The syriac galen palimpsest: Progress, prospects and problems

Siam Bhayro, Robert Hawley, Grigory Kessel, Peter E. Pormann

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The Syriac Galen Palimpsest (SGP) is a remarkable manuscript that poses many challenges to scholars, yet also promises to yield much. Its undertext contains the Syriac translation by Sergius of Rēš 'Aynā of Galen's On Simple Drugs. A team of scholars met at the University of Manchester to exploit the advances in imaging technology to study this palimpsest. Some initial results are presented here. SGP possibly contains the text of the whole second part of On Simple Drugs (i.e., Books VI-XI); to date, only Books VI-VIII had been thought to survive, as they are preserved in another famous manuscript, London, British Library, MS Add. 14661. SGP's importance, however, does not merely lie in the fact that it preserves text not found elsewhere, but also in that it offers many important variant readings; it is therefore crucial for the textual history of Sergius' translation, as well as Galen's On Simple Drugs more generally. Moveover, this Syriac translation also makes it possible to assess the role that Sergius played in the transmission of medical knowledge from Greek into Arabic. For the first time, one can compare the Greek source text of certain passages with the Syriac translations by Sergius and unayn, as well as the Arabic version by unayn. This initial comparison suggests that unayn is far more indebted to Sergius than he lets us believe in his Epistle (Risāla); and that Sergius was a far more competent translator than previously thought. © 2013 The author.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-148
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Semitic Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013

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  • John Rylands Research Institute and Library


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