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The Legend of Hilaria (1913) pp. 7-16. The story of the two daughters of King Zeno: Coptic version



The story of the two daughters of king Zeno.

[He knew not that she was a woman1)]. He gave her a cell near his own cell, to the south of the church. Together with a philosopher, named apa Martyrios, he visited her twice every day. And the words which the saint apa Pambô spake to her for the profit of her soul were translated into Greek by apa Martyrios; for this reason the girl learned the Egyptian language.

When she had dwelled there three years, the Lord revealed to Pambô, that she was a woman, but he knew not that she was the daughter of the king.

When he knew that she was a woman, he said to her secretly: "Let nobody know that thou art a woman, for it is not suitable for our manner of life that a woman dwell amongst us, lest anybody be hurt for our sake." Nine years later, when they saw the girl beardless amongst the brethren, they called her Hilarion the eunuch, for there were many men in such a condition. Her breasts were not like the breasts of other women, on account of her ascetic practices they were withered; and she 2) was not subjected to the illness of women, for God had ordained it in this way. |10 

When she had passed nine years under these severe ascetic practices, and her parents had already ceased to think of her, a demon took possession of her younger sister in Constantinople. She was brought into the presence of the great ascetics of Byzantium, that they might pray for her; but God did not grant her recovery at their hands. The courtiers gave advice to the king and said: "May the king live for ever 3)! If it please thy majesty to accept our advice, thou shouldst send thy daughter to the ascetics of Shiit 4), who are great I in holiness 5), and we believe that God will grant her recovery on account of their prayers."

The king on hearing their advice rejoiced, for there was great sorrow in his house for the sake of the girl.

He prepared what was useful for his daughter and sent with her two eunuchs and two virgins and other servants for her service.

He wrote to Rakote 6) to the commander and to the governor to accompany her to Shiit. The king wrote [also] a letter to Shiit, asking for paper and ink to write with his own hand, lest haughty words should be put in the letter, such as are becoming to the royal rank. "The unworthy king Zeno, whom God hath given this honour above his merits, writeth to the saints, worthy of being loved, who pray for us in [the name of] the Lord, Hail. Above all, I worship your assembly in Christ, and if you hold me worthy enough, I shall kiss the dust of your sanctity's feet. But I inform you of what the Lord hath done me, on account of my |11 many sins. I had two daughters. I had no consolation except them. The eldest went from me, she is gone. Hath she died in the sea? Hath she become the prey of the wild beasts? (7 Hath she been captured by the Barbarians1)? God knoweth in what manner she died. A great sorrow struck me on her account, for I found not her corpse to bury her. (7 When I had consoled myself somewhat about her, saying: The will of the Lord be [accomplished] 7) ---- then another sorrow struck me, much more vehement than the first one: the other [daughter], who was my support, a demon took possession of her; we keep watch over her day and night. I have been advised to send her to your holiness. Now the end of this letter is truly, that God will not reject your prayer".

When the girl had arrived at Rakote, the commander and the governor went with her to Shiit; and when they came into the presence of the saint apa Pambô, they gave him the letter of the king and told him about the girl who was possessed by the demon. He called all the brethren together and read before them the letter of the king. But when they had begun to pray over her the demon took possession of her in the midst of the brethren, threw her on the ground and continued to torment her so that the commander and the governor wondered greatly.

As to the saint Hilaria, when she saw her lay sister, she recognised her: but the lay sister did not recognise her sister, the nun: and how could she recognise her? |12 For her colour had altered, the beauty of her body had withered, her eyes were sunken in, she was only bones and skin.

When she saw her sister, she was vehemently troubled, her bowels were disturbed about her sister, she threw herself at her sister's neck, weeping till the earth was soaked with her tears.

When the brethren saw her weeping, they said: "She hath compassion of heart with her". But when she had recovered a little from her illness, he 8) called an old ascetic and said to him: "Take the girl to thy cell and pray over her, till God granteth her recovery". But he said: "I have not attained such a degree of perfection as to be able to take a woman into my cell". But the philosopher Martyrios said to Pambô: "Trust her to Hilarion the eunuch, he is able to take a woman into his house". They trusted the girl to her sister, who took her into her house. When she saw the face of her sister, she was troubled, she threw herself on the ground and weeped vehemently: when she had recovered she kissed her mouth. Sometimes she slept with her on the same bench.

After seven days God granted her the recovery [of her sister]. She took her to the midst of the church and said: "On account of your prayers God hath granted recovery to the daughter of the king". The commander and the governor held a religious meeting and turned back and departed. As to the brethren they wrote to the king through his daughter: "The unworthy [persons] of the Nitrian mountain write to the triumphant king |13 Zeno. Above all we adore thy lofty majesty. May the Lord preserve thy empire without any scandal, like that of David and Solomon. Farewell, thou who providest for us and the whole church".

