The passage excerpted below comes from a work that was once known as the Peregrinatio Aetheriae but nowadays is usually called the Itinerarium Egeriae. Only part of the original whole survives, and that part is uniquely preserved in a single manuscript (the Codex Aretinus) that was copied at Monte Cassino in the eleventh century but did not come to light until 1884. In that year, the Italian scholar C. P. Gamurrini found the manuscript in a monastic library in his hometown of Arezzo. He published it three years later. Although there is no way of knowing exactly how much of the original text is preserved in the Codex Aretinus, a significant portion is nevertheless missing from both the beginning and the end.
Many other aspects of the Itinerarium Egeriae are also shrouded in mystery. The first and most basic of these is the name of the author, who is clearly Christian and female but nowhere named. Ca. 680, a Christian monk named Valerius and living near Galicia in northwestern Spain wrote a letter to his fellow monks and in it extolled the exemplary piety of a certain Christian woman. Valerius represented this woman as having undertaken an arduous pilgrimage to the Middle East many years before his own day.
In an article published in 1903, the French scholar Dom M. Férotin argued that the woman praised by Valerius is one and the same person as the authoress of our text. That, however, is not the end of the matter as far as her name is concerned. Valerius' letter is preserved in three extant manuscripts as well as in printed editions that were published in the 1700s and based on an altogether different manuscript tradition. Unfortunately, the name of Valerius' intrepid pilgrim varies with the source of his letter. "Aetheria" is the name found in the aforementioned printed editions, and this name, favored by Dom Férotin, persisted in the scholarly literature for some decades after his article was published. Thus, in Einar Löfstedt's philological commentary of 1911, which, among linguists, was once better known than the text itself, the title of the work is given as the Peregrinatio Aetheriae ("Aetheria's Pilgimage"). Over the years, however, more and more arguments have been advanced in favor of "Egeria," the name found in the text of Valerius' letter as it is preserved in a manuscript copied in Spanish Toledo in 902. In editions published after 1948, the authoress has been called "Egeria" consistently.
The date of Egeria's three-year sojourn in the Middle East is also shrouded in mystery. The text contains no datable references; rather, only termini post quos. Consequently, hypotheses concerning date have ranged from the late 300s at one extreme to the first half of the 500s at the other. Clearly, Egeria's frequent inclusion among medieval writers is predicated on a rather late date of composition. It is the consensus nowadays, however, that Egeria belongs to late antiquity. In an article published in 1967, Paul Devos argued for the years 381 to 384 as the period of her stay in Jerusalem. This is also the date that was adopted by the specialist Hagith Sivan as recently as 1988.
What was Egeria's socio-economic status? Where did she live? How old was she when she made her pilgimage? How well educated was she? What was her relationship to the "sisters," as she calls them, to whom she writes? Answers to these questions too have to be deduced from what Egeria has written. Valerius thought that Egeria was a nun, no doubt because she constantly refers to her correspondents as "sisters." In the A.D. 300s, however, most European pilgrims who traveled to the Holy Land were lay persons rather than members of religious communities. They typically spent no more than a year away from home, and usually only a few months. Egeria, on the other hand, was away in the Holy Land for more than three years, and, after having reached Constantinople at the end of her travelogue, she was in no hurry to return home. She never mentions (or even alludes to) financial considerations or difficulties with finding a place in which to stay. Her pace is leisurely, and her travels are themselves often spur-of-the-moment. These considerations rule out the possibility that she had any religious or official status. Rather, as Hagith Sivan believes, Egeria is most likely to have been an affluent bourgeoise who belonged to a group of devout Christian women living in an urban environment. The Gallic women with whom Jerome corresponded may exemplify, Sivan suggests, the sort of women that Egeria and her "sisters" were. In undertaking a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the late 300s, Egeria was following an aristocratic precedent, but she is unlikely to have been an aristocrat herself.
When Egeria, returning home, reaches the Euphrates, she compares this river's strong current with that of the Rhone. Only here does Egeria mention a place in the West, and this unique reference to the Rhone has led Hagith Sivan to surmise that Egeria may have come from Arles. Adducing other, lexical considerations, the present writer has suggested that she lived in the vicinity of Mont-Saint-Michel. Both writers concur, however, in rejecting in favor of France the common assumption that Egeria came from Spain, and from Galicia in particular.
