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Asceticism, Orality, and Textual Transmission in the Spiritual Meadow of John Moschus

Saskia Dirkse, Harvard University, William R. Tyler Fellow 2012–2014

During my second year as a William R. Tyler Fellow, I was able to build on the research that I began in Europe last year. My dissertation is a study of attitudes toward and teachings about the end of life, death, and the afterlife, as they are expressed in early Byzantine religious tales. Over the course of the year, I focused my attention on descriptions of heavenly journeys of the soul, the postmortem reassimilation of anchorites into the community of the living, and the role of monastic penitence as a preparation for death in John Klimakos’s Ladder of Divine Ascent. My work has profited immensely from the library’s extensive holdings and from the knowledge and kindness of the staff. In particular, the large collection of primary and secondary texts related to death in the western Middle Ages offered an unexpected and fruitful comparative counterpoint to the Byzantine tradition.

I also continued work on the Dumbarton Oaks Manuscripts on Microfilm database. This ongoing institutional project, which started three years ago and is nearing its completion, seeks to create a searchable database of records for the library’s large and valuable collection of microfilms of manuscripts and documents. I spent much of my time working with films from the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai and the Istanbul Patriarchate library.