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Foreign Languages, Cultures, and Literature
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Gregory Bar ˁEbroyo, Bishop of Aleppo and Syrian Orthodox Maphrian of the East, and Mikhail Vasilevich Lomonosov, founder of the Moscow State University, are two of the most accomplished scholars ever to have lived. Each holds in the history of his people a place of utmost respect – that of the ‘National Polymath’, of a universal genius whose very person is seen as a cultural treasure, as Leonardo Da Vinci is by Italians, Johann Wolfgang Goethe is by Germans, and Benjamin Franklin by Americans. Bar ˁEbroyo, born along the banks of the Euphrates in 1243, and Lomonosov, born on an island in the White Sea in 1711, both contributed scholarly works on topics ranging across almost every field of natural science, wrote foundational grammars for their respective languages, rose to ranks of significant political importance, and contributed to the cultural and artistic life of their age.
Of their cultural contributions, it is in their poetry, held in the highest esteem by its inheritors, that we find the most intriguing kinship between these two luminaries. There is very little chance that Lomonosov in 18th century Russia was familiar with the 13th century Syriac-speaking Bishop, whose language of birth and deliberate literary choice faded into obscurity in the decades following his death, and so no claims will be advanced that the one influenced the other. Rather, two celebrated works – the Ode on Divine Wisdom of Bar ˁEbroyo, and the two Meditations on the Glory of God of Lomonosov – will be examined, individually but in context of one another. Each is hailed as the crowning poetic achievement of its author, and each takes as its subject the Divine, approached through the medium of wisdom. The question of what precisely that wisdom is – the study of natural sciences, the knowledge of creation, the gift of familiarity with the Divine itself – takes a central place in the development of each poem, and, as will be seen, is eventually answered quite differently by our two polymaths, answers evidenced both in their poetry and in their work outside it. These two men, one until the end a chemist first and the other increasingly mystic, have offered to us two of the most unique and beautifully-crafted paeans to God and to human understanding of Him, and are here reprinted in their original language, with literal translation and explication, and as modern crafted renderings, in the hopes of gaining for their labor and genius a wider recognition.
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Isaf, Robert, "The End of Unknowable Things" (2014). Senior Projects Spring 2014. 405.
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