At the Antiochepedia blog, a gorgeous quotation from Ernest Renan. Here is the English translation. The paragraphing is mine, and I have continued the quotation to the end of Renan’s paragraph:
… Antioch, at the end of three centuries and a half of its existence, became one of the places in the world where race was most intermingled with race. The degradation of the people there was terrible. The peculiarity of these focuses of moral putrefaction is, to reduce all the races of mankind to the same level.
The degradation of certain Levantine cities, dominated by the spirit of intrigue, delivered up entirely to low cunning, can scarce give us a conception of the degree of corruption reached by the human race at Antioch.
It was an inconceivable medley of merry-andrews, quacks, buffoons, magicians, miracle-mongers, sorcerers, priests, impostors; a city of races, games, dances, processions, fetes, debauches, of unbridled luxury, of all the follies of the East, of the most unhealthy superstitions, and of the fanaticism of the orgy.
By turns servile and ungrateful, cowardly and insolent, the people of Antioch were the perfect model of those crowds devoted to Caesarism, without country, without nationality, without out family honor, without a name to keep.
The great Corso which traversed the city was like a theatre, where rolled, day after day, the waves of a trifling, light-headed, changeable, insurrection-loving populace– a populace sometimes spirituel, occupied with songs, parodies, squibs, impertinence of all sorts The city was very literary , but literary only in the literature of rhetoricians.
The sights were strange; there were some games in which bands of naked young girls took part in all the exercises, with a mere fillet around them; at the celebrated festival of Naiouma troupes of courtesans swarmed in public in basins filled with limpid water . This fete was like an intoxication, like a dream of Sardanapalus, where all the pleasures, all the debaucheries, not excluding some of a more delicate kind, were unrolled pell-mell.
This river of dirt, which, making its exit by the mouth of the Orontes, was about to invade Rome had here its principal sources.
Two hundred decurions were employed in regulating the religious ceremonies and celebrations . The municipality possessed great public domains, the rents of which the decemvirs divided between the poor citizens. Like all cities of pleasure, Antioch had a lowest section of the people, living on the public or on sordid gains.
14. Juvenal, Satires, iii, 62 et seq.; Stacc. Silves, i. vi. 72.
15. Tacitus, Annals ii. 69.
16. Malala, p 284, 287, et seq.; Libanius, De Angariis p 555 et seq.; De carcere vinctis, p 445 et seq.; ad Timocratem p 385; Antiochichus, 323; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, i.16; Lucian, De Saltatione 76; Diodorus Siculus, fragment of book xxxiv, No. 34 (p 358 ed Dindorf); John Chrysostom, Homily vii on Matt. 5 (vol vii p 113); lxxiii on Matt 3 (ibid. p 712); De consubst. contra Anom., 1 (vol i, p 501); De Anna, 1 (vol iv, p 730); De David et Saule, iii. 1 (vol iv, 768, 770); Julian, Misopogon p 343, 350, edit. Spanheim; Actes de Sainte Thecle attributed to Basil of Seleucia, published by P. Pantius (Auvers 1608) p 70.
17. Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, iii. 58; Ausonius, Clar. Urb. 2; Julius Capitolinus [=Augustan History], Verus 7; Marcus Aurelius 25; Herodian ii. 10; John of Antioch in the Excerpta Valesiana p 844; Suidas at the word Iobiano/s.
18. Julian, Misopogon p 344, 365, etc.; Eunapius, Lives of the Sophists, p 496 edit. Boissonade (Didot); Ammianus Marcellinus, xxii. 14.
19. John Chrysostom, De Lazaro ii. 11 (vol 1, p.722, 723).
20. Cicero, Pro Archia, 3, making allowance for the usual exaggeration of an advocate.
21. Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, iii. 58.
22. Malala, p 287, 289.
23. John Chrysostom, Homily vii on Matt 5, 6 (vol vii, p.113); See O Müller, Antiquit. Antioch. p 33, note.
24. Libanius, Antiochichus, p. 355, 366.
25. Juvenal, iii. 62 et seq. and Forcellini, in the word ambubaja, where he observes that the word ambuba is Syriac.
26. Libanius, Antioch. p.315; De carcere vinctis, p. 455; Julian, Misopogon, p. 367 edit. Spanheim.
27. Libanius, Pro rhetoribus, p 211.
(I have silently fixed or augmented one or two places in the references where it seems to me that most people would have difficulty).
In some places I feel that the translator has softened Renan’s prose. The “avilissement des âmes” – the decay of souls — becomes the “degradation of the people”.
Likewise why render “mimes” as “buffoons”? We all know what the Roman mimes were!
It’s a vivid picture indeed, and one that almost perfectly describes … this evening’s viewing on television.