Rare Books

The Golden Breviary. The history of a book

Modern History
Printing, engraving
32x17 cm; Engraving: 22.4x32.6 cm.
it contains an engraving representing Cebes’s Table, engraver: Caspar Weinrauch (1765-1846), signed on the engraving plate: "Weinrauch del at fc Viennae".

    The Golden Breviary or the "Table" of Cebes the Theban, and the "Handbook" of Epictetus

    Text: Andreea Ștefan

    Cebes from Thebes (attributed to him, 4th century BC), author; Epictetus (post 50 - ante 150 p. Chr.), Author; Dimitrios Nicolaos Darvaris (1757-1823), translator; Ioanis Nicolaos Darvaris, publisher; language: Neo-Greek

    How interesting can be the story of a book from another century, but still not old enough to impress through itself, in another writing, yet not rare enough to be exotic, in another language, a foreign one, but not completely unfamiliar? When we add the modest appearance of a volume that aims to be accessible, we really understand the role of history, research that can bring the past back to life by examining the humblest objects. 

    The story of the exhibited volume begins with the archive investigation. Being part of the rare book collection of the National History Museum of Romania, it was purchased in 1977, from Gheorghe Cioran, who was selling a large number of the books which formed the specialized library of his wife, the prominent Hellenist researcher Ariadna Camariano-Cioran (1906-1993). On the title page, which could be better named the frontispiece, another illustrious previous owner’s marks are left: Demostene Russo (1869-1938), reputed researcher of the Byzantine culture and philologist, founder of the neo-Hellenic studies at the University of Bucharest. He was identified by ex libris. Containing the letters ‘D’ and ‘R’, it is stamped on the title page. We can reconstruct the volume’s story up to the middle of the 19th century, amidst the troubles of contemporary local history. First in Demostene Russo’s possession, the volume is then inherited by his granddaughter, Ariadna. A refugee from Eastern Thrace to Romania at the outbreak of World War I, she later experiences a period of drastic changes imposed by World War II. Just as a lot of families had to be separated from their beloved goods in the years of the communist regime, the Cioran family also gives up their precious books, perhaps as a result of the earthquake that shook the lives of the people of Bucharest, in 1977. They end up in the newly-created National Museum of History, where they still constitute, up to today, the core of the book collection that illustrates the prodigious intellectual life of the Greek community in Romania, from the Phanariots’ century up to the 1940’s. 

    The discovery continues with a foray into the pre-modern editorial practices. Out of these, the first step is deciphering the frontispiece. It contains a lot of information, including the title, the name of the author and of the translator, the publisher, the place and year of publication, which are consistently recorded on contemporary editions as well. However, the frontispiece of a pre-modern volume presents the information syntactically integrated, in the form of a sentence, which, on the one hand, directs the reader’s attention in a different way, and, on the other hand, allows the agglutination of many data that were considered to be essential back then. Among them, the patron had an important role reserved, because most of the times, his financial assistance made the publication possible.

    Syntactic integration of information makes the separation of component elements more difficult, according to current practice. Not infrequently, library catalogs record the entire sentence in the field reserved for the title. What is indicated graphically as the title on the exhibited volume is, in fact, the name chosen by the translator: Χρυσούν εγκόλπιον, translated as the Golden Breviary. As a subtitle, with smaller characters, but also in capitals, the title, which also includes the authors’ names, appears in the genitive: ήτοι Κέβητος Θηβαίου πίναξ και Επικτήτου εγχειρίδιον (or the Table of Cebes the Theban, and the Handbook of Epictetus). The presence of two authors between the covers of the same book is an old legacy. It comes down in time to the miscellaneous manuscripts, bringing together texts with similar content or those that are to be read together, but which do not have the same author. Epictetus’s Handbook is a small text, which has facilitated its association with other leaflets. Cebes’s Table, a philosophical text of Stoic inspiration, concurred by Marcus Aurelius’ To Oneself, frequently accompanies the Epictetus Handbook, both in older and contemporary editions, continuing a tradition already attested in manuscripts.

    Then there is the contribution of the translator, Dimitrios N. Darvaris. He did the translation, more precisely a form of democratization of the text, transposed from ancient Greek into a cultured, literary form of Greek spoken at that time, wrote the explanatory notes and accompanied the two ancient works with a Christian guide on how to read them. The passage in the preface, also signed by Dimitrios, in which the target audience is specified, can be mentioned here to better understand the significance of the choices made by the translator. The edition is: ‘especially for the young, who have no notions about philosophy, ancient history or archeology, without which it is impossible to understand the ancient authors’ (p. IX). In other words, the volume was intended to be accessible in terms of language, content and, not least, price, being primarily made for students.

    On a position similar to that of the translator, there is the patron, in this case Ioanis N. Darvaris, Dimitrios’s brother. In an epoch when there were no copyrights or publishers, and publishing a book was often a personal endeavor, hence risky and expensive, there were several options available to those who wanted to get involved in such a project. The most common way was to identify a patron who, in whole or in part, assumed the costs. Another option was to request a subscription, and the lists of pre-customers, subscribers who paid the volume in advance to cover the expenses, were quite common in the 18th and 19th centuries. Less often, the initiator of the typographic project also had the necessary funds to carry it out. In the case of Darvaris we have a mixed situation. As a teacher, he comes from a family of prosperous bankers. His brothers, first John, then Peter, will finance his books.

