Gnom. Vat.


The material collected, edited, and translated here from Codex Vaticanus Graecus 743 aims to provide the reader with a foothold on this small corner of the vast and confusing edifice of ancient wisdom literature. The primary point of entry is the so-called Gnomologium Vaticanum (Gnom. Vat. = GV), contained in folios 6r-46v of Vat. Gr. 743, first edited and published by Leo Sternbach starting in 1887. This is a collection of 577 sayings arranged in first-letter alphabetical order by author, with the final 14 sayings at the end reserved for “sayings of women”. This material has significant overlaps with other gnomological traditions, but is also the sole witness for some of the sayings it records.

The Gnomologium Vaticanum in many ways presents a microcosm of the paradoxes of working with the Greek gnomological material. It’s both relatively well-known (compared to say, Elter’s Gnomica homoeomata, partially preserved in the same MS and discussed below), and incredibly obscure (compared to say, the 3rd century CE Diogenes Laërtius). Whatever modern popularity it does enjoy likely owes in no small part to Sternbach’s original publication of it being collected together and reprinted in a more readily accessible edition by Luschnat in 1963, which was later included in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (= TLG). Despite this popularity, it has to my knowledge never before received a comprehensive translation in any language.

My hope is that this English translation will not only make the Gnomologium Vaticanum more accessible to a greater number of scholars, but will also provoke broader awareness of and inquiry into the gnomological contexts in which it is situated. If people working with early Greek philosophy are regularly drawing from sources like Diels-Kranz, Laks-Most, Plutarch, Diogenes Laërtius, Athenaeus, Stobaeus (itself in dire need of greater attention), and so on, then they should also be aware of and have access to the great expanses of Greek gnomological literature which these sources are contemporaneous with or draw upon.

Manuscript context

Vat. Gr. 743 contains 106 folios of text by four different hands, which we can separate into nine distinct sections of text:

  1. 1r-3v (hand 1)

    59 similes of “Demophilus” (here “similes” is a translation of the Greek “ὅμοια” or “ὁμοίωμα”, transliterated as “homoeoma” or “homoeomata” in the plural), edited and published by Friedrich Wilhelm August Mullach in Fragmenta philosophorum Graecorum I (1860), pp.485-487. The sayings here have been translated into English as “Similitudes of Demophilus” in Florence M. Firth’s The Golden Verses of Pythagoras And Other Pythagorean Fragments (1904). All but the last of these (which Elter reasonably takes as a closing remark rather than part of the text) belong to the 200 sententiae edited and published by Anton Elter in Gnomica homoeomata V (1905) (= TLG’s “Sententiae Pythagoreorum (fort. auctore vel collectore Demophilo)” / “Pythagorean Sentences (perh. authored or collected by Demophilus)”), on which see also 46v-52v below, as well as the full comparison in the Concordances. In the present MS this bears the title “Δημοφίλου έκ τῶν Πυθαγορείων ὅμοια ἢ βίου θεραπεία” / “Demophilean similes from the Pythagoreans, or the cultivation of life”. The text of the manuscript then follows Mullach’s edition up through the termination of the last entry, which can also be read as a natural conclusion for this section. There’s no additional indication of a break in the material before proceeding to the first entry of the next section (that is, there is no “Τέλος τῶν Δημοφίλου ὁμοίων” / “End of the Demophilean similes” in the manuscript, and no title of “Δημοφίλου Γνώμαι Πυθαγορικαἰ” / “Pythagorean Gnomoi of Demophilus” beginning the next section).

  2. 3v-6r (hand 1)

    45 sayings in first-letter alphabetical order, edited by Mullach, op. cit., pp.497-499. The sayings here have been translated into English as “The Pythagorean Sentences of Demophilus” in Florence M. Firth’s The Golden Verses of Pythagoras And Other Pythagorean Fragments (1904). These represent a subset of a larger collection of 123 sayings published as “The Pythagorean Sentences” by H. Chadwick (in The Sentences of Sextus (1959), pp.84-94, which is in TLG as the “Sententiae Pythagoreorum”). For a full comparison see the Concordances. As noted by Luschnat in their preface to the reprint of Sternbach, another 15 of these sententiae are to be found at Stobaeus 3.1.30-44. Again, no break or end (i.e. Mullach’s “Τἐλος τῶν τοῦ Δεμοφίλου γνωμῶν” / “End of the Demophilean gnomoi”) is indicated in the manuscript before proceeding directly to the first entry of the next section.

