Aristides the Philosopher: the Manuscripts of the "Apology"

The Apology of Aristides for the Christians, delivered to the emperor Hadrian, was long thought lost.  In 1870, the Mechitarist monks in Venice discovered some extracts in an Armenian translation.  The authenticity of these was questioned, as they contained the term 5th century theological term Theotokos.  In 1889, J. Rendell Harris, while examining manuscripts at Mount Sinai, found a manuscript of ethical texts in Syriac, one of which was the full text of the Apology, which verified the Armenian fragments (and showed that Theotokos had been added by the translator).  The text was in the press, when J.Armitage Robinson, the editor, found that the same wording appeared in a Latin translation of the 7th century oriental text, the Lives of Barlaam and Joasaph. This was written ca. 630 AD by a monk of Mar Saba.

Thus in fact the majority of the original Greek text had always been extant, as a speech by a philosopher in this derivative work.  The Lives are extant in a good number of Mss. in Greek, Latin, Arabic, Ethiopic, Old French, etc.  The Syriac text is about 50% longer, and thus includes additional material; however a small amount of text was reshaped or omitted in the Lives to make it fit the story.  The Armenian is something of a paraphrase, but not from the Syriac, or at least not from the same form of the Syriac.

The information I have about Greek Mss is below, in Robinson's words.



Shelfmark & Notes

Date /

  Mt. Sinai Codex Sinaiticus 16. (Syriac)  The Ms. is written in two columns. 

Folio / Contents (Not all identifications with printed texts are certain):
1 b -- History of the Lives of the Fathers (Syriac translation from Greek)
2 b -- Lives of the Holy Fathers of the Desert / History of the Egyptian Hermits.  Many copies of this exist, but no critical text.  Tullberg &c published extracts in 1851.
86  b -- two leaves have been cut out after this.
87 b -- Of Holy Nilus the Solitary
93 a -- At the foot of this page begins the Apology of Aristides
105 a -- A discourse of Plutarch on the subject of a man's being assisted by  his enemy
112 a -- At the foot of this page, a second discourse of the same Plutarch, peri askeseos.  (Ed. Lagarde, Analecta, pp.177-186; tr. Gildemeister & Buecheler).
121 b -- A discourse of Pythagoras.  (Ed. Lagarde, Analecta, pp.195-201).
126 a -- A discourse of Plutarch on Anger (Ed. Lagarde, Analecta Syriaca, pp. 186-195).
132 b -- A discourse of Lucius (Lucianus) that we should not receive slander against our friends.  (Sachau, Inedita, pp.1-16).
140 a -- A discourse made by a philosopher, de anima.  (Sachau, Inedita,  given as Philosophorum de anima sententiae).
143 a -- The Counsel of Theano, a female philosopher of the school of Pythagoras.  (Sachau, Inedita, as Theano: Sententiae).
145 b -- A collection of Sayings of the Philosophers, beginning with 'Plato the Wise said...'.
151 b -- A first discourse on Ecclesiastes, by Mar John the Solitary for the blessed Theogenis. (See Wright, Cat. of the Syr. MSS. in the Brit. Mus. p. 996)
214 a -- From here on, translations from the Homilies of Chrysostom on Matthew.


  Venice Armenian fragment published in Venice with a Latin translation in 1870.  The Latin is reproduced by Harris.  Publication:

Title Details: Sancti Aristidis philosophi Atheniensis sermones duos, quorum originalis textus desideratur, ex antigua Armeniaca versione nunc primum in Latinam linguam translatos ... / Felici Dupanloup, Aureliae Gallorum episcopo ... Patres Mechitaristae congregationis sancti Lazari, Venetiis 1878, D.D.D.
Publisher: [Venice], [1878]
Physical desc.: pp. 23 (8vo)
Note: With Armenian text
Other Names: Dupanloup, Félix, 1802-1878
Language: Armenian


  Edschmiazin Armenian paper MS., printed in English translation by Harris.  The fragment from the Apology was followed by the fragment from the homily on the Penitent Thief.  The Ms. is illegible here and there -- the manuscript is very worn.  The two Armenian fragments are in very close agreement.

11 or earlier

Robinson's description of his find

While Mr Harris was passing the preceding pages through the press, he kindly allowed me to read the proof sheets of his translation of the Syriac. Shortly afterwards as I was turning over Latin Passionals at Vienna in a fruitless search for a lost MS. of the Passion of S. Perpetua, I happened to be reading portions of the Latin Version of the ' Life of Barlaam and Josaphat,' and presently I stumbled across words which recalled the manner and the thought of Aristides. Turning back to the beginning of a long speech, I found the words : ' Ego, rex, providentia Dei veni in mundum ; et considerans. celum et terram, mare et sol cm et lunam, et cetera, admiratus sum ornatum eorum.' The Greek text of ' Barlaam and Josaphat ' is printed in Migne's edition of the works of S. John of Damascus : and it was not long before I was reading the actual words of the Apologist himself: [Greek]. It was with some impatience that I waited for my return to Cambridge, in order to examine the proof sheets again, and so to discover by a comparison of the Syriac Version how much of our author was really in our hands in the original tongue. ...

