A fragment of De Pythonissa by Methodius of Olympus (d. ca. 300), and more, discovered in Old Slavonic

Every so often I come across a splendid piece of scholarly work; work that makes me want to stand up, and cheer, and shout “look at this!!!”. I’m thinking of work that could only be done by a professional scholar of great skill, great linguistic ability, and massive determination.

Such an experience came my way today with an 2020 article by Alexey A. Morozov, in Russian, who is preparing to edit for the first time the De Resurrectione of Methodius of Olympus, composed in three books and attacking some of the dafter ideas of Origen.  This work is probably the largest ante-Nicene text still unpublished.  Dr Morozov is based at the university of Fribourg in Switzerland, from where some very excellent philological work has emerged in recent years.

The article citation is:

Морозов А. А. Диалог Мефодия Олимпийского «О воскресении» (CPG 1812) и методология критического издания славянских текстов // Библия и христианская древность. 2020. № 3 (7). С. 80–125. DOI: 10.31802/BCA.2020.7.3.003

Morozov, Alexey A. “Dialogue of Methodius of Olympus ‘On the Resurrection’ (CPG 1812) and the Methodology of Critical Edition of the Slavonic Texts”. Bible and Christian Antiquity, № 3 (7), 2020, pp. 80–125 (in Russian). DOI: 10.31802/BCA.2020.7.3.003

The original Russian can be downloaded in PDF from here.  I’m sure everyone realises that I had to pass it through Google translate in order to read it.  To save others having to do the same, I have pasted the raw output into a Word .docx file, which is here.

Only fragments of the original Greek text of De Resurrectione still exist.  But the complete text is preserved in Old Slavonic (or “Old Slavic” as our American friends seem to want to call it).  This, like most Old Slavonic texts, has never been published.  In fact, before the fall of the Soviet Union, it was simply impossible to access the manuscripts anyway.  A complete Italian translation exists, but this was made directly from a random manuscript.  This is a hard area in which to work.

The article itself is an example of hard, painstaking, grinding labour.  It is the product of assembling copies of all the manuscripts in every archive in Eastern Europe –  nineteen -, and collating the lot in order to produce a stemma.  It must have taken him ages.  Just locating manuscripts alone involved wading through bad catalogues.  Most people in the past just wimped out and worked from whatever manuscript they were able to locate, just as people did back with classical texts at the renaissance.  There was nothing else you could do.  So in one article he has opened up the whole field.  Nobody will ever thank him, I fear.  But this paper will form the basis for all subsequent work on the Old Slavonic text of Methodius.  It is simply excellent stuff.

Likewise he sits down and addresses the fundamental question: how should Old Slavonic texts be published?  He reviews past work, and produces a list of bullet points with the principles to be followed.  This is fundamental stuff, and ought to be very influential.

There is more.  Reward comes to the selfless scholar who buries himself in such a dry task.  Dr Morozov’s reward is to make discoveries.  First he has found some substantial portions of the text which are missing from most manuscripts of the text.  Even better, he has discovered a fragments of a lost work of Methodius, mentioned by Jerome but lost since antiquity!  He gives a diplomatic transcription of the short section of De Pythonissa, which I think was headed “On the demise of magic” in his manuscript.  Sadly he does not give a translation, and not even Google Translate can handle Old Slavonic.  He has also discovered an Old Slavonic translation of the Symposium of Methodius, the only work preserved in Greek, but not previously known in Old Slavonic.  This is likely to clarify the text in some particulars.

Dr Morozov’s findings run to 40 pages.   They promise very well for his forthcoming edition of the work.  I hope that it will be accompanied by a translation in French.

Magical stuff in a neglected field!  More please!

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9 thoughts on “A fragment of De Pythonissa by Methodius of Olympus (d. ca. 300), and more, discovered in Old Slavonic

  1. Thank you Roger for your hard work and a making these translations available and access to the news of such research that is still going on. I hope you benefit from a fulfillment of your own prophecy — “Reward comes to the selfless scholar who buries himself in such a dry task.”

  2. Wonderful news Roger, thank you for publicizing it! On a related note, Origen’s Homilies on the Psalms from Codex Monacensis Graecus 314 has just been released this month in English translation with the Fathers of the Church series. It is the last work Origen wrote which has come down to us. As you know it was discovered about 9 years ago, so the turn around time from discovery, to critical edition, to English translation is quite impressive.

  3. It was always, always “Old Church Slavonic” as recently as the late Eighties/early Nineties. So I guess people dropped the “Church” part, and then decided they were grossed out by “Slavonic” also.

    Annoying.

  4. Anyhoo, I stink at reading it — although it is possible to stare at the words, pretend they are modern Russian and Cyrillic, and get a few common words out of it.

    But yeah, I’m one of those people who can’t read icon inscriptions in that Slavonic-ish font unless I know what they say already… so I guess transcribing it into something else would be the first step.

    AHA! Academia.edu has an OCR transcribed Slavonic text on their version of the paper!! (From the journal where it was published in Europe.) It’s a mess!! But also a start.

  5. There’s something about how angels can’t change the truth, the truth is the truth, we all fell as one on Earth, but God sent down truth from the mountain? (Sinai, I guess?)

    I guess it’s talking about trusting the Gospel instead of random spirits?

  6. гоже о ́кончи́не во́лше́бнои ჻

    ≁Нра́въе еь непрїазни ѡ ́бразы ребеже мно́гажы единонра́въвными.

    и подо́бными собе бсми а҆ ни дш҃ъ прр ҇чьскъ мо́же и а҆да приводи́ᲅи.

    ни дх ҃ъ пра́веныхъ.

    ни а҆гглъ мо́жеъ̾.

    но проᲅи́вно семꙋ бы́сть.

    рꙋг а҆ггломъ бж҃їем ̾подаже, и рабом ̾ бж҃їемъ.

    ꙗ҆ко прїаᲅїи пове́рженꙋ емꙋ̀ еди́ною на́ земле.

    но ѡ҆нъ у҆бо съ горы̀.

    шмомъ вели́кымъ съве́р̾женъ посла́нъ бы́сь правдивыимъ ჻ ≁

    днномꙋ же ᲅо́кмо вседръ ́жцꙋ досᲅо́нно.

    бг и ѿц ҃ и е҆ди́ноесь свеном его сн҃ꙋ.

    и прт ҇омꙋ дх҃ꙋ.

    дш҃а приводи́ти из̾ а҆да.

    и чи́ны агг҃льскы чино́мъ пресᲅоѧща имѣи.

    еже бо́леи сво́его.

    е ҇ бж҃їа ес ҇ва ჻ ≁

    Oh, and I think he’s saying that the (bad) angels are hiding/suppressing their names? I guess they’re pretending to be pagan gods under pseudonyms? Or maybe he’s talking about good angels visiting people unawares?

    Phew, I wish I knew more Russian church words. I don’t get the feeling that these are super-hard words. I just don’t know ’em.

  7. Apparently Old Slavonic comes inbetween Old Church Slavonic and regular modern Russian/Slavic stuff. My paranoia was unfounded.

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