The story of the early Christian saint Thais – one of the so-called ‘harlot saints’ – combined the hagiographical trope of the repentant prostitute with a representation of solitary religious enclosure. Like the more famous penitent Mary of Egypt, Thais remained a well-known figure throughout the Middle Ages, a powerful icon of repentance and transformation. Unlike Mary’s disappearance into a hermit’s life in the desert, however, Thais accepts an extreme penitential enclosure in a narrow cell.
This seminar will introduce the tradition of the Thais narrative as it emerged from the lives and sayings of the Desert Fathers. Medieval adaptations included Hrosvit of Gandersheim’s early drama and Jacobus de Voragine’s influential prose retelling. I will focus specifically on a Latin verse adaptation by the bishop Marbod of Rennes (d. 1123).
Marbod’s life of Thais was composed in a period of religious reform and experimentation, and the story’s key archetypes – wandering preacher, repentant harlot, enclosed recluse – were mirrored in the religious landscape of his episcopacy. His rendering of the narrative pays special attention to Thais’s emerging religious identity and suggests new questions about the development of the life and the ways it was understood in medieval culture.
Join Zoom Meeting: https://utoronto.zoom.us/j/86103043512
Meeting ID: 861 0304 3512
Image: New York, Morgan Library MS M.672-5, IV fol. 137v