It is true that SS. Barlaam and Josaphat find a place in the Calendars of both the Eastern and Western Churches: but it has long been recognised that their 'Life' is a working up of the Indian legend of Sakya Mouni, or Buddha ; and a number of the apologues scattered over the piece have also been identified as Eastern stories of a very early date.

Robinson on the Greek Text

It is remarkable that this work, which at one time enjoyed such extraordinary popularity, should not have found its way into print in its original language before the present century. The Latin Version wrongly attributed to Georgius Trapezuntius, but really, as the MSS. of it prove, of a much earlier date, was printed, together with various works of S. John of Damascus, at Basel in 1539 : but it was reserved to Boissonade to publish the Greek Text for the first time in the fourth volume of his Anecdota, which appeared at Paris in 1832.

Boissonade apologises for the meagreness of his apparatus criticus on the ground that an edition was expected almost immediately from Schmidt and Kopitar the librarian of the Imperial Library at Vienna. This edition, however, never appeared. Out of seventeen MSS. preserved in the Library at Paris, Boissonade used throughout but two, 903 and 1128, which he refers to as A and C. He gives occasional readings from two others, 904 and 907, which he names B and D. In the portion of the book which specially concerns us, viz. the speech of Nachor, C is defective for about 10 of Boissonade's pages, and the testimony of D is frequently recorded. From time to time readings are also quoted from the Latin Version.

This very inadequate text has been reprinted in Migne's Patrologia Graeca, tom. 96, in the third volume of the works of S. John of Damascus : but we have gained nothing by the reproduction except new blunders.

In the Wiener Jahrbücher für Deutsche Literatur (lxxii. 274, Ixxiii. 176) Schubart has given some description of the Vienna MSS., and a list of the principal variants contained in them.

Lastly, Zotenberg1 has made a useful list of about 60 MSS., and has constructed a critical text of certain passages of special interest. Nothing however has been attempted as yet in the way of a genealogical classification of the MSS.; a work which will involve great labour, but which is essential to the production of a satisfactory edition.

In editing the Remains of the Apology of Aristides I have used three MSS., which were kindly placed at my disposal in Cambridge. I have recorded their variants with a greater completeness than is necessary for my present purpose, in order to aid a future editor of the whole treatise in assigning them without further trouble to their proper families.

(1) I have to thank Miss Algerina Peckover of Wisbech for kindly sending to the University Library a MS. in her possession, which apparently belongs to the beginning of the eleventh century. This Codex is specially interesting for the pictures which a later hand has drawn in the margin, sometimes in ink and sometimes in colours. It is unfortunately defective at the beginning and at the end. It commences with the words [Greek] (Bois. p. 48), and ends with [Greek] (Bois. p. 357). Unhappily it has been corrected very largely throughout, and it is frequently impossible to discover the original readings : those which are obviously by. a later hand I have marked as W2.

(2) The authorities of Magdalen College, Oxford, with a like generosity allowed me to use their codex, Gr. 4, side by side with the Wisbech MS. in our Library. This bears the date 1064. It contains besides : a Life of S. Basil, a tract on Images, the Martyrdom of SS. Galaction and Episteme, a tract on Penalties, and a work of Anastasius Sinaiticus. It has remained for the most part uncorrected.

(3) In the Library of Pembroke College, Cambridge, there is a MS. of the 17th century, the readings of which are of sufficient interest to be recorded for the present in spite of its late date;

In my apparatus criticvs these MSS. are referred to by the letters W, M and P respectively. I have now and then recorded readings from the Vienna MSS. collated by Schubart, using the signs V21, V102, &c., where the figures correspond with Schubart's numbers. Wherever I have differed from the text of Boissonade, I have recorded his readings, and sometimes I have expressly mentioned his MSS., A, C and D. I have given in the margin of the Greek text the reference to Boissonade's pages. Where it seemed desirable I have recorded readings of the Latin Version, taking them from the Basel edition of 1539 mentioned above.

1 Notice svr le livre de B. et J., pp. 3-5.


J. Rendell HARRIS, The Apology of Aristides on behalf of the Christians, from a Syriac Ms. preserved on Mount Sinai, edited with an introduction and translation.  With an appendix containing the main portion of the original Greek text by J. Armitage Robinson.  Texts and Studies vol. 1.  Cambridge University Press (1891).  Checked.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse. Corrections and additions are very welcome.

This page has been online since 31st October 2003

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