Rather than ruin all the library books with photocopying…

To the local library, to collect a copy of the English translation of a Byzantine text.  The volume was a substantial hardback, with the library plate of the John Rylands Library in Manchester.  Inside the book at various points was an old train ticket fromWigan, and two trading cards from some exhibition in 2007, all presumably used as book marks.

But what struck me most was the condition of the binding.  It was very loose.

This book, to my trained eye, has been on the photocopier.  Not once, or twice, but dozens of times.  In each case the copy has been made by someone anxious that it should lie flat and thereby fit two pages onto one A4 sheet.  This saves money, but more importantly reduces the number of times the book has to be lifted and moved.  Anyone who has copied a book will know very well how the arms ache after a while!

The result is that the book is barely holding together.  Which is a shame.

Of course I intend to run the book through my scanner too.  I’ve paid a non-trivial sum to borrow it; the British lending library service now being corrupted by the greed of local councils — Suffolk, in my case — who levy “fees” under one pretext or another.  I only have the loan for a few weeks.  But I may need to consult it in future.

Which leads me to wonder … rather than dozens of people all copying the same book again and again and again … isn’t there a better way?

Wouldn’t it be better, for the book and the users, to copy it once, create a PDF, and make that available instead?  And save us all the effort of making one every time, and the book the injury of repeated copying?

In a sane world, this is what would happen.  You’d borrow the book, and get the book for a time and the PDF for good.  Some adjustment of rights and copyrights would be necessary, but it could be done.

The greedier kind of library official would try to loan you the PDF for a short time also; using something like Adobe Reader.  Which would defeat the object, of course, and would ensure that photocopying would resume.  I mention this possibility only because I can imagine it.

But really … wouldn’t it make much more sense to recognise that the library books of Britain are being copied into non-existence, and address the evident need?


From my diary

It’s been a while since I did anything with the translation of Origen’s Commentary on Ezekiel which I commissioned.  The book has sat in a collection of .doc files on my hard disk, while other tasks went forward.

The main obstacle to progress is getting the book typeset.  I did buy a copy of Adobe Indesign CS5, with a view to doing it myself; but I simply don’t have the time necessary, nor, in truth, the energy.

This evening I have enquired of an advertiser on PeoplePerHour.com whether he would be interested, and at what price.  I want to get this thing published.  To do otherwise is to waste the time and money spent on it.  And when it has been printed, and sold whatever quantity of books it is going to, we can get the thing online.

The Eusebius book is winding down.  It’s still selling a few copies, although I haven’t checked since the summer precisely how many.  It sold fairly well in the first year; in the second, to my surprise, more or less the same, after a distinct ‘sag’ in the early months.  But I get the definite impression of the decline.

I’ve begun to think about how this can go online as well, as was always intended.  I will place the English translation on my website, and make that freely available.  But it would be good to make the entire PDF available as well, perhaps at Archive.org, if this can be done without relinquishing copyright.  A copyright question arises on the PDF of the whole book because I don’t own the copyright of parts of it, which I only leased.  I will look at the sales this year at New Year, and work out exactly how things are going.  If I keep it in print, in April/May 2014 I shall have to pay Lightning Source another chunk of cash.

I’ve spent this evening scanning in a wodge of photocopies of pages from Van den Ven’s French translation of the Life of St. Symeon Stylites the Younger.  It’s a daunting amount of text!

And I do feel drawn to translate some more of the Life of Severus of Antioch.  Both these Lives are historical sources.

Finally there is still a lot of interesting material to look up in Cyril Mango’s article.

I’d also like to return to Ehrman’s Forgery and counterforgery and do some more work on this.  A post containing all the primary sources used would be good; and I think Armin Baum gives that material in his book, and E. just made use of it.  There is more to be done with the book also.

So there is no lack of tasks drawing my attention!  If only I didn’t have to go to work for money as well!!!


Fire in the sky: a piece of ancient sorcery explained in Hippolytus

The article by Dodds on theurgy and Neoplatonism mentions[1]

Compare … Hippolytus’ receipe for simulating a fiery apparition of Hecate by natural if somewhat dangerous means (Ref. Haer. 4, 36).

The magician casts his spell, and … suddenly a flame is seen ascending in the sky nearby!

The Refutation of Heresies IV, chapters 35-6 is online in English here:

And that a fiery Hecate seems to career through air, he contrives in the mode following.

Concealing a certain accomplice in a place which he wishes, (and) taking aside his dupes, he persuades them (to believe himself), alleging that he will exhibit a flaming demon riding through the air. Now he exhorts them immediately to keep their eyes fixed until they see the flame in the air, and that (then), veiling themselves, they should fall on their face until he himself should call them; and after having given them these instructions, he, on a moonless night, in verses speaks thus:-

“Infernal, and earthy, and supernal Bombo, come!
Saint of streets, and brilliant one, that strays by night;
Foe of radiance, but friend and mate of gloom;
In howl of dogs rejoicing, and in crimson gore,
Wading ‘mid corpses through tombs of lifeless dust,
Panting for blood; with fear convulsing men.
Gorgo, and Mormo, and Luna, and of many shapes,
Come, propitious, to our sacrificial rites!”

And while speaking these words, fire is seen borne through the air; but the (spectators) being horrified at the strange apparition, (and) covering their eyes, fling themselves speechless to earth.

But the success of the artifice is enhanced by the following contrivance.

The accomplice whom I have spoken of as being concealed [underneath a cauldron], when he hears the incantation ceasing, holding a kite or hawk enveloped with tow, sets fire to it and releases it. The bird, however, frightened by the flame, is borne aloft, and makes a (proportionably) quicker flight, which these deluded persons beholding, conceal themselves, as if they had seen something divine.

The winged creature, however, being whirled round by the fire, is borne whithersoever chance may have it, and burns now the houses, and now the courtyards.

Such is the divination of the sorcerers.

I wonder from where Hippolytus obtained these details?  In particular the verse chanted?


  1. [1]E. R. Dodds, “Theurgy and its relationship to Neoplatonism”, Journal of Roman Studies 37 (1947), 55-69; p.68.  On JSTOR.

An important 6th c. historical witness: notes on the ‘Life’ of Symeon Stylites the Younger

In a preceding post I quoted from two different versions of the Saint’s Life of S. Symeon Stylites the Younger (521-592).  I have now obtained photocopies of much of Van den Ven’s edition, and I think a summary might be of general use.[1]


The following manuscripts exist.

