Learning Good Syriac: Barhebraeus' Metrical Grammar from Medieval Tur 'Abdin to Renaissance Rome

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This lecture will explore the manuscript tradition of Barhebraeus’ Metrical Grammar in the light of its use by Eastern and Western scholars between the 14th and 16th centuries. The interest in language description will be set within a broader picture of cultural and linguistic correlations, connecting the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern worlds over the centuries.

Written in the second half of the 13th century, the Metrical Grammar is a concise description of the Syriac language that enjoyed great popularity among Syriac Christians as well as Western scholars, from its composition until modern times. Through the centuries, readers and copyists added a rich and interesting commentary to the main text, providing precious information on their linguistic and cultural background.

Many of the oldest extant copies of the text are now part of HMML’s digital collection and constitute a primary source for the reconstruction of the Grammar’s textual tradition. In the last decades of the 16th century a copy of the Grammar from 1360 got to Rome and was purchased by Giovanni Battista Raimondi, the scientific director of the Tipografia Medicea, Europe’s first press that specialized in Oriental languages.

Barhebraeus’ work was hence copied several times in Rome and was used as a linguistic tool in the preparation of the typography’s Syriac editions. The commentary was a primary source for the composition of the first Latin grammar of the Syriac language, written by George Amira and published in Rome in 1596.

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