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An unknown Latin translation of the sermons of Pseudo-Makarios

A sensational discovery was made in a late antique codex of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. Clemens Weidmann, a member of the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) at the Department of Classical Studies, was able to identify a text written in the 6th century as a Latin translation of Greek sermons that had probably been preached in Mesopotamia and were disseminated under the name of the Egyptian monk father Makarios.
So far the Greek text is known only from manuscripts that are about 500 years younger, so the newly found Latin version is (beside a Syriac translation) by far the oldest surviving document of the anonymous preacher. It is thus not only a valuable witness for the reception of the pseudo-Makarios in the West, but will also contribute to the correction of the Greek text.

Deciphering the new text poses unusual problems. In fact, the text is not easy to read, as it was overwritten in the 9th century with the text of the odes of the Latin poet Horace. So-called palimpsests (“recycled books”) from that time are not uncommon (writing materials were expensive), but it is unusual that a Christian text had to make way for a classical text. So far, only examples in the opposite direction are known, that classical texts had to make way for a Christian text, such as Cicero’s book On the State (De re publica) to Augustine’s commentary on the Psalms or the comedies of Plautus to the Bible.
In collaboration with the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, the first step is to decipher the entire text using complex imaging techniques. Subsequently, the Latin text will be compared with the Greek text, questions of language, translation techniques, and the literary and ecclesiastical background will be examined, and the text will be edited according to the methods of text criticism so that it can be made available to scholarship. The publication is planned in the “CSEL” series of editions. First results from the work on the new finding will be presented in a lecture at the University of Salzburg this semester.
In the second line of the image below one can see the famous Carpe diem (“Pick / Enjoy the day”) by Horace, which has become a proverb. Below this, in larger letters (semi-uncial), are the words:
donec veniat in cor eius ignis cae-
lestis et mouths omnes spinas.
(“until the heavenly fire comes into his heart and cleans all thorns”; H15,53: ἕως ὅτε ἔλθῃ εἰς τὰς καρδίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀνθρώπων καὶ ἄρξηται περικαθαίρειν τὰς ἀκάνθας).

Milano, Bibl. Ambr. S.P. II. 29 (olim O. 136 sup.), p. 4
© Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milano

Bibliography: C. Weidmann, Vorankündigung: Eine unbekannte lateinische Übersetzung der Predigten des Pseudo-Makarios, Zeitschrift für Antike und Christentum 24/2 (2020), 219-222.


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