18th century Egypt and a travelling Frenchman

In C. S. Sonini de Manoncourt, “Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt”, vol. 3, (1807), p.292, I find this anecdote.  The Reis is the captain of the boat on which de Manoncourt is travelling up the Nile, and he is in the region of Antinoupolis.

Among those persons whom the Reis had put on board, there were four soldier’s servants who had run away from the army. Well pleased at escaping from the toils of war, their insolence had no bounds. Having been informed that we were Europeans, their insults and impertinence were particularly pointed at us. I had determined to chastise them at the first town where we should stop; but having arrived at Mellawi in the night, I was obliged still to restrain myself. The four unruly gentlemen continued their invectives the following day. They carried their audacity so far as to strike two of my companions; the latter were not long in returning the blow; the engagement, began, and guessing from the noise what had happened, I hastened to the spot with my sabre in my hand, and applied a few strokes to the shoulders of the aggressors with the flat side. They immediately quitted their hold; but an exclamation was heard over all the boat. An infidel to strike a Mussulman!  It was an offence unpardonable, and which threatened me with instant death. They were talking of throwing me overboard. The Reis, instead of appeasing the tumult, as great a fanatic as the rest, cried louder than any of them. I retired with my companions into the chamber which we occupied, and we entrenched ourselves as well as we could, fully expecting to be attacked. The fire-arms, however, with which we were supplied, appeared to the desperadoes who surrounded us, formidable enough to prevent their approach, and they contented themselves with murmuring and concerting plans of revenge.

Through the lattice of my chamber, I perceived at Scheick Abade, the ruins of Antinoe, and on the same eastern coast, Benihassan, a village at the foot of a mountain of rock, rising perpendicularly, in which the ancients have hollowed out sepulchral caverns. A little tower and a forest of palm-trees form a beautiful contrast with the rugged aspect of the rocks which border this bank of the Nile. The village of Savouadi succeeds to this. There the ruins of several ancient buildings are perceptible. The rock has been carved and hollowed in various places ; the entrances of a vast quantity of catacombs are arranged over the front of the mountain, and near them I observed hieroglyphics and symbolical figures.

The vessel dropt anchor at Miniet. The Reis immediately disembarked with about twenty of the passengers, and made the best of his way to the Kiaschef, in order to prefer a complaint against me, for having had the audacity to strike a Mussulman. These wicked people took care to relate every fact, and to represent it in the worst light possible. The populace of Miniet thronged in crowds ; a flock of fanatical barbarians demanded the head of the dog who had abused a favourite of Mahomet. I had dispatched my two Egyptian servants after the Reis, in order to observe what might come to pass. They returned to acquaint me with the ferment which the accusation of the Reis had raised in the minds of the people; they had advanced into the court of the house of the Kiaschef, where an assembled mob were calling for vengeance, and they had heard it reported, that I was to undergo the punishment of the bastinado on the soles of the feet. I had not a moment to lose after this information. It was necessary, they said, either to conceal myself or to make my escape. I could not, with propriety, have chosen either of these alternatives : I took a resolution directly opposite. I determined to face the danger, and to present myself openly, in order to avert it. I quitted.the boat immediately with one of my attendants; my habit prevented me from being recognised. We passed through several streets. Every where the topic of conversation was the Franc who had beaten a Mussulman. I arrived at the house of the Kiaschef; I penetrated through the crowd, who little supposed that the person on whom their thoughts were employed was in the midst of them; at length I stood before the Kiaschef. An immense number of persons surrounded him. The Reis and my other accusers stood forward and pointed me out to the commandant. “Is it you, then,” said the Kiaschef to me in the most angry tone imaginable, “who was audacious enough to offer violence to a believing Mussulman?” “Give no heed,” I replied, in a determined tone, “to the vain clamour of these paltry fellahs, to whom, for the honour of a valiant Mameluc, you have already paid but too much attention. You are the slave of Mourat Bey; you know very well that I am his friend; I have some important intelligence to communicate to you from him; attend.” I immediately approached, and pretending to whisper in his ear, I slipped a few chequins into his hand, which I held ready in my own.

The Kiaschef, who had raised himself a little from his cushion to hear what I had to say, now took his seat again, and darted menacing glances at the Reis. “You know not,” said he to him, with anger feigned, or at least purchased, “what a Franc is.” He then pronounced a long and absurd encomium on the qualities and the power of the Francs, which he knew nothing at all about. The Reis wished to reply ; but the Kiaschef rose, and bestowed on him a hearty box on the ear, and then ordered him to receive several blows with a cane. In an instant this mob, ignorant and foolishly habituated to despotism, after having regarded me as the greatest criminal, dispersed, crying up the justice of the Kiaschef, and extolling, the excellent qualities of the Francs.