  • A = Codex Athous Lavra B 71 (catal. 191), s.XI or XII.  Parchment.  Single column.  370 folios; the Life is on f.1-151v, the rest including the Life of S. Martha (his mother), 30 of his sermons, and some liturgical pieces in honour of both saints.  Written by 2 scribes. Little ornamentation.  Titles and initials in red; the Life is divided into 259 chapters, with chapter numbers in the margin in the original hand.  46 numbered quaternions.
  • S = Codex Sabaiticus 108, now at the Greek patriarchate in Jerusalem with the other Mar Saba mss.  End of s. X.  Parchment.  202 folios, the Life is on f.3-164v, followed by the Life of Martha, and then a vision of a monk of the abbey of S. Symeon on the Wonderful Mountain, to which the ms. belonged in the 12th c.  Originally the ms. only contained the two Lives, as the quaternion numbering shows, although most of this, being at the edge of the page, has been cut off.  There are 3 colophons.  Written in a single column in minuscule.  The 259 chapters are numbered in the margin in capitals, mostly in red ink.  The titles are in capitals with an ornamental band above them.
  • B = Codex Barrocianus 240, at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  s.XII.  Parchment.  Contains a menologion for the month of May.  268 folios.  Written in 2 columns by a monk, Ignatius, who left a subscription on f.268v.  The Life is on f.175-258v.  The chapter numbering, written in the margin in uncial letters, is identical to A and S, except that chapter 256 is divided into two, giving 260 chapters.
  • M = Codex Monacensis gr. 366.  s.X. Parchment. Like B, a menologion for May.  243 folios.  The Life is on f.112-214.  Ehrhard believed that it was written at the Studios monastery in Constantinople; it seems to have later belonged to the Xenophon monastery on Mt. Athos.  Divided into only 240 chapters, usually by a second scribe who only added marginalia to the text.
  • P = Codex Parisinus gr. 1459. s.XI. 101 folios.  Written in 2 columns in a rounded minuscule.  30 quaternions.  Contains only the Life, mutilated at both ends; the ms. seems to have been a menologion like others, as the quaternion numbering suggests.  Chapter numbering is identical to A, S, and B.
  • V = Codex Athous Vatopedi 84 (once 79).  s.IX. Parchment, 272 f.  Also a menologion, for May-August.  Written in an early minuscule.  The Life is on f.83v-98v but very incomplete.  It has a title in uncials.  Not divided into chapters.
  • L = Codex Lesbiensis Leimon. 43.  s.XII-XIII.  Paper.  271 f. Two columns. A menologion for May and June.  The Life is on f.103-204.  Not divided into chapters.  Copied at the monastery of St. John the Prodromos of Petra, at Constantinople.
  • J = Codex Patmiacus 257. s.XII.  261 f. Menologion for May. Two columns. The Life is on f.145v-196.  Not divided into chapters.
  • Codex Athous Esphigmenou 105. s.XVIII. Paper. 287f. After various homilies, f.69-160v are the Life of S.Symeon; f.161-191v are the Life of S. Martha; f.192-287 are the 30 homilies of Symeon.  Ehrhard believes that it was copied from A.  Negligently copied, but showing some of the special readings of A.  258 chapters.

These nine manuscripts are the survivors of a much larger number, as attested by the many later derivative Lives, the (probably 8th century) Georgian translation, quotations in John Damascene, in the Acts of the 2nd council of Nicaea in 787 and liturgical texts.  But the text offered by these mss. is sound and can be confirmed by some 8th century quotations and the translation into Georgian.

Two groups appear: AS and BMP. The relationship of the first two is particularly close, and, when they agree, of great value, although they also have many faults in common.

A long verbatim extract of the text from chapter 158 appear in John Damascene’s 3rd discourse on images,[2] composed ca. 726-30 AD (although in the ms. used by John Damascene the chapter was numbered 132).  A second long extract from chapter 118 was read at the 2nd council of Nicaea in 787 by the deacon Cosmas from a copy of the Life given to the council by Joseph, Hegoumen of the monastery of Heraclea.[3]

A paraphrase of the Life exists, by Nicephoros Ouranos, of almost equal length to the original.[4]  It was published in 1685 in the Acta Sanctorum for May, vol. 5, by the Bollandist Janninck.  He used ms. B.14 (s.XI) of the library of Vallicellane.  There are many other copies, which have never been studied: Berlin. gr. Fol. 17 (s.XI), Bodleian Clark 44 (s.XII-XIII), Bodleian Rawlinson Auct. G 199 (1141 AD), Athos Dionysiou 143 (1632-3), Athos Iviron 424 (s.XVI), Moscow 15 (Vlad. 381) (1023 AD).  The author is named in the title in the Vallicellane and Oxford mss.: Nicephoros Ouranous, magistros of Antioch.  He was chamberlain of Basil II, and was sent to Baghdad by the emperor in 980 AD, where he was imprisoned by the Sultan Adoud-ad-Dawla.  He was permitted to return to Constantinople in December 986, and appointed magistros and commander of the soldiers in the east.  In the latter role he defeated the Bulgars at the battle of Sperchios.  At the end of 999 AD he became governor or duke of Antioch, and was still there in 1006 when he put down an Arab revolt.  He was also a literary figure, and the author of a Tactica.[5]  His paraphrase adds specific detail which the original had left vague.  In particular he gives details about Amantius, his predecessor as governor of Antioch which are entirely absent from the original.  He also uses much more elaborate language than the relatively simple contemporary Greek of the original.  Some of the faults of A and S also turn up in Nicephorus Ouranous’ paraphrase, suggesting that the latter had access to a manuscript of a similar parentage, probably from Antioch.

Three short abridgements of the Life also exist.

There is no trace of a Syriac, Armenian or Arabic translation of the Life, but a Georgian translation does exist.  The Life records that Georgians made the journey to see the Saint, even in his own lifetime.  The translation was published in 1918.[6]  It was based on ms. Tiflis A 105 (1697 AD), and A 177 (s.XVIII).  Other mss. exist, much more ancient, which were not used: Sinai Georgian 46 (before 987 AD, when it was rebound); Patriarchal library of Jerusalem 33 (s.XIII-XIV).  From the age of the Sinai ms., the Georgian translation must predate the year 950.

The author of the Life is not named in any of the manuscripts.  When John Damascene gives the extract from chapter 158, the title names the author as Arcadios, archbishop of Constantia in Cyprus (still alive in 638, and died).  The same passage (as well as the other) was read at the council of Nicaea II in 787, but without the title.  Chronology is against the identification: the author states that he became a disciple of Symeon at the time when the patriarch Ephrem of Antioch died.[7]  This took place in 545 AD; and if the author was Arcadios, and was only 15 at the time, he would have been at least 108 years old by 638 AD, when he is recorded by Anastasius the Sinaite as being in a fortress near Constantia.[8]  Van den Ven concludes that in reality the Life is anonymous.  The author was a contemporary of Symeon, as he tells us.  There is some evidence of the use of written sources; and in chapter 71, we learn that he has become a disciple of Symeon’s.  Prior to that point, the text consists of narratives of visions and other material, perhaps transmitted orally.  It is notable that the Life contains little mention of contemporary politics after the accession of Tiberius II (in 578 AD, chapter 211), but much before then.  The rest of the Life is a description of the miracles of the saint, and a brief account of his last moments.  The author, therefore, is silent about a great deal in the last 15 years of the Saint’s life.

