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What did the Serapeum in Alexandria actually look like?

The destruction of the Serapeum in Alexandria in 392 AD by the Christian mob, headed by its leader, the patriarch Theophilus, is a famous moment.  It was the last temple to be closed, and by far the most famous.

It stood on the only high ground in the city, in the South-West.  Rufinus gives us a description of the destruction of the statue:

… a rumor had been spread by the pagans that if a human hand touched the statue, the earth would split open on the spot and crumble into the abyss, while the sky would crash down at once.

This gave the people pause for a moment, until one of the soldiers, armed with faith rather than weapons, seized a double-headed axe, drew himself up, and struck the old fraud on the jaw with all his might. A roar went up from both sides, but the sky did not fall, nor did the earth collapse. Thus with repeated strokes he felled the smoke-grimed deity of rotten wood, which upon being thrown down burned as easily as dry wood when it was kindled.

After this the head was wrenched from the neck, the bushel having been taken down, and dragged off; then the feet and other members were chopped off with axes and dragged apart with ropes attached, and piece by piece, each in a different place, the decrepit dotard was burned to ashes before the eyes of the Alexandria which had worshiped him.

Last of all the torso which was left was put to the torch in the amphitheater, and that was the end of the vain superstition and ancient error of Serapis.[1]

But what did the temple actually look like?

There is a rather marvellous article in the Journal of Roman Studies, by Judith S. McKenzie &c., that tells us.[2]  What it does is to sift both the literary and archaeological evidence, and a very fine job it does too.  In addition it gives some very useful pictures!  These, as ever, are worth a thousand words.

The site consisted of a large platform on top of the only hill in Alexandria.  A wall surrounded the platform, which was a colonnade on the inside.  The temple, a classical structure, stood inside the colonnade.

Here is a diagram of how the temple looked in the 3rd century.  The sea is to the North.

The Serapeum of Alexandria, by J.S.McKenzie

The Serapeum of Alexandria, by J.S.McKenzie

A hundred steps led up to the main entrance of the temple from the East.  Inside the entrance was a pool of some kind.  To his left, the visitor would have seen a building whose nature and appearance is unclear; the “south building”.

To his right he would see a classical Roman temple.  This was the temple itself, in which resided the wooden statue of Serapis.

There were also subterranean passages, the entrance to which is shown near the entrance to the main temple, and which still exist.

The emperor Diocletian added a monumental pillar late in the same century, which still stands and is known as “Pompey’s Pillar”.  The temple then looked like this:



When the temple was destroyed, it seems that it was the buildings inside the colonnade that were demolished.  The main enclosure and its colonnade remained, and are mentioned by medieval Arabic writers, until, as we learn from Abd al-Latif, a governor under Saladin destroyed them in 1169.

The site of the Serapeum was not turned into a church, but became disused.  Two churches arose nearby, rather than inside.

Paganism in Alexandria did not die at once, of course.  The Life of Peter the Iberian, by John Rufus, in fact describes a pagan healing ritual which took place in the 5th century in this very same enclosure of the Serapeum.  We have also seen in the Life of Severus of Antioch, ca. 500 AD, that pagans made trips to the temple of Isis at Menouthis, still open even then.

I hope to explore some more of the footnotes of Dr McKenzie’s article, but I would like to conclude with some very interesting words from it, which appear at the beginning:

Reconstructions by archaeologists are often treated with scepticism by historians and literary critics. Thus, it is essential to present in detail the evidence on which these reconstruction drawings of the Serapeum are based, as well as the reasoning involved, in a way which hopefully is accessible to non-archaeologists.

This article must be the basis for anyone who wants to think about this ancient site.  Recommended.

  1. [1] Philip R. Amidon (tr), The Church History of Rufinus of Aquileia books 10 and 11, 1997, 81-82.
  2. [2] Judith S. McKenzie, Sheila Gibson and A. T. Reyes, “Reconstructing the Serapeum in Alexandria from the archaeological evidence. JRS 92 (2004) 73-121.  JSTOR.

Images of Theophilus of Alexandria and the Serapeum in a 5th century papyrus codex

Today I came across an image which, although striking, was previously unknown to me.  It can be found on Wikipedia here, and in other places.  It depicts Theophilus of Alexandria, standing atop the Serapeum at Alexandria:

Goleniscev Papyrus - Theophilus and the Serapeum

Goleniscev Papyrus – Theophilus and the Serapeum

The destruction of the Serapeum in Alexandria in 392 AD – the date is not precisely certain – at the hands of a mob, incited and led by the patriarch Theophilus, was an iconic moment in the end of paganism and indeed of antiquity.

The image above comes from the remains of a papyrus codex, once the property of Russian Egyptologist and collector Vladimir Golenischev. Today it is in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, with the other Golenischev papyri.  The codex may be as early as the 5th century AD, although others date it later.  It contains the remains of a Greek text, the Alexandrian World Chronicle.

