Cyrillona: A Critical Study and Commentary
Comparatively little Syriac literature predating the Council of Chalcedon (451) has survived to the present, but many believe Syriac poetry reached its apogee in the works of these early authors, the most illustrious being Ephrem the Syrian. Cyrillona (ca. 396) was Ephrem's younger contemporary, and his nineteenth-century discoverer, editor and translator, Gustav Bickell, hailed him as "the most important Syriac poet after Ephrem." Scholars East and West have concurred that Cyrillona certainly stands among the first rank of Syriac poets. Yet in the 150 years since his rediscovery, the study of his work has not been commensurate with this high opinion. There survives no ancient testimony of Cyrillona or his poetry, and he is known to us only through his works. They are preserved in a single sixth-century British Library manuscript (BL Add. 14,591), a miscellany of poetic homilies (memre) by both named and anonymous authors. Two poems are attributed to Cyrillona by name, and based on style and content, three further anonymous works in the same manuscript appear to come from his pen. This dissertation is the first full and systematic study of Cyrillona. It examines and reassesses conventional claims about the author: name and identity, date, place of writing, and the constitution of his corpus, specifically rejecting the authenticity of an anonymous memra On the Grain of Wheat, attributed to Cyrillona by Bickell. I have reedited all the Syriac texts in a critical edition and provide their first complete translation into English, together with a study and commentary on the five genuine poems. This study introduces each poem and examines its poetic form and genre, structure and rhetorical features, and critical questions of text, interpretation, and milieu. Its goal is to enhance our appreciation and our understanding of the contribution of Cyrillona to literature and thought, and to provide a firm textual and critical foundation for future research. Cyrillona emerges as a daring expositor, a loving pastor, an engaging homilist, and a poet of great originality and unique gifts.
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