King Zara Yaqob and the Development of Ethiopian Literature

Literature in Medieval Ethiopia

Scientific Study, 2019

59 Pages




Unit One
1.1 Background of the Study
1.2 Statement of the Problem
1.3 Objectives
1.3.1 General Objective
1.3.2 Specific Objectives
1.4 Significance
1.5 Methodology
1.5.1 Sources of data
1.5.2 Method of Analysis

Unit Two
Literature Review
2.1 Conceptual framework
2.1.1 Ethiopian Literature
2.2 Major Genres of Geez Literature
2.2.1 Hagiographies
2.2.2 Dersan(at)/ Homily
2.2.3 Mälke’a Mälkə’ or Mälkə’
2.2.4 Tä’ammər(ät)
2.2.5 Qəne
2.2.6 Other Theological Genres
2.2.7 Amharic Literature
2.3 Related Works

Chapter Three
The Contribution of King Zara Yaqob in Literature
3.1 Preliminary
3.1.1 Biographical Accounts
3.1.2 Zara Yaqob as a Religious Reformer
3.1.3 The Mariology of Zara Yaqob
3.1.4 Major Features in the Reign
3.2 The Development of Literature
3.2.1 The Golden Age
3.2.2 Prominent Figures and Works
3.2.3 Personal Endeavor for Literary Development
3.3 Literary Works of Zara Yaqob
3.3.1 Survey on the Works of Zara Yaqob
3.4 Merits of the Literatures

Chapter Four
Conclusion and Recommendations
4.1 Conclusion
4.2 Recommendations



In the very first spot, I would like to record my gratitude to my wife Hanna Mekonen and son MENELIK Dawit (Your love is as wonderful as your name!). This work becomes possible with your influential part. I gratefully acknowledge you all who put your invisible hands in the successful accomplishment of this work.

There were a few on the planet when you fire the literary light in that time. Ethiopian hagiographers, scribers and men of letters, I very kindly offer my grateful recognition and praise. This literary competence and wealth of the country would not have been possible without your priceless endeavors. You have been and will be my inspiration across ages. It is my pleasure to pay tribute to you.


I felt ample pleasure and considered myself fortunate to dedicate this work to you. The work is at hand to commemorate King Zara Yaqob and Abba Giorgis of Gasecca of Medieval Ethiopia who were incredibly pay lifetime committement to literature of the time, and contributed much for the development of Ethiopic literature.

Dawit G.


This research article attempts to uncover the literary activity in the 15th century Ethiopia. The general purpose of the study is surveying literary development in the period of Emperor Zara Yaqob, and specifically pays focus on the personal efforts and contributions of the King himself in the growth of literature in his reign. It also intends to endorse whether these texts are qualify in literary features. Almost no researches are conducted on Zara Yaqob and his literary contribution, this fact is taken as inspirational point to do the study. Qualitative research method is applied, for the study is done on a text. The Emperor has collected men of letter and scholars in the court yard and highly encouraged them to have a huge engagement in literary activities. These scholars, like Abba Giorgis of Gassecca, wrote numerous books which are religious but have great literary value and qualities. The King has written more than ten books; most of them have religious thematic preoccupation but also have secular subjects. These are: Matsehafä Berhan; Matsehafä Milad; Egziabher Nagsä; Sebhatä Fequr; Matsehafä Sellassie; Matsehafä Bahrey; Tä’aqebo Mestir; Tomarä Tesebe’it; Kehedatä Säytan; Darsanä Malaekt; Ra’eyä Ta’amer; Melke’a Gubae, and Mangadä Samay. These texts are investigated out in content and literary value. In addition, he has produced hymns which are prepared in poetic form, and the lines are rhymed as rhymeisthemostfamiliarelementofpoetry; the hymns are constructed in end rhyme. In his hymns, figurative speeches especially simile and metaphor are well applied. The researcher has long realized potential value of the literary productions in the period of Zara Yaqob as source for the study of Ethiopian literature and history. The works are very important to study social, economic, historical, religious, and the political history of Ethiopia in addition to their literary values.

