The rediscovery of Philo, Eusebius’ Chronicon in Armenian

A number of otherwise lost works of antiquity are preserved in Armenian.  The monks of the Mechitarist order, Armenians based in Venice, were responsible for the first publications of these, usually with a Latin translation.  Such was their scholarly reputation that, when the French Revolutionaries conquered Venice, under a certain Napoleon, and seized almost all the monasteries, the Mechitarists uniquely were left along.

One of their publications was the Chronicon of Eusebius.  The Greek original, in two books, is lost.  St. Jerome came across a copy in Constantinople in 379 AD, and translated book 2 into Latin, thereby beginning the process of western historical study of dates and events.  But the Armenian translation from the Greek does not include Jerome’s additions, and also includes book 1.  As ever with Eusebius, book 1 is full of direct quotations from now-lost ancient authors such as Alexander Polyhistor.

Today I came across a fascinating paper by Anna Sirinian, “‘Armenian Philo’: A survey of the literature”, in S.M. Lombardi &c, Studies on the Ancient Armenian Version of Philo’s Works, Brill (2010), 7-44 (Preview), which describes the discovery of the lost works by Philo, and also, around the same time, of the manuscript of Eusebius’ Chronicon.

I thought that a couple of lively pages from this article might be of interest to many outside of Philo enthusiasts.  Note that I have not included the many and very useful footnotes.  My OCR software has mangled the various above-letter items in the transcription of Armenian, but I doubt that matters here.  Consult the Google Books preview for the full text.

Anna Sirinian (p.10):

At the end of the eighteenth century, the Mechitarist Fathers reaped the fruits of their intense activity of research in the field of ancient and medieval Armenian literature with an amazing double discovery. Eusebius’s Chronicon emerged from an Armenian manuscript at Constantinople, while Philo’s treatises were found in the Armenian Cathedral at Lvov (then Poland). Thus some works of these two fundamental writers, whose Greek originals are not extant, were brought back to light. Here, in short, is the story of these two discoveries.

In 1791, during a journey across Poland in search of manuscripts, the Mechitarist Father Yovhannes Zohrapean, also known as Giovanni Zohrab (1756-1829), came across an old dusty book stored away in the Armenian Cathedral at Lvov: it was a complete codex of the corpus of ‘Armenian Philo’. This superb parchment codex had been copied in 1296 by the scribe Vasil in an elegant bolorgir (minuscule), by order of the philosopher-king Het’um II.  Having identified the contents, Zohrab finally obtained permission to take the manuscript back to Venice, where it was copied before being given back.

A few years earlier, in 1787,13 an erudite friend of the Mechitarists at Constantinople, Georg Dpir Ter Yovhannisean (1737-1811), better known by his nickname ‘Palatec’i’, had let them know of the existence of Eusebius’s manuscript at the Armenian Patriarchal Library in that city.[14]

The famous scholar Mkrtic’ Awgerean (1762-1854)—alias Giovanni Battista Aucher, also a Mechitarist Father—bears witness to his early interest in this codex.  He requested and obtained from Palatec‘i a copy of this manuscript at San Lazzaro island, Venice, where it arrived in October 1790.  Aucher suspected the quality of Palatec’i’s copy, and in due course, in 1793, ordered a new copy from him. In effect, Palatec’i had indeed interpolated the original at a few points the first time, but the new copy was faithful to the original down to the most minute details. It was Giovanni Zohrab, then stationed at Constantinople, who carried this second copy back to Venice in 1794.

Twenty years went by without the news of this amazing double discovery ever getting beyond the restricted circle of the Mechitarists and their erudite friends. The silence was broken by another discoverer and editor of ancient texts of the time, Angelo Mai (1782-1854), who published the news in the pamphlet De Philonis Iudaei et Eusebii Pamphili scriptis ineditis aliorumque libris ex Armeniaca lingua convertendis dissertatio cum ipsorum operum Philonis ac praesertim Eusebiis speciminibus, scribente Angelo Maio A[mbrosiani] C[ollegii] D[octore] ex notitia sibi ab Armeniacorum codicum dominis impertita, Mediolani, Regiis typis 1816. Having been told of the existence of ‘Armenian Philo’ by Francesco Reina, Mai had spoken to Father Zohrab, ‘clarissimus doctor Armenius’, who had told him of both these discoveries during a trip to Milan. Through the information gathered from Father Zohrab, Mai could also offer a description of the two manuscripts, a list of Philo’s works in Armenian and even a provisional Latin translation of the Chronicon, in anticipation of the definitive publication of this work in the near future.

Two years later, in 1818, the Armenian version of the Chronicon was published twice over: first Angelo Mai and Giovanni Zohrab published it, exclusively in Latin translation, in Milan; Aucher’s Armenian edition with facing Latin translation was then published at Venice a few weeks later. According to Giancarlo Bolognesi, there is evidence to think that Giovanni Zohrab was vying with Aucher and effectively deprived him of his rights to publish the text exclusively. While Aucher was in Constantinople looking for other possible witnesses with which to compare Palatec’i’s second, more accurate copy, Zohrab took advantage of his absence and took possession of the first—interpolated—copy of Eusebius. In his introduction, Aucher bitterly points out how the recent Milanese publication had been obtained “ex priori illo exemplo, quod a Georgio exscriptore interpolatum diximus, clam nobis, me vero Venetiis absente, Mediolanum delato”.

