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THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE
1. The Syriac text
The Syriac version of the Alexander Romance is preserved in five
manuscripts, all in Nestorian script and of recent date (the oldest, held
by the British Museum, was compiled in 1708-09), and was edited in
1889 by Ernest A. Wallis Budge (The History of Alexander The Great,
being the Syriac Version, edited from five manuscripts, of the Pseudo-
Callisthenes, Cambridge, 1889, reprint. Amsterdam, 1976 = BUDGE,
History). The editor has adopted the criterion of the codex optimus: this
edition is mainly based on the text of the oldest codex, known as A,
while the variants in the other four codices (known respectively as B, C,
D and E) are noted in the apparatus.
The Syriac text belongs to branch a of the Pseudo-Callisthenes tradi-
tion, in other words the ancient recension, mainly represented by the
Greek codex A (Paris. 1711), together with the Armenian version (5th
century AD), the Latin text by Julius Valerius (4th century AD) and the
Historia de proeliis by Leo the Archipresbyter (10th century AD). How-
ever, the Syriac text does not seem to be a pure and simple translation of
any of the texts of the Pseudo-Callisthenes that have come down to us,
both because of the different order in which certain subjects are dealt
with, and, above all, because of the inclusion of a certain number of epi-
sodes that are not recorded in any of the Greek versions known to us, for
example, Alexander's journey to China (text and trans.: BUDGE, History,
p. 195-201, p. 109-113). Furthermore, the Syriac version contains a con-
siderable number of slight variations on the original Greek, which in-
clude some modifications that can definitely be attributed to the transla-
tor, who is assumed to have been a Nestorian Christian. These discrep-
ancies with the Greek Pseudo-Callisthenes, combined with a certain
number of errors in the Syriac translation of Greek proper names, led
Budge to suspect that the Syriac text was the translation, completed
* This is an updated, shorter version of the Italian text Gli antecedenti del Romanzo di
Alessandro, published in the volume R.B. FINAZZI - A. VALVO (eds.), La diffusione
dell'eredità classica nell'età tardoantica e medievale. Atti del Seminario internazionale
tenuto a Roma-Napoli, 25-27 settembre 1997, Alessandria, 1998, p. 55-93, which I refer
the reader to for further details. I wish to thank Prof. G.J. Reinink for encouraging me to
write an English version of the text, and Prof. B. Coulie, for accepting to print it in this
122 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
between the 7th and 9th century AD, of an Arabic version of the original
Greek (BUDGE, History, p. lxi-lxii).
Th. Nöldeke rejects this thesis in a lengthy and erudite study entitled
Beiträge zur Geschichte des Alexanderromans (Vienna, 1890 = NÖL-
DEKE, Beiträge). Instead he claims that the Syriac version must have
been based on a lost intermediary Pahlavi translation of the original
Greek, dating from the late Sasanian era (circa 6th-7th century AD).
With the exception of some cursory disagreements
, confined to Ori-
entalist circles, Nöldeke's idea was accepted almost unanimously by
; all philological literature on the Alexander Romance takes for
granted the existence of the Pahlavi version, though this was a hypoth-
esis formulated at a time when Pahlavi philology and Iranian dialectol-
ogy were still in the early stages.
We should like to re-examine here, more systematically than has been
done to date, the validity of the evidence advanced by Nöldeke to prove
the existence of a Pahlavi (or rather Middle Persian)
For example, Samuel Fraenkel's recension of BUDGE, History, in Z.D.M.G., 45
(1891), p. 309-330, especially p. 313-322 (= FRAENKEL, Recension) and R.N. FRYE, Two
Iranian Notes, in Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce, vol. I, Leiden, 1985,
p. 185-188 (= FRYE, Two Iranian Notes).
Cfr, for example, K. BROCKELMANN (et al.), Geschichte der christlichen Litteraturen
des Orients, Leipzig, 1909, p. 45; A. BAUMSTARK, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur,
Bonn, 1922, p. 125 (= BAUMSTARK, Geschichte); C.A. NALLINO, Tracce di opere greche
giunte agli Arabi per trafila pehlevica, in A Volume of Oriental Studies presented to
E.G. Browne, Cambridge, 1922, p. 345-363 (= NALLINO, Tracce di opere greche);
E. YARSHATER, Iranian National History, in The Cambridge History of Iran, III/1, Cam-
bridge, 1983, p. 472; S. BROCK, Syriac Perspective on Late Antiquity, London, 1984, II,
p. 8 (= BROCK, Syriac Perspective); M. BOYCE - F. GRENET, A History of Zoroastrianism,
vol. III, Leiden-Köln, 1991, p. 60 n. 40 (= BOYCE - GRENET, A History); P. ZIEME, Alex-
ander According to an Old Turkish Legend, in La Persia e l'Asia centrale da Alessandro
al X secolo. Atti del convegno dei Lincei, Roma 9-12 Novembre 1994, Rome, 1996, p. 25
and n. 2, etc.
It is advisable to use the term «Middle Persian» to refer to the official language of
the kingdom of Iran from the 3rd to the 7th century AD, i.e. the language of the south-
western group originally only spoken in the Fars area. Middle Persian includes Pahlavi,
namely, the Middle Persian of Zoroastrian literature (written in the cursive script of
books) and of the translation of the Christian Psalter (for which a Pahlavi script was used
that had a more archaic ductus than that of books), but also includes epigraphical Middle
Persian (in monumental script, or parsik) and Manichean Middle Persian (in Manichean
script, namely a variant of the Syriac estrangelo). In the oldest terminology, the one used,
for example, by Nöldeke and by NALLINO, Tracce di opere greche, Pahlavi coincides with
Middle Persian; the need to always distinguish, and not only at the level of terminology,
between Pahlavi and Middle Persian is underlined by W. SUNDERMANN, Mittelpersisch, in
R. SCHMITT (ed.), Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden, 1989, p. 138: «‘Mit-
telpersisch’ ist als Sprachbezeichnung der älteren Benennung ‘Pahlavi’ […] vorzuziehen,
weil dieser Name in der europäischen Wissenschaft ursprünglich und überwiegend das
zoroastrische Mittelpersisch bezeichnet und überdies in der Form pahlavik bisweilen für
‘Partisch’ verwendet wurde». As far as Nöldeke is concerned, what is interesting is the
THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE 123
fact that this scholar uses the term ‘Pahlavi’ to refer to the Middle Persian of the Sasanian
era, but at the same time he has the Book Pahlavi script in mind, i.e. the most ambiguous
and complex writing system to be found in Middle Persian texts, as is proved by some
graphemic issues that we will examine below (§2).
