In yesterday’s posting, I gave some quick tips on beginning to decipher “difficult” Church Slavic inscriptions — those that are not common and repetitive.
Church Slavic, however, is not used on Greek icons, which (rather obviously) use Greek in inscriptions.
Today we will look at a Greek icon useful in learning to transliterate and ultimately read Greek inscriptions. It has many ligatures (letters joined together) common on Greek icons.
Before we look at the whole image, let’s examine the title inscription at the top:
Η CΥΝΟΔΟc TωΝ ΑΓ. ΠΑΤΕΡѠΝ
HE SYNODOS TON HAG[ION] PATERON
The Synod of-the Holy Fathers
Keep in mind that the little apostrophe facing right above a letter means that in Classical Greek pronunciation it is preceded by an “h” sound. But in later and modern Greek pronunciation that “h” sound is omitted. And obviously, HAGION is abbreviated here.
But what is the Synod of the Holy Fathers? A Synod is a council. This image represents the main figures involved in the First Council of Nicea, which declared that Jesus is God. Of course the icon only shows us the winners. Those who disagreed automatically became heretics. The winners make the rules. So essentially this is an image of the “Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea,” and examples often bear that title.
Here is the icon, a type associated with the “Sunday of the Holy Fathers” in the Eastern Orthodox Church Year:
We need only briefly examine the iconography. The saints are not identified by title, but by appearance; they are:
At center: Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire and became its patron (and incidentally also murdered his wife Fausta and had his son Crispus put to death as well as having his brother-in-law strangled and his nephew flogged to death; not a nice guy).
At far left with the “beehive” hat is Spyridon of Trimythous (though his beard is somewhat darker here than usual, and his hat, though its usual shape, is made more “fancy” than the customary shepherd’s “woven basketwork” texture found in most of his images);
At left beside Constantine is (with the flat-ended beard) Athanasius the Great of Alexandria;
At right (beside Constantine) is Paphnutius the Confessor;
At far right is Alexander, Patriarch of Constantinople.
My real focus today, however is not on the iconography but rather on the large scroll with its lengthy inscription.
Common sense is a tremendous help in deciphering icon inscriptions. We already know that this is an icon of the First Ecumenical Council. And the ultimate result of that Council, traditionally, was the Nicene Creed, which Eastern Orthodox call the “Symbol of Faith.” So it does not take a genius to guess that an icon of that council bearing a long text would be likely to feature the text of the Nicene Creed, and indeed that is precisely what we see here:
The whole point of this posting is to give you some practice in transliterating Greek and its ligatures. I do not expect you to translate it, though you will probably recognize a word here and there if you have been paying attention to my postings on Greek icon inscriptions.
Here is the first line. I have put joined letters in brackets and put expanded abbreviations in parentheses:
ΠΙ[CΤ][ΕΥ]Ω ΕΙC ΕΝΑ Θ(ΕΟ)Ν ΠΑΤΕΡΑ Π[ΑΝΤ]ΟΚΡΑ[ΤΟ]ΡΑ ΠΟΙΗ[ΤΗ]Ν [ΟΥ]Ρ[ΑΝ]ΟΝ Κ(ΑΙ) [ΓΗ]C
PISTEUO EIS ENA THEON PATERA PANTOKRATORA POIETEN OURANON KAI GES
Now here is the whole thing (at least as much of it as is written on the scroll). It is given first in capital letters, then in upper and lower case Greek with accents. I have divided the lines to match the scroll so you will have an easier time in transliterating, and I have given a rough line-by-line translation so you will have an idea of what it all means. You will notice that I have used the “modern” form of the letter Omega, which in the old inscription is Ѡ, but in modern Greek Ω:
ΠΙCΤΕΎΩ ΕΊC ΕΝΑ ΘΕΌΝ, ΠΑΤΈΡΑ, ΠΑΝΤΟΚΡΆΤΟΡΑ, ΠΟΙΗΤΉΝ ΟΥΡΑΝΟΎ ΚΑΊ ΓΉC,
Πιστεύω εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς,
Pisteuo eis hena Theon, Patera, Pantokratora, poieten ouranou kai ges,
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
ΟΡΑΤΏΝ ΤΕ ΠΆΝΤΩΝ ΚΑΊ ΑΟΡΆΤΩΝ. ΚΑΊ ΕΊC ΕΝΑ ΚΎΡΙΟΝ, ΊΗCΟΎΝ ΧΡΙCΤΌΝ, ΤΌΝ ΥΙΌΝ
ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων. Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν Υἱὸν
horaton te panton kai aoraton. Kai eis hena Kurion Iesoun Khriston, ton Huion
and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son
ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΎ ΤΌΝ ΜΟΝΟΓΕΝΉ, ΤΌΝ ΕΚ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΤΡΌC ΓΕΝΝΗΘΈΝΤΑ ΠΡΌ ΠΆΝΤΩΝ ΤΏΝ ΑΙΏΝΩΝ
τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων·
tou Theou ton monogene, ton ek tou Patros gennethenta pro panton ton aionon.
