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Hippolytus: Commentary on Daniel and Chronicon
Gorgias Press has just published a translation by Tom Schmidt of the Commentary on Daniel, by Hippolytus of Rome, and the world chronicle (Chronicon) also attributed to him. The latter incorporates the text of the Stadiasmus Maris Magni, a Roman guidebook to the ports of the Mediterranean. (It’s not a portolan, but it’s as close to a portolan as that age had.)
You may well recognise a name on the front cover:
Tom approached me in 2009, for help in the translation of the chronicle that he was working on; if I reconstruct correctly, it was via Roger Pearse’s blog. I wrote about the project here seven years ago. I ended up providing substantial contributions to the translation, including reviewing the literature on the geographical identifications of the places in the Stadiasmus, and revising the translation for style and accuracy. It’s been a long time coming, as Tom tried to find an appropriate publisher for the work, and the translation is finally available to the scholarly public.
So what are these texts, and why should you care?
Hippolytus wrote in the third century AD, which makes him extremely early in the history of Christian writing. Both works represented are firsts in the Christian tradition—though by no means the last. The Commentary on Daniel is likely the first of a long line of Christian commentaries on Scripture, and it features the highly allegorical style of interpreting scripture that was to be a mainstay of the Church Fathers that followed.
As for the Chronicon, whose translation I contributed to, its importance in how history was written for the next thousand years cannot be overstated: it provided the template for chronicle writing in Christendom. As I wrote way back then,
Hippolytus’ Chronicle was written in 235 AD. Chronicles as we know them are informal bits of history, assembled around the scaffolding of reigns of kings, and plot synopses of the narrative from Genesis up to the Roman Empire. Hippolytus provides some of that scaffolding, from the Biblical side, as one of the first Christian forays into writing history: lists of high priests, judges, the begats of Adam and Abraham, and the list of the 70 peoples dispersed at Babel (with some post-Genesis interpretations of who those peoples had ended up as).
The list is garbled from the Septuagint in places: in fact the second redaction of the chronicle, written a century later, corrects some of the garblings. But the chronicle (in its slightly corrected variant) was enormously influential: its lists turn up at the beginning of tens of chronicles, in Greek, Latin, and Armenian. In fact these later copies help us reconstruct the original text, since the surviving text closest to Hippolytus’ original, the Madrid manuscript, still has gaps in it.
My thanks to Tom for persevering with this over the past eight years!