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E03324: Palladius of Helenopolis in his Lausiac History recounts the story of an anonymous nun of the Pachomian female monastery at Tabennesis (Upper Egypt), sometimes named 'Isidora' (S02848), who feigned madness. Her holiness is revealed by the holy monk Piteroum. Written in Greek at Aspuna or Ankyra (both Galatia, central Asia Minor), 419/420.

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posted on 18.07.2017, 00:00 by erizos
Palladius of Helenopolis, Lausiac History (BHG 1435-1438v, 958z; CPG 6036), 34

34. In the female monastery of Tabennesis, there is a nun who pretends to be mad (σαλή/sale) and possessed by a demon. She works as a servant, and is never seen by anyone eating at the table with the others, but only eating crumbs, while cleaning the tables and pots. She never harms or complains against anyone, but is scorned and abused by all the other nuns, who regard her as a fool. Her virtue is revealed by an angel to the holy monk Piteroum of Mount Porphyry. He comes to the monastery demanding to see all the nuns. Initially she does not show up, but they bring her to him by force, and he falls at her feet requesting her blessing - she does the same before him. To the complaints of the other nuns that she is just a sale, Piteroum replies that they are fools and that this woman is an ammas (spiritual superior) of all of them and himself. The nuns are astonished and confess the abuses they have been committing against the presumed fool. Unable to bear the honours, she leaves the monastery and no one knows what has happened of her.

Text: Bartelink et al. 1974. Summary: E. Rizos.

History

Evidence ID

E03324

Saint Name

Isidora, nun and holy fool in Tabennesi, ob. 4th c. : S02848

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Monastic collections (apophthegmata, etc.)

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

419

Evidence not after

420

Activity not before

390

Activity not after

420

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Aspuna

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Aspuna Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Palladius of Helenopolis

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Slaves/ servants

Source

Born in 364 in Galatia in central Asia Minor, Palladius became a monk in 386, spending some years in Palestine, before moving to Alexandria. In c. 390, he joined the monastic community of Nitria, where he spent nine years, under Makarios of Alexandria and Evagrios of Pontus. In c. 399, he returned briefly to Palestine and then left for Constantinople where he became closely associated with John Chrysostom. By 400, he was ordained bishop of Helenopolis in Bithynia (north-west Asia Minor), probably by Chrysostom. Palladius stood by his new protector throughout John’s conflict with Pope Theophilos of Alexandria over the affair of the Tall Brothers and the Council of the Oak. One year after John’s exile in 404, Palladius visited Rome in order to plead on John’s behalf with Pope Innocent I (401-411). Returning to Constantinople, he was arrested and one year later (406), he was exiled to Syene (Aswan) and Antinoe in Egypt. There he received the news of John’s death in Pontus (407) and wrote the Historical Dialogue on the Life of John Chrysostom (in 408 or shortly after, E02400). In the 410s, he was allowed to return to his native Galatia, and was restored as a bishop in the imperial church, being appointed to the see of Aspona. After his return from exile, in c. 419/420, Palladius published the Lausiakon (‘Book for Lausos’, widely known as the Lausiac History), a book commissioned by and dedicated to the patrician Lausos (imperial chamberlain in 420-422). Along with the History of the Monks of Egypt (E03558, composed in 395/397), Palladius’ work inaugurates the monastic genre of edifying stories and apophthegms. It immediately became a success: two decades after its publication, the ecclesiastical historian Socrates used the Lausiac History as a source (4.23.78), and it was translated into Latin and Syriac. There are also Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Arabic translations. Its copious manuscript tradition (242 manuscripts) and unstable transmission render a definitive critical edition of the text very difficult. On the manuscript tradition of the Greek text, see: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/6840/ Like all monastic collections, the Lausiac History was mainly written to provide exemplars of ascetic virtue and edifying stories for broader spiritual benefit, rather than to encourage the active cult of the men and women included within it – indeed some of them serve as negative examples to avoid. It was, therefore, difficult for us to decide how to treat this work in our database, focused as it is on the cult of saints. At one extreme, we could have entered every (positive) figure within it as a saint, while, at the other extreme, we might have ignored the text altogether. In the end we came to a compromise position, with one overview entry for the full text (E03176), where all the holy men and women are named, and individual entries for chapters that either reveal interesting incidental details of saintly cult or cover major figures who, in time, came to attract cult. The Lausiac History in its many manuscripts and its many translations was in fact one of the principal ways these figures came to be known, and often venerated, across the Christian world. Some of its chapters were, indeed, later detached from the collection, and circulated as independent pieces of hagiography.

Discussion

This passage provides perhaps the first example of a holy fool in monastic literature, namely a person dedicating their life to an asceticism of extreme self-humiliation by pretending to be insane or possessed by demons. Characteristically, the author describes this anonymous nun by the adjective salos ('mad, fool') which eventually became the standard term for this particular category of ascetics, known as Christ's Fools. Much like the example of this nun, Christ's fools spend a life behaving in an eccentric manner which attracts the scorn and hostility of their community, until another holy man or revelation uncovers their virtue. In some manuscripts, the holy nun of this chapter is mentioned under the name Isidora, and her story had an independent circulation as a piece of hagiography (BHG 958z, 959, 959b).

Bibliography

Text: Butler, Cuthbert. The Lausiac History of Palladius: Greek Text Edited with Introduction and Notes. Texts and Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904. Bartelink, G. J. M., Barchiesi, M. and Mohrmann, C. Palladio, La Storia Lausiaca. Scrittori Greci E Latini. Milano: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, Arnoldo Mondadori, 1974. (with Italian translation) English Translations: Wortley, J. Palladius, the Lausiac History, Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2015. Meyer, R. T. Palladius, the Lausiac History, Westminster MD: Newman Press: 1965. Lowtber Clarke, W. K. The Lausiac History of Palladius, London: Macmillan, 1918. Further reading: Katos, D. Palladius of Helenopolis: the Origenist Advocate. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Rapp, C. ‘Palladius, Lausus and the Historia Lausiaca.’ In C. Sode, S. Takács (eds.), Novum Millennium. Studies on Byzantine History and Culture Dedicated to Paul Speck, 19 December 1999, Aldershot: Ashgate, 279-289.

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