The original text of the Life only became known in 1894, when some extracts were edited by A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus.  The publication of a critical edition was begun by Paul van den Ven of Louvain in 1913, but only actually appeared in 1962.

There is more to say, but I think we’ll leave that for a subsequent post now.

  1. [1]Paul van den Ven, La vie ancienne de S. Symeon Stylite le Jeune, 2 vols, Brussels, 1962-4.
  2. [2]PG 94, col.1393.
  3. [3]Hardouin, Concilia IV, 217-24; Mansi, Concilia XIII, p.73-80.  The monastery is otherwise unknown.
  4. [4]BHG3 1690.
  5. [5]Cedrenus, ed. Bonn, p.454, 9.  Various modern references are given by Van den Ven.
  6. [6]Monumenta hagiographica georgica, pars prima, Keimena, t. 1, Tiflis, 1918, p.215-340.
  7. [7]Life, ch. 7.
  8. [8]F. Nau, Les recits inedits du moine Anastase, Revue de l’Institut catholique de Paris, 1902, p.57 (French translation); Greek text published in Oriens Christianus 3 (1903), p.69, from ms. Paris gr. 1596.

More from Mango on ancient statues in Byzantium

I’m still looking at Cyril Mango’s marvellous paper on the fate of ancient statues in medieval Byzantium[1], and looking up references from it.  I learn something from every one of these.

The last few posts concerned references to Christians smashing pagan statues:

The deliberate assembling of ancient statues in Constantinople constitutes something of a paradox. We must not forget that paganism was very much of a live issue, not only in the fourth century, but until about the year 600.  Statues of pagan divinities were, of course, an essential part in the celebration of pagan rites. The lives of the saints are full of references to the destruction of pagan statues. A few examples must suffice.

After which Mango (my first post is here) gives the three examples we have already looked at: the Life of S. Porphyry of Gaza, the Life of Severus of Antioch, the Acts of S. Abramius, and the Life of S. Symeon Stylites the Younger (on which I shall have more to say in a future post).

Mango then goes on to say:

These are a few examples chosen at random. We must also remember that, whereas some Christian thinkers rightly believed that the idols were inanimate, the general opinion prevalent at the time-as we have seen from the incident at Gaza-was that they were inhabited by maleficent demons.[7]

7. Conversely, in the eyes of fourth-century Neoplatonists, idols were animated with divine presence: see E. R. Dodds, “Theurgy and its Relationship to Neoplatonism,” Journal of Roman Studies, XXXVII (1947), p.63 f.

The Dodds article is in JSTOR and is itself a fascinating work, although full of untranslated Greek.  I’m not quite certain that it entirely endorses Mango’s view: for, rather than the “general opinion”, Dodds discusses magical statues and statuettes.  The context of this is theurgy — magic designed to compel the gods to grant favours by rituals — so some of the statues are indeed of pagan deities.  But we’re not really discussing the same thing.

The details given about the infection of Neo-Platonism by theurgy are fascinating, all the same.  Plotinus may have stoutly rejected all the hocus-pocus of magic and theurgy; but his disciple, Porphyry, admitted some of it, and Iamblichus far more, to the point of rejecting reason.  Dodds quotes a fascinating passage from the latter’s De mysteriis, introducing it thus:

The de mysteriis is a manifesto of irrationalism, an assertion that the road to salvation is found not in reason but in ritual:

‘It is not thought that links the theurgists with the gods: else what should hinder theoretical philosophers from enjoying theurgic union with them? The case is not so. Theurgic union is attained only by the efficacy of the unspeakable acts performed in the appropriate manner, acts which are beyond all comprehension, and by the potency of the unutterable symbols which are comprehended only by the gods . . . Without intellectual effort on our part the tokens by their own virtue accomplish their proper work.’ (de myst. 96, 13 Parthey).

To the discouraged minds of fourth-century pagans such a message offered a seductive comfort. The ‘theoretical philosophers’ had now been arguing for some nine centuries, and what had come of it? Only a visibly declining culture, and the creeping growth of that Christian atheotes which was too plainly sucking the life-blood of Hellenism.

Such an attitude among such pagans would explain much of the fate of the later Neo-Platonists in Athens.  In the 5th century Proclus himself saw ‘Hecatic’ visions and was “great at rain-making”.  No wonder Justinian felt a strong urge to close down the philosophical schools, if they were training magicians!

But let’s return to what Dodds says about statues.

Of these two branches of theurgy, the first appears to have been known as telestikh/, and to have been concerned mainly with the consecrating (telei=n, Procl. in Tim. III, 6, 13), and animating of magic statues in order to obtain oracles from them.

Then follows a quote from Proclus’ commentary on the Timaeus III, 155, 18, referencing symbola; and further references given but not quoted from the Theol. Plat. I, 28, p.70; and In Tim. I, 51, 25; III, 6, 12 f.; In Crat. 19, 12.

Proclus gives a list of magical herbs, stones, animals and scents which are usable for various purposes.  Each god has  a “sympathetic” representative in the animal, vegetable and mineral world, which either is or contains a symbolon of its divine cause, and is therefore connected to it by sympatheia (references to Proclus in the CMAG VI, 148 f. and 151 f. is given).  Indeed the same idea underlies the practice of making effigies of people as a way to cast spells upon them, or indeed to stick pins in them, in voodoo.  The symbola were placed inside the hollow statue, so that they were known only to the spell-caster.

The 3rd century theurgists do not originate this idea, of course.  The idea is instead based on Egyptian religion, diffusing ideas into the syncretic Graeco-Roman world.

This contained the idea of producing statues, inside which the souls of demons might be trapped by means of these kinds of gems, herbs, etc.

The late Hermetic dialogue, To Asclepius III, 24, may be referenced here:

Trismegistos: [I mean their] statues, O Asclepius, … statues, ensouled with sense, and filled with spirit, which work such mighty and such [strange] results,—statues which can foresee what is to come, and which perchance can prophesy, foretelling things by dreams and many other ways,—[statues] that take their strength away from men, or cure their sorrow, if they do so deserve.

And 37:

2. Since, then, our earliest progenitors were in great error,—seeing they had no rational faith about the Gods, and that they paid no heed unto their cult and holy worship,—they chanced upon an art whereby they made Gods [for themselves].

To this invention they conjoined a power that suited it, [derived] from cosmic nature; and blending these together, since souls they could not make, [they set about] evoking daimons’ souls or those of angels; [and thus] attached them to their sacred images and holy mysteries, so that the statues should, by means of these, possess the powers of doing good and the reverse.

Apparently receipes for constructing such statues are to be found among the magical papyri.  They appear in the Roman world in the 1st century AD and onwards.