The text and images were published – in colour! – in 1905 by Bauer and Strzygowski,[1] and, even better, the publication is online at the German digital library here.

The page of the publication from which the image comes is here.  A local copy of the page is below (click for full size image):

Alexandrian World Chronicle, fol. 6v. Theophilus and the Serapeum, &c.

Alexandrian World Chronicle, fol. 6v. Theophilus and the Serapeum, &c.

The text in grey is reconstructed by Bauer, although the later discovery of an additional fragment has verified at least some of his text.

Fortunately Richard Burgess has placed on here a paper which discusses this page in great deal.[2]  He gives a translation of that page, as follows, and I have abbreviated some of his very interesting notes for the general reader:

In this year with his son
Honorius Theodosius arrived
in Rome and crowned him
emperor on 13 June and
gave a congiarium to the Romans.
108. Augustus Valentinian IIII and
Neoterius vir clarissimus, when
[…] was augustalis.
Tatianus and Symmachus
viri clarissimi, when Evagrius was augustalis.

In this year Valentinian
died in Vienna
on 10 June and Eugenius
was proclaimed emperor
on 22 August,
which is 23 Thoth.
109. Augustus Arcadius II and Ru-
finus vir clarissimus, when the same
Evagrius was augustalis
of Alexandria.
In this year […] Eugenius
was executed on 6 January,
which is 8 Thoth, and in the same
year… [the codex ends here]

There are also titles above the figures: the one of the left has “Saint Theophilus”, while the kneeling figure is the luckless “Eugenius”.

The picture shows Theophilus standing on top of a façade with columns and a triangular entrance, which is painted in blue and yellow.  In the entrance is the bust of a beardless man with curly hair and a “modius” jar on his head.  This is characteristic of Serapis, and temples are often represented by a few columns and the cult image, so this is not necessarily an exact picture of the temple.  It would be interesting to wonder if the colours represent something real about the painting of the temple, tho.

Note also the colour of the statue – the face is blackened.  This confirms a statement by Clement of Alexandria in his Exhortation to the Greeks, ch. 3:

He gave personal orders, therefore, that a statue of Osiris his own ancestor should be elaborately wrought at great expense ; and the statue was made by the artist Bryaxis, — not the famous Athenian, but another of the same name, — who has used a mixture of various materials in its construction. He had filings of gold, silver, bronze, iron, lead, and even tin ; and not a single Egyptian stone was lacking, there being pieces of sapphire, hematite, emerald, and topaz also. Having reduced them all to powder and mixed them, he stained the mixture dark blue (on account of which the colour of the statue is nearly black), and, mingling the whole with the pigment left over from the funeral rites of Osiris and Apis, a he moulded Sarapis; … [3].

At bottom right is a building, again with a triangular façade painted in blue and yellow, with two white columns to the left, and a roof in blue at the right.  Below the façade the “modius” appears again … so this is again the Serapeum, and this is confirmed by the caption to the left, “[Sa]rapitos to [i]eron”, the “Temple of Serapis”.  This designation for the Serapeum of Alexandria appears elsewhere in ancient literature.  Two figures stand to the left of the temple, dressed in grey-blue tunics with arms upraised; some have thought these to be monks throwing stones at the temple.

The entry in the Chronicle that described the destruction of the temple is sadly missing.  But it must have stood there, for there is no reason otherwise for these pictures to be there.

  1. [1] A. Bauer and J. Strzygowski, Eine alexandrinische Weltchronik (1905), 71-3, pl. 6 Verso.
  2. [2] R.W. Burgess and Jitse H.F. Dijkstra, The ‘Alexandrian World Chronicle’, its Consularia and the Date of the Destruction of the Serapeum (with an Appendix on the List of Praefecti Augustales), Millennium Jahrbuch 10 (1013), 39-113.
  3. [3] Loeb translation, here

On finding my own books

It is early here.  The sky is the deep overcast shade of an English winter’s morning in November.  But it is warm, too warm to stay in bed, so I have risen to begin the day.  As I did so, I noted that I needed a new bedside book, and the whim struck me to read again a volume of the adventures of Fu Manchu.

The first three volumes in this series – The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, The Devil Doctor, and The Si-Fan Mysteries, were all published in the days when Sherlock Holmes was still living in 221B Baker Street.  They form a kind of trilogy, and belong firmly to the gas-light era.  They should appeal to every Holmes enthusiast.

Vaguely remembering the opening lines of The Devil Doctor, I went to look for my copy.  I know what it looks like – a sun-faded brownish cloth-covered hardback of the kind that litters bookdealers’ shelves.  But … I could not find it.

I have a shelf-full of the later Fu Manchu novels, and I knew where they were.  After browsing a bit, I found The Si-Fan Mysteries.  But where were the other two?

My eyes are not what they were, so I put on my reading glasses and looked along the shelves.  And … I still couldn’t find them.

