Archive for the 'From my diary' Category

Did St Nicholas of Myra / Santa Claus punch Arius at the Council of Nicaea?

In many places online we can find the statement that St Nicholas of Myra – the basis for Santa Claus – was present at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, where he punched Arius in the mouth.  So … is it true?

Unfortunately we have almost no historical information at all about any St Nicholas of Myra – our information is entirely based on Saint’s Lives of him, of which the earliest are 9th century, and the latest are modern compilations based on medieval collections.  All these Lives are really closer to folk-tales than to history, and they reflect the accumulations of popular legends.  Some of them do have Nicholas attending the Council of Nicaea; but they do not contain the story of Nicholas punching Arius.

The main collection of source materials about Nicholas is by Gustav Anrich,[1] and in this I found what I suspect is the answer.

Before I look at the data, let’s summarise what it says.  Sometime in the middle ages, the story about his attendance at Nicaea was “improved” to show him slapping “an Arian”.  Over time, this turned into a story about him slapping Arius himself.  The story is now a standard item in Greek Orthodox tradition, and is embedded in their handbook of icon-painting.

On to the data.

In Anrich volume 1, p.459, in the section devoted to testimonia, there is an extract from a Latin text (!) by a certain Petrus de Natalibus, a Venetian.  Petrus in 1370 was bishop of Equilio (Jesolo) near Venice, and died around 1400.  The text of his work reads:

Fertur beatum Nicolaum jam senem Nicaeno concilio interfuisse et quemdam Arrianum zelo fidei in maxillam percussisse ob idque a concilio mitra et pallio privatum extitisse; propter quod ut plurimum sine mitra depingitur.  Sed dum aliquando missam beatae virginis, cujus erat devotus, in pontificalibus celebraret et privationem mitrae et pallii defleret quasi zelo nimio fidei ablata: ecce, cunctis videntibus, duo angeli eidem astiterunt, quorum unus mitram, alius pallium sibi divinitus restituerunt.   Et extunc insignia reassumpsit sibi caelitus restituta.[2]

It happened that saint Nicholas, now an old man, was present at the Council of Nicaea,  and out of jealousy of faith struck a certain Arian in the jaw, on account of which it is recorded that he was deprived of his mitre and pallium; on account of which he is often depicted without a mitre.  …[3]

This tells us that the story had arisen by whenever Petrus wrote these words – it is really difficult to find much about him! -, and was known in the West, or at least in Venice.  So it probably had existed for some time at that point.  But at this point it is not Arius himself – only “a certain Arian”.

The next piece of data is an extract from a biography by an obscure Damaskenos Monachus, written in the second half of the 16th century.  Apparently he lived in the second half of the 16th century, and may (or may not) be identical with the man of that name who was Bishop of Liti and Rendini in 1564; and Metropolitan of Naupaktos and Arta in 1570.  He composed a biography of St Nicholas of Myra, based on earlier accounts, which he included in his Thesaurus.  The oldest edition of his work was printed in Venice in 1570.  Anrich obtained this information from E. Legrand, Bibliographie hellenique II (1885), p.12 f., which contains little more than you have above.[4]

Anrich states that the Vita of Damaskenos is a vulgarisation of the Vita by Simon Metaphrastes, who created the standard Greek hagiographical texts in the 11th century.  I don’t know if any edition of Damaskinos can be found online?

Anrich gives the Greek of the extract.  Yesterday I posted this, and an appeal for a translation.  A kind corrrespondent obliged:

Damascenos the Monk:  Life of saint Nicholas the wonder-worker:  Large collection of lives of saints, or “Great Book of Saints” by Const. Chr. Doukakis.   Athens, 20 December, 1896, pages 171-190.

10.  p.179-180.  After the king seated himself on the throne, one hundred and fifty nine fathers seated themselves at either side of him, both they and Arius arguing with much unease.  Saint Nicholas, noticing that Arius was about to quash all the archpriests and moved by divine zeal, rose up and gave him a slap that shook all his members. Complaining, Arius says to the king: “O most just king, is it fair, before your royal highness, for one to strike another?  If he has something to say, let him speak as the other fathers do; if he is ignorant, let him remain silent as his like are. For what reason does he slap me in the presence of your highness?”  Hearing this, the king was greatly disappointed and said to the archpriests: “Holy archpriests, it is the law, that whosoever raises his hand before the king to strike someone, that it should be cut off. I leave this to you, so that your holiness(es) might be the judge.”  The archpriests replied, saying: “Your majesty, that the archpriest has acted wrongly all of us confess it; except that we beseech you, let us unstate him now and imprison him, and after the dissolution of the council, we shall then convict him.”

Having unstated and imprisoned him, that night Christ and the Holy Mother Theotokos appeared in prison and said: “Nicholas, why are you imprisoned?”  And the saint replied: “For loving You”. Christ then said to him: “Take this,” and gave him the holy gospel; the Holy Mother Theotokos gave him the archpriestly omophorion (scapular).  The next day some acquaintances of his brought him bread and they saw that he was freed of his fetters and on his shoulder he was wearing the omophorion, while reading the holy gospel he was holding in his hands. Having asked him where he found them, he told them the whole truth.  Having learnt of this, the king took him out of the prison and asked for forgiveness, as did all the others.  After the dissolution of the council, all the archpriests returned home, as did saint Nicholas, to his province.

This is the earliest text known to me, and evidently to Anrich, which records Nicholas punching Arius.

