Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Greek Historia Monachorum in Aegypto. Monastic Hagiography in the Late Fourth Century

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Greek Historia Monachorum in Aegypto. Monastic Hagiography in the Late Fourth Century

Article excerpt

The Greek Historia Monachorum in Aegypto. Monastic Hagiography in the Late Fourth Century. By Andrew Cain. [Oxford Early Christian Studies.] (New York: Oxford University Press. 2016. Pp. xii, 329. $135.00. ISBN 978-0-19-875825-9.)

Greek hagiography displays two kinds of classics: texts much appreciated today for their literary merits and wealth of historical information, and texts that have never excited modern scholars but were favorite readings in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Although it benefited from a sound critical edition and anno- tated French translation, both by André-Jean Festugiere, the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (= HM), i.e., the "Inquiry on the Monks of Egypt," has waited long before reaping its fair share of attention. To a considerable extent, this has been achieved by the monograph under review, which redresses the balance on behalf of this composite and anonymously transmitted collection of monastic stories of the desert, that was produced in c. 400, a critical time in various respects and one that lent itself to literary innovation.

In the first five chapters, which make up a separate but coherent section of the book, the author primarily treats questions of literary identity, inspects and detects the literary echoes of the text, and offers a detailed discussion of its style. His declared intention is to go beyond past unfavorable judgments with regard to its quality and overall value, as well as to do justice to its particular identity. In labeling HM a literary hybrid, Cain duly takes into account its polychromatic literary character and limited dependence on previous sources, both obvious and not, one of which is the vita Antonii. Moreover, after a serious and in-depth consideration of its language and the rhetorical figures that adorn it, he deems HM a work of a learned and multi-talented monk. Chap. 5 offers an admirable literary analysis of the HMs style and technique without leaving out the audience for which it was intended and the underlying purpose that dictated its writing.

Though some literary aspects emerge again in the next six chapters (6-12) of this book, their emphasis is on the historical and "cultural" function of this collection of monastic stories. …

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