The numbers accompanying the Syriac words, when not otherwise specified, refer to
the page and line of the Syriac text edited by BUDGE, History; the pages of the English
translation, which constitutes the first part of Budge's work, are referred to by adding the
abbreviation ‘trans.' before the number of the page. The transliterated Syriac words, in
double inverted commas, allow the reader to disregard the vocalizations and diacritic
signs that appear in the Syriac manuscripts, and that are philologically unreliable: as we
have said, the Syriac manuscripts of the Pseudo-Callisthenes that have come down to us
are all relatively recent, and, moreover, it is known that, in those manuscripts, the dia-
critic signs are often omitted or used in an inconsistent and ambiguous way.
sion between the Greek Pseudo-Callisthenes and the Syriac version of
the Alexander Romance, and put forward some arguments which, in our
opinion, demonstrate that the Syriac version was based directly on a
2. Nöldeke's hypothesis
Nöldeke puts forward evidence to demonstrate that the Syriac text of
the Pseudo-Callisthenes is not based directly on the original Greek, but
on a Pahlavi version of the Greek text, written, at the latest, in the 7th
century AD and subsequently lost. The most interesting evidence is of a
philological-linguistic nature and can be subdivided into two groups: on
the one hand, in the Syriac translation of Greek proper nouns there are a
number of phonological-graphemic phenomena which, according to the
German scholar, cannot be explained if the thesis of the existence of an
intermediary written Pahlavi text is not accepted. On the other hand,
there are predominantly lexical phenomena, including idioms, loan
words, locutions, names of people and places, which reveal the Middle
Persian origin of the text and also demonstrate an accurate knowledge of
Persian geography and the history of the Sasanian era, a knowledge that
can only be attributed to the compiler of the presumed intermediary
The first group includes variations such as the confusion between r
and l in the Syriac translation of Greek proper nouns: e.g. l instead of r
is found in the spelling of the Greek noun Gránikov, in Syriac
«glnyqws» (BUDGE, History, p. 253, 6)
; while we find r where we
would expect l e.g. in «'qrydys» (BUDGE, History, p. 127, 3) for the
Greek Eûkleídjv. Nöldeke stresses that this confusion cannot be ex-
plained by considering the graphemic symbols of Arabic and Syriac,
both scripts that distinguish between r and l, but becomes understand-
124 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
able if we presume the existence of an intermediary Pahlavi text, whose
script contains a single sign for both l and r
This argument, which appears to be so incontrovertible, proves, in ac-
tual fact, to be rather weak. First and foremost, there are relatively few
instances of graphemic confusion between r and l: FRAENKEL (Recen-
sion, p. 316) points out that in this Syriac text l for the Greek r is found
17 times; r for the Greek l 14 times; but there are 57 instances, in the
translation of Greek proper nouns, in which l is used correctly for the
Greek l and 83 in which r corresponds to the Greek r (there are, how-
ever, also 14 doubtful cases in the use of the Syriac l and an equal
number in the use of the r).
Moreover, Greek proper nouns are subject to all kinds of distortions,
and in a completely unsystematic way. The same noun may appear in
different forms within the space of a few lines: e.g. the Greek
Sesógxwsiv is found in Syriac in virtually all its possible spellings,
from Sisiqosas («sysyqwss», BUDGE, History, p. 70, 14) to Sisiqonos
(«sysyqwnws», BUDGE, History, p. 71, 12), from Sisniqos («sysnyqws»,
BUDGE, History, p. 76, 5) to Siusiniqos («sywsynyqws», BUDGE, His-
tory, 173, 16), even to Sisanqos or Sisnaqos («sysnqws», BUDGE, His-
tory, p. 225, 11; 226, 1 and 4; 252, 2); the Greek Parmeníwn appears
sometimes as Phormion («pwrmywn», BUDGE, History, p. 187, 1),
sometimes Parmaon («prm’wn», BUDGE, History, p. 188, 16), and
sometimes Plimtion («plymtywn», BUDGE, History, p. 137, 8). Further-
more, it is to be noted that these graphemic confusions are only to be
found in proper nouns and hardly ever appear in loan words from the
Greek. Therefore, we would have to imagine that the Syriac translator
was capable in nearly all the cases of common nouns borrowed from the
Greek of tracing them back to their original model, despite the ambigui-
ties of the Pahlavi script.
On the contrary, we consider it more likely that the Syriac translator,
though he knew Greek, did not have a great knowledge of Greek culture.
In fact, if we presume that the first translation of the Greek text into
Syriac was done by two translators (similar procedures were not infre-
quent in translations into and from exotic languages)
, the first of whom
NÖLDEKE, Beiträge, p. 14. In actual fact, the Pahlavi grapheme to which Nöldeke al-
ludes, that can stand for both l and r, mostly represents r. When it represents l, in the
manuscripts this sign has a diacritic sign added to it (a little dash in the Iranian manu-
scripts, a little circle in those from India) or the grapheme is written twice: cfr H.S.
NYBERG, A Manual of Pahlavi, vol. I, Wiesbaden, 1964, p. 131 (= NYBERG, A Manual).
As regards r, it can also be represented by another grapheme, namely the sign that also
stands for n, w or is used to indicate the end of a word.
On this subject and, in particular, on the type of translation called “by two interpret-
ers” cfr M. MANCINI, L'esotismo nel lessico italiano, Viterbo, 1992, p. 71-75 (from Arab
THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE 125
read and translated the text out loud from Greek into Syriac and the sec-
ond transcribed it, and we also assume that both of them knew the lan-
guage, but were not well acquainted with Greek culture, it is understand-
able that proper nouns, being devoid of formal-semantic links in the two
translators' linguistic competence, might be subject to all kinds of dis-
Among the many lexical arguments Nöldeke advances to demonstrate
the existence of an intermediary Pahlavi text, we should consider the
cases in which the Syriac text contains nouns that are evidently Persian,
but that are not found, or found in a different form, in the Greek original,
such as, for example, Pariok, the name of a brigand (Syriac «prywg»,
BUDGE, History, p. 207, 6, 8, 12 and 14; 208, 6, 8 and 9)
; or Greek geo-
graphical names of regions, cities and rivers in Iran translated into
Syriac with their corresponding Persian names (NÖLDEKE, Beiträge, p.
15; cfr FRAENKEL, Recension, p. 318). However, if we exclude the cases
in which glosses of the type «the word x, which is y in Persian» (on
which see below) and a certain number of Persian proper nouns, the
number of loan words is very small, or at least not bigger than the
number of Iranian loan words found in any Syriac text. Therefore, the
presence of a certain number of Iranian loan words in the Syriac Alexan-
der Romance do not provide reliable evidence to support the hypothesis
of an intermediary Middle Persian version. Most of these loan words are
in everyday use in Syriac: cfr, e.g., ~-.±.s «nÌsyr’» naÌsira ‘hunt’
~_.± «pyg’» paiga ‘infantry’
; instead -¬.-s¬. «qwndqwr»
into scientific Latin via a Romance language) and bibliography, and M.-Th. D'ALVERNY,
Les traductions à deux interprètes, d'arabe en langue vernaculaire et de langue
vernaculaire en latin, in Traduction et traducteurs au Moyen Âge. Actes du Colloque in-
ternational du CNRS, organisé à Paris, les 26-28 mai 1986, Paris, 1989, p. 193-206. See
also W.B. HENNING, Mitteliranisch, in Handbuch der Orientalistik, Iranistik, I, Leiden,
1958, p. 33 (= HENNING, Mitteliranisch).
«Sehr merkwürdig ist der, nur im Syr. vorkommende, Bandenführer _¬.-± 207 f.:
denn das kann doch kaum etwas anderes sein, als ein Reflex des Kûsânîschen Häuptlings
Pariôk, der ums Jahr 595 Vasall des persischen Gegenkönigs Wistahm ward; sehr lange
nachher hätte man diesen Namen wohl nicht mehr behalten» (NÖLDEKE, Beiträge, p. 16).
See also F. JUSTI, Iranisches Namenbuch, Marburg, 1985 (reprint. Hildesheim, 1963), p.
243, s.v. Pariowk; Parth. paryog/paryoz means ‘victory' (see A. GHILAIN, Essai sur la
langue parthe, Louvain, 1939, p. 63).
