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Vita Sanctae Thaisis




Vita Sanctae Thaisis

Name of the Portuguese translation

Vida de Santa Tarsis  (pt.019)




Latin (the original text is in Greek).


Hagiographic text about the life of a prostitute (in the oldest known text she has no name) and her change of life caused by the influence of a priest named Serapion, who, after asking her to spend a night with him, spent the time reciting psalms before her and asking for her soul. Eventually, he got her to join his prayers and show willingness to change her life and took her to a convent, recommending she would find herself a suitable penance. She chose to fast and to be secluded for the rest of her life (Beresford, 2007: 1-2).

The life of St. Thais has been written in Greek (Kuehne, 1922: 18-29) by an unknown author in the late fourth century A.D. or early fifth century A.D., about 50 years after the presumed date of the saint's death.

Later versions appeared in other languages, as Syrian (Kuehne, 1922: 39-43), Latin or Greek and, in the eleventh century, we found evidence of a moralizing prologue in which the prostitute is identified as 'Thais'. Besides this, other innovations take place: the action is placed in Alexandria; the prostitute is considered very beautiful; her choice for a life of debauchery is explained; the path of destruction of the men she was involved with is described; Serapion is seen as a wise man who converted her and, on a visit to another priest, named Anthony, discovers she was forgiven by a vision from an Anthony’s disciple. Thais dies two weeks later after knowing this (Beresford, 2007: 3-9).


Sixth or seventh centuries A.D. (this is the date of the Latin translation of the Greek text, that was written in the late fourth century A.D. or early fifth century A.D.).



Extant witnesses

In Latin, the older version was made by Dionysius Exiguus, around sixth or seventh centuries  A.D. (Kuehne, 1922: 32, 34). From this text, other versions appeared, including an anonymous  one found in the Vitae Patrum work, entitled Vita sanctae Thaisis, meretricis (Kuehne, 1922: 29-35; Beresford, 2007: 10). With the evolution of the legend, the story changes (the cleric's name change from Serapion to Paphnuce, for instance (Kuehne, 1922: 12-15)). Finally, the legend is set by Jacobus de Voragine in the Legenda Aurea, closely following the story of the Vitae Patrum (Kuehne, 1922: 35-38).

Dantico (2004) relates the appearance of this story with the writings of Terence and Menander, although he says it is unknown whether this connection is in fact real.

The Latin text can be found online:

  1. Suyskeno, Constantino et alii (1866), Acta Sanctorum – Octobris tomus quartus. Parisiis et Romae: apud Victorem Palmé, 225-228.
  2. Documenta Catholica Omnia: Migne, JP, Patrologia Latina – Vita Sanctae Thaisis Meretricis – Document in pdf.
  3. Jacobi a Voragine Legenda aurea vulgo Historia lombardica dicta – Jacobus de Voragine:. De sancta Thaisi meretrice.


Online database:

Arlima: http://www.arlima.net/qt/thais_sainte.html



BERESFORD, Andrew M. (2007), The Legends of the Holy Harlots: Thaïs and Pelagia in Medieval Spanish Literature. Woodbridge: Tamesis.

DANTICO, Alecia C. (2004), Desert Flower – Thais through Time. In http://www.umilta.net/thais.html

KUEHNE, Oswald Robert (1922), A study of the Thaïs legend – with special reference to Hrothsvitha's "Paphnutius". Thesis (PH. D.). Philadelphia: PA.