Egeria was willing and able to tarry for several years in an alien land, and to travel constantly during this period. The large number of mountains that she climbed--specifically, Mts. Sinai, Nebo, Faran, Tabor, Eremus, and Elijah's mountain--impressed Valerius, and Egeria herself, on her way up Mt. Sinai, remarks that the ascent was too arduous for all except those who were in good physical condition (fortiori corpore). Taken in the aggregate, these considerations would rule out a woman past her prime. If Egeria was not an especially young woman (as her nonchalance about expenditures by itself suggests that she was not), neither can she have been in her dotage.
Some have argued that Egeria's prose is such as to suggest that neither she nor her correspondents had received a classical education. When she is compared with aristocratic Christian women such as Paula, Proba, Melania the Elder, and Marcella, Egeria's education, Sivan insists, does not measure up. This aristocratic standard is, however, extraordinarily high. Paula, for example, knew Greek and Hebrew, and Melania was able to read and to analyze Greek patristic writings. To aver, however, that Egeria was neither erudite nor intellectual is not to say that she was poorly educated. On many points, indeed, her Latin veers away from Vulgar usage and adheres to Classical norms, and her casual style of writing may have as much to do with the conventions of the epistolary genre as with any deficiencies in her education. Certainly our estimate of Cicero's prose would be quite different if only his letters had survived. In fact, Egeria is capable of Ciceronian hypotaxis when the occasion requires, as, for example, in the envoi with which her account of her travels concludes. As for the objection that she never mentions pagan texts, this, like her Latin, could be due as much to her correspondents' educational background as to her own. Besides, what conceivable relevance could classical texts or, for that matter, patristic writings have in an account of visits to Biblical sites? Here the Bible is overwhelmingly the primary text, and of this Egeria has a minute knowledge, and she is able to quote it as needed. Jerome's Latin translation of Eusebius' Onomasticon would also have had a direct bearing on her travels, and this she paraphrases remarkably often. Thus, while it is true that Egeria does not leave the impression of having been part of a Christian intelligentsia, neither is it fair to conclude that she was poorly educated.
The Classical Latin of Caesar and Cicero subjects the language to a plethora of prohibitions pertaining to permissible forms, constructions, and words and expressions. Thus, the straightforward, spontaneous Latin of everyday conversation is not to be found in Caesar's commentaries or in Cicero's speeches. Indeed, it is not to be found in any written document, for no writing other than an exact transcript can reproduce in written form unpremeditated speech. Nevertheless, some texts adhere more closely than others to so-called "Vulgar" Latin (a term comparable, mutatis mutandis, to "plain English"). In view of their proximity, moreover, to colloquial speech, Vulgar texts can be expected to employ forms, constructions, words, and expressions that are missing from fastidious literary texts but re-emerge down the centuries in the Romance languages. This Vulgar heritage of the Romance languages should come as no surprise, for spoken Latin, not literary prose, is the seedbed of the Romance vernaculars. Egeria's account of her pilgrimage is full of Vulgar usages, and, therefore, her Latin reveals the Romance languages in embryo to a much greater extent than does the language of self-consciously literary writers. At the same time, the Vulgar quality of Egeria's Latin should not be overemphasized, as it tends to be. As L. R. Palmer has written, "the chisel of the stonemason, the pen of the loquacious nun [he means Egeria], and the chalk that scribbles on the wall, disregard the tongue and move self-willed in traditional patterns. It is only through their occasional inadvertences, almost willy-nilly, that the writers give us hints that their natural speech deviates from the language of the schoolroom which they are at pains to use."
Strictly speaking, Itinerarium Egeriae applies only to the first twenty-three chapters of the extant text. The remaining twenty-six chapters are not a travelogue at all but rather give a minute, third-person description of the liturgy practiced by the Christians living in Jerusalem. The local liturgies of the Holy Land were, according to Sivan, largely a response to the advent of pilgrims--indeed, she suggests, Egeria's baptism may well have been the culmination of her three-year sojourn in Jerusalem--and this interrelationship between liturgy and pilgrimage is sufficient to explain Egeria's intense interest in the liturgy of Jerusalem. Sivan has also pointed out that it was liturgy more than anything that set Egeria and her Christian sisters apart in the pagan milieu in which they lived. Hence, differences between her own liturgy and that of the Holy Land--and these differences were considerable--will have fascinated Egeria and Western pilgrims in general.
The excerpt given below comes from the latter part of the travelogue chapters of the Itinerarium Egeriae. Egeria has left Jerusalem, and, as she proceeds on her leisurely journey towards home, she stops in Edessa, which, after Antioch, was the pre-eminent center of Christianity in Mesopotamia. Egeria knows of Edessa on account of its monks and hermits, its shrine of St. Thomas, and the letter that Christ was supposed to have written to one of its kings. The first of these, though, were the primary reason for her stopover.