BUDGE, History, 107, 4; cfr Pahlavi naxcir (NYBERG, A Manual, vol. II, 1974, s.v.);
see K. BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, Halle an der Saale, 1928
Hildesheim, 1995; = BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum), p. 424a and P. DE LAGARDE,
Gesammelte Abhandlungen, Leipzig, 1866, p. 65 nr. 168 (= DE LAGARDE, Gesammelte
BUDGE, History, p. 63, 1 and elsewhere; cfr Pahlavi payg (D.N. MACKENZIE, A Con-
cise Pahlavi Dictionary, London, 1971, s.v. = MACKENZIE, Pahlavi Dictionary; and
NYBERG, A Manual, vol. II, s.v. padak) and New Persian paig ‘messenger'. See
BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 566a; DE LAGARDE, Gesammelte Abhandlungen,
p. 74 nr. 188 and NÖLDEKE, Beiträge, p. 14 n. 3.
126 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
qundaqor is a hapax legomenon
. Still others are to be found only in
New Persian, and may therefore have entered the text later (cfr below,
Nöldeke also cites a couple of cases in which the polysemy of the
Syriac term can only be explained by its being a semantic calque
from the corresponding Persian term. The most convincing of these
cases would seem to be the use of the Syriac verb ’ekal ‘to eat’ in
the sense of ‘to drink’, like the Persian xvardan, which has both mean-
However, Fraenkel (Recension, p. 315) questions whether these are
really semantic calques from the Persian. Particularly, as far as the
Syriac ~-÷.\ ,--~:± :.. -~ ,-¬ì.~ (BUDGE, History, p. 237,
10-11) is concerned, corresponding in Greek to the sentence Ωn kaì
êzemetrßsamen < ên > t¬ç megálwç deípnwç (p. 130, 12 KROLL;
MÜLLER ed., 142a, l. 6, reads: oÃv êmetrßsamen ên t¬ç deípnwç ), refer-
ring to two kraters whose capacity Alexander wishes to gauge by filling
them with wine, FRAENKEL (Recension, p. 315 ff.) suggests changing the
form of the verb ’ekal ‘to eat’ that appears in the Syriac text, namely
’ekalu(h)y «’klwhy» ,-¬ì.~ into another verbal form, that is
graphemically very similar, and derives from the verb ’akil ‘to measure’
(BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 325b), in other words, ’akilu(h)y
«’kylwhy» ,-¬ì..~. In this way the Syriac text would correspond per-
fectly to the Greek text and this would rule out the possibility of a se-
mantic calque from the Persian.
Another argument used by Nöldeke concerns the many cases in which
a Syriac term, more or less faithfully translated from the Greek, is
glossed in the text by referring to Persian linguistic usage, in sentences
of the type «x, which in Persian is y» (NÖLDEKE, Beiträge, p. 16; cfr
FRAENKEL, Recension, p. 314). It is often a question of expressions the
translator uses to create equivalences that are not merely linguistic be-
tween Greek, Persian, and sometimes even Egyptian names of deities
and geographical names.
A typical example is the opening passage in which the horoscope is
described and in which the names of the deities that designate the plan-
BUDGE, History, p. 203, 10; this is a Persian title pointed out by FRAENKEL
(Recension, p. 319) and glossed in Syriac manuscript C with the Persian sardar ‘head,
commander’. F. PENNACCHIETTI, Qundâkôr: un hapax siriaco del Romanzo di Alessandro
tra filologia e archeologia, in M. LAMBERTI - L. TONELLI (eds.), Afroasiatica Tergestina.
Contributi presentati al IX Incontro di Linguistica afroasiatica (camito-semitica), Trieste,
22-24 Aprile 1998, Padua, 1999, p. 71-82, believes that Syriac qundaqor derives from a
Middle Persian *kondak-avar ‘he who bears the sceptre’, in its turn a loan word from the
Greek kontákion, literally ‘stick, staff’.
THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE 127
ets are partly explained by supplying the corresponding Persian names.
In the Greek text (p. 5, 5 ff. KROLL), after the sun and the moon, we find
the names of ‰Arjv, ¨Erm±v, Heúv and ˆAfrodítj; in the Syriac text
(BUDGE, History, p. 9, 2 ff.; trans. p. 5) we read: «Ares, who in Persian
is called Vahram [«whrm»]…; Nabo the scribe, who in Persian is called
™ir [-._ «†yr»; cfr below, §3.2.]…; Bel, who in Persian is called
Hormazd [«hwrmzd»]…; Balti, who in Persian is called Anahid
There are not very many glosses for common nouns, but most of them
are difficult to interpret. Two cases, in particular, are of some interest,
especially since Nöldeke uses them to support his thesis. They are both
to be found in the same context, namely, in the list of Queen Candace's
gifts to Alexander.
In the Greek text these include (p. 116, 10 KROLL) Aîqíopav ânß-
bouv f´, in other words, 500 Ethiopian boys; the same is to be found in
Julius Valerius: Aethiopas impubes quingentos. On the contrary, in the
Syriac text, at this point in the list, we find that the 500 Ethiopian boys
have been replaced by 500 animals called -÷. ,·. «‘zy Ìmr», ‘ezzay
mar, the meaning of which would be ‘ass-goats’, and which does not
appear to be found anywhere else in Syriac (BUDGE, History, p. 211, 8;
cfr BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 535b and p. 241a).
This term is explained in the gloss «…which are called in Persian
kar-buz». The word kar-buz («krbwz» ·¬--.) is interpreted by Budge
as a compound of the two Persian words xar ‘ass’ and buz ‘goat’
Nöldeke (Beiträge, p. 16) believes that the Persian word used here to
gloss the Syriac syntagm was originally translated from a Greek word,
namely *ônótragov. The Syriac translator, who knew Greek, and based
his translation on a Pahlavi version, is supposed to have noticed the cor-
respondence between the Greek and Persian compounds while he was
translating this passage, and since it is difficult to imagine a Persian
reader glossing a word in the Greek text that was, for him, surprising or
unusual, we must believe — concludes Nöldeke — that the Syriac trans-
lator was using a Pahlavi version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes.
Fraenkel (Recension, p. 314) has already expressed some perplexity
about Nöldeke's reasoning and has objected that neither the Greek nor
the Persian compound were to be found anywhere else.
NÖLDEKE, Beiträge, p. 16 n. 7, states quite rightly that this term has nothing to do
with the Persian homophone xarbuz (or xarbuza) ‘water-melon’: cfr STEINGASS, Persian-
English Dictionary, s.v.); instead in the Supplementum to the Thesaurus Syriacus
MARGOLIOUTH (p. 170a-b) believes that the Syriac karbuza, found only in this passage of
the Syriac Alexander Romance, is actually the transcription of the Persian term that
means ‘cucurbita citrullus, musk melon’.
128 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
This is true as regards the Greek compound *ônótragov; but the
Middle Persian xar-buz, on the contrary, is to be found
, and is used to
mean ‘oryx’, a kind of African antelope
Neither Nöldeke, nor Fraenkel, however, deal with the most interest-
ing issue, which is why the Ethiopian boys in the Greek text have been
replaced by antelopes in the Syriac text.
It is most unlikely that this was done for moralistic reasons; however,
we cannot exclude the possibility that the African antelopes are a meta-
phor for the Ethiopian boys, since in Syriac young boys are normally
designated by the term ~.ì_ †alya (BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum,
p. 276b), which also means ‘lamb’.
