Is this Katharevousa and can anyone translate it? A passage from Damaskenos Monachos on St Nicholas punching Arius

Let me introduce to a certain Damaskenos Monachos.  Apparently he lived in the second half of the 16th century, and may (or may not) be identical with the man of that name who was Bishop of Liti and Rendini in 1564; and Metropolitan of Naupaktos and Arta in 1570.  He composed a biography of St Nicholas of Myra, based on earlier accounts, which he included in his Thesaurus.  The oldest edition of his work was printed in Venice in 1570.  There is information about him in E. Legrand, Bibliographie hellenique II (1885), p.12 f.

All these details I obtain from G. Anrich’s Hagios Nikolaus, I (1913), p.459-60.  Anrich prints an extract from the 1896 edition of the text which mentions, charmingly, how St Nicholas of Myra punched Arius on the jaw at the First Council of Nicaea.  I’ve posted it below.

Unfortunately I can’t read this.  A Greek correspondent tells me that it seems very like Katharevousa, or like the Greek that might be read in a service on Mt Athos.  I had not heard of this, but apparently it was a compromise between ancient and modern Greek which was the official language of Greece until 1976.  An educated Greek should be able to handle it, he thinks.

If you can read it – all of it -, would you like to translate it into English for me?  I can pay something.  You can message me via my contact form.

Here is the text:


UPDATE: And here are a couple more lines, from the Handbook of painting icons, issued by Mount Athos:


A kind correspondent has sent in a rough translation of all this material, which is as follows:

Damascenos the Monk:  Life of saint Nicholas the wonder-worker:  Large collection of lives of saints, or “Great Book of Saints” by Const. Chr. Doukakis.   20th of December, in Athens, 1896, pages 171-190.

10.  p.179-180.  After the king seated himself on the throne, one hundred and fifty nine fathers seated themselves at either side of him, both they and Arius arguing with much unease.  Saint Nicholas, noticing that Arius was about to quash all the archpriests and moved by divine zeal, rose up and gave him a slap that shook all his members. Complaining, Arius says to the king: “O most just king, is it fair, before your royal highness, for one to strike another?  If he has something to say, let him speak as the other fathers do; if he is ignorant, let him remain silent as his like are. For what reason does he slap me in the presence of your highness?”  Hearing this, the king was greatly disappointed and said to the archpriests: “Holy archpriests, it is the law, that whosoever raises his hand before the king to strike someone, that it should be cut off. I leave this to you, so that your holiness(es) might be the judge.”  The archpriests replied, saying: “Your majesty, that the archpriest has acted wrongly all of us confess it; except that we beseech you, let us unstate him now and imprison him, and after the dissolution of the council, we shall then convict him.”

Having unstated and imprisoned him, that night Christ and the Holy Mother Theotokos appeared in prison and said: “Nicholas, why are you imprisoned?”  And the saint replied: “For loving You”. Christ then said to him: “Take this,” and gave him the holy gospel; the Holy Mother Theotokos gave him the archpriestly omophorion (scapular).  The next day some acquaintances of his brought him bread and they saw that he was freed of his fetters and on his shoulder he was wearing the omophorion, while reading the holy gospel he was holding in his hands. Having asked him where he found them, he told them the whole truth.  Having learnt of this, the king took him out of the prison and asked for forgiveness, as did all the others.  After the dissolution of the council, all the archpriests returned home, as did saint Nicholas, to his province.

And from the painting manual (I don’t know the English name of this work: in German it is the Malbuch), the items seem to be legends to place on the icons.  The first reads as follows:

“The holy and ecumenical 1st Synod in Nicaea….
And Arius, standing, also in hieratic vestment, and standing before him, Saint Nicholas with arm outstretched to slap him.”

The second one says:

“The saint in prison, receiving the gospel from Christ and the omophorion from the Holy Mother. – Prison, and at the centre is the saint and Christ at his right holding a gospel; at his left the Theotokos holding an omphorion: they are giving these to him.”

Again, many thanks!  Comments are welcome!


13 thoughts on “Is this Katharevousa and can anyone translate it? A passage from Damaskenos Monachos on St Nicholas punching Arius

  1. At a glance it looks like fairly straightforward Koine (which was (and continues to be) used liturgically, as well as being the language of the N.T.).

    Katharevousa was a nineteenth century invention: an attempt to drag the contemporary Demotic back in the direction of the Classical language.

  2. Es handelt sich, soweit ich das beurteilen kann, nicht mehr um klassisches Griechisch.
    Leider habe ich nicht genügend Zeit, den Text zu übersetzen.

