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Barlaam and Ioasaph also known as “Barlaam and Josaphat” Toumpouri, Marina


Barlaam and Ioasaph is the legend of two mythical saints, enjoying remarkable popularity in the literatures of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. It exists in dozens of versions. The legend takes place sometime after apostle Thomas evangelized India. It narrates the story of the Indian prince, Ioasaph, son of the pagan king Abenner, a persecutor of the Christian Church. Ioasaph despite his father’s confinement to a palace for being isolated from contact with Christians, embraces the religion after being taught by monk Barlaam. Abenner troubled by his son’s conversion engages in more severe acts of persecutions and makes several unsuccessful attempts to make Ioasaph recant his faith. As a last resort, he tries to seduce Ioasaph with power and glory by letting him reign over the half of his kingdom. The secular, yet holy life of his son inspires conversion to Abenner who lives his last days as ascetic. After the death of Abenner, Ioasaph reigns during few more years but he then renounces his kingdom. He wanders for years through wilderness and finally finds Barlaam. After their death, their relics revered as holy are moved to the capital of the Indian kingdom where numerous miracles are performed. The story goes back to Indian legends about the life of Buddha, but it is impossible to establish a single source. From India, the legend emerged in the Arab-speaking world between 750 and 900 CE and was later translated before 900 CE into Georgian. This version was used by Euthymios the Athonite († 1028), cofounder of the monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos, for the Byzantine Greek translation assumed to have been completed shortly thereafter 985 CE. By 1019 CE the Greek revised version of the text was also in circulation. The legend was popularised in the West via a Latin translation known as the “Vulgate” and was soon adapted into several vernacular versions. Some of them derive from the Latin “Vulgate”, while others were adapted from the thirteenthcentury CE abbreviated version found in Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea. The surviving witnesses of the different versions of the text that have come down to us are numerous. A small minority among them has received cycles of illustrations. Barlaam and Ioasaph includes a set of allegorical stories (or apologues) woven into the narrative framework of the text. These apologues were disseminated independently from it and can be found in many well-known European literary works, such as collections of fables or short stories like the Disciplina clericalis and Bocaccio’s Decameron, plays like Shakespeare’s The merchant of Venice and many others. Depictions inspired by the apologues are another proof of the wide dissemination of these apologues, since they can be found in different religious and secular monuments throughout Europe.

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