November 2012


Yesterday, I received news that my abstract had been accepted for the “Preaching After Easter” conference which will take place in March, 2013 in Leuven.  The title of the abstract is “For those who love learning,” Gregory of Nazianzus on the Miracle of Pentecost.  It will essentially be a more detailed write-up of the passage I’ve examined here and here from Gregory’s Or. 41 on Pentecost.  I’d like to publicly thank Charles Sullivan, through whom I became interested in the passage, and whose dialogue has been extremely helpful in sorting out the intricacies of Gregory’s argument and its later reception.  I’m particularly curious about the philosophical background he may be pulling in, and also the way he weaves different scriptural passages together.  I think it’ll be fun to do a paper that’s not, strictly speaking, “digital humanities.”  

But back in the “digital” domain, I’ve submitted an abstract for the meeting of the North American Patristics Society next May.  The paper will essentially be an digital authorship analysis of as much as I can transcribe from the recently discovered Origen codex. I hope to show that stylometric analyses support an attribution of the homilies codex to Origen, and I’d also like to examine the stylometric differences within the codex.  Hopefully it’ll be accepted!  I’ve yet to attend a NAPS conference, but I’ve heard good things.

ἐν αὐτῷ,

ΜΑΘΠ

I’ve been reading through Athanasius of Alexandria’s famous “Life of St. Antony.”  This work is widely recognized as the piece of writing that launched a whole genre of Christian literature: hagiography.  From ἅγιος (agios) and γραφή (graphe), Hagiography is the genre usually used by Christian writers to describe the lives of saints.

Antony was an enormous figure in early monasticism.  Having been born into a well-to-do family, he sold his possessions around the age of 18 and devoted himself to the ascetic life.  After the devil tried many things to trip up Antony, Athanasius reaches a mini-climax describing Antony’s victory.  I rather like the conclusion: (PG 26.819

All of these things became points of shame for the Enemy.  For the one who thought himself like God was being scolded by a child, and the one who boasted over flesh and blood was being rebuked by a man who bore flesh.  The Lord, who took on flesh for our sakes, and who by his body won victory over the devil, was working with Antony.  Thus those who struggle now against the Devil may each say, “not I, but the grace of God within me!”  (1 Cor 15:10)

Athanasius’s greek is not too difficult here. He’s writing ostensibly to monks, and so doesn’t use a grand rhetorical style. He does, however, add nice touches, which probably don’t come through adequately in the translation. It is a fun work though, and I’d encourage anyone to look at it!

ἐν αὐτῷ,
ΜΑΘΠ

I’ve decided to try my hand at a bit more from Gregory’s “On the Spirit.” (cf. here). This portion describes the Divine nature:

It is Triune Union,

It is Threefold Unity.

Neither stream, nor sea, nor rushing river,

One threefold flow rushing down against the earth.

Nor as a gleam of light, returning to its flame,

Nor as a word proceeding from the mind

        yet therein abides—

Nor as a ray of the sun dances

Upon the waters and the walls:

It whirls off before the approach,

Yet arrives before leaping away.

Divine nature knows no flux:

It neither flows apart nor returns to itself,

Eternal center, age to age it is.

And the Greek:

ἐκ μονάδος Τρίας ἐστι, καὶ ἐκ Τριάδος μονὰς αὖθις,     (60)

οὔτε πόρος, πηγή, ποταμὸς μέγας, ἕν τε ῥέεθρον

ἐν τρισσοῖσι τύποισιν ἐλαυνόμενον κατὰ γαίης·

οὔτε δὲ πυρκαϊῆς λαμπὰς πάλιν εἰς ἓν ἰοῦσα,

οὔτε λόγος προϊών τε νόου καὶ ἔνδοθι μίμνων,

οὔτε τις ἐξ ὑδάτων κινήμασιν ἡλιακοῖσι     (65)

μαρμαρυγή, τοίχοισι περίτρομος, ἀστατέουσα,

πρὶν πελάσαι φεύγουσα, πάρος φυγέειν πελάουσα,

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἄστατός ἐστι θεοῦ φύσις ἠὲ ῥέουσα

ἠὲ πάλιν συνιοῦσα· τὸ δ᾽ἔμπεδόν ἐστι θεοῖο.

The Homeric references are fewer. We do have some common homeric words show up (like the verb ἐλαύνω), and Homer does use similar language when discussing rivers. In its place, though, we get a series of negative descriptions; that is, they describe what God is not. Gregory tells us that the godhead is not like a rushing river, flowing in three parts. Nor is it a ray of light, that shoots forth and returns, or a beam of light dancing on the water. His point is stated at the end of the excerpt: the divine nature is not subject to change or flux. But even when describing what God is not, he uses lovely images. One vividly pictures light bouncing against the water off the walls of a city. Gregory is fond of employing light imagery for the trinity, and a few lines laters he says, “one nature, firmly established in three lights.” But here he paints a delightful picture, even as a negative description.

