Friday, October 24, 2014


Poison and Vermin

G.W. Bowersock, Hellenism in Late Antiquity (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), p. 34 (on Ephraem of Edessa, also known as Ephraem the Syrian):
Ephraem, now recognized actually to have known more Greek than once was thought, nonetheless felt free to denounce both the Greeks and their culture. In his Hymns on the Faith he wrote the memorable line, "Blessed is the one who has never tasted the poison of the wisdom of the Greeks."17 Here, as Sebastian Brock has observed, Ephraem is using the exact Syriac equivalent (hekmta d-yawnâyê) of Athanasius's phrase hê sophia tôn Hellênôn ("the wisdom of the Greeks"), which should properly be rendered "pagan wisdom."18 On the other hand, there is little reason to believe that Ephraem could have made (or would have made) the distinction between Greeks as cultural carriers and Greeks as pagans. After all, in another place he wrote, "The accursed dialectic is vermin from the Greeks."19

17. Ephraem De fide, CSCO 154:7.
18. Brock, op. cit. (n. 10 above), p. 19.
19. Ephraem De fide, CSCO 154:268.
Footnotes 17 and 19 refer to Des Heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen De Fide, ed. Edmund Beck (Louvain: Durbecq, 1955 = Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, 154-155), which I haven't seen. I also don't have access to Paul S. Russell, "A Note on Ephraem the Syrian and 'The Poison of the Greeks' in Hymns on Faith 2," The Harp 10.3 (1997) 45-54.

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