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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Life of Barlaam and Joasaph

Euthymios Hagioreites (d. 1028)

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This fragment consists of 14 surviving folios of a manuscript, probably dating to the late 11th century or early 12th century, containing the Life of Barlaam and Joasaph (or Josaphat), a Christianised version of the life of the Buddha. He appears as Joasaph, a name ultimately derived from the term Boddhisatva, while Barlaam is his teacher, a character derived from the ascetic who inspired the Buddha's turn to spiritual pursuits. In this text they are credited with reviving Christianity in India, supposed to have reverted to its old religious traditions after conversion to Christianity by St Thomas.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The story of the Buddha had been adopted into the Manichaean tradition, capitalising on the analogous themes of renunciation of material desires found in Buddhism and Manichaeism, and passed thence through Persian and Arabic versions before entering the Georgian Christian tradition. From there it was translated into Greek, with some alterations, between about 955 and 1028. The translator was Euthymios Hagioreites, a Georgian monk who spent much of his life in Constantinople and in the monasteries of the Byzantine holy mountains of Olympos and Athos, eventually becoming abbot of the Georgian Monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos. The title commonly transmitted with the work credited a monk named John with bringing the story from India (here conflated with Ethiopia), and this led to a traditional attribution of the text to the Church Father John of Damascus.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The bulk of the manuscript from which these folios originated became Ioannina, Zosimaia Bibliotheke, MS 1, which is now lost. Another four folios survive as New York, Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Plimpton MS 9. In the 19th century the main body of the manuscript was in the possession of the Durachani Monastery near Ioannina, before being transferred to the library of the Zosimaia Schole in the city in 1846. Since this fragment was probably bought in Ioannina in 1870, as part of the collection purchased there for Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, it was presumably in this area that they became detached from one another, but it is not clear when or how.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript was richly illuminated with narrative miniatures illustrating the events of the text. It is one of six copies of this text to receive such embellishment, from a total of 160. While the miniatures have suffered significant damage from abrasion, the greater part of them survives. They show similarities to another manuscript of the text, Jerusalem, Patriarchike Bibliotheke, MS Timiou Stavrou 42, which suggest that the illustrations of both derived from the same exemplar. However, while the Jerusalem manuscript is believed to have been produced in Constantinople, this one displays features, such as the prominent use of pink and magenta paint in its miniatures, which place it within a large group of illustrated manuscripts of provincial origin typified by what is known as the decorative style. More specifically, its features indicate that it was produced in Cyprus (Kavrus-Hoffman, Catalogue, pp. 194-197; Toumpouri, 'Book production in Cyprus', pp. 315-316).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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