But the real promoter of the idea is Iamblichus, who perhaps saw a way to defuse the Christian argument that idols are merely lumps of wood and stone.  He asserts ‘that idols are divine and filled with divine presence’.  His disciples did more, so Dodds tells us:

His disciples habitually sought omens from the statues, and were not slow to contribute apithana of their own: Maximus makes a statue of Hecate laugh and causes the torches in her hands to light up automatically;[95] Heraiscus has so sensitive an intuition that he can at once distinguish the ‘animate’ from the ‘inanimate’ statue by the sensations it gives him.[96]

95. Eunapius, Vit. Soph. 475.
96. The Suda under that name.

All this degenerate paganism must have shaped the attitude of the Christians of the same period towards statuary.  It is likely enough that a statue by Phidias or Praxiteles could be readily distinguished even by the simplest from a magical statue or talisman.

But then again you didn’t have to be a pagan to create a magical statue.  Magic outlived paganism.  Statues standing in the streets of Antioch and Constantinople in the middle ages were sometimes supposed to be talismans, protecting the city against snakes and the like.  Often they were supposed to be the work of Apollonius of Tyana, or some other ancient magician, by then legendary.

It is in this way, perhaps, through the activities of the theurgists in late antiquity, that statues of the pagan gods can be thought of as containing demons; or of being magical in nature; and eventually of becoming protective talismans, rather than pagan idols.

  1. [1]Cyril Mango, Antique statuary and the Byzantine beholder, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 17, 1963, p.53+55-75.  Online here.

Editing Chrysostom – an SC volume appears

Nathalie Rambault has undertaken the task of editing some works by John Chrysostom for the Sources Chretiennes series.  Just to list the manuscripts of Chrysostom takes many volumes, so we may admire her courage!

The first volume (of two) is now out, I believe, and includes homilies on the resurrection, ascension and Pentecost.  6 pages of the book – the covers and the tables of contents – have been placed online here.  The second volume is due Jan-Feb 2014.


Idols “subjected to popular derision” at Antioch?

The next statement by Cyril Mango on the subject of the destruction of pagan statues in the lives of the saints is as follows:

At about the same time idols were subjected to popular derision by being hung in the streets of Antioch.

The reference is to the Vita S. Symeonis junioris, the Life of Simeon Stylites the Younger, d. 592, BHG 1689,[1] in the Acta Sanctorum, May, vol. 5, p.371B.  The work is very long, in 259 chapters.  Anyway, let’s have a look at this text in the Acta version also.

That item is online, and may be found here.  It all concerns the actions of a certain Amantius, “judex severus” (=”a severe judge”), who was sent to the East by Justinian to administer punishment to various groups.

And so it was predicted by Symeon; they had not interceded for four months when a certain man named Amantius [b], greatly concerned in the rule of the East, came to Antioch.  He was a literary man, capable in government, strong in reasoning, constant in mind, liberal in mind, and primarily most studious of justice.  He acted as much on behalf of virtue as against iniquity, and in both cases with the utmost zeal.  Previously when he came to Antioch, he both put down iniquity in the East as much as he could in a similar way, and also more acutely with an sharp sword among those who held positions of authority.  So that fear and trembling invaded everyone, when he was approaching: not only men who were nothing and malevolent, but also those for whom life had conjoined probity and good morals might feel dread, so terrible was his presence.

174.  Here he arrested and imprisoned many of the pagans and atheists and those dedicated to observing the aspects and conjunctions of the stars,  and indeed many standing against the divine providence, and especially carefully sought out the most illustrious.  Moreover he collected all their books, from which they drew out false wisdom and novel ideas contrary to the truth; nor those alone, but likewise all the idols, in which they trusted as in the gods.  They had made for themselves idols of silver, obviously, and of gold, and they had worshipped those which they had made with their own fingers, as was spoken by Hosea and Isaiah the prophets (Hos. 8:4, Is.2:8).  And from the books he started a not inconsiderable fire, throwing them in the flames in the middle of the forum.  But he openly demonstrated the impotence and imbecillity of the idols, hanging them up at the cross-roads and in the main streets, proving that they were no more significant than they seemed to be, i.e. works of hand and art; nothing more than the artificers had wanted them to be, so again I shall make use of the words of the prophets.  Also a man, whom some time previously had appeared to Simeon in a vision,  was standing in the presence of the Governor, called in for investigation; but a certain monk, very like Simeon, seized him from the threat of a justice made mild, when the Governor was called away.

The events recounted belong to 555-6, when Justinian sent Amantius to suppress the Samaritan revolt in Palestine, and then to suppress non-conformists in Antioch, some of whom were labelled as “pagans”.[2]

Update: I have just discovered a long translation from the Life online!  It’s somewhat different, but probably from a better text than that of the Latin translation in the Acta Sanctorum — I have no details on the transmission of the text.  It may be found in A.D. Lee, Pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity: A Sourcebook, Routledge, 2013, 135-136:

7.2 Persecution of pagans in sixth-century Antioch: Life of the Younger St Symeon the Stylite 161, 164

The younger Symeon was a holy man who lived on one of the mountains near Antioch (521—92), and the modern editor of his biography considers it to have been written by one of Symeon’s disciples. Although this episode, probably from 555, is couched in high-flown language, the official at the centre of the investigations, Amantius, is known from an independent source which describes his involvement in the suppression of a Samaritan revolt (John Malalas Chronicle p. 487), and suppression of paganism is certainly a general feature of the emperor Justinian’s religious policies, as is book-burning (Maas 1992: ch. 5). Further reading: Trombley 1994: 182-95.

(161) Within a four month period of the holy man predicting all these events, that official arrived. His name was Amantius, and before coming to the city of Antioch, he destroyed many of the unrighteous found en route, so that men shuddered with fear at his countenance. For everywhere he suppressed all evil-doing whether in word or deed, inflicting punishment, including death, on those who had gone astray, so that from then on even those living a blameless life feared his presence. For he removed, as much as was possible throughout the east, all quarrelling, all injustice, all violence, and all wrongdoing. When this had happened, God showed his servant another vision, which he reported to us: ‘A decision has come from God against the pagans (Hellenes) and heretics (heterodoxoi), that this official will reveal the idolatrous errors of the atheists and gather together all their books and burn them.’ When he had foreseen these things and reported them, zeal for God took a hold of that official and after investigating, he found that the majority of the leaders of the city and many of its inhabitants were preoccupied with paganism (hellenismos), Manichaeism, astrological practices, automatism, and other hateful heresies. He arrested them and pur them in prison, and after gathering together all of their books — a huge number — he burned them in the middle of the stadium. He brought our their idols with their polluted accoutrements and hung them along the streets of the city, and their wealth was expended on numerous fines. … (164) … Then the judge took his seat on the tribunal and subjected to special punishments some of them, who had confessed to having committed many terrible crimes on account of their ungodliness; some he ordered to do service in the hospices, while others, who called themselves clerics, he sent to receive instruction in monasteries; still others he sent off into exile, while some he condemned to death. But by imperial command, the majority of them, who pleaded ignorance as an excuse and promised to repent, he released without further investigation. And so it came about that after being corrected, everyone was dispersed and none of them remained in prison, with the exception of one who had caused many disturbances during times of public unrest, on account of which he deserved punishment. So it was an appropriate time to recall the judgements of God and to sing the praises of his inexpressible benevolence towards us.