Corruption in men of exalted stations, which is an undeniable testimony of the depravity of manners, and a certain presage of the fall of empires, and the dissolution of the bonds of society, appeared among the despots of Egypt to be customary, and a system universally adopted. They were unanimous in opinion, that with the assistance of money every thing might be obtained.  Too great sacrifices, even in this respect, were not requisite to obtain the object desired. It is only in those countries, where they are continually speaking of virtue and of honour, and where, in fact, they do not exist, that the price of corruption is an effect of a considerable commerce to which few people can attain: but it is moderate in those places where honour not being in common use, it is unnecessary to distribute gold to purchase silence. I had just experienced a signal act of justice, which, considering the manners of the people of Egypt, and the circumstances under which I had obtained it, might have passed for injustice. A single minute had proved sufficient to appease the most furious anger, and to make its effects recoil on those who had provoked it; and, nevertheless, it had only cost me from seven to eight chequins.

The obelisk of Antinous – the text written upon it

Among the actions of Hadrian after the suspicious death of his “favourite” Antinous was the construction of an Egyptian-style obelisk in Rome, which still stands.  Each of the four faces has a text upon it in hieroglyphics.  It was constructed in Rome, where someone who knew how to write the ancient language wrote the text.

The first two faces read as follows.  I’ve made this from the rather splendid French translation of Jean-Claude Grenier, “L’Osiris Antinoos”, CENIM 1, Montpellier, 2008, which I found online here, and which comes with some very learned notes.  There are some dreadfully unreliable English versions online, I find.

Face 1 (South-facing)

Words said by the Osiris Antinous, [justified], “Come to the master of life.”  The blessed one who is in the afterlife and who lies in this sacred place which is found inside the gardens of the domain of the Prince in Rome.  He is known for becoming a god in the “abatons”[1] of Egypt, and shrines have been built for him (where) he is worshipped as a god by the prophets and priests of Upper and Lower Egypt and (by) the inhabitants of Egypt also.  A city is named after him; to it belongs a population of Greeks and sons of Horus and children of Seth, resident in the cities of Egypt; they have come from their cities, and valuable lands have been given to them, to enrich their lives greatly.  There is a temple there of this god – his name is “Osiris Antinous, justified” – built from fair white stone.  Sphinxes stand on its perimeter, and statues, numerous columns like those once made by the ancients, and also like those made by the Greeks.  All the gods and all the godesses give him there the breath of life, and he breathes in of it, having rediscovered his youth.

Face 2 (west-facing)

Next to an image of Antinous is a damaged inscription, which now reads only, “Words spoken by the Osiris Anti[nous]…”

Facing him is Thoth, with the legend, “Words spoken by Thoth, twice great, Lord of Khemenou (Hermopolis): ‘I make your heart alive for you every day.'”

The blessed, the Osiris Antinous, justified!  He has become an ephebe with a beautiful face that makes the eyes rejoice, a strength […] and an intrepid heart like (man) with strong arms.  He received god’s decree of the time of his death.  All the rites of the “Hours of Osiris” were renewed for him, and all the operations of his mummification in secret, then his bandages were put on, and the whole earth was (then) in a just distress, fed by disagreements.[2]  Nothing of the kind was done for those of ancient times until today like (what was done for) his altars, temples, and titles, and, because he breathes in the breath of life, his glory grows in the hearts of men.  The one who is the Lord of Hermopolis, the master of the divine words, Thoth, regenerates his ba like […] in their time.  By night and day, at any and every instant, the love that he inspires is in the hearts of his faithful, the respect that he inspires [is in…] of all […] and the praise which he excites is widespread among the men who venerate him.  His rightful place is in the Court of the Justified and of the Perfect Lights which are in the following of Osiris within the sacred world of the Master of Eternity; and a triumph has been accorded to him; they (the justified &c) have established his renown on the earth and their heart delights in him.  (When) he goes to any place that he wishes, the doorkeepers of the Afterlife say to him “Praise be to you!”  They pull back the bolts and open the doors before him, and (this) every day for millions and millions of years (for) [this will be] the duration of his existence […] ? […]

That’s quite a series of statements about someone who had no known quality to deserve such praise, other than being the “favourite” of an emperor.

It is a pity that the meaning of the text is as uncertain as it is.  It is not certain, I learn, that the tomb of Antinous was in Rome, rather than in Antinoupolis.  It all depends on how you read the text.

The obelisk of Antinous on the Pincian Hill in Rome.  By Carole Raddato.
The obelisk of Antinous on the Pincian Hill in Rome. By Carole Raddato.
  1. [1] The shrines of Osiris in Egypt, each preserving a relic of the god.
  2. [2] This is Grenier’s reading of the glyphs; but apparently there is wide disagreement as to how they should be read.

