Reviews of

Isidore de Péluse, Lettres III

In Editions du Cerf, Egypt, Egyptian Christianity, Epistolography, Isidore of Pelusium, Late Antiquity, Letter collections, Madalina Toca, Monastic letters, Monasticism, Nicolas Vinel, Patristics, Pierre Évieux, Uncategorized on January 31, 2018 at 5:40 pm


2018.01.03 | Pierre Évieux and Nicolas Vinel, eds. Isidore de Péluse, Lettres III (1701-2000). Sources Chrétiennes 586. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2017.

Reviewed by Madalina Toca, KU Leuven.

Isidore de Péluse, Lettres III (1701-2000) is the third volume with Isidore’s letters in the Sources Chrétiennes series (SC 586), edited and translated in French by the late Pierre Évieux with the collaboration of Nicolas Vinel. This is the continuation of other two volumes edited by P. Évieux, who was in many respects a pioneer in editing and translating in French the work of this fifth century monk from Pelusium. The first volume published in 1997 comprises letters 1214 up to 1413 (Lettres I, SC 422), and the second volume published in 2000 (Lettres II, SC 454) picks up from letter 1414 up to 1700. With the present volume, we have now almost 800 letters made available in a modern critical edition, out of the two thousand preserved in Greek. Thus, the majority of them remain still unedited in a modern critical edition, and are only available in the late nineteenth century edition printed by Migne in Patrologia Graeca 78 (itself a reprint of Morel’s edition of 1638).

The current edition supersedes the older one in PG 78 not only by the use of updated methodological tools, but also because it is based on important, previously not used, manuscripts (for instance Grottaferrata B.α.1, the oldest and most significant witness in the Greek tradition of Isidore’s letters). An extensive study on the author and its corpus, which functions as an introduction to all three volumes, can be found in the first of them (Lettres I, 7-176). Therein are lied out the principles of the edition and the witnesses used, together with a presentation of Isidore’s epistolary corpus, its textual history, and an assessment of Isidore’s figure as sophist, monk, theologian, and exegete.

The latest volume includes an avant-propos by Guillaume Bady (7-8), a list of manuscripts’ sigla (9-10), a short list of bibliographical abbreviations (11), then the Greek text and the French translation for the last 300 letters of the corpus (1701-2000) (14-411), followed by indices with biblical references (415-420) and ancient authors from the present volume (421-422), an index with names and places from all three volumes (423-448), and a list of the letters included in the present volume with their addresses and a short indication as to their subject matters (449-472). Finally, Lettres III ends with a concordance of the letters 1214-2000 as they appear in PG 78 IV/V with the new numbering proposed by Évieux (473-485).

In accordance with the style of Sources Chrétiennes volumes, the Greek text and French translation are set on facing pages, the textual apparatus and the biblical quotations apparatus at the bottom of each page being often accompanied by explicative notes. These notes contain remarks about ancient authors whom Isidore quotes or alludes to (ep. 1868 – 241, ep. 1829 – 189, ep. 1791 – 149), explain the historical context of a letter (ep. 1883 – 267), point out important theological themes (ep. 1998–401, ep. 1999–405) and cross reference with other letters within the corpus which use the same themes, and reference modern authors which discuss these letters and themes, and so on.

The third volume has a fairly complicated history of its own. The collation of the manuscripts, the critical apparatus for the new 300 letters, and a provisory translation of letters 1701–1850 and 1901–1950 was done by Évieux, before his passing in 2007. Nicolas Vinel had the difficult task of bringing his work to an end. He revised what Évieux had translated and translated the remaining letters, wrote the accompanying footnotes, brought to completion the establishing of the Greek text and the critical apparatus, and also produced a part of the indices (7). This is an impressive and thorough work which deserves a mention.

With regard to Isidore’s correspondents, the three hundred newly edited letters include epistles sent to monks (Theodosius, Nilus, Alphius, Epimachus, Strategius), sophists (Asclepius, Harpocras), bishops (Apollonius, Isidorus, Leontius), priests – both friends (Theodosius) and opponents (Zosimus, Maron, Eustathius). In terms of contents, these letters address topics as varied as biblical exegetical interpretations, issues pertaining to local affairs (ecclesiastical, administrative, and financial issues), moral and practical advices (about prayer or avoiding vices, or about a statesman’s expected behaviour), answers to more theological and philosophical questions (about the soul, or the existence of God), and so on. They are, albeit brief in aspect, a significant resource for the history of the Pelusian church and society, and offer more than anything a very vivid portrayal of the interests, urgencies and the involvement of an ex-sophist, cleric and ultimately monk from Pelusium in the intricacies of this region’s affairs.

Finally, less fortunate is the fact that, according to Bady’s introduction, there seem to be no further materials in Évieux’s archive for the rest of the letters (1-1213), which incidentally form the first part of the Isidorian corpus. This third volume is therefore an important work which achieves a further step towards the desideratum of having a modern, complete edition of a largely neglected but significant and rather unique model of epistolography in Late Antiquity.

Madalina Toca
KU Leuven


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