Raymond Van Dam

title.none: White, ed., Gregory of Nazianzus: Autobiographical Poems (Van Dam)

identifier.other: baj9928.9805.009 98.05.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Raymond Van Dam, University of Michigan,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: White, Carolinne, ed.,. Gregory of Nazianzus, Autobiographical Poems. Cambridge Medieval Classics, Vol. 6. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xxix, 183. $54.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-47281-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.05.09

White, Carolinne, ed.,. Gregory of Nazianzus, Autobiographical Poems. Cambridge Medieval Classics, Vol. 6. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xxix, 183. $54.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-47281-4.

Reviewed by:

Raymond Van Dam
University of Michigan

Gregory of Nazianzus owned several books by classical authors. He once tried to cheer up an ill friend by sending him a volume of the orations of Demosthenes, and as a souvenir of their friendship he sent another of his correspondents a volume of the letters of Aristotle. Gregory had no doubt himself read and studied these particular books of orations and letters very closely. He earned his distinguished reputation as "The Theologian" primarily on the basis of the brilliant sermons that he delivered during his brief tenure as leader and then bishop of the orthodox congregation at Constantinople, and late in his life he compiled a collection of exemplary letters, including some of his own, to illustrate the concision, clarity, and charm that were vital characteristics of epistolary style. Modern scholars too have concentrated on Gregory as an orator and a letter writer by producing studies, commentaries, and new editions of his orations and letters. Paul Gallay published two superb editions of Gregory's many letters to his friends during the 1960s, one in the Bude series with notes and a fine French translation, the other in the series GCS (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte). With the collaboration of M. Jourjon, Gallay then published an edition and French translation of Gregory's long theological letters in the series Sources Chretiennes. Sources Chretiennes is also now close to finishing an outstanding multi-volume edition with commentaries and French translations of all of Gregory's orations, to which various scholars, in particular Jean Bernardi, Justin Mossay, and Gallay again, contributed as editors and translators.

After his departure from Constantinople in 381 and his return to his homeland of Cappadocia Gregory seems to have virtually ceased delivering public orations. The most notable exception was of course the long oration in which he commemorated an anniversary of the death of his former friend Basil of Caesarea. Instead, even though he remained on his family's estate and for a year served as bishop at his father's old see of Nazianzus, he sometimes adopted vows of silence. Gregory the public orator had again become a recluse and a contemplative, distrustful of his own verbal skills: "when I saw the force of hasty speech, ÊI found the perfect remedy: I kept everything in my heart. ^My tongue has learned complete silence and will learn to speak appropriately" (Carm. II.1.34.123-128). Although he of course continued to write letters, his primary form of theological and personal expression now was his poetry, as if somehow the demands of "presenting some of my struggles within meters" (Carm. II.1.39.24) reinforced the discipline he was trying to impose on his life and speech. Gregory had been composing poems throughout his life, and the corpus of his extant verses includes at least 166 poems, and perhaps as many as 175 poems. Modern editions have sorted and numbered these poems into four categories, poems on theology (I.1), poems on moral values and lifestyles (I.2), poems about Gregory himself (II.1), and poems addressed to (or in the name of) other men (II.2). These poems vary widely in length and subject matter, from short ditties of only a few lines about Jesus Christ or the devil to a series of long autobiographical meditations on his own life. All these poems together are the approximate equivalent in length of one of the Homeric epics. In addition, Gregory composed well over 100 short epitaphs and almost 100 epigrams.

