The Meditations of Zara Yaquob

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The Meditations of Zara Yaquob (1)

ABSTRACT: Claude Sumner was the first English-speaking scholar to introduce the thoughts of Zara Yaquob to the philosophical world. Sumner undertook the arduous task of comparing Zara Yaquob with Descartes on methods of thinking. For Sumner, modern philosophy began in Ethiopia with Zara Yaquob at the same time as in England and France. In what follows, I will compare Descartes and Yaquob as well.


I would like Zara Yacob to introduce himself in his own words:

I was born in the land of the priests of Aksum. But I am the son of a poor farmer in the district of Aksum; the day of my birth is 25th of Nahase 1592 A. D., the third year of the year of [King] Yaquob. By Christian baptism I was named Zara Yacob, but people called me Warqye. When I grew up, my father sent me to school in view of my instruction. And after I had read the psalms of David my teacher said to my father: "This young son of yours is clever and has the patience to learn; if you send him to a [higher] school, he will be a master and a doctor." After hearing this, my father sent me to study zema. But my voice was coarse and my throat was grating; so my schoolmaster used to laugh at me and to tease me. I stayed there for three months, until I overcame my sadness and went to another master who taught qane and sawsaw. God gave me the talent to learn faster than my companions and thus compensated me for my previous disappointment; I stayed there 4 years. During those days, God as it were snatched me from the claws of death, for as I was playing with my friends I fell into a ravine, and I do not know how I was saved except by a miracle from God. After I was saved I measured the depth of the ravine with a long rope and found it to be twenty-five fathoms and one palm [deep]. Thanking God for saving me, I went to the house of my master. After this I left for another school to study the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. I remained ten years in this type of study; I learned the interpretations of the Frang and of our own scholars. Oftentimes their interpretation did not agree with my reason; but I withheld my opinion and hid in my heart all the thoughts of my mind.

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