Go tell the Spartans: Plutarch’s “Moralia” online

I had not realised that so much of Plutarch was already online.  The excellent Attalus has compiled an index of the essays in the Moralia which are online, thanks to Bill Thayer at Lacus Curtius and others.

Among these is the Sayings of the Spartans.  These are easy to read, and worth reading.  Here are a few.

Once upon a time the Ephors said to Agis the son of Archidamus, “Take the young men and march against the country of this man here. He will himself guide you to its citadel.” “And how, sirs,” said Agis, “is it right to entrust so many youths to a man who is betraying his own country?”

Being asked what form of instruction was most in vogue in Sparta, he said, “Knowledge of how to rule and to be ruled.”He said that the Spartans did not ask ‘how many are the enemy,’ but ‘where are they?’

When someone inquired how many Spartans there were, he said, “Enough to keep all bad men away.”As he was going about among the walls of the Corinthians and observed that they were high and towering and vast in extent, ehe said, “What women live in that place?”

He came alone on an embassy to Philip [of Macedon], and when Philip exclaimed, “What is this? Have you come all alone?”, he said, “Yes, for I came to only one man.”

Archidamidas, in answer to a man who commended Charillus because he was gentle towards all alike, said, “And how could any man be justly commended if he be gentle towards the wicked?”

Archidamus, the son of Agesilaus, when Philip, after the battle of Chaeroneia, wrote him a somewhat haughty letter, wrote in reply, “If you should measure your own shadow, you would not find that it has become any greater than before you were victorious.”

Being asked how much land the Spartans controlled, he said, “As much as they can reach with the spear.”

When someone said to Astycratidas, after the defeat of Agis their king in the battle against Antipater in the vicinity of Megalopolis, “What will you do, men of Sparta? Will you be subject to the Macedonians? he said, “What! Is there any way in which Antipater can forbid us to die fighting for Sparta?”

Damis, with reference to the instructions sent from Alexander that they should pass a formal vote deifying him, said, “We concede to Alexander that, if he so wishes, he may be called a god.”

When Alexander caused proclamation to be made at Olympia that all exiles might return to their own land, save only the Thebans, Eudamidas said, “The proclamation for you, men of Thebes, is unfortunate, but very complimentary; for it is you only that Alexander fears.”

Herondas was at Athens when a man there was found guilty on a charge of not having any occupation, and when he heard of this, he bade them point out to him the man who had been convicted of the freeman’s crime!

When Leo, the son of Eurycratidas, was asked what kind of a city one could live in so as to live most safely, he said, “Where the inhabitants shall possess neither too much nor too little, and where right shall be strong and wrong shall be weak.”

Seeing that the runners at Olympia were eager to gain some advantage in starting, he said, “How much more eager are the runners for a quick start than for fair play!”

Xerxes wrote to Leonidas, “It is possible for you, by not fighting against God but by ranging yourself on my side, to be the sole ruler of Greece.” But he wrote in reply, “If you had any knowledge of the noble things of life, you would refrain from coveting others’ possessions; but for me to die for Greece is better than to be the sole ruler over the people of my race.”When Xerxes wrote again, “Hand over your arms,” he wrote in reply, “Come and take them.”

When someone was reviling Lysander, he said, “Talk right on, you miserable foreigner, talk, and don’t leave out anything if thus you may be able to empty your soul of the vicious notions with which you seem to be filled.”

The suitors of his daughters, when after his death he was found to be a poor man, renounced their obligations; but the Ephors punished them because when they thought he was rich they courted his favour, but when they found from his poverty that he was just and honest they disdained him.

When he [Paedaretus] was not chosen as one of the three hundred, which was rated as the highest honour in the State, he went away cheerful and smiling; but when the Ephors called him back, and asked why he was laughing, he said, “Because I congratulate the State for having three hundred citizens better than myself.”

Pleistoanax, the son of Pausanias, when an Attic orator called the Spartans unlearned, said, “You are quite right, for we alone of the Greeks have learned no evil from you.”

Some people, encountering Spartans on the road, said, “You are in luck, for robbers have just left this place,” but they said, “Hell, no, but it is they who are in luck for not encountering us.”

A Spartan being asked what he knew, said, “How to be free.”

