaus, and I have deliberately left out anything not laudatory [ἐγκωμιάσαι], so that the story will quickly grab hold of the understanding. And if somewhere the encomium’s story was tangled up, by the grace that is God’s and your faith, the giving and the bestowing of from his generosity, the encomium was found through interpretation. [[Very shaky on this next sentence, will come back to it later: But it is the closest to the stories heard by all, speaking of the family and city and trade, the raising up from youth and the training of his growth, that the pattern of the marvel to that all speak goes from strength to strength, from to such to such, bringing or giving, I undertake the narrative that the thought of those hearing may shine inwardly most wisely.]]. And indeed, the speech given by God that he well arranges from my open mouth, just as perhaps the snake that we read of in the Bible [pl.] that he has given, this I shall narrate and have set down [future + perfect? I will look that up later and revise].
Which is quite impressive, as far as it goes – thank you, Joel! Michael Holmes added a couple of suggestions (thank you):
(Since you want just a simple straightforward account, to oblige you) from now on I’ll choose rather to tell the story of N’s greatest successes and not to sing his praises over again, since perhaps a narrative is usually easy on the ear. And if encomium somehow gets intertwined with the narrative, that gift of grace is to be attributed to God and to your faith, to God that gives and to your faith that is furnished by His generosity …
… I stand ready to tell what eye-witness or book-reading has provided.
Unfortunately other demands on his time intervened, and it was clearly a difficult task. I then asked another (very capable) translator to have a go, and he ran into language difficulties also.
I wondered whether this was a matter of the language being so late; so I did a search for resources on medieval Greek, Byzantine hagiography, etc, and came up with very little. My next thought was to write to some scholars in the field, asking for advice on lexica etc. I reproduce parts of their responses here, precisely in case someone else is hunting for a road into medieval Greek.
First I wrote to Dr Alice-Mary Talbot and asked her advice on this. She kindly responded:
I wish your translator well, but it takes time and the reading of many texts to make the adjustment to medieval Greek. Of course the middle Byz. texts differ from each other, with some being very Atticizing, others being in a lower style. The two main dictionaries he should be using, in addition to Liddell-Scott, are Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexikon and Erich Trapp’s Lexikon zur byzantinischen Grazitat (not yet complete, but up to tau). As for books on the development of medieval Greek, he should look at Geoffrey Horrocks, Greek : a history of the language and its speakers, and Robert Browning, Medieval and Modern Greek.
I note that bootleg PDFs of Horrocks and Browning can be found online with little difficulty, thankfully; but I would guess that anyone seeking to get a lot out of them would be best advised to do so on paper, and use them as bed-time reading.
Another correspondent, “Inepti Graeculi”, suggested that I write to John A. Lee:
John A. L. Lee may be worth a contact. He is an expert on LXX Greek but is nuts on all things Greek. He’s also a lexicographer and has written a history of (NT) Greek lexicography so he may know of obscure dictionaries etc that may be a help. He’s an honorary fellow at Macquarie these days and a nice guy.
So I did. His response was very useful indeed:
I have had a quick look at the text online and I can see what your translator is up against. This is top-register literary Greek, based on Classical models and using all the devices of Classical grammar and rhetoric as developed in later centuries. It will not yield its meaning easily. A long training, beginning with Classical Greek, is what is really needed. I am not just saying this to put you (or him) off or to seem superior.
There are actually no specialist lexica or grammars that cover it fully. One will need to be ready to use all resources, namely:
A grammar of ancient Greek, esp. Smyth’s Greek Grammar + NT grammars (MHT, BDF).
– LSJ (big edition + Suppl.)
– Lampe, Patristic Greek Lexicon
– Sophocles, Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods
– BDAG, NT lexicon
– Muraoka, LXX lexicon
– possibly one that covers Modern +, such as Babiniotis.Even with these, there will be problematic constructions and uses. Tenacity (and time) will be needed.