Key Words: King Zara Yaqob, Homily, Hymn,`Golden Age`, Ethiopic/Geez Literatures

Unit One


1.1 Background of the Study

Ethiopia is a country which is rich in its literary history. The country is one of the classical countries those that have their own alphabet and writing system. Using this indigenous alphabet, Ethiopians have developed their own writing tradition and produced many works of literature, which has dated back to hundreds of years. Accordingly, Ethiopia is a country with plenty of classical magnificently enlightened manuscripts and literature, art, architecture, and music as well. Molvaer (19961 ) said that“Ethiopia has a centuries-long tradition of written literature. Inscriptions in stone go back to pre-Christian times, after Christianity, books started to be written”.

Thus, before the arrival and flourishing of Christianity, Ethiopians had a habit of writing on stones and other hard materials. After the introduction of Christianity the attention was turned to write on soft materials especially for religious purpose. “In the 3rd and 4th century a variety of hand writing materials like stone, metal, clay and wood were used. Introduction of soft writing material was related to the coming of the nine saints to Ethiopia in the 6th century” (Sergew, 1981).When thewriting on soft materials like vellum was introduced; most writings of that period were translations, from Greek, Syria, Arab, and like. In this time the prominent literary figures in translating texts into Ge’ez were the Nine Saints, a group of learned monks who came from Christian countries outside Ethiopia, Abba SalamaI and Abba Salama II.

These people have laid the cornerstone for Ethiopian Christian manuscripts by translating and editing religious Scriptures (Gorgorios, 1974 E.C), (Harden, 1926), and (Adamu and Belaynesh, 1970). Therefore, “a vast body of literary works in Ge’ez grew up from fifth century A.D onwards” (Adamu and Belaynesh, 1970). After some centuries of growth, there was a decline, and few new books were produced until the middle ages. Renewed literary activity from the 14th century occurred after Ge’ez was no longer in use as a spoken language Molvaer (1996).

Ethiopian Literature was reach on its peak in the medieval period. Christian literature has reached its climax in the medieval historical period of Ethiopia. The period was important for the significant output of Ge’ez literature. The period was termed as ‘Golden Age of Ethiopian literature’. The medieval period, that is “the period of the highest development of Ge’ez literature was between the 14th and 19th century” (Bender, 1976). For Adamu and Belaynesh (1970), on the other hand, it was “a period of cultural renaissance followed upon the restoration of the Solomonic dynasty about 1270, and the fourteenth century was the beginning of what has been termed the “Golden Age” of Ethiopian Literature”.

The Golden writers in the Golden age were King Zara Yaqoband Abba Giorgis ofGassecca. Therefore the king was among the major literary figures of the period. The literary and artistic achievements of medieval Ethiopia were indeed outstanding (Taddese, 1970). Additionally, Taddese (1970) states, "the large collection of hagiographical traditions was those about medieval Ethiopian saints who actually lived between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. These three centuries saw the revival… and led to an intensive literary development”. Hence, most of the indigenous hagiographies were begun to write in the medieval period by indigenous hagiographers.

King Zara Yaqob, who was very prolific writer of the medieval time, contributes many books. Some of his writing, unlike many his contemporaries, raises non-religious issues.Most Ge’ez literature is religious but some texts also cover a range of secular subjects among which are astrology, philosophy, medicine, history, law, mathematics, and royal chronicles of some emperors (Bender, 1976). In addition to this, some other non-Christian works were written; the writings of Zara Yaqob are examples (Harden 1926).

