Vitae Antonii Versiones Latinae (CCSL 170) ed. by P. H. E. Bertrand and Lois Gandt
Although it was composed in Greek, the hagiographical portrait of Saint Anthony by Archbishop Athanasius of Alexandria (ca. 299–373) exerted an influence on the imaginations of Latin readers far surpassing that of any other saint in the eastern tradition. The impact of Anthony's exemplary life among Latin-reading audiences in North Africa and western Europe was only possible because of the industry of late antique translators who rendered Athanasius's Greek into Latin for distant readers eager for information about the desert saints.
In the volume under review, P. H. E. Bertrand and Lois Gandt provide critical editions and expansive introductions to the two known Latin translations of Athanasius' Life of Blessed Abbot Anthony (Vita beati Antonii abbatis). The organization of the book is not as intuitive as one may like. The first half of the volume (242 total) contains the modern scholarly material, including a shared bibliography (7*–38*), Bertrand's long introduction (in German) to Evagrius's well-known literary Latin translation of the Vita Antonii (41*–188*) and Gandt's much shorter introduction (in English) to the so-called versio vetustissima, a little-known literal rendering of Athanasius's text into Latin which was written in the fourth century and survives only in a single tenth-century manuscript (191*–242*). The second half of the book (360 total pages) reboots the pagination to [End Page 175] present Bertrand's edition of the Vita beati Antonii abbatis Evagrio interprete (1–103) and Gandt's Vitae Antonii versio vetustissima (105–83), followed by a long appendix (see below). It would have made more sense to print the editions immediartely after their respective introductions and to present continuous pagination throughout the volume.
Quibbles about the organization aside, the content of this volume offers readers much to admire. Bertrand's introduction to Evagrius's Latin translation of Athanasius's Greek text begins with a valuable summary of the careers of Anthony and Athanasius and a survey of the arguments for Athanasius's authorship of the Greek Vita Antonii, which heralded a new genre of Christian literature perhaps inspired by ancient biographies, but more explicitly related to the Gospels and the acts of the earliest martyrs. Bertrand then introduces his reader to Evagrius, who composed his Latin translation of Athanasius's work in 373. His was not a literal translation but a rendering ad sensum, that is, approximating the original text without losing sight of its meaning. The second part of Bertrand's introduction presents a reception history of Evagrius's translation from Late Antiquity to the eleventh century, with evidence of its oral transmission, its function as an Inspirationsquelle for early medieval readers, its direct influence on the works of later authors from Jerome's Vita Hilarionis to Odo of Cluny's Collationum libri tres, and its widespread presence in early medieval manuscripts (fifty-eight exemplars between the eighth and eleventh centuries) and monastic library catalogues (ten references). The third part of Bertrand's introduction describes the contents of the codices containing Evagrius's translation used as the basis for the edition (most are legendaries with an emphasis on desert saints), an analysis of the several families of variations in the manuscript tradition, and an explanation of editing principles employed.
Perhaps unavoidably, Gandt's introduction repeats some of Bertrand's on the careers of Anthony and Athanasius before arriving at her topic, the versio vetustissima, a literal Latin translation of the Greek Vita Antonii discovered in 1914 by André Wilmart. The translator was most likely either Ammonius or Isidore, two learned monks who accompanied Athanasius during his exile in Rome in the early 340s. This vita did not enjoy the popularity of Evagrius's translation; it survives in toto in a single tenth-century manuscript. The importance of the versio vetustissima is not its influence on western audiences, Gandt shows, but rather its value as a literal, near-contemporary witness to the original Greek text of the Vita Antonii, which Athanasius composed around 357. Of particular interest are the more than 250 minor revisions and omissions that the anonymous Latin translator made to his source-text which enhance and amplify themes of sanctity and demonology in Athanasius's work. Gandt's detailed analysis of these interventions is the most original feature of her introduction (225*–41*).
Early medieval readers never lost interest in stories about the desert saints and neither have we. Historians of early medieval monasticism and Christian hagiography will find useful insights and points of departure in this volume, which updates and supplants all previous literature on the cult of Saint Anthony in the medieval Latin tradition. For scholars interested in comparing the nuances of these Latin translations of the Vita Antonii and their relationship [End Page 176] to their Greek source, the editors have provided a helpful appendix that reproduces their Latin critical editions in parallel columns alongside the Greek text of Athanasius's account of Anthony's life reprinted from the Sources Chrétiennes edition of G. J. M. Bartelink published in 1994 (Concordantia versionum cum textu graeco, 187–336).