Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Alex Hopkins
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Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Alex Hopkins » January 17th, 2015, 11:17 pm

The National Library of Australia has been digitising newspapers from its archives. A newspaper called The Colonist printed in 1835 a letter to the editor which includes some Greek. (Details of the letter are: 1835 'TO THE EDITOR OF THE COLONIST.', The Colonist (Sydney, NSW : 1835 - 1840), 16 April, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31716419).

The Greek, and the paragraph which introduces it, are as follows:
"Wherefore, seeing we are compassed about with such a cloud of witnesses," let us imitate their glorious examples; ever bearing in mind that ignorance of the Scriptures, as the illustrious Greek Father observes, is the cause of all evils:

των παντων κακων μη αναγινωσκειν βιβλια ψυχης φαρμακα
Incidentally, the publication of this letter was met with derision. Why? The Australian, a rival newspaper, the next day sneered: “Greek without accents! This is worse than ‘Geometry without axioms.’”

I would be grateful for any help in establishing the origin of the quote and its accuracy as given.

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 18th, 2015, 4:21 am

Alex Hopkins wrote:I would be grateful for any help in establishing the origin of the quote
.
Alex Hopkins wrote:the illustrious Greek Father
At a guess this would refer to Chrysostom.

The quote that I can find closest to this among his famous quotes is:
Chrysostom, Homily 9 on Colosians wrote:The lack of scriptural knowledge is the source of all evils in the Church.
Sorry, I can't locate the Greek for this.
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Alex Hopkins
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Re: Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Alex Hopkins » January 18th, 2015, 5:31 am

The Greek of Chrysostom's homily to the Colossians is Τοῦτο πάντων αἴτιον τῶν κακῶν, τὸ μὴ εἰδέναι τὰς Γραφάς.

Those words would make perfect sentence in the context of the author's paragraph. But they're not the words he uses! Which is one of the aspects I find problematic about the Greek he supplies.

The mystery remains, but thanks for your endeavours, Stephen.

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Stephen Carlson » January 18th, 2015, 6:08 am

Several searches on TLG couldn't turn up this quotation or anything closely resembling it.

I searched for the strings κακων μη, βιβλια ψυχας, των παντων κακων, and βιβλια within one line of φαρμακα. Nothing relevant came up.

The quotation could be from a work not yet digitized for TLG, legitimate but terribly garbled, or even back-translated from English or Latin.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

Alex Hopkins
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Re: Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Alex Hopkins » January 18th, 2015, 6:32 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:Several searches on TLG couldn't turn up this quotation or anything closely resembling it.

I searched for the strings κακων μη, βιβλια ψυχας, των παντων κακων, and βιβλια within one line of φαρμακα. Nothing relevant came up.

The quotation could be from a work not yet digitized for TLG, legitimate but terribly garbled, or even back-translated from English or Latin.
Thanks, Stephen, thanks very much.

I think we're making progress.

My guess is that the author of the letter was working from memory, not very accurately, and, as you say, possibly back-translating from a memory of the Chrysostom phrase in English. This would account for the lack of accents. It would also account for the change from εἰδέναι to αναγινωσκειν. The other difficulty I have with the author's Greek is the construction - it just doesn't read "right" to my ear. Just how is it to be construed?

των παντων κακων μη αναγινωσκειν βιβλια ψυχης φαρμακα
Of all evils, not reading books of life [is?] φαρμακα

I don't have TLG but tried different combinations searching Greek on the net and found nothing close. I didn't want to express my misgivings in my first post, but what yourself and Stephen Hughes have said is consolidating my concern that we've found out the late letter-writer in trying to impress his audience with Greek erudition that is in fact beyond his grasp. Not that we'd ever see such a thing these days!

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
Last edited by Alex Hopkins on January 18th, 2015, 6:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 18th, 2015, 6:37 am

The etymology of Bible in English is from βιβλία, but in the fathers, they use γραφή or γραφαί to refer to the Scripture(s). That suggested a back translation to me.
Alex Hopkins wrote:των παντων κακων μη αναγινωσκειν βιβλια ψυχης φαρμακα
Of all evils, not reading books of life [is?] φαρμακα
ψυχης φαρμακα - medicine(s) for the soul, so lit. something like "more than any other evil not reading the Bible is poison for the soul", but as you say it is garbled. With "the source" omitted, it could mean, "The source of all evils is not reading the Bible - the poison / medicine of the soul." I suppose that the Australian didn't want to comment / speculate on what it could mean, in case it did in fact constitute good Greek and they get egg on their faces.
Last edited by Stephen Hughes on January 18th, 2015, 6:45 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Alex Hopkins
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Re: Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Alex Hopkins » January 18th, 2015, 6:42 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:
Alex Hopkins wrote:των παντων κακων μη αναγινωσκειν βιβλια ψυχης φαρμακα
Of all evils, not reading books of life [is?] φαρμακα
ψυχης φαρμακα - medicine(s) for the soul
So, "not reading books is medicine(s) for the soul"?! The opposite to the sense he wants. And, which books - just any old books?