Few of us will read this account without a shudder.  Such trials and punishments for wrong thinking are a sign of a decaying state.  The fondness of the Byzantines for religious persecution was a feature of their state as long as they retained any vestige of power.  Nothing in the account above is inconsistent with the policies of Justinian towards paganism or heresy.

I don’t know how historical this life is; but on the face of it, we do have clear evidence of Mango’s “derision”; although, if they were made of silver and gold, I suspect that they were not left unattended!


Simeon Stylites – a new Diogenes?

Earlier I posted Theodoret’s account of the life of Simeon Stylites.  Written while the saint was stil alive, and as an eyewitness of at least some of his life, it has considerable value as a historical source.  The portions in square brackets represent later interpolation, it should be added.

Reading the life raised some uncomfortable questions in my mind.

Simeon’s life can be summarised very briefly.  He is famous for making himself very uncomfortable indeed, in a variety of ways, until at last he found fame by standing upright(ish) on a pillar for many years.  He became famous for this, and people flocked to see him and admire him, on the basis that making himself uncomfortable was the same as being holy.  From these he received enough to live on, and admiration.  In consequence of his reputation, he was able to address powerful people in direct language and give orders to them.

Medieval Europe is in the back of all of our minds.  Castles and knights and Robin Hood and monks and hermits and the like are a ready source of ideas, even if taken mainly from Sir Walter Scott or Hollywood than a real historical knowledge.  We are all familiar with the idea of the hermit who lives in poverty in a cave, as a “holy man”.

But it seems fairly questionable whether this idea is very like what the New Testament teaches about Christian living.  In what way is such a man serving God?

That we are familiar with the idea of monks praying all day does not mean that it is a biblical idea.  The idea of a man alone in the desert might derive from John the Baptist, from the life of Christ, and some Old Testament ideas.  Yet … is this really what the bible teaches?

If our Lord could say that the law consisted of loving God, and loving your neighbour as yourself, then we may ask how this form of life, divorced from any normal neighbourly relationship, fulfils it.

While thinking in this way, I was uncomfortably reminded of the pagan philosophers, such as Diogenes the cynic.  These too made themselves uncomfortable in public, in order to acquire a reputation as moralists, and to earn their living by donations from admirers.  Once attained, they also had a reputation for direct speaking to powerful people.

There were many differences, of course.  But the similarities are profound.  Both involve strong healthy people who live by the donations of others, and sell an idea to them to do so.

The Greeks, indeed, were somewhat cynical about their philosophers.  Both Diogenes and Plato were sold into slavery, as sturdy vagabonds.  We may wonder about the fate of unsuccessful “holy men” in the 5th century, who somehow didn’t make the cut, and achieve enough notoriety to “break even”!  There were numerous pillar saints in Syria after Simeon had shown the way.

Did the acceptance of hermits and asceticism in the late 4th century have anything to do with the mass “conversions” of pagans in the same period?  Did the wandering philosopher turn into the stationary hermit?

We must recall that physical endurance was no great achievement to the peasants of antiquity.  No education was required to be a “holy man”, unlike their philosophical predecessor.  It merely required a knack for publicity; and if you started by entering a monastery and outshining the others (who might well resent your success!), you already had a pool of people willing to spread the word.  Once in the groove, you worked out your special “trick”, just as the philosophers did, and so long as you could live with the ascetic life, you were essentially made.

Of course we need not suppose that the ascetics were duplicitous.  They may well have believed sincerely in what they were doing.  But that does not make it godly of itself.

When we look at the life of Simeon, we see a man whose main achievement was self-torment.  But does making yourself tired and hungry and uncomfortable necessarily make you charitable, self-denying, good, kind, gentle and close to God?  Mastering your body is equally likely to make you proud of yourself and contemptuous of others.  Starving yourself may give you delusions, which you may mistake for visions; but there is no inevitable access to genuine visions of God just because you starve.  Is there?

It is hard to say what Simeon’s life truly achieved.  It feels wrong, on so many levels.


Theodoret on Simeon Stylites

Earlier we looked at the Life of Abraham as presented in Theodoret’s Lives of the Monks, written in 444 AD, and one of our best historical sources for an area generally represented by hagiographical texts.

While reading the volume, in the same excellent translation by R.M. Price, I found myself reading the Life of the famous pillar-saint, Simeon Stylites.  I will give it here, and then we can discuss it.

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1. THE FAMOUS SYMEON, the great wonder of the world, is known of by all the subjects of the Roman empire and has also been heard of by the Persians, the Medes, the Ethiopians; and the rapid spread of his fame as far as the nomadic Scythians has taught his love of labor and his philosophy. I myself, though having all men, so to speak, as witnesses of his contests that beggar description, am afraid that the narrative may seem to posterity to be a myth totally devoid of truth. For the facts surpass human nature, and men are wont to use nature to measure what is said; if anything is said that lies beyond the limits of nature, the account is judged to be false by those uninitiated into divine things. But since earth and sea are full of pious souls educated in divine things and instructed in the grace of the all-holy Spirit, who will not disbelieve what is said but have complete faith in it, I shall make my narration with eagerness and confidence. I shall begin from the point at which he received his call from on high.

2. There is a village lying on the border between our region and Cilicia; they call it Sisa. Originating from this village, he was taught by his parents first to shepherd animals, so that in this respect too he might be comparable to those great men the patriarch Jacob, the chaste Joseph, the lawgiver Moses, the king and prophet David, the prophet Micah and the inspired men of their kind. Once when there was much snow and the sheep were compelled to stay indoors, he took advantage of the respite to go with his parents to the house of God. I heard his sacred tongue recount the following: he told how he heard the Gospel utterance which declares blessed those who weep and mourn, calls wretched those who laugh, terms enviable those who possess a pure soul, and all the other blessings conjoined with them. He then asked one of those present what one should do to obtain each of these. He suggested the solitary life and pointed to that consummate philosophy.

3. Therefore, having received the seeds of the divine word and stored them well in the deep furrows of his soul, he hastened —he said —to a nearby shrine of the holy martyrs. In it he bent his knees and forehead to the ground, and besought the One who wishes to save all men to lead him to the perfect path of piety. After he had spent a long time in this way, a sweet sleep came upon him, and he had the following dream: ‘I seemed,’ he said, ‘to be digging foundations, and then hear someone standing by say that I had to make the trench deeper. After adding to its depth as he told me, I again tried to take a rest; but once more he ordered me to dig and not relax my efforts. After charging me a third and a fourth time to do this, he finally said the depth was sufficient, and told me to build effortlessly from now on, since the effort had abated and the building would be effortless.’ This prediction is confirmed by the event, for the facts surpass nature.

