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ISAW Papers 5 (2012)

A Syriac Fragment from The Cause of All Causes on the Pillars of Hercules

Adam C. McCollum

Abstract: This brief note draws attention to a passage from the Syriac Cause of All Causes that describes the Pillars of Hercules, but as being three in number rather than two. The Syriac text in question has been well-known since it was published in 1889. This particular passage is studied and commented on here especially as it appears in a recently cataloged manuscript from Dayr Al-Za‘farān, in which the passage is completely divorced from its context in the Cause of All Causes.
Subjects: Manuscripts, Syriac; Geography, Ancient.

Among the great mass of scientific material that Syriac scholars and translators brought into their language from Greek are various incarnations of natural philosophy. Parts of the pseudo-Aristotelian De Mundo, translated by Sergius of Reš `Ainā (d. 536), for example, served as a sort of handbook for Syriac readers interested in Greek wisdom on the natural world, both on this planet and beyond.1 The eminent scholar Jacob of Edessa (c. 630-708) incorporated Greek knowledge on the natural world into his Hexaemeron commentary2 and some centuries later Gregory bar ‘Ebrāyā (Barhebraeus, 1225/6-1286)3 would combine this Greek-inspired heritage of Syriac learning with the developing scholarship in Arabic on these fields.

Geographical knowledge, part of the study of natural philosophy, on a large (rather than local) scale in the classical world would have been incomplete without reference to the Pillars of Hercules,4 the limits of the known world, and this inclusion was also carried over into Syriac scholarship in the field.5 The Pillars of Hercules were most well known as the extreme end of the Mediterranean Sea and entrance into the Atlantic Ocean. The northern Pillar, without dispute, was the Rock of Gibraltar, while the identity of the corresponding southern Pillar in northwest Africa was open to disagreement (see below).

What exactly could a Syriac reader have known of the Pillars of Hercules? The De Mundo was mentioned above. In the Greek original of this work, the Pillars are called Ἡράκλειοι στῆλαι (393a18, 393a24, 393b10) and Ἡρακλέους στῆλαι (393b23, 393b32), and the Syriac translator of the work uses the same Greek word in his Syriac version: sṭēlas.6 Rather than the Greek loanword of Sergius, Jacob of Edessa in his Hexaemeron uses the native, but etymologically equivalent, Syriac term qimātā.7 Barhebraeus gives both terms, but then later only the Greek word.8

To this short (and incomplete) inventory of Syriac references to the Pillars of Hercules we can add another from The Cause of All Causes.9 The complete text, rather lengthy, was published by Karl Kayser in 1889,10 and the passage in question will be found on pp. 259-260 in his edition. A somewhat motley and disarranged manuscript—and therefore one very difficult to date—in the collection of Dayr Al-Za‘farān (Mardin, Turkey), now numbered 197, has recently been found to have a fragment of this very passage on a single folio (70r), but it is completely isolated from its original context, and there is no reference to The Cause of All Causes as a whole or to its title. As to this fragment's immediate surroundings in the manuscript:

The text of the fragment in question runs as follows:

ܘܝܡܐ ܪܒܐ ܕܐܘܩܝܐܢܘܣ ܣܓ̈ܝܐܐ ܐܡ̣ܪܚܘ ܘܪܕܘ ܒܗ ܠܓܘ ܘܐܬܟܪܟܘ ܒܗ ܙܒܢܐ ܕܝܪ̈ܚܐ ܣܓ̈ܝܐܐ ܘܣܟ ܠܐ ܐܫܟܚܘ ܣܘܦܐ ܡܢ ܬܚܘ̣ܡܐ.. ܓܙܪ̈ܬܐ ܕܝܢ ܩܠܝܠ ܐܝܬ ܒܗ. ܡܢܗܝܢ ܕܡܝܬܪ̈ܢ 11 ܒܒܢ̈ܝܢܫܐ. ܘܡܢܗܝܢ ܠܝܬ ܒܗܝܢ ܐܢܫ ܐܠܐ ܚܝ̈ܘܬܐ ܢܘܟܪ̈ܝܬܐ ܕܠܐ ܐܬܚܙܝܢ ܒܐ[ܬ]ܪ̈ܘܬܐ ܐܚܪ̈ܢܐ. ܬܡܢ ܐܝܬܝܗ̇ ܓܐܕܝܪܐ ܓܙܪܬܐ ܐܝܟܐ ܕܐܩܝܡ ܐܪܐܩܠܝܣ ܓܢܒܪܐ ܘܢܒܝܐ ܕܚ̈ܢܦܐ ܠ̈ܩܝܡܬܐ ܬܠܬ ܗܢܝܢ ܛܒ̈ܝܒܬ 12 ܒܥܠܡܐ ܘܐܣܛܝ̈ܠܐܣ ܪ̈ܡܬܐ ܐܝܟ ܕܠܕܘܟܪܢܗ ܠܡ ܕܢܫܬܬܐܣ 13 ܥܘܗܕܢܗ ܒܟܠܗܘܢ ܕܪ̈ܐ ܕܥܠܡܐ.. ܘܐܢ ܗܢܐ ܐܬܦܪܣ ܘܣܒ̣ܠ ܟܠܗ ܗ̇ܘ ܥܡܠܐ ܪܒܐ ܕܒܙܒܢܐ ܣܓܝܐܐ ܘܫܦܠܐ ܕܥܡܐ ܪܒܐ ܘܣܘܓܐܐ ܕܢܦܩ̈ܬܐ ܕܥܘܬܪܐ ܕܠܐ ܡܢܝܢܐ ܘܡܬܩܠܐ ܥܒܕ ܘܐܩܝܡ ܠܗܠܝܢ ܩܝ̈ܡܬܐ ܬܗܝܪ̈ܬܐ ܐܝܟܢܐ ܕܠܐ ܢܬܥܛܐ ܥܘܗܕܢܗ ܡܢ ܥܠܡܐ ܟܕ ܝܘܬܪܢ ܠܝܬ ܡܢ ܗ̇ܘ ܫܦܠܐ ܪܒܐ܃ ܡܕܝܢ ܚܢܢ ܫ̈ܦܠܐ ܘܡ̈ܐܝܢܐ ܐܝܟܢ ܠܐ ܡܬܦܪܣܝܢܢ ܕܢܫܒܘܩ ܠܢ ܥܘܗܕܢܐ ܛܒܐ ܒܥܠܡܐ. ܒܝܕ ܥ݁ܒ̈ܕܐ ܛܒ̈ܐ ܘܕܘܒܪ̈ܐ ܫܦܝܪ̈ܐ. ܐܝܕ ܕܥܒܕܘ ܐܒܗ̈ܝܢ ܩܕ̈ܡܝܐ ܕܐܬܕܒܪܘ ܬܩܢܐܝܬ. ܘܒܥܠܡܐ ܡ݁ܢ ܗܢܐ ܐܬܢܨܚܘ ܘܐܬܩܠܣܘ. ܘܩܢܝܘ ܫܡܐ ܛܒܐ ܘܐܬܪܫܡ ܫܡܐ ܕܢܨܚ̈ܢܝܗܘܢ ܐܝܠ ܕܠܕܘܟܪܢܐ ܛܒܐ ܥܕܡܐ ܥܕܡܐ ܠܫܘܠܡܐ܀ ܘܒܥܠܡܐ ܕܥܬܝܕ ܝܪܬܝܢ ܡܠܟܘܬܐ ܫܡܝܢܝܬܐ ܘܚ̈ܝܐ ܕܟܐ ܥܒܪܝܢ܉ ܕܠܗܘܢ ܢܫܬܘܐ ܐܦ ܚܢܢ ܒܨܠ̈ܘܬܗܘܢ ܐܡܝܢ..

A marginal note in the outer margin and in the same hand runs:14

ܗܠܝܢ ܬܠܬ 15 ܩܝ̈ܡܬܐ ܐܩܝܡ ܐܢܝܢ ܒܬܚܘܡܐ ܕܡܬܥܡܪܢܝܬܐ ܘܐܢ ܓ̇ܕܫ ܘܡܬܕܚܝܐ ܐܠܦܐ ܠܬܡܢ ܡܢ ܩܛܝܪܐ ܕܪ̈ܘܚܐ. ܦܣܩܝܢ ܡ̈ܠܚܐ ܣܒܪܐ ܕܚܝ̈ܝܗܘܢ. ܡܛܠ ܕܠܐ ܡܨܝܢ 16 ܕܢܗܦܟܘܢ ܡܢ ܬܡܢ. ܡܢ ܨܠ̇ܝܐ ܕܝܡܐ. ܗ̄ ܕܡܫܬܪ̈ܓܠܢ ܣܦ̈ܝܢܬܐ ܘܐܙܠ̈ܢ ܒܨܠ̇ܝܐ ܕܝܡܐ ܘܠܝܬ ܠܡܗܦܟ. 17