    In der Überschrift lese ich:
    Damaskenos der Mönch1, Leben des heiligen Nikolaos, des Wundertäters: Große Sammlung von Heiligenleben oder Megas Synaxaristes2 von Konstantinos Chr. Dukakis (1840-1908). Monat Dezember, Athen1896, Seite (?) 171-190.
    1: Ein Eigenname „Damaskenos Monachos“ würde klassisch einen Artikel „ho“ zwischen „Damaskenos“ und „Monachos“ erfordern, aber m. W. wird von einem Eigennamen ausgegangen. Zu Damaskenos und seinem Werk vergleiche die informative Fussnote zu S. 459, Zeile16
    2: Großer Synaxaristes (das zweite Wort des 1891-1896 erschienen Titels kenne ich nicht, bedeutet aber wohl etwas im Sinne von „Zusammenstellung“ – vergleiche das lateinische Lehnwort „synaxarium“)
    Vgl. Μέγας Συναξαριστής Κωνσταντίνου Χ. Δουκάκη
    No. 13

  3. Dr Schmidt,

    Yes the synarxion is the Orthodox ‘Book of Saints’, abbreviated lives of saints for use in public worship or for personal prayer. It is like collection of abbreviated martyrologies.

    Roger, your commenters are right.
    This is neither Classic nor katharevousa (too early) and I’d say not even koine. It looks like very early modern Greek (= from 16th century onwards. It actually seems close to present day modern Greek0. Your correspondent provided a good translation.

    The Byzantine rite Orthodox and Catholic churches still say liturgy in Byzantine greek. This is not necessarily understandable to a modern Greek speakers. In the Greek Orthodox church [as opposed to other Byzantine rite churches) it was customary (for a while) for priests to deliver the homily in katharevousa but many gave that up when katharevousa was dumped back in the 1980s and stick to the venacular.

    I was raised Orthodox. St Nicholas slapping a heretic was part of our tradition.

  4. It’d be nice to track down some icons of St Nicholas slapping Arius. A photo of the fresco in the Soumela Monastery (Turkey) is here (Livius also has an article on St Nicholas).

  5. Thank you so much, IG, for this insight. I know so little that learned additions are most welcome! I’m going to write a post on the “Nicholas slapping Arius” stuff – this was just part of what I wanted to know.

    As for the icons … yes!

  6. It is true that the name Katharevousa mostly appears with Adamantios Korais and it is more proper to call it Archaizousa. There is a tendency in Greece today to call all artificially archaizing Greek Katharevousa, not just what postdates the Revolution. However I would definitely not call it common Greek, we do have sources from the 16th century (mostly songs) and this is not how people spoke to each other on the street. Spoken Greek became fashionable to record only with Enlightenment but it still took a couple of centuries until it became the official language of Greece. You see our ancestors (all the way back to the first century AD) believed that the reason that Great Works were no longer produced was that the Greek language had degenerated and thus to restore literary production we had to restore the ancient form and clean it (katharizo) of corruption, foreign and domestic. It is pretty ironic, the Akritika songs from ca 1000 AD centuries ago or the Ptochoprodromika from the 12th century are in a language pretty close to what is spoken today in Greece, it just took until 1976 to accept it as proper Greek.

  7. This Romanian blog on St Nicholas of Myra has some (unreferenced) icons including a few of with Jesus holding the gospel book and Mary the omphorion (these seem the obviously old ones written according to traditional schemas). But no slaps!

    The ‘storyboard’ icons (as I call them) are interesting too because you can sometimes work out which work/oral tradition influenced them by the scenes depicted on the icon. None of those scenes feature a slap.

    The blog also has a few articles in Romanian (google does a reasonable job with machine translation) written by a deacon I think. In the article on Nicaea the author refers to Nicholas’ ‘well known’ defense against Arianism. He reckons that the testimony of Eustratios of Constantinople in favor of this statement is important and that German critic Gustav Anrich supports this information, finding it in Vita per Michel. He also refers out some other information from unnamed hagiographies.

    If Nicholas of Myra had such a reputation, one can already see how folklore/imaginative hagiography morphed this into St Nicholas slapping a heretic or Arius, particularly in the eastern (and orthodox) tradition which emphasized right belief as much as right action.

  8. Interesting – thank you! (Yes, I find Romanian is handled reasonably OK – how wonderful it is, that we can do this today!)

    I’ve had an email with material from Gerardo Cioffari saying that Nicholas was indeed at Nicaea, and giving early sources. Maybe I’ll post some of it. 🙂

    Thank you also for this material on the evolution of Greek. I never knew!

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