Gr. naz. carm. 1.1.11 (On the Incarnation)

In carm. 1.1.11, Gregory attacks the “impious verbosity” of Apollinarians, who asserted that Christ did not assume a full humanity in the incarnation, but that the divine Logos replaced his human mind (νοῦς). Below I’ve printed the text from the PG, my verse translation, and some comments adapted from the present dissertation chapter:

Νήπιος, ὅστις ἄνακτα Θεοῦ Λόγον αἰὲν ἐόντα
οὐ σέβετἰσοθέως Πατρὸς ἐπουρανίου.
νήπιος, ὅστις ἄνακτα Λόγον βροτὸν ἔνθα φανέντα
οὐ σέβετἰσοθέως οὐρανίοιο Λόγου.
τέμνει δ μεγάλοιο Πατρὸς Λόγον, ἠὲ Λόγοιο [5]
μορφὴν ἀνδρομέην, καὶ πάχος ἡμέτερον.
ἦν Θεὸς, ἀλλἐπάγη Πατρὸς Λόγος ἡμέτερος φώς,
ὥς κε Θεὸν μίξῃ, μικτὸς ἐὼν χθονίοις.
εἷς Θεὸς ἀμφοτέρωθε· τόσον βροτὸς, ὅσσον ἔμἔρδειν
ἀντὶ βροτοῖο Θεόν. Ἵλαθι, τρωτὸς ἄνω. [10]
τόσσον ἔχοις. Τί δἔμοιγε νόον, καὶ μίξιν ἄφραστον;
ἀμφὶ Θεὸν, θνητοὶ, στέργετε μέτρα λόγου.
εἰ μὲν δὴ πεπίθοιμι, τὸ λώϊον. Εἰ δὲ μελαίνεις
τὸν χάρτην πολλαῖς χιλιάσιν ἐπέων,
δεῦρἄγε, πλαξὶ τεαῖς ὀλιγόστιχα ταῦτα χαράξω [15]
γράμματἐμῇ γραφίδι, μέλαν οὐδὲν ἔχει.

Foolish who worships not th’ eternal Word
as equal to the high Father in heaven.
Foolish who worships not th’ incarnate Word,
as equal to the heavenly Word on High,
but cuts from Father’s might His Word, or else
doth cut the Word from human shape, our breadth.
The Father’s Word was God, but made our man
so that, with mortals mixed, He’d mix in God.
A single god comprising both: a man,
to make man into gods: have mercy, thou
who art above the Wounded Word on high.
For you, no more– why seek from me the knowledge
of that ineffable and holy mixture.
Oh mortals, mind the boundaries your speech.
Should I persuade thee, that is all the better;
yet if you stain your page with myriad lines
come here and I will scratch these letters few
onto your books, with pen that bears no stain.

Gregory begins with learned etymological word-play. The Homeric adjective νήπιος (“childish” or “foolish”) was derived in several ways. The prefix νη– generally negated what followed, but some ancient writers speculated that νη could also be an intensifier (cf. the affirmative particle ναί, still used for “yes” in Modern Greek). Clement of Alexandria, for instance, argued that the νη– in νήπιος should not be understood as a privative (κατὰ στέρησιν), but an intensifier.1 He thereby argued that νήπιος mean “extremely gentle” (cf. ἤπιος, “gentle”) rather than “witless.”2 Gregory here employs the νη in an intensifying manner, but derives the compound νήπιος from νη and ἔπος (“word” or “verse”). Instead of Clement’s “extremely gentle,” Gregory suggests the heretics are extremely verbose. Gregory thus subtly introduces a theme that runs through the poem: the verbosity of heretics and the limits of human speech.

Gregory’s theme, proper brevity in speech, makes allusions to Callimachus appropriate. These he delays these until the end, but there makes them quite explicit. If the heretics fail to respect the limits of human speech, they will go on “blackening their pages with many thousands of lines” (πολλαῖς χιλιάσιν ἐπέων), with which Gregory alludes to Aet. fr. 1.4 (ἐν πολλαῖς ἤνυσα χιλιάσιν “[because I have not written one song] in many thousands of lines”). The adjective ὀλιγόστιχα (1.1.11 15) occurs several lines later in the Aetia prologue (fr. 1.9), also before the bucolic diaeresis.

