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Parole de l’Orient 36 (2011) 305-313




The Apophthegmata Patrum, or the sayings of the desert fathers (and

mothers) have since the early 20th century been regarded as the most im-
portant literary source for early monasticism. Since the publication of Wil-
helm Bousset’s work, Die Apophthegmata Patrum in 1923 they have tradi-
tionally been understood to be based on oral traditions from fourth-century
Egyptian monastic centres, written down in the mid-fifth century, most
probably in Palestine1. In the flourishing field of studies on early monasti-
cism they are increasingly drawn upon, and in spite of some critical voices,
most often treated as reliable evidence for the emerging Egyptian monastic
tradition and its paramount importance for the developments of Greek, Latin,
Syriac and Ethiopic monastic spirituality. The apophthegmata are analyzed
from a variety of perspectives, discussed in relation to historical and theolog-
ical developments, used as sources in a variety of fields of research and in
recent decades translated into numerous modern languages2.
But still the image used by René Draguet, a man who devoted most of
his scholarship to early monasticism in general and the literature associated
with the apophthegmata in particular, is applicable. The apophthegmata are
not only often, as in the Syriac version, included in works entitled the Gar-
den of Paradise, but, as Draguet asserts, a veritable Eden, a garden in which
everyone wants to walk around, but a garden so impenetrable that no one is
able to enter3. Or, to use an image taken from the sayings tradition itself, it is
like the perfect garden in the innermost desert once visited by Abba Macari-

1) Wilhelm BOUSSET, Die Apophthegmata. Studien zur Geschichte des ältesten

Mönchtums, J.C.B. Mohr, Tübingen, 1923.
2) For an introduction to the Apophthegmata see William HARMLESS, Desert Chris-
tians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism, Oxford University Press, New
York, 2004.
3) René DRAGUET, “Le Paterikon de l’add. 22508 du British Museum”, Le Muséon 63
(1950), p. 25.

us, surrounded by vast stretches of desert where demons perpetually lead

people astray and block the entrances, an ideal beyond what a simple monk
or man can hope for in this world4. The bewildering complexity of versions,
recensions and compositions in a wide variety of languages seem to block all
attempts to establish the original and pure text.
Even for the Greek version or versions, which are considered to be the
source of all other versions, do we not possess even the most basic editions.
For the alphabetic-anonymous collection in which the sayings are organized
according to the names of the fathers with anonymous sayings added at the
end, we still depend on the 17th century edition by Cotelier, reprinted in
Migne, and the supplement edited by F. Nau5, and for the systematic collec-
tion, in which the sayings are organized according to themes covered, we
have the posthumously printed edition prepared by Jean-Claude Guy6,
which, however, only gives the text of a limited recension of what seems to
be a somewhat later stage in the development, taking no account of the very
early Syriac translation.
Recent work on the Greek text acknowledges that the Greek text cannot
be studied without reference to the other versions, not only the Coptic and
Latin, as has been done before, but also the Syriac, the Armenian, the Geor-
gian, the Arabic and the Ethiopic versions.7 Leaving the Armenian and
Georgian, on which much more work has been done8, aside I will in this pa-
per concentrate on the much neglected Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopic versions.

4) In addition to Apophthegmata Patrum. Series alphabetica, Macarius 2, the story is

also preserved in the Historia Lausiaca, ch. 18, in the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto, ch.
21, and in EVAGRIUS PONTICUS, Antirrhetikon, book IV.
5) Alphabetical collection: MIGNE, PG 65, 72-440; anonymous collection ed. F. NAU,
ROC 10 (1905), 12 (1907), 13 (1908), 14 (1909), 17 (1912), 18 (1913).
6) J.-C. GUY (ed.), Les apophtegmes des Pères : collection systématique, vol. I-III, Cerf,
Paris, 1993, 2003, 2005 (SC 387, 474, 498).
7) For recent studies see Chiara FARAGGIANA, “Nota sul rapporto fra l’Ambr. L 120
Sup. e la più antica tradizione dei detti dei padri del deserto”, Rivista di studi bizantini e ne-
oellenici N.S. 39 (2002), pp. 55-57 and idem, “Apophthegmata Patrum: Some crucial points of
their textual transmission”, Studia Patristica 29, Peeters, Leuven, 1997, pp. 455-467, as well
as G. GOULD, The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993,
pp. 5-25.
8) See the edition of the Georgian version by M. DVALI, Traductions géorgiennes an-
ciennes de récits du Moyen-Âge, I-II, Tiflis, 1966, 1974, and the analysis in M. VAN
ESBROECK, “Les Apophthegmes dans les versions orientales”, AB 93 (1975), as well as the
translation and analysis of the Armenian in L. LELOIR, Paterica armeniaca a PP. Mechitaris-
tis edita (1855) nunc latine reddita, I-IV, (CSCO 353, 361, 371, 379), Peeters, Louvain, 1974-

My attempt is not to give a full survey, which at the present state of research
is hardly possible, but only to present what studies we do have and the basic
status questionis.

