“The Catechesis of the Sign”: An Epigram from the Greek Anthology

It’s been a long time since I posted a translation of a Christian epigram from the Greek Anthology–since July 25th, to be exact.


Which is to say, I’ve got a new one to share. Greek Anthology 1.65 is about Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac, an episode that has inspired readers with fear and trembling for ages. The anonymous poem is a good example of figural reading; it belongs to the same class as the last poem I translated, i.e., that of typological exegesis of the Old Testament.

Like that poem (1.62), the transition to the figural or spiritual reading of the Old Testament story is the imperative ἵλαθι, “Have mercy”: for it is only by God’s mercy and the pedagogy of the Holy Spirit that one can such stories within the economy of Christian salvation.

The Greek poem is only one elegiac couplet. I have turned it into nine lines of unrhymed iambic tetrameter. The number “9” is fitting for the poem, I think, though I leave it to the reader to determine why I say so and to decide if he agrees.

I give the Greek text according to the Loeb edition; the Loeb translation; and my rendering.

The Greek text:

Εἰς τὸν Ἀβραάμ

Ἀβραὰμ υἱὸν ἄγει θυσίην Θεῷ· ἵλαθι· ποίην

    νοῦς ὁράᾳ θυσίην, ἧς τόδε γράμμα τύπος.

The Loeb translation:

Abraham takes his son to be sacrificed to God. Have mercy! This picture is a figure of the sacrifice the mind sees.

Trans. W.R. Paton, rev. by Michael A. Tueller

My version:

On Abraham

See Father Abraham conduct

His son to God for sacrifice.

Have mercy, Father! With the mind

Let us perceive the antitype

In holy grammar shadowed forth.

Instructed by the Spirit in

The catechesis of the sign,

Within the letter let us read

The Son of God’s true sacrifice.


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