Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.12.10

Britt Dahlman, Saint Daniel of Sketis: A Group of Hagiographic Texts Edited with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. Studia Byzantina Upsaliensis 10.   Uppsala:  Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2007.  Pp. 260.  ISBN 978-91-554-6893-4.  



Reviewed by Shawn W. J. Keough, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (shawn.keough@theo.kuleuven.be)
Word count: 1028 words

This volume was the author's 2007 doctoral dissertation at the Centre for Language and Literature (Greek) of Lund University, and presents a new edition of eight stories associated with Daniel of Sketis. The edition of the Greek texts is presented with a facing English translation, and it is preceded by a helpful introduction and followed by commentary and indices. The result is a valuable book that makes a useful contribution to the study of the desert monastic paterika, especially to the study of Daniel of Sketis.

Sketis was the most famous of the early monastic centres in Lower Egypt and was located about 100 km south of Alexandria (modern Wadi Natrun). It is traditionally reckoned to have been founded by Makarios the Great ca. 330. By the sixth century, the period in which this Daniel figures, Sketis was a stronghold of Egyptian anti-Chalcedoniasm. Like other monastic centres, the traditions of Sketis were circulated orally before being set down in writing. The stories associated with Daniel of Sketis form one of the major Greek collections of monastic stories available from the fifth through seventh centuries. Other examples include the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto, the Historia Lausiaca of Palladios, the alphabetical and topical collections of Apophthegmata Patrum, the Pratum Spirituale of John Moschos and the stories traditionally ascribed to Anastios the Sinaite. The stories associated with Daniel of Sketis (and Anastasios the Sinaite) are longer and more substantial than most of the other collections, and they give more evidence of having been composed within a literary tradition.

The introduction provides a helpful orientation to the identity of Daniel of Sketis, differentiating between this Daniel and three other fourth-fifth century Daniels known from Cassian and the Apophthegmata Patrum. Internal evidence from the stories indicates that this Daniel lived during and in the decade following the reign of Justinian (527-565). The outer extremities of Daniel's career indicated by the stories are given by his visit to Archbishop Timotheos (likely Timotheus III, Patriarch of Alexandria 517-535) and, in another story, by his testimony to his disciple that a certain Anastasia embraced the ascetic life twenty-eight years previous, following the death of Empress Theodora (548). Thus Dahlman concludes that Daniel of Sketis was born at the end of the fifth or at the beginning of the sixth century, and that he died sometime after 576.

The stories edited in this volume are conceded by Dahlman to consist mostly of hagiographical topoi. While this has caused many previous scholars to discount the value of these tales because of their lack of historicity, Dahlman notes that these stories are historically interesting primarily for the information they offer on details of daily life, from clothing and diet to ecclesiastical and civil customs and ceremonies, as well as some vivid geographical details. However, Dahlman finds these stories interesting mainly on a literary level, noting especially the intertwined themes of holy foolery, xeniteia, cross-dressing, and secret holiness. It is the theme of secret holiness which receives her most sustained attention.

Daniel does not perform miracles in the way that would characterize a wonder-worker. Nevertheless Daniel does have a unique ability to recognize people who have a hidden sanctity. Daniel is portrayed in these stories as one who has a supernatural capacity to discern secret holiness, to recognize and identify those who are called κρυπτοὶ δουλοι, or secret servants. A common phrase running through these stories is that 'God knows how many secret servants he has.' The secret holy person can be either male or female in these stories, and although the hidden sanctity of a woman is often connected to the concealment of her sex by dressing as a man, that is not necessarily the case (as in the story of the woman who pretended to be a drunkard). Each of the stories edited in this collection receives a helpful literary analysis especially attentive to this theme.

Dahlman provides a useful orientation to previous editions of texts associated with Daniel of Sketis and notes that the eight stories edited here do not represent the sum of texts plausibly referring to this Daniel. Several of these other Daniel texts are described and analyzed. The eight texts edited here were chosen because they represent a unique Daniel dossier: many of the Daniel collections represented in the manuscript tradition transmit a distinct ordering and redaction of Daniel texts. Dahlman has here edited the Daniel texts which are transmitted as part of Apophthegmata Patrum collections, singling out especially four MSS in the alphabetical-anonymous collection. Dahlman mentions her desire to undertake the task of making available further editions of other distinct Daniel dossiers.

Dahlman provides a very helpful description of the manuscripts, at times correcting erroneous information reported in the catalogues. Dahlman follows the MSS readings closely in her edition and minimizes emendations, retaining, for example, grammatically incorrect accusatives following a verb or preposition requiring a dative or genitive. The apparatus criticus conscientiously reports alternate readings and other interesting matters without tediously noting all itacisms, other variations in vowel length and misspellings, unless such prove particularly interesting to the history of Greek language. Dahlman's translation is readable, but follows the Greek closely, and makes use of an unpublished translation by John Wortley, Professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, of L. Clugnet's edition of the Daniel stories (Paris, 1901). The commentary discusses the significance of some variant readings, while also providing important historical and cultural detail. The volume is rounded out by an index of biblical references, of selected key vocabulary, and of proper names.

The bibliography bears witness to the lively interest in desert monasticism and hagiography in general, and in particular to a growing interest in Daniel of Sketis. Special mention must be made of the many important articles and translations by Tim Vivian, who is also editing a volume entitled Witness to Holiness: Abba Daniel of Scetis, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2008), which will include translations of Greek, Coptic, Ethiopic, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian and Old Church Slavonic Daniel stories. The present volume by Dahlman is a fine addition to the growing body of scholarship on Daniel of Sketis and will no doubt be of significant interest to all students of desert monasticism.

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