    In this book, the generosity of a patron also explains the presence of the graceful engraving that accompanies the volume. It was created by Johann Caspar (1765-1846), an illustrator and engraver born in Bamberg and established in Vienna since 1787, where he specializes in illustration and book design. The engraving is also reproduced in the translation of the same volume, published by Darvaris during the same year and with the same patronage, in Buda in Serbian, which creates the assumption that it was made especially for the Darvaris brothers.

    Dimitrios N. Darvaris and the Greek intellectual community in Vienna at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries

    Dimitrios Darvaris (1757-1823) comes from a family of Balkan traders, reflecting in his origins and formation the ethno-linguistic mosaic of the Ottoman Balkans. He was born in the city of Clisura in Macedonia, with a dense Wallachian population. Together with his brothers, he receives a suitable education for the job that he should have followed, that of a merchant, forced at that time to connect the local communities, divided ethnically, linguistically and religiously, the Ottoman and the Western world. He learns Greek in his hometown, and then he learns German, old Slavic and Serbian in Zemun, Ruma and Novi Sad. Such linguistic skills are necessary for any Balkan trader of the time. The passion for his studies leads him to Latin, to finally reach the Royal Academy in Bucharest, the best higher education center in the Balkans, where he appears in the student lists between 1770 and 1780. Here he certainly gets to learn in depth Ancient Greek, the teaching language. Philology and philosophy studies at Halle and Leipzig between 1780 and 1783 allow him to become acquainted with the latest methodologies developed just then by German philologists.

    With such an education, it is clear that Dimitrios, unlike his brothers, will be allowed to create his own professional path. He starts as a teacher 

    at Zemun. When his family sets up their businesses in Vienna, Dimitrios has the opportunity to move to the Habsburg capital. From 1795 until his death he takes an active part in the cultural life of the Viennese Hellenophone community.

    Vienna of the last two decades of the 18th century is, by excellence, the center for publishing books in Greek. It houses a cultural effervescence that will cease only after the outbreak of the Greek revolution and the creation of the Greek state, in 1830. Dimitrios is a part and a beneficiary of this dynamic intellectual environment. He is one of the most prolific authors of his generation, with 37 published volumes, of which over 20 are original works. He participates in the magazine Ἑρμῆς ὁ Λόγιος (Scientist Mercury), published in Vienna between 1811 and 1821, the most influential Greek periodical before the creation of the independent state, he carries out an impressive didactic activity, adapting the reforms initiated by the Habsburgs in the textbooks intended for students in the Greek schools within the empire.

    The concerns of moral philosophy find in the translation of Epictetus, if not the most original, at least a very appropriate expression. Darvaris considers the work important enough to translate it into Serbian. The edition appears in Buda during the same year.

    A journey from book to texts

    Cebes’s Table and Epictetus’s Handbook are among the most popular writings of Stoic philosophy. The marking interest for the moral dimension and for the immediate applicability of the philosophical content confer both writings an accessible character, which has largely ensured the immense success they enjoyed in the centuries that followed the Antiquity, both in the West and in Byzantium.

    Numerous and very varied representations inspired by Cebes’s Table have reached us, from engravings accompanying printed editions, to medieval tapestries such as the Garden of False Learning (1550-1580), which is today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and is made starting from a xylograph by the German artist David Kandel (approx. 1520 - approx. 1596). The success of the theme in visual arts speaks at the same time of the immense popularity of the book.

    Epictetus’s Handbook has an even more spectacular reception over time. It was made by Flavius Arrianus, probably as a breviary of his master’s (Epictetus) Speeches, which he had also recorded. This concise and striking guide has always been within the reach of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor. It was commented on in the Neoplatonic key by Simplicius of Cilicia, in the 6th century, having at least three Christian adaptations of the same period. They provided access to the medieval world, both Western and Byzantine. French classicism rediscovers Stoicism, reaching Epictetus. Since then, Epictetus has always been part of European moral thinking.

    Epictetus - a timeless voice

    Few biographical data about Epictetus have reached us, which partially allowed the construction of his personality starting from his work and, of course, from its reception at different historical moments. Few remember today that Stoicism was a philosophy of the elites, that Flavius Arrianus, the tireless disciple who transmitted his teaching to posterity, was also a consul, that the philosophy school he held in Nicopolis, in present-day Epirus, was attended by magistrates at the peak of the Roman Empire, that many of his exhortations even aimed at rectifying the behavior of these high magistrates. Today his humble origins as a former slave are the part that resonates most with the modern vision. The detail is echoed in the ‘reading’ to the Diatribes and the Handbook. His infirmity brings him closer to the legendary image of Socrates, evoked by Epictetus as a mentor. Thus the parallel between the two charismatic philosophers deepens, both of them being notorious for their modest physical aspect.

    In order to be able to speak to each one of us in his own language, for so many centuries in a row, Epictetus’s philosophy had to contain the essence of the timeless. In his case, Epictetus’s concern for man and the desire to see him aspire to good, regardless of social status, the age in which he lived, the language he spoke, the culture in which he was formed, are probably the key that continues to open up souls. The presence of his work in modern languages and representations, not only in the world of specialists, to which many of the ancient authors are relegated, shows that his philosophy continues to captivate us even today.