From classical times till the late 19th century, most of Ethiopian literatures were composed of Ethiopian Christian literature. These Christian literatures which are belonged to the Ethiopian church are Gädlat (hagiographies), Tä’ammərat (miracle books), Dərsanat (homilies), Mälkə’ (a type of poetry), and others, that are mostly written to honor and respect the saints of the church. Likewise, ZenaMewael (chronicle) of royal kings was another dimension of the earliest writing tradition.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Ethiopia has an overwhelming literary profile. This literary history has dated back 1500 years. The translation andindigenous Ethiopic scriptures and literary productions have been produced for centuries. As far as the fact is this, the Ethiopic literatures are not yet studied well. Some Ge’ez texts and hagiographies have been studied by students and researchers of philology department at AAU. When we turn our face to the stream of literature, it is almost nothing studied.

For this reason, we are here to study this Ethiopic literature on the literary stream. Zara Yaqob the King is among those who put their invincible hand for the development of Ethiopian literature. However, there is again no impactful research done over Zara Yaqob and his literary role.

- What are the literary values of the books written by?
- What are the thematic pre-occupations of the books he wrote?
- What is the style of his writings?
- What is the contribution of the king to the development of Ethiopian literature?

1.3 Objectives

1.3.1 General Objective

The general objective of this study is to explore the contribution of King Zara Yaqob for the development of Ethiopian literature

1.3.2 Specific Objectives

The specific objectives of this study are to:

- Assessing the literary contribution of Zara Yaqob
- Analyzingthe literary works of king
- Revealing the literary values of the writings of the king
- Making the literary effects of the king vivid for both indigenous and expatriate researchers

1.4 Significance

- It pronounces the role of the king in the field of literature.
- It adds value/knowledge about the deeds of KingZara Yaqob.
- It serves as an input for researchers who want to study on the same area, like medieval history, medieval literature, and the history and works of KingZara Yaqob.
- It puts a significant impact on the study of medieval Ethiopia; the socio-political and religious developments of the country during the period.

1.5 Methodology

1.5.1 Sources of data

Primary and secondary data sources are used in this research. Primary sources of data, thus, are the first hand text i.e. the writings of the king, which are intended to be subject of the research. Accordingly, primary data are gathered from the texts written by him. The secondary sources on the other hand, will be written books that are going to be utilized as a source, particularlybooks, which enable to explore his literary role; for review of previous researches and conceptual framework. The researches, consequently, will employ textual analysis through descriptive research method.

1.5.2 Method of Analysis

Descriptive (qualitative) way of data analysis is employed. The researcher carried outtextual analysis. The role of KingZara Yaqobfor the growth of Ethiopic literature is explored. In analyzing the data, elements and techniques of modern fiction are used as main references of analysis. The source language of the texts of King Zara Yaqob is Ge’ez; therefore, those Ge’ez texts are taken as source.

Unit Two

Literature Review

Under this review of related researches section, we the researchers are going to present related researches done in the same area and a survey of conceptual framework. The first part will incorporate concepts which are able to be taken as supportive input to the current study. Therefore, concepts about hagiographies, Ge’ez literature, Ge’ez literature, medieval literature and the like will be surveyed out. The second part again deals with previous researches done in similar areas like those done on hagiographies, Ge’ez literature, Ge’ez literature, medieval literature, dersanat, ta’amrat and others.

2.1 Conceptual framework

2.1.1 Ethiopian Literature

Ethiopia is a country of ancient civilization and literature with its own alphabet, numerals, calendar, writings and so on. Ethiopia is among the oldest countries which developed dated literary tradition. Ethiopian literature began with inscriptions in stone thousand years ago. Our country has plenty of classical magnificently enlightened manuscripts and literature, art, architecture, and music as well. Molvaer (1996) said that“Ethiopia has a centuries-long tradition of written literature. Inscriptions in stone go back to pre-Christian times, after Christianity, books started to be written”. From stone scriptures up to parchment writings, this country is too rich in classical literature. The language developed into Ethiopic (also called Ge’ez), which later became a very important literary tool when Christianity was national religion of the region in the fourth century. But it was only in the nineteenth century that Ethiopia started to use Amharic for written purposes, and the twentieth century saw a flood of books in Amharic published in Ethiopia. Below is presented Ge’ez and Amharic literature in detail, which has composed Ethiopian literature. Ge’ez Literature