Translation, with the marginal note inserted in its proper place (in italics):

Many have dared to travel within the great sea, Ocean, and have gone about in it for months at a time, but they still have not found the edge of its limit. For there are some islands in it, some of which abound in people, some of which only have strange animals which are not seen elsewhere. There [at the edge of the world] is an island, Gadeira,18 where Hercules, the hero and prophet19 of the pagans, set up three20 columns, those that are famous in the world, high pillars, so that his commemoration, along with his memory might be brought21 into all generations of the world. These three22 columns he set up at the border of the inhabited world, and if it happens that a ship is propelled there by the force of the winds, sailors give up hope for their lives, since they would then be unable to return from there, the whirlpool of the sea, that is, because boats continually rush at the whirlpool and cannot return.23 If [i.e. since] he took pains and endured all this great labor for a long time and the humiliation of a great people,24 and made a considerable monetary expense without number or weight, he set up these marvelous columns, lest his memory be wiped out from the earth, there [otherwise] being no benefit from that great effort. Therefore, we, weakened and inactive, how will we leave ourselves a memory without taking pains?

Especially for the seemingly unique reference to three, and not two, Pillars of Hercules, this short fragment, which at least once was circulated independently, deserves broader notice, but even more generally, it is worth being made better known as another specific witness to Syriac interest in Greek (natural) philosophy.

Notes

1 Adam McCollum, The Syriac De Mundo: Translation, Commentary, and Analysis of Translation Technique, Ph.D. dissertation, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, 2009. Specifically on the translation, see A. McCollum, “Sergius of Reshaina as Translator: The Case of the De Mundo,” in Josef Lössl and John W. Watt, eds., Interpreting the Bible and Aristotle in Late Antiquity: The Alexandrian Commentary Tradition between Rome and Baghdad (Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), pp. 165-178.

2 Jean-Baptiste Chabot, Iacobi Edesseni Hexaemeron, seu in opus creationis libri septem, CSCO 92, Syr. 44. (Paris: L. Durbecq, 1928); Arthur Adolphe Vaschalde, trans., Iacobi Edesseni Hexaemeron, seu in opus creationis libri septem, CSCO 97, Syr. 48 (Louvain: L. Durbecq, 1932); Marina Greatrex, Memre One, Two, and Four of the Hexaemeron of Jacob of Edessa: Introduction, Translation, and Text, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wales, 2000; and Marina Wilks, “Jacob of Edessa’s Use of Greek Philosophy in his Hexaemeron”, in Bas ter Haar Romeny, ed., Jacob of Edessa and the Syriac Culture of His Day, Monographs of the Peshitta Institute, Leiden 18 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2008), pp. 223-238.

3 Hidemi Takahashi, Aristotelian Meteorology in Syriac: Barhebraeus, Butyrum Sapientiae, Books of Mineralogy and Meteorology, Aristoteles Semitico-Latinus 15 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004). This is but one of many of Bar `Ebrāyā's scientific-philosophical works: see further H. Takahashi, Barhebraeus: A Bio-Bibliography (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2005).

4 References to the Pillars in Greek literature are extremely numerous (a few are cited below); see many of them cited and discussed in A. Schulten, “Die Säulen des Herakles,” in Otto Jessen, Die Strasse von Gibraltar (Berlin, 1927), pp. 174-206; and James S. Romm, The Edges of Earth in Ancient Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).

5 For a review of geographical knowledge in Syriac sources, see Witold Witakowski, “Geographical Knowledge of the Syrians”, in Bo Isaksson, Mats Eskhult, and Gail Ramsay, eds., The Professorship of Semitic Languages at Uppsala University 400 Years: Jubilee Volume from a Symposium Held at the University Hall, 21-23 September 2005, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Studia Semitica Upsaliensia 24 (Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 2007), 219-246. The Pillars of Hercules will be found in a mappa mundi that appears as fig. 4 in that article and that originally appeared in J.-B. Chabot, “Notice sur une mappemonde syrienne du XIIIe siècle: notes complémentaires publiées d'après les observations de Mm. R. Gottheil et C.-A. Nallino,” Bulletin de Géographie Historique et Descriptive (1898): 40 (full article on pp. 31-43.

