Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints' Lives in English Translation

By Thomas, John | The Catholic Historical Review, January 1998 | Go to article overview

Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints' Lives in English Translation


Thomas, John, The Catholic Historical Review


Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints'Lives in English Translation. Edited by Alice-Mary Talbot. [Byzantine Saints' Lives in Translation,Vol. 1.] (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. 1996. Pp. xxvii, 351. $30.00 cloth, $18.50 paperback.)

"Only men are called to compete in secular contests and prove their bodily strength.The arena of virtue, however, is open to women no less than to men, and God the prize-giver generously grants the rewards and victory crowns to both sexes equally" So declares the anonymous author of the Life of Mary of Vizye, one of ten lives of holy Byzantine women included in this first volume in a series of English-language translations of hagiographic sources planned by Dumbarton Oaks (two others are currently in production). This useful collection brings together virtually all the surviving lives of the small number of women venerated as saints in the medieval Byzantine Church.

The ten lives have been ably translated by nine contributors and organized by the editor into five thematic categories: nuns disguised as monks, female solitaries, cenobitic nuns, pious housewives, and a saintly empress. Each translation includes a bibliography with information on the edition used for the translation, related texts, other editions and translations, and relevant secondary literature. Although printed editions of the original Greek texts of all of these works have been available, in some cases for more than one hundred years,"available" does not mean "used, as the scant secondary literature on these works indicates.

The evident value of these works, both for the history of spirituality and for other historical concerns, fully justifies the careful work expended to produce this volume. A brief review permits mention of only a few subjects on which the lives shed considerable light. The Life of the transvestite Mary/Marinos, translated by Nicholas Constas, is informative on the raising of infants in monasteries.

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