Ge’ez literature is the most predominant genre of Ethiopian literature. Our Ethiopia is among the countries with thousands years of literary history and tradition. Before the arrival and flourishing of Christianity, Ethiopians had a habit of writing on stones and other hard materials. After the introduction of Christianity the attention was turned to write on soft materials like vellum. Most writings of classical period were translations, from Greek, Syria, Arab, and like. Prominent literary figures in translating texts into Ge’ez were the Nine Saints, Abba SalamaI and Abba Salama II. In the 3rd and 4th century a variety of hand writing materials like stone, metal, clay and wood were used (Sergew 1981). According to (Bender, 1976), Ge’ez has a number of ancient inscriptions written on stone by Aksum kings in the 4th century A.D, and manuscripts that are part of ancient and medieval literature. Introduction of soft writing material were related to the coming of the nine saints to Ethiopia in the second half of the 6th century. It is believed that in order to translate the holy Bible in to Ethiopic, the saints required a reliable and abundant writing material, and they started manufacturing of parchment/vellum (Sergew 1981). From the fifth/fourth century A.D onwards vast bodies of literary works in Ge’ez have been accumulated. Ge’ez is still the language of the liturgy, long after it ceased to be a vernacular language. Translation of the Holy Scriptures is among the major literary achievement of Ge’ez literature in classical times. Learned Syrian monks known as the Nine Saints who came to Ethiopia in the 5th century are well known figures of the period.

The second major age of literary improvement in Ethiopia was seen in medieval time. This activity especially from the 14th century occurred after Ge’ez was no longer in use as a spoken language Molvaer (1996). The high point of Ethiopian Christian literature has is recorded in the medieval historical period. The period was important for the significant output of Ge’ez writings. The period was termed as ‘Golden Age of Ethiopian literature’. Apart from the religious subject of Ge’ez literature, some texts also cover a range of secular subjects among which are astrology, philosophy, medicine, history, law, mathematics, and royal chronicles of some emperors (Bender, 1976). Most of Ethiopian literatures were composed of Ethiopian Christian literature. The scribes and authorities of the Ethiopian Christian literatures is belonged to the Ethiopian church. Most known genres are: Gädlat (hagiographies), Tä’ammərat (miracle books), Dərsanat (homilies), Mälkə’ (a type of poetry), and others. ZenaMewael, (chronicle) of royal kings, on the other hand, was another dimension of the Ge’ez literature. Based on the question of originality, the Ge’ez literature can be classified in to three categories. The first are translations from other languages, Second, neither translation nor original i.e. adaptations, and third, entirely indigenous.

In Ge’ez language, many classical works were recorded even writings that are lost from the rest of the world such as the complete texts of book of Enoch, Jubilees, Ezra Sutu’el and ascension of Isaiah are found only in Ge’ez manuscripts of the Ethiopian Church (Gezahegn, 2000). After Ethiopia make Christianity state religion in the fourth century, there began a fruitful work of translating the Bible, including Apocryphal books. Some of these books, for example the book of Enoch, exist complete only in Ethiopic and in modern translations made from it. These works were soon followed by other religious and theological literature. This was a salient feature of Ethiopian Christianity. At the same time, the Church started schools to educate the laity as well as to train clergy, and this education system has supplied Ethiopia with a great number of literate people over many centuries, from all classes of society. Due to this reason, texts were produced in fields such as philosophy, especially two books about which there has been some controversy. In history, a series of royal chronicles were produced. Finally, a typical (so-called classical) Ethiopian form of poetry (qiné), was composed both in Ge’ez and Amharic. Literature in Medieval Ethiopian

Medieval period is a period of a highest achievement in literary progress. Ethiopian Ge’ez literature reached at its peak in the medieval historical period. The age is commonly termed as “Golden Age” of Ethiopian literature. The following explanations concerning Ethiopian medieval period literature are taken from Getatchew Haile’s article ‘Ge’ez Literature’ in ‘Encyclopedia Aethiopica’ (2005).