Anrich adds:

Die Darstellung der Nicaea-Episode stimmt mit den Angaben des Malbuches (unten S. 463,15 ff u. 33 ff); die nur in den Hauptzügen mit diesen beiden stimmende Dartellung von Petrus de Natalibus beweist, daß der Grundstock der Legende mindestens ins 14. Jh. zurückgeht.

The presentation of the Nicaea episode is consistent with the information provided by the Painting book (below, p 463, 15 et seq u 33 et seq.); since only the more significant features of these two versions agree with the story as given by Petrus de Natalibus, this shows that the foundation of the legend goes back at least to the 14th century.

The “Painting book” (I don’t know the English name of this work: in German it is the Malbuch) is the 18th century manual of iconography from Mount Athos, produced by Dionysius of Foura.  This gives the legends to be attached to icons.  The first reads as follows:

“The holy and ecumenical 1st Synod in Nicaea….
And Arius, standing, also in hieratic vestment, and standing before him, Saint Nicholas with arm outstretched to slap him.”

The second one says:

“The saint in prison, receiving the gospel from Christ and the omophorion from the Holy Mother. – Prison, and at the centre is the saint and Christ at his right holding a gospel; at his left the Theotokos holding an omphorion: they are giving these to him.”

The presence of the item in the Handbook shows that the topic is a standard one for icons.  So we may presume that the story reaches us today from Greek Orthodox sources, for whom it is a traditional motif, depicted in their churches.

Here is an example of the scene in a fresco from the Soumela monastery (via Livius.org):

St Nicholas of Myra slapping Arius at the Council of Nicaea.  Fresco at Soumela.  By Marco Prins. Via Livius.org.

St Nicholas of Myra slapping Arius at the Council of Nicaea. Icon at Soumela. Via Livius.org.

To summarise again: there is no ancient evidence whatever that St Nicholas punched or slapped Arius at the First Council of Nicaea.  The story is not found in any text before the late 14th century, and even that one mentions only “a certain Arian”.  In the next two centuries the legend mutates into Nicholas slapping Arius; and is then disseminated in works of popular fiction, and by the paintings of icons.  It has no historical basis whatever.

UPDATE: I am advised that ράπισμα means slap, not punch.  My correspondent adds: ” it was a slap intended to shock Arius back to his senses”.

  1. [1] G. Anrich, Hagios Nikolaos: Der Heilige Nikolaos in der Griechischen Kirche, 2 vols, 1913.  Accessible to Americans at Hathi Trust.
  2. [2] Anrich gives a reference: Petrus de Natalibus, Catalogus sanctorum et gestorum eorum ex diversis voluminibus collectus, Lugduni 1508, Fol. VII.  The English title appears to be Legends of the Saints.  Various editions are present on Google Books.  In the 1543 edition, the text is on folio Vb, at the top of the right-hand column.
  3. [3] Translation is mine.
  4. [4] This volume can be found online at Google Books, but not without considerable effort.  It is here (US only).

Is this Katharevousa and can anyone translate it? A passage from Damaskenos Monachos on St Nicholas punching Arius

Let me introduce to a certain Damaskenos Monachos.  Apparently he lived in the second half of the 16th century, and may (or may not) be identical with the man of that name who was Bishop of Liti and Rendini in 1564; and Metropolitan of Naupaktos and Arta in 1570.  He composed a biography of St Nicholas of Myra, based on earlier accounts, which he included in his Thesaurus.  The oldest edition of his work was printed in Venice in 1570.  There is information about him in E. Legrand, Bibliographie hellenique II (1885), p.12 f.

All these details I obtain from G. Anrich’s Hagios Nikolaus, I (1913), p.459-60.  Anrich prints an extract from the 1896 edition of the text which mentions, charmingly, how St Nicholas of Myra punched Arius on the jaw at the First Council of Nicaea.  I’ve posted it below.

Unfortunately I can’t read this.  A Greek correspondent tells me that it seems very like Katharevousa, or like the Greek that might be read in a service on Mt Athos.  I had not heard of this, but apparently it was a compromise between ancient and modern Greek which was the official language of Greece until 1976.  An educated Greek should be able to handle it, he thinks.

If you can read it – all of it -, would you like to translate it into English for me?  I can pay something.  You can message me via my contact form.

Here is the text:

damaskenos_monachus

UPDATE: And here are a couple more lines, from the Handbook of painting icons, issued by Mount Athos:

painting_manual

A kind correspondent has sent in a rough translation of all this material, which is as follows:

Damascenos the Monk:  Life of saint Nicholas the wonder-worker:  Large collection of lives of saints, or “Great Book of Saints” by Const. Chr. Doukakis.   20th of December, in Athens, 1896, pages 171-190.

10.  p.179-180.  After the king seated himself on the throne, one hundred and fifty nine fathers seated themselves at either side of him, both they and Arius arguing with much unease.  Saint Nicholas, noticing that Arius was about to quash all the archpriests and moved by divine zeal, rose up and gave him a slap that shook all his members. Complaining, Arius says to the king: “O most just king, is it fair, before your royal highness, for one to strike another?  If he has something to say, let him speak as the other fathers do; if he is ignorant, let him remain silent as his like are. For what reason does he slap me in the presence of your highness?”  Hearing this, the king was greatly disappointed and said to the archpriests: “Holy archpriests, it is the law, that whosoever raises his hand before the king to strike someone, that it should be cut off. I leave this to you, so that your holiness(es) might be the judge.”  The archpriests replied, saying: “Your majesty, that the archpriest has acted wrongly all of us confess it; except that we beseech you, let us unstate him now and imprison him, and after the dissolution of the council, we shall then convict him.”

