Posted by on Jul 22, 2016 in Library | Comments Off on GENERAL RULES OF THE LANGUAGE AND DICTIONARIES; RHETORIC AND POETRY Translated : By Dr. Matti Moosa

Translated : By Dr. Matti Moosa

After Edessa, Melitene became the destination of the students of Syriac. In its Cathedral flourished professors of grammar and philology, some of whom were mentioned by Bar Hebraeus in his Semhe (“The Book of Lights”). One of these grammarians was Eupdox of Melitene, who flourished in the eleventh or the twelfth centuries. He composed for his students a philological collection containing reading lessons, which he dictated to them. He marked these lessons with diacritical points and special signs to avoid confusion in reading. Later he collected them in a book which he published under his own name. Another grammarian, Jacob of Bartulli, in his very useful book The Dialogue, devoted a special chapter to the Syriac language, its eloquence, and the changes which came upon it.
The western Syrians did not compile dictionaries, but relied on those of the eastern Syrians, namely, the physicians, Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. 873), Yeshu bar Ali (d. 1001), and particularly al-Hasan bar Bahlul al-Awani al-Tirhani (963). This latter work was interpolated by some of our writers, who borrowed many useful philological themes from the works of their predecessors. An insignificant abridgement of Bar Bahlul’s dictionary was made in 1724 by the maphrian Simon of Manimim. We found a Syriac-Armenian copy of Bar Bahlul’s dictionary, with few Arabic terms, at the Boston Museum (MS. 3980),1 copied by Bishop Ephraim Wanki of Karkar, and completed in the year 1659. Undoubtedly it was translated into Armenian by a Syrian writer from Karkar.2
Between 825 and 840, the monk Anton of Takrit (Anton Rhetor) composed his splendid work, The Knowledge of Rhetoric, in five treatises;3 it has not been equalled by anyone before or since. Four of these treatises are devoted to eloquence, lucidity of composition, and partly to philology which shows his creative ability. The fifth treatise is devoted to the art of poetry, its genres and meters. By this work he remedied a deficiency, created a hope for future works, and made an excellent achievement.
The previously mentioned work, The Dialogue, contains a chapter on rhetoric and a unique treatise on the art of poetry, confined to the conditions of poetry up to the lifetime of the author, who died in 1241. It contains also a portion of the Syriac translation of Aristotle’s Poetics, particularly concerned with tragedy, which had been translated by Abu Bishr into Arabic.4
Syriac poetry was composed mainly to imprint religious teachings in the minds of the people and bestow upon the different types of prayer an aura of solemnity created by its melody. And when St. Ephraim achieved success through his poetry, he was followed and imitated by the succeeding generations. Syriac poetry falls into two classifications, odes and songs. The odes are composed in three types of meter: the heptasyllabic meter, or the Ephraimite, created by St. Ephraim; the pentasyllabic meter or Balaite meter, invented by Mar Balai, bishop of Balsh; and the twelve-syllable meter, or the Sarujite, devised by Jacob of Saruj, bishop of Batnan.

According to Anton of Takrit (in the fifth treatise of his book), our poets composed poetry in other meters of different syllables, right through the sixteen-syllable meter. The octosyllabic meter was invented by Anton himself, but it did not become universally used.
Most of these odes were, however, composed for the purpose of recitation or chanting during the performance of worship, and also to instill the people with religious principles and virtuous life. They were usually lengthy; for example, the two poems of Jacob of Saruj about the creation and the passion of Christ contained more than three thousand lines, and the poem of Isaac of Edessa on the Parrot which chanted the Trisagion contained two thousand one hundred and thirty-six lines.
The madrash (metrical hymn)5 resembles lyric poetry and is composed in lines of four to ten syllables. Some scholars have counted seventy-five melodies used for the authentic hymns or for those falsely attributed to St. Ephraim; some of them contain refrains. These madrashes were preceded by a few opening words for a well-known hymn, to indicate the tune to be used.
One type of the madrash is the sughith, written in a dialogue form. The sughith is composed in the heptasyllabic meter and alphabetically arranged, like the sughiths between the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, between Mary and the Wise Men, and between Abraham and the sacrificial lamb, written by George, bishop of the Arabs.
After they studied and mastered the Arabic language, the Syrians introduced rhyme into their poetry in the beginning of the ninth century to imitate the Arabs. The wrote their poems following one rhyme or using the same rhyme for every two or four lines. Later they used rhymed prose. At the end of the thirteenth century, the extremists among these poets began to imitate with exaggeration the Arabic rhetorical devices, such as paranomasia and antithesis. They forced themselves to compose poetry and thus marred their work with pretension and complexity, disrupting the delicate balance of form and content. Apparently, they were deceived by the poetry of Khamis Qirdahi6 and Abd Yeshu Subawi (1290-1318), both Nestorian men of letters, and by imitating them made their poetry become appallingly poor and colorless.
Some of our later poets in the middle of the fifteenth, sixteenth and eighteenth centuries followed the path of Subawi. They were the monk-priests Thomas and David of Hims, the two patriarchs Nuh the Lebanese in some of his poetry and Nimat Allah in his poor rhythmic prose, the two bishops Sergius of Hah and Joseph the Iberian and the chorepiscopus Jacob of Qutrubul. Opposed to these, however, other poets, such as Patriarch Behnam of Hidl (d. 1454), Maphrian Simon of Tur Abdin (d. 1740), the bishop John of Manimim (d. 1825) and Bishop Zaytun of Inhil (d. 1855), imitated the old poets.

– Mor Ignatius Aphram Barsoum