Nonetheless, there is also another possible explanation: Candace's
gifts include, above all, exotic animals (elephants, leopards, rhinoc-
eroses, buffalos, various species of birds etc.), and the Syriac translator
certainly has in mind different kinds of animals, especially African
. Instead of following Nöldeke's complicated reasoning that leads
him to presuppose a non-existent Greek term and numerous circum-
stances in the transmission of the text that, in fact, cannot be verified, if
we simply imagine that the Syriac translator was working on the Greek
text, we believe it is possible to advance the hypothesis that this replace-
ment was more likely due to a misunderstanding of the Greek term. The
compound in the accusative case, ânßbouv ‘boys’ (â privative + Øbj,
literally ‘not having yet reached puberty’), perhaps could not be under-
stood by the Syriac translator, who may have unconsciously taken it for
the Persian word buz (New Persian boz, with a close /o/, similar to the
The Middle Persian xarbuz («hlbwc») is found, for example, in Bundahisn 13, 12
and 24, 36 (ed. Anklesaria), and in the Manichean Book of Giants, as «xrbwz»: cfr P.O.
SKJÆRVØ, Iranian Epic and the Manichean Book of Giants. Irano-Manichaica III, in Acta
Orientalia Acad. Scient. Hung., 48 (1995), p. 217-218; W.B. HENNING, The Book of Gi-
ants, in B.S.O.A.S, 11 (1943), p. 57 and p. 61; MACKENZIE, Pahlavi Dictionary, s.v.
We must remember that in Persian, and above all in New Persian, the term xar
‘ass’, when it is the first part of a compound, very often means ‘big’ and functions as an
augmentative of the second component, in a similar way to what occurs in the case of the
Greek term boÕv ‘ox’, which in the form bou- (e.g. in boúlimov, boúpaiv, boúnebrov)
becomes an intensive or augmentative prefix. For (New) Persian cfr xar-gah ‘spacious
place, curtain, pavilion’, xar-sang ‘big stone’, xar-pul ‘very rich’ xar-zur ‘full of strength,
vigorous’ etc. See STEINGASS, Persian-English Dictionary, s.vv.; A. COLETTI - H. COLETTI
GRÜNBAUM, Dizionario persiano-italiano, Rome, 1978, s.vv.; G. LAZARD, Le persan, in
R. SCHMITT (ed.), Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden, 1989, p. 284-285. In
our case, it is likely that xar- should be interpreted as an augmentative prefix, rather than
as ‘ass’, since an antelope is more like a large goat than a cross between an ass and a goat.
The list of Candace's gifts, particularly as regards the animals and African boys, is
very similar to the list made by Callixeinos and related to by Athenaeus (5, 201) of the
animals and youths in the grand procession in honour of Ptolemy Philadelphus: cfr
E.E. RICE, The Grand Procession of Ptolemy Philadelphus, Oxford, 1983, p. 98.
THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE 129
long close /o/ that is the Greek pronunciation of the digram -ou- of
the accusative plural ending). This is only a hypothesis, but — if it were
true — it would be further proof of the fact that the Syriac text was
based on the Greek and not on the Pahlavi.
The second case concerns the rhinoceroses. In the Greek text, 80 of
these animals are included in the list of Candace's gifts to Alexander
Åinokérwtev p´ (p. 116, 14 KROLL). The Syriac text (BUDGE, History,
p. 211, 15; trans. p. 119) reads: «eighty animals which are called rhi-
noceros, and in Persian marqadda∂ or bargadda∂».
There are several things to be noted here. Firstly, there is the Syriac
translator's uncertainty about what rhinoceroses are called in Persian:
--_-- -~ --.-÷ «mrqdd ’w brgdd», marqadda∂ or bargadda∂.
Nöldeke thinks that one of these two forms may be a later addition, or
that the Syriac translator was thinking of two different pronunciations
In fact, in Persian ‘rhinoceros' is kargadan; though the Syriac text does
not have the Persian transcription of the Persian word, but two incorrect
alternatives; only the second of the two (--_-- «brgdd») has a form
that can easily be corrected to become ~s-.-. «krkdn’», namely kark
dana, a Syriac term (cfr BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 346a-b)
probably borrowed from the Persian kargadan, and found also in Arabic
in the form karkaddanun. The etymon of the term is uncertain; the com-
parison, recorded by Brockelmann, with Akkadian kurkizannu
‘porculus' is problematic from a semantic point of view. The word does
not seem to be of Semitic origin; more probably it is a loan word from
Indian kha∂gadhenu ‘(female of) rhinoceros', or kha∂gin ‘armed with a
sword; rhinoceros', where kha∂ga- ‘sword', in its turn, is of non-Aryan
origin (see R.L. TURNER, A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan
Languages, London, 1966, nr. 3786ff.; W. LESLAU, Etymological Dic-
tionary of Ge‘ez (Classical Ethiopic), Wien, 1987, p. 291, s.v. karkand).
Secondly, Fraenkel (Recension, p. 314) finds it strange that the trans-
lator thought it necessary to gloss a word that can so easily be broken
down into its components, after translating it into Syriac «ganz
The most interesting thing, in effect, is that the word used to designate
rhinoceroses, namely ~-..s ,s-. «qrny nÌyr’» qarnay neÌire’, is not
the term that would be used in Syriac for rhinoceroses — which would
be the form mentioned above, kark
dana —, but it is a calque, not found
Cfr NÖLDEKE, Beiträge, p. 16 n. 9: «Unser Text bietet zwei verschiedene Entstel-
lungen dieses Wortes; eine davon wird aus der Correctur eines späteren Lesers wieder
verderbt sein. Oder gab der Uebersetzer selbst die beiden möglichen Aussprachen
karkadan und kargadan an?».
130 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
anywhere else (cfr BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 697b), which
reflects, in the reverse order of its components, the structure of the
Greek compound: in fact, the first component means ‘horn' and the sec-
ond ‘nose, nostrils'.
Thus Nöldeke's hypothesis becomes even weaker: if there had been a
Middle Persian translator, he would have translated the Greek word with
the corresponding term kargadan. In which case, the Syriac translator
would have found a Persian noun that also existed in Syriac, and he
would not have had any reason to or possibility of creating a calque from
the Greek compound. Furthermore, we wish to state at this point that
there are quite a large number of calques from the Greek in this text (cfr
The most important fact, however, is that the Persian glosses cannot
be used as proof that there existed an intermediary Pahlavi or Middle
Persian version between the original Greek and the Syriac text; instead,
they indicate that the Syriac translator or, more likely, one of the later
copyists of the work, had quite a good knowledge of Persian, especially
New Persian. Furthermore, this linguistic competence can easily be ex-
plained from the historical and cultural standpoint, as we shall see later
(cfr below, §4).
Hence, it is expedient at this point to examine how many and what
type of Grecisms are present in the Syriac text, a study that brings to
light a great deal of interesting data.
After stressing the importance of these graphemic-phonological as-
pects, Nöldeke (Beiträge, p. 16) adds that the great abundance of Gre-
cisms in the Syriac text does not suffice to challenge the validity of his
conclusion, considering the large number of borrowings from the Greek
that Syriac had assimilated and that, therefore were to be regarded as in
It is advisable to point out immediately that the Grecisms that appear
in the Syriac text are not only loan words, though the loan words consti-
tute the largest category
. They also include those Greek terms that
were part of the everyday language in Syriac, like «lqn’» lekánj and
«klmys» xlámuv, pointed out by Nöldeke (Beiträge, p. 16 n. 11) as be-
ing among the Greek elements of no importance.