I'm still unconvinced that the expression is correct.

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 18th, 2015, 6:49 am

Alex Hopkins wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:
Alex Hopkins wrote:των παντων κακων μη αναγινωσκειν βιβλια ψυχης φαρμακα
Of all evils, not reading books of life [is?] φαρμακα
ψυχης φαρμακα - medicine(s) for the soul
So, "not reading books is medicine(s) for the soul"?! The opposite to the sense he wants. And, which books - just any old books?

I'm still unconvinced that the expression is correct.

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
Well, that was a mawkish rendering. The word moves means either good or bad medicine (restorative or destructive) at different times in its history.
Stephen Hughes in the [url=http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=2628]Post-Atticism - Ο Ερωτόκριτος του Βιντσέντζου Κορνάρου[/url] thread wrote:φαρμάκιν - the Classical form is φάρμακον "medicine", "potion", "poison", Koine is φαρμάκιον "potion", "poison", 17th century Crete it is this φαρμάκιν, and the Modern is φαρμάκι - "poison".
That is statement is complicated by the fact that many later fathers were Atticists (educated to write in Attic).
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Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

Alex Hopkins
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Joined: June 10th, 2011, 7:15 am

Re: Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Alex Hopkins » January 18th, 2015, 7:40 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:Well, that was a mawkish rendering. The word moves means either good or bad medicine (restorative or destructive) at different times in its history.

Stephen Hughes in the Post-Atticism - Ο Ερωτόκριτος του Βιντσέντζου Κορνάρου thread wrote:φαρμάκιν - the Classical form is φάρμακον "medicine", "potion", "poison", Koine is φαρμάκιον "potion", "poison", 17th century Crete it is this φαρμάκιν, and the Modern is φαρμάκι - "poison".

That is statement is complicated by the fact that many later fathers were Atticists (educated to write in Attic).
BDAG, which covers not only the NT but early Christian literature, says of φάρμακον 1 harmful drug, poison, 2 a drug used as a controlling medium, magic potion, charm, 3 a healing remedy medicine, remedy, drug; under this heading BDAG gives also means of attaining something + gen., and for the phrase φάρμακον ἀθανασίας offers: the medicine of (i.e. means of attaining ) immortality

I'm also aware of LSJ II.2. c. gen. also, a means of producing something, φ. σωτηρίας Id.Ph.893; μνήμης καὶ σοφίας φ. Pl.Phdr.274e; ὑπομνήσεως ib.275a, cf. 230d; ἀθανασίας Antiph.86.6; ἡσυχίας Arist.Pol.1273b23; φ. μανίας, of the oil applied to wrestlers, D.L.1.104.

So it crossed my mind to construe the φαρμακα with των παντων κακων in the sense approaching "produces all kinds of evil"; but I'd expect the singular, and I don't know if this sense was used by any of the Greek fathers, in any case.

I do take the point that the time of writing influences our understanding of the words; indeed, this prompted my question.

But if we construe as I understand you're suggesting, that leaves βιβλια as unqualified, and that strikes me as unsatisfactory rather than odd.

All of which is why my reaction to the text was to be unconvinced and to suspect - and Stephen Carlson was thinking on similar lines, I gather - that he's quoting from memory, probably back-translating as best he can. That Stephen couldn't find anything in TLG is pretty damning, I think.

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
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Alex Hopkins
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Re: Help request re quotation from a Greek Father

Post by Alex Hopkins » January 18th, 2015, 8:35 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:The etymology of Bible in English is from βιβλία, but in the fathers, they use γραφή or γραφαί to refer to the Scripture(s). That suggested a back translation to me.
I want to acknowledge that Stephen Hughes also refers to the idea of back translation, which I overlooked when writing my previous response.

It seems to me that we have something approaching a consensus, then, that the most likely - not certain, but most likely - explanation of the Greek is that it is a back-translation of the Chrysostom quote? I'd also be interested if others find the Greek itself awkward, as I do.

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
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