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Illustrious Maronite family of Mount Lebanon, Syria

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Assemani (Arabic, Sam’an, i.e. Simeon), the name of an illustrious Maronite family of Mount Lebanon, Syria, four members of which, all ecclesiastics, distinguished themselves during the eighteenth century in the East and in Europe. For their zeal, learning, and unbounded attachment to the Roman See, they were held in great esteem by the Popes, who conferred upon them many well-merited ecclesiastical dignities and offices. Oriental, but especially Syriac studies owe more to them than to any others; for it was through their researches, collection of manuscripts, and voluminous publications that Syriac studies, and in general the history, hagiography, liturgy, and literature of the Oriental Churches were first introduced into Europe. Therefore they can be justly regarded, if not as the creators, certainly as the most illustrious pioneers, of modern Oriental studies. In this work they were preceded by other Maronite scholars, known to Orientalists under their latinized names of Echellensis, Sciadrensis, Sionita, and Benedictus. To these and to the Assemanis we owe the fact that the characters, vowels, and pronunciation of Syriac, first introduced by them in Europe, were after the so-called Western Syriac, or Jacobite system, and not, as would have been more original and correct, of the Eastern Syriac, or Nestorian. This anomaly, however, is easily explained by the fact that, as the Western Syriac system is the one used by the Maronite Church, to which these scholars belonged, it was but natural that they should adopt this in preference to the other. The four Assemanis are the following:

JOSEPH SIMEON, b. in the Mountains of Lebanon, Syria, 1687; d. at Rome, January, 1768. In 1703, he entered the Maronite College, Rome, to study for the priesthood. Soon after his ordination he was given a post in the Vatican Library, and in 1715-17 sent by Clement XI to the East for the purpose of collecting Oriental manuscripts; he accomplished his task successfully, visiting Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo, Mount Lebanon, and especially the Nitrian desert. He brought these manuscripts to Rome, and they were placed by order of the Pope in the Vatican Library, where they formed the nucleus of its subsequently famous collection of Oriental manuscripts. In 1735-38 he was sent again to the East, and returned with a still more valuable collection. On his return, he was made titular Archbishop of Tyre and Librarian of the Vatican Library, where he devoted the rest of his life to carrying out a most extensive plan for editing and publishing the most valuable Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Persian, Hebrew, and Greek MSS., treasures of the Vatican. His published works are very numerous, besides others (about one hundred in number) which he left in manuscript form. The majority of these, however, were destroyed by a fire, which, in 1768, broke out in his Vatican apartment, adjacent to the Library. His published works are the following: (I) “Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana in qua manuscriptos codices Syriacos, Arabicos, Persicos, Turcicos, Hebraicos, Samaritanos, Armenicos, Aethiopicos, Gaecos Aegyptiacos, Ibericos et Malabaricos. Bibliothecae Vaticanae addictos recensuit, digessit Josephus Simonius Assemanus” (Rome, 4 vols. fol., 1719-28). This gigantic work, of which only the first four volumes appeared, was to comprise twelve volumes, of which the unpublished ones were as follows: Vol. V, “De Syriacis sacrarum Scripturarum versionibus”; Vol. VI, “De li:bris ecclesiasticis Syrorum”; Vol. VII, “De Conciliorum collectionibus Syriacis”; Vol. VIII, “De collectionibus Arabicis”; Vol. IX, “De Scriptoribus Grmcis in Syriacum et Arabicum conversis”; Vol. X, “De Scriptoribus Arabicis Christianis”; Vols. XI and XII, “De Scriptoribus Arabicis Mahometanis”. Considerable preparation for these unpublished volumes was made by the author, a portion of which was destroyed by fire. The four published volumes are divided as follows: Vol. I, “De Scriptoribus Syris orthodoxis”; Vol. II, “De Scriptoribus Syris monophysitis”; Vol. III, “Catalogus Ebedjesus Sobensis” (of Nestorian writers); Vol. IV, “De Syris Nestorianis”. (2) “Ephrmmi Syri opera omnia quae extant gaece, syriace et latine,” six volumes, folio. The first three volumes were edited by our author, the fourth and the fifth by the Maronite Jesuit Mubarak, or Benedictus, and the sixth by Stephanus Evodius Assemani (see below).—(3) “Italicae historiae scriptores ex bibliothecae Vaticanae aliarumque insignium bibliothecarum manuscriptis codicibus collegit”, etc., four volumes, folio (Rome, 1751-53).—(4) “Kalendaria ecclesiae universae”, etc., to consist of twelve volumes, of which only the first six appeared (Rome, 1755), treating of “Slavica Ecclesia sive Graeco-Moscha”; the other six, which were to treat of the Syrian, Armenian, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Greek, and Roman saints, were partly prepared, but destroyed by fire.—(5) “De sacris imaginibus et reliquiis”, destined to comprise five volumes. Parts of the manuscript were saved and extracts from it given by Bottarius (Rome, 1776).—(6) “Bibliotheca juris Orientalis canonici et civilis”, five volumes, quarto (Rome, 1762-66).—(7) “Abraham Echellensis; Chronicon Orientale”, printed in “Scriptores Historim Byzantinm”, vol. XVII.—(8) “Rudimenta lingum Arabicae” (Rome, 1732).—(9) Several dissertations, in Italian, on Oriental Churches, published by Cardinal Angelo Mai in his “Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio” (Rome, 1831). From two Maronite writers, viz., G. Cardahi (Liber Thesauri de arte poetica Syrorum, pp. 171-183) and Msgr. Joseph Dibs, Archbishop of Beirut, Syria (“Spiritus Confutationis”, etc., in Latin and Arabic), we learn that J. S. Assemani had in preparation four more gigantic works. The first on “Syria vetus et nova”, in nine volumes; the second a “Historia Orientalis”, in nine volumes; the third, “Concilia ecclesim Orientalis”, in six volumes; and the fourth “Euchologia seu Liturgia ecclesim orientalis”, etc., in seven volumes. From his “Bibliotheca juris Orientalis”, etc. we learn that our author was: “Utriusque Signaturm Apostolicm Referendarius; Bibliothecm Vaticanae Praefectus, Basilicae Sancti Petri de Urbe Canonicus; Sanctae Romanae et Universalis Inquisitionis Consultor”; also “Sacrae Poenitentiariae Apostolicae Sigillator”, etc. All our author’s works., but especially his “Bibliotheca Orientalis”, which has been till recently, and which to a great extent is still, our main guide on the subject, needs thorough revision in the light of the many newly discovered and edited Syriac manuscripts.

