EUSTATHIUS AND THEOPISTA, SAINTS
A husband and wife who were married in the second century (feast day: 27 Tut). They are well known throughout both Western and Eastern Christendom. In the Coptic Synaxarion, their feastday falls on 27 Tut. Their Passion has survived in a great many different languages and versions, which would ultimately appear to have their source in a lost Greek version, similar to one of the three texts extant.
The definitive work on this question, after quite a number of other monographs of different types, is that of H. Delehaye (1919), who distinguishes three Greek versions of the Passion: the premetaphrastic version, which is closest to the original; the metaphrastic version; and the version of Nicetas of Paphlagonia. Ancient translations in Latin, Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian also exist.
The Coptic version has survived in only one manuscript (British Library, Or. 6783, ed. Budge, 1914, pp. 102-127). The content does not differ substantially from that of the Greek original. The original name of Eustathius was Placidus, and he was one of Trajan’s generals. In the course of a hunt, the miraculous apparition of the famous stag with the cross persuaded him, together with his wife Theopista and their whole family, to be baptized.
There follows an account of his many misfortunes, his separation from his wife and children, and finally their miraculous reunion in the course of a war against the Persians. He is recognized as Christian, tortured, and, with his family, put to death.
Delehaye recognizes three main elements in the account: that of the stag is a common hagiographical element; that of Eustathius’ misfortunes is derived from the popular romances and tales—some of them Oriental—of ancient times; and the Passion proper is a sort of secondary addition.
The presence of this martyr in the Coptic tradition is undoubtedly due to his fame in international circles; the translation must have been made relatively early, perhaps in the fifth century, inasmuch as we do not find the additions that are typical of the later period of the CYCLES.
- Delehaye, H. “La Légende de saint Eustache.” In Bulletin de l’Académie Royale de Belgique, classe de lettres (1919):175-210.