Syriac translations of Greek texts have increasingly attracted scholarly interest over recent decades, but this interest has focused mainly on translations of the Bible, Aristotle and of a limited number of Church fathers. But there are a large number of works that have been almost entirely ignored by modern scholarship, including those which have been labeled as ‘popular philosophy,’ and neglected for this reason.
This paper analyses a number of these texts. Products of a Christian environment, the translations of Ps.-Isocrates (Ad Demonicum), Plutarch (De capienda ex inimicis utilitate and De cohibenda ira), Lucian (De calumnia) and Themistius (De amicitia and De virtute) date to the fifth or early sixth century and are among the few surviving traces of Greek ‘pagan’ literature in Syriac. The works themselves offer rich evidence for the circumstances of their composition, and they are significant in a broader historical perspective, not least because they provide testimony of the often overlooked role of Greek pagan literature and rhetoric in the education of early Syriac writers.
Because the process of translation gave the translators room to intervene on the texts, we can read changes and omissions of Greek passages as indicating both the aims of the translators and the expected audience of the works. Through some examples, this paper argues that these translations can shed light on the agency of their writers and on the cultural environment that produced them, and it emphasizes how this corpus can and should inform long standing broader debates about Late Antique cultural life.