Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History is crucial and seminal but laborious and tricky. Indispensable though it is for studying Christian communities from Lyon to Edessa, Eusebius' reputation for laborious syntax, rare and obscure diction, elusive referends, and repetitive content—as well as quotations that intermingle his own style with those of other complex ancient authors—have left the History with few willing translators. Moreover, Eusebius' assumption of extensive knowledge on the part of readers requires that any translator provide meticulous introduction and heavy annotation. Few translations available are sufficiently faithful, scholarly, and accessible for university courses.
Jeremy Schott has therefore done a precious service to English-speaking scholars and instructors in producing this excellent new translation of the Ecclesiastical History. A brilliant scholar known for cutting-edge theoretical analyses of religious debate at the Constantinian turn, Schott here exhibits solid philological, linguistic, and historical acuity.
The translation is highly accessible, particularly in the visual layout of the text (which Eusebius, dubbed the “Christian impresario of the codex,” might have appreciated).1 Unlike most previous translators, Schott has wisely inserted Eusebius' own chapter headings into the narrative immediately before the passages they name, as well as translating them at the start of each book, where Eusebius originally placed them. Equally wisely, Schott sometimes places the headings differently than our division of chapters, enabling students to identify easily where Eusebius discusses any desired topic.2 To distinguish Eusebius' numerous sources from the Caesarean scholar's voice, Schott consistently uses smaller (but readable) font sizes and block quotes for inserted texts.3
On Eusebius' complicated syntax, Schott opts most often to break Eusebius' longer sentences up yet still relays Eusebius' locutions reminiscently of Eusebius' speech. An illustrative example comes in Eusebius' embedded Oration on the Building of Churches at Tyre, where Schott translates a 338-word sentence (History 10.4.14–16, pp. 465–466) not just into seven sentences, but into two paragraphs, leaving the twenty-first century reader with more manageable phrasings that nonetheless reflect Eusebius' style. Another, 164-word sentence, where Eusebius describes a Roman detachment closing in on an Antiochene Christian matron and her daughters, becomes eight crisp, thrilling sentences (8.12.3–4, pp. 409–410): here the pace slackens only for the matron's wrenching defense plea, riveting the reader up to the moment when the ladies thwart their would-be rapists by plunging into the Orontes river.4 Amid his partitioning of the Greek Schott deploys connectives skillfully to reproduce the elaborate subordination of Eusebius' locution.
At the level of diction, Schott renders Eusebius' lexemes with literal faithfulness, typically in everyday language. He prefers to retain the deep etymological roots of Eusebius' Greek: for example, where Eusebius invokes courage (andreia) Schott consistently includes “manly” in the translation. Likewise epiphaneia is translated as “epiphany,” paradoxos as “paradoxical,” politeia as “polity,” or oikonomia as “economy.” Some may find this tendency excessive. For example, Schott usually translates the important Eusebian term philanthrōpia and cognates as “love of humanity,”5 yet the word almost always signifies special favor from a superior to a subordinate. It is rendered to convey this asymmetry—indeed, “philanthropic,” which Schott occasionally uses, evokes this nuance. Such value judgments aside,6 outright errors are infrequent.7
Schott's detailed explanatory notes explain persuasively either why he deviates from literal translation or why he has opted for one of several possible translations.8 And Schott deserves praise for some memorable renderings. Examples include Eusebius' descriptor for the prophet Mani at 7.31.1, maneis, as “maniac”; Peter pursuing Simon Magus to Rome “hot on his heels” (para podas); “contemptible specimens of humanity” is Schott's phrase for phauloi anthrōpiskoi (6.9.4); and in 7.12 three hesitant Christians are said to have deliberated and then “sped” (hormēsai) to Caesarea to confess and become martyrs.
Schott's apparatus for guiding readers through the translation is admirably up to date and helpful. Refreshingly, the focus of Schott's excellent introduction is Eusebius' activity as a scholar and communication of his ideology, rather than historical accuracy and sources. This communicates well the last generation's reassessment of Eusebius, who has evolved from a dull, ham-fisted compiler into an adroit, prolific, and subtle public intellectual. Each book of the History, meanwhile, receives its own introduction that highlights key themes from the book. For example, Schott's introduction to book 3 discusses Jewish revolts, Polycarp of Smyrna, Hegesippus, heresiology, and Rome's centrality to second-century Christianity (pp. 168–174), while book 8's introduction emphasizes Diocletian's tetrarchy and the civil wars of 306 to 313 as well as persecution and imperial edicts against Christians (pp. 389–393). (Although Schott fits themes well to specific books of the History, readers should note that most themes described in these introductions recur across multiple books of the History.) If the translation's general introduction errs on the side of discussing literary rather than historical context, the individual books' introductions balance this with focus on historical events referenced in the History. Accordingly, each book receives a helpful list of alternative primary sources for historically-minded readers to compare with Eusebius' information, and the translation also has an appendix listing the dates of all bishops mentioned for major cities.