“In this sign shall you conquer… No, not in that sign. In *this* sign!”

Among the remains of Latin antiquity to reach us is a volume known today as the Panegyrici Latini, or Latin Panegyrics.  These are twelve orations delivered to emperors, nearly all from the late empire, but also including the (unreadable) panegyric for Trajan by Pliny the Younger.  They are, in short, examples of flowery, professional-grade bum-sucking and arse-licking from the late empire.  But of course they inevitably have historical value, as the flatterer recounts the deeds of the emperor in question.

Then again, the account is inevitably sanitised.  Uncomfortable facts are glossed over.

The Latin text of the 1874 Teubner edition may be found at Archive.org here.  An English translation does exist, by C. E. V. Nixon &c, under the title of In Praise of Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini (1994), preview here.

Panegyric 6 was delivered before the emperor Constantine in 310 AD, or so it is believed, and consists of the usual flattery, ending in a plea for a building programme in the speaker’s home town of Autun, to construct a circus, basilica, and so on.

It is best known, however, for some remarks which the orator makes about a visit by Constantine to the temple of Apollo, somewhere in Gaul.  Let’s hear them:

For on the day after that news had been received and you had undertaken the labor of double stages on your journey, you learnt that all the waves had subsided, and that the all-pervading calm which you had left behind had been restored. Fortune herself so ordered this matter that the happy outcome of your affairs prompted you to convey to the immortal gods what you had vowed at the very spot where you had turned aside toward the most beautiful temple in the whole world, or rather, to the deity made manifest, as you saw. For you saw, I believe, O Constantine, your Apollo, accompanied by Victory, offering you laurel wreaths, each one of which carries a portent of thirty years. For this is the number of human ages which are owed to you without fail—beyond the old age of a Nestor. And—now why do I say “I believe”?—you saw, and recognized yourself in the likeness of him to whom the divine songs of the bards had prophesied that rule over the whole world was due. And this I think has now happened, since you are, O Emperor, like he, youthful, joyful, a bringer of health and very handsome. Rightly, therefore, have you honored those most venerable shrines with such great treasures that they do not miss their old ones, any longer. Now may all the temples be seen to beckon you to them, and particularly our Apollo, whose boiling waters punish perjuries—which ought to be especially hateful to you.

Immortal gods, when will you grant that day on which this most manifestly present god, with peace reigning everywhere, may visit those groves of Apollo as well, both sacred shrines and steaming mouths of springs? Their bubbling waters cloudy with gentle warmth seem to wish to smile, Constantine, at your gaze, and to insert themselves within your lips.

You will certainly marvel at that seat of your divinity too, and its waters warmed without any trace of soil on fire, which has no bitterness of taste or exhalation, but a purity of draught and smell such as you find in icy springs. And there you will grant favors, and establish privileges, and at last restore my native place because of your veneration of that very spot.[1]

Some suppose that this statement about seeing laurel wreaths at the temple of Apollo was a vision by Constantine, along the lines of the more famous In hoc signo vinces.  Recorded by Lactantius in De mortibus and Eusebius in the Vita Constantini, the latter records how Constantine saw a vision in the sky, of a Chi-Rho, the monogram of Christ, and marked the shields of his soldiers with that emblem before his battle with Maxentius.  The thinking is, therefore, that Constantine was a bit prone to visions!

But … I didn’t see any mention of a vision in the account, until it was drawn to my attention.  At first reading, I visualised the emperor seeing the statues of Apollo and Victory, each bearing laurels, put their by the priests, who acted out a little play, that the god was offering laurels to the victorious emperor.  Their  motive is obvious; to curry favour, as a certain sort of priest does.  The emperor is to be flattered that he looks like a god – easily understandable if a cult statue is involved.

I believe that there is an enormous literature on this “pagan vision”.  But … I am uncomfortably reminded that attacks on the Christianity of Constantine were made in profusion in the 1840’s, for political reasons.

Cameron and Hall, in their magnificent translation of Eusebius’ Vita Constantini, recount how those who sought to overthrow the Austrian and Russian emperors, made attacks on Constantine.  For these polities drew their ideological legitimacy from the concept of Christian empire, reaching back to Constantine.  If Constantine could be shown to be a pagan, that would help to overthrow the self-belief of the hated Hapsburg despotism.  Casting doubt on the accounts of Eusebius was part of this politics.

Knowing this, I feel wary.  I really don’t think that Constantine’s dedication to promoting Christianity is doubtful.  In the early years of his rule, and especially in the west, he had to humour the pagan establishment.  Surely this will be another example?  It is not, after all, Constantine or one of his circle who is making these claims.

But I have some doubts that anyone would describe this as a vision, were it not for the fame of In hoc signo vinces.