The clergy were ready to import the Arabic Christian literature of the Copts and to translate it into Ethiopia. They also began to compose original works in the same language. The chronicle of Atse Amda Seyon I must have been written in this period. The years 1340-1500 mark the evident interest of local (Ethiopian) scholars in writing on topics that the imported literature did not deal with satisfactorily. He described the years from 1500 to 1632 as the period of national crisis. Despite Gragn’s devastating war and the destructive migration of the Oromo in progress then, the doctors of the church were active in translating works from the Christian Arabic of the Coptic Church. The part of period from 1632 to 1770 is marked by the continuation of the tradition of chronicling the emperors’ deeds and by an increase in the number of Mälke’ texts.During the last period of Ge’ez literature, the Gondar allergy developed a new collection of hymns for the saints, the Ziq. The Ziq has its own musical notation. Although the service with Qene hymns had become tradition centuries earlier, it certainly reached its peak during the last period of Ge’ez literature.

Medieval Ethiopia is a period when Ge’ez literature reaches its climax ever in the time of Ethiopian history. The focus area of this paper, hagiographies are highly pronounced in the medieval Ethiopia, “especially after the 13th century such kind of writings (hagiographic) had been expanded” (Bausi, 2007).

The thriving of hagiographic works is the known feature in medieval Ethiopia. Hagiographies which are writings that narrate and celebrate the lives of men and women saints encompass one of the major literary genres in Ethiopic literature of the Middle Ages. Hundreds of hagiographical texts both local and translated ones survive from this long period, a vast body of potential source material for the history and culture of the Medieval Ethiopian Orthodox church in particular and the country’s as a whole. The period’s literature is chiefly “rich in hagiographies”, and hagiographical traditions and royal chronicles were flourished in this Middle Ages” (Adamu and Belaynesh, 1976). The Period of Ge’ez Literature

Taddesse (1972), divides Ge’ez literature into two main periods: the first, called the ‘Aksumite period’, from the end of the 5th century to the end of the 7th century; the second, from the Solomonic Dynasty, from the end of the 13th century until the 18th century; which incorporates two sections, from King Amda Seyon (1270) until the beginning of 15th century, and from Zara Yacob (1434-68) to the 19th century.

Harden (1926), studied Ge’ez literature classifying intofive periods. These are: The First (Aksumite) period: This period begins soon after the introduction of Christianity. It lasted for three centuries and comprises important personalities such as the Nine Saints, Yared and King Kaleb. Age of Arabic translation: When the Islamic-Christian conflict calmed down and Egypt surrendered to the Arabs, a new hagiographic tradition was creeped up. From that time on nearly all the Ethiopic translations were made from the Arabic binding. A period of contention (Amda Tsion): The third stage is the period of persecution, which signifies the time of contention between church and state. The mainspring of the contention was King Amda Tsion’s marriage to his step-sister and the church’s strong protest against this ‘adultery’. To this period belong the leading protester, Basalota Michael and other saints, such as Filipos of Dabra Libanos and Ewestatewos. The Golden Age: Fourthly comes the ‘Golden age of Ethiopian literature’. It is known for its king committed to writing his unforgettable literary works.

On the other hand, Demeke (1990) claims that indigenous and foreign scholars, who wrote about Ethiopian history and language, classify the language and literary period of the country into four: first, the Aksumite or Ezanian age (to the 8th c); second, The dark age (9th - 13th c); third, the age of Amda Seyon and Zara Yaqob (13th – 16th c); the fourth one is, the last age (16th – the end of Ge’ez).

