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E06983: The Greek Life of *Taisia/Thais (penitent of Egypt, S02646) is translated into Latin at Rome in the early 6th c. by Dionysius Exiguus.

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posted on 2018-10-24, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Penitence of Thais (Paenitentia sanctae Taysis, BHL 8012)

This is a translation into Latin of one of the Greek accounts of the conversion of Thais, on which see $E06987.

The preface
The translation is preceded by a preface, addressed by Dionysius to an abbot named Pastor. It begins as follows:

Sanctae Thaisiae quondam meretricis mirabilem paenitentiam simplici sermone conscriptam, quam inter alios eximiae conuersationis uiros Aegyptus protulit [t]alium fecunda uirtutum, de graeco me transferre iussisti.

'You have ordered me to translate from Greek, written out in simple speech, the wonderful penitence of the holy Thaisia, the former prostitute, whom Egypt, fertile in such virtues, brought forth among the men of outstanding life.'

Dionysius goes on to talk about the importance of the story of Thais as a lesson that even the worst sinners can hope to achieve forgiveness through penitence.

The translation
Dionysius' translation is based on an anonymous Greek account of the conversion of Thais (BHG 1695), edited, with others, by F. Nau (Nau 1903, 86-112). In the Acta Sanctorum text (there is no edition more recent than this), Dionysius' translation omits the beginning of the Greek Life (which narrates Thais' early life and sale into prostitution by her mother), opening with the terse statement 'There was a certain prostitute named Thais' (Fuit quaedam meretrix nomine Thaisis) and moving immediately into the narrative of her conversion. Dionysius gives the name of the Desert Father who converts Thais as Paphnutius rather than Serapion, but otherwise follows the Greek original closely, up to the point where Serapion/Paphnutius returns to the convent where Thais had been confined. The remainder of the Greek text, describing Thais' final days and death, is reduced to a brief paraphrase.

Text: Glorie 1972 (preface); Acta Sanctorum, Oct. IV, 225 (life). Summary: David Lambert.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Thais/Taisia, penitent of Egypt, 4th c. : S02646

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


Dionysius Exiguus was a native of the Roman province of Scythia (roughly equivalent to the Dobrudja region in present-day Romania), an area which was predominantly Latin-speaking in late antiquity, but was in the Eastern Empire and was close to centres of Greek culture. In the late 490s he settled at Rome, where he remained for the rest of his life; the date of his death is unknown, but he is last attested in the late 520s. He was active as a translator from Greek into Latin, not only of texts related to the saints, but of canons of church councils, and theological works by writers such as Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, and Proclus of Constantinople. He also produced the first large-scale western collections of canon law, and wrote works on computus (the calculation of the date of Easter). Dionysius refers to himself as a monk, though the details of his monastic life at Rome are unknown; the epithet Exiguus ('small' or 'humble'), was adopted by him as a mark of humility. For a full discussion of the evidence for Dionysius' life, see Mähler 1969; see also PCBE 2, 'Dionysius 4'. The Latin account of the conversion of Thais circulated widely in the middle ages, but the preface identifying Dionysius as the translator survives only in a single 11th c. manuscript (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, D.525.Inf.), and was first published in Analecta Bollandiana 11 (1892), 298-299. The edition of the text in Acta Sanctorum is therefore headed auctore anonymo.


Editions: Acta Sanctorum, Oct. IV, 225 (Life). Glorie, F., Scriptores 'Illyrici' minores (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 85; Turnhout, 1972), 75 (preface only). Nau, F. 'Histoire de Thais," Annales du Musee Guimet 30:3 (1903), 51-114 (Greek versions). Further reading: Mähler, M., "Denys le Petit, traducteur de la Vie de saint Pachome," in: H. van Cranenburgh, La Vie latine de Saint Pachôme, traduite du grec par Denys le Petit (Subsidia Hagiographica 46; Brussels, 1969), 28-48.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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