It is one of the curses of ancient history, that people project Christianised ideas onto ancient paganism.  Ancient paganism was not a form of Christianity-lite.  It was its own thing, and had its own nature, and approach.

I have yet to see any example where analogies with Christian history or practice illuminate any element of pagan history.  But I have seen many where it darkened, obscured, or confused the narrative.

The account of the panegyrist is certainly interesting.  But let’s be wary here.

  1. [1] Pan.Lat. VI, c.21, v.4, , Nixon, p.248-251.

There is nothing like a Dane… Frederic L. Norden at Antinoe in 1737

Another early traveller who voyaged up the Nile in 1737-8[1] was the Danish naval officer, Capt. Frederic L. Norden.  His Voyage d’Egypte et de Nubie, vol. 2, Copenhagen (1755) describes his trip, and mentions Antinoupolis during the account for Tuesday 26 November 1737.[2]  Sadly it does not give us much.

Here is an excerpt of plate 79, showing Antinoe.  Sadly this section of a river  map is all that Nordern gives us by way of illustration.

His written note, on p.131, gives us no more than Fr. Siccard did almost a century earlier.

On the other side of the river, with its mosque, stands the town of Sheikh Abadé, once Antinoé, capital of the Lesser Thebaid.  Various antiquities can be seen, which are not built of the enormous stones of which the buildings of the ancient Egyptians are composed; but rather with stones of moderate size, like those used to build the triumphal arches in Rome.  Among the ruins are three large gates, the first of which is adorned with fluted columns of the Corinthian order, the other two, which correspond to the first, have much less ornamentation.  These ruins of ancient Antinoé are at the foot of the mountains, and close to the Nile.  The walls of the houses were built of brick, which are still as red today as if they had been recently manufactured.  It looks as if the village of Rodda, mentioned a little earlier, was the Mokkias of Antinoé.[3]

Other than the remark about the bricks, we learn little that is new.  But I suspect that Mr Norden did not step off his boat; or not much.

The illustrations in general look as if they reproduce the sketches made on the spot.  Many are just  landscapes from the Nile, but the most interesting are from Luxor, and after.  Here is one of Luxor temple, as he saw it.

Frederic Norden, Luxor Temple, 1737
Frederic Norden, Luxor Temple, 1737

The statues were buried up to their breasts in debris at this time, of course.

An interesting book, but not of great value for our knowledge of Antinoupolis.

  1. [1] The date is from Wikipedia, so beware.
  2. [2] A 1757 English version is online here, but omits much.  Antinoe is vol.2, p.28.
  3. [3] “De l’autre côté du fleuve, s’élève avec sa mosquée la ville de SCHECH ABADE, autrefois Antinoé, capitale de la Basse-Thebaîde. On y apperçoit diverses antiquités, où l’on n’a pas employé de ces pierres énormes, dont les edifices des anciens Egyptiens font composes; mais des pierres d’une grandeur médiocre, & à peu près telles que celles dont on a fait usage pour bâtir les Arcs de triomphe â Rome. On remarque principalement, parmi lés ruines, trois grandes portes, dont la première est ornée de colonnes de l’ordre Corinthien, cannelées: les deux autres, qui répondent à la première, ont beaucoup moins d’ornemens. Ces ruines de l’ancienne Antinoé sont au pied des Montagnes, & voisines du Nil. Les murailles des maisons avoient été construites de briques, qui se trouvent encore aujourdhui aussi rouges, que si on ne faisait que de les fabriquer. Il y a grande apparence, que le village de Rodda, dont fai parlé un peu plus haut, était le Mokkias d’Antinoé.

Another patristic source on Antinous and Antinoupolis

At the end of the 2nd century, Clement of Alexandria mentions the deification of Antinous in his Against the Heathens c.4 (online here):

Another new deity was added to the number with great religious pomp in Egypt, and was near being so in Greece by the king of the Romans, who deified Antinous, whom he loved as Zeus loved Ganymede, and whose beauty was of a very rare order: for lust is not easily restrained, destitute as it is of fear; and men now observe the sacred nights of Antinous, the shameful character of which the lover who spent them with him knew well.

Why reckon him among the gods, who is honoured on account of uncleanness? And why do you command him to be lamented as a son? And why should you enlarge on his beauty? Beauty blighted by vice is loathsome. Do not play the tyrant, O man, over beauty, nor offer foul insult to youth in its bloom. Keep beauty pure, that it may be truly fair. Be king over beauty, not its tyrant. Remain free, and then I shall acknowledge thy beauty, because thou hast kept its image pure: then will I worship that true beauty which is the archetype of all who are beautiful.

Now the grave of the debauched boy is the temple and town of Antinous. For just as temples are held in reverence, so also are sepulchres, and pyramids, and mausoleums, and labyrinths, which are temples of the dead, as the others are sepulchres of the gods.