Partly this is understandable.  I removed most of my books from my study last year, after that room began to take on a definite aroma of a second-hand bookshop.  In the process I discovered that my then cleaning lady had neglected to dust them – the cause of the smell – and a good cleaning dealt with the problem.  But when I put them back, being pressed for space, I double-banked some of the shelves with less-used volumes.

So I looked at the second row.  And I still couldn’t see The Devil Doctor.

Eventually I found The Mysteries of Dr Fu Manchu, a tall paperback reissue of the 1980’s standing in a seldom-used low bookcase where it has stood for 20 years.  That case was never reorganised, so I can only blame myself.  Once I knew the location of every book.  Now it seems that I don’t even remember where books are, that have stood where they are for decades.  It is not merely my eyesight that is fading.

Now this is a trivial problem, and probably caused by the sheer burden of daily life and the amount of things that I am legally obliged to remember to do, or be fined heavily.  I am not growing old yet!  But the problem is only because I once could rely on my memory for the location of my books, and I no longer can.

What to do?

One thing that I can do is to gather together the volumes of series.  When there is a shelf-full of one series, any volume in it can be located more easily.  But that still leaves a vast number of volumes.

Often the place where a book stands is determined by the size of the book and where it will fit on my shelves.  They are not interchangeable in physical form.  Otherwise the answer would be to start some classification system.

I don’t know what the answer is.  I wonder how people manage, once they have above 2,000 books, as most of us must?

(I never found The Devil Doctor.  But fortunately my memory had failed me: the book I wanted was actually The Si-Fan Mysteries!)

New edition of Cyril of Alexandria’s “Against Julian” is soon to appear – offline, and very pricey

In the early 5th century, Cyril of Alexandria found it necessary to write a large apologetic work.  The book was in response to Julian the Apostate’s anti-Christian work Against the Galileans. This was written some 50 years earlier by the then emperor, but must have continued to circulate. Cyril made a series of extensive quotations from the work, reorganised them into a logical sequence (as he tells us at the start of book 2),  and wrote his own reply to each.  No doubt secretaries performed much of the manual labour, and Cyril dictated replies.

10 books of Contra Julianum have reached us, and a handful of fragments of the next 10 books also.  The work is little known in English, since no translation has been made into that language.  Indeed no complete translation has ever been made into any modern language.  The Sources Chretiennes began an edition, with a splendid French translation, but only a single volume, containing books 1 and 2, ever appeared.  No modern critical edition, even, existed.  Readers have been forced to rely on reprints of the 17th century Aubert edition.

For some years Christoph Riedweg and his team have been labouring at the task of making a critical edition of the text of this huge work.  An email today advises me that the first volume, containing the text – no translation – of books 1-5, will very soon be available in the GCS series, and published by De Gruyter.  The publisher’s information page is here.  It informs us that the work will be published in November 2015, and priced at $168.  De Gruyer kindly make a PDF available also, at precisely the same price.

Everyone should welcome this publication.  Contra Julianum contains any amount of useful information about antiquity and Christian thinking.  I look forward to the second volume also!

But … what a price!  And … I say that I look forward to a second volume, but there is no chance that I will ever own a copy of either; or even be able to use it, unless I come across a pirate copy.  It will, most likely, be most used in this manner.  This seems wrong.  But then, these books are not made for you or I.

Today there was an article in the Guardian on this very subject that every academic should read.  Here are some extracts, but it is worth reading in full.

Academics are being hoodwinked into writing books nobody can buy

An editor called me up to ask me if I’d like to write a book. I smelled a rat, but I played along…

A few months ago, an editor from an academic publisher got in touch to ask if I was interested in writing a book for them. …

“How much would the book be sold for?” I inquired, aware this might not be his favourite question. “£80,” he replied in a low voice.

“So there won’t be a cheaper paperback edition?” I asked, pretending to sound disappointed.

“No, I’m afraid not,” he said, “we only really sell to libraries. But we do have great sales reps that get the books into universities all across the world.”

“So how many copies do you usually sell?” I inquired.

“About 300.”

“For all your books?”

“Yes, unless you would assign your book on your own modules.”

I was growing fascinated by the numbers so I asked how many of these books they published each year.

“I have to…” he started (inadvertently revealing that this was a target that had been set) “…I have to publish around 75 of these.” … And he’s just one of their commissioning editors. …

Another colleague, on discovering his published book was getting widespread attention but was too expensive to buy, tried to get the publishers to rush out a cheaper paperback version. They ignored his request.

These may sound like stories of concern to academics alone. But the problem is this: much of the time that goes into writing these books is made possible through taxpayers’ money. And who buys these books? Well, university libraries – and they, too, are paid for by taxpayers. Meanwhile, the books are not available for taxpayers to read – unless they have a university library card.

In the US, taxpayers are said to be spending $139bn a year on research, and in the UK, £4.7bn. Too much of that money is disappearing into big pockets.

So what are the alternatives? We could stop publishing these books altogether – which may be advisable in a time of hysterical mass publication. Or we publish only with decent publishers, who believe that books are meant to be read and not simply profited from. And if it’s only a matter of making research available, then of course there’s open source publishing, which most academics are aware of by now.