Schott's glossary lucidly explains numerous key words—particularly theological terms such as logos, oikonomia, epiphaneia, or eusebeia but also terms of identity such as genos (which Schott translates aptly as “race”), martys, presbyteros, and paroikia (“community”).9 And along with his translation choices, Schott’s copious footnotes explain background information that Eusebius assumed of his readers. Especially notable are Schott's notes to the Oration on the Building of Churches, which flesh out the architecture of the church interpreted allusively by Eusebius (HE 10.4.37–46, pp. 471–473). Rarely did I think an explanatory footnote was needed that was absent,10 and I learned much from the annotations. The maps in the back of the book feature virtually every site mentioned in the History,11 and the indices of names and of cited sources will be quite helpful to students pursuing specific topics.
It should be reiterated in closing that Schott's translation was a bold undertaking; it has generated a monumental achievement. It certainly deserves to become the next generation's standard English version of Eusebius' History.
Anthony Grafton and Megan Hale Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book (Cambridge, MA: Belknap at Harvard University Press, 2006).
In one example, History 8.13 has the title “On the Presidents of the Church who Demonstrated with their own Blood the Authenticity of the Faith”, but the chapter only describes cleric-martyrs up to 8.13.8 and at 8.13.9 switches to a description of Roman emperors that continues through the end of 8.14. To fit this content Schott places the chapter title usually associated with 8.14, “On What the Enemies of Piety Were Like,” between 8.13.8 and 8.13.9 rather than at the beginning of 8.14.
I caught just one error in the block quoting, where at HE 2.2.6 (=Tertullian, Apology 5.1–2) a line and a half of Eusebius' words are included in the block quote of Tertullian—though there Eusebius himself hangs a genitive absolute of his own from Tertullian's words, uncharacteristically blurring the boundary between his source's words and his own.
In two renowned long sentences, though,—the famous 167-word opening sentence (1.1.1–2) and the confession and torture of Origen at 6.39.5—Schott leaves a single sentence.
On philanthrōpia in Eusebius, see Aaron Johnson, Ethnicity and Argument in the Praeparatio Evangelica of Eusebius of Caesarea (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 210–218.
One deviation from literal rendering is translation of Eusebius' frequent superlatives as regular adjectives, e.g. at HE 1.1.6, 1.13.8, 5.4.pref.
I noticed clauses in the Greek that do not appear in English at HE 1.1.8 (ὅτιπερ ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ τῆς προσωνυμίας ἠξιώθημεν), 1.5.1 (μετὰ τὴν δέουσαν προκατασκευὴν τῆς προτεθείσης ἡμῖν ἐκκλησιαστικῆς ἱστορίας ἤδη), and 7.30.3 (τῆς ἀρνησιθέου κακίας); at 1.13.8; Schott translates boulēthēnai as “planned”; on p. 120 the sequence of titles to HE 3.13 and 3.14 is reversed; in 3.23.6 future participles are translated as presents; at 5.1.57 ἄγρια καὶ βάρβαρα φῦλα is translated as singular; in the chapter title for HE 7.2 edogmatisen is translated as “thought” where it must mean “declare as normative doctrine”; at 7.30.20 boulais is translated “advisers”; at 8.2.2 mnēmē becomes “collective memory.” There are also occasional missing section numbers: e.g. pp. 73, 155, 197, 199. 202, 257, 292, 296, 423. Finally, scrupulous readers of Latin will observe that “cursus honorem” appears three times (pp. 409, 434, 451).
For example, at HE 3.3.1 (p. 122 n. 5) Schott explains effectively his choice to translate endiathekos, typically translated “canonical,” as “registered.”
One term that could be explained is “imperium,” Schott's translation of both hēgēmonia and archē (some readers will likely wish these terms distinguished). Other terms to consider for later editions include “saint,” “philosophy,” and politeia: on the latter, cf. Michael Hollerich, Eusebius of Caesarea's Commentary on Isaiah: Christian Exegesis in the Age of Constantine (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999), 164–204.
I noted one key omission: at HE 5.6.5 almost all manuscripts read didachēn, yet Schott opts without explanation to translate the reading of one manuscript, diadochēn. The most prominent textual variations, those involving Licinius in books 9 and 10, are explained admirably.
The only mentioned sites I noted as absent are Carthage, Adaibene, and Osrhoene.