Edessa was isolated in both its language and its religion. Its population spoke a dialect of Aramaic known as Syriac, and its particular brand of Christianity, originating beyond the Roman frontier, grew to encompass a wide area extending from Armenia in the north to the coast of India in the south. Ultimately, though, Edessene Christianity died out altogether.
According to the principal sources for the legend, Abgar V ("The Black"), king in Edessa, wrote to Christ asking to be cured of a grave illness. In his written reply, Christ promised that he would send one of his disciples to Edessa. In the event, that disciple was Thaddaeus (Addaï in Syriac), sent by St. Thomas, who cured Abgar and thereafter spread the Gospel in Edessa. This differs from the story as related by Egeria, who writes that Christ promised to send St. Thomas himself. She also has Abgar refer to Christ's written promise to protect Edessa from all enemies. This promise is missing from Eusebius' Greek translation of Christ's letter but is included in the Syriac original. Paul Devos thinks that Egeria has this promise in mind when she expresses misgivings concerning the completeness of the correspondence as it is preserved in the Latin translation that she has back home.
Finally, even though the Itinerarium Egeriae may quite possibly be the earliest surviving prose work written by a woman, Egeria herself is not the first pilgrim to have bequeathed to us the itinerary of a pilgrimage from Europe to the Holy Land. That honor belongs to an anonymous male pilgrim from Bordeaux, who made his pilgrimage ca. 333 and wrote a guidebook, still extant, for the use of pilgrims who came after him. Two centuries later, a similar itinerarium, it too extant, was written by a pilgrim named Antoninus, who lived in Piacenza. Together with other surviving examples of the genre, it can be found in volume 39 of the Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (Vienna, 1866- ), and in volume 175 of the Latin Corpus Christianorum (Turnhout and Paris, 1953- ).
ADDENDA TO MICHAEL FRASER'S SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
Adams, J. N. "The Language of the Vindolanda Writing Tablets: An Interim Preport." The Journal of Roman Studies 85 (1995): 86-134. A de facto catalogue of the idiosyncrasies of Vulgar Latin.
Blackman, D. R., and Betts, G. G. Concordantia in Itenerarium Egeriae. Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1989.
Devos, Paul. "Égérie à Édesse. S. Thomas l'apôtre. Le roi Abgar." Analecta Bollandiana 85 (1967) 381-400. An analysis of Egeria's description of the monuments, and a rationale for her version of the Abgar legend.
Lane, D. J. "Pervenimus Edessam: The Origins of a Great Christian Center outside the Familia Mediaeval World." Florilegium 3 (1981): 104-12. An evaluation of the sources and traditions out of which the history of Christianity in Edessa is to be reconstructed.
Löfstedt, Einar. Philologischer Kommentar zur Peregrinatio Aetheriae. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der lateinischen Sprache. Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksell, 1911; reprint ed., Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1966. A de facto primer of Vulgar Latin, for years better known among Latinists than Egeria's text itself.
Palmer, Leonard R. The Latin Language. London: Faber & Faber, 1954; reprint ed., Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. Pages 148-80 contain an indispensable survey of Vulgar Latin.
Sanders, G. "Égérie, Saint Jérôme et la Bible: En marge de l'Itin. Eg. 18.2; 39.5; et 2.2." In Corona gratiarum. Bruges: Sint Pietersabdi j and 's Gravenhage: M. Nijhoff, 1975. Vol.pp.181- 99.
Segal, J. B. Edessa "The Blessed City." Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. Pages 62-76 supply background for the passage excerpted here.
Snyder, Jane M. The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome. Ad Feminam: Women and Literature. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. Pages 141-51 contain general commentary on Egeria and translated excerpts.
Starowieyski, M. "Itinerarium Egeriae." Meander 33 (1978): 93-108, 133-45.
Thiébaux, Marcelle, trans. The Writings of Medieval Women: An Anthology, 2d ed. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1994. Pages 23-48 comprise translated excerpts accompanied by an introduction and bibliography.
Weber, Clifford. "Three Notes on Habeo and Ac in the Itinerarium Egeriae." Illinois Classical Studies 10 (1985): 285-94.
. "Egeria's Norman Homeland." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 92 (1989): 437-56. A lexical argument for locating Egeria's provenance in the vicinity of Mont-Saint-Michel.
, ed. Itinerari Egeriae sive, titulo prisco notati, Peregrinationis Aetheriae
pars prior. Bryn Mawr Latin Commentaries. Bryn Mawr: Bryn Mawr College,
1994. Text and commentary comprising Egeria's travelogue chapters and intended for