So why don’t academics simply stay away from the greedy publishers? The only answer I can think of is vanity.

Of course the last bit is rather unfair.  An academic career requires publication in reputable format, and nobody can be blamed for doing what the system requires in order to feed their families.  But it raises disturbing questions of integrity and sustainability.

An edition of Contra Julianum serves a real need.  But the high prices and closed access compromise the entire system of academic publication.

All the same, let us congratulate Dr R. and his team.  Well done!  This was work of permanent value.

Is “those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad” a classical quotation?

Last night I was reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson, and came across the familiar quotation in a Latin form, Quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat – “those whom God wishes to destroy he first drives mad”.  Therein it was stated that the Latin quotation was on everyone’s lips, but its source was known to nobody.

A Google Books search on the English version gives no hits before the mid-19th century.  Before then, the tag was circulated in Latin, it seems, with various word-orders and slight variants.

I think we can suppose that the English “gods” replacing “Deus”, “God”, is just a feature of quotation.  These tags are not transmitted as gospel, and a speaker or writer will modify them as he thinks gives the best effect.

But where does the Latin text come from?  Is it ancient?  In fact it is not.  It originates, as best I can tell, in the 17th century.

A Google Books search found me an article in the Monthly Magazine or British Register, vol. 51 (1821), p.520, in which a correspondent writes as follows:

To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine


IN the following extract from Mr Boswell’s Life of Dr Johnson vol iv pp 196 and 7 your correspondent Poplicola in your Magazine for May will find his enquiry answered respecting the Latin line he quotes — “Quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat.”

With the following elucidation of the other saying:– “Quos Deus (it should rather be Quem Jupiter) vult perdere prius dementat,” Mr Boswell was furnished by Mr Richard Howe of Aspley in Bedfordshire, as communicated to that gentleman by his friend Mr John Pitts, late rector of Great Brickhill in Buckinghamshire.

Perhaps no scrap of Latin whatever has been more quoted than this. It occasionally falls even from those who are scrupulous even to pedantry in their latinity and will not admit a word into their compositions which has not the sanction of the first age. The word demento is of no authority either as a verb active or neuter. After a long search for the purpose of deciding a bet, some gentlemen of Cambridge found it amongst the fragments of Euripides, in what edition I do not recollect, where it is given as a translation of a Greek Iambick.

Ον Θιος ?̣ελει απολεσεις πρωτ̕ αποφρετας [I can barely read this]

The above scrap was found in the hand writing of a suicide of fashion.  Sir D.O. some years ago lying on the table of the room where he had destroyed himself.  The suicide was man of classical acquirements: he left no other paper behind him.

May 19th, 1821

This is interesting for several reasons.  Firstly, it gives a variant form, “Quem Jupiter”.  Secondly it refers to an early unspecified edition of Euripedes.

Which edition this is is revealed by another hit in the search, P. R. Reynolds, The Writing and Selling of Fiction, 139-140:

Joshua Barnes (or Barnesius, according to the custom of the time) edited the works of Euripides in 1694, Euripides quae extant omnia.  This including a collection of fragments of various tragedies, which appears in the work under the title Incertae Tragoediae.  The volume also includes three indexes, on unnumbered pages.  The first index is important to this story.

In this “index prior”, under the letter “D”, (Google books link), we find the following:


I.e. Deus quos vult perdere, dementat prius, as found in the “Incerta”, on verse or line 436.  For of course this is drama, and each line is numbered.

Now this is certainly our quotation from Johnson.  But what precisely is the entry in the body of the text?  Again, we are fortunate that the volume is online, for we can locate v.436 here, and it is thus:

The Greek of the fragments appears in the left column, and is more or less as follows:

ταν δαμων νδρ πορσν κακ,
τν νον βλαψε πρτον

Which has been rendered like this:

But when the daimon plots against a man,
He first inflicts some hurt upon his mind.

The word daimon does not here mean “demon”, but rather has the twin meanings of “divinity” and “fortune”.  In his translation, Barnes uses “Numen”, rather than “Deus”, with this in mind.  In fact our saying is not Barnes’ translation, but instead a summary of the content!

So the Latin is in fact a coinage by Dr Joshua Barnes, in 1694, summarising a saying that he believed was a fragment of Euripides.

The fragment is found in the second century AD Christian writer Athenagoras of Athens, in his Supplicatio pro Christianis (Plea for the Christians), chapter 26, as Barnes himself indicates in his marginal notes on the passage above.

But I learn from this site that in fact it is a note on Sophocles Antigone, l.620, by a scholiast.  The idea itself is present in Homer, Odyssey, IX, 492-3.

In the tragedy Antigone, of Sophocles, in verses 620-623,  it said something similar:

For cunningly of old was the celebrated saying revealed: evil sometimes seems good
to a man whose mind a god leads to destruction.

