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Syriac literature: Map

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Syriac literature is literature written in the Syriac language, the classical Middle Aramaic language of Syriac Christianity. The majority of classical Syriac literature is of a Christian religious nature.

The earliest Christian literature in Classical Syriac was biblical translation, the Peshitta and the Diatessaron. The 4th century is considered to be the golden age of Syriac literature. The two giants of this period are Aphrahat, writing homilies for the church in Persiamarker, and Ephrem the Syrian, writing hymns, poetry and prose for the church just within the Roman Empire. The next two centuries, which are in many ways a continuation of the golden age, sees important Syriac poets and theologians: Jacob of Serugh, Narsai, Philoxenus of Mabbog, Babai the Great, Isaac of Nineveh and Jacob of Edessa.

The advent and spread of Islam throughout the Middle East generally proved to be good for Syriac culture. The process of hellenization of Syriac, which was prominent in the sixth and seventh centuries, slowed and ceased. Syriac entered a silver age from around the ninth century. The works of this period were more encyclopaedic and scholastic, and include the biblical commentators Ishodad of Merv and Dionysius bar Salibi. Crowning the silver age of Syriac literature is the thirteenth-century polymath Bar-Hebraeus.

The conversion of the Mongols to Islam began a period of retreat and hardship for Syriac culture. However, there has been a continuous stream of Syriac literature from the fourteenth century through to the present day. This has included the flourishing of literature from the various colloquial Neo-Aramaic languages spoken by Christians. This Neo-Syriac literature bears a dual tradition: it continues the traditions of the Syriac literature of the past, and it incorporates a converging stream of the less homogeneous spoken language. The first such flourishing of Neo-Syriac was the seventeenth century literature of the School of Alqoshmarker, in northern Iraqmarker. This literature led to the establishment of Chaldean Neo-Aramaic as a written literary language. In the nineteenth century, printing presses were established in Urmiamarker, in northern Iranmarker. This led to the establishment of the 'General Urmian' dialect of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic as the standard in much Neo-Syriac literature. The comparative ease of modern publishing methods has encouraged other colloquial Neo-Aramaic languages, like Turoyo and Senaya, to begin to produce literature. Composition in the classical Syriac language still continues, especially among members of the Syriac Orthodox Church, where students in the church's monasteries are taught living, spoken Syriac, or .

References

  • W. Wright: A Short History of Syriac Literature, 1894, 1974 (reprint)


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