Sunday, 3 May 2015

Samuel Noble: A Byzantine Genre in Arab Garb: Encomia to Saints in 10th-11th Century Antioch

The period of Byzantine rule over Northern Syria during the 10th and 11th centuries was a unique moment in the history of Arabic Christian literature.  Closer contact with Constantinople and a stream of refugees arriving in Antioch from the Fatimid conquest of Egypt and Palestine stimulated a uniquely cosmopolitan ecclesial and literary environment where both contemporary and patristic Greek texts were adapted to the cultural and intellectual needs of the local Arabic-speaking population, particularly its lay elites. Two figures that perhaps best exemplify this milieu are the protospatharios Ibrahim ibn Yuhanna (d. ca. 1025) and the deacon Abdallah ibn al-Fadl (d. ca. 1050). Ibrahim ibn Yuhanna, also the author of original hagiographic texts, prefaced his translations of Greek Ephrem and Gregory the Theologian with original encomia on these saints. The prolific translator and philosopher Abdallah ibn al-Fadl, who had studied grammar with the famous Muslim poet Abu ʿAla al-Maʿrri, is known to have translated Greek encomia to Saints Nicholas and Demetrius, to which he appended his own comments and prefaces. This contribution will examine these texts in order to understand how these two writers adapted Byzantine literary forms to their Arabic cultural and linguistic environment in order to express both their Orthodox Christian devotion and Arabic cultural identity.

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