Evagrius, On Prayer 17–19

17

Go, sell your possessions, and give them to the poor. Then take up your cross and deny yourself so that you can carry out your prayer without distraction.

18

If you want to carry out your prayer in a laudable way, deny yourself hour by hour, and bear philosophically all manner of terrible things for the sake of prayer.

19

Whenever you withstand hardship philosophically, you will find the fruit of this at the time of prayer.

Evagrius, On Prayer 6–7

6

Use tears to correct every request, as the Lord takes great delight in receiving a prayer born of tears.

7

Even if you pour out streams of tears in your prayer, you should never become conceited, as though you were superior to others. After all, your prayer has simply received additional support so that through tears you can more freely confess your sins and find reconciliation with God. Therefore, do not turn into a compulsion what should be a fortress against compulsion. Otherwise you’ll anger further the One who has bestowed on you this gift.

Evagrius, On Prayer 1–3

The world hardly needs another English translation of this lovely little work of the fourth century monastic theologian Evagrius, but its maxims are so lovely and useful for meditation that I’ve decided to render it, at least in part, into English for my own edification. I may eventually use the translation in an iOS app devoted to centering prayer, though one never knows to what extent one’s schemes will materialize. I’ve used Paul Gehin’s excellent new edition as my base text.1 In the translation I aim to make it practical for prayer, rather than aiming for perfect formal precision. Here are the first few “chapters”:

1

If you wish to prepare a “fragrant offering,” you should combine in equal measure diaphanous frankincense, cassia, the aroma onyx, and myrrh, just as the law requires— these are the four virtues. For when these are perfected and present in equal measure, your mind will not be betrayed to the enemy.

2

A soul purified through the fullness of the virtues makes the rule of the mind in the body and soul secure, thereby making it receptive to the state it seeks.

3

Prayer is the mind’s conversation with God. If the mind is going to be able to direct itself without distraction towards its Lord and converse with him directly, what state it must receive!

  1. (Evagrius. Chapitres sur la prière. Sources chrétiennes 589. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2017)

Alexandriae (Latin Epigram)

I like to commemorate special occasions with epigrams in Greek or Latin. Here’s the epigram I wrote to commemorate my daughter’s birth.

Gregorio nostro quid dulcius inter amoena?
at nunc Gregorius par sibi laetus habet.
O mea Alexandria, feres tu nomina patrum,
cara, tegas omnes quos tibi dat Dominus.

My friend Kathleen Kirsch has produced this excellent prose rendering:

Amongst all charms, what is sweeter than our Gregory?
But now happy Gregory is gaining an equal.
O my Alexandria, the names of your forefathers you will bear;
My dear, may you shelter all whom the Lord gives you
.

Gr. naz. Hymn Virg. (carm. 1.2.1a 107–116)

Below you find my poetic translation of an excerpt from the Hymn Virg. of Gregory of Nazianzus (carm. 1.2.1a 107–116), where he narrates the creation of Eve:

Πλευρὴν ἐκ λαγόνων μούνην ἕλε, τήν ῥα γυναῖκα
Δειμάμενος, καὶ φίλτρον ἐνὶ στέρνοισι κεράσσας,
Ἀμφοτέροις ἐφέηκεν ἐπἀλλήλοισι φέρεσθαι·
Οὐ πᾶσοὐδἐπὶ πάντας, ὅρον δἐπέθηκε πόθοισιν, [110]
Ὅν ῥα γάμον καλέουσ’, ὕλης ἀμέτροιο χαλινὸν,
Ὡς μὴ μαιμώωσα, καὶ ἄσχετα μαργαίνουσα,
Προφρονέως ἀγεληδὸν ἐπἀλλήλοισιν ἰόντων,1
Ῥήξειεν μερόπων ἱερὸν γένος ἐκ φιλότητος
Ἀζυγέος, πολέμους δὲ καὶ ἔχθεα πᾶσιν ὀρίνῃ [115]
Οἶστρος ἀσημάντοισι φορεύμενος ἀφραδίῃσιν.