He then goes on to quote the Sybilline oracles.  The statement that Antinous was buried at Antinoupolis, if not rhetorical, is interesting.


Another picture of the vanished Caesarium at Armant

The temple of Caesarion at Armant is long gone, but early travellers made drawings of it.  Today I found another one, in J.H. Allan’s A pictorial tour in the Mediterranean, 1843, facing p.68.  Here it is.

Armant, temple of Caesarion.  J. H. Allan, 1843
Armant, temple of Caesarion. J. H. Allan, 1843

The “Chronicle of Alexandria” – a will o’ the wisp?

Reading Jomard’s description of Antinoe, among the authors he lists a “Chronique d’Alexandrie” as an ancient work.  His reference is only “Chronic. Alexandrin. p.598″, which is less than helpful.  But what on earth is this work?

A google search reveals little for “Chronicle of Alexandria”.  But the French version took me to this link which read:

Chronique d’Alexandrie, compilation d’auteurs grecs faite sous l’empereur Héraclius, au règne duquel elle s’arrête. Le manuscrit, découvert en Sicile vers le milieu du XVIe siècle, portait en tête le nom de Pierre d’Alexandrie. Il a été imprimé en 1615 par les soins du jésuite Raderus.

I.e. “Chronicle of Alexandria”, compilation of Greek authors made under the emperor Heraclius, in whose reign it stops.  The manuscript, discovered in Sicily around the middle of the 16th century, bears at the head the name of Peter of Alexandria.  It was printed in 1615 by the efforts of the Jesuit Raderus.

That doesn’t ring any bells at all either.

Searching for “Peter of Alexandria” led me down a false trail.  It seems that there was an otherwise unknown 10th century Middle Byzantine author of this name.  I am indebted to Warren Treadgold, The Middle Byzantine Historians, (2013), p.123, for information about him (I have omitted all but the first footnote).  Although he is not our man, let us by all means learn more:

Among authentic histories, around 900 an otherwise unknown Peter of Alexandria wrote a short chronicle entitled Brief Survey of the Times from Adam to the Present.6 It concludes with the reign of Leo VI, but, after recording the corulers and lengths of reigns of previous emperors, it fails to mention either Leo’s son Constantine VII or the length of Leo’s reign. Peter seems therefore to have composed his Brief Survey between Leo’s accession, in 886, and Constantine’s coronation, in 908. In his title Peter describes himself as “Christian and orthodox, of Alexandria,” without mentioning his profession or any rank in the Church or bureaucracy. He was a Chalcedonian iconophile, because he calls Michael III and Theodora orthodox. Yet if Peter had been writing for the few Greek readers in Alexandria’s small and isolated Melkite community, he would scarcely have needed to describe himself as “of Alexandria” and would probably have written in Arabic and concentrated on Egypt. Especially because he seems to have been well informed about Byzantine history up to 886, Peter was probably a young man who left his home for Constantinople to seek his fortune by writing history, just as George Syncellus had come from Palestine and Theognostus the Grammarian had probably come from Sicily. Whether Peter was rewarded for his work in some way we cannot say.

Peter’s text fills thirty-one and a half pages in our sole remaining manuscript. More than half, about sixteen pages, deals with the time of the Book of Genesis, of which about six and a half pages list the peoples descended from the three sons of Noah. Peter covers the rest of the time up to Augustus in about seven pages, the Roman empire up to Diocletian in about three and a half pages, and the Byzantine empire from Constantine I to Leo VI in about five pages. Consisting largely of tables, the Brief Survey differs somewhat from other Greek histories that survive today. Besides the Bible, Peter cites Aristobulus of Cassandria, Josephus, Julius Africanus, Eusebius of Caesarea, Socrates of Constantinople, and Evagrius; but, as often happens in Byzantine chronicles, these citations may be borrowed, and in the case of the long-lost works of Aristobulus and Africanus they doubtless are. Here Peter, like George Syncellus and George the Monk, seems to have made direct or indirect use of the lost chronicle of Panodorus of Alexandria, because Peter adopts Panodorus’ date of 5493 B.C. for the Creation instead of the more common date of Annianus. Although Peter appears not to have used the chronicles of George Syncellus and Theophanes, he does seem to have used Nicephorus’ Concise Chronography, probably in one of its later versions.

