Syncellus, Georgius

Syncellus, Georgius a Byzantine author and an ecclesiastical dignitary of Constantinople, who lived at the close of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th century after Christ. He has left a Chronography, or chronological record of events, extending from the creation to the accession of the emperor Diocletian. He began with Adam, and intended to bring down his compilation to his own time, but death anticipated the completion of his task.

I. Name. — He is called Georgius Abbas and Georgius Monachus, and has sometimes been erroneously identified with Georgius Hamartolus, whose works remain still, for the most part, unpublished. The designation of Syncellus, which has been given to the chronographer as a distinctive appellation, is no persoinal namet, but a title of dignity. It is derived from his ecclesiastical office in the hierarchy of the metropolitan Churchi of the Eastern Empire. The syncellus was originally the companion, room-mate, occupant of the same cell with the patriarch-cohabita for, cellaneus, concellaneus. He was to be the constant witness of the purity of the patriarch's life and the propriety of his conduct and conversation, on the same principle as that which requires members of the Jesuit Order to be always accompanied by one of the fraternity. Sometimes one syncellus was appointed, sometimes two, and sometimes more. Frequently the designation was bestowed as an honorary and honorable title. At times the office was employed as a mode of placing spies around the patriarch. The popes of Rome had their syncelli down to the time of Gregory the Great, at least, as has been proved by Ducanige, who has discussed the subject with his; usual exuberant learning (Gloss. Med. et Infim. Latin. s.v.). They were attached, also, to other prelates. The relation was naturally one of great intimacy and confidence, and consequently became one of influence and high distinction. Hence the syncellus seems frequently to have acted as coadjutor to the patriarch, and to have been for a long time regarded as in the legitimate line of succession to the patriarchate. The practice, however, of elevating the syncellus to the patriarchal throne on the death of the, metropolitan appears to have never been habitual, and to have been abandoned before the end of the 9th century (Zonaras, XVI, 13:25; Gretser et Goar, Comm. in Codin. p. 105). The emperor Romanus Lecapenus made his youngest son, Theophylact, syncellus, evidently with a view to the succession to the highest place in the hierarchy (Zonaras, XVI, 18). The special functions of the office seem to have been gradually abandoned, but the name and dignity were still retained when Codinus prepared his Court-roll of the Imperial Officials (see Goar, Praef. ad Syncellum, 2, 56).

II. Life. — George the Chronographer was syncellus; to the patriarch Tarasius, who died in 806. He may have been one of those imposed on that eminent functionary by the emperor Nicephorus as a spy. We know nothing of him except from his name and his title, and from his commemoration by his friend and continuator Theophanes. The testimony of Theophanes amounts to very little. It is simply that George, the abbot and syncellus, was a distinguished and very learned man who faithfully and laboriously chronicled the events of the world from Adam, and diligently recorded their chronological succession; that life failed him when he had brought his chronicle down only to the accession of Diocletian; that on the approach of death, he requested and urged his friend Theophanes to complete his design, and that Theophanes reluctantly undertook and executed this commission. Of George the Chronographer nothing more is reported. After this brief apparition on the stage of history he vanishes into thick darkness, leaving his unfinished work behind him.

III. Works. — The only work of George Syncellus which we possess, or know to have been written by him, is his Chronography, or Universal Chronicles, which comes down, as has been said, to the reign of Diocletian. Had life and health been spared, he would probably, like his continuator, Theophanes, and like the general tribe of mediaeval chroniclers, have been fuller, more original, and more instructive in the treatment of contemporaneous events. These events were, in all likelihood, well known to him, from his social and official position, and from the diligent studies, which obtained for him the reputation of extraordinary knowledge (πολυμαθέστατος). As he died when he had proceeded no further than the accession of Diocletian, nothing can be expected from him but fidelity of compilation and discernment in the selection and use of authorities. Faithfulness and industry may be readily conceded to him. Discretion and sagacity are scarcely among his characteristics. He is exceedingly curt, harsh, dry, jejune, and often confused. His temperament, his vocation, and his times inclined him to credulity and superstition. He introduces his multitudinous extracts in a crude and undigested form, and accepts without hesitation whatever he finds in his texts. Yet his work has a very high value, and largely from this total absence of critical discrimination. It is the most extensive of the Greek chronicles that have come down to us, with the exception of the Sicilian, Alexandrine, or Paschal chronicle. The latter and the chronicle of Eusebius are the only two important chronological treatises that preceded lit which have been preserved. Eusebius was sadly mu1tilated and fragmentary, and was in part restored by the aid of Syncellus. Scaliger, the restorer of Eusebius, contemplated the abandonment of his undertaking when he despaired of obtaining the assistance of Syncellus, which he deemed indispensable. The restoration was, indeed, impracticable without such aid, till the discovery of the complete work, in recent years, in an Armenian MS., which was published at Milan, in 1818, by Mai and Zohrab. The Chronography of Syncellus has thus rendered important service. It has other sources of interest. It is throughout a compilation, but a compilation which usually retains the ipsissima verba of the authors from whom it borrows, and which records its obligations. Thus have been preserved remnants, more or less extensive, of many writers who would otherwise have perished utterly. The citations from Eusebius have already been referred to. We owe, besides, to Syncellus nearly all that survives of Julius Africanus, most of the fragments of Manetho, and much of the little that is left of Berosus, who strangely illustrates the Book of Genesis, and corroborates the remarkable discoveries of the late George Smith. Among the shattered remnants imbedded in the chronicle of Syncellus like broken columns, ruined architraves, dismembered friezes, and mutilated statues in medieval walls and fortalices may be found passages from books of various kinds, including many from partially or wholly lost Apocrypha. There are extracts from the Life of Adam, the Book of Enoch, the History of Judith, Hermes, Zosimus the philosopher, etc. Some of these excerpts are very curious, and perpetuate the memory of remarkable superstitions and of quaint legends of the antique world, It would be misplaced labor to investigate here the chronological accuracy of Syncellus, or to comment upon his chronological statements. The service has been rendered laboriously, if not altogether satisfactorily, by the Dominican Goar, who added a Canon Chronographicus to the editio princeps of the work. The history of the MS used by Goar is curious. It was preserved in the library of the patriarch at Constantinople. It reappeared in the Royal Library of France. A notice, in Greek, appended to the MS states that it was purchased at Corinth, for four pieces of gold (χρυσινοῦς), by John Abrami (or Abrams), in the month of November, 1507, or mundane year 7016 (of the sera of Constantinople). It was probably one of the many waifs from the Ottoman capture of Constantinople. For some time it was believed to have been lost from the Royal Library. It reached Scaliger's hands. It was, in time, restored to the royal repository, where it still remains, if it did not perish in the fires of the Commune. The supposed date of this MS is 1021. It is somewhat mutilated, and one leaf is lost; but it is the most complete MS. of this author. Dindorf regards as of much higher mark another Parisian MS, which he also employed in his recension of the text for the Bonn series of the Byzantine Historians. This has lost many leaves in the middle, and, like Coleridge's Christabel, has neither beginning nor end.

IV. Literature — Georg. Syncelli Chronographia, Ed. J. Goar (Par. 1652). This edition is accompanied with copious emendations and annotations, with an instructive preface, and with a full chronographical canon. Georg. Syncellus et Nicephorus C. P. ex recensione Guilelmi Dindorfii (Bonnse, 1829, 2, vols. 8vo). Dindorf republishes the apparatus literarius of Goar, and adds a reprint of Bedovii Dissertatio de Georgii Syncelli Chronographia. (G. F. H.)

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