Shenoute of Atripe and the Uses of Poverty: Rural Patronage, Religious Conflict and Monasticism in Late Antique Egypt

Shenoute of Atripe and the Uses of Poverty: Rural Patronage, Religious Conflict and Monasticism in Late Antique Egypt

Shenoute of Atripe and the Uses of Poverty: Rural Patronage, Religious Conflict and Monasticism in Late Antique Egypt

Shenoute of Atripe and the Uses of Poverty: Rural Patronage, Religious Conflict and Monasticism in Late Antique Egypt

Synopsis

Shenoute of Atripe: stern abbot, loquacious preacher, patron of the poor and scourge of pagans in fifth-century Egypt. This book studies his numerous Coptic writings and finds them to be the most important literary source for the study of society, economy and religion in late antique Egypt. The issues and concerns Shenoute grappled with on a daily basis, Ariel Lopez argues, were not local problems, unique to one small corner of the ancient world. Rather, they are crucial to interpreting late antiquity as a historical period--rural patronage, religious intolerance, the Christian care of the poor and the local impact of the late Roman state. His little known writings provide us not only with a rare opportunity to see the life of a holy man as he himself saw it, but also with a privileged window into his world. Lopez brings Shenoute to prominence as witness of and participant in the major transformations of his time.

Excerpt

This book is a revised version of the dissertation that I defended at Princeton University in 2010. It is the product of almost a decade of strenuous and challenging work. It has also been a source of great joy and many pleasant surprises for me. I can say with confidence that, like Saint Augustine, I have learned many new things just by writing about them. As I look back, much of it seems now to be the product of timely coincidences. Coptic is what brought me to late antiquity. As an amateur Egyptologist, I had started learning this language before leaving high school. I first read Shenoute, with much difficulty, when I was sixteen years old in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But it was only toward the end of six years of training in social history, at the University of Buenos Aires, that I discovered this fascinating historical period. I decided to take a seminar on late antiquity thinking that I would finally put my knowledge of Coptic to some use. To prepare, I borrowed Peter Brown’s celebrated book, The World of Late Antiquity, from a close friend. This work revealed a whole new world to me. It showed me that it was possible to write ancient history with the same vividness and sophistication that I had seen in the work of many French and English historians of the medieval and modern periods. I spent weeks working through the little volume, reading and rereading, and synthesizing its contents to the point of memorizing large chunks of it.

When I found out that elite American universities were willing to pay graduate students “simply” to do their own research, my goal was set: I was going to be Peter Brown’s student. I can still picture my father’s disbelief when I told him that Princeton University was going to financially support my study of ancient history. Princeton gave me endless time and resources, the opportunity to be the student of my intellectual idol, and the chance to meet my wife. I will forever be thankful for that.

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