Manuel Philes, Epigram No. 284: On an Enkolpion of Various Saints

Manuel Philes (c. 1275–1345) was one of the most prolific poets of the Late Byzantine period. Most of his poems were edited by Miller (vol. 1 & vol. 2), and some have been studied by Efthymia Braounou-Pietsch and Ivan Drpić.

I recently came across this poem: no. 284 in the Escorial manuscript (Miller, vol. 1, p. 137–38) collection. Below is my quick-and-dirty translation.

Εἰς ἐγκόλπιον διαφόρων ἁγίων.

Θεοῦ νεφέλη δεῦρο καὶ λίθου γνόφος

Καὶ τρεῖς ἔτι σίφωνες εἰς ὄμβρων χύσιν

Ὁ Μυρέων πρόεδρος, ὁ Ζαχαρίου

Σὺν τῷ νικητῇ πανταχοῦ Γεωργίῳ.

Ἕλκουσι γάρ μοι ῥεῖθρα μακροθυμίας 5

Ἐκ τῶν θαλασσῶν τοῦ θεοῦ τῶν ἀφθόνων.

On an enkolpion of various saints.

Come! A divine cloud and a dark stone,

and the three that siphon a stream into a flood:

the priest of Myra, Zacharias,

together with George the conqueror everywhere.

For they draw to me streams of endurance 5

from the boundless divine seas.

As we can see in the lemma, this epigram was inscribed on an enkolpion, or pectoral. When we dig into the text, we can learn a little more about the object itself.

The first line suggests that the central object of the enkolpion was a dark stone, perhaps cloudy or translucent. An example of such a stone is this tenth-century Byzantine cameo at Dumbarton Oaks, in which the translucency is apparent but also darkened by the blue color. For additional photographs, see Genevra Kornbluth’s website.

Cameo-cut Bust of Christ Blessing, Dumbarton Oaks, BZ.1936.17

The next set of verses suggest that the stone was carved with images of Saint Nicholas (the priest of Myra), the Prophet Zacharias, and Saint George. This is an odd combination of holy figures, which certainly reflects the desires of the enkolpion’s owner. Presumably these saints were carved into the stone as full-length portraits or busts, like we see on this thirteenth-century enkolpion at the Vatopedi Monastery at Mount Athos.

Triptych Enkolpion, Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos (after Le mont Athos et l’Empire byzantine: trésors de la Sainte Montagne, 2009)

The last interesting detail in this text is the multiple references to the abundance of water: streams, flood, seas. This sort of metaphorical language is typical for saints who are known to produce miracles. More specifically, it can be a reference to the holy oil that their relics produce at their shrines. The relics of Nicholas and George were known for producing miracle-working oil, but I do not know whether this was also true of Zacharias. In any case, we might suppose that this enkolpion was actually a reliquary that held drops of oil that the owner acquired from these saints’ relics.

Brad Hostetler, February 1, 2018