  3. 6r-46v (hand 1)

    577 sayings comprising the “Gnomologium Vaticanum”, edited and published by Sternbach. This section begins simply with the first entry starting in the manuscript as “Ἀντισθένους: Ὁ αὐτὸς τοὺς πόνους ἔφησεν…” / “Belonging to Antisthenes: The same person said that tasks…”. The final 14 entries have the manuscript division “Αποφθέγματα γυναικῶν, ἤτοι φρονήματα” / “Apothegms of women, or their thoughts” (45v), with the last entry edited by Sternbach running into the material below with the manuscript heading “Πλουτάρχου γνῶμοι” / “Plutarchean gnomoi” (46v).

  4. 46v-52v (hand 1)

    134 “Plutarchean” gnomoi (according to the MS), a subset of the 200 sententiae edited and published by Anton Elter in Gnomica homoeomata V (1905). See also 1r-3v above, and the full comparison in the Concordances.

  5. 52v-56v (hand 1)

    Apothegms of the “seven sages”, starting with a numbered list. The material here is similar to that at Stobaeus 3.1.172-173, following the same order (Cleobolus, Solon, Chilon, Thales, Pittacus, Bias, Periander, Sosiadas), but in considerably expanded form. The importance of this manuscript for the transmission history of the “seven sages” gnomological tradition was seemingly first recognized with the publication of Maria Tziatzi-Papagianni’s Die Sprüche der sieben Weisen: Zwei byzantinische Sammlungen (1994), which incorporates this manuscript into the “Paris edition” (“Die Pariser Redaktion”) of the text. Tziatzi-Papagianni’s “Rec.Par.1” corresponds to Stobaeus 3.1.172, while “Rec.Par.2” corresponds to the “Sosiadas” material at Stobaeus 3.1.173. This first portion of material was also edited and published by Mullach as “Apothegms of the seven wise men by Demetrius of Phalerum” (op. cit. pp.212-218), and later edited and published by H. Diels and W. Kranz in Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, vol. 1, 6th edn. (1951), pp.63-66. That edition of the text is translated into English by William W. Fortenbaugh and Eckart Schütrumpf in “Demetrius of Phalerum: Text, Translation and Discussion”, Rutgers University Studies in Classical Humanities 9 (2017), pp.154-165. Again, no title in the manuscript divides this from the previous section, it begins simply with “Φιλοσόφων αʹ: Κλεόβουλος Εὐαγόρου Λίνδιος ἔφη” / “Belonging to philosopher 1: Cleobolus son of Euagoras of Lindos said”. As the section advances, the manuscript omits numbers and names dividing the sages.

  6. 57r-90v (hand 1 & 2)

    So-called “Sibylline Oracles”, starting with book 6, but also containing 4 & 7-9. These have been edited by Johannes Geffcken as Die Oracula Sibyllina (1902) and translated into English by J.J. Collins in Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha I (1983), pp.317-472. This begins a new quire in the MS and has a significant break from the previous section, starting with the title “ἐκ τῶν προφητικῶν Σιβύλλης λόγοι θʹ” / “From the Nine Sibylline Oracles”.

  7. 91r-97v (hand 3)

    The so-called “Paradeisos” attributed to “John Geometres”. This material was last edited and published in 1820 by Xavier Werfer (“Nili Ascetae Paraenetica e Codicibus Darmstadiensi et Bernensi. Opus posthumum,” Acta Philologorum Monacensium 3 (1820), pp.61-118), but is sorely in need of a new edition, as Kristoffel Demoen notes (in Metaphrasis and Versification: The Paradeisos as a Reworking of Apophthegmata Patrum”, The Medieval Mediterranean 125 (2020), pp.202-223). Aside from the selected translations by Demoen, I’m not aware of any translations of this work. Björn Isebaert’s 2004 dissertation (De Παράδεισος van Ioannes Kuriotes Geometres (?): Kritische tekst met inleiding en commentaar) includes a new critical edition, but remains unpublished. According to Demoen (2020): “A co-authored monograph (Demoen – Isebaert) on the Paradeisos, including a revised and updated version of this critical text, is currently under preparation. Our new critical text will deviate from the previous ones in about 90 of the 99 poems, often crucially.”