For an exhaustive analysis of Greek loans in Syriac see A. SCHALL, Studien über
griechischen Fremdwörter im Syrischen, Darmstadt, 1960.
THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE 131
In addition to the three or four loan words the scholar considers of lit-
tle importance, and the above-mentioned ones referred to in a note, it
cannot fail to come as a surprise that there are a further fifty or so, which
it is difficult to believe were all assimilated as loan words in the pre-
sumed Pahlavi version and subsequently absorbed by the Syriac version;
all the more so since, in general, Middle Persian — unlike Syriac — has
very few loan words from Greek. It is true, however, that Greek loan
words in Syriac are not particularly significant as regards the issue that
interests us here (namely, whether the Syriac Alexander Romance was
based directly on a Greek text or whether — as Nöldeke believes — it
was based on an intermediary Pahlavi version), since it is nearly always
a question of common forms in Syriac.
But there are instances of linguistic interference that are far more im-
portant: the calques.
3.1. Calques from the Greek
The calques from the Greek to be found in the Syriac Pseudo-
Callisthenes are almost exclusively structural calques, in other words,
compound words that reproduce the components of the term taken as a
model in the indigenous language. This implies that the person who
makes a calque has a good enough linguistic competence in the model
language to be able to analyze the parts of the compounds. Moreover,
the presence of calques, in the Syriac Romance, albeit not a large quan-
tity, is particularly revealing because they are coined formations, not to
be found anywhere else in Syriac literature.
Nöldeke (Beiträge, p. 12-13) notices the presence of some of these
new formations based on the Greek, but he uses them merely to demon-
strate, in opposition to Budge, that it is impossible for this text to have
been based on an Arabic version
One example of a structural calque is the Syriac translation of the
Greek word Åinokérwtev as «qrny nÌyr’» (BUDGE, History, p. 211,
15), mentioned above (cfr §3); it is to be noted that in another passage in
which rhinoceroses are referred to (p. 109, 18 KROLL), the Syriac trans-
lator resorts to a paraphrase: ‘beasts with horns on their noses’ (BUDGE,
History, p. 174, 10-11; trans. 97). In addition to this, we also think the
following cases are of interest:
1) ~.s± _ì± «plg sny’» (BUDGE, History, p. 10, 17; 14, 15; 16, 5),
calque from the Greek mes±liz ‘middle-aged’ (p. 6, 5 and 6 KROLL); in
the feminine in BUDGE, History, 209, 13 «plgt snyh hwt», which in
FRAENKEL, Recension, p. 312-313, uses them for the same purpose.
132 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
Greek corresponds to the syntagm mésjv ™likíav tugxánousa (cfr
NÖLDEKE, Beiträge, p. 12).
2) ~ì.± ,--: «twry pyl’» (BUDGE, History, p. 174, 14; trans. p. 98)
that literally translates taureléfantev in the Greek text (p. 109, 21
KROLL); these are fantastic animals that Alexander encounters during his
journey through India and that he writes about in his letter to Aristotle.
3) ~ì_- ,.-. «‘rqy rgl’», literally ‘with twisted legs' (BUDGE, His-
tory, p. 174, 15; trans. 98) which corresponds to the Greek ïman-
tópodev; in the same context as the previous one, this compound adjec-
tive refers to human beings with six hands, teeth like dogs and faces like
women. At this point the manuscripts read «‘qrby rgl’» ‘with scorpions'
feet’ (cfr BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 544b), corrected by
Budge as «‘rqy rgl’»; the latter also appears in BUDGE, History, p. 177,
16 (trans. p. 99: ‘whose feet are twisted’); cfr BROCKELMANN, Lexicon
Syriacum, p. 551a.
4) ~.ì\ ,ì.: «t‘ly lly’» (BUDGE, History, p. 175, 17; trans. p. 98
‘night-foxes’), based on the Greek nuktalÉpekev handed down in
manuscript A (p. 110, 1 KROLL, apparatus; in the text Kroll prefers
nuktálwpev; the same reading as manuscript A is to be found in the
Armenian version and in Julius Valerius); the term is found in the same
context as the two previous calques; it refers to reptiles that the Indians
5) ~.ì\ ,-÷. «‘mry lly’» (BUDGE, History, p. 176, 4; trans. p. 98):
this form, whose first component is the verb ‘mr ‘habitavit, vixit’ (cfr
BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 532a) is corrected by Budge as
«‘wrby lly’» (p. 176, apparatus), in order to obtain a first component
that means ‘raven’ (cfr BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 546b); this
correction, if acceptable, returns to a structural calque from the Greek
nuktikórakev (p. 110, 4 KROLL), namely, ‘night ravens’.
6) ~.±- ~.-- «dwq’ d-s‘’» ‘horoscope’ (BUDGE, History, p. 8, 12
and 9, 6; trans. p. 5 and p. 6 ‘watcher of the hours’), a structural calque
from the Greek Üroskópon (p. 5, 3 and 7 KROLL); the first occurrence
of this word is preceded by the explanatory gloss ‘which they call in
Greek…’; the ‘normal' word for the ‘horoscope' in Syriac is «byt yld’»
(BUDGE, History, p. 9, 9 and 10; p. 10, 10; p. 27, 2), or malasa (cfr
BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 390b), maray sa‘e (BROCKEL-
MANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 401b), or also only sa‘ta, literally ‘hour’
(BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 765a).
7) ~:s-. :¬÷- «dmwt qrnt’» (BUDGE, History, p. 20, 8; trans. p. 12
‘horned’, literally ‘image of horns’), corresponding to the Greek adjec-
tive kerasfórov (p. 12, 13 KROLL, attribute of Mßnj).
THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE 133
3.2. ‘Significant' errors: misunderstandings of the Greek
The calques examined above, some of which are used by Nöldeke to
reject the possibility of an Arabic version of the Syriac text, also seem to
us to be very strong evidence against the hypothesis of an intermediary
Pahlavi version. There is however another aspect, overlooked by Nöl-
deke, which invalidates his arguments: there are some errors, of various
types, that can only be explained by the fact that the Syriac translator
must have misunderstood the Greek text. In our opinion, these errors are
not merely a clue, but constitute the definite proof that the Syriac Alex-
ander Romance was directly based on a Greek text.
1) In an epistle from Darius in reply to two of his satraps who had
asked for his advice and help in facing the danger represented by the ar-
rival of Alexander, the Achaemenid sovereign exhorts the two dignitar-
ies to resist him by doing battle, without yielding to the temptation of
ignoble flight, which would lead them to ruin.
The Syriac passage in question, in Budge's translation (p. 51-52), is
the following: «Do not think that any good hope [of escape] exists for
you or your wives or your children [in flight]; for if ye abandon the
country and go to [another] place, your enemies will spoil part of the
land. But bethink ye that when ™îr came to spoil and to take captive, he
brought with him mighty men and warriors, who by their power were
able to defeat and conquer fearful lightning flashes, which men ye, being
skilful and experienced in war, defeated at that time and overcame, and
took no disgrace to yourselves».
