Monday, March 8, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Christos Simelidis (ed.), Selected Poems of Gregory of Nazianzus: I.2.17; II.1.10, 19.32: A Critical Edition with Introduction and Commentary. Hypomnemata Bd. 177. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprech, 2009. Pp. 284. ISBN 9783525252871. €56.90.
Reviewed by Edward G. Mathews, Jr., St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, New Rochelle

Gregory of Nazianzus is one of the most consistently celebrated of the early Christian writers. In just the last decade, the appearance of several volumes of selections of his works,1 two recent--and important--monographs,2 and a collection of significant essays3 bear witness to his ongoing popularity. However, this sustained popularity was generally due to his theological acumen and his extraordinary rhetorical skills, not to his poetry, which both Jerome and the Suda numbered at 30,000 verses (only about two-thirds of them have actually survived). Read with great admiration by such modern poets as Constantine Cavafy, it is only in the last two decades that the vast oeuvre of his poetry has received any critical scholarly attention: editions and translations of his autobiographical poems and of the so-called Poemata Arcana appeared just over a decade ago.4 In this same time period, a number of dissertations on the life and/or writings of Gregory have appeared; the work under review here is the second of these that was specifically dedicated to Gregory's poetry.5

Simelidis' work is a revised version of his Oxford doctoral dissertation. It offers a lengthy introduction to Gregory's poetry (pp. 21-102), critical editions of the Greek texts -- no translations -- of four of Gregory's poems: I.2.17, II.1.10, II.1.19, and II.1.32 (pp. 103-115; one gnomology, two autobiographical poems, and one lament, respectively), together with extensive commentary on each (pp. 117-246; see detailed table of contents below). The four poems that constitute the focus of this volume had previously existed only in the nineteenth century edition of Dom Caillau as preserved in J.-P. Migne's Patrologia Graeca, vol. 38.6 Simelidis consulted twenty-nine manuscripts in compiling his edition, although none of the four poems exists in all twenty-nine of the manuscripts: II.1.32 is found in twenty-five of the manuscripts, I.2.17 in twenty-two, while II.1.10 and II.1.19 are each found in only twenty of the twenty-nine (see Simelidis' table on p. 100).

This is an extraordinarily detailed and erudite study that ought to lay down the path for any future study of Gregory's poetry. Gregory stands as a unique transitional point between classical/hellenistic poetry and Byzantine poetry. Previous scholarship, which had long considered Gregory's poetry to be turgid, imitative and uninspired, has been satisfied with a general acknowledgement of Gregory's debt to classical poetry, or with a simple notation of a few obvious borrowings; even such a rich commentary as that of D.A. Sykes in his otherwise stimulating study of Gregory's Poemata Arcana only notes parallels and borrowings from Stoic philosophy and hellenistic poetry. Simelidis is really the first to go beyond this "footnoting" to make the first serious attempt at fleshing out Gregory's sources in far more precise detail. He even highlights, by locating a number of heretofore unnoticed examples, a particular penchant----he labels it 'obsession'----on the part of Gregory for the poetry of Callimachus. Simelidis notes clear examples of Gregory's knowledge of "less traditional" literature such as the Sibylline Oracles, Manetho's Apotelesmatica, and even finds a clear allusion to a Hymn to the Pantocrator, that is otherwise preserved only in a fourth-century magical papyrus, P. Gr. Ludg. Bat. J 384. Even more importantly, perhaps, he demonstrates how Gregory uses and transforms his sources for his own purposes. These usages range from a simple transformation of Callimachus' invocation to Demeter ἵλαθί μοι, τρίλλιστε (Callimachus, Hymn to Demeter, 138) to an invocation to the Christian trinity, ἵλαθί μοι . . ., τριάς (Gregory, Carm. I.2.14.119), to adopting some clearly erotic imagery (probably also from Callimachus) to parallel physical human intercourse with his own spiritual union with God (Gregory, Carm. II.1.34.85-86), to a remarkable adoption of a phrase from Euphorion, fr. CA 98, referring to the myth of Mopsus and Amphilochus who killed each other, that Gregory applied to Christ's triumph over death (Gregory, Carm. I.1.33.8), all of which Simelidis sets out in far greater--and more convincing--detail than possible here.