Peter consulted at least one more source, however, apart from contemporaries he met at Constantinople. Unlike other known Greek chroniclers, he records not just how many years each emperor reigned but how many times each one assumed the consulship. Like Peter’s lengths of imperial reigns, his numbers of imperial consulships are often wrong but not so inaccurate that he could simply have made them up. Since the “Paschal Chronicle” records consuls’ names, it could have been used to compute the numbers of the emperors’ consulships until its original ending date of 630; but it seems not to have been Peter’s source, because its errors differ from his. Peter appears to be our only source for the numbers of imperial consulships from 630 to 886, which he presumably took from official records, since he would hardly have risked the scorn of informed contemporaries by making needless fabrications. Perhaps he became interested in the consulship when Leo VI abolished it, sometime before 899. Though a minor work, Peter’s Brief Survey preserves unique evidence for imperial consulships, and probably some unique material from the lost chronicle of Panodorus, apparently still to be found at Constantinople in Peter’s time.

6. See Hunger, Hochsprachliche profane Literatur I, p. 360, Kazhdan et al., ODB III, p. 1638, Samodurova, “Хроника” (with the Greek text), and PmbZ I, Prolegomena, pp. 26–27.

Sadly “Samodurova” does not seem to be accessible, so I don’t know how any of us can read this work.  Anyway, it did not seem to be our source.

In the end, I searched instead for the editor, “Raderus”.  This proved to be Matthaus Rader.  When I looked at works by him in the OCLC, I found this:

Chronicon Alexandrinum idemque astronomicum et ecclesiasticum : (vulgò Siculum seu Fasti Siculi)

Author: Chronicon Paschale; Georgius, Pisida.; Matthaus Rader

Publisher: Monachii. : Ex formis Annæ Bergiæ viduæ., M. DC. XV. [1615]

In other words … the “Chronicon Alexandrinum” of 1615 is actually the work generally known today as the Chronicon Paschale!

Rader’s edition of 1615 can be found here.  And, on p.598 of the Greek text of the Chronicle, with facing Latin, we find:

Olympiad 225

Ind. III.  Hadrian for the 5th time, Severus for the 2nd and Augurinus were consuls.

Ind. IV. Hadrian for the 5th time, Abiola and Pansa were consuls.

When these were consuls, Hadrian travelled in Egypt and founded Antinoe of the Thebaid on 3rd day before the Kalends of November.

Some patristic sources on Antinous and Antinoupolis

In his article on the city of Antinoupolis, Jomard quotes a few authors relevant to the story of the wretched Antinous, and the city that bore his name.  I thought that I would give a few here.

Justin Martyr, First Apology, c. 29, writes:

And again [we fear to expose children], lest some of them be not picked up, but die, and we become murderers. But whether we marry, it is only that we may bring up children; or whether we decline marriage, we live continently.

And that you may understand that promiscuous intercourse is not one of our mysteries, one of our number a short time ago presented to Felix the governor in Alexandria a petition, craving that permission might be given to a surgeon to make him an eunuch. For the surgeons there said that they were forbidden to do this without the permission of the governor. And when Felix absolutely refused to sign such a permission, the youth remained single, and was satisfied with his own approving conscience, and the approval of those who thought as he did.

And it is not out of place, we think, to mention here Antinous, who was alive but lately, and whom all were prompt, through fear, to worship as a god, though they knew both who he was and what was his origin.[1]

The statement that everyone worshipped Antinous through fear, even though they knew who he was and what he was, is telling.

Jerome, Against Jovinian II, c.7, writes:

Almost every city in Egypt venerates its own beasts and monsters, and whatever be the object of worship, that they think inviolable and sacred. Hence it is that their towns also are named after animals Leonto, Cyno, Lyco, Busyris, Thmuis, which is, being interpreted, a he-goat.

And to make us understand what sort of gods Egypt always welcomed, one of their cities was recently called Antinous after Hadrian’s favourite. You see clearly then that not only in eating, but also in burial, in wedlock, and in every department of life, each race follows its own practice and peculiar usages, and takes that for the law of nature which is most familiar to it. [2]

Athanasius, Contra Gentes, part 1, c.9, writes:

But others, straining impiety to the utmost, have deified the motive of the invention of these things and of their own wickedness, namely, pleasure and lust, and worship them, such as their Eros, and the Aphrodite at Paphos. While some of them, as if vying with them in depravation, have ventured to erect into gods their rulers or even their sons, either out of honour for their princes, or from fear of their tyranny, such as the Cretan Zeus, of such renown among them, and the Arcadian Hermes; and among the Indians Dionysus, among the Egyptians Isis and Osiris and Horus, and in our own time Antinous, favourite of Hadrian, Emperor of the Romans, whom, although men know he was a mere man, and not a respectable man, but on the contrary, full of licentiousness, yet they worship for fear of him that enjoined it.

For Hadrian having come to sojourn in the land of Egypt, when Antinous the minister of his pleasure died, ordered him to be worshipped; being indeed himself in love with the youth even after his death, but for all that offering a convincing exposure of himself, and a proof against all idolatry, that it was discovered among men for no other reason than by reason of the lust of them that imagined it. According as the wisdom of God testifies beforehand when it says, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication.”[3]

Origen, Contra Celsum, book 3, , writes:

But as he next introduces the case of the favourite of Adrian (I refer to the accounts regarding the youth Antinous, and the honours paid him by the inhabitants of the city of Antinous in Egypt), and imagines that the honour paid to him falls little short of that which we render to Jesus, let us show in what a spirit of hostility this statement is made.