Having unstated and imprisoned him, that night Christ and the Holy Mother Theotokos appeared in prison and said: “Nicholas, why are you imprisoned?”  And the saint replied: “For loving You”. Christ then said to him: “Take this,” and gave him the holy gospel; the Holy Mother Theotokos gave him the archpriestly omophorion (scapular).  The next day some acquaintances of his brought him bread and they saw that he was freed of his fetters and on his shoulder he was wearing the omophorion, while reading the holy gospel he was holding in his hands. Having asked him where he found them, he told them the whole truth.  Having learnt of this, the king took him out of the prison and asked for forgiveness, as did all the others.  After the dissolution of the council, all the archpriests returned home, as did saint Nicholas, to his province.

And from the painting manual (I don’t know the English name of this work: in German it is the Malbuch), the items seem to be legends to place on the icons.  The first reads as follows:

“The holy and ecumenical 1st Synod in Nicaea….
And Arius, standing, also in hieratic vestment, and standing before him, Saint Nicholas with arm outstretched to slap him.”

The second one says:

“The saint in prison, receiving the gospel from Christ and the omophorion from the Holy Mother. – Prison, and at the centre is the saint and Christ at his right holding a gospel; at his left the Theotokos holding an omphorion: they are giving these to him.”

Again, many thanks!  Comments are welcome!

Negotiating the use of another translation – the Vita Per Michaelem of Nicholas of Myra

The earliest full-dress hagiographical “life” of St Nicholas of Myra, a.k.a. Santa Claus, is the Vita per Michaelem by Michael the Archimandrite, dating from the 9th century.  The first 11 chapters of this were translated by John Quinn of Hope College, Holland, Michigan, but he died in 2008 while out jogging without completing the work.  His version has been online at the St Nicholas Center website here, marked as their copyright.

A little while ago I commissioned Bryson Sewell to translate the remaining chapters, and his excellent translation has come through today.  I have donated a copy to the St Nicholas Center for their use, which should allow them to complete their page.  But of course I would like to circulate a complete text too!  So I have written to them to see whether they will make their chapters into something that can circulate, perhaps Creative Commons or something.

We’ll see.  In the mean time I shall look over the other St Nicholas material, with an eye to seeing what else ought to be translated.  There is, of course, loads of stuff; but it is the earliest and most important that matters here.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 11 (part 7 and end)

This seems to wind up the stories about the Arian controversy, and we then continue with the death of Constantine, and events in the Sassanid realm.  An apocryphal and rather awful story about Constantine persecuting the Jews appears in this section, which gives a rather nasty impression of the attitude of the Melkites in the 10th century towards religious persecution.

16. Eumenius said: “Arius did not say that Christ created all things.  But he said: “Through him all things were created”, because He is the Word of God through whom were created the heavens and the earth. For God simply created things through His Word, but the Word did not create, as is clear from what the Lord Christ said in his Gospel: “All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made of anything that was made” (50).  And he also said: “In him was life, and the life was the light of the world” (51). And he also said:  “He was in the world and through him the world was made” (52). So saying, he wanted to express that all things were made through Him, and did not intend to say that it was He who created them.” He concluded by saying: “This was the doctrine of Arius, but the three hundred and eighteen bishops were unjust to him and have unjustly and wrongly excommunicated him.”

17. Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria, responded by saying: “The three hundred and eighteen bishops have not condemned Arius speaking with falsehood nor acted unfairly against him because he simply said: “The Son has created things without the Father.”  Now if all things were created only through the Son without the [also] the Father to create them, He [i.e. the Father], would not have created even one thing.  But in this regard we have the gospel as evidence that belies his words, such as the passage that reads: “The Father creates, and I create” (53).  And also it is said: “If I do not do the works of my Father, do not believe in me” (54). And again: “As the Father creates and gives life to those he wants, and takes it away, so also the Son gives life to those he wants and takes it away” (55).  With these words he means that He gives life, makes die, and creates.  In light of these words anyone must be considered a liar, who dares to say that He is not the creator and that things have simply been created through Him without being Himself the creator.  As for your saying “all things were made through him,” well we have no doubt in believing that the action in which they were made was by Christ himself, saying “Let there be…”, and they were made, as can be deduced precisely from the passage in which he says: “I create and give life.” If then your saying “through him all things were made” is to be understood simply in the sense that he has made them, then it is through him that they were made.  If it were not so, the two statements are contradictory.”

18. Then Athanasius replied further to Eumenius saying: “As for the assertion of the followers of Arius that the Father wills something and then the Son creates it, as if will was of the Father and creation of the Son, this is also false, as the idea that the Son created so would mean that the function of the one doing the creating would be greater than those of the creator, if he [i.e., the Son] willed and did it, while he [i.e. the Father], willed and did not do it.  The functions of the first, therefore, in what he did, are more extensive than those of the second.  And from this we should infer that the first in doing what the second wills, is in the same condition as any other agent of creation in the face of what the creator wants from him, namely that he do the same with respect to compulsion and free will.  But if he acted because he was coerced, he had no participation in the action; if he was free, he could obey or disobey, and therefore is deserving of reward or punishment. But to say such a thing [of Christ] would be absurd.”

