Tzetzes’ Theogony, continued

By: | Post date: 2010-02-06 | Comments: 16 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek
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I have picked up Hunger’s edition of the epilogue to Tzetzes’ Theogony, so I can now fill in some of the questions left open in my previous post, and correct some misunderstandings I had, In a separate post, I’ll speculate further on the etymology of μουνί. I’ve changed my mind on it, btw.

But first, to Tzetzes.

We know of five manuscripts of the text

  • V1: Vindobonensis 321 (second half of 13th century)
  • C: Casanatensis gr. 306 (1413)
  • P: Vaticanus Palatinus gr. 424 (16th century)
  • B: Vaticanus Barberinus gr. 30 (15th century)
  • V: Vindobonensis 118 (turn of 14th century)

and most of them give up about the epilogue completely. Here is the translation of the epilogue Language Hat cites from Alexander Kazhdan’s Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. I’ve tweaked the translation where appropriate, and added the reconstructed Proto-Ossetic:

[V1 already gave up copying 45 verses ago: We left out the entire epilogue, because it just went on too long]
One finds me Scythian among Scythians, Latin among Latins,
And among any other tribe a member of that folk.
[P stops copying]
When I embrace a Scythian I accost him in such a way:
“Good day, my lady, good day, my lord:
Salamalek alti, salamalek altugep.”
And also to Persians I speak in Persian:
“Good day, my brother, how are you? Where are you from [Missing in C], my friend?
Asan khais kuruparza khaneazar kharandasi?”
To a Latin I speak in the Latin language:
“Welcome, my lord, welcome, my brother:
Bene venesti, domine, bene venesti, frater.
Wherefrom are you, from which theme [province] do you come?
Unde es et de quale provincia venesti?
How have you come, brother, to this city?
Quomodo, frater, venesti in istan civitatem?
[C stops copying: And there were many other verses of sundry dialects, but I omitted them as useless. We’re down to V and B]
On foot, on horse, by sea? Do you wish to stay?
Pezos, caballarius, per mare? Vis morare?”
To Alans I say in their tongue:
“Good day, my lord, my archontissa, where are you from?
Tapankhas mesfili khsina korthi kanda,” and so on.
(dæ ban xʷærz, mæ sfili, (æ)xsinjæ kurθi kændæ)
If an Alan lady has a priest as a boyfriend, she will hear such words: [verse only in V]
“Aren’t you ashamed, my lady, to have a priest fuck your cunt? [missing in B, only given in V]
(οὐκ αἰσχύνεσαι, αὐθέντριά μου, νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς;)
To farnetz kintzi mesfili kaitz fua saunge.”
(du farnitz, kintzæ mæ sfili, kajci fæ wa sawgin?)
[Literally: “Aren’t you ashamed, my lady, to have a love affair with the priest?”]
Arabs, since they are Arabs, I address in Arabic:
“Where do you dwell, where are you from, my lady? My lord, good day to you.
Alentamor menende siti mule sepakha.”
And also I welcome the Ros according to their habits:
“Be healthy, brother, sister, good day to you.
Sdra[ste], brate, sestritza,” and I say “dobra deni.”
To Jews I say in a proper manner in Hebrew:
“You blind house devoted to magic, you mouth, a chasm engulfing flies,
memakomene beth fagi beelzebul timaie,
You stony Jew, the Lord has come, lightning be upon your head.
Eber ergam, maran atha, bezek unto your khothar.”
So I talk with all of them in a proper and befitting way;
I know the skill of the best management.”

The language names aren’t what they seem:

  • I recognised ἀλτή as Turkic, confirmed that altı is Turkish for “lady”, and so assumed “Scythian” was Turkish. It was a bit odd that the Turks were being placed in Scythia—modern Ukraine and Kazakhstan; but maybe Tzetzes was thinking of some Turkic tribe up north.
    In fact he was: Hunger’s manuscript has the interlinear gloss Cuman at “when I embrace a Scythian”. And Cuman was indeed a Turkic language.
  • With the “Persians”, I committed a thinko. I noticed that “friend” in Persian, kharandasi, looked like Turkish kardaş “brother, friend”. I also know that by the 14th century, classicising Byzantine historians referred to the Turks as Persians, referring back to the Achaemenids. But surely, I thought, Tzetzes would have actually been familiar with Persians, being part-Georgian. (More on that later.) So he wouldn’t have made that Chalcocondylian conflation. As for kardaş, I dunno, maybe it is a Turkish loan from Persian.
    Not so. Hunger’s manuscript also glosses “Persian” as “Turkish”. I’m not game to suggest a (Seljuk) Turkish rendering of ἀσὰν χαῒς κουρούπαρζα χαντάζαρ χαραντάση; I may get lucky and have a passing commenter do so.
  • Latin is Latin. Tzetzes’ dates are ca. 1110-1180; certainly not too late for Latin to have been spoken by scholars, at least.
  • Alanic is Proto-Ossetian. Ironically, Alanic *is* a Scythian language, the Scythians and Alans being Iranic peoples.
  • I also wouldn’t object to hearing the wisdom of the crowds on the Arabic.
  • The Ros are the Rus’, i.e. Russia. The manuscript actually reads sdra, but Hunger consulted a Slavicist who said it was unattested, and Hunger assumed the ste dropped out as a haplology. Tzetzes, perversely (but unsurprisingly) put the foreign language fragments in the same metre as the rest of the poem; and there is indeed a missing syllable there.
    Hunger finds the orthography δόβρα δένη interesting, because the words still end in full vowels (dobra deni, cf. Modern Russian dobryj denj).
  • The Jews get Tzetzes’ anti-Semitism in Hebrew, although the Jews of Byzantium certainly spoke Greek as their everyday language. But admitting that would be admitting they were not space aliens who didn’t belong in Byzantium; and Tzetzes couldn’t do that. Tzetzes’ use of Latin also suggests that his language command was of the debate hall, rather than the marketplace—learnèd Hebrew, rather than spoken Judaeo-Greek. Language Hat’s comment thread has some information on Tzetzes’ Hebrew.

The Greek interest in the epilogue is on its use of μουνί, and that use is surprising, because it’s not what the Proto-Ossetian says. That’s not the only thing strange about the Greek translations, though: they are in red ink in the manuscript, and don’t fit the metre like the foreign originals do. Moreover, “fuck your cunt” look a bit over-colloquial to us—although the rest of the translation is consistent with Tzetzes’ Koine (πόθεν εἶσαι καὶ ἀπὸ ποίου θέματος ἦλθες;), and the correlation of vulgar with colloquial we make can be anachronistic.

  • As Modern Greek readers will have noticed, “that he fucks” is γαμῇ, not γαμᾷ: the original verb is γαμέω, and while the vernacular was already conflating -αω and -εω conjugations by then (something that had started in the Koine), Tzetzes knew that the original verb is γαμέω—and he’d want you to know that he knew it.

Still, it’s a reasonable question to ask: can we be sure the translations are from Tzetzes himself? Hunger agrees with Moravcsik that we can, because Tzetzes was pedantic enough to gloss everything in sight. That’s not a compelling reason in my book: if he was that pedantic, why aren’t the glosses in metre? The fact that glosses show up in all four manuscripts is more convincing to me.

In particular, whoever wrote the translation “fuck your cunt” in V knew enough Proto-Ossetian to render its meaning misleadingly. Tzetzes did; I’m less certain a random scribe would, especially when most scribes ran away as fast as they could from this Berlitz job application.

Only two scribes persevered with it, and it’s interesting what B left out: not just the νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς, but any reference to the lady shacking up with a priest at all. It wasn’t just the four-letter words that offended the scribe of the Barberinus, but the social faux pas.

It’s an odd thing to do, though, translate “to have a love affair” as “to fuck your cunt”. Nikos Sarantakos asked me whether this is some indication of Georgian–Ossetian enmity being a thousand years old.

Let’s go to Wikipedia University. Tzetzes *was* Georgian and not Ossetian, right?

  • John Tzetzes: “was Georgian on his mother’s side. In his works, Tzetzes states that his grandmother was a relative of the Georgian Bagratid princess Maria of Alania who came to Constantinople with her and later became the second wife of the sebastos Constantine, megas droungarios and nephew of the patriarch Michael I Cerularius. [Garland, Lynda (2006), Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience, 800-1200, pp. 95-6. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 075465737X.]”
  • (“Of Alania”, meaning “Ossetian”. Crap.)
  • Maria of Alania: “was a daughter of the Georgian king Bagrat IV of the Bagrationi (1027–1072) and spouse of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas and later also Nikephoros III Botaneiates. She is frequently known as Maria of Alania in apparent confusion with her mother Borena of Alania, the second wife of Bagrat of Georgia.”
  • Borena of Alania: “was a sister of the Alan king Durgulel “the Great”, and the Queen consort of Georgia, as the second wife of Bagrat IV (r. 1027-1072). […] This was just one of the several intermarriages between the medieval Georgian Bagratids and their natural allies, the royal house of Alania.”