The same correspondent (IG) pointed out that a free Latin translation of Methodius ad Theodorum was made by John the Deacon – this information from Wace: the hagiographical works, p.252 with more on p.238 – and that:
John the Deacon’s Vita Nicholai is in vol 2 of Mombribius’s Sanctuarium here at archive org (starting at page 296 = printed page number)
It’s allegedly a translation from the Greek and I found one reference that says it’s a translation of Methodius.
Nearly all of the Lexikon zur byzantinischen Gräzität (Lexicon for Byzantine Greek) should now be on line via TLG (one more fascicle to go) – http://www.tlg.uci.edu/lbg/
This Greek portal has Kriarias, but that is useful for vulgar Greek and would be for later than 10th century:
Cambridge Uni is well behind on their grammar of Medieval Greek. Geoffrey Horrocks was supposed to be involved with that. He’s probably the pre-eminent English speaking historian of the Greek language around today. His book on the history of the Greek language – 2nd ed. will give you some tips as to phonetic and morphological changes etc and different ‘dialects’ and registers of the time but it won’t be enough.
Actually that Greek portal does have a biblio for medieval Greek helps (only in the Greek section , but many refs in latin alphabet and Google translate is not bad with modern Greek)
All of which is very interesting!
We may have to defer Methodius ad Theodorum; but it’s produced a lot of interesting information so far!
UPDATE: Some extra info from IG on Chrysostom’s language, which may or may not be useful considering his impact later:
I was wondering how does one identify an Atticist and how does their Greek differ say from ‘Attic’ which itself is a little slippery to define. Thucydides for example wrote in a sort of ‘international Attic’ whereas others might be said to have written in parochial Attic (say Lysias) (Geoffrey Horrocks book – pricey so try a library – is very good for this – but only at a high level).I really can’t speak for 9th or 10th century Greek which is what we are dealing with. For the fourth century I have two references of Chrysostom’s Attic but I don’t think they will be of use to him:
Ameringer: The Stylistic Influence of the Second Sophistic on the Panegyrical Sermons of St John Chrysostom (this is on Archive org but one copy has the last few pages missing so check before you download. Apparently similar studies were done on other fourth century authors)
Soffray: Rescherches sur la syntaxe de saint Jean Chrysostome d’apres les homelies sur les statues (this should be well and truly out of copyright but I can’t find it anywhere)
There is a big online dictionary that deals with Gregory Nazanzien’s (? I hope I have the right Gregory) vocab but that is available only through good research libraries. Access is pricey and its in German.
Frankly I find using classical lexicons (eg LSJ rather than Lampe) and grammars more useful for Chrysostom. And I find that he draws terminology from the Stoics, Aristotle and goodness knows what else, as do some of the ps Chrysostomica and ps Athanasia.
UPDATE: Bryson Sewell has had a go, and managed a draft of the first two pages, which he has kindly made available in case they are helpful. These are here: Translation – Methodius ad Theodorum – First Draft (PDF) and here: Translation – Methodius ad Theodorum – First Draft (.docx).
