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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Treatise of Zera Yacob, Chapter XI

Ethiopian Argument | Thursday, April 03, 2014
when King Susenyos died in MDCXXV A.D., his son Fasiladas reigned in his place; at first he liked the Frang as his father did, but he did not persecute the Copts, in order that there be peace all over Ethiopia. During this time I came out from my cave and set out for the country of the Amhara; then I passed to the country called Byegamder where to all the enemies of the Frang I appeared as one of the monks who was ousted during Susenyos’ period. Because of this, they liked me and provided me with food and clothing.
In this manner, I was moving from region to region, never wanting to return to Aksurn, for I knew the wickedness of its priests. Remembering that man’s path is made firm by God, I said; “Direct me, O Lord, in the way I should go and to the land I shall dwell in.” I intended to cross [River Abbay] and to stay in the land [known as] Gwazzam, but God led me to a place I had not thought of.
One day I arrived at Enferaz and went to a rich person by the name of Habtu, whose [name] is [the same as] Habtu Egziabher; I spent a day with him. The next day I asked him to give me paper and ink to write a letter to
my relatives in Aksum. He asked me: “Are you an expert at writing?” I answered: “Yes, I am.” He then said: “Stay with me for a few days and copy for me the Psalter of David; I will pay you for this.” I agreed and heartily thanked God for showing me the way by which I could live from the fruits of my work. I hated to go back to my previous profession, for I did not wish to teach falsehood, [knowing] that if I thought the truth, people would not listen to me, but would hate me, accuse me and persecute me. But I preferred to live with all men in peace and friendship; I wanted and preferred to feed on the fruit of my work, ignored by men and secluded with the wisdom God had taught me, rather than to live richly in the house of sinners.
A short time later, ink and paper were ready and I wrote a Book of the Psalms of David. My master Habtu and all who saw my writing were in admiration, for it was beautiful. As wages, my master Habtu gave me a fine suit of clothes; later on the son of this Habtu, whose name was Walda Mikayel, told me: “Write for me as you did for my father.” I did so and he gave me a cow and two goats. After this many persons came to me and asked me to write the Book of David and other books and letters; there was no other writer except me in this region; they provided me with clothing, salt, cereals, and other similar things.
My master Habtu had two young sons: the name of one was Walda Gabryel, who was called Tasamma, the name of the other was Walda Heywat, who was called Metku. Their father Habtu said to me: “Teach them to read the psalms; I shall supply you with boarding: what you earn by writing will be yours.” I said: “O my father! I shall do all that you have ordered me to do. I only ask that you be as a father, a mother and kinsfolk to me; for I have no relatives.”
COMMENT
Zera Yacob’s Treatise was, again, Ethiopia’s first autobiography as well her first philosophical text. At some point, if only for the sake of completeness, I should comment on these autobiographical elements and the historical setting. For now, though, I’ll just note the introduction of Walda Heywat the final paragraph. After just a few more chapters, we’ll see how Walda Heywat would continue Zera Yacob’s work.

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