The ancient scholiast on these verses says:

When a god plans harm against a man, he first damages the mind of the man he is plotting against.

όταν  ό δαίμων άνδρΐ πορσύνῃ κακά,
τον νουν εβλαφε πρώτον ώ βουλεύεται.

August Nauck collected this couplet as one of the fragments of his Fragmenta Tragicorum Graecorum (Leipzig.Teubner 1889), namely exactly the number 455 of Adespota or anonymous and therefore without author:

The couplet is in the scholia to Sophocles, Antigone, l. 620 …

The scholion is then quoted by Athenagoras.  Why the early editors attributed the saying to Euripedes I do not know.

Barnes also mentions the sayings of Publilius Syrus, in the 1st century BC, and the same site tells us that the Sententiae 612 reads:

Stultum facit Fortuna quem vult perdere

Fortune makes stupid him who she wishes to destroy.

But there is more.  For what about this variant “Quos Jupiter”?  It turns out that Barnes himself was working from an older writer, James Duport.

In 1660 Duport published his collection of sayings from Homer, Homeri poetarum omnium seculorum facile principis gnomologia, better known as the Gnomologia Homerica.  On p.262 (Google Books) we find the following comment, note a, on the section of the Odyssey:

barnes_euripedes_text duport_homerAfter reviewing a couple of instances of the thought, Duport quotes a portion of Euripedes, and then, expressing the opposite thought (Contra) he quotes the same line and translates Quem Jupiter vult perdere, dementat prius.  This gives us our variant.

It would be interesting to see what might be found in earlier editions of Euripedes, or any Latin translations of that era.  Most Greek works appeared first in a Latin translation, after all.  Unfortunately at this time I do not have much knowledge of the transmission history of Euripedes, so that must wait for another time.

To summarise, the saying as we have it is a 19th century translation of an index entry, written by Joshua Barnes in 1694 in his edition of Euripedes.  The entry summarised rather than translated the content of a couple of lines of Greek.  The lines were originally by a scholiast on Sophocles, quoted in the 2nd century AD by Athenagoras, and supposed to be by Euripedes by early editors of that author.   Barnes in turn was almost quoting James Duport in his 1660 work on the ideas to be found in Homer.

We may suppose that “Deus” and “Jupiter” were altered by some unknown speaker into “gods” in 19th century English, from an entirely correct feeling that the saying was not consistent with the character of God, but rather more with the outlook of the pagan gods of ancient Greece who, to quote a more modern source, “were petty and cruel, and plagued mankind with suffering.”

UPDATE.  I had meant to mention also the French editor Boissonade, who later gave a commentary on Euripedes in his Poetarum graecorum sylloge tom. XIX.  Euripides tom. 4.  In the 1826 reprint, again in the index, on p.322, we find:

Jupiter quos vult perdere dementat … 300

And on p.300,  which is scholia on the Bacchae, line 840, we get the Greek and then “sic quos vult perdere Jupiter dementat.”

UPDATE: An email from Andrew Eastbourne draws my attention to an article, F.W.Householder, “Quem deus vult perdere dementat prius”, The Classical Weekly 29 (1936), 165-7 (JSTOR).  This suggests that the Latin tag does not originate with Duport, but that he was referencing some existing form of the saying.

From my diary

I apologise for the lack of blogging.  Ordinary life has been getting in the way, as it does for us all, and I am in the middle of changing job, which is always rather tedious.

I’ve not done anything further on applying for a grant for the Methodius translation.  I will; it is simply a matter of finding the time.

It looks very much as if I shall be uploading the Eusebius Gospel Problems and Solutions and Origen Homilies on Ezekiel volumes at Christmas time.  Sales for both have slowed to almost nothing; and the intention was always to make them available freely online.  A few months after that they will go out of print, as I cancel my deal with Lightning Source.  Again, only lack of time impedes this.

Nothing further has been done on translating Eutyches.  Nor have I heard any more about the translation that I commissioned of Andrew of Crete’s Encomium on Nicholas of Myra.  The sample was OK, and the reviewer sent positive comments; and then the translator went silent.

Today I’ve been working on a blog post on “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”  Maybe it will appear tomorrow!

I also need to change my Mithras pages to work on mobile devices, using responsive front-end technology.  Sometime.

I’d like to get away for a bit of holiday in the sun, once we get closer to Christmas.  But where to go?

I was thinking about Egypt, but the UK Foreign Office travel advice is now horrific.

It was always pretty awful, the way that Egyptians hassled you for money if you went anywhere by yourself.  I remember walking to the road at the end of the drive of my hotel, and, quite literally, being followed down the road by a group of Egyptians!  I also remember a pretty scary taxi ride back from Luxor to my hotel, in which the driver kept trying to detour.  But it seems to be much worse.

The travel advice now suggests that going around, except in a group with a guide who can fend off the harassment, is unwise.  It never said this before.  Large areas of the country are clearly in the hands of bandits.