  8. 98r-102v (hand 4)

    Eighteen poems attributed to John Geometres. These were edited, translated into French, and published by Emilie Marlène van Opstall as “Jean Géomètre: Poèmes en hexamètres et en distiques élégiaques. Editions, traduction, commentaire”, The Medieval Mediterranean 75 (2008). The eighteen poems in the present MS are poems 53-65, 67, 68, 72, 75, 76, and 81 in Opstall’s enumeration.

  9. 102r-106v (hand 4)

    Seven anonymous poems, edited and translated by Nikos Zagklas in “Astrology, piety and poverty: seven anonymous poems in Vaticanus gr. 743”, Byzantinische Zeitschrift, vol. 109, no. 2 (2016), pp. 895-918.

For more in-depth discussions of the codicology of this manuscript, see Devreesse, Tziatzi-Papagianni, and van Opstall. Although I appreciate Chadwick’s exhortation against “polemical footnotes criticising scholars of the greatest learning”, there are certain facts which need to be corrected, because they are constantly misstated. Many sources date Vat. Gr. 743 to the 16th (or sometimes 15th) century, but on palaeographical and textual grounds the manuscript was almost certainly made in 14th century Cyprus (see Tziatzi-Papagianni and van Opstall). This error in dating has unfortunately, in some cases, led to this manuscript being neglected for the importance of the text it contains. For example, Chadwick accepts a 16th century date, and seemingly neglects to use this manuscript for his edition of the text preserved at 3v-6r as a result.

The material at 1r-3v and 46v-52v represents a gnomological tradition with a confusing transmission history, which is reconstructed in considerable depth by Elter as the Gnomica homoeomata tradition, where Elter uses Vat. Gr. 743 for both his D (= 1r-3v) and P (= 46v-52v) manuscript sigla. A full comparison is available in the Concordances.

Sternbach also edited Appendix Vaticana I & II, two Gnom. Vat.-related gnomologia from Vat. Gr. 1144 (14thC, ff. 215v-225v and 228r-232r respectively). Appendix Vaticana I shares 51 of its 371 entries with Gnom. Vat. (all within the first 120 entries of App.Vat. I), while Appendix Vaticana II overlaps with Gnom. Vat. in 109 out of its 147 entries. For a full comparison see the Concordances.

As a further note, you may also come across references to the “Gnomologium Vaticanum Epicureum” (also in TLG)—this text is not represented in Vat. Gr. 743, but in another 14th century Vatican manuscript, Vaticanus Graecus 1950, under the heading “Ἐπικούρου Προσφώνησις” / “Epicurus’ Declarations”.

Gnomological context

As you can see, it’s nearly impossible to define much of this gnomological material in any way that stands completely on its own. The so-called Gnomologium Vaticanum edited for us by Sternbach aims mainly to reproduce the text of Vat. Gr. 743, not to collate it comprehensively against other witnesses to try to reconstruct an earlier original text. For example, the Gnom. Vat. is closely related to a text published from codex Vindobonesis theologicus 149 in 1882 by Curt Wachsmuth as Die Wiener Apophthegmen-Sammlung (= WA), and both of these texts likely represent two different recensions of an earlier alphabetical collection of sayings, a tradition given the title Apophthegmata et Gnomae Secundum Alphabetum (= AGSA) by Searby et al. after the title present in the manuscript of WA (“Ἀποφθέγματα καὶ γνῶμαι διαφόρων φιλοσόφων κατὰ στοιχεῖον” / “Apothegms and gnomai of various philosophers according to alphabetical order”).

This broader and earlier AGSA tradition can be said to be preserved in the following witnesses at a minimum:

A more expansive list of potential witnesses is available in AGSA’s “Introduction to the Greek Apophthegmata”, alongside a good overview of terminology and other aspects of the Greek gnomological collections. This tradition is also studied in-depth in Oliver Overwien’s Die Sprüche des Kynikers Diogenes in der griechischen und arabischen Überlieferung (2005).

The latest identifiable person included in the AGSA tradition is Cicero, giving us an earliest possible date of composition in the 1st century BCE. Knowing that parts of this AGSA tradition were incorporated into the 9th/10th century Corpous Parisinum allows us to establish that as the latest possible date of composition. The core of the collection must be dated closer to the beginning of this range, as it seems to be used by Plutarch (1st century CE), Diogenes Laërtius (3rd century CE), and Stobaeus (5th century CE).