Beginning with the Syriac we can first note the strange fact that alt-
hough the sayings were translated into Syriac already in the first decades of
the 6th century, as attested by several mss. dated in the 530’s A.D., that is
within some fifty years after the first major Greek compilations were made,
the Syriac version seems to be the least studied. The only editions we have
are the edition by Paul Bedjan from 1897 and Alfred Willis Budge’s printed
text of a single and late ms in 19049. But has been pointed out by René Dra-
guet and several other scholars none of these publications is a proper critical
edition and both are, moreover, based on manuscripts preserving the later
Syriac compilation of monastic texts made by the famous monk ‘Enanishô in
the 8th century10. In spite of this it is, as Draguet remarks, the text offered by
Bedjan that has become the only access to the Syriac version of the apo-
This is actually even more surprising given the fact that the Syriac ver-
sions of the other ascetic texts that are parts of ‘Enanishô large compilation,
primarily the Vita Antonii, the Historia Lausiaca and the Historia Mona-
chorum in Aegypto, have been discussed at length, both by the various edi-
tors of these texts as well as in separate articles. The Syriac version of the
Vita Antonii was edited with detailed discussion of its origin by René Dra-
guet in 1980, and has since been discussed by several scholars11. Two years
earlier, in 1978, Draguet published his detailed analysis of the various Syriac
recensions of the Historia Lausiaca including a discussion of the entire
compilation of ‘Enanishô producing a partial edition of a Syriac version sup-

9) P. BEDJAN, Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum VII, Paris, 1897, pp. 442-990; E.A.W.
BUDGE, The Book of Paradise II, London, 1904, pp. 442-766.
10) For a detailed discussion of the Syriac text as published by BEDJAN see R. DRA-
GUET, Les formes syriaques de la matière de l’Histoire Lausiaque (CSCO 389-390), Peeters,
Louvain, 1978, and idem, “Fragments de l’Ambrosienne de Milan à restituer aux Mss syri-
aques du Sinaï 46 et 16”, J.N. BIRDSALL & R.W. THOMSON (eds.), Biblical and Patristic Stud-
ies in Memory of Robert Pierce Casey, Herder, Freiburg, 1963, pp. 167-178.
11) René DRAGUET, La vie primitive de s. Antoine conservée en syriaque (CSCO 417-
418), Peeters, Leuven, 1980. For the subsequent debate see David BRAKKE, “The Greek and
Syriac Versions of the Life of Antony”, Le Muséon 107 (1994), pp. 29-53, and Sebastian
BROCK, “Saints in Syriac: A Little-Tapped Resource”, JECS 16 (2008), p. 189f.

posed to be earlier than the one represented by Bedjan12. In his recent studies
Peter Tóth, on the basis of previous studies, analyzes the Syriac recensions
of the Historia Monachorum, including the text used by Bedjan and Budge
as well as other and earlier and recensions13. Thus out of the four main
works contained in the Enanishô compilation, it is only the largest of them,
the collection of apophthegmata that has not been studied in any detail.
In his detailed discussion of the Syriac manuscripts, Draguet, asserts
however, that the apophthegmata were not originally part of the compilation
by ‘Enanishô. On the basis of a list of the contents of ‘Enanishô’s work dat-
ed AD 794, they were only added somewhat later, but before Thomas of
Marga commented on the compilation in AD 84014. Furthermore Draguet
points out that in many early mss. the apophhegmata have an independent
transmission. For the future study of the Syriac apophthegmata it thus seems
reasonable to make the research on the other works on Enanishô compilation
a basis and see to what degree the translation and transmission of the apo-
phthegmata mss. can be situated in the recensions of the other works and the
text history suggested, including the mss. not consulted in the studies of the
HL and the HM, either since they only contain apophthegmata, or since they
were not known to the scholars15.
An important witness to the Syriac transmission of the apophthegmata
is, furthermore, the so called commentary on them by Dadisho‘ Qatrâyâ, a
text unfortunately still to be edited16. This Syriac work was later in Arabic as
well as Ethiopic tradition attributed to Philoxenos of Mabboug17. Other im-

12) DRAGUET (1978), discussed in BROCK (2008), pp. 190-195.