These poems indicate that Gregory was familiar with the vocabulary, dialects, and meters of classical Greek poets and that his library included volumes of their poems. Yet, just as in his attempt to comfort his ill friend he had had to admit that he was unable to find his copy of the Iliad, in a similar fashion modern scholars too have often lost sight of Gregory's skill as a poet. In contrast to the availability of the excellent recent editions of his orations and letters, the only complete edition of Gregory's poems is still that in Patrologia Graeca 37-38, published in the mid-nineteenth century and itself a reprint of the edition that the Benedictine monks known as the Maurists had completed in the eighteenth century. Newer critical editions and translations are still rare. Many (but certainly not all) of Gregory's epitaphs and epigrams eventually were collected as the eighth book of the Greek Anthology, of which there are better and more accessible editions and translations, such as those by W. R. Paton in the Loeb series and by P. Waltz in the Bude series. But of Gregory's other poems only a few have been edited or translated in recent times. These newer contributions include an edition and English translation by C. Moreschini and D. A. Sykes of the eight so-called "Poemata Arcana" ( Carm. I.1.1-5, 7-9); an English translation of twenty poems by J. McGuckin; editions and German translations of individual poems by H. M. Werhahn (Carm. I.2.8), R. Palla and M. Kertsch (Carm. I.2.9), M. Oberhaus ( Carm. I.2.25), U. Beuckmann (Carm. I.2.28), A. Knecht (Carm. I.2.29), and B. Meier ( Carm. II.1.12); an edition and German translation by C. Jungck of Gregory's longest meditation on his life, Carm. II.1.11; and an English translation by D. M. Meehan of Gregory's three most important poems about his career ( Carm. II.1.1, 11, 12).

Another recent contribution is now Carolinne White's volume that includes a translation of some of Gregory's autobiographical poems and a facing Greek text. As welcome as it is to have translations and accessible texts of more of Gregory's poems, this book represents something of a missed opportunity. White includes only five poems. One is Carm. II.1.11, Gregory's lengthy reflection on his own life that he composed within a year of his return to Cappadocia after his tenure at Constantinople. Gregory had an affinity, almost an obsession, with meditating upon and rewriting his earlier life, and he had already composed other extensive poems about his life and career, one a decade earlier before he was compelled to become bishop of Sasima in 372 (Carm. II.1.1), another immediately after his disastrous experiences with other bishops at the Council of Constantinople (Carm. II.1.12). In Carm. II.1.11 Gregory now recast his life as an epic of misfortunes, calamities, and slanders that happily enough ended with his homecoming in God's presence: "I shall stand with the angels." At 1949 lines this was by far Gregory's longest poem, the equivalent in length of about three books in the Iliad. White's translation is readable and accurate, and she includes a reprint of Jungck's Greek text (with a few changes, but without his critical apparatus); but the oddity is that as a result almost four- fifths of her book consists of a reprinted text and a translation of one of the few of Gregory's poems that has already been well translated into English and other modern languages. Jungck added to his edition and translation an excellent introduction and extensive commentary, and Meehan combined his translation of this poem with translations of Gregory's other two long poems about his life and career. But because White's own introduction is somewhat cursory and her few notes are brief, her book provides little sense of the larger historical context or of Gregory's own emotional struggles and rhetorical misgivings, and by presenting this autobiographical poem in such unnatural isolation, her book furthermore glosses over the difficulties Gregory had in interpreting his own past.

For the other, much shorter, four poems White reprints the Greek text from PG 37 and provides the first translation into English. In one, Carm. II.1.39, Gregory justified his composition of poetry and, as usual, drifted into some maudlin sentiments about himself in his old age, "an elderly swan." In another poem, Carm. II.1.19, Gregory revealed a less attractive side of his personality as he again complained about the calamities of his life. Another poem, Carm. II.1.34, is a laudation of restraint and silence. The final poem that White includes in her book, Carm. II.1.92, is a short epitaph about Gregory's life. This was, however, not necessarily the epitaph that was eventually carved on the marker for Gregory's grave, nor indeed was it his only or even his final epitaph, since the collection of his poems also included nine other epitaphs about his life (Carm. II.1.90-91, 93-99). The inclusion of only one of these epitaphs in this book is regrettable, since it again disguises Gregory's predilection to rewrite his past. Not only did he compose several long versions of his autobiography, but he could not settle upon a final pithy version either.

Gregory's poems hence deserve their own small renaissance among both literary scholars and historians. In particular, a complete edition, translation, and discussion of all of his poems would be much more helpful than more selections, especially when the selections do not provide much contextual analysis or simply overlap with previous work. Now that Sources Chretiennes is finishing its editions and translations of Gregory's orations, perhaps it will undertake a new edition of Gregory's poems.