There are no philosophical writings in indigenous Coptic literature. The philosophical sayings and fables that have survived in Coptic literature are, it would appear, of Greek origin. In some cases they are attributed to Greek philosophers—for example, Anacharsis and Diogenes—and their Greek sources are well known. In others they are attributed to anonymous philosophers and their Greek origin can only be assumed. Only some of the material is edited; some is listed in various catalogues of Coptic manuscripts. The content of the material is not epistemological, but rather has affinities with the wisdom literature of the Bible and the Apocrypha. It teaches virtues and castigates vices. Sometimes a fable is told and its message is explicitly stated in the interpretation that follows the fable.
One and the same collection may contain sayings attributed to philosophers and related material. Thus, for instance, the Vienna collection of philosophical sayings (ed. Till, 1934-1937) also contains the parable of the three friends from the Story of Barlaam and Josaphat, while in another manuscript (John Rylands Library, Manchester, 80), a saying attributed to an anonymous philosopher occurs in a collection of aphorisms taken from biblical and apocryphal wisdom writings.
Hardly any Greek patristic writings that have a philosophical content have as yet come to light in Coptic translation. Special mention may therefore be made of the fragmentary Coptic version of GREGORY OF NYSSA’s De anima et resurrectione, which is philosophical in character and refers to philosophical schools and to philosophers such as Plato and to his dialogue Phaedrus. It is perhaps also noteworthy that the monk Saint SHENUTE refers in his writings to the teaching of Plato. Finally, reference must be made to the Coptic translation of an excerpt from Plato’s Republic, which is to be found among the Gnostic writings from the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY; it should be noted that this is not a straightforward translation, but rather the work of an editor who reinterpreted Plato’s thought in conformity with Gnostic thinking.
- Amélineau, E. Oeuvres de Schenoudi, Vol. 1, p. 15. Paris 1907-1909.
- Coquin, R.-G., and E. Lucchesi. “Une version copte du De anima et resurrectione (“Macrinia’) de Grégoire de Nysse.” Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 12 (1981):161-201.
- Crum, W. E. Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the British Museum, no. 217. London, 1905.
- . Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, no. 80. Manchester and London, 1909.
- Lantschoot, A. van. “Deux paraboles syriaques (Roman de Barlaam et Josaphat).” Le Muséon 79 (1966):133-54.
- Orlandi, T. “La traduzione copta di Platone, Respublica, IX, 588b-589b: Problemi critici ed esegetici.” Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei Rendiconti della Classe di Scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, ser. 8, vol. 32, fascs. 1-2 (1977):45-62.
- Till, W. “Griechische Philosophen bei den Kopten.” Mémoires de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 67 (1934-1937):165-75.
- . “Bemerkungen zu koptischen Textausgaben.” Orientalia 7 (1938):101-03.
K. H. KUHN