13) I want to thank Peter Tóth for making part of his unpublished work available to me.
An edition of the Syriac text is mentioned as “ein Desiderat ersten Ranges”, by Eva SCHULTZ-
FLÜGEL in her edition of the Latin version, Tyrannius Rufinus, Historia Monachorum sive De
Vita Sanctorum Patrum (PTS 34), de Gruyter, Berlin, 1990, p. 5. See also the discussion on
pp. 23-27.
14) DRAGUET (1978), Les formes syriaques de la matière de l’Histoire Lausiaque, I. Les
manuscrits. Édition des pièces liminaires et des ch. 1-19 (CSCO 389), Louvain, 1978, p. 47*-
15) A study of the Syriac transmission of the apophthegmata has now been begun by
Professor Bo Holmberg of Lund University in connection with a larger research program on
early monasticism in the East.
16) For this text see N. SIMS-WILLIAMS, “Dâdišo‘ Qatrâyâ’s Commentary on the Para-
dise of the Fathers”, AB 112 (1994), pp. 33-64 and Robert KITCHEN, “Dadisho Qatraya’s
Commentary on Abba Isaiah: The Apophtegmata Patrum Connection”, Studia Patristica 41
(2006), pp. 35-50.
17) For the Ethiopic see Witold WITAKOWSKI, “Filekseyis, the Ethiopic Version of the
Syriac Dadisho Qatraya’s Commentary on the Paradise of the Fathers”, Rocznik Oriental-

portant sources for an analysis of the Syriac transmission are the quotations
of apophthegmata found in Syriac authors, some of which have recently
been pointed out by Grigory Kessel18.

In Arabic the apophthegmata are richly represented in a bewildering va-
riety of collections often combining one or several minor collections of apo-
phthegmata with a wide spectrum of other monastic texts. However, or per-
haps because of the very complex textual transmission, no critical edition of
any Arabic version of the apophthegmata exist, except for the unpublished
thesis of Jean Mansour giving the text of one extremely important manu-
script. In addition there are, of course, modern printed versions such as the
Bustân ar-Ruhbân of the Coptic Orthodox Church used in the monasteries in
Egypt today19. The extensive list of manuscripts preserving apophthegmata
printed in Graf’s Geschichte is, moreover, by no means complete20.
The scholarly study of the Arabic versions is intimately connected with
the late Vatican librarian and scholar Joseph-Marie Sauget. Based on a small
number of important manuscripts, primarily from the Vatican library and
from Sinai, Sauget was able to identify several different Arabic recensions,
based on several different translations of Greek sources as well as one based
on a Syriac text very close to the one edited by Bedjan21. On the Copto-
Arabic tradition I do not know of any work identifying manuscripts and the

istycny 59 (2006), pp. 281-296. No study of the Arabic transmission of the work is known to
me, but several manuscripts are known, see GRAF (1944), pp. 384-385. Additional manu-
scripts are found in the library of the monastery of St. Antony according to the unpublished
catalogue of the monastery.
18) See his “A fragment from the lost ‘Book of Admonition(s)’ by Abraham bar Dašan-
dad, in ‘Risâla fî fadîlat al-‘afâf’ («Letter on priority of abstinence»)” of ELIAS OF NISIBIS,
Proceedings of the Conference “Gotteserlebnis und Gotteslehre. Christliche und islamische
Mystik im Orient” (Göttinger Orientforschungen, I, Syriaca 38), Wiesbaden, 2011, and his
“Leter of Thomas the Monk. A Study of the Syriac Text and its Author”, JECS 61 (2009), pp.
19) Bustân al-Ruhbân li-Abâ al-Kanîsa al-Qibtiyya (ed. by the Metropolitanate of Beni
Suef), Cairo, 1968, reprinted in a revised version, Cairo, 1976.
20) Georg GRAF, GCAL, I, Vatican 1944, pp. 380-388. The often important manuscripts
of the Coptic monasteries are for example not included.
21) For the version translated from Syriac, as well as references to his earlier studies,
see Joseph-Marie SAUGET, Une traduction arabe de la collection d’apophthegmata patrum de
‘Enanishô (CSCO 495), Peeters, Louvain, 1987.

