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Rare Books and Manuscripts : Life of Barlaam and Joasaph

Euthymios Hagioreites (d. 1028)

Rare Books and Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript, probably dating to the 12th century, contains the <i>Life of Barlaam and Joasaph</i> (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, in the late 10th or early 11th century by 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;'>This manuscript is extensively illustrated with narrative scenes illustrating the text. It is one of six copies of this text to receive such embellishment, from a total of 160. The illustrations appear on 90 pages, depicting 134 different scenes. The vast majority of the illustrations are simply drawings in ink. However, a handful of them, found in a continuous run in the latter part of the manuscript (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(290);return false;'>ff. 141v-148v</a>), have been completed with paint. The last of these has only been partially painted, revealing the artist breaking off work in the course of the task and never returning to it (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(304);return false;'>f. 148v</a>). It is unclear whether or not the illustrations, which are fitted into the normal margins rather than having had space specially set aside for them, were part of the original plan for the manuscript or a later addition. The latter is quite possible, as they appear to be derived from the illustrations of a manuscript which was not the source for the text. It is also uncertain why the quickly abandoned effort at painting the illustrations was begun in the midst of the manuscript.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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