Mark Schrope has a riveting NY Times story that begins:
The first time Grigory Kessel held the ancient manuscript, its animal-hide pages more than 1,000 years old, it seemed oddly familiar.
A Syriac scholar at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, Dr. Kessel was sitting in the library of the manuscript’s owner, a wealthy collector of rare scientific material in Baltimore. At that moment, Dr. Kessel realized that just three weeks earlier, in a library at Harvard University, he had seen a single orphaned page that was too similar to these pages to be coincidence.
He realized he had seen one of the missing pages from the Galen manuscript he was holding, the oldest known copy of On the Mixtures and Powers of Simple Drugs, and went on a quest to find all of them. There’s a discussion of the importance of translation in early times:
Much of “Simple Drugs” was eventually translated into Syriac, a form of Aramaic used by Middle Eastern Christian communities. The undertext of the manuscript in Baltimore, most likely from the ninth century A.D., is a copy of the first Syriac translation, itself painstakingly completed in the sixth century A.D. by Sergius of Reshaina, a Syriac physician and priest.
“Today, it doesn’t look to be special when somebody translates one language to another, but in those days, it was indeed a great achievement,” Dr. Kessel said. “He had to create vocabulary, to find Syriac words to correspond to this Greek medical vocabulary.”
By the sixth century, Syriac-speaking Christians were spreading east from Turkey through Syria, Iraq and Iran. They needed translations of Greek scholarly work, partly to support missionary work like running hospitals.
“Simple Drugs” was a large work, an 11-book treatise. Sergius’s translations of Galen’s text were copied and recopied for centuries, and eventually became a bridge for moving the medical expertise of the ancient Greeks to Islamic societies. Syriac texts were much easier than Greek ones to translate into Arabic. […]
Scholars are eager to compare the Syriac material to existing copies of “Simple Drugs” written in Greek, all of which appear to be centuries younger than the Galen Palimpsest and much further removed from the original.
The whole thing is well worth reading. Thanks, Bonnie!