In 1852 Ernest Renan, a French orientalist, in a letter addressed to Renaud, published in the Journal asiatique, presented an account of some Syriac manuscripts which he had seen in the British Museum the year before; one of these manuscripts contains a summary of Aristotle’s Logic addressed to king Husrō Anōšervān (Chosroes) by Paul the Persian, “preceded by general considerations, of a remarkable elevation”. Despite a number of errors in his reading –Cureton had advised him to follow the caution of the Roman poet, Horace, to authors, that is, to keep back his first draft from publication until the ninth year (nonumque prematur in annum) – he was the first to revive the name and memory of this 6th century philosopher.
Paul, who flourished at the court of the Persian king, Husrō, was, according to the colophon of the Syriac version of his Logic, from Rēšahr in Persis. Yāqūt (13th century A.D.), in his Geographical Dictionary, has preserved this information given by Ḥamza that: Rēšahr, an abbreviated form of Rēv-Ardašēr is a small canton in the district of Arragān. At the time of the Persians, calligraphers (vaštag-dibīrān ‘those versed in lithography and cursive writing’) lived there. They wrote in cursive script. This style of writing was used to write the books on Medicine, Astronomy, and Philosophy. Nowadays there is no one who could write in Persian or in Arabic.
Paul’s name is mentioned in the Arabic (Nestorian) Chronicle of Se˒ert (9th century) and in the Syriac Chronicon ecclesiasticum of the Jacobite historian Bar ͑Ebrāyā (13th century). Both chronicles record that he was, at first, a Christian, a cleric in the Church of the East, well versed in ecclesiastical and philosophical lore, and at last, he converted to the Mazdayasnian religion.
The Chronicle of Se˒ert gives a rather fanciful account :
“He (the king Husrō) was well versed in philosophy, which he had learned, as it is said, from [his master] Mār Bar Ṣauma, bishop of Qardū, during his stay in this district, and from Paul, the Persian philosopher, who, having been unable to obtain the metropolitan bishop’s seat in Persis, abandoned the Christian religion. He (the king) had sympathy for Christians, and preferred their doctrine (religion) to all other doctrines. But, since the peace between him and Byzantium was broken and Mār Abā delayed in going with him to the country of the “Romans”, he changed his attitude and manifested hatred [against them]. However, there were Christians at his service as they had already been at the service of his father (Kavād). Husrō [then] followed the doctrine of Mānī, who professed two eternal gods, one good and the other evil, and abrogated the religion of Zoroaster.”
A number of counter-truths used by the chronicler call into question the correctness of the whole account. A look at the ten advices of Husrō son of Kavād to the assembly of the Perso-Aryans regarding the authority of the religion of Ahura Mazdā is sufficient to discredit him. However, even if he were ignorant or mistaken about Husrō and his religion, he would give some true information about his own community as it can be observed in his chronicle. The chronicle of Bar ͑Ebrāyā confirms this suggestion :
“At this time, flourished, in ecclesiastic teachings as well as in the philosophy of those foreign [to the Church] (the heathen philosophy), Paul the Persian. He has [written] an admirable introduction to Logic. He aspired to become the metropolitan bishop of Persis, and when the people would not receive him [as bishop], he joined with the Magians (i. e., Mazdayasnians) and became one of them.”
This account does not contradict the first one. In addition, Bar ͑Ebrāyā speaks of the treatise of Paul on Logic. What is more, he does not describe Husrō as a Manichaean. It would appear that his account depends on a different source.
Both accounts agree that Paul the Persian finally embraced the Mazdayasnian religion. “There has been a continuous tendency among scholars to doubt the veracity of this report: from Wright through Brockelmann to Pines, but no arguments in support of this doubt have ever been brought forward.” Teixidore states, it seems doubtful because it is said the same thing about Bardesan –who had aspired to the post of [metropolitan] bishop, but being disappointed he drifted away from the Church and joined with the sect of Valentinius. And he concludes that Paul remained Christian. However, it is strange that Christian chroniclers, both Nestorian and Jacobite, consider an outstanding “Christian” theologian and philosopher as an “apostate”, while they generally prefer to present some people of interest as Christians –for example, Vazurgmihr, the wise minister of king Husrō. This statement that Bardesan [or Paul], after disappointing experience –when his ambition to become bishop was thwarted –, renounced the Christian Church , is rather an excuse, understandable coming from a Christian; this is not our intention to confirm or refute it –this does not change the fact that Paul finally became a Mazdayasnian, that is, the one who believes in Ahura Mazdā.
We are confronted by a certain Paul the Persian who appears as the victor of a three-day debate against a Manichaean opponent, Photinus, in a Greek anti-Manichaean work, and also a certain Paul the Persian who served the School of Nisibis as teacher.