He took the rib from Adam’s side and made
the wife. He mixed desire in their breasts
and bid them bear themselves to one another,
but not at all without discrimination.
He placed a limit on their loves, what we
call marriage, bridle for unmeasured matter,
lest it go mad, convulsing endlessly,
like animals that read’ly mate in herds,
and wreck the holy race of men through love
unbounded, lest desire unrestrained
should raise up wars and senseless quarrels for all.

  1. It is not clear how to construe this line; it may be corrupt.

Cappadocian Ekphrases of Anger

Basil’s Homily 10 is devoted to combatting anger, and theme Gregory took up later even more extensively in his carm. 1.2.25 Adv. iram. As Oberhaus has noted,1 the parallels between Gregory’s poem and Basil’s homily are particularly strong in the respective ekphrases of an angry person (Gr. Naz. Adv. iram 85-110 and Basil Hom. 10.2). I offer here the Greek text and my English translations of both passages.

From Basil’s 10th Homily

Ὀφθαλμοὶ μὲν γὰρ ἐκείνοις οἱ οἰκεῖοί τε καὶ συνήθεις ἠγνόηνται· παράφορον δὲ τὸ ὄμμα, καὶ πῦρ ἤδη βλέπει. Καὶ παραθήγει τὸν ὀδόντα κατὰ τῶν συῶν τοὺς ὁμόσε χωροῦντας. Πρόσωπον πελιδνὸν καὶ ὕφαιμον· ὄγκος τοῦ σώματος ἐξοιδαίνων· φλέβες διαῤῥηγνύμεναι, ὑπὸ τῆς ἔνδοθεν ζάλης κλονουμένου (357) τοῦ πνεύματος. Φωνὴ τραχεῖα, καὶ ὑπερτεινομένη, καὶ λόγος ἄναρθρος καὶ εἰκῆ προεκπίπτων, οὐ κατὰ μέρος, οὐδὲ εὐτάκτως, οὐδὲ εὐσήμως προϊών.2

For their normal and customary visage becomes unrecognizable. The eye goes askance with a fiery blaze and they sharpen their teeth like boars that advance on one another. The face becomes livid and bloodshot; the whole girth of the body swells; veins nearly break from the internal squall, while the breathing rushes wildly. The voice becomes exceedingly high and tense, while speech becomes inarticulate and falls forth to no end, proceeding without proportion, measure, or seemliness. (Basil of Caesarea, Hom. 10.2 PG 31.356–57)

From Gregory Adv. iram

εἴ σοί τις ὦπται τῶν ἁλόντων τῷ πάθει, [85]
οἶδας σαφῶς φημι, καὶ γράψει λόγος.
ἔσοπτρον ἐχρῆν ἑστάναι χολουμένοις,
ὡς ἂν βλέποντες, ἀλλὰ τὴν αὐτῶν ὕβριν
μικρὸν χαλῷεν, τοῦ πάθους ἐξ ὄψεως,
κατηγόρῳ σιγῶντι κάμπτοντες φρένα. [90]
καὶ τόδἔστηκαὐτὸς ὑβριστὴς σὸς,
ἐν κατόψει σαυτὸν, εἰ σχολὴν ἄγοις.
πάθος γὰρ οἷς ἓν, κοινὰ καὶ συμπτώματα.
ὕφαιμον ὄμμα, καὶ θέσεις διάστροφοι,
τρίχες συώδεις, καὶ γένυς διάβροχος, [95]
ὡχρὰ παρειὰ, νεκρότητος ἔμφασις·
ἄλλων ἐρυθρὰ, καὶ μολιβδώδης τινῶν·
ὅπως ἂν, οἶμαι, καί τινα χρώσας τύχοι
βακχιώδης καὶ κάκιστος ζωγράφος·
αὐχὴν διοιδῶν, ἀγκυλούμεναι φλέβες, [100]
πνοὴ λόγον κόπτουσα καὶ πυκνουμένη,
λυσσῶδες ἄσθμα, καὶ φρύαγμἀσχημονοῦν,
μυκτὴρ πλατύς τε καὶ πνέων ὅλην ὕβριν.
κρότοι τε χειρῶν, καὶ ποδῶν ἐξάλματα,
κύψεις, στροφαὶ, γέλωτες, ἱδρῶτες, κόποι· [105]
τίνος κοποῦντος; οὐδενὸς, πλὴν δαίμονος.
νεύσεις ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω, λόγου δίχα,
γνάθοι φυσώμεναί τε καὶ ψοφούμεναι,
ὡς δή τις αὐλοῖς3· παιομένη τε δακτύλοις
χεὶρ ἀπειλή4 καὶ ψόφων προοίμιον. [110)

