ATHANASIUS, BISHOP OF QUS (second half of 14th c.)

A Bishop, scholar of Coptic. Athanasius was an active Upper Egyptian church leader during the later decades of the 14th century. His fi ‘ilm al-tafsir (A Necklace of Composition in the Science of Interpretation) is not a work of hermeneutics (as its colorful title might lead one to expect) but rather a grammar of the Coptic language.

It marks the culmination of a century of attempts to bend and shape Arabic grammatical categories into suitable instruments for a language that, by Athanasius’ day, was no longer used in the everyday of most Copts. Originally composed to describe the Sahidic () of Upper Egypt, has been preserved in Bohairic recensions as well.

Athanasius represents an end of an era: his is one of the last names that can be mentioned for the 13th- and 14th-century golden age of Copto-Arabic literature. He may also serve as an example of the shift of the center of gravity of Egyptian southward during the Mamluk period. It is notable that the greatest of the Copto-Arabic grammars should have been produced, not in Cairo but in Qus (just north of Luxor), and should examine not the northern Bohairic but rather the southern Sahidic of the language.