Right after the imperial edict of the Emperors Justin I and Justinian I against heretics as well as pagans, Jews and Samaritans, in A. D. 527, was held in Constantinople at the command of the emperors, a public debate between a Manichaean leader who was imprisoned, Photinus (Φωτεινός) by name, and a “Christian Paul the Persian” (Παύλου τοῦ Πέρσου τοῦ Χριστιανοῦ). The debate was presided over by Theodorus, the eparch of the city, and was in three sessions. “The first debate concerned the creation of souls and in his arguments Paul the Persian showed a thorough knowledge of classical Greek philosophy.”
Some years later, in the decade or so up to 551, Junilius (Ἰουνίλος), the Quaestor of the sacred palace in Constantinople, met an alumnus of the School of Nisibis, Paul by name, Persian by birth, and obtained from him an isagogic manual on hermeneutics (or, more properly, an introduction to the study of the Bible), the Regulae, in the form of lectures to his students to introduce them first to the literal comprehension of the biblical studies and then to the more profound interpretation of texts. The manual must have been in the Greek language –but the original manuscript has disappeared. As Primasius, bishop of Hadrumentum, became interested in the text-book of Paul, Junilius translated it into Latin, but took the liberty of presenting it in a question-answer format –the Latin book is called the Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis. In this isagogic manual the logical scheme conceived by Aristotle is applied to biblical material. “The Organon of Aristotle and the ‘quinque voces’ of Porphyrios emerge as the source from which the premises for the method were borrowed. Every movement has been determined by these principles. This is the mold which has given the manual of Paulus on the biblical isagoge its logical scheme, methodical character and a peculiar charm.”
These three persons, an inquisitor in Constantinople, a teacher (possibly, a ‘teacher of reading’) in the School of Nisibis, and a philosopher active at the court of Husrō were Christians and experts in Aristotle’s Logic. The Paul who discussed with Photin in Constantinople in 527 may be the same Paul, teacher at the school of Nisibis around 540-560. Furthermore, if he was identical with Paul the Persian, author of the Logic dedicated to Husrō who later converted to the Good Religion, he would not have been encouraged by privileges after conversion. There is a model, in Pārsīg literature, a “spiritual” and “physical” traveler who is guided by the search of truth. The Mēnōg Xrad (‘Spiritual Wisdom’) describes a person who travels in search of wisdom, into the various countries and various districts of the world, studies many religions and beliefs, and finally finds the Religion and Law of the Yazata, that is, truth and order. We find the same theme in the book of Mardānfarrox (9th century) who said about himself thus: “I examined in the world all the doctrines and beliefs that belong to the doctrinaires. … Likewise, for the sake of research, I travelled in foreign countries, in the land of Indians, [meeting] many different sects. Because, I did not like [to follow] a religion by inheritance, but I sought that which is more reliable and acceptable before the testimony of wisdom, I went also along with many different sects, until a time when, owing to the beneficence of the divinities, and the strength, fortune and power of the Good Religion, I escaped from the depths of the gloom and ill-solvable doubtfulness.” Does Paul’s life correspond to this model? We find some echo of the one who seeks “that faith in which any one of all these things (the power and beauty of the world, and the rest of physical souls and the joy of celestial spirits) is found” in the preface of his book of Logic. This book is preserved in the Syriac version. E. Renan believed that Paul himself wrote it in Syriac. Paul also wrote a short commentary on Aristotle's Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας. In the beginning of the Syriac version it is said that Sevērā Sebōxt has translated it from the Pārsīg (“Middle Persian”) language. This counters Renan’s statement. However, even now J. Teixidore says : “I fail to understand why this work was written, first, in [Middle] Persian, and then, translated into Syriac by Severus Sebōxt.” If we refer to his book on Paul, and notice his very imperfect acquaintance with the Syriac language and his total ignorance of the Pārsīg language, we will understand why he has failed to understand. However the important point is not to point out the errors of those who have applied themselves to the study of Paul’s works, but to know the real scope of Paul’s works on dialectics at the court of Husrō. To determine this, we need to have recourse to another text, written in Pārsīg, at the very time of Husrō Anōšervān :
In the introduction of the Ēvēnnāmag a number of Indian and Greek books are said to have been translated and put, with the original books (viz. the books in the original languages), in the Royal Treasury. It also says thus: “They were arranged in [the Royal Library] and presented [for consulting] to the seekers of the reason (that is, scholars and teachers) and also to the seekers of information (that is, students). The scholars prepared the books over again. Those [books] which had been brought from abroad were considered and examined, nor were they neglected or slightingly received on account of their inferiority and foreign name. It happened that, for the growth of knowledge, they became even more praised, and even the foreign names were not left but attached to the books. No single book or text was found which comprehended any information and knowledge in the books and texts, but [information and knowledge] were sought, one by one, from their own original books and texts. They call the book about all topics in the Royal Treasury the Hangirdīg (‘Compendium’).”
