Anṭun of Tagrit (9th cent.?) [Syr. Orth.]

Author of uncertain date, designated ‘rhetor’ and ‘philoponos’, according to a ms. colophon from the family of Gurgin (d-beth Gurgin), and a monk. Nothing is known of him apart from his works and a brief report in the Ecclesiastical History of Bar ʿEbroyo to the effect that he lived at the time of the patriarch Dionysios of Tel Maḥre (active in 825), a view which Bar ʿEbroyo declares to be generally accepted by his contemporary teachers and elders. Bar ʿEbroyo supports this by identifying an unnamed student of Greek poetry in Anṭun’s ‘Rhetoric’ with Dionysios’s brother Theodosios of Edessa, translator of the poems of Gregory of Nazianzus. The 9th-cent. dating of Anṭun has thus not gone uncontested. Mention of his works by later authors first appears in Yaʿqub bar Shakko and Bar ʿEbroyo.

Two mss. in London (Brit. Libr. Add. 17,208 + Dayr al-Suryān 32 and Brit. Libr. Add. 14,726) contain all his known shorter writings and fragments of his major work, a treatise on rhetoric. The shorter writings comprise a substantial work ‘On Divine Providence’, notable not least for its knowledge of medicine, a treatise ‘On the Myron’, in its prologue largely identical with that by Mushe bar Kipho and probably dependent upon Pseudo-Dionysius, eight poems (five in letter form), and four liturgical hymns.

His most significant work is his treatise on rhetoric, in five books. Apart from the London fragments, the older mss. have perished or are now in a location difficult to access, but some copies were made from the late 19th cent. and have survived. These copies preserve the text in full, with the exception of the final part of the fifth book. The treatise is unique in Syriac literature, with the exception of its partial reproduction and paraphrasing in the ‘Book of Dialogues’ of Yaʿqub bar Shakko. It was greatly admired by Bar ʿEbroyo, who cited it frequently in his ‘Book of Splendors’ and prefaced it to the ‘Organon’ of Aristotle in the curriculum of ‘external’ (i.e., secular) works he wished to see studied in the schools.

The main importance of the work lies in the evidence it provides of a rhetorical tradition in Syriac which has clear points of contact with the Greek (see Rhetoric). It is most unlikely that Anṭun knew Greek, but he mentions having had a teacher in the reading of Homer, and much of the treatise can only be understood on the supposition that a considerable amount of Greek rhetorical theory had been incorporated into Syriac teaching. The work is also remarkable for the range of authors cited in it as rhetorical examples. For Anṭun, as for Greek Christian rhetors, Gregory of Nazianzus was the supreme model of eloquence, but Anṭun was proud of his Syriac heritage, and in his eyes Gregory shared this position with Ephrem, whose poetry also belonged to the sphere of rhetoric. In addition to many Greek and Syriac Christian authors, several pagan writers are cited, including Homer, Plutarch, Heliodorus, and an unknown Evodius and (Aramean) Wapha. Anṭun also exhibits knowledge of the Platonic political-philosophical concept of the philosopher-king, a concept which was also important in the thought of al-Fārābī, the great Muslim philosopher who studied with Syro-Arabic Christian Aristotelian philosophers in Baghdad in the 10th cent.


  • Antony Rhitor of Tagrit, The Book of the Rhetoric (2000). (Syriac text published by Författares Bokmaskin, Stockholm)
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘Dialogue and other sugyotho’, in Mélanges offerts au Prof. P. Louis Hage, ed. P. A. Chahwan (Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik, Faculté de musique, Études 9; 2008), 363–84.
  • A.  Corcella, ‘Due citazioni dalle Etiopiche di Eliodoro nella Retorica di Antonio di Tagrit’, OCP 74 (2008), 389–416.
  • H. J. W.  Drijvers, ‘Antony of Tagrit’s book on the good providence of God’, in SymSyr V, 163–72.
  • P. E.  Eskenasy, Antony of Tagrit’s Rhetoric Book One: introduction, partial translation, and commentary (Ph. D. Diss., Harvard University; 1991). (review by E. Riad, in OrSuec 41–42 [1992–93], 309–14)
  • Paul de Lagarde und die syrische Kirchengeschichte , ed. Göttinger Arbeitskreis für syrische Kirchengeschichte (1968). (with relevant contributions by P. Bäss, J. Bendrat, E. Lanz, R. Messling, H. Raguse, and W. Strothmann)
  • J. W.  Watt, The fifth Book of the Rhetoric of Antony of Tagrit (CSCO 480–81; 1986).
  • J. W.  Watt, ‘Antony of Tagrit on rhetorical figures’, in SymSyr IV, 317–25.
  • J. W.  Watt, ‘Syriac panegyric in theory and practice’, LM 102 (1989), 271–98.
  • J. W.  Watt, ‘Syriac rhetorical theory and the Syriac version of Aristotle’s Rhetoric’, in Peripatetic Rhetoric after Aristotle, ed. W. W. Fortenbaugh and D. C. Mirhady (Rutgers University Studies in Classical Humanities 6; 1994), 243–60.
  • J. W.  Watt, ‘The philosopher-king in the Rhetoric of Antony of Tagrit’, in SymSyr VI, 245–58.
  • J. W.  Watt, ‘The recovery of an old text: scribes, scholars, collectors and the Rhetoric of Antony of Tagrit’, Harp 16 (2003), 285–95.
  • J. W.  Watt, ‘Guarding the Syriac language in an Arabic environment: Antony of Tagrit on the uses of grammar in rhetoric’, in Syriac polemics: studies in honour of G. J. Reinink, ed. W. J. van Bekkum et al. (OLA 170; 2007), 133–50.

How to Cite This Entry

John W. Watt, “Anṭun of Tagrit,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

John W. Watt, “Anṭun of Tagrit,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Watt, John W. “Anṭun of Tagrit.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018.

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