The syntagm that interests us is: «[…] when ™îr came to spoil and to
take captive», namely, in Syriac (BUDGE, History, p. 90, 16), kad †ir eta
l-mebbaz wa l-mesba. In Greek this sequence is (p. 44, 19-20 KROLL)
potapòv êpepßdjse q®r kaì êqorúbjsen üm¢v. As Budge points out,
it seems obvious that the Syriac translator mistook the Greek qßr ‘wild
beast’, which refers metaphorically to Alexander, for the name of the
Persian deity ™ir. The name of this deity appears elsewhere (BUDGE,
History, p. 9, 4) in one of the Persian glosses examined above (cfr §2),
where it is identified with Nabo the scribe and designates the planet
Mercury. But ™ir is also the name of the fourth month and the thirteenth
day of the Zoroastrian calendar and in this context ™ir has nothing to do
with Mercury (who is, in fact, a demon in the Zoroastrian uranography),
but rather replaces the Avestan Tistrya, Middle Persian Tistar, namely,
the Iranian name of the star Sirius
. The Syriac translator may also have
Cfr A. PANAINO, Tistrya, II. The Iranian Myth of the Star Sirius, Rome, 1995, p. 61-
86 (= PANAINO, Tistrya); BOYCE - GRENET, A History, III, p. 279-280 (and II, Leiden-
Köln, 1982, p. 204-206; 248).
134 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
been influenced by the association — which is the result of a popular
etymology already widespread in the Iranian milieu — between the
name of the planet ™ir and the Middle Persian noun tir ‘arrow' (Avestan
tigra-, tigri-; Middle Persian tigr, but after the 3rd century AD tir; New
, all the more so, since the presence of ™ir does not make
any sense in the context of the Syriac passage in any of its designations.
In any event, as there is no loan word from the Greek in Syriac, we must
suppose that here the presence of the Syriac †ir must be a misunderstand-
ing due to the great phonic similarity between the Greek word (as pro-
nounced in the late Hellenistic era) and the Persian name
2) If this were the only error of the kind to be found in the Syriac text,
we could not exclude with reasonable certainty that it may be attributed
to the translator of the hypothetical intermediary Pahlavi version, all the
more so, since the Greek word is confused with a Persian name. But
there is another very interesting case, about which there is no doubt
whatsoever: a Theban poet, in remembering the noble origins of his city,
refers to Heracles, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, ¨Jrakl±v Dióv te kaì
ˆAlkmßnjv katéspeiran (p. 55, 6 KROLL). The Syriac for this expres-
sion (BUDGE, History, p. 104, 8) is: ~÷.~\ ~¬u±.- ±.ì.--
«hrqlys dysqw’ l’qm’», vocalized as heraqlis dyasqewa l-aqma. The
name Heracles can be recognized in the first form, but the two following
forms do not have a plausible meaning in Syriac
. The only possible ex-
planation for the error, already suggested hypothetically by Budge, is
that the sequence «dysqw’ l’qm’» (the result of an attempt to give a
Cfr PANAINO, Tistrya, p. 72.
Note that, both in this passage and in the gloss mentioned, the name of the deity
appears in the form -._, with an initial †e†, like the name Tiridates, translated as ¸.-.-_
(BUDGE, History, p. 43, 2); elsewhere in Syriac, however, the Persian name Tir, espe-
cially in compounds, is found with an initial taw (cfr R. PAYNE SMITH, Thesaurus
Syriacus, Oxford, 1879-1901, reprint. Hildesheim, 1981, vol. II, c. 4429: «tyrdt» [=
PAYNE SMITH, Thesaurus Syriacus]). For other cases with an initial †e†, cfr PAYNE SMITH,
Thesaurus Syriacus, vol. I, col. 1421 («†’rd’†ys») and the Supplementum of MARGO-
LIOUTH (p. 143b: «†yrgwsnsp»; «†yrmh»). Furthermore, in Syriac the Greek qßr would
be translated as ~:¬.. «Ìywt’» (cfr BROCKELMANN, Lexicon Syriacum, p. 229a): as in
BUDGE, History, 234, 8, corresponding to the Greek qjría (p. 129, 6 KROLL).
I am indebted to Prof. Fabrizio Pennacchietti for pointing out the fact that the se-
quence in question makes sense in a dialect of north-eastern New Aramaic, where it
means literally «Heracles who is rising in altitude», in the sense of ‘growing up’: this is,
therefore, evidence of a later copy of the Syriac text, in which a copyist who was a New
Aramaic speaker corrected the Syriac sequence that did not make sense, since he did not
have the Greek text to hand, and used his own linguistic competence to interpret an am-
biguous syntagm. Cfr now F. PENNACCHIETTI, Interventi in neoaramaico da parte di
copisti della versione siriaca del Romanzo di Alessandro, in Bayn al nahrayn. Mesopota-
mia Quarterly (Baghdad), no. 97-100, vol. 25 (1997), p. 53-62 (p. 389-398) and F. PEN-
NACCHIETTI, Una frase neoaramaica nella versione siriaca del Romanzo di Alessandro, in
C. BAFFIONI (ed.), Atti del Convegno di Napoli-Sorrento, 28-31 ottobre 1998, Ales-
sandria, 2000, p. 73-77.
THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE 135
meaning to a sequence that was otherwise incomprehensible, an attempt
made by a later copyist, who was a New Aramaic speaker: cfr previous
note) is to be replaced by «dywsq’ ’lqm’» and hence to be understood as
a kind of literal transcription of the genitive of Heúv, not recognized as
such by the Syriac translator or handed down in an incorrect form in the
Greek text, to which are added, as if they were one word, the first two
letters of the conjunction kaì; the second form is an incorrect transcrip-
tion of the genitive ˆAlkmßnjv.
3) A slightly different case is a passage in which Alexander's killing
of a large stag (∂lafov megístj) assumes the significance of a predic-
tion: on the spot (tò ∂dafov, literally ‘mound') where the stag died, the
Macedonian will found a city. At a certain point the Greek text reads:
paragenámenov [i.e. ˆAlézandrov] dè êpì toútou toÕ êdáfou ör¢ç
ktl. (p. 28, 12 KROLL); instead, the corresponding Syriac passage reads:
‘[…] he returned and came to the stag’ (~ì.~ «’yl’»: BUDGE, History,
p. 68, 16, trans. p. 38). As Budge suggests, it is very likely that in this case
the Syriac translator confused ∂lafov ‘stag’ with ∂dafov ‘mound, spot'.
4) The beginning of the second book of the Alexander Romance re-
counts how Alexander reaches Plataeae, a Greek city where Proserpine
is worshipped: ¨O dè ˆAlézandrov âpò Korínqou diodeúsav eîv
Plataiáv, pólin ˆAqjnaíwn, ºpou t®n Kórjn sébontai (p. 63, 14-
15 KROLL). Instead, the second book of the Syriac version begins thus:
«Again Alexander set out from Corinth and came to Plataeae, a city of
the Athenians, where they worship fire». The presence of a Zoroastrian
cult of fire at Plataeae is clearly absurd and can only be explained by im-
agining that the Syriac graphemic sequence in question, namely, ~-¬s\
¸..ì± «l-nwr’ plÌyn» (BUDGE, History, p. 113, 2-3) ‘they worship fire’,
is an accidental corruption, due to a later copyist, of «l-qwr’ plÌyn»,
¸..ì± ~-¬u\; the form nura, in fact, can easily be restored as qora,
namely, the exact transcription of the Greek Kórj.