2.2 Major Genres of Geez Literature

2.2.1 Hagiographies

Hagiography, the body of literature describes the lives and veneration of the Christian saints. The literature of hagiography embraces acts of the martyrs (i.e., accounts of their trials and deaths); biographies and saintly deeds of the saint. Hagiography mostly incorporates accounts of miracles of the saints. Hagiographies have been written from the 2nd century ad to instruct and enlighten readers and glorify the saints. The Ge’ez counterpart for such writings is ‘Gädl’ which, according to its root meaning, has the signification of ‘conflict or struggle’.

Ferec (1985) defines hagiography from its root as “the Latin word ‘acta’ is synonymous both with the Ge’ez ‘Gädl’ and the Greek ‘Hagios’. ‘Hagios’ in Greek means ‘holy’ while ‘graphein’ means ‘to write’. When they are put together they mean book which deals with “saints, their lives and the honor shown to them” Aleqa Kidanewold Kifle (1953) in his astonishing dictionary book Mätsəhafä Säwasäw wegəss wemezgäbä Qalat Hadis defines the term Gädl as: “Struggle, challenge, contending, fighting, victory, confrontation or combat till the final award, facing multitude trouble… on the other hand, it is a book that speaks out about spiritual news, tell, history, saintly fight and their rewards from God”. Kaplan (2005), a renowned scholar in his series of studies that revolved around hagiographies, defined Gädl as: Gädl literary means ‘contending, [spiritual] struggle; it correspond to Greek but comprises also the meaning of (Bios) ‘Vita; biography [of a holy person] Gädl is the most power genre of Ethiopian hagiography, which is, in turn, one of the most important constituents of Ga’az literature. Gädl is the most popular genre of Ethiopians.

Ge’ez hagiography, which has different categories in turn, is one of the most important constituents of Ge’ez literature. Therefore, the hagiography or Gädl refers that it is a contending, challenge fighting and struggle of saints through their life at earth. Thus, hagiography is writing that speaks about the deeds of saints and martyrs. Taddesse Tamrat (1970) to some extent also agrees with the above person. For him, “hagiographies consisted of the acts of the martyrs (Gädlä sämäetat), acts of the saints (Gädlä sadqan) and the deeds of the Holy Angels (Dərsanä Mälaəkt); all of these constituted similar compositions of hagiographical tradition”.

For Kinefe Regb Zeleke (1975), it is widely recognized that the hagiographical traditions are considered as an important source of the study of the history of the Ethiopic literature and for the history of the doctrine and institutions of the Ethiopian church. Moreover, he continues, “they contain a great deal of materials related to the social, political, and even military history of the country”. Most of the Ethiopian hagiographies were created after the 13th century, which is after the restoration of the Solomonic Dynasty (Taddesse, 1972).

The intensive growth of Ethiopian Hagiographies must have started in the period of the late 14th– early 15th century, and in the subsequent century most of the important Ethiopian hagiographic works were composed. This growth was closely linked to the development of the Ethiopian monasticism, on the one hand to the increased role and local veneration of Ethiopian holy men, on the other. Likewise, writing tradition of hagiography was importantly puts part to the flourishing of Ge’ez literature Nosnitsin (2005).

They deal with the saints who lived as far back as the early 4th century. These works, including the translations, show the literary competence of Ethiopian writers, across the ages. Despite the existence of a considerable body of scholarly literature, virtually all the studies have focused concerning many aspects of Ethiopian culture, political, ecclesiastical, and to a lesser extent, economic spheres (Kaplan, 1997).

2.2.2 Dersan(at)/ Homily

Dərsan is a text written about the miraculous deeds of Angels. The term “homily” commonly represents the Ge’ezdərsan. Dərsan is about homiliary which the collection of texts having religious figure as the main character. Dərsane Michael, dersane Dərsane, Dərsane Rufael, Dərsane Mariam, and the like. Amsalu defines dersan as presented follow: “Dərsan is a Ge’ez word that comes from the verb däräsä which has several senetic parallels. It describes exegetical or homiletic writing developed by an ecclesiastical interpreter or därasi. Consequently, its derivative dersan ‘homily’ applies to the written results of this activity, i.e to a new composition written to explain the sense of the scriptures.” (2012). As to KidaneWold on the other hand adds to the definition of dersan /homily/, “long passage, sermon, discourse, melodious hymn”. The English term ‘homily’ is derived from the Greek word homilia /homilein/, which means to have communion or hold intercourse with a person. Beecher (1910).

