Icons Are Not Written – Correcting A Misunderstanding

Icons Are Not Written – Correcting A Misunderstanding

Here’s an interesting link from the Orthodox History website.

I’ve used this incorrect verbiage myself. I even used it in a poem once (which I have now corrected.)

Spread the word, O lovers of exactitude.

4 thoughts on “Icons Are Not Written – Correcting A Misunderstanding

  1. I am am a bit dubious about the linked article, despite the credentials of the author, prof. Yanaras. The Greek word “graphein” does indeed have the broader meaning of depiction in Old Greek (in Modern it is confined to the textual sense), so from that side, the argument is sound. However, the English “write” has travelled a similar journey. The Old English verb “writan” implied the carving of a depiction, of which the carving of letters is a specific case. It seems strange to me to use the etymology of the Greek whilst ignoring that of the English. Either we should marry up the two words as being equivalent through their history, and translate “eikonografein” with “icon writing”, or ignore the etymology and work with the current meaning of words. In the latter case, modern Greek has “grapho”, “zographizo”, “photographizo” & “eikonographo”, which are different words with different meanings (but happen to share a common root). The first two are readily translated as “to write” & “to paint”. Now the third means “to photograph”, so by analogy the last should become “to iconograph” (“I photographed Fr. John and iconographed St. John”). Of course in English we find “to photograph” somewhat rigid, so we also use “to take a photo”, which of course takes us back to “to an icon”!

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    • Last phrase: “to (short verb) an icon”. I originally used angle brackets, but the blog system must have interpreted these as a formatting code.

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      • Got it. I guess to sum up, when people say “writing icons” they are actually seeking a paradox. Since it can’t be meant literally, it shouldn’t be a problem unless it really is a mistranslation of a greek word with its own significance. However, unless it’s asserted to be a translation of that word, maybe it’s not such a big deal.

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