The volume represents one of the major outputs of the research program on Early Monasticism and Classical Paideia based at Lund University under the direction of Samuel Rubenson (https://monastica.ht.lu.se), which promises to be a major resource in years to come and has produced a number of important publications. Among these is the volume under review here, which collects papers from a 2013 conference at Lund under the editorship of Lillian Larsen and Rubenson. The contributions address education within a monastic context from a wide range of perspectives and together form a coherent volume that will be among the first consulted on this issue in the future. Within the basic focus on monasticism in late antique Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean, the chapters embody a diverse range of evidence, source languages, textual genres, and focuses within the theme.
An introduction stresses the necessity of treating material in the provincial languages, looking outside the major literary sources for monasticism, and looking at this material with fresh theoretical eyes. It also positions the volume against older readings of monasticism's novelty, stressing that this phenomenon did not uniquely recreate traditions as much as carry forward and transmit them. Monasticism crucially acted as a conductor not only for knowledge, but also for the skills to replicate and generate new expressions of it. Nor can it be seen as non-elite activity carried out in a “desert” geographically distant and distinct from the urban centers of high culture. If these assertions seem uncontroversial to modern scholars of monasticism, it is partly because of the work of the contributors.
Part I opens with three chapters which probe key terms in ancient and modern accounts of monastic education. Rubenson tackles the critical issue of what a “school” was, attempting to reverse Marrou's excision of monastic education from the trajectory of the school tradition. Rubenson exegetes attendant terminology, especially scholē and its cognates, as well as other key terms, across the fields of leisure, tradition, exercise, and organization, reclaiming as he proceeds language that has been taken in a spiritual sense (askēsis, meletē) for the realm of education.
The term paideia itself is then discussed across two frames of reference. Peter Gemeinhardt shows how the Latin translations of the Life of Antony represent the Life's picture of Christian paideia in the target language and for a new environment, seeking in the vocabulary they choose to use “a clue to the reception and appropriation of early Egyptian monasticism throughout the Roman Empire” (52). Andreas Westergren examines the vocabulary of paideia and the presentation of teaching and learning in Socrates’ Church History, arguing that Socrates attempted to institute models which embodied a “fusion of Hellenic and Christian horizons, a preservation of classical paideia combined with Christian faith” (72).
Part II turns from ancient and modern definitions to material culture for educational activity. Roger Bagnall uses documentary papyri to survey “The Educational and Cultural Background of Egyptian Monks,” applying a schema developed by Jean-Luc Fournet to examine the content, language, and format of papyrus letters from a number of fourth-century dossiers connected to monasticism. The accompanying plates allow the reader to readily agree with Bagnall's assessment that if the letters do not bespeak of elite education on the part of their scribes (whether the monks themselves or those who wrote for them), they nevertheless display signs of an education beyond the elementary, of the sort acquired by late Roman business managers, aspirationally operating in Greek by recognizing and using forms and formats appropriate to the genre, even as they eschew the scripts, paratextual features, and language used by elites to visually and textually mark their possession of high education.
Lillian Larsen focuses her “Excavation of the Excavations” of early monastic education on three case studies: the famous syllabary dipinto in Tomb 23 (not specified as such by Larsen) at Beni Hasan; an alphabetic exercise on an ostracon from the topos of Epiphanius at Thebes; and an ostracon from the same site with biblical and apopthegmatic texts on its respective sides. If the last case study misses the chance to note that the scribe of that ostracon (P.Mon.Epiph. 22+52) penned another ca. 60 literary, gnomic, homiletic, and documentary texts (thus providing an opportunity to further characterize the producers of this type of material), Larsen makes it plain that the way texts are categorized in their publication has a profound influence on how they are taken up in scholarship and argues persuasively that the pedagogical and monastic frameworks previously identified for these texts are not mutually exclusive. The topos of Epiphanius is treated more extensively in the final chapter of this section by Anastasia Maravela, whose discussion of “Homer and Menandri Sententiae in Upper Egyptian Monastic Settings” focuses on the presence of these representatives of the classical literary and educational canon in monastic settings from western Thebes, opening up valuable lines of future study as she argues for the multifunctionality of both people and spaces in monastic settings. Putting together the three chapters in this section, one can see not only the range of styles, scripts, and formats used by those producing documents in a monastic setting, but also the educational infrastructure that evolved over time within the monasteries to teach these skills.
Part III pivots to examine grammar and rhetoric. Blossom Stefaniw makes the Tura papyri the site of her discussion of the school of Didymus the Blind. The subject now treated at full length in her 2019 monograph finds succinct treatment here, as Stefaniw resituates Didymus, and the questions and answers in what have traditionally been labelled his “commentaries” on the Psalms and Ecclesiastes, in the grammarian tradition. If one would like to know more about how these texts made their way from Alexandria to Tura (surely in this direction, and not the reverse, as formulated on p. 155), who made the copies we possess, and for what reason, Stefaniw (who cannot be expected to answer such unsolvable questions) provides a convincing reconstruction of the genesis of the texts within Didymus’ didactic activities and a cogent situation of it within the polymath's activity as a grammarian. Attentive reading of the texts shows a consistent student body which included women, attending twice daily lessons across a considerable number of continuous days (pp. 170–72). This repositioning of Didymus’ teaching away from catechesis into a Christian iteration of the traditional curriculum tells us much that is new about education in late antique Egypt. More relevant for the monastic context is Stefaniw's suggestion that the transcripts were used to teach “advanced literacy and language skills” in the later centuries to which the papyri have traditionally (but perhaps inaccurately) been dated. Her reconstruction of the context of Didymus’ teaching is persuasive, but given the evidence elsewhere in the volume for a new understanding of monastic education, I wondered reading the chapter what would happen if, as a thought experiment, we imagined an ascetic audience for the texts’ original delivery.