6 See McCollum, Syriac De Mundo, pp. 76, 77, 81, 82; cf. s.vv. in A. McCollum, A Greek and Syriac Index to Sergius of Reshaina's Version of the De Mundo, Gorgias Handbooks 12 (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009).

7 E.g. Chabot, Iacobi Edesseni Hexaemeron, ff. 99b15, 110b1.

8 Takahashi, Aristotelian Meteorology, pp. 127 (ܣܛ̈ܠܣ ܐܘܟܝܬ ܩܝ̈ܡܬܐ ܕܗܪܩܠܝܣ), 128 (ܣܛ̈ܠܣ).

9 The full title in Syriac is ܟܬܒܐ ܕܥܠܬܐ ܕܟܠ ܥ̈ܠܠܢ ܘܒܪܘܝܐ ܕܟܠ ܒܪ̈ܝܢ ܘܥܒܘܕܐ ܕܟܠܗܝܢ ܡܬܚܙܝܢܝ̈ܬܐ ܘܠܐ ܡܬܚܙܝܢܝ̈ܬܐ. ܟܬܒܐ ܓܘܢܝܐ ܠܟܠ ܥܡ̈ܡܝܢ ܕܬܚܝܬ ܫܡܝܐ. ܕܒܗ ܡܠܦ ܥܠ ܝܕܥܬܐ ܕܫܪܪܐ ܕܐܝܟܢ ܡܬܝܕܥ, The Cause of All Causes, Creator of All Created Things, and Maker of All Things Visible and Invisible, a Universal Book for All Peoples under Heaven, in which It Teaches concerning How the Truth might be Known.

10 Das Buch von der Erkenntniss der Wahrheit oder der Ursache aller Ursachen (Leipzig). Kayser used manuscripts from the well-known Syriac collections of Europe, but there remain copies in the Middle East. Two recently identified late (twentieth century) manuscripts are Dayr Al-Za`farān (zfrn) nos. 64 and 67, and these have both been consulted for the text below. Other copies were also formerly at the same monastery, but a great part of that collection was moved to the Church of the Forty Martyrs (also in Mardin), and these manuscripts are currently being cataloged. Kayser's German translation appeared posthumously in 1893 as Das Buch von der Erkenntniss der Wahrheit oder der Ursache aller Ursachen aus dem syrischen Grundtext ins Deutsche übersetzt (Strassburg, 1893); the German translation of the fragment published here is on p. 340. Other studies on the work include Giuseppe Furlani, “Estratti del Libro della Causa delle Cause in un manoscritto siriaco vaticano,” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 23 (1948): 1-36; Gerrit J. Reinink, “Communal Identity and the Systematisation of Knowledge in the Syriac Cause of All Causes,” in Peter Binkley, ed., Pre-Modern Encyclopaedic Texts: Proceedings of the Second COMERS Congress, Groningen, 1-4 July 1996 (Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History 79. Leiden and New York: Brill, 1997), pp. 275-288; Frithiof Rundgren, “Some Remarks on the Kətābā də-‘al ida‘tā da-šrārā,” Orientalia Suecana 36-37 (1987-1988): 77-84; Alessandro Mengozzi, “Cause of Causes,” in Sebastian Brock, Aaron Butts, George Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, ed., Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, 2011); and Herman G.B. Teule, “Ktābā d-‘al-ida‘tā da-shrārā,” in David Thomas and Alex Mallett, eds., Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History. Volume 3 (1050‒1200) (History of Christian-Muslim Relations 15. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011), pp. 261-263.

11 This word was first miswritten and then crossed out.

12 Kayser has no syāmē on the word. For the construct state in use before prepositions, see Th. Nöldeke, Compendious Syriac Grammar, §206.

13 Ms ܕܢܬܐܫܬܐ. See discussion below.

14 There is a sign after ܕܪ̈ܐ ܕܥܠܡܐ in the manuscript which almost certainly indicates where this text should be inserted. If this is correct, it matches Kayser's text, and in the translation below the marginal addition is inserted into that spot.