Phew. So Borena was Alan, but her daughter was born in Georgia, and her daughter’s granddaughter was related to Tzetzes. So we’re probably safe.

Of course, instead of Wikipedia University, we could just turn to what Tzetzes himself says. In his Chiliades, Tzetzes dedicates a chapter to the proposition


It’s worth going on, because it offers a hint as to Tzetzes dissing the Ossetians:

(5.591) Τῆς Τζέτζου μητρομήτορος ἡ Ἀβασγὶς ἡ μήτηρ
σὺν τῇ δεσποίνῃ Μαριάμ, τῇ Ἀβασγίσσῃ λέγω,
ἣν οἱ πολλοὶ Ἀλάνισσαν φασὶν οὐκ ἀκριβοῦντες,
ἦλθεν εἰς μεγαλόπολιν ὡς συγγενὴς καθ’ αἷμα,
Tzetzes’ mother’s mother’s Abkhazian (Ἀβασγὶς) mother,
together with Lady Mariam—I mean, the Abkhazian (Ἀβασγίσσῃ),
whom most people incorrectly call the Alan (Ἀλάνισσαν),
came to the Great City [Constantinople] as her blood relative

[— snip two generations —]
(5.612) Τούτου θυγάτηρ σὺν δυσὶν ἑτέραις θυγατράσιν
τὴν κλῆσιν Εὐδοκία μέν, μήτηρ δ’ αὐτοῦ τοῦ Τζέτζου.
Ἔγνως κατὰ μητέρα μὲν Ἴβηρα τοῦτον ὄντα·
πατὴρ δὲ τούτου Μιχαὴλ ὃς καὶ παιδεύει τοῦτον
ἐν λόγοις καὶ τοῖς πράγμασιν ὡς τὸν υἱὸν ὁ Κάτων.
She was this man’s daughter, together with two other daughters;
she was Eudocia by name, and mother of this Tzetzes.
So now you know that he is Iberian (Georgian) from his mother.
And his father was Michael, who taught him
in words and deed like Cato taught his son.

[— snip —]

  • We pause here for the Modern Greek readers to stop guffawing at Ἀλάνισσα, which meant “Alan” in Byzantine Greek, and means “tramp” in Modern Greek.

Ossetians, Georgians, and now Abkhazians? What is this, a Russia-NATO impasse? But yes, Georgia had that diversity of peoples back then too. Abkhazia was part of the Kingdom of Georgia at the time, and not yet a separate principality, and Wikipedia at least says the Abkhazian nobility of the time spoke Georgian. So even if Tzetzes’ great-grandmother was Abkhazian, she would have spoken Georgian—and would not necessarily have felt affinity with the Alans.

Tzetzes names Maria of Alania as Mariam, which is the Georgian form. But was Maria Alan, Abkhaz, Georgian, or what? Rather than Wikipedia University, we can refer to the article on Maria written by Lynda Garland, who actually is a Byzantine historian (and who’s cited by Wikipedia U): as far as I can tell, the Georgian monarchy was described by both Georgians and Byzantines as “of the Ap’xaz/Abasgia”, but the Bagratid heartland was further south than Abkhazia, and the name doesn’t mean the Abkhaz were running things.

But just before Tzetzes confuses us further with the Abkhazians, he says why:

(5.585) Ἡ τοῦ δὲ μητρόμητωρ μὲν Τζέτζου τοῦ Ἰωάννου
τοῦ ἱστοριογράφου τε καὶ συγγραφέως πόσων,
μητρὸς ἧν Μασσαγέτιδος, ἤγουν ἐξ Ἀβασγίδος.
Ἴβηρες δὲ καὶ Ἀβασγοὶ καὶ Ἀλανοὶ ἓν γένος·
οἱ Ἴβηρες πρωτεύοντες, οἱ Ἀβασγοὶ δευτέραν,
οἱ Ἀλανοί δ’ ἐσχήκασι τάξιν τριῶν ὑστέραν.
Tzetzes, John, historian, and author
of so many works: his mother’s mother’s
mother was a Massageta, namely from Abkhazia.
The Iberians [Georgians] and the Abkhazians and the Alans are one race;
the Iberians hold the first rank; the Abkhaz the second;
and the Alans hold the third and last rank.

Do ignore the Massagetae: an Iranic people in Herodotus, which gave Tzetzes a classical pedigree to hang on to the Abkhaz. Ammianus Marcellinus hanged the label onto the Alans, and Procopius of Caesaria picked the Huns; so the label doesn’t mean much.