For what is there in common between a life lived among the favourites of Adrian, by one who did not abstain even from unnatural lusts, and that of the venerable Jesus, against whom even they who brought countless other charges, and who told so many falsehoods, were not able to allege that He manifested, even in the slightest degree, any tendency to what was licentious?

Nay, further, if one were to investigate, in a spirit of truth and impartiality, the stories relating to Antinous, he would find that it was due to the magical arts and rites of the Egyptians that there was even the appearance of his performing anything (marvellous) in the city which bears his name, and that too only after his decease,-an effect which is said to have been produced in other temples by the Egyptians, and those who are skilled in the arts which they practise.

For they set up in certain places demons claiming prophetic or healing power, and which frequently torture those who seem to have committed any mistake about ordinary kinds of food, or about touching the dead body of a man, that they may have the appearance of alarming the uneducated multitude.

Of this nature is the being that is considered to be a god in Antinoopolis in Egypt, whose (reputed) virtues are the lying inventions of some who live by the gain derived therefrom; while others, deceived by the demon placed there, and others again convicted by a weak conscience, actually think that they are paying a divine penalty inflicted by Antinous.

Of such a nature also are the mysteries which they perform, and the seeming predictions which they utter.

Far different from such are those of Jesus. For it was no company of sorcerers, paying court to a king or ruler at his bidding, who seemed to have made him a god; but the Architect of the universe Himself, in keeping with the marvellously persuasive power of His words, commended Him as worthy of honour, not only to those men who were well disposed, but to demons also, and other unseen powers, which even at the present time show that they either fear the name of Jesus as that of a being of superior power, or reverentially accept Him as their legal ruler. For if the commendation had not been given Him by God, the demons would not have withdrawn from those whom they had assailed, in obedience to the mere mention of His name.

XXXVII. The Egyptians, then, having been taught to worship Antinous, will, if you compare him with Apollo or Zeus, endure such a comparison, Antinous being magnified in their estimation through being classed with these deities; for Celsus is clearly convicted of falsehood when he says, “that they will not endure his being compared with Apollo or Zeus.” Whereas Christians (who have learned that their eternal life consists in knowing the only true God, who is over all, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent; and who have learned also that all the gods of the heathen are greedy demons, which flit around sacrifices and blood, and other sacrificial accompaniments, in order to deceive those who have not taken refuge with the God who is over all, but that the divine and holy angels of God are of a different nature and will from all the demons on earth, and that they are known to those exceedingly few persons who have carefully and intelligently investigated these matters) will not endure a comparison to be made between them and Apollo or Zeus, or any being worshipped with odour and blood and sacrifices; some of them, so acting from their extreme simplicity, not being able to give a reason for their conduct, but sincerely observing the precepts which they have received; others, again, for reasons not to be lightly regarded, nay, even of a profound description, and (as a Greek would say) drawn from the inner nature of things; … [4]

Epiphanius, Panarion, writes, discussing the various customs of the Greeks:[5]

But if I were to describe the woman ecstatics in Memphis < and > Heliopolis who bewitch themselves with drums and flutes, and the dancing girls, and the performers at the triennial festival— and the women at Bathys and in the temple of Menuthis who have abandoned shame and womanliness—to what burdens for the tongue, or what a long composition I could commit myself, by adding their countless number [itself] to the number I have already given! (2) For even though I were to take on the enormous task I would leave our comprehension of these things incomplete, since scripture says that there are “young women without number.”48(3) The rites at Sais and Pelusium, at Bubastis and Abydus, the temples of Antinous and the mysteries there. The rites at Pharbetis, those of Mendesius’ goat, all the mysteries in Busiris, all the ones in Sebennytus, all the ones in Diospolis, where they sometimes perform rites for the ass in the name of Seth, or Typho, if you please, while others < worship* > Tithambro, or Hecate, and others are initiates of Senephthy, others of Thermuthi, others of Isis. (4) And how many things of this sort can be said! < If one tries > to name them specifically it will consume a great deal of time. The entire subject will be summed up by the phrase, “young women without number.”

This reminds me of the 6th century life of Severus of Antioch, written by Zacharias Rhetor, where visits to the temple at Menouthis for problems of “fertility” did indeed involve sleazy “priestesses”.

It’s not really very much, is it?  But there are still a few to go.

