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This translation of the Life of Symeon the Fool by Leontius of Neapolis is based on the critical edition of the Greek text by Lennart Rydén in Léontios de Néapolis: Vie de Syméon le Fou et Vie de Jean de Chypre, ed. A. J. Festugière, in the series Bibliothèque archéologique et historique (Paris: Geuthner, 1974), pp. 55–104. The translator is indebted to the textual commentaries of Rydén (Bemerkungen zum Leben des heiligen Narren Symeon von Leontius von Neapolis [Uppsala: Almquist and Wiksell, 1970]) and Festugière (Vie de Syméon le Fou, pp. 161–222).

Numbers in square brackets refer to the pagination of the Greek text in Das Leben des heiligen Narren Symeon, ed. Lennart Rydén (Uppsala: Almquist and Wiksell, 1963), which is reproduced in the inner margins of Rydén’s text in the volume edited by Festugière, Vie de Syméon le Fou. Biblical references also appear in brackets. Words supplied to clarify the sense of the Greek appear in parentheses.

1. πολιτεία. Lampe (s.v.) lists many instances where this word refers to Christian life and conduct. It may also refer to ascetic practice. I have translated it as “conduct” and as “way of life.” [BACK]

2. Leontius’s introduction focuses attention on the actions of holy persons as examples for others. This may seem particularly ironic, given the nature of the deeds to be described in the account which follows. By referring to Paul as a “vessel of election,” Leontius suggests that Symeon also was the recipient of God’s grace. [BACK]

3. πολιτεία. [BACK]

4. δόξα. [BACK]

5. ἀπάθεια. [BACK]

6. παράδοξα. [BACK]

7. Celebrated on September 14. The celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross in Jerusalem was established in the sixth century, after which it spread to other parts of the empire. It was first celebrated at Constantinople in 614. Leontius’s interest in the True Cross reflects an enthusiasm for the military successes of Heraclius. After the Cross had fallen into Persian hands, Heraclius restored the Cross to Jerusalem while on pilgrimage in 630. For bibliography see chapter 1. [BACK]

8. This claim is problematic if Symeon is supposed to be 22 years old at the time. [BACK]

9. Symeon and John are native Syriac speakers. Presumably Greek was the dominant language in the monasteries of the Jordan in this period, despite the use of Palestinian Syriac by the native population. Cf. Sidney H. Griffith, “The Gospel in Arabic: An Inquiry into Its Appearance in the First Abbasid Century,” Oriens Christianus 69 (1985): 161–63. [BACK]

10. Modern Homs in Syria. [BACK]

11. σαλός. [BACK]

12. John the deacon. [BACK]

13. Nikon (Νίκων) means victorious. [BACK]

14. νίκων. [BACK]

15. Abba Nikon. [BACK]

16. σαλός. [BACK]

17. δόξα, possibly also “repute.” [BACK]

18. Those who have withdrawn from the world—hermits. [BACK]

19. βοσκοί, hermits who ate grass in the desert. [BACK]

20. I.e., before there were psalms to sing. [BACK]

21. Symeon and John. [BACK]

22. Leontius refers to Moses and the burning bush. [BACK]

23. The angels. [BACK]

24. The Arnon River (modern Mujib) flows through central Jordan into the Dead Sea. [BACK]

25. This is a transliteration of the Syriac l’ tkr’ lky ’my, literally, “May it not grieve you, mother.” Cf. R. P. Graffin’s explanation quoted by Festugière, Vie de Syméon le Fou, p. 180. [BACK]

26. Modern Urfa in Turkey. Edessa was a major center for Christian learning in Mesopotamia. [BACK]

27. The use of the title “Father” is the honor to which Leontius refers. [BACK]

28. Or “melted at the same time.” [BACK]

29. ψηλαφάω, “to grope or stroke,” probably has sexual connotations here. (In medicine it refers to uterine examinations [cf. LSJ, s.v.].) It is, however, unclear whether it refers here to sex with a partner or to masturbation. [BACK]

