DIOSCORUS OF APHRODITO (c. 520-after 585),
Jurist and poet. Born to Hellenized Coptic gentry in the Upper Egyptian town of Aphrodite (later spelled Aphrodito) in the Antaeopolite nome, Dioscorus received the classical education of his time and station plus training in the law and, presumably at Alexandria, in philosophy (most likely under John Philoponus). He followed his father Apollos as protokometes (headman) of Aphrodite, and eventually became administrator of the monastery Apollos had founded before his death in 546. In 551 Dioscorus traveled to Constantinople to defend Aphrodite’s autopragia (self- responsibility) rights of tax collection, a journey recalled in his earliest preserved poem (Heitsch, 6; MacCoull, 1988, pp. 63-66). From 566 to 573 he resided at Antinoopolis, seat of the duke of the Thebaid and administrative center of Upper Egypt. He practiced law, from which activity many documents in his own hand, in both Greek and Coptic, are preserved, and composed numerous Greek encomiastic poems in honor of dukes of the Thebaid and local officials. After 573 he returned to Aphrodite and continued to write and administer his lands. He lived in the reign of Maurice (after 585).
The archive of Dioscorus is a rich source of information about the cultural and economic life of late antique Egypt. As a ktetor (landowner) he was involved in numerous transactions involving both lay and monastic property. As a bilingual man of letters, he composed a Greek-Coptic poetic glossary that is of great interest for both linguists and historians. His poetry is a rich blend of pagan and Christian imagery, especially in praise of the emperor, epithalamia (wedding songs), and descriptions of Egyptian scenery. As a poet, he owes much to the Periphrasis of St. John of Nonnus and to the philosophical vocabulary of Philoponus. In language and in piety, Dioscorus was Cyrillian; in matters of taste and in his sense of the majesty of the law, he reflected his age’s acute sensibility and love of splendor and display. From his work, we gain our fullest picture of life in Coptic Egypt at the time of its highest cultural flowering.
- Heitsch, E. Die griechischen Dichterfragmente der römischen Kaiserzeit, 2 vols. Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, philologisch-historische Klasse 49. Göttingen, 1964.
- Kramer, B., and D. Hagedorn. Papyrologische Texte und Abhandlungen, Vol. 31, pp. 185-86. Bonn, 1984.
- MacCoull, L. S. B. Dioscorus of Aphrodito: His Life, His Work, His World. Berkeley, Calif., 1988.
- . “The Coptic Archive of Dioscorus of Aphrodito.” Chronique d’Egypte 56 (1981):185-93.
L. S. B. MACCOULL