  1. [1] ANF 1, here.
  2. [2] NPNF2, vol. 6, here.
  3. [3] NPNF2, vol. 4, here.
  4. [4] ANF8, here.
  5. [5] Vol. 1, p.669 of the English translation by F. Williams.

The Antinoupolis inscription of Alexander Severus, in the “Description de l’Egypte”

We’ve reviewed the earlier visitors to Antinoupolis.  It’s time to go back to the Description de l’Egypte, made by Napoleon’s engineers, and the detailed description of the city made by them.

Jomard, The triumphal arch at Antinopolis / Insine

In fact it’s a relief to do so.  The shoddy engravings of Paul Lucas are not to be compared to the excellence of the material prepared by the French military engineers.  Compare the picture above of the “triumphal arch” with Perry’s reprint of Lucas’ miserable image, inaccurate because of damage even in Perry’s day:

Perry / Lucas, "Triumphal arch" of Antinoe
Perry / Lucas, “Triumphal arch” of Antinoe

There is rather a lot of material about Antinoupolis in the Description, and all of it is by Jomard.  The material is in three places:

  • There is a details 41 page description of the city in Book 02 (1818), Volume II – Antiquités, Descriptions.  GoogleGoogleHeidelberg.
  • There is a bunch of maps, plans and drawings, plates 53-61, in Book 14 (1809), Volume IV – Planches : Antiquités.  Heidelberg.  Toulouse.
  • There are several pages in the same volume describing the plates, with detailed measurements and orientation, starting here (the pages are helpfully unnumbered).
  • Finally Jomard also discusses the inscription on the column of Alexander Severus elsewhere.  At the foot of p.22 of the description of the city, he adds unhelpfully, “Voyez mon Mémoire sur les anciennes inscriptions recueillies en Égypte, A. tom. II, et la pl. 56, A. vol. V”.  Indeed we would, monsieur, if we could locate so vaguely described a work.  (Update: in fact the “memoire” is a paper in the same vol. 2 as the 41 page description; but says nothing useful.  The “plate 56” is in vol. 5 of the Description here, and contains nothing less than a drawing of the inscription!  I add it at the end.)

At the cross-roads in the centre of the city, there stood four columns, on bases.  An inscription on each of the bases recorded that the pillars were erected by Alexander Severus, although only two bases remained by modern times.  Here is Jomard’s plate of the cross-roads:

Jomard, Description de l'Egypte, plates vol. 4, plate 59. The column of Alexander Severus at Antinoupolis /Antinoe / Insine/ Sheikh Abade.
Jomard, Description de l’Egypte, plates vol. 4, plate 59. The column of Alexander Severus at Antinoupolis /Antinoe / Insine/ Sheikh Abade.

I wrote here about Richard Pococke’s publication of the inscription.  But Jomard makes a much better job of it.  In his description in vol. 2, p.22, he gives this image of what he could actually see on-site:

Jomard, Inscription of Alexander Severus
Jomard, Inscription of Alexander Severus

And then this reconstruction with Latin (!) translation.


I.e. “For good luck.  To the emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander, Pious, Lucky, Augustus; and to Julia Mammaea the Augusta, his mother and also mother of the army camp, for safety and their perpetual stability, and of all their house, by Mevius Honorius …  prefect of Egypt … [i.e. at his order] … of the new Greeks of Antinoe, Aurelius Origenes being Prytaneus and Apollonius the senator being gymnasiarch, on account of the [triumphal] crowns that also by the action of the senate of Athens, in the 11th year …”

Jomard tells us that the inscription appeared on all four column bases, facing the crossroads, and was of 14 lines.  It was carefully engraved on the flat spaces left for it.

It’s all gone now.  Blown up, smashed to pieces, and used for building materials by the local inhabitants.

There are people who take things so much for granted that they scoff at scholarly literature as simply making copies on paper of what can be seen more easily in the round on the ground.  That is, of course, exactly what the literature does.  For what is on the ground can vanish.  That’s why it has to be recorded, in multiple copies.

Thanks to the effort of Edme François Jomard the column and the inscription of Alexander Severus is preserved for us all today.

UPDATE: I finally located Jomard’s drawing of the inscription, in vol. 5, plate 56, of the Description de l’Egypte (online here).  The plate contains a bunch of inscriptions.  Two, numbers 18 and 19, are labelled as from Antinoupolis.  Here they are:


Presumably these are transcribed from the two pedestals.

From my diary

I’ve had to change the WordPress theme again.  The one that I was using simply doesn’t display correctly.  Which is worrying, when you consider that it was an official theme, Twenty-Fifteen.  I’ve switched to Twenty-Sixteen, but I’m not very happy with it either.  I’ll have to change it when I get more time.

It’s Friday night, and I have been trying to clear my inbox.  I need to do a bit more on Antinoupolis, from the Description de l’Egypte, and then that will be that.  Phew!