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Hesychius of Alexandria





Grammarian and lexicographer; of uncertain date, but assigned by most authorities to the later fourth or earlier fifth century. We have no information whatever about him, his parentage, or his life; beyond what can be learned from the epistolary preface to his Lexicon. This purports to be written by "Hesychius of Alexandria, Grammarian, to his friend Eulogius": its authenticity was needlessly questioned by Valckenaer. It tells us that the author bases his work on that of Diogenianus (probably Diogenianus of Heraclea, who in Hadrian's reign composed one of the successive anthologies of Greek minor poetry which are imbedded in the "Anthologia Palatina"), who first digested into a single lexicon the various dictionaries of Homeric, comic, tragic, lyric, and oratorical Greek, adding also the vocabularies of medicine and history. The letter ends with "I pray to God that you may in health and well-being enjoy the use of this book"; but Hesychius is commonly held to have been a pagan. The work has certainly not come down to us in its original form: it contains biblical and ecclesiastical glosses, of which the preface gives no hint. It is generally agreed that these are a later interpolation; and there is no good ground for identifying this Hesychius (as Fabricius did) with his namesakes, a third-century bishop and a translator of the Scriptures (Bardenhewer, tr. Shahan, 160). The classical part of the Lexicon is of the greatest importance to Greek scholars, not only as a rich vocabulary of otherwise unknown words and rare usages, but as a mine of information about ancient Realien and lost authors; few instruments have been equally serviceable for the critical emendation of Greek poetry texts.

The disturbance in that alphabetical order which Hesychius (in the preface) says he carefully followed, is only one of many evidences that the book has been altered in the process of tradition: Ernesti held that the true author lived in the first century, and that his work, excerpted by Diogenianus, was roughly brought up to date by the interpolated additions of an otherwise unknown Hesychius; others, that Hesychius's book was "contaminated" with a lexicon attributed to St. Cyril of Alexandria. Whoever it may have been who added the "Glossae Sacrae" to Hesychius, they have received much separate attention. They derive, says Ernesti, from three sources: (1) the parallelism of Scripture, i.e. a word is glossed by the correlative word in the parallel half-verse; (2) the synonym, or explanatory doublets of the sacred writer; (3) the early commentators, such as Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion. The difficulties of exploring Hesychius's sources and utilizing his stores are aggravated by the bad state of the text: the Lexicon, first printed by Musurus (fol. ap. Aldum) at Venice in 1514, had only been transmitted in a single deeply-corrupt fifteenth-century codex.

The standard complete edition is by SCHMIDT (Jena, 1857); of the Glossae Sacrae, by ERNESTI (Leipzig, 1785). Discussions and elucidations in BENTLEY, Epistolae; VALCKENAER, Opuscula, i, 175; also MULLER AND DONALDSON, Literature of Ancient Greece, iii, 384; CROISET, Hist. de la litt. Gr., V, 975; and in general, PAULY, Real-Encyclopadie, s.v.

J. S. Phillimore.








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