4. Getting up from there, he repaired to the dwelling of some neighboring ascetics. After spending two years with them and falling in love with more perfect virtue, he repaired to that village of Teleda which we mentioned above, where the great and godly men Ammianus and Eusebius had pitched their ascetic wrestling-school. The inspired Symeon, however, did not enter this one, but another which had sprung from it; Eusebonas and Abibion, having enjoyed sufficiently the teaching of the great Eusebius, had built this retreat of philosophy. Having shared throughout life the same convictions and the same habits, and displayed, as it were, one soul in two bodies, they made many love this life as they did. When they departed from life with glory, the wonderful Heliodorus succeeded to the office of superior over the community. He lived for sixty-five years, and spent sixty-two years immured within; for it was after three years of rearing by his parents that he entered this flock, without ever beholding the occurrences of life. He claimed not even to know the shape of pigs or cocks or the other animals of this kind. I too had often the benefit of seeing him; I admired his simplicity of character and was especially amazed at his purity of soul.

5. After coming to him, this all-round contestant in piety spent ten years contending. He had eighty fellow contestants, and outshot all of them; while the others took food every other day, he would last the whole week without nourishment. His superiors bore this ill and constantly quarreled with it, calling the thing lack of discipline; but they did not persuade him by their words, nor could they curb his zeal. I heard the very man who is now superior of this flock recount how on one occasion Symeon took a cord made from palms —it was extremely rough even to touch with the hands — , and girded it round his waist, not wearing it on the outside but making it touch the skin itself. He tied it so tightly as to lacerate in a circle the whole part it went round. When he had continued in this manner for more than ten days and the now severe wound was letting fall drops of blood, someone who saw him asked what was the cause of the blood. When he replied that he had nothing wrong with him, his fellow contestant forcibly inserted his hand, discovered the cause and disclosed it to the superior. Immediately reproaching and exhorting, and inveighing against the cruelty of the thing, he undid the belt, with difficulty, but not even so could he persuade him to give the wound any treatment. Seeing him do other things of the kind as well, they ordered him to depart from this wrestling-school, lest he should be a cause of harm to those with a weaker bodily constitution who might try to emulate what was beyond their powers.

6. He therefore departed, and made his way to the more deserted parts of the mountain. Finding a cistern that was waterless and not too deep, he lowered himself into it, and offered hymnody to God. When five days had passed, the superiors of the wrestling-school had a change of heart, and sent out two men, charging them to look for him and bring him back. So after walking round the mountain, they asked some men tending animals there if they had seen someone of such a complexion and dress. When the shepherds pointed out the cistern, they at once called out several times, and bringing a rope, drew him out with great labor—for ascent is not as easy as descent.

7. After staying with them for a short time, he came to the village of Telanissus, which lies under the hill-top where he now stands; finding a tiny cottage in it, he spent three years as a recluse. In his eagerness to be always increasing his wealth of virtue, he longed to fast forty days without food, like the men of God Moses and Elijah. He urged the wonderful Bassus, who at the time used to make visitations of many villages, as supervisor of the village priests, to leave nothing inside and seal the door with mud. When the other pointed out the difficulty of the thing and urged him not to think suicide a virtue, since it is the first and greatest of crimes, he replied: ‘But you then, father, leave me ten rolls and a jar of water; and if I see my body needs nourishment, I shall partake of them.’ It was done as he bade. The provisions were left, and the door was sealed with mud. At the end of the forty days, Bassus, this wonderful person and man of God, came and removed the mud; on going in through the door he found the complete number of rolls, he found the jar full of water, but Symeon stretched out without breath, unable either to speak or to move. Asking for a sponge to wet and rinse his mouth, he brought him the symbols of the divine mysteries; and so strengthened by these, he raised himself and took a little food—lettuce, chicory and suchlike plants, which he chewed in small pieces and so passed into the stomach.

8. Overwhelmed with admiration, the great Bassus repaired to his own flock, to recount this great miracle; for he had more than two hundred disciples, whom he ordered to possess neither mounts nor mules, nor to accept offerings of money, nor to go outside the gate whether to buy something necessary or see some friend, but to live indoors and receive the food sent by divine grace. This rule his disciples have preserved to this day. They have not, as they become more numerous, transgressed the injunctions that were given them.

9. But I shall return to the great Symeon. From that time till today —twenty-eight years have passed —he spends the forty days without food. Time and practice have allayed most of the effort. For it was his custom during the first days to chant hymns to God standing, then, when because of the fasting his body no longer had the strength to bear the standing, thereafter to perform the divine liturgy seated, and during the final days actually to lie down —for as his strength was gradually exhausted and extinguished he was compellled to lie half-dead. But when he took his stand on the pillar, he was not willing to come down, but contrived his standing posture differently: it was by attaching a beam to the pillar and then tying himself to the beam with cords that he lasted the forty days. Subsequently, enjoying henceforward still more grace from above, he has not needed even this support, but stands throughout the forty days, not taking food but strengthened by zeal and divine grace.

10. After spending three years, as I said, in this cottage, he repaired to that celebrated hill-top, where he ordered a circular enclosure to be made. After procuring an iron chain of twenty cubits, nailing one end to a great rock and fixing the other to his right foot, so that not even if he wished could he go outside these limits, he lived all the time inside, thinking of heaven and compelling himself to contemplate what lies above the heavens—for the iron chain did not hinder the flight of his thought. But when the wonderful Meletius, who had at that time been appointed to supervise the territory of the city of Antioch and was a wise man of brilliant intelligence and gifted with shrewdness, told him that the iron was superfluous, since the will was sufficient to impose on the body the bonds of reasoning, he yielded and accepted the advice with compliance: And bidding a smith be called, he told him to sever the chain. When a piece of leather, which had been tied to his leg to prevent the iron injuring his body, had to be torn apart (for it had been sown together), people saw, they said, more than twenty large bugs lurking in it; and the wonderful Meletius said he had seen this. I myself have mentioned it in order to show from this example as well the endurance of the man: for though he could easily have squeezed the leather with his hand and killed them all, he steadfastly put up with their painful bites, welcoming in small things training for greater contests.

11. As his fame circulated everywhere, everyone hastened to him, not only the people of the neighborhood but also people many days’ journey distant, some bringing the paralysed in body, others requesting health for the sick, others asking to become fathers; and they begged to receive from him what they could not receive from nature. On receiving it and obtaining their requests, they returned with joy; and by proclaiming the benefits they had gained, they sent out many times more, asking for the same things. So with everyone arriving from every side and every road resembling a river, one can behold a sea of men standing together in that place, receiving rivers from every side. Not only do the inhabitants of our part of the world flock together, but also Ishmaelites, Persians, Armenians subject to them, Iberians, Homerites, and men even more distant than these; and there came many inhabitants of the extreme west, Spaniards, Britons, and the Gauls who live between them. Of Italy it is superfluous to speak. It is said that the man became so celebrated in the great city of Rome that at the entrance of all the workshops men have set up small representations of him, to provide thereby some protection and safety for themselves.

