From September 394 to early January 395, seven monks from Rufinus of Aquileia’s monastery on the Mount of Olives made a pilgrimage to Egypt to visit locally renowned monks and monastic communities. Shortly after their return to Jerusalem, one of the party, whose identity remains a mystery, wrote an engaging account of this trip. Although he cast it in the form of a first-person travelogue, it reads more like a book of miracles that depicts the great fourth-century Egyptian monks as prophets and apostles similar to those in the Bible. This work was composed in Greek, yet it is best known today as Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Inquiry about the Monks in Egypt), the title of the Latin translation of this work made by Rufinus, the pilgrim-monks’ abbot.
The Historia monachorum is one of the most fascinating, fantastical, and enigmatic pieces of literature to survive from the patristic period. In both its Greek original and Rufinus’s Latin translation it was one of the most popular and widely disseminated works of monastic hagiography during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Modern scholars value it not only for its intrinsic literary merits but also for its status, alongside Athanasius’s Life of Antony, the Pachomian dossier, and other texts of this ilk, as one of the most important primary sources for monasticism in fourth-century Egypt.
Rufinus’s Historia monachorum is presented here in English translation in its entirety. The introduction and annotations situate the work in its literary, historical, religious, and theological contexts.
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