Taming the saint: Hilaria’s case
L. L. Ermakova
The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (Russia, Moscow)
Keywords: St Hilaria, St Euphrosyne, cross-dressing, transvestism, gender, translation, Coptic hagiography, Syriac hagiography
Abstract: The legend of Hilaria belongs to a group of narratives about cross-dressing saints and tells the story of a fictional daughter of the Byzantine emperor Zeno: disguised as a man, she led a life of rigid asceticism among the monks of Scetis. Having emerged in the Coptic milieu (6th–7th centuries), the legend was translated into Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopic. The present article examines the changes undergone by the story in the process of rewriting, which might have been caused by translators’ and scribes’ ambivalent attitude towards the plot, given that they were mainly from a monastic society. Analysis of the Syriac version demonstrates that its author, who expanded the abridged redaction he had in his possession, borrowed some details from other, similar legends, in particular, from the Life of Euphrosyne, but he was also guided by the intention to “correct” the story of Hilaria in accordance with his conception of the ideal manly “holy woman”. Therefore, he made her older, more prepared for ascetic life both physically and spiritually, but chose to change the end of the legend by attaching a narrative, which exists in other stories about cross-dressing saints. Whereas in the Coptic version Hilaria’s stay in the monastery is sanctioned by the authority of abba Pambo, who becomes aware of her true sex through divine revelation, in the Syriac version he is completely absent, and his disappearance can be traced in Arabic redactions.
Acknowledgements: The project was supported by funding from the Mikhail Prokhorov Charitable Foundation (“Karamzin Scholarships: Internship at the School of Advanced Studies in the Humanities, RANEPA-2022”).
To cite this article: Ermakova, L. L. (2022). Taming the saint: Hilaria’s case. Shagi/Steps, 8(4), 194–207. https://doi.org/10.22394/2412-9410-2022-8-4-194-207.