The Arabic Christian historians are very little known. But they preserve Byzantine historian material, and indeed materials from elsewhere also. No English translations exist of their works; indeed some have not even been printed in the original language. The first two are Agapius and Eutychius. I don’t know Arabic, but a few years ago I made a translation of Agapius from an old French translation, mainly using Google Translate. I have been working on Eutychius for a while, based on an Italian translation which almost nobody has access to.
I thought that I would go back to the start of Eutychius, and translate the opening prefatory section. Bits of the Italian are really beyond me, so I have just done my best.
Note that you can’t rely on this translation to give you more than the general sense; and if that is not enough for your purposes, then please make arrangements to get a better one made! I have rather hurried through general theological stuff, and concentrated on the historical statements. The purpose of all this, otherwise useless labour, is simply to get people reading and using Eutychius, and, with luck, to kick-start the process of making a real translation.
FIRST PART – FROM ADAM TO HERACLIUS
In the name of God, One, Pre-Eternal, Everlasting, without beginning or end, to whom we turn.
Book of History, compiled with verification and checking. The work of Patriarch Eutychius, called Sa’id ibn Batriq, written down by his brother `Isa, concerning the knowledge of universal history from the time of Adam to the years of the Islamic Hegira.
May God inspire you, my brother, with the best and most useful blessings, and of those things which are distressing and sad, may you receive the least serious and dangerous; may He cover you all over with the veil of His protection and keep you always in greater strength. May He cause you to achieve, in this as in the other world, success, and also your share in this life and the next. May He make you understand everything that pleases Him and may you never be distracted from whatever about Him that could turn you away.
May you understand what you have asked me to write for you – may you render to God blessings of virtue and preserve you from the sordid world of vices! – regarding all knowledge of universal history from the time of Adam to the years of the Islamic Hegira, and I have presented this in the months, the years and the centuries, should you need it, so that you can respond to questions by anyone, scholar or layman. May you trace – May God make you the widest practicable path to happiness and make you know at any moment the most profound science and the highest usefulness! – a representation and a certain example in succinct and profitable form, and in the manner deemed appropriate by me up to your noble soul, adhering acumen of your high and sublime intelligence, quoting and extracting whatever I could find from the Torah and from the Gospel, as well as from other old and new books, then including all these in my book, so as to render it as good as possible, and as accurate as possible with this method. So I have completed a result that can both satisfy those with intellect, and satisfy those who have understanding. I have explained this to you, as well as to your brothers, so that it can be, both from us and to you, a prize and a blessing.
Sa`īd ibn Batrīq, the physician, spoke as follows: “Before anything else, let us begin by giving praise to our Lord, our Benefactor, to our Creator and the One who gives us life – Exalted be his praise! – and praise – Hallowed be His name! -, and it is the right way to begin every book and treatise. From him – Powerful and Almighty God – we ask help in what we are going to do, according to his usual benevolence. It is right to praise God, who is the Lord and the Creator, and Who expects the thanks of His worshipers. Indeed, he established the first things that they were created and governs them; He has made a way of truth to follow out of mercy and justice, and out of corruption and injustice a way of falsity which it is forbidden to undertake. He has not imposed on his worshipers deeds beyond their ability, or prescribed things to his creatures which are outside their powers. But He has made them arbiters of their actions, moderators of their works and responsible for themselves. He has provided help to them in this, by virtue of judgment, discernment, the subtle reflection and [His] assistance, thanks to the intellect which He has awarded them, making it a final judgment of reason against their mistakes and a way that can be a guide to them, for the sake of their good and out of compassion for them. Praise be made therefore to God, One alone. He – Powerful and Almighty – in His eternal essence, in His eternal wisdom and in His life without beginning or end, is worthy of praise and celebration and worthy of glory and exaltation. Nothing has He ever left ambiguous in His law that could give rise to doubt and nothing has he left uncertain in his Precepts that could cause dissention; but He has laid out everything in a clear and obvious way to the people, despite their diversity of origin and place, and given a clear understanding to all nations, despite their different languages and dialects, through the revelation made to his Prophets and Apostles, and by means of miracles and terrible signs [given by him]. Thus He has invited us to embrace his religion, promising the blessed vision to those who will believe in Him and a horrible end to those who turn their backs and deny Him. Let us praise Him, then, because that attracts to us most of His good pleasure, and get us closer to Him. I invoke Him and to Him I turn, to make sincere our intentions of welcoming what is acceptable, and so unfold our innermost desires towards that which promotes devotion to Him, and dedicate this to Him by His mercy.
Anyone who, without knowledge of the foundation of any science, intends to discourse, in order to produce something, and who knows only one branch of that science without possessing a foundation to refer to, will only produce dull and rambling discourse, and the fatigue and the effort made by him in doing so will be almost completely a waste and a sham. The Lord and Saviour in His holy gospel offered a simile of this, saying: “He who bumptiously builds his house upon the sand, a wind and a storm will pass over it, and soon heavy rains that overwhelm will destroy it; but he who builds his house on the rock, the winds and heavy rains will not destroy it”[Mt. 7:24-27]. Let’s take this as an example and lesson for those who can. Anyone who speaks of any science without a foundation which to refer and to rest, will soon experience his own impotence, and will have to stop in a hurry, like the one who builds his house upon the sand. With those who discourse of any science, knowing the foundation, sensible, bright, clear and balanced will be the discourse, because he has spoken with a foundation on which to rest and to refer to, like the one who builds his house on rock. Indeed Plato and Aristotle have already spoken in books of logic and in other books on the principles of science, and their definitions, as well as on the principles and definitions of arithmetic, showing what is the way that the learned man must follow, if he intends to acquire knowledge of any science which he wants, explaining and setting forth everything at full length. There is no need to repeat here what they have exhibited in an exemplary way, so that we don’t make our book too long.
Now since I stated earlier, at the beginning of my book, that anyone who wants to talk about the knowledge of a science, must know the foundation, it is necessary for me to give a foundation to refer to and on which to base ourselves. Men, you know, have taken different and conflicting positions about history. Whatever I thought right to excerpt from the Torah and other reliable books, after long consideration and much effort, I will set out in a comprehensive and clear way, and as succinct and concise information, so that my book is in itself sufficient, and it is not so necessary to resort to any other sources, in order to know more of the story. And I shall start with the moment when God created Adam, and carry on up to the present day, so that you will have a clear understanding. In God, our helper in achieving what is being asked, is our support, power and strength, and in Him is we can achieve the things useful to us if we obey Him and we make what is to his liking. For He is in fact Almighty.
- I’m pretty doubtful about this sentence, but it’s clearly devotional.↩