ἐν αὐτῷ,
ΜΑΘΠ

As I was reading book 24 of the Iliad today, I came up line 232:

{χρυσοῦ δὲ στήσας ἔφερεν δέκα πάντα τάλαντα,}

Meaning, “and standing, [Priam] bore all ten talents of gold.”

Since the line was in brackets, I looked down at the apparatus to see why the line was of questionable authenticity.  I was quite surprised to find this in the critical apparatus:

(= Τ 247) damn. Christ

Yikes!  This means that Christ has condemned this line, presumably because it is similar to book 19 line 247.  Not being familiar with the German philologist Wilhelm von Christ, it looked to me like Jesus had dabbled in Greek philology!

ἐν αὐτῷ,

ΜΑΘΠ

For my term paper in my Homer class, I’ll be examining the Homeric influences in Gregory of Nazianzus’s Poemata Arcana. These are the first eight of his dogmatic poems.  Written in the epic hexameter of Homer, the poems are exquisite statements of Christian dogma and aesthetics.  The third poem, entitled “On the Spirit” commences in dramatic fashion.  Indulge me as I translate a few lines (with suitable poetic license):


“O Soul, why are you troubled?
Sing the boast of the Spirit,
Lest you divide the one not made so by nature.
Let us tremble at this great Spirit,
My God, by whom I know God;
The Spirit of God in the Heavens,
Who yet makes me a god here on the Earth.
Almighty, All-giving, the Song of the Sacred Dance,
Bearer of Life, both seen and unseen;
Divine counselor, He proceeds from the Father;
Divine Spirit he goes un-bidden.
He is not the Child;
But one is worthy of such honor,
Yet apart from God he is not;
Divine, he is equal in nature.”

Θυμέ, τί δηθύνεις; καὶ Πνεύματος εὖχος ἄειδε,
μηδὲ τέμῃς μύθοισιν ὃ μὴ φύσις ἐκτὸς ἔθηκε.
Πνεῦμα μέγα τρομέωμεν, ὅ μοι θεός, ᾧ θεὸν ἔγνων,
ὃς θεός ἐστιν ἔναντα, καὶ ὅς Θεὸν ἐνθάδε τεύχει·
πανσθενές, αἰολόδωρον, ἁγνῆς ὕμνημα χορείης,>
οὐρανίων χθονίων τε φερέσβιον, ὑψιθόωκον,
Πατρόθεν ἐρχόμενον, θεῖον μένος, ἀυτοκέλευστον,
οὔτε Πάϊς (μοῦνος γὰρ ἑνὸς Πάϊς ἐσθλὸς ἀρίστου)
οὔτ᾽ ἐκτὸς θεότητος ἀειδέος, ἀλλ᾽ ὁμόδοξον.

If you look at the Greek, you’ll see quite a few differences: I make no apologies here. Translating poetry demands poetic license. Of course, I’m hardly a competent English poet. Hopefully, my translation brings out some of what is truly beautiful in the original. Gregory’s poetry is difficult, but stunning in its erudition and loveliness.

I’ve bolded a few things I found particularly interesting or appealing in the Greek. First, one has acknowledge Gregory’s debt to Homer. The very first word of the poem, θυμός, is extremely common word for soul or spirit in Homer. Likewise, his command to his soul to “sing the boast of the Spirit” uses Homer’s singing and boasting language. One is reminded of the very first line of the Iliad, “Wrath, Goddess, sing!” One thinks too of Homer’s heroes always boasting in their lineage. Before a battle there was usually an exchange of words, each opponent boasting in his family line. So too, Gregory exhorts his soul to boast in the Spirit, so that it may be prepared for battle with those who “divide what by nature is indivisible.”

Of course, Gregory writes as a Christian poet as well. Though Homer has an immeasurable influence on his form and vocabulary, Gregory melds with it a web of Christian influences and theology. One particularly glaring incident comes in the 7th line, where the Spirit is called, θεῖον μένος. Μένος is another extremely common Homeric word. It means something like our english word “spirit,” but a bit more like in our use of “high-spirited.” Sometimes “battle strength” or “battle rage” is more fitting (the flexibility is rather like the Latin animus). But here, the Spirit the divine μένος! Gregory has taken an extremely common Homeric word, and filled it entirely with new content.

The Scriptural resonances are evident as well. The first line, while clearly echoing Greek epic, also echoes the Psalmist, “why are you downcast O Soul!” The Spirit is the “bearer of Life” for both “the heavenly ones and the earthly ones,” which I translated “seen and unseen” to evoke the allusions to the great creed. But my favorite phrase of these lines definitely comes from the fifth line, where the Spirit is the “ἁγνῆς ὕμνημα χορείης,” “the Song of the Sacred Dance.” It is turns of phrase like that that have established Gregory as one of the greatest Christian poets. His use of language so carefully and beautifully exhibits the truth of Christian theology. The two meanings of orthodoxy, which is both true worship and true theology, come together exquisitely in Gregory. Rightly has the Church remembered with the simple epithet, “the Theologian.”

