(Sumeòn ’o metaphrástes).
The principal compiler of the legends of saints in the Menologia of the Byzantine Church. Through the importance of this collection his name has become one of the most famous among those of medieval Greek writers. The epithet Metaphrastes may be rendered Compiler; it is given to him from the usual name for such arrangements of saints' lives (metáphrasis, compilation).
Little is known for certain about his life. His period is the latter half of the tenth
century. In one of his legends (the Life of St. Samson) he tells of the saint's miracles
continued down to his own time; that time is the reign of Romanus II (959-63) and of
John I Tzimiskes (969-76). Michael Psellus (1018-78), who wrote the life of Symeon,
afterwards added to those of the other saints in the collection, says he was a Logothete.
In this case it means one of the Secretaries of State with the title Magister. Psellus
also tells us that Symeon was a favourite of the emperor, at whose command he made his
collection of legends. Ehrhard says that this emperor was Constantine VII (Porphyrogenetos,
912-59) who organized a compilation of all kinds of learning to form a kind of universal
encyclopædia by the scholars of his Court (Krumbacher,
Byz. Lit., 200). Ehrhard
(loc. cit.) and most authorities now identify the Metaphrast with Symeon Magister
the Logothete who wrote a chronicle under Nicephorus Phocas (963-9). Besides the
identity of name and period there is internal evidence from the two works (Chronicle
and Legends) for this. A certain Arab chronicler, Yahya ibn Said of Antioch, in the
eleventh century refers to
Simon, Secretary and Logothete, who composed the stories
of the saints and their feasts) (Delehaye in
Revue des questions hist., X, 84).
Another point that fixes his time as the latter half of the tenth century is that,
as Ehrhard has proved, the speech made by Constantine VII at the translation of the
portrait of Christ from Edessa on 16 August, 944, is contained in Symeon's part of
the Menology (
Die Legendsammlung, etc., pp. 48, 73). Formerly his period was
generally thought to be earlier. In his life of St. Theoctistus of Lesbos he gives
what seems to be a passage about himself, in which he says that he took part in
the expedition of Admiral Himerios to Crete in 902. It is now proved that Symeon
simply copied all this life, including the autobiographical note, from an earlier
writer, Niketas (Ehrhard,
Byz. Lit., p. 200).
Symeon's chief work, the one to which he owes his great reputation in the
Byzantine Church, is the collection of Legends. But it is not easy to say how
much of the Menology was really composed by him. On the one hand, in many cases
he simply copied existing lives of saints; on the other, the collection has grown
considerably since his time and all of it without discrimination goes by his name.
Leo Allatius (op. cit.) ascribes 122 legends only to Symeon, Delehaye (
grecs in the
Analecta Bollandiana, XVI, 311-29) thinks that 148 or 150 are
authentic and original. It may be noticed that the authentic ones are chiefly
those in the early months of the year, from September (the Byzantine Calendar
begins in September; the saints in the Menology are arranged as their feasts occur).
It is certain, that a number of these legends were written by Symeon from such
sources as he found (partly oral tradition). The sifting of these from the rest
still needs to be done (Ehrhard, l. c., 201-2). His reputation as an author has
been restored by the latest students. At one time his name was a byword for absurd
fabrications. Ehrhard, Dobschütz and others have now shown him to be a conscientious
compiler who made the best use of his material that he could. The often absurd
stories in his lives were already contained in the sources from which he wrote
them; he is not responsible for these, since his object was simply to collect
and arrange the legends of the saints as they existed in his time. He has often
been compared to the great Western compiler of legends, Jacobus de Voragine
(d. 1298). Some (Kondakoff,
Histoire de l'art byzantin, Paris, 1886, I, 46)
prefer Symeon of the two. His legends were translated into Latin by Lippomanus,
Vita ss. priscorum patrum (Venice, vols. V-VII, 1556-1558). Supposing the
identity of the Metaphrast and Symeon Magister, we have other works by him,
a Chronicle not extant in its original form, but altered and supplemented in
the Chronicle that goes by his name, in the Corpus of Bonn (Theophanes
continuatus, Bonn, 1828, 603-760), reprinted in P.G., CIX, 663-822; also
an Epitome of Canons (P.G., CXIV, 236-292), collections of maxims from St.
Basil (P.G., XXXII, 1116-1381) and Macarius of Egypt (P.G., XXXIV, 841-965),
some prayers and poems (P.G., CXIV, 209-225) and nine letters (P.G., CXIV,
282-236). Symeon Metaphrastes is a saint in the Orthodox Church. His feast
is 28 November.
The collection of legends in P.G., CXIV-CXVI, Vol. CXIV,
185-205, contains MICHAEL PSELLUS's encomium and office for Symeon's feast,
the first sources for his life.
ALLATIUS, De Symeonum scriptis diatriba (Paris, 1664); HANKE, De byzant. rerum scriptoribus (1677), 418-60; OUDIN, Comment. de script. eccles., II (1722), 1300-83; KRUMBACHER, Gesch. der byzantinischen Litteratur (2nd ed., Munich, 1897), 200-3; EHRHARD, Die Legendensammlung des Symeon Metaphrastes u. ihr ursprüngliche Bestand (Rome, 1897); IDEM, Symeon Metaphrastes u. die griechische Hagiographie in the Röm. Quartalschrift (1897), 531-53; DELEHAYE, Les ménologes grecs in the Anal. Bolland., XVI (1897), 312-29; IDEM, Le Ménologe de Métaphraste, ib., XVII (1898), 448-52; HIRSCH, Byzantinische Studien (Leipzig, 1876), 308-11; RAMBAUD, L'empire grec au Xe siecle (Paris, 1870).
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