19. Athanasius replied again to Eumenius saying: “If the Creator created the world by means of a created being, [the Son], this created being is certainly different from the Creator. You have in fact argued that the Creator works through another. Now the one that operates by means of another needs to be complementary to this acting through him, since he can not take any action if not through him. But he who needs another is imperfect, and the Creator is far from that!”  When Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria, had thus refuted the arguments of his opponents and showed all the defendants the falsity of their doctrine, they were dumbfounded, they were ashamed of themselves and they attacked Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria, covering him with a barrel so as to almost kill him. He was saved from their hands by Dalmatinus, son of the king’s sister.  Athanasius fled, went to Jerusalem, prepared the chrism without any bishop present, and consecrated the churches by the anointing of the [sacred] chrism. He then went to the king and informed him of what had happened.  The king sent him back with honors to Alexandria and was angry with Eusebius, patriarch of Constantinople, repenting of having made him patriarch.  Then the bishops who had gathered in the city of Tyre went to Jerusalem, and found that Athanasius, patriarch of Alesandria, had preceded them and had consecrated the churches.  They celebrated a big party for the dedication of the churches, with great joy, and returned each to his own see.  This happened in the thirtieth year of the reign of Constantine (56).

Eusebius, patriarch of Constantinople, died excommunicate, having held the office for two years.  After him Paul was made patriarch of Constantinople, in his place (57).  He held the office for four years and King Constantine deposed him.

20. The King Constantine gave orders that no Jew should live in Jerusalem or pass through it, and he also ordered to put to death all those who refused to become Christians (58). Many pagans and Jews then embraced the Christian faith and Christianity took root everywhere.  It was then told to king Constantine that the Jews had become Christians for fear of being killed but that they continued to follow their religion.  The king said: “How will we know?” Paul, the patriarch of Constantinople, said: “The Torah forbids [eating] pork and it is for this reason that the Jews do not eat meat. Order that the throats of pigs be cut, that the meat should be cooked, and fed to the members of this community.  In this way you will find that all those who refuse to eat are still tied to their religion.” King Constantine replied. “But if the Torah forbids the pig, why is lawful for us to eat its flesh and make others eat it?”. Patriarch Paul replied: “You must know that Christ our Lord, repealed all provisions of the Torah and gave us a new law which is the Gospel. He said in the Holy Gospel: “Not everything that enters the mouth defiles a man (and he meant any food). What defiles a man is just what comes out of his mouth” (59), i.e. folly and wickedness, and all that is similar to this. The apostle Paul said so in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will destroy both” (60). And it is also written in the Acts: “Peter, chief of the Apostles, was in the city of Jaffa (61) in the house of a tanner named Simon. At the sixth hour of the day he went out on the terrace of the house to pray, but a deep sleep fell upon him and saw the sky open. From the sky he saw a mantle descend to earth in which there was every kind of quadruped, wild beasts, flying things and birds of the air, and he heard a voice saying: ‘O Peter, get up, kill and eat.’ Peter replied: ‘O Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean.’ But a second time the voice said: ‘Eat, what God has cleansed you must not consider unclean.’ The voice repeated it three times. Then the mantle was taken back into heaven.” (62) Peter was amazed and wondered what it meant. Because of that vision and because of what Christ our Lord said in the Holy Gospel, Peter and Paul ordered us to eat the flesh of every quadruped and therefore it is not wrong to eat pork or any other animal.”  The king then ordered him to kill the pigs, cook the meat and put it at the doors of the churches in all his kingdom on Easter Sunday.  To everyone coming out of the church a bite of pork was given, and those who refused to eat it were killed.  Thus it was that many Jews were killed in that circumstance.  Constantine erected a wall around Byzantium and called Constantinople.  This was in his thirtieth year of the reign.  Helena, mother of Constantine, died at the age of eighty years. Constantine reigned for thirty-two years and died.  He lived in all for sixty-five years. He left three children.  The first was given his name, Constantine, he had called the second with the name of his father, Constantius, and the third was called Constans (63).  To Constantine he gave the city of Constantinople, to Constantius Antioch, Syria and Egypt, and Rome to Constans.

21. As for Sabur, son of Hurmuz, king of the Persians, he founded near Susa a city called Khuwwat-Sabar (64), and he founded another in the region of as-Sawad called Firūz-Sabur (65) and he founded many others in Sind (66) and in Sigistān (67).  He also had many streams dug out and built many bridges and viaducts.  Growing old, his strength failed him, his vision blurred and his eyelids drooped over his eyes.  So he sent his messenger to the king of India because he was searching for a good doctor and the king of India sent him a doctor named George who treated him in a way that let him regain his sight and enable him to ride.  As a sign of gratitude the king ordered him to choose a city to live in, and he chose Khuwwat-Sabur, also known as al-Karkh (68), which is near the city of Susa, and he lived there until he died.

Constantine banned crucifixion – sources

Yesterday someone told me that crucifixion was banned by Constantine.  I wondered how we knew this.

The actual edict has not survived, and is not included in our collections of Roman law.  Our source is only Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History I, 8:13, it seems.[1]  First Sozomen:

He regarded the cross with peculiar reverence, on account both of the power which it conveyed to him in the battles against his enemies, and also of the divine manner in which the symbol had appeared to him. He took away by law the crucifixion customary among the Romans from the usage of the courts. He commanded that this divine symbol should always be inscribed and stamped whenever coins and images should be struck, and his images, which exist in this very form, still testify to this order.

There is no indication of the date on which this was enacted, however.

Aurelius Victor, De Caesaribus, 41:4 is also referenced in this context:

Denique Constantinus cunctos hostes honore ac fortunis manentibus texit recepitque, eo pius, ut etiam vetus teterrimumque supplicium patibulorum et cruribus suffringendis primus removerit.

Finally, Constantine received all his enemies with honour and protected them by allowing them to retain their properties, and was so conscious of his obligations that he was also the first to abolish the long-established and utterly frightful punishment of the forked gibbet and the breaking of legs.[2]

Whether this passage refers to crucifixion depends on the meaning of the word patibulum, which can mean a number of things.  I find online everywhere the statement that the “patibulum” is the term for the cross-piece of a cross, as “stipes” for the upright; but without any adequate references.

