< Retour

La Roue à livres is an established academic series published by Les Belles Lettres aiming to rediscover some ancient texts provided with a French translation (without the original text) and a short commentary. This book, edited by Aude Cohen-Skalli, offers the reader the first French translation and commentary of the Armenian version of Eusebius’ Chronicle. This work is the result of the collaboration between several scholars: Aude Cohen-Skalli (introduction), Agnès Ouzounian (translation from Armenian and commentary), Sergio Brillante, Sydney Hervé Aufrère et Sébastien Morlet (commentary). It is known that Eusebius’ Chronicle is divided into two parts. The first one gives a summary of universal history from the sources, arranged according to nations and providing an abundance of royal lists. Even if the original Greek text is lost, most of book I is preserved in an Armenian translation (Vth/VIth century) and in Byzantine authors’ citations. On the other hand, book II (better known as Chronological Canons) coordinates events in a tabular format, probably influenced by the columnar arrangement of Origen’s Hexapla, with which Eusebius was familiar. Book II is also known thanks to Jerome’s Latin translation, which ends with the battle of Adrianople in 378.

This volume only focuses on book I, the Chronography. The introduction underlines the importance of this text and its place in Eusebius’ historiographical project. Far from being a mere compilation of sources, this text relates the history of ancient nations before the birth of Christ and is a sort of propaedeutics to the events of Eusebius’ Church History. The Chronography, whose first edition is dated to about 311 according to Cohen-Skalli[1], rejects millenarism and can be conceived as an arrangement of past events for a specific purpose. This work constitutes a renewal of the first forms of Christian chronography, whose main figure was Sextus Iulius Africanus (a. 160‑240 AD). As pointed out in the introduction, Africanus’ Chronography is probably the most important model for Eusebius. However, the Greek historian does not hesitate to use different dating systems according to his own purposes (see p. 31-34). Cohen-Skalli also focuses on the reception of the Chronological Canons: p. 42‑49 offer a rich and up-to-date survey on the importance of this text throughout history.

In their introduction, Ouzounian offers a concise yet thorough history of the scholarship surrounding the Armenian translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle, presenting all five manuscripts of the Armenian translation, including the oldest manuscript witness, Yerevan, Matenadaran, arm. 1904 (12th‑14th c.), and the earlier editions and translations, showing which manuscript(s) formed the basis for which publication, and offering a revised stemma of manuscripts (pp. 49-64). This French translation represents the second translation into a modern language after the German translation of Karst (1911) who offered useful text-critical remarks.[2] Although the 1818 edition by Aucher[3] (Avgerean) forms the main basis for the new translation, Karst’s remarks have also been taken into account, as well as the inferior editions of Zohrab and Mai (1818), whose system of division into chapters and paragraphs has been adopted in this volume, and of Schöne and Petermann (1866 and 1875).[4] Worth noting also is that in an appendix (p. 215-233) has been included an introduction and the first translation of an Armenian épitomé of Eusebius’ Chronicle (adapted extracts from the Chronographia as well as the Chronological Canons), based on a transcription from the manuscript Yerevan, Matenadaran 2679, f. 201r-208r (17th c.).

Several methodological issues that were faced during the production of the translation and the commentary are highlighted in the introduction. The Armenian text is sometimes difficult to understand because the syntax of the Armenian text is often quite unnatural, as it represents a quite literal translation to the point where Armenian words and phrases are often a calque of the Greek (p. 65). It is therefore not surprising that the main aim was to produce a readable French text rather than a literal translation from Armenian (p. 66). Following the punctuation of the Armenian manuscript, for example, would have produced an unreadable text with extremely long sentences. For the same reason, the decision was made not to consistently replace Armenian doublets with French ones (often one Greek word was translated by two Armenian words with slightly different connotations, p. 66). Unfortunately, as a result of the – perfectly understandable – responses to these issues, the French text is not very useful to those scholars who are interested in Armenian translation technique and the relationship between the lost Greek original and the Armenian translation. It is a translation intended to offer access to this text to those scholars who do not read Armenian.

For this reason, here we offer some remarks about the French translation and how it relates to the Armenian text. Rather than checking and commenting upon the entire translation, which would have taken up too much time and space, we have decided to select at random one section of the text – Alexander Polyhistor’s account of the Flood (III 1-3, pp. 85-87 = Aucher, p. 31‑37) – and analyze how the French translation compares to the Armenian text of Aucher’s edition (Karst does not offer any meaningful text-critical remarks for Alexander’s narrative).