2.2.3 Mälke’a Mälkə’ or Mälkə’

An appraisal for God and saints, and is a kind of poetry in a five line stanza. It is genre in Ethiopic Christian literature, and mostly appears at the end of most of Ge’ez texts. Mälkə’: A kind of poetry, a five line stanza, an appraisal for God, and saints. A genre in ethiopic christian literature, and mostly appears at the last of a hagiographic work. Aleqa Kidane-Wold Kifle2, in his prominent lexicography work Mätsehafä Sewasəw weGəs weMäzgebä Qalat Hadis explains Mälkə’ viewing it in two sides. Firstly, it literally describes face, facial structure, image (of the saint). On the other hand, it could be serving as the name of a kook (book of Mälkə’). (1948). The Mälkə’ hence, writes to praise parts of the body of the praised saint. Therefore, Mälkə’ is written to describe the physical image, the facial structure or physical appearance of a saint. The genre was believed to be started and was prominent in the medieval time.

2.2.4 Tä’ammər(ät)

One genre of Ge’ez narratives that contains the miracle of a saint after successfully accomplishes the mission at earth. The stories in the miracle book are performed by the respective saint lives at heaven towards a believer at earth who believes in the saint’s prayers. The literal meaning of Tä’ammər is “sign”. Therefore, ተአምር literally means “to show”, “to indicate”. Encyclopedia Aethopica defines the Ethiopic genre Tä’ammər as, “…it refers to a phenomenon appearing as prodigy or omen, indicating the presence or intervention of divine power. It further denotes a happening considered by the beholders as logically inexplicable, violating or reversing the natural course of things (i.e miracle).

The miraculous deed of a given saint or the Tä’ammər came along with the Gadle or hagiography. Mostly the Gädle and Tä’ammər of saints are produced in a single book; the Gadle first and the Tä’ammər comes next. The prominent exemplary text in this field is Tä’ammərä Mariam (Miracles of Mary). Most of the Tä’ammər books were written after the introduction of the Tä’ammərä Mariam. The book have been translated into Ge’ez in the 14th-15th centuries. In many cases the Tä’ammərä were extended by the description of wondrous events which happened after the death of the saint, due to his miraculous intervension.

2.2.5 Qəne

Qene is an Ethiopian oral poetic performance. It is one school of thought in Ethiopian traditional schools. Mostly performed orally, the qene must have more than one poetic /mysteries/ meanings. Qene comes from the word Qänäyä “ቀነየ” which literally means, to compose, to intone, to sing a hymn.Qene is a genre of Ge’ez literature. Encyclopedia Aethopica presents a huge explanation on qene as presented below.

In the practice of the EOTC3, it is a hymn expressing adoration, praise of thanksgiving improvised by the däbtära during the celebration of the Divine Office and after the Mass after the distribution of the communion (Qedassie). Qene usually praise God and the Saints but can also be composed in honor of secular and ecclesiastical personages (e.g rulers) as well as particular places and events. Qene can also take the form of admonitions or castigations or have the character of a player. In the past, emperors, local governors, princes etc. used to compose Qene on religious festivities whenever they wanted to address their people conveying them messages, guidelines, suggestions (Citing Dasta Takle-Wold, 1953). (Encyclopedia Aethopica, vol. 4, 2010).