Though Gregory delays the Callimachean allusions until the end of the poem, the work contains Callimachean stylistic elements throughout. One might compare the striking anaphora of the two opening couplets (νήπιος ὅστις ἄνακτα in 1 and 3, οὐ σεβετἰσοθεῶς in 2 and 4) with hZeus 86–87, which both begin and end with ἑσπέριοςνοήσῃ. Moreover, Gregory employs a number of juxtaposed prosodic variants, a favorite technique of Callimachus.3 Some he achieves through position, that is, by placing a word ending with a closed short syllable before a word beginning vowel and then repeating it before a word beginning with a consonant, thus lengthening the syllable. So λόγον (“Word”) in line one is scanned as a pyrrhus ( ˘ ˘), but in line three it is scanned as an iamb (˘ ¯) because its final syllable is lengthened by the following word βρότον (“person”). He also exploits the flexibility afforded by consonant clusters composed of mutes and liquids, which optionally lengthen a preceding short vowel. So πατρὸς is scanned as a trochee in line 2 (¯ ˘) but a pyrrhus in line 4 ( ˘ ˘). He combines the two methods in line 7, where πατρὸς again appears, but now scans as a spondee (¯ ¯), since it is followed by a word beginning with a consonant. Finally, Gregory exploits bi-forms of the same word. In lines 9 and and 11, he places τόσον, ὅσσον, and τόσσον in close proximity. The prosodic variation here is made possible by the option of dropping a sigma in the pronouns τόσσος and ὅσσος.

Gregory’s etymological word play continues in line 7, where he writes that “the Word of the Father was made our man (φώς).” He here exploits the homophones φώς (man) and φῶς (light). By Gregory’s period the difference original difference in tonal accentuation would scarcely have been heard.4 Gregory certainly intends us to hear John 1 in the background, where Jesus as the Word (λόγος) is described as “the light of men” (τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων Jn 1:4) and “the true light that illumines every human being” (τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον Jn 1:9), and where the Logos is said to “become flesh and dwell among us” (Καὶ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν Jn 1:14).

After a few lines dealing with Jesus’ incarnation, he bids his imagined to be satisfied with his extremely brief account of the incarnation (11). Instead of probing things that are, strictly speaking, ineffable (ἄφραστον), Gregory tells them to “respect the limits of speech” (12). Gregory here again plays on the polyvalence of the word μέτρον (“limit” or “measure”). The more significant point is a theological one: the nature of the Incarnation is ultimately beyond the human being’s capacity to capture in words. Yet Gregory playfully takes it also to the more banal reality of the length of a literary work, effectively what we would call word or page count. The last few lines of the poem link this theological error (failing to respect the limits of human speech) to an aesthetic error (writing endlessly with so sense of proper length). Gregory characterized his own reply as unstained in both senses: it is true theologically and written in a concise style. The stylistic concerns are here foregrounded by the allusions to Callimachus already mentioned, and by the striking ending to the poem, where Gregory promises to write his works with a “pen that bears no stain” (line 16). He is, once more, delighting in paradox, for we could equally translate the line “a pen that has no ink.” Gregory here uses γραφίς (“pen”) in a metaphorical sense similar to the Latin stilus.5 His theological insight finds expression in a “spotless” style.


Chantraine, P. 1968. Dictionnaire étymologique de la lange Grecque. Paris.

Hopkinson, N. 1982. “Juxtaposed Prosodic Variants in Greek and Latin Poetry.” Glotta: Zeitschrift Für Griechische Und Lateinische Sprache 60: 162–77.

  1. καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲ ἔστι τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ νηπίου κατὰ στέρησιν ἡμῖν νοούμενον, ἐπεὶ τὸ νη στερητικὸν γραμματικῶν νομοθετοῦσιν παῖδες (Clem. of Al. Paed. 1.20).

  2. Chantraine 1968 s.v. rejects an etymology from νη– and ἔπος.

  3. The term refers to the juxtaposition of the same or similar words with prosodic variation. For instance, Call. hZeus 55: καλὰ μὲν ἠἐξευ, καλὰ δἔτραφες, οὐράνιε Ζεῦ (“Well you grew, and well you were raised, heavenly Zeus”). The first καλὰ must be scanned as a trochee (¯ ˘), the second as a pyrrhus (˘ ˘).

    For a typology and examples, see Hopkinson 1982. In his partial catalogue, he lists several examples from Gregory, but none from this poem.

  4. This is, as it happens, another coincidence on which Clement of Alexandria commented (Paed. 1.6.28). He suggested that because the redeemed person is “light in the Lord” (φῶς ἐν κυρίῳ, from Eph 5:8), the human being was rightly called a φώς by the ancients.

  5. This is the only passage of which I am aware where an author uses γραφίς in this metaphorical sense.

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