‘Ancient’ texts composed in modern times

Before the internet, people could circulate documents containing quotations from ancient writers in reasonable safety.  It was very hard for anyone to check them.  This difficulty was enhanced by the tendency of these collections of quotations to be vague about the precise reference. 

But the internet has thrown light into quite a few dark corners.   It has also brought to light some curiosities.  I came across one such today, posted in a forum by an ignorant person who knew no more than that he had found it online.  These are supposed to be ancient texts about the cult of Mithras.  After Strabo and Statius there were these:

3. Lucius Agrius (ca.107bce-41bce) Roman soldier and Mithrasic High Priest (ca.67bce- 41bce)

“Among these soldiers was a strong and mighty warrior, whose personality drew many of the Cilicians to him. By enquiry, I discovered that he was a holy man, and was therefore sought after as a man of wisdom. He led the Cilicians in Prayer at dawn, and again at mid-day and at dusk, never failing to praise his God, Whom he called Mithras.”

– from “The Conversion of Lucius Agrius”, paragraph 2, written ca.67bce. Lucius Agrius was a soldier in Pompey’s army and became the first Roman to serve Mithras, converted by Cilician immigrants to Italy after their defeat by Pompey’s army. Lucius Agrius served as the first Roman High Priest, and his book is included in the Mithrasic Canon of Scripture.

4. Marcellinus (ca.95bce-33bce) Roman soldier and Mithrasic High Priest (41bce-33bce)

“…and the soldiers of the Faith vow to be chaste for months at a time, in dedication to the Lord. And when we marry, we marry women of pure heart, quiet disposition, and clean spirit, for women of ill repute are despised by the men of the Mysteries.”

-from “The Fragment of the Letter of Marcellinus”, paragraph 1, written between 41bce and 33bce. This, too, is included in the Mithrasic Canon of Scripture. Only this and three other paragraphs of this letter survive.

Whatever are we to make of these oddities?  I’ve never heard of either text — indeed my first reaction is that they are fakes –, and they are not referred to in any textbook on Mithras I have ever encountered.  Much of the comment is plainly by someone very, very ignorant.

The second of these items gives no results aside from the forum post.  The first gives four web pages like this one.  It’s hard to feel any confidence in such material.

In Google books I was able to find a reference to an inscription by a certain Lucius Agrius Calendio, from 162 AD, as dedicator of an inscription in a Mithraeum in Ostia.  A search of Clauss-Slaby reveals the inscription is only “Soli Invict(o) Mit(hrae) d(onum) d(edit) L(ucius) Agrius Calendio” (“L. Agrius gave a gift to the unconquered sun Mithras”).

It’s hard to imagine that any of the people quoting this have the wit to invent it.  Possibly there is some, now forgotten, novel, in which this material appears?  But if so, there is no trace of it online.


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