Menander, Syriac sentences of

A collection of Syriac sentences attributed to ‘Menander the Wise’, probably the Greek comedian (d. 292/1 BC) under whose name circulated Greek monostichs (ed. Jaekel), many of which were not original to Menander. The Syriac sentences are preserved in the 7th-cent. ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,658 (ed. Land; corrections by Wright) which contains also various philosophical treatises and gnomologia (cf. Wright, Catalogue … British Museum, vol. 3, 1154–60). An epitome of the collection exists in London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,614 (ed. Sachau).

Scholars have differently divided the collection into individual sayings, ranging in number from 96 (Audet) to 153 (Baumstark; Schulthess has 101, Riessler 103). More recently, the sayings have been cited according to line number (Baarda counts 474 lines). The literary form of the sentences varies: there are indicative and imperative maxims as well as longer sections of moral advice. Noteworthy is the dialogue scene between Homer and his friends (ed. Land, 66.8–15; tr. Baarda, lines 78–93).

The Syriac sentences of Menander are addressed to a well-situated man of the upper class of society. They contain practical advice on how to live a happy, prosperous, and peaceful life, addressing themes such as the fear of God, respect for parents and elders, raising of children, choice of a wife, moderate consumption of food and drink, treatment of servants, warnings not to commit adultery, proper behavior as a guest, and friendship. The thematic structure of the Syriac Menander is loose; Kirk has argued that the collection is organized along the major stages of a life, from birth through adulthood and old age to death.

The Syriac text probably is a translation from the Greek (Land; Baumstark, 473f.; Schulthess, 201; Küchler, 316; Baarda, 584), the original of which is no longer extant. Frankenberg’s thesis of a Hebrew original has been widely rejected.

The question of the author’s cultural context is still being debated: the Syriac Menander bears resemblances both to Jewish wisdom literature (especially Proverbs, Jesus Sirach, Aḥiqar, Pseudo-Phocylides) and to Greek wisdom traditions (some Syriac sentences have a parallel in the Greek monostichs); the Syriac collection thus is part of an ‘international wisdom tradition’ (Schulthess, 201). Several earlier scholars stressed the Greek affinities (Renan, Land, Baumstark, Schulthess), whereas others argued for a Jewish authorship (Frankenberg, Riessler, Kirk). Problematic for a Jewish authorship remains a passage which warns against table fellowship with (pagan) priests (Land, 69,17–24; tr. Baarda, lines 262–77), implying a polytheistic background of the author. The text’s classification as a Jewish pseudepigraphon has been challenged (Schmid and Stählin, 623; Schürer, 693), but has recently been upheld by Baarda and Kirk. Audet argued for an Egyptian provenance; his thesis was followed by Küchler, but rejected by Baarda.

Concerning the date of composition, there is a consensus that the sentences date to the Roman period. An allusion to the law that a master may not kill his slave (Land, 67,21f.; tr. Baarda, line 159), first stipulated by Hadrian, suggests a date after the middle of the 1st cent. A reference to the schools of gladiators (Land, 65,13–15; tr. Baarda lines 34–33) implies as terminus ante quem ca. 400, since after Constantine’s legislation against gladiatorial games in 325 (Cod. Theod. 15.12.1) the schools gradually disappeared (cf. Audet, 77f.). Moreover, a reference to crucifixion as punishment for theft (Land, 70,8; tr. Baarda line 295) suggests a date before Constantine’s prohibition of this form of punishment. Hence most scholars date the collection to the 3rd cent. However, the date of the Syriac translation remains uncertain.

    Primary Sources

    • T.  Baarda, ‘The Sentences of the Syriac Menander (Third Century A.D.): A new translation and introduction’, in The Old Testament Apocrypha, ed. J. H. Charlesworth, vol. 2 (1985), 583–606. (ET)
    • A.  Geiger, in ZDMG 17 (1863), 752–59. (corrections to Land 1862)
    • S.  Jaekel, Menandri sententiae: Comparatio Menandri et Philistionis (1964).
    • J. P. N.  Land, Anecdota syriaca, vol. 1 (1862; repr. 1989), 64–73 (Syr.), 156–164 (LT).
    • J. P. N.  Land, Anecdota syriaca, vol. 2 (1868), 25–6. (corrections to Land 1862)
    • E.  Sachau, Inedita Syriaca. Eine Sammlung syrischer Übersetzungen von Schriften griechischer Profanliteratur (1870), 80–3.
    • F. Schulthess, ‘Die Sprüche des Menander, aus dem Syrischen übersetzt’, ZAW 32 (1912), 199–224. (GT)
    • W.  Wright, ‘Anecdota Syriaca’, Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record, 4th series, 3 (April 1863), 115–30. (corrections to Land 1862)

    Secondary Sources

    • J.-P. Audet, ‘La sagesse de Ménandre l’Égyptien’, RB 59 (1952), 55–81.
    • T. Baarda, ‘Syriac Menander’, in ABD , vol. 6 (1992), 281f.
    • A.  Baumstark, Lucubrationes Syro-Graecae (Jahrbücher für classische Philologie, Supplementband 21; 1894), 473–490.
    • P. Bettiolo, ‘Dei casi della vita, della pietà e del buon nome: Intorno ai “detti” siriaci di Menandro’, in Aspetti di letteratura gnomica nel mondo antico, ed. M. S. Funghi (2003), 83–103.
    • S. P.  Brock, ‘Syriac translations of Greek popular philosophy’, in Von Athen nach Bagdad. Zur Rezeption griechischer Philosophie von der Spätantike bis zum Islam, ed. P.  Bruns (Hereditas 22; 2003), 9–28.
    • W. Frankenberg, ‘Die Schrift des Menander (Land anecd. syr. I, S. 64ff.), ein Produkt der jüdischen Spruchweisheit’, ZAW 15 (1895), 226–77.
    • A. Kirk, ‘The composed life of the Syriac Menander’, Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 26/2 (1997), 169–83.
    • M.  Küchler, Frühjüdische Weisheitstraditionen: Zum Fortgang weisheitlichen Denkens im Bereich des frühjüdischen Jahweglaubens (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 26; 1979), 303–18.
    • E.  Renan, ‘Lettre à M. Reinaud, sur quelques manuscrits syriaques du Musée britannique, contenant des traductions d’auteurs grecs profanes et des traités philosophiques’, JA 4.19 (1852), 293–333.
    • P. Riessler, Altjüdisches Schrifttum ausserhalb der Bibel. Übersetzt und erklärt (1928; repr. 1966), 1047–57, 1328f.
    • W. Schmid and O. Stählin, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur, vol. 2.1 (6th ed. 1920; repr. 1959), 623.
    • E.  Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D. 135), vol. 3/1 (a new English version revised and edited by G. Vermes, F. Millar, and M.  Goodman; 1987), 692–694.
    • Wright, Catalogue … British Museum, vol. 3.
    • N.  Zeegers-Van der Vorst, ‘Une gnomologie d’auteurs grecs en traduction syriaque’, in SymSyr II, 163–77.

How to Cite This Entry

Ute Possekel , “Menander, Syriac sentences of,” 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:

Ute Possekel , “Menander, Syriac sentences of,” 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:

Possekel, Ute. “Menander, Syriac sentences of.” 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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