Noteworthy Blog: “Classical Ethiopic”

April 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ge'ez GenesisThe treatises of Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat are written in Ge’ez (ግዕዝ, aka Classical Ethiopic), a semitic language which occupies a role in Ethiopia analogous to that of Latin in Europe—it’s a liturgical and literary language that hasn’t been spoken popularly for quite a while. It’s related to, and shares a syllabary with, Amharic and Tigrinya.

Anyway, I just discovered this blog by a linguistics (?) grad student which is devoted to learning Ge’ez. I hope to make some use of it myself.

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A related find: the complete text of An Introduction to Ethiopic Christian Literature by J. M. Harden. It includes a discussion of our philosophers. Of Zera Yacob:

The Enquiry is throughout an appeal to reason. He is a master of the Scriptures and quotes them freely, but receives them only when they satisfy his conscience, or his understanding, as he calls it. He even works out for himself an a priori proof for the existence of God. He is quite impartial in his criticisms and his censure. Judaism, Christianity and Mahometanism all alike come under them when they teach things contrary to his understanding.

And his summation:

As the necessarily incomplete account that has here been given of these two works scarcely gives an idea of their originality, it may be well to add something as to the impression which the study of them made on their editor [Enno Littmann]. Of the first of them he says, while bewailing the want of originality in Ethiopic Literature in general; ‘A man like Zar’a Yâ’qob gave utterance at the time of the Thirty Years’ war to thoughts which first became current in Europe at the time of Rationalism in literature.’ Again, in words already referred to, he describes them both as ‘two religious philosophical works which stand apart as the most original writings in Ethiopic Literature, and which are a real contribution to the history of human thought.’

Incidentally, Littmann’s edition of the Ge’ez text, along with a Latin translation, is available online.

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