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The Syriac Translation Movement: Shaping Greek Education for a Christian Society

Alberto Rigolio, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, Summer Fellow 2010

As a summer fellow, I worked on my doctoral dissertation on the Classical heritage in early Christian communities. In particular, I concentrated on a section dealing with the endurance of the non-Christian culture among the West Syrians, as shown by the translations of Greek pagan texts into Syriac, which were produced between the fourth and sixth centuries AD. The translation into Syriac of orations and treatises with moral contents, mainly by Ps.-Isocrates, Plutarch, Lucian, and Themistius, is an argument in support of a substantial continuity of pagan educational practices among West Syrian communities in the first centuries AD, as the reason for translation may have been the actual use of such texts in a scholastic environment. Indeed, the translations have been deliberately modified in view of their use and their Christian audience. During the summer term, I worked on the English translation of Plutarch’s treatises which survive in Syriac, and I analyzed comprehensively the modifications of the Syriac translations in contrast with the Greek texts, taking into account the relevant Greek and Syriac manuscripts. My overarching aim is to contextualize the environment in which pagan translations were carried out to shed light on their agency, their use, and their cultural and intellectual context. An appealing achievement would be, for instance, to suggest a grouping for Syriac translations according to their environment of production, as has successfully been shown for a number of translations into Arabic.