Who is the strongest Avenger? The question is interesting not so much because of its answer—no Endgame spoilers here!—but because of the discussion it prompts about the strengths and weaknesses inherent in different kinds of heroism and power. If today’s pop culture explores such questions under the guise of space aliens or tech-loving billionaires, the science-fiction veneer is a futuristic packaging for much older debates on the nature of virtue and leadership. Perhaps the question that would have occupied medieval readers of the popular and widespread genre of saints’ biographies would instead have been, who is the strongest saint: a hermit or a bishop?
Saints of Ninth- and Tenth-Century Greece (Harvard University Press, 2019), edited and translated by Anthony Kaldellis of Ohio State University and Ioannis Polemis of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and newly published in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series, gathers together seven texts detailing the lives and miracles of saints living in Greece under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. In this collection we find no single answer to the fundamental questions of virtue and strength—and certainly no knockdown grudge matches between rival spiritual leaders. But read together, as this first English translation introduces them now to a new audience, the texts illustrate the range and breadth in medieval models of holiness and power.