"Life is Short, the Art is Long": An Interpretation of the First Hippocratic Aphorism by an East Syriac Monk in the 7th Century Iraq (Isaac of Nineveh, Kephalaia gnostica 3,62)

Grigory Kessel

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Abstract

The so-called Second Part of monastic writings composed by the 7th century East Syriac author Isaac of Nineveh contains a paraphrased citation from the famous beginning of Hippocrates' Aphorismoi. The article tackles the issue of Isaac's awareness of the aphorism and tries to reconstruct its interpretation by the author. Though medical texts were available in the East Syriac monastic milieu of that time, it is not likely that Isaac had at his disposal a complete Syriac translation of the Aphorismoi, but rather his acquaintance with the aphorism was mediated by a source that would more likely have been read in monastic context. A good example offers the treatise De anima by the early 5th century monastic author John the Solitary, whose works exercised profound influence upon the entire East Syriac monastic tradition, including Isaac of Nineveh. The given case of a monastic interpretation of a piece of secular wisdom is an illustrative showcase that provides an opportunity to observe a particular sensitivity of the Syriac tradition to medicine and its power to embed it within an appropriate context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-148
Number of pages12
JournalZeitschrift fuer Antikes Christentum
Volume19
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015

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