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The Earliest Life of the Virgin: The First English Translation from the Old Georgian

Stephen J. Shoemaker, University of Oregon, Summer Fellow 2009

During my fellowship period, I began work on an English translation of the earliest complete Life of the Virgin, a text originally written in Greek that now survives only in Old Georgian. Although it has been long overlooked by scholarship, this seventh-century Marian biography exercised a determinative influence on numerous Mariological writings of the Middle Ages. My translation, the first into English, will make this pivotal text more widely available to scholars and students of ancient and medieval Christianity, and should advance our understanding of the formation of Marian piety considerably.

The project has proven more difficult than I had initially anticipated, insofar as the critical edition of the text is often unreliable. The edition contains frequent misprints and other more serious errors in reading the manuscripts, and consequently translation has required regular consultation of the manuscript tradition in order to determine the text. Thus, my translation will also serve as something of a corrected edition of this important text. Despite these circumstances, I was able to translate roughly one-third of the text (about sixty pages) during the fellowship period. This is more than I had originally planned, an outcome that was greatly aided by the excellent resources of the library's Byzantine collection. While in residence, I focused my work particularly on sections of the text that were especially influential on the subsequent Byzantine tradition, in order to make the best use of the library's resources. The final result of this project will be a book-length translation of the complete text together with critical notes and an extended introduction to the Life and its broader cultural significance, and I anticipate its completion within the next year and half.

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