While the games were being held at Olympia, an old man was desirous of seeing them, but could find no seat. As he went to place after place, he met with insults and jeers, and nobody made room for him. But when he came opposite the Spartans, all the boys and many of the men arose and yielded their places. Whereupon the assembled multitude of Greeks expressed their approbation of the custom by applause, and commended the action beyond measure; but old man, shaking his head grey-haired and grey-bearded and with tears in his eyes, said, “Alas for the evil days! Because all the Greeks know what is right and fair, but the Spartans alone practise it.”

This is but a small selection.  All praise to Bill Thayer for typing this up and making it available online!


Hunting the wild quote 2: Metrodorus of Chios talks about life on other planets

In the comments on my last post, commenter ikkoki offered this quotation from Metrodorus of Chios (4th c. BC):

Also I remember that quote [from Xenophanes] coming up especially in conjunction with Metrodorus of Chios (4th century BC) of how “expecting life to exist only on Earth is like seeding a field and expecting only one plant to sprout” whenever alien life comes in the news.


Metrodorus has a wikipedia article, the quote I gave you before according to the English wikipedia is from Aëtius, Placita i.5.4. According to the Greek wikipedia he was first published in “Griechische Anthology”, Editions H. Stadtmüll, Leipzig 1894-1896 and he was translated in English in Loeb in 1915-1917.

A search in Google on the quote produces a number of versions.  Popular Science in 1984 gives us this:

The belief that intelligent life might exist elsewhere in the universe … was not subjected to a truly scientific enquiry until recently.  Yet it undoubtedly antedates recorded history and was stated as early as the fourth century B.C.  It was then that Metrodorus of Chios wrote in his book On Nature that “to suppose that earth is the only populated world in infinite space is as absurd as to believe that in an entire field sown with millet, only one grain will grow.”

Several people reproduce the quote online.  Others prefer this, from the Internet Encyclopedia of Science:

To consider the Earth as the only populated world in infinite space is as absurd as to assert that in an entire field of millet, only one grain will grow.

As with so much that calls itself “scientific” online, no reference for the claim is given on that site.

By chance I now find “book 2 of Plutarch, On Nature” online here.  In chapter 1 it says:

Pythagoras was the first philosopher that called the world [Greek omitted], from the order and beauty of it; for so that word signifies. Thales and his followers say the world is one. Democritus, Epicurus, and their scholar Metrodorus affirm that there are infinite worlds in an infinite space, for that infinite vacuum in its whole extent contains them. Empedocles, that the circle which the sun makes in its motion circumscribes the world, and that circle is the utmost bound of the world. Seleucus, that the world knows no limits. Diogenes, that the universe is infinite, but this world is finite. The Stoics make a difference between that which is called the universe, and that which is called the whole world;—the universe is the infinite space considered with the vacuum, the vacuity being removed gives the right conception of the world; so that the universe and the world are not the same thing.

In chapter 15 he also says:

Anaximander, Metrodorus of Chios, and Crates assign to the sun the superior place, after him the moon, after them the fixed stars and planets.

But I then find this book which tells me that “Pseudo-Plutarch (Aetius), Placita Philosophorum, reports that Anaximander, Metrodorus of Chios and Crates placed the sun highest of all, then the moon, then the planets and fixed stars.”  Going back to the “Plutarch” and up a level here I find the work is in fact “Sentiments concerning nature with which philosophers were delighted”, which sounds like Placita Philosophorum to me, and “Text derived from The complete works of Plutarch : essays and miscellanies, New York : Crowell, 1909. Vol.III” which must be the Moralia or “ethical essays”, and can be found on Google books here.  But if the Wikipedia article tells us that this work, book 1, 5:4 contains our quote, it must be here.

To Metrodorus it seems absurd, that in a large field one only stalk should grow, and in an infinite space one only world exist; and that this universe is infinite is manifest by this, that there is an infinity of causes. Now if this world be finite and the causes producing it infinite, it follows that the worlds likewise be infinite; for where all causes concur, there the effects also must appear, let the causes be what they will, either atoms or elements.

The interesting point about this is that Metrodorus is not expressing an opinion about life on other planets, as the original “quote” suggested.  All he says is that if the universe is infinite then there must be multiple worlds.