The encyclopedia makes its spontaneity the main feature of the Qene. As it was straightly presented there, a Qene is composed only for a particular church and occasion and cannot be reused, even by its author. But some are documented in written form and hence preserved. Some scholars (liqawent) of the Ethiopian Church indicate that Qene was originally started in the era of St. Yared in the 6th century and they argue the beginner is him since there found compositions in the Degua. However, the hymns placed in St. Yared’s Degua are not considered as Qene as the rest of the scholars argue. The Qene has its own structure embracing some three requirements. First, it has Zema (a sound effect); second, Semina Worq (the surface and inner meaning); and lastly it has rhymed, end consonants must be identical. Tewnay of Gonji and Kifle-Yohannes of Gondar were among the top rated Qeneliqawent (scholars) in the history of Qene.

2.2.6 Other Theological Genres

In the medieval time a huge revival and restoration was seen in the Ethiopian Church. The religion is too expanded to particularly the Southern parts of the country. The new religious revival was raised in the reaction against Yodit’s (Gudit) destructing campaign over the Ethiopian Church. Due to this reason, many books were written by the scholars of the Church and many were translated. Beyond, the above mentioned genres, several religious literary productions were recorded. Their thematic preoccupation was theological; the dogmatic and doctrinal contents of the faith are major subject areas of these spiritual literatures. The works of Abba Giorgis of Gassecca and Atse Zara Yaqob can be classified under this genre. On the same way, chronicles of emperors were written in a massive number of productions. Most rulers of the Medieval Age, and of before that, had their chronicles got written.

2.2.7 Amharic Literature

In the history of European literature, spiritual literatures, especially the Bible, is believed to be “the true foundation of the modern novel” (Hammond 1983, as cited in Anteneh, 1993). Likewise, Ge’ez literature is also believed to be the foundation of Amharic literature (Anteneh, 1993).Many scholars, foreign and Ethiopian, assume that religious literature which is predominantly in Ge’ez is the source of modern Amharic literature. To this respect, Talbot says: “apart from its religious significance, the ‘authorical version’ of the Amharic Bible may well have a literary influence analogous to that felt in England ever since 1611” (1955). Even though Talbot refers to the Amharic version, there is no doubt that Ge’ez was the dominant language of the church and the religious books to date. Therefore analogous to the Amharic version, the Ge’ez version can be noticed for its influence on the Amharic literature.

Molvaer (1980) claims that “the religious climate in Ethiopia may… account for the overriding moral concern that can be discerned in all Amharic writings”. Many authors have attended church schools, and much of Amharic literature has benefited from this influence”.Yohannes Admasu and Debebe Seifu seem to have similar views regarding the influences. Yohannes praised Afeworq G/Iyesus, Yoftahe Nigusie and Hiruy W/Sellasie for their imitation of the traditional mode of story writing, especially interms of language usage while he condemned the modern writers for they do not follow either the traditional (gadl) mode of storytelling or the modern European style (Manan 1966).


1 Unless it is expressed, all the dates presented in this paper are in Gregorian calendar.

2 አለቃ ኪዳነ ወልድ ክፍሌ (1948 ፡ 565-666) እንደሚያስቀምጡት መልክእ የሚለው ቃል “ ለክእ ” ከሚለው የግእዝ ግስ የወጣ ሲሆን በአጠቃላይ ትርጓሜ መልክእ፣ ገጽ፣ መልክ፣ የፊት ቅርጽ፣ ስዕል፣ ምስል፣ ልክ ያለው በልክ የተሰራ፣ ማለት ነው፡፡ ቀጠል አድርገውም የድርሰት ስም፣ የመልክ ውሳኔና መዝሙር፣ ከራስ ጠጉር እስከ እግር ጥፍር የሚቆጥር እንደማለት እንደሆነ ያስረዳሉ፡፡

3 Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church

Excerpt out of 59 pages


King Zara Yaqob and the Development of Ethiopian Literature
Literature in Medieval Ethiopia
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
king, zara, yaqob, development, ethiopian, literature, medieval, ethiopia
Quote paper
Dawit Girma (Author), 2019, King Zara Yaqob and the Development of Ethiopian Literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: King Zara Yaqob and the Development of Ethiopian Literature

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free