The translation of patibulum given above – “forked gibbet” – is the standard meaning, and it may be found in Lewis and Short.  In Du Cange we find that the term was used for the cross itself in the medieval period.   But dictionaries are not reliable on technical terms.  Thus in the fragments of Plautus (Carbonaria, fr. 2) we find a usage of patibulum in connection with crucifixion, perhaps as the cross-piece:

…patibulum ferat per urbem, deinde offigitur cruci. [3]

…he carries the patibulum through the city, then he is fastened to the cross.

Fortunately Gunnar Samuelson has written a magnificent volume on the terminology.[4]  Unfortunately he does not discuss the use of the word in Aurelius Victor.  Nor does Hengel in his older study of the subject.[5]  Samuelson gives various instances of varied usages, but concludes (p.286, with references):

2.4.6. patibulum

patibulum is a pole or a beam in a broad sense. When used in connection with punishments of humans it is also a pole or a beam in a wide sense. It could be used as a punishment or torture tool used in connection with crux and perhaps also as an equivalent to crux. A condemned person could be forced to walk attached to a patibulum, but it is not sure in what way or in what sense he or she walked. It may be only a variant of walking sub furca. The etymology could be interpreted as support for the notion that a spreading of arms was connected with the noun. In the studied texts patibulum is used in the following sense:

patibulum – “a beam or pole in a wide sense; a beam, a yoke or perhaps a standing pole to which victims were attached (by their limbs); a beam or a yoke which a condemned person carried with outspread arms.”

The statement of Aurelius Victor, considering that it refers to “breaking the legs”, is indeed probably a reference to crucifixion; but perhaps we should be just a little careful here, and mark it as merely a possible.

  1. [1] H/T Sarah Bond, via Dorothy King’s blog, here, for some references.
  2. [2] H.W. Bird (tr.), Aurelius Victor: De Caesaribus, Liverpool (1994), p.49.
  3. [3] M. Hengel, Crucifixion, 1977, p.62.
  4. [4] Gunnar Samuelson, Crucifixion in Antiquity, Mohr-Siebeck, 2013. Preview of p.191 here.
  5. [5] M. Hengel, Crucifixion, 1977.

Freaky Fables: The Career of Richard the Lionheart – according to Handelsman!

Those of a bookish disposition have a tendency, in middle age, to go in search of the books that they read in their formative years.  I will not disclaim any such tendency.  Rather, I have just come across an item that I read when I was very much younger, which I thought that I might share with you.

By some process unknown to me – for I do not think my parents were subscribers – I often saw copies of Punch magazine in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  This often contained a full-page cartoon by “Handelsman”, headed “Freaky Fables”.  The cartoon retold some fairy-tale, or traditional or biblical story, much in the manner that we find in 1066 and all that; and none the worse for it.  Many of these have remained in my mind, and probably informed me subtly in various ways.

One of these was a cartoon on the career of Richard the Lionheart (do modern schoolboys even know who he was?).  It was memorable for Handelsman’s version of the song of Blondel:

Paul the apostle
Possessed an epistle
So very colossal
It made the girls whistle.

(I imagine that a few people remember this, which is why I give it where Google can find it!)

Of course there was a certain coarseness to much of the material in Punch – sometimes it could be dreadfully louche.  Another problem is that humour is one of the things that dates most quickly; and what was sharp in 1980 often seems flabby in 2015.

J.B. Handelsman did publish a couple of collections of this well-remembered material, and a copy of one of them came into my hands last week.[1]  To my delight it contained the Richard the Lionheart cartoon.  I post it here for your amusement (or not!).  (Click to get a larger version, and save locally if using IE which doesn’t display mono .png’s very well)

Freaky Fables: Richard the Lionheart. By "Handelsman".

Freaky Fables: Richard the Lionheart. By “Handelsman”.

  1. [1] J.B. Handelsman, Freaky Fables, Methuen, 1984. ISBN 0-413-55980-7.  Foreword by John Cleese. 64p.

Some notes on Musonius Rufus

C. Musonius Rufus (c. 30-100 AD) was a Stoic philosopher of the reign of Vespasian.[1]  He belongs to the group of four Roman Stoics which comprises Seneca, Epictetus (who was a pupil of Musonius Rufus), and Marcus Aurelius.[2]  He has been referred to as “the Roman Socrates”.[3] Naturally he spent time in gaol under Nero, and was exiled under Vespasian.

It is not clear whether he actually composed any works of his own, and none have come down to us directly.  Philostratus tells us that a biography existed, of doubtful quality.[4]

However a collection of lectures, written down by his pupil Lucius (as we learn from Lecture 5), certainly existed.  For in the Anthology of Stobaeus – itself not perfectly preserved, but attested in a number of manuscripts – we find long extracts, some twenty-one lectures, given under the name of Musonius Rufus, in books 2, 3 and 4.  This material was first gathered only in 1822 by the Dutch scholar, I. V. Peerlkamp.  An English translation can be found partially online at Archive.org here.

In addition some thirty-two sayings, anecdotes and precepts is preserved in Stobaeus, Epictetus, Aulus Gellius, and Aelius Aristides.  Some of this material may come from a collection of reminiscences of Musonius Rufus, listed in the Suda under the name of the Augustan writer Asinus Pollio (and so wrong; but perhaps his contemporary Annius Pollio, or the Hadrianic Valerius Pollio was the original name).  An example:

On the assassination of Galba someone said to Rufus, “Can you now hold that the world is ruled by divine Providence?” To which he replied, “Did I ever for a moment build my argument, that the world is ruled by a divine Providence, upon Galba?”