On the basis of our analysis of this part of the text, we may state that the translation is executed very well and does not contain any grave mistakes. The only real criticism that we can offer here is that the translation is often freer than what we would have produced had we been in the translator’s position, because of our personal interest in translation technique. Furthermore, on certain occasions different choices could have been made, which would have allowed for a still readable translation that is closer to the Armenian version. Certainly, Ouzounian’s pragmatic approach has produced a readable French text which renders the meaning that the Armenian translator wished to convey, but it hides a certain richness of the Armenian text, which has been lost in translation. We shall offer some observations here to demonstrate this.

1 – Three general examples may demonstrate the freeness of the French translation.

a. – ի գրի հարեալ մի ըստ միոջէ այսպէս պատմէ, “[et] il décrit cet événement comme suit.” The French is a simplified version of the Armenian, which reads more literally: “setting every single (event) in writing, he relates (them) as follows.” It seems that the Armenian participial construction has been omitted from the French translation. Whether this happened by accident or consciously (to improve on readability) is unclear. Strangely, due to this omission, the French is actually closer to the Greek text of Synkellos (ἀναγεγράφθαι δὲ τὸν λόγον οὔτως).

b – The verb արձակել, “to release” is used in all three cases in which Xisouthros is said to have released birds after the subsiding of the Flood. Yet, it is not consistently translated into French: first as “lâcha” and thereafter twice as “envoya.”

c – պատուէր տայր եթէ պարտ է նոցա դիւցապաշտս լինել, “(une voix) les enjoignit d’honorer les dieux”. Although the French translation transmits the idea behind the Armenian text, it is quite free. More literally, this sentence could have been translated as “(a voice) gave them a command that it was necessary for them to become servants of the gods.” Behind “enjoignit” lies the noun պատուէր, “order, command” and the verb տայր, “he gave”. The expression պարտ է, “it is/was necessary” was omitted from the French translation. The phrase դիւցապաշտս լինել “to become servants of the gods” has been simplified as “honor the gods,” but in the commentary on this sentence at the end of this volume, the word դիւցապաշտ is analyzed and broken down in two roots, the first referring to the pagan gods and the second to the notion of “service.”

2 – In the introduction the authors admit that Armenian doublets not been consistently rendered into French. As a result, the French translation masks the richness of the Armenian version, as the following three examples will demonstrate.

a – դարձեալ միւսանգամ առնուլ զնոսա ի նաւն: “il les reprit donc dans le bateau.” Դարձեալ and միւսանգամ are both equivalents of the Greek πάλιν, “again” (attested in Synkellos’ version of Eusebius’ narrative). These two Armenian words are only reflected in the French translation in the affix “re” to the verb “prendre”, which is the equivalent of առնուլ, “to take”.

Twice more in this section, two Armenian adverbs appear in sentences where Synkellos has πάλιν.

նոցա ևս միւսանգամ անդրէն ի նաւն գալ: “qui revinrent, eux aussi, dans le bateau”

անդրէն միւսանգամ չգալ ի նաւն: “qui ne revinrent pas vers le bateau”

In both cases միւսանգամ is used, but in these two instances the Armenian translator has opted for անդրէն instead of դարձեալ, presumably due to the use of a different verb: գալ, “to come.” In both cases, as in the previous example, what remains of the doublet in the French translation is the prefix “re-” to the verb venir, “to come.”

b –The Armenian translators also used doublets to refer to the landing of the Ark. None of these doublets is rendered into French by doublets. In fact, even though different terms are used by the Armenian translators, in the French translation the same verb “se poser” appears three times:

– տեղի և դադար իջանելոյ, lit. “a place and a stop for descending/settling down” (“d’endroit où se poser”)

– երթեալ յեցեալ զնաւն, lit. “the boat which had gone and stopped” (“le bateau s’était posé”)

– ուր չոգաւ դադարեաց, lit. “(the boat) which had gone (and) stopped” (“(le) bateau qui s’était posé”)

c – An inconsistent translation of doublets means of course that sometimes doublets do appear in the French translation. In the section under discussion this occurs once: յ??????? ?????? ?????? ??????անուանէ շրջէին գոչէին կոչէին, “parcourant les environs, en criant son nom et en l’appelant.”

d – In the context of a discussion of doublets, the appearance of a ‘triplet’ in this section of the text is worth noting. The Armenian text features the phrase չստունգանէր գործել գործ նաւագործութեանն (lit. “he did not disobey to perform the labour of the ship-fabrication”), which is translated as “il entreprit donc la fabrication du bateau.” Again, there is no error in this translation, because it certainly transmits the idea behind the Armenian text, but it does hide a much richer Armenian phrase which relies on the root գործ “work, act” not once, not twice, but three times.