4. The historical and cultural context
The philological arguments advanced so far, and particularly the pres-
ence of errors resulting from misunderstandings of the Greek text, dem-
onstrate — I believe — that the Syriac Alexander Romance is not based
on an intermediary Middle Persian version, but is, on the contrary, a
translation into Syriac of an original Greek version.
This confirms the hypothesis briefly advanced by Frye (Two Iranian
Notes, p. 186-187), according to whom the Syriac version of the Pseudo-
Callisthenes could not have been based on a Pahlavi text, since it makes
136 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
no mention of the legend, attributed by ™abari (Annales, I, 694-702) to
the «wise ancients» and present in the Sahnama of Ferdousi and in the
Eskandarnama of Nezami, which legitimated Alexander by making him
the stepbrother of Darius III
Another impression I had, which Frye also refers to in the above-men-
tioned article, and which played a role in inducing me to begin this philo-
logical enquiry, was that a Middle Persian version of the Pseudo-Cal-
listhenes could not have existed for ideological reasons. Pahlavi literature,
the faithful mirror of the political and religious ideology of the Sasanian
era, depicts Alexander solely as a demoniac figure
, and it would not
have tolerated the translation of a text that was so ideologically ill-dis-
posed to Persia and the Achaemenids, a dynasty whose ideals the Sasa-
nians so explicitly followed. This impression was also supported by the
fact that no translation into Pahlavi of Greek works has been preserved.
In actual fact, today, I would be less rigid about this. Though it is true
that the official position of the Zoroastrian priests in the Sasanian era
was very nationalistic and hence anti-Greek (and anti-Byzantine), how-
ever, we must remember that this position, especially in the late
Sasanian era, was not shared unanimously even by the Sasanian sover-
eigns themselves. Countless historical and literary evidence throws light
on both the importance of Hellenic culture in Sasanian time and the role
of the Christian subjects of the Sasanian Empire. As a matter of fact,
Christians are known to have held key positions in the army and in the
bureaucracy, and towards them the last Sasanians often showed not only
tolerance but benevolence.
To mention only a few examples, Yazdekirt (399-421) son of Sahpuhr
III, recognized the Nestorian church of Persia in 410, a fact that ratified
the political importance of the Nestorians. Chosroes I Nosirvan (531-
579) saved the life of the katholikos Mar Aba, who was persecuted by
the Magi of Iraq because of his attempt to annul the consanguineous
marriages contracted within the Zoroastrian community; and, as the
informs us, his name was to be remembered dur-
ing the liturgy, as was established by the Synod of 576. Chosroes II
Parviz (591-628), grandson of Chosroes I, allowed Christians freedom of
Cfr also C.A. CIANCAGLINI, Alessandro e l'incendio di Persepoli nelle tradizioni
greca e iranica, in A. VALVO (ed.), La diffusione dell'eredità classica nell'età tardo
antica e medievale, Atti del Convegno di Trieste, 19-20 settembre 1996, Alessandria,
1997, p. 78 and n. 51 ( = CIANCAGLINI, Alessandro e l'incendio di Persepoli).
On the way in which Alexander is represented in Pahlavi literature cfr CIANCAGLINI,
Alessandro e l'incendio di Persepoli, p. 66-77.
Cfr Synod. Orient., ed. J.B. CHABOT, Paris, 1902, p. 68-69 and p. 121; on the rela-
tionships between Christians and Sasanian emperors cfr BROCK, Syriac Perspective, VI,
p. 1-19, and bibliography, as well as the classic J. LABOURT, Le christianisme dans
l'empire perse sous la dynastie sassanide, Paris, 1904 (= LABOURT, Le christianisme).
THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE 137
worship, and there were Christians among the closest members of his
family and among his most trusted collaborators: his personal physician,
the Monophysite Gabriel of Sinjar; the head of the treasury, Yazdin; his
wife, the Byzantine princess Maria; his favourite, Sirin
, and so on,
were all Christians. Chosroes II, also built several martyria to St.
Sergius who had assisted him in battle and dedicated a gold cross to the
church of Sergiopolis in Syria
Some of these influential Christians of the Orient, loyal to the Sasa-
nian sovereigns, but certainly ideologically very far-removed from the
positions of the Zoroastrian priests, may have produced Persian and
Syriac translations of Greek texts: these three languages, Syriac, Greek
and Persian, were all used for ecclesiastical purposes
Finally, as far as the translation of Greek scientific works into Middle
Persian during the late Sasanian era is concerned, despite the fact that
none of these works has come down to us, it is virtually certain that they
existed, as Pahlavi
, and Arabic
According to the Byzantine historian Theophylact Simocatta (Hist. 5,13,7 ed. C. DE
BOOR, Lipsiae, 1887) Seirém (= Sirin) was not the favourite, but the wife of Chosroes II.
Anonymum Guidi 5 (Chronicum anonymum de ultimis regibus Persarum, ed. and transl.
I. GUIDI, Chronica minora [Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Script. Syri,
ser. 3, t. 4], Paris, 1903) states that Chosroes II's wife was Maria the Roman, who in
™abari (Th. NOLDEKE, Geschichte der Perser und Araber zur Zeit der Sassaniden aus der
arabischen Chronik des Tabari, Leiden, 1879, p. 238) is identified with the daughter of
the Byzantine emperor Maurice. The love affair between the Sasanian sovereign and the
beautiful Armenian Sirin has been immortalized by Nezami, who, in 1180, wrote the
poem Xosrow-o-Sirin, the second in his Pentalogy: cfr A. BAUSANI, Letteratura neo-
persiana, in A. PAGLIARO - A. BAUSANI, Storia della letteratura persiana, Milan, 1960,
p. 645 ff.
See Theophyl. Sim., Hist. 5,1,7-9 and 5,13,1ff.; Evagrius, Hist. eccl. 6,21 (ed.
J. BIDEZ - L. PARMENTIER, London, 1898, p. 235,11ff.); M.J. HIGGINS, Chosroes II's vo-
tive offerings at Sergiopolis, in Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 48 (1955), p. 89-102; LABOURT,
Le christianisme, p. 209; A. CHRISTENSEN, L'Iran sous les Sassanides, Copenhague,
, p. 487-489.
Cfr BROCK, Syriac Perspective, VI, p. 17-18; HENNING, Mitteliranisch, p. 77.
For example, in the Denkart (p. 428, 15 ff. and p. 412, 17 ff. ed. Madan) we
read that, at the time of Sahpuhr I, many Greek and Indian scientific texts were collected
and added to the Avesta. On Greek texts translated into Syriac from Pahlavi, cfr NAL-
LINO, Tracce di opere greche; W.H. BAILEY, Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-Century
Books, Oxford, 1943, p. 158; A. PAGLIARO, Letteratura della Persia preislamica, in
A. PAGLIARO - A. BAUSANI, Storia della letteratura persiana, Milan, 1960, p. 89-90;
J.-F. DUNEAU, Quelques aspects de la pénétration de l'hellénisme dans l'empire perse
siècle), in P. GALLAIS - Y.-J. RIOU (eds.), Mélanges offerts à René
Crozet, Poitiers, 1966, vol. I, p. 13-22; M. ULLMANN, Die Medizin in Islam (Handbuch
der Orientalistik, Ergänzungsband VI, 1), Leiden, 1970, p. 103-107.
Cfr Agathias, II 28, 1 on the translations of Greek works into Middle Persian that
were commissioned by Chosroes I; cfr also D. GUTAS, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture,
London-New York, 1998, p. 25.