12. Since the visitors were beyond counting and they all tried to touch him and reap some blessing from his garments of skins, while he at first thought the excess of honor absurd and later could not abide the wearisomeness of it, he devised the standing on a pillar, ordering the cutting of a pillar first of six cubits, then of twelve, afterwards of twenty-two and now of thirty-six —for he yearns to fly up to heaven and to be separated from this life on earth. I myself do not think that this standing has occurred without the dispensation of God, and because of this I ask fault-finders to curb their tongue and not to let it be carried away at random, but to consider how often the Master has contrived such things for the benefit of the more easygoing. He ordered Isaiah to walk naked and barefoot, Jeremiah to put a loincloth on his waist and by this means address prophecy to the unbelieving, and on another occasion to put a wooden collar on his neck and later an iron one, Hosea to take a harlot to wife and again to love a woman immoral and adulterous, Ezekiel to lie on his right side for forty days and on his left for one hundred and fifty, and again to dig through a wall and slip out in flight, making himself a representation of captivity, and on another occasion to sharpen a sword to a point, shave his head with it, divide the hair into four and assign some for this purpose and some for that — not to list everything. The Ruler of the universe ordered each of these things to be done in order to attract, by the singularity of the spectacle, those who would not heed words and could not bear hearing prophecy, and make them listen to the oracles. For who would not have been astounded at seeing a man of God walking naked? Who would not have wanted to learn the cause of the occurrence? Who would not have asked how the prophet could bear to live with a harlot? Therefore, just as the God of the universe ordered each of these actions out of consideration for the benefit of those inured to ease, so too he has ordained this new and singular sight in order by its strangeness to draw all men to look, and to make the proffered exhortation persuasive to those who come—for the novelty of the sight is a trustworthy pledge of the teaching, and the man who comes to look departs instructed in divine things. Just as those who have obtained kingship over men alter periodically the images on their coins, at one time striking representations of lions, at another of stars and angels, and at another try to make the gold piece more valuable by the strangeness of the type, so the universal Sovereign of all things, by attaching to piety like coin-types these new and various modes of life, stirs to eulogy the tongues not only of those nurtured in the faith but also of those afflicted by lack of faith.

13. Words do not testify that these things have this character, but the facts themselves proclaim it; for the Ishmaelites, who were enslaved in their many tens of thousands to the darkness of impiety, have been illuminated by his standing on the pillar. For this dazzling lamp, as if placed on a lampstand, has sent out rays in all directions, like the sun. It is possible, as I have said, to see Iberians and Armenians and Persians arriving to receive the benefit of divine baptism. The Ishmaelites, arriving in companies, two or three hundred at the same time, sometimes even a thousand, disown with shouts their ancestral imposture; and smashing in front of this great luminary the idols they had venerated and renouncing the orgies of Aphrodite—it was this demon whose worship they had adopted originally —, they receive the benefit of the divine mysteries, accepting laws from this sacred tongue and bidding farewell to their ancestral customs, as they disown the eating of wild asses and camels.

14. I myself was an eyewitness of this, and I have heard them disowning their ancestral impiety and assenting to the teaching of the Gospel. And I once underwent great danger: he told them to come up and receive from me the priestly blessing, saying they would reap the greatest profit therefrom. But they rushed up in a somewhat barbarous manner, and some pulled at me from in front, some from behind, others from the sides, while those further back trod on the others and stretched out their hands, and some pulled at my beard and others grabbed at my clothing. I would have been suffocated by their too ardent approach, if he had not used a shout to disperse them. Such is the benefit that the pillar mocked by lovers of mockery has poured forth; such is the ray of divine knowledge which it has made descend into the minds of barbarians.

15. I know another case of such behavior by these men. One tribe begged the man of God to utter a prayer and blessing for their chieftain; but another tribe that was present objected to this, saying that the blessing ought to be uttered not for him but for their own leader, since the former was extremely unjust while the latter was a stranger to injustice. A long dispute and barbarian quarrel ensued, and finally they went for each other. I myself exhorted them with many words to stay calm, since the man of God had power sufficient to give a blessing to both the one and the other; but these said that that man should not get it, while those tried to deprive the other of it. By threatening them from above and calling them dogs, he with difficulty extinguished the dispute. I have told this out of a wish to display the faith in their understanding; for they would not have raged against each other, if they did not believe the blessing of the inspired man to possess the greatest power.

16. On another occasion I witnessed the occurrence of a celebrated miracle. Someone came in —he too was a tribal chieftain of Saracens — and begged the godly person to assist a man who on the road had become paralysed in the limbs of his body; he said he had undergone the attack at Callinicum — it is a very great fort. When he had been brought right to the center, Symeon bade him disown the impiety of his ancestors. When he gladly consented and performed the order, he asked him if he believed in the Father and the only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit. When the other professed his faith, he said: ‘Since you believe in these names, stand up!’ When he stood up, he ordered him to carry the tribal chieftain on his shoulders right to his tent, and he was of great bodily size. He at once picked him up and went on his way, while those present stirred their tongues to sing hymns to God.

17. He gave this order in imitation of the Master, who told the paralytic to carry his bed. But let no one call the imitation usurpation, for His is the utterance, ‘He who believes in me will himself do the works that I do, and greater than these will he do’. Of this promise we have seen the fulfilment; for while the Lord’s shadow nowhere performed a miracle, the shadow of the great Peter canceled death, drove out diseases, and put demons to flight. But it is the Master who through His servants performed these miracles too; and now likewise it is by the use of His name that the godly Symeon performs his innumerable miracles.

[18.It happened that another miracle occurred in no way inferior to the preceding. A not undistinguished Ishmaelite, who was one of those who had found faith in the saving name of Christ the Master, made prayer to God with Symeon as the witness, and a promise as well: the promise was to abstain thereafter till death from all animal food. At some time he broke this promise, I know not how, by daring to kill a bird and eat it. But since God chose to bring him to amendment by means of a reproof and to honor His servant who had been the witness of the broken promise, the flesh of the bird was changed in nature to stone, with the result that not even if he wanted to was he now able to eat —for how was it possible, since the body which he had got hold of for eating had been petrified? Astounded by this extraordinary sight, the barbarian repaired to the holy man with great speed, bringing to light his secret sin, proclaiming his transgression to all, asking from God forgiveness for his offence and calling the saint to his aid, that through his all-powerful prayers he might free him from the bonds of sin. Many have been eyewitnesses of this miracle by touching the part of the bird by the breast, which is composed of bone and stone. ]

19. I have been, not only an eyewitness of his miracles, but also a hearer of his predictions of the future. The drought that occurred, the great crop-failure of that year and the simultaneous famine and plague that followed, he foretold two years beforehand, saying that he had seen a rod threatening mankind and indicating the scourging it would cause. On another occasion he revealed beforehand an attack of what is called the grasshopper, and that it would not cause serious harm, for the mercy of God would follow hard on the punishment. When thirty days had passed a countless swarm so swooped down as to intercept the rays of the sun and create shade; and this we all saw distinctly. But it harmed only the fodder of the irrational animals, while causing no injury to the food of human beings. Also to me, when under attack from someone, he disclosed the death of my enemy fifteen days in advance, and from experience I learnt the truth of his prediction. [He also saw on one occasion two rods descend from the sky and fall on the land both east and west. The godly man explained it as a rising of the Persian and Scythian nations against the Roman empire; he declared the vision to those present, and with many tears and unceasing prayers stopped the blows with which the world was threatened. Certainly the Persian nation, when already armed and prepared for attack on the Romans, was through the opposition of divine power driven back from the proposed assault and fully engaged in domestic troubles within.]

