First page of Simeon Seth's dietary manual: BNF MS suppl. grec 634, f. 216r
First page of Simeon Seth's dietary manual: BNF MS suppl. grec 634, f. 216r
Simeon Seth's instruction on botargo: avoid it totally. BNF MS suppl. grec 634, f. 254v detail
Simeon Seth's instruction on botargo: avoid it totally. BNF MS suppl. grec 634, f. 254v detail

Symeon Seth[a] (c. 1035 – c. 1110)[1] was a Byzantine scientist, translator and official under Emperor Michael VII Doukas. He is often said to have been Jewish, but there is no evidence of this.[2] He wrote four original works in Greek and translated one from Arabic.[3]


Symeon was originally from Antioch. His second name, gives as Seth (Σήθ) or Sethi (Σήθι), may be a patronymic (indicating his father was named Seth) but is more probably a family name. The manuscripts of his works describe him as a philosopher and give him the titles magistros and vestes. These titles were losing their significance in Byzantium at the time; they tend to indicate an official of middling rank.[3]

During the reign of Isaac I Komnenos, Symeon witnessed a total solar eclipse in Egypt on either 23 February 1058 or 15 February 1059. Probably he moved to Constantinople around 1071. There he sought the patronage of Michael VII and entered into literary competition with fellow polymath Michael Psellos.[3]

According to the Alexiad (c.1148), the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos asked Symeon to translate the Arabic fable collection Kalīlah wa Dimnah into Greek. The Alexiad describes him as a mathematician and astrologer capable of predicting the future through calculations. He supposedly predicted the death of Robert Guiscard (17 July 1085). For a time he fell out of imperial favour and was imprisoned in Raidestos.[3]

Around 1112, Symeon appears to have sold a gospel book bound between wood covers to the monastery founded by Michael Attaleiates in Constantinople. He probably died not long after. No letters written by or to Symeon survive. Nor is there evidence that he ever practiced medicine, as commonly stated.[3]


He revised Psellos's Σύνταγμα κατὰ στοιχείων περὶ τροφῶν δυνάμεων[b] (Latin Syntagma de alimentorum facultatibus or De cibarium facultate, "On the Properties of Foods"),[4] which criticizes Galen and emphasizes eastern medical traditions.[5][6] Paul Moore says "the text is really an explanation of Aetius Amidenus Iatricorum libri xvi, with material drawn from Dioscorides Liber de alimentis. Apparently, Psellos wrote the work for the emperor Constantine IX Monomachos. It was then revised for Michael VII Doukas by Symeon Seth, who wrote a brief introduction (the proem.), made some corrections in the text, omitting some chapters. The work deals with some two hundred and twenty-eight plants and animals."[7] The Syntagma is an important source for Byzantine cuisine and dietetics.

Simeon's work Σύνοψις τῶν φυσικῶν[c] (Conspectus rerum naturalium, "On the things of nature") is a treatise on the natural sciences divided into five books. The first concerns the earth; the second, the elements; the third, the sky and the stars; the fourth, matter, form, nature and the soul (sense perception); the fifth, the final cause and divine providence. The work is heavily influenced by the philosophy of Aristotle.[8]

He learned astronomy from Arabic sources[9] and translated the book of fables Kalīlah wa Dimnah from Arabic to Greek in about 1080.[10] The protagonists in the Greek version[d] are named "Stephanites" and "Ichnelates".[11]

Seth advanced several proofs that the earth was spherical. He noted that since the sun rises in the east before it sets in the west, it can be afternoon in Persia when it is still morning in Byzantine lands. He points out that the same eclipse that was recorded as having taken place in the afternoon by the Persians was recorded in the morning by the Greeks. Nautical and astronomical proofs are also given.[12]


  1. ^ Greek: Συμεὼν Μάγιστρος Ἀντιοχείας τοῦ Σήθι, "Symeōn Magister of Antioch [son] of Sēth". His first name may also be spelled Simeon or Simeo.
  2. ^ TLG no. 3113.002
  3. ^ TLG no. 3113.003
  4. ^ TLG no. 3113.001


  1. ^ Antonie Pietrobelli (2016), Qui est Syméon Seth ? Le Projet Syméon Seth.
  2. ^ Robert Singerman, Jewish Translation History: A Bibliography of Bibliographies and Studies (John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2002), p. 69.
  3. ^ a b c d e Petros Bouras-Vallianatos and Sophia Xenophontos, "Galen's Reception in Byzantium: Symeon Seth and his Refutation of Galenic Theories on Human Physiology", Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 55 (2015): 431–469, at 436–442.
  4. ^ The full texts of the 1658 Paris edition and of Langkavel's 1893 Teubner edition are available online. The work is found in Paris manuscripts Codd. parisini græci 36, 1603, 1251, 2154, 2181, 2224, 2228, 2229, 2230, 2231, 2235, 2260, 2301, 2302, 2303, 2308, 2316, 2324, 2510, 2650; Supplément grec nos. 64, 634, 637, 1327; Paris. Coislin 335; and Parisinus latinus 7049, as well as many non-Paris mss. (see Moore, pp. 438-444).
  5. ^ Howells, John G.; Osborn, M. Livia (1984). A reference companion to the history of abnormal psychology. Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313242618. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  6. ^ "Simeon Seth was the great Orientalist of Byzantine medicine... [he] selected the best, not only from the Greek materia medica but also from Persian, Arabic, and Indian sources". Owsei Temkin, "Byzantine Medicine: Tradition and Empiricism", Dumbarton Oaks Papers 16:95-115 (1962) at JSTOR
  7. ^ Paul Moore. Iter Psellianum: a Detailed Listing of Manuscript Sources for All Works Attributed to Michael Psellos, Including a Comprehensive Bibliography (Subsidia Mediaevalia 26). Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2005 (ISBN 0888443757), p. 437 (entry no. 1045 (CET.DISC.26)).
  8. ^ A. Delatte, Anecdota Atheniensia et alia, Volume 2 (Paris, 1939), 1-89 (edition of text with historical introduction).
  9. ^ David Pingree, "Gregory Chioniades and Palaeologan Astronomy", Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18:133-160 (1964)
  10. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 s.v. Kalilah wa-Dimnah; date from G.H. Gérould, "The Ballad of the Bitter Withy" (not seen), cited by Phillips Barry, "The Bridge of Sunbeams", The Journal of American Folklore 27:103. (January–March 1914), pp. 79-89 at JSTOR; edition and German translation by Kai Brodersen, Symeon Seth, Fabelbuch, Speyer 2021.
  11. ^ L.-O. Sjöberg, Stephanites und Ichnelates: Überlieferungsgeschichte und Text (Uppsala, 1962).
  12. ^ Kadellis, Anthony (November 16, 2017). "The Hidden Science and Tech of the Byzantine Empire". Nautilus.

Further reading