There is also an exchange of letters, quoted by Philostratus, which does not seem to be authentic; and a letter to Pancratides, first translated by Cynthia King, which may be a writing exercise.  I noticee that it takes a different line to the Lectures on the question of whether to have many children.

How accurately the ideas of Musonius Rufus are transmitted we cannot know.  Since the Lectures appear only in extracts in an anthology from Christian times, it is entirely possible that only the more Christian ideas appear.  After all, any sensible author, however keen on the writer he is quoting, would naturally omit ideas that were entirely offensive to the reader unless he proposed to combat them as such.  So we must read these extracts with caution.

I came to read about Musonius Rufus after discovering online a short article by professional atheist Dr Richard Carrier on the subject here, and to whom I am grateful for causing me to look into the matter.

Of course he has his constituency to address.  Thus he asserts that Musonius Rufus was, in his opinion, the moral superior of Jesus Christ.  It does not seem to have attracted much attention from his intended audience, probably because, although one sees occasional attempts, the ploy of claiming superior morality to Christians is not much in vogue in an age so dedicated to vice and debauchery as our own.  But let people think what they will: if it causes even one person to read so obscure an author as Musonius Rufus, then that is a good thing.

He begins as follows:

Since this man deserves far more publicity than he has ever gotten in the modern age, I have written this short essay. He exemplifies the sort of man who should have been venerated and made the founder of a world religion, but was not, yet he was the moral superior in my opinion to Jesus–not perfect, but admirable within the context of his own day.

The article seems fair enough as a guide to Musonius.  As a specimen of anti-Christian writing, however, it is not very good.  It is one of the “finger-print” characteristics of hate-writing that those attacked must have no redeeming quality whatever.  They must be all black, all vile.  And this is somewhere at the bottom of the attitudes expressed by Dr. C., for the article is designed to attack the idea of “Jesus the moral leader”.  The ploy of promoting some nobody as the rival of a well-known figure, purely in order to diminish the latter, is an old trick of polemic as we all know, and need not detain us.  We need not suppose that Dr C. actually intends to follow the precepts of Musonius Rufus himself!

But since Dr C. does not in fact take Musonius Rufus as his guide in life, whatever his claims for him, he has no scruple in writing the following passage:

Although many of his views are remarkably progressive for his time, being for example a strong advocate for the education and extension of equal rights to women (Discourses 3 and 4), he regarded homosexuality as unnatural and monstrous, and all forms of recreational sex of any kind as immoral (Discourse 12), and opposed abortion (Discourse 15).

Quite so.  Musonius is “morally superior” to Jesus; but how inferior, how sadly inferior, morally, to the campaigners of the Selfish Generation with their advocacy of fornication, unnatural vice and infanticide!  What value, then, does Dr C. place on Musonius Rufus and his supposed moral superiority?  Sadly not much, it would seem.

Yet Musonius Rufus could have told Dr C. a few things about morality to which he would have been well-advised to listen.  So could Jesus of Nazareth.  So, indeed, could very many of the ancient philosophers.  Few of them would have had much time for the values and ideas of our day, and the worthless people who advocate them.  But the core of Christian teaching is not in its moral precepts.  It is merely that, in our age, it is only the Christians who uphold morality when the influential open their mouths against it.

It is also a little surprising that Dr C. does not seem to know that the moral teachings of Jesus are not unique, and may be found among many authors who lived before the latter walked the earth.  Those who read about the Natural Law tell us that morality is not something invented, but something which is known to all men, in every age, even if they consistently fall short of it.  Cicero On Duties makes fine reading.  Of course carrying the advice out is rather more difficult.

Never mind.  From my own point of view, it was nice to discover another ancient writer.  Let’s have some more examples of what he has to say:

” Musonius,” Herodes said, “ordered a thousand sesterces to be given to a beggar of this sort who was pretending to be a philosopher, and when several people told him that the rascal was a bad and vicious fellow, deserving of nothing good, Musonius, they say, answered with a smile, ‘Well then he deserves money!'”

Anyone who has read Diogenes Laertius will recognise that philosophy was beset with charlatanry.

In this category belongs the man who has relations with his own slave-maid, a thing which some people consider quite without blame, since every master is held to have it in his power to use his slave as he wishes. In reply to this I have just one thing to say: if it seems neither shameful nor out of place for a master to have relations with his own slave, particularly if she happens to be unmarried, let him consider how he would like it if his wife had relations with a male slave. Would it not seem completely intolerable not only if the woman who had a lawful husband had relations with a slave, but even if a woman without a husband should have? And yet surely one will not expect men to be less moral than women, nor less capable of disciplining their desires, thereby revealing the stronger in judgment inferior to the weaker, the rulers to the ruled. In fact, it behooves men to be much better if they expect to be superior to women, for surely if they appear to be less self~controlled they will also be baser characters. What need is there to say that it is an act of licentiousness and nothing less for a master to have relations with a slave? Everyone knows that.

This would be an unusual opinion in antiquity, and the practice of abusing slaves was only criminalised with Constantine.  Indeed even freed slaves were generally thought to owe their masters such “services”, even if the unfortunate Quintus Haterius managed to overstate the case.

He said that he himself would never prosecute anyone for personal injury nor recommend it to anyone else who claimed to be a philosopher. For actually none of the things which people fancy they suffer as personal injuries are an injury or a disgrace to those who experience them, such as being reviled or struck or spit upon. Of these the hardest to bear are blows.

