Dedimus (Didymus)

313-398 AD

During the Coptic era in ancient Egypt, around 4 AD, a Monk named Dedimus (sometimes spelled Didymous), who was blinded in early childhood, became a leading Alexandrian philosopher and theologian. He had many apprentices from Syria and Asia minor who came to study with him.

In the Ecclesiastic History (Series 2, Volume 2, Book III, Chapter 15) Sozomen, a fifth century historian, reported the following about Dedimus:

Didymus [was] an ecclesiastical writer and president of the school of sacred learning in Alexandria…He was acquainted with every branch of science, and was conversant with poetry and rhetoric, with astronomy and geometry, with arithmetic, and with the various theories of philosophy. He had acquired all this knowledge by the efforts of his own mind, aided by the sense of hearing, for he became blind during his first attempt at learning the rudiments. When he had advanced to youth, he manifested an ardent desire to acquire speech and training, and for this purpose he frequented the teachers of these branches, but learned by hearing only, where he made such rapid progress that he speedily comprehended the difficult theorems in mathematics. It is said that he learned the letters of the alphabet by means of tablets on which they were engraved, and which he felt with his fingers; and that he made himself acquainted with syllables and words by the force of attention and memory, and by listening attentively to the sounds. His was a very extraordinary case, and many persons resorted to Alexandria for the express purpose of hearing, or, at least, of seeing him. His firmness in defending the doctrines of the Nicæan council was extremely displeasing to the Arians. He easily carried conviction to the minds of his audience by persuasion rather than by power of reasoning, and he constituted each one a judge of the ambiguous points. He was much sought after by the members of the Catholic Church, and was praised by the orders of monks in Egypt, and by Antony the Great.

It is related that when Antony left the desert and repaired to Alexandria to give his testimony in favor of the doctrines of Athanasius, he said to Didymus, “It is not a severe thing, nor does it deserve to be grieved over, O Didymus, that you are deprived of the organs of sight which are possessed by rats, mice, and the lowest animals; but it is a great blessing to possess eyes like angels, whereby you can contemplate keenly the Divine Being, and see accurately the true knowledge.”

Today, Dedimus has become an important figure in the disability movement, since he seems to be the first in history to have developed a system to teach the blind. His reading method of engraving block letters into wood took place some 21 centuries before Louis Braille developed his system (Sozomen, 2008).

Writings about Dedimus

Didymus the Blind (2010). Retrieved March 17, 2010.

Didymus the Blind (2010) Retrieved March 17, 2010

Gauche, William (1934). Didymus the Blind: An educator of the 4th century. Washington, D. C.: Catholic University of America.

Lascartos, J. & S. Marketos (1994). Didymus the Blind: An unknown precursor of Louis Braille and Helen Keller. Documenta Ophthalmologica, 86, 203-208.

Layton, Richard (2004). Didymus the blind and his circle in late-antique Alexandria. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Sozomen, (2008). Dydimus the blind and Aëtius the heretic. Translated by Phillip Schaff et al. Retrieved March 17, 2010.

Sozomen, (1860) Historical Ecclesiastes. Translated by Edward Walford. London: Henry G Bohn. Retrieved March 17, 2010.

Weerakkody, D. P. M. (2006). Didymus the Blind: Alexandrian theologian and scholar. In Albrecht, G. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of disability. Volume 1, p. 401.