“Translating the Father of translation. Linguistic and Cultural Transfers in Byzantium” (TRANSFA)

Marie Curie IF Horizon 2020

Greek hagiographical texts translated from Latin help to better understand contacts between West and East during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, reversing the traditional perspective represented by the basic flow of translations made from Greek into Latin.

The project aims to contribute to a better understanding of this process through the examination of the dossier of the Greek versions of the Vita Sancti Hilarionis (hereinafter VH) (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, hereinafter BHL 3879). This Latin hagiographical text was composed by Saint Jerome, considered as the “Father of Translation”, at the end of the 4th century, in Bethlehem. Born around 291, the monk Hilarion is known as the founder of Gazan monasticism. At the age of fifteen, Hilarion settled in a small cell, situated seven miles from Gaza’s anchorage, where he later founded his monastery. Due to a premonition of the imminent destruction of his monastery by the emperor Julian, Hilarion left Palestine. He withdrew to Sicily, later to Dalmatia, and finally to Cyprus, where he died in 371. Although the importance of the VH as a major source for the development of Gazan monasticism has often been stressed, very little critical attention has been devoted to its translations into Greek.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Saint Jérôme dans son étude


The Greek dossier of the VH constitutes an extremely rare case of hagiographical translations from Latin into Greek, a phenomenon not as well documented as the opposite flow of translations, from Greek into Latin, as it includes different Greek translations. At least one Greek translation circulated during the years following the original composition of the VH in Latin: Jerome is referring to the VH as one of his writings that has been translated into Greek[1]. In 1888, Athanasios Papadopoulos-Kerameus[2] edited a Greek translation of the VH, on the basis of a single manuscript (Sabaïticus 27, 10th c.). The work of Ruth Strout (1943)[3] remains up to now the most complete study of the Greek dossier of the VH: having access to a larger number of manuscripts transmitting Greek translations of the VH, she was able to notice that the text transmitted by the Sabaïticus and edited by Papadopoulos-Kerameus was actually a “hybrid”, representing two different Greek translations. The first five chapters correspond to the Life Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca (hereinafter BHG 752), a faithful translation of the Latin original, and the remaining text belongs to the Life BHG 753, a free translation. Strout also identified a third Greek translation of the VH, the “Samos translation” (Life BHG 751z). Modern scholars have often failed to distinguish between these different Greek versions of the VH and the dossier has been in disarray for a long time[4].

[1] Jerome, De viris illustribus, 134 (ed. Ceresa-Gastaldo, 1988).

[2] A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus (1963), “Βίος τοῦ ὁσίου πατρὸς ἡμῶν Ἱλαρίωνος”, Ἀνάλεκτα Ἱεροσολυμιτικῆς Σταχυολογίας 5.

[3] R. Strout (1943), “The Greek versions of Jerome’s Vita Sancti Hilarionis”, in W.A. Oldfather, ed., Studies in the text tradition of St. Jerome’s Vitae Patrum, Urbana.

[4] For example, E. Fischer (1982), “Greek Translations of Latin Literature in the Fourth Century A.D.”, Yale Classical Studies 27.

Saint Hilarion, monastère de Hosios Loukas


The TRANSFA project will therefore pursue three objectives:

  • 1. The first critical edition of a mostly unknown Greek translation of the VH (Life BHG 752)
  • 2. The “Samos translation” (Life BHG 751z) of the VH revisited
  • 3. An interdisciplinary history of cultural exchanges between Byzantium and the West

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement no 892782.

It takes place in the National Hellenic Research Foundation (EIE, Athens), in collaboration with the Bollandist Society (Brussels).