of God the only begotten, the one from the Father born before all the ages.
ΦΏC ΕΚ ΦΩΤΌC, ΘΕΌΝ ΑΛΗΘΙΝΌΝ ΕΚ ΘΕΟΎ ΑΛΗΘΙΝΟΎ ΓΕΝΝΗΘΈΝΤΑ, ΟΎ φῶς ἐκ φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα οὐ
phos ek photos, Theon alethinon ek Theou alethinou, gennethenta ou
light from light, true God from true God, begotten not
ΠΟΙΗΘΈΝΤΑ, ὉΜΟΟΎCΙΟΝ ΤΏ ΠΑΤΡΊ, ΔΙ’ ΟΎ ΤΆ ΠΆΝΤΑ ΕΓΈΝΕΤΟ. ΤΌΝ ΔΙ’ ΗΜΆC ΤΟΎC
ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί, δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο. Τὸν δι’ ἡμᾶς τοὺς
poethenta, homoousion to Patri, di hou ta panta egeneto. Ton di hemas tous
made, of-same-substance-as the Father, through whom all things were made. Who for us
ΑΝΘΡΏΠΟΥC ΚΑΊ ΔΙΆ ΤΉΝ ΗΜΕΤΈΡΑΝ CΩΤΗΡΊΑΝ ΚΑΤΕΛΘΌΝΤΑ ΕΚ ΤΏΝ ΟΥΡΑΝΏΝ
ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν
anthropous kai dia ten hemeteran soterian katelthonta ek ton ouranon
men and for our salvastion came down from the heavens
ΚΑΊ CΑΡΚΩΘΈΝΤΑ ΕΚ ΠΝΕΎΜΑΤΟC ‘ΑΓΊΟΥ ΚΑΊ ΜΑΡΊΑC ΤΉC ΠΑΡΘΈΝΟΥ ΚΑΊ ΕΝΑΝΘΡΩ-
καὶ σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς Παρθένου καὶ ἐνανθρω-
kai sarkonthenta ek Pneumatos Haiou kai Marias tes Parthenou kai enanthro-
and became flesh from the Holy Spirit and Maria the virgin and became-
ΠΉCΑΝΤΑ CΤΑΥΡΩΘΈΝΤΑ ΤΕ ΥΠΈΡ ΗΜΏΝ ΕΠΊ ΠΟΝΤΊΟΥ ΠΙΛΆΤΟΥ
πήσαντα. Σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου,
pesanta. Staurothenta te huper hemon epi Pontiou Pilatou,
man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
ΚΑΊ ΠΑΘΌΝΤΑ ΚΑΊ ΤΑΦΈΝΤΑ…
καὶ παθόντα καὶ ταφέντα…
kai pathonta kai taphenta…
and suffered and was buried…
Now if you have gotten through all of that, I shall be truly amazed. Fortunately, most Greek icon inscriptions are much shorter. But keep in mind that this is just practice in learning to recognize and transliterate the letters of Greek, which is the step necessary to begin reading inscriptions. And for that, recognizing ligatures (joined letters) is essential.
Most people have no idea at all how to transliterate a Greek inscription written in the old style with ligatures, so you can “be the first on your block,” as the old ads used to say. Of course whether anyone else on your block will care or not is quite another matter. They might just look on you as being a bit odd, and well, perhaps you are, given that you are reading this site!