Qustantin Ibn Abi Al-Ma‘Ali Ibn Abi Al-Fath Abu Al-Fath

QUSTANTIN IBN ABI AL-MA‘ALI IBN ABI AL-FATH ABU AL-FATH

A fourteenth-century of Cairo who belonged to a family of important state officials. Qustantn must have been born around 1270, as his son was already a bishop in 1358. He knew Greek extremely well and had a fine Arabic style. He composed at least two works, both liturgical. Near the end of his life he withdrew to the Monastery of Saint on Mount Sinai. This summary of information about him derives from an autograph manuscript dated 1335 (Sinai Arabic 264, containing 206 sheets, not yet published or studied).

The first of his works, Kitab al-Hadi fi Ma‘rifat al-Samadi, appears not to have survived, though it is mentioned by the author in the second of his Typikon (fol. 204b), which shows that it was composed prior to 1355. Speaking of John of Damascus he says, “For, during the vizierate of his father, at the time of the King Heraclius, Damascus was taken from the Greeks in the year 6148 of the world. Now this saint succeeded his father as vizier, as I explained in the book I composed and entitled, Al-Hadi fi Ma‘rifat al-Samadi in the chapter of the cheironomia.”

The last word of the title poses a problem, since the meaning of the word al-samadi is not clear. For that reason, A. S. Atiya and J. N. Youssef (p. 492) read it al-samawi, the heavenly. They have been followed by J. Nasrallah (1981, p. 150). But there is no doubt that it must be read al-samadi, for two reasons: first, because of the very clear handwriting of the autograph; and second because of the rhyme with al-Hadi, which is an essential element in old Arabic titles.

Qustantin agreed to translate the Typikon of Saint Sabas into Arabic at the request of one who “loved virtue.” The Typikon is the manual giving dispositions for all the liturgical ceremonies, especially the recitation of the divine office; the Typikon of Saint Sabas was used in the Arabic East, and was composed by Saint John of Damascus.

Qustantin completed his translation on Tuesday, 5 December 6844 of the world/5 December A.D. 1355 (fol. 203a).

The Greek manuscript that served as a basis for Qustantin’s translation was copied by Hesychius, monk of Saint Sabas. He completed his copy on Monday, 20 April 1187. On two occasions (fols. 197a and 204b), Qustantin states that this manuscript may have been copied from the original copy of John of Damascus.

This Greek manuscript bore an act of bequest in favor of the monastery of Saint Sabas. Nevertheless, in 1355, it was in Cairo, in the Greek quarter (HARIT AL-RUM), in the Church of the Forty Martyrs (fol. 204b). It was there that Qustantin translated it.

Shortly afterward, Qustantin donated his translation to his own son, Marqus, the bishop of Damietta, for his use during his lifetime, on condition that it should subsequently be bequeathed to the Monastery of Saint on Mount Sinai. The act of donation is dated Wednesday, 28 February 1358. It is remarkable that Marqus wrote the date in Coptic cursive figures. The manuscript found its way to Sinai shortly afterward, as is indicated in a note written by the bishop of Sinai, who was also called Marqus and who was probably the same one mentioned in the Sinai Arabic 90. It should be noted that the bishop of Damietta speaks of his father as “the lord [my] father,” which suggests a man who was highly respected socially.

After this date, Qustantin entered the Monastery of Saint Catherine, as his wife had died and his children were already independent. He wore the monastic habit and took the name Antuniyus, as is indicated in a later note added in the margin of the colophon (fol. 203b).

The manuscript contains 206 sheets, but 205-206, which were blank, were filled by two different hands that can be dated as the end of the fourteenth century, probably on Mount Sinai. The other folios contain the following:

  • Fols. 1b-2b: translator’s preface in fine rhymed prose
  • Fols. 2b-6b: translation of the Agrypniai, or night vigils preceding solemn feasts
  • Fols. 6b-21a: translation of the Ordo of Matins
  • Fols. 21a-135a: translation of the ordinary of the whole year, from September to August
  • Fols. 135b-97a: translation of the periods of Lent, Easter, and
  • Fols. 197b-99a: translator’s note explaining that this is the office of monks, and indicating how this office should be adapted for lay people
  • Fols. 199a-203a: Six translator’s notes on certain feasts, namely the Exaltation of the Cross, the Vigil of Christmas, the Vigil of the Epiphany, the Lent of the Apostles, Holy Week, and the Washing of Feet
  • Fols. 203a-203b: first
  • Fols. 203b-204a: two notes concerning the eleven days on which the Liturgy of Saint Basil is celebrated, and Dissidents’ Week
  • Fol. 204b: second colophon.

The sections composed by Qustantin are written in an elevated style, in fine rhymed prose. Occasionally the author has employed terms so rare that readers have added in the margin.

Apart from the autograph manuscript, another manuscript exists (Mar Elias Shuwayya, 30). This was copied by the deacon Saba ibn Tadurus al-Hawrani at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist at Duma (Lebanon) between 4 June 1594 and 16 March 1595.

However, Qustantin’s name has been omitted, and this caused Nasrallah to think that the translation was the work of the deacon Saba. He has recently corrected this error (Nasrallah, 1981, p. 149, n. 195).

What is more, in the preface the copyist added an interpolation to the effect that Patriarch the Sinaite had translated the Agrypniai into Arabic. Since he speaks of the “deceased patriarch,” Nasrallah deduced that the Sinaite, who became patriarch of Alexandria, died before 1355, the date of composition of the preface (Nasrallah, 1981, p. 149). The truth of the matter is that the two lines on Patriarch Gregory are an addition on the part of Saba ibn Tadurus; moreover, they interrupt the sentence and spoil the rhyme. Thus Gregory died before 1594 and not before 1355.

According to Nasrallah (1963, p. 167), the end is missing in this manuscript. It lacks the translation of the periods of Easter and and the and notes composed by Qustantin.

  • Arranz, M., S.J. Le Typicon du Monastère du Saint-Sauveur à Messine, texte grec et traduction française. Analecta 185, p. 446. Rome, 1969.
  • Atiya, A. S., and J. N. Youssef. Raisonné of the Mount Sinai Arabic Manuscripts (in Arabic), pp. 490-92. Alexandria, 1970.
  • Nasrallah, J. des manuscrits du Liban, Vol. 3, pp. 165-67. Beirut, 1963.
  • . Histoire du mouvement littéraire dans l’église du Ve au XXe siècle, Vol. 3, pt. 2, pp. 148-50. Louvain and Paris, 1981.

KHALIL SAMIR, S.J