Artaxerxes I, Sahpuhr I and Chosroes I are the three Sasanian sovereigns who had
scientific Greek and Indian works translated into Persian, according to the Kitab al-
Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim (238 f.); cfr NALLINO, Tracce di opere greche, p. 362-363.
138 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
To return to Alexander the Great, though there is no trace of any
Middle Persian translation of the Alexander Romance, we must remem-
ber, however, the enormous importance his personality and feats held
both for Syriac Christians, who spoke Persian and were subjects of the
Sasanian Empire, and for the Greek-speaking Christians of the Byzan-
tine Empire, above all because Alexander and his deeds lent themselves
to being interpreted in so many different ways.
In Syriac literature in particular, in addition to the Pseudo-Callisthenes,
there are various other works (which, however, are not translations from
Greek or any other language) connected with Alexander the Great.
These include the Syriac Legend of Alexander (NeÒÌana d- ’Aleksan-
dros), written in northern Mesopotamia by a Syrian author, around 629-
630 AD, soon after Heraclius's victory over the Persians
, in which Al-
exander is given the traits of a prefiguration of the Byzantine emperor. A
poem of around 800 lines, traditionally wrongly attributed to Jacob di
Saruj (an author who died in 521 AD), of a slightly later period
based on this Legend. There exists yet another shorter and secondary
version of the Syriac Legend of Alexander in the western-Syriac Chroni-
cle of the Pseudo-Dionysius
. Finally, there is also a brief biography of
Alexander in Syriac
To conclude, we return to the Syriac Alexander Romance: having as-
certained that this is a direct translation of a Greek text, the presence of
Persian elements in the text still has to be explained.
Neither the author, nor the precise date of the Syriac version of the
Alexander Romance are known. But a series of features, particularly a
Ed. and trans. in BUDGE, History, text p. 255-275, trans. p. 144-158; cfr G.J. REI-
NINK, Die Entstehung der syrischen Alexanderlegende als politisch-religiöse Propa-
gandaschrift für Herakleios' Kirchenpolitik, in C. LAGA - J.A. MUNITIZ - L. VAN ROMPAY
(eds.), After Chalcedon: Studies in Theology and Church History, Offered to Professor
Albert van Roey (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 18), Leuven, 1985, p. 263-281;
G.J. REININK, Alexandre et le dernier empereur du monde: les développements du con-
cept de la royauté chrétienne dans les sources syriaques du septième siècle, in Alexandre
le Grand dans les littératures occidentales et proche-orientales. Actes du Colloque
de Paris, 27-29 novembre 1997, Paris, 1999, p. 149-159 (= REININK, Alexandre);
K. CZEGLÉDY, The Syriac Legend concerning Alexander the Great, in Acta Orientalia, 7
(1957), p. 231-249.
Cfr G.J. REININK, Das syrische Alexanderlied. Die drei Rezensionen (Corpus
Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, 454-455; Script. Syri, 195-196), Leuven, 1983;
an English translation is to be found in BUDGE, History, p. 163-200.
J.-B. CHABOT (ed. and trans.), Incerti autoris Chronicon Pseudo-Dionysianum
vulgo dictum, I (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, 91, p. 121; Script. Syri,
43, p. 66), Louvain, 1927, 1949, p. 41, 15-45, 10 (text), p. 33, 21-36, 20 (trans.); cfr
REININK, Alexandre, p. 151 n. 8.
Edited by P. DE LAGARDE, in Analecta Syriaca, London, 1855, p. 205-208; trans. in
BUDGE, History, p. 159-161; cfr BAUMSTARK, Geschichte, p. 125 n. 4.
THE SYRIAC VERSION OF THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE 139
certain number of biblical quotations
, suggests that the Syriac transla-
tor was a Nestorian Christian, perhaps a Monophysite (Nöldeke has
some doubts about this: cfr Beiträge, p. 17) and that he must have trans-
lated the text around the 7th century.
As regards dating the work, in addition to the aspects pointed out by
Nöldeke (Beiträge, p. 16), it is worth underlining a somewhat significant
fact: every time we find the name of the Achaemenid king Zérzjv in
the Greek text, in the Syriac text it is replaced by Kosro («kwsrw»).
This occurs about a dozen times
and is evidently intentional, though it
is not very clear whether the allusion is to Chosroes I or Chosroes II.
We have already mentioned the important role played by the Oriental
Christians within the orbit of Sasanian power. Their knowledge of
Syriac, Greek and Persian
and the geographical and cultural context
in which they lived between the 5th and 7th centuries must certainly
have favoured the use of various Persian terms in the text, and —
moreover — explains the anonymous author's familiarity with the his-
tory and geography of Iran.
In any event, it must be remembered that not only is the number of
Persian lexical items in the Syriac Alexander Romance relatively small
(if the ethnonyms and anthroponyms are excluded), but it is not always
easy to attribute them with any certainty to Middle or to New Persian. In
fact, the difference between Middle and New Persian — if only the lexi-
con is considered — is not always very perceptible, except in cases in
which it is a question of words that are certainly Arabo-Persian. Conse-
quently, in my opinion, it is possible to suggest that at least some of the
Persian forms may have been added to the Syriac text a long time after it
was first written.
This hypothesis is supported by what we know about the history of
the text itself. The oldest manuscript of the Pseudo-Callisthenes dates, as
we have said, only from 1709. In the colophon of this manuscript (cfr
BUDGE, History, p. xv-xvi) we read that it was compiled by two priests,
and Homo, both sons of the priest Daniel of Alqos, and that it
was commissioned by the priest Yusif of Îordefne. Both Alqos and
Îordefne are centres in Iraq: the first is about 70 km north of Mosul,
and is the city of the patriarchate and has an important school for
Some examples of biblical allusions in BUDGE, History, p. lix; cfr also FRAENKEL,
Recension, p. 320.
Cfr BUDGE, History, p. 119, 2; 120, 16; 121, 8; 123, 4; 132, 16; 136, 9; 138, 8;
158, 9; 253, 11; 236, 4; 237, 13. See NÖLDEKE, Beiträge, p. 13 and n. 4.
Cfr BROCK, Syriac Perspective, VI, p. 17-18.
On this copyist, cfr R. MACUCH, Geschichte der Spät- und neusyrischen Literatur,
Berlin - New York, 1976, p. 49 (= MACUCH, Geschichte).
140 C.A. CIANCAGLINI
; the second is in the region of ™alana, in the north of Iraq and,
before being taken over by the Kurds, this city had an important Chris-
tian monastery, where several scribes worked, the most illustrious being
Yusif, who was active between 1682 and 1716, and is probably to be
identified with the person who commissioned the text and is mentioned
in the colophon
. Part of the history of the Syriac Pseudo-Callisthenes
takes us back to northern Iraq, where we know that, at least before
around 1500, the predominant language of culture was Persian. The
Oriental Christians in this region addressed a public that was educated in
Persian, not in Arabic: it is therefore highly likely that quite a large
number of Persian elements, especially the glosses, entered the text long
after the time of the first translation from the Greek.
Via Cipro 98 Claudia A. CIANCAGLINI
On the school of Alqos cfr MACUCH, Geschichte, p. 48-49.
Cfr J.M. FIEY, Assyrie chrétienne. Contribution à l'étude de l'histoire et de la
géographie ecclésiastiques et monastiques du nord de l'Iraq, vol. I, Beyrouth, 1965,
p. 315-317; I wish to thank Prof. R. Contini and Prof. F. Pennacchietti for this informa-