It is interesting to discover Plutarch’s Moralia does exist in English, in five volumes, by Goodwin, and better yet that it is on Google books!  It’s a mine of useful excerpts.


Some notes on Thomas Gaisford

The classical scholar Thomas Gaisford (1779-1855) is a name that I have run across several times while looking for editions of obscure works.  Among others, he edited the Praeparatio Evangelica of Eusebius.  Some interesting material about him appears in Rev. W. Tuckwell, Reminiscences of Oxford, p. 124, which is on Archive.org.  Gaisford was regius professor of Greek at Oxford from 1811, and became Dean of Christchurch College, a college then as now rather the preserve of men of an upper class background.  This Gaisford did not possess, and his defensiveness was legendary.

Gaisford became Dean unexpectedly; the men came up in October, 1831, to find his grim person in Smith’s vacated stall. … Gaisford was no divine; he preached annually in the cathedral on Christmas Day, and a sentence from one of his sermons reverberated into term-time.

“Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above the vulgar herd, but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument.”

The muse had taught him, as she taught Horace, malignum spernere vulgas.

He was a rough and surly man; had owed his rise originally to Cyril Jackson, who discovered the genius of the obscure freshman, gave him a Christchurch studentship, and watched over him. “You will never be a gentleman,” said the “Great Dean” to his protege with lordly candour, “but you may succeed with certainty as a scholar. Take some little known Greek author, and throw your knowledge into editing it: that will found your reputation.” Gaisford selected the great work on Greek metres of the Alexandrian grammarian Hephaestion, annotated it with marvellous erudition, and became at once a classical authority.

In 1811 Lord Liverpool, with a highly complimentary letter, offered him the Professorship of Greek: he replied: “My Lord, I have received your letter, and accede to its contents. Yours, etc.” The gaucherie came to Cyril Jackson’s ears; he sent for Gaisford, dictated a proper acknowledgment, and made him send it to the Prime Minister with a handsomely bound copy of his Hephaestion.

He never lectured; but the higher Oxford scholarship gained world-wide lustre from his productions. His Suidas and Etymologicon Magnum are glorified in Scott’s Homerics on the strife between Wellington’s and Peel’s supporters for the Chancellorship.

In a facetious record of the Hebdomadal Board Meeting in 1851 to protest against University Reform, he is quoted as professing that he found no relaxation so pleasant on a warm afternoon as to lie on a sofa with a Suidas in one’s arms. These Lexica, with his Herodotus, won cordial respect from German scholars, who had formed their estimate of Oxford from third-rate performances like Dr. Shaw’s “Apollonius Rhodius.” His son used to relate how, going with his father to call on Dindorf at Leipsic, the door was opened by a shabby man whom they took to be the famulus, but who on the announcement of Gaisford’s name rushed into his arms and kissed him. …

Gaisford was an unamiable Head, less than cordial to the Tutors, and speaking roughly to his little boys. He nominated my old schoolfellow, “Sam” Gardiner the historian, to a studentship. Sam became an Irvingite, and thought it right to inform the Dean, who at once sent for the College books and erased Gardiner’s name.

He had a liking for old Hancock, the porter at Canterbury Gate, with whom he often paused to joke, and whom he called the Archbishop of Canterbury. Hancock once presumed so far as to invite the Decanal party under that name to tea: I do not think they condescended to immure themselves in those unwholesome subterranean rooms of his.

The story of the Dean of Oriel’s compliments to the Dean of Christchurch is true in part. The Dean Minor was Chase; the Dean’s remark, not written but spoken to his neighbour, was, “Oh! yes Alexander the Coppersmith to Alexander the Great.”

In Gaisford’s day men required nothing more than a first degree to become a fellow; indeed anyone who graduated and remained at the college qualified, so long as they remained unmarried, and it was expected that they would leave in time to take a living in the church somewhere, or otherwise move on.  All of them were clergymen, of course.  Research was unheard of, and tuition no more extensive than now, until the reforms of Jowett later in the century created the modern university.