And IG has transcribed the last page (bottom of p.555-end of 556), so let’s make that available also:
Καὶ ἐπὶ πᾶσι θαυμάσας καὶ προστησάμενος κρησφύγετον ἄσυλον τὸν μέγαν Νικόλαον ἔχε πρὸς πειρασμῶν λύτρωσιν πρεσβείαν θεῷ εὐυπήκοον, πρὸς νόσων ἐκδρασμὸν καθάρσιον εὔποτον, πρὸς πόλεμον σαρκὸς ἀνταγωνιστὴν δυσκαταμάχητον, πρὸς φιλίαν θεοῦ εἰκόνα ἀπαραχάρακτον, πρὸς ἔχθραν δαιμόνων ἐνστήλωμα ἀνεπίκλητον, πρὸς χρείαν πενήτων χαρακτήρα ἀρχέτυπον, πρὸς ζῆλον δογμάτων κανόνα εὐθύτατον, πρὸς διδαχὴν πρᾳότητος λύραν θεοτίνακτον, πρὸς ἐγκρατείας τόνον νεκρῶσεως τύμπανον, πρὸς ἀγνείας ἱδρῶτα δρόσον ἀνομβρίζοντα, πρὸς ἡνίαν σωμάτων πύκτην ἀνεπίψογον, πρὸς φρονήσεως κτῆσιν πολυκερδῆ ἔμπορον, πρὸς τάξιν ἀνδρεῖας ζυγὸν ἀνεπίκλητον, πρὸς κρίματα λόγων πρυτάνην ὸξύτητος, πρὸς δράματα τρόπων σοφὸν ἀκακούργητον, πρὸς νόμον πρακτέων σπαρτίον εὐθύτατον, πρὸς νοῦν ἀπευκταῖον θυμὸν εὐσυλλόγιστον, πρὸς θράσος ἀνοίας ἀργίας ἐπίγνωσιν, πρὸς θάρσος εὐνοίας συλλήπτορα τάχιστον, πρὸς μνήμην θανάτου νεκρὸν ἐμπνοώτατον, πρὸς τύπον ἐγέρσεως τὸ κλήσει παρίστασθαι, πρὸς πλάτος ἀγάπης τὸ χρᾶσθαι αὐτῷ καὶ ὁμώνυμα, πρὸς ἐλπίδα μελλόντων παρόντων καταφρόνησιν, πρὸς ζωὴν αἰωνίαν ἑκούσιον νέκρωσιν. καὶ πάντα πρὸς τούτου μαθητευόμενος γνησιώτατα, ποίησον σεαυτῷ τὴν ὅλην βιοτὴν τοῦ σοφωτάτου Νικολάου ἀλφάβητον ἰδιόκτητον. καὶ ὡς ἐκ γραμμάτων τῶν εἰρημένων πάντων στοιχειασθεὶς τὴν καρδίαν σου, ὃ θέλεις ἢ πράττειν ἢ λέγειν ἢ ἐννοεῖν, προσφιλέστατε, λάμβανε κατὰ νοῦν τὸν μέγαν Νικόλαον καὶ ὅρα, εἰ γέγονεν αὐτῷ ἐκείνῳ ἢ λελάληται ἢ ἐννενόηται, καὶ πρᾶττε κατ’ ἐκεῖνον, ὡς ἐντεθύμηται ἢ λελάληκεν αὐτὸς ἢ πεποίηκεν. οἱ γὰρ ἅγιοι, μιμηταὶ τοῦ κυρίου ἀκριβεῖς γενηθέντες, διὰ τῆς πρὸς αῦτοὺς χαρακτηρίσεως τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἡμᾶς μιμητὰς καθιστῶσι, ?? φησιν ὁ μέγας ἀπόστολος· «μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε, καθὼς κἀγὼ Χριστοῦ». καὶ λοιπὸν ὅλον τοῦ ὁσίου τὸν βίον γράμματα ἔχων, οἷάπερ ἔφαμεν, ἐξ αὐτοῦ λαμβάνων τὰ σχήματα εὐθέτως διατίθει τὰ πράγματα· ἵνα, ὃν ἀγαπᾶς κατὰ ψυχὴν καὶ περιέχει Νικόλαον, τοῦτον καὶ ζηλοῖς ἐπ’ ἔργοις καὶ μιμῇ διὰ βῖου παντὸς πατροπόθητα, κἀντεῦθεν ἐπαξίως τῆς διαθέσεως συγκληρωθείης αὐτῷ τῆν νίκην ἐν μέσῳ τῷ λαῷ σου καὶ γένῃ θεοδώρητον φερωνύμημα, τὸ αὐτὸ καὶ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν προσευχόμενος, χάριτι καὶ φιλανθρωπίᾳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ᾧ ἡ δόξα σὺν τῷ πατρὶ καὶ τῷ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. ἀμήν.
If anybody feels like typing up some more of the text, and contributing it in the comments, then please do. Apparently it makes the task of working with it, using the LSJ and TLG, much easier for those wanting to do so!
UPDATE: Transcriptions of more portions of the text by Joel Eidsath can be found in the comments!
- G. Anrich, Hagios Nikolaos, 2 vols. Leipzig, 1913.↩