A reader asked about a Greek inscription. It is on a 16th century fresco of the Old Testament Prophet Jonah from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, painted by the Cretan Tzortzis. Somehow it feels very appropriate to talk about Jonah after an American presidential election that makes a great many of us feel as though we had been suddenly thrown into the sea and swallowed up by a monster.
Jonah, as almost everyone knows, is the fellow who was told by his god to go to the great city of Nineveh and prophesy there of the deity’s coming wrath. Jonah did not like the job he was given, so he took a ship at Joppa, going away from Nineveh toward Tarshish. While on this journey, a great storm arose. The sailors cast lots (an old form of divination) to determine what had brought the storm upon them, and the result was that the lot fell on Jonah. So to save themselves, the sailors tossed him into the stormy sea, where he was swallowed by what in Greek is called a κῆτος (ketos). Ketos was a rather vague word that applied to any sea monster or huge fish. Much later, people began to think of it as meaning a whale, which is why we usually speak of the tale of Jonah as “Jonah and the Whale.” Spending three days and nights in the belly of the sea monster, Jonah prayed to his god and repented for trying to run away. The sea monster vomited him up, and he went to Ninevah to tell them their city would be overthrown because of its wickedness.
It is divided into three lines, which we can place together and transliterate:
Literally translated, that is:
The (he) out (ek) of-the (tou) sea-monster (kutous=ketous) vomiting (anadosis) of-the (tou) prophet (prophetou) Jonah (Iona)
“The Vomiting of the Prophet Jonah by the Sea Monster”
Or if we want to make it less blunt,
Transliterated, it is:
EBOESA EN THLIPSEI MOU PROS K[URIO]N TON TH[EO]N MOU K[AI] EISEKOUSE[N] MOU
The inscription on the scroll is the words of Jonah as found in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, in Jonah 2:3:
Καὶ εἶπεν ᾿Εβόησα ἐν θλίψει μου πρὸς κύριον τὸν θεόν μου, καὶ εἰσήκουσέν μου· ἐκ κοιλίας ᾅδου κραυγῆς μου ἤκουσας φωνῆς μου.
Kai eipen Eboesa en thlipsei mou pros kurion ton theon mou, kai esiekousen mou
ek koilias hadou krauges mou ekousas phones mou.
And [he] said, I-cried in affliction of-me to [the] Lord the God of-me, and [he] hearkened [of] me; out of the belly of Hades cry of-me [he] heard voice of-me.
So we could translate the portion written on the scroll as:
“I cried in my affliction to the Lord my God, and he hearkened to me.”
Now if we could only get out of the next four years as easily as Jonah got out of the sea monster in this old tale.