In this way they arrived at Constantinople. There was a great joy over the recovery of the king's daughter. The king made a feast for all weak and ill persons, he stood and served them and gave everyone with his own hand a goblet of spiced wine. On the next day he made a feast for all the courtiers. But when he asked his daughter about that which had passed to her, she said to him: "They entrusted me to an ascetic, named Hilarion; he hath prayed over me and God hath granted me recovery. (9 Great was his compassion with me 9). Sometimes he kissed my mouth, sometimes he slept with me on the same bench during the whole night".

When the king heard this, the matter troubled him; he said: "I never heard that monks would kiss women or sleep with them on the same bench; but I have heard that they hated them and would not condescend to speak with them at all. How is this now? I understand it not".

This thought troubled the king. He wrote a second letter to Shiit, in this way: "His victorious majesty Zeno, writeth to the pious fathers dwelling in Shiit. I am a debtor to your prayers and I cannot attain the measure of your honour, nor pay what I wish [to pay 10)] ...... by your intermediary. So I wish that you accept my . . . and that you send me the brother |14 named Hilarion. There is an illness in the palace and I cannot......" [They called] Hilaria and said to her: 11) "Arrange thy matters, brother, for the king hath sent for thee".

Now the Blessed was much grieved. The brethren consoled her, saying: "Go and the Lord shall go with thee and thou shalt return in peace".

They sent with her two old brethren, hermits. So they went towards Constantinople to the king. When the king heard that they had arrived, he rejoiced greatly and ordered them to be brought to him ............. ............. ["Tell me the truth, that I] may purify myself from this transgression. But thou, spare no words!"

The holy Virgin meditated saying [to herself]: "I should like to conceal the matter; but lest the other monks be confounded on my account [I shall make known the matter] now that such foulness hath been conceived about these saints. She said to him: "Bring me the Gospels". He brought them her. She said to him: "Swear to me: I shall not [restrain thee] from going to my place". So he swore by the Gospel. She said to him: "I am Hilaria, thy daughter". The king, on hearing this, wondered and was perplexed; he could not speak for an hour. But at once he understood [the matter], hurried towards his daughter, embraced her, weeped on her neck, kissed her mouth like Joseph in his time, when he threw himself on Benjamin's neck and wept over him.

When Hilaria's mother and sister heard [the news], they screamed aloud. For women are naturally inclined to be perplexed. The king restrained them, |15 saying ............... lest God bereave us of our two [daughters]. But, on the contrary, let us praise Him because we have found her back alive". Because the king had sworn it to her, he revealed not the matter to the other brethren who had accompanied her and kept her during three months with him in order to continue seeing his daughter's face daily.

He asked her how she had left his house, she told him how she wore her dress of a spatharios and how she had gone to Rakote and how she had gone to Shirt with the deacon.

Then they took leave and returned to their place. The king gave Shiit three thousand [measures of] corn, for the eucharist and for his daughter, with six hundred measures of oil and this hath been continued for the church of Shiit till this day.

After her arrival at Shiit she lived still twelve years. At last she fell into a severe illness and bore it with courage. She called the holy Pambô and conjured him thus: "When I shall have ceased living, thou shalt take care, because thou knowest my whole life, that this coat be not taken from me, but let me be buried with it".

When she had given up the ghost, he stood over her body and buried it in the coat, according to what she had said to him; when she had been buried, he sat down and spoke to the monks a divine word. He said to them: "Verily, a weak vessel hath put to shame this multitude of monks who are dwelling at Shiit: who hath shown such an endurance, when she dwelled struggling amongst men? Who hath shown such an endurance, bereaving herself of rest of the flesh, as she hath done?"

When the brethren heard her life, they were struck |16 with wonder and praised God, saying: "Therefore He hath granted her the grace of deceasing on the day of Mary, the holy mother of God 12), i.e. the 21st Touba". 

They wrote to her father about her end. He and [Hilaria's] mother were highly grieved. Afterwards he consoled her 13) mother, saying: "If he who hath posterity in Sion and kindred in Jerusalem hath been called happy 14), verily how much happier are we, for we have posterity in the heavenly Jerusalem. Verily.....

[Footnotes renumbered and moved to the end]

1. 1) Not in Amélineau's text, but supplemented by Dr. von Lemm.

2. 2) According to a correction of the Coptic text by Dr. von Lemm.

3. 1) Cf. Daniel VI, 22; The Story of Ahiqar, éd. Conybearé, R. Harris, A. Smith Lewis, p. [], 12 paen.

4. 2) Skete.

5. 3) politei/a.

6. 4) Alexandria.

7. (1----1) Only in Coptic Ms. 1101 (Or. 6073), British Museum, according to Dr. von Lemm.

8. 1) Pambô.

9. (1----1) According to corrections of Dr. von Lemm. 

10.  2) i.e. my debt.

11. 1) Giron, p. 61.

12. 1) qeoto&koj 

13. 2) i.e. Hilaria's.

14. 3) Dr. von Lemm compares Is. XXXI, 9 b according to LXX.

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