Ellen Muehlberger's chapter keeps our gaze on the higher strata of education in the monastic settlements of lower Egypt by examining Evagrius’ use of the techniques of classical rhetoric, in particular ethopoeia, “speaking in the persona of a character drawn from literature” (183). Across an analysis of the Protrepticus and Paraeneticus, Muehlberger shows how Evagrius’ adoption of rhetorical techniques into his teaching not only had an educational purpose, but was a strategy for training his monastic students in the ascetic discipline and practice demanded of them. Mark Sheridan traces the use of such devices of classical rhetoric as the chreia, anaphora, antitheon, apostrophe, and anthypophora into the sixth century, outside the zone of Greek literature and into the Coptic homilies of Rufus of Shotep. Given what we know elsewhere in sixth-century Egypt, such as Rufus’ near contemporary Dioscorus of Aphrodito (ca. 520–585), Sheridan's argument that this may reflect formal training in rhetoric is far from impossible. Sheridan's confidence in the manuscript attribution of the author—he does not so much as mention the arguments by scholars such as Phillipe Lusier, Enzo Lucchesi, and Stephen Emmel that these are translations of Greek texts composed in the age of Didymus and Evagrius—means we miss an opportunity to consider what it might mean for such works to be translated into Coptic, and which educational structures would support their translation and use in a Coptophone environment. If Sheridan is right about Rufus’ authorship, this does not make these questions any less interesting, applying as it certainly does to a range of other Coptic literature.
Part IV turns to philosophy, where three contributions delineate the relationship between the monastic and philosophical traditions. Henrik Rydell Johnsén seeks to “trace the rhetoric of the uneducated monk … back to [the] antecedent literate culture” of ancient philosophy (220) by looking not only at the uneducated monk, but also at the uneducated philosopher. In arguing that we cannot abstract the valuation of the former from wider cultural contexts or see it as an intra-Christian development, Rydell Johnsén exposes sites in the philosophical tradition where such ideals are already developed. The routes by which such ideas progressed to monasticism are clarified by the contributions of Arthur Urbano and Daniele Peverello. The former takes as his subject “Plato between School and Cell,” biography as the genre focus, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus and Marinus of Neapolis as representative examples of the Christian and classical traditions, emploting monastic communities within the late antique competition to be recognized as Plato's intellectual heirs to show how the space in which this competition took place can be best understood as a shared intellectual culture. Peverello returns to the best known interaction between these traditions, the inheritance of “Pythagorean Traditions in Early Christian Asceticism” by focusing on the reading and transmission of the Sentences of Sextus in both Pythagorean and monastic communities, examining Sextus’ pronouncements on ascetic concerns such as marriage, celibacy, and sexual morality to show how the text was molded into a gnomic source for Christian asceticism even as its source continued to be valued within late antique philosophical circles.
The volume closes with an examination of “Manuscript and Literary Production” (Part V). Britt Dahlman examines the “Textual Fluidity and Authorial Revision” inherent in the revisions, redactions, and translations of the works of Cassian and Palladius. Here Dahlman succinctly places recent work before non-specialists which problematizes traditional understandings of Cassian's literary output, discussing Greek versions of some of his works which are both early and clearly primary to their Latin counterparts. The even more complex case of Palladius’ Historia Lausiaca allows Dahlman to illustrate the redaction of existing material (variously earlier redactions of his own work or other sources) by Palladius and others. It is valuable to have such a comprehensive reminder that ancient texts had a life cycle beyond their initial composition, and for this redactional activity to be positioned within the educational context of the volume. The same topic is taken up from a different perspective by the final chapter, in which Jason Zaborowski investigates the Arabic recensions of the Apophthegmata patrum under the Abbasids. Mixing historiography with analysis of manuscripts and their texts, Zaborowski illuminates the history of scholarly interaction with this interface between Greek and Arabic traditions, as he shows how the translators on the frontline of this engagement added poetic, theological, and stylistic nuances to the text as they transposed it to a new language for a new cultural environment. He closes by comparing the translation of the Christian Apophthegmata and classical Gnomologia into Arabic, showing the semantic gaps between them as earlier seams were gently teased apart by the requirements of positioning a distinct ethical vocabulary with which to teach Christian wisdom in this new context.
Between these more literary treatments lies another focused on material culture. Hugo Lundhaug and Lance Jenott examine the colophons to Nag Hammadi codices II, VI, VII to provide evidence for the “Production, Distribution and Ownership of Books in the Monasteries of Upper Egypt.” As argued at full length in their 2015 monograph on the topic, Lundhaug and Jenott see in these colophons important evidence that the codices were most likely produced and read by monks, finding language reminiscent of monasticism, and in Codex VI a situation redolent of the reciprocal book-sharing networks which characterized Late Antiquity that included monastic contexts (even if the authors themselves earlier cite contemporary testimony from Shenoute which expressly placed control of such exchanges under the watchful eye of “the Elder”). Those who are inclined to doubt the thesis of monastic production of this assemblage will not be convinced by this chapter, but the authors are correct that nothing among these colophons speaks explicitly against their hypothesis.
Across these contributions, the contributors map out a revitalized understanding of the relationship between classical and monastic paideia, showing, in various ways and from a range of perspectives, the “persistence of established forms and traditions across linguistic and cultural borders” (8). Indeed, one of the results of such work is to show that the “cultural borders” within the late Roman world, especially within its eastern provinces, were not boundaries as much as seams in a garment, on either side of which were elements that, if not cut from the same cloth, were expressed in similar ways towards the same ultimate goals.