The monks of Capraria

May 8 2015

An explosion of […] hostile feeling was evoked in A.D. 416 […] in the heart of a “die-hard” pagan Gallic devotee of Imperial Rome […] by the sad sight of desert islands colonized – or, as Rutilius would have expressed it, infested – by Christian monks:

Processu pelagi iam se Capraria tollit.
squalet lucifugis insula plena viris.
ipsi se monachos Graio cognomine dicunt,
quod soli nullo vivere teste volunt. …
quaenam perversi rabies tarn stulta cerebri,
dum mala formides, nec bona posse pati?

[Footnote: Rutilius Namatianus, C.: De Reditu Suo, Book I, ll. 439-42 and 445-6.]

“As we advance at sea, Capraria rears itself – an ill-kept isle full of men who shun the light. Their own name for themselves is Greek, monakhoi, because they wish to dwell alone with none to see. […] What perverse fanaticism of a distorted brain is it to be unable to endure even blessings because of a terror of ills?”

Translations here and in the last post are paraphrases of J Wight Duff and Arnold M Duff in Loeb (1934). Monakhos, monk, comes from monos, alone. (It is an adjective, meaning solitary, used as a noun: etymonline.com.)

Rutilius’s De Reditu Suo, On His Return, describes in elegiac metre a coastal voyage from Rome to his native Gaul. He was from Toulouse or perhaps Poitiers. He is passing through the Tuscan Archipelago, the islands between Corsica and Tuscany, or between the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas, of which the largest is Elba. The modern name for Capraria is Capraia.

Torre delle Barbici

The Torre delle Barbici, also known as Torre della Teja, or Torre della Regina, one of three watch towers built on the island by the Genoese (1699)

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

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