Scythicam

michael_iii
Emperor Michael III

In tantam vero furoris abundantiam prorupistis, ut linguae Latinae iniuriam irrogaretis, hanc in epistola vestra barbaram et Scythicam appellantes ad iniuriam eius, qui fecit eam; omnis enim operis derogatio ad opificis redundat iniuriam. o furorem, qui nec linguae novit parcere, quam Deus fecit, et quae inter ceteras in nomine Domini hortante apostolo confitetur, quia ‘dominus noster Iesus Christus in gloria est Dei patris’ et quae cum Hebrea atque Graeca in titulo Domini a reliquis discreta insignem principatum tenens omnibus nationibus praedicat Iesum Nazarenum regem Iudaeorum. quem titulum multi Iudaeorum corrumpere voluerunt, sicut vos nunc huius celeberrimae linguae temptatis insigne destruere, sed minime potuerunt; scriptum quippe divinitus in libro psalmorum fuerat: ne corrumpas tituli inscriptionem! vel quia Christiani sunt, quorum linguam barbaram vel Scythicam appellatis, gloriam vestram quare non pudeat, obstupescimus. cum enim barbari omnes et Scythae ut insensata animalia vivant, Deum verum nesciant, ligna autem et lapides adorent, in eo ipso, quo verum Deum colit lingua Latina, quantum barbaram vel Scythicam linguam antecedat, agnoscitur. iam vero, si ideo linguam Latinam barbaram dicitis, quoniam illam non intelligitis, vos considerate, quia ridiculum est vol appellare Romanorum imperatores et tamen linguam non nosse Romanam. ad extremum autem, si iam saepe nominatam linguam ideo barbaram nuncupatis, quoniam a translatoribus in Graecam dictionem mutata barbarismos generat, non linguae Latinae, sed culpa est, ut opinamur, interpretum, qui quando necesse est non sensum e sensu, sed violenter verbum edere conantur e verbo. ecce enim in principio epistolae vestrae imperatorem vos nuncupastis Romanorum et tamen Romanam linguam barbaram appellare non veremini. ecce cotidie, immo vero in praecipuis festivitatibus inter Graecam linguam veluti quiddam pretiosum hanc, quam barbaram et Scythicam linguam appellatis, miscentes, quasi minus decori vestro facitis, si hac etiam non bene ac ex toto intellecta in vestris obsequiis ac officiis non utamini. quiescite igitur vos nuncupare Romanorum imperatores, quoniam secundum vestram sententiam barbari sunt, quorum vos imperatores esse asseritis.
(Nicholas I, Ep. 88 MGH = 86 PG, ad Michaelem III imperatorem)

You were driven into such an overwhelming frenzy, that you insulted the Latin language calling it in your letter barbaric and Skythian, which is an insult to him who created this language, because every denigration of a work entails also an insult to its author. Oh, what fury, which has not even spared the language which was created by God; †a language which, along with other ones, professes in the name of the lord, as the apostle admonished, ‘that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of God the father’ [Phil. 2:11]! This is the language that, together with Hebrew and Greek, was placed in an exalted position on the sign on the cross of our lord (these three languages, and none other!), proclaiming to all peoples: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, king of the Jews’ [John 19:20]! Many Jews wanted to destroy this sign, just like you are now trying to destroy the renown of this our distinguished language; but they did not succeed, because it was already written by God in the book of Psalms. So do not destroy the language of the sign!† We are dismayed that your majesty is not ashamed: for it is the language of Christian peoples which you call barbaric and Skythian. Is it not well known that all barbarians and Skythians live like ignorant animals, that they do not know the true God, but worship trees and stones? Fromthis, of course, one can see how much the latin language, which worships the true God, surpasses the barbarian and Skythian language. Furthermore, if you call the Latin language barbaric, because you do not understand Latin, you should be careful: is it not ridiculous to call yourself emperor of the Romans when you do not know the language of the Romans? And finally, you call the language under discussion barbaric for the simple reason that by translating Latin into Greek certain barbarisms were generated. This, though, we believe, is not the fault of the Latin language but the fault of interpreters, who tried to force words out of words rather than, as is necessary, to produce meaning out of meaning. In fact, in the beginning of your letter you call yourself ’emperor of the Romans’, but you are not afraid to call the Roman language barbaric! In truth, every day, especially on the occasion of major ceremonies, you set into the Greek language as if it were a precious jewel exactly what you call a barbarian and Skythian language! And you do so as if you would diminish your majesty if you were to refrain from using Latin words in your retinue and offices—even though these words are not used properly or perfectly understood. So, abandon the title ’emperor of the Romans’, because according to your own opinion they are barbarians whose emperor you claim to be! (tr. Marie Theres Fögen; except the passage between †† added by David Bauwens)

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