process of translation and transmission except the short analysis of an Arabic

version written in Coptic script published by Burmester22.
In his contributions Sauget identified and analyzed two different Arabic
versions of apophthegmata representing translations of Greek texts, one of
which he could locate at the monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, and one at
the monastery of St. Symeon near Antioch. The first is preserved in a very
important manuscript, Strasbourg 4225, described already in the early 20th c.
by the Danish scholar Oestrup23. The manuscript contains not only a recen-
sion of the apophthegmata, but also numerous other monastic texts by or at
least attributed to St. Basil, Abba Isaiah, Mark the Hermit, St. Ephraim, St.
Nilus of Ancyra and St. John Climacus. It is the text of this manuscript that
was studied and edited by Jean Mansour in a thesis that has unfortunately not
been published24. Sauget was able to establish that the Arabic text was most
probably translated in the monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai sometime be-
fore the year 900. For the first part of the Arabic text Sauget draws the con-
clusion, based on the order of the chapters, that it is based on an early Greek
systematic recension different from, and earlier than the one represented by
the Latin translation and the recent edition by Guy. For the latter part con-
taining anonymous sayings the Arabic version seems, according to Sauget,
to depend on a later stage of the development of the Greek text. In a recent
article prof. Chiara Farragiana, who is working on an edition of the earliest
Greek alphabetic-anonymous collection, demonstrated that not only Stras-
bourg 4225, but also a few other Arabic manuscripts contain what must have
been a Sinaitic Arabic recension25. She also identifies in the article a few
Greek manuscripts of the recension upon which the Arabic seems to be
A testimony to the second Arabic version based on the Greek is ana-
lyzed by Sauget in an article on the 11th century manuscript Par.ar. 276 con-

22) O.H.E. KHS-BURMESTER, “Further Leaves from the Arabic MS. in Coptic Script of
the Apophthegmata Patrum”, BSAC 18 (1965-1966), pp. 51-53.
23) See J. OESTRUP, « Über zwei arabische Codices sinaitici der Strassburger Universi-
täts- und Landesbibliothek”, ZDMG 51 (1897), pp. 453-471, Joseph-Marie SAUGET, “La Col-
lection d’Apophthegmes du manuscrit 4225 de la Bibliothèque de Strasbourg”, OCP 30
(1964), pp. 485-509 and Jospeh-Marie SAUGET, “Le Paterikon arabe de la Bibliothèque Am-
brosienne de Milan L 120 Sup.”, in Atti della Accademia nazionale dei Lincei. Memorie.
Classe di Scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, s. VIII, 29 (1987), pp. 473-516.
24) Jean MANSOUR, Homélies et légendes religieuses. Un florilège arabe chrétien du Xe
s. (Ms. Starsbourg 422). Introduction et édition critique (Thèse dactyl.), Strasbourg, 1972.
25) FARAGGIANA (2002).

taining a collection of several monastic texts, among them the latter part of
an alphabetical-anonymous series of apophthegmata, closely paralleled by
the series of anonymous sayings edited in Greek by Francois Nau26. The Ar-
abic translation must have been done in the last decades of the tenth century
in a Melkite context. Several later Sinai manuscript identified by Sauget con-
tain the same recension.
As for the Arabic version based on a Syriac collection Sauget summa-
rized his findings, first published in a number of articles, primarily in Le
Muséon, in his volume in CSCO27. Choosing the MS Par.ar. 253 Sauget
shows that in contrast to the Arabic recension represented by Strasbourg
4225, this Arabic recension is made up of two originally separate series of
sayings organized alphabetically and a final series of anonymous sayings.
Although the collection arranges the sayings according to the alphabetical
order of the name of the fathers, as in the Greek alphabetic collections, in-
troducing the alphabetical sections with Arabic transcriptions of the Greek
letters, the pieces attributed to any given father are presented in a completely
different order. Comparing the Arabic text with the systematically organized
Syriac version of Enanishô, Sauget could prove that one of the Arabic series
is based on the Syriac version, but rearranged alphabetically by placing the
sayings of each individual father according to the order of the chapters to
which they belong in the Syriac. He moreover shows that text is closer to the
version presented by Budge than the one given in Bedjan’s edition. On the
basis of the spelling Sauget also concludes that this rearrangement must have
been done in Arabic, not in Syriac. Since we have not yet identified any Ar-
abic ms that contains an Arabic translation of the Syriac version arranged in
the same manner as the Syriac, it seems as if the rearrangement was done in
the same process as the translation. Moreover it is evident that the Arabic ed-
itor who alphabetisized the translation of the Syriac must have known Greek.
This series translated from Syriac must subsequently have been com-
pared to the Greek alphabetic collection, or more probably an Arabic version
of it, and the sayings missing in the version based on the Syriac systematic
collection, have then been added making up a new series of additional mate-
rial. As for the Arabic recension used in the series complementing the one
translated from Syriac, Sauget came to the conclusion that it is of the same

