Byzantine Text Reading Seminar - Fifth, sixth-century debate on the eternity of the world

Course Status: 
CEU credits: 
ECTS credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
22 Sep 2014 - 12 Dec 2014
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Department of Philosophy
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies (CEMS)
Non-degree Specialization: 
EMS—Advanced Certificate in Eastern Mediterranean Studies
István Perczel
Learning Outcomes: 
Hopefully, by the completion of this course, participants will feel fairly safe in reading Greek theoretical texts. Their linguistic skills would be enhanced and they would get an insight into the complicated texture of fifth, sixth-century philosophical and theological sources.
Assessment : 
Regular attendance (at least ten sessions out of twelve) is mandatory. So is also the work at home on the prescribed readings. No test will be written, the only criterion for the assessment is oral performance at the translation seminars. Preliminary proficiency in the Greek language is not a criterion of assessment but only preparation and effort. Students will be assessed according to the progress made by them during the term.

This course has been conceived as a complement to the class on Pagan-Christian philosophical  debates in Late Antiquity. As such, at the seminars we will read an array of sources from the fifth-sixth centuries. So, among the texts read, there will be texts of more philosophical (Proclus) or more theological (Pseudo-Justin) character but all of them will address the same arguments in the debate. This would provide a deepening of the perspective raised at Pagan-Christian philosophical debates and will permit to go into both the linguistic and the argumentative intricacies of such debates, providing a tool also for the reading of other theoretical texts. In his explanations the instructor will give the necessary grammatical, linguistic and theoretical background for the understanding of the texts. At request, he will provide the participants with appropriate secondary literature. However, the emphasis will be on reading and understanding the Greek texts and this is also the primary criterion for the assessment. However, participation in the Pagan-Christian philosophical debates class is not a condition for participating in this text reading seminar. All those who are interested in reading theoretical texts written in Greek, who have acquired or would like to acquire the skills for that, are warmly welcome. The format of the course is that of translation seminars. Every participant is expected to read the prescribed readings at home and translate part of it during the joint reading of the text at the seminar. 

Course outline

 As it is impossible to predict the pace of reading, which depends on the level and interest of the participants and the development of the class discussions, the outline given here-below is tentative.

1-4. week: First text, Proclus, In Timaeum II. Procli Diadochi In Platonis Timaeum Commentaria, ed. Ernest Diehl I-III (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1903), vol. I, p. 391-396. This is a summary by Proclus (412-485) of a lost treatise written by Porphyry (c. 234-c. 305), which apparently was burnt as Porphyry was repeatedly condemned.

 5-8. week: Second text, Pseudo-Justin Martyr, Christian Questions to the Gentiles. Edition used: J.C.T. Otto (ed.), Corpus apologetarum Christianorum saeculi secundi, vol. 5, 3rd edn. Jena: Mauke, 1881 (repr. 1969), p. 237-317. The precise section to be read is yet to be defined. The text contains five hitherto unrecognized fragments of Porphyry in favour of the eternity of the world and Christian answers to the arguments. One of the main interests of the text is that it shows that the famous Cappadocian terminological distinction between divine Essence (ousia) and Operations (energeiai) was largely conceived of as a reply to Porphyry’s arguments.

 9-12. week: Third and fourth text, selections from John Philopon’s On the Eternity of the World against Proclus and from Simplicius, Commentary on the Physics of Aristotle. Editions used: Ioannes Philoponus de aeternitate mundi contra Proclum, ed. H. Rabe (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1909) and Simplicius, In Aristotelis physicorum libros quattuor priores (1 - 4) commentaria, ed. H. Diels /CAG 9/ (Berlin: Reimer, 1882)

 It is quite possible that we will not have time to read everything planned at this stage. The final selection will be made in discussion with the students.

 Course goals

 The course intends to deepen both the linguistic and the philosophical knowledge of its participants. Particularly it aims to enhance the skills of dealing with theoretical texts written in Greek, deemed quite difficult. It also aims at inculcating skills of reconstructing logical arguments in their intertextual context.