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  This work is probably the largest ante-Nicene text still unpublished.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!


A Clavis for Old Slavic, and a site for Slavic Chrysostom material

Alin Suciu is rapidly becoming one of the most important patristic bloggers.  His blog regularly announces finds of new material for Coptic.   But today’s post — a guest post by Yavor Miltenov — relates to Old Slavonic / Old Slavic.  It’s very exciting indeed!

As a result of the work of generations of philologists, the researchers in the field of Byzantine studies have at hand numerous index-catalogues dealing with classification of texts. The most recent and significant of them are, of course, Clavis patrum Graecorum, Bibliotheca hagiographica Graeca, Clavis apocryphorum Veteri Testamenti, Clavis apocryphorum Novi Testamenti, and many others – a centuries-old tradition, that serves as a base for these exceptional reference books. Any study on (or even related to) certain medieval literary monuments must as a rule consult them, as they cover an enormous material, facilitate identifications of certain works, offer standardization, unification and classification, contain the primary bibliography, and represent not only the basics of our knowledge about one particular text, but also give an opportunity to study groups of texts and corpora. Recently, the intensive research has even brought the process to further development – an online Clavis Clavium will be built upon the base of previous indexes[1].

Now this last snippet is itself very interesting!  The reference states:

[1] As announced by Caroline Macé and Gert Partoens from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven at a recent meeting in Sofia.

That is something that I would like to know more about!  But the article continues:

It is a well-known fact, that almost all medieval Slavic literary monuments (9th–16th c.) are translations from Byzantine works: whole miscellanies, single texts, excerpts used in compilations. In this sense, their adequate study is possible only if a comparison with the Byzantine originals is made. In Slavic medieval studies, however, there is no such instrumentum studiorum that contains a) classification of the translated texts and b) reference to their Greek originals[2]. For this main reason the Slavic tradition, unlike the Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, Coptic, is not “visible” to the researchers of the Byzantine cultural commonwealth, it is not fully reflected in the above-mentioned and other Claves[3], and, finally, remains isolated and thought more as a subject to be researched by the “national philologies”, than as a full member of the Byzantine-Slavic cultural space in the Middle Ages.

This is sound thinking.  And it is quite impossible for an interested amateur like myself to get any idea of what exists in this language group.  It’s like a different discipline, like trying to  go surfing on Mars!  And this should not be.

In 2011 the Bulgarian Science Fund announced a call for Young Scientists Program. I and four other colleagues decided to apply with a project entitled “Electronic database Operum patrum Graecorum versiones slavicae: cataloguing and study of the writings of John Chrysostom in Old Church Slavonic” with the kind institutional support of Central Library of Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Surprisingly, we won a grant and the project has started in the beginning of 2012!

The aim of our initiative is to elaborate a freely accessible Internet-based electronic corpus of medieval Slavic translations and their corresponding Byzantine sources.

This is good news, and the online aspect is very good news!  This will certainly help Chrysostom scholars to engage with the Slavic versions.  But Dr Miltenov continues:

I should admit that the inspiration of our idea is the Pinakes database, worked out by the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes on the base of a card-index, developed for two decades in the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies in Toronto. So we have the model, we have some sources we may use[4], we know it will take years to input sufficient material and much more time to make text identifications of our own. We have in mind also that we have almost no base to build upon: most of the descriptions of Slavic manuscripts lack identifications of texts’ Byzantine originals, we do not have Patrologiae or series of critical editions (such as Sources Chrétiennes, Corpus Christianorum, etc.), and we have no previous experience with medieval Slavic text databases that are similar to ours.

This is why, being still in the beginning, we have to think about technical solutions and scientific criteria which will last. Our Clavis has to be supplied with bibliographic and specialized data, to be user friendly, to include opportunities for expansion, permanent upgrade and publication of various types of materials (Greek and Old Church Slavonic works, manuscript catalogues, articles, books, iconographic images, etc.). In this sense it is important to prepare carefully the appropriate software and to build a model for texts description that has all the necessary metadata. We are working on these methodological issues now and I hope I’ll be able to tell you more about the development of the project soon, here on Alin’s blog.

I’m looking forward to it.  A Clavis itself would be a wonderful thing.

The main enemy of this project will be the urge to be “perfect”.  This urge, to publish nothing until it is “just so”, has caused many a promising initiative to disappear.  I hope that they will remember that the best way to eat an elephant is to do so a little at a time!

Well done, Yavor, and thank you so much Alin for hosting it!