26) Joseph-Marie SAUGET, “Le Paterikon du manuscrit arabe 276 de la Bibliothèque

Nationale de Paris”, Le Muséon 82 (1969), pp. 364-404.
27) Joseph-Marie SAUGET, Une traduction arabe de la collection d’apophthegmata pa-
trum de ‘Enanishô (CSCO 495), Peeters, Louvain, 1987.

recension as the one represented in Mingana ar. 120a, which constitutes an

Arabic version based on the Greek alphabetic collection represented by the
ms. Coislin 232, a manuscript which according to Guy belongs to what he
calls type C28. By comparing the Paris MS with a number of mss from Sinai,
Sauget shows that the two series were first written down independently of
each other and later combined. Despite its extremely interesting conclusion
Sauget’s work seems to have been completely overlooked in studies of the
apophthegmata, and especially in the discussion about the relation between
the alphabetic-anonymous structure and the systematic structure of the text.
In addition to these three Arabic recensions, of which two seem to have
had their origin in St. Catherine’s monastery in Sinai, and all have a Melkite
background, there is also evidence for a transmission of the apophthegmata
in Egypt. We do not only have a large number of manuscripts with Arabic
recensions of the apophthegmata in the libraries of the Coptic monasteries,
but also the very interesting fragment of an Arabic version written in Coptic

Coming finally to the Ethiopic version we are in a very different situa-
tion. Here a number of different Ethiopic collections of early monastic litera-
ture including apophthegmata have been edited by Victor Arras in the
CSCO29. But unfortunately the editions are generally based on a single or
very few manuscripts and there is no accompanying analysis of the transmis-
sion of the text and the relation of the various versions to each other. The on-
ly detailed discussion of the Ethiopic text is the long review of Arras’ edition
of the so called Ethiopic Paterikon by Sauget30. The text is an Ethiopic com-
pilation made on the basis of several earlier Ethiopic monastic texts, includ-
ing versions of the apophthegmata as well as other texts. On the basis of the
spelling of names Sauget proves that the Ethiopic text of the apophthegmata,

28) See Jospeh-Marie SAUGET, “Le Paterikon du ms Mingana Christian Arabic 120a”,
OCP 28 (1962), pp. 402-417.
29) V. ARRAS, Collectio Monastica (CSCO 238-239), Peeters, Louvain, 1963; Pateri-
con Aethiopice (CSCO 238-239), Peeters, Louvain, 1967; Ascetikon (CSCO 238-239), Pee-
ters, Louvain, 1984; Geronticon (CSCO 238-239), Peeters, Louvain, 1986; Quadraginta his-
toriae monachorum (CSCO 238-239), Peeters, Louvain, 1988. The last is most probably an
original Ethiopic composition.
30) Joseph-Marie SAUGET, “Un exemple typique des relations culturelles entre l’arabe-
chrétien et l’éthiopien: un Paterikon récemment publié”, Problemi attuali di scienza e di cul-
tura. IV congrsso internazionale di Studi etiopici, I, Roma, 1974, pp. 321-388.

and probably also the other contents are based on Arabic sources, and even
identifies two Arabic ms of two different recensions as being the sources for
the two series of apophthegmata, namely Vat. ar. 566 for the first series in
the Ethiopic text and Vat. ar. 77 for the second, thus relating the Ethiopic
text to the Arabic recension based on ‘Enanishô’s Syriac compilation.

A detailed study of the text and transmission of the apophthegmata in
the Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopic traditions is important for several reasons:
1) It has become increasingly clear that due to the relatively late dates
of the Greek manuscripts and the wide variety of versions existing in them, it
is necessary to look at the early translations not only into Latin and Coptic,
but also into Syriac in order to gain a better understanding of the first stages
of the emerging apophthegmatic literature. But also later translations into
Arabic and Ethiopic might be important since many of the Arabic recensions
were made on the basis of early Syriac and early Greek texts that were later
revised. The Ethiopic texts, based on Arabic sources may also be witnesses
to old traditions.
2) Given the fact that the apophthegmata are primarily educational ma-
terial the specific use of them in the various oriental versions and the combi-
nation of them with other material give important insights to the develop-
ment of monastic teaching and training in the monasteries in the East.
3) The establishment of how texts and translations were transmitted
from one monastery or monastic centre is an important indication of cultural
and religious contacts, and given the fact that the apophthegmata and most
often the other monastic texts accompanying them, do not belong to a specif-
ic confession, the transmissions of specific recensions and collections might
also show to what extent, in which periods and for which purposes contacts
between monasteries of different confessions were lively.