The Alans were allies of the Georgians, which is why Borena and Maria married into Georgian royalty. Tzetzes could say they were “the same” in some sense; shortly after his death, the Alan prince married the queen of Georgia, which effectively merged the countries for a couple of decades, until they both were conquered by the Mongols.

But the Alans were not the same country yet while Tzetzes lived: they were a neighbouring country, while the Abkhaz were a province of Georgia, and their nobility was assimilated. The Abkhaz were sort of Georgian; the Alans were not, and Tzetzes is eager to put them at the bottom of the heap.

He’s also adamant to point out that Maria was not “of Alania”—and true enough, it’s her mother that was. We know her as Maria of Alania because most Byzantine historians called her that; and they called her that, as Garland explains, because they didn’t give a toss what nowheresville principality she came from. Psellus, for instance, would just as soon not mention where she came from at all. (“Maria may have been a Georgian princess, but in fact her homeland and royal parentage cut little ice with the Byzantines as a whole.”)

So Psellus, as Garland mentions, casually disses the Alan Kingdom:

(The emperor) fell in love with a girl, as I have mentioned above, who was a hostage with us from Alania. That kingdom was not particularly distinguished in itself, nor had it any great prestige.
ἐρᾷ τινος μείρακος, ὥς μοι καὶ ἄνω που τοῦ λόγου λέλεκται, ἐξ Ἀλανίας ὁμηρευούσης ἡμῖν· βασιλεία δὲ αὐτὴ οὐ πάνυ σεμνὴ, οὐδὲ ἀξίωμα ἔχουσα. (Chronographia 6.151)

But Psellus wasn’t any more respectful to Georgians. As far as he was concerned, “all you Caucasians look alike”.

Tzetzes cared though. Yes, he said “we’re all the same race (γένος)”. But if they were all the same race, the Alans wouldn’t have had the last rank. And Tzetzes was enough of a walking rancour machine, that I wouldn’t put the uncomplimentary mistranslation “fuck your cunt” past him.


  • […] I addressed those doubts at the time, but recently George Baloglou has suggested a detailed review of the vernacular Greek of the epilogue, in case it yields any clues about the date of the mention of the word itself. […]

  • "Karindash" on modern Balkar language mean "brother".

  • Karindash on modern Balkar language mean "brother".

  • karın + -daş > karındaş = ἀδελφός < ά (copulative) + δελφύς.

    karın = δελφύς = womb.

  • Michael Psellus is not dissing Alania, the sentence is incomplete, it follows as: "This kingdom was not stately in any way, nor was it given any special consideration, but always granted the Roman Empire the pledge of its loyality."

    His main point is that "despite of all that…Alania was always loyal to us"

  • John Cowan says:

    Well, it's not clear what Paul actually meant by the phrase. Was he making an affirmation of a present fact, or praying for a future event? The Aramaic (not Hebrew) just isn't clear.

  • David Marjanović says:

    though presumably from French pentagon, hexagon, etc.

    Pentagone, hexagone.

  • opoudjis says:

    Sorry, accidentally deleted Peter's comment instead of the Spam I was aiming too. Here it is again:

    But Psellus wasn't any more respectful to Georgians. As far as he was concerned, "all you Caucasians look alike".

    It's fitting that the m-word is being discussed because Psellus was a Μουνί, with a capial Mu. The man was a show off who only cared for himself. It was his treachery that brought the incapable, sapless Constantine X Ducas to the throne—the buffoon who screwed relations (under Psellus's advice) with the indispensable Armenians over some trite, religious disagreement. What a catastrophe that was (Manzikert).

    P.S. I'm sorry for the rough language, N, 🙂

  • Pierre A says:

    The dominiance of Persian precedes rather than follows the arrival of the Selcuks on the borders of the Byzantine world. The official language of the selcuk administration was Persian, and a great many of the builder's inscriptions even in the heart of Asia Minor are in Persian. The Selcuks had taken over the "Sultan" (= arbitrary power) from the Persian Buyids, and there was probably a well established habit of thinking about the lands immediately east of Asia Minor as Persian (certainly not Arab).

    In ordinary conversation, however, the Selcuks would surely have used their form of Turkish, which would probably be related more to Kipchak or Ozbek than to what became Ottoman.

    I haven't yet been able to make anything of the rest of the "Persian" in the phrase, but kardeş is exactly the same word as karındaş, the shorter form being a characteristic compression in spoken Turkish. The two forms are cross-referenced in Redhouse, A Turkish English Lexicon—the finest of all the bilingual dictionaries of Turkish. You can't analyze kardeş, the kar is meaningless in context but, as dystonnipiptiron says, the longer word can be analysed as womb-buddy.

