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Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Saints' Lives in Translation
Holy Women of Byzantium
Ten Saints’ Lives in English Translation
Alice-Mary Talbot

The ten holy women whose biographies are presented here represent a wide variety of Byzantine female saints: nuns who disguised themselves in male monastic garb; a repentant harlot who withdrew to the desert for forty-seven years of self-imposed isolation; a nun who escaped from Arab captivity to spend thirty-five years as a hermit on the abandoned island of Paros; a wonder-working abbess who slew a dragon; widows who found refuge in the ascetic life of the convent; married laywomen and a queen abused by their husbands. The careers of these holy women demonstrate some of the divergent paths to sanctification in Byzantium, through mortification of the body, unquestioning obedience to a monastic superior, repentance, acts of charity, prophecy, and miracle-working. At the same time the texts of their Lives reveal the Byzantine ambivalence towards women, reflecting the paradox of a civilization that simultaneously denigrated women as daughters of Eve and elevated Mary as the Mother of God and the instrument of man's salvation. These vitae, ranging from the fifth to thirteenth centuries, also supplement traditional narrative histories by providing information on such aspects of Byzantine civilization as the impact of Arab and Bulgarian raids, iconoclasm, the monastic routine in convents, everyday family life and household management, and a smallpox epidemic in Thessalonike.