If you should see one caught in passion’s grip [85]
you know quite clearly what it is I say
and what my poem shall at once describe.
One ought to place a mirror before the angry,
that they may see and after just a bit
of rage, the passion glimpsed, restrain their soul
before their figure’s silent accusation. [90]
Or if you find yourself at ease, your foe
may serve the same end as the polished glass,
for one disease has symptoms shared by all:
The eyes are shot with blood and out of place,
the hair is bristling, jaws are wet with spit; [95]
The cheeks are pale— the very look of death.
some parts red, and some a leaden blue
as though the face had got its hues from painters
who knew no skill but only how to drink.
The neck swells; veins distend and curve away. [100]
The breath then cuts and strangles off the speech;
the breathing’s manic; thence, unseemly snorts.
The nose grows broad, replete with insolence.
The hands and feet begin to leap and spring;
they stoop and strain, turn, mock and sweat. [105]
and who’s to blame? none but this demon foe.
Their jaws move up and down without a word;
their cheeks inflate, emitting senseless sounds
as flutists’ do. The hands, balled into fists,5
become a threat and precursor of more. [110] (Gr. Naz. adv. iram 85–110)6

Bibliography

Crimi, C. 2018. “Nazianzenica XXII. Variazioni sull’ira in Gregorio (carm. I.2.25; or. 18).” In Cipolla, P.B.ed., Metodo e passione. Atti dell’incontro di studi in onore di Giuseppina Basta Donzelli, 131–44. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert.

Geffcken, J. 1909. Kynika und Verwandtes. Heidelberg: C. Winters Universitätsbuchhandlung.

Oberhaus, M. 1991. Gregor von Nazianz. Gegen den Zorn : (carmen 1, 2, 25) : Einleitung und Kommentar. Paderborn: Schöningh.

Wagner, S.M.M. 1950. Basil the Great. Ascetical Works. Fathers of the Church 9. Catholic University of America Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt32b2kz.


  1. Oberhaus 1991 ad loc.

  2. To my knowledge, the best text remains the Maurist edition, reprinted in PG 31 coll. 353-372, which I have cited here. The homily has been rendered into English in Wagner 1950.

  3. P Caillau ἅλως (contra metrum) : codd. ἄλλος : ἀσκός Oberhaus.

    I have adopted the conjecture of Crimi 2018 136.

  4. codd. ἀπειλεῖ : ἀπειλή susp. Oberhaus

  5. The sense of παιομένη δακτύλοις is obscure. I have followed the paraphrase Geffcken 1909 30, who interprets the phrase as a circumlocution for “balled fists.” Oberhaus 1991 ad loc. rejects this in favor of menacing hand gestures. See also discussion in Crimi 2018.

  6. In translating Gregory’s verse, I have chosen to employ English iambic pentameter to render both iambic trimeter and dactylic hexameter, as iambic pentameter is the primary meter of both English epic (Milton) and drama (Shakespeare). I differentiate between the two by permitting more archaic forms in English when rendering hexameter, since the diction of hexametric poetry, particularly in Gregory’s day, was much more removed from contemporary speech than that of iambic trimeter.