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27 II: Alain Delattre (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Monks and Society in Late Antique and Early Islamic Egypt: Glimpses from Frange’s Archive

Abstract

Several hundred Coptic letters written on pottery or limestone preserve epistolary exchanges between the monk Frange, settled on the hill of Sheik Abd el-Gourna in the Theban mountain, and lay people from the surrounding villages, and in particular a certain Tsie from the village of Petemout, on the other bank of the Nile. In the letters, we are faced with a multitude of complex relationships, from affection to anger, from pity to threat. The vicissitudes of life, economic difficulties or the troubles of illness weave the web of an atypical correspondence, exceptional in its volume and variety. The presentation will seek to evaluate and understand the different relationships between the monk and the society. But the letters require decoding: psychological strategies and rhetorical effects must be highlighted and assessed in order to be correctly interpreted. Likewise, the exact nature of the links, biological or only spiritual, between the two main protagonists of the correspondence, Frange and Tsie, deserves a re-examination. At the end of the investigation, this unusual correspondence may yield some glimpses of daily life in the Theban region during the first half of the 8th century, but it may also shed light on epistolary practices or certain aspects of monastic life and relationships between monks and society during Late Antique and Early Islamic period.