I don’t quite see how I can reasonably volunteer for all that.  Let us hope that this unhappy country recovers to where it was before.  How little good, and how much misery, has the “Arab Spring” brought to Arab countries.

One thing that I do want to see sometime is the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria.  This contains an interesting relief of the Lion-Headed god, from the cult of Mithras.  There was a Mithraeum near Memphis, probably connected with the Roman garrison there.  There is only one photograph of this relief, a bad one, which is reprinted.  I would hope to take another.  Unfortunately the museum is still closed “for restoration”.  I messaged Zahi Hawass on Twitter, and he confirmed this.

So … I don’t quite know where to go, that will give me sun and culture in December.  Jordan can be cold in early December; and the country is full of refugees and fighting men.

Another day, and perhaps it will seem clearer!

A diadem of Serapis and a Fayoum portrait

Two days ago the British Museum twitter account posted this item, which seemed to me worthy of wider circulation.  They posted a picture of an item in their collection, together with one of the Fayoum mummy portraits depicting it in actual use!

This mystery object is a diadem ornament worn by priests of the god Serapis in Roman Egypt

Gold diadem-ornament, from a diadem of the priests of Serapis.

Gold diadem-ornament, from a diadem of the priests of Serapis.  c.1-3 AD. 10mm high.

Portrait of bearded man (BM portrait 1994,0521.12)

Portrait of bearded man (BM portrait 1994,0521.12)

The juxtaposition is pure genius.

The link goes through to the British Musem site, where bibliography may be found.

Still more Pantoleon!

After writing my last post, I thought to check JSTOR.  And … I got a hit![1]  This discusses marginalia in an Old English manuscript, but the author wanders quite far afield, discussing devotion to St Michael the Archangel:

Greek devotion to St. Michael is well attested, but one writer in particular deserves attention in connection with the Corpus homily. In a sermon on the power of St. Michael, the deacon Pantoleon attributes a series of Old Testament miracles to the intervention of the Archangel.[108]

The sermon opens with a eulogistic passage which describes Michael by a string of epithets: he is “maxime et imprimis admirabilis Michael princeps Dei militiae” (the greatest and especially wonderful Michael chief of God’s troops), “benigne Michael” (kind-hearted Michael), “qui es fortissimus pugnator et propugnator ac defensor eorum qui Dominum diligunt” (who are the most powerful combatant and champion and defender of those who love the Lord).[109]

Of the miracles Pantoleon attributes to Michael, perhaps the most striking is the Archangel’s intervention at the sacrifice of Isaac: Michael stays the hand of Abraham as he is about to slay his son Isaac (§ XI). Michael is also said to be the angel who wrestles with Jacob (§ XI); who leads the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land (§ XIII); who contends with the Devil over the body of Moses (§ XIV); who aids Joshua in destroying Jericho (§ XV); who saves Sidrach, Misach, and Abednago from the flames of Nabuchodonosor’s furnace (§ XX); and who preserves Daniel in the lion’s den (§ XXI).

108. Pantoleonis, Diaconi et Chartophylacis magnae Ecclesiae: “Narratio miraculorum Archangeli Michaelis,” PG 140. 573-88.
109. Ibid., 574-75.

The reference to PG 140 means that Migne printed the Encomium a second time.

On visiting PG 140, the table of contents is at the back.  There are a couple of pages of introduction, which did not add much.

On col. 483 ff. is the Tractatus contra Graecorum Errores, clearly written after the schism between Greeks and Latins.  This is given in Latin, as printed by Stevartius.

On col. 573-591. is the Narratio, in Latin only.  Migne seems to be aware that he has already printed it; so presumably is just reprinting his source.

No other works of Pantoleon appear.

Further Google searching turns up a Laudatio S. Michaelis Archangeli, (BHG 1289) listed in manuscript by PinakesDe luminibus sanctis is mentioned at Pinakes as BHG 1945; the mysterious collection of homilies through the year appears in manuscripts listed here; and the Miracula S. Michaelis Archangeli is given as BHG 1285-1288e, 1288i-m, and appears in many mss listed here.

I probably ought to look at the BHG entries, but not tonight!

  1. [1] Richard F. Johnson, “Archangel in the margins: St Michael in the homilies of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 41”, Traditio 53, 1998, 63-91; p.89

I say Pantaleon, you say Pantoleon – more notes on this figure

Yesterday I collected what I could find about the mysterious writer Pantoleon or Pantaleon, a bunch of whose sermons appear in PG 98.  The data was rather a farrago, and a testimony to the obscurity of this medieval figure or figures.

This evening I venture a little further into the mine!

Migne prints the following items.  I have supplemented his statements from the the Clavis Patrum Graecorum:

  • 1. In sacra lumine or De luminibus sacris, about Christ and St John the Baptist.  (PG 98, 1243-1247)
  • 2. In transfigurationem Jesu Christi (1247-1253)
  • 3. A second sermon, In transfigurationem Jesu Christi (1253-1259).  This is CPG 5207.2º, which attributes it to “Pantaleon Constantinopolitanus diaconus”.