    In Ottoman, "elti" ('a' and 'e' are a vowel-pairing) is "sister-in-law" which might well be a respectful term of address.

    A syllable dropped out of my rendering of Ṣabaḥa 'l-hayr. (Wehr's dictionary notes that the more formal version is Ṣabaḥa bi-'l-hayr, but I never heard that in Egypt). I wish Unicode would allow the internationally recognized h with a cup accent for "kh".

  • opoudjis says:

    Thanks to all, and to the linklove from Don Hat. I'll try not to absent myself for as long. (Though I'm already leaving opɯcɯlɯklɑr fallow, and I have in mind a series on Ars Subtilior and the Saba maqam that isn't going to write itself.)

    (No, 14th century intellectual French composers did not use Arabic modes. But they did both come up with diminished fourths, for different reasons…)

    Pierre: Hm. The Arabic is actually more distant from the Greek transcription than the Latin or the Russian, or even the Ossetian. But there's no reason to make too much of that, right?

    Diver of Sinks: oh, I realised kardaş can't be of Persian origin soon enough, if it's showing up in Seljuk Turkish. (John, I'm presuming the major influx of Persian influence was after the 12th century, but I could be wrong.) I was making fun of myself taking Tzetzes' label "Persian" on face value.

    John: Tzetzes' non-Pauline interpretation of maran atha confirms he actually could parse Hebrew?

    John: I wonder how different Kuman and Seljuk Turkish were in the 12th century anyway, though…

  • "As for kardaş, I dunno, maybe it is a Turkish loan from Persian."
    Definitely not, the original Turkish word used to be karındaş, which means something like "fellow with regard to the belly", both components (karın and -daş) being of Turkish origin. But I'll try to check my Persian dictionnary and come back in a few hours.

  • Pierre A says:

    For the Arabic: (which is not all that bad.

    'Ila 'ayna ta`mari (The 'ila is not really right, since it implies motion toward)
    = Where do you live? (feminine with the final i, masculine with final a)

    min 'ayna 'anti
    Where are you from?

    Mawla, sabah -khayr
    My lord (master, teacher, etc.) good morning.
    The good morning has got rather compressed, but it is the normal Christian, (when distinguished from Muslim) greeting.

    I have used single close quote for hamza, and open quote for `ayn. The final a of 'ila and Mawla is long.

  • John Cowan says:

    Turks in Scythia: From a Turkish perspective, the distinction between "Turkish" and "Turkic" is unimportant, a fine detail; the Turks are the Turks, and if an Istanbul intellectual does not understand the speech of the Uyghurs of Eastern Turkistan, there are peasants in Central Anatolia whose ordinary conversation he can't follow either, and never mind that he pays taxes to the same government as the latter but not the former.

    Persian loans in Turkish: Before the 20th century, Turkish was so heavily overlaid with Persian and Perso-Arabic loans that Ottoman poets could go on for many lines before being required to use an actual Turkish word. Not so today: Atatürk's famous five-day 1927 speech, we are told, is so Ottoman that it has had to be translated into Turkish three separate times, in 1963, 1986, and 1995, in order to make it intelligible to modern Turks. A nice example from The Turkish language reform: a catastrophic success by Geoffrey L. Lewis (very much recommended):

    Ottoman: Bir müsellesin mesaha-i sathiyesi, kaidesinin irtifaina hasıl-ı zarbinin nısfına müsavidir.

    Modern: Bir üçgenin yüzölçümü, tabanının yüksekline çarpımının yarısına eşittir.

    English: The area of a triangle is equal to the base times half the height.

    Except for -gen- in üçgen 'triangle/3-side', which looks like the old Turkic form meaning 'wide' but is really -γον- (though presumably from French pentagon, hexagon, etc.), the second version has no Persian or Arabic at all. The first version, on the other hand, has even more loanwords than the English, even including the noun-compound marker -i, a purely Persian grammatical device. (Then again, as Lewis points out, a country Turk from pre-reform days would likely interpret üçgen as 'three fallow fields'!

    Marana tha: This is of course famous from its inclusion verbatim in 1 Cor 16:22, but is distinctively Aramaic, not Hebrew. Depending on how you break the words, it can be read, saith WP, as מרנא תא maranâʔ thâʔ 'Our Lord, come!' or מרן אתא maran ʔathâʔ 'Our Lord has come'. The first reading, the prayer, is most usual in the West, but apparently Tzetzes assumes the second, which is a creedal affirmation.

  • Language says:

    A fantastic post, and I agree with your conclusion.

  • nodeli says:

    Thoroughly interesting stuff. Thank you!

  • Nauplion says:


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