15 Kayser om.

16 In Kayser: ܡܨܝܐ ܠܗܘܢ.

17 This last sentence is missing from Kayser.

18 As mentioned above, the Pillars are not infrequently referred to in Greek sources; Gadeira is specifically mentioned in connection with Hercules and the Pillars at, among others, Pindar Nem. 4.69; Herodotus 4.8.2; Strabo 3.5.3; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 2.33; 5.1, 3; Pseudo-Nonnos, Scholia ad S. Gregorii Orat. II Contra Julianum 42 (ed. in Migne, PG 36, cols. 1055-1056; cf. J. Nimmo Smith, S. Brock, B. Coulie, eds., Pseudo-Nonniani in IV orationes Gregorii Nazianzeni commentarii, Corpus Christianorum Series Graeca 27, Corpus Nazianzenum 2 [Turnhout: Brepols, 1993]; the Scholia were translated into Syriac, and this one is no. 35 in Sebastian Brock's edition: The Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Nonnos Mythological Scholia, University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 20 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971], with the English translation on p. 151, Syriac text on p. 301; in this just named Syriac source, only qimātā is used for the Pillars).

19 The only reference to Hercules as prophet that I have found after a brief search is Hipp., Ref. omnium haer. 5.27. In this Syriac text he is called “prophet…of the pagans [ḥanpē]” and in Hippolytus he is a prophet God chose “from the uncircumcision” (ἐξ ἀκροβυστίας προφήτην ἐπελέξατο <ὁ> Ἐλωεὶμ τὸν Ἡρακλέα). While the word “prophet” does not occur in his mention of the tradition, Cyril of Alexandria, in his Commentary on Jonah § 11 (Migne, PG 71, col. 616), links the narrative of Jonah's having been swallowed by a fish to a story told among the Greeks — he specifically names Lycophron as a source — that Hercules, too, had been gulped down by a huge sea animal but that he emerged merely with the loss of his hair (Ἡρακλέα φασὶ, τὸν Ἀλκμήνης καὶ Διὸς, καταποθῆναι μὲν ὑπὸ κήτους, ἐκδοθῆναι δὲ πάλιν ἐκ τῆς ἐκφύτου θερμότητος, ἐψιλωμένης αὐτῷ τῆς κεφαλῆς, καὶ μόνης τριχὸς πεπονθότι τὴν ἀπόφασιν). It is not hard to imagine the appellation of prophet having been applied to Hercules in a more complete version of this tradition.

20 The most striking piece of information given here is that there are three Pillars, not two! The word is very clearly spelled out, not written with a letter. None of the classical sources seem to refer specifically to “three” Pillars. One possible basis for assuming three Pillars is that the author has included in this number the Rock of Gibraltar along with the two likely spots in north Africa, Monte Hacho in Ceuta and Jebel Musa in Morocco.

21 Kayser reads ܕܢܬܬܝܬܐ, and he translates the verb in its larger context as “…wo Herakles, ein Held und Prophet der Heiden jene 3 in der Welt berühmten Standbilder und hohen Säulen zu seinem Gedächtniss errichtete, dass sein Gedächtniss zu allen Geschlectern der Welt gebracht wurde,” but, as indicated above, the reading of Dayr Al-Za`farān 197 is not clear here. The manuscript seems to have ܕܢܬܐܫܬܐ, which makes no immediate sense. Most likely, this reading is a corruption of the text as given by Kayser, with the second taw > ālaf and yod > šin. Alternatively, and rather less likely, it might be the denominal(< ܫܬܐܣܬܐ “foundation”) verb ܫܬܐܣ in the form ܕܢܫܬܬܐܣ, dǝ-neštattas, i.e. etpa‘al imperfect 3rd masc. sg., i.e. “might be established.” (The text attestations of the verb ܫܬܐܣ in Sokoloff's Syriac Lexicon, p. 1614, imply that the verb is used only with physical structures, but Payne Smith's references show a broader usage [Thesaurus Syriacus, cols. 4348-4349], such that construing the verb with “commemoration” and “memory” is hardly out of place.

22 This word is missing in Kayser's edition.

23 From “that is” to the end of the sentence is not in Kayser's edition.

24 This “humiliation” probably refers to the cleaning of the Augean stables.

ISAW Papers (ISSN 2164-1471) is a publication of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University. This article was anonymously reviewed prior to publication.