This biography of Severus, the patriarch of Antioch from 512-518 CE, attributed to his schoolmate Zachariah of Mytilene, gives unique information about life in Mediterranean region in the second half of the 5th century. These two young men from wealthy families became involved with a Christian movement, the "philoponoi," "those devoted to work" who combined asceticism with theological study. The work, originally in Greek, survives only in Syriac, which this volume presents alongside the first English translation of it. It is an important source for studies on Ancient Biography, Late Antiquity, and Early Christianity.
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This biography of Severus, the patriarch of Antioch 512–518 AD, gives unique information about life in Mediterranean region at the end of the 5th century. It is an important source for studies on Late Antiquity and the early History of Christianity.
The biography is attributed to Zachariah of Mytilene, and focuses on the earlier days of Severus’ life and his time of study in Alexandria and Beirut. Zachariah and Severus, both from influential and wealthy families, studied grammar and rhetoric together in Alexandria, after which they moved to Beirut to study law. As students they became involved with the so-called philoponoi, “those devoted to work”, young Christians whose ideal was an ascetic lifestyle in combination with theological study. Their rhetorical skills were used to argue against the pagan values of the establishment, and some left all family obligations to go and live as monks in the desert.
Zachariah writes the biography in order to free Severus from accusations of taking part in pagan rites in his youth, and he does so by arguing that Severus was a devoted Christian already in his childhood, but that social circumstances – he was trying to make a career in a pagan society – forced him to fight paganism by discretely supporting his friends rather than by taking active part in violent manifestations such as the destruction of pagan books.
In spite of the wealth of information that this text conveys, Zachariah’s Life of Severus has not been available in English translation until now.
Lena Ambjörn is Associate Professor of Semitic Languages at Lund University, Sweden. She specializes in Medieval Medicine as documented in Syriac and Arabic sources, and has, among other things, published critical editions of Arabic medical texts from the 9th century.