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Cross-Fertilizing Worlds: Schools and Monasteries in the Early Byzantine Period

Alberto Rigolio, University of Oxford, Junior Fellow 2012–2013, Fall

During my semester at Dumbarton Oaks, I focused on a corpus of Syriac translations of Greek secular literature (Plutarch, Lucian, Ps.-Isocrates, and Themistius). The translations were carried out in Northern Syria during the fifth or early sixth centuries, and they reveal the impact of the world of higher rhetorical education on the cultural life of early Christian ascetic communities. While at Dumbarton Oaks, I contrasted the instructional settings that the translations reveal with the literary accounts of the cultural life of Syrian ascetic communities that are found in works of the Cappadocian fathers, Libanius, John Chrysostom, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus. A picture begins to emerge. The cultural background of fifth- and sixth-century ascetic leaders reveals their participation in the world of secular paideia, and the composition of instructional literature shows that some ascetic communities in Northern Syria could provide text-based instruction. The impact of secular paideia on ascetic communities has thus guided my research toward Christian educational enterprises that had an ascetic nature and were not limited to the settings represented by traditional schools.