This too has much common sense.  Let me commend, then, the reading of Musonius Rufus.

  1. [1] Text edited by Hense, Teubner, 1905, online at Archive.org here.  English translation by Cora E. Lutz, Musonius Rufus: “The Roman Socrates”, Yale Classical Studies 10, 1947.  Partially online at Archive.org here.  New English translation by Cynthia King, Musonius Rufus: Lectures & Sayings, Createspace 2011.
  2. [2] I owe this information to the BMCR review of Cynthia King’s translation, online here.
  3. [3] R. Hirzel, Der Dialog, Leipzig 1895, II, p.239; via Cora E. Lutz, p.4.
  4. [4] Apollonius of Tyana, V. 19.

A trip to Colchester Castle museum

colchester_glass

The Roman site of Camulodunum lies beneath the modern British town of Colchester.  By a curious chance, it remains an army town, even today, almost 2,000 years later.

Today I drove there, with the intention of photographing the Roman items on display in the Castle, which serves as the town museum.  The Norman Colchester Castle itself is built on the massive plinth of the Roman temple of Claudius, and is consequently larger than it would otherwise be.

I carried out my intention, using the 13mp camera in my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone.  The museum had been dolled up in recent years, and very modern lighting added which often left items in semi-darkness.  But no doubt it functions well as something to interest children – a vital part of its role – although the very high price of admission demanded will ensure that only middle-class children ever visit it.

Interestingly I found that the camera in the smartphone adjusted better to the conditions than my own eyes did.  Many an item was far clearer on the screen, than it was to the naked eye.  The camera adjusted to the conditions, and sharpened automatically.

An example picture is above, showing some Roman glassware on display.  It must be admitted that those who designed the display did make it look impressive!

On the other hand, the camera has adjusted the colours also.  The real items are not nearly so vivid.  This was noticeable at the time with the green bowl, which in reality was a rather faded green.  On the other hand … it may be that this is precisely how these items looked when they were new.

I’ve uploaded the whole photoset to Flickr, so that people can make use of the images as they please.  I also photographed the museum labels, since an absence of these is infuriating in so many online images.

Some of the shots are blurry.  I am no photographer, and I grew incredibly physically weary taking these.  There are 298 photographs in the set!  They were taken over a period of something over an hour.  I tried to photograph every Roman object on display.  But for those on display there are, apparently, many more!

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 11 (part 6)

The story of the 4th century, as seen by a Christian Arabic writer of the 10th century, continues.  Thankfully we are now past the stuff about the finding of the True Cross.

15. In the twenty-first year of the reign of Constantine Athanasius was made patriarch of Alexandria (40). He was a Kātib.  He held the office for forty-six years. In the twenty-third year of his reign Ulāriyūs was made patriarch of Antioch (41).  He held the office for eleven years and died. He was an Arian.  In the twenty-ninth year of his reign Maqsimiyānūs was made bishop of Jerusalem (42).  He was a gentle man and had lost his right eye at the time of the sedition.  He held the office for twenty-three years and died.  In the twenty-second year of his reign died Metrophanes, patriarch of Constantinople, after having held the office for three years (43). After him Alexander was made patriarch of Constantinople (44).  He held the office for eight years and died.  To King Constantine went Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, and his companion whom the three hundred and eighteen had excommunicated along with Arius, and appealing to the king, they asked him to receive them [into the church] and remove the excommunication, saying that they themselves excommunicated Arius and supporters of his doctrine and professed the same belief of the three hundred and eighteen.  The king received them and removed their excommunication.  Then Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, was taken and made patriarch of Constantinople (45).  Helena, meanwhile, chose one of the generals and sent him to ar-Ruha to build the church.  After the building was complete, and in the meantime the churches of Jerusalem had been built, the king wanted them to be consecrated.  He sent therefore to say to Eusebius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to go to Jerusalem and there to convene a group of bishops to proceed to the consecration of the places.  King Constantine wrote to Athanasius (46), patriarch of Alexandria, to be also present at the consecration, ordering him to willingly accept his order and not to disobey him (47).  The king sent word to his sister’s son, named Dalmatinus, to attend the session and to be in the city of Tyre (48).  Once agreed on the conduct of the consecration, he traveled to Jerusalem and arrived in the city of Tyre.  There were present Maximus the one-eyed, bishop of Jerusalem, Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria, Ulāriyūs (49), Patriarch of Antioch, a multitude of bishops and many other people.  Among the defendants there was a man named Eumenius with a group of people who supported the doctrine of Arius.  Eusebius, patriarch of Constantinople, suggested to Eumenius that the latter put questions to Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria.  Eusebius, in fact, although he had represented himself to the king as being opposed to Arius, shared however the views of that man, and followed his doctrine.

Paulinus of Nola, and the “Liber Pontificalis”, on the courtyard outside Old St Peter’s

In early 396 AD Paulinus of Nola wrote a letter of consolation to his friend Pammachius which contains an interesting passage on the entrance courtyard at the front of Old St Peter’s.[1]

It is a pleasure even now to linger on the sight and the praise of such a great work. For we do not laud the works of a human being but the divine works accomplished through a human being. What a joyous spectacle did you [Pammachius], sacred producer, display for God and his holy angels from this—as the saying goes—rich provision of yours.

With what great pleasure did you exalt the apostle himself when you packed his whole basilica with dense crowds of needy people, where—under the height of its roof with ceiling panels in between—the spacious church lies wide open; and where, glittering from afar with the apostolic tomb, it binds the eyes and gladdens the hearts of those who enter.