The royal undertaking was not only to collect the writings concerning medicine, astronomy, logic and other sciences and crafts found in India, Byzantium, and other lands, but to compile a book containing the resume of each science and craft –a kind of encyclopedia called the Hangirdīg. They not only intended to give a summary of the Organon, but at the same time they prepared a précis of the Indian logic, Tarka . It should be noted that they translated or summarized a number of Sanskrit and Greek books into Pārsīg, but also they preserved the original texts in the library. From the Hangirdīg, a text on the Perso-Aryan medicine is extant. Priscianus of Lydia who after the closing of the Athenian School in 529 journeyed to Ērānšahr, has left a book in ten chapters, in the form of questions [of king Husrō] and Priscianus' answers. His book, the Solutionum ad Chosroem, may be considered as a short treatise of the “Neoplatonic” philosophy inserted in that encyclopedia of sciences.
It is in the light of this project that the writings of Paul the Persian can be understood. Husrō had chosen him as a good connoisseur of Greek philosophy. Moreover, if he had not been well versed in Greek language –as some think so –, there was no reason to entrust him with this difficult task.
There are three treatises on Aristotle’s logic extant from Paul the Persian; they do not come to us directly in their original Pārsīg form, but two are in Syriac, and one in Arabic.
A treatise on Aristotle’s Logic
This treatise is extant in a unique Syriac manuscript in the British Library . It was first edited and translated into Latin by Land. Since then appeared partial translations in French.
A short commentary on Aristotle's On Interpretation
A. van Hoonacker (1900) says that: “Some time ago, Paul Bedjan put into our hands a manuscript codex of different treatises on Logic.” It is written in “Nestorian” script. The fourth treatise is described thus: “Commentary on the book Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας, written by Paul the Persian and translated from Persian into Syriac by Severus Sebōxt, bishop of Qennešrīn.” We do not know what has happened to this manuscript.
Addai Scher, in his note on the Syriac manuscripts kept in the library of the Monastery of Notre-Dame des Semences at Alqoš says that, in 1828, the library of the Monastery of Rabbān Hormezd (in the mountain of Bēit ͑Edri) which was full of Syriac manuscripts was attacked and many of these manuscripts ransacked and plundered by the Turkish governor of ͑Amēdya, Musa Pasha; again, fourteen years later, his successor, Ismaïl Pasha ransacked and plundered 147 hand-written or printed books in Syriac, Arabic, Persian and Latin. Most of the manuscripts of the library were acquired since 1842. They were all transported to the Monastery of Notre-Dame, built in 1857, at the base of the mountain, an hour south-east of the monastery of Rabbān Hormezd. In the catalogue of Scher, N° 50 is a manuscript codex on Aristotle’s Logic the fifth text of which is the same treatise of Paul as in Bedjan’s manuscript. However, this codex was transferred to another place. Macomber says thus: “The library of the Monastery of Notre-Dame des Semences at Alqoš has also been divided, but for a different reason. What were considered the more precious mss. were removed for safekeeping around 1960 to the Monastery of St. George, just outside the ancient city of Niniveh. Presumably the division is only temporary, but it was still in effect at the time of my last visit at the beginning of 1966. I found 121 of the 330 mss. in Vosté’s catalogue at St. George’s, plus 55 others not in the catalogue, none of which was of great value.” Some manuscripts are now in the Chaldean Monastery of Dura near Baġdād. Among the manuscripts transferred there is found our codex under the number 171.
This text of Paul is edited and translated into French by H. Hugonnard-Roche.
Prolegomena Philosophiae Aristoteliae
Muškōya (Arabic Miskawayh) was acquainted with another treatise on the classification of the parts of Aristotle’s philosophy, written by Paul the Persian and addressed to King Husrō Anōšervān. The entire second part of his book, the Grades of Happiness, is an Arabic version of this account of the Corpus Aristotelicum; it was also used by Fārābī.
According to Gutas this type of prolegomenon traditionally formed the first part of a commentary on the Categories. In the five Neoplatonic commentaries on the Categories written in the Greek language, in order to introduce the beginners to the whole philosophy of Aristotle, ten points or sections (κεφάλαια) are first treated, and the second point is this: What is the division of Aristotle’s writings?
But the classification of Aristotle’s works in the Prolegomena to the Categories is different from that given by Paul. Ammonius divides Aristotle’s works first into three: particular (τὰ μερικά sc. συγγράμματα), e.g. Letters; intermediate (τά μέσα), e.g. writings on history; and general (τά καθόλου), subdivided into hypomnematic (ὑπομνηματικά), [homogenous or varied], and syntagmatic (συνταγματικά), that is dialogues (ἐξωτερικά) and non-dialogical works (ἀκροαματικά) consisting of theoretical writings (theology, mathematics, physics), practical writings (politics, economics, ethics), and instrumental writings (Organon). Paul begins his treatise by explaining the theoretical and practical parts of philosophy. However, there is a commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, written in Syriac by Sergius of Rešʿaina and addressed to Theodore , which could be one of the source-books of Paul. It is more proper to consider Paul’s Prolegomenon, not as a part of his commentary on the Categories, but as a separate treatise, intended for the Hangirdīg.
The Tartîb as-sa˓âdât of Muškōya is found in a number of manuscripts. Imāmi has prepared a critical edition of it. There are some studies in it and also partial translations.