Inquiry about the Monks in Egypt
Rufinus of Aquileia Catholic University of America Press, 2020 Library of Congress BR195.M65H5713 2019 | Dewey Decimal 271.00932
From September 394 to early January 395, seven monks from Rufinus of Aquileia’s monastery on the Mount of Olives made a pilgrimage to Egypt to visit locally renowned monks and monastic communities. Shortly after their return to Jerusalem, one of the party, whose identity remains a mystery, wrote an engaging account of this trip. Although he cast it in the form of a first-person travelogue, it reads more like a book of miracles that depicts the great fourth-century Egyptian monks as prophets and apostles similar to those in the Bible. This work was composed in Greek, yet it is best known today as Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Inquiry about the Monks in Egypt), the title of the Latin translation of this work made by Rufinus, the pilgrim-monks’ abbot.
The Historia monachorum is one of the most fascinating, fantastical, and enigmatic pieces of literature to survive from the patristic period. In both its Greek original and Rufinus’s Latin translation it was one of the most popular and widely disseminated works of monastic hagiography during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Modern scholars value it not only for its intrinsic literary merits but also for its status, alongside Athanasius’s Life of Antony, the Pachomian dossier, and other texts of this ilk, as one of the most important primary sources for monasticism in fourth-century Egypt.
Rufinus’s Historia monachorum is presented here in English translation in its entirety. The introduction and annotations situate the work in its literary, historical, religious, and theological contexts.
Until now, the notion of a cross-cultural dialogue has not figured in the analysis of harem paintings, largely because the Western fantasy of the harem has been seen as the archetype for Western appropriation of the Orient. In Intimate Outsiders, the art historian Mary Roberts brings to light a body of harem imagery that was created through a dynamic process of cultural exchange. Roberts focuses on images produced by nineteenth-century European artists and writers who were granted access to harems in the urban centers of Istanbul and Cairo. As invited guests, these Europeans were “intimate outsiders” within the women’s quarters of elite Ottoman households. At the same time, elite Ottoman women were offered intimate access to European culture through their contact with these foreign travelers.
Roberts draws on a range of sources, including paintings, photographs, and travelogues discovered in archives in Britain, Turkey, Egypt, and Denmark. She rethinks the influential harem works of the realist painter John Frederick Lewis, a British artist living in Cairo during the 1840s, whose works were granted an authoritative status by his British public despite the actual limits of his insider knowledge. Unlike Lewis, British women were able to visit Ottoman harems, and from the mid-nineteenth century on they did so in droves. Writing about their experiences in published travelogues, they undermined the idea that harems were the subject only of male fantasies. The elite Ottoman women who orchestrated these visits often challenged their guests’ misapprehensions about harem life, and a number of them exercised power as patrons, commissioning portraits from European artists. Their roles as art patrons defy the Western idea of the harem woman as passive odalisque.