The CPG says that this is a sermon usually attributed to Cyril of Alexandria.  Cyril’s Commentary on Luke, is made up of a series of homilies.  Most of these are extant only in Syriac.  Homily 51 (BHGa 1994) is extant in Greek, and printed in PG 77, 1009-1016; and again as PG 98, 1248-1254.

A note in the CPG adds that this homily is attributed sometimes in the manuscripts to Proclus of Constantinople, to Pantaleon (spelled thus), and to Theophilus of Alexandria.

Migne states that some manuscripts attribute this to Cyril of Alexandria, as Homily 51 of the Commentary on Luke.

  • 4. Pantaleon, deacon and chartophylax of the great church, Narratio (or Encomium) de miraculis sancti Michaelis. (1259-1265)
  • 5.  In exaltationem crucis. (1265-1269) Edited by Gretser from 3 manuscripts, but Migne lists a bunch of them. Savile’s edition of Chrysostom also prints it, vol. 7, p.661-663.  This is CPG 7915, which attributes it to “Pantoleon Byzantinus presbyter”, and says that it is BHG 430.

A Syriac version of this work is mentioned by Baumstark in Geschichte, p.262; and J.-M. Sauget, in Ecclesia Orans 3 (1986), p. 132-133.

An Old Slavonic version is mentioned in Makarij, Velikija Minei Cetii sobrannyja vserossijskim mitropolitom Makariem, Sanktpeterburg, 1868 ff, Sept. (14-24), col. 718-721.  Manuscripts of the Old Slavonic are mentioned in Chr. Hannick, Maximos Holobolos in der kirchenslavischen homiletischen Literatur (Wiener byzantinistische Studien XIV), Wien , 1981, p. 98 sq., n. 20.

  • Orationes sive homiliae panegyricae per totum annum, but vaguely, and prints nothing.

The Clavis Patrum Graecorum adds a little to this.  In volume 5, the index volume, three authors are listed:

  • PANTALEON Constantinopolitanus diaconus 5207.2º
  • PANTALEON 9411
  • PANTOLEON Byzantinus presbyter 7915-7918, and supplementary vol. p.455.

This gives us a couple more works:

  • 7.  CPG 9411 is a letter of Pope Martin to a “Pantaleon” (CPL 1733 for Latin version), sent after the Lateran Council, on 31 Oct. 649 AD.  It is printed in PG 87, 169-174, and Mansi, volume X, 819-824, in both Greek and Latin.

References are given in CPG to Jaffe-Loewenfeld, Regesta pontificum Romanorum ab condita ecclesia …, 2 vols, Leipzig, 1885-1888, 2nd ed, n. 2068; and P. Conte, Chiesa e primato, p.448, n.152.

  • 8. Homilia de exaltatione crucis (BHG 427p).  This is CPG 7918, an unpublished homily, also attributed to “Pantoleon Byzantinus presbyter”.  Information about manuscripts can be found in BHG 427p.

The Patrologia Graeca also has some interesting information on the author, from older sources.  In volume 98, we find in the table of contents the following:

PANTALEON DIACONUS CP. Orationes, ex Frontonis Ducae.  Supplemento ad Bibliothecam Patrum.  Col. 1243-1273.

[Pantaleon the Deacon of Constantinople, Orations, from Fronto de Duc, with supplement to the Library of the Fathers]

The introduction for the author, starting on column 1243, begins with “Date disputed”.  The material given mainly comes from Fabricius, Bibliotheca Graeca, ed. Harles. volume 11, p.445.

We are told that “Pantaleon Graecus”, both deacon and chartophylax of the great church of Constantinople, whom Fabricius says was a Dominican, and dates him to 1252 – for this is the period of the Latin occupation of Constantinople – wrote a work De Graecorum erroribus, on the errors of the Greeks, which was translated into Latin by Petrus Stevartius using the library of Bavaria (i.e. Munich), and printed by him, without the name of its author, in Ingolstadt in 1616, vol. 4, p.553; and reprinted in vol. 26 of the Patrum Lugd. (aren’t abbreviations annoying?) p. 467-471.  That Pantaleon was the author was stated by Combefis in his preface on new publications.

Migne’s footnote to this is a mess of abbreviations.  But I learn from it that Bandini, in his catalogue of the manuscripts of the Mediceo-Laurentiana library in Florence, vol. 1, p.503, mentions Codex. Laurentianus 9, Plutei II, as written at the start of the 11th century.  This manuscript is said to contain the Narration, the miracles of St Michael the Archangel. A. Mingarelli references[1] a 9th century “Nanios manuscript 38” which contains part of the In exaltatione crucis.  (Apparently a couple of Venetian noblemen were named “Nano” but I can discover nothing about them; the manuscripts are now in Venice and form part of the Marciana collection.)  In his index he refers to Pantaleon as “priest of the monastery of the Byzantines”, as being so called in ms. Nan. 73, n.13; ms. Nan. 154 (?) n. 54 and elsewhere; and as “deacon”, based on ms. Nan. 63, 30 and others.