ἐν αὐτῷ
ΜΑΘΠ

If you’ve ever heard a sermon on the nature of the Holy Spirit, the speaker may have used John 14:16 as a reference:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give another comforter to you, one that will be with you always.”

The Greek behind the English word, “another” is the adjective ἄλλος.  It’s common to hear that there are two words for “another” in Greek: ἄλλος and ἕτερος.  I can’t think of any English derivatives of ἄλλος, but ἕτερος is where we get our “hetero” words, like heterogenous.  At any rate, ἄλλος (which is used here), means “another of the same type” in classical Greek, while ἕτερος means “another of a different type.”  This distinction is still felt in the New Testament period, though the two words start to overlap more and more.

As always, with points of Greek usuage like this, I like to refer to the Greek fathers when possible.  Their Greek is better than mine will ever be!  Gregory, in his Oration on Pentecost (Or. 41), supports the distinction between the two words, and puts it to good use when discussing the Holy Spirit:

Διὰ τοῦτο μετὰ Χριστὸν μέν, ἵνα Παράκλητος ὑμῖν μὴ λείπῃ·  «Ἄλλος» δὲ, ἵνα σὺ τὴν ἰσοτιμίαν ἐνθυμηθῇς. τὸ γὰρ «ἄλλος» οὐκ ἐπὶ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ τῶν ὁμοουσίων οἶδα λεγόμενον.

Because of this, after Christ (the Spirit came), so that you would not lack a helper.  This helper is “another” (ἄλλος) so that you may know that he is one of equal honor.  For the word “ἄλλος” does not refer to things of a different type, but we know that it said about things that are of the same nature (gk. ὁμοούσιος, the word used in the Nicene Creed to refer to the “consubstantiality” of the Godhead).  

Scholars of Greek often lament the poor use of Greek in sermons, but this particular point is well-founded in our knowledge of Greek, and has precedent in the Church Fathers. One could, I suppose, argue against it, but it’s always nice to have Gregory of Nazianzus on your side.

ἐν αὐτῷ,

ΜΑΘΠ

I am now en route back to Maryland, having attended my first Byzantine Studies Conference.  My stay was tiring, but delightful, even more so because of the generous hospitality I enjoyed from friends of my in-laws! Like most conferences of this breadth, you listen to a great variety of papers.  Some were good, some less so; some topics I knew well, and others not so well.  At any rate, there were plenty of interesting papers and people with whom and from whom to learn!

My own paper was received well.  As far as I can tell, it was the only Digital Humanities-esque paper, which surprised me.  I’ve discovered that being a computer guy in a room full of humanists elicits lots of discussion!  From what I can tell, humanists are interested in digital approaches, but they lack access to people with the skills to create or use them.  The paper I presented was about stemmatology: creating a family tree of manuscripts for a textual tradition.  It wasn’t anything new (this particular method, parsimony has been around quite a while in digital stemmatology), but the techniques I described were unfamiliar to many in the room.  I hope that digital humanists of all stripes will continue to attend traditional conferences, in addition to the Digital Humanities conferences.  We don’t need our disciplines to fragment any more than they are currently!

I ran into to several people I had met at Oxford this summer, and that was a treat.  It’s always nice to see familiar faces, and develop relationships further.  I also met many new people, one of the great benefits of conferences.  Scholarship is both communal and solitary.  Since most scholars tend towards solitude (I know I do!), it’s wonderful to gather with like-minded people and discuss the topics you love.  

Regarding the presentations, I noticed a dichotomy in Byzantine Studies between “texts” people and “art/materials” people.  I fit squarely in the “texts” group, but the “art/materials” people had some great presentations.  I was impressed by their ability to hold my attention, even though I have very little interest in Archaeology and Art History.  I guess it’s always helpful to have lovely art in one’s presentation!

One of my favorite paper was given by Fr. Maximos (Constas).  It offered his reflections on editing and translating Maximus the Confessor’s Ambigua, easily one of the most influential theological works in the history of the Eastern Church.  His edition is due out along with his translation soon from the Harvard University Press, as part of the new Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library.  His discription of the state of the text before his edition was appalling:  the edition printed in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca relied on a single late manuscript that was full of errors.  In addition, Migne added lots of his own errors to the text in the process of editing it.  Several of these errors have severely puzzled scholars, and made Maximus’ arguments impossible to follow.  Maximus is already difficult, and we had a poor edition making it even worse!  This deeply reaffirmed my own hope to edit patristic texts.  How many other Greek authors are laboring in such poor editions! Editing a text is difficult, laborious work: but it is also very rewarding. It generates something useful for the scholarly (and wider) community, and nothing engages one so deeply into a text as editing and translating it. It’s not for everyone, but we certainly need more editors!  Hopefully my own skills will progress quickly, and I’ll be able contribute an edition!

ἐν αὐτῷ,

ΜΑΘΠ

 

 

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