Gregory of Nyssa, Life of St. Macrina
[TO THE MONK OLYMPIUS] [960A]
THE form of this volume, if one may judge from its heading, is apparently epistolary, but its bulk exceeds that of a letter, extending as it does to the length of a book. My apology must be that the subject on which you bade me write is greater than can be compressed within the limits of a letter.
I am sure you do not forget our meeting, when, on my way to Jerusalem in pursuance of a vow, in order to see the relics of the Lord's sojourning in the flesh on the actual spots, 1 I ran across you in the city of Antioch; and you must remember all the different talks we enjoyed, for it was not likely that our meeting would be a silent one, when your wit provided so many subjects for conversation. As often happens at such times, the [960B] talk flowed on until we came to discuss the life of some famous person. In this case it was a woman who provided us with our subject; if indeed she should be styled woman, for I do not know whether it is fitting to designate her by her sex, who so surpassed her sex. Our account of her was not based on the narrative of others, but our talk was an accurate description of what we had learned by personal experience, nor did it need to be authenticated by strangers. Nor even was the virgin referred to unknown to our family circle, to make it necessary to learn the wonders of her life through others, but she came from the same parents as ourselves, being, so to speak, an offering of first-fruits, since she was the earliest born of my mother's womb. As then you have decided that the story of her noble career is worth telling, to prevent such a life being unknown to our time, and the record of a woman who raised [960C] herself by "philosophy" 2 to the greatest height of human virtue passing into the shades of useless oblivion, I thought it well to obey you, and in a few words, as best I can, to tell her story in unstudied and simple style.
ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΥ ΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΥ ΝΥΣΣΗΣ ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗ ΕΙΣ ΤΟΝ ΒΙΟΝ ΤΗΣ ΟΣΙΑΣ ΜΑΚΡΙΝΗΣ Τὸ μὲν εἶδος τοῦ βιβλίου ὅσον ἐν τῷ τῆς προγραφῆς τύπῳ ἐπιστολὴ εἶναι δοκεῖ, τὸ δὲ πλῆθος ὑπὲρ τὸν ἐπιστολιμαῖον ὅρον ἐστὶν εἰς συγγραφικὴν μακρηγορίαν παρατεινόμενον: ἀλλ' ἀπολογεῖται ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἡ ὑπόθεσις, ἧς ἕνεκεν γράψαι διεκελεύσω, πλείων οὖσα ἢ κατ' ἐπιστολῆς συμμετρίαν. Πάντως δὲ οὐκ ἀμνημονεῖς τῆς συντυχίας, ὅτε κατ' εὐχὴν Ἱεροσολύμοις ἐπιφοιτᾶν μέλλων, ἐφ' ᾧ τε τὰ σημεῖα τῆς τοῦ κυρίου διὰ σαρκὸς ἐπιδημίας ἐν τοῖς τόποις ἰδεῖν, συνέδραμόν σοι κατὰ τὴν Ἀντιόχου πόλιν καὶ παντοίων ἀνακινουμένων ἡμῖν λόγων (οὐδὲ γὰρ εἰκὸς ἦν ἐν σιωπῇ τὴν συντυχίαν εἶναι, πολλὰς τῷ λόγῳ τὰς ἀφορμὰς τῆς σῆς συνέσεως ὑποβαλλούσης), οἷα δὴ φιλεῖ πολλάκις ἐν τούτοις γίνεσθαι, εἰς μνήμην βίου τινὸς εὐδοκίμου προῆλθε ῥέων ὁ λόγος. Γυνὴ δὲ ἦν ἡ τοῦ διηγήματος ἀφορμή, εἴπερ γυνή: οὐκ οἶδα γὰρ εἰ πρέπον ἐστὶν ἐκ τῆς φύσεως αὐτὴν ὀνομάζειν τὴν ἄνω γενομένην τῆς φύσεως. Τὸ δὲ διήγημα ἡμῖν οὐκ ἐξ ἀκοῆς ἑτέρων διηγημάτων τὸ πιστὸν εἶχεν, ἀλλ' ὧν ἡ πεῖρα διδάσκαλος ἦν, ταῦτα δι' ἀκριβείας ἐπεξῄει ὁ λόγος, εἰς οὐδὲν ἀκοὴν ἀλλοτρίαν ἐπιμαρτυρόμενος: οὐδὲ γὰρ ξένη τοῦ γένους ἡμῶν ἡ μνημονευθεῖσα παρθένος, ὡς ἀνάγκην εἶναι δι' ἑτέρων γινώσκειν τὰ κατ' ἐκείνην θαύματα, ἀλλ' ἐκ τῶν αὐτῶν ἡμῖν γονέων, ὥσπερ τις ἀπαρχὴ καρπῶν πρώτη τῆς μητρῴας νηδύος ἀναβλαστήσασα. Ἐπεὶ οὖν ἐδοκίμασας φέρειν τι κέρδος τὴν τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἱστορίαν, ὡς ἂν μὴ λάθοι τὸν μετὰ ταῦτα χρόνον ὁ τοιοῦτος βίος μηδὲ ἀνωφελὴς παραδράμοι διὰ σιωπῆς συγκαλυφθεῖσα ἡ πρὸς τὸν ἀκρότατον τῆς ἀνθρωπίνης ἀρετῆς ὅρον ἑαυτὴν διὰ φιλοσοφίας ἐπάρασα, καλῶς ἔχειν ᾠήθην σοί τε πεισθῆναι καὶ δι' ὀλίγων, ὡς ἂν οἷός τε ὦ, τὰ κατ' αὐτὴν ἱστορῆσαι ἐν ἀκατασκεύῳ τε καὶ ἁπλῷ διηγήματι.