Gaisford also had some remarks to make on the Fathers. In Mozley’s Reminiscences Chiefly of Oriel College and the Oxford Movement (1882), vol. 1, p.356 we find this:

The old Oriel school would not have blundered as it did in its desultory attempts to mend the Athanasian theology, had it possessed even a moderate acquaintance with the ‘Scholastic philosophy.’ The classics were everything in those days, and the great scholars would then rather enlarge the circle of the classics than leave an opening for early Christian theology. Gaisford induced the Clarendon Press to spend 2,000L. in an edition of ‘Plotinus,’ by a German he brought over. Showing Christchurch library to a visitor, he walked rapidly past all the Fathers. Waving his hand, he said ‘sad rubbish,’ and that was all he had to say.

There is also an account of him in Peter H. Sutcliffe’s The Oxford University Press: an informal history, p. 3 here, where we learn that his edition of the Suda cost an astonishing £3,685 to produce.  What this means we can learn by comparing it to the fortune of Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice; £10,000 a year, a sum great enough to make Darcy effectively a billionaire.   But the edition never sold more than ten copies in a year.  We also learn from Sutcliffe that the “emolument” anecdote was in the conclusion of an autobiographical sermon, doubtless intended to encourage rather than intimidate.

Gaisford’s obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine is here.


Yet more treasures at Archive.org

The pace of additions at Google books shows no sign of slowing, and the indexing at Archive.org is becoming an increasingly valuable way to find out what exists. 

This is particularly so for non-US searchers.  The Google book search does not work very well if you are outside the US; it does not return the same list of results, even.  Even if it does work, the results do not distinguish between “no PDF available” and “no PDF available to you, foreigner”.  The Archive.org search works for everyone, even if in some cases the PDF is at Google.

This evening I was looking for editions of Stobaeus, the 5th century Eastern Roman compiler of extracts from ancient authors.  Quite a few of his extracts are witty, and turn up in collections of Greek wit.  I found a four-volume edition by Thomas Gaisford in 1822-4, and parts of one by Meineke in 1855.  I was rather impressed by the list of results.  This set me to doing some searches, just to see what was there.

First I searched for “Moralia in Job”.  This is a massive work by Pope Gregory I, which was translated into English once — only — by the Oxford Movement translators.  It filled six of their capacious Library of the Fathers volumes.  Such vastness was quite beyond my powers.  I was delighted to find that four of the volumes came up.

Then I searched for “Cyril of Alexandria”.  This gave many more results than it ever did before.  In particular the multi-volume edition of his works by Philip Pusey, made in Oxford in the 1870’s, appeared.  So did the English translation of both  volumes of the Commentary on John, also in the Library of the Fathers series. 

The second volume of the latter is a phenomenally rare work, issued in 1884, 30 years after most of the volumes had appeared, a decade after the first volume had been met with catcalls, and four years after E.B.Pusey, the last of the original editors and founder of the series, had died.  Hardly any of the subscribing libraries ever knew about it or bought it.  I myself obtained a photocopy from the generous people at Glasgow University Library many years ago, scanned it and placed it online.  I never thought to see another copy.  Now anyone can see it.

There is much to grumble about in our days — much, indeed, to give any liberal-minded man great alarm.  But it’s worth reminding ourselves of how blessed we are, of how much Google has done for us all.  All this vast wealth, freely given — it’s hard to imagine such a thing.  I had to pay for the copies from GUL — and pay handsomely.  Material that is offline is still regarded as a source of profit by libraries.  But we … we can just download a PDF of so much! 

Let us give thanks to God that educated book-loving people like ourselves live in such fortunate times for people like us!


Hunting the wild quote: Xenophanes on gods of different colours

I was looking at an article on the eChurch blog, which reprinted an article from here, entitled Why do we anthropomorphize God?  It included this:

This is close to what Xenophanes observed when he coined the term “anthropomorphism,” stating:

Ethiopians say the their gods are flat-nosed and dark,
Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired
If oxen and horses and lions had hands
and were able to draw with their hands and do the same things as men,
horses would draw the shapes of gods to look like horses
and oxen to look like oxen, and each would make the
gods’ bodies have the same shape as they themselves had

The statement attributed to Xenophanes is interesting.  Unfortunately no reference was given, and it should have been.  There are rather too many “interesting” but bogus quotes attributed to ancient figures dotted around the web.  Let’s make sure we’re not adding to them!

In this case the item comes from the Wikipedia article on Xenophanes of Colophon, which features the quote.  This gives a reference of H. Diels and W. Kranz (eds.), Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, pp. 38–58, 1st Edition, Berlin, 1903, B, 16, 15.  The link is to an archive.org copy of the book. 