Within his own tradition, Gregory becomes almost the sole model for later Byzantine literary style, especially rhetoric and poetry. Simelidis even goes so far as to refer to the Byzantine "obsession with" and "worship of" Gregory. A large number of later panegyrics on Gregory, composed by the most eminent of Byzantine scholars, speak of his immense importance for contemporary Byzantine style. Simelidis adduces dozens of examples from Byzantine writers to demonstrate how a great deal of Byzantine poetry makes use of Gregory's poetry much as he himself made use of classical/hellenistic models. Perhaps the most famous example is the lengthy poem known as the Christus Patiens which was long considered to be an actual composition of Gregory. There also survive a considerable number of school exercises. For his purposes, Simelidis reproduces three different versions of anonymous paraphrases of his four poems (pp. 247-264) that seem to be schoolroom attempts at imitating Gregory's poetical style.

It is Simelidis' great contribution in this volume that, under the guise of an edition of four relatively short poems, he so clearly sets out Gregory's unique position as transitional figure between Classical and Byzantine literature. For these four poems that he has edited, he has fleshed out Gregory's sources in far greater detail than heretofore ever attempted while, at the same time, setting out in nearly equal detail his subsequent influence on later Byzantine literature. Ironically, however, it is this very deep and detailed nature of Simelidis' introduction and commentary that best reveals how much more study there remains to do on Gregory's poetry.



1. Gregory's Poetry
i. Gregory's Poetry and Modern Scholarship
ii. The Case for Christian Poetry
iii. Gregory and Hellenistic Poetry
iv. Language and Metre
2. Gregory's Poetry in Byzantium
i. Reputation and Influence
ii. The Poems and the School Curriculum
iii. The Anonymous Paraphrases

II. TEXT of Carmina I.2.17, II.1.10, II.1.19 and II.1.32

IV. APPENDIX: Three Byzantine Anonymous Paraphrases


1.   Translations into English alone, in chronological order, are: Peter Gilbert, On God and Man: The Theological Poetry of St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Popular Patristics Series. Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001; Jennifer Nimmo-Smith, A Christian's Guide to Greek Culture: The Pseudo-Nonnus Commentaries on Sermons 4, 5, 39 and 43 by Gregory of Nazianzus. Translated Texts for Historians, 37. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2001; Frederick Williams and Lionel R. Wickham, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius. Popular Patristics Series. Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2002; Martha Vinson St. Gregory of Nazianzus: Select Orations. Fathers of the Church, 107. Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2003; Brian E. Daley, Gregory of Nazianzus. Early Church Fathers. London/New York: Routledge, 2006; Nonna Verna Harrison Festal Orations by St Gregory Nazianzus. Popular Patristics Series. Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2008. Recent translations into other languages can be found in the bibliography.
2.   John Anthony McGuckin, St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography. Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001; and Christopher A. Beeley, Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God: In Your Light We Shall See Light. Oxford Studies in Historical Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
3.   Gregory of Nazianzus: Images and Reflections. Jostein Børtnes and Tomas Hägg, eds. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2006.
4.   Carolinne White, ed. and tr., Gregory of Nazianzus: Autobiographical Poems. Cambridge Medieval Classics, 6. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996; C. Moreschini, ed., and D.A. Sykes, tr., St. Gregory of Nazianzus: Poemata Arcana. Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. Two volumes of translations of Gregory's poems have appeared in both French and Italian, and a translation of the entire poetic corpus, in four volumes, has appeared in Modern Greek; see Simelidis' bibliography for details.
5.   The first was S. Abrams Rebillard, Speaking for Salvation: Gregory of Nazianzus as Poet and Priest in his Autobiographical Poems. Ph.D. Thesis; Providence: Brown University, 2003.
6.   Carolinne White, Gregory of Nazianzus: Autobiographical Poems, text of II.1.19, on pp. 154-163, simply reproduces the text found in Migne.

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful, I am very thankful for this review as I soon will be writing about Nazianzus. I believe Simelidis will be of great help.


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