30. Symeon’s behavior recalls Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the courtyard of the temple. [BACK]

31. The φουσκάριος sold a soup called phouska, which was made with vinegar. (Cf. Latin posca, a mixture of vinegar, hot water, and eggs.) He is not a “wine merchant” as others have conjectured. On this point, cf. Rydén, “Style and Historical Fiction in the Life of St. Andreas Salos,” DOP 32 (1978): 175–83. Leontius’s phouskarios also sells baked beans and boiled lentils in his stall in the market place. This should probably be understood as rather humble fare. [BACK]

32. σαλός. [BACK]

33. The phouska-seller addresses him as mari abba, a transliteration of the Syriac mry ab’, “my lord abba.” [BACK]

34. θέρμια, a legume notorious for causing gas, and thus the rough equivalent of “baked beans.” [BACK]

35. Presumably for evening prayer. Cf. Festugière, Vie de Syméon le Fou, pp. 190–91. [BACK]

36. That is, he adhered to the theology of Severus of Antioch, a Monophysite who lived from about 465 to about 540. Severus rejected the notion that Christ had suffered hardship. He wrote in Greek, but his works are preserved only in Syriac. His teachings won wide currency in the Syrian churches in the sixth and seventh centuries. Cf. W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of the Monophysite Movement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), and John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1989), pp. 252ff. For an extended discussion of Severus’s theology see Roberta Chesnut, Three Monophysite Christologies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), esp. pp. 9–56. [BACK]

37. δημότες. Festugière translates “les habitués du cirque” (Vie de Syméon le Fou, p. 135) and justifies the translation at length (p. 194). Rydén, however, interpreted the term to mean a member of the crowd, an inhabitant of the city (Bermerkungen, pp. 94–96). I have adopted the translation “member of a circus faction” with some reservation. Circus factions were fans of various chariot-racing teams. Cf. Alan Cameron, Circus Factions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976). [BACK]

38. The meaning of the word ἀπέργης is unclear. Lampe suggests “idle,” but Festugière prefers “maladroit.” This is the only known occurrence of the term. [BACK]

39. The game appears to be something like the American children’s game red rover. Willem Aerts reports that a game similar to the one described here is still played on Cyprus; “Emesa in der Vita Symeonis Sali von Leontios von Neapolis,” in From Late Antiquity to Early Byzantium, ed. Vladimír Vavrínek (prague: Academia, 1985), pp. 114–15. [BACK]

40. On chronology problems created by this passage, see chapter 2. Evagrius, HE includes accounts of numerous earthquakes in the eastern Mediterranean in the fifth and sixth centuries (1.17; 2.12, 14; 4.4, 8, 23; 5.17; 6.8). Agathias, History 2.15–17 includes a digression on earthquakes throughout the Eastern Mediterranean in the mid-sixth century as well as a discussion of various current theories of the causes of earthquakes. [BACK]

41. A version of this story is one of the anecdotes about Symeon in Evagrius, HE 4.34. [BACK]

42. One takes a pro-Origen position, the other an anti-Origen position. The antiOrigenist classifies Origen’s achievements with those of pagan wisemen. [BACK]

43. Such as the lot cast by Symeon earlier in the narrative. [BACK]

44. γνωστικός: i.e., enlightened one, the perfect monk. Cf. Lampe s.v.; consider the title of Evagrius Ponticus’s Ο Γνωστικός. Here the term is obviously ironic. [BACK]

45. ἐξαπλοῦν, perhaps a pun for Hexapla. [BACK]

46. A stringed instrument much like a lute. [BACK]

47. There was an increasing distrust of Jews among Syrian Christians during the early seventh century, presumably because they sympathized with the Persian invasion. For example, see Theophylact Simocatta, History 5.6.5–7. On Jews under Byzantine rule in this period see A. Sharf, “Byzantine Jewry in the Seventh Century,” BZ 48 (1955): 103–15; also Vincent Déroche, “L’Authenticité de l’ ‘Apologie contre les Juifs’ de Léontios de Néapolis,” Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 110 (1986): 655–69. [BACK]

48. σαλίζω, a verb derived from σαλός. [BACK]

49. Leontius is recalling Joseph of Arimathea. [BACK]

50. While this appears to be an explanation for a cult of Symeon, there is no evidence that such a cult existed. [BACK]

51. Perhaps a “mime-actress.” [BACK]

52. πύρωσις, surely a euphemism for erection. [BACK]