Xenophanes is extant only in fragments.  I learn that the fragment in question comes to us because the early Christian writer Clement of Alexandria quoted it: Wikipedia says: “Clement, Miscellanies V.xiv.109.1-3 and VII.iv.22.1. Both quoted in Jonathan Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy 2001, p. 43″.  In other words there is material in the Stromata, books 5 and 7. 

Book 5, chapter 14 consists of pagan testimonies in favour of Christian teaching.  In the standard ANF version the Xenophanes quote reads:

Rightly, then, Xenophanes of Colophon, teaching that God is one and incorporeal, adds:-

    “One God there is midst gods and men supreme;
    In form, in mind, unlike to mortal men.”

And again:-

    “But men have the idea that gods are born,
    And wear their clothes, and have both voice and shape.”

And again:-

“But had the oxen or the lions hands,
Or could with hands depict a work like men,
Were beasts to draw the semblance of the gods,
The horses would them like to horses sketch,
To oxen, oxen, and their bodies make
Of such a shape as to themselves belongs.”

Which is not quite what we have above.

In Stromata book 7, chapter 4, we find:

Now, as the Greeks represent the gods as possessing human forms, so also do they as possessing human passions. And as each of them depict their forms similar to themselves, as Xenophanes says, “Ethiopians as black as apes, the Thracians ruddy and tawny;” so also they assimilate their souls to those who form them: the Barbarians, for instance, who make them savage and wild; and the Greeks, who make them more civilized, yet subject to passion.

So the initial quotation consists of two quotations run together in their presumed order.

Looking now at the Diels volume, I quickly find that no-one on Wikipedia has verified the supposed reference.  Xenophanes is chapter 11, p. 38, which is p.53 of the PDF.  The quotes are in sections; B is “fragmente”.   On p.54 (69 of the PDF) is B.15 and B.16, which someone unspecified has run together in reverse order to make the Wikipedia quote.  And thus are  legends made!

Actually it’s not that inaccurate.  All the words are by Xenophanes; only the arrangement is speculative.  Interesting to see it; and interesting how Clement quotes him for quite a different purpose to that of the moderns.  For Clement, this is all proof that the gods are false — a reasonable argument –, and, as Xenophanes says, there is only one God.


Steven Hijmans on the iconography of Sol

Unknown to most people, and hidden on a Dutch website, is a set of PDF’s for a two volume book by Steven Hijmans, whose work is all about Sol and Sol Invictus.  It’s here.  Ignore the Dutch text, and click on the Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 links.  Despite the titles, nearly all the PDF’s are in English.  Vol. 2 is plates.

I came across this while searching online for information about the temple of Sol and Luna near the Circus Maximus in Rome.  This brought up a link to vol. 1 chapter 5, which contains details on all the temples of Sol in Rome, all excellently footnoted against the sources.

Here’s an abbreviated list of the contents of vol. 1.  It’s impressive!

Chapter 1. Sol in the Roman Empire: Previous Research, General Trends 1
Chapter 2. Classical Art, Roman Religion, and Visual Meanings 31
Chapter 3. Description and Discussion of the Iconography of Sol 71
Chapter 4. The Images: Catalogue and Discussion 103
A. Sculpture: life-size or larger 107
B. Sculpture: small-scale 125
C. Relief sculpture 135
C1. Architectural reliefs 135
C2. Votive reliefs and other religious reliefs 146
C2a-b. Sol alone and Sol with Luna 146
C2c. Mithraic reliefs 152
C2d. Jupiter Dolichenus 186
C2e. Jupiter-giant pillars 190
C2f. So-called “Danubian Riders” 195
C2g. Hosios kai Dikaios 217
C2h. Saturnus 219
C2i. Planetary deities 233
C2j-C2x. Various deities 245
C3. Funerary reliefs 253
C4. Other reliefs 270
C5. Identity of Sol doubtful 275
D. Mosaics and Opus Sectile 280
E. Wall-paintings and stucco decorations 289
F. Decorated plates and vessels 294
G. Lamps 301
H. Intaglios 322
H1. Sol on quadriga to the left 322
H2. Sol on quadriga to the right 327
H3. Sol on frontal “split” quadriga 327
H4. Sol on frontal or three-quarter quadriga 330
H5. Sol/Usil on frontal triga 331
H6. Sol standing 332
H7. Head or bust of Sol to the left 341
H8. Head or bust of Sol to the right 353

