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Agapius, Universal History (1909) pp.1-8. Translator's Introduction


Agapius (Mahboub) the Greek, son of Constantine, bishop of Menbidj (10th century of our era), of whose work I offer to the public the Arabic text and French translation, is a Christian Arab writer almost unknown in the historical literature.  Indeed, he is not found either in the work of Wüstenfeld, Die Geschichtschreiber der Araber und ihre Werke, nor in the Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur of Brockelmann, nor in the Littérature arabe of Ch. Huart (Paris, 1902), nor in the even more recent book, dedicated especially to the Arabic Christian literature, Die christlich-arabische Literatur of G. Graf (1905). K. Krumbacher is no more familiar with Agapius in his excellent history of Byzantine Literature, where other Christian Arab chroniclers, such as Yahya of Antioche and Al-Makin, have found their place. It is only in 1907, that we find a few lines on Agapius in the summary of Arabic Christian literature by G. Brockelmann 1, who drew his information from my article in Vizantiysky Vremennik "Agapius of Manbidj, Arabic Christian historian of 10th century". (in Russian).  

Agapius, based on the time when he lived, is the first Arabic Christian historian. However it would in correct to say that the name of Agapius (Mahboub) and the manuscripts of his history were unknown to the learned world.  In 1742 Assemani, in his Catalogue of the Eastern manuscripts of the Laurentian Library of Florence, |7 described in a more or less detailed way (not too exact on the whole) manuscript 132, which contains the second part of the history of Mahboub.  In 1835 in the Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum orientalium Bibliothecae Bodlejanae we find a description of the ms. LI (Hunt 478a.,1320), which contains the first part of the history of Agapius.

The first to interest himself in this writer was the baron V. Rosen, the eminent Russian scholar, whose untimely and unexpected death was felt by all the Orientalists and Byzantinists († January 10/23, 1908). After looking through the Florence manuscript and making some extracts from it, in 1884 he published the following article in the Newspaper of the Ministry for the State education (in Russia): Notes on the chronicle of Agapius de Manbidj (in Russian).  Unfortunately this article remained unknown not only abroad, but even in Russia.  

It was the baron Rosen, whose pupil I had the honour to be and to whose memory I dedicate this edition, who drew my attention to this historian.  

The Catalogus Porphyrianus 2 and that of Mrs. Gibson 3 informed us that there were two further manuscripts of Agapius at the monastery of Mount Sinai.  Then I set to work:  in 1902, during my stay in Sinai, I copied two mss. which are in the library of this convent and which contain only the first part of the chronicle, and in 1903 I made a copy of the ms. of Florence, which contains the second part;  but I was missing the Oxford ms., which I had seen in 1907 and of which I had noted the importance.  With very great kindness M. Graffin procured for me photographs of this manuscript;  so that I now have at my disposal four manuscripts, on which I base the text of my publication. |8

There are further mss. of Agapius, which I was unable to make use of.  Thus, in the newspaper Al-Machrik of Beirut, there is a description of a ms. of Agapius, which, based on the extracts published in this catalogue, appears to me to relate to the Oxford ms.;  we also read in the same publication that there exist in Syria several mss. of Agapius 4.  

I shall begin by publishing the first part of the chronicle of Agapius, which tells the history of the world before Christ and the life of the Messiah. The edition of the text of this part is based on three manuscripts: 1) ms. C;  this is the Ms. Oxford LI (Hunt 478. Pusey), very well written, dated (A.D. 1320), which I took as the basis of my edition;  2) ms B;  this is Ms. Sinai 580, 21x16, 208 fol.  (Gibson), also written rather well, whose text corresponds to the Oxford ms.  3) ms.  A; this is Ms. Sinai 456, 27x18,175 fol.  (Gibson), more recent;  it is a very abridged copy and its text differs much from the other mss. above; this manuscript contains various treatises, and the first part of Agapius occupies folios 103-164v, where the text, stopping in the middle of a sentence, is incomplete at the end.

The second part of the chronicle of Agapius, which, I dare to hope, will follow the first, is especially interesting for historical studies:  it gives much information on the ancient history of the Church, on the period of the Œcumenical Councils, the history of Byzantium and the Caliphate, especially at the time of the transfer of power from the Ommayads to the Abbasids. 

In my edition, I have tried to reproduce, as far as possible, the text as we find it in the mss., without substituting the classical forms, and I am sure that scholars who are interested in the Arabic Christian language, will find much invaluable and new information there. 

I would like to cordially thank all those who agreed to help me with their advice and their involvement in my work, and in first place Mr. J. Kratchkovsky, a young Russian Arabist, the youngest pupil of the baron Rosen, who by his inexhaustible kindness deserves a special place in my gratitude, - who helped me in this heavy work, thanks to his erudite knowledge of the Arab language.  |9 May I also be allowed to address my hearty thanks to Mr.  N. Marr, professor at the University of St. Petersburg, who granted me in abundance the benefit of his invaluable advice and his profound knowledge of oriental languages and literatures.  I express also my sincere gratitude to Mr. P. Kokovzoff, member of the Academy of Knowledge at St. Petersburg; to my fellow-member Mr. A. von Boulmerincq, professor at the University of Youryev (Dorpat); to Mr. L. Leroy, professor at the faculties of Angers, and to Mr. E. Blochet, of the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris.

Professor at the University of Youryev (Dorpat), Russia

St. Petersburg, 7/20 June, 1908.

A = ms. 456 of Sinai

B = ms. 580 of Sinai

C = ms. Oxford LI (Hunt. 478).  The edition of part 1 is based on this manuscript.

1. Die christlich-arabische Litteratur, in the series by Ahmelang, Die Litteraturen des Ostens in Einzeldarstellungen.

2. Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum et impressorum Monasterii S. Catherinae in Monte Sinai ad fidem Codicis Porphyriani, N. IV, B. 18/135.  Petropolii, 1891, p. 336 (N. 164)

3. M. D. Gibson, Catalogue of the Arabic mss. in the convent of S. Catherine on Mount Sinai, London, 1894, p. 88 (N. 456) and 123-4 (N. 580).  Studia Sinaitica no. III.

4. Al-Machrik, VIII (1905), p. 1051-2 (no. 90); see also vol. V (1902), p. 909.

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This text was turned into English by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2009. This file and all material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

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