53. He behaves literally as a lunatic. [BACK]

54. μωρία. [BACK]

55. Or, perhaps, “by his spirit.” [BACK]

56. ἁγία ἁγία. It is unclear who the holy woman called on is, but the Theotokos seems most likely. Cf. Rydén, Bemerkungen, p. 113. On the increasing importance of Mary in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, see Averil Cameron, “The Theotokos in Sixth Century Constantinople,” JThS n.s. 29 (1978): 79–108, and “The Virgin’s Robe: An Episode in the History of Early Seventh-Century Constantinople,” Byzantion 49 (1979): 42–56. [BACK]

57. The language here recalls binding spells. See H. J. Magoulias, “The Lives of Byzantine Saints as Sources of Data for the History of Magic in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries A.D.: Sorcery, Relics, and Icons,” Byzantion 37 (1967): 228–69, and John G. Gager, ed., Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), esp. pp. 116–50. [BACK]

58. One follis equals forty noumia. Symeon had not eaten for forty days. [BACK]

59. Literally “dancing and making charges,” but see Festugière, Vie de Syméon le Fou, p. 209. [BACK]

60. The language again reflects that of binding spells. [BACK]

61. Fish, bread, and wine, of course, are the things which Jesus feeds to the multitudes in unlimited supply. [BACK]

62. Festugière translates ζεστά here not as “fish,” but as “bread,” although he translates it as “fish” in the line before. The point must be that the fish were well spiced, since they might give one indigestion. [BACK]

63. Cf. Martyrdom of Polycarp 15. [BACK]

64. Cf. Mt 26:42. [BACK]

65. κατανενυγμένως. The word is found only in Leontius, and its meaning is unclear. I have followed Festugière (Vie de Syméon le Fou, p. 150) in translating it “with such compunction.” [BACK]

66. This is usually only the case with dead saints. [BACK]

67. The meaning here is unclear. Literally, the man is “contracted to death”; however, this must not refer to his whole body but rather only to his eyes. [BACK]

68. Cf. Jn 9:1–11. [BACK]

69. αἰγίδια. This word usually means “goat kids,” but it can also mean “eye salve,” as it does in the writings of the sixth-century doctor, Aëtius of Amida (7.103) (cf. LSJ, s.v.). Consider also that αἰγίς, usually a “goatskin,” refers to a “speck in the eye” in the Hippocratic corpus (cf. LSJ, s.v.). Given the context, this is probably meant as a pun. [BACK]

70. The amulet would have contained a piece of silver, gold, or papyrus with the text written on it. [BACK]

71. μάνζηρε = mamzere, a Hebrew word (cf. mamzer in Modern Hebrew) which does not appear in Syriac. Festugière (Vie de Syméon le Fou, p. 214) postulates that this word was still used as an insult among Jews. However, its occurrence in a Christian text suggests that it was known to Jews and Christians alike in seventh-century Cyprus. [BACK]

72. Leontius identifies the Jew with the shattered glass. [BACK]

73. Literally, “out of darkness.” [BACK]

74. Presumably more than a stone’s throw. [BACK]

75. A reference to the Grazers (βοσκοί) of the first half of the text. [BACK]

76. It is unclear whether this means that they too became fools or merely became monks. [BACK]

77. Or perhaps “pennyroyal.” [BACK]

78. It is unclear whether Symeon is demanding abstinence within marriage or merely marital fidelity. [BACK]

79. μάταιος. [BACK]

80. There were few churches in the countryside, so peasants came to town on Sundays and festivals. [BACK]

81. κατάσκαλμος. The meaning of this word is unclear. Cf. Festugière (Vie de Syméon le Fou, p. 221), who translates “enfouissement.” I have chosen to follow Aerts, Leven van Symeon de Dwaas (Bonheiden, Belgium: Monastieke Cahiers, 1990), p. 87. [BACK]

82. Symeon was a stranger in Emesa, not a resident, so this is perfectly sensible. Cf. Life of the Man of God where the Man of God is also buried in the strangers’ cemetery. [BACK]

83. On the problem of which of the Jews mentioned earlier in the text is meant here, see chapter 2. [BACK]

84. They were fools not to have seen Symeon’s true nature. [BACK]

85. I.e., free from carnal appetites. [BACK]

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