BIOGRAPHIES OF BISHOPS
The ancient literary form of the biography was taken over by the Christians, as is shown by the Panegyricus on Constantine the Great by Eusebius and Jerome’s De viris illustribus. From the fourth century on, the lives of saints such as the Vita Cypriani of Pontius and the Vita Antonii of Athanasius were at the center of Christian biography. The latter work, a mixture of biography and encomium, had a considerable influence in Coptic literature, with greater emphasis on the element of eulogy.
The designations of these works vary between encomium and bios, and occasionally they are also called politeia (Abdel Sayed, 1984, pp. 272ff.). The first subjects of biographies or encomia were martyrs and then monks, followed by bishops. For example, an encomium on MACARIUS, BISHOP OF TKOW, is ascribed to Archbishop DIOSCORUS of Alexandria, the twenty-fifth patriarch. In the early fourth century, Archbishop Alexander I, nineteenth patriarch, had reportedly written an encomium on his predecessor PETER I of Alexandria, seventeenth patriarch (see Krause, 1979, pp. 710 and nn. 171f.; further examples at pp. 710-15).
In the seventh century, when Coptic literary works were increasingly written in Coptic and no longer translated from Greek into Coptic, a biography of Bishop Pisentius of Qift was written. This has been preserved in the Sahidic and Bohairic dialects and in Arabic translations (Abdel Sayed, pp. 5ff.). In each version a different author is named, although the content of the biography, apart from variations in length, agrees word for word.
The Bohairic version reportedly was written by Bishop Moses, the successor of Pisentius as bishop of Qift; the Sahidic, by the priest John, a disciple of Pisentius. The longer Arabic translation is said to have been composed by Theodorus of Scetis, with Moses and John as coauthors. Only in the short Arabic recension is Theodorus named as sole author. Probably, however, John was the author, and Moses may well be named as author of the Bohairic version, because in this period many Coptic bishops are known as the authors of literary works.
The biography falls into individual narratives, which in the Arabic recensions are described as miracles and enumerated. In addition to topoi, which are also attested in other literary works, the recensions contain so many statements about Pisentius that a biography could be worked out from them (Abdel Sayed, pp. 304ff.).
- Abdel Sayed, G. G. Untersuchungen zu den Texten über Pesyntheus, Bischof von Koptos (569-632). Bonn, 1984.
- Gerstinger, H. “Biographie.” In Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, Vol. 2. Stuttgart, 1954.
- Krause, M. “Koptische Literatur.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, Vol. 3. Wiesbaden, 1979.
- . “Ägypten II (literaturgeschichtlich).” In Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, Supp. Vol. 1. Stuttgart, 1985.