20. Although I know very many other occurrences of this kind, I shall omit them, to avoid length in the account —and the preceding are sufficient to show the spiritual perception of his mind. His reputation is also great with the king of the Persians. As the envoys who came to see Symeon related, he wished to inquire carefully about the man’s way of life and the nature of his miracles; and his spouse is said to have asked for oil honored by his blessing and to have received it as a very great gift. All the king’s courtiers, struck by his reputation, and despite hearing from the Magians many calumnies against him, wished to inquire precisely, and on being informed called him a man of God. The rest of the crowd, going up to the muleteers, servants and soldiers, offered them money, begging to receive a share in the blessing attached to the oil.

21. The queen of the Ishmaelites, being sterile and longing for children, first sent some of her highest officials to beg that she become a mother, and then when she obtained her request and gave birth as she had wished, took the prince she had borne and hastened to the godly old man. Since women are not allowed access, she sent the baby to him together with a request to receive blessing from him. ‘Yours,’ she said, ‘is this sheaf; for I brought, with tears, the seed of prayer, but it was you who made the seed a sheaf, drawing down through prayer the rain of divine grace.’ But how long shall I strive to measure the depth of the Atlantic Ocean? For just as the latter cannot be measured by men, so the daily deeds of this man transcend narration.

22. More than all this I myself admire his endurance. Night and day he is standing within view of all; for having removed the doors and demolished a sizeable part of the enclosing wall, he is exposed to all as a new and extraordinary spectacle —now standing for a long time, and now bending down repeatedly and offering worship to God. Many of those standing by count the number of these acts of worship. Once one of those with me counted one thousand two hundred and forty-four of them, before slackening and giving up count. In bending down he always makes his forehead touch his toes —for his stomach’s receiving food once a week, and little of it, enables his back to bend easily.

23. As a result of his standing, it is said that a malignant ulcer has developed in his left foot, and that a great deal of puss oozes from it continually. Nevertheless, none of these afflictions has overcome his philosophy, but he bears them all nobly, both the voluntary and the involuntary, overcoming both the former and the latter by his zeal. He was once obliged to show this wound to someone; I shall recount the cause. Someone arrived from Rabaena, a worthy man, honored with being a deacon of Christ. On reaching the hill-top, he said, Tell me, by the truth that has converted the human race to itself, are you a man or a bodiless being?’ When those present showed annoyance at the question, Symeon told them all to keep silence, and said to him, ‘Why on earth have you posed this question?’ He replied, ‘I hear everyone repeating that you neither eat nor lie down, both of which are proper to men—for no one with a human nature could live without food and sleep.’ At this Symeon ordered a ladder to be placed against the pillar, and told him to ascend and first examine his hands, and then to place his hand inside his cloak of skins and look at not only his feet but also his severe ulcer. After seeing and marveling at the excess of the wound and learning from him that he does take food, he came down from there, and coming to me recounted everything.

24. During the public festivals he displays another form of endurance: after the setting of the sun until it comes again to the eastern horizon, stretching out his hands to heaven he stands all night, neither beguiled by sleep nor overcome by exertion.

25. Despite such labors and the mass of his achievements and the quantity of his miracles, he is as modest in spirit as if he were the last of all men in worth. In addition to his modest spirit, he is extremely approachable, sweet and charming, and makes answer to everyone who addresses him, whether he be artisan, beggar, or peasant. And he has received from the munificent Master the gift also of teaching. Making exhortation two times each day, he floods the ears of his hearers, as he speaks most gracefully and offers the lessons of the divine Spirit, bidding them look up to heaven and take flight, depart from the earth, imagine the expected kingdom, fear the threat of hell, despise earthly things, and await what is to come.

26. He can be seen judging and delivering verdicts that are right and just. These and similar activities he performs after the ninth hour—for the whole night and the day till the ninth hour he spends praying. But after the ninth hour he first offers divine instruction to those present, and then, after receiving each man’s request and working some cures, he resolves the strife of those in dispute. At sunset he begins his converse from then on with God.

27. Although engaged in these activities and performing them all, he does not neglect care of the holy churches — now fighting pagan impiety, now defeating the insolence of the Jews, at other times scattering the bands of the heretics, sometimes sending instructions on these matters to the emperor, sometimes rousing the governors to divine zeal, at others time charging the very shepherds of the churches to take still greater care of their flocks.

28. I have proceeded through all this trying from a drop to indicate the rain, and using my forefinger to give readers of the account a taste of the sweetness of the honey. The facts celebrated by all are many times more numerous than these, but I did not promise to record everything, but to show by a few instances the character of the life of each one. Others, doubtless, will record far more than these; and if he lives on, he will perhaps add greater miracles. I myself desire and beg God that, helped by his own prayers, he may persevere in these good labors, since he is a universal decoration and ornament of piety, and that my own life may be brought into harmony and rightly directed in accordance with the Gospel way of life.

[After a further span of life with many miracles and labors — having alone of men of any time remained unconquered by the flames of the sun, the frosts of winter, the fierce blasts of the winds and the weakness of human nature — since he had henceforth to be with Christ and receive the crowns of his immeasurable contests, he proved by his death, to those who disbelieved it, that he is a man. And he remained even after death unshakable, for while his soul repaired to heaven, his body even so could not bear to fall, but remained upright in the place of his contests, like an unbeaten athlete who strives with no part of his limbs to touch the ground. Thus, even after death does victory remain united to the contestants according to Christ. Certainly cures of diseases of every kind, miracles, and acts of divine power are accomplished even now, just as when he was alive, not only at the tomb of the holy relics but also by the memorial of his heroism and long contending—I mean the great and celebrated pillar of this righteous and much-lauded Symeon —, by whose holy intercession we pray both that we ourselves may be preserved and made firm in the true faith, and that every city and country upon which the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is invoked may enjoy protection, untried by every kind of damage and injury from both the sky and their enemies. To Him be glory for ever and ever.]