Where, under the same massive roof, the church expands on both sides with double porticoes and where, with the church extended through a vestibule (vestibulum) in front, there is a bright atrium; where a cupola (tholus) topped with solid brass adorns and shades a cantharus, which belches forth streams of water serving our hands and faces.

Not without secret meaning does it surround the water spouts with four columns; such a decoration is proper for the entrance of the church in order that what is done inside by the mystery of salvation may be marked by the noteworthy work outside. For one single faith of the gospel also sustains the temple of our body with a fourfold support; and, since the grace by which we are reborn flows from it, and Christ, in whom we live, is revealed in it, surely a fountain of water springing to eternal life is born in that place for us on four columns of life; and it waters us within and boils in us, if only we should be able to say or deserve to feel that we have a burning heart on the road, which is kindled when Christ is walking with us. (Ep. 13:13)

That the basilica hall itself was filled by Pammachius with the needy, to whom he was giving charity, is itself interesting in 396 when, presumably, the sportula was still being distributed by the state.

old_st_peters_portico_1575

The “cantharus” is some sort of fountain, and the 1575 image above shows the curious construction that stood there towards the end: a large canopy decorated with bronze peacocks, resting on eight porphyry columns, with the colossal bronze pine-cone inside it which spurted water from various apertures.

But this construction does not seem to be original.  Paulinus refers above to four columns, not eight.

Our earliest literary source for the fountain in the atrium outside Old St Peter’s is the Liber Pontificalis, which records under Pope Symmachus (498-514) that:[2]

He built the basilica of Saint Andrew, the apostle, near the basilica of the blessed Peter. [A list of gifts made to the shrines] Also he adorned with marbles the basilica of blessed Peter.  The fountain of blessed Peter with the square portico around it he beautified with marble work and with lambs and crosses and palms of mosaic. Likewise he enclosed the whole atrium; and he widened the steps before the doors of the basilica of Saint Peter, the apostle, and he made other steps of wood on the right and on the left. Also he built palaces in the same place on the right and on the left. Also, below the steps into the atrium, outside in the square, he set another fountain and an accommodation for human necessity. And he built other steps for ascent into the church of blessed Andrew and set up a fountain.

The “basilica” of Andrew is in fact the converted circular 3rd century tomb that stood on the south side of St Peter’s until the 18th century.

But the key phrase is translated differently by van den Hoek (p.21):

Ad cantharum beati Petri cum quadriporticum [42] ex opere marmoribus ornavit et ex musivo agnos et cruces et palmas ornavit

He embellished the area around the cantharus of Saint Peter with a quadruple porch made out of marble and he adorned it with lambs and crosses and palms made of mosaic.

42. For cum + acc., see Blaise-Chirat, s.v. “cum”.

Whether we should interpret this as meaning that the fountain already had a square portico around it, which Symmachus decorated with marble, or that he created the portico, is unimportant for our purposes.

G.A.Dosio, 1575 or shortly before, formerly Uffizi, Florence 2555.

G.A.Dosio, 1575 or shortly before, formerly Uffizi, Florence 2555.

Even after this, there were more changes.  The eight porphyry columns – which survive – did not arrive until Pope Stephen II (752-757 AD).  A mysterious piece of evidence is quoted by van den Hoek from a source which unfortunately I have no present access to:[3]

Renovavit in atrium ante fores beati Petri Apostoli qui quadriporticos dicitur, columnas marmoreas VIII, mirae pulchritudinis, sculptas, quae desuper quadris composuit et aereum desuper conlocavit tegumenum

In the atrium in front of the entrance (of the church) of the Blessed Apostle Peter, which is called the quadruple porch, he renovated [with] eight marble columns of amazing beauty, sculpted, which he placed over a square and he set up a bronze covering above

The reference for this is “Cited in R. Krautheimer, CBCR 5 (1977), 175″.  The CBCR is the Corpus basilicarum christianarum Romae, a series of huge and hard-to-photocopy volumes of impeccable scholarship.  (I see that some volumes are at the Hathi Trust here, if anyone would care to help me access this item).

Van den hoek suggests, probably rightly, that the bronze pine-cone was brought here and installed at this time.  It was certainly present in the 12th century, when Petrus Mallius mentions it in his Descriptio basilicae Vaticanae, chapter 41, p.100[4] (written between 1159-1181):

IIII funes extenduntur in festa S. Petri et octava eius in atrio eiusdem ecclesiae id est in paradiso, in modum crucis et ligantur de porticalibus ad pineam aeneam, quae est in paradiso; et in unoquoque fune X candelae suspenduntur.

I don’t quite know how to translate all of that – funes is “ropes”, apparently – but I see that “… in the atrium of the same church, i.e. in the ‘paradis’, in the shape of a cross, and they are tied from the porticos to the bronze pinecone, which is in the paradise”.  So the bronze pinecone was at Old St Peter’s by that time.

Where did it come from?  Well, that must be a story for another time.

NOTE: There are extensive 16th century descriptions and diagrams collected by C. Huelsen in his “Cantharus von Alt-St. Peter”, which I linked to in my last post.

UPDATE: See the comments for a translation of the rest of the Liber on Stephen, and an explanation of what it all means, courtesy of a regular reader!

  1. [1] CSEL 29, 94-95.  This material from A. van den Hoek &c, Potteries, Pavements and Paradise, p.11. Google Books Preview here.
  2. [2] Online at Archive.org here.
  3. [3] Van den Hoek &c, p.46.
  4. [4] Huelsen gives the over-abbreviated reference De Rossi I. chr. I, 2, p.219; and no doubt he knew what he meant, even if everyone else before the arrival of Google had to scratch their heads.


css.php