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September 7, 2015

Select Gnomic Verses of Saint Kassiani

Saint Kassiani is best known for her rich hymnography, but she also wrote 261 Gnomic Epigrams or Iambic Verses, which are maxims, some of only one line, that reveal the moral and ethical attitude of the time. This style of moralizing goes back to ancient times, and even hearkens to the Book of Proverbs (where it also speaks of what God hates and considers foolish or stupid), and their purpose is to be memorized and lived by. "Gnomic epigrams and metrical fables are forms of Byzantine lowbrow literature. They make use of the 'vulgar' unprosodic dodecasyllable. Their style is unpretentious, their language plain and unadorned. And their contents are easy to understand for any Byzantine with some breeding and a degree of literacy." To read more about these Gnomic Epigrams, see here. Below are a sample of these verses, translated from various sources online and gathered here.

I Hate

I Hate a murderer condemning the hot-tempered.
I Hate the adulterer when he judges the fornicator.
I Hate the leper who drives out the leprous.
I Hate the fool supposing to be a philosopher.
I Hate a judge who takes orders from individuals.
I Hate a rich man complaining as a poor man.
I Hate the poor man boasting as in wealth.
I Hate a debtor who sleeps unconcernedly.
I Hate a stunted individual who is contemptuous of height.
I Hate the tall man if he happens to be enormous.
I Hate the liar affecting a solemn air with words.
I Hate the drunk drinking and thirsting.
I Hate the gluttonous one when he lacks courage
I Hate an old man who plays with youths.
I Hate a lazy person and more so the somnolent one.
I Hate the shameless individual in candid speech.
I Hate the verbose in an unsuitable time.
I Hate the one who conforms to all ways.
I Hate the one who does everything for the sake of vain glory.
I Hate the one who does not encourage everyone with words.
I Hate one who speaks before examining.
I Hate the one who teaches knowing nothing.
I Hate a quarrelsome one: for he does not respect the holy.
I Hate the miser and especially one who is wealthy.
I Hate the ungrateful one like Judas.
I Hate one who rashly slanders friends.

On Stupidity

There is absolutely no cure for stupidity, 
nor help except for death.

A stupid person when honored is arrogant towards everyone, 
and when praised becomes even more over-confident.

Just as it is impossible to bend a great pillar, 
so it is to change a stupid person.

If a stupid person is young and in power, 
alas and woe and what a disaster!

Woe, oh Lord, if a stupid person attempts to be clever; 
where does one flee, where does one turn, how does one endure?

On the Monastic Life

Monastic is having only yourself.

Monastic is a single-thought life.

Monastic having worldly concerns has been called many names, 
but not monastic.

Monastic is a restrained tongue.

Monastic is a non-wandering eye.

Monastic is a completely shut door.

Monastic is a support of the unsupported.

Monastic is an established book, 
showing the model to be imitated and teaching at the same time.

Freedom of speech (parisia) is the mother of rudeness. 
Parisia derives from para to ison (more than is right), 
for it exceeds the limits of what is right and proper.

All who bear malice are clearly envious as well, for spitefulness is the
begetter of envy.

On Friendship

A crisis will reveal a genuine friend,
who will not abandon one whom he loves.

When you become wealthy, increase your friends with your wealth,
so that if you become poor, they may not fall away.

May Christ grant that I endure adversity
together with sensible and prudent men,
rather than enjoy the company of irrational fools.

Between two people sharing a friendship in Christ,
there is no equality but rather rivalry.

For true friends a swarm of friends is truly more valuable
than gold and pearls.

Various Epigrams

Don't seek wealth, or for that matter poverty;
for one inflates the mind and judgment,
the other brings unending grief.

It is moderately bad for a woman to have a radiant countenance,
yet beauty has its consolation;
but if a woman is ugly,
what misfortune, what bad luck.

Love everyone, but don't trust all.

The possession of good is rare,
but on the other hand evil is very available.

Wisdom in a fool is another form of folly;
wisdom in a fool is a bell on a pig’s snout.

On the Armenians

The most powerful race of the Armenians
is sly and excessively villainous,
raging mad, unreliable and slanderous
they are extremely conceited and full of tricks.
A certain wise man appropriately said of them;
the Armenians are wicked, if they are held in low esteem,
but they become more wicked when they are highly regarded,
when they become wealthy, they are on the whole the most wicked,
and when they are exceedingly wealthy and honored
they show in every way that they are the worst that it is
possible to be.

On Aesop

A man bald, dumb, and with only one hand,
short, swarthy, and with a speech impediment,
bowed legged and with crossed eyes,
when he was insulted by a certain adulterer and fornicator,
drunk, thief, liar, and murderer, remarked on the accidents of fortune:
“I am not responsible for my mishaps, for in no way did I want to be like this.
But you are to blame for your shortcomings,
for the things you did not get from the creator
are the very things you do and bear and cling to."

To the Doorkeeper

Be diligent, my child, and wait in fear
On this thy task. Here is God's entrance-gate.
Attend with caution, and with care reply.
Repeat and utter only what is fit.
Be silent on whate'er might evil work
To those within, without, our brethren here,
And strangers there. Open and shut with care.
Grant to the poor his boon. Or give good words.
Thus when thou goest hence, thy meed is sure.

To the Keeper of the Infirmary

Oh blessed task, to bear the sick man's load!
That work is thine, my child. Then labour well,
In diligence and zeal to run thy course.
When daylight dawns, stand thou by every couch,
To minister to each with fitting words,
And then to bring the timely gift of food,
To each what suits him best, as reason bids;
Each one belongs to thee. Neglect him not,
Thus shall thy service reap a rich reward,
Light unapproachable, the joy of Heaven.

To the Sewers of Leather

A noble art is his who works the shoes,
'Tis like the Apostle's. Seek to emulate
The zeal of Paul, who sewed the leather skins.
Welcome the daily task appointed you
As Christ's own workmen, thinking still of Him.
Cut well the leather, follow well your art,
Make old things new, and work the new aright,
Throw nought away, and waste not by misuse,
In negligence, if all is not the best;
Nor cut too close, but find the proper mean.
Thus doing all things fitly, ye shall win
The race, accomplishing the martyr's course.

The Dormitory

O Thou who givest sleep, and ease from toil
To those whom daylight calls to labour still,
Grant Thou to me, O Christ, Thou Word of God,
Sleep light and gentle, swift to come and go,
And pure from fancy visions profitless,
But filled with dreams of all things fair and good.
Then rouse me up, what time the clapper sounds,
Alert and sober, fit for sacred song.
Set well my feet to praise Thee while I go,
From evil spirits keep my spirit free,
And purify my tongue to harmony,
To sing and magnify Thy glorious might;
That rising early after perfect rest
I may behold the light of Thy commands.