JOSEPHUS ALOYSIUS, brother of the preceding, b. in Tripoli, Syria, 1710; d. at Rome, 1782. He made his theological and Oriental studies in Rome and under the care of his illustrious brother. He was appointed by the Pope, first, as professor of Syriac at the Sapienza in Rome, and afterwards professor of liturgy, by Benedict XIV, who made him also member of the academy for historic research, just founded. His principal works are: (I) “Codex liturgicus ecclesi universes in XV libros distributus” (Rome, 1749-66).—This valuable work has become so rare that a bookseller of Paris recently issued a photographic impression of it. (2) “De Sacris ritibus Dissertatio” (Rome, 1757). (3) “Commentarius theologicocanonicus criticus de ecclesiis, earum reverently et asylo atque concordiy Sacerdotii et Imperii” (Rome, 1766); (4) “Dissertatio de unione et communione ecclesiastica” (Rome, 1770); (5) “Dissertatio de canonibus poenitentialibus” (Rome, 1770); (6) “De Catholicis seu Patriarchis Chaldaeorum et Nestorianorum commentarius historico-chronologicus”, etc. (Rome, 1775); (7) “De Synodo Diocesany Dissertatio” (Rome, 1776); (8) A Latin version of Ebedjesus’s “Collectio Canonum”, published by Cardinal Mai in his “Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio” (pt. I, pp. vii, viii and 1-168; pt. II, pp. 1-268, etc.).

STEPHANUS EVODIUS, or AWWAD, titular Archbishop of Apamaea in Syria, b. in Syria 1707; d. in Rome, 1782; nephew of the two preceding brothers, and prefect of the Vatican Library after the death of J. S. Assemani. His lifework was to assist his two uncles at the Vatican Library. He became a member of the Royal Society of London. His principal works are: (I) the sixth volume of “Ephreemi Syri opera omnia” (see above); (2) “Bibliothecae Medicese Laurentianae et Palatinae codicum manuscriptorum orientalium catalogus” (Florence, 1742); (3) “Acta Sanctorum Martyrum Orientalium et Occidentalium” (Rome, 1748). The first part gives the history of the martyrs who suffered during the reign of the Sassanian Kings of Persia: Sapor, Veranes, and others; (4) “Bibliothecae Apostolicae Vaticanae codicum manuscriptorum catalogus,” to be completed in four volumes in collaboration with his uncle, J. A. Assemani: Vol. I, Oriental manuscripts; Vol. II, Greek; Vol. III, Latin; and Vol. IV, Italian. The first three volumes appeared in 1756-69, but the fourth, of which only the first eighty pages were printed, was destroyed by fire in 1768; (5) “Catalogo della biblioteca Chigiana” (Rome, 1764).

SIMEON, grandnephew of the first and second Assemanis, b. 1752, in Tripoli, Syria; d. at Padua, Italy, 1821. He made his theological studies in Rome, and at the age of twenty-six visited Syria and Egypt. In 1778 he returned to Rome, and then went to Genoa, with the intention of going to America, but he was prevented. In 1785 he was appointed professor of Oriental languages at the seminary of Padua, and in 1807 was transferred to the University of the same city, to fill the same chair. He had many admirers and friends, such as Cardinal Borgia, the founder of the Museo Borgiano at the College of the Propaganda, in Rome, the French Orientalist Silvestre de Sacy, and others. His works are: (I) “Saggio storico sull’ origine, culto, letteratura, e costumi degli Arabi avanti Maometto” (Padua, 1787); (2) “Museo Cufico Naniano, illustrato”, in two parts (Padua, 1787-88); (3) “Catalogo dei codici manoscritti orientali della biblioteca Naniana”, in two parts (Padua, 1787-92); (4) “Globus coelestis arabicocuficus Veliterni musei Borgiani. illustratus, praemissa de Arabum astronomiy dissertatione” (Padua, 1790); (5) “Se gli Arabi ebbero alcuna influenza sull’ origine della poesia moderna in Europa?” (1807); (6) “Supra le monete Arabe effigiate” (Padua, 1809). Our author is also well known for his masterly detection of the literary imposture of Vella, which claimed to be a history of the Saracens in Syria.


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