A similar path was followed in the edition of ‘Armenian Philo’. Here too one may find the pair Mai-Zohrab on one side, and Aucher on the other. But it was Aucher this time who eventually edited the Armenian translation of all Philo’s lost Greek texts between 1822 and 1826. For this purpose he used the Venetian copy of the manuscript discovered at Lvov by Zohrab.26 This copy had been executed by several Mechitarist Fathers under Aucher’s direction. It bears two colophons, the first written by Zohrab to commemorate his fortunate discovery of the ancient exemplar at the Lvov library, the second—written immediately after the first—by Aucher himself. The latter confirms that the exemplar had been brought to San Lazzaro by Zohrab; however, he adds that he has himself worked on the text by completing some missing portions (lrac’uc’ak’ in the plural) of it with the help of another ancient copy discovered at Constantinople.

But there is extant also another copy of the Lvov manuscript, dated by the colophon 1816, this time the work of Zohrab exclusively. This second copy only contains ‘Armenian Philo’ of the lost Greek works, and it is now preserved at the National Library of Paris. In the colophon, Zohrab declares that, after collaborating with Mai in the publication of the Latin translation of the Chronicon, printed in 1816 in the pamphlet De Philonis Iudaei et Eusebii Pamphili scriptis ineditis, cited above, he had also prepared the Latin translation of ‘Armenian Philo’ having collated Philo’s text with another exemplar whose identification remains vague. He adds, however, that he could not utilize this text because of “incidental difficulties” (xapanarar attic’ i veray haseal, argelin zsorays gorcadrut’iwn) …

What fun!  And how interesting to hear the details of this frantic rivalry!

The footnote 14 specifies more information about the manuscript of the Chronicon:

14. This manuscript, dated to the thirteenth century, is currently preserved at the Matenadaran in Erevan with the shelfmark n. 1904, cf. O. Eganyan, A. Zeyfunyan, P‘. Ant’apyan, C’uc’ak Jeragrac’ Mastoc‘i anvan Matenadarani [Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Matenadaran Library], I, Haykakan SSH GA Hratarakc’ut’yun, Erevan 1965, 671. Apparently, Palatec’i himself came across this manuscript during his travels in search of ancient codices on behalf of the Mechitarist Fathers: as he was about to drink from a well in the Samaxi region, in the southern ranges of the Caucasian mountains, he found the ancient book of the Chronicon used as a covering across the opening of the drinking hole: cf. A. Ayvazyan, Sar hay kensagriiteanc‘ [Armenian Biographies], I, Constantinople 1893, 49-51 (cit. from B. C’ugaszean, Georg Dpir Palatec’u geank’i ew gorcuneut’ean taregrut’iwn 1737-1811 [Chronology of the Life and Works of Georg Dpir Palatec’i], Gind, Erevan 1994, 91-92). The complex history of this manuscript and its various journeys between Jerusalem, Constantinople, Ejmiacin and Erevan, deserve further study, which I propose to undertake elsewhere.

Let us hope Dr. S. finds the time to publish that study, which can only be interesting.  Few of us can work with Armenian sources, and someone who can must do work of lasting value.

I have read elsewhere the tale of the discovery of the codex; but as I heard it, it was being used as a cover for a water-jug, rather than a well.  It would be good to clarify this point.


4 thoughts on “The rediscovery of Philo, Eusebius’ Chronicon in Armenian

  1. Hi Roger,
    Looks to me like most of the works of ‘Armenian Philo’ survive in Greek. There are 13 works on the list. Sirinian basically says that ‘On Sampson’ and ‘On Jonah’ are spurious while other works such as ‘On Abraham’, ‘On Special Laws’, ‘On Providence’, ‘the Contemplative Life’ and ‘Allogorical Laws’ are all available in Greek (in the Loeb Classical Library for example) with English translations.

    The Questions and Answers on Genesis and Questions and Answers on Exodus are works that only survive in Armenian and were included in English supplement in the Loeb edition of Philo’s works. I have never heard of ‘On God’ before. I wonder if there is a translation?

  2. From the Cambridge Companion to Philo (2009) p. 44 and notes:
    Chapter 2, The Works of Philo, by James R. Royse

    De Deo ( On God ): Gen 18:2. 30
    This survives only in Armenian, and probably came from a missing book of the Allegorical
    Commentary that treated Gen 18:1ff. The surviving fragment is
    of great philosophical and theological interest. 31

    note 30 The title here is certainly not derived from Phil
    note 31This text is the subject of extensive investigation by F. Siegert. See his edi-
    tion of Philon von Alexandrien, Über die Gottesbezeichnung ‘wohltätig ver-
    zehrendes Feuer’ (De Deo) (Tübingen 1988). Siegert provides the Armenian
    original, a retroversion into Greek, and a valuable commentary. See also
    his article, ‘The Philonian Fragment De Deo: First English Translation’,
    StPhAnn 10 (1998), pp. 1–33.

  3. Hi Stephen,
    Thanks for the information about the translation. I notice that Abraham Terian also did translation of it 2016 (Studia Philonica Annual 28). Looks like he didn’t think much of the earlier one.
    I just bought a used copy from Abebooks for $30.

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