"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dante and Byzantium

The Syriac scholar Robert Murray has noted that Christianity has produced (at least) two truly towering theological poets: St. Ephraim the Syrian and Dante Alighieri.* In the fall issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies we will have a review of a new book about the latter and his Eastern influences:  E.D. Karampetsos, Dante and Byzantium (Somerset Hall Press, 2009), 194pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

No other writer has succeeded as extravagantly as Dante in putting a face on the invisible. Thanks to his inheritance from Byzantium, Dante possessed a wealth of visual resources, a means of organizing them, and a theoretical justification for their use. One discovers in Dante an extended network of Byzantine influences—St. John of Damascus, St. John Climacus, Plotinus, the Pseudo-Dionysius, and others. In this book, E.D. Karampetsos uncovers the profound influence of Byzantine theology, art, and ideas on Dante and his writing.

I asked the well-known Dante translator and scholar Anthony Esolen of Providence College to review this for Logos, and am greatly looking forward to his review.

Somerset Hall Press is a small press, but they have now published several books of interest to Eastern Christians in addition to the above. Perhaps most notable is their 2004 book by Athanasia Papademetriou, Presbytera: The Life, Mission, and Service of the Priest's Wife treating the topic of a married priesthood from the perspective of the "presbytera," that is, the wife of a presbyter. This is a rare and important contribution. 

In 2005 they published a collection of articles looking at the connections between Hellenism and Christianity: Demetrios J. Constantelos, Christian Faith and Cultural Heritage: Essays from a Greek Orthodox Perspective, which I briefly reviewed in Logos

In 2007, they published George P. Liacopulos, ed., Church and Society: Orthodox Christian Perspectives, Past Experiences, and Modern Challenges. I reviewed it in Logos also, drawing attention to several really important articles in the book, including:
  • The Christology of St. Gregory of Nyssa, by Christos Th. Krikonis 
  • Comments on Bible Translation, by Theodore Stylianopoulos
Stylianopoulos, whose The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective I have used in my classes to great benefit, has here written an article that is important and alarming in drawing attention to the  serious defects in many modern translations of the Bible; he focuses especially on the NRSV, showing how the ideological methods used in that translation have, especially in John's gospel, compromised the Christological nature of the text.  Stylianopoulos demonstrates how the NRSV not only obscures the relationship between Christ and His Father, but cannot even accurately translate basic Greek conjunctions and prepositions in some cases.
*That excellent if little known scholarly revue Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies has an entire issue devoted to Ephraim the Syrian for those new to him and desirous of an introduction to his life and work. 

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