For Lent this year, I am translating the Apophthegmata Patrum, the Sayings of the Fathers, the alphabetical series, best known these days through Sr Benedicta Ward’s excellent translation in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
The text I’m using is the same base text that she used, that of Migne PG 65:71-440, as found in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG catalog no. 2742-001), both of which come from manuscript Paris Gr.1599. Sr Benedicta’s translator notes in the beginning of her volume mention that she also utilized P. Guy’s Recherches sur la Tradition Greque des Apophthegmata Patrum, which corrects and supplements the manuscript in several places. I don’t intend to include the extra sayings in Guy unless it turns out that such are numerous, and/or the text hideously corrupt.
I will make no excuses for mistakes, and would rather appreciate to have them called to my attention when they occur. I am going to try to be a bit more paraphrastic in this translation than I was in my rather literal translations of Jerome’s Prologues to the Vulgate, not least because I do want to finish the entire work during Lent, and so intend not to spend days agonizing over how best to render a particular phrase literally (oh yes, reader, indeed I did!). For this reason, I won’t be as focused on maintaining a vocabulary equivalence. You will see, for instance, the extremely common ασκησις and related words rendered in a variety of ways,
depending on the context: “ascetic struggle,” “ascetic feat,” “struggle,” and so on. I trust it will make good reading. I’ll use the numbers of the various sayings included in the text, rather than the Migne and TLG column and line numbers. This will make it easier for readers to compare my translation to Sr Benedicta’s. Hopefully all will be edified in the process.
I dearly love the translation by Sr Benedicta Ward of the Apophthegmata Patrum alphabetical series. I’ve gained much from it. This is as much a tribute to her work, an imitation in gratitude if not flattery, as an educational experience and a kind of ascetic endeavor on my own part. As I fast, I feast. As I translate, I expect to learn these sayings better than I ever have before, and to enjoy a taste of the desert. For those who are sympathetic, I crave your prayers.
So, we begin with the prologue.
In this book is written an account of the virtuous ascetic struggle, amazing life, and sayings of the holy and blessed Fathers, for the emulation and instruction and imitation of those wishing to establish a heavenly citizenship, and those wanting to progress in travelling the Way to the Kingdom of Heaven. You must know that the holy Fathers, who were zealous followers and instructors of the blessed life of the monks, entirely aflame with divine and heavenly love, counting as nothing all that among men is beautiful and valued, endeavoured to do nothing at all for display, but escaping notice, and keeping most of their virtuous deeds hidden through their great humility, thus travelled along the Way toward God. Thus no one has been able to outline exactly for us this virtuous life, for those who have done the most work concerning these have handed down in writing only a few of some of their virtuous words and deeds, not so as to gain favour for them, but they were eager to stir up those in the future to eager imitation. Thus many at various times have set forth these sayings and virtuous deeds of the holy elders in the form of tales, in a simple and unadorned style, for in this they saw only to help many.
(to be continued)