However Margarin de la Bigne (not “Margaret” as I first thought!) refers Pantaleon to the 8th century.  We are given no more on this.

There is also mention of a further Pantaleon Ligarides or Ligaridus, also a Greek, whose letter to Allatius is cited by Nic. Comnenus.  Another Pantaleon the Logothete is known, to whom Theodore the Studite addressed some letters.  A Pantaleon of Nicomedia, and Martyr, is also known.

Are we further forward?  I think not.  My correspondent has said that he intends to translate at least some of these, and make them publically available.  Let us hope that he does!

  1. [1] A. Mingarelli, Graeci Codices Manu Scripti Apud Nanios Patricios Venetos Asservati, 1784, p.47.  Google Books

Who *was* that masked man?! The mysterious Pantoleon

A correspondent writes:

Do you know anything about Pantaleon the Deacon? It looks like we have 5 sermons of his, in the PG 98 columns 1244-1269, though sermon 4 (apparently an encomium on Michael the archangel) is only given in Latin. … I was curious if you know if his works existed in English yet.

This is indeed an obscure author.  A google search revealed little, beyond a Spanish translation of the Encomium on Michael, published in Strasbourg in 2014.[1]

Fortunately the indispensable “fifth volume” of Quasten, ed. Angelo di Berardino, reveals a “Pantoleon”, which is the form of the name in the CPG:


Pantoleon was a priest-monk of the monastery “of the Byzantines”, probably near Jerusalem. There survives a homily attributed to him on the Exaltation of the Cross (BHG 430) which also exists in a Syriac version of the 8th or 9th century, making it certain that Pantoleon is no later than the 8th century. Honigmann has sought to narrow this down still further to 650-750, by supplementing the evidence of the Syriac version with his theory about the introduction of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross into Palestine. If this is correct, then Pantoleon may be the same as the Pantoleon to whom Pope Martin I addressed a letter of reproach after the Lateran Council in 649. Another homily on the Exaltation of the Cross (BHG 427p), as yet unedited, has also been ascribed to Pantoleon.

Editions: CPG 7915, 7918; PG 98, 1265-1269.

Studies: E. Honigmann, “La date de l’homelie du pretre Pantoleon sur la fete de l’Exaltation de la Croix (VIIe s.) et l’origine des collections homiliaires”, Bulletin de l’Academie royale de Belgique 36 (1950) 547-559; A. Labate: EEC 2 (1992) 640.

The CPG entries are:

  • 7915: Homilia in exaltationem crucis (BHG 430), PG 1265-1269, plus a Syriac translation;
  • 7918: Homilia de exaltatione crucis (BHG 427p), unpublished, but labelled DUBIA.

I find this entry in the CERL thesaurus here:

Pantaleon <Constantinopolitanus>

Biographical Dates: 7. bzw. 9. Jh. (früher: 13. Jh.)

General Notes:  CPG 5207,2: Sermo de luminibus sanctis; Sermones in transfigurationem Domini; vielleicht Verf. von “Contra Graecos”; Identität mit Pantaleon <Presbyter Byzantinus> (CPG 7915-7918) wahrscheinlich.

Which identifies “Pantaleon Presbyter Byzantinus” “probably” with “Pantaleon Constantinopolitanus”.

Searching for “Pantoleon Byzantinus” tells me here that there is a publication, Pantoleon Diaconus, Miracula sancti Michaelis edited by F. Halkin in Inedits byzantins d’Ochrida, Candie et Moscou, Brussels, 1963.

The Pinakes has an entry for “Pantoleon Cpl. Diaconus” here which references both a Laudatio S. Michaelis Archangeli (BHG 1289) and Miracula S. Michaelis Archangeli (BHG 1285-1288e, 1288i-m), plus a Sermo de luminibus sanctis (BHG 1945) and Opera.  But of course Pinakes is a list of manuscript holdings.

Likewise I find this in the old Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology:

2. A Constantinopolitan deacon and chartophylax, who probably lived in the middle of the thirteenth century. Several works of his, principally sermons, have been published, both in the original Greek, and in Latin, for which consult Fabricius, Bibl. Graec. vol. x. pp. 199, 242, 247, 258, vol. xi. p. 455, and Cave, Hist. Lit. vol. ii. Diss. p. 15. [W. M. G.]

I don’t quite know what to make of all this: but that’s what I have.

  1. [1] Pantaléon (Diacre de Constantinople). Narración de los milagros del supremo arcángel Miguel; y Panegírico del supremo y glorioso Miguel príncipe de la milicia celeste. Pantaléon diácono,… ; traducción, introducción y notas de Guillermo Pons. Strasbourg: Trifolium, 2014.  In series Archivum Angelicum, vol. 25.  ISSN 1969-5659; 25.  ISBN : 978-2-35813-028-8.  Info via Sudoc.