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  • The Greek Historia Monachorum in Aegypto: Monastic Hagiography in the Late Fourth Century by Andrew Cain
  • Scott Goins
Andrew Cain The Greek Historia Monachorum in Aegypto: Monastic Hagiography in the Late Fourth Century Oxford Early Christian Studies Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016 Pp. xii + 329. $135.00.

Although the Historia has often been translated, there has been no book-length study of this fundamental text of desert spirituality. Cain fills this void by examining the Historia from several angles, including textual and historical backgrounds, style, and theological outlook. Unlike many scholars who have seen the Historia as unsophisticated, Cain convincingly argues that the author is well read in the Greco-Roman literary tradition and is skilled in the rhetorical modes of the Second Sophistic. Although Cain does not attempt to identify the anonymous author, he accepts the text's claims that he is a monk from Rufinus's monastery in Jerusalem. Cain also demonstrates that the author, like Rufinus, was devoted to the Evagrian tradition.

In his first chapter Cain deals with the text, which has been considered problematic because of significant differences between it and Rufinus's Latin translation, as well as Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History, which apparently borrows from the Historia. Since Rufinus and Sozomon both include material that supplements the Historia as we currently have it, some have suggested that there was an earlier, fuller version of the Historia from which these authors borrowed. By comparing several passages, Cain shows that the simplest way of seeing the relationship between the texts is to view Sozomen and Rufinus as merely adapting the Greek text we possess for their own purposes. In Chapter Two through Chapter Five Cain discusses what we can surmise about the author (subsequently referred to as Anonymous) of the Historia, including his date, location, influences, and style. While noting that Anonymous takes some factual liberties, Cain accepts his claims that he is a monk from Rufinus's brotherhood and that his work is based on an actual journey. Although tentatively suggesting that the work could have been written by Anatolios, a dedicatee of some of Evagrius's writings, in [End Page 334] the end Cain concludes that we will probably never know the author's identity. Cain does conclude a great deal about Anonymous, however. He "was a native Greek-speaker from a privileged background who had a top-flight education in rhetoric. He was a first-rate story teller with far greater literary ambitions than his self-imposed anonymity would initially seem to suggest" (57). In assessing the talents of the author, Cain notes that Anonymous creates his own genre, incorporating elements of travel literature, biography, hagiography, and acts of the martyrs, among other genres. Although Anonymous does not cite specific classical texts, Cain argues that his use of the Second Sophistic style guarantees his acquaintance with this literature. Anonymous's work is replete with biblical references, but there is little influence from extra-biblical early Christian writings. While noting a few possible borrowings from the Life of Anthony, Cain suggests that there is probably "an unconscious intertextual 'seepage'" from Athanasius's work (90). He claims that Anonymous downplays Anthony's importance among the desert fathers in order to serve as a corrective to Athanasius's hagiography.

In the final six chapters, Cain examines the major goals and theme of the Historia. In Chapter Six Cain focuses on how Anonymous describes the journey itself. Because of the realism of the itinerary and the accuracy of geographical details, Cain concludes that the narrative relates an actual trip rather than a fictional account. Anonymous casts the trip as a pious and providential pilgrimage, full of difficulty and hazards faced by the group of seven monks. How Anonymous uses scriptural typology to characterize the Egyptian monks is the topic of Chapter Seven. Here again Anonymous displays his virtuosity and love of variety. While some of his associations of the monks with biblical figures are direct, most connections are more oblique and left for the reader to capture. The monks are likened to Abraham, Elijah, Elisha, Christ, and Paul, all of whom have rich associations for desert monasticism. Not all characterization within the Historia is positive...


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