3 – A major issue in the production of a readable translation of the Armenian text is the deformation of personal names that occurred in the process of the translation from Greek into Syriac. Ultimately it was decided to render the names as closely as possible to what would have been the original Greek reading. Most of the names in the section under discussion do not suffer from this problem. Otiartès (Arm. Ոտիարտեայ, Otiarteay), Xisouthros (Arm. Քսիսութրայ, K‘sisut‘ray), Aramazd (Arm. Արամազդայ, Aramazday), and (the month) Daisios (Arm. Դէսիոս, Dēsios) are all recognizable. The only exception perhaps is Chronos (Arm. Կրովն, Krovn). A slightly different case, not necessarily of deformation but of a peculiar Armenian rendering of a Greek name, which is worth mentioning here, is that of the city Heliopolis, which is calqued in Armenian as արեգ քաղաք (lit. “sun city”), but has been translated into French as “la ville du Soleil.”

As regards to the commentary, each contributor focuses on a specific section of the text according to his/her own expertise: Brillante (Assyria, Greece and Rome), Aufrère (Egypt), Morlet (Hebrews, Biblical quotations) and Cohen-Skalli (Babylon, Hebrews and Romans). Such a teamwork is definitely this volume’s strength. We shall offer some examples in order to show how good this work is.

a – Note n. 149 tries to explain why a Chaldean king (Sennacherib) is pretended to have built a “temple of the Athenians” according to the historian Abydenos. In a concise but effective way, Cohen-Skalli gives a persuasive interpretation of this passage. Basing her opinion on recent studies[5], the French researcher argues that it should be a “temple of Athena” and identifies this goddess with Ishtar. Without being too long or complex, this kind of note helps the reader to fully understand the text.

b – Note n. 371 is even more interesting. This time, Morlet points out how Eusebius uses chronography in order to support his own interpretation of the Scriptures. In this case, Eusebius aims to demonstrate that the Septuagint gives the right textual variant, whilst the Hebrew text contains several interpolations. Moreover, the church historian sometime uses the text of the Samaritans (written in Hebrew) in order to show its concordances with the Septuagint. Thanks to the insertion of this kind of notes, the reader can appreciate the effort made by Eusebius concerning the composition of a true historical work and not only a mere list of events.

Despite all these good qualities, this volume has also some minor flaws. Even if the collaboration between several scholars is one of the strongest points of this book, sometimes it implies a lack of balance between the sections of the commentary. In fact, some notes seem too short, whilst others are too long or complex with regard to the aim of this academic series. This point is particularly true if we consider the part concerning the Egyptians. No doubt that Aufrère did a very good job. However, some notes seem to be intended for a specialist public only. For example, note n. 622 covers three pages (p. 338-340) and is replete with references to bibliography. On the other hand, some notes are very (too?) short (see p. 382 about the Greeks).

In summary, this is a great book, which is definitely worth the reasonable asking price. Despite some minor flaws, it offers a readable translation and a high quality commentary which helps the reader to fully appreciate the richness of the late translation of one of the first (and more fascinating) attempts to create a Christian historiography. We hope that book 2 of Eusebius’ Chronicle will soon find place in this same series as well.


Matteo Antoniazzi, University of Angers, TEMOS UMR 9016, Andy Hilkens, Ghent University

Publié dans le fascicule 1 tome 123, 2021, p. 360-363


[1]. A. Cohen-Skalli follows here R. W. Burgess’ interpretation.

[2]. J. Karst, Die Chronik: Aus dem Armenischen übersetzt (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte, 20, Eusebius‘ Werke 20), Leipzig 1911.

[3]. J.-B. Aucher, Eusebiii Pamphili Chronicon bipartitum graeco-armeno-latinum, I-II, Venice 1818.

[4]. J. Zohrab, A. Mai, Eusebii Pamphili chronicorum canonum libri duo, Milan 1818; A. Schöne, H. Petermann, Eusebii chronicorum libri duo, Berlin 1866, 1875.

[5]. See P. Desideri, A.M. Jasink, Cilicia: dall’età di Kizzuwatna alla conquista macedone, Turin 1990; G. De Breucker, « Abydenos (685) » in BNJ (Brill Online).