PSOTE OF PSOI, SAINT, or Psate or Bisadah
Martyr under DIOCLETIAN, about 305 (feast day: 27 Kiyahk). Information about him can be gleaned only from the account of his Passion, for which the Greek text, written perhaps near the end of the fourth century, is now lost. However, there is a Coptic translation, in a Sahidic codex from Hamuli, dating from the tenth century (Pierpont Morgan Library M583, fols. 17-23, ed. Orlandi, 1978), as well as a Latin (Delehaye, 1922) and an Ethiopic translation (Budge, 1915).
According to this work, the messenger of Diocletian comes to Psoi (Ptolemais) while Bishop Psote is in the midst of celebrating Saturday night services. After begging to be allowed to complete the services, Psote then discourses to the faithful, giving them his last recommendations and even predicting his own death. Next morning the messenger leads him before ARIANUS, the prefect, who vainly tries to persuade Psote to make pagan sacrifices. Upon failing in his efforts, Arianus locks Psote in a walled cell for several days, expecting him to die. When he finds his victim still alive, Arianus has Psote decapitated.
The text of this particular Passion strays rather far from the usual epic passions (see HAGIOGRAPHY) and is quite unlike other reliable accounts of trials. It appears to be not only very ancient but also based on someone’s factual memory of the events at Psoi. Some of the circumstances herein are also verified in the Passion of PETER I, patriarch of Alexandria, and it is probable that both texts were produced in the same milieu. However, we cannot determine which one served as a model for the other.
Psote does enjoy great fame in the Coptic tradition, and many other texts of diverse origin, chronology, and significance have been composed around his personality. One Passion, much longer than the one just described (Orlandi, 1978), and an Encomium of Psote, whose author’s name is in a lacuna of the text, belong to the source that produced so many homilies and hagiographies dating from the seventh and eighth centuries. Both these works testify to the creation of the legend that purports that Diocletian was born in Egypt— where he was called Agrippida—and reared as a shepherd by Psote’s parents. A pact with the devil is supposed to have carried him to the highest “burdens,” that is, the highest positions in the empire.
Another work, enlarging upon this Psote tradition, is the Encomium of Benjamin, by AGATHON OF ALEXANDRIA (661-677), which relates that Benjamin reprimanded a Hilwan builder—a man who had disgraced himself by murdering another whose parents had cared for the builder as an orphaned child—as follows: “Truly thou hast behaved as did Diocletian with Bishop Psote. His parents [Psote’s] only did good unto him [Diocletian], and he [Diocletian], after becoming king, killed him [Psote]” (Amelineau, 1888, p. 376).
The story of Psote’s relation to Diocletian-Agrippida is also narrated in a late Encomium of Theodorus Anatolius, attributed to the fictitious Theodorus of Antioch. This work belongs to the legendary Cycle of Theodore, Claudius, and Victor.
Still another text adding to the Psote tradition is a late Passion concerning PANINE AND PANEU, in which these two holy men encounter Psote in the desert, where he has fled to escape persecution. Psote predicts to them future events, among which are his own martyrdom, that of Panine and Paneu, and likewise, that of Arianus.
From a much earlier era, we also have an Oratio attributed to Psote, but it is connected only indirectly to the rest of the Psote tradition. Its author seems to have known nothing other than the brief text of the first Passion mentioned above. However, this prayer can be related to an analogous Oratio ante mortem, attributed to ATHANASIUS I. The text has survived in a Sahidic codex from Idfu (British Library, Or. 7597, fols. 1-8, ed. Budge, 1915, and Orlandi, 1978), and it, like the Passion, contains a long series of recommendations and predictions by Psote of his own death.
In the Arabic tradition, the Arabic SYNAXARION summarizes the extended Passion (Forget, 1905, pp. 282-85). Also, in the commemoration of Abadion, it is told that Abadion revealed to Arianus the story of Diocletian-Agrippida, and that Psote confirmed it.
- Amélineau, E. C. “Fragments coptes pour servir à l’histoire de la conquête de l’Egypte par les Arabes.” Journal Asiatique, ser. 8, 12 (1888):376.
- Budge, E. A. W. Miscellaneous Coptic Texts, pp. 147-55; 1141-57. London, 1915.
- Delehaye, H. “Les Martyrs d’Egypte.” Analecta Bollandiana 40 (1922):5-154, 299-364.
- Orlandi, T. Il Dossier copto del martire Psote. Milan, 1978.