H10. Sol as minor figure 355
H11. Sol and Luna as minor figures 358
H12. Sol riding on horseback 361
H13-H18. Varia 361
HA. Intaglios in ancient rings 364
I. Cameos 386
J. Jewellery, costume (including ependytes), personal ornaments 386
K. Minor objects 394
L. Coins (selection) 411
Chapter 5 Temples of Sol in Rome 467
Chapter 6 Not all Light Comes from the Sun. Symbolic Radiance and Solar Symbolism in Roman Art 509
Chapter 7 Sol-Luna Symbolism and the Carmen Saeculare of Horace 549
Chapter 8 Image and Word: Christ or Sol in Mausoleum M of the Vatican Necropolis? 567
Chapter 9 Aurelian, Constantine, and Sol in Late Antiquity 583
Conclusion 621

The work was originally done as his thesis, in Dutch, 20 years ago, but Hijmans has reworked it.


Chronicle of Hippolytus now online!

Tom Schmidt has now posted the final version of his translation — the first — of the Chronicle of Hippolytus.  He talks about it here:

I have posted the final version of Hippolytus of Rome’s Chronicon here. … Hippolytus wrote his Chronicon in the year 235AD as he himself tells us.  His goal seems to have been threefold: to make a chronology from the beginning of the world up until his present day, to create a genealogical record of mankind, and to create a geographical record of mankind’s locations on the earth.  For his task Hippolytus seems to have made use of the Old Testament, to research the chronology and genealogies, and a nautical dictionary, to research the distances between locations in and around the Mediterranean Sea.

He adds:

Many historians made use of it, such as the author of the Chronography of 354, Epiphanius of Salamis, the author of the Chronicon Paschal, and George Syncellus.

For this translation the GCS (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller) series number 46 was used.

This is excellent news!  These little chronicles never tend to get translated, but they contain the raw data for all sorts of things that we know about antiquity.  Tom has done a wonderful thing in making this available to us all!  Well done!

UPDATE (6th Oct 2017): The translation has been offline for some time now.  Today brings the news that Gorgias Press have brought it out in book form, here.


More on QuickGreek

I’m still stuck at home with a temporarily dodgy leg, so I’ve been looking again at QuickGreek.  This is a bit of software to help people like me, who know Latin, deal with polytonic Ancient Greek text. 

The idea is that you paste in a bunch of unicode Greek into one window and hit Ctrl-T. 


It reads through the Greek, splitting it up into short bits (i.e. when there is a comma or colon or whatever).  For each bit it parses the individual words, looks up the meaning and displays something underneath the word.

The sections and the meanings are interleaved like this:


Listing the meanings one after another does not make a sentence, but it’s a start on producing your own.

You then hover the mouse over the Greek word you wish to inspect, and you get a morphology in the bottom left — nominative singular etc — and whatever information I have about the word in the bottom right.

In this way you can build up a translation of short sections, even if you don’t know much Greek at all.  Which is sort of the idea.

I’ve done a little more on the thing today, and I’m quite pleased with what I’ve done and what I’ve got so far.  It needs more work in every area.  The problem is that I can never devote very long to it at any one time, and it takes a while to get back into it.

I might make a  version available for download for people to play with.  I think it’s reached the point of serving some purpose.  But I need to play around with texts with wrong or no accentuation now.


Bettany Hughes on the history of Alexandria tonight on More4


While looking through the Radio Times I came across a picture of the lovely Bettany Hughes, who is presenting a TV programme on More4 tonight.  Judging from reactions online, a lot of people will be watching just because she’s presenting it.

What’s it about?  Oh, some nonsense about the history of Alexandria, I believe.  I didn’t get the impression from comments like “Bettany on a horse! Yum!” that this subject was absolutely critical to the viewing figures…

Returning to seriousness for a moment, I hope that we don’t get too many references to literary texts which we can’t identify.  There’s nothing more frustrating than listening to some programme on the ancient world, hearing a really interesting statement about antiquity, and then being quite unable to work out what it is based on.


‘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.